Saturday, October 31, 2009

A funny thing happened on a BC ferry ~

Okay, maybe it wasn't so funny at the time. In fact, at first it seemed like a minor disaster, but the way things unfolded, it actually became an event that confirmed my faith in humankind.

Returning to my car after travelling to Victoria on a BC ferry, my dear friend and I noticed that one of the tires on my car had become flat during the the crossing. Feeling panicky, we asked a BC ferry employee if they had any kind of a pump on board that we could use to inflate the tire enough for us to at least drive off the ferry and find a service station. The ferry worker couldn't help us, the ferry was docking and he was in charge of that. We returned to my car to stare, forlornly, at the flat tire. Out of the blue a motorcyclist appeared at my side. In hindsight I realize he must have overheard our discussion with the ferry employee and he wanted to help. He said that if we could drive off of the ferry and pull to the side of the highway, he'd assist us in changing our tire.

For a brief moment I swear I saw a halo floating above this man's head. You see, the sad truth is, I've never had to change a tire. My dear friend felt she could muddle her way through the procedure, but it wouldn't be easy.

Sure enough, we followed the motorcyclist down the highway until he pulled over. He had my tire changed in just minutes, despite the huge semi's zooming past, practically sucking us under the wheels of their rigs. We asked this wonderful angel of a man if we could buy him lunch in Victoria, anything to repay him, but he wouldn't hear of it, just asked us to be kind to a stranger in the near future. I wanted to hug him, but, well, he was a stranger. We settled on a handshake. The poor man. His hand was covered in grease from changing my tire.

My spare tire is a pathetic thing. It looks more like a bicycle tire. The good Samaritan motorcyclist suggested we get the tire fixed much sooner than later so we stopped at the nearest garage. A wonderful mechanic agreed to fix it and put it back on the car. In the meantime, he suggested, we might want to join the crowd gathered at the corner and watch as the Olympic torch was being exchanged right there, only a short time after our arrival. We did, and it was quite the spectacle. I've never seen so many RCMP officers in one place. We decided there had to be over 100 of them.

The new torch was lit, the crowd cheered, the 100+ RCMP moved on and I collected my car from the mechanic.

"How much do I owe you?" I asked.

"It's on the house," he said.

I'm sure I did a double-take. What could have been a really difficult situation for me had turned out so beautifully. Two good Samaritans to the rescue, and stumbling across the Olympic torch relay at the same time, well, that was just a bonus.

The world is full of generous souls. I have been blessed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is it just me....

...or has anyone else detected a shift toward greater compassion in our collective consciousness? As well, focusing on our personal and spiritual growth seems to have become much more mainstream. The Dalai Lama's visit to Vancouver has certainly brought this shift into clearer focus in our city, prompting the Vancouver Sun to run a column where readers sent in their personal stories of kindness. How refreshing to read these wonderful anecdotes! Some were very small kindnesses, some much greater, but regardless, if we could balance our hard news stories each morning with an equal number of stories of kindness, how quickly our whole collective mindset could change, and if our mindset could change, then so, too, would our behaviour change.

(In a global community sense, Paul Hawken sums up this changing collective consciousness in this powerful video.)

About a year ago I was browsing in a bookstore and spotted the title, Me to We, Finding Meaning in a Material World. Liking the title, I bought the book on impulse but never got around to reading it. Then, a couple of weeks ago, my daughter came home from highschool with the news that she was attending a Me to We conference in Vancouver where speakers such as the Dalai Lama, Jane Goodall and many others were being featured. I pulled the book off the shelf and wondered at the coincidence. Coincidence? Maybe not.

The Daily Om reminds us that when we focus on our own personal and spiritual growth, we can't help but influence those around us. "Everything we do or say has the potential to affect not only the individuals we live, work, and play with but also those we’ve just met. Though we may never know the impact we have had or the scope of our influence, accepting and understanding that our attitudes and choices will affect others can help us remember to conduct ourselves with grace at all times. When we seek always to be friendly, helpful, and responsive, we effortlessly create an atmosphere around ourselves that is both uplifting and inspiring."

