Friday, December 1, 2023

Right now

Right now...* 

*(an occasional (mostly monthly) meme, alternating from time to time with "The Current"). (Explanation of how this started & my inspirations in my first "Right now" post, here. Also my first "The Current" post, here.)

Pandemic diary/update: November was month #44 (3.5+ years) since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We remain covid-free (knocking wood, loudly...), and continue to mask in most stores and other public places, especially where there are a lot of people. 

But we continue to hear about others -- including friends & relatives, and friends & relatives of friends & relatives -- who have recently tested positive, many of them for the first time, 3.5 years later...!  -- my sister among them!  :(  (Better November than Christmas, I guess, but...!)  There was an article in the Toronto Star last weekend (and I hope that link isn't behind a paywall -- no gift link option, unfortunately...) noting that both Ontario's covid wastewater signal and hospitalizations nationally are the highest they've been in a year. Quote: "Your chance of being exposed is very high."  

November was increasingly grey, gloomy & chilly, especially once the time changed (which had me considering dusting off the "I hate November" label, lol). It also flew by pretty quickly! -- both a good thing and a bad thing, considering how little Christmas shopping & prep I'd done until this week...!  

Among other things this month, we: 
  • Had our HVAC unit/fan coil inspected and cleaned on Nov. 3rd -- for the first time since we moved here, (gulp!) 7+ years ago, and probably for the first time since the building was constructed, a year or two before that!  All was well, and the two young guys who showed up (one a trainee) called when they were running late, knew their stuff, and were very polite. Despite the rigamarole to get them here, I'd have them back in the future. 
  • Dropped a bundle at the drugstore (Nov. 3rd)(holy cow, stuff is expensive now... and of course, nothing that I needed was on sale at that moment...!).  
  • Got badly needed haircuts on Nov. 4th, after which we headed to BIL's house. All the kids & grandkids -- and the dog! :)  -- were there for the afternoon (except for Older Nephew's wife, who was working). (The guys were changing their car tires to winter tires -- they store them in BIL's garage.) 
  • Drove to a community about an hour north of here on Sunday, Nov. 5th, for a fun afternoon with some of dh's cousins. :) One cousin's two adult (mid-20s) sons have set up a virtual/simulated golf business, and they invited us all to come try it out for a few hours. (Balls provided, bring your own clubs.) There are no employees; bookings, building access, etc., are all done virtually.  I do not golf, but even I took a few whacks with dh's long-neglected clubs, although I spent most of my time socializing. :)  
  • Went shopping for the great-niblings at ToysRUs and Carters on Nov. 8th. Also popped into Kitchen Stuff Plus, and the postal outlet at the drugstore to buy a box to return my old TV receiver in. Returned on Nov. 13th to ship the receiver back to the telecomm company. 
  • Spent an hour with our personal banker on Nov. 9th, opening a RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan) for Little Great-Niece, same as we did for Little Great-Nephew. Stopped by Younger Nephew's house briefly right afterward to have his wife (LGNiece's mom) sign some forms, then went back to the bank to return them. (And had to return to the bank the next day to sign one more form...!)  It certainly won't be enough to pay for all of their post-secondary schooling or training, but it will help...!  I only wish we could have done the same for the nephews/their dads when they were younger. (Of course, we thought we'd have our own children to educate then...) 
  • Had to call in a plumber on Nov. 10th, when our kitchen sink refused to drain (despite repeated doses of baking soda & vinegar, then Liquid Plum-r, and plunging) -- and then started leaking into the cupboard underneath and onto the kitchen floor...!  He snaked the pipes to clear the clog (eww....) and replaced the drain basket (?).  We cleaned the kitchen thoroughly after he left, including mopping the floors (on top of doing the regular weekly housecleaning)... by mid-afternoon, we were both beat!   
  • Drove with BIL & SIL up to Older Nephew's house on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 12th.  BIL & dh spent the afternoon in the back yard, helping ON build a skating rink for Little Great-Nephew. It's been WAY too mild for ice to form (I've heard rumblings about whether the backyard skating rink -- I learned to skate on one myself -- is doomed, (no) thanks to climate change...) -- but when the colder weather comes (as it surely will!), the rink will be ready! 
  • Returned to Older Nephew's with BIL & SIL on Saturday, Nov. 18th, to celebrate Little Great-Nephew's 4th (!) birthday!  :)  Younger Nephew, his wife and Little Great-Niece were there, as well as Older Nephew's Wife's mom & her partner. We had such a good time -- and even got big hugs from LGN before we went home!  :)  
  • Made a joint trip to the supermarket on Nov. 20th. 
  • Headed into midtown Toronto for our regular 6-month dental cleanings and checkups on Nov. 23rd. (No cavities!)  
    • Also dropped by our optometrist's office (same neighbourhood) to pick up a couple more containers of the lid wipes he recommended I use. 
  • Spent a couple of hours at BIL & SIL's house on Sunday (Nov. 26th):  Older Nephew & his wife were attending a fundraiser at a nearby banquet hall and left Little Great-Nephew with his grandparents. 
    • Stopped at the supermarket on our way home to pick up a few things, including some takeout soup for dinner.  
  • Went Christmas shopping at a nearby mall on Tuesday (Nov. 28th). (Unmasked while having an early -- 11:30 a.m. -- lunch in the food court.)
  • More Christmas shopping on Wednesday (Nov. 29th), locally, at Chapters (mega-bookstore), Best Buy, Mark's Work Wearhouse, Reitmans (women's wear) & Carters/Oshkosh. 
25 years ago, in November 1998,  I was supposed to have been giving birth to a baby girl. It didn't happen; she was stillborn in early August.  Instead of being on maternity leave, I was back at work, enduring the frantic year-end season (something I'd gleefully thought I was going to get to avoid that year...).  In 2008, I marked her due date (the first of several in November I was given, actually) with this post:   
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Also right now:  

