My Favourite Part of Writing

Today is November 23 and I’m in the midst of NaNoWriMo chaos. Trying, with questionable success, to write a certain amount of words every day with an end goal of 50k in one whole month has been a daunting task for someone who is very slow and quite sparse with her writing. But, it has put into stark focus my writing process, as I’m working through it at a much faster pace than I usually would.

This flurry of writing, done with especial care not to edit or worry about whether the writing is actually “good,” has shown me the parts I enjoy most about writing. While I question if this format really is one that works for my creativity, this experience has taught me a lot about what I like and don’t like as a writer.

But, my favourite part of my own writing is those little scenes–usually descriptions of nature or seasonal weather–between moments of action, where there is quiet.

a snippet from my NaNo WIP

These few paragraphs that end up sprinkled in and around my work feel the most natural to me as I’m writing. Maybe because it’s what I noticed myself on a daily basis. I spend lots of time admiring the natural world and its tiny details; how the afternoon light hits the trees and filters through leaves like tissue paper; how footprints look in newly fallen snow; the way the air smells after it’s rained all day.

I don’t really have anything profound to say–just wanted to share some joy and passion I have for my writing. I feel like in the past year I’ve been learning and growing so much as a writer as I’ve been challenging myself more.

It’s just motivation to continue.

I hope you are staying safe and well, friends!

Wouldst thou like to live creatively

If you haven’t seen the 2015 film The VVitch, you might not understand the reference of this post’s title. If you have, I’m sure you get it.

Imagine now, it’s nighttime, dark as pitch outside, and a dark figure comes up behind you— the devil in the form of Black Phillip the goat—and, whispering, offers you the chance to live your life how you want. Creatively.

Wouldst though like to live creatively…

I know the price is probably my soul or something. But isn’t that what we pay anyway for the price of living the way we choose? We spend most of our weekdays (and sometimes even weekends) working to make money so that some imagined day sometime in the unknown future we won’t have to work⎯at least for a little while. Certainly that should count as some sort of soul-selling. The reward is this vague notion of some far off time that’s ours.

But, what if I want my time to be mine now?

You may gasp. You may say, “that’s just not how it’s done.” This strange and wonderful and somewhat radical idea only sounds radical because we’ve blindly accepted the horribly flawed logic of capitalism. But, I digress, that’s a different rant for a different time.

The point is: I want to spend my time living a meaningful creative life that’s not constricted by a day job (though, to be honest I have a pretty good one). To spend my time writing and painting and expressing myself and living life to the fullest through creativity is my absolute dream.

But what is the price for this life? What devil do I need to speak to about changing the contract of my existence?

Do I have the strength and the gumption to take the plunge? Because that’s what it would take. A drastic decision to make my life the way I want it, without the fear of failure holding me back.

Failure.

Isn’t that the big bad word? The dreaded end to all?

But is the risk worth the potential rewards? The answer should be a resounding yes. Bravery would dictate that the risk and potential failure aren’t worth losing out on what could be achieved.

Losing out.

Is that what I’m doing by not embracing my calling? It’s calling very loud. It gets louder every day.

But, “real” life is loud too. And life dictates money is the end game. Our mercenary existences are dependant on productivity and our ability to make an income. What’s worse is that society has decided art and writing aren’t worth much–despite the fact that art (all kinds) makes up our entire culture.

So where’s the balance? How do I convince people that my ideas and my creative spirit are worth something?

If I ever find the answer to these questions. I’ll let you know. For now, I continue to pour my heart onto the page.

Where on Earth has Jenna Been?!

Hey.

It’s been a while—I can’t rightly say how long because I didn’t bother to check when my last post was. But, believe me, it’s been a minute.

Of course, as everyone is aware, 2020 has been the trashfire to end all trashfires and thus my work (outside my actual job and survival) has slipped. Well, obviously since I haven’t posted anything on this blog in months and I was planning on updating my website to include a section for my art and open an Etsy shop, etc., etc.

