12 Days of Christmas: Days 3&4

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Your favourite Christmas recipe or food…

You know the no tradition tradition thing I mentioned? It applies to food too. We’re a family of vegetarians who don’t necessarily want to eat nut roast every year, so it varies. Also, honestly, neither me or my mum are interested in spending the entire day cooking, so we often snack through the day and eat a main meal in the evening.

For the past few months, I have been trying to significantly cut down the amount of dairy and gluten in my diet for a whole bunch of reasons, so I have been trying to find a Christmas-ey meal that’s low on those things.

My family have to go along with it because I do most of the cooking.

We haven’t done the Christmas food shop yet, but right now I am thinking I’ll cook this vegan macaroni cheese:

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There is a good chance it might not end up being vegan. I had intended not to go too crazy on the dairy this Christmas season but so far I’m already failing. The staff room where I’ve been working through December is always full of chocolate. For the first couple weeks I resisted, but grad life has been getting me down over the last few days and with my positive attitude went my resolve.

Everyone deserves a break at Christmas, right?

Over the last week my intention has gone from ‘be good’ to ‘don’t be as bad as usual’ (I tend to live on chocolate from Christmas through to January 1st).

Share a Christmas story or write one of your own…

My favourite Christmas story is from my favourite Christmas special. The final episode of the UK The Office, when Dawn came back for Tim.

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Everyone in England leapt from their sofas and did a little victory dance.

 

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12 Days of Christmas: Days 1&2

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I am here to continue my tradition of doing absolutely nothing properly.

This challenge was created by Scale Simple and I was tagged by the lovely Breathing the Pages.

List your favourite things about Christmas… 

The village carol service

I live in a tiny village in England, with a tiny church and a very sweet man who loves to play the organ, but bless him just isn’t all that good at it. The carollers and the organ are always out of sync. Sometimes he stops playing altogether and the vicar will clear his throat and quietly remind him that there’s another verse to go. There are times when the vicar challenges us by telling us we are only singing verses one, three and seven of a particular hymn. As a congregation largely made up of those whose only church visit in a year is this one (including myself), we just aren’t familiar enough to complete such a challenge successfully. Most of us sing different, high pitched verses. Add to that the fact that I am a chronic church giggler and you’ve got yourself a pretty fun evening.

Going full Pinterest

I am increasingly shameless about this aspect of myself. I watched a youtube video about designing your own wrapping paper the other night. I’m probably going to do it.

All the cheesiest decorations

There was a road near my dad’s house he used to drive us down when my brother and I were kids that had all these amazing decorations. Every house was lit up with flashing lights, waving Santa’s and the occasional reindeer. The showiest, tackiest lights are what I love the most. My tiny bedroom has fairy lights everywhere I could possibly drape them. Every surface not covered with lights has a paper snowflake stuck to it. I have stars hanging from my ceiling.

Your favourite Christmas tradition new or old…

Our tradition is to have no tradition. My family has changed shape a lot over the years. For the past few it’s been me, my mum and my brother. Being with them at this time of the year makes me appreciate of the many ways that things now are a lot better than the things that have been.

Also we are planning to go see Star Wars on Christmas Eve, which I’m pretty excited about.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Jacob’s life has always been pretty average. An okay student with a job in the supermarket chain his family owns, probably the most interesting stories he has to tell belong to his grandfather – tales of children with mysterious abilities. Photographs of impossible children litter his home.

But Jacob stopped believing in all that years ago. Other kids in school beat him up for telling ‘fairy stories’ and the internet taught him that photographs can be manipulated. Jacob and his grandad, Abe haven’t talked about the peculiar children in years.

When Jacob’s grandfather dies under mysterious and violent circumstances, nothing is average any more. He is haunted by images of a monster he saw at the scene of Abe’s death –a monster his therapist has convinced him couldn’t possibly exist. Looking through his deceased grandfather’s belongings, Jacob rediscovers the photographs of the peculiar children, and what appears to be a letter from their leader, Miss Peregrine. In desperate need of answers, he travels to Wales with his father to determine whether the children exist after all.

Miss Peregine.jpgI first read Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs three years ago. I leant it to a girl I lived with at the time who soon moved out under mysterious circumstances (very fitting), without returning it to me. I don’t know why it took me so long to get another copy. While my memories of the plot had mostly faded, what remained when I thought of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children was a feeling. I guess you’d call it otherworldly. I fell back into it the moment I started reading again.