Reading: I finished 4 books in  November (reviewed on this blog, as well as Goodreads & StoryGraph, & tagged "2023 books").  
This brings me to 44 books read to date in 2023,  98% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. :)  I am currently (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal. (I also started the month at 3 books ahead of schedule.)  

Current read(s): 
Coming up: Most of my book groups have their next reads plotted out for a few months in advance -- and listing them here helps me keep track of what I should be reading next. ;)  
A few recently purchased titles (mostly in digital format, mostly discounted ($5-10 or less) or purchased with points):  

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  • Season 2 of "World on Fire" on PBS (just 6 episodes total), which began airing on Oct. 15th and wrapped up on Nov. 19th.  
  • The 110th Grey Cup (the championship game of the Canadian Football League) on Nov. 19th, played this year in Hamilton, Ontario -- the one football game I will happily watch every year (eat your heart out, Super Bowl! lol).  
  • This holiday ad -- my favourite that I've seen so far! (Even if it is for Amazon, lol.)  
  • To some Christmas music on the car radio, late in the month. :)  
  • To Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos of Silent Sorority, who was Christine Erickson's guest on the New Legacy Radio podcast earlier in the month, discussing "When the Personal is Political What is our Responsibility?"
  • To (a heavily abridged version of) "Miss Buncle's Book" by D.E. Stevenson -- perhaps her best-known work -- on BBC. (Since it's heavily abridged, I'm not counting it as another book read.) Episodes are being broadcast live nightly at 22:45 GMT, but you can listen to all 10 14-minute episodes online until Dec. 17th.  (I'll admit I'm not wild about the narration, but the story is fun.) From the website:  
As ripples from the Great Depression reach a cosy English village, Barbara Buncle finds an inventive way to supplement her meagre income. Life in Silverstream will never be the same once her thinly fictionalised novel has laid bare the life, loves and eccentricities of her neighbours.
Scottish author D.E. Stevenson was a prolific name in the light romantic fiction genre, topping best seller lists from the 1930s to the 1960s. MISS BUNCLE’S BOOK, her best-known publication, is a delight; funny, engaging and well worth rediscovering 50 years after the author’s death.