With this is mind, and with the Me to We conference still fresh in one daughter's experience, all three daughters and I have challenged each other to practise random acts of kindness each day. It doesn't matter how small the act of kindness is, each act will make a difference, and all these small differences... well, you know where I'm going. By sharing our stories at the end of each day, we hope to keep the compassion/kindness movement rolling forward....

Will you join us?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ruffled feathers

A wise teacher told the following story as we held a pose in a Yin yoga class. I believe she credited the story to Eckhart Tolle, but I'm not 100% sure.

Imagine, she said, a quiet duck pond. Suddenly two ducks get into a squabble. There's a lot of squawking, wing flapping and splashing. What a show they put on! Then, just as suddenly as it began, the two ducks turn and float away in opposite directions. They may ruffle up their feathers one last time, give a tail flick, but that's the end of it. The incident is over. Fini.

Now, consider two humans in a squabble, our teacher suggested. There are raised voices, fist shaking, aggressive body language. Suddenly the humans turn and stomp away from one another. But is it over? Oh no. In each of those human minds there are voices still raised in anger .... "Can you believe she said that?" "The nerve of him!" "She'll never get away with that!" "He is such an idiot!"

The human mind finds it so hard to simply 'let go'.

Oh, the things we can learn from ducks.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I found it!

I think many of us feel that the 'real' New Year begins each fall when school resumes after the long summer break. Even those of us who no longer attend school find ourselves using this season as a chance for fresh starts.

This year, as the summer days began to get shorter, I found myself poring through the fall leisure guides and night school pamphlets looking for something new to to study or explore. Absolutely nothing was jumping out at me. I didn't feel like learning a new language, fly-tying or contract bridge. I veer away from anything that sounds like Boot Camp though I did tend to return to the pages that advertised various adult dance classes, but somehow Zumba Fit or Bollywood Workout didn't sound like a good fit for me. Thinking I might just be a big chicken I went to a workshop called Cultivating Your Courage, hoping to learn how to better step out of my comfort zone. I consulted a Life Coach and I even had a psychic reading, but I was still unsure of what it was I wanted to delve into. I just knew I wanted something.

Yoga has been a constant in my life for the past two years, and today my yoga studio was offering a one-day workshop called Nia. Nia is a practise that combines yoga, the martial arts and dance. I'd heard that it gives both your body and mind a workout. It's done barefoot to music and is supposed to enhance the mind-body-spirit connection. The trouble is, even though I secretly long to dance, I'm very ungraceful and excruciatingly self-conscious about it.

Well, I decided I had nothing to lose except my dignity, so I showed up at the studio this morning feeling awkward and without any real idea of what to expect. The teacher gave a brief history of the practise, then turned on the music and we were off. She led us through some high-energy dance steps which were not too difficult, even for a klutz like me. The dance steps took on some martial arts movements and eventually we moved into some yoga stretches and balances and, just as in yoga, the teacher had some powerful messages to share.

I haven't had so much fun in a long time! I also worked up a good sweat, and when the session ended I overheard another participant saying she felt calm and joyous, all at once. I knew exactly what she meant.

I have found exactly what I was looking for, and better yet, the classes that are being offered fit perfectly into my weekly schedule.

Happy New Year!

The above image is found at

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Birth, death, and everything in-between

This is not my daughter, but it could be. She passed her driver's test today and she's one 'happy camper'.

Watching the joy cross her face when the examiner told her she'd passed reminded me of what a huge milestone this is in a young person's life. One step closer to true adulthood, which they think brings them so many freedoms.

Talking to her about the importance of this achievement reminded me of an assignment I did in university. We were given long scrolls of paper and asked to draw a line from one end to the other. At the far left point of the line we drew a mark and labelled it "birth". At the the other end of the line, we placed a mark and labelled it "death". The assignment was to draw peaks in the line for all the major events that had happened in our lives to date, and those we saw in the future. We were given about 45 minutes to complete this, so were expected to put in a lot of peaks!

We set to work. Some of us put in peaks for learning to crawl, learning to walk, entering kindergarten. A lot happened in the first 5 years. Then some of us skipped ahead to getting our driver's licenses, part-time jobs and highschool graduation. We all drew a peak for university entrance, but after that, our lives were up to our imaginations. Most of us put in peaks for starting our careers, getting married, having children, buying cars and homes. Some of us even thought to put in peaks for our children's achievements (crawling, walking, school) and this took us to about mid-span on our lines. A few of us noted retirement, and some might have imagined travel, but for the most part, our lines were rather 'peakless' after about the age of 40.

