Monday, 9 July 2012

Wanakita I miss you!

By tradition this should be our first full day of family camp at Camp Wanakita in Ontario. This is the second year we are living in the west and missing our friends and family at camp. Maybe, just maybe, we may need to think about going one more time.

Meanwhile I will cherish the words from the opening and closing campfires.
We who have been before challenge you, who are the present, to make new friends, renew old friendships, experience new skills, discover and appreciate nature and the outdoor life, to participate fully in all activities that are offered to you, and to create memories that last a lifetime.

You are challenged to learn that YMCA Wanakita is not just the buildings, the land and the lake, but the people. It is the people that become so much a part of us while we are here.

Finally, we challenge you to keep your sense of fun and adventure, that no matter what your age, to be healthy in spirit, mind and body, and to make YMCA Wanakita what it really is...
A place to have the time of your life!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Books for Friday (BFF) Personal Health

The author addresses the fact that books about personal health are too numerous to count, yet she promises to differentiate herself. Does she succeed? To a large degree she does, by breaking the process down into truly small, manageable steps. For example, in the chapter on exercise she suggests: Consistently do more than what is normal for you. So if you are a couch potato, then anything is more- she suggests ten minutes of conscious movement, a goal that might actually seem achievable to a couch potato.

Her tone is casual, not preachy and she gives examples of her own struggles. I liked her small steps concept- for alcohol she suggests two or less drink on most days of the week. Many get fit manuals say give up alcohol completely, just to start, but if someone refuses to give up their occasional drink, then they never start that program. Another tidbit is: eat breakfast even just a few days a week. Chances are if you do not eat breakfast now, starting to do it every day might seem too much, but with this approach you might say to yourself, I can do a few days, and once you see the increased energy you might keep adding days.
There are a few success stories sprinkled throughout the book. I would have liked more and I also would have liked photos- for me they bring the subject to life and I found this book a bit text heavy.

What I enjoyed most about this book and what I think differentiates it, is the focus on the mental aspects of energy. Three of 13 chapters are devoted a section called Feed Your Spirit. The chapters deal with topics such as happiness, kindness and passion. Yes, most of it we know, but we do it? Do we laugh every day, do we buy ourselves flowers, do we smile at strangers, do we hold the door? Did you know kindness is good for your immune system? Say good morning, thank you and have a great day as often as you can. Wouldn't that make your community a better place to live?
 It seems to me if we attacked the spirit part first our energy would increase, then doing the eating and fitness chapters would be easier.
I would recommend this book to someone who feels they need a change in their life but feels too overwhelmed to start.

Keeping with the personal health theme, I highly recommend this learn to run book. It is based on the SportMedBC's 13-week program that has its roots in what is now one of the world's most popular 10-K events, the Vancouver Sun Run.

I have a sentimental attachment to both this program and race. It was the program my husband and I used to get us to our first 10-km race (aforementioned Sun Run) many years ago when we lived in Vancouver, BC. On race day he looked at me and said, "There are more people running here today than lived in Charlottetown, PEI", the city from which we had recently moved.

At the time I swore I would never "learn" to run again. How naive. Life gets in the way. So here I am learning to run again for maybe the third time. I was thrilled when I picked up this book and it was based on the program that got me hooked the first time.

Why is it a great book? It has a program that is geared to injury prevention, a gradual increase in intensity and  like the "Energy Now!" book, it focuses on small, manageable steps.

For now my step are small and slow- but they are steps in the right direction.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Books for Friday (BFF): The Middlesteins

I really enjoyed this book which is scheduled for release in fall 2012. As a character-driven book, it is filled with a rich cast surrounding the obese, central character, Edie: a wife, mother and grandmother.  I found myself rooting for her to gain control of her health and life. I was as frustrated with her inability to address her health as was her family in the book, yet I understood the need she was trying to fill with food. Attenberg has written Edie with great sympathy and lets us see her angry and passionate side.

