Disappointing 2nd helpings

I am sitting in a Starbucks since I needed a break from the house. I’ve been at home far too much over the past week taking care of my sick baby. And what better way to tap into my non-mom entity than to write a blog post. Because although the posts have been few, my book reading has amped up in recent weeks so I have books to review and literary things to discuss! Books are a beautiful thing; their ability to make me laugh, to take me into another world, to transform language. After loving one book in an author’s oeuvre, I am piqued to pick up another when I encounter it on a bookshelf. But all books, even by the same author, are not created equal. And so it is with the books in this blog post.

IMG_2136 [553027]“The High Road” by Terry Fallis

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, the name Terry Fallis may strike you as familiar. That is because I have written 2 blog posts praising his previous works (Up and Down and The Best Laid Plans). I was excited to read “The High Road” and to laugh at the Parliament Hill adventures of Angus McLintock and Daniel Addison once again. There were some good moments in the book and I still enjoyed Fallis’ portrayal of Canadian politics (and perhaps subtle suggestions on how to better the system). However, I found, contrary to his other works, that the balance between antics and reality went sour in this book. The events were overboard instead of being funny especially the incident with the boozy President’s wife. Daniel’s clumsiness was overkill to the point of becoming an annoyance instead of an endearing, comical characteristic. The plot also went too far in creating a happy ending. It wasn’t believable that McLintock’s admirable character and public speaking changed the mind of half of the country and the important political figures to alter the federal budget according to his report. The last straw in the believability was the heartless “Flamethrower” Fox questioning his well-established negative campaigning after encountering McLintock. This book tried too hard to tie up all of the loose ends to make a dish as pleasing as its predecessor, and ended up flavourless in comparison. One disappointing book in a bunch is not enough from trying more by this author; that is how much I enjoyed his previous offerings!

2/5 bacon strips

“Sweetland” by Michael Crummey

Crummey’s book Galore was one of my favourite books from 2015, so I recommended to Tori that we read “Sweetland” for our first shared book discussion. Crummey maintained his high level of writing in “Sweetland”, but the tone was even darker than “Galore”, which had given its darkness a mystical quality that detached it from reality. “Sweetland” has no redemption to the darkness and one event was so heart-wrenching that it caused the book to be added to the small list of books that made me cry. I had to dive into multiple light-hearted novels to pull me out of the sad slump this book put me in. But that also shows how amazing Crummey is at attaching your heart to his characters and pulling you into their stories.  If you like a dark read that explores survival in a solitary environment, lost love, old man stubbornness, death and the Newfoundland landscape than this is the book for you. As for me, I’m not convinced I want to try another Crummey book as it sat too heavily in my stomach.

2/5 bacon strips

“The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro

I was engrossed by the first person narrative and unique plot of “Never Let Me Go”. The front of “The Remains of the Day” had a quote from The New York Times Book Review calling it “A dream of a book.” This book did remind me of dreams…because it was so boring I almost fell asleep. The tale is told from the perspective of an aging British butler reviewing his life while taking a road trip through the English countryside. I thought that there would be something deeper to that concept or a shocking revelation like in “Never Let Me Go”, which is what kept me reading to the end (although I did skip over some of the passages when he began talking yet again about the indescribable quality that makes a good butler). But the end was as boring as the middle and the beginning. Bland and barely palatable, I do not foresee going up for more servings of Kazuo Ishiguro.

1/5 bacon strips

I’d like to hear from you! (especially as I’m always looking for a good book recommendation)! What book disappointed but whose author still remains beloved to you?

 

Sweetness in the Belly

No need to come up with a creative post name when the title of the book fits perfectly! Camilla Gibb’s “Sweetness in the Belly” was one of my favourite reads in April, and definitely left me with a satisfied taste for Gibb’s writing. I have been wanting to read something by this iconic Canadian author for awhile, and I’m so glad that I finally did. This book tells the story of Lilly, an orphaned white woman raised in Ethiopia in a devout Muslim community. When Ethiopia undergoes a political upheaval, Lilly is forced to return to Britain, her country of birth that hold no memories for her. She leaves behind the ones she loves in Ethiopia and spends years searching for knowledge of their whereabouts like many other refugees in Britain.

