Category Archives: Personal Life

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 this will be changing pretty soon, but in the meantime I thought it would be amusing to share some of the questions that have been rattling around in my head that aren’t quite weighty enough to warrant full posts on their own.

1. Why do my library holds so often arrive simultaneously?

I borrow e-books from my local library. This means that the next person on the list will receive a copy of a popular book moments after the previous borrower gave it back. Because of this system, I know I’m not receiving several books in the same day due to them arriving in batches based on the library’s business hours or anything like that. There have been instances when I’ve received an e-copy of a novel I was waiting on in the middle of the night if that’s when the last patron returned it.

Theoretically, I should be able to time it so that I have a steady stream of new stuff to read throughout the month since I can always see how many copies of an e-book the library has and what number I am on the list of people waiting to read it.

So it comes as a surprise to me to see how often I end up deluged in books anyway! Sometimes I’ll go a week without getting notifications for any new arrivals on my account only to end up with quite a few of them becoming available a few days later. It’s as thought there are little elves running around in the library’s database purposefully causing mischief.

2. Why do people review books they haven’t finished reading?

I keep running into people who talk about writing reviews for books they’ve only partially read, and I’m not talking about reviewers who found something so objectionable or triggering in the plot that they couldn’t bear to follow the storyline to the end. That is something I’ve had to do once or twice myself, but I’m always honest about why I refused to finish a particular story.

Some of them genuinely seemed to enjoy what they were reading, and yet they still posted reviews before finishing it. I am so confused by this.

3. Why do people get so competitive over their diet and exercise routines?

Okay, so technically the answer to this one is that they enjoy competition and that I’m missing a big piece of the picture since I don’t get the same satisfaction from that sort of thing.

Still, It boggles my mind to see folks arguing over which diet or exercise routine is superior. I’ve seen friends thrive on a wide variety of healthy living plans, for lack of a better term. Many of them contradict each other’s advice, and yet all of these friends are doing well on the paths they’ve chosen.

4. When will all of the holiday treats arrive at the grocery store?

My local grocery store stocks an unbelievable array of special chocolates, cookies, beverages, snacks, and other food items for holidays ranging from Hanukkah to Christmas. They start putting this stuff out before Halloween, and every year they fill nooks and crannies that I barely even noticed with displays with all sorts of sugary things.

There are several tasty, dairy-free products I’m still waiting for them to begin selling for the holiday season. I can’t help but to wonder if or when those items might show up on the shelves again.

What have you been wondering about recently?

Armistice 100: Thoughts on World War I

Photo description: a field full of poppies.

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

In commemoration of this, I’m using today’s post to talk about what my ancestors were doing during that war and share a touching video that was filmed by a former soldier who returned to his old battlegrounds about a decade after he’d originally fought there.

I’ve chosen not to include the names of my ancestors in this post for privacy reasons. If you’re peering at your family tree and wondering if we’re related or if our ancestors might have known each other, I’d be happy to share more details in private.

Mom’s Side of the Family

All of the great-grandparents on my mother’s side of the family were infants or children when World War I began. They were born to various German Mennonite farmers who lived in the midwestern United States, so none of their fathers or other male relatives were soldiers.

This meant that not only did all of my great-great-grandfathers survive the war and remain with their families, they also were able to provide basic food and shelter to their loved ones for the entire duration of it. While some of their fellow church members were imprisoned for refusing to fight, I believe those ancestors might have been given exemptions due to the large families they needed to support and the vital roles they played in producing food for the nation in general.

World War I wasn’t a pleasant experience for anyone, but my mom’s side of the family seemed to have much better experiences with it than many people did back then.

Dad’s Side of the Family

Trigger warning: abuse

I know less about my father’s side of the family, especially during these years. Those ancestors were all still living in Germany at the time, and many of them were rarely if ever willing to discuss their pasts for reasons that will soon become clear.

One of my paternal great-grandfathers was a soldier during World War I. He was shot in the leg and, according to family legend, used spider webs to pack the wound. Spider webs were traditionally used in many cultures to treat wounds back then. They are said to contain anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties. The vitamin K in spider webs may also help reduce bleeding.

