February Reads

Being gifted with a short month during the winter is a nice treat, yet when one has a race with time because of an impending major work event, and a very major life event, 28 days is just too short. Where did you go, February? Minus the work and life stresses, I was still able to zoom through four reads. So, here is a belated (sorry) roundup of the books I read in February.

My (not so) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella is part love story part work drama, and a fun read that I could not put down. Before Cat Brenner was a junior associate at a branding firm, she was Katie, a farm girl from Somerset who dreamed of living in the big city. Living in London is all that Katie wanted, but the life she lives is not as glamourous as the life she posts on social media. She lives in a tiny flat, on a very tight budget, and works for a flaky, demanding boss, Demeter, who has no idea who Cat is or what she does. But this is nothing Cat can’t handle, that is, until  Demeter fires her, and Cat/Katie returns home to the farm, and slowly returns back to her true self.

Heart-Breaker by Claudia Dey is a tale of a missing mother, a cult, everything 1980s, and weird traditions told by three primary narrators – a girl, a dog, and a boy. A strange story, that I am still questioning what I read.

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory begins with Nikole on a date at a Dodger’s game with a guy she is casually dating. In front of a stadium of cheering fans, and to her horror, he proposes to her on the jumbotron. Nikole wants to and needs to say no, and she does, but needs help when the camera crew bombard her and make the situation even worse. Here, we are introduced to Carlos, and the rest is history. I loved the diversity in this book, the humour, and the portrayal of  relevant, yet tough topics.

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is a tale told through letters, journal entries and newspaper clippings. Based loosely on the 1885 Alaska expedition led by Henry T Allen, this novel follows Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester as he treks through wild Alaska, and his wife Sophie, who navigates her own frontier. A beautifully written novel on love, loss and longing.Feb. Reads

An Ode to Stuff

It’s been almost two months since the Marie Kondo phase hit households via television sets and social media, and it is no surprised that Tidying Up with Marie Kondo took onlookers by storm. The show was released during the gloomiest month, New Year resolutions were still top of mind, and to boot, Marie Kondo appears to be the most genuine person to ever appear on TV. Viewers went wild about tidying, folding, and sparking joy; #KonMari posts went viral, memes were shared, and people kept folding their clothes into tiny little rectangle shapes (what is that kind sorcery?!) I admit, I joined in and purged my clothes, but quickly stopped after I realized that the donation pile had more clothes than what I had left in my closet. Maybe that is the point.

As we witnessed in Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, it is difficult to part with items that have served as protection, securement, and enjoyment. Not only is it difficult, in some cases, it is truly daunting. No wonder so many basements are scary, they are haunted by the ghost of lives lived past. Don’t get me wrong, I am not encouraging one to hoard every odds and ends they meet; if it no longer provides comfort, happiness, or value, then out it goes. Personally, I have discarded/donated many things that no longer hold any meaning (pictures, notes, agendas, clothes), and the act of disposing something that is no longer a loved item is quite cathartic, especially if the mementos being trashed are from toxic experiences. There’s peace in a clean space, just as there’s peace in a clean heart. Yet, there is so much happiness looking at a shelf that holds trinkets from travels, memorabilia from yesteryears, and sacred possessions handed down from generations.

The types of reality shows where we are invited in to see someone else’s chaos makes us feel better about our own mess, be it physical or internal, and these shows allow us the opportunity to quietly judge those on the screen from the comfort of our couch. I could never live that way. How could they let that happen to their home. Thank goodness my place does not look like that. Maybe that is another reason why Tidying Up quickly became such a sensation, Marie Kondo seems to truly care about the people and their homes that she entered.

As the saying goes, “one person’s junk is another person’s treasure,” so who are we to judge the state of someone’s home. And TBH, a home that is lived in is better than a house that is pristine. I want that fridge door that is crowded with little one’s artwork, school pictures, and postcards. Give me a bookshelf that is overloaded with stories shared with kids, friends, and novels read in peace. I want a house with blankets on the couch, shoes at the front door, and coats hanging on the hallway hook. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, and besides, who wants perfect anyways, it’s too much gd work.IMG_1359

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

“This place is magic, kiddo. You just have to open yourself up to it. You’ll see what I mean. But it’s treacherous, too, and don’t you forget that. I think it was Jack London who said there were a thousand ways to die in Alaska. Be on the alert.”

