Category Archives: Personal Life

The Evolution of My Reading Habits

My reading habits have evolved a lot over the years. In today’s post, I’m going to start with my earliest memories and share some stories about how my interests and habits have changed over time.

Most of these genres are still things I like to read at least occasionally. With that being said, I do not read the older ones as often as I once did.

Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales

“A Fairy Tale” by J. H. F. Bacon

The first genres I ever fell in love with were nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

My uncle had a book of fairy tales that he left behind when he went off to college. I read that collection every time I visited my grandmother’s house, and it made me yearn for more stories about dragons, royalty, and people who were rewarded for the good things they did when they thought no one was paying attention.

The tales in my uncle’s collection were the sorts of things you’d see in a Disney movie. They were missing the dark endings that they’d often originally had.

A few years later, I began stumbling across fairy tales that didn’t always end happily ever after. For example, the original version of “The Little Mermaid” ended with the main character’s death instead of her wedding.

I did go back to preferring the more cheerful spins on these stories after a while, but I appreciated having those glimpses into what had happened to them before they were cleaned up for modern audiences.

30 Books in a Month

As I’ve mentioned here before, I was homeschooled for the first several years of my education. One of the best parts of that experience was being able to read after my lessons were finished. There were times when Wyoming was far too snowy and cold of a place for a child to be wandering around outside in, so I read the entire afternoon and evening away on some of those wintry days.

All of this reading time had an interesting effect on me once I started public school and people who weren’t my parents or siblings began noticing my habits.

My fourth grade teacher once gave us an assignment to read three books a month. We were supposed to turn in little slips of paper with the title and author of what we read to her so she could keep track of them for us.

Reader, I didn’t finish three books that month. I read thirty of them.

Those three slips of paper we’d been given were almost immediately replaced by notes from my mother listing everything else I’d read after I fulfilled the original requirements.

When our teacher announced the number of books each student had read that month a few weeks later, most of my classmates were in the single digits. It was pretty funny to see how they gasped when they realized I’d quietly blown everyone out of the water.

A Passion for Poetry

I no longer remember which genres I read during that thirty-book month, but I do remember the genre I became obsessed with shortly after that: poetry.

My fifth grade teacher did a unit on the many different types of poems out there, and I took to this topic  immediately. A lot of the stuff she had us read reminded me of the nursery rhymes I’d loved a few years earlier.

Shel Silverstein was the first poet I loved, but I quickly moved on to poets who wrote for adult audiences like Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes.

The thought of compressing what could be an entire story into a few short lines impressed me. I was always excited to find poets who could create strong imagery of what they were describing to the audience while using as few words as possible.

There was about a decade there when poetry was regularly part of what I read for fun. For a long period of time after that, I still returned to it regularly when I needed a break from other genres.

I’m slowly losing interest in this genre, and that makes me a little sad. I wish I could find the same thrill in it I did twenty years ago.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

“Martians vs. Thunder Child” by Henrique Alvim Corrêa.

My interest in the science fiction and fantasy genres has always been intertwined with the other things I’ve read. Long before I entered high school they became genres I returned to over and over again.

While I do take breaks from science fiction and fantasy to recharge sometimes, those feelings have remained constant to this day. No other genre has managed to keep me coming back for more for as long or as consistently as these two have.

There is something so interesting about taking a modern trend and extrapolating it to some distant future where robots really do run the world or when climate change has altered our planet so much that future generations can no longer imagine what life was like in a cooler, more stable climate.

I’ve come to prefer hopeful speculative fiction over the darker, apocalyptic stuff, but I think I’ll continue reading some sort of sci-fi or fantasy for many years to come.

Leaning Towards Nonfiction

Over the last decade or so, I’ve found myself gradually becoming more interested in nonfiction than I ever was before. My favourite high school English teacher used to talk about how much she enjoyed reading about things that really happened.

I didn’t understand why she’d say that at the time, but now I relish the opportunity to read books about history, astronomy, archeology, ecology, medicine, the biographies or autobiographies of people who have accomplished all sorts of things, and many other topics.

We live in a world that is filled with more information than any one person can digest in a lifetime. I accept the fact that I can’t learn everything, but I also want to be exposed to as much knowledge as possible in this lifetime.

How have your reading habits evolved over time? If anyone decides to borrow this topic and blog about it, I’ll edit this post to include a link to your response if you’re interested in that.

Edited on May 5 to add Bjørn Larssen’s response.

