Free Ebooks … for a Price

For today’s Try Something New Everyday I decided to learn how to download ebooks to my Kindle and iPad. Should be a fast, simple exercise right?

I took both devices to my local library to enlist help from the librarian. She smiled and flourished a glossy pamphlet.

We never got past step #1: download the Overdrive app.

The iPad got very bitchy about something to do with my iTunes needing an update and then iTunes refused to update itself. Meanwhile the librarian checked her computer, frowned, and said, uh oh, Kindles in Canada aren’t supported for ebook borrowing. Amazon says no.

I have a case of Kindle buyers remorse now. I’m betting there is a Canadian Kindle workaround but I am also betting it will take me 30 hours of hair-pulling, Kindle-kicking frustration to make the break across the border. And the cross-border hack will probably stop working a few weeks from now with no explanation. So forget the Kindle. It’s a lost cause. Its batteries are always dead anyway.

I brought the testy iPad home and hooked it up to iTunes on my desktop computer thinking all I have to do is download the library app at home and force feed it to the iPad.

The iPad said no. Yuck. It spit back my request immediately without even trying a test-taste. It was hungry but only for updates to all my existing apps. Then it wanted an IOS firmware update. That all took over an hour of drumming my fingers on the desk in impatience. And then iTunes wanted to make sure I haven’t become a total deadbeat on my credit card since the last time I rolled into the App store. And then the iPad asked me if I was sure I wanted to delete all my contacts, calendar, documents and data.

Looks like it’s pistols at dawn between me, my iPad and iTunes.

Update: I now have an Overdrive app installed and operating on my iPad. Turns out all the books I want are already checked out. I am 16th in line for Kleon’s book on creativity in the digital age. The digital age may be over by the time I get his book. Just to test if the app actually worked I had to download a book about hockey. Serves me right. I should’ve gone to Blue Heron Books instead.

Steal Austen Kleon’s Clipboard Sytem

Monkey see … I heard about this cool blogger, Austin Kleon, so I visited his website yesterday. And I saw this. And I thought, oh yeah, I definitely want a clipboard system like he has.

Usually, when I see something as awesome as the Kleon System, I file the idea into my to-do list. Then, more often than not, the idea immediately sinks out of sight and that’s the end of it. But, since I needed a New Thing idea to deploy for today’s Try Something New Every Day, I decided to act on my clipboard system plan immediately.

This is the result (check out the wall behind my computer): I now have a way-cool clipboard system too!

my desk

I intend to add a few more clipboards to my array because a 3-clipboard systems is pretty lame. Austin has at least 7. Now I’m on the hunt for more clipboards. I’m hoping to score some old, pre-owned ones. I like the look (and environmentally friendly aspect) of the old-school hard board kind.

What will I do with my clipboards? First, the daily/weekly to-do list will be right in front of my nose when I sit at my desk. And I already pasted up a few sticky notes with quick reminders on things like how to make an em-dash in WordPress and how to do a screen capture on my Mac — both key sequences I need to reference quickly since they never seem to stick for long in my brain. One keyboard (at least) will be devoted to images and poems. Another will be a landing strip for ideas for Try Something New Every Day. No doubt I can fill as many clipboards as I can fit on the wall behind my desk. Thanks, to Austin Kleon and his wife for the inspiration!

Next on my list: I want to read more of Kleon’s blog and check out his book — so intriguingly titled — Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative . It’s described as a “manifesto for creativity in the digital age.” I have a feeling there will be a few more Kleon-inspired blog posts in days to come.

Seth Meyers and My New Red Shoes*

Last night, I stood in my closet waffling over which pair of shoes to wear out on the town.

You see, an old college friend of mine, who happens to be an ad exec, gets comped tickets to events and shows all the time. Back in the day, she studied business and marketing at school while I majored in creative writing. She’s doing rather well. In July, some client corporation flew her, all expenses paid, to Rio de Janeiro to see the FIFA world cup Germany-Holland final. (On the eve of her departure, her avid soccer-watching husband curled into a ball in her suitcase and refused to get out, but that’s another story.) I think it’s possible my college friend chose a more viable career path than I did. (Just so you know, if anyone out there ever wants to comp me tickets to ANY event in ANY country in South America, I will definitely accept them, no questions asked, and praise you most highly in my blog.).

Anyhow, as you might imagine, I am constantly sucking up to my friend to get invited on her outings. So, yesterday, when she asked me if I wanted to go see Seth Meyers at the Sony Centre, I ran straight to my closet to find an appropriate Saturday night girl outfit.

