Thursday Sundries

It’s another grey day in the Fraser Valley. But tomorrow is June! Can you believe it? I’m excited. June will be busy for us though because, well, we’re moving. Again. This will mark my fifth move in four years and although that might make it sound like I love moving a lot, I do not. And I’m not good at it either. I’m sentimental (which is a nice way of saying I hold on to too much stuff) and I’m not very organized. But there is lots of summer fun to look forward to and sunnier days ahead than this one.

Excellent things today:

This video. Mel and Joey Schwanke have been married for 64 years and have worn matching outfits for the past 35 years. Not identical outfits – coordinated outfits. Like, she’ll have a dress made and then he’ll have a tie made from the same fabric. I have to admit, even though, I don’t want to dress like Peter, I love seeing elderly couples in matching outfits. It’s this quirky way of saying, “We’ve been together for decades and I still want to be associated with you when we’re out in public.” I also love seeing older couples hold hands in public.

Full disclosure: Peter and I actually do have matching track suits. We received them as wedding gifts from some very clever and funny friends and on occasion we have gone running together in matching pants.

This….condiment.

Spotted at Superstore last night.

Lady’s Choice Sandwich Spread. I was too distracted by the name and taking this picture to look at the ingredients. Maybe a commercial will tell us more. Uh, nope. That cleared nothing up. Why are there only children shown enjoying something called “Lady’s Choice”? Why would I want my sandwich spread to taste “meaty”? A little more research tells me it’s from the Philippines but still does not answer my question as to its name.

Every time Peter and I go to the Superstore here (which is ginormous, by the way) we spend quite a bit of time in the Asian food aisle (pretty much the only Asian place in this town) and we usually end up each picking out a treat. Sometimes we pick at random (like when we got Tiger Malt) and try something new. Sometimes we go for the more familiar. Last night Peter chose a coffee drink from Taiwan (something random) and I got these (something familiar):

I’m eating them right now because Peter thinks they’re disgusting (which means I don’t have to share). When I was a kid these were such a treat. They still make me happy!

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Lessons Learned in Thrift Stores

Another successful Value Village trip on Saturday! That makes two in two weekends in a row. (Inspired by visits from our thrifty extended family!)

I got this dress last weekend:

Yesterday Peter found me a soft, comfortable 100% lambswool sweater. I have a couple of lovely wool sweaters that are actually men’s sweaters because of him. I’m not sure if he picks them out because he likes them on me or because he doesn’t like it when I steal his sweaters. This one’s from Ralph Lauren and will be awesome in the fall or on cold summer nights upcoming. It makes me want to have a bonfire on the beach.

I also got these shoes:

I think they’re kind of ugly and kind of wonderful. They’re super comfortable and I could see wearing them with shorts or jeans and not caring too much if they get a bit dirty. (I am full of plans to spend as much time as possible outside this summer!)

What I put back: Sky-high, silver, sequined heels. They were so over the top that I would have bought them for a few bucks. But they were $24.99, they hurt my feet, and I would probably wear them twice in the next five years. I flip-flopped more over a pair of buttercup-yellow heels. So cute but again, I just wouldn’t wear them much. I have a few pair of heels and I bring them out for weddings and other miscellaneous dressy occasions but it’s rare to see me in stilettos. It came down to what’s the wisest way to spend my money.

I am still looking for a couple of pretty summer tops. Everything yesterday seemed to be 1) made of polyster, which makes me sweat like crazy* 2) make me look pregnant 3) have a hole or a broken zipper

*Sorry – I meant ‘perspire’. Ladies don’t sweat.

Here’s the thing, I’m not a super fashionista-type but I like keeping up to date on styles and I do enjoy perusing fashion blogs/sites/magazines from time to time. It’s easy for me to read about other people’s clothing and style and get a skewed idea of what I need or how much is appropriate to spend. That amount may vary from person to person and may vary at different times in a person’s life. It’s so easy for me to go into a store and think, “I don’t have this item and that means I need it.” I might, but I probably don’t. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have a whole bunch of stuff more than I technically need. I do. Most likely, the majority of us do. I don’t have a problem with that. My problem arises when I begin to covet other people’s wardrobes or budgets. My problem arises when I decide how much I should spend on shoes or how many skirts I should own based on a blog of someone I’ve never met. Or when I set my value by how I feel when I get dressed in the morning.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is something we each need to figure out for ourselves. I don’t want to compare myself to anyone else. I do want to look at another woman and think, “Cute purse” but not think, “If she spent that much on a purse, I can too.” Basically, I need to take fashion websites and blogs with a grain of salt.

