bogeyandruby

Random stuff, reflections on the meaning of life and death, humour, self-deprecation, a bit of bad poetry.

Every once in a while, I check out LinkedIn to see what’s out there in the job market. I’m still waiting for my dream job that will combine stacking books and removing foam from lattes.

Instead of exciting job offers, however, there was a private message from someone who seems to think I need a wardrobe makeover, as if I don’t dress down enough as it is.

« Hi Sharon,

I know we don’t know each other but I’ve been using this athleisure line that is comfortable and holds up well during workouts to running errands; I love it. I don’t know if you’d like it, but I’m just curious, would you be open to checking it out? If you are, great, and if not, no big deal. Let me know either way. »

I responded:

« Hi Kendra,

Sure. I am very short and chubby. I usually wear children’s yoga pants size 10-12 and adult sizes on top. What do you recommend?

Thanks, Sharon »

I will keep you posted …

My husband just asked why I was watching Herman Munster videos on YouTube.

Truthfully, I was looking for one of Herman’s epic foot stomping scenes to validate that Sunday before Monday feeling of not wanting to go to work tomorrow. “I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna!”

A sore hip has put a real damper on my tantrums of late. Imagine throwing things around with an inflamed rotator cuff or yelling at someone when you’ve got laryngitis. You get the picture.

I did find a scene of Herman smashing a guitar but yikes, I’d never do that.

Funny thing, watching the videos eased the crummy feeling in my tummy. Laughter will do that for you every time. Grandpa was my favourite Munster (“The last time I tried to sleep in a place this small, some guy shovelled dirt in my face.”) and I could totally relate to Eddie Munster’s draconian widow’s peak.

Now if only I could sort out this hip problem. Physiotherapist, heal thyself, lest you find yourself walking like Herman Munster, smashing your guitars instead of stomping your feet.

Like most of you, getting through the past year was an uphill trudge.

Working as a frontline healthcare worker during present circumstances is stressful but I am grateful for an excuse to get out of the house everyday and for the fact that I have a public sector job that is secure.

My husband, spending his last few teaching months prior to retirement at home, held the fort and helped out with my elderly parents who were hunkered down in their house.

Being a natural introvert who loves time alone spent at home, I barely notice COVID restrictions though I am sensitive to the impact it is having on extroverted friends as well as my sixteen year old son in his final year of high school.

If there was one thing that got me through this pandemic, it would have to be reading. For the second year in a row, I have surpassed my New Year’s intention to read 52 books in as many weeks. In fact, this year I more than doubled that amount with a total of 113 books read. All those books read initially with a cataract in my left eye, through cataract surgery in August, through reading with my right eye only post-op as my left eye is now set for monovision, 20/20 for distance only.

One of the most validating aspects of this personal reading challenge has been the feedback I’ve received from fellow bookworms: that my shared journey and monthly list of books read has prompted them to read more themselves.

My intention for 2021 will be the same, with perhaps less of an emphasize on number of books read. The reason for that is I have several large tomes waiting to be read, such as A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, all 1349 pages of it, languishing on my bookshelf since it was first published in 1993.

My intention is to read and I intend to make reading a priority during my free time.

For those of you who have asked for my complete list, here it is. The scoring system is entirely subjective so please don’t let the lack of hearts on any one selection put you off.

Also, do feel free to share your reading experience during the pandemic. Did you read more or less? Were there some topics that were off limits? Also, how did you obtain your reading material? Did you shop local, online, or did you borrow from your local library or bookworm?

Wishing you a safe and prosperous 2021 and of course, happy reading!

