Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Emotional Cost of Starting Over

Today, at their final play date, one of Isabel's best friends squeezed her so tight in a bear hug as we were packing up to leave that she made Isabel cry. At 2, Isabel doesn't understand the ferocity behind her 7-year-old friend's hug. She doesn't understand that they won't be right across the street anymore. She doesn't realize that there won't be any more late afternoon backyard play dates. She doesn't get that she won't get to spend a few hours or a day at their house while her mama runs errands or goes to doctors appointments. Meanwhile, her friend understands perfectly.



**

Last week, I gathered with the moms on our street in a backyard over sangria and hippy juice* and snacks and an ice cream cake that read "Don't Go".



**

Three weeks ago, with some of our church community gathered in our pastor's living room, we witnessed the looks of shock, surprise, maybe even some disappointment as we broke the news. Later, we wrote a simple email to the people on the various committees we served on in that community, spreading the news as needed. We had a chance to speak personally with a few people.

Every announcement, every conversation. It doesn't get easier.

**

On Saturday, we start a new chapter of our life as a family. It's exciting in the way change often is. I'm looking forward to all the good that will come of this.

But.

I am all too aware that, on Saturday, while something new and potentially wonderful is beginning, something just as wonderful and so important to me is ending. Right now, it's hard to see past the ending to the new beginning.


* Virgin for me, of course.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

We're moving!

A short announcement, because life is busy but I keep thinking I might want to become serious about this blog again one day and I don't want to be catching you all up on everything forever.

This Dusty House is moving! And I don't just mean domain names. I mean, I'm sitting in a disaster of a house surrounded by boxes and mess that we can't figure out how to pack yet. We are moving! 

It's no small move, either. Come Saturday, Mark and I will officially no longer be Torontonians. We're moving about 2 hours out of the city to a much smaller city, where Mark will join his brother in building an engineering firm of their own. And me? Well. I'll be stay-at-home-momming for a little while longer.

(Job searching is hard when you're pregnant.)

We've bought a truly gorgeous house in our new town. Surprisingly, it's a semi-detached with a back yard that's only about a third of the size of our backyard in Toronto, but it's a huge, 2700 square foot Victorian that will give us a little space to breathe after the slightly cramped quarters we've occupied for the last five years. 


This move is a really surreal thing for me, and even three days away from moving day, I find myself in a slightly overwhelmed state of denial that it's even happening. This is a brand new chapter for us and I'm doing my best to embrace it with open arms, despite the ache of sadness for all we will be leaving behind. 


Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Long Two Years: Graduation!

Today, I graduated. Today, I can officially call myself a librarian. It's been a long two years, full of ups and plenty of downs. I'm proud of what I've accomplished.


But at the same time, walking up onto that stage today felt a little bit unsettling. Dressed in black regalia, a bright pink and blue hood, I looked every inch the part, my baby bump hidden beneath the folds of the gown. As I shook the president of the university's hand, however, it felt like the facade crumbled.

"So, what's next for you?" he asked.

What's next. What's next.

Playgrounds. Kraft dinner crusting over on plastic plates. Long afternoons of picture books and cartoons. Baby kicks. Goldfish crackers crushed into the couch cushions. Job applications sent off into a void of silence. Yet another dirty diaper. Splash pads and wading pools. Play dates. Midwives appointments. Another job application. Temper tantrums. Another month to long for an interview, while worrying that if it comes, my growing belly will immediately have me dismissed. Another playground. More Kraft dinner. Not enough adult interaction. Eventually, labour. Eventually, another small person to be responsible for.


Don't get me wrong. My life is beautiful. My daughter is a little slice of sunshine, so inquisitive, so smart. I find great joy in watching her learn new things every day, pulling new words out of her growing vocabulary, and climbing to new heights - literally. I am happy to have this time with her.

But, at the same time, I want more. I'm sure that's no surprise to anyone; I started my degree for a reason, after all. I have high hopes for what I can do for the world as a librarian. I believe libraries are crucial elements of strong communities, and I want to be a part of their growth and development as libraries adjust and lead the way in a world of rapidly changing technology.

I want to get started already.

