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.

IMG_0619

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!

IMG_0596

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.

P1000875

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

Image

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.

    Image

    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

photo-2

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”

I Will Always Have Paris

It pains me to say this but I did not love Paris: A Love Story. The memoir is written by Kati Marton who is an award-winning journalist, the ex-wife of Peter Jennings and a former foreign news correspondent and it is meant to be a tale of her love affair(s) both in and with Paris. As the title indicates, Paris is the backdrop for many of her life stories: her first torrid love affair, her foray into the man’s DownloadedFileworld of news 
correspondence, her first encounter with Ms Barbara Walters, her jet-setting career filled with shoulder rubbing a la rich and famous and her penultimate love affair (the city itself being the ultimate, n’est pas?) In summary, it sounds exactly-like-my-kind-of-book. And again, it pains me to say this but, it wasn’t.

Instead of an intimate portrayal of a city that so many have fallen in love with, myself included, instead of a story of heartbreak, of romance, of lust and loss, it reads like a memoir that someone was paid to write. From name-dropping of both the celebrity and political type to sentences that drip with forced romance (“I am drawn to you like Pooh to his honey”) and historical commentary not-so-furtively laced with network associations (both Marton and Jennings worked for ABC) the memoir reads like a commissioned report where the instructor has indicate in no uncertain terms which components should be included.

As a result, it is hard to read any of the story as authentic. I’m not saying I don’t believe that Kati loved Jennings or that she loved Paris or that she was lost when her second husband Richard Holbrooke died but I did not feel any attachment to her or the characters in her life (or even her Paris!) since the constant plugs served to create an ever-widening distance between reader and page.

In retrospect, even the back cover seems manipulated: two out of the three reviews were written by one-time ABC journalists (the third by Diane Von Furstenburg……). I’m not sure who is stuffing whom’s coffers with this book but I’m left with a bit of an acrid taste in my mouth.

Of course this has not ruined my own love affair with Paris or the genre of memoirs but I’m definitely putting this in my kitty under “how not to write a memoir.”

If you’re looking for a visceral read that will leave you feeling like you’ve just lived the millions lives of the narrator, check out any of the following memoirs:

Lies My Mother Never Told Me by Kaylie Jones

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Glass Castle by Jeanette Wallis

Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

~ kate

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