I Have Never Been Great at Goodbyes

A long, long time ago, we bought a house . . . and we turned it into a home.

This old house has sheltered us through all the seasons, bearing witness to laughter and tears, to joys and sorrows, to deaths and births, to weddings and anniversaries. It is the only home our children knew growing up. It provided sanctuary for them and their many friends from pre-school through university . . . and sanctuary too to five dogs, one cat, a lizard, a turtle and too many fish to count.

I wrote twenty-five books here, hundreds and hundreds of articles, countless school notes and at least 1600 shopping lists. My babies came home to this house. They took their first steps and spoke the first of many, many words (much to the chagrin of many, many teachers). They had chicken pox and sleep overs, their first jobs, their first loves, their first cars (and with the latter came my first gray hairs).

This house birthed me too – as a mother, as a writer, and as a gardener. And today, though the garden is deep in winter slumber, I see roses blooming and kiwis hanging low. I smell sweet peas climbing up the side of the greenhouse, see the heron swooping in to steal fish in the pond, hear the laughter of the kids as they whisper secrets to their besties, and the laughter of my love as we sip our wine and watch the sun set on warm summer nights.

The sun is setting on our time here. In a few days we will turn out the lights and shut the door for the last time. We will put Team Sheltie in the car, climb behind the wheel and we will drive away. We’re moving to a smaller community several hours from here, a place we’ve visited often, a place we love. We haven’t found a home there yet, at least not a permanent one, but hopefully we will soon.

We aren’t being pushed to leave by anything other than an inner knowing that it’s the right thing to do. It took us a couple of years to come to this, after many discussions and a great deal of thought. Our neighborhood has changed, we have changed and, with the kids grown and gone, our family dynamic has changed. It’s simply time. That said, it is much, much harder than I ever thought it would be.

There’s a saying that pops up on social media occasionally: Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. It’s good advice, sound and solid. But the fact is I am absolute shit at goodbyes. Never have aced them. And, yes, I know we’ll take our memories with us – people offer that up as if it’s some sort of consolation – but it’s no consolation at all and it doesn’t touch even a corner of my sadness.

This isn’t just the closing of a chapter, it’s the closing of a book. The story of our time in this house is over. And the new book, the new story, that important first chapter, hasn’t yet been written.

Right now, my heart is full to nearly breaking. Smiles are out of the question. My fountain of tears, as Mr. Petrol Head calls it, is perpetually running. But as teary as I am, there is one thing that makes it this process a little easier.

New owners are poised – eager even – to move in.

We’re leaving them a welcome letter, telling them a little about the history of the house and garden, their new neighbors (they will have wonderful neighbors!) and a few of the quirks that old houses inevitably have. It will be fun for them to discover what life here has to offer. Knowing that lightens my sadness.

It reminds me a little of sharing a book. You can only read a book for the first time once. No matter how much you love it, you can’t go back and experience that freshness, that joy of discovery, again. But you can pay it forward and share the book with another reader, taking solace in the fact that they’ll love it too. That the story will live again through them.

I know we can’t go back. Time goes forward and so do we. How fitting that we’re leaving the past behind at the start of a new year.

A long, long time ago, we bought a house . . . and we turned it into a home.  And though we’re saying goodbye and leaving this old place behind, it will be filled with love and laughter and life long after we’re gone. It will stay a home. And for that I’m grateful.

The Gift of Reading Non-Fiction

If you have non-fiction readers on your gift giving list, you have many books to choose from this year.

In the biography category, artists will undoubted appreciate Ninth Street Women: Five Painters and The Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel. Young sports aficionados will be inspired by Open Heart, Open Mind by Canadian Olympian and advocate for mental health Clara Hughes. And memoir lovers with an interest in politics will enjoy Michelle Obama’s Becoming Michelle which details her journey from working class Chicago to the White House.

For the coffee drinker who loves to travel, consider The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. A gripping account of a 24-year-old Yemeni American man, raised in San Francisco, who dreams of resurrecting the ancient art of Yemeni coffee and travels to his ancestral home to source the beans only to face militia roadblocks, kidnappings and threats against his life. Another option for foodies: Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by award-winning journalist Jonathan Kauffman. An outstanding food and cultural history that traces the colorful origins of once unconventional foods and shows how the concept of health food evolved in the kitchens of young baby boomers before becoming mainstream.

If your reader is focused on social justice and immigration The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu is a shocking insider look at US immigration from the perspective of a border patrol agent. Another powerful read is The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq by Iraqui-American poet and journalist Dunya Mikhail.

