Category Archives: Personal Life

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?

 

We Should All Have Android Bodies

You might think I’m joking about this, but I’m not. This is how the last couple of days have been for me.

Me: My injured foot is doing better. What a relief. I can’t wait to get back into my normal workout routines again.

Body:  Ooh, look! A shiny illness. I heard they pair perfectly with feet injuries, especially during cold and flu season when you can get fresh, locally-grown sicknesses at every corner store.

Me: Wait, what?

Body: It’s so sparkly. I want to cuddle it, name it Fluffy, and carry it around for a while.

Me: Illnesses do not sparkle and you do not want to touch that one. Trust me. It will be better for everyone if you put it down and go wash your hands with soap and hot water.

Body: Too late! Sorry not sorry, but I’m keeping it. The three of us are going to be besties until your immune and digestive systems figure out how fight back.

Based on how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks, I am beyond ready for humanity to figure out a way to give everyone an android body. Meat suits have some benefits, but they also need far too many repairs and recuperation time when they have accidents or pick up the wrong germs.

Give me a nice, robotic body instead. I’d be quite happy to never have to think about all of the things that can go terribly wrong with flesh, bones, and organs even when you’re only dealing with diagnoses that have an expiration date.

The science fiction genre often acts as though transitioning from having a purely biological form to at least partially existing as a computer program would be a terrible fate, but all I can think about is how nice it would be to no longer get sick or injured anymore.

Would you sign up to have your consciousness transferred to an android body if such a thing were possible?

 

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 to be said for listening to and writing down anecdotes about the climate as well. Future generations might like to know what things were like when we were young and the Earth was colder.

My first clear memories of winter happened in the early 1990s. My family lived in Wyoming then, and our town was nestled so close to the Rocky Mountains that we regularly saw heavy snowstorms between the months of October and May.

I think my family was snowed in at least once during these storms. There is only so much plowing that can be done before the blizzard wins and everyone needs to stay off those slippery roads for safety reasons.

Before I tell this next story, keep in mind that I was always petite for my age growing up. Not every child would have been light enough to pull this off, but I do have memories of walking on top of frozen snowbanks when I was about seven or eight years old. The snow had melted a little, and when it refroze it created a sort of crust on top of it that I could just barely walk on top of. I felt like a superhero and was a little disappointed the next winter when I realized that I was too heavy to do that trick again. (The funny thing was, I remained one of smallest kids in my class all the way through to high school graduation!)

In the mid-1990s, my family moved back to Ohio. Every year we’d generally have at least a few days cancelled due to snow or ice storms. Ohio was a less snowy place than Wyoming, so I don’t remember quite as many times when the roads were closed due to storms as they did when we lived out west.

I do remember feeling a little surprised by the lessening amounts of snow as the years rolled on. Part of it was almost certainly due to the fact that I was growing into my full adult height and viewing snowdrifts from that perspective instead of the point of view of a young child, but I also wonder if I wasn’t noticing the effects of climate change.

The winter of 1998-1999 was an exception to that trend. We had a huge snowstorm at the tail end of Christmas break that delayed the reopening of school by about two weeks. My family just so happened to be moving into a new house then, so my first recollections of 1999 were of perpetually-damp boots, gloves, and hats drying by the radiator while we unpacked our belongings one minivan full of them at a time.

I moved to Toronto in 2005. The climate was fairly similar to Ohio, but I’ve noticed winters seem to be morphing into drier and more erratic versions of themselves here over time. We still have some snowstorms, but we’ve also had weird weeks in the dead of January or February where the temperatures climb into early spring numbers (10-15C, or roughly 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit for you Americans) for a day or even a week before growing cold again.

This is truly bizarre, and I wonder if it will become the new normal for future generations. Will they no longer need heavy winter jackets, gloves, hats, and scarves? How will they react to the thought of a winter that doesn’t thaw out again until March? I suspect they won’t understand that concept at all, except as an academic exercise when they read about what life was like before climate change.

I’m interested in hearing your stories about how winter has changed and is changing where you live. If you live in a climate that doesn’t have winter, feel free to talk about how the weather is changing in whatever ways you might have noticed since you were a kid.

The First Lines of What I’m Reading

Today’s post is going to be a short one. My brain is not up for waxing on eloquently on any topic at the moment.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I rarely read one book at a time. It’s much more common for me to jump between two or three (or more) of them simultaneously. Lately, I’ve been stumbling across one great read after another.