My Interview at Downright Dystopian

I was recently interviewed about books, blogging, and other bookish things by Krystianna at her blog, Downright Dystopian. Click here to read it.

If any of my followers would like to be one of her future interviewees, this post of hers will give you all of the information you need to sign up for that process. I highly recommend doing so if you’re a bookish person! It’s been a wonderful experience for me so far.

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Comfort Foods and Recipes and Whys, Oh My!

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

This week’s topic is “Favourite Comfort Foods & Why (& Recipes),” so of course I just had to play around with the wording of it a little in the title of this post in order to sneak in a reference to The Wizard of Oz. I will now proceed to answer the prompt (mostly) seriously.

Both of my parents grew up in the Mennonite community and have the same general ethnic origins: German and French.

In fact, all of the ancestors we’ve traced so far came from the Alsace-Lorraine area that was sometimes part of Germany and sometimes part of France depending on which century you’re looking at.

If your ancestors ever so much as glanced at that corner of the globe, we are probably third cousins or something.  Ha!

All of the recipes I’m about to share were either printed in the Mennonite Community Cookbook that I’ve attached a photo of to this post or written on the blank pages of that cookbook.

To the best of my knowledge, they are all traditional German-Mennonite dishes for people from that group who live in Midwest portions of the United States.

 

This is what ground cherries look like. Photo credit: Pen Waggener.

Ground Cherry Pie 

If you happen to live in North America, your best best for finding ground cherries would be at your local farmer’s market during the summer or autumn. They’re a tomato-like fruit that’s less sweet than most other fruits. I sure think they taste good in a pie.

My grandmother makes this pie often. I think happy thoughts about her every time I eat it.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup of ground cherries (rinsed off and with their husks removed)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mini tapioca
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • Yellow food colouring (as much as desired)
  • A pie shell

Directions

Begin by boiling the water. Add the rest of the ingredients one at a time, and allow the water to go back up to a boil before adding the next ingredient.

After you’ve added as much food colouring as desired, pour the mixture into a pie shell. Add the top crust (if desired), and then bake your pie at 400 F for 15 minutes. Then turn the temperature down to 350 F and bake for another thirty minutes. It should have a consistency similar to other fruit pies when it’s finished. Serves 6-8.

Kartoffle Kloesse (Potato Dumplings)

I don’t have a picture of this recipe, but it’s something one of my grandmothers used to make. It’s delicious.

Ingredients

  • 6 boiled potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • a little salt
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Croutons

Directions

Grate 6 boiled potatoes . Add eggs, salt, and flour. Beat this mixture until fluffy. Roll it into balls with 2-3 croutons in the centre of each ball. Dump the balls into gently boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Drain well and serve. A little sour cream on the side of your plate would do wonders with this dish if you’re so inclined.

Photo credit: Windell Oskay.

Soft Pretzels

I strangely couldn’t find any of the photos I’ve taken of my own soft pretzels over the years, so I grabbed one off the Internet. You could even make them in fancy ampersand shapes if you wanted to!

Ingredients

  • 4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt, for topping

Directions

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in 1 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients except the flour.

Add in the flour one cup at a time. You might need as few as three cups of it.

Mix and form into a dough. If the mixture is dry, add one or two more tablespoons of water. Knead the dough until smooth, about 7 to 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Grease 2 baking sheets.

In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in 4 cups hot water; set aside. When risen, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape. Once all of the dough is shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda-hot water solution and place pretzels on baking sheets. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake in preheated oven until browned, about 8 minutes. Serves 12.

 

 

Bonus Recipe – Dandelion Salad

 I found this recipe in the cookbook mentioned above, and I know have ancestors who ate whatever they could find when food/money was scarce based on certain family legends. To be fair, that hasn’t happened in a few generations so this doesn’t quite count as a comfort meal.  I’d like to try it someday, though! Have any of you ever eaten dandelions or other wild greens?

Salad Ingredients

  • 4 cups chopped dandelion
  • 3 hard-cooked eggs
  • 3 slices bacon

Dressing

  • 1.5 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 2 cups milk or water

Directions

Wash and chop dandelions

Cut bacon into pieces and fry until crisp

Remove bacon from drippings

To make dressing, stir together the dry ingredients, add egg, vinegar, and water. Stir until well blended.

Cook dandelions in bacon drippings until thickened and cool slightly.

Pour dressing over dandelions and mix lightly. Garnish with sliced or chopped eggs and the crips bacon. Serves 6.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question. The image below is the list of upcoming prompts for this blog hop.

