Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“I have always taken pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor–I’m Eleanor Oliphant. I don’t need anyone else–there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I’m a self-contained entity. That’s what I’ve always told myself, at any rate. But last night, I’d found the love of my life. When I saw him walk onstage, I just knew.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a refreshing, funny and so very real read. This isn’t a novel about villains or heroes, there is no plot twist or crazy characterization, but what this novel has at its core are honest characters that are lonely, funny, kind and just so darn loveable.

Eleanor Oliphant is a thirty-something year old single woman; she works a full-time job as a finance clerk, rents a flat in Glasgow, drinks too much on the weekends, and has a crush on a unsuitable man. Seems pretty ordinary, but Eleanor is anything but: she’s smart, sophisticated, and extremely socially awkward. She can’t stand small talk, has no friends, is terrified of her mother, and consumes two bottles of vodka each weekend. She lives a structured life, but when an unexpected event changes Eleanor’s scheduled Friday night plans (Tesco pizza and vodka alone), her predetermined days quickly change as new acquaintances become friends and new experiences unfold for this quirky heroine.

Unlike traditional happily ever after tropes, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine does not end with romance saving the girl. The storyline is a bit rom com of sorts, but the love Eleanor finds is the love for herself, which is so refreshing to read in this female-centred novel. IMG_7768

The Old Apartment

Last week I was reminded via Facebook Memories that seven years ago I moved into my first apartment. It was nothing fancy, but it was love at first sight: French Doors, a claw foot bathtub, and hardwood floors. I loved this small 550sq.ft space more than anything. Sure, the floors were squeaky, the neighbours upstairs were noisy, and the water pressure was weak, but it was mine, a place to call my own. It was in this apartment that I adopted my cat, Kingsley; I wanted a companion but not the human kind, and a dog was just too much. It was in this small space that I learned what it feels like to have mere cents in the bank account and no food in the fridge. This was the spot that girlfriends would come over to chat late into the night. And most importantly, this was the place that I finally grew comfortable being on my own.

I remember locking myself out of my apartment one evening in the winter. I didn’t realize until after a few drinks as I searched for my keys inside my purse. As most amazing ideas are the brainchild of booze, my idea of climbing the garbage cans to my bathroom window that was ajar, was a given. After failing, and falling, I had to call my landlord.

I have hazy memories of hanging out with a girlfriend who lived a few blocks away. My back-stoop became the spot we would smoke Sobranie’s, sip rosé or some homemade cocktail and discuss our current life choices; Lana Del Rey’s drowsy voice and the murmur of busy St. Paul Street the soundtrack to those summer nights.

I became comfortably at peace with the place I called home, but after two and a half years of safe refuge, my fear became a reality, as my beloved apartment turned against me. It was an early summer morning, but the city was still asleep when I was jerked awake by what sounded like my door knob turning. Too scared to move, I stayed in bed and reassured myself that it was just a dream. A few seconds later, I heard a deep bellowing voice say, “B!tch, let me in.” I screamed, and jolted out of bed – it sounded like an someone was inside my apartment. With nothing to protect myself, exposed and terrified, I slowly walked towards my kitchen, where I stood face-to-face with an unrecognizable man, my only protection, the window screen that stood on guard between me and this intruder. I yelled at him to leave, colourful curse words escaped my mouth, and with shaky limbs, I slammed the kitchen window closed and locked it. The man did not recognize that his behaviour was unwanted but continued to pound on my door and the walls of the building, spewing profane language, and causing me to feel weak, dirty and isolated. Finally, the man gave up and ran off somewhere, while I remained hidden on my living room floor crying.

After I gained a bit of strength, I called the police, and to my horror, they did nothing but made me feel as if the incident was my fault.

That moment changed my carefree spirit and I became paranoid of what could be lurking around a corner, or across the street. I became a 27-year-old woman who triple checked that the door was locked, and that the windows closed. I could no longer sleep in the dark and had to leave my night table lamp on – shadows that were once familiar scared me and sounds that were soothing became unbearable.