I did a lot of assignments in university, but this is one of the few I still remember. At the end of the allotted time, the professor asked us where most of our 'peaks' were clustered. He asked where the least were clustered. We discussed the reason for this. Of course, most of us could not even imagine reaching middle age, so we didn't concern ourselves too much with the flat lines after that point, but the image stuck with me. The professor pointed out that, typically, there are less 'peaks' after after middle age, other than giving up our driver's licences and, maybe, moving to carehomes. (And it could be argued that those are not 'peaks' but dips'.)

But now I'm there. Past the midlife point. I have reached those 'peakless' years that I once imagined. But does it have to be that way? I am healthy and fit. There are many things I can still learn and experience. I can imagine many more published books. Peak peak peak. I can imagine grandchildren. I can imagine new friends and relationships. I can imagine new activities. Adventures. Peak Peak.

We all have a choice. We can allow the second half of our life-lines to remain flat, or we can find ways to continue living, and maintain peaks. I've talked about taking up piano again, and I recently climbed back into a kayak. As I get better at the things I still do, I'll imagine them as peaks, (though they may, actually, look more like foothills.)

At our celebration lunch today, I thought of telling my daughter about this assignment, and how passing the driver's test may be one of those major peaks in her life. But I didn't. Instead, I outlined the rules about driving, about sharing my car, and the consequences for breaking the rules. In short, I lectured. Afterall, she's too young to care about life lines, and clusters of peaks. She's too busy living.

And that's what I intend to do too.

Image from:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cover Art

Isn't this a stunning photo?

I stumbled across it among my daughter's photos when I was looking for something else. At first I thought it was a photo she'd taken, but then I realized that those are her legs. Not too likely that she posed and took the shot. She's flexible, but.... even she has limits.

The image has stayed with me, I guess because it's such an unusual subject, the ballet slippers against the backdrop of a chain-link fence in an industrial area.

Then I remembered that the novel I'm working on features a dancer. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could use this photo on the cover of the book? It would be so perfect to have my daughter as the model. And this is exactly the kind of photo that my last two books have featured, photos that show only one part of the body, the part that suggests what the theme of the book might be... Maybe if I rewrite the setting into a more industrial area....

Okay, I just gave my head a serious shake. I am getting way ahead of myself. The book is only half written. I haven't signed a contract. I may never get it finished and even if I do, chances are that it won't be publishable. And even if I do get it finished and someone agrees to publish it, the publisher always determines what the cover art will be. I've rarely heard of an author having any say on what goes on the front of their books. Their job is to write the story. It is someone else's job to design the book.

But I can dream. And it IS a stunning photo. And I AM a proud mother.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Aging Gracefully

Is there such a thing for women?

Yes, I guess there is. Those women I know who truly are aging gracefully are the ones who never carry on about their fading beauty, their new-found wrinkles, the sagging eyelids, their double-chins. And I do know women like this. They are the women who simply get up in the morning and get on with living a fulfilling life. But it's not easy. Everywhere we look we're bombarded with ads for anti-aging creams, teeth whitening products, hair colouring/replacement formulas. The media tells us, insists, really, that we should fight the signs of aging ~ at all costs!

This has really hit home for me in the past few years. I keep a website, and teacher-librarians often check this site before inviting me to their schools and libraries to do presentations. I have not bothered to update my author photo in about 10 years. The old one was a good photo, taken by my local newspaper, but really, I don't look like that anymore. I guess I simply didn't want to admit that to myself.

I met a lovely author in Whitehorse this spring, Shyam Selvadurai, who I only knew through his author photo. Once we met and got acquainted, I teased him about his publicity pictures, and how I'd expected to meet someone about 12 years old. He shook his head and said it was just sheer laziness that kept him from making updates.