One of the aspects of this book I like most is the idea of inherited sadness – the feel the weight your family history has as it settles onto your shoulders. In Jacob’s case this takes a couple of different forms – without being too spoiler-ey, he basically has to go back in time to 1945, when his grandfather was young. He bonds with the people who populated Abe’s childhood, and takes on the role he left vacant, and all the responsibilities that come with it. In the present, the book also looks at the way that our grandparents are responsible for our parents. For reasons that become apparent the further you get into the story, Abe and Jacob’s dad had a very distant relationship. Jacob’s dad did not feel loved by his father, and he’s grown up to be a very disconnected adult. He shares that he can feel his marriage to Jacob’s mother slipping away, but doesn’t have the strength or resources to do anything about it. His mind is made of ever-increasing stacks of unfinished projects – all of them abandoned as soon as the first problem arose. He loves his son, but barely knows him really. I could go into all the ways that Jacob grew up as a disconnected kid as a result, but I’ll spare you. Sadness gets handed down through generations. So does the ability to fight monsters. More on that in a minute.

What Jacob comes to realise is that his purpose – at least for now – is to finish the work his grandfather began. He decides he is going to fight that which has been plaguing his family for decades. It’s the only way he can survive. I mean this literally. The monsters that were after his grandfather are chasing him now. I also mean this somewhat figuratively. It is only by facing head on the ghosts that have haunted his family for so long that he can have a better life than the men who came before him.

In this novel, Riggs is caught up in questions about time. Miss Peregrine uses time loops in order to keep the peculiar children safe from what’s hunting them. In doing so she has stopped them for aging. They are children forever, like Peter Pan but with a parent. By protecting them she has also made them easier to control. In keeping them as children she will forever be their superior. There is a real sense throughout of how these children haven’t developed – in their relationships, concerns or anything really, despite actually being getting on for one hundred years old. I’m fascinated the see the effects of the events of the first book in the sequel, to see how the children develop in a new world where not every day is the same, where certain relationships and power structures are irrevocably changed. I’m excited to see them leave the home they’ve always lived in and face what threatens them.

What I took from this book is the idea that you can only hide from or deny a destiny for so long. Rigg’s ends the book with the impression that life is always coming for you.

Top Ten Books I Read In 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

1. Emmy and Oliver – Robin Benway

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I loved everything about this book. I think it dealt with difficult subject matter in a very truthful way. The friendships are on point and nothing is sacrificed for the development of the (amazing) romance. YA PERFECTION.

2. The Shadow Cabinet – Maureen Johnson

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This is the third in the Shades of London series. It’s about a group of ghost hunters, not British politics. I waited a year for this book then read it in a day. I can’t recommend this series enough.

3. There But For The – Ali Smith

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This is about a man who locks himself into his host’s spare room during a dinner party and doesn’t leave for months. I met Ali Smith after getting stuck in the queue for half an hour with a guy I had turned down and his new girlfriend. I had reached awkwardness meltdown by the time I met her, but she was very nice to me anyway.

4. I Was Told There’d Be Cake – Sloane Crosley

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An amazing lady memoir. I read this in a hairdressers and was totally unable to keep from laughing away to myself.

5. I’ll Give You The Sun – Jandy Nelson

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This book gets in because it’s beautiful and it’s the first I ever blogged about!

6. Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling

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Lady memoir. In other words, the best kind of book a person can read.

7. Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo

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Obviously.

8. Honourable Friends? Government and the Fight for Change – Caroline Lucas

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This is probably the most serious-yet-hilarious book I have ever read. It’s about the current political climate in England and how it’s terrible. When MPs want to vote in England a bell goes off and they then have 8 minutes to run from their offices to the rooms where they vote. Half the time they don’t even know what they are voting for.

9. Everything Everything – Nicola Yoon

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Nicola Yoon’s writing is beautiful and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

10. First and Then – Emma Mills

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This was my favourite debut of the year. Everything in the book rang so true to me. It reflects an experience of teenager-hood similar to my own, which is not something that I often find.

Honorary mentions:

Bad Feminist – Roxanne Gay

Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham (I read this for the first time last year, but I’ve reread a couple times this year because she makes me feel better).

Yes Please – Amy Poehler (I don’t remember when I first got this audiobook, but it’s my go to whenever life is getting me down).

