2016 Goals

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I can’t remember what first inspired it. It was either constantly being asked “ya, but how many books do you actually read?” or it was seeing the #readingchallenge all over Instagram. Either way, I’m a sucker for a good ol’ fashion competition even if I’m the only one participating (there is currently a Scrabble board in media res on my dining room table where I am playing myself (Self 2.0 is winning…) and so I set out in 2014 to read a book a week. It seemed like an attainable goal that would still require a decent amount of determination. I ended up reading 60 books that year (I often forget how many I can put away while on vacation) and in 2015 I simply challenged myself to surpass the number read in 2014. I barely squeaked by with a total of 61 books last year.

I had a baby girl in 2015 and if you look at my monthly tallies I can easily ascribe the number of books read to the stage of my pregnancy or whether the little one had arrived earth side yet. I read two books in all of January which was the month where I ate sushi, peed on a stick and then wished I hadn’t eaten the sushi. I read 12 books in April during the second trimester when it is said that most women experience a surge of energy used for nesting and general preparation for the baby (or, in my case, devouring any book I could get my hands on) and the month after she was born I only managed to read two books and really only because one was very good (The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah) and the other very short (Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf). When my daughter started sleeping longer stretches around 3 months I dusted off the ereader and easily read 9 books in one month (the ereader is, in my opinion, God’s gift to a breastfeeding woman).

It’s a new year now which calls for a new goal and I have tired of simply trying to read as many books as possible. Moreover, this baby girl of mine apparently needs to be entertained when she’s awake and children’s books don’t really count so a big chunk of my available reading time has disappeared thus forcing me to be a bit more choosy with my selections. There’s something a bit unsatisfying about the quantity over quality challenge anyway since it sometimes prompted me to abandon a book sooner than I normally would have in the interest of time and skip other books altogether because I couldn’t assume that every 700+ page book was going to be as good as Tartt’s The Goldfinch. It also doesn’t seem right that a Nora Roberts is weighted the same as a Joan Didion or a Joy Fielding as a Wilkie Collins.

So,  for 2016 I’m going to finally read some of those classics that have haunted me for years; the ones I’ve picked up at garage sales and used book stores, carted around with me from my childhood home to uni and which now sit proudly on the bookshelves in my own home. I always told myself I would read them “someday” and I think that day has finally come.

Dust Off the Ol’ Blog

It has been a very long time, years, since I last wrote. I wasn’t sure this day would ever come again, to be honest. Life got busy: work was good, family and friends were good, I had a baby! (!) and I started crocheting so I didn’t even feel a creative void! But… there’s always something that kind of pulls me back, something resting in the back of mind telling me that I should write. And if I’m too afraid to write the real stuff writing about books seems like the next best thing. So, I’m back. For now anyway. If anyone’s still listening..

A Clockwork Orange

I’ve long discussed the merits of reading over, say, movie-watching. Typically, my thesis is that the written word can be pulled and prodded in different directions and thus the imagination is not limited by such realities as the director’s vision, the actor’s abilities or the advancements in CGI. This could actually prove detrimental for certain reads but, luckily, I have also argued that in books the “scary parts” can more easily be muted or skipped over entirely – think Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.

What then, did I think of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange? I have never attempted to sit down and watch Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange – the various scenes that I have been privy to over the years were enough to ensure I wouldn’t. Gene Kelly’s iconic dance in the rain is forever ruined, the tony restaurant in Calgary named Model Milk conjures an image that is, I assume, completely unintended and a jock strap will never ever be just a jock strap. Thanks to Kubrick.

So, knowing all of this, why did I subject myself to the written version where I’ve already argued our imaginations are free to run wild, unchastened? Like Burgess’ protagonist Alex I guess I thought “evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate.” I cannot know what I am objecting to if I don’t first subject myself to it.

And, in essence, this is what Burgess so masterfully writes about. The first hint of the power of his writing comes about 20 pages in when, after being so frustrated to start, the reader all of a sudden finds himself interpreting a slightly foreign language. Set sometime in the future, Burgess alters the dialect of English that Alex and his droogs speak: much like teens today, certain words are replaced by monikers known only to them. Initially, this is a challenge for the reader. While some substitutions are easy to comprehend – “this must be a real horrorshow film if you’re so keen on my viddying it” – others don’t follow so easily: “I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds.” But somewhere amidst the Rousseau-like message of Burgess, the ultra-violence, and the never-ending rape scenes the dialect becomes idiomatic.

