Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best of the Best 2013




It's my favourite post of the year...my Best of the Best list! This is where I get to reflect back to what has made the past year special to me.

Best Volunteer Moment:

Always a tough one to pick because I get the opportunity to volunteer at so many wonderful organizations. I actually have to go back through my calendar to remember where I'd all been! This year I think I'd have to say my Best Volunteer Moment was taking all these diapers, wipes, formula, etc., to the Edmonton Food Bank. For about 3 weeks I drove around the city collecting these items from fantastic folks so had asked for diapers instead of birthday gifts, or formula instead of hostess gifts. What amazing people! I'll likely host this again in 2014, so watch for updates if you'd like to help out!



Best Mr. Cole (AKA HAM) Moment:

My favourite moment with Mr. Cole was his first day of Kindergarten. He was excited and confident to finally be going to the same school as his big sister. He quickly became a favourite amongst the girls as he's willing to play house, puppy, and do crafts with them as well as play blocks with the boys. It makes this mama pretty proud to see him carve his own path.




Best Miss Jocelyn (AKA Turkey) Moment:

I think one of the happiest moments I experienced with Miss. Jocelyn was when she joined the race club at school. We've watched her do many sports and activities but for some reason this one really struck home, maybe because it was her first club to belong to at school. Oh she's growing up so fast!! I love watching her run and cheering her, and her teammates, on!




 Best Moment Spent With Hubs:

This one was easy to pick, it was renewing our wedding vows on a beach in Hawaii to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. I think each and every year of marriage should be celebrated but we wanted to do something special to mark the big TEN. It was a romantic ceremony (and I'm not a terribly romantic person) but watching the sun come up while standing on the beach was beautiful. Most beautiful were the words we exchanged in Hawaiian, so moving! Loved every minute of it and it was sweet to share the experience with several other couples; some had only been married a few weeks and others had been married for over 30 years.


Top 10 Books I Read in 2013 (In No Particular Order):

Ru1.Ru - Kim Thuy
2. In The Shaddow of the Banyon - Vaddey Ratner
3.The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker
4.Power and Terror - Noam Chomsky
5. The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman
6. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
7. A Nation Worth Ranting About - Rick Mercer
8. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared -Jonas Jonasson
9.I am So the Boss of You - Kathy Buckworth
10.Gregor the Overlander: Book 1 - Suzanne Collins


Best Trip I Took:

I have to pick two! The best family trip was going to Disney World with the kids and their aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. The kids adored every minute of it and it was priceless to see their faces light up when the met new characters, or got to go on some pretty fun rides with their cousins.


For our 10 year wedding anniversary we left the kids with the grandparents (THANKS MOM AND DAD!) and journeyed to China, Hong Kong, and Hawaii. It was a life-long dream of ours to see the Great Wall and for me especially to see the terracotta warriors. We had a fantastic trip where we met many wonderful people and saw some pretty breathtaking sights. I LOVE having a husband who enjoys learning about the world and different cultures as much as I do.









Best Nerdy Moment:

Once again the best nerdy moment was brought to you by the Calgary Expo! This year we attended it VIP style with our my SIL Katie, my (at the time) almost 3 month old niece, Katie's mom and our friend Maria. We had a BLAST! One of the best moments though was when we all got to meet the cast of Walking Dead and finally meeting Nathan Fillion (input squealing little girl noises here)


Best Concert I Saw:


Muse. No two ways about it this was THE BEST concert  I saw all year. We went to a handful, not as many as in past years, but this one left me speechless. I still get a little misty thinking about how awesome it was!





Best New Restaurant We Went To:

My favourite this year is Phoenicia. It's a Lebanese restaurant that makes my mouth water just thinking of their food. The best deal is to go with the 8 or 10 course meal. We went 3 times in 5 months we enjoyed it that much and it simply isn't often enough for my tastes. I'd say my 2nd favourite was Corso 32. We had to book 2 months in advance just to get in there but the food was delicious!

Best Time Spent With Friends:

We had a fantastic time getting to know some of our neighbours better. They, like us, really enjoy trying new restaurants, doing wine tastings, and just hanging out in the backyard. Other memorable moments were having a huge BBQ for our friends and neighbours, hosting a Christmas party for the parents and kids from school, and celebrating my birthday at Guru. 

Best Personal Moment:

So many to choose from! I'd say my top 3 were: being nominated for a YMCA Peace Award, standing on the Great Wall of China, and my top moment would be completing the Walk to Fight Arthritis with my family. All meant a great deal to me and I will carry these moments with me into the new year.

It is always difficult to pick out my favourite moments from the year and I'm sure I'll think of even more after I post this. Hope you all had a wonderful year with special moments you can look back on fondly.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Make Kindness a Lifestyle

It's that time of year where you see many people going out of their way to spread a little kindness or Christmas cheer. It's a wonderful thing to see and definitely spreads the warm and fuzzies.

But after Christmas is done will people go back to their normal lives? Heads down and focusing on their immediate surroundings? Sadly the majority of people do but this shouldn't be the norm. Kindness should be a part of your lifestyle no matter what the season.

Some of my favourite people and charities are spreading much kindness which I hope to see carry on into the new year. For example The Deliberate Mom is raising money for the homeless by donating $1 every time she talks about the cold weather. You can follow and support this endeavour through the twitter hashtag  #cashforthecold .

And today the Ronald McDonald House Northern Alberta is encouraging people to spread good will through random acts of kindness using the hashtag #RMNARAK . It's wonderful to see people do things like shovelling snow for neighbours, making goodies for the local fire station, and plugging meters for others on the street.

So let's try to keep all this goodness up throughout the entire year. MAKE kindness a lifestyle, not just a seasonal whimsy.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

October and November Book Reviews

I've been plugging away trying hard to meet my goal of reading 75 books this year. I'm so close I can taste it! I'm going to have to be picky about my last few books to make sure I don't select a long, boring book that takes me extra time to read. Here's a short summary of what I read in October and November:

1. The Cuckoo's Calling - J.K. Rowling: I have a hard time describing this one to people. I enjoyed the story about a hard-luck detective asked to look into the death of a famous model. The writing was well done, and the characters were interesting but I felt the book was too long. I think if she could have taken a few scenes out she could have taken out 100 pages which would have made the story move a little more quickly.

