Saturday, August 15, 2015

Orphan Train: a book club review

Orphan Train, by Chrstina Baker Kline is a book I approached with a certain excited trepidation. Having written my masters thesis on Victorian orphans, I knew the despicable pedant in me would be on the look out for historical inaccuracies, but it's also a topic I find fascinating and the blurbs sounded good. Of course, there is a world of difference between Dickens' "lone, lorn, creatures" and American children sent from East Coast cities to lives of servitude in the Midwest (the plot is slightly more Anne of Green Gables than Oliver Twist).

Orphan Train uses the classic (a.k.a. cliché) story-within-a-story structure. The framing story has troubled Goth teenager Molly meeting aged rich lady Vivian to do some community service. There are no surprises in Orphan Train - I can hardly even clarify for myself what might constitute a spoiler in this review since not a single element of the plot was a twist. Their friendship builds as Vivian tells Molly the story of her childhood as an 'Orphan Train rider' and ... the rest is glossed-over history. 

Kline's story-telling is pleasant. Her writing style is both poetic and fluid, and her characters, in general, are well-developed. I devoured the book like one does a meringue - in the moment it's great, but you aren't left with much at the end.

In fact, as I was preparing to go to book club, I had to check my book shelf to remember what book we'd read. What was missing was any sort of sensory input. Not just skirting the issue of 'bad things happening,' but the stench of a family of 6 living in a New York City tenement, the cold of an unheated Minnesota sewing room, the pain of soul-crushing loss, the ache of horny teenagers, the promise of spring. Given the time period of the inside story, Kline left a lot on the table.

It's a good book. On the 'liked/didn't like, recommend/don't recommend, three-word review' test for book club I'd say
  • liked
  • recommend
  • predictable, enjoyable, fails to impress

Dear sweet funny bad-ass Little E hosted a luscious summer patio dinner, and faced the challenge of hosting for this book head on. We have a tradition in the club of, when possible, tying the theme of the dinner to the theme of the book. For a book like The Great Gatsby or The Secret Life of Bees the theme can be both obvious and inspiring to work with. For a book about orphans sent to work on farms and in other forms of indentured servitude for people little capable of or willing to care for them, during the Great Depression, with references only to squirrel stew or weak potato soup well, the cooking becomes a little more challenging.

And so, in true Little E style, we started with vodka spiked rosemary lemonade. I don't know that there's a connection to the book, and I don't care. She should bottle that stuff! From there, the framing story of the book is set on the coast of Maine, and Little E wisely took her inspiration from there.

Clam chowder thick enough to stand a spoon in, with an extra bowl of crumbled bacon on the side if we wanted more (it's bacon - WE WANTED MORE!). Seafood tacos with sass and verve and succulence. Lobster salad. There was more. Much more. And sorbet in orange peel bowls for dessert were the perfect palette cleansing touch of sweetness.

As always, the conversation was rich and far-ranging and sometimes off topic and insightful. On a sunny July deck in a gorgeous thriving back garden, with bees (okay, wasps, but they're less poetic) buzzing and a sweet baby girl stopping by to say "goodnight Mama" to our hostess, there was plenty of proof once again why book club is my favourite night of the month.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

the mother of all reviews

In the last 9 months or so I've fallen so far off the blogging wagon that I haven't even posted book reviews. Many of the books I've read I've drafted posts about - some full of notes & thoughts at the time, and some just with the title as a place-holder in my drafts folder.

My night stand on any given night. 
I thought about powering through them all - blasting out review after review until they're done. I will still post proper reviews of all the missing book club books (because I love those ladies, it's often the highlight of my month, and those posts are generally about more than just a book review).

While considering the back log recently, I had a streamlining idea - for all of the non-book club book backlog I will apply the round-robin review that we use to ensure everyone at book club gets heard at least once (we might have a conversation dominator or two *blushes & waves*)

Before our conversation turns into a free-for-all we go around the table and say 

1. Like it/didn't like it
2. Would/wouldn't recommend it
3. Three word review 

In truth, the three-word review is rarely just three words, but it's generally brief and not an invitation to discussion so much as an impression. We're not overly disciplined about that as it's hard not to jump in with 'oh really, but' or 'I know, right?,' but we do rein ourselves in if we haven't gotten around the table yet. 

So ... here are some of the non-book club books I've been neglecting to review. I won't be linking to Amazon anymore as they are now requiring Canadian associates to provide income details for the IRS. To which I say, "OH, HELL NO!" I do hope you'll instead check your local bookseller if anything I review catches your fancy.