I remained in that apartment for ten more months. When the day came to leave, I was sad; I didn’t want to say goodbye to my first home, to the memories I created in that small space, and to the place that taught me to stand on my own. Although it felt like she abandoned me that one summer morning, in reality, my old apartment protected me.IMG_1028

Hi Ali, It’s Botox Calling

As I was driving into work the other day, I looked at myself in the rearview mirror to make sure that toothpaste residue wasn’t caked around my lips, and noticed, instead, a faint sign of a wrinkle just above my upper lip. The horror: a new line, a new crease, a new sign of the impending inevitable aging process. I’m not young and I’m not old per se (what constitutes old and young anyways?), nor am I a wrinkle rookie as lines slowly decorate my flesh. Yet, it’s still upsets me when I find a crevice that was not there the day before, and I quietly curse the anti-aging potion I spent a fortune on for not doing its magic.

The same day, an editorial piece popped up in my news feed about the benefits and beauty of injectables, and I felt defeated for being victim of another clickbait article brandishing the vulnerable. But I had to know, what is the aging cure, so I read and found that the answer is in the form of repeated cosmetic treatments. Okay, but there has to be something else? Can’t I just slather Fun Dip on my face, relive the 90s, drink lots of water and go to bed at a respectable hour to rejuvenate my youthful glow? If only.

Alas, the never-ending desire for flawless skin free of lines, creases, furrowed brows will always be prevalent in my own everyday narrative when I greet my face in the morning and clean it at night. I’m not alone in this struggle as women everywhere are echoing these sentiments. A study published in 2017 from Reuters, stated that “the Global Anti-Aging Market was worth $250 billion in 2016 and is estimated to reach $331.41 billion by 2021.” Our skin is our identity, yet we disguise its truth with lotions, potions, fillers and enhancers. Why?

I will be the first one to admit that I am bamboozled by the beauty industry; my makeup drawer is an embarrassment, my Sephora buyer status is VIB (it could be worse), and I’ve contemplated many times on getting a little prick here and there to eliminate a line or two. I’m a sucker, the biggest sucker, for concoctions that promise beauty in the form of perfect youthful skin. But aren’t we all in search of that one product that defies time by tricking others, and ourselves, that we are untouchable from the signs of aging?

Maybe one day I’ll try Botox, or maybe I’ll simply accept fate and appreciate the slow process of my body changing over time; that these lines slowly creeping on my face are merely lines celebrating smiles and contemplative thoughts over a lifetime. Easier said than done, amiright?

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The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman

“Elodie is an orphan, which, Tata has explained, means she does not have a mother or a father. When Elodie once asked her why not, she was told quite plainly, “You live in a home for unwanted girls because you were born in sin and your mother could not keep you.”

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman is a historical novel based on true events in Quebec during the 1950s and ’60s, at a time where the province is governed under Premier Maurice Duplessis dictatorship, and there is a divide between the French Canadians and the English Canadians.

Living in this era is 15 year-old Maggie Hughes, an innocent girl who dotes on her English-speaking father and dreams of one day taking over his seed shop. However, Maggie finds herself torn between abiding by her father’s rule, and allowing her feelings to bloom for her neighbour, Gabriel Phénix, a poor, rough around the edges French Canadian, the type of guy Maggie’s father has ruled her to avoid.

Conflicted between love and honour, Maggie chooses love, and shortly after becomes pregnant with his child and is forced to give up her baby, Elodie. Elodie is sent to an orphanage, while Maggie is forced to continue living a life that never bore a daughter. Meanwhile, Elodie becomes a Duplessis orphan, and is falsely certified as mentally ill.

Following the birth of her daughter, Maggie’s narrative is interwoven with Elodie’s, where the reader has a glimpse into Maggie’s heartache and longing for her unknown daughter, and insight into the horrific treatment Quebec orphans in the ‘50s were subjected to, and what Elodie goes through.

I could not put this book, I was engrossed in the story of Maggie and her daughter Elodie, and did not want it to end. It is a heartbreaking, beautiful and powerful story about love and family.IMG_6815This dark part of Canada’s history was unknown to me prior to reading this novel, and I  feel guilty for not knowing, but The Home for Unwanted Girls (and Google) made me aware of this ugly part of Quebec’s past.

