Category Archives: Personal Life

What Should I Write About Next?

Once or twice a year I like to check in with my readers.

What fitness, mindfulness/meditation, and scifi/fantasy topics would you like to see me blog about here?

I haven’t been writing many meditation posts over the last several months because, frankly, my foray into unguided mediation hasn’t been going well. Even guided meditation has been challenging for me. Normally, I like to hold off on posts about stuff that isn’t working for me until I find some kind of solution for it.  Would you rather read about someone who is currently struggling or who used to struggle and then found a way to make it better?

Writing reviews of sci-fi and speculative films has been a true source of joy for me this year. It was originally something I started doing because of how much I enjoyed my friend Alexandria’s movie and TV reviews. She’s introduced me to some  stories I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own but ended up liking quite a bit.

I also love the process of analyzing the plot and discussing what I did and didn’t enjoy about it. Do you all find this kind of content useful? What films would you recommend watching next?

My workout schedule has remained pretty uneventful this summer. Everything is good on that front, although I’m not entirely sure how to blog about something that hasn’t brought any new or unusual challenges to my life lately. Maybe it’s time to try something new?

I do have a list of ideas for future blog posts that I’ll continue to drawn on, but I always enjoy hearing your thoughts as well.

What kinds of posts do you find most enjoyable here? Do you have any ideas for me?

What to Read When It’s Hot Outside

Last winter I shared a list of books that I’d recommend checking out when it’s cold outside. All of them were set during the winter because sometimes I like to match the settings in the stories I read to what the weather in Ontario is like at that a particular time of the year.

Now it’s the middle of July.  Instead of having a high temperature of -25 C (-13 F) like we did when I published that post last January, it’s supposed to feel like 40 C (104 F) today including the humidex. I’m lucky enough to have air conditioning, but our home air conditioner does have some trouble keeping up when the weather grows that hot and humid.

Luckily, there’s something about leaping into a good book that helps me forget even the strongest heat wave.

My summer reading preferences tend to veer off into two different directions. I either want to read serious classic literature or lighthearted beach reads that don’t require much analyzing at all. (So much depends on exactly how humid it is outside and how well my brain cells are swimming around in my skull. Ha!)

I have no idea why my brain has made the connection between these two types of stories and summer. All I know is that these were the sections of our local public library I’d often visit first after school let out and I needed something to occupy my time for a few months.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Summer Sisters was the first Judy Blume tale I read that wasn’t meant for kids. I stumbled across it a couple of decades before I reached the target age range, but I still loved the idea of making a childhood friend who remained with you throughout your life.

My family moved around a lot when I was growing up. The friends I made once we finally settled down for good turned out not to be people I had anything in common with at all in adulthood. This gives me a soft spot for people who were able to maintain their childhood friendships twenty, forty, or even sixty years later. It must be incredible to have such a long, rich history with someone like that.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

The first thing I’m going to tell you about this book is that you should never try to fry green tomatoes. My one and only attempt at making this dish did not end deliciously. Fried tomatoes have such an odd texture that I don’t ever want to taste them again.

The storyline itself was well done, though. It was about an unlikely friendship between a sad, middle-aged woman named Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode, a lonely nursing home resident. As they got to know each other better, Mrs. Threadgoode began telling Evelyn a complicated story about two friends who grew up together and ran a restaurant in Whistle Stop, Alabama that served coffee and occasionally might have been the scene of a violent crime or two.

Summer makes me feel nostalgic, so reading about what life was like from roughly the early 1900s to the1940s tickled my imagination.

 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Some middle grade books can be just as appealing to adults as they are to their intended audience. If you ask me, this is one of them.

Winnie, the main character, had to decide whether or not to drink water from a spring that had the power to make someone immortal. I loved the descriptions of the water in that spring, especially since Winnie visited it during an uncomfortably warm portion of the year from what I can recall. There’s nothing as refreshing as a glass of cold water on a hot summer day, although I don’t know that I’d be interested in living forever.

