December 21, 2010

Pass the Book

Christmas, and the holiday season, is a time for reflecting on family traditions. I hear interviewers on the radio asking "What are your family's traditions?" I hadn't really thought about the things we did every single year as "traditions"...but they really are.

Having a mom who adores reading meant that our most treasured traditions involved books. On Christmas Eve, for as long as I can remember, our family would gather on the couch with two special books, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and a children's bible. Mom would read us the excerpt from the bible that detailed Mary and Joseph's travels, in search of a place to rest for the night. It was like a magical fairy tale with a King, angels, wisemen and shepherds. A very captivating story for small children. Funnily enough this was our family's only exposure to any sort of Religion...the Christmas story.

When mom was finished reading the children's bible we would move on to the classic "Twas the Night Before Christmas". There was just one twist...the book would be passed around to each family member, assuming they were at an age that they could read. In turn we would each read a page. Of course, it was a little like reading aloud in felt a combination of nervous and proud as you belted out your page. Lots of giggles were heard when you "messed up"....that actually is a pretty hard book to read!

There were a whole slew of other steps to our Christmas Eve; annual family photo, pictures of each child in bed as they wave goodnight, setting out the cookies and milk and singing our family Christmas countdown song (a real original).

As is often the case, it was only when I was old enough to hang out with other people on Christmas Eve that I started to miss our traditions. In fact, when we were teenagers my mom and dad would wait for my sister, brother and I to all be home so we could read our books and complete our family traditions. They were a constant in our lives.

Of course the day came when I moved away from home, and moved in with Andrew. What was the first gift I purchased on our very first Christmas Eve..."Twas the Night Before Christmas". Even when it was only the two of us we would pass the book back and forth. We hosted my bro-in-law and mom-in-law a few times on Christmas Eve...and they each had to participate as well.

When the girls were born we decided to introduce "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" to the mix. They enjoy Dr.Seuss, and the story really is a classic. This year Madeline is very excited that she will be able to read her pages with she is now an avid little reader. Charlotte is well on her way...this year we will help her read her pages...she can read the "popcorn" words she already knows how to next year I think she'll be reading her pages on her own.

A few weeks ago my sister and brother and I sorted through my mom's Christmas ornaments and decorations. I "inherited" a little mailbox with a teddy bear that my mom crafted herself, my brother "inherited" the original 1970's nativity scene that mom set out on top of the speaker in our livingroom every year, and my sister "inherited" the book - "Twas the Night Before Christmas". We aren't certain where the children's bible ended up...misplaced perhaps.

And so traditions go...rooted in memory and filled with love.

December 16, 2010

Book as Gift

Well, this is a no-brainer. A book is a perfect gift.

I am not just referring to “classic” works of fiction either. Any form of a book will do. So, what sort of book to purchase. In our house books are found in every corner. My daughters have access to books everywhere. Primarily they read, or browse books, on their own during the day. Our main reading event is bedtime. Ever since the girls could sit we have been reading to them at’s our ritual. Andrew puts Madeline to bed with a book and I put Charlotte to bed with a book. Andrew and Madeline have moved on to chapter novels...while Charlotte and I float between picture books and novels. This is a ritual we all enjoy. Here are a few books that my girls have LOVED over the years...mostly gifts of course.

A prize possession, that both of my daughters (7 years old and 4 years old) have adored is our complete collection of Mr.Men books. I remember these from my youth...and I love sharing the simple stories and colourful artwork with my girls.

When you mention beautiful artwork you really have to mention Eric Carle. His tissue paper creations are stunning. Fortunately, his stories are just as captivating. We are slowly working our way to having all of his books, thanks to a great gift giving girlfriend of mine.

The giving of a complete collection is a wonderful idea. We have “Disney’s Princess Collection”, “The New Adventures of Curious George Collection”, “Disney’s Friendship Collection”, Robert Munsch’s “Munchworks 2 Collection.” Word to the wise; be certain when you purchase these collections that they aren’t too cumbersome. Some collections are individual books, while others are many books bound into one large text. Sometimes these books can be too heavy and too full, making bedtime reading uncomfortable. The collections we have run somewhere around 100 pages. Charlotte loves reading these books, and calling them “chapter books” it makes her feel like a big reader...a definite bonus.

Speaking of her big sister...these days Madeline is completely into the Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton collections. So much so that she dressed up as Colette Stilton for Halloween this year...that was a tricky costume to explain. We, the parents, love these books too. They are full of adventures and have just enough artwork to keep Madeline entertained. Another interesting trait of these books is the inclusion of factual information. For instance, learning about the Native Americans who first discovered and named Niagra Falls.

We went through the Junie B.Jones phase last year. We, the parents, weren’t as impressed with these books. There is nothing more irritating than books assuming that children must talk like “children”. The poor grammar was super annoying.

Coming back to Charlotte she has been obsessed with The Berenstain Bears for a couple of years now. I think she might actually be losing her interest. Of course, it could be because we have read each book about 100 times! The “New Baby” book is a go-to gift for moms expecting their second child.

Poetry is another area of interest for the girls. They enjoy Dennis Lee and Shel Silverstein. Who doesn’t love Lee’s descriptive poems about our beautiful city, Toronto. They seem to make everything that is ordinary seem so much more spectacular.

Our never-ending mountain of Dr. Seuss books is definitely here thanks to my mom’s love of these books. Each one was once read by my sister, myself and my brother. Somehow they have landed in the hands of my girls and who knows where they will go next.

I am a fan of writing an inscription inside a book that you are giving. There is something wonderful about reading these inscriptions and knowing who was thinking of you when they gave the book to you. One of my favourite books is inscribed by my, now passed, great-grandmother Violet...fantastic! I love reading the book to Madeline and telling her that the book was given to me by the woman who she is named for...a nice little connection to her heritage found in a book.

December 1, 2010

These are Christmas too

In what I call my “previous life” before children...I had a "real" job. Over the course of my career I worked primarily with marginalized people; new immigrants, the homeless and people living with mental illness. Working with these people opened my eyes to the difficulties faced by so many people around the holiday season.