2. The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater: This was a YA book selected as one of our book club selections for the year. I found aspects to this book to be refreshing and different that many, many other YA books. I like that the author steered away from the traps I feel many YA authors fall into. Unfortunately I can't get into great detail as I will spoil the plot but it was a good read. My only beef with it was that I had no idea it was going to carry on into a second book so I was disappointed I didn't have any closure, yet!

3. Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods - Suzanne Collins: This series just does not get old! I am really enjoying each book and the new missions Gregor ends up on. Suzanne does a great job coming up with interesting settings and new characters. This journey has Gregor in search of a cure to a deadly virus. Read the series, it's a great one!

4. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood: I have always wanted to read this book ever since seeing part of the movie back in the 90's. This is the first book of Margaret's I've ever read and all I can say is that I can't wait to read more of her work. Her story of a future America where women are used essentially as concubines to reproduce is bleak and yet moving. I can see why it's considered a classic work of literature and made it onto the 501 Must Read List.

5. Coraline - Neil Gaiman: With every book I read of Neil's the more I fall in love with his work. The tale of Coraline is so wonderfully creepy!! I can't imagine reading it to my kids as it's a little too scary for little ones but I sure enjoyed it. Coraline discovers a new door in her house which leads to another home very similar, and yet very different to her own. Her other mother and other father want her to stay in their version of her house but Coraline soon realizes this is not a good idea. Original and creepy, a great mix!

6. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card: I'm on a roll with books that I've enjoyed! Again I felt this story had many original concepts and honestly an ending I didn't see coming until very close to the end. This story is about humans training children to help fight a race of bug-like aliens that attacked Earth in the past. I haven't had a chance to see the movie yet but hear it's a good adaptation to the book. The only thing I had trouble with in this book was the racism.

7. Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Jules Verne: Annnnnd here my streak of great, enjoyable books ends. I really struggled to get through this book. I know it's a classic but I found it to be very difficult to get through at times. While the idea had merit, Verne got so bogged down with the initial trip details that when they finally got there the centre didn't seem like a very interesting place to go. I'd have to say if you're going to read about the centre of the Earth go read the above mentioned series in #3.


November

1. Divergent - Veronica Roth: Finally! I waited over a year for this book to come out! Sadly there were so many details I didn't remember about the ending of Insurgent that I was baffled by a few things. I really did myself a disservice by not reading the last few chapters of Insurgent before picking this one up. Of the trilogy I have to say this was the slowest moving one but I think the ending fit the series so well done Veronica!

2. Dark Places - Gillian Flynn: This is the story of a young girl who had her family murdered when she was 7 and she was the key witness in getting her teen aged brother charged with the murders. As an adult Libby is paid to go back and talk to some of the people from her past to see if she really saw what she thought she saw. Gillian does a good job moving back and forth in the story from the sequence of events from the past to how Libby is discovering new facts in the present. Interesting and easy read.

3. When did you see her last? - Lemony Snickey: This is the second book in the series that follows Lemony as a preteen as an apprentice in secret society. In this story he's searching for a missing young promising scientist. It's  a super enjoyable series!

4. Beatrice & virgil: Yann Martel: What a weird book! Generally it's about a successful writer named Henry who has suffered a writing setback and floats through a series of jobs and hobbies. The weird part is he stumbles upon a fan who requests Henry's help with his own writing about Beatrice and virgil, a story about a monkey and donkey who are friends. The story takes a turn I didn't expect and leaves you feeling a little creeped out. It's an odd book for sure!

5. Gregor and the Marks of Secret - Suzanne Collins: Book 4 in the Underland series and just as good as the previous books. I can't really say much about it without spoiling parts of the book so I'll just say it's really good!

6. The Fantastic Mr. Fox - Roald Dahl. Roald is another author I like who comes up with the most unique stories to tell. I enjoyed reading this one with my 5 year old son. I like how ingenuitive Mr. Fox was to keep his family and friends alive. Cute book.   

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Job Well Done

I just wanted to send a quick post out to everyone who contributed to our 2nd Because Edmonton Cares Diaper Drive in support of the Edmonton Food Bank.

We had our first company donation of 1,800 diapers which was a huge boost! We also had several people who asked their friends and family for diapers/formula in lieu of gifts at birthday parties; they raised hundreds of diapers and multiple cans of formula.

In just about 3 weeks we donated 5,000 diapers (twice our goal), 36 cans of formula, 14 tins of formula and 24 packages of baby wipes. The Edmonton Food Bank was taken aback at how large our donation was this time; we took up an entire pallet!

So I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who donated. It means so much to me that you took the time to sort through your closets, meet me for a pick-up, or go to the store and buy a donation. You are GREATLY appreciated and are helping to make this city even better.


                                             A job well done Edmonton, a job well done.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

August and September Book Reviews

There's just so many wonderful stories out there I wish I had more time to read and then write about each one I encounter. Alas, I must keep these short or I 'll never do them anymore!

1. The Silver Stay - Jeannette Walls: What I liked about this novel is I think it's the first where she hasn't based it off her own, or the life of one of her relatives. It's the story of two sisters who are abandoned by their mother and need to make their own way to stay with an uncle they've never met. They encounter a bit more stability with their uncle but also some challenges with the community and an employer. What is sweet is they get to uncover bits and pieces of their mother's past and learn a little more about where they came from while growing closer to each other and their uncle. All in all very enjoyable.

2. Mistress of the Sun - Sandra Gulland: Sandra is the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, which I really enjoyed, so I thought I'd give this one a try. It's about the woman who becomes the mistress of Louis XIV of France. There is a large back story of how she became noticed by Louis XIV and it takes up at least 1/3 of the book. The character is interesting though there is so much plotting and back-stabbing you tend to forget who is good and who is bad. The book is historical fiction so it is enjoyable but leaves you wondering what is real and what is not.