To Heardle Decades: Stats as of Nov. 30th:   
  • Heardle 60s:  77.1% (330/428, 146 on first guess), about the same as last month. Max. streak: 15. 
  • Heardle 70s:  81.2% (138/170, 82 on the first guess), up from last month. Max. streak: 18. (Can you tell what decade I grew up in??  lol) 
  • Heardle 80s:  44.9% (22/49,  10 on the first guess), up several points from last month. Max. streak: 4. 
  • Heardle 90s: 33.5% (55/164, 13 on the first guess), down from last month. Max. streak: 4. 
Following: The progress of my DNA sample, online, via Ancestry (which arrived on Nov. 12th, after my mom's arrived about two weeks earlier).  Since then, I've been checking in every day to see if we have any new matches (they've mostly been distant cousins, estimated 5th to 8th cousins), and continuing to try to figure out how all these people are related to us. 

Connecting (so far!):  With my second cousin, once removed, on my dad's side (his mother -- still here, at 101! -- and my grandmother were first cousins) -- he knows my dad & his siblings, but we've never met -- as well as a fourth cousin in Australia on my maternal grandfather's branch (his great-great grandfather and my great-great grandmother were siblings).  

Eating/Drinking:  Takeout dinners this month included chicken souvlaki, rotisserie chicken and rice bowls. Lots of takeout soups and pizza slices for lunch, too!  

Little Great-Nephew's birthday dinner included rigatoni with alfredo sauce for me (tomato/meat sauce for everyone else), sausages, fried potatos, rapini and salad, as well as birthday cake, of course. (LGN's mom is an excellent cook!)  

As I mentioned here, I got a recipe for a really tasty butternut squash quinoa salad from dh's cousin's wife, and made it for dh & me. It served as lunch for both of us for four straight days! (plus a side dish at dinner one night). 

Buying (besides books, lol):  An Ancestry DNA test for dh (whose curiosity was piqued by my & my mom's results!). (See "Following," above.)  

I ordered my Christmas cards from Chapters/Indigo online during a sale early in the month (30% off with my membership card)(along with some books, of course, lol...). Now to get them actually done and mailed...!  

Stocked up on the products I use regularly from Clinique during a pre-Black Friday sale. 

Ordered "I'm With the Banned" (as in books, lol) T-shirts for me AND for my sister's Christmas stocking from an Etsy dealer.  And two mugs (ditto) from a local Winnipeg small business emblazoned with a phrase used by Winnipeg-born ob-gyn Dr. Jen Gunter in dealing with an online troll:  "Bitch, I'm from Winnipeg."  LOL!!  (Mug photo & story here and here -- there are T-shirts too, but they were sold out when I went to order.) 

I bought several T-shirts for myself on sale at Old Navy -- several of which I will need to exchange/return, since I misjudged the sizes I'd need. :p  (One too small and the others too big!)  

Wearing: Reluctantly made the switch over to long yoga pants, long-sleeved T-shirts and socks (and sometimes slippers and/or a cardigan too) around the house. Mid-month, I dusted off my holiday-themed PJ tops from Old Navy. :)  By the end of the month, I had pulled my down-filled "puffer" jacket from the closet. (Brrr!)     

Noticing:  How much darker (since the time change) and chillier it's become...! (and drier, in the house -- low 30s%, some mornings -- started up the Dyson humidifier/purifier again...) (So far, so good -- which is good, because the one-year warranty expired in October...!)   

Enjoying: How quiet it was on my social media feeds and in my email inbox over the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday!  lol  I was able to scan those very quickly, and focus on my book instead!  :)  

Trying:  Not to panic over how little time is left before we head west for Christmas...!  (eeeekkkkk....) 

Appreciating:  The sun, when it deigns to show up...!  :p  

Wanting:  I honestly can't think of too much right now that I desperately want. And that's probably a good thing.  :)  (Although it makes dh's Christmas shopping a lot harder, lol.) 

Wondering:  Whether we will be invited to Little Great-Nephew's school Christmas concert/pageant??  (It's a Catholic school, so it definitely won't be a "holiday" concert -- something that drives my very Catholic SIL up the wall...!)  I think it would be hilarious. 

Prioritizing: Christmas preparations! 