History of Duplessis Orphans
During the 1940s and ’50s, several thousand orphans and children born out of wedlock were “reclassified” by authorities as mentally ill and placed in psychiatric hospitals. Premier Maurice Duplessis’s government was receiving a federal subsidy of $1.25 per orphan, but psychiatric patients were more lucrative at $2.75 each. Overnight, Catholic-run orphanages were converted to hospitals, and the young residents were treated like unpaid servants, forced to clean and provide basic care for other patients. Only later did the stories of physical, psychological and sexual abuse by nuns and other workers come out. (The Quebec government has offered financial retribution to the survivors, but the church has never formally apologized.) (Source)

Happy Campers

We made it, dear reader, the first long weekend of unofficial summer is here and with it an abundance of plans for backyard get-togethers, pool parties, beach hangouts, and of course camping.

Growing up in the country, our backyard was often the campground, as my parents would set up the tent, my brothers would build a fire, and I would search for roasting sticks. Spider dogs, smores, searching for constellations and sing-along songs would be our evening entertainment. Eventually, the kids would head to the tent for bed while my parents said good night and went back inside as the mattress was more comforting than the ground under our sleeping bags. As soon as the back door closed, the flashlights came on and the ghost stories shared. It was a favourite game to see who could tell the scariest story or who would be the first one to run inside for fear of monsters, ghosts and bogeymen.

In my tween and teen years, summer camping was often spent at camp where I would bunk with girls my age in musky row cabins where ghost stories became stories of crushes and grownup aspirations, and the days were carefree and full of childlike wonder. And then just like that, the days of camp life were over, and I became too cool for nature. Thankfully, that phase was short-lived, and a few years later, I tackled my first extreme camping trek and portaged through backcountry Algonquin.

These days, my camping trips are fairly easy with weekend stints at nearby provincial parks that are accessible by car and make packing a dream.

If you have never been camping, go and experience the outdoors. You will get dirty and there are bugs, but at night, when you look up and see a million stars staring back at you, you lose yourself and realize that the dirt is nothing compared to the beauty of nature.

To help with your planning, I’ve compiled a list of camping tips for a successful semi-wilderness adventure.

  1. Make a packing list, don’t over-pack on clothing, and socks are a must.
  2. If you use an air mattress, don’t forget a fitted sheet – they get very cold in the middle of the night.
  3. Plan easy meals, and pre-make what you can ahead of time.
  4. Use a Tupperware container for storing camping dishes (this will double as your sink).
  5. Bring a tablecloth for the picnic table – this will save eager eaters from unwanted splinters.
  6. Lawn chairs for fireside and the beach.
  7. Tiki torches or solar power string lights – creates a bit of ambiance at your campsite.
  8. Pack a hammock for ultimate campsite relaxation.
  9. String to use as a clothesline.
  10. Don’t forget sunscreen and bug spray.
  11. Wet wipes are a lifesaver.
  12. For play, pack lawn games, cards and a book.
  13. Lastly, make sure you are aware of the campground rules, as some sites are quite zones. Also know that on long weekends, most campgrounds do not allow alcohol.

If sleeping in a tent on an air mattress is not your thing, then glamourize your camping experience and go glamping. The cost is a bit more, but for luxury, it is worth it. Happy camping, friends!

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Camping at Two Jack Lakeside in Banff, Alberta (2015)

Update

I am a dry well: I have nothing to say and no stories to share. Without my words guiding me to shore, anchoring me home, I feel barren and soulless. I haven’t written creatively in over a month, I don’t know what to write; I struggle that it’s not good enough or even worse, that it’s boring and mundane. The cursor on my screen mocks me as I type, delete and then try again. It is a hopeless endeavour.

Like a drought, this won’t last forever, rain is inevitable and so too are my words. I just have to be patient, and let this pass, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help it along the way. I will be like the farmer who waters their land during the dry spell; I’ll pick up my pen and write a line or two about the day, and I’ll continue to read until that eureka moment, then I’ll harvest my words, just for you. Until then.

Currently:
Anxiously waiting to play in the dirt and start gardening
Reading The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Listening to “Nice for What” by Drake
Drinking Malivoire Rosé Moira

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Is Etiquette Extinct?