The book is often touted (or banned) for being “a nightmare vision of a not-too-distant future” and while I would not encourage a 12 year old to read it, that very summary is the reason that rational, able-to-think-for-themselves adults need to read it: “Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?” Like the truly great reads that have persisted and will continue to persist for generations, A Clockwork Orange must not be read at face value. The shock should shake your grey matter, forcing underused neurons to fire, neurons questioning our actions our freedom of choice and our moral integrity.

As Alex would say, “What’s it going to be then, eh?”

~ kate

Post-Colombia Time Warp

I’ve been in some sort of time warp for the past six weeks. Ever since returning from Colombia it seems that life has thrown one unexpected curveball at me after the other. My coping mechanism, of course, has been to read voraciously. There was one week where I was too sick to even hold a book (thank you stress, recycled airplane air and sudden temperature changes) but otherwise I have been using my oldest friend for some serious escapism of late.

The eight or so books that I ended up taking with me to the country that is home to: a cosmopolitan city set high in the Andes, remote jungles of the Sierra Nevada,  mountain villages, deserted beaches and coca plantations turned out to be just the right amount. When it poured non-stop for our first two nights in Bogota, we acclimatized by pub-hopping in the student-filled Candelaria district, reading, and enjoying a good dose of Colombian Netflix (so much better than in Canada!). I tore through the first two books with me – Sarah Winman’s When God was a Rabbit and Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility – but loved them both too much to leave them behind. Instead I guiltily wrapped them back up in Safeway bags and re-deposited them  at the bottom of my back pack (okay, Andrew’s back pack). The night before we set out on a 5 day hike through a remote jungle, destined to visit the 1,200 year-old Ciudad Perdida, I weighed (quite literally) my choices: One book? Two books? No books? I settled on one and although the humidity, strenuous climbs and suspect drinking water kept me from making much headway I still found the worn pages of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being to be a great comfort nestled next to me while I dozed in the hammock every afternoon. And then, three weeks were gone and as though planned to the tee, I found myself finishing the last couple of pages of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms as our plane landed back in YYC; thereby concluding my vacation with exaggerated solemnity.

I won’t go into the rest of my reads from that time now as a number of them deserve their own post (A Clockwork Orange, chief among them!). For now I’ll leave you with some pictures from the once shunned South American gem that is Colombia.

Fishing boats Taganga

Fishing boats Taganga

Clouds over the Andes

Clouds over the Andes

Young Kogi girl

Young Kogi girl

Traditional Kogi village

Traditional Kogi village

Ciudad Perdida

Ciudad Perdida

Kogi family at camp

Kogi family at camp

The guards of the Ciudad

The guards of the Ciudad

Colombian Starbucks

Colombian Starbucks

Fishing boats Cartagena

Fishing boats Cartagena

Soccer on the beach. Downtown Cartagena in the background.

Soccer on the beach. Downtown Cartagena in the background.

On the nightstand: The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

Oh the dilemma

If ever there was a time to adopt an e-reader, it’s now. My sister-in-law gave me hers last year, saying that with two kids under the age of 4, reading was so far down her list of priorities that she’d never use it.

The reason I could (should!) use one now is that my husband and I are packing for our trip to Colombia. We leave in mere hours and will be gone for nearly three weeks. So, the dilemma is – how many books to bring! Or, take only one electronic device (well, in addition to my iphone and ipad) that can store over a thousand books!

I laid out the potential contenders on the floor the other day and hovered over them in consternation. Organized in four rows of four I figured I should probably cut the number in half… I asked my husband which ones he thought I should bring. He quickly looked over my shoulder and said “Easy. These.” while sweeping his hand, arrogantly, across the middle two rows. ZERO. THOUGHT.

I mean, doesn’t he realize that my selection has to be chosen carefully? A lot of thought goes into the mix. There needs to be a certain percentage of: classics, of counter-culture, of current, of non-fiction and even varying lengths.

