Lonely Planet – Ireland

0

IMG_4627Apologies, friends. It’s been more than a year (a year!) since we last met, and the fault is entirely mine.

To be fair, it’s been a rather big year. I survived a busy first year of teaching middle school, which is enough to shatter any pleasure reading schedule (yes, I read some great books – just in smaller quantities – and yes, I will tell you about them as soon as I can!). I also did a fair bit of paid writing, which always trumps blog freebies (you can read my recent work in Avenue Calgary and Spur [page 6] magazines, if you are so inclined). I trained for and ran my first half-marathon in June – a goal I have been hoping to cross off my list for a long time. And to top it all off, I got married last month to the Lager Blogger. It has been a wonderful, wild whirlwind of a year.

Now, it’s time to get back to blogging, and what better way to start than with a travel recap? Ireland’s been on my must-see list for the better part of a decade, and my husband (!) and I wanted to have a honeymoon adventure. We’re not sit-on-the-beach people, so on a very cold February afternoon, I contacted Stephanie at Discovering Ireland to see if we could arrange a road trip right after our wedding in July. Once we had the bones of the trip booked booked (a Peugeot 208 and eight nights of accommodation in converted castles and manor houses, followed by four nights in Dublin at an Airbnb that we booked on our own), it was time to start getting excited. It was time to order a travel guide.

I’m a passionate and engaged traveller, and I am fussy about my guidebooks. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all, although some are more consistently good than others. I’ve always had a deep fondness for the Lonely Planet. I got my first one – Europe on a Shoestring – for Christmas in 2005 before I headed to Bournemouth, UK as an exchange student. In the days before smartphones, it was a lifeline on more than one occasion. I used Europe on a Shoestring to track down hostels in Barcelona and Paris, to learn how to barter with Spanish street vendors and to calm me down in Denmark when I got on the wrong bus and couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. Lonely Planet has accompanied me up and down the east coast of Australia (where, truth be told, the Rough Guide guidebook is actually a better choice if you’re trying to camp. But that’s a story for another day), through New Zealand’s North Island, snowboarding in the Alps and navigating the Cannes Film Festival. Lonely Planet has also been a feature in a lot of other travel-related books I love (Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, Around The World in 80 Dates), and it’s always been a not-so-secret dream of mine to be a Lonely Planet writer. Could there be a better job?

Neither of us are huge fans of fixed-itinerary trips. Once the skeleton is mapped out (where we’re sleeping, mode of transport), we like to leave the rest up to our mood, the weather, our budget and a whole host of other factors that require flexibility on the go. As travellers, we’re also impossibly nosy. We want to know whether our hotels are well-reviewed, if they’ve made it into the guidebook. We want to know if the pubs recommended by Discovering Ireland are really the best pubs in Ireland or if there’s something even better off the beaten track. We want to check on things we drive by (what was that monastic ruin back there all about, anyway?). I’m a sucker for facts and trivia, and I like to know a little bit about the history behind the sights we see. I want information in the form of anecdotes from a trusted friend – and I want to build on these anecdotes with stories of my own.

This is why the Lonely Planet is so useful. It’s a little bit of a history primer (perfect for excited we’re-nearly-there-can-you-believe-it? airport reading), a little bit of a geography class and a lot of friendly, digestible recommendations (which pubs serve food and which ones don’t?). I like to add to it with a little bit of writing of my own, too. While I don’t like writing in books as a general rule (and I would never, EVER write in one of my beloved novels), I love to scrawl all over my travel guides. I’m an inconsistent journal writer. I have good intentions, but I can get distracted by the adventure (much like I do with this blog). But it doesn’t take very much energy to scribble a few notes in the margins to record an impression of a place.

We just got home on Monday, and we brought back a book full of the best stories. My Lonely Planet – Ireland doesn’t map out the myriad trips that one could take in Ireland if one was so inclined, or at least it doesn’t anymore. It maps out our trip, our stories. My Lonely Planet tells the story of the beautiful hand-knit sweaters that could only be purchased after a 1.5-hour ferry ride, of rented bicycles with baskets, of “we wish we remembered to pack hiking boots!” It tells the story of wrong turns in Dublin, of new friends, late nights, cozy pubs and hearty food. It tells the story of a pair of newlyweds who love adventure – and each other – very much. You can’t buy that in a travel guide. That’s a story you have to write for yourself.

