Good Reads (Mostly)

I’m running out of names for book posts. Pretty sure I’ve used this one before. Anyway, I am here with some book reviews! And still talking about books I read last year. I think I still have 20 more I want to talk about so I better get on it!

sit in the sun and read

What a dream that would be.

Back in February last year I set a goal for myself to read as many books as possible written by a person of colour, in honour of Black History Month. I think I only got through three during that month but I enjoyed them so much that I kept on with it throughout the year and read about eight more (and I hope to get through a bunch more this year). This book is one of them:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Holy moly, this was so good. I think this book needs to be required reading for white people. It was amazing and I’m pretty sure it changed my life. Well, that might be giving it a lot of credit, but it certainly will stick with me for a long time, and it did change my perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement (or just additional perspective maybe). It also opened my eyes to aspects of my own white privilege that I never before considered. Yes of course all lives matter, but, being a white person, I have never been made to feel as if my life didn’t matter.

When I was growing up it was definitely instilled in me that if I’m ever in trouble I should look for a police officer, because they will keep me safe and protect me. The (black) protagonist of this book, Starr (who I absolutely adored as a character), did not have the same experience. She got an entirely different message from her parents — about how to behave around police officers so she didn’t attract suspicion and get arrested, or worse, shot. This was very eye opening to me. It wasn’t something I ever had to worry about, and therefore never thought about.

As well as being an important, poignant story, it was so well-written, incredibly emotional, and I couldn’t put it down. The book is super hyped right now, but I think it lived up to it. Of all the books I read this year, this is the one that is unforgettable. I can’t think of a single flaw. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Just incredible, and I give it all the stars! If you read one book this year, make it this one!

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Synopsis:

Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.

This book is dubbed Hillbilly Noir, which uh, what? Interesting. That’s a genre I had never heard of before but was intrigued by the sounds of. And I think it was pretty accurate because it seemed like The Godfather, Hillbilly Edition. I’m not sure this is a book I would normally pick up but it was recommended to me a while ago by one of my lovely blog readers! And I’m so glad, because it was so good! Surprising when I think about it because the book is dark, grim, angry, and I don’t think there is a single happy moment. But the story was gripping and interesting and unputdownable in a different way than The Hate U Give. Mountains, moonshine, drugs and dysfunctional families, so you know, good times all around. 4 stars from me. Highly recommend.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Synopsis:

When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users’ personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can’t believe her great fortune to work for them – even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public.

Ugh. Awful. I realllly wanted to like this, I thought it was going to be right up my alley. But alas, no. I gave it two stars because I thought it was a great idea and it had so much potential, but then it was all just squandered. Mae was such a weird character. I just wanted to shake her and be like “WHY ARE YOU SUDDENLY OKAY WITH THIS?!” She seemed so out of character for much of the book, but maybe that was just her character: unpredictable in a very annoying way. It really bothered me that she kept referring to her ex-boyfriend as a fat ass and fat f*ck. Excuse you! Also, this book gave me a lot of anxiety when I was reading it — I felt like I was at work! Mae goes into such tedious detailing describing her daily tasks, and every single step she takes to do her job, that I felt like I was there, working. I do not need to hear about every message you respond to and every tiny task you accomplish. I would say a good third of the book was just Mae describing her work day, it was so repetitive. Ugh, and all the social media she needed to keep up with. It distressed me. It got to the point where I couldn’t read it before bed because it made me feel too anxious. And just when you think the book might redeem itself, the ending is terrible. Actually I think I’m going to go back and change my Goodreads review to one star. I really disliked.

I thought the movie was a bit better because, first of all, Emma Watson, and they changed the most annoying things about the book. I remember texting my coworker (we had vented about the book together at length) and saying “this movie is like the book I wanted to read!” And thankfully they changed the ending a bit. Still though, when we were watching it Evan turned to me and said “WHY IS MAE SUDDENLY OKAY WITH THIS?!” I know, right?! Anyway, I don’t really recommend. Life is too short to waste time on this book. The movie though, watch that.

