What is in a name?

Some of us have three, some four or more: a first, a sur, possibly hyphenated from two, and maybe a middle or middles. However long, that name becomes your identity from when you are born or the moment you assume that name. You answer to it, introduce yourself with it, and brand yourself by it. Your name becomes the so-and-so people talk highly, or lowly, about (“have you heard about so-and-so?”), you don’t want to tarnish it, and you do everything you can to protect it.HelloGrowing up, I hated my name, Alison (sorry, mum). None of the popular older girls in my school shared that name, there were no pretty celebrities named Alison, the only popular Alison was Buffy’s sidekick, Willow, and she didn’t even spell it like me so that didn’t count. Plus, she wasn’t the beautiful badass vampire slayer, she was the character that provided comedic relief, and to preteen Alison, humour was not an attractive trait I wanted associated with my name. In 1990, Alison was listed as the 347th most popular name for girls – how was I ever going to be popular with a name that was so far from cool? (I bet you can guess the most popular girl name in 1990 – I always knew my lil’ sis was way more popular than me, and this stat just proves it!) Fast-forward thirty years (gasp), and I can proudly say, I love my name, it just had to grow on me.

So, what is in a name? Names humanize a person, and are a crucial part of a person’s existence. After recently binge-watching Fleabag on Prime (if you haven’t watched the show, then you’re later to the party than I am, and need to do so asap), I was curious as to why some characters were left unnamed, such as Fleabag, the Godmother and the Priest. I was also questioned whether or not her friend “Boo” was actually her real name, or a ghostly trait of the friend that haunts her memory. I am interested in hearing the thoughts from those that watched the show on why viewers are not privy to these characters’ names, yet are invited in on Fleabag’s inner, most secretive thoughts. By not giving someone a name is a way to keep them at a distance, to not  get too attached to them, think Holly Golightly and Cat from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. By not saying someone’s name is to remove the power they may have over others, think He Who Must Not Be Named from the popular, and much loved, Harry Potter series. My argument on why these characters are nameless is that they are everyone, they are not just one person – Fleabag is not only a Jessica, Alison, Claire or Boo, that character is everyone – all of us are Fleabag. Same with the Priest and Godmother. The personalities and actions the Priest, Godmother and Fleabag exude are real and raw human behaviours and actions that we all experience and commit.

Which leads me to ask, why are we (women) asked to change our name after we have spent x-amount of years claiming it as ours? As some readers may know, I recently married my person, and with that, comes the name change, which is a decision I’ve been struggling with – my last name defines me, it’s who I am and I’m scared that I will lose a piece of myself once I give it up / replace it with that of my husband’s. The easy solution is to hyphenate our last names, but that mouthful will eat up 22 spaces, not easily fitting in any box that requires one to write their surname. Add to that all of the paperwork that needs to be completed, the updating of accounts, the changing of email addresses. Oy, bring on the headache and the martini. Needless to say, all of this leaves me in a name conundrum. Again, I pose the question, what is in a name? Simply put, a lot.

Summer Reads

Is there anything better than spending a lazy summer day reading? The answer is no, nothing is better. A distant memory of my childhood are summer nights spent staying up way too late, with my head, flashlight and a book under the covers reading until my eyes could no longer stay open, and then, revisiting that world the following night. Now, with the help of a Kobo and an unenforced bedtime, I no longer have to hide my nightly reading habit, however my mornings start a little bit earlier since those long-lost nights of staying awake until the wee hours with a book. Now, most of my reading happens during the weekend lounging on the back deck while I forget about that every-growing to-do list I have to conquer, and instead, I let myself get swept away into a different era, landscape, people and stories that are more entertaining than my chores. And this summer, I spent my weekends with some very interesting characters – there was only one that I wish didn’t get invited to the party, but I’ll get to that in my #aliOreads reviews below. Did you read any of these books over the summer?

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield – Setterfield is a master at telling stories, so I’ve been told, and I was excited to read this novel about a young girl presumed dead, yet is magically still alive. This novel pays homage to the oral story telling tradition in England and skillfully weaves together stories that are all connected. However, I found it a slow burn from start to finish, (read: not the page-turner I was hoping it to be) yet the writing and tone of the novel is very beautiful and dreamy. One needs to be in the right headspace to read this novel.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice – A powerful and haunting post-apocalyptic story about an Anishinaabe First Nations community in Northern Ontario that loses their connection to the outside world at the beginning of a harsh winter. What follows is the portrayal of a community protecting its people. Throughout the novel, Rice includes Ojibwe language and culture, and includes First Nations history and current wrongdoings against First Nations communities. Read this novel.