 

 

 

 

Better Than Before

0

Better Than Before Photo Credit: GretchenRubin.comTheoretically, one of the nicest things about being a teacher is the long summer break. And next summer, I’m sure I will enjoy the break to its fullest (especially with a wedding, honeymoon and hopefully some camping thrown into the mix). But this year, the summer isn’t exactly downtime. After all, I’ve been a full-time student for the majority of the year. With impending student loan repayments, upcoming wedding costs, a big trip to the UK and day-to-day living expenses, I can’t really afford to put my feet up completely. And, as I discovered in this interesting new read from Gretchen Rubin, I actually don’t think I’m wired that way anyway.

Athough I’m working until late August (I’ve picked up some off and on temp work, and continue to write for Avenue Calgary amid other freelancing opportunities), it’s the kind of work that leaves time for fun reading. Enter Better Than Before, the latest offering from the author of The Happiness Project (which, incidentally, was the first book I ever blogged about here). Rubin has a lot going on in this book, which offers up a study of different personality types (which she calls the Four Tendencies), how they are affected by habits (good and bad), and how each type can actively work to develop and foster new habits. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to developing habits, but Rubin observes that habits and happiness are often intertwined.

I didn’t find that this book broke a ton of new ground (after all, isn’t it just common sense to notice that people are different from one another, and therefore that people are motivated by different internal and external factors as they pursue individual goals?), but what I really liked was Rubin’s straightforward way of explaining why some people find it easier for habits to stick than others.

She identifies a Four Tendencies framework that is really simple, but effective. Broadly, your tendency is your personality type – in other words, whether you are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated, a rule follower or a rule-breaker, etc. You can read more about the tendencies on Rubin’s website (or even better, you should read this book). The tendencies are Upholder, Questioner, Obliger and Rebel, and according to Rubin, most people are Obligers or Questioners. Even before I came across the quiz at the back, I immediately identified as an Upholder. I'm An Upholder

“Upholders respond readily to both outer and inner expectations: they meet deadlines and keep New Year’s resolutions without much struggle or supervision. Upholders take great satisfaction from moving smoothly through their daily schedule and their to-do lists. They meet others’ expectations—and their expectations for themselves. 

However, Upholders may feel uneasy when expectations aren’t clear, when they’re worried that they’re breaking the rules, or when they feel overwhelmed by expectations they seek to meet. They enjoy habits, and form habits fairly easily.”

It’s not every day that you find most of the core elements of your personality laid out so clearly. I think that because I identified myself so quickly in the Four Tendencies, I really enjoyed what followed, which is Rubin’s (also an Upholder) analysis of habit as it relates to each personality type.

I guess, like the author, I don’t always remember that everyone is not like me (or like each other, for that matter). What I found most useful about Better Than Before had less to do with my own habits – Upholders tend to be pretty self-motivated, anyway – and more to do with other peoples’ habits. For example, I immediately spotted Matt as a Questioner (and I’m sure that he Questioned me asking him to take a personality quiz on the train from Edinburgh to Manchester to confirm my suspicions). His habits are different than mine because his motivations are different. As they should be, because we’re not the same person!

Like I said, I’m not sure the content is groundbreaking if you have a pretty strong awareness of yourself. But this one really stuck with me (kind of like 10% Happier stuck with me), and if you enjoyed The Happiness Project, this will probably be right up your alley.

North of Normal

0

North of Normal (Photo: HarperCollins Canada)You know what’s great about a vacation? Reading time.

Right now, Matt and I are spending a few days at his parents’ cottage in Nova Scotia. We’re actually car-less for a couple of days, and we’re kilometres away from anything, so unless I’m out for a run, we’re BBQing or napping off the jet lag and the after-effects of our red-eye flight, we’re out on the beach reading.

I wasn’t sure about North of Normal at first. It’s been out for a little while, and it always seems to be a popular pick at the bookstore. There was a time in May/June where we could hardly keep it in stock. I think what turned me off was the whole wilderness-girl-turned-supermodel angle. Unique, to be sure, but I wasn’t sure it was me.

This is why the Kindle is so great. I stocked up on a couple of books before leaving home (I wasn’t sure about the Wi-Fi capabilities at a cottage, although it’s been quite reliable, and I prefer to travel with my Kindle because it’s so light and easy), and the Kindle edition of North of Normal is pretty reasonable – certainly cheaper than the physical book. So all of a sudden, a book I was kind of on the fence about became a book I was really excited to read.

Person’s memory of her earliest years is vivid, striking, and graphically shocking. I wouldn’t recommend this book to people who are bothered by profanity, sex or drugs – although this is part of Person’s message. Her unconventional childhood – growing up in the Canadian wilderness in British Columbia and Alberta in a tipi with her free-love hippie grandparents, her teenage mother and a series of unstable aunts and uncles – doesn’t make for familiar or light reading.