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Synopsis:

A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

I really need to review books just after I read them because I gave this four stars on Goodreads and now I can’t remember why. I listened to it as an audiobook and I remember that it was a quick and fun read (listen) and it made me laugh a few times, but I don’t remember a lot of details. I like Anna Kendrick though and I enjoyed hearing her narrate it, probably much more than I would have enjoyed actually reading it. I enjoyed her weirdness. Oh and I liked that she was open and frank about a lot of taboo things, like sex.

Sorry, this is a pretty useless review. It was fine but not memorable.

The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy, the Shocking Inside Story

Synopsis:

Ann Rule was a writer working on the biggest story of her life, tracking down a brutal mass-murderer. Little did she know that Ted Bundy, her close friend, was the savage slayer she was hunting.

Evan and I listened to this as an audiobook on a long drive to a friend’s cottage in the summer, and we got through it in a few hours so I’d say it’s a quick read. Ann Rule was the narrator, and I will say that she’s a bit weird and not exactly the best writer or narrator in general BUT. We both really enjoyed the story because HOLY it’s crazy!! I am an avid listener to My Favorite Murder (yes, I am a murderino! And we have a crazy, scary but fascinating serial killer case happening in Toronto right now — the murderer, who is a landscaper, has been hiding dismembered body parts in people’s planters in the city!!!! Horrifying) and although I knew about Ted Bundy, I didn’t really know the details until Karen did it on the MFM podcast. That made me want to read this, and Evan listens to MFM as well so I knew he would enjoy, too. The book went even further into the Bundy details, and it was super interesting and fascinating. And of course, as you would expect, heartbreaking and horrifying. Though it was very matter of fact, not told in an emotional way. I can’t believe how many women he killed and that he got away with it for so long! I also did not realize that he broke out of jail and killed more girls! Ahh he was such a monster.

I do feel, however, that Ann was a bit of a Ted groupie and almost admired him, so that was weird. Anyway, if you like true crime I recommend!

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15 Life Lessons I Learned from my Nana

This week marked one year since we lost my beautiful, wonderful, fantastic 102- (and a half!) year-old Nana.

I can’t believe it’s already been a year, and at the same time I feel like it’s been forever since I last saw her. If you know me, or if you’ve followed my blog for a while, you probably know that we were very close and she meant a lot to me.

I feel so very lucky to have had her in my life for as long as I did. She was such an incredible person and taught me — and our entire family — many important life lessons over the years. And she taught these by example, not by preaching to us, just by living her life.  I can only hope to be half the woman she was.

These are the biggest lessons she left us with (there are so many and I know I’m leaving some out, but I hope to do her justice!).

15 Be generous.

Nana had a large heart and her generous love knew no bounds. She housed us, not only our family, but our friends, her neighbours, their friends. She would host my friends and I at her house in Toronto for weeks at a time. She opened her home to anyone who needed somewhere to stay and even had boarders for many years, figure skaters who were training on Team Canada and needed somewhere to live in Toronto. She cooked for us, pierogies, cabbage rolls, pizza, lasagne, and so much more, and she baked us elaborate cakes for our birthdays, filled with change that she scrubbed, dried and then wrapped in wax paper.

My brother Eric, Dawn and I back in 1998, with a famous Nana cake

She gave us all $200 for our birthdays, slipped us cash when we didn’t have money, or just because (or if she felt we should buy ourselves $50 worth of chips and gingerale…treat yo’self!). When I moved out on my own she bought oranges and cookies and cheese and paper towel and whatever else was on sale at the grocery store and made care packages for me. When she moved into a nursing home she saved whatever random assortment of goods she acquired (cookies saved from meals stored in Ziplock bags, socks won at Bingo, pens, stickers, Werthers Originals, etc.) and continued with the care packages, giving me whatever she could manage. She gave and gave and gave and gave, right until the very end. She loved endlessly, and she sacrificed to make sure that her family came first.