Anticipating:  The third Childless Collective Virtual Summit, which starts TOMORROW and runs for four days!  All sessions will be available online for FREE for 24 hours -- and you can purchase a pass that will give you access to all the presentations for a full year, so you can watch and re-watch them at your leisure. (The price will increase when the summit starts, though, so if you're interested, TODAY is the time to get one!) 

Hoping:  To stay healthy until we head west for Christmas in a few weeks' time (and while we're there too!).  

Counting down:  Until we leave!  :) 

Loving:  I was in the local mega-bookstore this week, and they were playing Elton John's "Step into Christmas" on the sound system -- and I actually started smiling, and feeling some of the Christmas spirit descending on me, for the first time this season!  :)  Hoping this bodes well for December!  

Feeling: Slightly panicky over the rapidly approaching Christmas holidays (so much to do, so little time...!) -- but also looking forward to it, and to being "home" with my parents and sister.  :)  

Monday, November 27, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: "War and Peace," anyone??

(How's that for the ultimate juxtaposition -- "#MicroblogMondays" and "War and Peace??" lol)    

Like so many people who consider themselves avid readers, I've tried to read "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy. (Tried.)  As an honours English student at university in the early 1980s (many years pre-Internet, when my attention span was much better, lol), I earnestly bought up copies of some of the classics that I hadn't covered in my studies, which I fully intended to read during my spare time and summer holidays -- including a two-volume Penguin set of "War and Peace." I think I got through the first 60 pages before I drifted away to something else, and never reopened it again. (It may still be lurking somewhere in the corners of my parents' crawlspace... along with a boxed set of Thomas Hardy, which met a similar fate, lol.  I did somewhat better with my boxed set of Jane Austen, although I still haven't read all six of her novels.)  

Then, this morning, I saw this Substack Note from one of my favourite writers/Substackers

"Here I go again...!"  I thought.  As I've said before (many times...!), I need another book club/readalong like a hole in the head -- but this does sound intriguing and, at one chapter per day spread over an entire year, (possibly) manageable. 

As I wrote here, in July, I was interested in a summer readalong of "Middlemarch" by George Eliot, which I read as a university student -- but I just didn't have the capacity to take part (although I've saved the relevant Substack posts, in the event that I do find the time, one of these days...!). 

Have you read "War and Peace"?  (Are you tempted??)  

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here

Sunday, November 26, 2023

"In Memoriam" by Alice Winn

I don't remember where I first heard about "In Memoriam," the debut novel by Alice Winn -- but I have been hearing good (even great) things about it since it was published this past spring. In fact, I've seen several comments along the lines of "best book I've ever read." (It currently has an average rating of 4.56 on Goodreads, based on more than 9,600 reviews.)  

I'm not sure I would go *quite* that far -- and the subject matter may not be everyone's cup of tea -- but this really was an excellent book, and especially impressive for a first novel!  (The author is just 30 years old!)  

The book moves back and forth in time and place, mostly between Preshute, a traditional upper-class boys' boarding school in England  in the years before and during the First World War, and the Western Front during the war. The central characters are two teenaged Preshute students -- Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood -- who harbour secret, unrequited passions for each other.  

Ellwood is romantic, given to quoting poetry at every opportunity (Tennyson, Shakespeare, Keats -- he writes it, too);  Gaunt is repressed, a man of few words.  Ellwood comes from a wealthy Jewish family;  Gaunt's family is German and he's being pressured by them to enlist to demonstrate their patriotism. Confronted with a white feather (a symbol of cowardice, handed out by young women to men not in uniform) -- and with his forbidden feelings for Ellwood -- Gaunt finally, reluctantly enlists (even though he's underage).  One by one, his classmates follow.  

The story requires a bit of suspended disbelief in some parts (would that many boys from the same school wind up fighting in the same trenches together?).  And the horribly senseless loss of young life -- scene after scene of it, casually and graphically described -- can be difficult to read about. Also difficult to read: excerpts from the school newspaper, The Preshutian, with lengthy casualty lists of dead and injured alumni, including the names of characters we've come to know (especially the very last edition of the war, which forms the last chapter of the book). Most of those listed are no older than 21. It's sobering, infuriating and incredibly moving.  For me, at least, Kleenex was required, especially near the end.  (Although there is some humour too, to offset the hard things a little bit!) 

