Category Archives: Personal Life

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 adult-oriented and occasionally pretty dark.

But I loved the writers’ intelligent sense of humour in this show. They knew exactly how to take a current social issue, stretch it a thousand years in the future, and show how the characters in that time period would react to that idea in their society.

 

  • What is your favourite song right now?

Sia’s “The Greatest.”

I love the message in it about the importance of persistence no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. The beat is catchy, too.

 

  • What could you do for hours that isn’t reading?

Go swimming.

I took swimming lessons so early in life that I barely remember anything about them or what it’s like to not be able to swim. I’m not particularly fast in the water, but I do enjoy this kind of exercise quite a bit. There’s nothing like feeling your body glide through a still, cool body of water or flipping over to float and stare up at the clouds (or ceiling, if you’re indoors).

  • What is something you love to do that your followers would be surprised at?

Organize small things like coins, rubber bands, buttons, paper clips, etc.

I find it soothing to stack everything up neatly and maybe even arrange it by some pre-determined system. For example: colour; the year it was printed (for coins); how often one can expect to use it.

 

 

  • What is your favourite, unnecessarily specific thing to learn about?

The symptoms of vaccine-preventable diseases that are either rare or unheard of in Canada.

No, it’s not an anxiety thing. I’ve only had one vaccine-preventable disease in my entire life. Since I caught it a year or two before the vaccine for it became available, it technically wasn’t even vaccine-preventable when it made me sick.

I simply find it interesting to see how quickly someone could become dangerously ill back before vaccines were invented for diphtheria, smallpox, and other horrors of previous generations.

Although I totally reserve the right to tell mildly alarming stories about life in the twentieth century to impressionable children when I’m old and more of these diseases have hopefully been eradicated for good.

  • What is something unusual you know how to do?

Befriend pets who are normally quite afraid of new people.

It’s not something I consciously try to do at all. I’m allergic to a lot of common animals, so I try to avoid contact with them when I’m out and about. Wheezing and sneezing are not my idea of a good time!

For some reason, this makes shy dogs and cats in general much more interested in getting close to me . Maybe it’s because they sense that I won’t reach down to pet them or otherwise invade their personal space?

  • Name something you have made in the last year.

Stories.

I’ve started so many of them, but I’m having trouble finishing them. I really need to work my editing and rewriting of them this summer.

 

  • What is your most recent personal project?

Figuring out when to throw out old, stained clothes and replace them.

You see, I’m frugal, minimalistic, and an ardent disliker of shopping in general. If I can get a few more months or years out of a piece of clothing, I’ll gladly do that instead of look for a replacement for it.

For now I have more than enough clothing, but I can also see certain pieces of my current wardrobe steadily wearing out past the point of overlooking it. I suspect I’ll need to start paring my options down and replacing them with new stuff at some point this year.

This process always irritates me a little, but I get even more annoyed when I put it off so long that I have to buy many pieces of clothing at once. So I’m trying to decide if it’s less vexing to do several shorter shopping trips over the next six months or one or two big ones.

I suspect I’ll pick the former option, but I’m also guessing that I’ll wait until something actually wears out before I start this process. 

 

  • Tell us something that you think of often

What other people think about when they’re doing something mundane like waiting in line, tying their shoes, or combing their hair in a public washroom. Some people wear their emotions on their sleeves in those situations, but others are hard to read.

I wish it were possible to hear the thoughts of people in that situation.

 

  • Tell us something that is your favourite but make it oddly specific. 

I have an affinity for trees. They’re beautiful, and I find it soothing to listen to their leaves rustle during the warm parts of the year.

The temperature difference between standing in direct sunlight a large, mature tree can be huge during the summer.  I’m always grateful for that shade and shelter from the sun when the weather warms up.

None of this is oddly specific so far, but that’s about to change.

You see, I’m literally a tree hugger. It makes me so happy to finally see green leaves after the long, cold winters we have in Ontario that I’ve occasionally been known to hug trees whose leaves pop out early in the season.

 

Instead of choosing specific people to tag to keep this meme going, I’m going to leave it open-ended. I believe it’s better to give people the freedom to opt-in than it is to potentially make them feel weird about opting-out.

Consider yourself tagged if you want to play along. Do leave a link to your post or let me know in some other way that you’re playing along, though. I’d love to know how you answer these questions.

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 the exception of PK Stories, none of them still exist to the best of my knowledge, but I’ve still carried the lessons I learned from them forward to my current online home.

Today I thought it would be fun to list fifteen of the things I’ve learned about blogging over the last decade and a half.