Namaste 🙏

January

1. Transcription — Kate Atkinson ❤️

2. The Dutch House — Ann Patchett ❤️

3. The Ghost Garden — Susan Doherty ❤️

4. The Handmaid’s Tale — Margaret Atwood ❤️

5. Be My Guest — Priya Basil ❤️

6. Reproduction — Ian Williams

7. Late Migrations — Margaret Renkl ❤️❤️❤️

8. The Cello Suites — Eric Siblin ❤️❤️

9. The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy — edited by John Brehm

10. Unsheltered — Barbara KIngsolver

February

11. The Family Fang — Kevin Wilson

12. Finding Yourself in the Kitchen — Dana Velden

13. Roseanne — Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö ❤️

14. The Inner Work of Racial Justice — Rhonda V. Magee ❤️❤️

15. The Inconvenient Indian — Thomas King ❤️❤️❤️

16. When We Were Vikings — Andrew David MacDonald ❤️❤️

17. 77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin — Thomas King (poems) ❤️

18. The Diabetes Code — Dr. Jason Fung ❤️

March

19. The Skin We’re In — Desmond Cole ❤️

20. Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them — Philippe Legrain ❤️ (a very interesting read though I found myself skimming through the economic details)

21. Radicalized — Colin Doctorow (Well written but way too dystopian and close to home for the times.)

22. The Five — Hallie Rubenhold ❤️❤️ (A fascinating social history of Jack the Ripper’s victims.)

23. The Testaments — Margaret Atwood ❤️

April

24. American Dirt — Jeanine Cummins ❤️ (Well-written and suspenseful but difficult to read during the pandemic.)

25. The Sentence Is Death — Anthony Horowitz 👍

26. The Cuckoo’s Calling — Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) ❤️ (I will definitely read more of this detective series.)

