I am this…

On the Sunday of May long weekend, seven of us girls piled into my SUV and headed over to Black Bond Book Warehouse. I’m not sure what other families do, but we are readers. In no time we all had piles of books. My sister decided that another person could add a book to your pile, giving you a reading challenge. That puts an interesting twist into things!

I had to admit that I was a reading baby. Even a book a month was a challenge. My Aunt was astonished. I think she reads one a week. Which is why she makes good use of the library. I often have to renew a novel from the library, once or twice!

But this day we were on a mission. Grab an armful of books and get back to the sunny patio. Not only could we more carefully look at our own purchases, but we had the added bonus of looking through the balance of the loot.

I am a sucker for books which are part self-help, part productivity, part management, maybe slanted toward business. That is why I came to own the latest addition to my collection titled, “Do More Great Work“, by Michael Bungay Stanier. What I didn’t realize when I bought this book is, it’s a workbook. Which is a huge added bonus for me. There are so few of these kind of books on the market, it was almost like finding treasure. In fact, the activities are called “maps”. Who doesn’t love to pour over a good map?

The first map was easy. I breezed through it so quickly, I thought I might just make it through the whole book in a weekend. (Given my track record, who knows why I thought that!) Anyway, turn the page to map two and that is where I came to a dead halt. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to complete the assignment. 6 days later, I dug down and pulled out the wisdom I needed.

That was today. Things were going so well, I went on to map three. This was equally tough to complete. These exercises require some serious soul searching. But the results are so worth it. OK, now I am gong to be very vulnerable and share this map. So be kind.

The first word describes what I am when I am doing great work. The kind of work that I love. The place where I loose track of time and when I’m in the zone. The second word is not necessarily bad, or the opposite, but it represents, at best good work, at worst bad work.

  • Visionary not task master
  • Analytical not routine
  • Earnest not complacent
  • Comprehensive not lists of half formed ideas
  • Organized not winging it
  • Knowledge seeking not taking it at face value
  • Engrossed not simply covering the bases
  • At ease not cautious
  • Mindful not quiet
  • Dedication not just 9 to 5

I think this is a pretty powerful list of words. The book advises you to keep a copy near your desk and have a laminated version to travel with. I’ll admit, before I completed this map, I immediately dismissed the notion of laminating. But, now that it is done, and I see it here in print, maybe I’ll pop over to Staples and create that hard copy.

The idea behind this list is to steer to the left. Staying on the left is where great work can occur. Tendency is to veer right. Although good work is still good, it is with great work that I feel most alive and vital.

 

Grad school

It occurred to me this past weekend, I’m kind of going to a type of grad school. I was looking through my personal email folders and realized I have taken a lot of courses over the past few years. Most of what I’ve read also has something to do with my education. I know a few things about these subjects I’ve been lucky enough to study. Maybe, I can even say I’m a bit of an expert. OK, maybe that stretches it too far. But I feel more knowledgable, for sure.

My husband and son went camping and my daughter and I had the house to ourselves. The weekend stretched in front of me like a blank slate. Uninterrupted time to go wherever my mind wanted to take me. When my husband came home, he commented how cluttered the bed was with all my learning materials. Books, computer, art supplies, iPad, journal, pens, coloured pencils, day-timer, etc. I was in heaven. He shook his head.

Saturday kind of evaporated. We had stuff to do, chores to finish, groceries to buy, my daughter wanted to bake. But Sunday, oh lovely, blessed day, we had all to ourselves. Since I was in bed so early Saturday night, I was up early. Weather looked poor, so I was going to read….

Rainy Day Books_web

Then I was inspired to complete an exercise from last week for my “Thrive” course being taught by Arianna Huffington. I have been wanting to do something like this for a long time, was even on my list of goals for this year. Now a third chart needs to be completed, what do I wish the chart could look like?

Time Pie Chart_web

My daughter finally woke up and we had to be at the White Rock Farmer’s Market. Even though a chorizo hot dog is NOT on anyone’s diet, it had to be done.

Market Chorizo_web

Later in the afternoon, I just had to take this photo of our cat – snoozing in the boat. How cute is that?

Cat in boat_web

My next phase in education arrived today. “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta, a project I helped fund through kickstarter. What a wonderful world!

