Five Favourites (List 1)

I love lists. I especially love recommended book lists. I am sure that the local librarians must know when I have read another recommended list, because the section containing my library holds blossoms. One of the book lists that I enjoy reading is my critique partner’s list of books that she reads every week. I usually find something that I want to read.

I also love lists in the style of Gretchin Rubin’s “5 things making me happy this week” and Courtney Bemorewithless “Weekend Favourites”, so I have decided to start making my own lists. Mine will be five favourites of the week.

So here we go, my first list.

Five Favourites

Adult Book: “Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related”

This moving memoir written by Jenny Heijun Wills is about being born in Korea but adopted by a white family in Ontario and then reuniting with her Korean family. 

Having recently decided that I would be concentrating more on creative nonfiction rather than children’s writing, I have been reading a lot of memoirs. This is one of the better ones. I especially appreciated the structure, a series of short vignettes.

This memoir won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. You can read more about the memoir here.

Movie: “This Beautiful Fantastic”

A librarian who is an aspiring writer has to put her garden in order or vacate her home. So many things I love are present in this movie: libraries, books, writing, horticulture, gourmet food. Best of all, I laughed. A lot. Then I cried.

Game: “Magic Maze”

I appreciate that my local library now has a selection of games that you can borrow. I can add to the diversity of our fairly large selection of games without making another sometimes disappointing purchase. It’s nice to be able to try a game out to see if it would work for our family before purchasing it.

This cooperative game, for ages 8+ and between 1-8 players, was nominated for the 2017 “Spiel des Jahres”, an international contest.

It’s fun, but it also makes you really think at times. Sometimes my brain hurts; that’s how hard I am concentrating to get my moves correct. Below is a picture of a game that I played by myself.

Article: “How a rocking chair can help you heal”

I am going to be using my mom’s rocking chair more often after reading about the health benefits of using one.

Food: Pistou Sauce 

In the restaurant I went to on Saturday, instead of using hollandaise on their eggs benedict, they used pistou sauce. Yum! But what is pistou sauce? It’s similar to pesto, but there are no pine nuts. As well, cheese is not required. Why have I never heard about this? I am planning on making this version at home. 

I really enjoyed making this list! I think I will make this into an occasional series.

What about you? Do you have any favourites of the week that you would like to share?

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler

Wild Writers Literary Festival 2019

The Wild Writers Literary Festival is held once a year in Waterloo, Ontario. I enjoyed my first festival so much last year, I decided to attend again this year. This year I signed up for three workshops.

“Facing Your Fear of Poetry”

The facilitator, Sarah Tolmie, is an associate professor at University of Waterloo.

The workshop began with us breaking into groups of four in order to braid long ropes together. Although no one understood why we were doing this exercise, we had a lot of fun with it. You can see the results in the picture.

Afterwards we discovered that weaving together the braids was a metaphor for the process of creating poems. We then discussed what we had learned through the activity. For example, weaving together the strands made them connected, and, therefore, stronger. As well, you need to get the blood flowing to your brain in order to be able to create. So if you are ever sitting in front of a blank screen, then go out and do something, and, according to Tolmie, preferably something complicated.

“Ten Tips for Writing Great Creative Nonfiction”

This was my favourite workshop of all three. One reason is that I am starting to write more and more creative nonfiction.

The other is because the facilitator Ayelet Tsabari, author of a memoir in essays called “The Art of Leaving”, was very generous in sharing her tips to writing great creative nonfiction.

Tsabari began by saying that everybody has a story. (This is something I have always said. I really enjoy talking to people about their story as opposed to the latest TV shows or movies.) However, if you want to write great creative nonfiction, you need to tell your story well. Tsabari shared some tips about how to do so. She gave many great suggestions including discussing that often puzzling term called “Voice”, which she defined as your distinct personality, or what sets you apart from other writers. She also tackled the controversial issue of “show and tell”. According to Tsabari, you need to not only show but also tell; however, you need to know when to do each. In the picture you can read one of the author’s examples of showing from her own work.

A member of the “Creative Nonfiction Collective Society”, a national organization, gave a brief talk at the beginning of this workshop. The society will be announcing a contest soon, and they will host a conference in Toronto in May 2020.

“Self-Care for Writers 101”

This workshop was facilitated by Inkwell Workshops, a Toronto based organization.

