What We’re Reading

From Beth-Anne

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The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The first book I read by Anita Diamant was The Red Tent. I finished it in a few days and spent the next year touting its greatness to everyone who asked for a book a recommendation, and many who did not. When I read on the book blogs that her newest release, Boston Girl, was available I downloaded it to my Kobo to read while on our beach vacation. The Boston Girl is the story of Addie Baum, daughter of Jewish immigrants. Addie’s granddaughter, a Harvard student, interviews her about her life. Addie reflects on her early days set during a tumultuous period of change and rapid development for the United States. Her girlhood stories reveal the inner struggles she experienced while desperately seeking out her American dream but remaining tethered to her traditional, Jewish family. The pages turn quickly on this uplifting tale of feminism, family and history – worth the read this summer!

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Between Gods by Alison Pick

Alison Pick grew up going to church, attending Sunday school and singing “Silent Night” at the Christmas service. She had no idea of her Jewish roots – a carefully guarded family secret. Her paternal grandparents narrowly escaped the Holocaust, and upon arriving in Canada made the decision to live as Christians. When researching for her Man-Booker nominated novel (one of my favourites) Far to Go, she felt an undeniable pull to her Jewish roots. The feeling was so intense that Pick set out to convert – not at all easy despite having a Jewish father. The author is brave. She bares all and doesn’t shy from portraying herself honestly. She’s open about her nagging depression and the conflicting feelings that she has about her faith (faiths?). She wrestles with this overwhelming desire for Judiasm while being deeply committed to her non-Jewish fiancée but understanding how unaccepted interfaith marriages are during the conversion process. This memoir took a while for me to connect with but it did. The way Alison becomes almost obsessive about her family’s history is something I can relate to. Alison agonizes over the final days of her great-grandmother in Auschwitz, and the lives that could have been. I find myself thinking about my own could-haves and while my family’s history is not anything close to this horrific; I can understand her longing to know. Her connection to her ancestors is primal. It’s been a long time since I dreamt about a book, and a few nights ago I awoke drenched with sweat and a racing heart. Her story has stuck.

From Nathalie

You guys, I totally binged on a mystery series this month!  I read and loved SIX of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway murder mysteries.  Ruth Galloway is a forensic anthropologist and she is one of the detecting protagonists I have loved most in a series.  She is independent, down to earth, imperfect, clever and strong-willed.  While reading the series I realized how much I really had been craving mysteries with strong female characters.  I did something I never do, and I began in the middle of the series.  This was a mistake because it gives away a big part of the plot that develops from book to book.  So begin at the beginning with The Crossing Places, and enjoy the ride!  The best news, the latest in the series is published this month.

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I have a soft spot for the trend in publishing in which a famous author is matched to a classic and updates and rewrites it for the present day.  Val McDermid’s rewriting of Northanger Abbey is especially brilliant.  She updates Jane Austen’s hilarious tale of a young woman too much influenced by gothic fiction, and she makes the heroine a devotee of vampire lit.  I am a sucker (!) for this kind of thing, always hoping to find in fan fiction something that approximates the joy that the original book gives me.  Northanger Abbey is my favourite of Austen’s novels, not surprisingly, because it is a book about books, and McDermid embraces the metafictional and intertextual aspect of the project wholeheartedly.  The book positively fizzes with it.  It’s hilarious, timely, and pitch-perfect.  (You can read my longer review of it here.)

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My latest foray into Austen re-writes is Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, which was enjoyable but did not knock my socks off.  Emma is, admittedly, a much harder update to pull off.  There is the problem of the governess, for one, and McCall Smith decides to preserve the role in the update.  I don’t know how things are in your neck of the woods, but governesses are not thick on the ground in these parts.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book for its homage to Austen and for its wit.

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From Carol

I’m in the middle of a mindful meditation course and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn is basically the textbook.  Kabat-Zinn is a leader in the field, and this big book covers all aspects of the benefits and processes of mindful meditation.  Told in Kabat-Zinn’s careful, gentle and repetitive way, the narrative voice parallels the practice of meditation itself.

