Mixed Nuts: 5 reachable goals


Thank you everyone who answered last week’s question about the Mixed Nuts, here on the blog or on the Fearless Family Life Facebook page. I wanted to know if you preferred the short and sweet “5 quick-takes”-style blog post where I share links without commentary or the longer “fruit of my brain” commentary on things I’ve read throughout the week. The dominant opinion was that whatever I posted was fine (you are all so nice!) but that a mix of longer and shorter, especially during the summer, would be perfect. Today, I will share 5 quick reflections — something between a link and a ponder — about my goals for the near future.

1 Pick a project and pursue it .

“If you only have one ass you can’t sit on two horses.”

My creative projects are as scattered as they are unfinished. I have a tech writing project that pays bills and as such takes priority. I am learning how to make better YouTube videos and edit them faster. I am trying to find an agent, a publisher and a ghost-writer for my friend Johanne, if anything we need to write a test chapter and a rough road map of the book to increase our chances of catching a publisher’s eye. I also have a parenting memoir project and, last but not least, my beloved novel.

I struggle with picking the right horse to sit my one ass on. Creators are often advised to create regardless of the commercial potential (or lack thereof) of their projects: every successful writer, musician or movie producer has a pocketful of stories of bitter rejection. They are the battle wounds they show-off in interviews, laughing about the butts they’d like to wipe with the million-dollar scripts once rejected without as much as a call back. But this creator has 11 mouths to feed and cannot blissfully disappear in a fog of inspiration. My income goes into the necessities of life for a large family, not into boot-strapping my next project. I can’t pull a Steven Pressfield, sell the coat off my back and move into my car until my first novel is finished. Raising my children is the creative work that I have to do relentlessly, with discipline and laser sharp focus. I have no illusion of growing as a creator without pounding the appropriate amount of pavement but I have to choose the road wisely, with some discernment as to which pavement is most likely to yield an income. Right now, I feel like a Canadian twist on Sisyphus: rolling my 4-5 snowballs up the hill, hoping that one will get to the other side and roll into some momentum. But they still roll back down the way they came.

2 Believe I can do this.

Last week I sat on the Jody Mitic podcast (episode 7) and played a bit of the devil’s advocate about the Black-Lives-Matter-Toronto-Pride-Parade sit-in where the group demanded —among other things — that police floats no longer be allowed to participate. I don’t do parades, never been to a Pride Parade. Never been black, or queer, or even arrested. I don’t even have a single clue what I’m talking about but I did enjoyed shooting the stuff with Jody. He is the most un-politically correct politician I have met and I do believe that our political discourse would benefit from having more elected officials speaking from a place of genuine emotion the way Jody does: if anything it’s entertaining. I also got to pick his brain (off air) about his experience getting his book published and reaching number 1 of the best-sellers’ list here in Canada. One of the positive side effects of being an opinionated one-man-show is that it makes you a great cheerleader. He has a knack for convincing me that living a normal life with 9 children is as remarkable as being a sniper, getting your legs blown-off, running a half-marathon on prosthetic legs, almost winning the Amazing Race Canada, getting elected to City Hall and writing a best-seller. Then of course I got home to my 87 YouTube subscribers, my $1.47 of lifetime add revenue and remembered exactly how far I was from going anywhere. But that kernel of encouragement lives on and someday, maybe, it will grow into something.

3 Read more and write more about what I love.

I started reading Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” and I downloaded Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” on Audible. In general I find that reading about writing is a form of avoidance. The fear of wasting my time writing something bad keeps me reading about writing instead of diving headlong into my projects. When Stephen Pressfield characterized writing workshops as “pits of resistance” I knew that I had found my match. His scolding about “the resistance” — a mix a of pride and fear — shed a hard light on my own avoidance mechanisms and excuses. That said, “On Writing” by Stephen King and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White kept nagging me through blog posts and podcast interviews and I knew that they should be part of my reference library, if nothing else. In the first chapter of “On Writing”, Stephen King lays down the law on writing: reading a lot and writing a lot are key. Isn’t it funny how we sometimes need permission to do the things we know are right? For the last couple of years, since I started homeschooling, I have been constrained by a sense that I should use my reading time wisely by focusing on non-fiction so as to learn something useful. The problem is that I don’t love non-fiction. I like it as one likes vegetables and exercise but not with the breathtaking emotion reserved for stunning landscapes, newborns and lovers. Learning that Stephen King read mostly fiction gave me permission to return to my one true love: the good work of fiction.

4 Find YouTube collaborators

To celebrate my liberation from the shackles of self-imposed boredom — yawn — I decided to read “Far from the madding crowd” by Thomas Hardy and “Au bonheur des dames” by Emile Zola. I would love to chat character development with other like-minded people. If you are a Youtubber or a podcaster looking for a fun collab, please wave in my direction and we can overthink how Bathsheba Everdene doesn’t deserve three suitors, let alone the devotion of a man of Oak’s caliber. In the mean time, just enjoy this Gabriel Oak on me:

“Gabriel was paler now. His eyes were more meditative, and his expression was more sad. He had passed through an ordeal of wretchedness which had given him more than it had taken away. He had sunk from his modest elevation as pastoral king into the very slime-pits of Siddim; but there was left to him a dignified calm he had never before known, and that indifference to fate which, though it often makes a villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does not. And thus the abasement had been exaltation, and the loss gain.” (p.45)

If you are more of the movie kind, enjoy this interview with Thomas Vinterberg and Matthias Shoenaerts (the producer and main character of the latest film adaptation of Hardy’s novel, available on Netflix). You should still read the book to better appreciate each character’s depth.

