memories of great-aunt betty

An important family matriarch passed away this week, at the age of 96. Betty MacDowell was my partner Allan's great-aunt, his father's mother's sister. She was one of the warmest, kindest, most good-hearted people I've ever known, and I wanted to share a few memories and write a little tribute to her.

I first met Betty in 1990, when we were visiting Vermont, where Allan grew up. Betty invited us over for a family dinner, along with Mary (her sister, Allan's grandmother), her son and daughter-in-law (Allan's cousins), and their children, who were then little kids. 

This dinner is memorable for me for several reasons. 

Although Allan and I met in the summer of 1985, and we had been living together since January 1987, this was the first time I had met these folks, and it was the first time Allan had seen them in many years. At that time, Allan had no active relationships with any of his family except with his grandmother. Although we didn't know it at the time, this dinner was the beginning of Allan slowly re-connecting with his family.

The table was overflowing with fresh, homemade food. For dessert there was a berry pie made with berries Betty had picked from her garden that morning. I felt like a Fresh Air Fund child, simply agog that such a thing was possible. (Betty's pies were amazing; they are even mentioned in her obituary.)

Everyone was very nice and friendly, but Betty was especially warm and welcoming, and I sensed she had made a special effort to include us. I was really touched, and I wrote her a thank-you note (sent in the mail, the only way one could send a note in those days). I said that she had treated both of us like family, and it meant a lot to me.

She wrote back, in her perfect schoolteacher handwriting, and said, You are family -- the word "are" was underlined twice -- and you will always be welcome in my home.

After that, we visited Betty whenever we were in Vermont, sometimes staying in her spare bedroom or in a trailer outside her neat and cozy home. She lived on land that was once part of her family's farm, across a wide yard from the log-cabin home her son and daughter-in-law built, where they raised their family and still live. (The yard now contains solar-energy cells.) It's a beautiful, peaceful area, and it eventually figured into my desire to live someplace quieter and more beautiful.

Somewhere along the way, Betty and I started corresponding by mail. As a child and teenager, I used to write letters with my Aunt Lillian (who was also my great-aunt, my grandmother's sister), and writing to Betty recalled that for me. (I'm looking forward to continuing this personal tradition with my grand-niece, now six years old.) 

At some point Betty discovered digital photography and started making and selling her own greeting cards. I looked forward to seeing beautiful flowers from her garden, or some outdoor scene, along with her news. She would catch us up on the extended family, tell us about the weather in northern Vermont (snow country), whether a bear had visited her garden, whatever was new in her world.

One thing Betty and I had in common was a love of travel. She had travelled all over the world. When we visited, I loved hearing memories of snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef or camping out in some scenic location. She also shared many memories of growing up on a farm, especially sugaring. This was totally different than the urban backgrounds of my own relatives. For me it was a window into another world.  

I have no idea about Betty's politics or religious views. I mention this because it's very different from my original family. Brooklyn Jewish folks? You always know their opinions! I came to appreciate and respect the less vocal, more private demeanors of the rural Vermonters. I do know Betty was an extremely kind, accepting person. I cannot imagine a judgemental or bigoted word coming from her. 

I remember two little exchanges along those lines. Once, on a Vermont visit when we were already planning to emigrate to Canada, I mentioned that some people had been quite negative about our choice. Betty said immediately and quite sharply, "That's not their business!". Many years later, during the Trump years, she wrote in a letter, "You and Allan made a very smart decision to leave the US." She said something similar to me the last time we were in Vermont.

Betty lived a rich, full life -- rich with the love of family and friends, full with experience. She was very close with her children, children-in-law, and grandchildren, and in the last months of her life, was able to meet her great-grandchild. She died peacefully with family by her side. 

We were supposed to visit Oregon and California in 2020, then Vermont and Massachusetts in 2021. Covid pushed everything off by at least one year, so we didn't make that second trip. I'm sorry that we weren't able to see Betty again, but I'm very glad we visited the Vermont family in 2017 (both of us) and 2018 (Allan only) before we moved west.

You can see her obituary here.


what i'm reading: gone to the woods, a riveting memoir by author gary paulsen

Gary Paulsen wrote some of the best children's literature, most famously Hatchet.