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou’s editor, Robert Loomis, tricked her into writing I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. When he first requested a book about her childhood, she said no, to which Loomis apparently responded ‘It’s just as well, because to write an autobiography as literature is just about impossible.’*

Apparently reverse psychology worked on Maya Angelou.

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was published. It was the first of what would eventually be five volumes of Angelou’s memoirs.

Autobiography as literature basically means that these are tales from Maya’s life with a little poetic license attached. So basically the chronology is accurate but certain events – like the time the vicar’s false teeth shot out – sadly might not be true. In addition, the intention of the book is not only to tell Angelou’s story specifically, but to give voice to girls like her, growing up in black communities in the impoverished South of America in the 1930s.

Angelou begins the story of her life when she’s three years old, and her parents have sent her and her older brother, Bailey to live with their grandmother, Momma, in Stamps, Arkansas after the break down of their marriage. Stamps is basically terrible. It’s southern America at the height of the depression. Racism is deeply ingrained and segregation complete. The only traces of hope to be found emerge during the hymns sung in church, but outside of those fleeting moments the people of Stamps can’t even imagine a better life. Lynchings happen terrifyingly close by, so people live in a state of constant fear. There’s this one episode where Maya and Momma hide her uncle in an outside cupboard covered by a heap of potatoes for the night to keep him safe.

The young Maya Angelou, who at this time is still going by her full name Marguerite, moves around a lot. When she’s eight years old her mother decides that she wants her children living with her again in St Louis. They don’t stay with her for long. Eight-year-old Marguerite is raped by her mother’s lover, Mr Freeman, and the family can’t cope with her resulting trauma, so she is sent back to Stamps and Momma.

This book is a really difficult read. I found myself wanting to reach into the pages and wrap my arms around Marguerite. Nobody knows how to help her. Her abuser, Mr Freeman, is murdered after the court case (probably by one of Marguerite’s uncles), which only compounds the feelings of guilt she was already experiencing about her rape. She’s trapped in an unclassified space. She doesn’t feel like a child any more, but cannot be treated as an adult. She fears behaving in a way that could be thought ‘womanish’ in case it reminds those around of the events in St Louis, but can’t always behave like a child. Growing up, Marguerite is in a continuous struggle with her identity.

What eventually comes to the rescue is literature, a life raft presented to her by Mrs Flowers, a woman Marguerite presents as the Fancy Lady of Stamps. Having heard of Marguerite’s silence during school time, Mrs Flowers determines to intervene. She has Marguerite memorise poetry to explain to her the importance of the spoken word and the hope that can be found in self-expression. Angelou writes of Mrs Flowers that she ‘… has remained throughout my life the measure of what a human being can be.’ Marguerite dwells a lot on beauty, something she greatly admires but believes she can never have. Mrs Flowers is the first person in her life Marguerite idealises and can actually become, because what she loves about her is her education. Literature – both the consumption and creation of it – allows the caged bird to sing.

There is so much in this book. It’s a lot more than one blog post can contain. A few years after her lessons with Mrs Flowers, Marguerite and Bailey return to live with their mother once again, in San Francisco this time. The city is the first place Marguerite feels truly at home. She falls in love with it. A few years in, she becomes the city’s first black streetcar conductor. It’s where she gives birth to her son at age sixteen, the event the book ends with.

‘Coming-of-age’ is such a cliché term now, but it nevertheless fits this book pretty perfectly. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a quest for identity by a young black woman growing up on the cusp of the civil rights movement.

*http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/23/books/23loom.html?_r=0

 

Big Magic

The tag-line of Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert is ‘Creative living beyond fear.’ Anyone who has ever listened to Liz Gilbert talk will know this is pretty much what she’s about. It is a book that implores the reader to get out of their own way. It’s where a lot of us are.

It’s a place I’m in ninety percent of the time.

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Symptoms

  • Constantly comparing yourself to others.
  • Avoiding starting projects because of fear.
  • Spending long afternoons convincing yourself that you have nothing to contribute.

Sound familiar? Yes? Don’t feel bad.  Lots of people brought this book. There are a few of us around.

Big Magic is medicine for all the above complaints. It offers a way to work through your fears to become the person and creator you want to be.

Big Magic Lessons:

There is room for everyone

For many of us, the second thought after an idea is usually along the lines of I bet someone already did this. The truth is, yeah, someone probably already did. We’ve been on this planet a few million years and we’ve been telling stories the whole time. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to contribute. Yes, someone has told the story before, but you haven’t. That’s the crucial part.