27. The Forgotten Waltz — Anne Enright ❤️❤️ (Gorgeous writing, poignant story)

May

28. The Gifts of Imperfection — Brene Brown

29. The Tiny Journalist — Naomi Shihab Nye (Poetry) ❤️❤️

30. The Silkworm — Robert Galbraith ❤️

31. Weather — Jenny Offill ❤️❤️❤️

32. Sorry I’m Late, I didn’t Want to Come — Jessica Pan ❤️

33. Career of Evil — Robert Galbraith ❤️

34. Small Game Hunting at the Local Gun Club — Megan Gail Coles

35. Wild Milk — Sabrina Orah Mark

June

36. My Dark Vanessa — Kate Elizabeth Russell

37. Lethal White — Robert Galbraith ❤️

38. The Babies — Sabrina Orah Mark ❤️

39. 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act — Bob Joseph ❤️❤️❤️

40. Girl, Woman, Other — Bernardine Evaristo ❤️

41. Dept. Of Speculation — Jenny Offill ❤️

42. I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf — Grant Snider

July

43. Tea and Cake with Demons —Adreanna Limbach

44. Washington Black — Esi Edugyan ❤️❤️

45. One Hundred Years of Solitude — Gabriel García Márquez

46. Dreadful Water — Thomas King ❤️

47. Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano — Marthe Jocelyn ❤️

48. My Sister, the Serial Killer — Oyinkan Braithwaite ❤️

49. Feel Free — Zadie Smith ❤️

50. The Girls with No Names — Serena Burdick ❤️

51. A Paris Year — Janice MacLeod ❤️

52. The Heart Does Break — George Bowering and Jean Baird

August

53. Breath — James Nestor ❤️❤️

54. Cloud Games with Plums — Rose Maloukis (poetry) ❤️❤️❤️

55. We Have Always Been Here —Samara Habib ❤️❤️

56. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone —Lori Gottlieb

57. Where the Crawdads Sing — Delia Owens ❤️❤️

58. The Jane Austen Society — Nathalie Jenner ❤️

59. Intimations, Six Essays — Zadie Smith

60. Big Sky — Kate Atkinson ❤️

61. Snowblind — Ragnar Jónasson

62. Hamnet & Judith — Maggie O’Farrell ❤️

63. Grief is the Thing with Feathers — Max Porter ❤️❤️❤️

64. Fleishman Is in Trouble — Taffy Brodesser-Akner ❤️

65. The Long Call — Ann Cleeves ❤️

66. Vesper Flights — Helen Macdonald ❤️❤️❤️

September

67. The House in the Cerulean Sea — TJ Klune ❤️

68. So You Want to Talk About Race — Ijeoma Oluo ❤️❤️

69. Migrations — Charlotte McConaghy ❤️❤️❤️

70. Nobody Ever Talks About Anything But the End — Liz Levine ❤️❤️❤️

71. One by One — Ruth Ware

72. Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder — Julia Zarankin

73. The Gilded Cage — Camilla Lackberg

74. Last Things — Jenny Offill ❤️❤️❤️

75. Anxious People — Fredrik Backman ❤️❤️

76. The Girl Who Lived Twice — David Lagercrantz❤️❤️

October

77. Songs for the End of the World — Saleema Nawaz ❤️

78. Framed — Frank Cottrell Boyce ❤️❤️❤️

79. Broccoli Boy — Frank Cottrell Boyce

80. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night — Heather O’Neill

81. Just Mercy — Bryan Stevenson ❤️❤️❤️

82. Hyperbole and a Half — Allie Brosh

83. Everything Under — Daisy Johnson

84. Commonwealth — Ann Patchett ❤️

85. Phantom — Jo Nesbo ❤️

86. The Bird Way — Jennifer Ackerman ❤️❤️❤️

87. Empire of the Wild — Cherie Dimaline ❤️❤️

88. Falcon — Helen Macdonald ❤️

89. Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life — Rose Tremain ❤️

90. The Queen’s Accomplice — Susan Elia MacNeal ❤️

November

91. A Room of One’s Own/Three Guineas — Virginia Woolf ❤️

92. Horrorstör — Grady Hendrix ❤️❤️

93. The Guest List — Lucy Foley

94. We Have Always Lived in the Castle — Shirley Jackson ❤️❤️❤️

95. Six of Crows — Leigh Bardugo ❤️

96. Crooked Kingdom — Keigh Bardugo ❤️

97. Dearly — Margaret Atwood ❤️

98. Everyday Inspirations — edited by Julia K. Rohan ❤️

99. On Photography — Susan Sontag ❤️

100. Stranger Diaries — Elly Griffiths ❤️

101. No Time Like the Future — Michael J. Fox ❤️❤️❤️

102. Indians on Vacation— Thomas King ❤️

103. Memorial Suite — Jocelyne Dubois ❤️❤️❤️

104. The Lonely City — Olivia Laing ❤️❤️❤️

December

105. Deep Country — Neil Ansell ❤️❤️

106. Old Filth — Jane Gardham ❤️

107. Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead — Olga Tokarczuk ❤️❤️❤️

108. So Long, See You Tomorrow — William Maxwell ❤️❤️❤️

109. How to Pronounce Knife — Souvankham Thammavongsa ❤️❤️

110. The Man in the Wooden Hat — Jane Gardam ❤️

111. A Girl Returned — Donatella Di Pietrantonio ❤️❤️❤️

112. The Namesake — Jhumpa Lahiri ❤️❤️

113. Interpreter of Maladies — Jhumpa Lahiri ❤️❤️❤️

Mike, we always hated that saying “everything happens for a reason”. We preferred to say things happened because of science. Where we once gazed at the same moon, 600 km apart, over respective heartbreaks, I am alone tonight under this bleak November moon. And you are gone because of science, the final heartbreak that stopped your huge and loving heart.

Tomorrow is your birthday but you will not age or eat cake. And I am inconsolable knowing that.

I miss you, my friend.

Happy Diwali!

Yesterday, I picked up an order of samosas and barfi for my dad at a local Indian restaurant/sweet shop.

While showing us around Delhi on family trip to India in November 2001, our tour guide (who happened to be Hindu and who took us around mostly Hindu temples) was emphatic « We are all Hindus. » Picture an Indian head nod and frantic doorknob turning hands and wrists as added flourish to this statement. Indeed, during Diwali, Festival of Lights, we truly are united in our victory over darkness, evil and ignorance.