A panel of writers discussed self-care for writers, which is a topic that needs to be addressed more often. For example, after writing, particularly on a difficult topic, you need to do something you enjoy. For me, that would mean taking a walk or chatting with a friend. How about you?

I am looking forward to next year’s Wild Writers Literary Festival. As well, I am considering entering the Creative Nonfiction Collective Society’s contest and may even attend their 2020 conference.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler

Halloweensie Writing Contest 2019

Happy Hallowe’en!

Yes, it’s that time of year again. It’s time for the Halloweensie writing contest! Yay!

This year’s challenge, as taken from Susanna Leonard Hill’s website, is: “…write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in the 100 words), using the words potion, cobweb, and trick.” You can read all the rules if you click here.

Read on for my submission.

A Hairy Potion 

Celia had missed class and had borrowed Melinda’s notes for the animal making potion. She threw in a handful of cobwebs.

Celia frowned as she read the next ingredient. 

Hair fur

Hair fur? What was that?

Her hair wasn’t furry, but it would have to do. Celia pulled out one of her own hairs and threw it into the potion.

Poof! Another Celia stood next to her, blinking.

The teacher chuckled. “The trick to making this animal potion is to put in h-a-r-e fur.”

Celia laughed. “Melinda!”

“Sorry, Celia, you know my spelling isn’t good!”

Beijing Trip 2019

When my husband and I left Beijing in 2006, I didn’t realize that it would be 13 years before I went back again. I discovered that I was pregnant after we arrived in Canada, and I decided I would rather have my baby in Canada. Still we had intended to go back again, at least to visit, when my daughter was older. We kept putting off our return—although my husband still continued to go back and forth—and then when my father showed signs of dementia, I slipped into the role of his primary caregiver. Life is funny that way: it puts curves in the road that you thought was a straight line. 

My father passed away two years ago. Now our concern has become my father-in-law, in his 80s, who lives in Beijing. We decided a return trip to see him was necessary.

I approached this trip with a certain amount of trepidation. I had heard stories about how Beijing had changed so much that I would no longer recognize it. I lived in China for 3.5 years, most of it in Beijing, some of it in Wuhan. In that period of time I formed many memories, not all of them good, and I wondered how I would handle the bad ones.

The first few days were a little bit rocky. The 12 hour flight was as long (and as uncomfortable) as I had remembered, and we were overtired from the jet lag. But then suddenly I fell back into a familiar routine. I remembered more Chinese than I thought I would, and I began to utter the ritual phrases that are common to the culture, delighting my relatives. My street sense—that which is needed to safely cross the road while people and vehicles come at you from all directions—came back too. And I seized every opportunity to enjoy Chinese cuisine. If you have ever eaten Chinese food in the country itself, you’ll appreciate how much more fresh and flavourful it is compared to anything outside of the country.

My father-in-law didn’t want to accompany us to go anywhere, so we ate many of our meals with him, and then we enjoyed introducing our daughter to not only the tourist sites, but also to our local haunts.

The Badaling section of the Great Wall

The people who had warned me that I would find Beijing unrecognizable were right. When we went to the area where we last lived before we left, it took me a long time to get my bearings again. A dirt road no longer leads to the area. But one of our favourite restaurants still exists, and once I saw it, I was able to patch together my former life with the present. We went to one of the local parks that had just opened when we lived there. The trees were now 13 years older and larger, but the grounds were still familiar.

View of the National Library from one of my favourite parks, the Purple Bamboo Park

When we left, there were only two subway lines. But the Olympics in 2008 had increased the number of lines dramatically. There are now 23 lines with others being built. Fantastic! It has become so much more convenient to get anywhere in the city. All these subway lines are very much needed. When I was first in Beijing in 1996, the bicycles outnumbered the cars, but now it seems almost everyone has a car, and the roads too often turn into parking lots. 

The Gate of Heavenly Peace overlooks Tiananmen Square

The people who had warned me that I would find Beijing unrecognizable were also wrong. Some places I visited appear not to have changed in the least. Tourist sites such as the Summer Palace and Beihai Park seem to be frozen in time. We visited the Sacred Way to the Ming Tombs, one of my favourite places to be because of the stone statues, and although I had not been there for 23 years, I felt like it was yesterday.

View from the Marco Polo Bridge at the Summer Palace

When I lived in China, I once wrote a magazine article about how China was a country of contrasts, the old juxtaposed against the new. I found that this continues to be true. This is why I got the feeling that Beijing was unrecognizable yet it wasn’t.