And yet, I know it might not be time yet. I know I must be patient. I know I must find a new rhythm and a new level of happiness despite a personally perceived lack of fulfillment. I know I must not give up, confident that I will find the job I'm meant for when I'm meant to find it.

And so. Here's to becoming comfortable with my answer to the president of the university.

"So, what's next for you?" he asked.

"Well, I'll be a stay at home mom for a while. And I'm looking for a job."

"Oh, very good. All the best to you."

All the best to me, and to all of my classmates. If you're feeling as unsettled as I am about this milestone that doesn't really feel like a milestone, know you're not alone.

I'm right there with you.


Friday, April 8, 2016

A Little Update and Some Big News


Yesterday, I submitted one of my final papers for one of my last classes. The end of my masters is so close - a mere week away. I can't help but admit I'm a little nervous about the next stage of my life. There's no job waiting for me, not yet. There may not be for months. Years? Instead, I will officially be joining the ranks of stay-at-home-mothers, a job I feel entirely wrong for on so many levels.

I am trying not to think about it too hard. After a long day of essay writing and final classes today, I settled in with a little knitting for the first time since early in January and finished a project I've had lying around for far too long. This little baby sweater was originally intended for my oldest bestie and her new baby, a beautiful little girl who was born back in October. Obviously, it wasn't ready for her birth, and it wasn't ready a few weeks later when we went to visit and meet the new addition.

Oh well.

We had other friends, due sometime at the end of November or beginning of December. The little baby sweater could be for them instead. But then, my fall semester was really really hard, and I barely had the sleeves started when we saw them and met their beautiful little girl at Christmas time. Suddenly, there were no new babies on the horizon.


I finished the knitting of the sweater in early January anyway.

In mid-February, 2016 took a dramatic downward dive. My grandfather checked himself into the hospital for bypass surgery that was meant to prolong his life and improve his health. Instead, in the days after the surgery, he suffered a massive stroke and passed away. His death brought all sorts of complicated feelings, and memories, and lack of memories to the surface in a way that cast a shadow for weeks.

And then, Isabel got pneumonia. We struggled for two weeks with antibiotics and puffers, all the while grateful that we weren't suffering through a hospital stay. Almost as soon as she was declared healthy again, Mark fell down the well of influenza, the sickest he had ever been in his life.

2016 has not been kind to us.

But not everything has been terrible. On the Sunday before my Opa's stroke, Mark and I discovered that our hopes for a second baby are being realized. When I told my parents two weeks later in the evening before the funeral, the reality of the cycle of life and death felt so prevalent and so, so bittersweet.


I finished working in the ends and sewing on little wooden buttons last night. Perhaps I was meant to knit a little more slowly this time. Perhaps my timing for gifting this little sweater away was meant to be off. Perhaps it was always meant for my baby.

Monday, January 18, 2016

This Dusty Bookshelf: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

It's been a while since I've read a whole book in a day. Growing up, it was a fairly frequent occurrence, but since adulthood, reading takes longer. I don't have the time I used to, I guess. Studying literature in university distanced me from the act of reading for pleasure, and I sometimes wonder if I still feel the long term affects of such an education. I don't always read books just because I enjoy them; I pick books that I feel I should read, books that will somehow stretch me, or add to my understanding of the world, or merely add to the books I've read from the canon.

I'm not saying that this is a bad way to read. In fact, I strongly believe that books can help us find our place in the world and develop a stronger connection to ourselves and the depth of human experience. But, sometimes, I just want to read a book really really fast, and enjoy every single moment of my time in its pages.

Fortunately, in The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman delivered a book that was both an intensely pleasurable and fast read, while also leaving me with so much to think about: childhood, memory, magic.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
By Neil Gaiman

The book opens with a funeral and a middle aged man visiting his childhood home - or where it used to stand, anyway. He's not quite sure why, but he decides to drive down the lane and visit the home of his first friend, Lettie Hempstock. Sitting beside the pond on her farm, his memory is triggered and the reader is thrown into a world that looks very different, but at the same time, not different at all, from the grown-up world the narrator currently lives in.