3. I Am Legend - Richard Matheson: One of my 501 books I was happy to read because I'd already seen the movie and enjoyed it. I was really surprised to see how very different it was from the movie!! Why did the movie not take more of the original story as it was well worth a translation to screen. The last known survivor on earth is fighting zombies that used to be his neighbours, friends, etc. and at the same time is trying to learn what happened. It's an incredible struggle for him to daily endure the taunts of these creatures and have no one and seemingly no hope. Give this book a read as the ending is well worth a good discussion with others who have read it.

4. InterWorld - Neil Gaiman: I pretty much love everything Neil writes so just go buy his stuff :)
This is a story of Joey who discovers he can walk between different variations of Earth and our timeline.  He's not the only one as he's joined by the other versions of himself who can do the same thing! They battle two sets of other worldly beings who are bent on using the versions of Joey to their advantage. Pretty cool ideas and enjoyable for people of all ages.

5. City of Bones - Cassandra Clare: I saw this movie was scheduled to come out so figured I'd give it a try. What I like is that it has some original ideas when it comes to teen lit/fantasy. It even has some neat twists in the end. It's is much better than the movie (as usual) and if you've read the book you likely didn't enjoy everything the omitted that was great about the books. It's about Clary who discovers she has some abilities to see a secret world within our world. She realizes her mother has been hiding the truth from her and embarks on a journey to find out all the secrets as well as stop a madman who is threatening her family. Fun times.

6. The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing - Tarquin Hall: This is another adventure of Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator. Right now I'd have to say this is creeping onto the lists of my current favourite series I'm reading. I love the character of Vish because he's smart and crafty but also vain, proud and humourous; to me it makes him more real than some other characters. These stories never turn out to be about just 1 case so I'll just say it's a super fun series and this one is mainly about the death of a "myth-buster" and Vish sets out to find out what happened.

7. Fortuna's Ghost - Evan Bly: This little gem is a graphic novel written by a friend of mine. He's one talented dude but you can only get his book by contacting me and I can have him send you one. The graphic novel is about love and battling worlds in space - pretty cool! You can also check out his awesome graphic work on youtube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7hWkxBRevw

8. Let's Pretend This Never Happened - Jenny Lawson: A super humorous look into the life of The Bloggess herself, Jenny Lawson. She has a very peculiar sense of humour that can easily be attributed to her parents! I laughed out loud at times but also cringed during others. Enjoyable but not for faint-of-heart parents who may take exception to how she was raised.

9. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds - Alexander McCall Smith: I believe this is the 9th book in the Isabel Dalhousie series. I enjoy Alexander McCall Smith's writing quite a bit but find Isabel a bit dull at times. Thankfully the situations he usually puts her in help drive the story and keep me in there when times get slow.

10. Gregor the Overlander - Suzanne Collins: This is book 1 in a wonderful YA series written by the same author who wrote the Hunger Games series. You follow Gregor who accidentally follows his sister down a grate in the laundry room that takes him to the centre of the Earth where rats, mice and cockroaches are human-sized and can talk. He sets out on an adventure to help the "humans" of the Underland while also trying to discover what happened when his father disappeared. It's well written, original and engaging. Thumbs up!

11. Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman: *sigh* I just did not enjoy this book. The TV series must be VERY loosely based on this book because I found myself struggling to get through it. The pacing was off, the details were unnecessary, and there was very little substance. Piper writes about her experience going to jail 10 years after being convicted of transporting drugs. I found the book to be a bit boring so  I wouldn't suggest picking it up.

12. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane - Suzanne Collins: Book 2 in the Overlander series and again it was very enjoyable. I think my favourite part of this series is his sister Boots and Gregor's fierce desire to protect her. In this book Gregor sets out once again to help the Underlanders take care of a growing threat to their world. Great series for lovers of YA or kids ages 10 and up.

13. Who Could it Be At This Hour? - Lemony Snicket: Love it! This is book 1 in the 4 book series where we go back to when Lemony Snicket was a boy. He becomes an apprentice in an unusual organization and they set out to solve a crime about a stolen statue. Very smartly written and it's easy to love Lemony as a young boy.

14. Love's Sweet Bait - Jennifer A. Thomas: I was asked to read a short story by a friend of a friend and all I can say is that I'm so very pleased to be given the honour of reading it. The story centers on the life and love between Joshua and Catherine, a robot and a human. I finished the story in one sitting and was left wanting more. I wanted Jennifer to turn this short story into a novel so I could learn more about their era, their meeting, and their relationship growing from a working one to a partnership based on love and respect. It's incredibly sweet and made me cry. Exceptionally well written piece of work; watch out for Jennifer as I think she's got a great future in literature!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Because Edmonton Cares - Diaper Duty X 2

We're back at it again! Because Edmonton Cares will be volunteering at the Edmonton Food Bank on October 16th, 2013, and we are aiming to bring a boat-load of diapers and formula with us. Ok, maybe not a boat-load but for sure a car-load!

Last time we had our Diaper Drive the Food Bank let us know how much they greatly appreciated those diapers. They also mentioned that baby formula is listed as one of the Most Needed Items and asked us to help stock their shelves. When I volunteered there I was shocked to see the shelves almost bare of formula. For those mothers who really need it and are already struggling to put food on the table I can imagine how hard it is for them to pay for formula as it is very expensive.

Our goal this time is to collect 2,500 diapers and at least 25 containers of formula. With your help we can do it!!

The Food Bank takes opened packages of diapers so if you have some of those kicking around the house then please consider donating them.

I will be doing pick-ups around the city up until October 15th. If you have a donation please email me at becauseedmontoncares@gmail.com and I will arrange a pick-up with you.

Our donation to the Food Bank in March
Let's do this!!!

Friday, August 30, 2013

May, June, July Book Reviews

I've been plugging away as much as I can in order to try and reach my goal of 75 books this year. I take books with me everywhere and even sneak in a few minutes while cooking dinner. There's so many great books out there and I wish I could find even more time to fit a few more in each month!

Sadly I'm getting worse and worse with remembering to write down my thoughts after I read them. Maybe a quarterly review instead of monthly? Or maybe I just need to be less lazy and get on it each month in a timely fashion! 

1. The Slippery Slope - Lemony Snicket: Book ten in the series and only 3 more to go! What I liked about this book is that Sunny, the youngest orphan, really grows up. I liked that you get to see more of her personality and was given a bigger role in this book. Still an awesome series.

2. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell: This is a complex book, a little difficult to try and sum up in the brief recaps I like to post. Basically you follow six story lines and each storyline has something to do with the next. You journey through hundreds of years from the first story line to the last (thought really you have no idea how far in the future the last storyline is so it could be thousands). I found it to be touching, original and memorable. Previous to readying the book I had caught the movie so I did find that it helped quite a bit to be able to follow the story lines. The only part I found really difficult was the language used in the last storyline based in the far future. It's a bit spliced so I had to guess at some of it or just get the gist of it. A good read!

3. Dead Ever After - Charlaine Harris: FINALLY! I'm so happy to be done with this series as I felt it went on about 5 books too many. Sadly it was a lackluster ending. I know there's a lot of fans out there so I don't want to give anything away other than just saying I felt like this book was rushed and a cop out.

4. How to Tell if your Cat is Plotting to Kill You - The Oatmeal: Super humorous little book.Nothing much more to say about it than that!

5. In The Shadow of the Banyon - Vaddey Ratner: Loved this book, simply loved it. It's a very poetically written story about a young girl and her family struggling during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia during the late 70's when an estimated 2 million people lost their lives. Her family, once considered an extension of the royal family, is thrown onto the street to fend for their lives like the rest of the country. What makes this such an amazing book is that it reflects that of the author's own journey. Pick it up, the poetic legends her father tells her are quite magical.

6. Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell The Truth About Motherhood - this is a collection of short essays written by Canadian women about their introduction to motherhood. I'd have to say that I found very few to represent what I experienced and many to be glossed over. All in all it didn't really feel like the truth! A few authors kept it very, very real but the majority played it safe so they could come across as the most amazing mothers of the most amazing kids.

7. The Golem and the Jinni - Helene Wecker: You've got to really admire authors that come up with original book ideas these days and this is one of those! Yes, it's about two mythical beings but it's not a typical fantasy book. One being is trying very hard to be human while the other is trying very hard to not be human. Together they try to make the best of their situation while not being discovered. The story also carries on to their pasts and how they arrived at that point together in New York. Great book, give it a try!

8. The Grim Grotto - Lemony Snicket: Book eleven...almost there! I can't say anything really stood out in this one. Like usual a fun read but I am starting to get anxious for the end of the series.

9. Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky - I've never ready Chomsky before but I can see why he's considered such a brilliant man, and to many governments, a bit of a troublemaker. Why? Because he says the things they don't want you to hear. This book is a series of interviews with Chomsky about 9/11, about terrorism and US Foreign Policy. He makes some really, REALLY good points about the US treating others as they treat themselves. It's eyeopening and worth the read if you'd like to find out some things about the world that don't always make it into the mainstream media.

10. 11. & 12. The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster: This was on our 501 Must Read list so I thought we'd give it a try for book club. I'm interested to hear what the other members think as it was not one of our normal type of picks. These detective books are not of a typical fashion and were more artistic and complex. Of the three stores I enjoyed Ghosts the most. Not for everyone but I still found them interesting.

13. Inferno - Dan Brown: I liked this one MUCH better than his last Robert Langdon story. What I liked about it is that I actually learned a few things about our world population vs. use of resources over our existence. Brown brings his usual intrigue to the story line but throws out some facts and figures I've never bothered to look up before. It also presents an interesting moral debate. All things you didn't think you'd find in a Dan Brown novel! If you like his other works you'll like this one.

14. Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls - David Sedaris: this is a collection of stories, some true, some not, but they're all pretty funny or at least mildly interesting. I like the stories that are about his life and childhood as his sense of humour is quite dry and I felt it translated well to book. I can see how his style of writing is not for everyone but I found the book to be worth the read as I did laugh out loud a number of tiems.

15. The Penultimate Peril - Lemony Snicket: Book twelve. I actually found this one to be quite sad! Why oh why can't someone just help these kids in a normal way?! Only one more to go....

16. The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman: Once again Neil shows exactly why I think he's a brilliant writer. This book is so lovely!! I can't even pinpoint exactly what makes this book so charming but it is. A man revisits some memories from his childhood when he returns to his hometown for a funeral. He remembers an amazing tale involving magic, other worldly creatures, and his neighbours at the end of the lane. The characters are rich, his writing is sweet and memorable, all-in-all a fantastic book!

17. Under The Dome - Stephen King: I watched the first episode of the tv series and decided this was a book I had to read. If you haven't seen the show it's about a town that is separated from the rest of the world when a dome is mysteriously placed over it. You can't break through it, you can't go under it, you can't go over it, basically they're stuck. This story takes place over the span of about 2 weeks and it's amazing to see what happens to their town in that time. If you love the tv series you'd be amazed at how much better the book is. I really enjoyed the purely evil characters vs the inherently good.

18. The End - Lemony Snicket: It's here! It's finally here! THE END. And yet as this book wraps up I just don't feel like it really IS the end. The author has left me feeling wanting that there was no definitive ending with the characters. It's been a month since I read this and am still feeling a bit of a loss for words other than to say I wish they'd wrapped it up neater.

Monday, August 26, 2013

No Homeless

No Homeless. Those are two words that you can take in two different ways. A few weeks back these words were spray painted on a local church. The church is looking to lease their land to an organization that wants to build an assisted living complex and many of the local residents are against it.

No Homeless. The other way to look at these words is in a positive way; the end of homelessness. There are several residents who support this project and it's encouraging to see as our city is in year 4 of a 10 year plan to end homelessness.

Since this program was announced it has been a heated debate. Many times I've had to walk away from the computer, put down my phone, or close my mouth for fear I'll upset friends I care about. The hardest part is that even though I use this community on a daily basis, I don't actually live in it. It makes me feel that I don't have as much of a say because no, it is not technically in my backyard. But I do want to say that it would be welcome in my backyard. Some may not believe me when I say this but it is true. Even my husband said he'd have no problem with it.

Why?

Because I had the privilege of working for an organization that helps the homeless through shelter, employment, education, and assisted living. I was able to see first-hand how amazing these programs are, the life-changing work they do, and the kindred souls who use these programs.

Did I start out feeling this way about the homeless and working poor? No. It took time, education, an open mind and an open heart.

