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Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

heart-trail-dusk

As regular readers know, there are few things I love more than a long walk, in any season and almost any weather. My walking and reading inform each other: the books I’m reading often provide fodder for ambulatory reflection, but some books capture the pleasures of walking itself.

Scottish author Robert Macfarlane (whose work I adore) collected hundreds of “land-words” for his book Landmarks. Each section begins with a lyrical essay about a type of landform in the British Isles (mountain, coastline, forest), and contains a glossary of related words. Walkers and word nerds – or those who are both – will find much to love in Macfarlane’s treasures from “the word-hoard.”

For those who particularly relish a walk on a wet day, Melissa Harrison’s Rain: Four Walks in English Weather is a celebration of misty treks through various landscapes and seasons. I picked it up, fittingly, at Blackwells in Oxford last year.

The octogenarian title character of Kathleen Rooney’s novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, embarks on a different kind of journey: a zigzagging walk around Manhattan on New Year’s Eve 1984. Narrating her odyssey with the wry zingers that defined her advertising career, Boxfish takes readers on a tour of 20th-century New York on her way to a good steak at Delmonico’s. I’d walk with her any time.

And finally, Emma Hooper’s spare, lovely debut novel, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, follows Etta as she treks across the plains of Canada, determined to walk until she finds the ocean. Like Lillian, she is elderly, a bit lonely and fiercely stubborn. Like Macfarlane and Harrison, she walks with purpose and a sharp, observant eye.

These books celebrate the particular joys of a journey, whether it’s a stroll around the block or a cross-country peregrination. The call to interested readers is the same: let’s go.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness for Readers, where it appeared last fall. 

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book apple bench sunlight

Halfway through October and I can’t believe it, as ever. Here are the books I’ve been reading on the train, before bed, and on (rare) sunny lunch breaks:

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans
I’ve been following Evans’ work since the publication of her first book, Faith Unraveled. We’re about the same age and we come from similar evangelical backgrounds. Her latest book is an exploration of the Bible as the messy, often frustrating, powerful text it is, rather than the tidy answer book some folks would like it to be. I loved Evans’ reimaginings of well-worn biblical stories, and appreciated her broad-minded perspective on what the Bible can be.

An Act of Villainy, Ashley Weaver
Amateur sleuth Amory Ames and her dashing husband, Milo, are drawn into a mystery involving the players in a theatrical production. The director is a friend of theirs (and the leading actress is his mistress). When murder ensues, Amory and Milo work to unmask the killer. I like this elegant series, set in London between the wars; Amory is an engaging narrator and this fifth entry was fun.

Digging In, Loretta Nyhan
Two years widowed, Paige Moresco is struggling: she and her teenage son are still grieving and now her graphic design job is in jeopardy. On impulse, she digs up half her backyard and plants a garden, to the horror of her neighbors. A fun novel about digging (literally) through grief, though I wanted more depth. Reminiscent of The Garden of Small Beginnings; not as strong, but still really enjoyable.

The Lost for Words Bookshop, Stephanie Butland
Loveday Cardew has spent her whole adult life (so far) working in the same York bookshop and avoiding her past. But the appearance of a handsome magician and copies of her estranged mother’s favorite books throw all that into question. This book broke my heart with every chapter; it’s well done and lovely but so, so sad.

The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory
Two people meet in a stalled elevator and end up going to a wedding together; he needs a date, and she thinks he’s cute. But, of course, it doesn’t end there. This delightful, sexy novel follows Drew and Alexa as they navigate a modern-day, long-distance relationship and face their own fears (and Alexa digs into a major work project). Sweet and spicy and so much fun.

The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, Ben Rhodes
One of my coping mechanisms in the current political climate is reading these Obama staffer memoirs. Rhodes worked on communications and foreign policy for Obama for a decade. This thoughtful, fascinating, well-written insider account recalls a saner time in national politics and helps explain how we got to where we are now. Lots of flashbacks to my last job at HKS; Rhodes’ days – not the setting but the focus and the rhythm – bore some striking parallels to mine.

Our Homesick Songs, Emma Hooper
As the fish disappear from Newfoundland’s waters in the 1990s, the local families leave to find work. Ten-year-old Finn Connor, left almost alone, hatches a plan to bring the fish back. Meanwhile, his parents are taking turns leaving the island to work, and his older sister Cora is trying to find her own way. Haunting and beautiful and sad; started off slowly but I ended up loving it. I also adored Hooper’s debut, Etta and Otto and Russell and James.

Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Your Life, Marianne Power
I’m a little tired of “stunt” memoirs, but gave this one a go. British journalist Power recounts her year-plus of reading and trying to follow one self-help tome per month. Predictably, she does not turn into a perfect, worry-free version of herself – but she does learn some important lessons, often with hilarious effects. Dragged in the middle (when she became a bit self-obsessed), but I thought it ended well. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 15 in the U.S.).

