A good reading list should be as balanced as our diet: filled with nutritious niblets of several genres, with some servings of pure alcohol, caffeine and chocolate in good measure (or mainlined, whatever.) Biographies, sagas, mysteries, and classics are the food groups of literature, with romance at the top of the pyramid to provide those sugar highs we occasionally crave. A little of everything for any diet is on this list. What these books have in common is they are all beautifully written, with characters so real you expect to look up and find them in your bedroom (or car, or kitchen, wherever you happen to be reading). For the most part, they’re not even new books; but books that I happened to love this year.
What is not on this list is Fifty Shades of Grey (or Fifty Shades of Awful, by my estimation.) Don’t get me started on that trilogy of tragedy.
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
This book takes you into the mind and struggles of a hermaphrodite, Callie. When was the last time you were there? Ya huh. It’s a family saga that spans three generations, beginning in Smyma in the early 1900′s, and their harrowing emigration to Detroit. It’s filled with colourful characters and poignant moments, and made me ponder the strong relationship between sexuality and identity. It kept me reading into the wee hours; Eugenides deserves his reputation for being a master storyteller.
When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman
Life rarely makes sense. And so it goes for Elly, the heroine of this book. A traumatic event shapes her early years, and as the book unfolds its repercussions are felt, again and again. The book is as quirky as Elly herself. It’s beautifully written, charming and funny in spite of itself.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
She’s best known for her award winning Bel Canto, but my personal favorite of Patchett’s is still The Magician’s Assistant, by the by. A hint of mystery kept me turning the pages of her latest novel, set in the jungle of the Amazon, as the protagonist, Marina, discovers the wonders of the Lakashi people deep in the heart of the rain forest.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
A story before its time, Wharton depicts societal norm as the joke that it really is. Ellen, the protagonist, challenges standards by leaving her loveless marriage. When she meets Newland Archer, who is newly engaged, Ellen and Newland begin a lifelong game of cat and mouse, and a love for all time. If you read one classic this summer, or ever, choose this.
Your Voice in My Head, by Emma Forrest
This memoir by Forrest reminds us that life is filled with ups and downs, and that no relationships are easy. As she spirals into sadness, Forrest finds a light in her therapist; when he dies from cancer she is left wandering in the dark once again. Her hostile and lonely world make for beautiful passages, and a wonderful memoir leaking with truth and life.
Here are the books that are burning a hole in my bedside table, and I’m excited to devour them this July, come sun or what may:
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt (Back to my tomboy days with some country and western. And the author happens to be too chilled for words, great non-vibe from this guy.)
Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan (Oooh so excited for this one.)
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway (Why have I not read this book?!)
The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman (When my tenth friend told me to read this, I put my hands up in surrender. I surrender!)
I’m hungry just looking at them. Read ‘em and weep. Or read ‘em and eat. Whatever you do, fold yourself into the pages of a delicious dessert this summer. Happy summer reading.
It’s such a normal, predictable equation: go to university, start your career, get married, have a baby. In my hurry to be a grown up, I went “check, check, check, CHECK GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY WHAT HAVE I DONE?”
I was unprepared for the permanence of motherhood. I vividly recall my teachers droning on about how difficult university would be. “No one will write this on the board for you in university,” they grumbled as they fed their chalk into the holder that never held. In university, professors warned us about how trying life was in the real world. “If you’re late, you’re fired,” they reminded me over their round spectacles when I breezed into Poli Sci 101 fashionably late. As for marriage, it was easy to see that had its trials – normal, everyday encounters with couples, and sitcoms like The Jeffersons, prepared me for a union that is difficult at the best of times – As George said about his marriage to Weezy, We tied the knot forty years ago, and I been swinging from it ever since.
Which brings me to motherhood. I would have liked a few more “Heads up! Be careful what you wish for!” warnings, but once the bun is in the oven, it’s a little late for those. I eagerly digested “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” only to throw it over my shoulder when I spied “The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy” on a bookshelf. It was like reading Cosmo after a owning a yearly subscription to Family Circle. Vicki Iovine prepared me for pregnancy, but no one prepared me for motherhood. (Incidentally, Vicki has split up with her husband, so I’m guessing “The Girlfriends Guide to Divorce” is on its way.)