Life has been a little crazy in all the ways it can be; personal crisis, stress, life, death, it’s all shown itself in one way or another. And that has left me feeling a little uninspired, though I’m hopeful that a bounce-back is on the way!

So here’s a little update on my life and what I’m working on now.

Art

I’m still planning to open my Etsy shop and put my artwork on my website, but things take time and at this point I have no idea where time goes anymore.

But, for posterity, I’m hoping to get all that done by the end of the year or, at the latest, early next year.

Hopefully.

Writing

I’m in the midst of re-writing/editing/revising my second novel. If you missed it, The Curious Adventures of Winifred McQuary was shelved and I’ve since written a draft of a new book. This has been a slow process, especially in the last couple months as I was dealing with a personal crisis. So for the time being, I’m focusing on other projects to reignite my writing passions!

Next month I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and am hoping to crank out a draft of a completely new novel. Why? Because why not. This novel is something I’ve never done before and am a little scared of. It’s based on a classic Agatha Christie-style whodunit, but with a twist. There’s a vampire and there’s some romance and it takes place at a school that bares a weird resemblance to Oxford. I’m also feeling optimistic that this year will be the year I actually win at NaNo (aka reach 50k words).

The Tellings was also put on hold kind of by accident. The first three chapters are available to read, but I haven’t published anything else. This was also because of personal issues and mental health chaos caused by… everything. But, do not fear, I’m planning to start publishing more chapters in the new year.

Bookstore

If you missed it, back at the end of June (almost 500 years ago now) I opened an online used bookstore. It’s a teeny tiny business that’s been doing much better than I ever imagined within these first few months. The customers and fans are fantastic and the experience has taught me so much.

With everything that happened in the last couple months, I’ve neglected the bookstore a little. It’s gone fairly quiet, but still getting the occasional order. However, the Christmas season is fast approaching and I’m hoping to kick the store into high gear for Christmas shoppers. Keep your fingers crossed for me and check out the store if you haven’t already!


Sooooooo that’s it. I’m planning to be more active on here again, so look out for more blog posts to come before the end of the year.

Thanks for reading!

It’s Been Two Months since I Opened an Online Bookshop: and Here’s What I’ve Learned

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

If you’ve been following me at all, you won’t be unfamiliar with my teeny-tiny online business: The Littlest Online Bookshop.

In case you don’t know, TLOB is a very small independent used bookstore completely online. I ship internationally and am working to connect people everywhere with books. It’s my passion project and something that has basically taken over my life… besides my actual job, that is.

Over the last two months, since the store opened, I’ve learned a lot. Not just about what it’s like running a business, but about me as a person and what I’d like to do with my life.

But also I learned a lot about e-commerce.

I knew going into this that it wasn’t going to be simple or easy. In fact, I’m widely surprised it’s done as well as it has since opening. To be honest, I completely expected to have no business. I didn’t think anyone would be able to find the store, or that anyone would be interested in some random assortment of used books I have in stock. But, somehow, my flailing attempts at marketing have drummed up some business. Weird.

So here a few things I’ve learned in the last two months of relatively successful business ownership…

It might take over your life just a little

I’m sure any small business owner will agree with me. When I’m not actively doing inventory/adding stock to the store, I’m marketing or managing social media or researching more efficient shipping or packing shipments or organizing books or answering customer questions or updating financial spreadsheets or or or…

There are a million and one things for me to be doing at any given moment. Most of them not fatally important but essential for the business to keep running smoothly.

One thing I’m trying to do, especially now when things have gotten eerily quiet in the store, is keeping a balance between when I’m working on bookstore things and when I’m working on other stuff… any other stuff. The bookstore was meant to be a way to make a little more money while I continue to write and work my day job, but so far the bookstore has edged its way into my writing time. Proper time management is key, but that’s easier said than done in my case.

But, as I said, this is something to continue working on. And as I get more comfortable with my business, I’m sure learning what needs to be done right now and what can wait a little will become more obvious.