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Karina Yan Glaser
When their elderly neighbor has a stroke, the Vanderbeeker kids want to do something good for him, so they begin turning an abandoned lot into a garden. Challenges and hilarity (as well as the threat of a condo complex) ensue. A heartwarming sequel to the first Vanderbeeker book. These siblings are the 21st-century Harlem version of the Melendys, whom I adore. So much fun.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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halifax harbour j k

After our glorious five nights/four days in PEI, the hubs and I headed to Halifax for the weekend. We’d never been there, and we thoroughly enjoyed checking out this smallish, vibrant city on the water.

halifax harbour dusk

I’ve said it before: on vacation, we like to wander and we like to eat. That is exactly what we did in Halifax, for two days.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon, checked into our Airbnb apartment, and immediately went a-wandering. We found the Halifax Common, and a few streets away, DeeDee’s ice cream.

jer-deedees-ice-cream

(J’s berry-swirl ice cream happened to match his polo.)

katie-deedees-ice-cream

I had raspberry passionfruit sorbet, which is as tart and delicious as it sounds.

We strolled the neighborhood a while longer, then drove down to the waterfront that evening for dinner at the Bicycle Thief.

bicycle thief sculpture halifax

While we were waiting for our reservation (it was crowded), we walked along the harbourfront. Live musicians, food trucks, cool old ships, and lots of families out enjoying the lovely evening.

ships halifax harbour

When we did have dinner, it was delicious. I had a truly amazing lobster-corn chowder with new potatoes and bacon. (Also: their bread is focaccia and it’s homemade. Yum.)

bicycle-thief-chowder

We sat outside, and the view was as fantastic as the food.

bicycle thief restaurant halifax

We wandered around town in the long dusk, and split a decadent chocolate torte with raspberry sauce at the Middle Spoon. I could not get a good picture, but it was scrumptious.

The next morning, we headed to Annie’s Place for breakfast.

annies halifax

Annie herself welcomed us, and we had huge chai lattes (not that either of us were complaining) and excellent eggs, bacon and toast.

We spent most of the day exploring after that. First up was Woozles, an utterly charming children’s bookstore down the street from Annie’s.

woozles bookstore halifax

We didn’t spot any Heffalumps (or Woozles), but there were plenty of gorgeous books.

woozles interior

We also stopped by Bookmark – I’d been to their Charlottetown store, but enjoyed exploring this location.

bookmark halifax

The Halifax Public Gardens are close by, and they are gorgeous.

halifax public gardens

We’d heard the Halifax Central Library was worth seeing – though, to me, a library is always worth seeing. This one did not disappoint.

halifax central library

We ate lunch at the Seaport Farmers’ Market, then wandered back downtown, popping into more fun shops, including The Loop, a sweet little yarn shop.

loop yarn store halifax

For dinner that night, we ate at 2 Doors Down – really good pub food and local Nova Scotia wines.

two doors down halifax wine list

We weren’t quite ready for dessert, so we spent a while playing board games and eating popcorn at the Board Room Game Cafe. A Canadian friend had told us about this trend – it was so fun.

jer board room game cafe halifax

We capped off the night by splitting a slice of cheesecake at Sweet Hereafter. (It’s J’s favorite dessert.)

jer cheesecake sweet hereafter

We had to hit the road on Sunday, but stopped at Coastal Cafe for brunch first. J’s face says it all. (The huevos were amazing – some of the best Mexican food we’ve had outside of Texas.)

jer brunch halifax

Halifax, you are charming. Cheers!

halifax mural

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anne books blue chest

Like many young girls, I read the Anne of Green Gables books over and over when I was growing up. My mom put the first three into my hands, and I devoured them, then went on to read the other five books in the series. I later came to love L.M. Montgomery’s other novels: The Story Girl, Jane of Lantern Hill, the three books featuring Emily Byrd Starr. And I was thrilled, a few weeks ago, to return to the land from which they sprang: beautiful, bucolic Prince Edward Island.

My husband was a good sport about touring Green Gables when we first visited PEI in 2014. I loved every second of that visit, but I wanted to explore another Anne-related site this time (there are several on the Island). So we drove to the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Park Corner.

silver bush anne of green gables museum pei

This house was owned by some of L.M. Montgomery’s relatives. As you can see in the photo, she dubbed it “Silver Bush” and used it as the setting for several books (Pat of Silver Bush, The Story Girl, and their respective sequels). Like Green Gables, it has been lovingly maintained, and it is full of artifacts from Montgomery’s life. I could just imagine Maud and her cousins, or the clan of King children, popping popcorn by the parlor fire or gathered in the kitchen after dinner.