If non-graphic references to the accidental death of a child are hard for you to read, you might want to skip the first one.

From Crystal Chan’s Bird, a young adult novel about a girl who was born the same day her brother died and who grew up in the shadow of her family’s grief:

Grandpa stopped speaking the day he killed my brother, John. His name was John until Grandpa said he looks more like a Bird with the way he kept jumping off things, and the name stuck.

 

From Melissa Hill’s Keep You Safe, a medical thriller about how two families – one who were anti-vaxxers and another whose child couldn’t be vaccinated due to a rare disease – reacted when the antivaxxer’s family caught the measles and gave it to the medically fragile child:

The bell rang out and on cue they started to approach all at once, like a stampeding herd.

From Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Lucky Fish: Poems. This is the first fragment of The Secret of Soil, the first poem in this collection:

The secret of smoke is that it will fill

any space with walls

From Jennifer Mathieu’s Devoted, a story about a devoutly religious, homeschooled girl who begins to seriously doubt the things her parents had always taught her about what it means to live a righteous life:

James Fulton is sweating like a sinner in church. Which, of course, is exactly what he is. 

I’m hoping to write a much longer and more detailed post on Monday. In the meantime, what are the first lines from what you’ve been reading lately? Who else likes to start a new book before finishing the one(s) you’re currently reading?

 

Why Taking Reading Breaks Can Be a Good Idea

I haven’t been reading many books lately. It started last month when I went on vacation to someplace warm and sunny. Ontario is such a dark and cold place during the winter that I wanted to spend as much time as I could in the sun during that week without getting burned or tanned.

As is usual for my vacation habits, most of the reading I did consisted of visiting social media and checking out blog posts and short articles on my RSS feed.

Now that I’ve been back home for a couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that I still don’t have the desire to jump back into my normal reading habits. That’s okay. This happens occasionally.

You see, I spend a great deal of my reading time in the science fiction and fantasy genres. The interesting thing about staying so closely connected to a couple of genres like that is how easy it is to spot and predict patterns in them after a while. There have been multiple times when I’ve been able to correctly guess what the entire course of a story will be after finishing the first scene in it.

Part of this is due to the fact that readers expect certain things from their favourite genres. If a character mentions the existence of a long-lost magical amulet on page one, any writer worth his or her salt is going to make sure that amulet shows up again  later on in the storyline.

I’ve spent so much time in these genres that I’ve become well-versed in the numerous tropes that exist in both of them. I also know how their various types of storylines generally flow and can pick up on authors who decide to buck those trends pretty early on.

These are all things I’m saying with love for the science fiction and fantasy genres. This happens in every other genre out there, too, and it’s not a bad thing. There’s something reassuring about knowing that, unless you’ve stumbled across one of those rare authors who has put a lot of work into purposefully disrupting these conventions, the chosen one is going to prevail in the end no matter how dire his or her predicament may seem right before the climax.

The nice thing about reading breaks is that they give you a chance to step away from these patterns if you also tend to stick to the same genre(s) with every new title you pick up. Sometimes my breaks are short and punctuated by a stack of non-fiction books about history, food, medicine, or other topics I find appealing. Other breaks find me not reading any full-length books at all or visiting portions of the library that I typically skip over altogether.

Some of the book-lovers I know have never talked about their need to take breaks from reading. I don’t know if this is because they’re always interested in starting something new or because they simply don’t mention it when they wait a while between finishing one book and starting the next one.

It would be interesting to somehow gather statistics on this, don’t you think? Oh, the things I could do with that data in Numbers. There would be more pie charts and graphs floating around in there than you could shake a stick at.

Fellow readers, do you ever take reading breaks? If so, how often do they happen? What do you do when you’re not immersed in your favourite genre(s)?

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

What to Do on Christmas If You Don’t Celebrate It

Merry Christmas to everyone who will be celebrating it tomorrow! I hope it’s a joyful time for you and your loved ones. As someone who doesn’t observe this holiday anymore, it’s always interesting to talk about what I do when everything is shut down and see what other people have come up to pass the… Read More

Why Do Library Holds Arrive Simultaneously (and Other Questions I Wish I Had Answers To)

Lately, I’ve been taking a break from my normal interests like reading science fiction and exercising outdoors in order to try other stuff. One of the consequences of this has been that I haven’t come up with as many blog post ideas related to those topics as I’d normally be playing around with. I suspect… Read More