Reading Challenges 2020

Do you ever do any reading challenges? I read a lot, but I have never actually participated in one.

But this year I am wondering if I should. Perhaps it would help me to focus on the reading I would like to do in order to learn more about writing.

I read a lot, but my friend and critique partner Bev reads even more than I do. She also participates in a lot of reading challenges, so I was intrigued to read this blog post about the many challenges she was considering participating in 2020. 

These two challenges looked interesting for my writing purposes:

Creativity Reading Challenge

Memoir Reading Challenge

However,  the challenge that intrigued me the most is the Mount TBR challenge. I have so many books that I own that I want to read, but I just keep reading library books instead. So I’m in!

In the Mount TBR challenge, all books that have been purchased before January 1 may be counted towards the challenge. So that includes these two that I purchased yesterday at a memoir writing workshop at the Christkindl Market in Kitchener.

I’ll need to go through my other books to see what else I want to read this year. That will be a lot of fun!

How do you feel about your TBR (to be read) pile? Many people enjoy having a large amount of unread books in their house, the promise and mystery of an unread book outweighing the space it takes up. Others believe that they need to carve out more space before the clutter of their books overwhelms them.

I waver between the two. I love having lots of unread books, but I also wish to simplify my space. I also have realized that if I haven’t read a book soon after purchasing it, it’s likely I won’t read it, as some other shiny new book will have caught my attention. Focus, Linda, focus. Hey, I think I have picked my guiding word for 2020: focus.

What about you? Do you think you’ll participate in a reading challenge this year? Have you picked a guiding word?

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler

5 Objects from China

It’s been a while since I have worked on my object diary. I got off track sometime during the summer. I find it hard to stay on a schedule during the chaos of summer. Are you the same?

Somehow though, this chaos continued into the fall. I find that it has only been in the last couple of weeks that I have started to get back into a regular routine.

One reason for the fall chaos is that I travelled more than I normally do during that time. Summer was quiet—we did a trip to Lakefield and a trip to Niagara Falls plus to some beaches, but that was about it. In contrast in the fall I met up with my bestie for a weekend in P.E.I. and also went to visit my in-laws in Beijing for two weeks

It has been 13 years since I have been in Beijing. When we left, I didn’t realize that it would be so long until I returned. I left behind the entire contents of our apartment, which my husband had boxed up, storing the boxes in his father’s basement.

Since we were there, I used the opportunity to go through the contents. Unboxing those memories brought a mixture of feelings up. There was puzzlement over some of the things I had kept plus sadness over the things I had to let go.

But there was also lots of joy. I found a lot of things that I thought that I had lost forever. I also found some things that I had forgotten I owned.

Here are five objects I brought back from China to add to my “Cabinet of Curiosities” here:

  1. The symbol of Wuhan, two cranes and a snake on a tortoise

We lived in Wuhan, which is in the centre of China and the capital of Hubei province, for about 1/2 year. This is a reproduction of the 1985 “The Return of the Yellow Cranes” bronze statue that can be found in front of the Yellow Crane Tower, which is one of the four great towers of China and the symbol of Wuhan. While doing research I discovered that there is also a 6 foot reproduction of this statue in Chicago. Cool!

  1. A lovely teapot to add to my collection

This teapot has found a place in the collection I already have. I posted some pictures of my other teapots in this post.

This time I decided to do a bit more research on the type of clay used in the teapots. Apparently the teapots are made from Yixing clay. Yixing clay has been used in Chinese pottery since the Song dynasty and comes from Jiangsu Province.

  1. A goat etched in a cowrie shell

We actually can’t remember where we got this from. We may have got it in Guangzhou, which is also know as “Goat City” or better “Five Goat City” due to the legend of the gods coming down on five goats to bring the people relief from hunger. There is a five goat statue in the city, and my husband and I have a picture of us in front of it. This would be a lovely memory, because Guangzhou is one of my favourite Chinese cities. On the other hand, more likely it is meant to represent the Chinese year of the goat. It could be that we got it in the goat year of 2003.

  1. Sancai pottery horses

We got these two horses on one of the famous pedestrian shopping streets in Beijing. It’s not a surprise that I have them, as I have been crazy for horses since I was a child. Sancai means three colours, and it is used to decorate Chinese pottery; it was used especially during the Tang dynasty. The three colours used are brown/amber, green, and off-white.

  1. Reproductions of the Terracotta Warriors

One of my favourite tourist sites in all of China is the Xi’an Terracotta Warriors.

In 1974 a group of farmers unearthed the first fragments of what turned out to be a whole army of life sized terracotta warriors and horses. They had been buried undisturbed for 2000 years near the tomb of China’s first emperor. 

We visited the museum that covers some of the pits that contain this army. Some have been reconstructed, others still remain in pieces. What’s remarkable about the army—besides the fact that there are so many figures—is the fact that they are all so individual looking. No cookie cutter artistry here!

After we finished our tour of the museum—which included a glimpse of one of the farmers who discovered the first fragments—we purchased these miniature reproductions of four warriors and a horse just behind the museum. 

It’s neat that these knick knacks represent several places in China that are dear to my heart. It’s a travelogue of sorts. 

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler 

5 on Emma Donoghue

Although it was published in 2010, I didn’t read the novel “Room” by Emma Donoghue until this year. True confession: I didn’t want to read it, because I thought the subject matter would make it too difficult to get through. I got it as a gift though, so I decided that I would tackle it on my flight to PEI. After I started it, all I could think was: why did it take me so long? At one point I started yelling at one of the main characters, because I was so angry. When I actually start reacting to main characters as if they are real, then I know that the book has been well written.

So I was fortunate that one of the branches of my local library was able to host Donoghue for a reading on Friday. This was the last reading on her book tour for “Akin”. She read the chapter when the two characters, 79 year old Noah and 11 year old Michael, are in the airport waiting to board the plane to France. I along with the whole audience laughed a lot.

Afterwards the author took questions from the audience. Donoghue is wickedly funny and a passionate storyteller, and it was a pleasure to learn from her experience.

Here are five things I learned about Emma Donoghue:

1. She practiced the rug rolling scene from “Room” on her then 4&1/2 year old son. 

2. She’s not usually influenced by one place, but her latest novel “Akin” was strongly influenced by her time in Nice with her family.

3. She’s drawn to stories that have a puzzling gap in evidence. She wears her historian’s hat then changes to her fiction writer’s hat to fill in the gap.

4. She’s not naturally good at plot, so she does a lot of planning. She is better at characters, or as she says, “…making characters yap, yap, yap.”

5. Writing her first poem at age 7 was like “taking acid” for her.

Have you read any of Donoghue’s books? Have you heard her talk? What did you think?

Shoe’s Sunday Stories

@Copyright 2019 Linda Schueler 

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