Pavilions in Beihai Park

True confession: If it hadn’t been for the fact that I wanted to see my father-in-law again, I don’t think I would have ever returned to Beijing. But when I was there, I realized that I had left a part of my heart in the city. On the way to the airport I realized that Beijing is one of the cities I consider to be home.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler

On Writer and Botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger

Have you ever seen the movie “Call of the Forest – The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees”? I saw it several weeks ago, and this film was my introduction to Irish botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger, who now lives in Canada.

According to the movie’s website, “The film follows Diana as she investigates our profound biological and spiritual connection to forests. Her global journey explores the science, folklore, and restoration challenges of this essential eco-system.” I was surprised to learn about the link between deforestation and the decline of fish. 

I particularly like Beresford-Kroeger’s bio-plan. She believes that we can turn around climate change by replanting our forests. According to her, if everyone planted one native tree each year for the next six years, we can save our planet. If you are interested, you can spend some time exploring the website connected to the movie, which is full of advice related to tree planting and introduces a related app.

After watching the movie, I wanted to read some of Beresford-Kroeger’s books. I had wanted to start with “To Speak for the Trees”, which is an account of her life and how it led her to her ideas, but, unfortunately, it is not yet available in my local library. Instead I decided to read “The Sweetness of a Simple Life”, a book with “Tips for healthier, happier and kinder living, gleaned from the wisdom and science of nature”.

The book is a collection of essays. In the introduction, Beresford-Kroeger writes about how the biggest gift we can give ourselves and others is the gift of time. In order to do this, we need to learn to live more simply. So Beresford-Kroeger has written the book in order to help us to “reset the clock”.

The book is divided into three sections: “health and food”, “home and garden”, and “the larger world”. Each essay is full of practical and doable advice, such as how walking 20 minutes per day is beneficial for the pancreas and what plants can benefit you for certain ailments. One essay called “Bee’s Knees” discusses the benefits of bone broth. In the essay the author writes about how a lot of generational wisdom—wisdom handed down—has been lost, because of delayed births. This means that the wisdom of the elders is not being passed along, because often they are not there or too elderly to do so. This is followed by the essay called “Marriage Menopause”, which sheds some insight on “the long game of marriage”. Indeed, when I was reading the book I often felt like my grandmother was passing on things I would have loved to have known.

You also can read more about Beresford-Kroeger’s bioplan in the last chapter of the book.

I am looking forward to reading another of her books called “The Global Forest” (40 ways trees can save us).

What about you? Have you ever read any of Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s books or seen the film? What wisdom did you glean?

On the Trail of L.M. Montgomery

Normally I do my blog post on Sunday—it is, after all, called “Shoe’s Sunday Stories””—but I have a good excuse this week for being late. I spent the weekend in Prince Edward Island (PEI) celebrating my birthday with my bestie. It was fantastic!!

One of the reasons we chose PEI was because we wanted to visit the place where L.M. Montgomery found inspiration for her books. Almost all her novels are set in PEI. L.M. Montgomery wrote not only “Anne of Green Gables”, one of my favourite childhood books, but in total 20 novels, 500 short stories, and 500 poems. Now that’s a prolific and inspirational writer!

We decided we would cover as many of the sites as we could on Saturday. Our first stop was “Green Gables Heritage Place”.

Love the quote!

The heritage place is the site of the house of Montgomery’s grandfather’s cousins. It was the house that Green Gables in the Anne series was based on. The place is currently decorated how Montgomery describes Green Gables in that series of books. Check out Anne’s room. See the carpetbag? While they were living there though, Montgomery’s relatives would not have decorated the house as extravagantly.

Anne’s room

Next we ambled down the path that inspired the “Haunted Woods” in the Anne books. I love the “A Glimpse of Beauty” statue that we discovered during our walk. It depicts Montgomery in her late 20s during a moment of inspiration, which she called “The Flash”. 

“A Glimpse of Beauty”

A little further on we arrived at our next site, L.M. Montgomery’s Cavendish home. The site is where Montgomery lived with her maternal grandparents after the death of her mother. These days it is now mainly ruins, although recently the original kitchen section of the house that contained the post office where Montgomery served as assistant post mistress has been added. In the picture you can see some of the devastation from the hurricane of last month: most has been cleared, but there is still a tree laying over the ruins of the house.