Shipping in Canada is expensive

Being a completely online business, the only way I can get my books to customers is via shipping (or local delivery). And having never mailed anything more than a postcard or a letter in my life, I was taken aback by how costly it is to ship just about anything.

I have yet to ferret out the reason why considering I’ve researched shipping costs in the U.S.A. and it’s miraculously less down there. The only thing I can think of is that they charge that much because they can.

But, whatever the reason, it makes it so difficult for tiny businesses just starting out to get a leg up. With all the cost of opening the business itself and how much I end up paying for shipping, it’s going to take me years to make any sort of profit. I’ve even lost money on certain orders because the shipping cost ended up being more than the actual order. But, there’s not much I can do because I’ve yet to find a more affordable option.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my customers. It’s been such a pleasure connecting them with books and seeing their delight when they receive their orders (if they send an email or post on Instagram). But, it’s hard to convince people to pay for shipping, especially at the prices Canada Post asks. And I don’t expect them to.

So, I have to basically absorb the difference. It’s easy enough for big companies (*cough cough* Amazon *cough cough*), but for a teeny-tiny business, it’s unaffordable.

Budgeting is complicated

Notice how I didn’t say “hard”? It hasn’t been difficult, per se, especially since the business is moving slow enough for me to keep up with. But, it isn’t simple. Maybe because I’m doing it myself, maybe because it’s spread over multiple spreadsheets.

It is very necessary, though. Keep. Track. Of. Your. Money.

What comes in and what comes out needs to be properly documented. Everything needs to be documented. Every bill or expense or payment.

It’s not difficult, but it’s a lot. Especially as someone who’s expertise lies with words and books and art, not with numbers and money and spreadsheets. I like organizing, but I always live in fear that I’ve forgotten something.

Amazing customers make it all worth it

Amongst all the craziness and the stress and the worry, the customers are the best part of this journey. Obviously, they are what make the shop possible in the most basic way, but the community is just as important. Any time someone lets me know they got their order, or posts a picture on Instagram, or shows any enthusiasm towards my store, it makes it all worth it.

Like there’s nothing more joyful than knowing I connected someone with a new book.

And they’re the reason I opened the store in the first place. I didn’t start an online business to make money, I started it to share my passion for books and create a book-loving community.

The support I’ve received since the store opened has blown me away. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect all the support and enthusiasm. They keep me coming back even when I feel overwhelmed.

So, if you’ve supported my store in anyway–even if that’s just checking it out and telling someone–thank you.

THANK YOU THANK YOU!


There are so many other things I’ve learned that I can’t really put into words. I’m constantly learning something new every day. Whether it’s the inner workings of e-commerce, running a website itself, marketing, shipping, and everything in between.

But this has given me such a new drive and I’m determined to work my ass off to make sure this business thrives and to cultivate a creative and loving book community.

Book Review: A Song Below Water

“We should all speak like sirens. Use our voices to make a difference, because all of them matter.”

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

Goodreads | Amazon | Indigo

When I heard of this book and saw the cover I was sold. Mermaids? Check. Sisters/Female friendship? Check. Black girl magic? Check.

This book promised a lot and I was here for it. It felt like the perfect time for this book, in the wake of the ever-growing Black Lives Matter movement. Using the metaphor of the sirens’ oppression to hold a mirror up to the current political and cultural climate.

But the metaphor was layered on top of the actual thing it was trying to explore. And sometimes it was to the detriment of the actual plot.

I wanted to like this book. And I believe I would’ve fully if it had followed up on all its promise. There was so much potential that felt a little wasted at times. There were plenty of moments that felt truly inspired and if the whole book was like that it wouldn’t be a problem. But, unfortunately, the plot often skidded to a halt to go back to thematic musings by the main characters. Obviously, as a white woman, I can’t make judgments. These themes are important, but I often felt like there needed to be less philosophical/political conversations and more magic.