Overall, this is beautifully written. I've read other books and seen movies/TV shows about the carnage of the Great War, and this reminded me of some of those (the movie "1917," for one).  "In Memoriam" will rank highly among them.  

4.5 stars on StoryGraph, and I debated whether that should be rounded down to 4 or up to 5 for Goodreads. I'm giving it 5 stars, because I really did think it was a wonderful book. 

(As I was finishing the book, I came across an interview with the author in the Guardian from this weekend.  I was especially interested in her comments on the differing reactions from British and American readers!)   

This was Book #44 read to date in 2023 (and Book #4 finished in November), bringing me to 98% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 4 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Friday, November 24, 2023

Odds & ends & annoying things

  • Annoying thing #1:  How the heck is it almost the end of November?? I need to get cracking with my Christmas shopping....
    • I did order T-shirts for my sister & me from an Etsy dealer in the U.S., both bearing the motto "I'm with the banned"  (as in books, lol).  :)  
  • My sister has been off work all week with covid (as I wrote here).  Last I heard from her (yesterday, via email), she still wasn't feeling great and was sleeping a lot.  :(  
  • A few weeks ago, we had dinner at dh's cousin's house (along with BIL & SIL), and (as I wrote here) our hostess made (among other yummy things) a really tasty salad/veggie dish that I haven't been able to get out of my head since. I finally texted her and asked for the recipe, and she was happy to share -- and I'm happy to share it here with you too.  :)  
    • I made the double recipe (14 cups) on Tuesday. It was a LOT -- we've had it for lunch &/or a side dish at dinner every day since then -- but it keeps 3-4 days in the refrigerator, and it's been a welcome change from endless peanut butter on toast and yogurt, lol -- we finished it off at lunchtime today. It got a little soggy towards the end, but it's soooo good. :)  Our hostess and I both used sweet potato instead of butternut squash, plus optional kale for some greenery (spinach leaves would probably be good too), and I used white wine vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar for the dressing.  I will definitely make it again! 
  • Annoying thing #2: The PBS/BBC TV adaptation of Winston Graham's "Poldark" novels, a few years back, piqued interest in the original books, and I started following an online forum devoted to them. The conversation there mostly petered out once the TV series ended -- but back in early September, I started getting notifications of new posts on a thread titled "Demelza," dormant since 2018.  Three guys there have been arguing over the character of Demelza (Ross Poldark's wife), her affair with Hugh Armitage, whether he ever truly loved her, and whether she ever truly loved Ross.  
    • Two women, early on, intervened to make comments in defense of Demelza. They were mostly ignored and haven't ventured back into the conversation. I don't blame them...! I've mostly been just rolling my eyes and ignoring the posts -- but seriously, I'm kind of agog that these three guys have been arguing about this (on & off, with a pause for a couple of weeks), for almost THREE MONTHS NOW...!  The power of literature, I guess??  (But also the power of a bunch of a guys with an opinion, who think they know a woman's heart & mind...!)  
  • Annoying thing #3My brand-new Kobo e-reader (a Clara 2E) -- which I bought barely a month ago, to replace my 8-year-old Aura H20, which was not downloading books or syncing properly -- was doing exactly the same thing as the old one, earlier this week. I was frustrated beyond belief...!  
    • I found a link on the Kobo help site to Facebook Messenger, so I messaged them there. They recommended I do an "account repair." I had it in repair mode for 16 HOURS, overnight (had to plug it in to recharge because the battery was running so low). I finally messaged them and asked "How long is this going to take??"  I mean, I have a lot of books on there, but this was ridiculous...!  
    • They recommended I cancel the repair (and told me a reset procedure so that I wouldn't lose any data), and then try again, preferably using a different wifi. (Yeah, like I just have another wifi system in my back pocket??)  I did the cancel/reset procedure, and then I decided to try signing out of my account and back in again, which is something else suggested on the help site. 
    • It was like I was setting up my reader all over again! -- I had to reconnect to our wifi and reinput the wifi password and then my Kobo account password -- and it started repopulating all my books again. And then it downloaded the last 5 most recent books I'd bought!  (It took about a half an hour.)  I had to re-download all the other books I'd downloaded to read, too. 
    • BUT -- THEY DOWNLOADED!!!  And the ones I'd been reading still opened up at the page(s) where I'd left off. Working like a charm since then, thank goodness! (and fingers crossed!)  
  • Henri, a fellow CNBCer from one of the online childless communities I frequent, has started a Substack newsletter. Her latest entry is a thoughtful post on that phrase we all love to hate ("as a mother...").  Go read, like and maybe subscribe! (I've added her to my blogroll here!) 
  • In her Substack (Life, Almost), Jennie Agg (mother of one, plus five miscarriages) decides she's "done" (maybe...), and muses on "the myth of maternal desire" in "Maybe I don’t want another baby ‘enough’."  No matter when you decided YOU were "done" or how many living children and/or losses you had (including zero), you will likely find something to relate to in her words. Sample passage:  
...I can’t help feeling that if I really am done, it will mean something about how much I wanted this in the first place. Given that I have the option of keeping going – which I’m aware not everybody who wants a child does – why wouldn’t I?

