Category Archives: Fodor

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

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

Happy New Year

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I feel like I’ve been on my Christmas/New Year’s vacation forever and yet I can’t believe where the time has gone. It has been a wonderful holiday season for me this year replete with friends, food, fun activities and of course books. Santa delivered (too) many wonderful things to me as he does every year, chief among them eight out of the 11 books on my list.

In honour of a new year, the season of reflections and resolutions, I was going to do a “Top Five Reads of 2012” a la Globe and Mail and the like. Fitting though this would be for a book blog, there are two main problems: one, I rarely read books published in the current year and two, my memory is a bit like a sieve so if I didn’t blog about a book it tends to get lost in the chasms of my grey matter.

Alas, I’ve opted to post a different kind of top 5 – prepare to be enlightened!

Top 5 Positive Life Changes

  1. I quit my job.  My job paid very well but was no longer challenging, fulfilling or enjoyable so there really wasn’t a choice. Quitting was scary but probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made; it opened the door to a world of new possibilities.
  2. I travelled. I could put this down pretty much every year but 2012 had some pretty special moments. I headed into the year in Vietnam, spent a week in Hawaii for a very dear friend’s wedding, booked a last-minute soul-searching trip to Paris, spent more time in interior BC than ever before and took a two-week long road trip with one of my bestest friends that put a whole lot of things into perspective. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  – St. Augustine
  3. I became a mom. Not to a child, but to a dog. People who don’t have dogs will shake their heads but those who do will understand wholeheartedly. Getting a rescue dog to start my summer of unemployment was, I think, pivotal to my happiness. Without Teddy I would have felt like I was wasting my time, I would have felt companion-less while Andrew worked and I would have felt selfish. Teddy gave me purpose, unconditional love and affection and seeing him come out of his shy skin has been a very rewarding experience.

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    Bless you T-dawg.

  4. I started blogging again. I started this blog back in 2010 and absolutely loved it. Life got in the way (or some other excuse) and it fell by the wayside but in the two years that passed without blogging I always felt like something was lacking. I tried filling the void a million ways but nothing really worked. Thoughts move a mile a minute in my head, the only way to slow them down (and sometimes make sense of them) is to write. Writing focuses me, is therapeutic and with each post I feel like a space for new ideas opens up inside me. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
  5. I started a new job. After four months without a paycheque I started looking for work again in late September and through a series of strange events landed in a new career that is very different from anything I’ve done before and different from anything I ever thought I’d want to do. I have a feeling that is a recipe for success.

I’m not prepared to follow this “look-back” list up with a “look-forward” one. I can feel triumphant about these changes since they have already happened. To write down my goals for 2013 means that I have to follow through – a terrifying thought! While I work up that courage to etch my list in stone, I hope everyone has a very Happy New Year! See you in 2013!

~ kate

P.S. Has anyone noticed it’s snowing on my blog?? 🙂

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

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Twas the night before Christmas, at readingpushkin’s abode

All the presents were wrapped, and outside it snowed.

Andrew sat by the fire with T at his side

Watching Love Actually, together they cried.

Ace counted the presents under the tree

She counted them twice, and counted with glee

There were big ones and small and some not wrapped at all

But a pile with her name on it looked like it could fall

“I better adjust them,” she said to herself

While settling in like one of the elves

She poked them and prodded

While Teddy looked on and nodded

“Oy, get yer feiving paws off those”

Said Andrew as he rose

“Caught red-handed”

He playfully chided.

And with a giggle and grin

He smiled and gave in

“You know what they are, I got the gist,

They are books, books from your list.

Then all of a sudden, a visitor appeared

Out on the lawn, a man dressed in red.

“It’s Santa!” squealed Andrew in delight

The pitch of his voice gave Ace quite a fright

They ran out to great him, to see him and meet him

But as quickly as he’d come he yelled out “my work here is done”

And over their heads he flew

Down the streets of Bankview

Behind him left, just one single gift

A small envelope atop the snowdrift

Inside was a message

Looking fancy and festive

With the moon as his light

Andrew read it aloud:

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night”

Everything Old is New Again

I remember going as a child with my mother to the Eaton’s store in downtown Toronto to do our shopping. We would pick up new socks or underwear for my brother and I on one floor, something for the kitchen on another, and finish up with our grocery shopping on the last. The department store retailer revolutionized the way North Americans did their shopping. Gone were the mom-and-pops and the speciality stores; one-stop-shopping reigned.

