Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas letters

Christmas virtual bouquet
I have been writing form Christmas letters since 1986 when I had a really bad year and didn't want to keep writing bad news over and over so I thought this way I could write it once, photocopy, and send.  Then it became a habit-I threatened to quit doing it but I actually had people tell me I wrote the best Christmas letters.  It became one more Christmas tradition.  Now with email and Facebook it really seems redundant.  Also if you want to put nice coloured pictures in it, it is expensive to reproduce.  My letters tended to run to three pages which also makes it difficult to stuff in with a small Christmas card.

I could just email it off as most people have internet, but now that I have become the recipient of Christmas letters, I know that it is nice to have them on real paper to read I guess.

Now that I am retired, I seem to have blogs galore (just check the side of this blog) where I post pictures of Vancouver and of my trips farther afield.  I also am a bit addicted to Facebook sharing pictures daily.  So the whole Christmas letter writing process didn't really thrill me this year.  I whipped the letter off and managed to keep it to one page.  If anyone wanted coloured pictures they could check my blogs, and I had ideas of doing a better version that I could email.  Well it is now December 17th and that hasn't happened yet-it may happen today but not sure about that.

the day I was having my annual Christmas party
last year there was a snowstorm
Last night I worked on writing my Christmas cards.  And somehow it just seemed like such a chore, something just to get done.  I reread my Christmas letter-definitely not the best and I seem to have a lack of adjectives, lovely being used at least five times.  As a teacher I probably would have given it a C+ if that.  Just thinking-I think in the past writing the Christmas letter was a bit of a fun change of scene after writing report cards

And then there are the cards-I always buy my Christmas cards at post Christmas sales.  I try to buy nice ones, but somehow they seem to be small, hard to cram papers into those envelopes.  I keep thinking of doing my own and last year did all my overseas ones digitally (and that will probably happen again).  This is time consuming to produce the first one but the recipients get them as real cards and I don't even have to put a stamp on them.

I have been torn between actually getting the Christmas cards to people before Christmas or doing them more thoroughly and mailing them after Christmas.  And when I was teaching I often ended up writing them late-i think one of the best jobs  I did was the time I was writing them on the ferry on a beautiful Christmas Day going to Victoria.  I could justify my late cards because that way you got a personal note as well as that infamous Christmas letter.

my dining room looking Christmasy
Last year I had to take my car in for something and I was writing them in the waiting room at the Acura dealership-they provide cookies and coffee and The View so why not.  There is also a big coffee table and a nice sofa so I could spread myself out.  They might find it a bit odd if I just sat there when my car wasn't there though.  Writing them last night in front of some Christmas movie didn't seem to be working too well.

Well this is a warm up so I will let you know if I come to a resolution but right now I think it's time for coffee and an ocean walk!  Meanwhile Merry Christmas!

I actually do read Adult Books…the latest Ian McEwan novels, Sweet Tooth and The Children's Act

Sometimes when people ask me what I am reading I have to think… I used to read a book a week, sometimes less when I was teaching, and sometimes more.  I think I thought I would read more when I retired but that hasn't actually happened.  One problem may be the accessibility to all sorts of reading due to wifi and iPads and iPhones making it all so portable.  Now I do read books on my iPad especially when I am on holiday, but I still like real books.  Thinking about it, I think for me non fiction or something light works best as ibooks.

Anyway I seem to be back into reading.  It must be these dark nights and short days!  So here's a bit of what I have been reading in the last couple of weeks!

The Children's Act is Ian McEwan's latest book.  I am generally a fan and I love listening to him being interviewed because he is always just so interesting.  I had heard quite a bit about The Children's Hour before I read it.  And that is not always an advantage.

The last book of his that I had read was Solar which I really liked despite the both obnoxious main character  imaginable.  This time I couldn't help but wonder about his choice of a heroine or rather why he wanted to write in the voice of a woman.  I am still not sure I really am totally convinced by Fiona but that didn't stop me really enjoying this book.  Fiona is a a family court judge whose husband has just announced he wants to have an affair which makes her want him out of her marriage.  I guess that would put your nice safe life in jeopardy.  And then  she gets a case where a teenage boy not yet 18  has leukaemia and is supposed to have a blood transfusion but his family are Jevohah Witnesses.  She goes to visit the boy and discovers him to be an intelligent musically talented young man.  She does rule in favour of him having the blood transfusion and there are of course, unexpected results.

I liked how we saw into the world of judges.  I also like how Fiona feels confident about her ability to make good judgements until things begin to go very wrong first in her personal life and then it affects her professional life.

I recently heard an interview with a retired Ontario Supreme Court Chief Justice again looking at how hard it is to deal with some cases and coping mechanisms.

I think one thing I like about McEwan's books is how they make me think, question, as his characters are forced to do (well generally).