The Care and Feeding of Muses

Congratulations on being chosen by a muse! With a little forethought, the relationship you’ve begun with your source of inspiration will provide comfort and fresh ideas for your creative endeavours for the rest of your life.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of this relationship. Remember, every muse is unique. It may take some trial and error to figure out exactly what does and does not inspire you to start writing, singing, painting, or otherwise flexing your creative muscles.

The more often you practice, the better you’ll become at it. There is no better time to begin than today.

Caring for a Muse

Luckily, muses are hardy creatures. While mine has temporarily gone dormant when certain circumstances in my life didn’t leave enough time or energy for the creative process, it has always bounced back again once things improved for me.

Be gentle with yourself if you’re not currently able to create new content or if your progress is slower than you’d prefer to see. Think about the cycle of the seasons where you live. You may or may not know winter the way that us Canadians do, but every climate has its own unique pattern of growth, harvest, and rest.There is no such thing as a plant that blooms forever or a tree that creates bushels of fruit without ever needing a break from that process.

The same things happens with creative endeavours, too. Sometimes you will have an abundance of ideas and endless energy to make them come alive as a poem, sculpture, song, or any other number of things. Enjoy these times when they occur and make the most use out of them you can. In other seasons, your mind and muse may need to lay fallow for a short or long period of time before they’re ready to start creating again.

Feeding a Muse

The most important thing you can do for your muse is to feed it a varied diet. Just like a parent wouldn’t allow their child to eat nothing but candy and a pet owner wouldn’t feed Fido fistfuls treats for every meal of the day, your muse needs to be looked after in a similar way.

I can’t tell you what your muse will find useful, but I’d highly recommend giving it as many different types of stimuli  as you possibly can even if some of them might not be what you’d generally be drawn to in your free time. No, these experiences do not have to be expensive or involve travelling far away from home.

In fact, the vast majority of the things I do to feed my muse are free, and the rest often only require a few dollars for a subway fare if I remember to pack a lunch that day!

For example, you could:

  • Visit a local museum on a free or half-price day
  • Go for a walk in the woods or at the park
  • Borrow books from the library
  • Join a community group
  • Explore a new hobby or interest
  • Watch a local baseball game
  • Strike up a conversation with a friendly stranger
  • Go people-watching at a parade, festival, or other event
  • Browse in a store you’ve never visited before
  • Take a day trip to a nearby city, national park, or other imagination-ticking destination

The possibilities are endless. What matters is that you’re exposing yourself to things you might not normally spend any time thinking about during your regular routines.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Our job is to give our muses a chance to come up with ideas based on the interesting things you’ve done or learned lately and let them do the rest.

Taking Notes and Photographs

I used to carry around a trusty little notebook and write down all sorts of slices of life in it for future inspiration. Sometimes it was a memorable quote from a book and on other days it might have been a funny throwaway comment a stranger made on the bus.

I’ve since switched to taking notes on my smart phone, but the same basic principal remains. If I see something that piques the interest of my muse when I’m out and about, I’ll pause to take a photo or jot down a quick note of it before moving on with my day.

It’s easy to forget these little moments. By recording them for the future, you’ll have a long list of potential subjects to explore when you’re finally ready to write the outline of that book or start sketching.

Balancing Creative Productivity with Consuming Other People’s Work

I’ve found that spending too much or too little time consuming other people’s work has a negative effect on what I’m able to create as a writer.

As Thomas Merton once said, “no man is an island.” Humans are a social species, and this is especially true for us creative folks. The things that your muse comes up with often inspires my own if I strike an appropriate balance between creating and consuming!

Keeping it Useful

The important thing is to keep your consumption useful and to balance it with things that refill your creative tank.

For me this means spending as little time as I can on stuff that I find distracting like celebrity gossip or fear-mongering news stories. (Your mileage may vary on those topics). It also occassionally involves muting my phone and going off into nature for some quiet time.

Obviously, you’re not going to find too many caves or sprawling forests in downtown Toronto, but we still have plenty of quiet green spaces that are great for clearing one’s mind if you know where to look.

I love sitting on park benches and listening to the birds sing in the trees above me. There’s nothing as invigorating as having those experiences without translating them into words until long after I’ve come home again, if even then.

What do you all do to feed and care for your muses?

Spring Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Happy spring to everyone in the northern hemisphere! I’m beyond relieved to see it finally arrive as far as the calendar goes. Here’s hoping Ontario will soon see lots of warm weather and the first little green shoots popping out of the soil as well.