So, while not yet finalized (and not immune to airport-additions, my favorite kind!), my list of travel books includes title such as:

  • White Album by Joan Didion (non-fiction)
  • When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (current fiction)
  • A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway (classic)
  • Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (short!)
  • Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (dense counterculture)

In other news, I snapped off two books last week taking my 2013 tally to five: the Cook by Wayne Macauley and Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.

On a jet plane..

~ kate

Can a Book Change Your Life

A couple of posts ago a dear follower recommended the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I haven’t read it yet but as soon as I read the synopsis I ran out and bought it for a friend who, in my humble opinion, was in need of some inspiration. Some proof that crazy things are possible, that the world is bigger than our imagination and that all we have to do is have an idea and be fearless enough to try.

There have been many such books in my life – books that made me think big, books that scared me, inspired me and shook the way I thought. I can’t possibly list them all but here are a couple that left a impact on me, one way or another:

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemache
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith
  • On the Road by Kerouac
  • the Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani
  • Lit by Mary Karr
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

As luck would have it, a that blog I follow, coffee, light and sweet posted a link a little while ago to a list of Life Changing Books.

Anyone have any titles they should be added to that list?

Faithful followers of Ayn Rand need not apply… 😉

~ kate

The Great Gatsby

I am fairly fickle when it comes to books-that-are-made-into-movies. Generally speaking, I dislike them. I prefer the pictures and characters I create in my head to the ones orchestrated on the silver screen. However, as with any rule there are exceptions. I blogged about this very thing ad nauseam here.

The other night I went to see Ryan Gosling’s new movie (his presence being the sole reason I went) Gangster Squad and among the previews was Baz Luhrmann’s new movie the Great Gastby. This movie, starring the affable Leonard DiCaprio, was originally supposed to be an Xmas 2012 release in time for the Oscars but was delayed due to unexplained reasons and is now expected out in May of this year.

It’s a long time to wait but I must admit I am already excited! F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel set during the roaring twenties directed by the same man who directed two of my favorite movies starring an on-again-off-again heart throb  like Leo (when I see pictures of Leo in magazines in between films looking scruffy and rather portly I tend to fall out of love with him but this is all erased the minute he’s back on the big screen…) set to music by Jay-z and Kanye… could it get any better?? I ask you!

The release is still months away but the teaser below should help with the wait. Enjoy!

New Year’s Resolutions

In my first post of the new year I mentioned that 2013 started off on somewhat bumpy footing for me (it turns out 2013 unfolded similarly for others). In an effort to change this and regain my footing I set about making some goals for myself (and maybe some for my husband too but that’s a different post!).

When I thought about goal-setting, about changes that I want to make in my life, they could all basically be divided into the following categories: family, health, financial, career and mental. I made at least one goal per category even if it wasn’t an area where I felt like I was failing or even tiring and I tried to adhere to the criteria for making “SMART” goals. SMART is an acronym often used in the corporate-world when getting employees to set performance objectives for the coming year.  The hippy, non-corporate part of me gags a little when I think of porting this to my personal life but hey, they use it for a reason and, intuitively, it does make sense. The acronym stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-sensitive.

For example, when I outlined one of my goals under “Health” it was not simply to “be healthy” but rather “to run a 10k road race before the summer”.  A 10k race is a specific target, the distance makes it easily measurable and since I am currently a casual runner it is definitely attainable and realistic. I added “before summer” because I figured it would be a good tool to get in better shape ahead of bike season – thus, the goal is also time sensitive. Another goal I made, under the “Mental” category, is to read 52 books this year. Obviously this is specific, measurable and time-sensitive but I have no idea if it is attainable/realistic. Reading 52 books means reading one a week which sounds easy but I’ve never kept track before so I have no barometer against which to measure this rate. I often read more than one book a week and when on vacation this rate probably doubles. However, I too go through periods of book-malaise where I simply cannot bring myself to read, succumbing instead to the mind-numbing comfort of Gilmore Girls (or currently Homeland!). I’ve seen similar goals floating around the book blogosphere lately so I thought I’d add it to my list – seemed like a good challenge and a good way to motivate me to get through the bed-side stack.

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Tumbling towers next to the bed

So, progress report. The third week of January has just come to a close and I am right on track with three books under my belt.