There are moments of humour in the novel that illustrate the ridiculousness we might see if we could see ourselves from an exterior view. At one point, Edie's daughter-in-law lists all the lies she has told her husband; one being that she doesn't tell him that she goes to movies during the day. Then we learn that the husband thinks his wife has no sense of humour as she never laughs at the funny movies- because she has already seen them.

I loved these intimate insights into several marriages and other love relationships. Attenberg paints the complexity of these human interactions from different perspectives, reminding the reader that we only ever truly know things from our perspective.
Watch for this book. I am going to read some other books by this author.
Any recommendations?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Have you made anyone smile yet today?

Yesterday, I took my returnables to the depot. It's a job I always enjoy completing as it frees up space in the garage, but do I enjoy it? I never gave it much thought until my interaction with a stranger at the depot yesterday.

A white-haired woman, dressed in casual, light blue pants and a matching, striped shirt was ahead of me in line. She turned to chat with me, her eyes sparkling, her body vibrating with excitement. "Can you believe it, they give you money for nothing here?" she asked. Then she proceeded to tell me how she and her great grandchildren collect what others discard. " All that bending keeps me young she chuckled, quickly dropping down to touch her toes in case I did not believe it. "I'll be 89 on my next birthday," she bragged, and rightfully so.

Her joy made me smile and that feeling stayed with me all day. Oh to be so joyful, at any age, no matter what chore you are doing.

How might you share your joy today?

Friday, 4 May 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- Books Galore at Calgary Reads

No review this week, instead a promo for the Calgary Reads Book Sale. I volunteered to sort books a couple of times this week and let me assure you, there are mountains of book. Lots of fabulous titles have me planning to purchase books for this worthwhile cause.

They are still looking for donations, volunteers for book sorting and assisting during the three-day sale event. Visit Calgary Reads for more information.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)

This is the first Anne Lamott book that I have read, but it will not be my last. Lamott, along with her son Sam, has written a memoir of her first grandchild. She  details her love affair with her grandson and her struggles to let her young son and his girlfriend sort out this parenting gig. Reading it made me grateful yet again for my supportive mother-in-law. If she struggled with any of Lamott's issues she has kept them well hidden- thanks Mom T.

If you are a plot driven reader you will not likely enjoy this memoir. But if you enjoy wonderfully descriptive writing and learning about someone struggling to find her way spiritually, or you want insight into the depth of grandparent love, you will enjoy this book. Just as we do not appreciate the power of parental love until we become parents; I suspect the same is true of the grandparent bond.

One of the many passages I adored in this book is about Lamott's effort to restrain from meddling. "Life is already an obstacle course, and when you're adding your own impediments (thinking they're helping), you really crazy it up. You make it harder to even just cross the room. You should not bring more items and hurdles to the obstacle course." A great lesson for us all.

This is a memoir I read for an on line book club, the Beyond Busy Global Monthly Book Club with Chrsitina Katz. I highly recommend the book club, managed by Christina who is an author and writing teacher. Her questions and discussion around our last book, Wild, were thought-provoking and insightful. Great for people who find themselves too busy to attend a regular book club. 

Or those of us in new places who have not replicated our old book club- yet.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- Family Saga

Y by Marjorie Celona was another Wordfest read for me.  Scheduled for release late summer, I read an unpublished proof. I loved this book despite its at times heartbreaking nature.  At its heart this is a story about family and what that means to our sense of self.  It is about a young woman, Shannon, who was abandoned at birth at the door of the local YMCA and her search for her biological parents.

The narrative alternates between Shannon’s life as she is passed between foster families and the story of Shannon’s biological parents and the events that led to her abandonment. Shannon, the narrator, has a unique perspective on life and some physical limitations that add to the interest of her character and resulting perspective. Like Shannon, nothing in this book is neat or pat but realistic and messy.

The author captures that driving need many adopted children have to know their biological parents, to know why they were abandoned and the oftentimes disconnection they feel amidst their adopted family. At the same time, she tries to show how people can make terrible mistakes yet things can still be ok after great failure and loss.
I will read this book again when it is released.
As I was reading Y, the writing reminded me of another great Canadian writer, Anne-Marie MacDonald, especially her Fall on Your Knees book.  Hugely popular, a 2002 Oprah pick, MacDonald's book was also a multi-generational story of a family steeped in secrets.