This book focuses so much on memory. It is fluid, unreliable, able to be manipulated. Throughout the short novel, the reader wonders what is real and what is not, especially as the events the narrator remembers become more and more magical, the world as we know it shifting further and further from reality. It kept me thinking about some of my own memories too. I don't remember anything quite so magical happening in my own childhood, but, regardless, I know my own memories of my childhood have occasionally proven inaccurate, and I know that certain places and certain people have the ability to help sharpen it in the same way that the Hempstocks allowed the narrator to remember his childhood clearly and accurate. Part of the reason I loved this book so much was the way it portrayed memories of childhood.

While this book left me thinking about my own memories of childhood, it also pushed me into thinking about Isabel's memories. She's 18 months. Any day now, she could have her first memory. What will it be? Magical or mundane? How will she remember it when she grows up? 

Within the fluidity and unreliability of memory, Gaiman was able to address so many difficult issues, especially in relation to children. At the age of 7, the main character experiences the cruelty of abuse and neglect at the hands of his parents, and finds himself navigating the world with the help of a trio of witches, as they fight against the power of a fantastical creature crossed from the magical world into reality. 

The way Gaiman talks about adulthood really struck a chord with me. "The truth is, there aren't any grown ups. Not one in the whole wide world." I hear this same kind of sentiment from everyone around me; everyone feels like they're failing at life at one time or another or, some of us, all the time. We feel like we're failing at being adults, at being parents, at our jobs, and at our hobbies. The feeling of failing at life is so prevalent in our world today. I think, in many ways, this book is for those of us who feel like we're failing, a reminder that everyone else is too and that it's ok if we do because our memories of our grown-up failures are not necessarily the memories that will last.

Clearly, I enjoyed this book. Reading the last page was almost mournful because I knew it was coming to an end. I already miss the world of the Hempstocks. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

This Dusty Bookshelf: Trickster's Choice

So many of my peers cite Tamora Pierce as one of the foundational authors of their youth. I can't blame them. Pierce writes strong female characters stepping boldly off the path patriarchy has laid out for them. Her books have helped girls see themselves and their role in the world in a whole new way. Her contributions to young adult literature is undeniable.

She was not, however, one of the foundational authors of my childhood. I'm not sure why. I suspect that it's mainly because I didn't read a lot of books designated 'young adult' when I was a kid. My sister was a full five years older than me and I was a bit of a copy cat; anything she read, I read, so I jumped past a lot of the traditional young adult literature and right into adult literature from a very early age. 

This means I find myself, at the age of 28, introducing myself to a lot of that stuff I missed back then. I wonder at the way I am experiencing some of this young adult literature I'm reading. I remember books having such an impact on me when I was a young girl; when I found an author I loved, I wanted to consume everything I could get my hands on, holding on to that world as tightly as I could. I read differently now, and I know it. I get less attached to authors and the worlds they build; books stick with me less; sometimes, reading feels like work. So, I wonder. How would I have felt about Tamora Pierce's books as a child? Surely, my perception would be very different from now. How much weight does my current perception of literature have when it comes to the critique of children's books? Can I look past my adult understanding of a book to see the value in it for a younger person? 

Anyway, on to my review.

Trickster's Choice
By Tamora Pierce

Alianne is the daughter of one of Pierce's previous heroines, Alanna, born into privilege, and desperate to work as a spy, a desire her parents deny her. Annoyed, Aly takes a boat to visit friends and, on the way, is nabbed by pirates and sold into slavery. Which - guess what! - turns into a spy mission when she is recruited by a god - the trickster - to play a crucial role in his plot of political intrigue. 

I enjoyed this book. Really, I did. But, the more I think about it, the fewer good things I have to say about it. And the more I think about it, the more problematic the book seems to me. But, I do want to be clear that, in terms of entertainment, this book was decent. There are multiple strong female characters, which makes me happy, and Pierce managed to make me love the family Aly is sent by the trickster god to protect. At the end of the book, she set it up well for the reader to see and anticipate all the excitement that may happen in the second book. 

But, the good kind of ends there. 

Pierce writes high fantasy, which this is. It's set in the Tortall universe, which is the same setting for a number of other works by Pierce. I used to love high fantasy, but, since high school, I've read less and less. At the end of the year last year, I read The Queen of the Tearling which was set in a fantastic world that felt like high fantasy but also felt completely original. Tortall does not feel original. Tortall feels kind of stale, medieval with magic thrown in and odd names for things, chosen just to make them seem exotic. The plot moved slowly, which likely contributed to this staleness for me. I found myself checking page numbers and chapters to go before the end far too frequently.