I guess that was part of it for me, too, (laziness) but I suspect there was more to it. I say that I never take a good photo, but to be honest, it's not the photo, it's the subject. She's growing old. (See previous post.) There have been clues, loud ones, that it was time to update my on-line presence. In recent months (and years, if I'm being honest), when I've arrived at schools and libraries to do those presentations, the teacher or librarian would often do a double-take. They'd say, "Shelley? Is that you?" I could see them scanning my face, trying to find the similarities to the book-jacket photos they'd seen.

"Yes." I'd say, and smile innocently.

They try to hide their shock, and say things like, "Oh, I was expecting someone with dark hair, or someone taller, or....."

"Or someone younger?" I'd ask.

They always look sheepish, and I can only laugh. Of course they expected someone younger. My publicity photos show someone MUCH younger.

So today was the day. Daughter #2, Cara, photographer extraordinaire, took about 1000 head shots of me. I knew I would hate most of them, and I did. But there were a couple that were okay. Better than okay. Flattering, actually. I may be older, but is that character I'm seeing in that older face? And those lines around my eyes... laugh lines?

I have a new web designer and in a week or two those old author photos will be history, replaced with the new ones, and in the future, I will will try to be like my beautiful friends, the ones who accept the aging process, who don't spend ridiculous amounts of time and money to fight the inevitable. And I will not wait 10 years to replace the publicity photos. I will hire a good photographer (hopefully, Cara) and expect a few flattering shots. I will look at the aging face, and know that if I'm living a good life, it will be well-etched into my features and I hope to feel acceptance of that

In the meantime... posted are a few of Cara's photos. Didn't she do a great job?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Diva Down

I recently spent a long weekend in Vegas with 15 other women. How did this happen? There are dozens of places I'd choose to visit before Vegas.

Call it peer pressure. Call it a weak moment, but The-Book-Club-plus friends-that-likes-to-travel-together decided it was a great idea, and being a member of this group, I signed on. Maybe it was time for a little frivolous fun in my life.

Well. Day #1 was a most extraordinary day, and far from frivolous. The book-club- plus-friends is made up of remarkable women and one of these women was celebrating her 60th birthday. We knew that this occasion needed to be marked in a significant way, so we rose early, (after retiring late), climbed into two vans and drove out to the desert. I could not believe that such spectacular natural beauty could be found rubbing up so close to a city of such unlimited pretension.

We parked the cars at the epicenter of Red Rock Canyon and hiked one of the trails. Once we were immersed in the canyon, another one of our most remarkable women led us in a poignant ritual that marked the decades of the birthday gal's life. No matter how skeptical some of us had been at the start of the ritual, we were each moved to tears by the end as we reflected on our own life journeys' to date. The calling in of the directions, (North, South, East, West, above and below) and the smudging for purification all felt odd, but it set the tone for the ritual, and as a group we moved into a spiritual place that was most profound.

The ritual came to a beautiful end, the birthday girl wore her crown of dessert flowers and we piled back into the vans to return to Sin City, a jarring experience.

Our amazing organizers had thought to pre-order tickets to see Bette Midler that evening. Not being a Midler fan, I didn't have any expectations, good or bad. We'd each brought a boa to wear to the show to honour Bette's poster where she wears nothing but boas to advertize her show. Arriving as a pack of middle-aged women in gaudy boas (see above photo) someone in the theatre took notice and our seats were upgraded from the cheap seats to middle-of-the-road ones.

The moment she came on stage I became a true-blue Midler fan. Such energy! Such charisma. She confesses to doing the same show for 40 years, but you'd never know it. The way she engages with the audience is heartwarming. Part of her shtick was poking fun at how the (old) showgirl must go on. Many of her routines made light of the aging process, and at one point she fell onto her back and moaned, "Diva Down!" It became our mantra for the rest of the weekend.

It seemed uncanny that we could start the day reflecting on our life journey (and growing old) in such a beautiful and profound way, and end the day laughing so hard at the same life journey in a totally opposite kind of setting. Bette is a remarkable performer. No wonder she has such lasting power. After all these years she still appreciates her audience and shows beautiful humility at her continued popularity.

The day had come full circle, from heartfelt reflection to tears of laughter. Two different ways of looking at the aging process, and both equally as valuable.