The themes are clear. They’re there in full view, though it seemed we needed to be reminded over and over again. I’m fine reading a political commentary, but when it’s disguised as a fantasy, it turns me off a little. Just be honest with me about what this book really is.

But, the story is chock-full of so many wonderful ideas and premises that I wish had been explored further. Especially the world building.

The magical realism in this book is to titillating. The readers are given this fantastical but fully realistic world that’s packed with mythology and magical creatures. But this amazing world is never fully realized within the confines of this book. A couple hundred pages more to include proper exploration would’ve been the trick, because I just wanted to know more.

Much of my confusion and frustration with this book might have been mitigated by some further world building. I didn’t know where the line was drawn; what was possible and what wasn’t; what mythical creatures were real and which weren’t.

And it’s kind of a pivotal part of the book, but the lack of explaining meant I was more befuddled by what was happened than enthralled.

But I loved Effie and Tavia’s relationship. I’m all about strong female friendships and found families (see: my own writing), and this was my favourite part of the book. All my favourite scenes were them together being each other’s rocks.

But their POV voices lacked distinction and sometimes it felt like they could’ve been the same person.

I liked Effie’s arc a little bit more—dunno why, just did—but I felt like she was under-utilized for the first part of the novel. *Minor Spoilers* I think it was because I was confused half the time as to whether or not she really was a mermaid or if the Ren Faire was more than it was. But this goes back to the lack of proper explaining of the mythology of the world in which Effie and Tavia live. Of course, all is revealed at the end, but I shouldn’t be so confused for 90% of the book.

For me, I wanted Effie to be more active in her own journey. I wanted her to go looking for answers instead of just saying “ah, oh no!” every time something weird happened to her.

The other characters in the book weren’t nearly as well fleshed out. They were interesting, but often were cardboard cutouts to populate the background and worse, sometimes felt like they were only there to be props for the social commentary.

Especially near the end, at the climax. I couldn’t understand the motivations of some of the background characters because they hadn’t been fleshed out properly. It seemed like, “Oh she’s just a hateful and vindictive person because that’s who she is.” And while that’s valid, it wasn’t totally satisfying.

However, I really liked the ending… like the last 20 pages were fantastic. And it finally gave the satisfaction the whole novel had promised. I just wished it could’ve come a little sooner. I don’t know. Maybe.

All in all I did like the book, but I felt like it promised so much without delivering until the very end. There’s a difference between tantalizing and suspenseful and just frustrating. A Song Below Water walked the line between them and would often flip flop. As I said before, I think a lot of the problems I had with it would’ve been solved with letting the reader have more than the sliver of world mythos we experienced. It wouldn’t have left me so frustrated.

But if you’re looking for a book with Black girls being amazing, important social commentary, and a sprinkle-winkle of magic, then you’ll probably enjoy this book.

The Literary World Needs Negative Reviews!

Photo by Fabiola Peñalba on Unsplash

I’ve noticed a trend within the Twitter writing/reading community where people are actively discouraged or actively avoid writing negative reviews on books they read.

To some extent, I get it. No one wants to see a negative review of their book. But at what point does negative intersect with honesty? Does only living in a positive bubble of good reviews actually help the author and the book community at large?

If someone honestly didn’t like something I wrote for a valid reason (aka not just because they hate me), then I’d want to know why. If there’s something I overlooked or a section that would’ve packed a better punch if I’d gone at it a different way, then I’d like to know.

But that’s just me.

I think one reason for this attitude of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” is that people sometimes go at negative reviews from a very aggressive position. Things get nasty. Feelings get hurt. It’s unproductive and sucks.

Books have been pulled from publication or ruined because of people dog piling negative reviews.

But that’s a different issue that I’m not going to delve into right now.

From my point of view, if a review is honest in a thoughtful and constructive way and doesn’t get nasty about it, then it’s fine to write a negative review. But the key is being kind and thoughtful when writing about what you didn’t like.