14 Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

This is cliche, but it’s a big one. People ask me all the time what Nana’s secret was, how she lived so long, looked so great, and was still so spry until the end. It was undoubtedly her positive attitude. My Nana was truly THE most positive person, and this was despite experiencing many hardships throughout her long life. She lived through two world wars (born during the first) and the Great Depression. Her mother died of the Spanish Flu when Nana was very young, leaving her father to care for her and her younger brother and two-month-old sister (she had an older sister who still lived in the Ukraine and she wasn’t reunited with her until years later).

As her father needed to work to support his family, Nana was often left with neighbours, friends, anyone who could watch her, and these people were not always kind to her or took good care of her. She gave birth to my dad three months early in the 50s and he nearly died. She ran a busy restaurant in Toronto on Yonge Street for many years, which you bet was a stressful situation. Her husband died 34 years before her, of lung cancer, and she never took off that wedding ring.

After all of these things, and who knows how many more little things, she was the most positive, uplifting person, and she never dwelled on the past. Maybe her less-than-perfect life allowed her to put things into perspective? I don’t know, but I don’t think I ever saw her without a smile on her face.

As she would always say to me, “Don’t worry, you’re beautiful!” (which of course does not solve anything, but never failed to make me feel better).

13 The biggest power you wield is forgiveness.

Nana forgave. She knew that forgiveness is for our own growth and happiness, and it is forgiveness that allows you to be happy in the present. She understood that when you hold onto anger and resentment, it harms you more than the person who caused it. The only person in the world you have control over is yourself, and you can control how you let situations and people and things affect you. You have the power of forgiveness.

12 It is up to you to make the best of any situation. 

At 96 when Nana had to leave her apartment and move into a nursing home,  it was not her favourite, BELIEVE ME. She had been living it up independently for years, and she absolutely mourned that loss. But she knew the nursing home was the best place for her. She embraced it, and focused on the good things — meals made for her! Cookies at every meal! Friends! Games! And of course, the care she needed. She kept as much independence as she could while living there, and for a while even did her own laundry to keep a sense of normalcy. She went to all the activities, Bingo, table bowling, mystery word (which is a game I still don’t understand). She made friends. She did whatever she could to make it enjoyable for herself. When Elvis came to the nursing home’s annual family BBQ, she was all over it.

She went to the dining room for every meal and she always looked her best before going. Which brings me to…

11 Always make an effort to look your best. 

It’s about feeling good about yourself. Nana took pride in how she presented herself. She woke up early every morning and would get ready, washing up and doing her makeup, including lipstick, to go down for breakfast in the nursing home. Even at 102. Even at 102 she was still getting manicures and having her hair done! She always looked like a million bucks.

10 Thoughtful gifts are the best gifts.

Nana didn’t care about receiving gifts from us, but she sure cared about cards! She saved every card anyone had ever gotten her in a photo album. And she loved reading the messages on them. For holidays all she ever asked for from me was photos of me.

Giving cards was also just as important to her, and she prided herself on finding that perfect card. And she would always add the same message: May all your dreams come true. With love, Nana.” And stickers. She always added her own stickers.

Later in the nursing home if she couldn’t get out to get a card, no problem, she just regifted a card that some random child had made for her.

She just whited out the name to make it her own.

When I was younger I was big into Babysitter’s Little Sister and then the Babysitter’s Club books. Nana kept an updated list of all the book  numbers that I currently owned and for every holiday she would buy me a few of the books I still needed to add to my collection. Unwrapping a fresh Babysitter’s Club Super Special that I hadn’t yet read on Christmas morning was THE BEST.

9 Sometimes you’re just going to have to take care of things yourself.

She didn’t like the fan on in the hallway outside of her room in the nursing home because it would make her room cold, and when the nurses left it on she took matters into her own hands. She dragged a chair out of her room, stood on it, and turned it off herself. At 100 years old. One time we were walking through her nursing room hallway and there was a resident in a wheelchair blocking the way. They weren’t moving, so rather than wait it out, Nana picked up her walker to chest height, carried it past the person blocking the way, put it back down and continued walking with it. It was incredible.

8 When the odds seem against you, don’t give up.

When Nana was 99 she fell and broke her hip. We worried it was the beginning of the end. The doctors warned us that she would probably never walk again and to prepare ourselves for the worst. But she just couldn’t have that. She said that she told herself that she WOULD walk again, she WILLED herself to walk, and she was walking again in the hospital the day after her hip surgery! No one could believe it.

She had another fall on her bum just before her 100th birthday party and was not feeling the best the day before her party, but when my aunt told her that she needed to perk up because a lot of people were coming to celebrate her big milestone, she somehow just snapped back to normal!

Again, I think she just willed herself.

7 It’s okay to get dirty, in the kitchen or the garden.

You need to get your hands dirty to insert love into everything!

6 It’s important to be able to laugh at yourself.

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My friend Emily went to see Nana in the nursing home when she was about 8 months pregnant and Nana had a moment of confusion, thinking Emily was me and I was the one who was pregnant! It was quite a surprise. When she realized it was Emily and not me she laughed and laughed. When I saw her next she was still laughing at her mistake. Nana had no problem making fun of herself, and that is a quality I admire.

5 Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. 

Nana was incredibly food-oriented and was always making food for us. Banana splits before bed whenever I slept over at her house is one of my favourite memories. One of my first blog posts was about Nana’s love of food! One time I asked what she had for breakfast in the nursing home and she responded: porridge, toast, eggs, yogurt, coffee, and orange juice. Yes, this is for sure where I inherited my love of food. Also there are five ingredients that make everything taste better: butter, salt, garlic, sugar, and of course, love.

Also, there is room for wine in any diet. Or a mimosa on your 100th birthday.

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4 Enjoy the little things. They can bring you so much joy.

Cards, cookies, books, the Y&R (she watched it faithfully for years and years), horoscopes, Turtles, afternoon tea, dessert, the love of your family. Well, that last one is a big thing but Nana lived for all the little things and again I think this is why she lived for so long. She always had something to look forward to!

3 Moisturize moisturize moisturize!!!!

She was ALL about moisturizing and credited her amazing skin at 102 to her moisturizer (she used Olay if anyone is wondering, their cheapest most basic one!). I’m crossing my fingers it’s genes but you better believe I’m still moisturizing.

2 Love as long as you live.

Nana lived for the love of her family and she told us and showed us how much she loved us every chance she got. When I think of Nana, love is the first word that comes to my mind.

1 Carry on.

When something seemed insurmountable, when Nana was in pain (she was frequently in pain during her last year or so) she would always say “Well, I’ll just carry on.” It almost became her motto, carry on.

When things seem overwhelming to me, I ask myself what Nana would say, and it would be to carry on. Life is going to be real shitty sometimes. It’s all I can do, it’s all any of us can do, just carry on.

I am no expert at putting any of these lessons into practice, but I hope I have a long life ahead of me to get better at it. I’m so thankful to my Nana for being such a great example and for giving me a solid foundation. It is her legacy to all of us.

(if you enjoyed reaching about Nana, this post about all the reasons she is the best ever is my favourite!)

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Algonquin Park Minimoon

Since it’s freezing outside, let’s reminisce about things that happened back in the summer!

Okay, I’ve been meaning to write about this for months and just kept putting it off for whatever reason. But here I am. Back in July, Evan and I went on a mini honeymoon to celebrate that whole wedding thing we did in the spring (twice).

We initially wanted to go to Greece for our honeymoon (neither of us have been), but the timing wasn’t right for us to take an additional 1-2 weeks off after the 10 days we spent in Cuba for the wedding. And I can’t even say that Cuba was a wedding and a honeymoon all in one since we had 35 people with us and didn’t really spend any time just the two of us. So, we’ve decided to do Greece this May (I am so excited and basically spend all my free time right now planning that!) and instead we did a minimoon, a romantic three night vacay at the Couples Resort in Algonquin Park (not to be confused with a couples retreat!).

Ugh, summer. Come back to me.