5 Get in shape and start lifting weights

Finally, I wanted to share one of the highlights of my week. I bought a membership at my local Movati gym from a from a former member who was moving away before the end of his one-year enrollment. Movati Kanata made it an easy and pleasant experience, showing excellent business sense and superior concern for the customer. I imagine that the low-lying fruit of making membership transfers such a pain in the neck that members never dare to leave is tempting but in my case, it has made gym memberships verboten. I cannot commit to a yearly membership in anything and cannot afford the unfavourable short-term membership fees. Transferring membership is the perfect solution for me and Movati can be sure that when I am in the market for a gym membership, theirs will be the first door I’ll go a-knocking.

Categories: Mixed Nuts | 7 Comments

Friday’s Mixed Nuts on a Saturday: the quicker version


  1. One video I posted on YouTube:

2. My favorite casual dress for under $50 (or less if you wait for sales): Marks’ notch neck knee-length dress

3. One new podcast I subscribed to: Freakonomics 

4. One book I want to read: The checklist manifesto by Atul Gawande

5. One thing I dream about at night but will not buy in American dollars: Saddleback Leather Satchel

And a question: Do you prefer this short and sweet version of the Mixed Nuts or the lengthier one with commentary? Your feedback matters to me.

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Friday’s Mixed Nuts: 5 links I care to share


1. I woke-up this morning to a world slightly different than it was when I went to bed. I did not follow the #Brexit referendum until its very last weeks. I watched John Oliver, he seemed to support the “stay” vote. Lately, I have taken an interest in the geo-political history of the First World War and it has made me aware that history unfolds in haphazard ways. In the early weeks of the first World War, many moments presented as forks in the road where the course of history could have gone either way. Our present-day way of life hinges in many ways on split seconds, swing decisions, rolls of dice, made by military and political leaders long before we were born. The Brexit vote was history unfolding itself in its usual, random, way. In that sense, I am curious to see where this most recent turn takes us. I hope to live long enough to see how it will eventually fit in the bigger picture of the rise and fall of Western Civilization. That said, I have enjoyed watching my friends and acquaintances on the progressive left wake-up with a hangover this morning. Progressives have been pretending that the rise of populist nationalism across the world is the realm of a few unenlightened minds. It’s been a fun zinger-fest on Twitter, sharing John Oliver on Facebook, I have enjoyed it tremendously while nationalists everywhere are counting their chips. And Donald Trump, what fun it has been to watch a few unenlightened knuckledraggers propel him this close to the White House. Populist nationalism. It’s a real thing and it’s starting to call some serious shots.

When you get tired of having your opinion handed to you by humorists — who are very funny, don’t get me wrong, but stuff’s about to get real here — you might find this breakdown of Trump supporters interesting.

2. Speaking of getting stuff wrong, I was listening to a podcast interview with star rock climber Alex Honnold where he spoke about fear and assessing risks. It takes someone who lives with life-threatening danger to avoid platitudes about ignoring fear, I liked that. I believe that fear and doubts are important sources of information that should be honoured rather than ignored: there is a darn good reason why you are afraid of swimming with sharks, know what I mean? At some point in the interview, Honnold answers a question about his spirituality and religious beliefs. Raised in a nominal Catholic household, Honnold remembered never believing in any of that stuff. Even now, he added, he is dumbfounded that grown-ups believe in what are essentially fairy tales. When I heard his comment I had to chuckle because whether or not you accept the existence of God, it’s impossible to deny that religious belief has been part of the human experience since, well, the human experience started. Of course, the reality of religious belief does not prove the existence of anything but it takes some gall to overlook how some very intelligent grown-ups — Aquinas, Augustine, Teresa of Avila come to mind — have explained their belief in fairy tales. It’s one thing to know how Christopher Hitchens explains religious belief but the real test of atheism should be to go beyond atheist writers and read how Aquinas explains it too. It would be like saying “That gravity thing — it made no sense to me as a child and now that I am an adult who is thoroughly uneducated in matters of physics, it still makes no sense to me. I can’t understand how anyone believes in that stuff.” Or “I don’t care what Newton and Einstein have written about gravity, I read Aristotle on gravity and he’s pretty smart.”

Imagine my delight later last week upon stumbling on this excellent piece shared by journalist Andrew Coyne via Twitter. We were wrong abut gravity for thousands of years, what might we be wrong about today? It’s a fun question to ask.

3. Speaking of things that change, one of my favorite things to observe in my fellow humans is how quickly those who reject religion build new churches in their lives, whether it’s jogging, nutrition, politics, I’m sure you can come up with a few more if you look around for a hot second. I find that it speaks to a fundamental human need for absolutes, even when the absolute is that there be no absolutes. There is a drive toward moralistic thinking, clear definitions of right and wrong, that is wired-in human nature. This disquisition on food and sex speaks to our changing morality, or as they say “The more it changes, the more it stays the same.”

4. If all this is too much to bear, I strongly recommend knitting something. Knitting something is always a good bet. This Tulip Tank Top by Purl Soho hit all my buttons until I tried to order the Euroflax yarn required for this pattern. At $26 a skein, requiring 3-4 skeins for my 39 inches of chest circumference, it seems like a bit of a luxury. If you want to buy the yarn, I’ll knit it for you. How’s that?

5. If knitting something is not for you, there is always this fragrant, beautiful cake. In French but learning news words never killed anyone. To serve with tea and eat in one sitting.