1. Never post anything you’d be embarrassed to see plastered on a billboard in front of your home.

This really should go without saying, but I think some people forget just how long a blog post can be passed around online. I’ve shared and I’ve also seen others share thought-provoking posts that are several years old because the information in them is timeless. In a few cases, I’ve seen posts much older than that continue to circulate.

You never know when something might go viral, so I try to always be careful about what I say and how I say it.

2. Ignore the trolls.

Arguing with them never helps in any way from what I’ve observed. The best way I’ve found to encourage them to permanently lose interest in you is to refuse to engage with them at all.

They generally seem to feel bored by the lack of conflict after a while and will wander away on their own accord once they realize that they won’t be getting a response.

Luckily, the vast majority of the people I meet online are friendly and don’t behave this way at all.

3. Don’t use pop-ups.

Pop-up ads or messages are intrusive, annoying, and counter-productive. I automatically leave sites who obstruct my view with pop-ups, and I don’t return to them in the future.

4. Share other people’s work liberally.

Every time I discover a new blog that I plan to start following, I set aside some time to read through their archives after I’ve added that site to my RSS feed. If I love their current posts, chances are excellent that I’ll adore their old stuff, too.

As I browse through their older material, I take note of the entries that were most appealing to me. Those posts are then either added to my Suggestion Saturday lists or tweeted by me at some point in the future. Most of the latter end up being included in the #MondayBlogs hashtag on Twitter due to how popular it is.

Since I enjoyed those posts, folks who follow me might really like them as well.

5. Don’t worry about reciprocation. 

When I promote other people’s work, I do it with zero expectations of them returning the favour. There’s no imaginary scorecard in my head or anything like that. While I deeply appreciate everyone who shares links to my posts, I think of those responses as a happy bonus to something I already find rewarding.

I believe in sharing the things that bring me joy with the hope that others will find them just as entertaining.

6. Blogging isn’t a competition.

There’s plenty of room for everyone to shine. In fact, I’ve only seen better opportunities emerge for networking and promotion as more and more bloggers are connecting and collaborating with each other. Think of it as a group of people using cooperation to reach their goals instead of as a competition.

7. It’s smarter to focus on a handful of topics than to write about everything. 

In a couple of my previous sites, I blogged about whatever was on my mind on any particular day. I’ve found that it’s much easier for me to think of new things to write about and attract readers if I focused on a handful of topics and explored them deeply instead.

8. Be genuine. 

No matter who you are or what you’re into, there are people out there who will connect with your interests, passions, and hobbies. I believe in regularly talking about whatever it is that makes your heart skip a beat without worrying about how popular or SEO-friendly it is.

9. Protect your privacy and the privacy of your loved ones.

There are certain things that just shouldn’t be shared openly online. For example, I shudder when I see buddies publicly sharing details of their itinerary for an upcoming vacation.

I don’t discuss stuff like future plans for safety reasons. If I’m going on a trip, I’ll save any amusing photos and stories about it for after I return home. Talking about it before or as it happens only gives potential burglars or other people who may have nefarious intentions advanced warning that my home will be empty for that period of time or that I’ll be in a specific place at X time.

10. Write down ideas for future posts. 

As soon as I get a new idea for a future blog post, I jot it down in a file I created specifically for this purpose. This is something I do even if the idea is partially developed or I’m not sure if I want to use it at all. If only all of you knew how many times I forgot ideas before I started making myself write down all of them!

Some of these ideas have been sitting there for months, and a few of them are years old. Eventually, I do hope to write about all of them when the time is right. For now they remain safely tucked away in my list until I need some inspiration for an upcoming post. 

11. Use recommendations from your readers as writing fodder.

Every once in a while, one of my favourite bloggers decides to write a follow-up post to a question or comment I or someone else had about something they wrote. There have also been a few times when I’ve gotten blog ideas from people’s comments on my own site.

It’s thrilling every time that happens. I only wish it happened more!

12. Allow comments, but do moderate them.

I filter out all of the spam comments on my site. In the distant past when I had a troll or two lurking around, I immediately deleted their messages as well.

Other than that, I tend to allow just about any sort of comment slip through. I respond to them, too.

13. Leave thoughtful comments on other sites.

Speaking of comments, I’m so glad I got into the habit of responding to other people’s posts. Sometimes the comment section is honestly just as interesting as the original article because of the high quality comments that are left by fans and the site owner. April Munday’s blog is one of the many examples of how beautifully this system can work.