The Couples Resort came highly recommended by several friends of ours so we figured we would give it a try. Even though it sounds sort of cheesy to me — actually the whole couples concept is sort of cheesy, but we just embraced it. It’s like a cottage resort, on the shore of Galeairy Lake in Whitney, Ontario, just outside of Algonquin Park (the biggest provincial park in Ontario if you are not familiar), right in the wilderness. And right up our alley! Give me all the swimming and hiking and leisuring. We had such a fun weekend. And thankfully weather-wise it was one of the best weekends of the entire summer.

The Couples Resort is technically a five star resort but it’s definitely on the rustic side and I can’t lie, it’s slightly past its glory years. We had read a bunch of reviews so we knew this going in. Truthfully it just added to the charm for us. We got the most basic room, the junior suite, which still had a king-sized bed, a huge double jacuzzi, a wood burning fireplace, and a full hot tub on the private balcony that overlooked the lake.

Yes, yes and yes. That’s pretty much all I need in life so I was a happy camper. Er, resorter.

Let’s break it down by all the things they have going on.

Food

First of all, the food. This is what sold us on the resort. It has an on-site restaurant in the main lodge, and breakfast AND dinner are actually included in your booking price. It’s very handy, and the food is SO, SO good. Especially dinner. A five course meal with so many different options, and everything I tried was amazing. You can also bring in your own bottle of wine with no corkage fee (*when we went but I hear they’re implementing this), or you can buy drinks extra. We brought wine with us but we were honeymooning and I wanted cocktails!

I should also mention that dinner is fancy. They require cocktail attire in the dining room, and men have to wear ties (when we were there, I think recently they changed it to a dress shirt with a jacket). I actually loved this because it gave us a reason to dress up.

Dinner is a full two to three hour affair, you choose an amuse bouche, a soup or salad, an appetizer, a main and a dessert…each! Normally Evan and I speed right through eating, so it was nice to take our time and enjoy. And people watch (this resort was overall fantastic for people-watching — some of the best I’ve seen, but that’s a whole other story).

There is a staple menu and then Chef’s specials that change daily. They also have a huge garden on site where they grow their own fresh vegetables and herbs. Oh it was all so good. Here’s a sample of what we ordered.

Melted smoked gorgonzola and dried fig in a wafer cup.

Red beets, fennel, watercress with crumbled goat cheese and chive oil.

Tomato garden vegetable soup.

Oven roasted chicken supreme with a curry sauce, creamy coconut risotto, baked tomato.

Carrot cake. Maybe the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten.

I also realllllly enjoyed their blueberry creme brulee.

On our second night Evan and I decided to stay in and order room service, so we could eat in our fluffy hotel robes. You order off the same menu, you just put your order in earlier in the day and let them know what time you want your meal delivered. We chose 7:30 and at 7:29 this deliciousness came knocking on our door:

Poached shrimp for our amuse; pork belly; watermelon salad with cress, cucumber, goat cheese cherry tomatoes, creamy cassis dressing; chicken supreme with basil dijon sauce; steak with a dark ale sauce, double smoked bacon confit potato, steamed broccolini; and for dessert citrus pie with blood orange cream in a graham tartlet and a mocha raspberry cheesecake. Again, amazing.

We ate sooo well and it was so nice that it was included because you could just go to town on whatever you wanted. I felt spoiled. Breakfast was great too, but the typical breakfast foods. Lunch was not included (though you could pay for lunch in the dining room) but I found I was never really hungry for lunch anyway. We brought good snacks (room had a fridge) and one day we went hiking so we brought a picnic lunch.

One thing I should mention… Before we left I read reviews on TripAdvisor and many mentioned the inexperience of the servers — that they were just high school kids who also did other jobs around the resort during the day, that they weren’t trained on fine dining and at a five star resort you should have higher calibre servers. This was true (I saw our server loaning out kayaks the next day), but didn’t bother us. I thought it was great that the resort had teenagers working there, because as someone who grew up in the middle of nowhere, I remember how hard it was to find a job near me! I thought our server was really sweet. Then at the end of our meal when I said I was full she nodded sympathetically and said “oh yeah, food baby?” and uhh, well, that kind of comment would probably really irritate the people who are writing about the servers being untrained on fine dining.

I did have a food baby though, thanks for sympathizing.