Book Review – The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

In the cottage where I spent my summers as a child, there was an old cardboard box under one of the beds. It was a box that, each summer, my brother and I pulled out and looked through as if we’d never seen it before. It was a box full of comic books and each summer we read every single one. The comics had first belonged to my father and his brother and most of them dated back to the early 1960s. There were old Superman comics, there were a few Magnus Robot Fighter comics, and there was a healthy stack of Turok Son of Stone comics. There was even one comic book that detailed the origins of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. These were the only comics I ever read as a child. I watched Spiderman and X-Men cartoons on the weekends and read Watchmen eventually but when I think of comic books, my mind still goes back to that cardboard box under the bed.

Nothing says “Fighting Robot Crime!” like pink, spandex shorts and white boots.

We had a copy of this exact comic! In it, Andar needs rescuing and they shoot honkers with bows and arrows.

So I have a certain nostalgia toward old comic books and those memories were well rewarded in my reading of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I imagine a true comic book buff would enjoy it even more.

I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay for so many reasons. For its fantastical sense of adventure, set against the real world action and tragedy of the Jews in Europe during World War Two. I loved the opening chapters of Josef in Prague – a city I spent several months in a few years ago and one of the most beautiful places I’ve been. Reading scenes set in Prague and descriptions of places I’ve seen made the story that much more personal for me.

This is a picture I took of Charles Bridge in Prague. A scene at the beginning of the novel takes place near here.

The majority of the story takes place in New York city, a place I haven’t visited, but that comes alive on the pages of Chabon’s book, particularly the iconic Empire State Building.

The friendship and partnership between Josef Kavalier and Sammy Clay was interesting, funny, and believable. Chabon creates a real friendship that the reader cares about without slipping into sentimentalism. The story balances between the two main characters with perhaps a bit more emphasis on Joe Kavalier. Which I was okay with because he was the more interesting character to me. He’s talented and conflicted and the novel does a tremendous job of showing how the circumstances of Joe’s life change him from who he really could be or the life he could have had.

Over and over again there were descriptions, scenes set, and moments rendered that drew me further and further into the world of the novel. In the last half there is a scene where a character is so distracted by her shock and excitement that she starts to cook dinner in her underwear, not realizing she hasn’t finished dressing. It’s a funny but really quite sad moment. The fact that she can only calm down by working, by immersing herself in a fictional world of her own creations, tells us everything we need to know about her character.

Considering this is a book about comics and art, I would have loved it if there had been, scattered through the novel, some examples of comics and art. I would never say this with another book – but it actually felt like those touches were missing here. There are a couple of occasions where the novel gives us a descriptor of the comics that Kavalier and Clay write. While stylistically well done and entertaining, it seemed like a missed opportunity to demonstrate the artistic form that the novel is all about. A classic example of being told when I’d rather be shown.

In all though, if this is what Michael Chabon writes like, I am definitely reading more by him.

Favourite quotes:

Sammy had loved the [World’s] Fair, visiting it three times in its first season of 1939, and until the end of his life, he kept one of the little buttons he had been given when he exited General Motors pavilion, which said I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE. He had grown up in an era of great hopelessness, and to him and millions of his fellow city boys, the Fair and the world it foretold had possessed the force of a covenant, a promise of a etter world to come, that he was later attempt to redeem in the potato fields of Long Island.

 

Sitting on Rosa’s moth-littered bed, [Joe] felt a resurgence of all the aches and inspirations of those days when his life had revolved around nothing but Art, when snow fell like the opening piano notes of the Emperor Concerto, and feeling horny reminded him of a passage from Nietzsche, and a thick red-streaked dollop of crimson paint in an otherwise uninteresting Velazquez made him hungry for a piece of rare meat.

 

On life after World War Two:

“No,” she said. “I don’t think he’s out of his mind. You know? I just don’t know if there’s a sane reaction to what he…what happened to his family. Is your reaction, and mine…you get up, you go to work, you have a catch in the yard with the kid on Sunday afternoon. How sane is that? Just to go on planting bulbs and drawing comic books and doing all the same old crap as if none of it had happened.”

 

Less favourite quote:

Poor little librarians of the world, those girls, secretly lovely, their looks marred forever by the cruelty of big black eyeglasses!

Michael Chabon, that just seems mean.

(By the way, Michael Chabon is married to Ayelet Waldman, who I discussed in this post.)