I implore the people of this city to stop bickering, stop fear mongering, stop putting each other down; we are all in this together. Instead, let's take the time to get educated with an open mind and open heart.

There's many ways to educate yourself on those that need assisted living. The easiest way to get started is to read this blog from the Mustard Seed.  Specifically you can get started with an article from June 2012, written by a friend of mine called Why People Are Homeless and work from there.

Check out the link above under 10 Year Plan. It will give you tonnes of stats, and information about our city's 10 year plan to end homelessness. I also really like this page on Causes and Myths

If you want to dig a little deeper then call one of the local shelters and ask for a tour. It's 30 minutes - 1 hour out of your time that can help you to understand homelessness. I'd even suggest calling those with assisted living/transitional housing programs so you get an even clearer picture. Most of these organizations jump at the chance to show you the progress being made.

And if you really want the whole shebang ask one of these organizations if you can speak with someone who was formerly homeless. I dare you not to cry when you meet them and hear their story. Good tears, or sad tears, you will cry.

When working with the homeless one of my former bosses used to always say 'I hope to work myself out of a job'. I never forgot this as shouldn't this be the end goal of every non-profit? But to get to this point we, as a community, need to support one another. Let's try to make this a great city for everyone who lives here.

Take the time, educate yourself, open your mind, open your heart.




Thursday, July 4, 2013

Snap Crackle Pop Part II

On Sunday, June 9th, 2013, some of my family members came and walked with me in the Walk to Fight Arthritis. It was my first time walking in this event but it won't be my last.

As mentioned in my earlier post I have been diagnosed with Osteoarthritis in my ankles. Since then I have also been diagnosed with Cervical Osteoarthritis (in my neck) and it's causing my discs to 'slip'. Both cause me daily pain. Some days are really manageable and I can almost forget about it. Some days I'm in bed because nothing is helping.

I feel old. It's hard to describe being in your 30's and suffering the daily pain that you don't usually experience until your 60's or 70's. I feel so limited and restricted. The hardest part is knowing that this is just the beginning; from here it's only going to get worse.

For the most part I try not to let it get me down but it's hard to do when I see my weight creeping up. Those 5lbs that took me 4 months of hard work to get off have reappeared. When I do something slightly active my muscles let me know they have been forgotten about for the past 4 months. It's very difficult going from being a very active person to a very stationary person. 

So, what does one do? I compromise. I'll never be as active as I used to be or I want to be so I find ways to feel like I'm at least doing something, anything.

I try to sneak in a little bit of extra walking in a day with my nice orthopedic shoes. I have a Fitbit that helps remind me when I need to put in a little extra effort and take a few more steps in my day. I also try to bike here and there though it gives my knees some trouble (we're still going through tests to find out what's wrong with my knee). I try to space out my times on the bike to give myself time to heal.

My husband bought us a weight set so I can focus on doing some weights that help build up the muscles around my neck to try and take away some of the headaches.

I drink more water. After first being diagnosed I let myself eat whatever I wanted because I was depressed. It was my way to feel better without crying in front of people or constantly talking about it. I love food, LOVE FOOD, and will always let myself have treats because to me, that's part of life. But I am curbing how many I have by trying to fill in the snack spots with more water.

And I read. I like going online and reading the blogs, tips, discussion boards, etc. offered by the Arthritis Society. It helps me to feel less alone. It makes me feel like there are people out there trying to do something to help the millions of people like me. It makes me feel comforted.

So I would like to take a moment to thank everyone who supported me in my Walk to Fight Arthritis. Your money went towards education, research and support programs. I thought about each and every one of you while I did my walk. I also think about you often when I'm having a bad pain day; I think about your support, your encouragement, and your shoulders I lean on. And to my family who walked with me, I can't express how much it meant to me, mad love!

Thank you so much everyone!!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

One Practical Local Shopper

For the past year I've been trying to make a more conscious effort to buy locally. This isn't always easy, cost effective, or convenient but in the end your community benefits more when you make the effort to shop locally.

Shopping local isn't a new movement but I think it's one that tends to be forgotten about when a new big-box store opens up in a city/town. The new store is a novelty so people tend to flock to it in droves. I like this post on 10 Reasons to Shop Local by greenUPGRADER. Everyone knows that it supports local business owners but I love that they find you tend to get better customer service and how local shops build character in a city - AGREE!


Katwalk Shoes - photo from the Edmonton Journal

I like using the website Live Local Alberta to help me on my local shopping quest. Not only does it help me find locally owned shops and places to dine but it also showcases local events, and promotions.

Since buying local isn't always the cheapest alternative I go on their email lists and Facebook pages to get notified when they are having a big sale. I've found some amazing deals this way and feel extra good about watching my budget while still helping my local economy.

I will be the first to admit that I don't buy everything locally. There are certain items that seem difficult to find in anywhere but a nationwide big-box store, or US big-box store but I do limit my trips to those types of stores as much as I can. Now if I could just get Waves to use Tazo chai mix then I'd take all my business over there!

So take a drive in your surrounding communities to see what unique, locally-owned stores are closest to you. It's how I found my favourite shoe shop, children's clothing shops, cheese shop, and home d├ęcor shops. I hope you have some success finding some gems in your own community.

Everything Cheese - photo from the Edmonton Journal

Sunday, May 19, 2013

March & April Book Reviews

Better late than never, here are my book reviews for both March and April:

March:

1. Ru - Kim Thuy: This is a beautifully poetic book. The story flows back and forth from past to present as we see the story of a girl as she relives the experience of fleeing from Vietnam to a Malaysian refugee camp before her family progresses to Quebec. The story is beautifully written and flows poetically. One of the best written books I've read in a long time.

2. The Professor and the Madman - Simon Winchester: This is the story on how the Oxford English Dictionary came about. Sounds dull but it actually has some fairly interesting points to it. It focuses on two of the major collaborators; one who put the dictionary together and one who submitted many of the words and explanations that ended up in the dictionary. The remarkable fact is the the man who submitted so many words did so while he was institutionalized after committing murder. There are certainly some dull parts to this book so I'd say only follow through if you are interested in the subject matter.

3. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn: Super easy read that you will finish in just a few days. It's a story of a missing wife who isn't who she seemed to be. Her husband goes from trying to find her to trying to find out what she was really up to before her disappearance. It's a bit of a thriller/mystery. I found the ending to be a bit disappointing as it didn't seem to gel with the rest of the story. Give it a try and tell me what you think of the ending.

4. Carnivorous Carnival - Lemony Snicket: This is the ninth book in the series and I'd have to say it was my least favourite. There was nothing remarkable about this tale that made it stand out more than the others. Alas, if you've already started the series based on my reviews of the other books then you'll have to power through this one to keep up with the rest of the series!

5. Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey - Trenton Lee Stewart: This is book 2 in the series. It's a very cute idea for a series of books and I think most kids 8+ would enjoy it.  In this book the kids must go on a journey alone to try and find a missing Mr. Benedict. Their trip takes them on boats and trains while they encounter many of their old foes. It's a series I recommend for anyone who enjoys a cute tale of adventure.


April

1. World War Z - Max Brooks: This was an awesome book! I found it to be a pretty accurate account of what I thought would happen in a zombie apocalypse. It's done in the format of interviews with average citizens, politicians, military personnel, etc. The story is told in such a factual way that makes it believable and entertaining at the same time. It's a fun read!

2. The Fault in our Stars - John Green: A sweet friend mailed me this book as a thank you gift. Hazel is a teenager who is battling cancer and meets another cancer survivor at group therapy. Together they start a bittersweet romance which revolves around a book that Hazel is obsessed with. Because it's a short, quick read I don't want to give away too much. If you enjoy books like Gone Girl you will enjoy this one.

3. Postcards From the Edge - Carrie Fisher: I loved this book! I had no idea that Carrie Fisher was so witty. The story starts in rehab as we follow a celebrity trying to recover and then moves to her career after she gets out. It's funny, smart, and well written. It makes me want to see the movie AND pick up her other books.

4. I am So The Boss of You - Kathy Buckworth: What can I say? Simply, I like the way Kathy thinks. So much of this book made sense to me it made me wonder why more people aren't adopting this parenting style? It's hilarious, relevant, and original. If you want a good chuckle at a new way to parent your kids then pick it up and you'll soon start thinking WWKD (What Would Kathy Do?).

5. 419 - Will Ferguson: I was surprised that this book started out in Calgary and I knew all the streets that were mentioned. It's about a daughter who is trying to figure out what happened leading up to the death of her father. We find out that her father was conned into an internet scam. We've all received those emails of someone in Africa needing to move money, escape the country and wanting to pay for help, or we've won a lottery. The daughter decides to try and track down the con artist and it takes her to Nigeria. It's interesting to learn about the person behind the con as well as the daughter trying to track him down. After reading this you'll never look at those emails quite the same again!

6. Just So Stories - Rudyard Kipling: This is one of the 501 Must Reads. It's a collection of tales he wrote to amuse his daughter. There's stories like the camel got his hump, and how animals like a zebra go his stripes. My favourite was the one about how dogs, horses, etc became tamed but how the cat outsmarted all the beasts and man to  be tame, yet be their own self at the same time; it's super cute. I'd suggest this to be a good book to read to your kids ages about 8 and up.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Romantic Dining at Home

A few months ago a friend of mine (Maria with CoverBoo Couture) posted on Facebook that she had enjoyed a romantic dinner at home with the help of a personal chef. I was intrigued so contacted her for additional information. She explained how she had met a chef through twitter who came to your home and hosted a private cooking lesson for your and your significant other. He brought his own dishes, taught you how to cook an elegant 3 course meal and best of all, wait for it... he cleaned it all up on his own - SCORE!

So I contacted Chef Richard with ASNA Cooks and set up a post-Valentine's date for Hubs and me. We picked a 3 course meal consisting of butternut squash soup with paprika oil, pan seared fillet mignon with mashed potatoes and brussel sprout leaves, and creme brulee. He came over with his own groceries, equipment and dishes. He even taught us the proper way to chop vegetables and believe it or not I'm still practicing this process. I even got to torch my own creme brulee!

We had such a fun time cooking together! Hubs and I really enjoyed learning some new techniques, and information about flavours and food pairings. Chef Richard made the experience playful and informative at the same time. We would help him cook a dish, then we'd go eat it while he cleaned up the dishes and kitchen (once again - SCORE!)

 I can't find my photo of the delicious soup but did find our main meal and dessert photos!



I'd highly recommend finding something like this to do in your own city. We enjoyed doing this as a couple and have even talked about having Chef Richard back to cook for a larger group of friends. The best part is that we never even had to leave the comfort of our own home to enjoy such a unique experience. And one more time, he cleaned up everything!!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

February 2013 Book Reviews

February was a slower reading month for me but I certainly enjoyed what I did read!

1. The Hostile Hospital - Lemony Snicket: This is the 8th book in the series and it's actually probably one of my least favourite IF I had to pick favourites in the bunch. I've liked all the other settings the kids have found themselves in but the hospital setting seemed a bit drab. Still, I enjoyed it and would read this entire series again and again.

2. Unless - Carol Shields: I found this book a little hard to peg and then I felt it all came together at the end. The story is about a mother who is struggling to keep it together and find meaning in her daughter's actions. Her daughter has dropped out of college and become a homeless beggar by choice. The mother seems quite lost and at times her thoughts/stories are disjointed. Once you get towards the end of the book you really understand it's a good way to see how her daughter's actions had unsettled her whole world and nothing could really go back to normal. It was also an interesting ending which at least made you feel more resolved. Decent read for sure.

3.The Importance of Being Seven - Alexander McCall Smith: This is book 6 in the 44 Scotland Street series. I have always enjoyed Alexander's works and specifically this series mainly because of one of the characters, Bertie. He's a very intelligent (now 7 year old) who has an extremely overbearing mother who puts him in therapy, yoga, and a school for gifted kids which he detests. Each chapter progresses the story of at least 1 or more of the characters and there's at least a dozen characters to follow. Most of the characters and stories are interesting but there are certainly a few slower story lines. It's a fun series and you should pick it up if you like his other works.