White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga
1. Liked it
2. Recommend it to most people
3. Compelling, charming, disturbing

Run, by Ann Patchett
1. LOVED it
2. Strongly recommend it
3. Redemptive, thought-provoking, comforting 

The Art of Non-Conformity, by Chris Guillebeau
1. Loved it
2. Recommend it to those ready for a different way to do life
3. Encouraging, inspiring, practical

The Measure of a Man, Sidney Poitier
1. Liked it
2. Recommend it
3. Deep, poignant, moving

One Hundred and Four Horses, by Mandy Retzlaff
1. That's a complicated question sometimes - I liked her writing, but I am SOOOO over 'poor me' stories of white Africa. Yes, what happened to the white farmers in Zimbabwe was inhumane and unjust. But can we at least acknowledge the 200+ years of inhumane and unjust colonization that came before? 
2. I would recommend it with caveats - and to my white African friends.
3. Engrossing, tone-deaf, poorly edited ('azure' 8 times in one chapter? C'mon)

There have been more, but without a place holder they've fallen away. More of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander and Lord John series. Books I picked up in the Cuso Jamaica office. Books I left behind in airports and on buses. But we've started clearing the backlog. Just a bunch of book club reviews to go and I might even start actually writing again.

Stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

the crabs in the bucket

Back when K'os first emerged on the western Canadian music scene in the early 2000s (I imagine he was already known in eastern Canada before then), I thought little of his song 'Crabbuckit' other than 'It's got a good tune and I can dance to it' (some of you are too young to get that reference; get offa my lawn).

It's still a catchy tune, but lately I've been more and more aware of the metaphor - it seems in a bucket full of crabs you don't need a lid because any brave crustaceans that try to rise above will be pulled back down by the other crabs, or so the story goes. 

I like crabs. They are intriguing, adaptable, tasty creatures. But you wouldn't want to be in a bucket with a bunch of them. 

Ever since I returned home from Jamaica, I've been slipping around, having trouble finding my feet. I was light and glowing when I returned - the experience, the sunshine, the healthy diet, the fabulous friends, the freedom, the opportunity to make a visible difference. It all had an effect I thought would last. 

In fact, much of the growing and learning I did in Jamaica has lasted and will last, though the glow has gone. For the last two months I've been in one of the deepest depressions I've experienced in years -  it's acute and circumstantial. It's a lack of sunshine and freedom and pineapple and clarity. This too shall pass and is already lifting. 

But in the midst of that were the crabs. Those people who wanted to downplay my experience. Those whispers of 'oh shut up about Jamaica already.' Those accusations of narcissism and self-obsession and expressions of disinterest. And the crabs in my own head asking whether I have any worth back here in Canada, whether I'll ever be able to break out of the bucket again, whether any cute crab will want to join me on the outside. 

I was talking to my friend Mr. C a week or so ago and explaining to him how the slide had started, and what had accelerated it. What we were really talking about was my lack of writing since I've come home - here, there, or anywhere. When I relayed some of those whispers, at first he was indignant on my behalf. Mr. C is a great encourager of mine - he reads and responds to my writing, and he and Mrs. C kept me good company in Jamaica via Skype and Facebook. I like to tease him, and I love that he's in my corner. 

And then he interrupted me, as he is wont to do, and said, "and how DARE you listen to that bullshit?!" 

He has a point. 

Crabs are good for eating. And watching on the beach. And taking funky pictures of. They are not good for conversating with.

You can stay in the bucket if you want, but I've got more adventures to have. And if you're not interested in them, feel free not to read what I write. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

my dad

Happy happy Father's Day xo

My dad is not the man I think I know.
He is a mystery - a much cherished, little understood ideal.
Like love.
Or what makes a joke funny.
Or how many raisins make a bran muffin perfect.

He is why my sons and I have
blue eyes and
long legs and
flaring bouts of righteous indignation.
He is a model few men since have measured up to.

My dad is not a photo I can find of us together.
Those are a few frozen moments - not even the most important ones.
He was most often behind the camera, both making and preserving the stories for us.

My Dad is not a memory of tangled fishing line on a riverbank.
Or a pink Jeep on a hillside.
Or holding hands to pray around the dinner table.
Or car trips of just us and miles filled with quiet or deep talks or Sunday School songs.