Art is subjective and not everyone is going to like everything. A reader might be saved from reading a book they just won’t like because someone with similar tastes left an honest review.

The literary world needs balance and negative reviews serve a purpose.

Now, I’m not usually one to write long reviews for books unless it’s struck me in someway, but I have written what would be considered “negative” reviews. I don’t shy away from being honest, but I focus on constructive things and go into explain why I may not have liked something.

But even if I didn’t like it, someone might read my review and think maybe they’ll like it or read it just to see if what I’m saying is true. So it’s more publicity for the writer.

We’re all adults here, or most of us are, we can find a way to be respectful when giving our opinions. Even if it’s that we didn’t like something. But cutting out negative reviews all together does nothing but convince the rest of us that positivity is the only valuable opinion.

The Tellings Chapter 3

Bethany

My first day at the diamond shop started with rain. I tried not to see it as an omen as I walked down the cobblestone streets, with my drooping umbrella barely shielding me from the downpour. 

The town was filled with a rainbow of umbrellas, contrasting against the grey of the rain-soaked city. There were tourists looking lost, priests on their way to one of the many churches, and regular towns-folk milling about on their day. To my surprise, I saw Mr. Taper, a leather goods store owner, helping a group of tourists. Most people that live here find it amusing when tourists get lost, but not out of cruelty, but because the labyrinth of our town has baffled us for years. 

I held my yellow umbrella above my head in an attempt to protect my new wool sweater. Luckily for me, the diamond shop was only a couple blocks away from my house. When I reached the front window, I peered in at all of the display cases. 

I hadn’t noticed that the windows were dark until Mr. Trumble came up and unlocked the door. He was an older man, small but straight as a pole. He wore a brown tweed suit and used a wooden walking stick. He looked at me from under his bushy, silver eyebrows. “Hello, young lady,” he said, “can I help you?”

“I’m Bethany, and I’m supposed to be your new assistant,” I said as I turned to him.

He slowly nodded, his eyes closed with remembering. “Ah yes, I remember now. Come in, and I’ll show you around.” 

Mr. Trumble held open the door as I walked in. He quickly slipped by me and into the back room, where he put his jacket and walking stick. 

“Alright,” he said, “this is where all the magic happens.” He let out a little chuckle at a joke I didn’t understand.

I walked down the long shop room, and gazed at the displays on either side of me. There were diamonds of every shape, size and colour. They glimmered and gleamed in the light, as if it had been specifically designed to show off all the diamond’s best qualities. If I looked close, some appeared to be two colours swirling around deep in the heart of the jewel. 

“How did you make the different colours?” I asked, not able to take my eyes off of one diamond. It was a deep forest green with streaks of dark blue exploding from the centre. 

“It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, looking up to see him suddenly standing behind the case in front of me. 

But, he seemed distracted, looking down at the green and blue diamond. “Such a tragic story,” he mumbled to himself. 

“Sir?” 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Bethany,” he said, shaking his head as if that could dislodge lost thoughts. “Forgive me, I am getting old and my mind has the tendency to wander.”

“You were saying that you need to be in the right place at the right time. What does that mean?” I asked. 

He smiled at me and folded his hands on the case top. “In order to make these diamonds, you need the right amount of everything.”

I nodded, knowing the process for making coal into diamonds. 

“For this one, here,” he pointed to the green and blue diamond. “It required the right amount of terror and grief.”

I blinked. “Terror and grief? Those are emotions, sir.”

“You think I don’t know that? The little girl who made this diamond had just lost both of her parents in a car crash.” 

I blinked again. 

“These are not just ordinary diamonds. These diamonds are made from tears.”


No more than two hours later, I found myself sitting beside Mr. Trumble at a wedding, in one of the most uncomfortable church pews. He was determined to show me the process of collecting tears, despite my rational disbelief. Diamonds were not made from tears. 

This is madness, I thought as I tried not to fidget or be embarrassed that I wasn’t properly dressed for a wedding. 