If you feel the need for evidence of this fact please turn to the genre of fairytale retellings.  Are there a million of them? Yes. Have we, the blogger community, read most of that million? Yes. Would be read more? Winter just happened, didn’t it?

Misery isn’t a prerequisite for creativity

You don’t have to suffer to make art. In fact, Liz Gilbert is a big proponent of something she calls stubborn gladness. Part of this is living with the knowledge that whatever is bad for you, is also most likely, bad for your art.

I have never brought into the idea of the suffering artist. There are few things I find more annoying than when people make jokes about how their stable, happy upbringings were so detrimental to their art that they created drama to compensate.

Another aspect of stubborn gladness is resilience. It’s the choice to remain true to yourself through rejections, setbacks and failures. It’s approaching each new obstacle with a smile.

Perfection isn’t a ‘thing’

Gilbert advocates for deeply disciplined half ass-ery. This means that we should create constantly, but with the mindset that all projects have an ending. Odds are, that ending isn’t going to be perfect. There are going to be sentences, characters and chapter endings that no matter what you do just don’t quite work. But at some point you just have to throw up your hands and admit that you’re finished. Sometimes, as Gilbert says ‘done is better than good.’

Fear is always with you… and that’s actually fine

Fear is a part of creativity. Gilbert talks about how whether you like it or not, it’s going to come with on whatever creative journey you decide to take. Her argument is that if you spend the whole time fighting it, chances are you’re never even going to leave the starting line. Instead of striking out into the unknown you’ll be left sitting at the bottom of your staircase surrounded by suitcases, so busy arguing with an imaginary demon that you didn’t even notice your life passing by.

So take the pressure off.

Let fear in. Just don’t let it take control. Acknowledge it, but also remember that it’s no use to you on this journey – the demon couldn’t read a map if it’s life depended on it. If you make fear your companion and partner in your creative endeavours, it can’t hurt you anymore.

Feminist TBR

For anyone who hasn’t noticed, lately I have got even more obsessed with women’s writing, specifically, women writing about feminist issues. I put this renewed obsession down to Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists. It also relates to a minor incident a few weeks ago, when I was walking home by myself, late-ish at night and a random guy decided to shove his drunk friend into me, for, as far as I can tell no reason other than to frighten me. This is far from the worst creeperie I’ve experienced, but it has me angrier than usual. I suppose it’s because in an ideal world I should be to complete a less than ten minute walk from a concert venue to a youth hostel alone without incident.

I feel like reading books about feminism is a healthy way to channel the frustration.

Summaries all from Goodreads.

Men Explain Things To Me – Rebecca Solnit

41edjJkb2DL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_‘In her comic, scathing essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters…This book features that now-classic essay with six perfect complements, including an examination of the great feminist writer Virginia Woolf ’s embrace of mystery, of not knowing, of doubt and ambiguity, a highly original inquiry into marriage equality, and a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women.’

You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out and Finding Feminism – Alida Nugent

24611657‘Alida Nugent’s first book, Don’t Worry It Gets Worse, received terrific reviews, and her self-deprecating “everygirl” approach continues to win the Internet-savvy writer and blogger new fans. Now, she takes on one of today’s hottest cultural topics: feminism.

Nugent is a proud feminist—and she’s not afraid to say it. From the “scarlet F” thrust upon you if you declare yourself a feminist at a party to how to handle judgmental store clerks when you buy Plan B, You Don’t Have to Like Me skewers a range of cultural issues, and confirms Nugent as a star on the rise.’

 

The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats and Ex-Countries – Jessa Crispin

9780226278452‘When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road, in search not so much of a home as of understanding, a way of being in the world that demands neither constant struggle nor complete surrender.’

I heard about this book on Stuff Mom Never Told You. I really recommend listening to the episode. Jessa is a fascinating lady.

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More – Janet Mock

janet-mock-book-cover.jpg‘In 2011, Marie Claire magazine published a profile of Janet Mock in which she stepped forward for the first time as a trans woman. Those twenty-three hundred words were life-altering for the People.com editor, turning her into an influential and outspoken public figure and a desperately needed voice for an often voiceless community. In these pages, she offers a bold and inspiring perspective on being young, multicultural, economically challenged, and transgender in America.’ 

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

51KOK64918L__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_‘As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.’

My Life on the Road – Gloria Steinem

9780679456209‘Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality.’

Amazing review by Ann Friedman here.