* BTW, this post is not about Seth Meyers and the Just for Laughs Festival. That bit was just to make the title of this post sound better. Even though seeing him do his stand-up routine was a New Thing for me, that happened last night and therefore doesn’t count as today’s Try Something New Every Day new thing. And even though I wore my new red shoes for the first time last night, it counts for today since I was still wearing them at 2 a.m. this morning. Plus, I have a slight hangover from washing down a plate of nachos with vodka at midnight and I am not up to trying any New Thing for the rest of today other than maybe a new kind of stomach and headache remedy.

So what’s the big deal with wearing a pair of new shoes for the first time?

The shoes are RED. Up until last night, they enjoyed a quiet, simple, easy-paced life in a box in my closet. I was a little afraid of them. Don’t red shoes make feet go all drunk and crazy and dance-party when they get out on the street?

To be on the safe side, I kept my red shoes tamped down in their tissue-lined box and took them out to admire them only on occasion. And tucked them back in their box, unworn.

Last night I thought: hey, shut up, its try something new time. So what if the shoes are red and kind of flashy? Who cares? I tried them on and decided they were super cute with black leggings and my root canal dress.**

I probably still would’ve gone for the nachos and vodka at midnight even if I hadn’t been wearing red shoes but I am glad I finally broke them out of their box. Sometimes I just need to push myself a little.

So. Put on your red shoes. Let’s dance.

**How I Met My Dress: Kids, that was the time I was woozy and afraid to drive after having a root canal, so I decided to window shop in the cute little line-up boutiques next to my dentist’s office. I don’t remember trying on all the clothes, but later I pulled into my driveway to find a large bag, stuffed with a nice, and rather expensive, top-to-toe outfit, including shoes, in the passenger seat of my car. Turns out I have excellent taste when I am high on nitrous oxide.

New Model Homes from Victoria Highlands

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Rosehaven’s “The Bonnell” with optional loft

Yesterday for Try Something New Every Day, Peter and I went to the launch of four new model homes from Victoria Highlands.

The builders promised lovely new home designs, balloons and a free lunch. We are not in the market for a new house, but I love touring model homes to check out the decor for fresh new ideas. While Peter loves the idea of a free lunch, he gets a little worried about me getting freshly inspired with new decor thoughts since the result usually involves him teetering on the top rung of a ladder with a bucket of paint in one hand and a chainsaw in the other.

We had to wait around for the ribbon cutting (another New Thing as I don’t recall ever attending an event with a ribbon that needed cutting). At the appointed time, our Mayor, Virginia Hackson, stood in front of the ribbon and wielded a giant pair of gold scissors, no doubt more than happy to be in a photo op with the upcoming municipal election and all. Councillor and mayoral candidate/contender Cathy Morton was brave enough to stand right beside Virginia — who could’ve eliminated her only competition with one over-enthusiastic flourish of her scissors. (Yes, because I am a writer, I imagined the whole gory scene but that was just me feeling bored and impatient with the ceremony. The crowd clapped and cheered once the ribbon was finally cut. We all really wanted to get on to the sandwiches — which were pretty decent sandwiches I might add, the builders spared no expense there.)

We then toured two of the four models. Both of them were enormous and featured soaring vaulted ceilings which made me wonder what I would do if a family of large spiders took up residence in a high corner. I suppose I’d have to send Peter up his ladder with a broom, or a chainsaw.

One of the models, the “Bonnell” was described as a bungalow. It had an optional loft which provided an enviable 3,5oo sq ft of living space. (And if you buy the Bonnell, I think you really should go in for the loft.)

I actually thought a bungalow was, by definition, small and certainly not permitted to have an upstairs. Sticking a second floor on a massive bungalow is a bit like calling this recipe (which calls for whipped topping, pistachio pudding mix, marshmallows and pineapple) a “salad.”

All the same I really loved the idea of an expansive bungalow with a huge 1,500+ sq. ft. loft. Peter became worried when I started imagining out loud where we would angle the couch in the family room on the main floor — of course we would have to buy one of those sharp new low-slung couches done up in a nice burnt orange upholstery — and in which corner should we place the TV? Or maybe we will only have the TV up in the loft and reserve the family room for entertaining and quiet conversation? After all, this house will totally rock for entertaining, don’t you agree?

Then I realized Alex would demand to have the loft all to himself as a video and computer gaming zone and I would never be allowed up there, and  I pictured thousands of snack wrappers and empty pop cans circling far and wide in a sort of junk vortex over my head all day long, and maybe some of the cans would even spin off the garbage tornado from the overhead lookout down into the family room — which would probably still feature our old couch since we certainly wouldn’t be able to afford new furniture after paying the hefty list price of a Bonnell with the loft option.