Activities

So many activities! These are all included in your booking price, you don’t have to pay extra. There are tons of bikes to borrow so we got our adventure on and took out a tandem bike.

Oh romaaaaaantic. There are many trails in the area and we took this puppy down an old railway trail for a couple hours. Things got a little hairy when we encountered deep sand we needed to ride through, but it was a good time. I just repeatedly sang “It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage, but you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two!” Evan liked.

As far as watersports go, they had all the things. Stand up paddle boards, canoes, kayaks, paddle boats. etc. We took a kayak out and explored the lake for a few hours.

It really is a beautiful lake.

Equally fun was sitting on our balcony and watching some guy try to stand up on a paddle board for the first time.

They also have horseback riding (costs extra, we didn’t go for it), and in the winter snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

We of course spent a lot of time on our balcony, in that amazing hot tub, with a few drinks.

And leisuring by the pool, also with a few drinks.

And swimming!

The water was over my head at the end of the dock, which meant much diving.

Porpoising with the Porpoise 🐬

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There are also firepits by the lake, so we spent some time around those in the evening.

There’s also a big games room with shuffleboard, pool, foosball, etc. that we hit up a few times after dinner. Evan is a natural at shuffleboard, because of course he is.

One night we just sat in our in-room jacuzzi and watched The Great Outdoors on Netflix from there. It was great.

I should also mention there is an on-site museum, mostly filled with past hotel guestbooks and photos, but it’s been open since like the 50s or something, so it was interesting. There’s also an onsite gallery, where one of the owners, Gertrud Sorensen, does her landscape paintings. We wandered over there one day and Gertrud was actually in her gallery painting! We chatted with her for a bit while we looked at all her amazing work. She’s in her 80s and was so cute. She was saying that she was waiting for inspiration to strike her. Afterwards we went outside and the gallery happens to be located near the private villas and we could clearly hear a couple uh, loudly enjoying each other, so we were like “OH okay, this is where she gets her inspiration.” 😉 If you’re inspired by love I guess you can’t pick a better setting!

Hiking

There are hiking trails right on the grounds of the Couples Resort, but your booking also includes passes to Algonquin Park, the creme de la creme of hiking! We took advantage of that and had a big hiking day. We started with the Lookout Trail.

Evan is all about the guidebooks.

He picked one up and read it aloud to me in his tour guide voice as we walked the trail.

It’s fairly easy but mostly uphill until you get up to what the trail is named for, the lookout!

It was quite the lookout, and maaaan this would be pretty in the fall.

After that hike we had our picnic lunch at Opeongo Lake before heading to the Spruce Bog Boardwalk Trail.

Pretty, pretty. I liked. Very easy and flat hike.

Overall we really enjoyed the Couples Resort. It is expensive but I think it’s pretty good value for money when you consider all the things that are included.

I would definitely recommend. And it would be fun in the winter with the fireplace, hot tub, and cross country skiing and snowshoeing included!

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Holly Jollies

Ahoy ahoy and Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday! I thought I’d pop in and talk about mine while I felt in the mood for blogging. It’s fleeting lately so if I don’t take advantage and do it now it’ll suddenly be mid-January and I won’t ever talk about it.

We had a really good Christmas! My mom came in from BC and stayed with us for 10 days, which was a real treat.

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I can’t remember the last time I spent Christmas with my mom and it was so, so nice to have her here! Evan was treating us to delicious dinners in the days leading up to Christmas.

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He’s been mastering our Instant Pot lately and making really delicious things in there, like the roast beef below.

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Serious melt-in-your-mouth going on there. That was Christmas Eve dinner, which we also had Evan’s mom over for. I love that our moms get along so well! They hit it off immediately and they’re good buddies after their week together in Cuba. Evan’s mom slept over on Christmas Eve so she could have the morning with us and then help us prep, ’cause we hosted family Christmas. It was the first time since Evan and I have been together that we weren’t traveling somewhere on Christmas day and I can’t lie, I really enjoyed it. Although, hosting is a lot of work. We had 9 people in total, which isn’t a ton, but we do live in a condo. Luckily it’s pretty big and our main living area and kitchen are very open, so space wasn’t really an issue, but we had to borrow a table from our building to to fit everyone. I didn’t even get a picture of our beautifully set table. Just the food.