14. Build relationships.

I’ve made several good friends through my years of blogging who are still part of my life to this day, and I’ve gotten to know many other people through this activity as well. If you’re open to it, this is a fantastic way to build a supportive community of likeminded friends who live all over the world.

15. Have fun!

Blogging is a deeply rewarding experience that has improved my life in more ways than I can count. I hope that every blogger finds the same happiness from crafting their posts and sharing them with the world.

What have you learned from blogging?

Adventures in Making Lembas Bread

Have you ever read a book that described fictional foods you desperately wished you could try? I blogged about this topic in detail a few months ago. Recently, I decided to finally try the closest thing to real Lembas bread that exists on our planet since the elves left Middle-earth at the end of The Lord of the Rings.

Not only is this recipe simple, it uses ingredients that are very common. You might have all of them in your kitchen already!  Not having to shop for obscure ingredients that I probably won’t use in any other dishes was one of the main reasons why I chose this particular recipe to try. I bake pretty infrequently (as you’ll hear about below), so I generally only buy seasonings, spices, and other things that I can use in multiple ways in the kitchen.

I’m copying over the ingredients and instructions into this post so that they’ll still exist somewhere if the site I linked to above ever goes down. Do click on over for the nutrition information and for a gorgeous picture of the final product, though.

If you want to know my detailed thoughts on making this recipe and how I’d change it in the future, keep reading.

Ingredients

    • 2 1/2 cups of flour
    • 1 tablespoon of baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
    • 8 tablespoons (or 1 stick) of cold butter
    • 1/3 cup of brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
    • 2/3 cup of milk or heavy cream (or more, if necessary)
    • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

 

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celcius (425 degrees Fahrenheit).
2) Mix the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
3) Add the butter and mix with a fork or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles fine granules.
4) Add the sugar and cinnamon, and mix them thoroughly into the mixture.
5) Add the milk/cream and vanilla and stir them in with a fork until a nice, thick dough forms.
6) Roll the dough out about 1/2 in thickness.
7) Cut out 3-inch squares and transfer the dough to a cookie sheet.
8) Criss-cross (DO NOT cut all the way) each square from corner-to-corner with a knife.
9) Bake for about 12 minutes or more (depending on the thickness of the bread) until it is set and lightly golden.(the recipe makes about 10-12 pieces of lembas)

The first time I try any recipe, the only substitutions I make are to replace any milk and milk products in it with foods that won’t cause any allergic reactions for me. It’s important to know what something is supposed to taste like before you fiddle around with the ingredients too much.

I used vegan butter instead of traditional butter and almond milk as a replacement for the milk/heavy cream. If you consume dairy products, I’d love to know how this turns out with them.

The dough did feel slightly dry when I was rolling it out. That made it a little challenging to keep the dough together when I was cutting it into pieces. When I make this recipe again, I’d like to see how it turns out with a full cup of almond milk. I suspect that will be just enough additional liquid to solve the minor issues I had with getting the dough ready to be baked.

As I mentioned above, I don’t regularly bake stuff like bread or sweets. My supply of brown sugar had dried out, and I didn’t know that was the case until I’d reached that section of the directions. It was slightly challenging to mix that ingredient into the dough thoroughly. The little brown speck you see in the final product was a result of that.

Next time I’ll use fresh brown sugar and won’t have that problem. Raisins might be a nice addition to it as well. Despite my minor problems with the dough, the final product tasted delicious. It is definitely something I’ll be making again.

I know that my tastebuds have changed since I started eating a low sugar diet, but the combination of cinnamon, maple syrup, vanilla, and brown sugar made me think of it as a dessert.

Keep in mind that this isn’t as sweet as a typical dessert, but it does have a sweetness and chewiness to it that made it an appealing snack.

The Lembas bread I made two days ago has been keeping well so far. It honestly tastes even better after it’s had a day or two to rest. I love non-fussy recipes like that.

As for whether or not it will sustain you on a long journey or vex the Smeagols in your life, only time will tell. 😉

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 years of my education. While the Internet has technically existed since before I was born, it wasn’t until I was older that it became at all well-known. In fact, I was in high school before my family finally bought a computer that could surf the web.(Based on how much I begged them to do this, I’m going to take the credit for it, too. LOL!)

My parents were lovingly protective of their children. There were certain facts of life – and, as I like to joke, a particular English sweet as well – that they shielded us from until we were old enough to fully understand them.

Sometimes People Get Pregnant Before They Get Married

The time: Early 1990s

I should warn my sensitive readers that this section of today’s post post contains two brief references to infant deaths.

