A Year in Books

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A few months ago, I posted about struggling to finish a book.  I used to be a voracious reader but I found, especially when C was an infant, that I had trouble fitting books into my schedule.

I read a decent amount of books in 2011, mostly before I had C in August of that year.  Here’s 2011’s list:

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene

The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Paris 1919 – Margaret MacMillan

The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene (I really, really love Graham Greene)

Prisoner of Tehran – Marina Nemat

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Room – Emma Donoghue

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

The Birth House – Ami McKay

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson

Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins

Photo via Wikipedia

Aaaaand, here is what I read in 2012:

Drop Dead Healthy – A.J. Jacobs

Why Have Kids? – Jessica Valenti

How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles – Peter Brown & Steven Gaines

A Nation Worth Ranting About – Rick Mercer

Our Man in Havana – Graham Greene

1982 – Jian Ghomeshi

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

So that’s it.  It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, I suppose.  If I included What to Expect the First Year /Toddler Years, Barnyard Dance and Animal Boogie, the list would probably be a better representation of what I actually spent my time reading.

I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be a better year, literature-wise.

And I’m hoping that you, readers, can give me some suggestions.  From my lists, you can see what I tend to gravitate towards.  I’m currently tackling a book about the Cuban Missile Crisis (the fantastic Armageddon Letters).  But I’m open to other things, and I think it’s important to branch out and broaden one’s horizons.  So, please, send me your suggestions!

Happy reading!

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From Strain Theory to Strained Peas

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I’m a stay-at-home parent.  That’s a bit odd for me to write, because I don’t think of myself as a stay-at-home parent.  I think of myself as a college teacher.  But I had a baby sixteen months ago and I haven’t taught a college course since before that baby was born.  Hmm.  Is that cognitive dissonance?

I’ve been struggling a bit with my role as a full-time mother.  It’s not that I don’t love being home with C.  I do.  And I appreciate that I’m fortunate enough to have the means to stay home with her.  She’ll only be little once, and I have the rest of my life to work.

But sometimes, when I think about my former life, I feel wistful.  Because even though teaching was often difficult, stressful, and frustrating, it was never dull.

I’ve taught a variety of courses (Sociology, Political Science, English, Research Methods) to a wide range of students, but my favourite experience was always teaching Criminology to Policing students.

Photo via Simon Fraser University

As a Criminology instructor, I was fortunate enough to meet a Forensic Anthropologist, who investigates suspicious fires and skeletal remains.  He has some grisly stories to tell.  I’ve worked with a detective who has served in every policing branch you can imagine, from Homicide to Guns and Gangs to White Collar Crime.  He has even gone undercover.  Some of my colleagues worked on very high profile cases, like the Bernardo case.  I’ve spoken with the investigator who elicited the murder confession from former Colonel Russell Williams.

I now spend a large portion of my day building block towers and reading Barnyard Dance*.

I realized recently that I still needed to work and to give back, despite my decision to stay home with my daughter.  I’m not going back to teaching right away, but I have found a way to contribute that, I think, would work for a lot of parents in my position.  I joined the Board of Directors for a local non-profit organization.

This is why I think volunteering on a Board of Directors is a great idea for parents in a similar situation:

1) The hours are parent-friendly.  Meetings are usually in the evening and are typically held once (maybe twice) a month.  This is quite manageable, even if you have young children at home.

2) Giving back to the community is important.  It also sets a good example for kids.  I want C to be a responsible, involved citizen one day.

3) It’s a way to keep some work-related skills up to date.  It can combat the dreaded baby-brain that sometimes goes along with stay-at-home parenthood.

4) It’s a small step toward making the community a better place for the next generation.  This was always important to me but it has become even more so since having C.

I realize that not every stay-at-home parent is able to make this sort of commitment, but if you are, please consider it.  It’s a great way to give back.

*Barnyard Dance is an excellent book, the first 250 times you read it.

Dubrovnik in October

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I’m continuing to blog about past travels because Pete is steadfast in his refusal to travel with a baby.  This is my method for dealing with my travel bug.

We went to Croatia on our honeymoon in October of 2010.  We chose Croatia because:

a) I wanted to go to Europe

b) we wanted to go somewhere warmish

c) we wanted to go somewhere neither of us had been before.

Croatia was an easy decision.  I had always wanted to see Dubrovnik, and Pete had been to neighbouring Slovenia and really liked it.  We had a winner!

Croatia was an easy decision. Look at the gorgeousness.

We travelled the last week of October because I was teaching college at the time, and that was my Reading Week.  We spent a week there, and saw as much of the country as we could in that very short time.

After a three-hour layover in Vienna where we ate some chewy airport strudel and attempted to nap, we landed in Dubrovnik.

Airport strudel is never a good choice

It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  We had left snow behind in Canada and arrived to temperatures in the mid-twenties.  Just warm enough for short sleeves without being too hot.  Heavenly.

T-shirt weather! In late October!

We had made arrangements to stay in private accommodations we found through our Lonely Planet guidebook.  Our host, Marija, was warm and friendly, and took us to her home on the side of the hill overlooking the walled city.  Her house was similar to a B&B, but we had a separate entrance and we had the use of her gardenside outdoor kitchen.  Note to self: our next house must have an outdoor kitchen.