In the last couple of years, I’ve written about the winter and summer worlds I’d like to visit, so today I’ll be talking about the spring worlds I’d like to see.

Yes, I’ll be writing another instalment in this series in the autumn of 2019, so do keep an eye out for it later on this year.

It turns out that there are a lot of books out there set during winter and summer, but there aren’t so many of them that are set during this time of the year. Putting together this list was a little tricky! If you have anything to add to it, do speak up. All of the authors I could think of were white, and many of them were British. It would be nice to add other voices to this list.

When I was growing up, many of my elementary, middle, and high school English teachers did poetry units in the spring. I don’t know why this pattern happened. It might have been done unintentionally, or maybe teachers are taught to give their students slightly easier* assignments for a while as the end of the school year grows closer. At any rate, I’ve come to associate this time of the year with poetry because of those experiences.

*Or at least I found them easier. I enjoy the subjective nature of interpreting poetry.

From “Easter 1916“, the title poem in Easter 1916 and Other Poems by W.B. Yeats

From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;

 

Spring is one of the two seasons of the year when the weather swings wildly between temperature extremes for those of us who live in certain climates. Here in Ontario, you could have a heavy snowstorm one day and warm, sunny 20 C (68 Fahrenheit for you Americans) weather the next.
This poem reminded me of those fluctuations, and it made me want to visit this setting for a few minutes despite the dangers of the World War I era.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is one of those childhood classics that I keep referencing over and over again in various posts.

If you’ve never read it, it’s about a young girl who moved from India to England to live with a relative after her parents died. The estate her relative lived in had once been grand but were now a bit neglected. She was placed in her new home during the cold part of the year, so it wasn’t until the spring that she realized there was a secret garden on the property that had been terribly neglected.

There were so many interesting lines in this book about tending gardens and what happens to plants when no one has looked after them for a long time. Obviously, there were metaphors in there about taking care of the people around you, too, but seeing the transformation of that garden from a lonely, weedy place to what it became later on makes me smile every time I reread those passages.

Winter never lasts forever, whether we’re talking about the actual season or as a metaphor for life difficulties. I love the hopeful message there, and I’d sure like to see the Secret Garden from this tale for myself.

The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that picture books are only – or even mostly –  for small children. There are plenty of picture books out there that are honestly even more meaningful for adult readers.

The illustrations in this book are of a farm in springtime. The grass is green, tall, and strong. Wild flowers have sprouted up everywhere. The weather is beautifully mild. Since we’re talking about a fictional fantasy world here, there is no mud or spring allergies like there might be in our world.

Even without the added appeal of seeing these rabbits in action, reading about what unconditional love looks like makes me eager to visit this world. It would be such a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

From “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” a poem from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
The speaker in this poem has lost someone he loved very much. Spring gives him hope that they’ll be reunited again somehow someday. I appreciate the hope he finds in the natural cycle of the seasons and the way that each new spring reminds him of both his love and his grief.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco

Confession: I’ve cried every single time I’ve reread this story.

It contains references to a world that many people have forgotten thanks to the miracle of vaccines. This was a place where epidemics ripped through communities and many families lost at least one child because of these horrific diseases.

After the main character became gravely ill, his family was advised to burn all of his toys in an attempt to stop the spread of those germs to other vulnerable people. Even his beloved stuffed rabbit was supposed to be destroyed.

The boy’s illness appeared to happen in winter or possibly early spring based on how the story was written. I liked seeing the transition he and his family went through from the long, dark days of his illness to what happened after spring arrived and he began feeling like his old self again. The changing of the weather was a beautiful metaphor for all of the other wonderful things that were happening in their lives.

Of course I wouldn’t actually want to be sick like this kid was, but it would be so interesting to see the velveteen rabbit in person and maybe even tell these characters about all of the medical marvels to come that someday were going to prevent future families from going through this same experience.

What books do you associate with spring?

 

How Winter Has Changed Over My Lifetime

Lately, I’ve been thinking about climate change and how the expectations of what winter, or any other season, will be like in the average year are changing. The official graphs and charts that show how rapidly the average temperatures are climbing from one decade to the next are obviously quite important, but I think there’s something… Read More

What I Read in 2018

In January of 2013, I began blogging once a year about everything I’d read that previous year.  This tradition began when my dad asked me how many books I’ve read in my entire lifetime. I couldn’t begin to give him an answer to that question, but it did make me decide to start keeping track… Read More