We are staying put. But for today maybe I can convince Peter to get out the tall ladder to remove the dead June bug that has been resting in peace in the hanging fixture in our foyer since … well, probably June.


Hot Stones ROCK!

"Smooth Stones" CC Image courtesy of a.pitch on Flickr
“Smooth Stones” CC Image courtesy of a.pitch on Flickr



The best part about Try Something New Every Day is trying new things in the pampering category. This morning I visited the Body Works Centre in Newmarket.  At the Body Works Centre website, Hot Stone Massage therapy is described like this: “As the stones are placed along the recipient’s back, they help to retain heat which then deeply penetrates into the muscles, releasing tension.”

Sounds pretty good right?

Here’s what happened: I lay facedown on a comfy padded table. Keren, the therapist, put on some soothing music and then she wrapped me up in a warm blanket, tucking me in nicely. Then she laid hot stones all along my spine right up to the nape of my neck. Oh! My!

I think at that point I started to drool. Then she rubbed hot oiled stones across my shoulders. Tension? What’s that? No, if I had tension, it was gone. Released. I melted down to a sloppy puddle calling out to all the hot penetrating river stones: ooh, come to Mama!

Then she put hot stones in between my toes. After that I don’t remember anything else.

I’m still stoned.

Marley (and his owner) is in Training

marleyI am so lucky. Why? First, I have the world’s best dog: Marley the Golden Beagle.* Second, I now have the world’s best dog trainer and she lives a mere ten minute drive from my home. Nancy Hatch is both an animal behaviorist and a clinical psychologist which means she can work with both the animal and its hapless human (me). She has an extensive background in training service dogs. For over 20 years, she has been the owner/operator of Good as Gold K-9 School. Nancy and I have embarked on a program** of recreational agility and obedience training for Marley.

The thing is, my world’s best dog isn’t exactly the world’s best-BEHAVED dog. Nancy says he is bossy. What? Bossy? I thought I was supposed to be the boss?

Not quite. Marley has a few bad habits such as jumping up on people to say Hi and careening into the nearest slime-covered swamp when he gets to go off leash in the woods. His worst trick is to bolt out onto the street if someone (read: not me, blame Peter or Alex) leaves the door ajar. Good thing we live on a quiet street. But the not so good part is that Marley takes his opportunity to run and cavort on everyone’s lawn and no one can capture a golden dog-shaped bullet. To the neighbours’ great and ongoing amusement we have to trap, tackle, bribe, beg, cajole and/or trick him back into the house. Opening the car door and saying weee, car ride! worked once, and once only. Even bacon doesn’t cut it when there is fun to be had speeding around the neighborhood turning his frantic humans into three monkeys-in-the-middle.

Cue Nancy. How do I know Nancy is amazing? Well, for one, she managed to get Marley to agree to have his nails clipped, without five helpers on hand to sit on him or by feeding him into a compliant coma with a side of bacon (our usual crap method — which is usually followed by 3 days of crap, i.e., diarrhea).

Second, Nancy can read a dog’s mind. I’ve seen her do it. She knows what Marley is going to think before he even thinks it. Or where he is going to pee before he lifts his leg. Nancy  says I am the boss of where and when Marley pees, so no more marking will be allowed. (Now I feel very powerful. I may well boss around a chihuahua next.)

Most important, Nancy is positive, patient and calm. She loves animals. She shares her home with 27 dogs (really!), many of them rescues (she has a pretty big farmhouse). And her purebred golden retrievers are among the prettiest goldens I have ever seen.

Marley loves agility training. He prances across a narrow beam and bags a few tiny liver treats. He hops over a low barrier and earns more tiny liver treats. Jumping through a hoop — no problem. Anything for treats! I can see that Nancy’s method of slowly building from one skill to the next works. Patience is key. Knowing how a dog behaves and responds is essential.

Watching every episode of The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan— entertaining as that show is — won’t cut it. Working with an experienced professional trainer means I am well on my way to having the world’s best-behaved dog.


* Marley’s Mom was a Border Collie/Shepherd/Who-knows-what? mix and Dad was a beagle. Marley’s coat is gorgeous, feathery, fluffy and golden. He looks like a small golden retriever but has the sweet, mischievous and energetic nature of a Border Collie. He is a bit of a bossy boots. But we’re working on it.

** Try Something New Every Day: agility/obedience training is a new thing to me. Of course, this new endeavor requires an ongoing commitment — but each session of training on the agility field means Marley and his human learn how to cooperate. Which will soon deprive our neighbours of watching us chase our bratty dog all over the street. Worth it.