But there’s an unreasonable expectation masquerading in that question. Because what would, in fact, count as ‘enough’? How could you possibly quantify such a thing?

How much physical trauma is enough? How much money do I need to spend on unevidenced private treatments? Do I have to have considered surrogacy, adoption? Do I need to show receipts from yet another expensive therapist?  
  • In the post mentioned above, Agg links to another piece by Farrah Storr, a childless journalist who writes at Things Worth Knowing:  "How NOT to have children:  A guide from the other side..."  Unlike her, I haven't experienced a "startling" number of friendships with mothers in their 50s with grown children (?!) -- and I haven't encountered too many other CNBCers who have either -- but overall, it's definitely worth a read!  
  • Completely unrelated to anything ALI-related, but full of great writing (and truths!) that made me laugh:  Cathal Kelly, a sportswriter at the Globe & Mail, expounds on a recent scandal involving the football coach at the University of Michigan, and what it says about the differences between Americans & Canadians. (Gift linked.) 
    • (SO true! The largest crowd at an average-attendance Canadian college sports game -- of any sport -- would probably fit into an American high school football stadium -- and still leave a lot of empty seats.) 
  • Annoying thing #4 (related to the above...!):  Dh has been watching hours and hours of American college & NFL football for two solid days now. (Sigh, and eyeroll.)  He tries to tell me that, well, I watch hours & hours of figure skating at this time of year -- but I still think he watches more football overall.  
    • Besides which, no Canadian TV network is carrying coverage of the fall grand prix series this year (! -- Annoying thing #5...). American network coverage is spotty and U.S.-centric. I could watch it online, but to be honest, I forget to check what times it's on. The final is on this weekend (in Japan, I think?), so I may make an effort to tune in, even if it's on my laptop at odd hours.  
    • On the other hand, with everyone south of the border busy with Thanksgiving, Black Friday and football, my inbox has been much less busy/full than usual, my social media networks quieter, and I've actually got some reading done. It's been nice to get caught up a little!  

Thursday, November 23, 2023

"Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn

Back in the early 2000s, when I was in my scrapbooking phase, I frequented a wildly popular website/business, owned by a husband-wife team, called Two Peas in a Bucket (defunct since 2014). It was the name of an online store where you could buy scrapbooking supplies and take online classes -- but attached to the retail site was an online community where scrapbookers could share their layouts, ask questions of each other, share tips and techniques and, in the "NSBR" forum ( = Non-ScrapBooking Related), chat about other things. There were some clever usernames, often incorporating the word "Pea" in some way. One user's name that stuck out in my mind was Ella Minnow Pea, which I thought was a rather clever bit of wordplay. 

Perhaps not quite so clever!  What I didn't realize, until many years later, was that "Ella Minnow Peais also the name of a book by Mark Dunn, published in 2001.  It's the December selection for my Childless Collective Nomo Book Club (chosen because it's a short book -- under 200 pages -- for a very busy month).  

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I started reading this book. I knew that it was an "epistolary" novel, i.e., the story is told through the exchange of letters.  And for some reason, I was under the impression that it was a humorous novel. 

