Category Archives: Uncategorized

I am scared.

I am in England right now and the other night as we walked home from dinner a passing glance in a pub window made me stop. A news program was showing scenes of police and ambulances. I knew something bad had happened somewhere in the world.

I avoid the news. Years ago I realized that the news is less a source of information, and more in the business of capturing our attention, to commodify and sell the harrowing and gory details of tragedy. Reading or watching the news leaves me feeling hopeless, helpless, and angry, all emotions I’d rather avoid. It’s not that I don’t care about the troubles of the world. I do feel a strong responsibility to keep myself educated and informed, but I do not feel that consuming large amounts of daily tragedy is the best way. I prefer to find a way to take action, or at the very least, I try to gather information from multiple sources.

Sometimes the news can’t be avoided. Last winter while I was in England, the Charlie Hebdo attack occurred. Here I am again in England, and once again Paris is under attack. Tonight I am supposed to do something that many people in Paris were killed for doing, I am attending a music concert. In two nights I am supposed to do something else people in Paris were killed for doing, going to a soccer game. I’ll be watching the same team, France, who was playing, while outside their stadium a suicide bomber detonated a device. While I am certain there will be increased surveillance and security, and I understand that this is England and not France, I am not mollified. I am terrified.

My immediate thought was “I’m not going.”

I want to stay where it is safe. I want to remain alive. I am not certain I love Frank Turner’s music enough to die for it. I certainly do not love soccer/football enough to risk my life, (even if is a small risk). Many people are saying we need to stand resolute and defiant in the face of terrorism. I think it’s a great sentiment until one is forced to face it. It’s all fine and dandy to say these words across the ocean, in the safety of Canada, but when the decision is staring one in the face, it’s not so easy. I have a gazillion reasons to stay home.

I have one single reason to go.

When the flood of refugees poured out of Syria, I expressed frustration. “If these are truly the good people why did they not stay and fight? Why are they running rather than trying to change their country?”

I think I have my answer. I am faced with only the slightest possibility of coming face to face with murderous terrorists and I want to avoid… I want to run. These people were faced with actual beheadings, amputations, public executions, forced military enslavement, and many other acts of violence. It’s so much easier to ask others to be courageous and brave while we get to sit in safety as smug armchair critics.

In June of next year, I have a trip to France planned to watch three European Championship football games. Tonight I have a concert. In two nights I can watch England versus France, at Wembley Stadium. It is more likely than not, that I will be facing anxiety rather than violence, should I choose to do any or all of these events. I will probably be safe but there are no guarantees. I know rationally that death and violence can come at any time from many directions, not just terrorists. I also know from watching the news that violence is occurring nearby. England could very well have terror cells lurking too.

I have always know the world has evil. Human beings determined to destroy other human beings is my definition of evil. I want us all to work against evil. I want to be strong in the face of evil. I also want to live. I want to keep living the life that I love so much. Most of all, I want to live in a world where people learn to stop fucking harming each other.

Wisdom is out there…

In my last post I explained that I want to use my blog to change the world. Before we can even consider impacting the world we must be able to change ourselves.

The strangest phenomena for me to witness is someone I know struggling with an issue, immersed in pain, completely miserable and doing nothing about it. When I have a problem I cannot solve, when I am lacking, when I can’t accomplish a goal, or when I am experiencing some sort of pain, I want to end this experience.  I also understand I am doing something wrong and something has to change.

I get curious. I start searching.

One thing I know for certain is whatever I am struggling with, someone out there has already has answers, solutions, and experience I am lacking. We enter the world helpless and needing years of nurturing and training simply to survive. If we don’t learn at some point we won’t live. Learning is a necessity. However life isn’t just about keeping my body and brain existing. There is something within humanity that seeks to be more than just an eating, sleeping, reproducing and surviving organism. We create, we connect, we love, and we change. We conquer new vistas, we explore the unknown, and we overcome challenges. We define the impossible and immediately begin to make it possible.

Human evolution is constant. This is a cause for celebration because life is hard. We are at the mercy of many things that can impact, alter, or even end our lives. The world is also filled with opportunities to stabilize and secure our experience, to enhance enjoyment and mitigate problems, to quell and avoid pain, and to even lengthen our lives. Simply stated, I see wisdom as acquired experience, knowledge, and practises that when adopted, generate improvement, and can be duplicated by others.