Categories: Mixed Nuts | 1 Comment

Friday’s Mixed Nuts: 5 links I clicked (and so should you)


    1. I have a songwriting hobby, and by this I mean that I am completely obsessed with the songwriting creative process. I am a writer who is also a musician but I do not have a good-enough grip of music to set words to melody. I am fascinated by the ability of those who can write a 4-minute story that sometimes rhymes and touches million of people’s hearts. Nothing cracks me open like a good song. Should it come as a surprise then that one of my favourite podcasts is Sodajerker on Songwriting?I was especially thrilled with their interview with Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the songwriting husband/wife team behind the Frozen powerhouse. In the podcast, they discuss the back-and-forth with the scriptwriters and how their songs changed the nature of the characters of Elsa and Anna. I doubt that the movie would have enjoyed its lasting success had the two princesses remained what they were meant to be in the original script. It was also a geeky treat to learn that in Life is an open door Anna and Hans never sing in harmony. We knew that right? But it was done on purpose! This is how gifted songwriters can build a story with details that you hear without hearing. Magical! You can hear the full interview here. A note for parents: the podcast is slapped with the “explicit” rating because Robert Lopez explains how the rhythm pattern for a certain song came from the title of a porno videotape he saw on a friend’s shelf one day. The title is quite crude. If you listen in the car with children there might be a 30-seconds of awkwardness. Forewarned is forearmed.
    * BONUS FREE NUT: If you were a teenager in the 80’s or 90’s, the podcast interview with Glen Ballard will be a giant, crimped, glitzy treat. Listen to it — and its accompanying Spotify playlist — here .

    2. Speaking of Glen Ballard, he happened to write Man in the Mirror for Michael Jackson, a song which message is always on point. You’ll notice some interesting footage in the music video from the rescue of baby Jessica McClure in 1987, a toddler who had fallen down a well on her family’s property. She was rescued after 58 hours of harrowing work by paramedics and mining engineers. That was back in the days when criticism was directed at the media circus rather than the grieving parents; and the heroes of the story were given more attention than what the parents should have done to avoid the tragedy. Fancy that…

    3. Speaking of songwriting, the Canadian political class deemed it desirable to re-write the Canadian National Anthem to replace “in all thy sons’command” by the gender-neutral “all of us command.” Now, I have to declare myself as one of those bleeding hearts liberals who believes that language and culture walk in lockstep; but I also want to declare myself as one of those hardened conservatives who don’t think our historical heritage should be re-written, warts and all. There is always room for adding diverse voices and clearer context to our history. As Dan Carlin puts it — pardon my shameless paraphrase — it’s as if history had a CNN and a Fox News but only the CNN version of everything had survived. History always benefits from a diversity of sources, it gives it colour and texture. Perspective doesn’t right wrongs but it puts them in context. History never exactly repeats itself: the lessons are in the nuances, in how humanity faced want, pain and desperation, how it failed and how it succeeded. Stripping history of its offensive bits is tantamount to spitting upwind: it only feels good for a second. On the other hand, our National Anthem is not merely a piece of historical artifact: it lives in our schools, our churches, our sports halls and institutions. We are not rewriting history as much as making our anthem more representative of our culture as we sign it every day. How do you feel about changing the words to our National Anthem? Are we shaping culture to make it more just or are we rewriting history? Andrew Coyne explains here how the meaning of words can change even when the words stay the same.

    4. Speaking of writing, I started writing a novel set in the intersecting worlds of healthcare, law and biomedical ethics, in other words my academic background. One day I decided to stop joking that my Master’s degree’s specialization in biomedical ethics had been a waste of time and the next day the idea had come to me. For two years while at McGill University I was a fly on the wall in paediatric and neonatal intensive care units where I learned more than I ever expected about humanity, tragedy and what’s found in the space between the two. My novel is written from the bedside of a critically ill infant and explores the evolving relationships between the infant’s family, his medical caregivers and a cast of lawyers and administrators who are drawn into the medical decision-making process. I love how this poem communicates the chasm of perception that often exists between patients and their caregivers. It touched me in a profound way. To read and let sink-in.

    5. If writing never amounts to anything, I could become an astronaut. I have the right blood pressure.

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Mass shootings: Prayers and policy changes are not mutually exclusive


You need the prayers because you need the prayerful.

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are overrun — with good reason — by commentary about the Orlando shooting massacre. This is neither surprising nor troubling. What did take me by surprise is the outrage and exasperation aimed at those who wish to #prayforOrlando. “Keep your prayers” they say “we need policy change, not magical thinking.” The sentiment was clearly expressed by this illustration by Wendy MacNaughton, posted by the Brain Pickings Twitter feed:

FullSizeRender copy

Prayer and policy change are mutually exclusive, or so it seems. I don’t know how to segue gracefully into what I have to say so let me lumber into it: Isn’t it “interesting” that the people who are quick to tell believers to shove their prayers where the sun don’t shine are the same ones who are pleading through hashtags and social media posts to “stay strong” , “stand up with” and sending equally magical “healing vibes” and “positive thoughts” to the latest site of terrorist horror as if those could patch-up bullet holes and solve hatred any better than prayers could. We’re content to wring our hands over Trump’s tweets and telling Republican politicians to stuff their prayers where they keep their broomsticks and feel like we’ve done something for the cause when really, all we’ve done is dig ourselves deeper into the silos of intolerance where hatred is hatched.

You know what? Telling believers to shove it with their magical thinking is on the same spectrum of bigotry as religious fanaticism. Different ends, same spectrum. Whether you hate believers or unbelievers, you still hate. You still show an unwillingness to understand, to empathize, to hold hands and find common ground. Across the spectrum we prefer seeing things in the isolation that leaves room for feeling good and justified about our own biases and inconsistencies. To this one it’s about Islamic extremism; to this one it’s about homophobia; to this one it’s about mental illness; to this one it’s about gun control; to this one it’s about Western imperialism; religious right, intolerant left; to everyone it’s about something else than whichever hand they have in maintaining the status quo. This is why we can’t affect the policy change we so dearly need. Policy change requires common ground and common ground is hard to find around the navel area.