 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Okay, so technically My Sister’s Keeper wasn’t set during the summer. I first read it during such a hot and humid portion of this season that it still feels like a summer read to me.

The dilemma the characters dealt with was one that I thought could have been solved much more quickly than it was. Anna was a young girl who had been conceived specifically to be a donor for an older sibling who had leukaemia. She’s endured numerous medical procedures over the years in order to keep her sister alive, and by the time she turned eleven she’d had enough.

I formed my opinion on the ethics of this (fictional) case almost immediately. That didn’t mean I was any less interested in seeing if Anna could become legally emancipated from her family or what would happen to her sister after Anna was no longer forced to give away parts of her body to her sibling.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

To be perfectly honest with you, I am not a huge fan of Faulkner’s writing style. His descriptions remind me of a few people I know who will take ten minutes to recount a story that could have easily been shared in one or two. My patience for that sort of thing is limited to days when I have all the time in the world to read (or listen) and don’t mind getting lost in a long description of what someone’s wagon looked like before the narrator eventually sees fit to tell me who is riding in that wagon and where they’re going.

Without giving away any spoilers, the journey on said wagon was a deeply emotional one. I simply need to be in the right frame of mind in order to properly enjoy it (and to keep the 15 narrators straight in my mind!)

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

As someone who had mixed feelings about Romeo and Juliet, I sure wasn’t expecting to enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream like I did. There’s something about a warm summer night that makes falling in love – or, in some cases, lust – just a little more appealing than it would be at other times of the year.

If possible, I highly recommend watching this play outdoors on a warm evening. I was lucky enough to do that once, and it made the storyline come alive for me. There was something about feeling the humid air against my skin and hearing crickets chirping in the distance that made me feel like I’d been transported hundreds of years ago to when this story was first performed.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Yes, I know I’ve talked about this book several times before in previous posts. One of the things I liked most about the earliest scenes were their descriptions of what summer was like in the 1930s before air conditioning was invented. This was a very small part of the plot, of course, but people back then came up with all sorts of inexpensive and inventive ways to remain as cool as possible. I enjoyed reading about their solutions, and they made me very grateful to live in a world where air conditioning exists.

 

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

 Not only is The Bluest Eye set during the summer, I first read it over summer vacation as well. The sharp contrast between the warm setting and the cold descriptions of a young girl who had endured terrible abuse made me very curious to see how it ended. This book does include descriptions of the after-effects of rape, so reader be warned.

Do your reading preferences shift from one season to the next? What genres do you like to read during the hottest part of the year where you live?

My Favourite Canadian Books

Happy belated Canada Day!

One of the most interesting parts of moving to Canada was getting to read some of the amazing books that have been written by Canadian authors over the years.

From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a lot of Canadian literature that isn’t necessarily that well-known in the United States. While I can’t say for sure if this is true for other countries as well, I hope that all of my readers, Canadian and otherwise, find something that piques their interest on this list.

On one final note, I narrowed this list down to books and authors that I hadn’t heard of at all before I moved up north. This meant leaving out some fabulous writers like L.M. Montgomery and Margaret Atwood simply because so many people across the world have already discovered their work.

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

The Stone Angel has actually become one of my favourite books of all time even though Hagar, the main character, was often a pretty unpleasant person to those closest to her. What I enjoyed the most about the storytelling was how real it felt. As I believe I’ve mentioned on this site before, Hagar went through some incredibly difficult experiences throughout her long life. She was treated poorly by both her parents and the much-older man she married as a young adult. It was so interesting to get to know this character and come to understand why she was so stubborn and prickly at the end of her life.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Raising an intersex child can come with some additional challenges, especially for a family that decided to keep this part of their child’s identity top-secret. I knew almost nothing about this topic before I read this book, but I was impressed with the way the author explored everything from how gender identity is formed to how a secret can take on a life of its own.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

It took me a couple of tries to get into this story, but once I did I couldn’t wait to find out what else Saul remembered about his life as he lay dying in a hospice bed. There is something about looking back on one’s life and finally attempting to put all of the pieces together after years of ignoring them that really speaks to me.

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

 I was especially interested in discovering how the three youngest siblings in this tale compared their childhoods. There is something fascinating about seeing all of the similarities and differences siblings will remember when they were raised in the same home. My family only had three children in total, but I’d say that all of us would still describe our childhoods in different ways based on how our family culture evolved as we grew older.

I also enjoyed this peek into Chinatown, Vancouver from so many decades ago. The families who moved to such a faraway place that often rejected them were very brave.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Reading about an eleven-year-old girl being kidnapped in Africa before being sold into slavery in the United States isn’t an easy experience. I can’t recommend this book to anyone who is triggered by violence or sexual assault, but the storyline is well worth the read for everyone else. Aminata was an incredibly brave character. I loved seeing how she changed over the years as well as how her yearning to return home and be with her family again never wavered no matter how many years she spent far away from her birthplace.

Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote

Not only is Ivan a gifted storyteller, she’s hilarious as well. I’d especially recommend this book to members of the LGBT+ community who grew up in small towns or anyone who has ever wondered what that experience is like.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

Longterm readers may recognize this author. I’m  a huge fan of his writing, and I’ve talked about his books here several times before. Someday I might have to dedicate an entire post to him.

Calculating God was the first thing I ever read from Robert. At the time, I was quickly growing uninterested in religious themes of any sort in novels, so it took me a while to decide to pick this tale up. I made assumptions about it’s content that turned out to be pretty off the mark. While it did ask questions about the nature of faith and why sentient beings choose to believe a wide variety of things about the existence (or non-existence) of any deity, the vast majority of the plot was actually about a palaeontologist who was stunned when an alien wandered into the Royal Ontario Museum, his workplace, one day and asked for help.

This is the sort of thing I’ve since been recommending to people who might think they’ll never like science fiction. Not only was it an excellent story, it was thought provoking and a smart introduction to my favourite genre as well.

What are your favourite Canadian books? If there are any fellow immigrants or longterm world travellers following this site, what authors were you most excited to discover when you settled into your new country?

How to Celebrate Canada Day Like a Canadian

Today’s post is a little off the beaten path, but I do occasionally enjoy sharing snippets of my life that aren’t related to writing, science fiction, fitness, or mindfulness.

As I discussed in Things Nobody Tells You About Moving to Canada, I’m an immigrant. I was born and grew up in the United States. When I was in my early 20s, I moved to Canada and have called it home ever since.

Don’t tell the Canadians this, but these two countries were so similar that I didn’t experience the kind of culture shock that some immigrants go through when they move to a place that is nothing at all like him. Part of that is due to the fact that Caucasian immigrants are given social privileges that immigrants from other parts of the world don’t get, of course, but part of it is also due to the fact that the U.S. and Canada share a lot in common in general.*

*(Although, if anyone is curious, I might have to write a post about the differences between these two nations one of these days.)

Canadians and Americans generally both speak English. With the exception of a few quirky words like chesterfield and toque, we normally understand each other’s dialects without any issues at all.

The U.S. and Canada have remarkably similar etiquette rules and social customs. It was rare for me to accidentally step on someone’s toes when I first moved to Toronto and began adjusting to the cultural differences that I did notice here.

People in both countries tend to have access to similar sorts of foods throughout the year. While there are a few special foods in each nation that I can’t find when I cross the border, all of the staples in my diet can be found anywhere I might roam in Canada or the U.S.

The weather wasn’t much of a change, either, since Ohio and Toronto are so close to one another geographically speaking. I didn’t have to suddenly trade my entire wardrobe in for one meant for a much hotter (or colder) climate.

With that being said, there was one thing about moving to Canada that surprises me to this day.