Today though, Eaton’s is no longer. Neither is Woolworths or Marks & Spencers (for the most part). Discount retailers like Kmart, Zellers and Walmart have taken their place offering the same convenience at a lower price.

Big box retailers came next, after the department store, with entries in the Canadian market like Future Shop, SportChek and Chapters. They eeked out, if not replaced, local suppliers such as (if you grew up in Edmonton), A&B Sound, Klondike Cycle & Sport and Greenwoods. These big box stores offered a new kind of one stop shopping – all your sports or electronic-related needs in one place – but with better specialized product knowledge and more selection compared to the conglomerate department store.

Present day retailers face the biggest threat yet they say: online shopping. Namely the likes of amazon which started as an online bookseller but now markets everything from music and electronics to tools and building supplies. Convenience, instant gratification and the lowest price are paramount to today’s shopper who wants the freedom of making a purchase from behind a desk, on the couch or on the bus.

When I was about nine or 10 years old my mom bought me a pair of winter boots called Moon Boots. They were pink and incredibly warm but someone teased me for wearing them so I hated them. Almost two decades later they can now be found at nearly every shoe retailer in Calgary. In the past couple of years I’ve pilfered my mom’s closet for everything from vintage gloves and scarves to a wool dress she wore in the 60’s. Before the advent of the internet business was based on relationships. When a webpage suddenly meant you could reach an audience of thousands it became less about relationships and more about quantity. Now that everyone has a webpage, social media has created a new niche where businesses can try to create relationships with their customers again. Everything that was old seems new again.

Books were the last to make the transition towards big box – Chapters opened its doors in Canada nearly  six years after the first Starbucks – and they seem to be at the tail end of the electronic revolution, only recently gaining real traction. I don’t doubt that the Kindles and Kobos will have their day in the sun but they too will follow this cycle and to some generation down the road the paperback will be as retro as vinyl and a hole-in-the-wall bookstore as popular as the newest hipster coffee shop. Teens will visit these bookstores to buy the books their parents and their parent’s parents read, asking the neo-hippy behind the register for recommendations, impressed that he knows the authors they’re asking for and slowly but surely books will witness a rejuvenation, replacing the e-books that fail to offer the romance of the printed word. Mark my words, that day will come. I may even be that neo-hippy behind the till spouting recommendations like Herman Hesse and Margaret Atwood, by then authors old enough to be new again.

~ kate

Thank goodness for children’s books

Over the summer my girlfriend and I went on an epic road trip that took us to some fantastic destinations like Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino and Saltspring Island. Before departing from Tofino for Saltspring I started looking up accommodation online.  I don’t know what I entered into google but “Between the Covers Bed and Breakfast” was one of the first links I clicked on and ultimately the place we stayed. What sold me on that particular B&B? The subtext that read “a booklovers B&B.” It was like the universe had preordained it. Little did I know how replete with truth that statement would be.

The B&B is set in an absolutely idyllic location about 5 minutes from downtown Ganges but what made my stay there so serendipitous was the owner Margriet Ruurs, a children’s book author with a fabulous life story. As I was on a journey of inquisition this summer I constantly bombarded her with questions from “why are the chicken’s eggs brown? to “how did you get started as an author?” Margriet was patient, enthusiastic and generous with her answers and wisdom. She even sent me away at the end of our stay with a parting gift! A book, of course.

Since that fateful stay I have a) encouraged Andrew to join the coast guard so we could move to Salt Spring and b) been dreaming about children’s books, furtively scribbling ideas down in a notebook whenever they pop into my head (I have an entire series worth starring Coop dawg the hero and Teddy his silent but trusted companion). So, the theme of a baby shower I recently attended was right up my alley: “Baby’s First Library”.

In preparation for the event, I spent a good hour flipping through children’s books at the bookstore, enjoying anew those published since my childhood and relishing in the wave of nostalgia brought on by those old familiar titles, books so ubiquitous to the average (Canadian?) child’s development they are practically synonymous with childhood – Good Night Moon, Runaway Bunny, I Love You Forever, anything by Dr. Seuss and anything by Robert Munsch. But there were others too, titles that  consume much larger portions of the book repository in my brain – Balloon Tree, Madeline (maybe this is where my adoration of Paris comes from??), The Giving Tree, Are You My Mother, the Berenstein Bears, Tikki Tikki Tembo, Curious George, Judy Blume… and on and on.