The tale of a boy who must survive on his own in the woods until he is at last rescued, Hatchet (published in 1986) is a go-to book for librarians facing the challenge of a reluctant reader, and many kids' favourite book. I read it for the first time when working as a children's librarian, and loved it. I wrote about Hatchet here.

In 2021, shortly before he died at age 82, Gary Paulsen published Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood, a remarkable autobiography. Gone to the Woods is written as children's nonfiction, but I cannot recommend it strongly enough to readers of all ages.

Gone to the Woods is told in the third person, about a character referred to as "the boy". As a very young child, the boy endures an almost total lack of parenting, then a fairy tale of love and living off the land... then a brutal separation and loss. His young life becomes a series of dislocations and separations -- and total neglect. As a preteen and young teen, the boy lives on his own, surviving by his keen intelligence, self-education, mental strength, and bold courage. 

Salvation begins in the form of the library, and a canny, sensitive librarian. She understands what's at stake and does everything exactly right -- gradually, gradually, ever so gradually, making the library the boy's refuge. Eventually, the boy "reads like a wolf eats". (When you get to the part about the library, have a box of tissues handy!)

The book is gripping and suspenseful, a true page-turner. Similar to Hatchet, it's packed with tips and tricks of survival -- survival in the woods, on a farm, and in a harsh, urban landscape. 

For young readers, it's exactly the kind of book that can help children in troubled circumstances feel less alone. 

For adult readers, it's a view into several hidden, fascinating worlds, heart-wrenching but also uplifting.

For all of us, it's a testment to how the presence of a caring adult can make a profound and lasting difference in a child's life. 

After reading Gone to the Woods, I was so sorry that I was unable to tell Paulsen how much I loved the book, and thank him for writing it. Paulsen died in October 2021. 

I have purposely not revealed much about the actual plot. I loved the way the story unfolded, taking the reader through the same sudden and harsh transitions that the boy experienced. If you want more plot description, this review in The New York Times will help.

Also: the extreme neglect that the boy endures clearly constitutes abuse, but Paulsen does not describe (or even allude to) being physically or sexually abused. Readers concerned with that have nothing to fear, for themselves or any young readers. 

Read this book!

* I notice that post was meant to be part of a series contrasting older children's literature with more contemporary counterparts. Some months later, I finished graduate school and started working full-time... and the series didn't go anywhere.


what i'm watching: best of 2021 (april to december)

As I mentioned here, I've decided to stop posting my entire "what i'm watching" list for the year. Instead I'm going to do an annual best-of. I'm also realigning this with the calendar. 

For 2021, I'm starting with April, where last year's 2020-21 list left off. Next year I'll be able to start with January.

So... these are the best series and movies I saw from April 2021 to December 2021. Within the two categories below, they are in no particular order. (It's not a countdown.)

Five Stars: the best of the best

The Colonies
The Handmaid's Tale (S1-4, series so far)
This is one of the best series I've ever seen, and the most difficult to watch. S1 especially was so intense, that I could only watch one episode at a time, then needed to switch to something lighter. Why watch a series packed with rape, horrific state violence, fascism, and woman-hating? Because the writing, acting, and production is stellar. Because it feels all too plausible. And because it is a story of resistance. (Special shout-out to Toronto, playing itself for a change!)

Sophie: A Murder in West Cork
This true-crime mini-series was suspenseful and compelling. It sensitively captures the grief that follows a sudden, violent death, and the outrage at the blatant miscarriage of justice. 

Lupin (S1-2, series so far)
Joyous cons, daring and brilliant heists, biting social commentary about racism and colonialism, plus a literary meta-theme: it doesn't get much better than this. A perfect series, especially for crime lovers.

Bo Burnham Inside
Burnham filmed, edited, and performed this film, completely solo, while in covid lockdown. It is clever, cutting, incredibly insightful, often profound. The artist manages to perfectly send-up so many cultural trends and tropes, but always with a voice that is warm and compassionate, never snarky or mocking. It left me feeling that I had taken a journey with Burnham. Later I learned he was the creator of 2018 film "Eighth Grade," which was all kinds of brilliant (four stars here).