This topic is on my mind these days, since my twelve year old daughter’s loftiest goal in life is motherhood. I’m sure this is a passing phase, but nevertheless I am arming myself with an arsenal of reasons why becoming a mother – while it’s the highest calling and all that crap – is actually something one should put it off until they can’t any longer. I’m not going to stand idly by and let my child think it is all baby powder and toothless grins – because there is a lot of shit to add to this equation, both figuratively and literally.
1. Your body will never be the same.
After housing a person for a gestation period, delivering a rugby-ball sized person from where the sun don’t shine, and allowing them to both pacify themselves and feed themselves by sucking on your breast, perhaps this is obvious. But my old college roommate said it best when she exclaimed “What happened to your boobs?” a year after the birth of my second child. My once perky chest had shrunk in size (What? It only stands to reason they should grow…) and could now belong to a circus act demonstrating how far one’s skin can stretch. It’s a party trick I have yet to pull out in public.
2. You didn’t know the meaning of patience (or worry, or fear. or anger.) Until you’re a parent.
I thought I was an easy going person until I had a child. A little spilled red wine didn’t bother me in the least. But watching my (once sweet) two-year old play wheelies with my newborn’s stroller while she is strapped into it sent me into a rage so quickly it was like emotional whiplash. If my reactions could somehow be measured, they would look like an altitude watch after a day of downhill skiing: several peaks of joy, followed quickly by plummets of despair, with confusion, panic, fear and anger thrown in on the way down. No wonder I’m exhausted by the end of each day.
4. Forget about vacations for eighteen years.
Whereas you once woke up and wondered how to spend another leisurely day in paradise, vacationing quickly becomes more work than life with children. By the time you’ve force fed them, applied their armor of suntan lotion, blown up their floaties, and wrestled their hats on their heads, it’s time for lunch and a break from the sun. Then the whole process starts over again. That bestseller in your beach bag is purely for show.
5. Even though you keep your receipt, the store will not take them back.
When I dream of things strangling me, I wake up gasping for air to find one of my children’s limbs – arm, leg, whatever – thrown across my neck. Even in my own bed, there is no such thing as self-time. As I type this, my kid is at my elbow because her DS is plugged in to my computer. Being a parent means you might never be alone again. I’m not condoning those mothers who hit the road, never to be heard from again, but there are moments when I understand what they were thinking when they stepped on the accelerator.
Babies are adorable until you spend an overnight flight sitting beside one with an earache, and life can bring plenty of earaches. That’s all I’m saying.
People are evidently nervous this time of year. I’m seeing a myriad of “How to Survive the Holiday” topics in the blogosphere, and #StuffBetterFast is trending on Twitter. North America is buzzing with hints and tips on surviving this time of year, when we are stuck inside with no choice but to engage our extended family in scintillating conversation.
This can be a terrifying prospect, wherein the only solution can be found in the bottom of a bottle, be it ruby red or palest garnet. I, however, have been handed an extended family which frowns upon such liquids which might put a hint of joy in an otherwise morose day. My sober state has paid off in spades however: I’ve learned how to talk about absolutely nothing with ease, and at length.
If you, too, want to navigate the holidays free of catastrophe, stick to the following topics:
1. The cooking of the turkey. Is the white meat moist, while the dark meat still falls off the bone? Bonus points! This will always vary from holiday to holiday, so bears mentioning, and will allow you to explore the meals of holidays past, wistfully or otherwise.
2. The texture of the turkey. Is it gamey? Bland? Does it melt in your mouth? This can be explored while the gravy is being passed around, and don’t forget the cranberry sauce in the event of an overdone bird.
3. Where did the turkey hail from? Usually good for a tale involving lineups and holiday frenzy. Beware the temptation to sojourn into the topic of organic, free-range turkeys, however, as this can lead to polarization from one’s relatives. Ahem.
4. The turkey accessories. Do the carrots complement the dinner? What is the consistency of the mashed potatoes? Is the gravy perfectly lump-free? Is the group assembled pro-brussel sprouts or con? (For some reason we share a collective forgetfulness with this issue, so need to revisit it each occasion, but it never gets old.) The turkey accompaniments can provide you with minutes of frivolity; play around a little and have some fun.