Although my parents divorced when I was in my early twenties, Christmas has always been about family for me. As a child we would open presents at home on Christmas morning, pack up the car and head to my grandparents for Christmas breakfast, lunch and dinner. The house was always full of food, presents and family. As I grew up I became more aware of other people's celebrations. Nothing made me (and makes me) cry like John and Yoko singing "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" or Band Aid's "Do They Know it's Christmas?" I was wholeheartedly moved by those moments in my youth.

However, it wasn't until I was working at a temp agency, that employed primarily new immigrants and the "unemployable", that I saw how Christmas is celebrated by people living in real poverty. Our Christmas party was full of grateful faces. Grateful for the time we spent having meaningful conversations, grateful for food we had prepared ourselves and grateful for the crafty gifts we presented to each individual.

When you work in social services you don't necessarily get Christmas Day off. It's on Christmas day that you see the real pain of Christmas. The elderly woman sitting in her rocking chair all day long...where she sits 365 days of the year. Visiting with a woman who is so blinded by the grief of her life lost to mental illness that she takes a near overdose of pain meds, simply to have a personal visit. This is how many people spend Christmas day. Through no fault of their own, they have lost family, lost friends and lost that personal connection we all desire.

There certainly are moments of hope. Don't get me wrong. The miracle is in the way people persevere and cope. When I left the woman who had taken the near overdose, she was with her husband...who was preparing a Christmas dinner. The smiles on the people I carpooled to a community Christmas dinner, where they too will create new happy memories. The many foodbank baskets we delivered to our clients homes. Or the homeless people I met at the bus station with tickets to get back "home" in time for the holidays.

I suppose the holidays now are about awareness for me. Being more aware of the story behind the person sitting on the sidewalk with their hand out. I try to fight the cynicism. My mother always gave that person her change. She fought the cynicism. When you open yourself to awareness you see into the hearts of people who deserve much better than they have.

I'll end with a lyric from my favourite Christmas album "Sesame Street Christmas" (1975)

Christmas means the spirit of giving, peace and joy to you.

The goodness of loving, the gladness of living.

These are Christmas too.

November 22, 2010

The Garden

There is peace within a garden, a peace so deep and calm,

That when the heart is troubled, it’s like a soothing balm.

There is life within a garden, a life that still goes on.

Filling empty places, when older plants have gone.

There is glory in the garden, at every time of year.

Spring, summer, autumn, winter, to fill the heart with cheer.

So ever tend your garden, it’s beauty to increase.

For in it you’ll find solace, and in it you’ll find peace.

Rosamon, Lady Langham

When we moved into this house, about 4 years ago, the front yard garden was nonexistent. There was a dying tree with a sad looking mum planted

on either side. That was just about it! So, we knew what we had to do...plant a garden. My mom pulled out a number of gardening books for me to consult and suggested I take note of trees and flowers that are growing healthily in our neighbourhood. For if there is one thing my mom loved as much as reading was gardening. If you ever had the pleasure of visiting one of her gardens, you know what I mean. She planted gardens with a TON of plants in them! She perfected the fine art of having a garden that bloomed through all seasons. I strive for that now.

My mother has a small bookcase dedicated to gardening books. Some she kept for their majestic photographs and others for the advice they hold. A few of the books I consulted were "Practical Gardening" by Peter McHoy, "The All Season Gardener" and "A Greener Thumb" both by Mark Cullen. Of course I also flipped through many editions of Canadian Gardening mom’s subscription only just ran out!

Together we came up with a design, ripped up the sod (I did that), piled in new soil (I did that), planted many plants and even a new tree. Today, our garden has grown into a beautiful habitat for butterflies, birds, crickets and ladybugs. I kid you not, every single time I am in the garden at least one person stops and lets me know what a wondrous addition our garden is to their walk.

I just closed down the garden this weekend. I love this task. My mom’s advice was to always leave some plants behind for winter interest and as food for the winter hearty birds. So, I always leave my Rudbeckia, Echinacea and Japanese Anemone. She also suggested that plants like Hostas, Lillies and Iris get quite soggy and slimy by clean them up in the fall when they aren’t as gross. Hot tip alert: When cleaning up an Iris or Lily remove any leaves that simply pull out out of the ground with a tug. For the leaves that don’t pull out easily, twist these leaves together, fold them onto themselves and tie another Iris leaf around to hold them in place for the winter. Sometimes my mom would even use elastic bands instead of a leaf. Again, leaving these leaves adds “winter interest”.

When all the cleaning is done..the garden looks peaceful. Ready for it’s blanket of snow. Moving through the garden I miss my mom. While her usual job was telling me what to do...I still hear her words in my ears. Perhaps it’s the solitude of gardening. I love having my girls in the garden with me...but the time I spend in the garden alone is glorious. I move quickly through my tasks of pulling, raking, tending. I listen to the wind, feel the sun on my skin and remember the hours my mom and I spent planting this garden and watching it grow.

November 15, 2010

Book Craft Corner

Well, I'm going to get all crafty now. My last blog inspired me to share two easy craft projects with you. I made two unique bookmarks for my mom, and wanted to show you how to make them. I'm sure I've made many more over the years, but these ones were extra special. In fact,Iam going to make my girls the first one...right now.

Project 1 - Paper Quotation Bookmark

Step 1.

I am always inspired by quotations. I search them out when I write a card for someone. When I add a quotation to my own sentiments the card feels complete. So, the first step is to search out a great, relevant quotation. When searching for quotations I always consult a couple of books I have and the web (I'll list my sources in the side panel). Since I will be putting this quotation on a bookmark...looking for a book quotationseems appropriate. I found that this one and love it for my daughter's bookmark. "The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." Dr. Seuss

Step 2.

Search for an image to accompany your quotation. This could be a drawing, photo or free clip art from the web. In this case I chose a tree with books as leaves. Seemed fitting. (again sources on the side panel).

Step 3.

Copy & paste your quotation and image into a document using your word processing program. Align the image and the quotation so they read as a bookmark does, leaving enough room for a hole where you will put your ribbon. When you have finished playing with the positioning and the font style/size...print the bookmark. You can use whatever paper you like, however thicker papers, or cardstock work the best.

Step 4.