We’re all mad here Alice.

Categories: Opinions, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Friday’s Mixed Nuts: 5 links I clicked this week (and so should you)


Every week I will try to post 5 links I clicked and wish you would too. I take suggestions for free.

  1. Sometimes you come across a figure from history that really makes an impact on your life. Major Dick Winters, Second World War Veteran and the subject of the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, is one of these characters. Stories of exceptional leadership and courage leave their mark on the minds of young men such as my son, who watched the miniseries as a teenager, joined the Army Reserves at age 16 and is currently studying to become a military officer. One of the greatest things about Winters is that the person overshadows the TV character. I chuckled when I read about how he played chicken with Tom Hanks over cursing in the miniseries. It may sound like an issue of little consequence but self-discipline and dignity repose on the myriad little things that lay the foundation on which the greater things repose. Read more life advice from Major Dick Winters in this post from The Art of Manliness.
  2. If reading the article about Major Winters made you want to read his book but you don’t know when you’ll have the time to do it — if ever — I strongly recommend listening to podcast #17 from Jocko Willinks (also available on iTunes) where he reviews the book, reads extensive excerpts and offers his commentary about leadership, courage and physical fitness. Bonus link, for those who are curious about Jocko Willinks, his life and creds, here is one of his few interviews from the Tim Ferriss podcast.
  3. Listening about Major Winters reminded me how much periods of conflict in history can teach us about the extremes of human vice and virtue. Extended periods of peace and affluence such as we have been knowing in Canada numbs us to what we — as a human race — are able to do, the good, the bad and the ugly. If, like me, you are looking at improving your history game, I recommend subscribing to the Hardcore History podcast by Dan Carlin. I am currently listening to the Prophets of Doom podcast (all 4 hours of it, I spend a lot of time in the car…). At the beginning of the podcast Dan Carlin says that he will probably offend both believers and unbelievers and apologizes for it. I’ll have to take his word on the unbelievers front although I can’t see how this podcast could be taken as anything but a vindication of Christopher Hitchen’s thesis that belief in a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom. From a Catholic perspective however, I observed that while Carlin goes to great pains to explain that his aim is to expose how thin the veneer of civility resting on our advanced civilization really is and not argue against religious belief, he consistently confuses Catholics behaving badly with “the Catholic Church”, a mistake he does not extend the reformers, whose murderous preachers and prophets are not confused with the Reformation itself. This may sound like an irrelevant distinction but for Catholics it’s an important one. The tenets of our faith are clearly laid out in the magisterium of the Catholic Church. It should be easy to sparse out the difference between what the Church believes and what failed humans make of it. And yet, every day, Catholics and non-Catholics alike mistake the two. Still, you should subscribe to Hardcore History because it’s a fascinating, engaging and well-produced romp through our stories.
  4. One of the issues that Dan Carlin exposes in the Prophets of Doom podcast — and I can’t find where in the 4 hour opus, you’ll have to forgive my shameless paraphrasing — is the explosive cocktail born out of alienation, religious fanaticism and what happens when you dilute an established and stable society with newcomers who neither share its culture or religion. If this bell rings uncannily familiar — as it would to anyone acquainted with the Swedish town of Molndal — it may be time to listen (again) to the last installment of the Munk debates on the global refugee crisis. History may not exactly repeat itself as the poet noted, but it sure rhymes a lot.
  5. Finally, if all this military and history stuff seems heavy, you might need to listen to this TED-like talk by satirist Pat Kelly of CBC This is That fame. #12 will blow your mind!

***BONUS FREE NUT!

6. I bought two pairs of Roots 2-Stripe Tribe Sandals, one to replace the pair of knock-off Birks I wore indoors and fell off my foot one sad morning and another one to wear outside because they are so amazing. You can take my word for it: Roots will not be sending me 11 pairs of 2-Stripe Tribe sandals for raving about them. “Comfortable insole with memory foam padding covered in suede” are not only the operative words here, they are the understatement of the century. This is like hugging your feet with clouds. Clouds with Cherubim, singing sweet nothings in four-part harmony to your tootsies.  Currently on sale, by the way.

 

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You don’t have to be on all the time


I was listening to the CBC Radio: Spark podcast on the effects of parental use of technology on children. This hit close to home. I use my iPhone for everything — from reading and writing to looking up recipes, words and maps, taking pictures, recording voice memos, shooting and editing my YouTube videos, communicating with my parents, husband and children, checking the weather, traffic, the news, streaming music and podcasts, look-up knitting patterns, get calendar reminders, learning Spanish on Duolingo, Netflix & Chillaxing, I must forgetting some — often fielding accusations from my children of being “always stuck to my phone”. My technology use is mostly family-related, serving their needs more than mine but appearances don’t lie: I use my phone a lot. I also remember how lonely, isolated and depressed I was before being able to connect to friends via social media. The podcast didn’t make any earth-shattering revelations for anyone who is aware that young children need their parents to be emotionally engaged. Whether you are distracted by your work, your book, your latest fling or the money you just don’t have, the question is not whether being tethered to your phone is harmful but whether it is harmful in different or more severe ways than everything else going on in your life. The study discussed in the podcast points to a shrinking attention span for children when their parents’ attention wanders.