What gems are you reading?

Friday, 13 April 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- Immortals, Witches, Vampires

I had high expectations of book one in this hugely popular YA series, obviously spawned from the Twilight saga. The premise is interesting- a teenage girl loses her family in a car accident and gains the ability to see people's auras and feel their lives and feelings by touch. The handsome, exotic Damen enters her life and we are curious about his seemingly strange powers.  For me, the story dragged on and on- I was curious about what an immortal (who is not a vampire) might be, but when more (still not enough) details are finally divulged, I had lost interest.

I am going to pass on the next five in the series. Yet, apparently high school girls are devouring the series.

Another recent read A Discovery of Witches, featured witches and vampires. I had very mixed feelings about this book. I was captivated by the history that is woven through (according to Goodreads) "A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together." Partway through I felt I was reading an old Harlequin, yet I could NOT put the book down.

Some reviewers have complained that not much actually happens in this book, a point I will grant them. I kept reading enjoying the rich history the author was developing around the various creatures. So in this case, I will read the second book- not yet published. I feel like this book established a fascinating background in which a more interesting story might evolve.

Any recommendations?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Hunger Games enters Calgary vernacular

If you have been living under a rock, or been unplugged for the last year, you may not have heard of the books by Suzanne Collins or movie The Hunger Games. It has become a phenomenon not only as a marketing juggernaut, but it is creeping into our language.

Great headline today in Calgary Herald about tonight's provincial leadership debate: "Debate a political hunger games." Don Braid's article goes on to speak about how tonight's debate is "fraught with tension and drama, a political hunger game that means life or death for careers and even parties."  I think everyone in the capital and the districts will be watching.

What great fun to see a book become so pervasive in pop culture.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- Memoirs

I just finished and really enjoyed Wild, a memoir by Cheryl Strayed. From Goodreads "A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker."

An engaging story of survival and healing, Strayed managed to keep me engaged over the entire 1100 mile journey. I laughed, I cried and I cheered Cheryl on her journey. She is not self-conscious about what she reveals yet it never felt like navel gazing. I think anyone who has needed to heal a hole in their heart will relate to this memoir.

As someone who loves yoga I enjoyed this memoir (not as much as Wild). Dederer does a good job of using various yoga poses as metaphor for events in her life. For any mom who has felt the competitive pressure that confronts many modern day families you will laugh out loud at many parts. Not easy being a perfect mom.

I was more interested in her adult life than her memories of childhood and did get a bit bored midway because I'd hoped for more yoga. As I read I underlined many words that were unfamiliar to me. Perhaps it is my communications background where the goal was to find language that was precise and easily understood. Sentences like those below felt pretentious- who speaks like this- and distracted me from the story.

Do you read memoirs? Do you like to read about famous people or regular sorts? Any recommendations?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Do you want to have smile lines or frown lines?

I loved this sign at the Telus Spark Science Center in Calgary. Have you thought about the face YOU want to have when you are 70?

Make sure it is the face you deserve.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- Do you always finish a book?

I read an advance copy of The Love Monster by Missy Marston for Wordfest. From the back cover " the tall tale of one woman's struggle with mid-life issues. The main character Margaret H. Atwood, has psoriasis, a boring job and a bad attitude. Her cheating husband has left her. And none of her pants fit any more." I did  find it amusing that this main character thinks her best years are behind her at the ripe old age of 35.

Parts of this book I enjoyed- the writing is often witty and social commentary at times biting. I laughed out loud at lines like "Aging is what takes a perfectly nice looking young woman and turns her into Ed F*ing Asner." (If she thinks she's ED Asner at 35 have I got news for her!) But the negativity of the main character wore me down and I considered putting the book aside. She did redeem herself somewhat in the end, yet I'm not sure I cared enough about her for that to matter.

I think this book might appeal to people with a quirky, dark sense of humour. It reminded me vaguely of a Christopher Moore novel although I have enjoyed several of his immensely.