Emotionally triggering and at times infuriating, Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone will pull at your heartstrings throughout her latest historical fiction.

This Alaskan family drama centers around Leni Allbright, the daughter of a beautiful hippie mother, (and submissive wife) Cora, and father, Ernt, a recent Vietnam PoW. The novel begins in 1974, Leni is 13 living in Seattle. Ernt, unable to keep a job, and struggling with PTSD, nightmares, and drinking, inherits a plot of land in Alaska. Believing that this is what he needs, Ernt relocates his family for a happy new start. And it is, at first, but as the Alaskan seasons quickly change, so too does the happy family life for the Allbrights.

This coming-of-age novel is told through the eyes of Leni, and readers quickly learn that the wild Alaska is not the only threat to the Allbright women, but that father and husband, Ernt is the real danger.

Weaved throughout the Allbright family narrative, is a star-crossed lovers tale of Leni and Matthew, mirroring that of Romeo and Juliet. Ernt despises Matthew’s father, and therefore forbids Leni from seeing Matthew, but her father’s warnings and physical actions do not stop Leni from being with Matthew.

I found the novel quite lengthy (it’s 440-pages), and some parts predictable while others parts were a  bit too dramatic, but the novel does make the Last Frontier sound like an adventurous and breathtaking place to visit. Read it, or just wait until it is out in theatres.IMG_8483

Between the Vines

I vividly remember Take Our Kids to Work Day in grade nine, it was the beginning of our high school career signifying that we too will soon enter the coveted workforce and bid adieu to the dreaded school bell. (Hindsight is 20/20, amiright?)

While other kids in my grade were pumped about the idea of tagging along with their parents to the big City to do what grown-ups do best, work, I on the other hand was less thrilled about my dad taking me to his work. A couple of reasons, but the main one being that I was embarrassed to talk about where I went for TOKTWD with my peers. As we all know, high school is tough, mean girls do exist, and 14-year-olds just want to be Cher Horowitz, not some farm kid.

Fast-forward 18 years later (don’t do the math), I am shadowing my dad again for a day in the life of grape farmer under my own volition. Things have changed slightly, like the truck my dad is driving, but everything else still looks the same: the grapes are still purple, the leaves are still green, and the barn is still standing. What is new is the fact that my brothers, all too young at the time of TOKTWD, have found their own niche doing what they love on the farm. IMG_8206

It’s a busy Saturday during harvest and there’s lot of action on the farm. The crew were out early harvesting grapes for an 8am drop-off at a nearby winery, then a rinse and repeat for an 11am drop-off at a different winery. There is much to do and the crew are racing against the impending rainstorm that is on its way. Back at the barn, the group has a long break – their next grape drop-off isn’t scheduled until 11pm.IMG_8190

Since we have some time to kill, I meet up with my younger brother for a quick catchup. After we chat about life, I get down to the nitty-gritty.
“So, what do you do now?” I ask, as I figured they would be picking from 9-5 with a few breaks in-between.
“We catch up on paperwork, clean the machines, help the guys in the vineyard. There’s always something to do.”
“How do you manage everything?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” He retorts.
“You know, all the farms you pick for, what wineries get what, who’s harvesting where?”
“It’s a challenge coordinating everything, but we have a great team that we trust and rely on.” He then shows me the day’s schedule on a dry-erase board and tells me that it is updated daily for the team to check regularly, and further adds that communication is key.
My phone buzzes, “It’s go time. They are about to pick chardonnay on concession 8. I’m coming to get you.”IMG_0258

A few minutes later, I’m tagging along beside my dad like it’s grade nine again, but this time I’m interested. Unlike grade nine, a few colourful words escape my dad’s mouth as stress levels increase due to to the time constraint they are battling.
“Why is the rain bad?” I naively ask.
“We need the weather to remain warm and dry. We can’t pick in the rain, and the longer we wait the more susceptible the grapes are to rot. I can’t sell rotten fruit.”
“Oh” I respond, as I silently pray to the weather gods to not mess with my dad.

