‘Yum and Yummer’ by Greta Podleski

Pandemic positivity–against all the odds, we are trying to find the good things in the midst of a frustrating tragic crisis, trying to be thankful, and calling attention to kindness–we ask ourselves, what are perhaps some small good things that will come of all this?

One thing that comes immediately to my mind, is a resurgence in home cooking and baking. I’ve never understood when people say, “I never cook” because I wonder what they eat? But now that we are restricted in eating out, relying on basic grocery store items, and trying to keep ourselves and our kids busy, I believe that many people are rediscovering the joy of cooking simple meals at home with their families, and that is a good thing!

Years ago I posted on a hugely successful cookbook by two Canadian sisters called Looneyspoons. It is still one of my all time favourites because the recipes are easy, uncomplicated, reliable and nutritious. A couple of years ago I got the next book, this time by only one of the sisters, Greta (only because her sister was busy with other things). Yum and Yummer is every bit as good as Looneyspoons and also includes more plant based and gluten-free recipes, if those are your thing, but not exclusively so–there’s something for everyone in these cookbooks! Happy cooking and eating!

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have a smart phone, there is a bar code on every page of this recipe book that will connect you with further online resources, videos, and even more recipes that you might like!!

‘Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age’ by Mary Pipher

“To be happy at this junction, we cannot just settle for being a diminished version of our younger selves. We must change the ways we think and behave. This book focuses on the attitudes and skills we need in order to let go of the past, embrace the new, cope with loss, and experience wisdom, authenticity, and bliss.”

Author, scholar, and cultural therapist Mary Pipher has written 10 books on a variety of topics, all very successful and well respected. I read some of her books years ago, and am so happy to have found this, her latest. As a cultural anthropologist and clinical psychologist who specialises in developmental psychology and trauma, one of her most notable books was Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls in 1994 which was fantastic. Growing older is not for sissies we sometimes quip, because it can be a stage that is marked by ill health or loss. But Pipher looks positively at a stage in life where we can flourish and expand on the life identity we have already built.

It’s a hopeful, helpful book, and in her foreword she says men have enjoyed it as well (even jokingly suggesting to her that she should write another entitled Men Going South). 🙂 Her conclusion, after exploring every imaginable issue at this juncture, is to experience bliss (however simple), embrace everything (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant), and sense how big life is–intense, joyful, playful, complicated, and beautiful. She quotes Joan Baez who said, “Action is the antidote to despair.” Pipher adds, “It may or may not help the world, but it always helps us.”

Informal polls of my peeps reveal that actually we like ourselves and know ourselves better now than when we did in our 20’s and 30’s. At this stage in the river we have more freedom, we tend to be less hard on ourselves, and more able to let things go. It feels really good, as long as health and loss issues do not tip the canoe (or a pandemic throws a monkey wrench into everything). This book seeks to help navigate the inevitable swerves and rapids with wisdom, joy, and grace. The first part of the book considers the challenges of aging (ageism, lookism, caregiving, loss, loneliness). The second part looks at understanding ourselves (skillful choices, community building, managing narratives, gratitude). The third part focuses on the importance of relationships.

‘American Dirt’ by Jeanine Cummins

Ok I’ll be honest. Reading hasn’t been all that easy for me lately. You’d think that with being stuck in the house and all, I’d be doing nothing but…but it doesn’t seem to work like that. However, American Dirt was the perfect book for such a time as this and I was lucky to get a ‘Skip the Line’ hold through Libby library app to read it because it’s very high profile right now for both good and bad reasons.

American Dirt is a compelling, easy to read story about migrants, (a crisis of another sort all together) so it’s been therapeutic, in a weird sort of way, to sink into the pages and escape into another reality. At its core this book is about good people in hard times with so many twists and turns that it was totally captivating. Lydia and her son Luca find themselves in an unimaginable nightmare of brutality and constant danger as they flee their home in Acapulco and seek to survive. The opening scene of this novel is unforgettable and their journey is harrowing.

Critics have created controversy in social media around the authenticity of the migrant experience in this book, seemingly making those who really enjoyed the book, rethink their experience of it, which seems a shame. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I stand solidly behind my own recommendation of it. I can’t comment on whether this book reflects truth or is the most definitive migrant story, but I do know that I found it compulsively readable and beautifully written. Again this is simply a story of good people in hard times trying to survive. Fiction is truth, even if it is not fact. Stories matter and gaining empathy for another person’s story brings perspective to our own.

What are you reading during this pandemic?