Zen Habits_web

Routing for Loki

Joanne Harris has written another amazing trilogy. I actually should not rave about books I have not read yet. Well, I actually have listened to most of the first instalment – “Runemarks” with my kids on a drive from Calgary to Vancouver. But we didn’t finish it. However, I have thought about it often.

I am drawn to stories by Joanne Harris. I feel them. They are exotic and familiar. I relate to them in a way that I can’t really explain. There is always a bit of magic hiding in there and I like that.

I think we all need to have a little more faith and a little less skepticism. I don’t mean this in a religious sense. For that, we wade into waters too deep and complex. I just mean faith. In ourselves, in each other, in nature, in love.

After a little faith, full-blown magic is not so difficult to accept. At least in the context of ancient stories of gods and goddesses. In “Runemarks”, there are many references to the “Runes”. And this I find amazing to consider. Imagine a time where words spoken foretold a future not yet experienced. Those phrases seemed to foretell the future. In a way, we do the same thing everyday, everywhere in the world. Yet, we blabber on with little regard to our listeners. So the words have far less meaning than they would have back in the times of Norse mythology.

One of the gods featured prominently throughout the period and in the Harris stories is Loki. A trickster. A shape shifter. I like to think of Loki as being quite a character, and so does Joanne Harris.

Through the power of the internet, I even found a band who has written a song being inspired by the last book in the series, “The Gospel of Loki”. I think it is an amazing song and I can’t stop listening to it. Check it out – Routing for Loki by TheBookShopBand.

Winter wind

As the wind howls outside tonight, I am taken back to the poems of Dennis Lee from Alligator Pie. It was probably about 1977 when I first came across this book. The combination of kooky illustrations and rhythmic prose provided hours of entertainment, old school style. We stared at the drawing, read and re-read the words, it all making a little more sense each time. It might be days or weeks until you spoke to a friend about the book, if at all. These were quiet times, except when the wind blew.

Bed Song

When the wind is blowing hard,
Like a giant in the yard,
I’m glad my bed is warm;
I’m glad my bed is warm.

When the rain begins to rain,
Like a giant with a pain,
I’m glad my bed is warm;
I’m glad my bed is warm.

When the snowstorm starts to howl,
Like a giant in a towel,
I’m glad my bed is warm,
I’m glad my bed is warm.

And when the giants realise,
That no one’s scared of their disguise,
They go to bed and close their eyes.

They’re glad their beds are warm;
They’re glad their beds are warm.

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Experiences

“Everybody experiences far more than he understands. Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.”   ~Marshall McLuhan

I think this would be a good summary of the book titled, “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened,” by Jenny Lawson. Some of her experiences make you laugh to the point of crying and some bring tears on their own. I suppose we all have tales to tell, but hers are a bit more extreme than mine, (not that this is a competition I am sad to lose).

If swearing is offensive to you, don’t read this book. But you might use a few profanities if you walked a mile in her shoes. If you are a smart ass, like to have the last word and think arguing with your husband is an OK thing, read this book. (Their arguments are epic and hilarious.)

If you love your family, even when they are acting crazy, this book is for you. Because, let’s face it, we can all act a little strange at times. And one can only hope to experience, but a few of the moments Jenny has, in a lifetime.

While I agree that these experiences are what define us as individuals, there are some things I would rather read about. My trials and tribulations of growing up, are not worthy of a novel. They are just not that severe or strange. But they molded my character, just the same.

I was describing one of the stories from Jenny’s life, involving a dead dog, at my hair salon the other day. One of the stylists jumped in with a story that had us all rolling with laughter. As far as I know, this is completely true.

A friend was looking after a dog for a couple that were away on holiday. I’m not sure if all parties knew the dog was not well and could die. We create a “DNR”, (do not resuscitate) order for our cat every time we go away. She has lived through 3 of those so far. But I digress. Anyway, this dog dies. Not a problem if you have a car. But this woman did not. So she decided to put the dog in a suitcase to take it on the bus. You meet some strange people on the bus, or so I am told. A random guy says to her “what do you have in that suitcase?” She replies, “some computer equipment”. (Quick thinking) Then the guy pulls the stop cord and STEALS the suitcase! She doesn’t run after him. Problem solved really.

Check out: The Bloggess by Jenny Lawson

Bedside reading

My husband thinks it is strange that I have so many books on my bedside table, and that I am reading them all. I can’t explain it, I need to be in the mood for a certain book. And lately when I crawl into bed at night, all I am in the mood for is a little solitaire on my iPad. About 3 games and I am done for, can’t keep my eyes open.