Photo credit: Valerie Rosen Photography

Here is an excerpt from my journal entry as we landed in India on the eve of Diwali.

November 11th, 2001:

The flight over was interminably long. Poor mom didn’t have much of a meet and greet service from Dorval but there was better service from Amsterdam and then again in Delhi. The wheelchairs were a little ancient looking when we reached our final destination but hey, this is India.

When we landed, mom immediately remarked it smelled like the India she remembered arriving in Bombay in 1962 to marry dad. It was dank and pungent and slightly exotic, not altogether unpleasant.

After getting through immigration, we entered a large open area where people were waiting for their loved ones. Our « loved one » was the travel agent, Mr. Shawshank. Lots of cries of « taxi » rang out, which I had read about in the Lonely Planet guide. Not looking forward to being ripped off, another assurance from the book.

Driving is on the left side here, influenced by the British, no doubt. We didn’t see many other cars but there were a lot of palm trees along the way, not to mention a rather large cow crossing the road. Cows are sacred in India and whereas the driver may have continued if it was a person crossing the road, he did slow down for the cow. It was all a bit surreal.

Upon arrival, we noted the hotel rooms were clean but damp and the showers more than adequate considering where we were.

Monday, November 12th, 2001:

Had a wake up call at 7:30 am and a decent enough buffet breakfast of mildly Indian and mostly Western fare.

Our first glimpse of Delhi in the day was overwhelming as our driver picked us up. There were people everywhere, from beggars to the upper classes, and the traffic was a plethora of buses, cars, taxis, auto rickshaws, bicycles and pedestrians.

Why does everyone honk here? It does absolutely no good!

We drove to the travel agency first, where dad was surveyed by no less than seven people, as he paid for his travel vouchers.

Afterwards, we met our driver, Pandi, and our guide, Mr. Narang, a pleasant, short fellow with a lone tooth slightly left of centre on the bottom row of where his other teeth used to be. The latter, with a notably Hindu point of view, went on to explain the history of Delhi as we visited our first temple called Birla Mandir, dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and good fortune. (The three main Hindu gods are: Vishnu the preserver, Brahma the preserver and Shiva the destroyer.)

We were distracted momentarily from our reverie when a young man shook dad’s hand and promptly handed his baby over to my sister for a photo opportunity. Apparently it is quite fashionable for Indians to have their photo taken with foreigners.

Off next to the Jama Masjid mosque in Old Delhi which is the largest mosque in India, built by Shah Jahan between 1644 to 1658. It has three great gateways, four angled towers and two minarets, forty meters high. It is constructed of alternating strips of sandstone and white marble. According to Mr. Narang, cleaners hit the walls with pieces of cloth to remove dust and debris.

This was our biggest shock yet as there were beggars everywhere, some horribly deformed from leprosy, shouting Allah, Allah in the hot sun.

At the entrance to the mosque, we removed our shoes (praying they would be there when we got back) and walked through a wide courtyard. Prayers were beginning as men recited the Koran. No women were present and there were no idols or images of God. As our toothless guide explained, the Muslims believe God to be beyond our concept or possible imagination.

People stared and swarmed around us, some trying to rub shoulders, others taking photos. I fear we are destined to be in several local holiday photo albums.

All eyes were on dad as he opened his money belt to pay the mosque shoe guardian.

En route back to the car, we passed through some alleyways and saw people living in what was less than a shanty for shelter. There was also a compound with chickens and goats which were to be slaughtered at the end of Ramadan.

When we got to our van, the beggars crowded in. Apparently many will hire children or babies to get sympathy and money.

Driving through the market in Old Delhi, the decorations were up for Diwali. Rickshaws were everywhere including school bus versions and people were continuously banging at the window hawking their ware or begging for money.