4. Here Comes Trouble - Michael Moore: This isn't your typical autobiography! It's more of a collection of important moments in Michael's life. He's one of America's most controversial filmmakers and he's certainly led an interesting life! He's had some incredible encounters with many famous people that helped put him on the path of documentary film making. I found his life stories to be very entertaining and humours.

5. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson. I got about 1/2 way through this book and thought 'Gosh, this is just like Forest Gump!' then a few days later I turned the book over to read the cover and saw one of the reviewers said the exact same thing! It's an entertaining story that starts exactly how the title describes. It flips from past to present as he goes on his adventure while reliving his past adventures. It's a really sweet story I think most anyone would enjoy.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Snap Crackle Pop

For the past year and a half I have been seeing my doctor to try and figure out what was causing my ankle pain. Admittedly I am not a very good patient and would put off doing xrays or whatever tests he would send me for so we probably would have found this out sooner if I had followed orders. The results are in...I'm 37 and have degenerative osteoarthritis in both my ankles.

It started with me thinking I had sprained my ankle running or had really bad running shoes that needed replacement. I stopped running for a few weeks but the pain never really seemed to go away. Sometimes I felt my ankle was out of place. I would limp around like I had a cast on but usually only rest made is marginally better.

I didn't really worry too much about it until a year later when it started to happen in my other ankle as well. Now that was weird!? What is the possibility of similar sprains in both ankles? So I carted myself off to the doctor again to admit I'd never gone for the 1st set of xrays he had asked me to do and left with the requisitions to finally get them done.

No surprise to me the xrays showed nothing. When it comes to my health I have always felt the same anxiety you feel when you're trying to show a mechanic how you're car is making a weird sound and it stops doing it the minute you get the car into the shop. My body does the same thing. My doctor would look at my joints and move them and I'd feel no pain. Then I'd get up to walk away from the examining table and BAM! my ankles hurt. It was difficult and frustrating to try to explain.

So my doctor decided it was time for an MRI and sent off the forms to put me on the waiting list. Then a few days later I got a call from my doctor's office telling me the MRI specialist said they felt I should go for a bone scan prior to being put on the MRI waiting list.

Have you seen a bone scan? It's kind of cool and kind of creepy at the same time. You go in the morning and they inject your blood with a radioactive material. They take an initial scan of your body and then you need to leave and drink 8 or so glasses of water. You come back a few hours later for them to take more scans and then compare the two. The cool part is that they let you watch to see what your xray/scan looks like. The creepy part is that they let you watch to see what your xray/scan looks like ;)


This is NOT my ankle. But it gives you an idea what you're looking at during the appointment. My ankles were both lit up like white Christmas tree lights.

I didn't hear back from my doctor for two weeks so once again I figured there was nothing to talk about and we'd just wait for the MRI. Then my doctor's nurse called me and started to rattle off what was wrong with me and what I needed to do to manage pain. I had to stop her and make her start over again. "Wait. You FOUND something?".  I wasn't sure what to do so I did what most other people do these days...I googled it so I would know what to ask about during the follow up appointment with my doctor.

Turns out degenerative osteoarthritis is uncommon in the ankles and it's uncommon in people my age. Yay. I looked up treatment options and it seems cortisone, physiotherapy, and drugs are really my only options. Because cortisone works less and less effectively each time you take it I've opted for physiotherapy and go for my initial assessment in 2 weeks.  Since the start of all this I've also developed pain/buckling in my left knee and pain in my left thumb joint. So in addition to more xrays and being waitlisted for the MRI my doctor has referred me for physio in my ankles, hands, neck and knees. I foresee lots of appointments and work in my future.

What does this mean for me? Well I've slowed down. I have told my Zumba instructor I will not be back until my physiotherapist clears me to take the class. I've stopped running. I've stopped using our indoor bike. I'm reconsidering all my volunteer activities as I need to make more time for all these appointments. And Hubs and I are rethinking some parts of our lives. We were talking about a trip for our 10 year anniversary this summer and couldn't decide where to go. Now that we know what is causing my pain, and it's not going to go away, we have decided to bump up certain trips that require a lot of walking or standing. Best to do them now at 37 than try with my unknown pain levels/mobility restrictions at 47.

One of the hardest things for me to give up was the Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life. For the past 3 years I've walked throughout the night logging somewhere between 22-30 kilometres. Well, that's just not going to happen anymore. The cold of the night plus walking that distance while sleep deprived is just not a reality anymore. So I've decided to do this walk instead: Walk To Fight Arthritis  It's only 1km or 5km and it's in support of a disease that directly affects me now. I've started a team called Snap Crackle Pop if you'd like to join me on my walk.

My closest family and friends have been generous with support, encouragement and hugs. It's helped a great deal. Because my osteoarthritis is in my weight bearing joints it's hard to forget for even a moment that this is going to be a lot of work for the rest of my life. What makes it better is knowing my family and friends are understanding and supportive. My sister-in-law suggested it gives me an excuse to put my feet up more and enjoy a glass of wine; I like the way she thinks ;)










Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Because Edmonton Cares - On Diaper Duty

A few weeks ago one of our BEC members mentioned to me that the local Food Bank was running short on diapers. She asked if there was anything we could do about it. It just so happened we were already going to volunteer there on March 6th so we decided to hold a diaper drive and take our donations along with us when we went to volunteer.

I put the call out on twitter, our Facebook page and to my son's preschool. It was amazing to see the number of generous souls who helped out! For 2 days I did diaper pick-ups around the city and was always so pleased to stop at a home and see a giant box of diapers, and sometimes formula, on their step.

What amazed me even more was the number of people who stopped by my home to drop them off or who purchased them online and had them shipped to me.

People care. It's really as simple as that. If you put the call out, people will help.

We only had 2 weeks to collect donations and I have never done this before so I set a goal of collecting 500 donated diapers. This is what we got instead:


In just 2 weeks we collected over 2,330 diapers and several cans of formula. It almost didn't all fit in my car!

The Food Bank was so very appreciative of our efforts and once I arrived there to volunteer I understood why; many of the diaper bins were empty. Our contact at the Food Bank also showed me the formula shelves and again I was mortified to see they were almost empty. Did you know that approximately 40% of the clients at the Food Bank are children under the age of 18?