  1. Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards
  2. Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
  3. Ru by Kim Thuy

Hands-down my favorite so far is Ru. I don’t know if it was the story – a family flees Vietnam before the implementation of Doi Moi and ends up in an idyllic Quebec – or if it was simply the language which was so simple yet poetic (the novel was translated by Sheila Fischman) that it was completely evocative of Hanoi but reading it felt like being walked through someone’s dream. It was painless, beautiful and serene.

Pigeon English and Ru were both Xmas gifts as was Mister Pip, the next book on my way to 52 reads this year. Only 10 pages in so far and it’s Sunday night, better go make some head-way!

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Teddy opening his Xmas present. Just cause. Cause I’m a little obsessed.

~ kate,

The Adventures of Coop Dawg

I think the love affair started about three years ago. It was during an unhealthy stage of my life where one surgery was followed by another which was followed by a complication and so on and so on. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place: I was too sick to do anything but was starting to go crazy as a result of doing nothing.

Some dear friends of ours lent us their pocket-sized maltese/shih tzu cross named Cooper as a pick-me-up and we took him to Canmore for the weekend  for what would forever forward be referred to as our “re-Cooperation”. I fell head over heels for this little guy and he was the perfect non-active distraction for me; content to sit on my lap all day long or tag along for a very very short walk.

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I became so obsessed with Cooper that I started creating stories featuring the hero Coop-dawg – Coops Goes to School, Coops Goes Down Under, Coops in the Navy, Coops Does the Calgary Stampede – and in each story he had a new challenge and a new outfit to suit his adventure. His staples were, of course: a blackberry (Coops LOVES to bbm), a fanny pack (orange, made by Eastpak because he’s European) an mustache comb (for the ladies) and chapstick (because dogs have those little leathery-looking black lips).

One thing I know I am not is a visual/graphic artist. I can describe the world that goes on in my head using words; I cannot draw it. So, the other day while feeling inspired and invigorated (amazing what writing down goals can do!), I started Googling comic strip apps and, as you might have guessed, there are tons out there! The first one I tried (and liked!) was called stripgenerator. It is a free website with a bunch of ready-to-use characters, objects, text boxes etc and is super easy to use.

I’m showcasing my first ever comic strip here but don’t get the wrong idea – this is just a teaser, a snippit of how things might play out in the Adventures of Coop Dawg (and yes, Teddy got a shout out).

Adventures of Coop Dawg

~ kate

The Universe is F@#$ing With Me

The first month of a new year is often tumultuous: there are bigger than normal bills, resolutions and goals to make, and Christmas guilt from too much eaten, too much spent, too much family or not enough family. And all around us are signs telling us that now is the time to get our shit in order…

I have a friend who often says to me “the universe is telling you something”. Well, so far in 2013, the universe has been throwing all sorts of stuff at me: work has started in a slump, there have been a couple of unwelcome surprises in my life lately, I am riddled with fatigue (post-Xmas sugar low?) and only today did I finish the book I’ve been working on for over 2 weeks now! Needless to say, I’m feeling a little out of sorts these days.

A former hair dresser of mine used to tell me how “coincidence” and “serendipity” and anything of that nature was all a load of bull. She said then people just choose to pay attention to certain things. Like the person who insists they ALWAY sees 11:11 when they look at the clock. They’re simply ignoring the 47 other times in a day they look and the stars are not aligned.

And that’s the thing with the universe, she gives us all sorts of messages, challenges and successes, it is up to us to decide which ones to recognize and the law of attraction/the secret/attitude of gratitude/positive visualization/the leader who had no title would all tell us that like begets like – she gives back what we send out.

As the universe would have it (!), a colleague of mine gave a talk at work last week and her entire message was that attitude changes everything. That as soon as we change our mindset, the universe will return the favor. She summed up her message by rhetorically asking “why do racehorses wear blinders?” to remind us to stay focused on the positive, to stay focused on our goals and not get lost in all the daily distractions.

Which is why I spent my Saturday night at a coffee shop with pen and paper in hand, making 1 year, 5 year and 10 year goals, compiling lists of all the things that are good in my life and making one resolution – to start my days with an intention and a resolve to stay focused: I know where I want to end up, just not how I’m going to get there so I might as well enjoy the ride.

This is how I spent my Friday night

This is how I spent my Friday night

Happy New Year followers!

~ kate