Next we went to the Gandhi Memorial or Raj Ghat as on the other side there is a river. There is a simple square platform of black marble marking the spot where Gandhi was cremated after his assassination in 1948.

Dad found a plaque written in Urdu and asked me to take a photo. I’m not sure why he asked me to take a photo because when I later asked him what the plaque said, he replied that he had no idea. (Urdu is his first language, by the way.)

Lunch was at a restaurant in town where I ate my favourite Indian dish: channa (chick pea curry) and roti (chapatis). I was determined not to eat any meat during this trip.

Afterwards we went to Humayun’s Tomb and then the Qutab Minar Complex. At this point I had had my fill of temples and monuments and was pleasantly distracted by a display of puja cut into a banyan tree.

Through a market area, a madhouse of people were lined up for hours to buy sweets for Diwali which is on November 14th this year. Apparently a favourite shop is Nathus. During Diwali, family members exchange gifts of flowers and sweets. Wrapped in silver or red and gold foil, boxes of sweets are piled high in people’s cars or tucked under their arms. It’s a wonderful, festive time to be in Delhi.

In the meantime, everyone is honking and no one is paying any attention.

Our driver Pandi says you need « good horn, good brakes, good luck » to drive in Delhi. A sense of humour doesn’t hurt either.

We finished the day with a good Bollywood flick before heading to bed.

Namaste 🙏

I convinced Ian that we should dress up as murderers this Halloween. Who knew a costume could be so easy?

“And if your eyebrow goes straight across your head, you will most likely become a murderer.”

“Oh, my God!” someone shrieked, touching their face.”

—  Elaine McCluskey, The Most Heartless Town in Canada 

For some of us, this will come naturally.

What are you dressing up as?

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day.

A week ago I traipsed down to the local dog park, macro lens in tow, intent on photographing a magical mushroom Ian had told me about earlier in the day.

Actually he told me about two mushrooms, one phallic shaped and the other a perfect flower. A low to the ground mushroom has its advantages. By the time we returned to the spot, the penis shaped mushroom had been trampled on whereas the rose shaped one was left intact.

I spent twenty blissful minutes photographing the flower mushroom, arranging and rearranging various fall leaves around it into a perfect flat lay.

Not once in that mindful twenty minutes was I aware of the black cloud of doom that had been hovering over my shoulder for the past six weeks. I stomped on eggshells (avoiding the mushroom, of course), erected boundaries (that included my vignette) and didn’t give a whit about World Mental Health Day.

Alas, our perfect mushroom was too good to be true. What the lens didn’t pick up, the editing process did. That perfect flowering mushroom turned out to be a polyester doodad, planted by some jokester, likely the same one who trampled the young shaggy mane.

Which brings me back to the dark cloud. Sometimes a distraction will successfully blow it away. Other times it’s about saving yourself when you are too exhausted to do any more for someone you care about.

It means turning away from the blame, the anger, and the shame and shifting the weight of responsibility that comes with being the eldest child/third parent. It’s asking someone else to carry the load for a while and if there is no one available, just leaving it there.

I envy the people who can just be open about it. Those who can vent and rant and rave. ‘Cause that’s the other thing about World Mental Health Day: nobody really wants to talk about it, at least not in a way that’s personal. Memes are okay though.

So here are my contributions a day after World Mental Health Day: one mushroom and one doodad.

Namaste

Flat lay with doodad
My husband took this picture of the phallic mushroom before it was destroyed.

It’s my dad’s 89th birthday today. Since the first time he nearly died during cardiac surgery, eleven years ago to the day, my dad has set his sights on making it to 90.

A natural extrovert and party-man (his idea of a good time is making sure his guests practice the deadly sin of gluttony), intent on celebrating every birthday with a bang, he repeated history by nearly dying again three years ago.