Once printed punch a hole in the one end of your bookmark. Select a piece of ribbon, approximately 12" long. In my case I also tied two bird shaped beads to the ends of the ribbon. Remember, this ribbon will be visible from outside of the book...make it beautiful.

Step 5.
Once you have selected and cut your ribbon it is time to feed it through the hole. Fold the ribbon in half (lengthwise), push the fold through the hole. Once pushed through feed the open ends through the loop you have created...pull. Ta Da! Your bookmark is complete. Remember when giving a bookmark...give a book too!!

Project 2 - Beaded Bookmark

Step 1.

This bookmark requires a little research. Check out your recipients book collection. Do they tend to read paperbacks or hardcovers? This will determine the length of the bookmark you make. Once you know what size the books are cut a piece of ribbon, string or waxed thread (used in making jewelry) to the length of the average book - plus about 4 inches on each end. These 4" will give you plenty of thread to work on your beading, which will hang outside of the book.

Step 2.

Select the beads you want to use. My mom loved blue beads were in order.

Step 3.

Tie a knot in your thread, 4" from one end, then feed a pattern of beads on and knot at the end. Do the same with the other end of the thread. Between these two beaded ends, you should have a large portion of thread that is void of beads...this section will be inside the book, allowing the book to close without obstruction.

Step 4.

Take it for a test run in the book you are giving your gift recipient.

Ta Da! You are done yet another bookmark!

Hope you enjoyed my delving into crafting! Have fun...let the bookmark building begin!

October 15, 2010

Be A Lert!

As we read a book and turn the pages we eventually get tired, or distracted, and we are ready to close the book. We do not want to leave our characters behind. It’s difficult to exit the world we have entered so wholly. However hard it might be to put the book down, our real lives are beckoning us on. The children are calling, the pillow is calling or work is calling. If we simply close the book, how will we ever find our way back to the place where we ended.

For some readers the very thought of turning the corner of the book down to mark the page is scandalous. Injuring the page that has brought you so much joy is considered a sin. I like turning down the page to mark my place. I enjoy reading a book from the library and seeing the mark of a previous reader. Wondering how that reader interpreted the actions or words of the protagonist. These little marks on the page add to the character of the physical book itself. Well, that’s my opinion at least.

My mother did not share this opinion. When she came to the end of a passage and was ready to put the book down...she used a bookmark. I remember as a young child what easier gift was there to give my mom then a bookmark. Not as expensive as a hard cover book...but just as useful. One of the earliest bookmarks I can recall had the cartoon sketch of a bow tie wearing penguin with the words “The Butler Did It”. Or there was the classic cartoon sketch of a cracked egg, bright eyes peaking out, and the caption “Be A Lert, the world needs all the lerts it can get.” To a child this was a little confusing...eventually I figured it out.

Going through my mom’s bookcases I managed to gather up a pile of 78 bookmarks...78! Bookmarks were my mom’s postcards. When she travelled she didn’t stop at the racks of tacky picture postcards, instead she picked up bookmarks from the local library, bookstore or artisan. They mark locations in South Africa, Cuba, England, Wales, and across Canada. Of course, my mother’s friends also saw the value of bringing home bookmarks from their travels for my mother. So her collection also included souvenirs from places she had never visited herself, but had wished to go. These include Ireland, Australia, etc. Recently, I received in the mail a bookmark from one of my mom’s dearest friends. She had been traveling abroad and saw a bookmark that she knew my mom would have enjoyed. This friend picked up the bookmark and sent it to hopes that I would put the platypus bookmark to good use...I am.

The other day I was standing in a bookstore and a man asked the sales clerk if they had any free bookmarks. When the clerk said that they didn’t, the man set his sights on the super cutsie collection of bookmarks they had for sale. The bookmarks were clearly aimed at young teens and children...filled with vampires, cats and cars. I looked over at him and suggested he head over to the library, next door, where you can find a variety of free and interesting bookmarks. He smiled, thanked me and said he would probably just use the receipt from his book as the bookmark. Another viable option I said.

The next time you come to the end of your reading for the day, think about how you mark your place. Do you turn down the corner of the page, have comical bookmarks, use a homemade bookmark or one from your travels around the world? What is your bookmark?

September 22, 2010

So you want to take the car out tonight?

Flashback...I'm 13 years old and sitting on the upper landing on our staircase. I'm wearing my Mickey Mouse fleece nightgown and socks, of course. I'm listening intensely as my sister and my mom "negotiate" my sister's use of the car for the evening. My mom dictates the usual list of rules which include; curfew, the responsibility speech, no drinking, etc. Then my mom would add on another customized list of requirements. These included comments like; "Remember as soon as you get into the car, lock all the doors...immediately, because someone might try and get in the car" or "If the car breaks down, never open your window more then a crack to talk to a stranger...he might try and harm you" and the ever popular "If someone is following you, drive straight to the police station...let him follow you there." To the 13 year old sitting on the stairs, eavesdropping, driving seemed like a pretty scary proposition.

Fast forward...I'm 16 years old and listening to the same speech - directed at me! Now driving seems not only's overwhelming. Not only do I need to worry about reading road signs and obeying traffic laws, I now have to be aware of every sound as I walk through a parking lot, every headlight in my rear view mirror, and the location of every police station. A little overwhelming for your average 16 year old...but I take the car anyway.

I always wondered what my mother based her speech on? Urban myth, actual stories from friends and family, or reports in the newspaper. She seemed caring, in a very strange way.

After reading Mary Higgins Clark I now know who I can thank for my mom's paranoia. My mother has a total of 13 Higgins Clark books. Lord only knows how many she borrowed from the library over the years. It is pretty clear that her novels influenced my mom's life.

My relationship with Higgins Clark began when I slipped "A Stranger is Watching" off the bookshelf. Unfortunately, the day after I picked up the novel I went out and ended up at the library, with some time on my hands. I had left my book at home. So, logically I searched the stacks for the same book, with no luck. I landed on one of Higgins Clark's other novels "A Cry in the Night". I have mentioned in previous blog entries that I am a pretty slow, slow, slow reader. This book however, took me two days to read. TWO DAYS! I couldn't put it down because I wanted the main survive! I was afraid that if I put the book down, she would be lost without me. It was terrifying. Filled with all the psychological trickery that my mother always warned us of. No wonder my mother made us look suspiciously at strangers...she was educated by a master.