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After reading this review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, a Japanese de-clutter consultant, I knew I had to read it (the review describes Kondo as a fairy dominatrix in a prim little pink suit).  I’m in the midst of trying to get our house in some real order, and Kondo seemed like the woman to help.  She has committed her life to de-cluttering and organizing and has some basic steadfast rules.  First, you must discard (or recycle) first, before any attempts are made at re-organizing.  Second, you must hold every item you own and ask yourself whether it “sparks joy”.  If the answer is no, or hesitation, the item should go.  (She is ruthless about this, by the way.)  She also advises that tidying and de-cluttering should be done categorically and specifies that order (you start with clothes, which are easiest, and end with mementos, which are hardest).  There are many other suggestions, and I did in fact purge and re-organize my clothing using this method.  Perhaps because I had fewer items to start with, or because I am quite loyal to the things I like over time, I did not purge a third to two-thirds of my things as her clients routinely do.  I did rid myself of three bags of clothing though, and have a clean and spacious closet and dresser (using her upright folding technique to boot).  It’s tidy, and I feel better.  She doesn’t have that much advice for parents, clearly identifying more with the tidy hearts of children who still live with parents, but there’s still good solid value in this fun, internationally best-selling little book.

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Mind Full or Mindful?

forest-67286_640To end this month of gratitude and mindfulness, a post on meditation seems only fitting.

Last month I met Jackie. I have been curious about meditation and spirituality for some time but it was a few months ago when I was absolutely exhausted that I succumbed to that niggling feeling of needing “more”.

I was so busy contorting myself to keep all of the plates spinning and the thought that something was missing seemed idiotic. Even I recognized that I couldn’t possibly toss another in the air and sustain life at the most basic level. And then this thought: what if I just let some of these plates drop?

I am good at following rules and I held staunch to the golden one: finish what you start. So you see, the mere idea of saying “no” was counter to my beliefs.

But what if . . .

The worst that would happen is that I would cut my feet. And cuts heal.

I felt like I had known Jackie my entire life, and about 30 seconds after exchanging names, we hugged. In that embrace I felt calm.

I know, I know. Insert eye-roll here.

Sitting across from each other, I dove into my story. I explained to Jackie that I felt as though something was missing from my life. I have all the material things anyone could want. I have health. I have freedom. I have it all. But that’s not enough. I want to enjoy it. I want to live my life without feeling frenzied, harried and EXHAUSTED! But what’s worse, I felt shame for even admitting that I wanted more.

I know, I know. (There may be lots of eye-rolling here.)

Jackie sat across from me, listening to every word I said. She nodded empathetically and when I was finished with my rant, she quietly said, “I relate to how you feel.”

Jackie started to explore her spirituality when she was my age and living a very similar life. She too was baring the responsibility of child rearing and being a supportive spouse; she was also felt that there was something more like what I described.

Thirty-five years ago, Jackie discovered the power of meditation and began in earnest to study Buddhism over a decade ago, which she is quickly points out is a philosophy not a dogma.

I tell Jackie that I am just dipping my toes into this new way of thinking, that I am reading Jon Kabat-Zinn and struggling to practice Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) and in this little time, I have come to discover that “niggling feeling” has quieted, softened.

Jackie nods when she hears this. She leans forward, her blond hair brushing her cheek, and I get a good look at her face. She is radiant. Her eyes sparkle, her complexion is clear and she is focused solely on me. She never glances to her phone or excuses herself to tap out a text message. I am struck by how infrequently these kinds of interactions are becoming.

“Originally my practice was based more on mindfulness until I discovered Vipassana; in Toronto I sit with Satipanna Insight Meditation Toronto.” Jackie goes on to describe a patchwork of experiences from sweat lodges in earlier years to silent meditation retreats that define her journey of spiritual discovery.

When I ask her what benefits she feels meditation brings, she is simple with her reply. “Learning to approach life with more calm, happiness and compassion.”

“You sound so enlightened.” I say this as a compliment.

Jackie looks somewhat aghast. “Oh no! I am just a beginner.”

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From My Book Shelf

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The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown Ph.D., LMSW

The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting: Raising Children with Courage, Compassion and Connection by Brene Brown Ph.D., LMSW

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Mindfulness For Beginners by Jon Kabbat-Zin

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Everyday Blessings: the inner work of mindful parenting by Jon Kabbat-Zinn

Mindful Parenting by Kristen Race, Ph.D.

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About Jacqueline Carroll:

Jackie has  has worked with both Asian and Western teachers.  Since 2001 Jackie has practiced specifically Vipassana Mindfulness meditation, supported by a Metta practice.

Jackie is inspired by her practice with various guiding teachers:  Sayadaw U Pandita, Burma, Sayadaw U Vivekananda, Nepal, Bhante Gunaratana, USA, Ayyang Ripoche, Ayya Medhanandi, Perth, Ont,  Ajhan Viradhammo, Perth, Ontario, Marcia Rose, New Mexico, Michelle Macdonald, Ottawa, Ont., Randall Baker and Jim Bedard, Satipanna Insight Meditation Toronto, Toronto, Ont.

To learn more about meditation please visit, Harmony Yoga Wellness