Let me start by sharing my experience meeting a Prince of Royal English descent. Picture a young woman in her early twenties on the verge of ditching her punk-rocker/hipster aesthetic and attempting to adopt a bohemian-hippie vibe. Yes, that was me. I was working in the hospitality industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and an event was planned with the Earl of Essex as the guest of honour. Oh my, what a tizzy! Everything had to be perfect, especially us, the lowly staff. A Finishing School teacher (yes, there is such a thing!) was hired to teach us royal etiquette, and instruct us on how to behave, address and acknowledge the Prince. I practiced how to act and what to say until it was perfect – I was going to nail this visit, and possibly become the next Duchess, Countess, Princess whatever.

When the Prince arrived, he greeted everyone in the room and in turn, received a bow or a curtsy. It was nearing my turn, and nervous me did that game we all do and started counting down the number of people ahead of me. In my head, I recited what I had to say and before I knew it, the Prince was in front of me, my name was called and I half curtsied/bowed/lost my balanced and awkwardly jumbled “Pleasure to meet your RoyalHighnessMajestyPrince.” Wrong! It was embarrassing, and in that moment I thought he was going to yell “off with her head” (wrong monarch) and the Scotland Yard, who were standing guard at every possible entryway, would come running with their swords.

Thankfully, that did not happen; my head is still intact and my curtsying days are over. However, there is something to be said about proper manners, even though some seem dated, while others are daunting. I will be the first to admit that I am nowhere near perfect when it comes to being a prim and proper manners queen, actually, I’m the contrary, I am a bit of a slob, but you’ll never know that (unless you live with me) because I have almost mastered the art of etiquette.

We live in a unique time right now: technology is ever evolving and continuing to advance the human race, yet I think humans, my generation in particular, are failing when it comes to our Ps and Qs. I can’t be the only one that thinks that, and if I’m not, have manners become a thing of the past, dare I say it, possibly extinct? Is it because we have lost practice of properly communicating to people without a screen in front of our face; are we too self-centred that thank yous are no longer in our vocabulary; or does it have something to do with a cultural shift of slow and steady to fast and furious?

Whatever it is, I say that we push the pause button and examine our etiquette practices. What follows is a short little ‘mind your manners’ list to use as a cheat sheet, or fake it until you make tips.

Thank Yous
This shouldn’t need reiterating, but sadly it does. Thank yous are free and the greatest gesture to show someone that you appreciate them and their generosity. If someone gives you a gift for a shower, bridal, or wedding, thank you cards are necessary. Say someone shovels your sidewalk while you are away, they deserve a thank you and maybe homemade cookies. To people that serve you, say thank you. If someone has gone out of their way for you, be it monetary or physically, say thank you.

Host/Hostess Gifts
This may seem a bit old-fashioned, but if you are invited to a dinner party know that your host has spent time and money planning and creating a delicious meal. A gift is a token of gratitude for their efforts, and can be small or complement the dinner party. Flowers, wine or a dessert are my go-to gifts.

Dinning
When at a formal setting, fancy dining can seem daunting but it is fairly simple. Remember to place your napkin on your lap as soon as you sit down and leave it there until you are done. Always wait until everyone at the table has been served before you pick up your cutlery, and start with the utensil that is away from your plate and work your way in. When finished, place your utensils at 4:20 on your plate. Confused with which bread plate and drink glass are yours, connect your left pointer finger and left thumb to make an ‘o’ and do the same with your right, the letters b and d will form; b is your left hand where you will find your bread plate, and d, for your drink, is on your right.

Daily Life
We all go through moods and sometimes we are not in the proper mind space to smile or chat with anyone, which is okay. But, on days when our spirits are bright we should share some of that warmth to others we connect with throughout the day. Smile at the people you pass on your walk; hold the door open for the person behind you; compliment a colleague on their awesome outfit, or their great presentation. Respect your partner, check in with a friend, and call your parents and grandparents.

Etiquette may seem archaic, mundane, silly and unnecessary, like that curtsy/bow debacle, but it is a sign of respect, to you and to others. So bow, open that door, send the thank you letter, and let the resurgence of etiquette commence.annie-spratt-113596-unsplash