Where the podcast rubbed my buttons the wrong way was with this quote:

“I see parents mindlessly pushing their kid on a swing while looking at their phone”

To be fair, the message was not that it is wrong to check your phone at the park but that your device should not prevent you from engaging in the normal activities of parenting such as the park. The image of the parent revelling in every ounce of childhood is one that won’t die. Once you are done cooking, cleaning, shopping, organizing, cuddling, control-towering, time-managing, refereeing and driving, you should also make a public display of gleeful cheer-leading while your children ask you for the 12 millionth time to look at them climb the slide backward for the 20 millionth time. I’m sorry but no. There is a surface covered in expensive, obsessively safe, kinetically-correct, expert-approved, City-stamped, edible, equipment right here. It has been designed to foster cooperative play with other children who are, conveniently, here at the same time you are, doing exactly the same thing you are. I gave you a bunch of siblings and believe me, it’s not because I like hospital food. So don’t mind me while I sit my ass down on this bench right here and check my phone while you have fun.

You don't have to be on all the time

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Netflix and Chills: Gran Hotel


Today I am reclaiming the concept of Netflix & Chill because someone has to and because there has to be a voice for people watching a period drama while knitting. Edgy. In Canada good TV shows are few and far between. Regional licensing *yawn* agreements — or lack thereof — mean that the Netflix Canada catalogue accounts for about half of what is available in the U.S. I don’t fancy myself a TV critic, even less a TV writer, but I do fancy myself demanding when it comes to how I waste my time. As such, I decided to share with you my favorite series and movies from the very limited selection available on Netflix Canada, starting with my latest infatuation  obsession, Gran Hotel. (The trailer below is in Spanish only but the Netflix offering has subtitles.)

After Downton Abbey was wrapped-up with a bow and a cherry on top — I like my endings happy and this beautiful series was tied-up with the same flawless class that characterized all 6 seasons – I found myself suffering from a severe case of hangover, which may have been due to my unapologetic crush on everything Matthew Goode . I started scouring Netflix for something, anything, to scratch that itch. Netflix kept suggesting “Grand Hotel” but from the cover pictures I could see that the production — including the costumes, writing and verisimilitude — would not be as tightly spun as my beloved Downton. Well, was I ever right in a wrong way!

 

Cast as the “Spanish Downton Abbey” Gran Hotel — titled “Grand Hotel” on Netflix — is set with the same “upstairs-downstairs” dynamics as Downton Abbey, and that’s about where any possible comparison stops. Where Downton Abbey sought to be a reflection of the era it portrayed, Gran Hotel is using the period as an accessory to its storytelling.

 

The popular series, which ran from 2011 to 2013 in Spain, is offered by Netflix in 3 seasons totaling 65 episodes of about an hour each (so that’s about 100 hours when you factor-in re-watching all the hottest kissing scenes, *coughs* *loosens collar*). The series is in Castilian (European) Spanish with English subtitles. The subtitles are easy to follow — and entertaining for the third season where typos, missing words and the original Spanish sneak-in, suggesting that the translator got as carried away as I did — and the repetitive nature of the plots, roving and twisting around each other, may even allow you to pick-up a few words of Spanish such as disculpe, lo siento and perdon (excuse me, I’m sorry and pardon me). It turns out that Spaniards apologize as much as Canadians do.

 

Each one the three seasons is wrapped around a main plot and a few simple subplots. But unlike American series who like their plots and subplots to go on forever and finish abruptly, Gran Hotel’s writers wound and unwound each plot with satisfying regularity. Questions are answered in ways that are not always believable but consistent once you accept to suspend just enough disbelief to enter into this lavish parallel universe. Gran Hotel is light and satisfying entertainment. There are no zombies, no gore, except for some obvious cinematic blood, and your favorite characters will not be killed willy-nilly. If this is how you like your entertainment, read on as I share — without spoilers except for one that should be obvious from the series’ cover picture — my 7 (plus one)  favorite things about Gran Hotel.

 

1. The romance. Here comes the obvious spoiler: the series is spun around the star-crossed romance between Julio (Yon Gonzalez) and Alicia (Amaia Salamanca). Now, I am a very demanding consumer when it comes to fictional romance and let me tell you, this is one of the most contagious TV romance I’ve seen since Colin Firth longingly beheld Jennifer Ehle in the BBC production of Pride & Prejudice. Gonzalez and Salamanca have incredible chemistry, they burn right through the screen. Pacing is the key to a good romance and this romance is perfectly ordered. It always leaves you yearning for more but never frustrated. Their first kiss — deservedly — won TV awards in Spain and each subsequent one is equally deserving, not to mention the hotter stuff. I’d watch the series just for the kissing, seriously. Add two beautiful actors speaking Spanish to each other with the slow-burning emotionality we’ve come to associate with everything Spaniard and you have a love story playing out without a false note over 60 hours.

2. The pacing. One thing that seriously annoys me in American TV entertainment is the tendency to take viewers within a hairsbreadth of a plot resolution, only to be taken on another round of near discoveries, near deaths and missteps. I heard Gran Hotel aptly described in The Protagonist Podcast — listen here, it takes about 10 minutes to get in gear but it does justice to the first 2 episodes and doesn’t contain any spoilers — as “Downton Abbey meets 24” and it’s a true description. Of course — as with 24 — viewers need to overlook how quickly characters get from one place to the next, get changed and read letters. But I was happy to oblige in exchange for not being taken down some obscure plot rabbit-hole.