My parents were married long before they conceived their kids. This was a pattern that was also repeated with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, and the vast majority of the other adults in my community.

While I met some kids whose families didn’t fit that mold when I began attending public elementary school, my assumption about the world was still that this was a rare and very recent occurrence.

Due to all of these assumptions and previous experiences, I was endlessly confused by a line I read in a biography of Winston Churchill that gave a date for his parents’ wedding that was much less than nine months before his birth.

Shortly before I picked up this book, I’d read a Reader’s Digest article* about a premature baby who died despite many heroic efforts by her doctor and nurses to save her. My family knew at least one other family who had lost a baby this way.

Due to all of these facts, it didn’t make any sense to me that premature babies born in the 1980s and 1990s who had access to wonderful medical care would die while one who was born at a time when no one knew anything at all about keeping preemies alive would thrive in the 1870s.

I spent an embarrassing amount of time assuming that his parents had been unbelievably lucky and resourceful instead. There was even moment when I briefly wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Churchill had shared their amazing knowledge with their local doctor. Maybe he was the first doctor who ever began testing new theories on how to keep premature babies alive?

You really don’t want to know how long it took me to figure out that Winston Churchill was probably conceived months before his parents got married and not a micro-preemie at all.

*Yes, I literally read everything I could get my hands on as a kid. I even read my mother’s nursing school textbooks!

The Meaning of Words Can Change Drastically Over Time

The time: Late 1990s

One year I decided to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Winter felt like it was never going to end, so I hoped I could pass the time by finally finding out what happened during Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures.

Suddenly, I began to notice references to “faggots” in these stories. Characters wandered into the woods to pick them up without any explanation of what was really going on there.

The first time it happened, I thought Tolkien was being vulgar, homophobic, and nonsensical. When I looked up that word in a dictionary, I was completely confused by the idea that such a hateful term was originally used as a unit of measure for wood.

As much as I enjoyed the storyline itself, I shuddered every time that word appeared again. Knowing that the author in no way meant it as a slur definitely helped, but I was still horrified by the thought of an innocent word being twisted into such a vile one over the centuries.

Turkish Delight Is Real

The time: The late 2000s

I briefly referred to this story a year and a half ago, but now it’s time to tell it in full.

The first time I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, my mouth watered at the thought of Turkish Delight.

Like talking animals and lamp posts growing in the middle of a magical forest, I assumed it was yet another piece of this fictional world that I’d always wish could become real.

It was hard to picture what Turkish Delight really was. Edmund loved it so much he betrayed his siblings for it, so I imagined it was the most delicious candy that would or could ever exist.

Occasionally, I’d try to picture it over the years for the sheer joy of challenging my imagination. Sometimes it was some sort of dairy-free gourmet chocolate that I could eat. At other times I imagined contradictory combinations of treats that couldn’t possibly exist in our world. For example, the softness of cotton candy combined with the warmth of hot fudge might have tempted me into climbing into a strange woman’s sleigh as a kid if Narnia was capable of producing such a thing.

I grew up, moved far away from home, and got married. Turkish Delight occupied less and less of my speculations about the world until one day I spotted a box of it sitting on a perfectly ordinary candy store shelf.

“Wait, Turkish Delight is REAL?” I said in a voice that was slightly too loud for the occasion.

“Yes,” my spouse said.

“Since when?” I asked. Another film version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe had come out a few years before then, so I assumed that the producers of it had taken a look at all of the wildly successful Harry Potter candies and decided to make this treat a reality as well.

When my spouse explained that this wasn’t a new type of sweet and that it had existed back when C.S. Lewis first wrote this series, my brain practically exploded. Why hadn’t Turkish Delight become commonplace in North America since this series was released? Was it a common treat in England? Why was this the first I was hearing about it?

I still don’t have the answers to those questions, but I smile every time I see it for sale at the store. Maybe one of my British readers will have answers for me someday!

What is one funny, embarrassing thing you’ve learned from a book?

Minimalism and Valentine’s Day

After my last two posts, it might come as a surprise to some readers to be reminded that my spouse and I don’t actually celebrate Valentine’s Day. We’ve been married for over twelve years now, and we’ve never done anything out of the ordinary for this holiday other than possibly showing each other clever gifs… Read More

What I Read in 2017

As I mentioned a year ago in What I Read in 2016, every January I blog about what I read in the previous year. Over half of the books I read in any given year are for a review site that I volunteer for under a pseudonym, so I omitted their titles from this post for privacy… Read More