"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Secondary Characters

It's another link-up with Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish.  Today we're blogging about the most memorable secondary characters. 

1.  Fred and George Weasley from the Harry Potter series:  These guys never fail to make me laugh.  I have burst into giggles on numerous public buses because of them.  I love that they lend a lightness to difficult situations and they really do care about their family and friends.

2.  Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series:  It's arguable how "secondary" he is in the end, but in most of the books he's not a major character.  Snape's personality is so fascinating because it's only in the end (other than briefly in book 5) that we see his life from outside of Harry's point of view.  I love reading the old books and wondering what is really going on in his mind.

3. Easter in State of Wonder:  He's such a mystery.  He's a source of strength to the main characters, yet he has gone through serious trauma and cannot tell them his story at all.  He's also symbolic of the hazy ethical questions that permeate the book.

4.  Matthew Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables Again, possibly not so secondary, but since the book follows Anne, I'd say he counts.  Matthew has a heart of gold and is a great example of a quiet, unassuming man displaying great character.  (Honourable mention for the Anne series goes to Miss Cornelia, because of her "Isn't that just like a man!")

5.  Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice:  He makes me laugh every time.  He is so smug and awkward.  How much was the chimney piece at Rosings Park again?

6.  Queequeg the harpooner in Moby Dick:  Initially described as a "savage", Ishmael soon got to know Queequeg and they because close friends.  He's certainly memorable because of his physical description (tattooed all over, carrying a sunken head) and the fact that he has to share a bed with Ishmael, but I also like him because he's such an unlikely friend.

7.  Death (pronounced Deeth) the librarian in Bitterblue He's so serious that you're never sure if he likes anyone, but given a nearly impossible task (learning a new language so he can decipher coded notebooks), he perks right up.  He speaks to my nerdy heart.

8.  Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House:  Wikipedia describes her as a "telescopic philanthropist"; she is obsessed with charity work for Africa, but completely neglects her children and home.  I read Bleak House nearly 10 years ago (yikes!) and have never forgotten her negative example.

Okay, over the course of today, I've thought of a couple more.

9.  Reepicheep from Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader:  So brave, and so hilarious.

10.  Harriet Smith from Emma:  I love that she's so awkward and, to quote Cher Horowitz, "adorably clueless".  She also has a heart of gold; how else could she stay friends with Emma after the woman totally messes up her love life. 

Honourable mentions go to a whole gang of folks from Harry Potter (Luna, Hagrid, Tonks, Neville, Professor McGonagall, and my beloved Remus Lupin), as well as Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility (I love to hate him, especially the moment when he pulls out his copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets) and Cinna from The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Lessons from Newfoundland: Being a Neighbour

I've been a terrible blogger this summer.  My sincerest apologies to you all.  If you have any advice on how to keep regularly writing, I'd love to hear it.

Today's post is something I've been thinking about for the last month.  I wrote recently about our trip to Newfoundland, but ever since then, I've been pondering the things I learned on the journey.  Newfoundlanders are different from the people I meet every day.  Who knows whether it's the environment or genetics that makes the difference, but they inspired me to work on my own attitude.

When you mention Newfoundland to other Canadians, they often respond with phrases like, "Friendliest folks on earth".  Canadian shows like 22 Minutes poke light-hearted fun at Newfie hospitality.  It may be a stereotype, but it's based in fact.  Even when we were sitting on the plane in Toronto, waiting for take-off, people were greeting one another and finding personal connections, when typically travelers are glued to their iPhones or in-flight magazines.

Once we got to Newfoundland, the friendliness continued.  We were invited to have lunch at the mother of one of Gil's colleagues, someone we'd never met before.  When we visited friends, they repeatedly said we should eat whatever we liked and feel at home, and one woman went out of their way to make all of Gil's favourite foods, even though she was busy with her only son's wedding that week.

I came away from the experience feeling like a cold-hearted city person.  In Toronto, I consider myself a reasonably friendly person; I smile at other peoples' babies and have a great relationship with one of the clerks at the local FedEx.  The truth is, however, that I rarely go out of my way to be helpful or friendly.  I like the idea of hospitality, but it's only a few times a year that I actually invite people over because I'm embarrassed about the mess and my limited cooking skills.  We've lived in this house for a year and only know the names of one set of neighbours.

How does one cultivate friendliness in a culture that is not conducive to it?  How do I work on being friendly without scaring others away?  These are the questions I took away from my trip and hope to work on in the future.  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Travel Tales

A few weeks ago, I had my first trip to the beautiful province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  What a wonderful place!  We were gone for five days and were able to do some sightseeing and attend a wedding, so I thought I'd share a bit of our trip.

On our first full day, we drove up the western coast and I discovered my wonderful husband had arranged for us to take a boat trip in Gros Morne.   We saw some unbelievable sights and I even saw a moose at close range.  Afterwards we headed further north to our home-away-from-home on the northern tip of the island.

The following day, I visited the home of Sir Wilfrid Grenfell, a medical missionary.  As a young man, Dr Grenfell was inspired by hearing the American evangelist D.L. Moody, and decided to serve overseas.  He traveled to Labrador and spent some time providing medical share to people in isolated fishing communities, several of whom had never had a visit from a doctor before.  Over the course of his life, he founded five hospitals in Labrador and northern Newfoundland, as well as several nursing stations and orphanages.  If you have an e-reader, you can pick up his autobiography here.

Later that day, we visited L'Anse aux Meadows, the site of a former Viking colony.  They have a mock-up of a Viking village set up, and then you can see where the actual buildings were.  So interesting!