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Unpictured is lentils and rice and a shrimp curry Evan’s uncle made that I loaded my plate up with after. I barely took any pictures but everything was so good and I was proud of us for pulling it together. We worked with the moms to make everything, and they mostly did the turkey while Evan and I supervised. My mom also made her stuffing recipe, which I have not had in about 15 years but have been dreaming of for just as long, so that was fantastic.

I made my Nana’s Christmas cookies!

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They are time-consuming suckers but man are they worth it. I love them so much.

So, I’d say our first time hosting Christmas was a big success.

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On Boxing Day we headed to Evan’s dad and Loulou’s with my mom for more Christmas things. It is now the arctic here and it was absolutely freezing, but we still wanted a bit of outside time on their huge and beautiful property.

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So crazy that for the past few years on Christmas I’ve been able to be outside with a light jacket on. Not this year!

We squeezed in a visit with my favourite donkey, too.

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Love that Zeke. I had really talked him up and my mom was quite excited to meet him.

Then we warmed up inside. Evan carved the turkey. He’s a pro.

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And we had Christmas dinner #2. Also delicious.

I was lucky to have the rest of the week off work, so I spent it mostly leisuring with my mom. We did some shopping, watched movies, finished the second season of the Crown, and had dinner with Evan and his mom on Wednesday. On Thursday night we all went to our pal Emily’s for my mom’s last hurrah.

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Dawn and Scarlett were with us as well, and of course Baby Marcus.

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Who I can’t get enough of.

Emily and Corey made us all an amazing pasta dinner and it was nice to just hang out for a few hours. I know my mom loved seeing them all, and overall I know she had a really great time here! I wish she lived closer (Eric too), however it is nice to have an excuse to visit beautiful BC!

It’s been extremely cold so aside from going to Orangetheory, grocery shopping, and a couple dinners out, Evan and I have been mostly hibernating. For the first time in our history we stayed in for New Year’s Eve and it was GLORIOUS. We just hung out and drank beer and played video games (we’re both into Call Of Duty WW2 right now). And it was SO NICE to wake up in our own bed on New Year’s Day. Usually we’re out and about the night before and would have stayed over at friends, so we’d still have to make our way home, and then probably nap. I feel like we got a jump start on the new year waking up at home.

And now it’s back to the grind for me today. I’m hoping it’s a quiet week at work and I can catch up on a bunch of things before things start to get crazy again. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

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All the Books

I’m almost at my 40 book goal for the year, which seems nuts. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I’m at 38 right now and still going strong so that goal is gonna be mine, all mine! I don’t want to overwhelm you with my thoughts on ALL THE BOOKS, but here’s another five I read this year (my last books post is here).

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

The synopsis is long so I won’t post it but you can read it here, and I’ll leave this quote here because I think it gives you a good idea of what you’re in for:

“Truthfully, I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing.”

Ohh, what a great book! I really enjoyed it. Definitely the best psychological thriller I’ve read this year, and I can see it sticking with me for a long time. I went into it blind, though still I guess with a subconscious idea of what it was going to be about, but it was not at all what I expected and was full of surprises. Basically the premise is that there are a certain type of people in the world who are okay to kill because they’re not good people. Obviously I am not saying that I share this point of view, but it was different from the usual narrative and I appreciated that. It got me thinking and questioning things that I had never really given thought to before. The writing style was also really good, which is always a plus. I’m not going to say much more about the story because I think it’s best if you go into the book blind like I did, but I definitely recommend.

Finding Aubrey by Sophie Kinsella

Synopsis:

Audrey can’t leave the house. she can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house.

Then her brother’s friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly, orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again – well, Starbucks is a start. And with Linus at her side, Audrey feels like she can do the things she’d thought were too scary. Suddenly, finding her way back to the real world seems achievable.