‘How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting: Stories of Pregnancy, Parenthood, and Loss’ edited by Jessica Hiemstra and Lisa Martin-Demoor


Guest Post by Miriam Booy

I didn’t know miscarriage was so common until I experienced it, twice within 7 months. I didn’t know infertility was so common until several friends experienced it, and told me their stories. The truth about pain and loss is that we don’t really understand it until we go through it or someone close to us does. Then we start the search for similar stories to us in an attempt to know we are not the only ones or help another person through the same experience.

“How to expect what you’re not expecting” is a collection of personal stories of unexpected loss including miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, premature delivery and giving up children for adoption. The writers are skilled and share their emotional journeys with poetic liberties that strive to capture the experiences they have been through. When I read I tend to ‘skim for the story’ so it was good for me to slow down and appreciate the beautiful descriptive language.

A common theme in each of the stories is that loss never really leaves you. Instead, you learn to live with it as you find new hope and joy. The last sentence of the book seems to capture it well “We hold because we grieve. We grieve because we love. And we wait in the possibility of love without grief. We wait as best we can.”

Thanks to Lisa Martin-Demoor, my cousin, for her skilled writing, editing and vision for this book and my sister for sending it to me. Lisa writes “It is not only the beauty of the world that saves us. If we let it, something else can save us too–our responsibility for this world, for our pain and each other’s.”

‘The Language of Flowers’ by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

“It wasn’t as if the flowers themselves had within them the ability to bring an abstract definition into physical reality. Instead, it seemed that Earl, and then Bethany, walked home with a bouquet of flowers expecting change, and the very belief in the possibility instigated a transformation.”

Who knew that flowers had meanings? I suppose I always knew that roses meant love and trilliums and snowdrops are a sign of spring, but a dictionary of flower language? Some of the meanings are surprising and I wonder how they were determined at all, but apparently it is an ancient art called Floriography and was widely popular in Victorian England.  Click here: Victoria’s Dictionary of Flowers

Victoria, the troubled main character in this novel, helps people by making flower arrangements according the meanings of the flowers. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realises she has a gift. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. Victoria’s story is beautifully and elegantly told but is painfully sad and at times hard to read, albeit real. There is redemption in the end, but it is hard won.

I’m taking my own advice and discovering novels on my shelf that I never read, now that the libraries are closed. This is a book that I’ve had for ages and will now pass on to a neighbour who LOVES flowers and knows a lot about them…but does she know that Lavender signals ‘Mistrust’ and ‘Scarlet Geraniums’ hint at ‘Stupidity?’ 🙂 She’s a friend who is a ‘Constant’ help and solace to many, so it makes sense that she brought me a Hyacinth (which means ‘Constancy’) along with my groceries while I’m in pandemic quarantine!!! Thanks Nel (and Bill)!! Hope you both enjoy the book, and here’s a virtual bouquet of ‘Freesias’ for you as well! 🙂

‘Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle’ by Emily and Amelia Nagoski

Top-notch advice from two sisters for women, although I think anyone could benefit from reading this. They explain why women experience stress differently from men. The book is about navigating stress, managing both external stressors as well as the internal effects of stress on the body.

This is a hugely important science-based approach to dealing with stress for women at any age or stage. It gives simple and sensible strategies towards feeling ‘enough’ and finding wellness. I found it refreshing and wise. The sisters even talk about gaslighting which also happens to be a topic in a recently released Dixie Chicks song…(obviously the singers are still not ‘ready to make nice’ but are highlighting and naming another important issue in pop culture. I’d not heard the term before, but encountered it twice in the same week. That’s how these things go.)

What I really liked about this book was the emphasis on the fact that we don’t have to wait for the world to change before we can begin to heal ourselves. And also, needing help and asking for help is normal and necessary, and is NOT a sign of weakness, but of strength.

‘The Giver of Stars’ by Jojo Moyes

“A love letter to the power of books and friendship.”

Escape into the hills of Kentucky and become engrossed in a remarkable story that is rooted in historical fact. From 1935 to 1943 the WPA Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky brought books to more than a hundred thousand rural inhabitants.

 

 

Moyes builds a story around a handful of women who braved the beautiful but mostly rugged and poorest of places on horseback, fighting weather, danger, bigotry, and misogyny, to bring education, reading, literacy, and a better quality of life to so many. In this modern classic, Moyes creates unforgettably courageous characters. Unlikely allies at the start, Alice, a newlywed English rose, and Margery, a fiercely independent loner, pair up against the odds to carry out their mission. And you already thought librarians were a tough bunch–buckle in for a wild ride!

There is controversy swirling around this book because it bears striking similarities to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson which was published first. Although I haven’t read the earlier one–my advice–read either one. It’s an amazing piece of history and they both have good reviews.