Archive for January, 2014

Beachside with The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

luminaries on the beach

Does it need to be so long?

Isn’t that the only question when it comes to an 832-page book?

Eleanor Catton’s novel, a mystery set in 19th century New Zealand during the gold rush, has been praised for its storytelling prowess and awarded The Man Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award, among other honours. 28 years old, author two successful novels, winner of mega literary prizes: sounds like the type of person you might love to hate. Until you hear her talk about her work. A couple of months ago I listened to Hal Wake’s interview with her and I was smitten by her intelligence and passion for writing, and also her clever use of astrological charts as a way to structure the book.

The Luminaries is a perfect title to reflect the celestial underpinning of the story, and to represent the cast of characters that light up the gold rush town of Hokitika. The tangling and untangling of more than a dozen lives and stories – chemist, whore, chaplain, hatter, hotelier, banker and so on – is what made the book for me. I like how they are all someone, how each character has a purpose in the story and a place in the town.

It’s inspiring to read a book as meticulously crafted as this one. I agree with the prize juries and critics that the structure Eleanor Catton employs is brilliantly executed and conceived. It’s a symphony, not a sonnet, though, so be prepared to settle in.

If you’re going to read this book, may I suggest a week at the beach? It fits in beautifully with all things aloha where I am right now.

waipio valley2

hawaii orchid

pink plumeria

sunset palms


January 17, 2014 at 11:36 pm Leave a comment

Goodbye winter

hellebores in snow2

This photo is from a snow day a few weeks ago, just before Christmas. I can never resist taking pictures of my garden, especially when flowers are battling the elements (and winning).

“There aren’t enough words for rain,” said Lorna Crozier in last weekend’s Globe. That’s today, all right. Rain, rain, and more rain. Compared to the rest of the country (and continent), there’s nothing here  to complain about. A few inches of snow a few times a year is a novelty, a chance to tromp around in a pair of neglected winter boots from my Alberta days, and the rain, well, I like it too, most of the time. Still, would I rather be going to Hawaii today?

Well, ok.

January 8, 2014 at 11:03 am 1 comment

January salad

squash and tofu saladColour is nature’s way of telling you that food is healthy. And don’t we all need a splash of colour (and health) in January? To make this winter salad, combine greens, roasted squash, pumpkin seeds, minced red onions and baked tofu. Drizzle on a citrus dressing (or any other light dressing).

For the tofu-phobic among you, baked tofu tastes very much like chicken breast. You should try it! Granted my memory of what chicken tastes like is rather dim, but I think the texture is very much the same.  Here are a few tips on how-to:

Buy a small block of extra-firm tofu. Cut it into small strips or blocks. Toss tofu strips with a few tablespoons of a marinade of your choice. I used a sweet/spicy ginger chili sauce for this salad. Bake in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes.

January 6, 2014 at 9:52 am 2 comments

Winter reading

january booksSanta brought me this lovely mountain of books – the full trilogy of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam books and Eleanor Catton’s prize-winning 832-page brick. I’m halfway through Oryx and Crake at the moment. I felt guilty about not reading any of Atwood’s recent novels, but now I am so glad I waited for the whole series.

As for the brick, I think it is coming to Hawaii with me next week. Also tempted to sign up for the free one-month trial on Oyster or Scribd while I’m there. The Netflix of books…could be very dangerous.

January 2, 2014 at 11:08 pm 2 comments

A walk through the garden

rockland primulas 2
Welcome to the new year. I am happy to be still in pajamas at three in the afternoon enjoying a quiet day as 2014 begins. It is calm and overcast today in Vancouver, one of those west coast days where the air is moist and warm. Moss and ferns and lichen rule the landscape this time of year, even in the city, and especially in the tucked away areas of Vancouver Island where we spent most of the last week visiting family.

We had a couple of hours to spare on our way home from the Island this time, and one of the things we did was stop for a walk at Government House gardens in Victoria. I used to live a five-minute walk away from these gardens when Victoria was home, so I know them well.

You can always tell how much care and thought goes into a garden by what it looks like during the winter months. The Government House gardens are a good reminder about the quiet beauty of the plants that thrive at this time of year: Garry oaks, evergreens, lichens, moss, berries on trees and shrubs, first flowers like hellebores, cyclamen, snowdrops and blue-flowering rosemary.

rockland rosemary 2

Cultiver ton jardin is the thought that is with me today as I think about how to approach the new year. Cultivate your garden. It’s not a new idea, but it’s a good one. It comes from a famous book called Candide by the French writer Voltaire. Candide’s life starts out with innocence and promise. Tragedy after tragedy plagues him, however, and after much loss and struggle, Candide concludes that the only path through this suffering is to focus inward, away from those things out of our control and toward practical action: “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” One must cultivate one’s own garden.

rockland flowers

What Voltaire meant by the garden keeps many a Literature major up at night. A space of our own making, a place of growth and discovery, a gathering of loves, a sanctuary to help us survive trauma and hardship. At times it might feel like a futile exercise, cultivating our little gardens while the world crumbles around us. But without the garden how can we find the strength to create the change we seek?

Last night we had friends over to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and as always I am at a loss when the question of resolutions comes around. I’m leery of resolutions because I’m just not motivated by goals. That seems like a terrible thing to admit, but it’s true. Goals quickly become tasks on a list – obligations – which make me want to run in the opposite direction. I don’t know why I feel that way, but I’ve given up fighting it. Doing the things themselves is fine; it’s the planning to act that brings me down. I attempt to do most of the things I see others striving for: eat well, exercise, and try to live in the best way I can. But I’ll never approach those things as goals or resolutions. If I have a goal I need a motivation beyond the goal itself to see things through. Ideas like mindfulness, intention and sustaining a practice (artistic, spiritual, healthy living, etc) work much better for me than the idea of achieving a goal. I’m wired for living life in increments, not for planning big leaps and bounds.

rockland hellebores

When it was my turn to offer goals for the new year, travel seemed like the only thing to say. It’s too wonderful to hate, so I felt safe putting it on a resolutions list.

“Cop out,” said my husband, who is one of the most goal-oriented people I’ve ever met. He claims travel doesn’t count as a real resolution since I’ve already half done it by making plans for two trips during the first part of 2014: Hawaii in January and then Denmark, Sweden and Germany in March. I think my resolution still counts. And it was truthful: travel is a goal of mine every year, but more importantly, it’s part of my garden cultivation strategy. No matter what is going on my life, being in a new place seems to make it better.

It takes a day of thought to come to a proper answer sometimes. My walk through the gardens at Government House brought quiet and solace on one of the last days of 2013, and reminded me about the importance of creating something beautiful that can stand up to winter in its literal and metaphoric forms.

2014, for me, I hope, will be about continuing to cultivate a garden worthy of all the seasons.

rockland new rhodos

rockland mountains

rockland red berry bush

rockland garry oak

rockland moss

rockland rosemary

rockland tree in front of house

January 1, 2014 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

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