I returned to "A Stranger is Watching". Realistically, I could have read all 13 novels. If it wasn't for the fact that (a) I was exhausted from staying up all night reading and (b) I was exhausted from staying up all night afraid to close my eyes. What a wuss I turned out to be.

To Mary Higgins Clark's credit, these books are masterful. The storyline pulls you in and the reader identifies and feels compassion for the main character. While the reader thinks that they might have everything figured out, there is a "twist". At times you don't even care that you have figured out "who did it". These are serious thrillers. I think the best novels turn into movies in your mind. That is what these books did for me. I was scared but could not look away. If I could have read these books with a hand over my eyes I would have! I can totally understand why my mom had 13 of her novels.

I decided to stop at two novels. For the sake of my children's future. What will my lecture sound like when Madeline asks to take the car out for the night? These novels have taught me that my mom's lectures weren't based on urban myth or actual fact. Her lectures were based on the words and ideas of authors like Mary Higgins Clark.

August 26, 2010


Have you ever noticed how the right people come into your life at the exact moment you need them most? When my mom moved into my home she had to move her healthcare to Princess Margaret Hospital. She learned that there was a pilot project going on that she could participate in. The hospital's Palliative Care Unit was examining the effects of being connected with palliative patients from their first point of entry into PMH. Traditionally a patient would only be linked with the Palliative team when all of their treatment options had been exhausted.

Not one to pass up a new opportunity, my mom joined the project. In doing so we met Dr. John Bryson...or Dr. John (as my mom would say). Dr. John was the perfect connection for mom. He's intelligent, likes travelling, LOVES reading, likes new technology, and listens to CBC radio! Really a better match could not be made. My mom instantly felt comfortable with him and trusted him. Their appointments were more like two old friends sitting chatting at the coffee shop, then doctor-patient check-ups.

I remember my mom always trying to persuade Dr. John to read Linwood Barklay's novels. He was the latest author my mom had caught on to, and she felt Dr. John would really enjoy his work. Being the "techie" that he was, Dr. John had an ebook and hadn't download (or uploaded...whatever you say) Barklay's novels yet. In the end I think he finally did get to those books...and did enjoy them.

So, when I was looking at which novel would be next on my "to do" list I reached for the Linwood Barklay pocketbook "No Time For Goodbye".

This novel begins with a teenage girl, Cynthia, waking up one morning to find her entire family has vanished. The novel flips to 25 years later. We catch up with Cynthia and discover the long term repercussions of this disappearance. When renewed media attention shines a light on the case, she is swept up in the mystery of her family's fate all over again.

Spoiler Alert!!

The novel ends with Cynthia's discovery of a lost letter her mom had written and intended for her to find twenty-five years earlier. The note had gone missing with her mother. The note ended as follows...

"Someday, maybe you'll think you feel someone looking over your shoulder, and you'll look around and no one's there. That'll be me. Watching out for you, watching you make me so very, very proud. Your whole life, kiddo. I will always be with you. Love, Mom"

Are you kidding me. My mom totally used to call me "kiddo"! To say the least at the end of this novel tears were rolling down my cheeks.

When I finished the book I realized that my mother's death felt like a disappearance. In a way I identified with the main character who woke up one morning and found her life completely changed...pieces missing. When I woke up the morning after my mom died I felt the same way. While I know she is never coming back...most days I tell myself she's just "gone away" and might come home again. It is hard to believe that a person who existed, contributed, had a place in the world could simply be gone? It doesn't seem possible to me. She must be out there somewhere. Her energy is still out there.

I look for here in crowds. Sometimes I really think I see her. Other times I see women who remind me of her...make me wish for what she could have been. I'll keep looking for her and reading her books...finding little pieces of her in their pages.

August 24, 2010

Summer Lovin'

No, I haven't given up. The bookcases haven't collapsed.

I'm busy reading and hanging out with my girls. I'll post again when school's in. Then I'll have time to...think!

I have been reading up a storm. Let me say...the books have been terrifyingly good!

Can't wait to share the details with you.

June 17, 2010

To Skim or Not to Skim?

Looking at the bookcases in my basement the names of authors begin to run into each other. You can get a little lost and a little overwhelmed. How am I ever going to read all of these? How am I ever going to read half of these? I remember on many occasions having conversations with my mom about skimming through books. She insisted that she never skimmed. She thought every detail was important. I found this difficult to believe. She could take a book out of the library and finish it in one week…how is that possible? In retrospect I think this was why she had an “Itty-Bitty Book Light”.

I skimmed my way through many books in university. How could I be expected to read a novel a week, in addition to all the chapters of various text books? I think the pressure to read so much in university is actually detrimental to your studies. I understand that you have to read a lot…but really…who isn’t skimming?

My eyes landed on a collection of hardcover books by the author Phyllis A. Whitney. These are old books. The one I decided to start with was titled “Lost Island”…written in 1970. My mother has 13 Phyllis A. Whitney books. They must be interesting! The cover boasts that the books are “romantic suspense novels”…Andrew called them “sexual thrillers”. “Are you reading your sexual thriller book?” He thinks he’s so funny.

This was a new genre and I was curious to see what it would be like. The book started off pretty slowly. A young woman, Lacey, was returning to an island where she used to spend her summer vacations when she was a girl. Returning on the invitation of a girlfriend, who offered no explanation for the invite. Very interesting. Then we learn that Lacey had a son when she was a teenager and gave the baby up to this girlfriend. At that time this was the only way to provide the son with a better life. The plot thickens and this is where the book lost me. There were many, many, many pages spent describing the island. I mean every minute detail of the island. The sound of the waves, the scent of the waves, the colour of the sky, the colour of the grass, the buildings, the people and the emotion it all brought up for her.

I had an important decision to make…to skim or not to skim. I was either going to read this book one boring paragraph at a time, and fall asleep or I was going to skim past the island parts. I was curious to see what would happen to Lacey, her son and the father of her son, who also lived on the island. I was not curious about anything else on this idyllic island.

