Friday, 15 August 2014

Summer Reading

Since I missed July's overview, I've got a big crop of books in this quick review. Looks like I had some time for reading, too, over the summer holidays...

Linking up with Modern Mrs Darcy's Twitterature. Go there for lots of great short book reviews - I know that my To Be Read list always grows when I read the Twitterature posts.


Niequist, Shauna: Cold Tangerines
Niequist, Shauna: Bread and Wine
I read both of these during our road trip. Plenty of good food for thought. I love the encouragement to live fully and to enjoy friendships and build relationships at the table. And to see God's presence in the ordinary, everyday life.

Lederer, Richard: Anguished English
and More Anguished English
Collections of funny language bloopers. My kind of humour. Such as:
"She watched as her father returned home with the horses all dressed in cowboy attire."

Hughes, Patrick Henry: I Am Potential
Patrick Henry and his Dad share their story. Basically, one of those "a disabled kid with talent, perseverance and a can-do attitude" inspirational stories. A very good read. For more information about this young man, see his website at

 Hopgood, Mei-Ling: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm (And Other Adventures in Parenting, from Argentina to Tanzania and everything in between)
Mei-Ling Hopgood looks at different aspects of parenting, like bedtimes, food, potty training, etc., and how differently things are done around the world. I like her attitude: she keeps an open mind, respects the choices of others and tries to pick those methods that work for her family as well as the culture she lives in.

Lights, Camera...Travel!
Lonely Planet's anthology of travel stories by film-makers and screen personalities. The stories are as varied as the writers and their locations, from Brooke Shields's igloo-building adventure to Brett Paesel rafting on a river in India. Good for relaxed reading.

Lilwall, Rob: Cycling Home From Siberia
A British geography teacher spends three and a half years cycling, starting from wintery Siberia and going through e.g. Japan, Papua New Guinea, Australia... so, not the straightest route. Quite a good travel story, though obviously he has had to leave out many interesting things to keep the book length at least somewhat reasonable. #epicadventures

Rajesh, Monisha: Around India in 80 Trains
A British journalist (with Indian heritage) travels all around India in trains. The 4-month journey is quite an adventure, and Monisha writes well. I mostly enjoyed reading this, though the vivid descriptions do not exactly inspire me to go and experience it myself. (I'm not quite that adventurous :) )


Lucas, Jeff: Up Close and Personal (What Helen Did Next)
I was eager to read this, as I loved Helen Sloane's Diary, and I wasn't disappointed. Helen has a lot going on in her life: coping with grief and loss(es) on the other hand, and new promising developments on the other hand. Some romance, even, in the air...
As I wrote about the first part: good points and insights about Christianity (as well as relationships in general), communicated through a story with humour.

McCall Smith, Alexander:
The Double Comfort Safari Club
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

"No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" sounds like a detective series, doesn't it? Yet I don't think anyone reads these books for their detective plots, but rather for the characters and the setting. It's like taking a little trip to Botswana. 

Reading this series is a bit like having a cup of tea with a friend on a pleasant, shady terrace. The pace is slow, contemplative. No gruesome murders, not a lot of 'action' - but lots of pondering and insights about human nature, Botswana culture and things changing over time.
I love these books the same way I love to pause and take a deep breath when life gets hectic. 

However, if I read very many of these in a row, they start to feel repetitive. (Just like you can't stay on the terrace drinking tea forever :) So, good in small doses. And you gotta love a name like Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon...

NB: The ones I mention here are at the end of the series, and I think I've missed some in between. If the series is new to you, better start at the beginning, so you get to know the characters and their background. (This link goes to the Wikipedia article about the series, if you want to find out about the previous books and their order.)

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Travelling Alone, Or Not

I used to be a solo traveller.

I was way past thirty when I got married; I lived many good years as a single woman. Occasionally, I travelled with friends, and as I got older and more confident in my ability to cope on my own, I began to travel solo.

I didn't do any 'epic' adventure trips alone. But I loved exploring and experiencing those places alone, on my own pace, free to change my plans on a whim.

So my heart beat faster and my head nodded in agreement when I read this, written by Shauna Niequist in Cold Tangerines:

There are only two things I like to do alone: reading and traveling, and for the same reason. When you travel, and when you read, you are not actually alone, but rather surrounded by other worlds entirely, the footsteps and phrases of whole other lives keeping you company as you go.
It felt like being at a fancy hotel's breakfast buffet, where you're so overwhelmed by the options, you almost want to give up, but more than overwhelmed, you are delighted, and you want to taste every single bite, and just walking up to the stacks of plates makes you feel like something great is happening to you. That's how it feels to be alone in a city, like something great is always about to happen to you. And it always is. There's always some side street or café or painting in a gallery or park or person or something that takes your breath away. And you look differently when you're alone. When you're with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there's no other way to preserve it.

This comparison of reading and travelling hit me somewhere deep in my heart. Yes, yes. To be surrounded by the unfamiliar, to see and hear it, smell and taste it. To imagine what it would be like living there. Momentary immersion. Writing it on my heart.

But as soon as I had read this, something in me whispered: "I should not have read this right now."

We were in the middle of a family road trip. I'm no longer a solo traveller, I'm a mom traveller.

I do love travelling with my husband and my child. Seeing places not only from my perspective but theirs, too. Sharing experiences and discoveries. Again, Shauna Niequist has written eloquently about why they travel with their children:

...We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. I want them to know that "our way" isn't the right way, but just one way, that children all over the world, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighbourhood - they love to play, to discover, to learn.
        I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn't bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see themselves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful play, not as the main characters in the drama in our living room. I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bit of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious.
Shauna Niequist in Bread and Wine

Yes, yes, yes to travelling together and helping my child to understand and experience that "different isn't bad" and our way is not the only right way. (I'm not so sure all the tastes and textures of the world are delicious, though. Perhaps Shauna has not yet encountered Swedish surströmming. :) )

What I really want to know is how Shauna is able to reconcile her 'solo traveller' and her 'family traveller' identities. Perhaps she gets plenty of solo travelling because of her work - speaking engagements, etc.? Enough to satisfy her taste for solo travel?

But my circumstances are different. I haven't travelled alone anywhere since getting married - 11 years ago tomorrow.

And if I start to long for solo travelling in the middle of a family road trip...? It's like seeing a little puzzle piece of my identity, a piece that has been lost under the carpet for so long that it has no place in the puzzle any more, now that the other pieces have shifted and changed shapes.

As a mom traveller, I can't focus solely on my own experiences. At least some part of my focus is always on the child - his well-being, his need for information. I need to constantly adapt my pace to his.

And yet I still have also this need for experiencing new places on my own. How do I put these pieces together? Our circumstances do not allow for me to hop off on solo trip. Getting some solitary hours in the middle of a family trip is great, when it's feasible - but I need to be more intentional about that, because if I don't ask for it, it's not going to happen.

I wonder how others solve this?