5. The temperature of the meal. Is everything bubbling hot? The water ice cold? This can naturally send you into another blissfully safe topic to round out the meal: the weather.
Now, if you sail through these topics before second helpings are distributed, or Aunt Betty’s apple pie is polished off, you can always revert to my standby: round table bets on how many dinners will be gleaned from leftovers. Add a quarter to the pot to add excitement and intrigue.
Generally, if you stick to the above conversational points, being sure to lean on the positives of the meal, while downplaying the negatives, you should be able to navigate your way through the entire meal without offending anyone, and you can retire to your football game stuffed, but otherwise intact. (Or in my case, a scene out of 1950, where the men retire to the football game and the women clean up the mess.)
It goes without saying that politics, greenhouse gases, the deficit, the euro crisis, whether fighting in hockey should be banned, ‘who is Kim Kardashian anyway?’, Glee, and anything else that could be considered remotely interesting, are all potentially hot topics which could leave someone in tears. Engage in these controversial subjects at your own risk, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Easter will be here before you know it.
If you plan on heading to Whistler this weekend, pump up your tires and join the crowd: you will be served better by two wheels than four. The RBC GranFondo is in town. If your Italian is rusty, GranFondo translated means long race, massive pain. The upside is that cyclists will have their very own precious northbound lane along the Sea to Sky corrider from early morning until late afternoon.
For this special day, cyclists will not have to choke on exhaust. They will not be forced onto the gravel shoulder of a road by cars insistent on hugging the white line. They will be able to enjoy the breathtaking views in their peripheral vision without the distracting roar of engines.
Combine these attractions with the aging demographic, who find cycling easier on the joints if hard on the pocketbook, and you get 4000 participants in last year’s inaugural event. A huge turnout by any race standard. This year the event has almost doubled in size – it sold out in April to 7000 riders.
And yes, I’m one of them.
I have logged hundreds of miles, much of them uphill, in preparation. I’ve gone from shakily practicing those damn toe clips in my driveway to manouvering skillfully through intersections. I’ve only fallen once this summer (and that was down stairs without my bike). I feel ready for this challenge – but for one caveat.
I’m used to avoiding hulking weapons of steel, otherwise known as cars, on my rides, but what about the 6,999 other cyclists? I’ve ridden with the occasional friend in my training, but it’s hard to practice riding in a pack without, well, a pack.
So I’ve been busily interviewing every cyclist I know and Googling the hell out of “Tips for cycling races.” The best advice I’ve had so far has been from my friend and uber-athlete, Chrissie, who told me NEVER, in any circumstances, take your eyes off the road. This may seem obvious, but I frequently shoulder check while I ride, which entails taking my eyes off the road for a millisecond. This is a no-no. I am to use my peripheral vision to shoulder check.
The other thing she told me was to not watch the wheel of the rider in front of me, but rather look through them at the level of their hips, in order to see the road in front of that rider (as best you can without possessing x-ray vision).
So eyes front and slightly raised.
But what about all of those obstacles that we swerve to avoid, like broken glass and large potholes? Cyclists that I know will point these out with a wave of their hand if they are in front of me. If I’m alone however, I sometimes don’t see them until the last second. The answer, according to bloggers, is to slowly and steadily steer around these obstacles, with the emphasis on slowly and steadily. If you see it too late, and if it’s not big enough to swallow you and your bike whole, then ride through it rather than swerve and risk the rider behind you crashing into you.
Once again, the message here is eyes front. I’m getting it.
So it goes without saying when reaching for water bottles or fuel, do it without taking your eyes off of the road. My friend caught grief from riders in the Napa GranFondo when she inadvertently dropped her water bottle. Of course it was a mistake, but one that could have had consequences. I’m planning on not touching my bottles until well out of the pack.
Eyes front, steady hands.
Of course there are other niggling worries for the 120 km ride: proper nutrition and hydration, fatigue, my incessantly complaining ass. But they all pale in comparison to staying upright through the thickest of things. My biggest challenge will be to remain focused on the road in front of me, even if the rider beside me is naked.
Eyes front, smiling permitted.