Skimming was the only viable option (sorry mom). I made it through. Lacey’s girlfriend had an accident and died (on the island). The news of Lacey’s son’s true maternity was exposed…no one was terribly upset by this news. The suspense part was tied up when it was revealed that the possessive grandmother figure was guilty of attempting to murder Lacey…to get her to leave the island. All of this was tied up pretty neatly.

I would say that if you are looking for a light summer read then I would agree that Whitney does write a decent novel. This one in particular would be best suited to a vacation on…an island.

I defend my decision to skim and I defend my decision to take a pass on any other Whitney novels. Twelve more stare back at me from the bookcase. I wanted to give her a second chance…but there are so many other books to read…and so little time.

May 20, 2010

Dear Diary...

This is my public service announcement – if you have ever written ANYTHING in a journal that you do not want someone to read someday, when you are dead and gone, then I suggest you step away from the computer…NOW…and grab the journal, rip out the pages, and destroy the pages. Because someday someone is going to be looking through your belongings and come across your journals…they are going to read them. I believe that if people want to read my journals once I am gone it really doesn’t matter to me. Anything that has happened to me has made me who I am…like it or lump it.

Along with books, my mom left behind a few journals. The journals detail her trips to South Africa, London, Cuba and a few personal journals. I found an entry in one journal that was particularly relevant to this blog and I would like to share it with you.

“While cleaning my bookcase I came across a few I had missed reading, my TBR pile grew slightly (To be read). The majority of my books are murder mysteries. I love the puzzle, the complex story. Some of my favourite authors have changed over the years. Agatha still is at the top, even though I recently had someone complain about her writing style. Apparently she is very slack, stating things like her heels clicked as she ran up the stairs. This person said of course our heels don’t click while going up stairs, I guess it depends how deep the stairs are, but really who cares the important thing is could the guilty party really have committed the crime in the manner described? Is it plausible? If not then that is not a good author, you can only have so many “dream” endings. That is an ending that is only possible if you allow for the help of supernatural or spiritual or alien or if part of it was a dream. This is a “trick” ending and won’t work over time. Some of my favourites are Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, John Sandford, Johnathan and Faye Kellerman, Anne Perry, etc…I used to enjoy the English “cozy” mystery, like Agatha’s work. No real psychological twists or no descriptions of brutal crimes (although some of the murders were just as vicious as any written today), so not much blood and gore and the protagonists never were in danger (of any degree) and certainly were rarely, if ever attacked. Now my favourites describe fully the crime scene, the crime itself, (sometimes too clearly)and the main characters run around and are totally involved in chasing down the villain(s) many times putting their own lives on the line and suffering serious consequences for doing so. The heroes of these books are more open to us; they share their foibles, desires, shortcomings, etc with us at every turn. They are more like the fellow/girl next door, a friend or at least an acquaintance, and you feel they are vulnerable to errors and emotions just like yourself. They are more personable.” (Monday, Sept 10, 2001)

So, there it is…straight from the horse’s mouth. One year has passed (May 22nd) and I’m glad I can hear her voice saying those words. My TBR pile is pretty massive…but I’m getting there, one page at a time. Miss you Ma…everyday.

April 28, 2010

One Word - Holmes

“Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.” The Copper Beeches, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Deciding which book to read next was actually surprisingly easy. You may or may not have heard of a little movie that was released during the holiday season…a couple of big name stars, a modern day update of a literary classic. After Christmas, my sister, brother and I decided to have a night out in honour of my mom and to celebrate her love of Sherlock Holmes. One cold evening we (Michelle, Donovan, Brock, MaryAnn and I) enjoyed dinner at a local pub and raised our glasses to mom. We then headed to the theatre, bought our tickets and popcorn, sat back and enjoyed Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes.

Again, I will admit, I had never read the legendary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books. Michelle and Brock had both read the books. In fact a few years ago Brock purchased a beautiful, special edition book which compiled the complete works of Sherlock Holmes for my mom. My mom knew about the movie and was intrigued to see how it would turn out. It was great.

Robert Downey Jr. was awesome, who can resist him? I had no idea if this was an accurate portrayal of the legendary character? Michelle and Brock assured me that the movie did capture the true essence of the books. So, I decided that if the books were as enjoyable as the movie then I had to give them a try.

My mom’s love of Sherlock Holmes did not end with reading the books. Her PVR was jam packed with Holmes episodes. She really had little time for “regular” television. Her television watching was consumed, not surprisingly, with mysteries. My mother recorded and watched every mystery program available. In fact her friends would call her and let her know when shows were coming on so she wouldn’t miss them! She never did. From Agatha Christie and Holmes to Rosemary & Thyme and Murdoch Mysteries…mom recorded them all. She even got into Murder She Wrote…although we had watched all the original shows way back in the eighties. Holmes was a popular choice on television, she loved watching those programs.

I decided to start at the first in Doyle’s series “The Valley of Fear”. This novel was quite interesting. The first half of the book dealt with solving the case at hand, while the second half of the book explored the life of the victim prior to the crime. It was as though Doyle wrote two different books and put them together. This was not at all what I had expected.

As for the characters Holmes and Watson, I adore them. Doyle’s writing is wonderfully timeless…passive aggressiveness never goes out of fashion. The interaction between the two old friends had me laughing out loud many, many times.

The second book I read was “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. This novel contains a series of short stories, quick mysteries. The stories include “The Red-Headed League”, “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”. I soon realized that for Holmes it wasn’t the crime per se that motivated him it was his primal desire to solve the puzzle. Many times he didn’t care if the criminal was brought to justice, rather Holmes was only satisfied if he used logic to reach an adequate resolution. As for Watson, if he applied his keen observation skills to the case at hand, rather than to Holmes, he too could have been a master detective. However, without his keen attention to detail, we wouldn’t have the descriptive narrative that makes these novels what they are.

I can totally understand why my mom was delighted by these books and television programs. The cases are not always gripping, grim and grotesque; in fact sometimes they are quite mundane. However, the enjoyment comes from the relationships, the dialogue and the great mind of Holmes…I suppose the genius of Doyle.

I wish my mom could have joined us on that cold night in January. She would have enjoyed the food, the wine, the company and the movie.

April 15, 2010

The Bookcase

What is a bookcase? A case for books? That seems logical…but when I got to thinking about what goes into a bookcase many different possibilities presented themselves.