Never Have I Ever (S1 rewatch + S2, series so far)
This is one of the best teenage series ever made. Hilarious, warm, and deeply authentic, it made my heart squeeze with all the joy and pain of growing up. The social commentary about racism and sexism is perfectly woven in, never preachy. The representation of queers and people of colour is beautiful and seems completely natural. And the acting is absolutely amazing.

In the Heights
The film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway musical, a love letter to his (and my) former New York City neighbourhood. It's a joyous celebration of a place and the people who create it -- a positive look at something usually maligned -- wrapped in a ribbon of Latin and modern music and dance styles. It was so enjoyable! It also made me regret not seeing the Broadway production, which was running while I was still regularly visiting the area.

Yellowstone (S4)
After the extremely violent, cliffhanger ending of S3, Yellowstone S4 was all about healing, recovery -- and revenge. Some subplots wrapped up with deep emotions, while others are still open to future possibilities. I love the Native issues, the bold female anti-hero who continues to deepen in complexity, and the many visions of what love can look like. This show continues to be absolutely gripping, exploring both external and internal conflicts more deeply with every season. 

Four Stars: worth every minute

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
A documentary tribute to a transgender woman of colour who was a pioneering activist, and a look at the trans and gay liberation movements through the lens of one person's life. Moving, inspiring, sad, beautiful.

Ted Lasso (S1 only)
This show is sweet, warm, and funny, and manages to be feel-good without being sticky. I hated S2, couldn't get past the first episode, but S1 was wonderful.

Lovecraft Country (S1)
A wild, genre-blending, mind-bending exploration of Jim Crow America through adventure, fantasy, and horror. I stopped watching about halfway through but intend to go back. Weird and captivating.

Derry Girls (S1-2, series so far)
Teenage girls coming of age in Northern Ireland -- Catholic school and family madness against a backdrop of The Troubles. Wonderful characters, warm humour -- and another feel-good show I could tolerate. That makes three this year, which must be a record for me.

Mare of Easttown (one season, full series)
A female detective trying to solve a murder and disappearances, while coping with her own loss and grief. The premise sounds hackneyed, but the show feels new and authentic. Excellent acting by Kate Winslet, many fully realized female characters, and a strong portrayal of gritty, downtrodden, small-town America. A dark show, with just enough hope.

Barry (S1-2, series so far)
A darkly funny crime comedy with great characters and some outstanding performances by Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, and many others. S3 is supposed to be out this year, which is a great excuse to rewatch the series so far.

Your Honor (one season, full series)
Both a crime drama and an intimate family story, Your Honor explores what happens when deeply held moral beliefs clash with profound love and loyalty. Like The Handmaid's Tale (above), this series is unrelenting, with zero comic relief. It starts in a dark place and goes down from there. 

The Frontier (2015)
A tense, stylish, dark crime/neo-noir, chock full of double-crossing thieves and creepy characters, with a claustrophobic feel. Really fun stuff if you like noir.

Lucifer (S1-6, full series)
Hilarious, sexy, raunchy, genre-blending, and thoroughly entertaining, Lucifer is part detective/cop show and part "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Major points for full-on bisexuality in both male and female characters, and some truly meaningful and sometimes profound character growth. Also: worst series finale ever. Honestly, I can't believe how bad the last 30 minutes of the show were. 

A Song For You (2016)
This documentary chronicles and pays tribute to "Austin City Limits," the greatest TV music show of our time. I don't have access to it anymore, and I miss it -- both to watch great performances and as a way to discover new sounds.

Loudermilk (S1-2 only)
A dark comedy about a recovering curmudgeon. Really good, until it wasn't.

The Inbetweeners (S1-3, full series rewatch)
A raucous, ridiculous, hilarious teenage comedy about awkward, misfit friends. Thoroughly enjoyable. Warning: do not watch the movie!

Line of Duty (S1-5 rewatch + new S6)
Suspenseful, twisty, unpredictable thriller about police corruption. Not your typical cop show by any means. Who is H?

Goliath (S1-3 rewatch plus new S4)
Crime, noir, paranoid thriller, legal drama -- all of those, plus some romance and family drama. I was grossly disappointed by S4, but loved the first three seasons.