Gil did some work during the mornings while we were away, so I took the opportunity of doing touristy things on my own.  One morning I went on a whale watching trip where I learned a lesson about the value of wearing long pants at sea.  Thankfully the cold was worth it and I saw loads of porpoises as well as one humpback whale.

On our last day, Gil surprised me by taking me to a restaurant that had amazing and fresh seafood, so I gorged myself on enjoyed local mussels and scallops.  Before we left, another couple approached to tell us there was an iceberg nearby; we had been told the icebergs were all gone as it was too late in the season.  We drove around and finally managed to catch a glimpse of it.

If you've seen the television commercials, Newfoundland looks pretty relaxed and slow-paced.  Of course, people there watch cable TV and check their smart phones obsessively just like they do in my 'hood, but I was surprised at the little things that seemed like remnants of a simpler time.  For example, on our first day, we took a short taxi ride and the driver took note of all his fares in a spiral notebook.  There was no radio dispatcher; it was just one guy in his taxi.  At the airport in Deer Lake, the parking lot had individual meters for each spot and they seemed to be cash only.  It seemed bizarre at first, but also refreshing to be someplace where technology hadn't permeated everything.  And I never saw a single Starbucks or McDonald's or Starbucks the whole time I was there, but don't worry; you can get yourself a good moose burger instead!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Books set among soldiers

It's Top Ten Tuesday once gain and I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish.  Today's topic is ten books set in any setting of your choice.  I really struggled with this because everything I came up with was either too broad or I would have a great idea, then quickly realize I'd only read 2 books in that setting after all.  Recently, however, a good friend joined the air force (you go, girl!) so in honour of her, I decided on Top Ten Books Set Amongst Soldiers/the Military.  I've always been fascinated by people living and experiencing life in very close quarters, like boarding school or a military barracks, and having worked with a lot of military folks only increased  my interest.  I was pretty strict with my criteria:  I didn't include any non-fiction, and the book had to give the experiences of the soldiers, rather than the home front.  They didn't have to take place at war-time, but of course most of them did.

The US Civil War
The Bride of Texas by Josef Škvorecký:  A look at Czech soldiers who fought in the American Civil War.  I read this a long time ago, but I remember it being quite thorough.

The Velvet Shadow by Angela Elwell Hunt:  This is a Christian novel about a young female doctor who disguises herself as a man to act as a medic in the Civil War.

World War I
The Good Solder Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek:  A hilarious classic about bumbling soldier Švejk who is on the Austro-Hungarian side of WWI, but can't seem to do anything right.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque:  A poignant look at German soldiers in the first world war.  Remarque shows how these young men were drawn into the army by patriotic fervor, only to see how truly horrible, and how mundane, war can be.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway:  The experience of an American fighting for Italy during the war.  I appreciated all the mundane details that were portrayed.  So much of WWI in the media is about trench warfare, but here we see people having drinks, playing cards, and waiting around until there's something to do.

The Cowards by Josef Škvorecký:  I included Škvorecký twice because I think he was a fantastic author.  This one kind of cheats because the main characters aren't truly soldiers, but actually young men who join the fight against Germany as the Germans are retreating through their Czech town.  The book was very controversial in socialist Czechoslovakia, as it portrayed the young men as more interested in girls and jazz than about patriotism.  Fun fact:  I once wrote a paper about this book and Škvorecký sent me a postcard thanking me for my thoughtful essay!

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: I wrote in an earlier post that this book did not live up to my expectations, but that's only because I was told it was absolutely hilarious.  I still found it to be an interesting look at the crazy lives of WWII pilots doing bombing raids on Italy.  It really showed the element of the absurd in wartime.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway:  A look at rebels during the Spanish Civil War.  Poignant and fascinating. 

The Soldier, the Terrorist and the Donkey King by David Kitz: This book is about the crucifixion of Christ, but it's told from the point of view of a Roman soldier, so you see the Roman legions from his perspective. 

I could only come up with nine books.  Any suggestions for book number 10?

Monday, 5 August 2013

Medical Mondays: The Dreaded Schedule

It's once again the first Monday of the month, and that mean's it's Medical Monday.  Woohoo!  This month's link-up is hosted by Jane at From a  Doctor's Wife and Emma at Your Doctor's Wife.  We've been enjoying long weekend here in Ontario, if your definition of "enjoying" involves being awakened at 6:30am by pagers going off.

This month I'm talking about the complex issue of scheduling.  It is something I still don't have a handle on, so I hope some other medical folks will chime in and give me advise.

Once upon a time, I boasted of being a luddite.  I didn't need electronic organizers!  I had a wall calendar and a paper organizer.  I loved the feel of a brand new daytimer and enjoyed writing in the dates for the year ahead.

Then I got married to someone who loves technology and is insanely busy.  Even when we were dating, Gil added me onto his online calendar so I could see when he was on-call.  Because of my old-fashioned tendencies, I'd dutifully write his on-call weekends on my paper calendar.  As we eased into married life, however, the paper organizer became less and less useful because I didn't actually have a life to keep track of, and the online calendar became my life-line for keeping track of Gil's crazy days.

Nowadays, apart from a large wall calendar that's partly for show, I've had to give up on my beloved paper.  (You're welcome, trees!) Gil and I use Google Calendars and the Calendars + app to keep tabs on each other.  Since I work shift work and sometimes have evening obligations, it's also important for my husband to know when I'm not going to be around.  Sometimes I "invite" him to a date so he'll know he has to that evening off.  Even with the online calendars, though, life is confusing.  Honestly, I don't know how I will do it once kids come into the equation and we are dealing with doctor and dentist appointments, extra-curricular classes, etc.

Medical families, I'd love to know how you keep track of your busy life.  What methods work and which have been colossal failures?  Inquiring minds want to know!