I found this story interesting in light of the current refugee crisis that the world is facing. I couldn’t help but see reflected in Lilly’s narrative the stories of the thousands of refugees; the struggle to gain a balance of fitting into their new countries while retaining their cultural roots. Lilly’s story also highlighted how even the religious practices can be challenging to navigate. Lilly grew up with Muslim practices that involved saints, incense and ceremonies of significance. The Islam taught in the Mosque she attends in Britain rejects the traditions that Lilly holds dear. It made me sad that even in her religious institution she could not feel truly at home, yet I was impressed with her determination in maintaining her ceremonies even when she saw fellow Ethiopians discarding them for more European-sanctioned beliefs.

Lilly’s story also highlighted that even while she adjusted to life in Britain, her real desire was to return to her life back in Ethiopia; a place she views as her true home. Yet as she learns more about the current state of Ethiopia from the flood of refugees, she realizes that she can never return because the Ethiopia of her youth doesn’t exist anymore. This made me reflect on stories I’ve heard on the radio featuring refugees, who are grateful for their new lives in Canada but wish that they could have stayed in their country as it was during the time of peace. How hard it must be to be forced out of the place you love and watch the destruction of the home you knew.

Within the captivating fictional narrative of “Sweetness in the Belly” is a deep reflection on home, country, religion and identity that left me mulling over long after I’d chewed through the last page of this book.

5/5 bacon strips

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March’s book pile

Today’s blog post is a straightforward title because I am simply too tired to think up a more creative synopsis. It appears my child doesn’t need the 8 hours of uninterrupted REM sleep that I do!  I feel the need to set my thoughts on something other than a baby’s schedule, so although I may not be at my mental best today, I have decided to write a post about the books I read in March.

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“Living on the Ragged Edge” by Charles R. Swindoll

This is a Christian devotion book that I have been reading off-and-on for the past few months. This book looks into the themes and lessons presented in the book of Ecclesiastes. What I really appreciated about this book was how it didn’t sugarcoat the world or tell you that everything will be okay. I know that seems depressing, but there is something freeing in letting yourself off the hook of giving every situation a positive spin or making your life into this fantasy of happy. We should still seek enjoyment in this life but we are more likely to find it by not making enjoyment our life’s sole purpose. And ultimately, our hope and our purpose is found in a relationship with God. However, these kernels of truth were only in a few chapters. In the other chapters, I found many of his statements outdated or irrelevant. This book was written almost 30 years ago, and you can tell these are the thoughts of a middle-aged conservative Christian man in the 1980s. I’m still glad I read the book but not sure if I’ll pick it up again.

3/5 bacon strips

“Thrive:The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder” by Arianna Huffington

I know this isn’t next in the stack of books but it seems like a good follow-up book review to the Swindoll book. I loved Huffington’s book and found it a great inspiration. I am not normally a self-help book but I found a lot of wisdom in this book along with helpful statistics presented in an easy-to-read manner. In line with what I was reading from Swindoll, this book is not about making yourself happy or avoiding suffering. But it is about finding practices and attitudes to help you thrive in your life. Her Thrive pillars are Well-Being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving. It was just what I needed to read this past month. It encouraged me to make the healthy habits in my life a priority such as meditation/prayer time instead of getting sucked into the YouTube video-watching vortex, unplugging from my electronics earlier in the evening to encourage my body to go to sleep when I climb into bed, and turning off the TV to go for a walk or do some yoga. As a busy new mom, there were some pieces of her advice I can’t implement (a good night sleep, daily yoga or exercise) but they are definitely things I will strive to implement once I’m out of the baby phase. I have adopted the practice of thinking of 10 things to be grateful for each day and found it can transform the way I see my whole day.