Not a Book Review (Well, okay, it kind of is)

Sometimes picking a book based on its interesting title and fun cover works out well. Really great, in fact. Sometimes it doesn’t. This time it was of the second variety.

Grab On To Me Tightly As If I Knew The Way by Bryan Charles

This isn’t a book review because I didn’t finish reading the book. I don’t do that very often – stop in the middle and never return – but sometimes I just feel like I’m wasting my time. My first sign that this novel might not be what I hoped was the language. Now, here’s the thing: although I very, very, rarely swear in real life and I don’t like hearing swear words from those around me, I don’t necessarily mind it in fiction. I have written fiction where a character swears. I take swearing in fiction seriously; I believe it has to be authentic to the character and it has to express something of that person that can’t be expressed in any other way. I don’t believe in swearing for swearing’s sake or for shock value. Because I don’t go around throwing down F-bombs in my own life, I try and think carefully whether or not it’s something necessary in fiction. Sometimes, I think, it is. (You may disagree with me here. That’s fair.) What I don’t like and what will turn me off a story is superfluous swearing. And when you use one of the most offensive swear words there is in the first ten pages of your novel, I don’t see what purpose it has and I don’t want to keep reading. In order to not judge the book unfairly though, I did keep reading. I got about halfway through. The writing itself is not bad. I did get confused about some of the time frame – what I thought was a continuous scene turned out to be two separate days – but I trust that many of those problems would have been explained had I kept reading. The musical references and the early 1990s setting were interesting and I particularly enjoyed how the author would slip in lyrics from songs that our narrator was listening to/thinking of/playing on his guitar. The novel is written in first person which leads to a few stream-of-consciousness style parts which, though never my favourite, were decently well done. Over all though the novel had this Generation X trying to be Holden Caulfield feel that just wasn’t working for me. The best I can say is that this book felt self-indulgent. It was a hipster in novel form – dropping names and judging me for not knowing them. Throwing out swear words to see if my jaw drops. Every character surrounding our narrator seemed like a caricature (at least to the halfway point of the book) and the narrator himself lacked motivation. Most of the book seems to take place in his head and yet even there he reveals very little of what he actually thinks, how he feels. The novel never broke through that teenage boy tough guy veneer, never showed who this kid really was. I’ve hung around guys like that and the joy of being an adult now is that I don’t have to hang around them anymore. So I closed the book and took it back to the library.

Victoria Day Weekend

We had two days of fabulous weather for the May long weekend, one day of clouds and then a final day of rain all day. Which was actually kind of perfect because it gave us just the right excuse to stay in our pajamas too late, to drink coffee slowly, read books, and simply hang out together.

A year ago we were camping at Rathtrevor Park on the island. It seems like a long time ago. I’m so excited about getting to spend the summer by the ocean again.

We like to rock the plaid when we camp.

Friday and Saturday this past weekend Peter and I had our first overnight guests at our place here. We had fun sharing some of the places we’ve discovered in town and trying out a new restaurant.

Island 22 (not a real island)

Blue Heron Nature Reserve

Despite Peter’s concerns, we turned left on the path where we’ve always turned right before.

It brought us to a railroad bridge across the Vedder River.

The river was high and fast.

Some of the politest graffiti I’ve ever seen:

Mason Geddes, I don’t know who you are but I too hope you had a swell trip.

We also – as often happens in this family – hit up the local thrift stores. We visited four different thrift shops, including one I hadn’t been in before, and had quite a successful time. Welcome to our new drink station!

It was a good weekend.

The Journey Begins…

Monday night launched the latest season of  The Bachelorette. This time we follow the romantic adventures of 26-year-old Emily Maynard. What sets this season apart is the fact that Emily is a single mom to a young daughter, Ricki. For this reason, the show has (so far) been relocated to Emily’s hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m looking forward to watching this. Emily is easy to like – poised, polite, restrained, and almost artificially pretty. I’ve also heard that she professes to be a Christian, so I’m curious to observe how that lines up to the sometimes loose morality of The Bachelorette. Plus, I’ve generally preferred watching  The Bachelorette over The Bachelor since there tends to be less drama and cattiness.

My personal top four picks (based solely on what I saw last night) were:

Arie – It’s not that classy that the producers put a racecar driver in with Emily’s guys (her deceased former fiance and father of her child was a race care driver) but it was classy that he told her right away, well before the first rose ceremony.

Charlie – Funny guy, seemed kind of goofy, extremely likeable.