And then, there were the problematic bits, the bits that make me wonder if I want to give Pierce a second try or not. Aly - who is annoyingly perfect, by the way - is sent by the god to protect a family of luarin, and their half raka daughters, when they are banished by the king to a remote, predominantly raka area. The two elder daughters of the family, born to the duke's first wife, are linked to a raka prophecy, a prophecy that will free the raka from luarin rule, and Aly is charged with keeping them alive so they can fulfill it. Aly, who is Tortall. Aly who, by appearances, is luarin. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Aly is a white saviour. I have serious problems with white saviours. 

There was no reason why the trickster god needed Aly and not one of the raka themselves. Perhaps some reason may become clear in the second book, but so far, this bothers me. As wonderful as this book is for being filled with girl power and feminist ideals, it falters in its awareness of privilege. 

Am I wrong? Am I seeing problems where there are none? Am I being unfair to this book and therefore to Pierce? Am I being too critical, too grown up, too academic, perhaps? I'm not sure and this is where I wonder that my own adult perspective has turned this book into something it does not need to be. 

(In talking about this book with some of my friends, a few of them have suggested that I started with the wrong Tamora Pierce book, that I should have begun with her early works instead. This may be true, but that doesn't necessarily address the problematic issues I noticed in this book.)

* Delightfully, I am falling behind on my goal to review every book I read this year, which means I have actually been reading, and reading fast! Next up, eventually, once I've sorted out my thoughts, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by the ever wonderful Neil Gaiman, who doesn't have a wrong book to start with. I swallowed it up in just over 24 hours. Go. Get it from your library. Buy it. Do whatever you have to to get your hands on it and read it. I'm still swooning.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

This Dusty Bookshelf: Where The Mountain Meets The Moon

It's been a while since I've written a proper book review. In fact, the last one I wrote was full two years ago. I miss writing book reviews. They help me reflect on a book I've just read, to think about it critically and allow it to settle into my mind a little more fully. I don't make New Years resolutions, but if I did, this would be it; to write a review for every book I read this year, all (hopefully) 20 of them.

I started January off by reading Grace Lin's Where The Mountain Meets The Moon. Because Mark was off work for 10 days over Christmas, I found the time to sit, and cuddled for hours in my reading chair with this book. It was a delightful couple days of recharging for the start of a new year.

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon
By Grace Lin

Minli loves her life, but she can sense her mother's dissatisfaction with the poverty they live in. In an effort to change their fortunes, she sets off on an adventure to find the Old Man on the Moon, a character who features prominently in the fairy tales her father tells her. The story jumps from Minli as she travels from her village to where the mountain meets the moon, to her parents as they struggle with the reality of their daughter's disappearance, and to the world of fairy tales as Lin weaves the story of the Old Man on the Moon into Minli's adventure.

As fairy tales generally are, this book was filled with strong moral lessons, lessons about gratitude, kindness, hospitality, adventure, and self-sacrifice. These lessons were incorporated beautifully, naturally, without being over-bearing. In all, it was the kind of story I can envision sharing with Isabel one day, when she has the attention span to sit still for a chapter or two.

This book is made all the more beautiful by the drawings that accompany the story. Lin created beautiful artwork to depict key scenes in the book. It was the first time I was pleased that I chose to read this through the convenience of my iPad, rather than uploading it to my Kobo. The images would have probably had an even higher impact with a proper paper copy, but I would have barely noticed them, and certainly not appreciated them on the black and white screen of my ereader.

I gave this book a full five out of five stars. I really have nothing bad to say about it, nothing critical at all! I definitely plan to add more of Lin's work to my reading repertoire.

Next up? I'm halfway through my very first Tamora Pierce experience. She's a writer that so many hold dear from their tween and teen years, but I have never before read anything she's written, despite having loved fantasy as kid. So, I'm checking out what all the fuss about her is, and so far, so good.

What are reading these days? Do you have any reading goals for 2016?