I’m not a big Sophie Kinsella fan, usually because I find her characters to be so incredibly frustrating and make the most self-sabotaging decisions that I just don’t care to read about them or the consequences (mostly her Shopaholic protagonist). But this book was refreshingly different. It was surprisingly adorable, funny, heartwarming and serious all at the same time. I found her depiction of a teenage girl living with social anxiety while she struggled to find herself realistic, and seeing how her family members dealt with it also rang true. I liked it, it was cute and a quick read with a good message.

Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Synopsis:

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

This was extremely interesting, and also terrifying. I could not help but put myself in Susannah’s situation, and thinking about my brain suddenly turning on me and making me feel increasingly paranoid, forgetful and oversensitive to light, sound, etc. (and other alarming things) was very scary. I did not even know that was possible! Also terrifying was how close her symptoms were to just being brushed off and misdiagnosed as a sudden mental illness like schizophrenia (treatable with medication but in her case that wouldn’t have made a difference).

I will say though, that the book was very heavy on information and less of an emotional story and I was looking for more of a personal connection with Susannah. I’m surprised that didn’t come across since she was telling her own story. Some of the science descriptions went over my head as well, but overall I enjoyed it. I listened to this as an audiobook, which was read by the author, and that may have added a little something for me. It’s going to be a movie so I had to read it before it came out!

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

Again a very long synopsis but you can read it here.

Ugh, this book was not for me. I love a good historical fiction and this started out very promising but it just got so melodramatic and over the top and cheesy. Sometimes I don’t mind that but the story just wasn’t juicy enough. So cutesy and twee. I found myself rolling my eyes all the way through. I’m also not usually the type to figure out the twists before they happen, but this one was not a surprise to me.

The reviews are really good overall though, so maybe I’m in the minority. One thing I did love was the setting of the Rhode Island coastline. And the cover, that drew me in when I was looking for a light summer read.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Synopsis:

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

Loved this. I’m not sure why it took me so long to read it. I’ve had this on my to-read list since I worked at Chapters over 10 years ago! It was My Favorite Murder (yes, I am a Murderino and actually saw them live in Toronto!) that spurred my interest again in picking it up.

Capote is truly a talented writer. I was so impressed with how he told this story so impartially. He was so good at relaying facts and details from all sides and he really gave you a complete picture of everyone involved, from the Clutter family, to the murderers and their families, to the investigators, to the lawyers, to the neighbours and people who lived in their community. His telling of the Clutters and their daily routine leading up to their murder was especially heartbreaking — I could get a sense of who each of them were and could picture them clear in my mind as real people. And reading from Dick and Perry’s (the murderers) perspectives was so interesting and disturbing because the entire time you’re asking yourself, why, WHY, what caused you to be this evil? And how can you sometimes seem normal? It was weird. But a really good true crime read. Highly recommend.

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Music Monday

I took an accidental blog hiatus so to ease myself back into things thought I would post a playlist. I haven’t done a Music Monday in a while and I’ve been hearing some good tunes recently so I think it’s time! Here’s some of the music I’ve been loving lately.

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Clicking on the link will take you to the song’s YouTube video.

Ahead Of Myself – X Ambassadors

Amsterdam – Nothing But Thieves

I am really loving this one.

Angela – The Lumineers

Astronaut – Sir Sly

Bottom Of The Deep Blue Sea – MISSIO (also really loving this one)

Broken Machine – Nothing But Thieves

Die Young – Sylvan Esso

Faded Heart – BØRNS

The Gold – Manchester Orchestra

High – Sir Sly

High Enough – K.Flay

Knocking At The Door – Arkells (love for Canadian music! Love that Toronto skyline in the beginning. I’m seeing them on Thursday and I’m super pumped about it!)

Live In The Moment – Portugal. The Man

Money – The Beaches

Mountain At My Gates – Foals

Now Or Never – Halsey

Remember That Night – Grouplove

Sit Next To Me – Foster The People (this one makes me so happy)

Sorry – Nothing But Thieves

The Devil You Know – X Ambassadors

Whole Wide World – Cage The Elephant

I’m always on the hunt for new tunes so if you have any recommendations I am all ears!

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