There IS humour in "Ella Minnow Pea" -- but it would probably be safer to call it a satire. The underlying message it conveys is deadly serious -- perhaps even more so today than when it was first written.   

Our title character, Ella Minnow Pea, 18 years old, lives on the (fictional) island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina, where a lack of modern technologies means that residents (including Ella, her parents, her aunt and her cousin Tassie) communicate by letter instead of phone calls or email. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, the (fictional) author of the "immortal pangram" (which IS real and known to anyone who ever took a typing class):  "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." (Pangram = a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet.)  Nollop is a revered figure on the island:  there's a cenotaph in his memory in the centre of the main town of Nollopton, including a statue and the "immortal pangram" inscribed upon it with tile letters. 

One day, the tile with the letter Z drops off the monument. The statue has been in place for more than 100 years;  the logical explanation is that the glue fixing the tiles to the statue's base is loosening. The town council, however, interprets this as a divine sign from the revered Nollop that the letter Z must be excised from the community's vocabulary.  Henceforth, those speaking, writing or reading words containing the letter Z will be swiftly punished -- time in the stocks or a public flogging (!), with multiple transgressions punished by exile or, ultimately, execution. (!!) 

One by one, other letters start dropping off the monument. And, as they disappear from Nollop's vocabulary, they also disappear from the book. 

This book is a word-lovers dream, with an amazing vocabulary. (One description I read called it "a linguistic tour de force.") The residents' contorted efforts to communicate with a rapidly shrinking choice of approved letters and words is funny and clever -- but also horrifying. As the letters disappear, the rights and freedoms of the island's people quickly become more and more restricted, and the governing council becomes more and more totalitarian/dictatorial. Citizens inform on each other and make/receive anonymous death threats, mail is opened and inspected, homes are raided and expropriated, freedom of worship -- aside from the worship of Nollop -- is curtailed. Many flee the island, smuggling letters back & forth to their loved ones who remain.  

The ardent devotion to Nollop may seem ridiculous and cultish -- and probably seemed REALLY ridiculous when this book was written in 2001. 

These days, maybe not quite so much... 

There's a lot to think about here. 

((Very) Mild spoiler alert:  If what I've written has you thinking you'll take a pass on this book, I'll just say that the ending is fairly upbeat.)  

4 stars on Goodreads. 

This was Book #43 read to date in 2023 (and Book #3 finished in November), bringing me to 96% of my 2023 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 45 books. I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 3 books ahead of schedule. :)  You can find reviews of all my books read to date in 2023 tagged as "2023 books."  

Monday, November 20, 2023

#MicroblogMondays: Be careful out there

I was just getting ready for bed on Saturday night, when an email popped up on my cellphone from my sister, with this attention-grabbing headline: "Guess who has COVID??"  

Yep, after dodging the pandemic bullet for 3 & 1/2 years (!), my sister has finally fallen victim to the nefarious bug. :(   I spoke to her on Sunday afternoon.  She said she started feeling crappy on Thursday, tested negative, felt even worse by Friday afternoon -- and tested positive. Immediately cancelled plans to head to my parents' house on the weekend. She was isolating from her partner on separate floors/rooms of their house (which is not, admittedly, especially large -- but does, thankfully, have three bathrooms!), but now he's got a sore throat too. He was still testing negative at that point, but I guess we'll see...!  

I asked her if she knew, or could guess, where she picked it up. She said nobody at her office has been sick lately (and she works from home two days a week), but she admitted she's been a little lax on masking at the supermarket, etc., these past few months. She hadn't received the latest/fall vaccine yet -- availability where she lives is still scarce/limited/not well publicized. 

I told her well, she'd had a pretty good run, and at least it happened NOW and not four weeks from now, i.e., when we'll all be at Mom & Dad's for Christmas. Thankfully, she seems to have a mild case so far -- she said so far, it's like a bad head cold. Stuffy nose, cough, sore throat, fatigue.  She'll have a few hours where she has some energy to do things, and then she crashes.  (She talked with her doctor about Paxlovid, but decided not to fill the prescription, given that she has few risk factors and often doesn't do well with new medications.)  