As I wandered around the children’s section I started thinking how great it was to see so many kids around and so many children’s books. In a time where all printed media is in danger of being enveloped by the mammoth of electronic media it made me feel that these beautiful, hard bound pieces of artwork were immune to this risk. I know the invention of devices such as Leapfrog have created a new learning niche but can they really replace the tactile stimulation of books for children? Who doesn’t remember flipping open an creature in a pop-up book, or rubbing the fuzzy patch on an animal in a touch-and-feel book or seeing the “eaten” pages of The Hungry Caterpillar or really, even just the feeling of being  the sibling who got to turn the page while mom or dad read the book aloud.

As I looked around though I realized that not all of the shelves in the children’s section were actually occupied by books. A lot of them were filled with Lego, puzzles, games, books of stickers and various toys. Perhaps books aren’t holding the attention of children raised in this digital age; kids who probably have an email address, facebook account, cellphone and itunes account all before junior high. Imagination is a powerful thing and it can overcome the medium, I believe, but in a developing mind, a mind that requires nurturing is there anything better then an illustrated book that can be carted from school to home, from bath to bed, traded and shared, memorized and past on?

I don’t have my own children yet and would hate to consider myself a luddite but I just don’t think a toy or electronic reader can replace a book for a child. So it was both a relief and an honour to be a part of a book-themed baby shower last week. I hope this is more of a trend than I know and that the joy of reading continues to get passed on to those young and old.

And congratulations to the baby’s momma! 😉

~ Kate

Day Dreaming

I’ve been at my new job three weeks now. It is night and day from my previous one for about a million reasons but in particular because of the fact that I now interact with people all day long. My last job was pretty void of these living, breathing, thinking, loving, fearing, questioning creatures.

A lot of my interactions are in an effort to help people find a job which means I spend a lot of my day asking people what their ideal position would be. Most people tell me their perfect job is whatever position they’re currently in but with: better pay, better work/life balance, a better company etc. These people apparently don’t hear the question the same way I did when I was sitting on the other side of the desk and had someone ask me that very same thing. My answer? The editor of Vanity Fair – claro! Some people do have more exciting answers  and they often start with “well, when I was a kid I wanted to be….” Which got me to thinking… what did I want to be when I was a kid?

At varying points in my life I can remember wanting to be a: doctor (daddy complex), a teacher (crush on my first grade teacher), and the owner of a children’s bookstore (crush on Greenwoods!). The teacher idea was very short lived, the doctor thing persisted all the way until I was in my third year of undergrad and the bookstore owner? Well, that has been a part of my waking and sleeping dreams for as long as I can remember.

There’s just something about the thought of creating a space for kids where they would be excited to visit; where they would throw off their coats and dive into the nearest pile of books – much like I did when I was a kid. The bookstore was a happy place for me from a young age. It was a place where I was allowed to be selfish – after all I was only there to look for books for ME, no one else – and it was a place where I could find words and pictures to nurture my dreams. To this day, many books from my childhood hold a certain kind of nostalgia for me, typically because I remember the feeling I had when I read it or when it was read to me – I felt safe.

With the advent of e-readers and Chapters there are very few children-specific bookstores around anymore (although there is one here in Calgary called MonkeyShines) and I can’t see myself owning or running a retail store but I do go back to this dream often. Perhaps the end goal is no longer applicable but the reasons I had that dream in the first place still speak to me and that is what I try to hold on to. Similarly, when I sat across from my then only soon-to-be boss and said I wanted to be the editor of VF he simply asked, why? The reasons were plentiful and telling. They landed me in a job that, at least for now, is filling my buckets and allowing me to be more the person I’ve been wanting to be which has made me a much happier person. I think the happiest people are those that find a way to live their lives with very little disconnect between their values and their actions. I didn’t come with a cheat sheet so I’ve had to pay close attention to my dreams as a source of my beliefs which has taught me never to ignore them, whatever they are – they’re the gateway to my soul.

Happy Sunday everyone! 🙂

~ Kate