A Tale for the Time Being: A Confession

For today’s (24 September) Try Something New Every Day, I’m reading Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Trying a new book or author is something I do regularly so it may seem lame to include reading this book in my New Thing project. I decided it is new enough for two reasons: one is that I picked the novel up when I visited the Angus Glen Public library  for my 15 September New Thing challenge. A Tale for the Time Being is the annual book choice for One Book, One Markham. I doubt the book would have hit my literary radar if it weren’t for going out of way to Markham for my Try Something New project. So it gets points for that.

Second, any time I read a new book, I invest many hours into it. I am a slow, savouring type of reader. I read every sentence, and reread whole paragraphs and pages and even chapters. I don’t want to miss a thing.

A new book is a big deal for me and, if I stick with it all the way to the end (I am notorious for quitting a read early on; I won’t waste time on a boring book) I have gained something of a course of new experience, and often a broader outlook, new ideas, new perspectives. Which is the very essence of Try Something New Every Day.

I am about halfway into A Tale for the Time Being and no, I won’t be quitting this read. Oleki is a charming storyteller and I am hooked on her unique characters, including a 104-year-old Zen Buddhist nun. Among a number of interesting and compelling themes in the narrative, one that emerges is bullying. A young Japanese girl named Nao, the main character, experiences severe bullying at the hands of her classmates and even her teacher at her school in Japan. She is considering suicide.

Turns out Japan, like Canada and every other country, has its challenges with bullying. Bullies are everywhere. Ugh.

And here is one way in which the book impacted me and changed me: as I read, I found myself wondering about bullying in Japan. How can that sort of thing be happening there? After all, aren’t all Japanese people gentle and polite? As I thought further about my reaction I realized (and I really don’t like to admit to it, especially online in my own blog), that I was engaging in stereotyping — albeit positive. Positive stereotyping is thought to be as damaging as negative stereotyping. Racial stereotyping is a form of bullying. And, as well-intentioned as  a person may be, that’s how bullying gets coded into our attitudes and behaviour — and its hard to weed it out when we don’t even recognize it for what it is.

But. Now that I know better, I believe I will do better (or think better).

The reality is that people are people; we are all equal. In every culture can be found bullying, cruelty, kindness and goodness, the polite and the gentle, and — sigh — the ignorant and misinformed.

East Gwillimbury All-Candidates Meeting

While Doug Ford seemingly had all eyes on him last night, there were actually people attending other All-Candidates meetings around the province.

I, for one, attended my local municipal meeting for East Gwillimbury in Holland Landing where the tone was quieter than Doug’s and John and Olivia’s “raucous rowdy and wild” debate — although one man in the audience did take a moment to yell at our mayor about something to do with a chain link fence. The yelling led to some interesting statements about the state of affairs in E.G. Incumbent Virginia Hackson said no one in these here parts is angry — other than that one guy in the audience — while mayoral candidate Cathy Morton says that’s not true.

I wouldn’t know who to believe since I haven’t lived in East G for all that long. Which is one reason I decided to hit up an all-candidates meeting — I am not an angry resident but I did want to find out what the people are like who want to run things around here.

The other reason is that I have never been to an all-candidate’s meeting before (sad but true). As usual, I wanted to blow off my Try Something New Everyday challenge and hang out at home with my dog Marley who thinks ACM’s are stupid and we should really try hunting squirrels in the York Forest.* But I gamely trudged out the door leaving a disappointed-looking mutt watching from the window. As I climbed into my car I thought: this is gonna be one boring evening.


I found out things about East G that I never knew — mainly because I never bothered to ask. Much of what I learned came from the guy in the seat next to me who is a 10-year resident and therefore knows some useful information. One fun fact is that Jamie Young, one of the councillor-hopefuls, already served as E.G. mayor for ten years. He looks about 25. When my jaw dropped, my seatmate further explained: Young became an E.G. councillor at the age of 18. Then he became the mayor for a decade. And then he stepped down for health reasons which are now hopefully resolved. Plus there was some tempestuous issue that still gets people talking that had to do with chopping down trees. Now he’s back hoping to get in the municipal game again as a councillor.

I have to admit that I liked Jamie Young. He comes off as sincere and he sure has the experience. So he’ll probably get my vote. Not sure about some of the others.

Everyone parroted the same promises: taxes will be kept low. Growth will be managed. The official plan will be honoured and 70% of our land will remain as greenspace.

We shall see.

Wikipedia has this to say: “Designated as a future growth area under the Places to Grow Act by the Province of Ontario, East Gwillimbury will see growth from 23,000 residents in 2010, to approximately 88,400 people and 34,000 jobs by the year 2031.”