Wisdom is everywhere. It’s in books, and on radios. It’s in blogs and movies, and songs. You can discover it in late night chats around a campfire, or in classes being given by professionals. The internet is largely a storage warehouse for other people’s wisdom (but beware they store their junk there too). When I look I can always find people who have expertise or experience they are willing to share. I look for evidence that they have successfully overcome whatever issue I am struggling with. Once I am certain that they are happier, healthier, and more successful than me, instead of getting envious I get excited. I get curious. I get ready to watch, listen and to learn.

Today, if you can’t find the answers you are looking for you aren’t looking hard enough. The world is at our fingertips, and it is filled with people who are willing to share what they have learned. Too often we allow laziness, mistrust, insecurity and fear to hold us back from evolving. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. People are champions at this behavior, but we are also champions of doing something different, of stepping outside of the box, of climbing to new heights and becoming more than we imagine we can be. To be different we must do different. You can’t just hear advice you have to try it. You need to experiment. If it doesn’t work you try it again. If it still doesn’t work, try something else.

Wisdom is out there, you simply have to seek it.  Are you interested?

Ahem… I am announcing that I want to change the world!

That sounds both pretentious and naively optimistic. Is this feat possible?  Can I change the world?

In the middle of a very intense discussion I was having with one of my best girlfriends, about things we didn’t like in the world, I had an epiphany. It was one of those realizations you feel sheepishly embarrassed you did not have sooner, the kind as glaringly obvious as a moose on a white winter road. This blog, the one you are currently reading, had been abandoned. I left it sitting and starving in the background of my thoughts where it begged continuously for nourishment and attention, demanding to be fed or put to death.

Suddenly, in the middle of agreeing with my girlfriend about everything that was wrong with the world I was struck by the thought “I should be blogging about the thing I am most passionate about”. Yes, I know. For a sharp edge I can be a little dull at times, and ironically what I am most passionate about is learning.

I’m a lusty seeker of wisdom. I’m insatiable when it comes to gathering knowledge. People, places, things, and experiences are all selected, inspected, and dissected for bits of truth, new skills, or information that can challenge and change my life.  I devour an endless stream of books especially memoirs and autobiographies. I am a greedy guzzler of blogs, “how to” manuals and self-help books on everything from writing, finances, relationships, parenting, sexuality, and pretty much anything else related to living better or understanding the human condition.

When I was much younger, I began this quest because I was unhappy in my life. I was dissatisfied. That isn’t how I would describe myself any longer. So why do I continue? There is always room for improvement. Not sure where that bit of wisdom came from, but the remembered voice is an exact match to my Grade 10 math teacher.

My blog began as a vehicle to promote my novel and talk about writing, then I used it to blog about a winter stay in England, and now like it’s creator, this blog is undergoing yet another metamorphosis. I’m turning this space into a place that I can store all the little lessons I have accumulated and learned over the years. I am writing about personal evolution.

I love to learn and I love to grow. I want to make my life a better place to live. Nestled deeply inside this desire is a hope that in making my life a better place to live I might have a small impact on the people and therefore the world around me.

It’s a pretentious idea, but sweet, too, I think. I have no idea if I can change the world, but I know I can change my life. I did it by learning and gathering wisdom other people shared. Little of anything I will write about is original. I will try my best to remember who I got the lesson from, but many of these bits and pieces, were gathered and woven into me so long ago I don’t remember from whence they came.  Most everything I have been taught, came to my teachers by way of another. I can’t always promise to post weekly but with more than 40 odd years of wisdom collected it should take a while to run out of material.

My next post, will be about “getting wise”.

Better, Worse or Different? Grocery Shopping in the UK

Christmas grocery shopping is a challenging task at the best of times. Imagine what it is like when you can’t find or recognize any of your usual ingredients. I have recovered and after a month and a half and I am getting pretty comfortable grocery shopping in the UK. So far I have visited three different grocery stores:

The Co-operative is a small neighborhood grocery chain not much bigger than a 7-11 but it is much better stocked and better priced.

Sainsbury’s has small local grocers and large stores which offer a wider grocery selection and housewares, clothing, pharmacy, and of course a very large alcohol section.

ASDA is a larger grocer which is very similar to our Superstores/Extra Foods retailers back home.

Pricing, Sizing and Packaging

One feature that I like about UK grocery shopping is many items are priced in round numbers making it easier to track what you spend. The English Pound is worth fairly close to two Canadian dollars. When I examine my grocery budget here versus at home, I am spending about the same amount per week.