It's heartbreaking to think of a child going unfed, unwashed, or unchanged. We will be doing another diaper/formula/personal hygiene drive later in the year to continue with our efforts to help those struggling in our city.

Thank you again to all those who helped with this drive, or help in their own way on their own time. Every little bit helps and YOU ARE APPRECIATED!




  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

January Book Reviews - 2013

It's a new year and with it comes a whole new goal to reach! I have decided to partake in the 50 Book Pledge hosted by The Savvy Reader but I set my goal at 75 books to read in 2013. One month in I'm thinking I was a wee bit ambitious but I'll do my best!

1. The Vile Village - Lemony Snicket: I'm going to spare you any more details about this series as there's 13 books in the collection and this is only book 7! If you want more information about the series just look at my previous posts as I have been reading 1-2 of them each month for the past few months.

2. King Solomon's Mines - H. Rider Haggard:  I love the fact that the author wrote this book on a dare from his brother that he could write something at least 1/2 as good as Treasure Island. In my opinion it was better than Treasure Island! The story is about the adventure of Allen Quartermain on his quest to find a lost explorer who was in search of King Solomon's Mines.  It's a great tale of adventurer, and friendship while at the same time exhibiting exceptional forward mindedness when the author introduces an interracial relationship. Considering the book was published in 1885 I was quite surprised at this and also uplifted! It certainly deserves its reputation as a classic.

3. The Case of the Missing Servant - Tarquin Hall: I bought 3 of these books in the series on a complete whim. To be honest I must have been craving butter paneer and it led me to these books about a detective in India. Who knew my stomach had decent literary taste!?  If you're a fan of The #1 Ladies Detective Agency series you'll enjoy this too. What I do like about this series is that it's a little more high-tech than #1 Ladies so it has a more modern feel to it.

4. In The Garden of Beasts - Erik Larson: I really enjoyed reading Erik's book Devil in the White City so thought I'd give this one a try. It's the story of William E. Dodd who was the American Ambassador in Berlin during the rise of Hitler. What I like about Erik's writing is that he makes history interesting. He generally bases his writing off the person letters of the people he's writing about. Much of what he learned was in the diaries of William and letters of his daughter Martha. I found the first 1/2 of this book move quickly and was very interesting but the second half felt like he was stretching for more material. Still an interesting read if you can push through to the end.

5. A Nation Worth Ranting About - Rick Mercer: Have I ever mentioned how much I love Rick Mercer? I really, really think he should run to be our next Prime Minister as he seems to know more about Parliament than any official we have in office! His book is a collection of rants over the past few years along with some stories from his life. This book actually made me laugh out loud and made me google a few things when I was shocked by some of what he talked about. That's what I love about Rick, he makes you think and laugh at the same time. Totally worth it; go pick it up.

6. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad: I can't really say this book floated my boat (lame pun). It's a story of Marlow, a sailor, who is on a journey up the Congo River in the 19th century. He's on a mission to try and save Mr. Kurtz, a mysterious ivory trader. It was on our 501 Must Read list and I can't say I'm entirely sure why it was. When I read it I assumed it was written 100 years ago but was shocked to find out it was written in 1990. I didn't feel invested in the characters or the story so I'd say it wouldn't be on my own must read list.

7. Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart and Carson Ellis: This is a super cute series of books I picked up based on internet reviews. This is the 1st book in the series and it's about four gifted orphan children who are selected for a secret mission to help save the world. The characters are lively and original as is the storyline and the challenges the orphans face. I would recommend this for kids 8 and up or for the young of heart.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Art Themed Birthday Invitations

For both our daughter and son's birthday parties we decided to do an art theme. I made mini easels with paint brushes as their birthday invitations and received many compliments on them. What surprised me is that people though I put a great deal of time, effort, and money into making them when in reality it took maybe 30 minutes in total.

I thought I'd share how easy they really were with the few steps it took to put them together.


1. What you need:  paintbrushes, popsicle sticks, paint, a glue gun and paper printed with the party details.



2. Start by using the glue gun to glue the 3 popsicle sticks together at the top and then one laid across the others  to make an A shape.



3. Have your child add some colour to the invitation by painting around the edges. Then use the glue gun to glue it to your easel frame and glue the paintbrush on as well.


Literally you'll be done all this in about 30 minutes and the cost is minimal. I paid a little extra to get colourful popsicle sticks ($8 for a multicoloured package at Michaels) but you could easily buy cheaper ones and paint them yourself. A package of paintbrushes also only cost me about $3 at Michaels and we already had the glue gun, paint, and computer paper so in total these babies cost me maybe $11 to make!



Wednesday, January 30, 2013

December Book Reviews

It's this > < close to the end of January and I still haven't posted my December book reviews! Better late than never:

1.  Love Anthony - Lisa Geneva: I loved Lisa's other books so was really excited that she had a new one out. I felt that this book really diverted from the successful components of her other two books. What I loved about her other books is she really made the main characters understandable, and relateable. In this one I felt she lost some of that when she added a bit of a supernatural component in order to tell the story of a boy with autism. It's still a decent read but not near on par with her other works.

2. The Austere Academy - Lemony Snicket: I love this series! Get it for your kids and read it with them when they're about 8 or 9.

3. The Hobbit -   J.R.R. Tolkien: I believe I read this book when I was in jr. high so to say it was a bit fuzzy is being generous! I figured with the movie coming out I wanted a refresher and I'm so glad I picked it back up again. Tolkien had such a rich imagination that allows the reader to feel that Middle Earth is part of our past. Such a wonderful novel that needs to be read by all generations!

4. The Ersatz Elevator - lemony Snickey: Same comments as #2!

5. Walking Dead - Robert Kirkman: I love the TV series so figured I would give the graphic novels a try. Unless you're a fan of both graphic novels and the series I wouldn't suggest it as it does leave much to the imagination; the dialogue is sparse.

6. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo: I read the unabridged version and all I can say is that Hugo was in desperate need of a good editor. There are many sections that are really unnecessary to the true theme of the story and just weigh it down. Still there are some good characters and the storyline has good bones. It's a classic for a reason. Give it a read but definitely pick up the abridged version!