Book Review: Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

“They call this an orphan train, children, and you are lucky to be on it. You are leaving behind an evil place, full of ignorance, poverty, and vice, for the nobility of country life.”

Orphan Train is a fictional story based on factual events in American history. In the 19205, many orphaned children born of Irish immigrants were boarded onto trains, sent from crowded Eastern American cities to the rural Midwest. Families who needed servants, farm labourers or more children would come and see the orphans and take whoever they wanted home. Vivian Daly was one such orphan who found herself on an orphan train at just nine years old. In present times, she is a 91-year-old, living on her own, tormented by her troubled past.

Enter teenage rebel Molly Ayer, a beneficiary, or rather, victim of the sometimes-flawed modern-day child welfare system. As punishment for one of her petty crimes, she has to take on a community service position to help an elderly woman — Vivian, clean out her home.

In spite of the vast age gap, their lives share similar parallels. Vivian’s voice and courage touched Molly, who came to see her as an inspiration and role model. In turn, Molly teaches the old lady that it is never too late to learn something new, and hope is never too much to ask for.

The horrors of Vivian’s story, which continue to ring true for less fortunate children in many parts of the world today, are a page turner. It is impressive how the author has turned a heartbreaking and distressing situation into a feel-good story by the end of it. In spite of the heavy subject matter, the writing style manages to be charming and uplifting, sometimes channelling humorous sarcasm.

Some readers however disliked the common negative stereotypes found in the characters. They also found Molly to be unlikable due to her bratty behaviour. It would also be prudent to note that the book features some swearing and coarse language.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

Get a Full Recharge from Good Quality Sleep

In movies, we view scenes of people waking up with a start from a nightmare, or because there’s a blood thirsty psychopath or a ghoul lurking in the house. In reality, our sleep can get interrupted due to very mild distractions or even for no apparent reason. This can be a horror in its own right. After all, without good quality sleep, we’d spend the next day feeling fuzzy, agitated and lacking in concentration.

If it is a challenge to stay asleep throughout the night, you might want to consider making some changes to your sleeping habits.

Watching when and what you eat and drink can greatly help to improve your sleep. Generally, try to give at least two to three hours buffer time before your bed time. Don’t go to bed hungry or stuffed. Slot in a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you really must. But it’s not a good habit. Get your eight glasses of water in the earlier part of the day as drinking before bed can lead to midnight trips to the bathroom. Avoid nicotine and caffeine as these have stimulating effects. Alcohol before bed is also generally not a good idea as it reduces REM sleep (the stage of sleep when people dream), which can lead to loss in concentration and day time drowsiness.

Let your body know it’s about time for bed. About an hour before bedtime, put your work away, dim the lights, put on comfortable pyjamas, listen to soothing music, essentially do anything that will help you unwind. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by bridging the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.

A clean and comfortable environment makes a difference. It’s challenging trying to fall asleep in a room where the air-conditioning is too strong, or a room so stuffy and humid that you spend the night tossing and turning in bed. If there are mosquitoes in your house, you might want to consider mosquito repellent. Invest in some good noise plugs if crying babies (not yours), screeching vehicles and your snoring partner are a regular affair. Also keep your surroundings as dark as possible as a little light can disrupt melatonin production, thus interrupting your sleep. An alternative is to cover your eyes with an eye mask.

Power napping is another factor that can affect sleep. While these naps are lauded as the new trend to greater efficiency at work, keep them short, no more than 10 to 30 minutes, and only in the mid-afternoon. Long naps and excessive napping can make you feel sleepier otherwise, and also cause difficulties in achieving sound sleep at night.

Additionally, stay active, as exercise can help you to fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper sleep. A research done by Northwestern University’s Department of Neurobiology and Physiology, in Illinois, US, reported that sedentary adults who exercised four times a week experienced improved sleep quality.

A little discipline goes a long way in improving your lifestyle. If you still have persistent problems falling asleep, do consult a doctor.

Picture from Pixabay

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

Book Review: The Yellow Envelope

The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan

Kim Dinan always wanted to travel the world. Tired of how little is happening in her life, she decided to quit her job and pursue this dream. She persuaded her husband to do likewise and they sold all their possessions. Before they left, their close friends gave them a yellow envelope containing $1000 to be spent or given away as they saw fit during their travels.

The Yellow Envelope was in fact a project she started in November 2016. She asks blog readers if she could mail them a yellow envelope. All they had to do was to use their yellow envelope to commit a random act of kindness.

Back to her travels, the couple had some great adventures together, but their relationship was frequently challenged. At one point, Kim even considered leaving her husband despite he being supportive of her.

Indeed, travelling the world is rarely romantic and idyllic It takes a lot of courage to give up stability for adventures, the unknown and unpredictable, and to cope with the societal pressures. Those who have contemplated doing the same may find this memoir a wake-up call, or be even more inspired to venture out of their comfort zone.

This book focuses on Kim’s emotional struggles and epiphanies, which would be disappointing for those who are expecting a travelogue or adventure book. Certainly, there are some content about what the couple saw and did, and the people they encountered in Ecuador, India, and Nepal, among others. There is a section for each country visited but the description is superficial. Some of the travel stories are rather interesting. Kim didn’t forget the yellow envelope. The $1000 was put to good use, feeding dogs and helping needy children. It reminds readers that travel is not just about enjoying and experiencing the sights, but it is also about reaching out to those in need.

Kim has a beautiful descriptive writing style. She uses simple words but weaves them together with interesting metaphors, making it easy to relate to her thoughts.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.