My dad is not a monolith or bunting made of adjectives.
He is superlatives and caveats and contradictions in balance.
He is as soft and as strong as leather.
He is "oh, Shan" and quick tears and being heard and "that's enough."

I have worn proudly all my life the honour of being his daughter.
I have rarely felt up to the role.
I have known to my bones he feels otherwise.

Friday, June 19, 2015

a quest for plenty: my list of 100 dreams

Well, that was more difficult than I expected. When it came right down to it, coming up with 100 things that made my eyes light up or my heart beat faster took a little thinking. I got to 50 pretty quickly, then another 10 here or there, and finally took to reading other people's lists to find my final 10. And then, because some of those lists are awesome, I ended up with 102.

One of the things that strikes me is how limited the 'Nurture Romance' section is for me. I don't know if that's because I am resigned in that area or because so much of what I do dare to dream about romance I'm too chicken to commit to paper/blog. Little of column a, little of column b and lots of room to grow, I guess.

So, here it is - my list of 102 dreams. And now for the fun part - making them happen!

I turn a-shocking-number old on January 30, 2018 and am determined to make that decade sizzle!
  • Reach a BMI <25
  • Maintain a BMI <25 for a year
  • Maintain a BMI <25 for 5 years
  • Master all 26 postures in Bikram Yoga
    • Standing Deep Breathing (Pranayama)
    • Half Moon Pose (Ardha-Chandrasana)
    • Awkward Pose (Utkatasana)
    • Eagle Pose (Garurasana)
    • Standing Head to Knee (Dandayamana-Janushirasana)
    • Standing Bow Pose (Dandayamana-Dhanurasana)
    • Balancing Stick (Tuladandasana)
    • Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose (Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana)
    • Triangle Pose (Trikanasana)
    • Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Janushirasana)
    • Tree Pose (Tadasana)
    • Toe Stand (Padangustasana)
    • Dead Body Pose (Savasana)
    • Wind-Removing Pose (Pavanamuktasana)
    • Sit up (Pada-Hasthasana)
    • Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
    • Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
    • Full Locust Pose (Poorna-Salabhasana)
    • Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
    • Fixed Firm Pose (Supta-Vajrasana)
    • Half Tortoise Pose (Ardha-Kurmasana)
    • Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
    • Rabbit Pose (Sasangasana)
    • Head to Knee Pose and Stretching Pose (Janushirasana and Paschimotthanasana)
    • Spine-Twisting Pose (Ardha-Matsyendrasana)
    • Blowing in Firm Pose (Kapalbhati in Vajrasana)
  • Thigh gap (standing straight up, assessed by someone else – ha)
  • Michelle Obama arms
  • Bubble butt
  • 32” waist
  • Complete a silent retreat