We can start with the construction of the bookcase itself. A bookcase can be made of whatever materials are available; stone, wood, metal, glass, laminated particle board, stacked up milk crates, whatever. The shelves can be evenly spaced or of varying heights. Bookcases can be “built in” or free-standing. Some have doors and some do not.

After examining the construction of the bookcase, what about the content …the books. For instance, is it really a “bookcase” if it only houses magazines? What if they are National Geographic, not Cosmo? I suppose this leads to the question of paperback versus hard cover. Can they coexist in one bookcase?

Once the books (or reasonable facsimile) are ready to go onto the shelves…in what order do you place them? There is much debate regarding how to order the books. Some people believe in alphabetical by author...while others enjoy books grouped by subject. Then there are those who throw caution to the wind, take the jackets off and group books by colour. COLOUR? I’m not sure how you ever find what you are looking for.

And what about objects? You know collectables, often times cheesy collectables, that find there way into bookcases…BOOKcases.

Bookcases take a lot of thought and care.

When your mom has a massive book collection, which has grown since you were a child, you spend a lot of time thinking about the construction of bookcases. In my childhood home my father built a gigantic bookcase on our stairwell landing. The enormous custom bookcase was over eight feet tall and over 6 feet wide. Whenever I was sent to my room upstairs…I’m sure I was innocent…I would sit at the top of the stairs and stare at those books. The top two-thirds of the bookcase were mom’s fictional novels. My mom was a diehard alphabetizer. New books had to somehow be swallowed into the fold. This meant that often times there were piles of books sitting on the front edge of the bookcase waiting to be inserted into their rightful spot. Mom spent big bucks on the hardcover editions of most books. I think she was just too darn eager to wait for the paperback version to be released.

The bottom third of the bookcase was reserved for “coffee table” style books. These books examined art, gardening, my father’s collections of WWI and WWII books, motorcycle books, books of poetry, encyclopedias, etc. These were the books filled with beautiful pictures and enormous amounts of knowledge. Does anyone even remember encyclopedias anymore?

As my mother’s collection grew and grew so did our need for spaces to put the books. Thus my father got out the wood, screws and saw once again…constructing a floor to ceiling bookcase in our livingroom. This bookcase was filled with more fiction. This case became home to my mom’s prized possessions. Her magnificent Agatha Christie collection…I’m not quite ready to read those yet….but we’ll talk about those another time. If memory serves me this is also where Sue Grafton’s books landed.

In my current home I have two half bookcases (about 3' tall). These bookcases are constructed out of simple veneered particle may be familiar with the Billy collection. Half of one bookcase is almost exclusively schooling related texts, mine and Andrew’s. The others are various books of fiction collected over the years. The books run both vertically and horizontally. I wish I could say that there is an order to them…but really there isn’t. I seriously don’t know how my mom did it...I say that a lot. I can’t keep two miniscule bookcases alphabetized and she kept a small library in order.

Perhaps my most prized bookcases are the ones in my girls bedrooms. They too come from the Billy collection, we do love IKEA. These bookcases house a sampling of books from mine and Andrew’s childhoods, along with new books. The new books include bright baby board books, Eric Carle, Sandra Boynton, Disney, Junie B. Jones, Roald Dahl, the complete Mr.Men Collection, etc. There are the books I vividly remember reading…50 or so Dr.Suess books. Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm, Lee, Berenstein, Sweet Pickles Series, Silverstien, Golden Books, etc…the authors and collections of my youth. Not to mention the classics; Judy Blume, Trixie Belden, Alice in Wonderland, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nihm, Wind in the Willows, Beatrix Potter, Gordon Kormon, Encyclopedia Brown, etc, etc…the books we haven’t even delved into yet.
Some of my most valuable books are the ones inscribed by my great-grandmother, my grandmothers and my mom. Books purchased and given with deep thought and affection. I hope someday my girls will hold these books in their hands and feel the emotion that I do. The wafts of memories that rise up from the pages. These bookcases are filled with joyous, imaginative, beautifully illustrated, humourous, sometimes scary, mysterious, well loved and well used books...placed in no particular order.

April 5, 2010

The Book of Negroes

"Slave Coffle, Central Africa, 1861 [Image]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #150, (accessed April 5, 2010). Annotated by Colleen A. Vasconcellos

My mom, being a professional reader, always kept an atlas beside the chair she read in. One day she explained to me the importance of this atlas. To her, it was important to understand where the author was taking you. Not to simply have a cursory understanding…to see the locale in relation to wherever you reside. I had never done this before. Perhaps the books I read were based in North America, or familiar locations…I don’t know. It was certainly important with The Book of Negroes.

The last book my mom ever read, I’m not quite certain if she read. The Book of Negroes, authored by Lawrence Hill, was the last book she held in her hands. My mom had begun reading it before she went into the hospital and a few weeks later, while at the hospital, she was done the book.

When my mom passed away we collected her things at the hospital, and this book was amongst her belongings. She had borrowed this book from a dear friend. A few weeks after her death, I picked up the book. To be honest I don’t always do well with “epic” novels. When you read in short spurts it is easy to get confused and after awhile close the book for good. I wanted to give this book a chance. I sat down with her atlas and the book. I remember that my mother had a hard time getting started reading it. She kept saying that it wasn’t pulling her in. However, I was gripped immediately. I knew then that my mom’s inability to be wrapped into this book had more to do with her mental state and less to do with the text. On a “normal” day this book would have grabbed her and she would have read it in a week. Instead it took weeks of laborious reading. I actually mentioned to her doctor that I was concerned that she wasn’t reading more. For some people this seemed logical…you don’t feel well, you don’t read constantly…it was not logical for my mom. It made me incredibly sad to see her with a book in her lap that she wasn’t reading. And then as her meds were shuffled…she started reading again…and made it to the end of this book.