Since I was on a bit of an Ian McEwan roll, I started reading Sweet Tooth which actually he had written earlier.  I had read the first chapter as a preview on Ibooks, and it didn't grab me enough for me to want to buy it.  I heard him interviewed about the book and that was interesting.  At the library, I saw a copy of Sweet Tooth, and thought I would try again.  This time I am half way through and felt as if I needed a break.  I find myself wondering why McEwan keeps writing from the perspective of women. If I had difficulty seeing Fiona as three dimensional, I definitely have even more difficulty relating to Selena.  If I didn't like the main character in Solar, in some ways I think I like Selena even less.  And I just don't know anyone quite like her, but of course, since I don't really care for this fictional character, I guess I wouldn't be seeking out a real life version.

Selena, apparently quite beautiful and the daughter of a bishop,  ends up taking Maths and not doing particularly well,  at Cambridge (to strangely please her mother) although she would much prefer to be studying English.  She becomes involved with a young man who introduces her to one of his professors, and then she has an affair with this older married man.  He serves as a bit of a mentor to her and encourages her to enter the civil service, but after preparing her for this, rather unceremoniously dumps her much to her shock.  Confused and for her, heart broken, she does get a job in the civil service or rather to be exact MI5, in a branch that has one project fighting communism by infiltrating the intellectual world.  Her particular mark is a young writer whom she tells she works for a foundation that is encouraging young writers and will enable him to write without having to teach.  She reads some of his short stories before meeting him and is quite enamoured by his writing.  We get the replay of these short stories.  Currently they have embarked on an affair.  There is also a strand running that implies her mentor was a double agent.  It also comes out that he knew he had cancer when he broke things off with her.

It all seems so sleazy and far fetched-but no doubt based in truth.  It is interesting in that the setting is the early 70's and Selena is roughly my age.  Anyway as I write this I think I will return to finish reading the book.

I did finish the book.  And I got my explanation about why this book was written from my female perspective.  A bit of a surprise ending, but once again I have to appreciate McEwan's cleverness.  I also understood more about why we had to read summations of her mark's short stories and novella.  Apparently, these have plots similar to McEwan's own early work.  Using the work did  all made sense which I do appreciate when I come to the end of a book.  It had that quality of the spy novel of having to figure out what is real, not real.

It made me want to read more about this subject and era.  I found some things almost unbelievable in this book but life can be quite unbelievable so… And I actually did like Selena better by the end of the book as she "wrestled" with her conscience.  We also seemed to have been reading the same books then.  I also enjoyed going back to 1973/74 in Great Britain.  I actually was there in the late summer of 1974 for over a month but not sure how aware I was.  It struck me that life was a lot economically more difficult there than in Canada, but I really wasn't very well versed on British politics, more aware of North American politics.  I was basically skimming along as a tourist.  The England described in Sweet Tooth seems kind of grim while I had a certain feeling of that but as a North American felt the glitter and the history.

Now I just checked and McEwan is younger so was actually only a teenager in this time period. Hmm… Also a reviewer thought this was one of his happiest novels, well I found the mood rather bleak.

But  yes, in the end, Sweet Tooth, was well worth reading as was The Children's Act.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Two new alphabet picture books-Once Upon An Alphabet and Take Away the A, An Alphabeast of a book

I had a very nice time at Kidsbooks this week checking out some of the new picture books.  I am a lover of picture books and it is always fun to see new ones.

Once Upon An Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers has great short stories for all the letters.  Jeffers had a run away hit with The Day the Crayons Quit, and I liked this one as well.  How creative he is!  I loved this video about his creative process!  Even with older kids I think it would be fun to talk about the elements of a short story and have them create a short story about an alphabet letter.  A great starting point might be to read The Day the Crayons Quit for a bit of inspiration.  After that it would be great to share Jeffers' alphabet stories.  Or you could even read the A story and then have them pick a letter to work on…
Here is a sample from the book,
"Victor was used to being victorious.
But recently he was defeated
and retreated into hiding under
stairs where he sits, plotting
his vengeance"

And again there is a whole story which could be elaborated by the students-how was he defeated, by whom, and how we he get his revenge???  Lots of possibilities with this book!!!

Another fun alphabet book is Take Away the A, An Alphabeast of a book!  This one is written by Michael Escoffier  and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo.  And to give you a taste here is a video!

It is really clever and imaginative as you see the bride without a b go for a ride on a ferris wheel or a a chair without a c grow hair.  An aunt without a u becomes an ant.  This is a book that can really encourage word play and imagination.  The illustrations are totally wonderful.  I can see kids having fun coming up with their own Take Away the _____  Also with younger children a great way to get them to really notice letters and the differences they make!

I have more books to share so stay tuned!!!