“We’re going to get a tear from the bride,” he told me. 

“Seriously? What are you going to do, interrupt the wedding?” I asked. 

Eyes were on us from every direction. Some more curious, others disdainful. Whatever Mr. Trumble did, there was a divide in opinion of it.

“I do what I need to.”

The music began and the bride appeared with her company. Her eyes were already red and teary. 

As we stood, Mr. Trumble took a small glass vial out of his coat pocket. Without a word or a look, Mr. Trumble reached out towards the bride and placed the vial on her cheek. One tear dripped soundlessly into the glass container. 

No one looked at us then, not even the bride. 

“How did you—”

“Tear collectors are never seen at the moment of collection. I’m not sure why, but it’s part of the tradition.” 

The diamond he made with that tear was clear and pure. It was tinted sunshine yellow with joy. 


The next day, it was my turn. Mr. Trumble gave me the assignment of collecting four tears by the end of the week. He told me any tears would do, so I didn’t have to exert myself too much. He warned that collecting tears was terrible work sometimes. 

“Us collectors are there for moments of joy and sorrow. Emotions run deep and we must keep our heads about us.”

I started with a child that had fallen on the pavement. First I collected the tear, and then I went to find her mother. The stone that came from it was clear and a light sky blue shot through with streaks of red. The next tear came from an old man visiting his wife’s grave. The diamond was a deep indigo but an intricate shape that held many stories. The third tear came from a wife after a fight with her husband, sitting outside on a bench. The jewel came out a deep orange with red highlights and jagged edges. 

During this time, Mr. Trumble also had me help with his booth at the daily market. I hurried around the stalls, trying to get tourists to look at the jewels. But, as hard as I tried, I found it hard to convince people to buy others’ tears.

I also noticed that Mr. Trumble would visit a boy at the market, who sold flowers. 

“His name is August,” he told me. “I used to know his grandfather.”

“What happened to him?” I asked. 

“The town couldn’t keep him alive anymore.”

I had become used to Mr. Trumble’s cryptic ramblings. This one sent a shiver down my spine, though it was no more mystical than the others. The worst was when he would come into the store and tell me about a “premonition” he had the night before. I never found out if he was right or not most of the time.


The last tear I needed to collect was the hardest. All week I had been seeing the extremes of different emotions, trying my hardest not to be affected. I couldn’t tell Mr. Trumble that my heart broke every time I collected a tear. It was like I was stealing something personal from them, something that was not mine to take. 

Before I collected the first tear, he told me, “Collecting tears is very difficult for the soul.” He wasn’t kidding.

A week after I started work, with three out of the four tears I had to collect, it was raining. I tried not to take that as an omen. 

I knew I couldn’t go back to the store without the last tear. But, I couldn’t handle the intense emotions that I’d been exposed to. I couldn’t take someone’s feelings and turn them into something to make a profit from. 

I avoided the shop for most of the day. Instead, I wandered through the streets trying to get lost. Though, the one thing about this town is that you can’t get lost if you try. At least it never worked for me. I hid out in various restaurants, I strolled around the parks, and I even went to one of the many churches that towered over the town. But, I couldn’t hide from the knowledge that I had failed Mr. Trumble. 

It was still raining when I walked down the stairs of the church.

“Oh, to hell with it,” I snapped as I pulled out the vial from my pocket. I held it out in front of me and let a single raindrop fall in. 

I didn’t say a single word as I marched the vial back to the store. Mr. Trumble processed the raindrop without question, oblivious to the fact that it wasn’t a tear.

“I’m really proud of you, Bethany.” he said as he turned to me with a smile. “I’ve had many assistants, but not one has made it through the week like you have.”

My breath caught in my throat. He was proud of me, thinking that I had accomplished what others couldn’t. I had failed twice. 

“Mr. Trumble, I have to apologize. I didn’t really collect a tear. It’s just a raindrop from outside.”

He froze. 