Just the foundation remains

It is a surprise that the apple tree, which is over 100 years old and under which Montgomery wrote some of her stories, survived the storm.

The old apple tree

We also stumbled across a “Project Bookmark” plaque on the site. Although this organization, which is creating a literary trail across Canada, has been in existence since 2009, it was the first we had ever seen it.

We stopped briefly in Avonlea village, but most of the stores were already closed for the season.

Next stop was the birthplace of L.M. Montgomery, the house where she lived for the first 21 months until her mother died. Highlights there were a replica of Montgomery’s wedding dress, as well as the room the author was born in.

The final stop was the Anne of Green Gables Museum. The house was owned by Montgomery’s mother’s sister, whom Montgomery used to visit. There we saw the enchanted bookcase that made its way into “Anne of Green Gables”, as well as the blue chest that was in “Story Girl”. Montgomery was married in this house, and we visited the room where the ceremony took place. Also the lake there was the inspiration for “The Lake of Shining Waters”.

L.M. Montgomery considered PEI to be her spiritual home, which is why most of her novels were set there. Although she lived in Ontario after her marriage, she still went back to PEI as often as she could.

I can understand why Montgomery loved PEI so much. It is serene, the scenery is stunning, and the people are very friendly.

As I mentioned before, “Anne of Green Gables” is one of my favourite books from childhood. It seems that I am not alone. At the heritage place, we learned that just days after its first printing, the book went into its second printing, and there were 10 printings in the first year. In fact, the English version has been in continuous print for over 100 years. The first translation was in 1909, which was into Swedish. I love this wall where the book is shown in so many different languages.

Have you ever been to the sites I talked about? Was there a highlight for you? Have you been to any of the “Project Bookmark” sites?

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler

Thoughts on Bibliotherapy

Ever since I stumbled upon the concept of bibliotherapy, I have been fascinated by it.

But what exactly is bibliotherapy? The use of books as a balm for our souls has been around for a very long time. But now some therapists are using books in their practice as a support for other forms of therapy. Targeted bibliotherapy may be useful in issues such as anxiety and depression, substance abuse, and eating disorders. You can read more about it in this article. Watch the video below for some suggestions about books to help children with depression.

Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud started offering the first bibliotherapy service in 2008 through the “School of Life”. They even wrote a book called “The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies”.

The authors of “The Novel Cure” state “Our belief in the effectiveness of fiction as the purest and best form of bibliotherapy is based on our own experience with patients and bolstered by an avalanche of anecdotal evidence.” There are a wide range of topics covered in the book. There are suggestions for books to help you with less serious ailments such as burning the dinner, “coffee, can’t find a decent cup of”, hiccups, itchy teeth, and Monday morning feeling. But the authors also address some more serious issues, such as anxiety, “death, fear of”, and “drugs, doing too many”. As well, there are several top ten lists, such as “The ten best novels for when you’ve got a cold”, “The ten best novels to cheer you up”, and lists for every age, such as “The ten best novels for the over one hundreds”. For an example of five book suggestions contained in “The Novel Cure”, click here.

Although it is now popular to use books as therapy in medical settings, many people have been using books informally to cure what ails them for a long time.

So what books do you use?

I find that if I am feeling down, I reach for self-help or spiritual books. For example, a book I recently found in a little library, “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy” by Sarah Ban Breathnach, has indeed been very comforting. Every day has a reading on creativity and spirituality, and I find that often the reading of the day has at least one nugget of wisdom that helps with a current challenge in my life. One line from today: “…worst of all, we close our hearts so we won’t get hurt, when opening is the only way we’ll know joy.”

I also find a lot of comfort in books about nature. I recently discovered Diana Beresford-Kroeger, an Irish Botanist, who is now living in Canada. I like Beresford-Kroeger’s approach: yes, the earth is in trouble, but there are everyday steps we can take to improve our situation. I am currently reading “The Sweetness of a Simple Life”, and only 1/4 of the way into the book, I have learned  (among other things) how to take better care of my joints, the best diet to follow if someone is trying to stop smoking (not that I smoke, but I know people who do), and all about “marriage menopause”. The chapters are all bite sized and easy to comprehend. Best of all, she gives me hope.

Watch the video below, about the importance of garlic and onions, for an example of what’s in the book.

I’d love to hear what books you consider are bibliotherapy for yourself.

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler