Author Archives: admin

Reminders in life

This sign hangs above my desk in my office. It pretty much covers all of life, be it business, love, relationships with other human beings, your spirituality, and even your health.

This sign hangs above my desk and when I am stressed or feeling down I look up and there it is.

A photo posted by Olga Kwak (@piratecakes) on Aug 12, 2016 at 7:50am PDT

 

It reads:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste and, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of years, gravefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

— Found in old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore; Dated 1692

There are many moments in my life when I could use this advice. Even today, as I sit here pining over this, that, and the other, I am reminded that whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. So I must be gentle with myself.

Do you ever find yourself in that mood where you feel stuck because of one thing or another isn’t going right or isn’t moving fast enough? Maybe this poster will help you as well. Feel free to share it.

Happy International Women’s Day!

I first became conscious of International Women’s Day, perhaps a little later than the average woman, around the time I was editor of the Harlequin Blog, at the age of 25. I wrote up a piece about it and Mary Wollstonecraft. Looks like my byline has disappeared, but I’ll vouch those are my words!

Five years ago, I wrote this:

The romantic heroines I have always admired have been fearless and tenacious. And no matter what they might look like, what obstacles are thrown in their way, even in the darkest moments, they have always stayed true to themselves.

Ignore all the passive tense.

I’d like to expand my definition to include not just romantic heroines (I was writing for a romance publishing house after all – context!) but to all of my heroines. These include the likes of Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Erika Jong, Edith Wharton, Frida Kahlo, Patti Smith, Nora Ephron, Mary W. from above, and Amanda Palmer.

Amanda’s a new addition to my fantasy team of lady heroes. I’m reading The Art of Asking right now and I had to stop myself from barreling through the book as is my usual wont because there’s TOO MUCH GOODNESS. If I read too fast, I might miss it.

When I think about what makes these women so awesome in my mind, it keeps coming back to the fearlessness and tenacity that I admire.

A good friend of mine once described me as tenacious and, although I was in the midst of a pretty large and deep hole of self-pity at the moment, I tucked that little comment into the back recesses of my mind to draw strength from every time I want to give up.

Give up at life, give up at love, give up at just being a human being.

I learned in these past five years between my first post on International Women’s Day to this one what makes a woman fearless and tenacious – it’s not the absence of fear or laziness – it’s the perseverance in the face of it. Just because I am scared out of my wits end doesn’t mean I’m not gonna do it. In actual fact, that fear has become one of my biggest instincts in life. It tells me that something usually is worth doing precisely because it’s so frightening it scares me out of my wits. Of course there’s reasonable limits to that – I’m not going bungee jumping any time soon, but someone else may feel that fear with those cords wrapped around their legs and still take the plunge. And I think that’s amazing. Good for you!

And similarly, my tenacity isn’t this relentless steam engine, sloughing off problems like a cowcatcher through the thickest snow. It’s more like an ox-wagon trudging slowly into unknown territory. Sometimes those damned oxen are lazy and won’t be made to go faster by whip or insult. Sometimes they damn near stop altogether. But eventually they get going again. Eventually they pick up the pace. Eventually things get back into a groove.

sft_dulle_oxen_pulling_wagon_sm

These are my oxen, not giving a damn that I want to keep going.

So happy International Women’s Day, friends! I suppose this reflection isn’t mutually exclusive to women, but I especially like women who exhibit these characteristics. How about you?

A Stroll Through Gage Park Greenhouse

It’s a sunny day in February, almost perfect weather for taking a walk, however there’s still a chilly wind in the air. So what better way to satisfy a craving for some wandering than by going to Gage Park’s Greenhouse? It’s warm, full of fresh oxygen and it’s free to the public.

DSC_6983DSC_6985DSC_6990DSC_6992DSC_6996DSC_7010DSC_7018

DSC_7022DSC_7030

 

I can see why it’s a popular spot for special occasion photography!

2015 Bookshelf Review

2015-year-in-books

Another year is nearly over and it’s time to reflect on the books I have read this year.

It’s incredible to me that I have been doing this for the last three years. 2014, 20132012 are still online. In that time I read 76 books. This year I surpassed all three years’ previous reading counts with a total of 44 books!

Reading has always been a refuge for me in times when life is rocky and this year was no exception. Having weathered the storm of ending a relationship, I retreated into my imaginary worlds a little more than usual. But! My interest in non-fiction continued this year with the addition of Oliver Sacks, Farley Mowat, Thich Nhất Hạnh, Jean Vanier, Bill Bryson, and Maya Angelou.

This year’s fiction forays steered towards mystery more and more, but I still love my historical fiction.

A particular favourite of this year’s was the German writer Oliver Pötzsch whose series of historical mysteries called The Hangman’s Daughter has been on my TBR pile for over a year. My new library branch in Dundas happened to have the whole series just sitting on the shelf, waiting for me to read, and I eagerly ate up the whole series, plus a stand-alone novel called The Ludwig Consipracy. I learned a lot about 17th century medicine and Bavarian culture from Mr. Pötzsch’s books. He’s an excellent writer and his translators also do top-notch work. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the Hangman’s Daughter series when it gets to the library.

There were several other authors that I finally got an opportunity to finally read after having wanted to read them for some time. The first was Maya Angelou’s first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which took me into a world of Southern black culture that brought to mind Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, which I read several years ago.

I also picked up my first Edith Wharton, a collection of short stories, which aren’t her most famous work, but did well to introduce me to the time period and language of Victorian America. It conjured images of nineteenth century New York City, trolley buses, crinoline and pinafores, horse-drawn carts, and vintage maps of city streets I’ve walked.