  • Be debt free
  • Create a generated-from-anywhere income of more than $80,000 net/year (in 2015 CDN dollars)
  • Write a novel 
  • Complete the ‘Ultimate Canadian Book Tour’ promoting my novel at independent book sellers in all 10 provincial and 3 territorial capitals
  • Win a short story or essay contest
  • Write a book with Nathan - Hungry Ghost Mom or other
  • Be paid to sing
  • Sing a song while accompanying myself on the piano at an open mic night
  • Take a week-long solo writing retreat during storm season in Tofino
  • Attend a writing course at The Banff Centre
  • Create a cozy, inviting, dedicated writing space in my home 
  • Take a year of shmita
  • Have my picture taken with Alan Thomas Doyle
  • Have my picture taken with Michael Bublé
  • Learn to scuba dive
  • Master a second UN working language (French or Spanish) 
  • Earn a PhD
  • Spend a day in the British Museum
  • Visit the Smithsonian Institutes
  • Take a photography course
  • Earn my own media pass to Jamaica Jazz Festival
  • Take a painting class 
  • Take a trip with Josh and really listen to who he is
  • Learn to social dance 
    • swing 
    • waltz 
    • two-step
    • others? 
  • Attend the World Domination Summit
  • Present at an official TED event
  • Be an invited (paid) speaker at a writing conference
  • Teach at a college (again)
  • Be a writer-in-residence
  • Get 20,000 Twitter followers
  • Have 5,000+ blog visits/month 
  • Be kissed atop the Eiffel Tower
  • Get married on a beach
  • Trace my lover's laugh lines as he ages
  • Make love under the Northern Lights
  • Ski Whistler
  • Ski in the alps
  • Ski a black diamond run (on purpose ;-)) 
  • Swim with a whale shark in the wild
  • Land a jump on a mountain bike
  • Drive a convertible from Los Angeles to Las Vegas
  • Ride the Rocky Mountaineer
  • Stand up on a surfboard for at least 15 seconds in Hawaii
  • Play craps in Vegas
  • Sleep in a working lighthouse
  • Take a glamping safari in the Rift Valley
  • Watch silver back gorillas in Rwanda
  • Crew a sailboat
  • Go salmon fishing on the ocean with my Dad
  • Live in a float home (or on a boat) for a year
  • Drive the entire Pacific Coast Highway 
  • Ride a roller coaster that goes upside down
  • Be Secret Santa to a children's shelter
  • Work with Habitat for Humanity somewhere in the tropic zone 
  • Work for the UN
  • Volunteer with a literacy organization
  • Teach creative writing to people in recovery from addiction/mental illness
  • Serve on the board of UNBC
  • Sponsor a bursary for single moms studying the arts at UNBC
  • Give a stranger $100 
  • Pay for the groceries of the person ahead of me in line
  • Own a pair of Louboutins
  • Fly first class 
  • Stay at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort
  • Stay at a 5 Star hotel on Central Park
  • Live in a downtown loft condo in a major city
  • Buy a scarf at the flagship Hermès store in Paris
  • Have more original art than prints
  • Ride a gondola in Venice
  • Attend the Academy Awards - inside the building! 
  • Complete a 7-day kayak holiday in the Salish Sea
  • Take my mom on a trip of her choosing
  • Take Nathan on a history tour through Germany, France, Ireland, & Scotland 
  • Travel on a round-the-world airline ticket
  • Visit the Galapagos
  • Attend Bachannal in Kingston
  • Hand feed a sloth in Costa Rica
  • Have a ‘just us’ holiday with Shan - no kids, no guys, lots of wine and laughter and tears
  • Visit all of the ferry-accessible Gulf Islands
    • Saturna
    • North Pender
    • South Pender
    • Mayne 
    • Salt Spring
    • Galiano
    • Penelakut
    • Thetis
    • Gabriola
    • Bowen
    • Hornby
    • Denman
    • Texada
    • Quadra
    • Cortez
  • See the autumn colours of the eastern seaboard
  • Live one year in London
  • Tour the White House
  • Live one year in New York City
  • Live one year in Kenya or Tanzania
  • Visit Zanzibar 
  • Take the ultimate Gospel road-trip through the Southern U.S. - (Where would that take me? Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans?)
  • Live beside the Caribbean for AT LEAST a year
  • Visit Yellowstone Park 
  • Visit Stonehenge
  • Attend Carnaval in Québec City
  • Soak in a natural hot spring in Iceland
  • Swim [or perhaps just dip a toe] in all of the oceans & seas 
    (It turns out the International Hydrographic Institute recognises 66 seas, oceans, straits, channels and bays and the list hasn’t been updated since 1953, so I’m going with my own abridged version): 
    • Pacific (north and south of the equator)
    • Atlantic (north and south of the equator)
    • Arctic
    • Indian
    • Mediterranean 
    • Caribbean
    • China
    • Bering
    • Baltic
    • Japan 
    • Arabian
    • North
    • Red
    • Dead
  • Visit the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World
    • Great Wall of China (China)
    • Petra (Jordan)
    • Christ the Redeemer (Brazil)
    • Machu Picchu (Peru)
    • Chichen Itza (Mexico)
    • Colosseum (Italy)
    • Taj Mahal(India)
    • Great Pyramid of Giza (Egypt - only remaining original Wonder)
  • Visit every Caribbean Island nation/territory
    • Antigua and Barbuda
    • (The) Bahamas
    • Barbados
    • Cuba
    • Dominica
    • Dominican Republic
    • Grenada
    • Haiti
    • Jamaica
    • Saint Kitts and Nevis
    • Saint Lucia
    • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
    • Trinidad and Tobago
    • France
      • Guadalope
      • Martinique
      • Saint Barthélemy
      • Saint Martin
    • Netherlands 
      • Aruba
      • Curaçao
      • Sint Maarten
    • Britain
      • Anguilla
      • British Virgin Islands
      • Cayman Islands
      • Montserrat
      • Turks and Caicos Islands
    • U.S.
      • Puerto Rico
Since I'm already undeniably middle aged, I've marked off the few dream elements I've completed - it's not much, but ... time's a wastin.' I don't like the effect of crossing out a dream, so the completed ones are bolded. :) 
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