Back to the books. I have to confess, I like the look of the stack. It makes me feel good to see many books there. It is like having a buffet with many choices. Or a store with so many things I want to buy. (That could be food or clothes, either way, doesn’t matter.)

So for my current selection:

  1. The Social Animal – David Brooks
  2. The 3rd Alternative – Stephen R. Covey
  3. Island of the Sequined Love Nun – Christopher Moore
  4. French Kids Eat Everything – Karen Le Billon
  5. 52 ways to wreck your retirement…and how to rescue it – Tina Di Vito
  6. Money-Smart Kids – Gail Vaz-Oxlade
  7. CABO – Moon handbooks
  8. Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James

It is really hard to say which one I like best.

#4 and #6 are for the kids, and even though #6 is slim it has been in the pile since January. Something about reading a pile of common sense that I should be smart enough to apply, but have not, kind of bums me out.

Christopher Moore writes such unexpected stories, that are sexy in a strange way, they just have to be read.

50 shades of grey has been talked about by so many women and my husband gave it to me for Mother’s Day, (wink, wink). Evidently I am right at the point where it gets good. Chapter 8. Seems like a long way in to get the good stuff going. But evidently I am going to love it.

What the picture doesn’t show are the library books that float in and out. Added to the table right now are 2 cookbooks. One for Mexico and for Spanish tapas. As well, 2 magazines and 2 new titles from the “just arrived” rack as you walk into our library. And I grabbed 3 magazines from the Air Canada lounge last week that I didn’t get time to read on the short-haul in and out of Calgary.

Instead of starting another knitting project, I should get to some reading.

Becoming me

In recent months, I have endeavoured to occupy my mind during the rather irritating stop and go commute to and from work everyday. To that end, I have listened to some very entertaining fiction and this week a rather heavy “In Defense Of Food”, by Michael Pollan.

From his website:

Pollan proposes a new (and very old) answer to the question of what we should eat that comes down to seven simple but liberating words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. By urging us to once again eat food, he challenges the prevailing nutrient-by-nutrient approach — what he calls nutritionism — and proposes an alternative way of eating that is informed by the traditions and ecology of real, well-grown, unprocessed food. Our personal health, he argues, cannot be divorced from the health of the food chains of which we are part.

This is not light material, and is a subject that cannot be taken lightly either. In listening to this, I have come home from work at night feeling a little depressed and very tired. I just want to curl up in bed, rather than make dinner. Probably the opposite of what the intention was in writing this book. (But I’m just getting to the good part, near the end, hopefully no-one is killed).

Last night, I had to do something different to break the cycle of my reaction to the audio book. I am most certainly not going to stop listening. I went to the library and took out a movie called “Becoming Jane”.

I have long been inspired by the story of Jane Austen. I even tried to start my own Jane Austen book club with my most “read” family members. The lack of success with the club will be placed on my doorstep because I was so busy that I ended up listening to the works rather than reading them. But after watching this movie, I am again taken by this unique author. (Don’t worry, family, no more reading required at the cabin this summer!)

What I learned, in a work of fiction itself, was how the circumstances of Jane Austen’s own life had probably shaped how and what she wrote about. This is a time where women, even with wealth of their own, were expected to conform to very strict social structures. Men had a little easier time, but society had very strong social rules that even men could not break without dire consequences. For example, if you loved someone whom your family did not, you would be forced to choose between your love in a penniless future, or relative prosperity with an arranged and approved partner.

There was a passage in the movie by Jane that expressed the futures of the characters in her books. She said that they would struggle for a time and then have happy endings. This was said at a time when Jane realized that no such happiness was going to be her fate.

To think that such difficult choices had to be made. There was no such thing as working it out, or seeing what will happen. The future was determined and as a proper English person, you were expected to act in kind.

Listening to Michael Pollan, I feel overwhelmed by the unhealthy choices we are making here in North America. It seems we have not cared enough about what we had. We have let healthy whole food be taken away from us and replaced with food-like versions of highly processed high fructose corn syrup.

But I live in a time and place where that can all change again. And I can help to make that change starting in my own home and helping whomever will listen to do the same. Nothing is being forced on any of us, we are free.

That was not the case for Jane Austen and so many other women of her time. For the trail she blazed, and the long line of women who secured every freedom I enjoy today – thank-you.