Do you allow yourself to abandon a book that is not working for you or do you force yourself to finish every book?

Once upon a time I felt compelled to finish a book. Now I am more likely to bail on a book that is not working for me.  Recently my reluctant was leery about telling me he did not want to finish a new book I had purchased for him.  He was 100+ pages invested in it. I asked why and he replied that it was boring. Good choice then I said. The relief was immediate on his face.

The right to not finish a book is one of the rights detailed in a great little book about reading. Something all avid readers or people who work with children trying to encourage reading would enjoy.

Pennac's ten rights of the reader:

1. The right to read.
2. The right to skip.
3. The right not to finish a book.
4. The right to read it again
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to mistake a book for real life.
7. The right to read anywhere- one reason I LOVE my e reader- always a book in my purse.
8. The right to dip in.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right to be quiet and not discuss the book with anyone.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Wanakita Charter-good words to live by

Writing about family camp brought back so many fabulous memories. Every year at the opening and closing campfires they would recite the Wanakita Charter. A great way to set the tone for the week ahead. At the closing campfire I was usually reciting it with tears flowing as I so hated the experience to end and knew I was saying good bye to such special people- new friends and old.

If we followed the Wanakita Charter in our daily lives our lives would be richer. Just substitute the name of the city or town  where you live for Wanakita. If you have recently relocated following this may opne you up to your new home.

We who have been before challenge you, who are the present, to make new friends, renew old friendships, experience new skills, discover and appreciate nature and the outdoor life, to participate fully in all activities that are offered to you, and to create memories that last a lifetime.

You are challenged to learn that YMCA Wanakita is not just the buildings, the land and the lake, but the people. It is the people that become so much a part of us while we are here.

Finally, we challenge you to keep your sense of fun and adventure, that no matter what your age, to be healthy in spirit, mind and body, and to make YMCA Wanakita what it really is...
A place to have the time of your life!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- War themes from new perspectives

My second review for Wordfest is a poetically written book, Patient Number 7, (inspired by a true story) that takes the reader into the world of two Austrian families from the 1930s through the second world war into the present.  It is fascinating to watch the evolution of Clara, the main character, a bright intellectual who illustrates how the idea of social concepts may be very different when they are put into practise. Her search to make sense of her world using her schooling infuses the book with a cerebral, reflective air.

As a woman I related to Clara’s determination to stay true to her own life despite becoming a wife and mother in extreme circumstances. There was strength to her character that had her doing for others at personal risk- that trait we all hope we would have in similar circumstances. Using the third person narrative left me wanting a deeper insight into Clara, but perhaps this approach leads her story to stand more as an example of any Austrian woman who survived this.

The author illustrates the impact of war on the Austrian people and in fact on any people. He also broadened my perception of who a German soldier might be. We are often fed a one-dimensional picture of good guys versus bad guys when the world is so much more complicated. One of the lines in the book that resonated with me was, “Because it had given her an entirely new sense of what she and the world were capable of, she treated it with respect…” Fascinating to ponder what we would be capable of in various circumstances.

It also reminded me of Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, which I loved despite its harsh topic. From Goodreads: "Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother's life."
The author tackles the complex issue of what it might have been like to survive the war from a German woman's perspective. It is a page turner and I felt more emotionally connected to the characters in this book than Patient Number 7.
Have you read any historical fiction that is from a less common perspective?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

YMCA Camps a place to have the time of your life

YMCA Camp Chief Hector

We have signed up for a family weekend at Camp Chief Hector, located about an hour from Calgary. Not only will it be a great way to bond with some family friends who have also moved west, it will help us reconnect with a long-standing family tradition.