Jef – So the hair is ridiculous, he’s a total hipster, and he inexplicably spells his name with one F. But he seems like a genuinely nice, interesting guy. I thought it was super cute when Emily said “I think he’s cool. I hope he thinks I’m cool too.”

Aaron – He’s Canadian, he’s blond, and he’s a teacher. So maybe I have a type.

On the other hand, if I had to guess Emily’s final four at this moment I’d probably say:

Arie (pictured above)

Doug – A single dad who received the First Impression Rose (somehow that seemed deserving of capitalization.

Ryan – He’s an athletic, brawny kind of guy which I have a feeling (based on her previous love of Brad Womack) is Emily’s kind of guy. Plus, the previews kept showing him with kids.

Nate – This one is based fully on the fact that he was the only guy who Emily immediately commented, “He’s cute.” He’s also an accountant and I have a feeling Emily will never, ever describe him as “Hot. For an accountant” unlike Superlame Ben.

Check back in however many weeks this show runs for (8? 16? 12?) to see if I’m even close to being correct!

Book Review – Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

This book surprised me. I read it for 2 reasons.

1) It seemed like one of those decently famous books that I should probably have read.

2) I wanted a hint into why anyone would name their son Evelyn.

I didn’t receive an answer to my second inquiry, though I did discover that Evelyn Waugh married a woman named Evelyn. How weird is that?

The novel is distinctly British in tone. Waugh’s writing reminded me, more than anything else, of E.M. Forster. (Passage to India is very good.) It’s the Britain of the early 20th century, at least as I know it from novels. The England of Oxford and that unique time period between two world wars, populated by the semi-elite, who drink fine whiskey and have butlers and think they have put all the wars in the world behind them. There is a certain bitter irony to reading such characters, enjoying their youth in the 1920s and knowing how much suffering lies ahead. Waugh, who lived through such times, expresses that emotion well with his narrator, Charles Ryder. The book starts and ends with a scene from the Second World War, our narrator looking back on his youth, knowing now that those times and places and relationships wouldn’t last. It’s a melancholy book, yet it doesn’t feel sorry for itself. Ryder is a thorough narrator. He’s an artist, an observer, and although he features in each of the novels scenes and events, he is never quite the central figure.

That role belongs to the sometimes eccentric, often loveable, occasionally horrific Marchmain family. The title of the novel comes from this family’s historic English home, Brideshead. Ryder is introduced to the Marchmains and to Brideshead, through Sebastian, the second-born, eccentric, and alcoholic son. Sebastian is and has everything that Ryder is not and does not have. He’s quickly seduced by the charismatic Sebastian in a manner that raises, but doesn’t quite answer, a few questions.

One of the themes I found most interesting in the novel was Sebastian’s alcoholism. It is introduced slowly, disguised at first as typical, youthful, exuberance and by the early 20th century propensity of the English upper class to fine whisky and wine. It is not until a trip to Venice, where a character points out the difference in the way Ryder and Sebastian drink (although they drink the same amounts) that a darker shadow settles over this world and their friendship. The attitude towards Sebastian’s drinking is especially fascinating. Although those around him realize he has a problem, it is never suggested that he stop drinking altogether, merely that he moderate his habits. His family drinks freely in front of him and maintains their usual six o’clock cocktail habits, demonstrating how vastly our ideas of addiction have changed in the last hundred years. The following quote brutally captures Ryder’s experience of his friend’s alcoholism.

A blow, expected, repeated, falling on a bruise, with no smart or shock of surprise, only a dull and sickening pain and the doubt whether another like it could be borne – that was how it felt, sitting opposite Sebastian at dinner that night, seeing his clouded eyes and groping movements, hearing his thickened voice breaking in, ineptly, after long brutish silences.

 As I said, I didn’t know much about the plot of Brideshead Revisited before I started reading. So I was pleased to realize that a major theme of the novel is a religious question, something I’ve always been interested in writing about. While our narrator is an atheist (something he insists repeatedly to those around him throughout the novel) the Marchmain family is Catholic and this heavily influences their relationships, as well as Ryder’s experience with each of them. Waugh uses the four Marchmain siblings – Brideshead, Sebastian, Julia, and Cordelia – to demonstrate four unique views on religion, as well as the ends to which that view may lead.

I’ve always been bad. Probably I shall be bad again, punished again. But the worse I am, the more I need God. I can’t shut myself out from his mercy. That is what it would mean; starting a life with you, without him.