Daisy Jones & The Six By Taylor Jenkins Reid – I’m a bit late to the Daisy Jones bandwagon, but what a bandwagon it is! If you haven’t read this book, do so asap. An oral history of the sex, drugs, rock & roll lifestyle prevalent in the ’70s that focuses on a fictional rock band, and everything else that comes with being famous: glamour, scandal, heartbreak. A favourite read of 2019.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren – I picked up this flashy paperback on a whim for an easy honeymoon read and was pleasantly surprised that the book’s setting takes places in the same tropical locale my soon-to-be-hubby, at the time, and I were about to jet off to – Maui. It was cheesy, funny, and predictable – do you expect anything else from a rom-com?

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – A heartbreaking story of a girl who is abandoned by her family at a young age. This coming-of-age follows Kya as she navigates life alone along a coastal North Carolina marsh. This is a haunting tale of love, murder, and survival. One of my favourite reads of 2019.

Dirty Work by Anna Maxymiw – A memoir of Maxymiw’s experience as a housekeeper at a fishing lodge in Northern Ontario. For those that have spent their summers working at camps, read this humourous and oh-so-relatable memoir. I gushed about how much I love this book in a recent post found here.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – Glitz, glamour, and gorgeous girls set in New York City in the 1940s. Beautifully written, but I could have done without all of the sex (has that ever been written before?) and with over 450-pages, there is a lot of it that Vivian, the novel’s protagonist, partakes in, even after a sex scandal. Gasp.

My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams – An absurd account of how one woman, Anna Delvey, conned businesses and innocent people into believing she was a wealthy German heiress. Although I did feel bad for the friend, the author of this ‘true story’ who was conned, I couldn’t sympathize with her poor me shtick (check your privilege, girl), and I soon got bored of who perfect she portrayed herself in this memoir.

The Temptation of Gracie – I picked up this paperback purely based on its cover, and the fact that I wanted to be swept away to Italy for a few days without the cost of airfare. This book had it all: mother/daughter relationships, forbidden loves, an art heist, and lots of pasta. A feel-good, lighthearted read.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – I am embarrassed to admit that this is my first Gaiman read, and if his other books are anything like this one, then I need to read them all, as TOATEOTL was pure magic with an equal amount of melancholy. This is a short, sweet, magical and scary (not scary as in gory and ghostly, scary as in how adults no longer look at the world with childhood wonder) story that will make you nostalgic for your childhood innocence as well as break your heart because you will never be able to relive that magical short stage of life again.

Books

Let’s Talk Politics

Sure it’s taboo to talk about the current government landscape, especially since we have been advised to never address politics and religion at a dinner party – the elephants in the room – but here I am about to break convention and chat all things political. Well, not really, but I do want to talk about an upcoming important date that should not be left neglected.

With the federal election looming in the foreground of our day-to-day activities, ads begin to interrupt our shows slandering a party leader we may or may not like, radio jingles mock another party, while predominantly red, blue and orange lawn signs decorate, and potentially divide, communities. It’s a who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s better, who’s worse race to The Hill, and we, the people, are left to decide on the right candidate to run our country.

I’m not here to shout at you to vote, but really you should. Nor am I here to tell you whom to vote for, but let’s be honest, it probably shouldn’t be blue. What I am here to tell you is that your vote counts. Yah, it sucks waiting in line in some elementary school’s gymnasium (were gyms always this small?!) and not channel surfing on your couch. True, long lines are annoying, and thoughts of what difference does my vote make, I’m just one person, float through you head (and everyone else’s) as fluorescent lights beam down like some political UFO spaceship propaganda sonar-ing insecurities into your brain. And now you’re next, you walk up to the little cardboard divider, and place an X by the name you want voted in, and good golly, doesn’t that feel good? You completed your civic duty for the day, you helped enact change, you can walk out of that miniature gym with your head held high. Although, you may feel a sense of defeat as the results roll in, but, that shouldn’t sway or dismay you on hitting the polls come October 21st.