An Amazon best book of 2018 that reads like a thriller and will appeal to crime aficionados as well as business geeks is Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. Bad Blood is the story of Theranos, a Silicon Valley start-up whose charismatic founder, Elizabeth Holmes, raised nearly one billion dollars over 15 years for a company founded on lies, falsehoods, bullying and fraud.

In a year when laughs were hard to come by, at least as far as current events were concerned, John Cleese, Professor At Large is a sharp and clever collection of Cleese’s lectures at Cornell University while he was a visiting professor. For some mother-daughter humor, I See Life Through Rose`-Colored Glasses by Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella is a hilarious collection of essays about the pitfalls of daily life.

And finally, for inspiration and motivation an ideal pick is Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan.  Named a best book of the year by Real Simple and Bustle, this is a story-driven collection of essays on twelve powerful phrases we use in our relationships including I don’t know; tell me more; no; I was wrong; and I love you. Both funny and touching, Corrigan’s book is a fabulous read heading into a new year.

 

The Gift of Books

Tis the season for giving but it can be hard to pick just the right book for each recipient.  I usually blog once a month about what I’m reading, and if a book makes my monthly post you can bet I’ve enjoyed it. You can source those blogs by checking through my archives for ‘My Reads.’  Here are some titles that stood out for me this year.

I really enjoyed Girl Who Drank the Moon, a middle grade novel that was published in 2016 and won the 2017 Newbery Medal. Luna was raised by a witch and must figure out how to handle the magical powers she has accidentally been given. A solid fantasy fiction choice for middle grade readers.

Teens who like realism will appreciate The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater. For an historical teen read you can’t go wrong with Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. Set in Amsterdam during WW11, this mystery novel is gritty and deserving of last year’s Edgar Award. For teens who appreciate a terrific love story, my pick is The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout.  Well-written and emotional, you might want to include a box of Kleenex with this one.

For older romance readers, I was captivated by Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs. This contemporary love story straddles two worlds and two cultures: Pittsburgh as well as Amish farm country. Richly-layered and compelling.

I could not put down All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin. This is a heavier, more issue-oriented story than Giffin’s usual fare and the through line that carries the novel is how far are you willing to go to protect the ones you love? Though this book is marketed for adults, one of the point of view characters is a teen and I think this story would be a great jumping off point for discussions between parents and teenagers.

For more fiction ideas, check out Goodreads Best Books of 2018. https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/books/g25361954/goodreads-best-books-2018/

Or go here to see what the CBC recommends: https://www.cbc.ca/books/the-cbc-books-fall-2018-reading-list-18-must-read-canadian-books-1.4821996

Next time, some ideas for the non-fiction readers on your list.

My November Reads 2018

Dusk comes early at this time of year, and the short days remind me that another season has come and gone. The garden has been put to bed, the greenhouse has been tidied for the winter, and the seeds are all packed away. Spring lettuce and summer tomatoes are a sweet memory as we snack on this year’s crop of kiwis.  I’m spending my evenings getting ready for the holidays and, when time permits, relaxing in front of the fire with a book. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

 

By the fire: All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin

At the gym: The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith

Before bed: Love Among the Ruins: A Memoir of Life and Love in Hamburg, 1945 by Harry Leslie Smith

Books read to date in 2018: 73

In the Beginning, Take Two

It’s time for more questions from our new writer and answers from more seasoned ones. This week: what lessons did I learn the hard way, and what did I wish I knew starting out?

Let’s take the last question first. What did I wish I knew at the very beginning of my writing career? As I told our beginning writer friend, I wish I’d understood at a visceral level that this whole business is a long game, a marathon really, and nothing even close to a sprint. After my first book came out and I was contracted for my second, I figured I was on my way, or launched so to speak. Not that there wouldn’t be plenty of hard work ahead – I had no illusions about that – but I didn’t envision so many hills and valleys, so many meandering paths taking unexpected turns.  I hadn’t yet learned the importance of fluidity, of pacing myself, and of being open to adjusting for the unexpected. Like a marathoner pays attention to training, to footwear, to staying healthy and hydrated, and bases their success on a slow, steady pace, I’ve learned how important it is for me to pay attention to craft, to my health, and to a balance of work and play.

Lea Tassie, https://leatassiewriter.com author of the Green Blood Rising Series, wishes she’d had more patience back in the beginning, and that she wasn’t so naïve about the publishing industry. Her comment about naivete is the perfect segue into question two: what lessons did you learn the hard way? “I learned that money flows first – or it should flow first – to the writer, not to people like editors or agents who are providing services,” Tassie says. Never go with an agent or publisher who demands money up front, she adds.