You see, I grew up in a very patriotic country. I routinely saw American flags decorating people’s cars, homes, shoes, tattoos, toys,  t-shirts, and assorted foods among many other items.

When the Fourth of July rolled around every summer, many of the people my family knew threw huge barbecues or other backyard parties to celebrate it. Sometimes we might have even attended more than one of them on that long weekend some years due to my father’s prominent role in the community as a minister.

There were always fireworks, both the legal kind that were set off by the city and the semi-legal to illegal types that people sneakily ignited in their backyards off and on during the first week of July. At any other time of the year, I’d assume that a loud popping noise was a car backfiring or, much less likely, gunshots going off. During the week we celebrated Independence Day*,  it was fireworks without a doubt.

*Yes, non-American readers, it’s just as contradictory as it sounds. I have no idea how what should have been a one-day celebration ended up being spread so far, but it did.

The way Americans talked about their country was different as well. I’d often hear people say that we lived in the best place on Earth and that we didn’t know how lucky we were to have all of the freedoms we enjoyed. This wasn’t even necessarily done to be boastful. It was closer to a matter-of-fact response to the thought of our country turning another year older. There was a sense of pride in their voices and body language that couldn’t be ignored. Everyone presumed to know that this was the truth.

It was all such an ordinary part of life that I honestly didn’t think about it twice. I assumed that every country had a similar holiday they seemed to relish just as much as our own.

Patriotism, Canadian Style

Due to these early life experiences, I looked forward to Canada Day earnestly when I first moved up here. It occurred so closely to the Fourth of July that I couldn’t wait to take notes and find out which traditions, if any, might be different between my birth and chosen countries.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the Canadians around me didn’t seem to be all that fussed over Canada Day as the first of July crept closer and closer.

Oh, there were a few advertisements in the local grocery store for barbecue-friendly meal ideas. The Canadians I’d met seemed to be happy to have a day off from work and school as well.

But they weren’t exuberant, and the Canadian flag wasn’t plastered on everything you could possibly imagine and a few things you maybe couldn’t.

Their patriotism was subdued at best.

Nobody wore a Canadian flag bikini from what I could see (although I’d still totally wear one if I ever find such a thing. Be warned, Canadian kin! I’m still a shameless American when it comes to silly stuff like this.)

Nobody decorated the outside of their homes in large swaths of red and white to celebrate this special day.

Nobody swore up and down that Canada was the best country on Earth either. If anything, Canadians seem to be a little bashful on this topic. It can be hard to get them to understand just how lucky we are to live in a society whose safety net is so much more secure than it is south of the border. By no means is my adoptive country perfect, but a part of me is always amazed to see a doctor when I need to without worrying over how much they’ll charge me for the treatments I might need.

The handful of Canada Day barbecues I’ve attended have been much more about the food than about taking pride in one’s country.

This is a quiet way to observe the founding of Canada. While it wasn’t at all what I was expecting when I moved up here, I’ve come to appreciate the subtleties of it all.

If you celebrate Canada Day, what do you do for it?

My Favourite LGBT Books

Happy Pride month! Today I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourite LGBT-themed books in honour of all of the Pride festivities that have been and are still going on here in Toronto. Rainbow flags are popping up everywhere, and that’s always a heart-warming thing to see at this time of the year.

This list spans the range of everything from children’s stories to a biography to a historical novel. I’m the kind of reader who seeks out a well-told tale no matter what genre it’s from, so you’d be hard-pressed to get me to stick to one particular genre for this sort of post.

Feel free to share your favourite LGBT books in the comments below. I’d love to know which ones have caught your eye.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

Honestly, I could have spent this entire post talking about nothing but Sarah Waters’ books. She’s one of those authors whose stories are a must-buy for me, so I had to restrict myself to only mentioning one of the things she’s written today.

What I loved the most about Tipping the Velvet was the character development. Nancy, the main character, lived at a time when it wasn’t possible for a woman who was a lesbian to live her life openly and honestly. She didn’t even know the word to describe who she was until she became an adult. Eventually having a word for it didn’t make her identity any more accepted, and yet still she persevered.