A few other things that I got to do this year in my reading was get acquainted with Chuck Wendig’s fiction. I have been reading his blog Terrible Minds, which offers a lot of good advise for writers, but have never had occasion to give his books a try. Dundas came through again with a copy of The Blue Blazes. If I could describe it in one word it would be hard-boiled. Is that two words? Who cares? It was a fun read.

I gave graphic novels another opportunity this year as well, diving into some fun ones recently, such as Vincent by Barbara Stok, a quick, thought-provoking glimpse into the life of Vincent Van Gogh, and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s non-Scott Pilgrim book, Seconds. Great story-telling in that one. I have yet to read the Scott Pilgrim series, but I think that might change in 2016.

Reading Goals for 2016

  • I would like to read more female writers. I feel like I was pretty male-heavy this year, mostly because I got sucked into Oliver Pötzsch’s and Farley Mowat’s worlds.
  • I’d also like to read more poetry. Poetry is like cake. It has to be savored.
  • I’d like to continue mining the classics, such as Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens.
  • I’d like to read more musical biographies/autobiographies.
  • I’d like to read 50 books, surpassing my 44 of this year.

Cause You Gotta Have Faith

I believe in God again. Oh, sure. I believed in God before. He was the omniscient and omnipotent being that lived outside of my understanding and scope, but I still acknowledged, cause for me it just felt right that there is a God. Except for most of my life I did not pay Him much attention, nor contemplate my faith in any kind of constructive way. I just believed in Him.

As I said goodbye to the Motherland, I was kindly given a clue as to why I believe in Him.

God’s love is eternal, compassionate, and, most importantly, forgiving.

When was the last time someone reminded you of that fact? Maybe you already know it and that’s why you’re such an awesome person. You already know that love and compassion and forgiveness are the elements of good living and you’re as cool as a cucumber about ’em.

Or maybe this is the first time you’re hearing it. I know when I did it felt like I’d just discovered the Pythagorean theorem. And I went to Catholic school. But maybe it hit me like a tonne of bricks because I finally understood it within the context of my life. You can lead a horse to water…

We all place a lot of pressure on ourselves to do the best we can in our lives. What if I told you that what you’re doing is good enough? What if I told you that God will love you despite any number of shortcomings you think you see? Would it set you free?

These were questions posed to me by a stranger on the flight back to Canada. I could have shaken them off. I could have dismissed him as a kook and burrowed my head into a book or my laptop and ignored him for the rest of the eight hour flight. But I listened. In allowing my heart to open to God, it began to fill itself with joy, love, and hope.

All of the stupid bullshit that used to kick up a storm in my head disappeared. I dismissed it. I forgave it all. I made my peace with it because I finally understood that God wants us to be at peace. He doesn’t want us to hate our lives. He wants us to rejoice. And yes, there are shitty times. People die. Hearts are torn asunder. Pets get run over by cars. Kids are mean.

But babies are born. Love is kindled or even reignited. There are a million adoptable pets in North America alone. And yeah, kids are mean, but they’re also the darnedest, right? Yes, there is darkness, but there is lightness as well. And without the darkness, the lightness hardly seems that bright at all.

Through the wonders of the Internet, this is an actual shot of that mug. I remember this font.For a good long while I lost faith, which is like developing vertigo. You can still live, sure, but it’s more like you’re hanging on to blades of grass while the Earth spins out of control. We used to have Irish coffee mugs with this saying on them – “An Irishman is never drunk as long as he can hold on to one blade of grass and not fall of the face of the Earth.”

That’s what it felt like when I lost faith – holding onto a blade of grass as the world spun and spun and spun.

Now I get why I have faith in God. And it’s so comforting. Even as the earth continues to spin around, I keep a tight grip on that blade of grass, but now it’s coupled with a conviction that feels like a pair of moonboots that anchor me to the ground even more firmly. Thanks for the kickass pair of moonboots, God.

Rememberance

World War II is never far from anyone’s mind in Poland. This year marked the seventy-first anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Uprising.

While I was visiting family I got a chance to take some photos that I’m particularly fond of at this time of year as we’re thinking about our loved ones and how they served and fought for freedom.

DSC_6720

DSC_6773

DSC_6787-(2)

Korzenie

Today I got to hear my 87-year-old great uncle recount life in Poland during the war, with his brother, my grandfather. So many things to comprehend. I’m exhausted. I took copious notes. I strained to hear and understand. I’ll need my mother to fact-check.

My roots continue to unfurl before me. There is depth where I once saw nothing at all. My dad’s eyebrows. A curiosity for motor vehicles. An inexhaustible sense of direction that spans decades and street names named and then renamed over wars and occupations. A love and easy grasp of language. In my grandfather’s — and my great uncle’s — case: German. My father: English. Me: Polish. Without it, I would be nowhere in this country, unable to make any connections, with any family member, or friend.

As it happens, thanks to this genetic predisposition for language, I have rekindled family relations, made connections with cousins who, for years, were only part of photographs that I long forgot to look at. Even my childhood girlfriend, who was born a month before me, in the same hospital, our mothers shared the ward, we were able to talk like old friends, thanks to our connected language.

Amid the conversation tonight, a 14 month-old babe, my cousin’s son, hung around, watching us all with curiosity as we strained to make funny faces to make him smile. My mom was the biggest hit. He’s learning language too.

But I was all ears for my great uncle. I don’t know what sort of relationship he had with my father, or my grandfather, although from the way he spoke about Dziadek, he seemed to respect him a whole lot. There aren’t many people in this world who ever did. My grandfather was not well-liked by members of my family. I was too young to really know why or care all that much, and I was still far too self-involved to get to know him before he passed away in 2006. But at least I got a glimpse of who he was to someone else tonight. And I got to learn what life was like in Poland — at least one little corner of it at least — when the Germans came to town.

I won’t forget this night.

DSC_6888-(2)

Three generations. Not pictured: the golden-haired baby!