My hard lesson was learning and coming to accept that publishing is a business, that decisions are often made with the bottom line in mind, and not always on the merits of a particular manuscript. A ‘no’ on a manuscript doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with the story in question. It could be that the publisher has something similar due for release next season, or that their marketing department feels, for whatever reason, that the marketing hook isn’t strong enough to generate a good sell through on your particular story. Of course, this is all based on dealing with traditional publishers. Going the indie publishing route means you’re in control of if, when and how to publish. But that option, as lovely as it sounds, also comes with added responsibilities.

Next week, what is the most effective habit you possess to support your success as a writer . . . and what has been your most rewarding accomplishment?

 

My October Reads

Some days chickens, other days feathers. When the feathers are flying and the chickens are in short supply – in other words when life isn’t unfolding according to plan, escaping into a good book can be a godsend. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

Beside the fire: The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

At the gym: The Road to Enchantment by Kaya McLaren

Before bed: Bringing Your Soul to Light by Dr. Linda Backman

Books read to date in 2018: 65

My September Reads

The season is turning. The mornings have a hint of crispness and the air seems to carry a whiff of wood smoke and resinous pine almost constantly these days. My two kids and many of my friends revel in the coming of fall; they yearn for rain days and heavy sweaters and mugs of cocoa by the fire. Me, I’m a summer girl at heart. I come alive with warmth, and handfuls of deeply scented sweet peas, and ripe juicy peaches. But even though I greet the colder temperatures and lower light levels of September with mixed feelings, I embrace the ‘fresh start’ feel of this time of year. I also adore the first-of-the-season apples and pears, those show off dahlias with their vibrant colors, and the fact that the beaches are nearly deserted now. Mostly I like September because my garden is put to bed, my summer chores are winding down, and I have more time to read. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

At the gym: Before and Again by Barbara Delinksy

After dinner: How I Came to Sparkle Again by Kaya McLaren

On the weekend:  Slouching Towards Innocence by Ron Norman

Books read to date in 2018: 60

My August Reads

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. With the exception of the word lazy, the phrase is particularly apt this year. The skies are hazy from nearby forest fires, and the tempo of my life is edging to the crazy side. That means reading time is at a premium, and whatever book I pick up must be compelling enough to hold my attention and keep me away from my out-of-control ‘to do’ list. Lucky for me there’s no shortage of great material. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

Before bed: Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

At the gym: A Version of the Truth by Jennifer Kaufman

Beside the pond: The One and Only by Emily Giffin

Books read to date in 2018: 54

My July Reads

We’re staying close to home this summer, which isn’t exactly a hardship when you live in a city as beautiful as Victoria. Since we’re planning a move in the not-too-distant future, we’re savoring what my hometown has to offer while we can. We’re also keeping on top of garden chores and tackling a few inside renovations as well. It doesn’t leave much time for reading but when the opportunity presents itself (and when Mr. Petrol Head isn’t looking), I seize the moment. Here’s what I’m diving into this month:

Beside the Pond: The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

On the Kindle: The Past Life Perspective by Ann C. Barham

Before Bed: The Runaway Midwife by Patricia Harman

Books read to date in 2018: 46

Summer Time . . . Book Time . . .

It’s that time of year when friends are packing up and heading out on holiday. Books inevitably find their way into carry-ons and suitcases, and I’m sometimes asked to recommend titles. It’s easy if I know their taste (and especially if I share it) but that’s not always the case. When I’m at a loss I always recommend they talk to their favorite book seller or check out some of the lists that pop up at this time of year.

Time Magazine has compiled a list of 22 new books to read this summer:  http://time.com/5285980/best-books-summer-2018/

Since Canada Day is less than a week away, my attention was drawn to the CBC’s 100 Novels That Make You Proud to be Canadian list. Check out their recommendations here:  http://www.cbc.ca/books/100-novels-that-make-you-proud-to-be-canadian-1.4194710

If you’re buying for children and teens, Scripps National Spelling Bee has released its 2018-2019 Great Works (and Great Words) book list. I especially like that they break their recommendations into very specific age ranges (they use grades but you can easily extrapolate to determine suitability for the children in your life). I also like the fact that they mix classics with contemporary reads. http://spellingbee.com/book-list

Finally, if you’re looking for an easy summer beach read you can’t go wrong with one of these romances: https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2018/05/22/summer-romance-books-preview-2018

Happy reading and happy travels!