The Kind of Girl I Am by Julia Watts.

The only reason why I discovered this book is because I happened to be browsing in the W section of the fiction shelves at my local library years ago and found myself intrigued by what sort of girl the protagonist might turn out to be. (Don’t you love it when that happens?)

Like Tipping the Velvet, The Kind of Girl I Am followed a character from her sheltered, rural upbringing to a life as an adult that she could have never imagined when she was a child.

I liked the fact that the storyline followed Vestal from the time she was a teenager until she was a senior citizen. There’s something rewarding about watching a character grow and change over the course of multiple decades.

My favourite part of this book can’t be discussed in detail due to how many spoilers it will give you about the ending, but I deeply enjoyed seeing how Vestal reframed and eventually came to peace with certain parts of her life in her final years. Her character development was excellent.

Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller.

As I’ve said before, I was one of those kids who generally enjoyed the classic novels we were assigned to read in English class. It was always interesting to see what our teacher had to say about the meaning of a blue curtain in a scene or why a character kept talking about something that eventually actually happened to them.

If I’d been born a few decades later, Patience & Sarah might have been an assigned read in one of my high school English classes. It had the same serious themes and foreshadowing of many of the other books we read and discussed in class when I was a teenager.

Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith.

I loved this picture book’s cheeky approach to the Santa Claus myth. It clearly explained why it was reimagining Santa as a man who was in a same-sex, interracial relationship, although I can’t go into any more details about that without giving away the ending.

Should this be read by kids or adults? I’d say that it will appeal to readers of all ages.

Missed Her by Ivan E. Coyote.

Ivan E. Coyote is one of the best contemporary Canadian authors I’ve discovered so far. Not only does she have a beautiful writing style, her anecdotes are among the funniest ones I’ve ever read. She grew up in a small, rural community.* A lot of her stories are about what happens when she goes back for a visit and well-meaning, heterosexual friends and neighbours try to make conversations about LGBT topics with her without knowing what they’re talking about at all.

*Yes, this does seem to be something I gravitate towards when reading LGBT books. I suspect it’s because they’re similar to my own childhood.

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

If you don’t know the story of the gay activist Harvey Milk, this is the perfect place to get a quick overview of his life and everything he accomplished for the LGBT community. We wouldn’t even have something as simple as the Pride flag without him.

This is the sort of thing that I wish could have been covered in my public school history classes growing up. While we still have a long way to go, the world has changed for the better so much over the past few decades. Children – and honestly many adults, too – don’t always realize what their society used to be like or what it really takes to improve it.

Sometimes I think about Harvey Milk when I’m feeling discouraged about certain current, dangerous trends in the North American political climate. It’s easy to feel like you’re too small and ordinary of a person to possibly make any different at all over the longterm.

As Harvey Milk once said, “you have to give them hope.” I believe that knowing about the lives of ordinary people who did manage to make our world a better place is one of the best ways to give people hope when they need it.

 

Anything But Books Tag

Thank you to Stephanie from Adventures Thru Wonderland for tagging me in this. To the best of my knowledge, this tag was originally started by ReadorRot.  Name a cartoon that you love Futurama. I should warn you all that this isn’t the kind of cartoon that was meant for children. The jokes in it are… Read More

15 Things I’ve Learned From 15 Years of Blogging

I’ve been blogging at lydiaschoch.com for almost eighteen months now. Since I imported all of my old posts over from my previous site, the archives here begin in July of 2010 instead of November of 2016. I’ve been blogging much longer than that, though! Over the past fifteen years, I’ve had several different blogs.  With… Read More

3 Embarrassing Things I’ve Learned From Books

Today I have three embarrassing stories to share with you. Before I dive into them, let me explain a few things about my childhood to the new readers of my blog. I grew up in a series of small towns and rural communities in the United States. I was also homeschooled for the first several… Read More