Deprived of Vitamin D and perplexed with ways of entertaining children indoors as rain and snow pelt their windows, many families throw in the towel this time of year and book a pilgrimage to that storied place that bills itself as the Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland.
But this hot spot can quickly become Nightmare on Main Street if you don’t plan properly. Read this list of dos and don’ts before arriving in the Magic Kingdom to ensure you don’t tell Mickey to take his overpriced ears and shove them where the sun don’t shine.
- Do plan to be up with the birds. Be at the park when it opens to get a few minutes of peace before the mobs arrive – it only gets busier as the day goes on.
- Do bring a daypack. The energy required for hoofing it all over the Magic Kingdom requires more fuel than greasy donuts and pop. Stack your day pack with healthy snacks and bottled water. After a day filled with grease and sugar, even the unlikeliest of suspects will be clamouring for a grape. Once you pass through those gates, there is not a vitamin-filled morsel to be found.
- Do book lunch beforehand. If your entourage includes little girls who are starstruck by the thought of meeting princesses wearing more make up than Lady Gaga, don’t stand in those long lines at the wishing well to meet Snow White. Book lunch at Ariel’s Grotto, where six princesses will come to your table while you eat your lunch in a booth shaped like an oyster shell. You need to eat lunch anyway, and having the princesses come to your booth can save you an entire day of pain and suffering as you try to track them down.
- Do start at the back of the park. It’s not easy to drag your children past some of their favorite rides, but books have been written on this subject: start at the furthest reaches of the park and work your way forwards for the best use of your time.
- Do plan to hit a show at the peak of the sun’s rays. Usually it’s the rides that get top billing, but some of the musicals I’ve seen in Disney rival Broadway. If it’s a hot day, pick a noon time or early afternoon showtime, and sit down in a nice cool theater for an hour of bliss. Aladdin and A Bug’s Life are two of my favorites. No joke.
- Don’t buy your child a souvenir until the end of the day. Every ride you exit forces you to go through a gift shop for that ride, to the chagrin of every parent alive. Murphy’s Law has it that they will buy the Winnie the Pooh mug, only to find the Jack Sparrow mask they’ve dreamed of ten minutes later. I’ve had great success putting this task off until the end of the day while we are waiting for the parade to start. Almost all of the souvenirs can be found in the shops on Main Street; those Disney marketers know what they’re doing.
- Do set a souvenir budget. Be forewarned they will be wanting every Goofy hat and Belle boa that walks past them. If you don’t prepare them beforehand, you will spend their education fund on such useless trinkets.
- Don’t bother reserving a curbside seat for the parade or fireworks. People will stand in front of you at the last minute anyway, and it’s difficult to find a bad seat for the fireworks. Do your souvenir shopping and wedge in somewhere at the last minute.
- Don’t ask a person with a thousand pins on their banner for directions. They may look like a Disney employee, but these people are not employed by the park, they are just strange people who spend a lot of time at Disneyland.
- Do use Fastpasses for the most popular rides. As you are hightailing it to the back of the park to begin your day, grab a Fastpass for a super popular ride like Space Mountain on your way, to save yourself an hour long line up later. The caveat, however, is you can only hold one of these golden tickets at a time.
- Don’t put your little cherub in her Cinderella costume on hot days. I’ve seen more children melting in these polyester torture devices on hot days than exhausted adults. Throw fashion sense out the door and dress all family members in runners and comfortable clothing, with either sunscreen or umbrellas at the ready in your day pack, depending on the weather forecast.
- Do divide and conquer. Little boys won’t be as enchanted by the magic castle, and my eleven-year-old won’t care to ride the merry go round. If there are two adults involved in this pilgrimage, split up for part of the day to concentrate on child specific requests.
- Don’t try to do it all in one day. We have attempted this, and it is the equivalent of running a marathon backwards. Don’t frustrate yourself and your children by promises of doing it all. Pick the most important things, and be happy with a few extras thrown into the mix.
- Do bring Tylenol. You’ll thank me later.
I have seen more unhappy children at Disneyland than any other place on this planet. Plan and prepare properly beforehand so that your child isn’t added to this medley of overtired, sugar-fueled, hysterical orangutan’s during the fireworks.