The rest of the weekend was a more typical Vegas experience, but I will always remember the joy of that first day, for the beauty of the canyons, the rituals, and the growing old Diva who simply won't quit.

One of our lovely organizers sent the above picture to the local paper as they publish photos of locals travelling the world and holding up editions of their newspaper. Our picture was printed, but it was so small no one would have been able to recognize the faces. Kerry Henderson, writer extraordinaire, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek wrote to our Vegas group to share the following.

"I just received a visit in my classroom from both the editor of the North Shore News and Izzy Asper himself, CEO of CanWest Global and newspaper mogul.
They wished to sincerely apologize, in person, for the somewhat smallish and murky picture of the 16 of us in Las Vegas.
I believe their exact words were, "There is no size of photo that could ever be reproduced in the pages of a newspaper that would adequately capture AND reflect the colourful personalities and large hearts of such a group of beautiful ladies".
Of course, I had to agree with them, and accepted their heartfelt apologies on our collective behalf."

Thank you Kerry. You said it perfectly.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


My dear friend (DF) recently asked if I'd been doing much writing.
"No," I replied.
"Practising yoga?" she asked.
"No," I replied.
She just looked at me, eyebrows raised. She knows those three things are my major passions, aside from friends and family.
I opened my mouth, about to launch into my many excuses. All legit. But then I didn't. Instead, I threw the same questions back at her.
"Have you been painting?"
"Practising yoga?"
"Yes." She grinned, knowing she was one up on me.

But the questions hung in the air between us. Why aren't we doing those other things? We know they are good for us. We know they bring us satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. In short, they make us happy. We've been busy all our lives but in the past we still managed to carve out time for them.

With a sigh, DF and I agreed that staying on track with our passions is like staying on track with anything else. Routine is essential. As with exercise, or a diet, it just takes a few days of breaking the routine and the chances of falling off the wagon increases tenfold. We are creatures of habit, and we have to be diligent in making sure our habits are healthy ones. Ones that bring us pleasure. Ones that help us grow into our best selves. It's hard for me to get started each day on my writing projects, but once I'm warmed up, (like with exercise) it begins to feel good and I don't want to stop. It's just getting myself started, facing that blank page, or getting myself to the yoga studio or to the trailhead that is the hard part. I can't explain why, it just is.

Tomorrow is the start of a new week. There are still boxes to unpack, my mother to take care of and a to-do list a mile long but I think I'll start the day with a sun-rise yoga class. The natural high I experience from practising yoga will stay with me for at least a few hours, helping me accomplish many other tasks. I'll ask one of my daughters to walk the dog and my mother is stable enough to manage a day without a visit. So, after yoga I'll dust off the novel-in-progress. I'll face that blank page. And I'll do it again the next day, and the next. The page won't stay blank for long. I'll be a happier person for it, and the people in my life will benefit as well. Good energy begets good energy.

I know this to be so.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Feeling Blessed

From the DailyOM: Part of the joy of friendship is the feeling that we are accepted just the way we are, with no need to change. It is a gift friends give us, and one we can give back every day. Ultimately, we choose friends because they make us feel good about ourselves and life. Through tears and difficulties, friends help us find the laughter. When we find those special people who offer us that perfect combination of comfort and stimulus to grow, we are very fortunate. Friends, those wonderful companions that walk with us through life, help us define and refine who we are and who we choose to be every day.

My life is rich with amazing friends. I was reminded of this once again when I was invited to Leslie's for dinner last night. There was supposed to be 4 of us, very close friends. I should have been suspicious because Leslie doesn't like to cook. She has the local Chinese Take-out phone # memorized. But she said she wanted to try something new, and I fell for it. Some would call me thick. I guess I am. I arrived to a large gathering of many of my friends, all there to celebrate my nomination for the White Pine Book Award which will be awarded next week. I think I went into a state of shock, and when Leslie toasted the nomination with the loveliest of speeches, I was too overwhelmed to say anything coherent, let alone gracious. I'm still feeling dumbstruck.