The ultimate conclusion of the novel (and Ryder’s relationship with the Marchmain family) comes to a religious crux, a spiritual and emotional decision. And there I could suddenly see that this acknowledgement, this character’s moment of realization, was what the story had been leading to all along. Whether or not you agree with that final decision, the journey is well worth travelling.

I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.

City Kid in the Country

I like to think of myself as a versatile person. I am decently well-travelled and have been from a young age. I have eaten strange things and smiled politely about them. I have slept in cars, in planes, on floors, and in closets. I can adapt. So when Peter and I were trying to decide where we might move to, I felt like I could go anywhere. (Truthfully, there were places I said I did not want to go and even this week when he received an e-mail about working in Saudi Arabia, I said no. I would be happy to visit these places and I believe I could live there if necessary, but that doesn’t mean I want to.)

We ended up in the Fraser Valley, two hour’s drive from the city I grew up. Easy, right? No language to learn, no cultural barriers. Not quite. It’s springtime in the Fraser Valley (and much of the Western Hemisphere) and the differences between Chilliwack and Vancouver are hitting me like no other time in the previous six months. More specifically, they’re hitting me in the nose.

It stinks here. Quite literally, it does not smell good. On rainy days the wind seems to drift right up to our door step with the scent of the dog food manufacturer a few blocks away. But now that spring has arrived a whole new odour has been introduced into my daily life. It’s manure. Some people here say it smells like money. Either they don’t take good care of their wallets or they’re in a very different line of work than I am. Maybe I’ll get used to the smell but I’m still holding my shirt over my nose when we drive to church.

All that said, I love the spring. I love watching the trees blossom and flowers bloom where things seemed dead. I love the smell of freshly mowed grass and I like watching the tractors circle through the fields. I can’t help but watch them when they’re on the road, taking up the whole lane and forcing cars to go so slowly behind them. On Monday afternoon I told Peter I wanted to take a walk in the country. And we did, walking straight from our house to see cows and creeks and tractors.

I don’t mind dirt roads and a little mud. It probably marks me as a total city kid that I imagined living in the country would smell like rain and hay and flowers but that doesn’t mean I have to like the smell of poop, does it?

My favourite picture from our country neighbourhood adventures this week:

Beware of cows? There were cows near by (pictured above) but they were separated from this sign by a creek so I don’t imagine them crossing here. I guess a true country kid would know its meaning.

P.S. Stay tuned for this week’s book review – Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Should be coming tomorrow, unless I’m doing something really fun.

A Sunday at Harrison

What do you do when the day is sunny and you have new hiking boots to break in? You find a mountain to climb!

Yesterday was a beautiful day, particularly joyous after a grey sort of Saturday (it was too cloudy to see the so-called “supermoon”, which was disappointing). So Peter and I packed a lunch and hopped in the car to explore a part of the valley we’d never seen before – Agassiz and Harrison. (Full disclosure: I have been to Harrison before but not in years and years; Peter had never been.)

We had to cross a bridge.

We found a grassy patch by the lake and ate our sandwiches first.

Harrison Lake

We explored the lovely little town of Harrison. Peter found a functioning phone booth! Imagine that in this day and age!

I met a Sasquatch.

He’s just not that into me.

Then we drove a few kilometres out of town to a trail we’d heard about. It took us up Bear Mountain. Long ago there was a mine in those parts, long inactive now.

We came across an abandoned mining office, filled with core samples.

What did the first mushroom say to the second mushroom? “You seem like a fungi!”

As we walked along the trail, snakes kept slithering off the path. We chased one down only to discover…something other than a snake.

Salamander in the forest.

Jet flying overhead.

Want me to make another fungus joke?

This isn’t exactly the top of the mountain, but it’s as high as we got. The trail became pretty overgrown so we turned around.

Harrison Lake below us.

I’m also pleased to say that my hiking boots were simply wonderful. Not a single blister on my feet tonight!

We took the scenic route home, enjoyed some cold beverages and fajitas, and toasted on a day well lived. Nothing makes you feel like you live in a beautiful place like a sunny day outdoors!

How My Body Feels When I Have McDonalds For Dinner

While eating: Hey, that’s great, you’re feeding me! I’ve been telling you I’m hungry!

2 minutes after: I’m full. I feel happy.

10 minutes after: I don’t feel so good. Maybe you ate too much.

20 minutes after: I feel terrible. Why would you do this to me!

Sometime in the middle of the night: I’m so thirsty! Why would you think I need that much salt!

The next day: I feel gross. You should probably go for a run or something.

2 weeks later: You know what would really hit the spot? A Big Mac and fries.