“What?” he asked. “A raindrop?” He jumped out of his chair with too much vigour for someone  that old. From across the room, his eyes were fixed on the diamond sitting on the desk. It was a deep muddy black, perfectly shaped, but no light reflected off its surface. 

“Bethany, I don’t know what that is, and I don’t know what that means, but I know it’s not a good sign.” 

“Mr. Trumble, I—” 

“Leave!” he cried. “Get out of here.”

So I did. 


A couple days later I went back to check on Mr. Trumble. The shop windows were dark and the inside empty. I asked around and found out Mr. Trumble had gone into great debt and had to sell all his inventory to pay for it. That must have meant selling the raindrop diamond. 

A little while later I saw a tourist wearing it. I tried to ask her if she knew what had become of the owner, but she didn’t respond or look at me. 

Slowly, the tourists stopped coming and the town businesses died. 

One day, a week after the disappearance of Mr. Trumble, a dark stranger showed up in town. He knew who I was, and called himself the caretaker. 

A Baby Gardener’s Guide to Wellness with Plants

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.

— Alfred Austin

A couple months ago, I was in a bad place mentally. Lockdown living was keeping me safe, but not helping me thrive. I had all the time to write and paint and bake and do all the things I love, but I was still feeling glum most of the time.

Then something changed.

The weather got better and my family decided it was time to renovate the garden right in front of our house. It wasn’t much of a garden at all. It was a boxwood lined area covered in periwinkles dotted with some shrubbery. It didn’t look bad, per se. But, it significantly lacked inspiration. We’d been talking about it during the winter and even with the virus running rampant, we were still able to do what we needed.

Physical labour was needed to remove the hedges and shrubs and, I don’t know what it was, whether the sunshine or getting dirty or being active, I felt amazing afterwards. After digging up boxwood roots, I’d be exhausted and sweaty and covered in dirt, but I was satisfied. Satisfied in a deep way I didn’t understand; as if I connected with something primal inside. It was like digging in the dirt had connected me with nature in a way that I hadn’t experienced before.

The garden quickly became my passion project.

Planning, designing, and working on the garden gave me something to think about, while spending time with plants and generally spending more time outside did wonders for my mental health. My feelings of helplessness and apathy began to lessen significantly.

Now, this was my first major foray into the gardening world. My mother is the gardener of the family and, until fairly recently, my interest had been lukewarm at best. But as I’ve been exploring a slower-paced lifestyle, gardening has become more important. I’d love to be able to grow my own food someday. Perhaps even own some chickens.

Since, I have learned how beneficial gardening can be to my wellbeing.

Salvia

Bathe in the Green

It might seem a little obvious, but there are many benefits to spending time in natural landscapes. With the research done on the Japanese practice of Forest Bathing, it’s not hard to see how being outside is good for the soul.

Gardening is especially good because it’s just outside or front or back door. A mere couple steps to your own personal green oasis. You can surround yourself with all the plants that make you happy.

I think humans need to have a connection to our natural surroundings in order to feel the most human. But, that might just be me.

Hydrangea

Breathe in

Fresh air is important.

Lilac

Dig in the dirt

Carrying plants, digging holes, and all the other things one does when gardening all counts as exercise! It might not be the same sort as going to a CrossFit gym, but low-level exercise with varied motions and movements over a longer period of time can be just as beneficial.

And, what appeals to me is, it’s purposeful. I’m not just moving my body for this abstract idea of “health” that is sometimes easily ignored in order to sit on my couch and do nothing, but I’m doing something that I want to be doing. The exercise is a bonus.

Lavender

Be present

It’s been proven that being present in the moment and mindful is beneficial and the garden can be our own sanctuary of mindfulness. There, we can practice focusing on what we are doing in the moment, instead of all the stressors that are waiting for us to think about.

Smell the flowers, listen to the birds, feel the dirt under your hands. Let yourself embrace all that your senses are feeling.