 

3.The physicality. Spaniards sure like their face slaps and Gran Hotel actors really know how to put their backs into it. When Julio fights, he fights. At first I found it a little ridiculous, over the top maybe. But I came to appreciate the unrestrained physicality because it carried over to…

 

4. The men-hugs, men-tears and men generally being very expressive with each other. The friendship between Julio and Andrès is real and meaningful and nothing else would explain how Julio can keep his job by so rarely doing it. My British period drama habit had me used to very restrained displays of manly emotions. The spectrum of British male emoting oscillates between angry, outraged and “I’ll go speak to your father…” Julio and Andrès hug, kiss, confide in each other and cry in each other’s arms, while remaining perfectly attractive — and attracted — to the female kind. Fancy that.

 

5. The smoking. The series is a 60 hour long shameless and unrestrained cigarette advertisement. The smoking=sex pipeline is not even thinly veiled. To this Canadian viewer this is entertainment anathema and I love the Spanish for their unapologetic want for political correctness.

 

6. The beauty. This series is visually enchanting. The outdoor scenes were filmed at the historic Palacio de la Magdalena in Santander, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The men are good looking but the women are stunning in a non-Hollywood kind of way. The make-up was purposely kept to a very natural look, allowing us to truly appreciate the beauty of the ladies. Except for a few shots of bare backs throughout the 3 seasons, everyone keeps their clothes mostly on, even the few sex scenes are tasteful and understated. The beauty and romanticism are wrought through acting only and this is a feat that should be attempted by American entertainment sometimes.

Women of Gran Hotel

 

7. The cheese. There is some seriously awesome cheese in Gran Hotel. From oodles of fake blood, to a Laurel & Hardy-like policemen duet, to Julio digging his own grave with his shirt off, fighting with his shirt off, looking for a lost button with his shirt off, to babies being born completely clean and as chubby as 3 month-olds, to weird twists and turns in unlikely plot lines, Gran Hotel has a soap-operatic quality that would be overwhelming if it wasn’t for how honestly it comes by it. Embrace the cheese, don’t fight it.

(Plus one) * A word of warning to my Catholic readers. I know that many Catholics are sick and tired of the perpetually negative portrayal of the Catholic Church in entertainment. The third season of Gran Hotel features a plot line involving an affair with a Catholic priest. If you can’t stand the sight of a Catholic priest behaving badly, you might need to give the Padre Grau story-line a pass. I found it tolerable myself because unlike in American entertainment where he would have been portrayed as a cruel or sick pervert, Padre Grau comes across as just another sinner, which most priests of my knowledge would admit to be. Every single character in Gran Hotel has a morally questionable dimension. Everyone has a secret, everyone hides something, protects someone, makes poor decisions. The Catholic priest is just as sinful as the rest of the cast, no more, no less. Otherwise, Catholic ceremonies and Sacraments are portrayed tastefully and many a thing are left “en las manos de Nuestro Señor” (in the hands of Our Lord).

Et voilà! Gran Hotel is the stuff cult followings are made of and considering how much fun I had looking-up links and information for this post, I am in grave danger of booking a themed tour of Spain’s Mediterranean coastline soon. This is a series that remains true to itself from start to finish and consistently treats its viewership with respect. If you have a taste for pure escapism entertainment, book at night — or 20 — at the Gran Hotel.

Julio y Alicia

 

 

 

Categories: Family Life, Nothing in particular | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

A miscarriage debrief Part II


 

I wrote the first part of this debrief about 6 weeks after my miscarriage last September. Now that my due date has come and gone, I find myself dealing with a new range of emotions as I move past the shock of the miscarriage itself and into the realization of the broader ramifications of recovering from a significant health crisis.

 

I started showing signs of peri-menopause after the twins were born when I was 37. Low progesterone, erratic cycles, just the usual. When my husband and I decided to have another child in 2015, we knew that I was walking into a growing chance of miscarriage. I had never miscarried before but I knew enough women who had been through this ordeal not to expect to be spared forever. Through the years, pregnancy after pregnancy, I had always been acutely aware of my luck and of the increasing likelihood that it would eventually run out.

 

We conceived in May of 2015. I took a pregnancy test as soon as my periods were late and it came back negative. As my periods got later and later and pregnancy tests kept showing a negative result, I knew that this pregnancy was probably precarious. I took a third test, this one positive and my periods started the next day. It was a non-event. We celebrated the tiny flicker of life that had dwelled in me privately, without informing our children or our families. We were thankful that we had “tried” for this one. That we had known from day 1 that it was a possibility. The next cycle, I got pregnant again. This time, a strong positive test informed us of the existence of our baby number 10. We told our families right away and started informing friends and acquaintances as we saw them in person. It was an ideal pregnancy. For once I didn’t have any nausea. I started wearing maternity clothes in August and I met with my new midwife in early September. When I met my midwife, she offered to listen to the baby’s heartbeat adding: “I don’t like searching for a heartbeat at 10 weeks because we often don’t hear it and it really makes parents nervous.” I assured her that I knew what was in the realm of possibilities and we searched, in vain, for a heartbeat. I kept a brave face because I knew that 10 weeks was too early but in previous pregnancies I had always been able to hear a heartbeat at my first appointment. In other words, “normal” wasn’t normal for me.

 

The next day, I started seeing some spotting. “Bleeding is not normal but it’s common” my midwife told me, “you don’t need to do anything unless the bleeding becomes a concern.” And so I waited. I relied on the encouraging words of friends who had gone through episodes of bleeding and visualized myself at an ultrasound being showed a healthy beating heart and a pesky hematoma.

 

Two days shy of completing my 12th week of pregnancy, I was in the basement with my husband sorting through all the newborn clothes when I started bleeding heavily. I was not feeling any cramping or contractions, it was like my body was trying to flush the fetus by opening the faucet. I headed for the hospital wearing three menstrual pads and sitting on a towel.