Even with the help of this home remedy, the infection he developed in that wound was so serious that he nearly lost his limb. Since this happened more than 20 years before antibiotics became available, I’m honestly surprised that he survived…much less kept his leg!

That is the only story I know from that portion of his life. He took everything else with him to the grave. While his body survived the war without any catastrophic injuries, his mental health was severely affected by the things he experienced during those years. He became physically and emotionally abusive and remained that way for the rest of his life.

This great-great-grandfather died long before I was born, but I still saw the damage he caused lingering on decades after his death. I share this not to speak ill of the dead but to be honest about the true costs of war. Sometimes it’s horrific.

Today I can’t help but to wonder how the lives of his descendants would have turned out differently if he’d either never been through that trauma or lived in a time when he could have gotten real help for the things that plagued him before he became abusive.

The Spanish Flu and My Ancestors

To the best of my knowledge, none of my ancestors contracted the Spanish Flu in 1918. There are no reports of deaths from it in our genealogical records and no stories about anyone being sickened by it either so far as I’m aware.  That surprised me a lot given how many people were affected by it worldwide. My great-grandparents and their relatives were all very lucky in this regard.

Colour Footage of the Western Front & Northern France

I’ll be ending this post on a cheerful note. The video below is titled And in the Sky the Larks: 1920s Colour Footage of the Western Front & Northern France.

It was originally shot in 1928 by a man named Charles W. Bridgen who had been a L. Corporal in the 7th London Battalion. He survived battles in Ypres and the Somme. About a decade later he returned to visit those places in peacetime. The resulting footage is hauntingly beautiful. There are even some shots of a wedding that took place in one of the spots he was filming in.

I’d like to thank my dad for sharing it with me recently. It was a touching tribute to what must have been a very meaningful trip for Mr. Bridgen.

What Were Your Ancestors Doing During World War I?

I’d sure like to hear any stories your families might have passed down about them.

 

Holiday Topics I Wish More People Would Blog About

Can you believe it’s November already? It feels like January ended last month, and yet here we are moving quickly into the 2018 holiday season.

As someone who doesn’t observe any winter holidays other than nodding slightly in the direction of the winter solstice since it means the days will soon be filled with more light, this might seem like a slightly unusual topic choice for me today.

I think there’s something to be said for being aware of the things I’m going to mention today regardless of what you do or don’t celebrate, though.

Trigger warning: while I won’t be going into any details, I will be briefly mentioning issues like abuse and grief in today’s post. (I will also be talking about much happier stuff as well!)

Why The Holidays Are Painful for Some People

To give just a few reasons why someone might find this time of year distressing, some (extended or nuclear) families are:

  • Abusive or neglectful
  • Grieving over the loss of one or more members
  • Separated for financial, medical, career, legal, or political reasons
  • Estranged
  • No longer in existence

When someone is in this situation, it can be difficult to be surrounded by so many images of and references to happy, intact families between now and the end of the year.

In no way am I trying to discourage people who have never experienced this from sharing stories of visiting safe, appropriate, and living relatives.

It makes me happy to see all of the joy in their lives, but I’d also love to see more posts from people who have had to limit or end their relationship with certain relatives for safety reasons, who live far away from their loved ones, who don’t have families, or who will not be doing big familial celebrations for other reasons. These stories are important and need to be told if the bloggers involved in them are willing to share a basic overview of why the holidays aren’t a cheerful time for them.

Chosen Families

On the other hand, not all families are comprised of folks who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption. It is perfectly possible to choose to become a family with people you meet long after you’ve taken your first step or graduated from high school.

As someone who is trying to do this, it would be so interesting to read other people’s accounts of how they assembled theirs.

Navigating Health Problems During the Holidays

My various allergies can sometimes make attending certain functions tricky or even impossible. I’ll often eat before going to certain gatherings to make sure I’m not sitting there with a growling stomach and the inability to eat anything there due to North America’s tendency to toss milk products into so many festive foods.

If someone has a cat, I cannot enter their home for any reason. No, not even if they vacuum really well and banish the cat to their bedroom. It has nothing to do with my opinion of their cleaning skills or cat and everything to do with how difficult it is to get dander out of a couch well enough that I won’t react if I sit on it.