Cosmo

“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives. ”

⎯ Gertrude Jekyll

There’s just something about gardening that I never realized before I started doing it myself. Even now that the garden is mostly “done” (though, I’d argue a true garden is never done) I find myself always wanting to work on it.

A garden is like a living organism and can be continuously worked on and changed, but don’t forget to enjoy your hard work and the beautiful space created. Take some time to be still in your natural oasis.

I may have just started gardening, but I think this is the start of a great mindful hobby!

I’ve Opened a Bookstore

The last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. Why? Because I’ve launched a tiny online business.

I’ve always loved books and bookstores. There are many many blog posts dedicated to my favourite books and bookstores. One dream I’ve had, since graduating five years ago, is to open my own bookstore.

It’s easy for me to get lost in dreams about what the store would look like, what sort of books and other bookish products I would stock, bookish events I would host. My dream bookstore would be a haven for book lovers and authors alike. But, unfortunately, it is but a dream.

Newmarket, my hometown, used to have an independent used bookstore, but it closed YEARS ago. Since, there haven’t been any other bookstores other than the big chain. It’s a real shame because all towns deserve a real cozy bookstore. I’ve been to many, all over the world even, and it’s an experience I adore.

But, it’s expensive to open a brick-and-mortar store. So how could I reconcile my dream with realistic finances?

An online store!

Every single step of this process has been surprisingly painless. From registering the business with various governmental bodies, finding the best hosting platform, and collecting initial stock. It’s also been much cheaper and much less risky.

But, more importantly, I’ve been able to do something I’m passionate about. Yes, I don’t get to design a real shop where I can put a homey reading nook. And I don’t get face-to-face interactions with my customers. But, it’s better than not doing anything at all.

I set up a couple avenues of direct communication, where customers can contact me and hopefully we can build a real relationship.

  1. A potential customer can email me with a specific book they’re looking for and I’ll find it and ship it to them.
  2. I also provide recommendations for anyone who gives a couple details of their reading habits/preferences

This launch is a wonderful mixture of excitement and terror as I make my dreams a reality and pray that it doesn’t just fizzle out into nothing.

If you’re in the market for a gently used book, please please check out The Littlest Online Bookshop!

Book Review: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune

Yin-yang fried rice was a feast for the eyes and the senses. Swirls of cream contrasted with an orange tomato sauce to form the iconic pattern. Underneath the sauces lay a bed of yang chow fried rice containing a bounty of minced jewels: barbecued pork, Chinese sausage, peas, carrots, spring onions, and wisps of egg. Slices of white onions and pork emerged from the tomato sauce while shrimp and sweet green peas decorated the cream.

At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighbourhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.

The neighbourhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbours before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around–she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbours really have been there for her all along.

Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters

I don’t know quite where to start with this one except that it’s deliciously good.

Roselle Lim’s wonderful descriptions of the food cooked throughout the novel left me reaching for a snack. At times I could almost smell the meals wafting from the pages of the book.

Along with the food descriptions, the setting of San Fransisco’s Chinatown completely encased me. Lim has painted such a clear picture, it was hard not to feel like I’d travelled the great distance between my home in Ontario to northern California. I could fully imagine the neighbourhood where Natalie moved back to along with the delightful cast of characters.

Each one of the characters in the book felt so real and grounded in reality. From the intimidating and somewhat grumpy restaurant owner to the down-on-her-luck shop owner, I felt like I could just walk out the door and meet them on the street. And I’d want to. Despite some obvious conflicts, no character was completely unlikeable or unredeemable. It was so nice.

Right now the world is in a bit of chaos, and books like this are much needed. This book is like curling up inside a warm pork bun (wouldn’t that be amazing, though?). Though this is what I could call a “comfort book” and I knew everything would work out in the end, I still felt very much compelled to read on and on. I laughed and I cried in equal measure.

I won’t give anything away because you should do yourself a favour and read this book, but there’s a twist that took me by surprise. It was the happy little cherry on top of this delicious book sundae.