But the story Person tells – of perseverance, survival and drive – is an important story to tell. As she grows up and begins to learn how to overcome her upbringing and move beyond her self-professed “crazy” family, she realizes that she has the skills and tools she needs to survive in an adult world at just 13 years old.

I enjoyed reading North of Normal more than I thought I would. I especially liked the local connections to Calgary and Morley. And most of all, I enjoyed reading this book in two sittings right here:

Who wouldn't enjoy reading with a view like this?

Who wouldn’t enjoy reading with a view like this?

A Long Way Home

0

A Long Way Home (Photo: Penguin)When I first saw Saroo Brierley’s memoir A Long Way Home on a table at the bookstore, I knew it was a story that I needed to read.

This book has been getting a lot of great buzz since it came out (most recently, a film deal off the back of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Looks like the movie will be called Lion and production will begin in August). All you need to do is skim the back to know that it’s a captivating story.

Saroo had become lost on a train in India at the age of five. Not knowing the name of his family or where he was from, he survived for weeks on the streets of Kolkata, before being taken into an orphanage and adopted by a couple in Australia.

Despite being happy in his new family, Saroo always wondered about his origins. He spent hours staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall. When he was a young man the advent of Google Earth led him to pore over satellite images of the country for landmarks he recognised. And one day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for.

How can you pass this kind of story up?

I think what drew me in – aside from the fact that Brierley’s circumstances and story are extraordinary – is that we’re nearly the same age. I’m 29, Brierley is in his early 30s. We grew up (mostly) with the same sense of Western privilege, the same access to technology. But I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose my family, to not know where I came from.

This is a really quick read, and I would recommend it to anyone. I polished it off on a single flight to Nova Scotia (Matt and I are spending a couple of weeks on the east coast of Canada, visiting his family, catching up with friends and getting my Anne of Green Gables fix on Prince Edward Island), and I was struck by Brierley’s self-awareness, resourcefulness and tenacity.

Anyone who has a fascination with technology – especially Google – survival stories, resilience and the ‘smallness’ of our very big world needs to read A Long Way Home. I’m so glad I did.

Popular

0

Popular (Photo: Penguin UK)I recently spent a week house-sitting for my parents while they enjoyed Easter break in Arizona. We all had dinner together when they came back last weekend, and my mom couldn’t wait to tell me about a new book she had read about in their hotel’s USA Today.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek was written by Maya van Wagenen, who is being described by book reviewers everywhere as a “breakout” teenage author. Maya is, to put it mildly, spectacular. The summer before her eighth grade year, she finds an old book in a closet in her home: the 1958 bestseller Betty Cornell’s Glamour Guide For Teens. Encouraged by her eccentric family, Maya decides to follow the book’s advice to the letter over the course of one school year to see if rag curls, girdles and 1950s fashion can help improve her standing on the vicious eighth grade social ladder.

Of course, as a former braces-wearing, acne-riddled grade eight student with aspirations of becoming a writer, I identified wholeheartedly with Maya. But never in a million years would my 14-year-old self have had the poise and gumption to follow through on her social experiment for an entire year.

Grade eight was hard enough at a small school in a close-knit semi-rural community in Alberta, Canada. We were, on the whole, genuinely nice kids and school certainly felt like a safe space. Even though I was an ugly duckling (with photographic proof) going into my grade eight year, I always had lots of friends. (Getting my braces off at 13, a course of Accutane at age 14, learning how to use makeup properly at 15 and the discovery of a magical device known as a hair straightener at age 17 meant that things got a lot better, eventually. I was also smart, which wouldn’t have helped at every school, but it did at mine.) But isn’t it funny how there’s always a piece of you – a little tiny piece – that remembers exactly what it is like to be an awkward grade eight kid? It never really goes away, does it? Maybe that’s why I identified so much with my younger high school students when I was student teaching last month.

But in another setting, like Maya’s school (located in Texas close to the USA-Mexico border and home to gang members, pregnant seventh-graders, drug dealers, frequent lockdowns and more violence on a single Friday afternoon than I probably saw in 12 years of public education combined), I might not have fared so well. Maya and I probably would have been friends, though. She would have been my really brave, creative, well-spoken, story-writing friend. And I identified completely with her.

Maya is frank, honest, charming, funny and – best of all – insightful. As an adult, and as an almost-teacher, she probably would be one of my favourite and most memorable students. I think she’s at her best when she comments on her ongoing definition of what it means to be popular – and I think it is interesting how this definition changes over the course of her school year. Everyone who was ever an awkward grade eight girl, or who knows any junior high-age kids, should read this book. It’s absolutely perfect.