It would be so interesting to me to read other blogger’s stories about how they handled their own health problems or accommodated someone else’s medical needs during the holidays. I’m well-versed in allergies, but I know far less about how other health issues can affect someone’s ability to attend or enjoy an event. It would be helpful to hear what should or should not be done from people who are living with other conditions.

Traditions from Non-American Cultures

One of the coolest things about making friends with so many people who didn’t grow up in rural, (mostly) midwestern portions of United States has been getting to hear stories about all of the traditions that exist in other parts of the world.

Some holidays that are widely celebrated here in North America like Halloween are either totally unknown or barely observed in other places. Likewise, I’ve learned about all sorts of other celebrations that my family didn’t know anything about when I was growing up. These range from major holidays like Diwali to smaller, more regional ones like Saint Nicholas Day.

Creative Gift Ideas

I’d be especially interested in reading posts about gifts that are inexpensive and not a knick-knack.

Those of you who are good at buying, baking, making, or planning personalized, meaningful presents have my admiration. That isn’t an easy thing to do….or at least it’s not for me.

Honestly, the more posts that exist about this, the better. It can be written about for so many different ages and types of interests that the possibilities are truly endless.

Reflections on the Past and Future

What were the highlights of the past year for you? What do you wish had turned out differently? What are your hopes and dreams for the new year?

I know that some bloggers aren’t comfortable sharing such personal details of their own lives, and I respect that. If they’re willing to share, I adore getting these backstage peeks into other people’s lives.

Something I struggle with might be effortless for someone else, but they also might find it hard to do something that I’ve always found incredibly easy. There’s something reassuring about seeing examples of how this works while I hope that next year will be better for everyone no matter what this one was like for them.

What topics do you wish more people would blog about during the holiday season?

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Wish People Would Blog About

5 More Things I Wish People Would Blog About

 

4 Reasons Why You Should Attend Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche is a free annual art festival that occurs overnight or at night. The first one happened in 1990 in Barcelona. As the tradition spread to other cities and countries, they used their own language’s words for White Night as the name for this event.

Here in Toronto, Nuit Blanche generally occurs in late September or early October. It begins at 7 pm and ends at 7 am the next morning, but not every city follows this same exact schedule.

I’ve been attending this event for years now, and I thought it was high time to discuss it in detail with my readers. The photo that accompanies this post wasn’t taken there, but it did remind me of a cool exhibit from it from 2015. While I didn’t add them into my post for copyright reasons, you can see actual pictures from this year’s festival here.

If you’re ever in Toronto, Barcelona, Montreal, St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires, Naples, Cairo, Havana, Paris, or any other city that hosts its own version of Nuit Blanche when this festival is taking place, here are four reasons why I think you should check it out.

Art is for Everyone

One of the things I love the most about Nuit Blanche is how accessible it makes art. While some of the attendees are obviously experts on the creation and interpretation of this sort of thing, many more are people who are casually interested in the topic but who have no specific training or background on it. Some of them are even small children! This isn’t something that is specifically geared towards this age group, but there are exhibits every year that are child-friendly.

I adore the mixture of people that show up for an event like this in general. You’ll see very young infants all the way up to senior citizens enjoying the exhibits, and I’m not even kidding about that first part. I’ve watch the expressions on babies’ faces at the most colourful ones, and they were definitely liking what they saw. Tourists who can’t speak any English at all will marvel at the same exhibit alongside people who have spent their entire lives in English-speaking countries. People from every race, nationality, sexual orientation, social class, and  every other possible demographic group you can imagine are there, too.

There’s something to be said for works that can appeal so many different groups simultaneously. It’s magical.

It’s Interactive

I’ve wandered into the middle of a zombie uprising, danced with spotlights, explored an abandoned subway tunnel while listening to music the creator thought would increase the chances of us spotting a ghost, and heard the stories of people who work or worked in the sex industry at this festival in past years.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the creative things artists have done for it. It’s incredible to see what the participants are able to come up with and how hard they work to make their ideas spring to life. As much as I enjoy wandering around art museums, too, this is nothing at all like that experience. It’s more like the energetic, joyful, and slightly rowdy environment you see on Church Street after the Pride Parade each summer.