I too made it to the end. I found it to be a most interesting book. Talk about overcoming adversity! Understatement! It was inspiring. It certainly made me feel that anyone can overcome any circumstance. Although it was a fiction novel…it felt real. This book follows one woman’s journey not only through her life, but across thousands of miles. Across oceans and back again. It highlights the unending desire of Aminata to return to her place of birth. Aminata’s ability to rise up when she is being repeatedly, and violently pushed down. This young woman, Aminata, is torn from her family, shipped in the most despicable conditions across the Atlantic to America and then bought to work on an indigo farm. There are moments of joy, like her relationship with the kind woman at the indigo plantation. Their mother-daughter bond was beautiful. Her relationship with her husband, Chekura, has moments of bliss and heartache. Following her climb to becoming a respected black woman, while difficult at times, was well worth the perseverance.

Unfortunately, my blog is out of order…when I started writing this blog I had forgotten that I read The Book of Negroes a few weeks after my mom died. I wanted to connect with her. This has been the most difficult entry for me to write, so far. I started writing it over two weeks ago…and I’m only just finishing it. I suppose this is why I started this blog. To talk about my mom, to talk about me. This book will always have a special meaning for me. It makes me sad that she didn’t have a chance to really enjoy her final novel. My mom loved Africa…she loved stories about empowered women…she loved stories about heritage.

The book is done…you can have it back now D. Thank you.

March 13, 2010

I Love TPL

As a young child there were three things I feared in life.

First, I was convinced that a “bad” man was going to climb up the television antenna outside my bedroom window, break in and…who knows what!

Second, my family teased that I was adopted and threatened that one day my “real” family was going to show up and take me away. Considering my mother was actually adopted, this was cruel and unusual.

Third, I feared the Library Police. This was a special branch of the police force charged with the task of dealing with cardholders who broke the library laws. I was a young girl who never, never, ever returned her books on time. I had the word “BOOKS” permanently inscribed on my hand by Mrs Beddle, the school librarian. So, one night when a loud knock came to our front door, I fully believed my mom when she said in a concerned voice “Jennifer, it’s the Library Police.” I immediately jumped up and hid myself behind the couch…a space that was much too small for a child… but I fit myself in! When it was revealed that this was all a joke, everyone stood around laughing and laughing. Except me. Not surprisingly, I still return my books late. This crazy approach to parenting didn’t work…imagine that?!

These days I love, love, love the Toronto Public Library. As soon as my girls were born I was hanging out at the library. We attended the weekly story telling groups, or would simply sit on the comfy benches and read for an hour or so. I love everything about the library. Borrowing books, cd’s, dvd’s, magazines, etc, etc from any library in the entire city…genius! Many days Andrew will ask me to pick up his items on hold. When I ask the librarian for his items from behind the counter, she usually hands me a stack of ten or more CD’s…nice. Our family really uses the library.

When my mom passed away, I immediately thought to head to the library and see what it could offer me. Yes, there are books on grieving and loss. I still haven’t picked those books up.

In September, Charlotte began nursery school and I was left with two and a half hours to spend on Queen Street. The library is a wonderful refuge from rain, snow, whatever. I simply pick up a book and start researching whatever subject I might be interested in investigating. After 7 years with a child attached to me, this time is golden. Not to mention it is the perfect location for reading my mom’s books. Warm sunlight streaming in the window, the faint hum of the heating system, soft leather seats and an intriguing novel…bliss.

This summer I hope to visit other library branches with my girls. I think this would make for an educational and fun adventure. We drive by different locations everyday, and I wonder if these branches are as welcoming and comfortable as ours.

March 8, 2010

My Twilight Saga

Well, like any good daughter…I didn’t listen to my mom for long. After two months of Sue Grafton, I decided to change things up a little.

Over the last two years, it has been impossible not to hear about the Stephanie Meyer novels, Twilight and New Moon. The craze over these books reminded me of when Harry Potter came out. I picked up the Potter books and could not put them down! I even convinced Andrew, my husband, to pick up the last couple of books! So, why wouldn’t I like the newest “teenie bopper” craze?

I know I am supposed to be reading my mom’s books. But, I was curious to see how Meyer would portray life as a teenager. The reality is that I was pretty good at being a bad teenager. Who can forget the “Rebellion of 1988-1990” – also known as my teenage years. My parents and I, specifically my mom and I, had too many arguments over curfews, washing dishes, clothing and boyfriends. I think I could argue about absolutely anything…even the colour of the sky! Those years passed by in a hormonal blur. I’m shocked we survived. My sister, who is older than me, did a great job of distracting my parents with her own battles. But, in true motherly fashion – my mom would foil almost every plan I had. How did she know I had skipped class, not slept over at my girlfriend’s house and been hanging out with that boy again? To be honest these are a few skills I was really hoping she would pass on to me. I mean I have two daughters. I am dreading the great “rebellion of 2020-2025”.

A few months before my mom passed away we were sitting chatting and she asked for the truth. What schemes didn’t she uncover? My lips were sealed. I didn’t want to expose every minor detail. I simply assured her that she had not figured everything out…that’s what being a teenager is all about. So, when I decided to deviate from my mom’s bookcases, I knew she’d understand. I’m sure my mom would want me to explore all literature...even vampire love stories.

I’ll preface this by saying I can totally understand why people love these books. They are easy to read…very escapist. Here comes the controversy. I did not overly love reading Twilight. It was filled with A LOT of longing, gazing, thinking, conflicting emotions, etc. Bella and Edward make an intriguing couple. I wasn’t certain I could handle any more of this teen romance gone awry storyline. Then I saw the movie. I realized then and there the only way to get through these books would be to look at them as “B” movies…or “B” books.

So, here comes New Moon. Yes, I even made it through New Moon. The introduction of Jacob was interesting…but didn’t really help the novels for me. To be honest Bella’s a little too passive. I guess I like a stronger female character. So, while I enjoyed the first two books…I couldn’t face Eclipse. I put it on hold at the library. I even picked it up. I read the first couple of chapters and realized that I was ready to move on. I guess I’m all grown up…or perhaps I just wanted to get back to my read-a-thon.

My mom’s books can’t all be the “greatest literature of all time”. Some must be “B” books??

March 4, 2010

Chapter One

Hundreds of books…where to start? Do I start at the very beginning? Do I start at the very end? Most recent and then work my way backwards? The truth of the matter is the thought of picking up one of my mom’s books is overwhelming. Not because there are so many of them…but because of what they represent.