Even then, end stage heart failure didn’t stop him from attending his own birthday party, the week-end long event bracketed by two hospitalisations and yet another cardiac surgery. If you’d witnessed him gasping for breath the evening before his surgery, you’d have been as certain as I was then, that he was a goner. Instead, he was given another respite, and more time.

My father has no interest in dying. He exercises daily, a half hour of stretching and calisthenics in the morning in addition to a long walk around the block with my mother. During non-COVID times, he attends aqua-fitness classes thrice weekly and practices brain exercises at what he refers to as the adult day care (centre) on Monday afternoons. He plays the stock market every day and bought a Tesla last year. He continues to give support and advice (often unsolicited) to his children and grandchildren.

He did consider death briefly at sixteen years old, the option of jumping into a well while running for his life from a sword-wielding assassin in post-Partition Pakistan.

“Brother Raminder stopped me.”, he explained, referring to his older brother. That incident would forge an unbreakable bond between them until my uncle’s death some twenty years ago.

I asked him once how he coped from the trauma of that incident and the subsequent experience of being a refugee, moving from camp to camp in Pakistan, before crossing the border into Northern India.

“Indians don’t dwell on these things. We move forward and get on with the business of living. We were always well-fed in the camps; the refugee community focussed on food. I gave back once I got to India by helping out at the camps.”

Well, that would explain the importance of having enough food to feed an army, or perhaps an entire refugee camp, at his parties.

For the record, it is very likely that my father has already reached his goal of ninety. Birth certificates were generally not issued in these places during those times. There were no public records. Too many people to keep track of. Nobody really cares if you live or die.

It’s a convenient practice if you need to change your age in order to meet a particular criteria. In my father’s case, it was a matter of my paternal grandmother lying about his age when he needed to repeat his school year, having missed much of it due to heavy monsoons and the family moving from the grounds of a local Maharaja’s estate in Utter Pradesh, to ancestral land in Pakistan.

If he is ninety today, he isn’t acknowledging it. The problem with reaching an objective like that, is what do you do once you get there. Aim for a hundred? You betcha!

Besides, the blow-out party is planned for next year. He’s hinted at a cross-country train ride across Canada, the whole family in tow. Or perhaps another birthday party celebrated with relatives in North Wales (there have been too many to count).

If my dear cousin Annwen were still alive today, she would have joked, “What, another party? Is it your birthday again, Uncle Paul?”.

Yes, indeed it is.

Happy birthday, dad. See you same time next year.

Post-op cardiac surgery August 2017
Enjoying a take-out masala dosa, one month post-op, September 2017
King of the castle: my dad’s 86th birthday party.

“If your eyes are sound, your whole body will be filled with light.”

— Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

But my eyes are not sound. Filmy, vaseline-smeared lenses that do not focus no matter how I tilt the page or squint into the light.

This garden gnome is sinking as the page is dimming. Squat, sturdy body folds awkwardly as its low centre of gravity pulls away from the one foot still in this world.

Sometimes, albeit rarely, I experience moments of perfect bliss, like this past Saturday morning when I had a quiet house to myself, dogs and birds fed and watered, the beginning of a long week-end stretching far ahead of me, a steaming cup of coffee and cream in one hand and a pearl of a new book in my other hand.

“Quiet in the cup. Hard to believe that isn’t joy, the way it flies away when I fling it out the window.”
― Jenny Offill, Weather

Times like these, I forget that I am middle-aged, two-thirds of my life gone (if I’m lucky), with responsibilities and a messy house and endless lists of things to do before I die, or at least before the end of the month. (God forbid anyone should be burdened with my unfinished business.) In the zone, I have zero ambition and no regrets.

This happy state is such that it makes me forget that we now live in a COVID world, that I haven’t had tea with my parents in over two months and that life outside the house now involves careful PPE planning.

I’m pretty sure what I was feeling at that time was gratitude, not for anything in particular, but rather for the unexpected gift of finding a lost treasure, and the luxury of being able to sit with it for a while. Call it hope if you like.

Namaste

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