YMCA Camp Wanakita

One of the family traditions we have missed since moving west is our annual week at YMCA Camp Wanakita in Ontario.  For six summers (at least) we did the long, family car ride to visit my husband's family in Ontario then spent a week with cousins, old friends and great new friends experiencing the wonder of family camp.

closing and opening campfires were a huge hit

I never went to camp as a kid but read lots of books where the protagonist did and I dreamt of camp. So I was thrilled when we first went- I think the kids were too small to even grasp the concept before we checked in.  Family camp is just like residential camp for kids- rustic bunks, tons of activities to sign up for and meals in the noisy dining hall, but the entire family goes. It is the best way to visit with family and friends- a rustic all-inclusive. I am curious to see the difference with a mountain experience this year.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Self Acceptance Workshop near Calgary

As I settle into Calgary and start exploring the learning options, I am increasingly thrilled with what I find. Whether I am looking for parenting workshops, art, recreation or personal growth, there is something available. As much as I miss living in a smaller town, opportunities were a bit more limited. And I know I am just beginning to scratch the surface of what is available in and around this city.

As a woman I find it rare to find a woman who is not critical of her body. As a parent to a preteen I am hyper-conscious of body talk and continue to strive to be accepting of my ageing body- not always an easy task. (I now know why yoga pants are often Capri length- who knew knees sagged with age?!)  So I was thrilled to see and have signed up for this workshop in nearby Cochrane, hosted by a yoga instructor who comes highly recommended by a friend.

 If you are interested in this workshop, visit the site

Are you accepting of your body as it is today?

Friday, 16 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- My first Wordfest read

 I think writing about books is almost an fun as reading them and spent considerable time last night contemplating what I'd choose for a second book as somehow my weekly book post is about two books. My first book, One Good Hustle by Billie Livingston was a volunteer read for Calgary's Wordfest. My copy was a galley, so I was excited to see the cover art on Livingston's web page.

From the first page I was captivated by Sammie, a sixteen- year-old from a family of hustlers. She is smart, witty, vulnerable and yet brave in many ways. For me, her strength of self was evidenced by her lack of drinking when all around her were experimenting. I was rooting for her to believe in her inner goodness despite the adult influences in her life that threatened to pull her into a similar lifestyle.
This is a gritty read, so I am not ready to share it with my tween reader but it is a book that older teens will relate to as well as adults. I was pleased to be introduced to the work of this award-winning, author and will definitely read some of her other books.  Here's a link to her website.

As a reader I often enjoy stories where characters are struggling to find their way despite difficult home situations. One Good Hustle reminded me of how much I enjoyed several books by Maritime author Jill MacLean. Home Truth, was also definitely a more mature young adult read. It is a look inside the harsh life of fourteen-year-old Brick MacAvoy and his little sister Cassie. Brick, a bully is bullied physically and emotionally by his father. I recall reading it and thinking how powerful a book this would be for a young person who was being bullied- and it' s another great read for this author who came to novel writing when she promised to write a story for her grandson.

This is the new cover when the book was reissued for the Red Maple Award 2012. I will be hoping it wins!

My introduction to Jill Mac Lean's writing was when her book, The Nine Lives of Travis Keating was nominated for the 2010 Hacmatac awards (an Atlantic Canadian children's choice award program for which I volunteered at my children's school).

This is the book Mac Lean wrote for her grandson and contains snowmobiles and hockey as he requested- but so much more! Travis, eleven-going-on twelve moves from the city with his widowed father to a small northern community in Newfoundland. The local bully hampers his ability to make friends and he cannot play hockey as the zamboni is not working. Travis finds a family of abandoned cats in Gully Cove, a place he is forbidden to go. This is a great book about learning how to make friends and finding your courage and sense of self.
In the book Travis befriends Prinny, a girl who struggles to read and is dealing with an alcoholic mother. Prinny, although a secondary character was complex and interesting, so I, like many of Mac Lean's readers was thrilled when Prinny got her own book.

A harsher read than her first book,  The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy is still hopeful. Mac Lean's characters are very real, her dialogue believable. The curious thing I noticed when reading these books before my daughter, was that the issues I was concerned about being too brutal for her (a young man being punched by his father, a young woman being bullied with alcohol), she took in stride. Just another reminder that they are sometimes ready for more mature content than we give them credit for. And of course there are also times that the worrisome content just flies past them.
Happy reading! I am off to finish my next Wordfest book. Remeber, if you are in Calgary they are looking for volunteer readers.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Loving Lentils

I love, love the nutritional powerhouse legume, lentils. I use lentils in soups, hide them in chocolate chip cookies ( recipe from Spilling the Beans by Julie Van Rosendaal & Sue Duncan) and make a super lentil salad or dip (recipe below).