We make our way down a bumpy back road and spot the harvester already in one of the rows. A few seconds later, I’m riding on what can only be described as a transformer as the machine straddles a row and picks the grapes. The driver, one of three on the farm, tells me that this is his favourite part of the job, and I can see why. You are on top of the world.
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Nova Scotia, My Heart’s Always Yours

It seems like forever ago when my sister and I boarded WestJet’s new airline, Swoop, and ventured to the east coast for a mini #sistasdoNS getaway, but it was only a couple of months ago and yet, I didn’t get enough and am already dreaming of retuning one day soon.

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt a gravitational pull to visit the Maritimes; it all started with a tourism commercial from the ‘90s that proudly showed colourful homes, fishing villages, lighthouses, rolling hills and the ocean. I was hooked by the carefree energy and inviting spirit of the east coast life that these ads portrayed, and twenty years later, I finally ventured to Nova Scotia and experienced a small taste of seaside life. The salty ocean air, the seafood, and the stunning views did not disappoint.

What follows is our very busy #sistasdoNS four-day itinerary, which will hopefully stir up some maritime wanderlust and get you hopping on the next plane to the east coast.

Day 1:
Up at the crack of dawn to experience Peggy’s Cove before the large tour buses took over. From there we drove to Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and my favourite part of the trip. If you go, make sure to roam the streets and admire the old homes, visit the Blue Nose, grab a coffee at No.9 (best chai latte I’ve ever had), buy a book or two from Lexicon Books, I recommend this one by local artist Emma Fitzgerald, and grab a lobster roll at The South Shore Fish Shack. We spent the evening in Halifax, and dined at the amazing Lot Six – most creative cocktail list I have ever seen. Visited the Citadel, explored the old streets, and took the ferry back to our super cute Airbnb in Dartmouth.IMG_7095

Day 2:
Up early for the 5-hour drive to Cape Breton Island. Drove part of the Cabot Trail to Ingonish, where we stayed at the adorable Salty Roses and the Periwinkle Café in a room overlooking the ocean. If you visit, don’t expect a busy town or nightlife. Come here to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. IMG_7144

Day 3:
Completed our 298km loop around the Cabot Trail, and stopped every 15-minutes or so, which made the drive extra long, but we couldn’t get over the breathtaking views, it was as if the next lookout point was better than the last. Due to time constraints and the long drive ahead of us to Wolfville, we only hiked one of the 26 trails in Cape Breton, the Skyline Trail, but that trail did not disappoint; rugged coastline views of the Cabot Trail and the ocean were on full display as we reached the lookout. Words cannot describe the beauty of Cape Breton Island, and what I write in an attempt to express its grandeur will only fail miserably. It’s no surprise that it’s touted as one of the world’s most scenic drive. IMG_7268

Day 4:
Up early to walk the ocean floor in Blomidon as the tide was out – what an experience! Headed back to Wolfville and visited a few wineries. First stop was Benjamin Bridge, to taste their renowned sparkling, then off to Luckett Vineyards – if you go, make sure to visit the old red telephone box in the vineyard. Last spot and the most anticipated was Lightfoot & Wolfville Vineyards an organic winery that practices biodynamic viticulture, and the nicest family you will ever meet. Nova Scotia has one wine appellation, Tidal Bay, (Ontario has three: Niagara Peninsula, Lake Erie North Shore, and Prince Edward County), and every winery produces a Tidal Bay wine. Tidal Bay is a crisp, aromatic white wine that reflects the terroir, coastal breezes and cool climate region, and pairs perfectly with their local seafood. One last sweet stop at the Real Scoop and a quick walk to the Waterfront Park to witness high tide to cap off our getaway before we slowly and begrudgingly made our way to YHZ.IMG_7347There was a somber air to the trip as we realized it may be the last one we take together before new life chapters begin, as they do and as we want them to, so my sister and I savoured every moment, took too many goofy pictures and made new memories to last a lifetime.

Have you been to the east coast, or is it on your travel bucket list? Let me know, I’d love to hear highlights from your trip, or places you’d like to see.  IMG_8165.JPG

Pictures:
1. Lot Six in Halifax
2. Our room overlooking the ocean at Salty Roses and the Periwinkle Café
3. View from the Skyline Trail
4. The ocean floor
5. My beautiful sister and I at Peggy’s Cove.

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