I may be the first author, ever, who was thrown a party for an award nomination, but that's the kind of friends I have. When I moved recently, the offers of help poured in. I have friends who listen endlessly to my worries about my mother's declining health. I have friends who have helped me through the huge transitions in my life. My daughters have become my friends. My sister is my 'oldest' friend of all. Some of my friends I rarely see, even though we are practically neighbours, but we keep in touch through email. Sometimes months or years go by, and I think I may have lost touch with a friend, but then we'll reconnect and I'm reminded of the special bond we once had and enjoy the rekindling of it. Some of my friends I know through common interests, like bookclub, and I enjoy getting to know them as we discuss how books move us (or not).

I have always made it clear that I never want to be the recipient of a surprise party. I'm most uncomfortable being the center of attention at any event. But seeing so many friends gathered together last night ~ well, it was truly heartwarming. Thank you, Leslie, for being you, for believing that this was an occasion that was party-worthy, and for all your kind words. (I almost felt like I was at my own funeral.) (note to self: make a request in my will to have Leslie give my eulogy.) Thank you to your co-conspirator, Jennifer, for the many ways you celebrate women and encourage us to reach our potential. You are both women that truly deserve to be celebrated.

And I'd like to thank all my other friends, near and far, the ones I know well, the ones I am just getting to know, the ones I rarely see, the ones I see daily. Each of you enriches my life in so many ways. I am truly blessed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Letting Go

I am moving. I am also moving on.

Deciding what to take with me, and what to leave behind or give away was feeling like an enormous burden until I read a column called Clearing a Space for Change in the on-line OM column I subscribe to. (Register here for free OM newsletter.)

In this particular column I was reminded that it’s easy to... "convince ourselves that unused possessions might come in handy someday or that parting with them will cause us emotional pain." So true. I have souvenirs from long-ago holidays that are simply collecting dust, and clothes that I keep 'in case' I lose 10 lbs, and the drawers in my desk and kitchen are overflowing with trinkets that I simply haven't been able to part with. Each one of these objects has a special memory attached to it, and until now, I felt unable to let them go.

But the OM goes on to say that ... "when your personal space is filled with objects, there is no room for anything new to enter and stay in your life. Your collection of belongings may “protect” you from the uncertainties of an unknown future while keeping you stuck in the past. Holding on to unnecessary possessions often goes hand in hand with holding on to pain, anger, and resentment, and letting go of your material possessions may help you release emotional baggage. When you make a conscious decision to fill your personal space with only the objects that you need or bring you joy, your energy level will soar. Clearing your personal space can lead to mental clarity and an improved memory. As you learn to have a more practical and temporary relationship to objects, positive changes will happen, and you’ll have space to create the life that you desire."

Okay, it won't be easy, but as I pack up the belonging that I truly need and are still useful to me, I will try my hardest to leave behind those possessions that no longer serve a purpose in my life. After all, who doesn't need improved mental clarity and improved memory?

Back to packing...

photo credit:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Why read?

I once sat on a panel of children's literature book enthusiasts at a conference. One of the questions that came from the audience, and it was clearly facetious, was "why is it so important that kids read anyway?"

It was an interesting question, and one that forced those of us on the panel to articulate a concept that seemed so obvious to us, yet one we'd never put into words. "Why," the audience member continued, "is it not good enough that kids just watch TV or movies? They get stories in those mediums too."

My pat answer was to rattle off yet another quote. "I've never met a bigot who was, as a child, a reader." (author unknown)
The other panel members had more thorough answers. First of all we established the fact that we use and challenge a different part of our brain while reading as opposed to viewing TV or movies. Very important. Then we reiterated that it is only through reading that we learn what it feels like to live in someone else's skin, in their circumstances. Through reading we develop empathy and understanding. The more widely we read, the greater understanding we gain of the world outside of our own little lives. We learn what it feels like to be the opposite sex, to live in a different country, a different era, a different political system, with a different set of values. In short, we learn tolerance. And bigots, of course, are anything but tolerant.

In my last post Leslie named the book that turned her onto a reader as a young girl. The Girl of the Limberlost. The book I most vividly remember as a young girl was Harriet the Spy.

What was it for you?

photo credit:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Luring Children to Books

I was recently asked to compose a piece of promotional work titled Meet the Author. The instructions were to keep it short and chatty. This is what I came up with.

