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.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Hearts Day

It must make the world a kinder, gentler place to have a day where we focus on the people in our lives who touch our hearts. The real challenge is keeping that focus every day.

It doesn't seem possible that one year ago, we were waking in a hotel in Calgary, trying to absorb that, yes, we had moved across the country and this was to become our new home. Today, we celebrate that the most challenging part of the transition is behind us and look for more ways to "heart" our new home, grateful to have our family together.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Books For Friday (BFF)

I continue to enjoy reading the Young Adult genre (YA). It began ostensibly as a way to connect with my children and preview books they might be reading in the future. Although that motive is still valid, sheer enjoyment of what I am discovering keeps me reading this genre.

Recently, I read Matched, the first in a popular series by Ally Condie. The world Condie has created is reminiscent of The Giver. I found the story a bit slow at times but the dystopian world drew me in as I learned long with Cassia. Can you imagine a world where there are only 100 books, 100 poems and 100 pieces of art?

I will read the next book in the series and look forward to hearing my daughter's review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate... until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

A grittier, faster paced read set in yet another science fiction world that I enjoyed was Divergent by Veronica Roth. Amazingly her first novel. She says she spent much of the time she was supposed to studying for her MFA she was sneaking time to write this book- time well spent I say. I think this book will appeal to boys and girls alike.

Synopsis from Goodreads: In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

What books might you recommend?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Fishing shacks a staple of NB winters

When I lived in southern New Brunswick, I was astounded at the number of ice fishing shack villages that sprang up as soon as the ice was sufficiently thick. Some were handmade, some downright fancy- the extreme example of a "man cave".

I was always a tad nervous about snowshoeing or walking the dog on the frozen river but would use the fish shack village, complete with streets where the fishermen parked their bi, heavy trucks, as a reassurance that surely the ice could hold me if could support that entire mini town.

Apparently the ice fishing shack experience is available in Alberta on Gull Lake,  located between Calgary and Edmonton. City Slickers can join in the fun by contacting a local outfitter for day or overnight use.

As much as I enjoy my city lake where I can skate, walk and ice fish (sans shack)- I do miss the shack villages of my former home. So maybe a drive by Gull Lake is in order.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

What makes a city easier to connect within?

I just read Kate Zimmerman's article, Lonely Town in Swerve magazine. In the article, Zimmerman reflects on how much easier connecting and making friends was when she lived in Calgary.

Having lived in both cities, I must agree that I have found it much easier to connect with people in Calgary. Although Vancouver will be forever one of my favourite places for its beauty and lifestyle.  In Zimmerman's article she speaks about the transient nature of Vancouver's population, and peoples' theory that this leads others to not want to invest time in you since you are likely to leave anyway. The word cliquish is used- a word I dislike as it tends not to put you in the others' shoes. And Calgary has plenty of people transferring in and out of the city.

In Vancouver it seemed many people still had friends they had made in their youth and perhaps family, so they are not necessarily stand-offish as portrayed in many media articles but I think they simply have full lives and see no need to embrace us imports.

As a Maritimer; a region well known for its friendliness, I was surprised at how difficult it was to make friends when I moved within the region. I relocated as a single person to Prince Edward Island and later as part of a family move to a new city in New Brunswick. Both times, I found it more difficult to make friends in those smaller cities than I ever did in Calgary. Again, the commonality I saw was an area where people were very welcoming on a superficial level but since they had lifelong friends and family nearby, it never occurred to them to reach out to newcomers as much as if they had relocated themselves. Their address book was full.

In all the moves I have made the common factor for friends has generally been other people who did not grow up in that city. Therein lies the common bond, a deeper need to reconnect as we have left existing connections behind.

What characteristics of a community make it easier for you to feel at home?

Sunday, 5 February 2012

False spring in the air puts a spring in your step

The recent warm weather in Calgary makes me wonder, where has winter gone? It was only a few months ago the local paper was predicting the coldest winter in ages.  I am by no mean complaining. The spring-like weather is fantastic as evidenced by the number of people out walking, biking and running, smiling all the while.

My daughter mentioned her excitement over spring while waiting for the bus the other day. I hated to remind her that spring is actually weeks away. As much as I too would love this people-friendly weather to stay, it was later than this when we moved to Calgary last year and the February to April (or was it May we had the last snow?) winter of 2011 was longer, colder and snowier than any I recalled living through when I last called Calgary home.

Just another reminder to love in the moment and absorb this false spring as long as it lasts. It may be as fleeting as youth.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Wealth of educational resources a plus to living in Calgary

Last evening I attended a fascinating and free lecture hosted by Alberta Health Service's community education program. These are weekly session held at a variety of locations around the city, and did I mention they are free? AHS is just one of many organisations that offer similar services to families- a true benefit to living in Calgary and another positive attribute that helps me feel connected to my new city.

The topic last night was Game Over: The Case for Videogame Abuse. Hosted by a clinical supervisor working in addiction services serving adolescents, it was an eye opening session. I was naive about some of the games that could be available to my child and the lack of regulation in the industry. I had no idea that the video game industry surpassed both the film and music industries from a worldwide revenue perspective.

Although some experts feel the research on video games and their addictive tendencies is not conclusive yet, there are many red flags for parents. We are talking about developing minds being exposed to this material- and it is not simply the killing games we need to fear. It is the game design of even some seemingly- benign games. They are designed to keep kids playing and the stimulation of the brain leaves an effect similar to ADD afterwards. The presenter suggested stopping all electronics 30 minutes to 90  minutes before bed. As a mom whose son is always trying to get his maximum game time in, I heard that and thought electronics before school will have to stop in our house as well.

Studies show that for children with strong social skills, playing video games, using social networking and other technology make these adolescents more social. However, if your child has weak social skills, these activities result in poorer social skills years later.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) suggests:
  • for adolescents under age 18, limit video game playing to 1-2 hours per day
  • watch for signs that gaming is interfering with socialising, sleep, academics or family time
  • allow play only after homework complete
  • encourage participation in other activities
  • consult a qualified mental health care professional if you have concerns
I am so grateful to live in a city with so many accessible resources for parents. I look forward to more sessions. If you are interested in what AHS offers, their website is