 

I soaked through everything during the 20-minute drive to the hospital. I immediately went to the bathroom as I felt a giant blood clot coming through. It was so big that it fell in the toilet with a splash and splattered blood all over the walls and the floor. I called the nurse for help and she casually walked-in, flushed the toilet and helped me back to my gurney. Was it my fetus? I will never know. A few hours later when the gynecologist was able to remove the retained tissue causing the hemorrhage there was only parts of a tiny placenta, a tiny cord and a tiny, ripped-up, sac left. I told my husband to take pictures of whatever came out. That’s all I have, along with my unshakable belief in my fetus’ unique, eternal soul.

 

I eventually passed out from the blood loss a few minutes after joking: “I can bleed like this for *days* with no side effect!!” — loosely quoting Meet the Robinsons because what else are you going to do while everyone is watching you miscarry but quote Disney movies? I fought it hard until a nurse told me: “You’re in a hospital, we’re here, you’re lying down, you can go.” Suddenly, there was no more pain and no more worry. I was completely comfortable even as I felt and heard people rushing around me, insert an IV into each of my arm and push a bolus of saltwater into my body. I knew that there was nothing I could do but pray and let people do their work. I remembered a friend who was in labor and thought that I could offer-up my loss for her son’s healthy birth. So I prayed and I floated. There was nothing else I could do but rest in the arms of God and trust. I still remember the supernatural calm and clarity of the time I spent “under” with a smile.

 

I’m telling you all this because before my miscarriage I thought that I would handle miscarriage with sadness but also an understanding that pregnancy loss was an integral part of the experience of motherhood. When I lost the first pregnancy in May, I knew that my low progesterone would make it difficult to carry a pregnancy past the first few weeks and I thought that I would keep trying. Now, I must come to terms with the fact that even trying to conceive in the current circumstances would be unhealthy. Walking into repeated miscarriages is more than an exercise in accepting God’s will, as I have read in some forums, it’s a gamble with your health. A miscarriage can be as straightforward as a heavy period or it may cause a hemorrhage, require surgery, a blood transfusion or even a hysterectomy. We simply don’t know how and when our bodies will pull the plug on a pregnancy and this has been, for me, a very painful realization. Can I sacrifice my health — a health that is not only my own but that of the family who depends on me — to have the child that I so painfully desire?

 

Lately, I have been struggling with the notion of sacrificial love. The Catholic Church — to which I belong — is all about sacrificial love. In the Catholic Church, nothing should be held back from God. Our lives are not our own. We know that Heaven is opened to those who are “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.” This self-sacrificing perfection is acquired in this world or in the next through purgatory — but it must be acquired before we can rise to eternal life. Saints’ stories are rife with men and women who have sacrificed their health and even their lives in the pursuit of holiness. But it is equally rife with stories of ordinary people seeking holiness through quiet, ordinary lives, in their work, their families and their communities. Is the desire for another child a sign that I am called to offer-up my health in the pursuit of self-sacrificial love? Or, if we believe as the Evangelist Matthew tells us, that where our treasure is, there our heart is also, is the desire for another child the earthly attachment that needs to be offered-up, sacrificed?

 

This is the discernment that has been gripping my heart and my soul since the due date that wasn’t. While I was still supposed to be pregnant, I was struggling with the loss of what should have been. But when the friends and acquaintances who were due at the same time I was started welcoming their babies earthside, the bellies lost their anonymity and their babies were obviously not mine. I shed the feeling of present loss like a snakeskin and moved into foreboding, a realization that the future would look very different from what I thought it would be. In discerning whether I am called to sacrifice my health or my desire for another child, this fear is telling. Fear is never from God. When I start comparing myself to others and feeling like I “only” have 9 children, when I start feeling inadequate because I didn’t have a certain number of children, when the desire for another child overshadows my gratitude for my existing 9 amazing children, when I start feeling less, when I see a mother of 10, 11, 12 as more worthy than I am, I know that I am idolizing a larger family, that I am beholding a golden calf. Sacrifices should not be easy. When getting pregnant despite the health implications appears easier than accepting the end of my reproductive years as it is, I know where I need to direct my spiritual gaze.

 

And thus I will give until it hurts, a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, as I know that it will be returned to me in eternity where I will finally meet the children I never had.

Canada Parachute edit

Categories: Family Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Des nouvelles de la famille, Volume III


Bonjour à tous de la part du clan! Il y a longtemps que je vous dois des nouvelles fraîches et des photos récentes.  Les journées sont longues mais les semaines sont courtes : soudainement nous sommes aux portes du printemps – le printemps ontarien, il faut le préciser, encore à plusieurs pas des fleurs et des sandales – et il y a 3 mois que je n’ai rien publié.

L’hiver s’est poursuivi tel qu’il avait commencé, au ralenti, toujours au rythme de ma récupération. Je suis passée sous le scalpel du dentiste juste avant Noël, ça m’a fait un beau trou dans la bouche, complet avec greffe osseuse, points de sutures et antibiotiques. J’ai trinqué la nouvelle année aux substituts de repas liquides, bien loin du champagne. Éventuellement, j’ai récupéré, repris du poil de la bête. Nous avons célébré Noël en compagnie de nos enfants et de nos familles respectives et la simplification forcée n’a en aucune manière tempérée notre joie de revoir nos parents, frères, sœurs, neveux et nièces.