That’s more than triple the current population in less than 20 years. And in another decade hence, I bet that number will double again.

I actually wanted to hear someone admit that the growth pressures from the south mean that we need a lot more planning to deal with it. That 70% greenspace number? I am afraid it will shrink to nothing, until we are bulging at the seams like our neighbours Vaughan and Markham. If we let it.

suburban tract housing in northeastern Markham from,_Ontario

The roller ball of development is coming whether we like it or not. Maybe we can’t stop it, but we can have a say in what the future East G will look like. It could look like this:





Or it could be a much more attractive picture. Last night, I wanted to hear someone say that East G has a tremendous opportunity to step into its imminent power. That we won’t settle for a few shiny trinkets from developers. That East Gwillimbury must demand high-quality recreation facilities. That we want it all from local jobs and transportation to roads that can handle the traffic that is coming before the gridlock begins.  Let’s invite the best businesses and industries to help build the dream. The dream is safe, well-designed, livable communities with plenty of built-in breathing space such as parks and nature trails and bike paths. All the above can be done with the utmost of care so we can decrease the impact on the natural environment. The developers and the province, who stand to benefit, can afford to make fabulous communities happen as they develop some of the lovely greenspaces that are doomed to make way.

What should we be asking for? Certainly we need shovels in the ground to build a high school now. (Let’s make it state of the art.) But, for example, while we’re at it, why not start pounding the drums for a college or, better yet, a university? All the babies being born in the brand, new developments of today and tomorrow: in 20 years will we really still have to send them as young adults to Barrie or Markham or Toronto to gain a higher education?

A university may sound like an impossible dream but with enough will and determination we can code our big dreams into our demands when the developers and province come calling for our greenspace. Yes, I want leaders with backbone, creativity and a big bright vision to take the helm and guide us away from the looming bedroom community door and into a well-lit and vibrant Great Room.

Nǐhǎo (你好) to Mandarin Chinese


Coursera offers free basic Mandarin Chinese lessons. You can go at your own pace.

My pace is glacial. I just did lesson one. Twice. I will be on lesson one for weeks just practicing how to say Hello, my name is Collette. Mandarin Chinese is so tough on my hopeless western tongue that I can no longer say my own name without getting tongue-tied. Eventually, I intend to go to the Pacific Mall in Markham to practice. There I will find out if any Chinese-speaking person there can actually understand me. No doubt I will be good entertainment to all the shopkeepers.

There are lots of Youtube videos that offer help to learn basic Chinese too. And some that show how to write Chinese characters. How do you say “cool” in Chinese?

Toronto’s Word on the Street

Are you a writer or do you aspire to be one? If so, the place to be on 24-25 April, 2015 is the Ontario Writer’s Conference at Deer Creek Resort, in Ajax. As a networking opportunity with workshops, speakers, authors, industry professionals, with opportunities to meet agents and editors and much, much more, OWC can’t be beat. As a committee member for the annual conference, I recently had a sneak preview of some of the lineup of speakers and presenters who are already committed to attend and, once again, I’m excited to be part of this amazing event.

Today, together with Barb Hunt and Sherry Hinman, long-time supporters and core organizers of the OWC, I volunteered to help spread the word about the conference at Toronto’s Word on the Street, another premier Ontario event for those of us who love books and magazines, blogs and zines, and everything in between.

Yet again, Try Something New Every Day gave me a needed push: it was teaming down rain this morning and that miserable state of affairs, together with a summer cold that has dragged me down for weeks, made me want to dodge my commitment to work at Word on the Street. But I am a bit like Horton the elephant, if I say I am going to do something, I do it.

Once ensconced in the OWC booth, rubbing elbows with the League of Canadian Poets and The Writer’s Union of Canada, the clouds cleared, the sun came out and my energy rebounded: seeing the crowds milling about, in and around Queen’s Park Circle, charged me up. In the throng were some of Canada’s favourite authors, editors and publishers. I spotted Kenneth Oppel, Antanas Sileika, Andrew Borkowski, Andrew Piper and Richard Scrimger among others. And the icing on the cake? The ever-charming and brilliant publisher and editor Douglas Gibson*  dropped by our booth to say Hello.

How’s that for trying something new everyday?

(*yes, that’s right, Douglas Gibson was Alice Munro’s editor — not to mention his work with Mavis Gallant and many other giants of CanLit! And yes, he spoke at the Ontario Writer’s Conference in 2012. If you are a writer, I hope to see you at OWC in April 2015)