 Did you know Canada grows about 67% of the world's supply? They were not a food I was introduced to growing up on the east coast as they are grown in Saskatchewan and southern Alberta. Now, living in Calgary I can feel I am eating local as well as healthy when I cook with lentils.

Canadian Chef Michael Smith, cookbook author and host of Chef at Home and Chef Michael's Kitchen has teamed up with Canadian Lentils to create a series of online videos, recipes and cooking tips.  I have cooked his lentil and rice recipe for quite some time. My hubby affectionately calls it glop- watching the video I now know why- I've been using the red split lentils which get mushy instead of the green! But mushy or not, this easy side dish is yummy. I look forward to trying it with the green lentils.

Elke's Lentil Salad (Dip)

Dressing: whisk together: 1/2 C vegetable or olive oil, 1/4 C red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. Djon mustard, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cumin, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tsp. curry, pinch of cloves (optional- I never use), 1 tsp. lemon juice (optional). The recipe calls for this amount of dressing but I find it a bit much & usually half the recipe or double the salad ingredients.

Salad: Toss together: 1 can of small lentils, rinsed, 1 red pepper diced, 1/2 C currants or raisins, 3 green onions chopped, pinch of sugar.

Add salad ingredients to dressing. Toss & refrigerate overnight for best flavour. Serve with tortilla chips. Also tasty as a salad (room temperature or warmed up).

Do you love lentils? Or have you tried them? The video on the Canadian Lentil site inspired me to sprout some and try them in salads.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)- Vampires are everywhere

Last night I attended my daughter's middle school production of Dracula. I was pleasantly surprised at the skill level of the young actors and dancers and the multi-media approach to modernising this ancient tale. In the program, the director encouraged us to read the classic by Bram Stoker. I have started it but never finished so it is on my list of books to read so I can see the connections between it and the modern day proliferation of vampire stories.

The first vampire book I ever read was for my book club, "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova. A long, lush book filled with historical detail (in my mind, way too much detail), where a young woman is drawn into the same quest as her father before her- to find Vlad the Impaler. The novel travels to Budapest, Istanbul and the depths of Eastern Europe, blending fact, fantasy and history. Although I thought much of the novel could have been edited out, the sense of foreboding that permeated the novel had me only reading it during daylight, when I read at night I had awful dreams. Our book club had mixed reviews- some loved it- I only rated it two stars on my Goodreads account.

Having a pre-teen daughter I was drawn into the Twilight series as I like to read before she does to determine appropriateness. My enjoyment of these novels centred more around bonding with my daughter and we loved watching the movies together.

Last summer I stumbled upon the "Blue Bloods" series by Melissa de la Cruz and read several back to back. Yet another YA vampire series but I loved that the rich New York city blue bloods, were blood-sucking vampires. A fast, escapism read, perfect for the beach.

I am curious about the fascination so many have with vampires. Is it their supernatural strength, their immortality that draws us, or the thrill of skirting fear by reading about such evil, similar to the draw of roller coasters and other thrill-inducing activities? My daughter who is actually quite a timid personaility is captivated by them.

The other vampire guilty pleasure I've indulged in is the TV series, "Vampire Diaries". I know what the appeal of these vampires is- young and sexy, pure soap opera. But a 43 minute episode is a great way to keep me on the treadmill!

Are you a vampire lover or a would-be-vampire slayer? Any other series out there you would recommend?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Exciting Volunteer Opportunity for Readers- in Calgary

If you are an avid reader there is a fantastic volunteer opportunity in Calgary- Wordfest is looking for volunteer readers. You visit their office (in Eau Claire Market) and choose a book. You read the book and write a short review, returning the book within two weeks. Free books!