Décembre 2015

Décembre 2015

Décembre en shorts

Décembre en shorts

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25 décembre versus 1 janvier

25 décembre versus 1 janvier

 

L’hiver était doux et la neige s’est fait attendre. Nous avons passé un joli Noël presque vert, ou plutôt brunâtre le froid ayant jauni l’herbe et dénudé les arbres. Les enfants ont fait du vélo en shorts à l’aube de la nouvelle année, précédant la toute première bordée par quelques minutes, comme l’auraient fait des cyclistes de compétition essayant de battre le nuage aux joues gonflées de tempête. Nous avons rapidement troqué les pédales pour les skis et saisi avec enthousiasme  le bras du bonhomme hiver.

Janvier, février, mars et avril se sont égrenés au rythme des semaines. Colin, qui étudie l’administration des affaires au Collège militaire royal, vient souvent nous visiter de Kingston pour la fin de semaine, Clara a terminé son entraînement militaire de base et poursuit ses études en biologie à l’Université d’Ottawa. Éloïse et Marie continuent leur programme d’études à domicile. Éloïse travaille comme coach de gymnastique en ville et le rythme de ses quarts de travail ponctue la logistique de notre famille : nous profitons de ces sorties en ville pour y faire l’épicerie, rencontrer des amis ou aller voir un film en l’attendant. Marie et Éloïse poursuivent leur entraînement de gymnastique mais ont cessé la compétition. Nous semblons avoir trouvé un point d’équilibre et notre vie familiale, quoique toujours mouvementée, en tire tout le bénéfice.

Paul travaille, Véronique gère, les enfants remuent et le dindon dîne… Ça n’empêche pas que dans les mois d’été, les mitaines se mitent. 

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Cabane à sucre Fortune près de la maison

Cabane à sucre Fortune près de la maison

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Le printemps devrait approcher mais alors que j’écris ces lignes un lourd manteau de neige mouillée recouvre la région d’Ottawa. Les enfants refusent pourtant d’accepter ce revers de Dame Nature et s’entêtent à chevaucher leurs vélos. David et Sarah se sont entichés d’ornithologie et armés de leurs nouvelles jumelles sortent tous les jours observer les canards qui ont élu un domicile temporaire dans nos champs détrempés. Damien meurt de les accompagner et  ne comprend pas pourquoi un bambin de 23 mois n’est pas le bienvenu auprès des férus d’observation tranquille. Sa patte de velours est encore en développement.

Les fêtes de Pâques ont succédées à celles de Noël, parsemées d’anniversaires. Marie avec la nouvelle année, puis Éloïse, Sarah, Paul et David. Les Pâques hâtives de 2016 ont laissé les anniversaires de Clara et Damien, généralement célébrés au cours de la semaine Pascale, pour plus tard. Cette année, la fin de semaine de Pâques a été marquée par le décès de notre amie Sylvie, la belle-mère de ma sœur Sophie. Le cancer métastatique a emporté le corps de Sylvie mais nous savons que son âme est toujours à nos côtés. La fin de semaine dernière, j’ai eu le privilège de me rendre à Sherbrooke pour les funérailles de Sylvie. C’est aux côtés de mon père que j’ai eu l’occasion de réfléchir sur les traces que nous laissons en ce monde avant de rejoindre le prochain. J’ai eu l’occasion de voir ma sœur réconforter son mari, mon beau-frère, qui a perdu sa maman à l’aube de sa vie de papa. J’ai eu le plaisir d’entendre mon frère et son épouse partager leur talent immense et chanter, permettant à nos sens de saisir la beauté qui transcende la vie et la mort, de toucher l’éternel. Je n’ai pas choisi mes parents, mes frères et sœurs, ou les gens avec lesquels ils ont décidé de bâtir leur vie, mon beau-frère et ma belle-sœur. Ces gens qui m’ont été donnés comme un cadeau que je n’ai pas mérité mais que je reçois avec une reconnaissance empreinte d’humilité.

À la fin de la messe funéraire, un moment d’une grande beauté m’a saisi par les tripes, qu’il n’a toujours pas relâchées. La famille de Sylvie a déposé des grains d’encens dans une coupe en étain. Le prêtre, vêtu de sa chasuble blanche, tenait la coupe à bout de bras, vers le ciel, alors que l’encens brûlait, montant en volutes vers la coupole de l’église. Par cette journée de grisaille printanière, le soleil s’est découvert juste à temps pour percer les vitraux de ses rayons et rencontrer la fumée qui s’élevait  en tourbillons de plus en plus épais et de plus en plus rapides. Le prêtre a tenu la pose pour la durée de la pièce Spiegel im Spiegel, dans un moment d’une beauté imposante dans son intensité et sa signifiance. Je suis partie des funérailles de Sylvie plus vivante que je n’y était entrée, avec un sens d’avoir reçu un flambeau, une mission. On m’a remercié d’être venue d’Ottawa mais j’ai en réalité reçu beaucoup plus que je n’ai donné. Merci.

Nous continuons notre petit bout de chemin accompagnés de nos enfants. J’ai commencé à poser les assises d’un roman que j’espère pouvoir mener à terme malgré le doute qui m’assaille à chaque tournant. J’ai encore plusieurs projets de publication sur l’art de ne pas laisser les enfants mourir de faim ainsi que le dévelopment de ma chaîne YouTube et de mon blogue. Ces projets évoluent encore au ralenti, empiégés par l’inexorabilité du temps qui passe, des enfants qui grandissent, des repas et de l’enseignement à domicile. Si vous trouvez une recette infaillible pour la maison qui se range seule et pour ajouter 6 heures à mes journées, je suis toute oreilles.

Categories: Family Life | 1 Comment

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