That first day we wandered (in our jet-lagged stupor) around the city and enjoyed some beer on a patio, which was outside Dubrovnik’s city walls, overlooking the Adriatic.

Beer on a patio overlooking the Adriatic

As we soaked up the sun and the view, we saw a cruise ship* begin to pass.  We patio-dwellers were snapping photos of it while the cruisers were snapping photos of us.

The Costa Serena sailing toward Italy

The next day, Pete and I woke up to much colder temperatures, cloudy skies, and drizzle.  Not a big deal, except that this weather stuck around for the rest of the trip.  Bye bye t-shirts!  Thanks, sister, for lending me your rain pants!

Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street

Despite the weather, we really enjoyed exploring Dubrovnik.  What really struck me about the city is that although it is a picture-perfect walled city, it is a living city.  Often, cities this beautiful are full of tourists but few residents, due to the cost of living, or to inconvenience (think Venice).  But Dubrovnik is a vibrant place.  Walking along the city walls, you can see into apartments and rooftop terraces.  There are schools, playgrounds and soccer fields for the children.

Basketball court within Dubrovnik’s city walls

Dubrovnik’s vitality is all the more stunning considering how badly it was shelled during the civil war.

A photo displaying the damage Dubrovnik suffered during the civil war

I won’t linger too long on the topic of the civil war here, because it has been well covered elsewhere, but Pete and I did visit museums detailing the impact of the war.  I highly recommend War Photo Limited, a war photography museum in the old city.  It is curated by a former photojournalist and it is excellent.  It is a difficult museum to visit, but it is moving and will leave you impressed by the strength and resilience of the Croatian people.

View of the harbour from the city walls

After taking in the museums and historical sites, we spent time wandering around the city.  Although it was a cool evening, the city is absolutely breathtaking at night.  We got lost more than a few times in the labyrinthine alleys of the old town.

Our honeymoon was off to a lovely start.

Happy travels, everyone.

* I later realized that this ship was the Costa Serena, the sister ship of the ill-fated and now infamous Costa Concordia.

Two Tired Parents Go to a Lecture

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Last night, Pete and I went to a lecture at the Craigleith Ski Club.  It was organized by the Georgian Triangle Lifelong Learning Institute.  The GTLLI offers courses to members (mostly retirees) wanting to expand their horizons, but once a year, they put on a special event like this one.  In 2011, when I was pregnant with C, we went to a lecture by former Canadian ambassador to the UN Paul Heinbecker (who was one of my professors in grad school) and we were, by far, the youngest people there.  Still, it was a fantastic lecture and there were very delicious snacks afterwards.

We were excited to get tickets to this year’s event.  This time, we were not the youngest people there (damn you, hip twenty-something couple!) but we felt like we might be the exhaustedest (not a real word).  You might argue that octogenarians are likely more tired than even the most frazzled new parents, but we were the first people rushing out of the ski club so that we could be in bed by 9:15.  So, I stand by my statement.

Last night’s lecture was by CBC journalist Brian Stewart, who was a foreign correspondent for decades and is perhaps best known for his coverage of the Ethiopian famine.  His CBC crew introduced the world to Birhan Woldu, the little girl who would become the face of the famine.

Birhan Woldu in 1984; Brian Stewart; Birhan Woldu in 2004.
Photos via Make Poverty History

Stewart’s lecture, Hope Out of Ruins: Human Endurance in an Age of Crises, was an optimistic take on the state of the world.  Stewart believes that despite what the media would have us believe, there has never been a period in human history with more stability, tolerance and peace than this one.  Coming from a man who has covered some of the most devastating catastrophes of the last several decades, it was an uplifting message.  Stewart was careful, however, to warn that our 24/7 news cycle and short attention spans are compromising our ability to understand our world.

For instance, we are more likely to think that crime rates are rising in this country, when they are, in fact, falling.  When the news media cover violent crimes, they don’t point out that such crimes are rare.  The fact that they are rare is the reason why they are being featured on the news in the first place.  An event is considered “newsworthy” when it is extraordinary.  I used to use this famous example when teaching my policing students about crime rates: if 1 airplane out of 10,000 leaving a particular airport crashes, the headline will not be “9,999 planes land safely.”  This is by no means a critique of the news media, it simply illustrates that we see the noteworthy, extraordinary events on the news.  The problem with this is that we become so accustomed to seeing these events nightly that we begin to think that they are a lot more commonplace than they are.  By every measure currently in use, crime rates have been steadily falling in Canada for several years.  Yet the high-profile shootings in Toronto and the horrific case of alleged murderer Luka Rocco Magnotta lead the public to believe we’re living in a more violent time.

Brian Stewart pointed out that we are facing a dilemma.  We are living in a relatively stable, peaceful time, but we are more pessimistic and cynical because of our constant exposure to negative media coverage of current events.

Stewart mentioned dozens of encouraging developments, the fact that dictatorships have fallen across most of Europe and much of South America, that all but one African country hold elections, and that human rights are increasingly respected while our tolerance for war has markedly diminished.  What to do about this cynicism was left for us to ponder.

It was a great evening; an intellectually stimulating date night.  And we were in bed by 9:30.