I am on my first volunteer read and will share my review when it is complete. As a reader you have likely felt that intense sense of anticipation and possessiveness you get when you are about to open a new book, feeling like you are the first one to discover its magic. Well, the book I chose is a first for me- it is an advance copy- not yet released - I feel such a sense of privilege holding this proof in my hands.

From their website:

Wordfest is a non-profit arts organization that brings readers and writers together through a premier international writers festival and year-round literary events in Calgary, Banff and the Bow Valley.

In October, WordFest presents an annual six-day literary festival that features more than 70 writers from the local, national and international stage and hosts more than 60 events. This year, the Festival will take place from October 11–16, 2011. The annual Festival is considered one of North America’s premier literary festivals, attracting over 14,000 audience members and offers events in multiple languages, such as French and Spanish.

Although a Calgary-centred event if there is a literary festival in your area they too may need volunteer readers. What a great way to unearth new books.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Books for Friday (BFF)

As the movie (based on the book by Lionel Shriver) hits local theatres I was reminded of this powerful story. A work of fiction that is devastatingly real to read; this book is not for everyone. An intimate look into a mother's relationship with her manipulative son who commits a Columbine-style massacre at his high school, I had to keep reminding myself as I read that this was fiction. It is a book which has stayed with me for years. This is the type of writing your creative writing teacher was talking about when they said "show me, don't tell me".

If you can handle the disturbing subject of this book, I highly recommend it. Yet I am not sure I can bear to see the visual representation of this book. I fear that impression will be too brutal and is somehow more lasting than the written word. But my curiosity may win out.

The Post-Birthday World is Shriver book I enjoyed (not a word I use in connection with the Kevin book). It is a fascinating look at how one woman's life might have turned out differently if she chose to stay with her responsible partner or chose his irresponsible friend. The book alternates between the two lifelines. Although I thought the story could have been shortened, I was caught up in the stories and would recommend this book. My enjoyment was enhanced by recognizing some British slang that I'd learned from a dear friend.

Shriver is a very talented writer who depicts often unlikeable characters but endows them with enough humanity to keep you interested in their story.  Born Margaret Ann, Shriver changed her name at 15 as she felt a more traditionally male name would suit her tomboy personaility. She has eight novels to her credit.

I also read Game Control about population control. I have mixed feelings about this book and see widely varied reviews. Often I felt I might be missing some greater intellectual truth but was intrigued by the concept.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Freedom to Read Week- Feb. 26-March 3


I confess I take my right to read for granted, but should not. Even In Canada books  and magazines are banned at the border and libraries and schools are asked to remove books and magazine from their shelves and programs.  We should not become complacent and think these things cannot happen here.

There are several local events in Calgary. To learn more go to:

Happy reading, whatever you choose to read.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

One great benefit of living in the west

"And the Oscar goes to..." I had forgotten how much fun it is to watch the entire show live without having to stay up until the wee hours. It was always anti-climactic when living on the east coast to watch most of the show, but abandon the key awards for sleep and then read about it in the paper the following day.

Loved the glitz and the glamour. My ten-year-old watched along with me, cheering for Hugo all the way. I was thrilled that Meryl Streep won Best Actress and adored the intro by Colin Firth.

 Now I look forward to seeing the few films of the Best Picture list that I have not yet seen.

What did you think of the Oscars?

Friday, 24 February 2012

Books for Friday- BFF

Many months ago, I read about  University of Calgary research into competitive Scrabble players' skills that showed these players had changed their process of reading in unexpected ways. I was fascinated to hear that there was a local club. If you want to up your game, check it out @ 

With this percolating in my mind when I saw the book, The Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen- Fernlund and read the blurb, I had to read it. Also, having a son with a peanut allergy made me unable to resist a book where Ambrose, a 12 year-old, friendless nerd is almost killed when school bullies force him to eat a peanut in his sandwich. His over protective mother (sensible in this instance I say) starts to home school Ambrose. Unbeknownst to mom, Amrose starts a friendship with an ex-con who also loves Scrabble. This is simply a great book for any age.