So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty, who should be the next Prime Minister of Canada? Well, that’s not for me to say, but what I will do is urge you to research each parties’ platforms, their policy priorities, their behaviours, and how they act. Ask yourself where you want to see change, what are you passionate about, what will impact you, but most importantly, what will impact us collectively, our communities and our country. Sure you are voting for yourself, but your vote is also very important to the young, the vulnerable, and the old. Is education, healthcare, affordable housing, climate change, etc. a priority to you? Well then, read how each politician talks about these matters that matter to you, and if you agree with their platform, then vote for them, but if you don’t, then read the next party’s, and then the next, and so on.

It’s easy to get swept up in the ideologies of those that you surround yourself with, but know that you don’t always have to agree with them. Do you research, form your own opinion on who the next leader should be and vote with that in mind. You don’t have to tell anyone, or do the taboo, and talk with your family and friends. Ask them who they are voting for, and why. Listen to their reasons, and who knows, it may help in guiding your decision at the polls, or it may sway you in a completely different direction.

I heard someone compare Canada’s current political scene as Batman’s villain, Two-Face: we are for climate-change, but also pipelines. We welcome immigration, yet ban religious symbols. We tout gender equality, and then our government bullies women out of office. Our options this election are difficult: one is a problematic duality, the other is struggling, and the other ‘popular’ party is hella terrifying. So, I would say this election, your vote really does matter. Voting

Summertime sadness is a real thing, yo

This time of year is always bittersweet for me, and I know I’m not alone in that melancholic feeling of summer’s passing faster than preferred. The cooler evenings, late sunrises, and back-to-school jingles are all signs of the changing season – one that I’m not yet ready to embrace. I know, I know, summer is still here for a few more weeks, but the start of September is the month that slowly creeps into fall, and those dogdays of summer slowly revert back into our reverie, becoming a distant blurry memory that is out of reach for another 290-or-so days. Summers are too short, too hazy and too perfect to only last a couple of months. Summer, that’s it, I am putting my foot down, do not leave us yet, it’s just not fair.

I recently read Dirty Work by Anna Maxymiw, and I loved it for many reasons, but the main one being that it brought me back to a time when I was a teen and would venture off to camp as either a helper in the kitchen (holy hell, feeding young kids is hard work), and then as a camp counsellor for the brightest most imaginative souls I have ever met. Maxymiw’s camp work adventures were a bit more strenuous than mine (we’re not comparing cabins to cabins here), but what Maxymiw did do through her book was build a connection to a time in our lives when life was a little less complicated, a little more innocent, the air, at times, fresher, and the food, cheap, greasy and damn delicious, especially after a 12-hour day of non-stop sweaty kitchen chores. If you haven’t read the book, read it. There’s still time this summer to escape to the wilderness, even if it is just through Maxymiw’s words.

Speaking of camp, what screams summer more than camp? Nada! Freedom for a week+ from authority figures, chores and societal rules that bind our day-to-day behaviours. Sign me up. Beach days, sport days, dress-up days; ghost stories, bonfires, week-long crushes that inevitably end when the bus leaves the campground; friendships forged, clothes swapped, numerous rolls of film taken of innocent experiences; laughter, joy, and depending on age, a bit of homesickness that often fades once a friend is made. There is a childhood innocence to summer camp that is fondly remembered, a time when life was easy, carefree and ‘perfect.’ What I would give to relive those days again. Maybe that is why those summer adult camping experiences are such a hit, but this time, a bit of booze is added to the mix. And as we all now, the best stories are made with a little, or a lot, of liquid courage.

Summer is so sweet because that thick humid air wafts nostalgia from summers past. It’s in the fireflies dancing during dusk, the lazy afternoon soundtrack of cicadas in the trees, the endless pool parties, slumber parties, sticky ice cream fingers, grass stains, camping, fireside stories and roasted smores. It’s those memories that we want to relive every year, and every year the season is too short to experience those summers of our childhood past. That 9-5 hussle is great when it comes to making bank (hah) and adult decisions, but it also means saying “summer, bye” to sweet August and July. Mind you, summer 2019 was one for the books – the best book (see #vanderlaenderstietheknot & #vanderlaendersinhawaii), it still evaporated faster than my money in Aritzia. Much like buyer’s remorse is a real thing, so is summertime sadness. So give me all that nostalgic summer memorabilia and let me relive memories of the past to help me imagine the summer memories I will make in the future. I only have 10 months to daydream.Camping

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 a 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