Picture it…7 year old girl, blonde, curly hair. Bare feet, jammies on, standing on a cold hardwood floor. This is my livingroom from my childhood home. We sat at the lower end of the middle class scale. Most families in our neighbourhood did. I’m seeking my mom’s attention. Some urgent, yet probably not urgent at all, need has come up. There sits my mom. At the end of the couch, a brown woven, scratchy material. She’s in her late twenties. Wearing a pair of comfortable jeans, her legs are crossed with her feet resting on the dark brown wood coffee table. Beside her on the table sits a cup of steaming coffee or tea. Mingling with the steam from the drink is the smoke streaming up from the cigarette perched between her fingers. She’s looking down into her lap…where sits a book. She’s deep into the book. Doesn’t look up when I beg for her attention. Simply lets me know that when she’s done this chapter she’ll be available to me again. “How selfish” I think. Engrossed in a book…ignoring me. And so begins my relationship with the enormous bookcases full of attention seeking books. No wonder I had no desire to read them!

I know that whichever book I choose, it will be the “right” choice. I look around at my options and my eyes zero in on a collection I know well. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone novels. I know nothing of the storylines encased in the books. All I know is every Christmas the perfect gift from my mother was the next in the alphabet titled series…”A is for Alibi” “B is for Burgular”, right through to “T is for Tresspass”. This is where my mom’s collection ends. Every year a new letter. I don’t really know how Sue Grafton managed to come up with the titles let alone the storylines!

I’ve been looking at the spines of those books for decades. When I pull out “A is for Alibi” I take a look at the back of the jacket. I am taken aback. There’s a picture of Sue Grafton. She looks just like my mom. The book is from the eighties and back then my mom looked almost exactly like this woman. Fluffy hair, worn jeans, comfy sweater a real casual attitude in her stance. I was starting to see how difficult this task was going to be…and how interesting. Was my mom drawn to this author because she was a similar “kind” of woman? What about the books themselves.

Well, I made it through the first book in about a week. Burned my way through to the letter “I” in about two months. Kinsey Millhone, Grafton’s main character, is a young private investigator, living in the eighties. She lives on her own in a renovated garage…bachelor apartment. Her adventures lead her into troubles with love and crime. She’s quite remarkable. I love that she tracks down information using the microfiche at the library, and she’s in deep trouble when she can’t find a payphone to call for help. Able to handle the most difficult clients and assailants. Kinsey has a soft vulnerable side too. She’s intelligent and tough…a little “rough around the edges”. But she always has the best of intentions. I can see why my mother was attracted to this character.

I was also quickly realizing that my mom wasn’t “selfish” sitting on the couch reading deeply. As my girls dance and sing around me, while I try to finish each sentence…actually retain some of the information. I now understand those minutes reading were her little escapes. It is hard being a stay at home mom. Although this will sound strange…it’s very lonely at times. All the love from my girls and I still long for adult conversations. As annoying as a co-worker can be, at least they know how to carry on a conversation. Sure it’s about the latest reality show, or their ridiculous boyfriend. Better that then trying to decide which character I want to pretend to be “Donna” or “Sophie” from Mamma Mia! So, I’m beginning to understand how these books took my mom away, if for a few minutes. She needed the break. Thanks Kinsey Millhone and Sue Grafton for taking me away for a few hours a day too.

What will I read next????

March 2, 2010

In the beginning

The long and the short of it is that my mom passed away in May 2009. When she died she left behind the regular earthly, dishes, jewellery, photo albums, nik naks, etc, etc. All of these things were simply...things. The six and a half, overflowing, bookcases full of books that she left behind were beyond simple posessions...they were her.

Growing up my mom always had a book in her hand, on her lap or sitting on the table ready to be read. If you combined the books on the shelves with the books she has borrowed from friends, family and the library..I'm sure she's read hundreds and hundreds of books.

So, after she passed away I was left with a basement apartment full of my mom's "things" and her books.

My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in May 2006. At the time she lived on her own in a small home, with a big garden. As much as she loved reading, she loved gardening. When she was diagnosed I had a new born baby and a 2 1/2 year old. I was struggling with my children's needs and my overwhelming need to spend as much time as possible with my mom. As the months passed after her diagnosis it was becoming clear that the treatments she had to endure were making it increasingly difficult for her to live on her own. In these sorts of situations reality smacks you in the face. We knew that something had to change. So, we (my husband, mom and I) sold our homes and bought a home together that would nicely accommodate all of us. It was interesting!

And so too came the bookcases and the books. This is how I have ended up with six and a half bookcases of books that I have never read, in my basement.

Sure I am a reader. I've read plenty of books over the years. Generally books related to my schooling...sociology, psychology, canadian literature, history, arts, a good number of Oprah's early book club selections, etc, etc. My mom's books were different. They primarily consist of murder and mystery books. Mix in some gardening books, books of poety, self-help, Canadian classics and light fiction and you have my mom's collection.

I have never read these sorts of books before. Never had an interest in murder mysteries. I think in large part due to my mom's obsession with the genre. Those were "her" books...and who wants to be like her mother???

So, sitting in her apartment (my basement) a few months after her death I wondered what it might be like to read those books. Did they offer some sort of insight into my mom? Before she died, she had told me to make certain her books went to someone who would enjoy them. She laughed at the thought of me keeping the books. After all I had never shown any real interest in them before. Both my brother and sister liked Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes...they shared that interest with her...I didn't. I assured her that we would be keeping the books...nothing could ever remind us of our mother more than those books.

I could see my task set before me...I had to read those books. Books she had amassed over a lifetime (56 years)...I would clearly not be able to read each book. But, I was drawn in by the desire to understand my mother. Why did she have an unquenchable desire for these books? What had they taught her? How had they shaped her? What could they teach me?

This is what led me here. I picked up my first book from the shelf and started to read. I felt like sharing my discoveries, my theories, my analysis. Clearly, what I write is biased and based on little or no fact. I will never know if my analysis is accurate. I can't sit down and ask my mother if I am right or not. Do I care? Nope.

These books are pieces of my mother. She carried them with her for decades. I carry them now in my home. I suspect they will lead me on an adventure...or perhaps not. We'll see.