4/5 bacon strips

“Baby-Led Weaning” by Gill Rapley, Tracey Murkett

So another book in the parenting genre! My baby girl is 6 months old and starting on real food, so I picked up this book after attending a seminar at the Early Years Centre on Introducing Solids. This book had some great tips but I found (as with all parenting books) that you need to read this with a filter. I questioned some of their “facts” as there were no series of scientific studies to show that this is the best way to introduce solids, and I felt that they were a little too insistent that baby-led weaning was the superior method (but clearly that’s why they wrote the book to advocate this as the best method). Many babies have been spoon-fed and end up eating just fine as kids and adults, so I don’t think parents should be guilted if they decide to do spoon feeding especially at the beginning. What I appreciated most about this book was some of the common sense reminders such as including your child in your mealtimes, making the goal to feed them what you’re eating so you’re not making a separate meal for them for the rest of their lives, and trusting your baby. The book recognizes that babies are people and not some robots on a feeding schedule so it’s okay that a food your baby eats one week, he may push away the next week. It was also a good warning to know that baby feeding is messy (as you can see from below)!

3/5 bacon strips

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“Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin

I saw the trailer for the movie, which made me want to read the book since I usually try to read the book before watching the film version. I actually found the movie better than the book, which rarely happens. Due to the lack of jobs in post-WWII Ireland, Eilis accepts the sponsorship of an Irish priest in New York. Just as Eilis has settled into her new life, she has to return to Ireland for a couple of weeks. It is this visit that brings up anew the struggle between her heart in Ireland and the new life she has come to love in America. The Eilis in the movie was more alive and real to me than the Eilis described in the Toibin’s book. Toibin’s Ellis didn’t jump off the page or connect with me. The wishy-washy way she dealt with this struggle between America and Ireland in the book increased my dislike of her. However, the Eilis in the movie was one I could relate to and respected a lot more. Her decision in America vs. Ireland was portrayed in the movie so that it felt like the decision was really hers. In the book, it felt like she was reluctantly forced into her decision. Even with a character I didn’t attach to, I still read this book quickly and wanted to know the ending so it was still a decent read. I would even read a sequel to this book if there was one because I want to see how Eilis’s life turned out. Maybe read the book. Definitely watch the movie.

3/5 bacon strips

A Page of Love to My Granola

I love cereal. My morning doesn’t feel quite right without some cereal for breakfast. When I was pregnant, I often had a bowl of cereal for a midnight snack. The crunch, the fiber, the touch of sweetness, the cold milk in one spoonful. Yum! But I have had to take a break from cereal. In a renewed effort to lose the baby weight, I have introduced healthier alternatives to my favourite foods.

I am a big believer in moderation not starvation of the foods I love.I only have one life and food is a huge part of my life enjoyment. I pulled out this recipe for granola which I used to make a couple of years, and this has become my new go-to recipe to satisfy my cereal craving. It has more fiber and less processed sugar than any of my cereals, and it is so versatile! I can add any nuts or dried fruit that I have in my cupboard (my favourites so far: almonds and dried cranberries, peanuts and dried apricots). Or leave out the dried fruit and add fresh fruit!

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Homemade Granola Recipe

3 cups of oats (quick oats, steel-cut oats…whatever you have works)

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp brown sugar

1/3 cup honey

3 tbsp coconut oil

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Options: nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, peanuts, pumpkin seeds…); dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, chopped mango, apples, blueberries…); spices (cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa powder, ground decaf coffee….)

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a bowl, stir together oats, salt, brown sugar and any options.

In a microwavable container, combine and heat honey and coconut oil for 40 seconds. (I use a glass measuring cup because I can measure the ingredients in the container and it has an easy pour spout. If you want clumpier granola, then make more of this honey and coconut oil mixture.) Stir the contents to ensure the coconut oil is dissolved. Add vanilla extract.

Add wet ingredients to the oat mixture and stir well. Place mixture on a large cookie sheet covered in parchment paper (easy clean-up!). Spread evenly.

Place in oven and stir every 5 minutes to prevent burning. It should only take 10-15 minutes depending on how hot your oven is and how crispy you want your granola. If you’re choosing to leave it in longer than 10 minutes, watch the granola carefully. It can go from roasted to burnt very quickly (I’m speaking from experience here!).