In direct price comparison £1 pound for three bell peppers is cheaper than $3.49 for three bell peppers. That is a savings of almost $1.50 on the same item. Canada stores are 50¢ cents cheaper on a 5lb bag of potatoes. My pancake mix is $7.99 for 4.53 kg which makes about 240 pancakes at about 3¢ each. My UK family size package is 400g and it makes about 24 pancakes at a cost of 16¢ each. On the surface, costs seem to be pretty comparable. The difference is that at home my cupboards and pantry and deep freeze are full. Here they are too, but these cupboards and fridges are much smaller.

Fridge and freezer. The fridge is about the same size as the one in my camper. I was shocked but I have adjusted.

Fridge and freezer. The fridge is about the same size as the one in my camper. I was shocked but I have adjusted.

The UK grocers I have visited don’t have bulk pricing. You can buy 2 rolls of paper towel for £2 two pounds or you can buy 4 for £4. There is no price break for buying in large lots. That is weird to me. Weirder yet, smaller lots are sometimes cheaper for the same brand! For example I saw 2 paper towel rolls for £1 pound and fifty pence but the 4 pack of the same brand was £4, same number of sheets per roll and everything!

Everything comes in smaller sizes and portions here. I love the teeny little bags of potato chips of 130 calories each. Slivers of cheese, different pates, dairy creams in various fat contents all come in tiny little containers which result in less waste. However sometimes the small sizing is a pain when you are buy items you use in larger amounts.

This is big container of flour.

This is a big container of flour.

Another example, I usually buy my chocolate chips at Costco in a 2.4 kg bag. Here my only option was a 100g size.

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I bought four packages just to make one batch of cookies.

Brands and Product Competition

When I entered the grocery store it was comforting to see familiar brands like Cheerios, Oreo, Dairy Milk, Old El Paso, Philly cream cheese, and Doritos. It is frustrating when my brand or a particular flavor of a brand doesn’t exist. Lyric wishes for more than the two flavours of Doritos but I couldn’t care less because the potato chips (crisps) more than make up for it. Have you ever heard of Prawn Cocktail or Worcestershire?

Lyric was not feeling well for a few days and when she is sick she wants Lipton chicken noodle soup. The closest I could get was Cup-A-Soup which had nothing for flavour or noodles. It took a bit but I finally found Campbell’s mushroom soup but saltine/soup crackers don’t exist here at all.

Overall, within each product you are buying I find Canada has more variety in brand selection and sizing.  This does not apply to some categories of products. When it comes to baked beans, breakfast sausages, gravy flavouring and toilet bowl cleaning, the UK has Canada beat. Seriously! Toilet bowl cleaners have a full aisle.

So Better, Worse or Just Different?

Worse

The health food craze has not hit here quite like it has back at home. There are gluten free sections but  products like quinoa, kale chips, coconut oil, and agave nectar are not on regular store shelves. They also lack things I would define as basics. White vinegar is a scavenger hunt item still on my list. They have fifteen types of malt vinegar and a gazillion balsamic but no plain white. I think this is because there is so much focus on the pre-made and prepackaged food. Why make it yourself when you can buy it? This is not surprising because they have been “civilized” for longer. The UK had take-away food before Canada was even a country. There is a London fish and chip shop that has been going since 1860.

Better

I have always wanted a herb garden windowsill and here I do.

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The store I shop at has potted growing herbs. It’s wonderful to make bruschetta with fresh basil in the middle of winter. I also love the focus on socially conscious products. There is a wide selection of clearly labelled fair trade products. Greater standardized packaging makes for more efficient recycling. All cardboard, hard plastic containers, cans and glass are recyclable. Plastic wraps are not. Another big plus is that they sell alcohol in all stores. No separate stop at a different store required to buy a bottle of wine or vodka, or a case of beer.

 

The Verdict

The sale of alcohol in grocery stores won it right off the bat but the biggest positive of grocery shopping in the UK I haven’t even mentioned yet. Online selection and home delivery is the greatest invention in food since the arrival of the grocery store! I do not miss pushing a loaded shopping cart, in minus 25, through snow packed parking lots, as fast as possible, so my lettuce does not freeze. Instead I click my mouse and sit back and wait for the delivery person to knock at my door and carry it into the kitchen for me.

Better, Worse, or Just Different?