Maud was married in Silver Bush’s parlor in 1911, and it looks much as it might have then:

silver bush parlor anne of green gables museum pei

(I love the geranium on the side table, which reminded me of Anne naming the flowers and trees at Green Gables, including a geranium she called “Bonny.”)

There are also bookcases stuffed with beautiful first editions of Montgomery’s books:

silver bush bookcase anne of green gables museum pei

The whole house is filled with similar treasures: letters, linens, china from New Moon Farm (!), photographs and newspaper articles related to the Montgomery/Macneill families and the time period. It felt as though Maud herself – or Anne – might come around the corner at any moment.

My favorite part of the museum, though, is at the top of this post: a stellar collection of Anne books, in editions old and new, sitting on the actual blue chest from The Story Girl.

The chest’s contents are on display upstairs, but seeing the chest itself – the one I’ve read about so often – gave me goosebumps.  I half expected to see Sara Stanley perched on top of it, peeling potatoes as she regaled her cousins with the story of Rachel Ward’s handsome, dissolute groom who never showed up to their wedding. Maud changed the names and a few details when she wrote about it, but as with so much of her writing, the inspiration was drawn straight from real life.

Silver Bush and the blue chest reminded me – again – that this woman whose work I love so deeply was real. Her characters are longtime friends of mine: their words, after so many readings, live deep in my bones. They were real to her, too, as she notes in this journal entry about Anne:

anne quote silver bush pei

We finished off our time at Silver Bush with a stroll through a woodland path near the farmhouse. Perfection.

birch path woods silver bush pei

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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pei north shore beach prince edward island canada

Two summers ago, the hubs and I made a 600-mile drive from Boston, to fulfill a long-held dream of mine: visiting Prince Edward Island, land of (quietly) spectacular seafood and sunsets, and of course, the home terrain of a certain red-haired heroine.

A few weeks ago, we went back. And – I am happy to report – it was as delightful as we remembered.

pei fields prince edward island canada

PEI is gorgeous: it’s a green, quiet, bucolic place, a mix of furrowed red fields and meadows and glimpses of the bright blue sea around every corner. There are charming villages, trim farmhouses, and so many patches of lupines by the roadsides that I was always on the lookout for Miss Rumphius. I was also expecting (naturally) to run into Anne Shirley herself at any moment.

But I think the main reason we were so excited to be back is a little different: PEI is ours.

lupines pei flowers

Most of us, I think, have places like that: a handful of spots on this earth that call to us, that feel completely right. (Oxford is one of those places for me, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while.) There are other patches of ground I really love: the Aran Islands on the west coast of Ireland; the tiny village of Whitby in northern England; Harvard Yard, which I get to walk through all the time. Those places belong to me, though I am usually happy to share them.

But my husband and I also have a few spots that are ours. They speak to both of us in that bone-deep way, sneaking into our souls and filling them with peace. Two years ago, we both fell so completely in love with PEI that when we left, we looked at each other and said with absolute certainty: We’re going back.

Anne wrote a post a while back about choosing to love certain places: how you have to put in a bit of effort to make them yours. The vacation home you return to year after year; the restaurant you visit on special occasions; the coffee shop or bar where you’re known by name. (Once again, my experience with Darwin’s comes to mind.)

In the case of PEI, this means rearranging our schedules and making a 12-hour drive across New England (and New Brunswick, and part of Nova Scotia) to reach a place we both adore. And this time – gloriously – it did feel like ours.

We stayed at the same guesthouse where we stayed two years ago, and our hostess, Patty, came down the steps to greet us with smiles and bear hugs. We revisited a few favorite restaurants: The Mill, Carr’s Oyster Bar, the Blue Mussel. We spent hours soaking up the sun and wading in the shallows on the Island’s red, sandy north shore. And it all felt, not only relaxing and lovely, but familiar. Like coming home.

k j pei beach

I’ll have much more to share about PEI soon. But for now, I will simply say: I’m so glad we went back. I’m so glad we are putting in the effort to make it ours.

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PEI: the food

I’m nearly done recapping our wonderful PEI vacation, I promise. But I couldn’t not tell you about the delectable meals we had during our time on the Island. I’m fairly certain I have never eaten so much seafood in my life. (We ate all sorts of other delicious things, too.)

On our first morning, our hosts left a plate of treats from the Olde Village Bakery outside our door:

pei pastries

Lemon bread and chocolate-chip muffins. Yes, please.

After touring Green Gables and hiking through the Haunted Wood that first day, we were starving, so we headed to the PEI Preserve Company for chicken wraps, served with tortilla chips and house-made peach and cherry salsas. We are salsa connoisseurs, so we were eager to try these variations. They were delicious.

pei preserve company interior

We topped off our lunch with the house specialty – raspberry cream cheese pie. No words necessary.

raspberry cream cheese pie pei

On Saturday, we explored Charlottetown, the Island’s capital – browsing a few bookshops and wandering around the harbour area. We stopped at Leonhard’s for cups of sweet potato soup and delicious ham sandwiches on foccaccia bread, and finished with some sort of German pastry – unpronounceable but yummy.

leonhards charlottetown pei

Later that afternoon, we visited Young Folk & the Kettle Black for some much-needed chai – which coordinated nicely with my outfit.

young folk kettle black charlottetown

That night, we walked (shivering) down to the village harbour for a lobster supper at Fisherman’s Wharf. You choose your entree – lobster or otherwise – pay a fixed price, then enjoy seafood chowder, mussels, fresh bread and the other delights of a (no kidding) 60-foot salad bar.

fishermans wharf pei

I’ve never tackled so much lobster at once – and I might never again. It was tasty, but overwhelming. (The chowder, however, was excellent, as were the mussels, and the strawberry shortcake at the end.)

fishermans wharf lobster

Sunday saw us heading across the river for an early lunch at the Olde Glasgow Mill. (We’d been told they had brunch, but it turns out they don’t since the management has changed.) Never mind – I loved my lobster quiche (more lobster!), and J savored his vegetable curry.

old mill glasgow pei

Before the Wailin’ Jennys concert that night, we ate dinner at the Home Place in Kensington, just down the road from Indian River (where the concert was held). Simple, tasty food, but the best part (again) was the strawberry shortcake.

strawberry shortcake pei

Since we didn’t have brunch on Sunday, we tried again on Monday, returning to the PEI Preserve Company for some delectable blueberry pancakes, bacon and eggs. They do brunch just as well as they do lunch (and pie).

brunch pei preserve company

I was determined to sample PEI’s famous Malpeque oysters, so after an unsuccessful trip to Malpeque itself (everything was still closed for the season), we ended up at Carr’s in Stanley Bridge, and I savored these beauties for lunch.

carrs oyster bar pei

My seafood-loving dad would be so proud.

Twice during our trip, we stopped at Cows Creamery in Cavendish – it’s stuck in the middle of a terribly kitschy “boardwalk,” but the ice cream is scrumptious. The apple crisp ice cream (with a caramel swirl) remains my favorite.

cows ice cream pei

Our last meal in PEI was also the best: dinner at the Blue Mussel Cafe.

blue mussel cafe pei

A sunset view over the harbour, a kind and genial owner, and the best (lightly spiced) haddock I’ve ever had.

sunset blue mussel cafe pei

The blueberry pie was so delicious that J actually sang to it.

blueberry pie pei

Needless to say, we came back completely sated (and even stopped in Portsmouth for some tacos at Vida on the way home).

If you visit PEI, one thing’s for sure: you won’t starve. (Though you might gain a few pounds.)

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pei red fields blue sky

Much of the beauty of the Island is due to the vivid colour contrasts—the rich red of the winding roads, the brilliant emerald of the uplands and meadows, the glowing sapphire of the encircling sea. It is the sea which makes Prince Edward Island in more senses than geographical. You cannot get away from the sea down there. Save for a few places in the interior, it is ever visible somewhere, if only through a tiny gap between distant hills, or a turquoise gleam through the dark boughs of spruce fringing an estuary.

—L.M. Montgomery, The Alpine Path

pei beach

The colors and contrasts Montgomery writes about were everywhere on the Island – from the famous red clay soil to the vivid green of fields and trees, and the lovely blue of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Though our first two days were cloudy, the sun eventually emerged to stunning effect, and we spent much of the second half of our vacation on the beach.

katie cavendish beach pei

The Cavendish shore is a very beautiful one; part of it is rock shore, where the rugged red cliffs rise steeply from the boulder-strewn coves. Part is a long, gleaming sandshore, divided from the fields and ponds behind by a row of rounded sand-dunes, covered by coarse sand-hill grass.

The Alpine Path

pei rock shore cavendish beach

We explored both parts of the Cavendish shore, and found them equally lovely.

jer rocks cavendish beach pei

The rock shore reminded me of Anne’s first meeting with Leslie Moore in Anne’s House of Dreams. And the sandshore – red sand under a stunning blue sky – was just as breathtaking.

red sand beach pei

jer skipping rocks pei beach

sand dunes pei beach

We didn’t go all the way in the water (too cold), but I’m inclined to agree with Montgomery’s assessment: the sandshore is “a peerless spot for bathing.” (And wading, and gathering shells, and reading, and soaking up the sunshine.)

k & j pei beach

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