In Shelley Hrdlitschka’s childhood home, the children had a choice ~ pitch in with the housework or read a book. Shelley, of course, chose the latter and became an avid reader early in life. (She still tends to read when she should be doing housework, it’s a learned behaviour.) She rediscovered her love for children’s literature when she began teaching school in the 80’s and went on to write books while on a parenting leave. Now that she has her own children, she encourages them to do the housework so that she can continue to read books. Needless to say, she lives in a rather untidy house.

That may be rather tongue-in-cheek, but there is an element of truth to it. Why do some children become avid readers, while others don't? Last Friday my friend Diane Tullson and I presented at a Literary Conference for teachers. Part of our presentation was on reaching 'reluctant readers'. I began by reciting this quote by Orville Prescott. "Few children learn to love books for themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word: someone has to show them the way."

This is so true. Teacher's, librarians, parents, booksellers, aunts, uncles, friends, writers... we have to keep luring children in... showing them the magic of stories. And we have to provide time to read, as my mother did in her own funny way. I'm delighted to see that high schools are going back to providing school-wide silent reading time.

The picture is of a young friend who, I'm told, discovered books after reading my novel, Dancing Naked. Here she sits on a BC ferry reading Gotcha! I believe there is a magic book for every child, one that will turn them on to reading. We just have to help each child find that book.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Free Hugs!

My dear friend (DF) and I were sitting in the restaurant of the Sylvia Hotel having lunch on Valentine's Day. We had a window table which looked out over English Bay. It was fascinating to watch the pedestrian traffic on the seawall, people of all ages out enjoying what felt like a glorious spring day.

Part way through lunch I noticed a group of about a dozen young people gathered on the grassy strip which runs alongside the seawall. They were each carrying colourful posters with "FREE HUGS" written on them. As strangers approached them on the seawall, the 'huggers' rushed up to them with their arms outstretched, hoping to find enthusiastic 'huggees'.

DF and I had a wonderful time watching the reactions of the people passing by. I decided that this had to be a Unitarian Youth Group who'd decided to celebrate Valentine's Day by giving out hugs. (I once worked with a Unitarian Youth Group and this was exactly the kind of activity they might do.) DF thought it could be a Psych 101 class conducting an experiment and if we looked closely we'd spot other young people sitting on park benches, taking notes on the reaction of strangers to the huggers.

The reactions were fascinating. Many people saw the crowd of poster-carrying youth in advance and gave them a wide berth. Others were caught by surprise and found themselves in an unexpected embrace. Many seized the moment for what it was, a way of spreading good-will, and enthusiatically embraced the huggers. Everyone watching the event, including DF and myself, felt happy just viewing the fun. I think that was the whole point.

It wasn't until later that I realized that this 'free hug' activity wasn't new. I remember seeing a youtube video of a man named Juann Mann (One Man) in Sydney who started the phenomena.

Unfortunately, the huggers had moved on by the time DF and I had finished our lunches, or I would have been out there receiving my free hug, too.
To all you hugging youth ~
Warm Hugs!! from me.

Monday, February 2, 2009

My love affair...

... with the librarians and teacher-librarians in Ontario is hot hot hot. (Ha! Got you with that title, didn't I Leslie!)

But seriously, I just love the way those librarians in Ontario support my work. Over the years four of my books have been nominated for the Ontario-based White Pine Award (a reader's choice award) and Dancing Naked actually won it the first year it was awarded . Gotcha! has been nominated for it this year, 2009, and Sun Signs and Kat's Fall each had their years, too. Kat's Fall was an honour book, or runner-up in its year. Today I found out that Gotcha! is one of the YA fiction selections on the Ontario Library Association’s (OLA) 2008 Best Bets Lists for Children and for Young Adults (top 10 Canadian books of the year in various categories). What's not to love about those wonderful librarians? They have such good taste in books. :)

My love affair with the organizers of the Surrey International Writer's Festival is hot too. This past fall I was the recipient of the 2008 Surrey Board of Trade Special Achievement Award, which honours a writer who has made a significant achievement in their writing career during the past year. I felt truly honoured to be recognized for this award.