It hard not to judge and compare. I’ve never lived anywhere other than Alberta, Canada and one of my greatest curiosities about living abroad was whether I would like the experience. Would I find it better, worse, or just different? I used to be a bit of a travelphobe, and I also had been conditioned to believe Canada is the greatest country on earth. When I left on this extended trip I had no expectations in place. I left with an open mind and a question of whether I my unchallenged belief about Canada would still hold up by the end of my trip.

Living somewhere is different than vacationing. You stand a greater chance of getting up close and personal with a culture, then when you are simply hitting a destination’s high spots. I didn’t expect to experience huge amounts of cultural shock in England because Canada, after all, is a former colony. We are close allies and we share a queen. Next to the American’s I’d say no other country means as much to Canada as the United Kingdom.

I was right. No huge amounts of culture shock but there are differences to be sure. Some are better, some are worse, and others are just different.

The holidays in the UK

My first Christmas away from Canada and all my family and friends was very surreal. I had barely recovered from jet lag when I had to get into the spirit and celebrate Christmas. My family has taken to celebrate solstice but as we were all scattered to the winds this Christmas, Lyric and I decided that when in Rome) we would do as the Romans do (or in this case, the English).

Christmas in the U.K. is a much more subdued and secular affair than Christmas in Canada. It is similarly commercial. The stores (shops) are crazy but religion/Christianity is not as highlighted. There are carols playing in the stores, and simple light displays in town centers and main streets. There are no garishly, over-the-top, crazily decorated houses. Not a one. A single string of outside lights is about all you’ll see. If the living room curtain is open when you pass by you might get a peek at a tastefully decorated tree. No blinking musical lights and not a single mechanical singing lawn ornament anywhere.

Christmas Eve is a non-event. In our family Christmas Eve is just as important, and in some parts of our family even more important than Christmas Day. Mass is attended, gifts are opened. Company arrives. Christmas Eve is England was simply just the day before Christmas. All the stores were closed earlier than I expected. By 5:30 everything was shut down. Strangely, though, some pubs are open on Christmas day. They have shortened hours, but they are open. A quick trip off to the pub is not an uncommon event, especially for the men. I guess that is a similarity to Canada. Men have their Christmas traditions and they are seldom about the cooking and the preparations, and more about the socializing and relaxing.

The Boxing Day shopping frenzy is present here and the newspapers and radios were buzzing with talk about the sales. I never made it to any but I find the January prices on clothing to be super affordable. I’m finding great deals when I am out and about.

New Year’s Eve is all about the pub you wish to visit. We stayed in and watched the English version of the countdown, called the Jools Annual Hootenanny, done by Jools Holland. It was a great show and filled with tons of great English performers. At the end there are fireworks and Auld Lang Syne is sung just like at home. Out in the neighborhood plenty of fireworks were set off from backyards.

Overall we had a nice Christmas. It was lacking in people and snow but it was similar enough to get into the Christmas spirit. It was strange not cross-country skiing or sledding during the holidays but after stuffing one’s self with food, it was very cool to be able to talk a long walk outside and work off some turkey.

As far as whether Christmas is better worse or just different in the UK than in Canada I think I’d have to say celebrating in your own home, with your own traditions, and your own family and friends is always going to be better but you’ll never really appreciate it if you never try anything different. Lyric and I found out it wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be and it was fun to experience and discuss what we do differently.

Next posting- Better,Worse or Different- Grocrery shopping in the UK

A Change in Direction

Life changes, and in surprising directions sometimes.

Writing about writing, book sales and promotions wasn’t my cup of tea as evidenced by my lack of posts. I’ve all but abandoned my blog in the last several months but as I sit in a formal dining room in Warwick, England looking out on a cobblestone street, instead of gazing across my snow covered field in Alberta, Canada I’ve found a new reason to blog.

My husband and I decided to expand our definition of family and one of our newest family members is a middle-aged Englishman who after experiencing Canadian hospitality with us, asked to return the favour by inviting us to his home in England once he returned from a stint working in Fort McMurray. It took some creative solutioning but after deciding to homeschool my daughter, and finding a house/dog sitter, I find myself living abroad. I never dreamed such an opportunity would ever come my way or that I would ever have the courage to make such a move.

It was hard to leave. I had been buoyed by the excitement of planning and preparation for weeks but when I backed my truck out of my garage for the last time for four months, leaving my wonderful home and almost everyone I care about wasn’t as easy as it seemed. I had tears in my eyes and I reminded my daughter and myself that this wasn’t permanent. We would be coming back.  We both looked back at our house with a new appreciation and longing. We glanced at our field as we drove by, in a way we never had before. We had only just begun our journey and already we were different.