Allow to cool before placing in a container. And enjoy!

Let me know your favourite granola flavour combination.

 

 

Milk comas and midnight feeds: My take on parenting books

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As my daughter is approaching the age of solid foods, I have found myself binging on parenting books. It is scary to enter a new stage of babyhood and I don’t feel quite prepared, so I have turned to the wisdom of written experience. These books have comforted me with stories of moms who share my struggles and fears. These books have inspired me to think of parenting differently. These books have given me tools to make this journey a little easier and to help raise my daughter as a well-adjusted human being. So, I am going to share some of these parenting books I have found most helpful. (The ones in the picture I own, and the rest are picture-less because I borrowed them from the library.)

HOWEVER, I want to preface this blog post with a caution. Be careful of parenting books. I had to stop reading them for a couple of months because they were stressing me out. I was overwhelmed with the amount of information there is available about how to parent, and I was confused with all of the conflicting advice. When I recently felt the need to gather parenting information again, I remembered something I had reading in the book from the La Leche League: “choose only what feels best for you and your family, and leave the rest behind.” (xxiv Intro) These are the books that I have taken pieces from that fit me and my family, and if they help you as well, then wonderful. If they don’t, then discard them and remember you as the mom knows best!

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting” by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway; 3rd edition

This was my go-to pregnancy book. Each month, I looked forward to reading the update on what my baby was doing and what he/she looked like inside of me at that point. I also found many of the questions in “What You May be Concerned About” really helpful, such as how much caffeine I could have and whether the constant itchiness in my third trimester should concern me. (I did purchase the “What to Expect the First Year” but have not found it as helpful as the pregnancy book.)

“The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” La Leche League International; 8th edition

Before having my daughter, the idea of breastfeeding freaked me out. I couldn’t fathom the idea of my body producing a fluid that could sustain a child, and I felt weird about the idea of some little being sucking on my boobs all the time. This book normalized the idea of breastfeeding for me by giving some great tips, providing lots of information about how to breastfeed, and helping me to visualize doing this with my daughter when she was born. One of the tips I found most helpful was the knowledge that breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt all the time, so when it was excruciating for me I knew to seek help instead of just stopping. I had to change feeding positions, learn a good breast hold, and put on nipple butter constantly for about 2 weeks before the pain disappeared completely, but the tips in this books helped me to hang in there. *If you choose to stop nursing or you can’t nurse, then put this book away because it will not be helpful for you. You make the decision as to what is best for you and your baby. This book is very, very pro-breastfeeding to the point that you will feel guilty if you don’t breastfeed, so this book is not for everyone.* There were many, many things in this book that I discarded as it is much more of a “natural”, “traditional” approach to birthing and parenting than the route I took, so there are entire chapters of the book that I skipped because I did not find them helpful for me.

“The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Harvey Karp

This book should be given to every pregnant woman. If you only read one book before having a child or in the early days of parenthood, this is the book to read. It is an absolute life saver. Karp details how to calm crying babies and help your newborn sleep longer. However, this book is most relevant for those first 3 months of your baby’s life. After that point, the 5 S calming methods don’t work as well because your baby is out of the “fourth trimester” of development. (You could still pick up Harvey Karp’s “The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep”, which is relevant up to age 5. It has some great tips on helping your baby to sleep better.) I would read a chapter while feeding my newborn daughter, and end up implementing the new technique that night. For a while, she calmed quickest being chest to chest as I rocked quickly from side to side while making a loud “ssh” noise. Then, it changed to placing on her side on my legs while swaying them from side to side and “ssh”ing. This book gave me the arsenal of methods I needed to help calm my crying baby and get her back to sleep quickly at nighttime. It also helped to create good sleep habits for my baby, which I am still benefiting from today.

“Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of Parenting” by Pamela Druckerman.