When I think back to my early days of writing, all I ever wanted was to get a book published. Once I did have a published book, the stakes went up. I wanted to write a book worthy of being nominated for an award. Once that happened, I wanted to write a book worthy of actually winning an award, or being put on a notable list such as the one Gotcha! has just been added to. That said, I have been a juror for numerous book awards myself, and I know first hand how subjective the final decision can be. Simply receiving an award nomination is a huge honour. In most cases, any one of the nominated books is award-worthy.

Author Orville Prescott wrote: "Few children learn to love books for themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word: someone has to show them the way." I want to publicly thank librarians and teacher-librarians everywhere for being the ones to 'lure children to books', for showing them the way (especially the librarians in Ontario!). Without them, writers of children's books would be without work.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Beauty of the Book Discussion Group

In my last post I defined a Satsang, and how a book group can be considered one if the members gather together to 'inspire one another and tell the truth."

One of my book groups met last night to discuss Mary Lawson's The Other Side of the Bridge. We started the discussion by going around the circle and assigning the book a score out of ten. I think I gave in an 8.5 as I'd really enjoyed it.

About an hour later, following a lively discussion, we again went around the circle, and gave the book a new score out of 10. My score went up to 9.5, and I was tempted to give it a 10. Many of the other member's scores went up as well.

This is the beauty of the book group. No matter how much we enjoy reading, it's only through discussion that we can fully appreciate a book. Other readers bring their insights to the story, allowing us to see it from different points of view. In the case of The Other Side of the Bridge, the more we discussed the various themes, the tangled relationships, character motivation etc., the more I marvelled at the complexity of the story, and how beautifully it was told.

Towards the end of the meeting, one of the members asked if I thought the author would have had the entire story mapped out before she began writing it, or if she 'made it up as she went along'. I can only guess, but I suspect she would have the basic story line (or skeleton) in place before she began writing, but added the 'flesh' during the writing process as she grew to know the characters better. She certainly created a story that engaged us in a thoughtful discussion, one that 'inspired' me to think deeper, and to find the 'truth' in the story.

The Book Group is definitely a Satsang.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gathering For Truth

I've always been drawn to groups of people that inspire me. My various book clubs, meditation group, writer's group, yoga class,the Unitarian church and my author's group (Cwill BC) all fall into that category.

Just recently I discovered a word that describes these groups. 'Satsang'. According to the 'Daily OM', an on-line newsletter that I subscribe to, Satsang is a Sanskrit word combining 'satya' meaning 'truth' and 'sangha' meaning 'group'. It describes a gathering of people for the purpose of spiritual truth, and it is traditionally used to refer to a meeting with a guru or spiritual mentor. However, the word Satsang can also be used more loosely, and describe any group that meets to inspire one another. A Satsang can even be a group gathered to sing together, or a support group, as long as the intention is to inspire one another and tell the truth.

As described in the 'Daily Om' newsletter, "any occasion we are gathered with people who understand and support us can be a spiritual experience. While gatherings with the intention of communing with spirit are undoubtedly powerful and inspiring, getting together with people that uplift us by their presence alone is also vital to our well-being."

How true that is. An evening spent with special friends, like the one I had last night, is good for the soul. My life is blessed with people who truly do uplift me with their presence alone.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

It's a new year....

... and a good time for reflecting on the past and planning for the future.

The topic of 'New Year's Resolutions' came up at my yoga class yesterday. We agreed that in yoga, we set 'intentions' each time we practise, and these feel way more useful than a once-a-year resolution that requires will-power that we may or may not have. With resolutions, we often set ourselves up for failure. That said, the New Year can be a useful time for letting go of behaviours that have been harmful to us, or are no longer useful in our lives. It can be a time to renew our intentions to live the best life we are capable of.

In some Unitarian churches the attendees write down things they'd like to 'release' from the past year, like sorrows, resentments, feelings of guilt. Then they have a ceremony and burn these pieces of paper. By doing this, they are not relying on will-power to make changes in their lives, but are opening up space to allow new experiences to come in.

The above photo is of my three daughters kicking up their heels in joy. It seems to me that joy is one of those things most easily found when we have 'let go' of those troubling emotions that may be holding us back.

"May your New year unfold rich in meaning, creative challenge and loving connections." (author unknown)

Love & light.