Previously I had read Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom, by the same author. Another 12 year-old main character, this time a girl named Violet, is dealing the with aftermath of her parents' divorce. TV-director Dad has left mom and moved from Vancouver (same setting as Word Nerd) and moved to LA with his trophy wife. Violet and her younger sister struggle with the divorce in ways that are sad, funny and sometimes shocking. When their mom starts to date a man called Dudley Weiner, Violet and her friend take things into their hands in an attempt to catch George Clooney.

I enjoyed both these books and the fact they were set in Vancouver, a city where I enjoyed living years ago, was an added bonus.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

East meets west

Maple syrup is quintessentially Canadian, but in my mind it is associated with eastern Canada. So I was surprised to get a request from my daughter's school to come and volunteer for a maple syrup event. If there were sugar maples anywhere near Calgary, I had certainly missed seeing them.

There is no sweeter treat than fresh warm maple syrup poured on clean snow where it cools to maple taffy, scooped up with a stick. In my former New Brunswick town, it was a regular school trip every spring to visit the small maple syrup operation nearby on the Kingston Peninsula.

Although today's event was held on a basketball court with tables of crushed ice subbing for snow, students were still amazed as they rolled up their all-natural treat. Hosted by a charming, older Quebecois couple, French music played in the background and some students joined in on the spoons. For a few minutes these western children got a taste of eastern Canadian culture.

Now, if we can we get them to adopt snow days.....

Test-tube hamburger will be produced this fall

In yesterday's Calgary Herald I read about the progress of the world's first "test-tube" meat, made from a cow's stem cells. The news was released at a symposium called The Next Agricultural Revolution in Vancouver.

Understandably, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) applauds the "Frankenburger" due to its lack of animal cruelty and reduced carbon footprint. All great reasons, but the modification of a food source at such a basic level- what research is being done on its impact on human health?

Having just read and been shocked at some of the claims about the unhealthy effects of modern wheat in the best selling book, Wheat Belly, I shudder to imagine where our engineering of "food" is going?

Would you eat a test tube burger?

Friday, 17 February 2012

Books For Friday (BFF)

This is my current book club read. I am only part way through the book but am enjoying the story about a mother's courage and her children's resiliency during the second world war. It is about a chapter of history I had never heard about- the internment of the residents of the Dutch East Indies by the Japanese. Reading this book I was struck by how many untold stories of the impact of that war must be out there.

This book reminded me of the Canadian children's book, When the Cherry Blossoms Fell, about our internment of Japanese Canadians during the second world war. I do not recall learning of this awful act in school. It only became real to me when living in Vancouver and meeting friends whose parents had lived through this horrible experience.

This book is for readers grades 4-6. The main character, a nine-year-old girl, has her life uprooted and must deal with local prejudices in her new "home". A great way to educate our children about tolerance, and the consequences of prejudice, is reading such books to them or with them.

Are there any similar themed books out there that you would recommend?

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Re-Story-Ing Hope

Last evening I attended another great session hosted by Alberta Health Services through the Community Education Service program (free events). The presentation, titled; Re-Story-Ing Hope: My Experience of Mothering A Child with Asperger's Syndrome, was given by a mom who took her life experiences and used them as a stepping stone to becoming a social worker who now helps other families deal with their children with unique needs.

One theme in Leanne Shannon's presentation ( that resonated with me was one of isolation. When you have a child with any special issues- medical or behavioural, you often feel isolated as you are having such a different family experience than others.  For example, you may not be able to spontaneously join other families for outings. It seems that only those who walk the same path can truly "get it". I think there is a deep human need to feel connected with others. By sharing our stories we can connect with others having similar experiences and hopefully help them feel less isolated. Creating your own community will be worth the effort.

Shannon spoke of how her parenting experience changed when she stopped seeing her son as "broken" and saw his unique perspective and strengths. This is a tough transition for parents who are investing herculean effort to help their child fit into our existing society. However, the payoff of letting your child lead can open your heart and mind to new possibilities.

The concept of a person being broken reminded me of a great book, The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. Although fiction, it is obvious that the author has direct experience of people with autism. The sci-fi book deals with our ideas about normalcy, identity and choice. It is a great read, even if you have no interest in knwoing more about the autistic mind.