My husband is the adventurous one. He worked for nine months in Africa several years ago. In July of this year he returned again to Gabon, this time working offshore on a platform. Now instead of my youngest daughter and I being left behind while he globe trots, we are off having our own adventure. We are making new friends and expanding our definitions of home. We have been very welcomed, and made to feel comfortable.

In the airport waiting to fly.

In the airport waiting to fly.

I spent the first four days recovering from jet lag which knocked me off my feet pretty hard. My daughter and I did a little bit of exploring and then we had to get back into some learning before Christmas preparations began. It has been a whirlwind of activity here which makes me feel very much like I am still at home. There hasn’t been much time to sight see. We’ve done a bit of exploring with plenty more to come.

Shopping in Leamington Spa.

Shopping in Leamington Spa.

It’s Christmas Eve and I am thousands of miles away from most of my family and friends. While there is sadness and loneliness, my daughter and I are also enamored with all that is new and so very, very old. We are enjoying our trip tremendously. Every time we step out the front door we see and learn and experience something new.

Its hard not to like a place that lets kids and Pugs into pubs.

Its hard not to like a place that lets kids and pugs into pubs and was built long before Canada was even a country. The Punch Bowl was built in 1806.

I am surrounded by history and a whole new country and culture to explore. My head is filled with ideas of things i want to experience and write about. that is encouraging. The home of Shakespeare is just down the road from me. If I can’t find something to write about here… there’s no hope for me.

To Write Or To Live? That is the Question

There is a fine line a writer has to walk between living and writing. Too much living means not enough writing, and too much writing means not enough living. As evidenced by my lack of recent blog posts and by my lack of mention of a completed first draft of my second novel, it is obvious which activity is consuming my focus lately.

Recently, while in the throes of excessive living, I was in a beautiful location, enjoying a sumptuous meal beginning with fried olives, stuffed with gorgonzola accompanied by a spicy honey sauce. My teeth cut through the crisp golden batter. My mouth watered in response to the hot, salty olive. I sucked in a breath and realized I should have given the appetizer a moment to cool; my tongue was stinging slightly. I carried on chewing, a little more gingerly, breathing in cooling air. The cheese creamed across my tongue. The sauce kicked in. I didn’t notice the sweetness of honey on the first bite but the spiciness grew with each passing second. I attempted to dispel the effects with a sip of cold, crisp, and tart Sauvignon Blanc. The wine opened my taste buds further. My mouth grew warmer for a moment. A couple more small sips of wine and the spiciness eased. I lifted my fork and began the whole process over again. Mm…

If I had not visited this restaurant and had this experience I could not have told you about it quite so thoroughly. I wouldn’t have known to include certain details about the experience. The napkin I placed across my lap was the thickest of linens. Snowflakes the size of quarters drifted down in front of a mountain backdrop. A candle flickered in the reflection. My spine stayed straight, my elbows were kept off the table but it was a romantic and exquisite evening. Maybe I could have come close to describing it this well without visiting, but maybe not.

View from Rimrock Hotel

View from Rimrock Hotel

When I pay attention to my senses, emotions and experiences while I am living, I always find rich details to incorporate into my writing to give it depth and to help recreate an experience my reader can identify with which will hopefully evoke a response. It is this response that binds my reader to my words.

When I am experiencing powerful emotions I often try and capture them in a journal. Sometimes these captured emotions can be used in my writing. The problem is that to have these powerful emotions you have to be living. When you are living you are not writing. To further compound the issue… I have a horrible memory. Things fade so quickly especially if you are living life at tremendous speeds, and I have been living at the speed of sound.

To combat this I try my best to always carry a pen and journal with me. I often see and feel these moments and I know them for what they are, snapshots that could make my writing better. It is painful. The writer in me gets the inspired thought or the creative burst and longs to capture it. I also know I can’t live behind the pen. If I spend all my time writing about my vacation I am not actually having one.

Finding the balance between living and writing is difficult. And as you can see by my lack of blog posts I’m doing a hell of a lot of living. Hopefully that will translate into some great writing at some point.

As someone I love recently said to me, “Quality problems Shannon, that’s what those are, quality problems.” That was a helpful perspective.

Life does not come with a remote control that allows us to pause and record.

What do you do to capture these living moments for your writing before they slip by?