I just read this book recently and it transformed my thinking about my parenting. I wish I had read this one earlier on in my mothering journey. I like how Druckerman presents her discoveries about French parenting but doesn’t force their ideas onto you. She even admits that she is not implementing every idea she comes across, but mixes it with her own American upbringing. I had already been doing “The Pause” with my baby when she cried, but having the term described helped me to implement it even better. I would stop and observe her cry to determine what she needed before running in to rescue her from her crib. Sometimes, she was just coming out of a sleep cycle and still learning to put herself back to sleep. By leaving her, she would go back to sleep within a couple of minutes instead of being fully woken by me rushing in assuming she needed to be comforted or fed. Druckerman’s writing style flows well and is easy to read. I was caught up in her quest to find the best methods of raising children, and grateful that she shared her discoveries.

“The 7 stages of Motherhood” by Ann Pleshette Murphy

This book provides some great advice about how to raise kids at different stages, but more than anything, it is a book that celebrates the highs of mothering and that comforts in the shared lows of raising children. I enjoyed following Ann as she recounts stories of her daughter and son at different ages; and seeing through her eyes how her children changed and grew into the full-grown human beings they are now. It was also helpful to hear accounts from other moms, so a wide range of parenting styles and children’s personalities were given voice. I finished this book feeling inspired to be a better parent and to enjoy my time with my daughter not just trudging through each day. I also felt encouraged to explore who I am as a person and not feel guilty about putting time and energy into the non-mom parts of my identity; I believe that this reinvestment in me will also help me to be a better mother.

There are still so many more stages I will go through with my daughter, and I am grateful for the books, such as those listed above, that provide guidance and community. If you’re a parent, I hope these books will be helpful for you. If you’re not a parent, I hope this post inspires you to pick up a book to guide you and comfort you on whatever journey you are on. (For example, I’m in the middle of reading “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington; a great book on how to live life more fully and productively.) Happy inspirational reading!

 

Savouring an old favourite

Around Christmas, after weeks of reading, I had finally finished Will Ferguson’s “419” and was considering what to read next. Due to baby demands, I found I was only getting a few minutes to read here and there, which made it challenging to enjoy a new timeline. Plus, I was too tired to absorb new information fully. I was looking over my bookshelves and my husband’s copies of The Lord of the Rings stood out to me. Reading a favourite from my past would be a great way to enjoy a read and yet feel comfortable putting it down quickly without worrying about losing my reading momentum. The last time I had read these books was in high school, and yet their characters are beloved to me. I’m sure the movie barrage of J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories over recent years has helped to keep the storylines top-of-mind.

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I can remember being in Grade 10 waiting in line to get into the theatre to see Fellowship of the Ring. My male friends were Tolkien fanatics and had purchased tickets weeks in advance. My best friend was dating one of the guys at the time, so she invited me to come with them to see the movie. The boys reluctantly agreed but insisted I needed to read all three of The Lord of the Rings books before seeing the movie. To their chagrin, I was still reading “The Fellowship of the Ring” (the first in the series) while we waited in line. I read through “The Two Towers” and “Return of the King” in quick succession after finishing the first book; not because I felt pressured by the boys, but because I wanted to see what would happen. Would Frodo get into Mordor and destroy the ring? Would Aragorn, Legalos and Gimli be able to save Merry and Pippin from their kidnapping Orcs? And I just loved Sam, Frodo’s faithful companion who sacrifices the comfort of fire and food in a hobbit hole to care for his cherished friend and follow him to the ends of the earth.

Coincidentally, I followed the same reading pattern of The Lord of the Rings this time around as I had all those years ago. It took me over a month to read “The Fellowship of the Ring” (although it didn’t help that during that time I suffered a severely painful injury and my baby went through a horrific sleep regression). After that first book, I got caught up in the story (and my daughter started napping regularly), so I used every moment of my free time to read through the second and third book in just three weeks.

And this is the reason that I like to own books: you can re-read the good ones over and over and over again. The really good books never get old. Just like watching re-runs of your favourite TV show, reading old favourites still bring about the same laughs, gasps and entertainment. If anything, each time I read a favourite, I come to appreciate it more. So if you’ve never read The Lord of the Rings and you like fantasy books, I would definitely recommend picking up this infamous series. Get ready to fall into a world of magic and heroics as Middle Earth battles to free itself from the expanding grasp of the evil Sauron.

What’s your favourite book or series from your past that you find yourself reading over and over again?

To eat a meal, you must have food!

I have always been an organized person, but when I found myself living on my own, I began meal planning. I was shocked at how much food I threw out each week due to rotting. I hated seeing good food go to waste and seeing my money go in the trash. Now, I have seen the eye rolls and heard the “I could never do that” comments, but planning meals is really not as complicated or time consuming as it seems. The money you save by focussing on what you purchase, the satisfaction of not throwing out rotten food, and the ease of weekday dinners is well worth the effort of meal planning. I am going to walk you through how I meal plan in the hopes that it can help especially as you may be looking at meeting certain health and financial goals with your New Year’s resolutions.

I sit down on Thursday evening with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and spend an hour planning my meals from the coming Saturday to the following Saturday. I do my grocery shopping on Friday evening since the sale items are still fully stocked and the grocery store isn’t as busy at 8pm on a Friday night. (I recommend doing your planning the night before your normal grocery trip.) You can go old school and do your meal plan on paper, but I keep everything in my phone and use an app called “Meal Board”. If you choose paper, I recommend making a box for each day of the week and write breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

First, know your pantry. Check your fridge, freezer and cabinets to see if there are any basics that need restocking. I usually add items to my list as I notice we are running low such as milk, eggs, peanut butter; but I do double check when I make my grocery list to ensure I don’t forget anything. Also, check for any items you have that need to be used up and incorporate that into your meal plan. For example, I had goat cheese and cherry tomatoes in the fridge that needed to be used up. So, I added goat cheese to the tossed salads for lunch; and for dinner, mixed cherry tomatoes and onions in a saucepan with beef tortellini. I also had pork chops and diced cooked chicken in the freezer, so I didn’t need to purchase any meat for that week.

Next, know your budget. I check the flyers for my local grocery stores as my Superstore does price match, and I review the points available for certain items to build up my cashback. I plan my meals based on what food stuffs are on sale. For example, Olivieri tortellini was on sale for $4.99 when its normal cost is $7 so I knew that would be a good dinner choice for the week. And since it was the beginning of the month and I wasn’t buying any meat that week, I bought 2 tortellini packages and froze one of them. However, don’t buy something just because it is on sale; buy it because you will use it that week and ensure you aren’t overextending your budget.

Lastly, know yourself. Check your schedule for the week. We had our Bible Study on Wednesday and I had an evening physio appointment on Friday, so I knew I wanted easy leftovers for those days. My husband was going to be off-site at work, so he needed lunches that didn’t require reheating. I do most of my meal prep on the weekend since my baby keeps me busy and won’t always give me time to prepare a proper meal during the week. On Sunday, I cut up the vegetables for salads and stirfrys, roast chickpeas, make the tortellini stirfry, and cook rice. I put the veggies for the stirfry and the cooked rice into the freezer to ensure they stay fresh. In fact, I put most of our end-of-the-week meals into the freezer in case we have more leftovers than I anticipated or we get invited for a meal out with friends. This prevents food from spoiling and stocks my freezer with extra meals.

But most important about knowing yourself and meal planning is knowing what you can handle. During the first couple of weeks with the baby, I could barely find the time to eat much less to plan  meals. We just stocked up on the very basics (bagels, freezer pizzas, pre-cut veggie trays, apples, spaghetti) and replenished as needed. So be forgiving if you’ve had a busy couple of weeks. Also, don’t think that planning meals means you have to try new meals or more complex meals. Your meal plan could have chicken fingers every Thursday for dinner, and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every day. The point of the meal plan is to make less stress for yourself. I feel less stressed when I don’t have to open my cabinet each night and wonder what to make for dinner; and I have found we order less fast food when we have healthy, yummy meals ready to eat in the fridge.

I have included below, a snapshot of my meal plan for the week of January 2 2015 plus the accompanying grocery list on my MealBoard app. Happy planning and happy eating!