No Two Years Are Ever the Same

Let me be really honest with you here. There have been a few years when I didn’t emotionally connect to any of the exhibits I saw for a wide variety of reasons. Not every Nuit Blanche has been spectacular for me as an attendee, but that’s actually a good thing.

I value risk-taking in the arts. Artists and other creative folks who are willing to stretch themselves and their creative works should be admired. It’s much easier to make something that could blandly appeal to most people than it is to drill down and come up with an idea that’s thought-provoking, shocking, humorous, or memorable.

This means that some years will be better for me than others, and vice versa. Not everything can or should appeal to everyone.

Your Definition of What Art Is Might Change

This year there was a dumpling exhibit that caught me a little off guard at first. You could go into it, buy real dumplings (all of which smelled amazing), and eat them while you walked around looking at other artistic displays.

I never would have thought something as ordinary as food preparation could be reimagined as art, but that exhibit was extremely popular. The lines for the dumplings were huge, and everyone who got one looked pretty happy.

As someone who is casually interested in this topic, I appreciate the fact that this event stretches my understanding of what art is or could be. It made me think of what I generally consider to be the fairly mundane practice of cooking and baking food in a new light.

The next time I make cookies, shepherd’s pie, or any number of other dishes, I’ll see it in a way I’ve never seen it before. (I still won’t look forward to washing the dishes, though!)

That’s the beauty of art. If nothing else, I hope that will be what you take from Nuit Blanche if or when you ever see it for yourself.

4 Things I Want to Accomplish This Autumn

There’s something about the autumn season that makes me want to write out lists and accomplish things. Maybe it’s because of how much I generally looked forward to school beginning again when I was a student.

A blank notebook can hold an endless number of possibilities. Several months from now they’ll be full of lecture notes, but there might be poems or little drawings scribbled in the margins. The smell of fresh paper is enticing, too.

An unread textbook is often full of interesting things that you never knew about the world before. Sometimes I even read parts of my textbooks – especially the literature ones –  that were never assigned to us for the sheer fun of it.

It’s been well over a decade since I took any courses, but I thought this year it might be helpful to set a few non-academic goals for myself. This post will be shorter than usual. My goals are fairly simple, and I see no reason to pad them out  since they don’t require a thousand words of explanation.

1. Spend One Hour a Week Lifting Weights.

I’m currently recovering from a minor injury that temporarily derailed my normal weightlifting routine. As soon as I’ve healed, I’m going to leap back into my normal routine of lifting free weights. I can’t tell you how much I miss that. In the meantime I’m trying to do some bodyweight activities that don’t aggravate my injury to keep up my strength as much as possible.

2. Meditate for 20 Minutes Every Day.

Honestly, my meditation habits have been pretty erratic these past six months. That needs to change.

3. Join New Social Groups.

One of the downsides of being a writer, and especially a full-time writer, is how much time we tend to spend alone typing on a keyboard. While I’m incredibly grateful for the many benefits of this career choice, I think it would be healthy for me to get out and socialize with other people at times.

Ideally, I’ll find at least one group that had nothing to do with writing so I can meet people from other professions and walks of life. I’m open to all possibilities, though, and hope to blog about my experiences once I find a couple of groups that suit my interests and schedule.

4. Write My Second Sci-Fi Novel.

This is by far my biggest goal for the autumn. A while ago I began a novel that was about a woman living in what used to be Arizona several generations from now after climate change permanently altered the landscape there and North America at large. I got stuck 30,000 words into it and have yet to finish it. I’m hoping I’ll be able to figure out how to do that one if I work on a entirely new story in the science fiction genre.

I’m tentatively planning to check back in with my readers in December to discuss how many of these goals I’ve reached and what’s happening with them in general.  My hope is that I’ll be very motivated to accomplish them now that everyone knows what I’m trying to do.

What are your goals for the next few months?

4 Things That Inspire Me to Buy a Book

This post was written as a response to Candy Korman’s What Inspires You to Buy a Book? If any of my readers decide to write their own responses, I’ll edit this to include a link to your post.  Raise your hand if you sometimes have no idea what to read next! I know I have this… Read More

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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… Read More

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… Read More

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.… Read More