Still, it sucks. :(  It's a good reminder that yes, covid is still out there, people are still getting sick from it -- very sick, in some cases -- and it's easy to let our guard down (especially when governments and businesses seem to be doing everything in their power NOT to remind us it still exists...!). (And this reminder is to myself, as much as to any of you reading this...!) 

My American friends & relatives will be gathering with their families later this week for U.S. Thanksgiving -- and Christmas is not that far off, either (eeek!).  

Be careful out there. 

You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

Odds & ends for the weekend

  • It's Little Great-Nephew's 4th (!!) birthday today!  We'll be heading up to Older Nephew's house tomorrow for a family celebration. We sure miss seeing him as often as we have (especially during this past year), since he started school this fall, but we're so grateful for the time we've been able to spend with him, and to have him in our lives!  
    • Here's the post where I announced his arrival, four years ago (November 2019).  :)  
  • In the WTF?/Annoying things category:  On Nov. 2nd, I ordered 6 (paperback) books, as well as some boxed Christmas cards, during a sale from our national mega-bookstore chain -- 30% off with my membership card.  
    • The cards were delivered on Nov. 6th. 
    • Two books were delivered in one package on Nov. 6th.  
    • Another book arrived on Nov. 15th. 
    • Two more shipments -- one with one book, the other with two books -- arrived at the same time yesterday, on Nov. 16th.  
    • That's 5 separate shipments/deliveries (!) over 10 days! (I was perfectly willing to wait the full 10 days to get everything all at once.)  I get that they may have come from different warehouses -- and the shipping was free, to me anyway -- but seriously? It seems so wildly inefficient...! -- all that packaging (cardboard = recyclable, at least), all that additional labour to get them to me... 
  • The New York Times had an article this week celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of "Emily of New Moon" by L.M. Montgomery. (Gift link.) I was kind of gobsmacked by how many people in the comments -- many of them ardent fans of "Anne of Green Gables" -- had never heard of Emily (let alone the many other wonderful books & heroines Montgomery created). All of Montgomery's books were touchstones of my growing-up years, and (as you all probably know already!) the older I get (and the more of her work I re-read), the more I realize just what a huge impact she had on my life and on the person I am today.  (My reviews of "Emily of New Moon," here and here... I've also read & reviewed the two sequels on this blog over the past three years.)  
  • I loved this! -- go read it!  "A very short essay against 'as a mother': On being able to care without kids" by Amy Key of "So Glad I'm Me."  (This link was recommended by Sara Petersen at "In Pursuit of Clean Countertops" -- she got it from Jessica Stanley at "READ.LOOK.THINK.") 
  • I'm not the only one who has a problem with Novembers: Katie Hawkins-Gaar at "My Sweet Dumb Brain" ponders her own history of grief during this month in "As the layers of life accumulate." (Very appropriately, I read it on Nov. 14th -- the 25th "anniversary" of Katie's due date.) 
    • (That said, Nov. 14th this year was... okay. The sun was shining, which helped enormously, I think!) 
    • Content warning: a parent's death, and postpartum psychosis (living baby) mentioned.  
    • Sample passage: 
Some days, some weeks, some months, are heavier than others. These are the times when bad things have happened, when our lives are forever changed. Our minds may not always note the date, but our bodies typically do. 

On these days, we feel out of sorts — we feel sad, anxious, or irritable, and we’re not entirely sure why. Our bodies nudge us along. Then we remember.
  • Also this:  "Maybe she manifested it" from "The Antidote" by Helen Davenport-Peace. (When did "baby manifestation coaches" become a thing?? UGH!)  Sample passage (bolding & italics are the author's): 
To be clear; if you’re reading this and Not Pregnant Yet…

it isn’t because you haven’t manifested it. It’s not because you have a baby blocking belief buried deep into your subconscious. It isn’t not happening because you don’t believe enough, that you aren’t manifesting properly, hard enough or with the right coach by your side to clarify and cleanse your vision. There isn’t a missing piece in the wiring between what your mind and body desire that someone else can solve in three monthly installments of three thousand pounds.