How can you not love The Professor?
Money Heist S5 (final season)
I didn't know how they would keep this series going after S2. Every successive season seemed even more improbable than the last, but somehow it just got better and better, adding layers to backstories and relationships. The final season was gripping and very emotional. Add The Professor to the list of my favourite anti-heroes.

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
An odd and slightly surreal noir, with the distinction of being written and directed by the great Ida Lupino. 

True Grit (2010)
Great characters, including a strong young female lead, lots of western-style violence and more than a little humour -- a really solid movie. Part of my ongoing new interest in the Modern Western genre. 

Greatest anti-heroes ever
The Blacklist S8
In S8, Raymond Reddington (or whoever he is) falls in love, and lets himself believe he can carve out a normal life in the midst of his chaos. This season had a deep emotional resonance, in addition to the show's usual suspense, adventure, violence, and humour. I found Red's love interest much more credible than any of Elizabeth's relationships. I continue to love both Raymond and Dembe, and will follow them anywhere.

Corporate (S1-S3, series so far)
I kept expecting this show to tank. How long can a satirical workplace comedy spin before it becomes a parody of itself? To my surprise, the show stayed funny, dark, relevant, and unpredictable. The episode "Black Dog" (S3e2) is the best portrayal of the illness of depression I've ever seen in popular culture -- unexpectedly emotional and real, while never losing the comic edge. Bravo.

The Morning Show (S1-2, series so far)
Great acting, relevant stories, compelling drama, biting humour, and real-world politics -- a nearly flawless combination. Unraveling the actions and consequences of workplace sexual harassment, seeing the impact on perpetrators and victims, packs a big punch.

A note, a plea: please, please, won't someone show us what women really look like in proper context? A tough, gritty TV journalist in West Virginia, covering stories of coal mines and mountaintop removal, would not go to work in full, professionally-crafted makeup. The portrayal is supposed to be realistic -- so why not tone down the glamour? As soon as I see the beautiful Reese Witherspoon in full Hollywood-style makeup, I'm pulled out of the show and am looking at the actor instead of the character. I see this in many supposedly realistic series. Obviously all actors are wearing makeup. But why not use a look that's somewhat realistic? Major points for series that don't do this, like Mare of Easttown. 

* * * *

Honourable Mention
Frank of Ireland
AP Bio
Endeavour (S1-4 rewatch, plus S5-7, series so far)
How to with John Wilson

Comedy before sleep
Big Bang Theory (S8-12, remainder of series)
Superstore (S1-6, full series)

* * * *

Recap of previous years

- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12)
- big life events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
famous people who died plus famous people who died, part 2 (2015-16)
- the picket line (2016-17)
- movies (2017-18)
2018-19: 1-5 ☮s
2019-20: 1-5 💉s
2020-21: 1-5 😷s (without the tear!)


we movie to canada: wmtc's annual movie awards are retired, replaced with best-of list

Last year, I realized that the new format of my annual movie awards was problematic. 

Beginning with 2018-19, rather than grouping movies by rating (all the 5s together, all the 4s together, and so on), I started listing all the titles alphabetically, showing the rating for each. 

As a personal list of what I've been watching, this is fine. But as a potential guide for readers, it's less than helpful. Most people I know are always looking for their next great series or movie. With an alphabetical list, they would have to go through the entire list, reading every description or comb through to pick out the top ratings.

I realized this last year, and it's been bothering me ever since. I was actually planning on re-organizing the three movie posts that I had done this way. This morning I sat down to that, and realized... no. Too much work without much payoff.

Looking ahead, I've decided to use a new format.

First, I'm realigning the viewing list with the calendar year. There was a reason my movie awards were geared to the baseball season, rather than the calendar, but that reason hasn't been relevant in many years. I'll now post in January about what I've watched the previous year.

In addition, I'm going to post a best-of instead of an exhaustive list -- basically the 4s and 5s from the former system. I'm still going to track everything I watch, but I won't post the complete list on wmtc.

Stay tuned (or don't!) for the best of 2021 list. To avoid repetition, the 2021 list will be what I watched from April to December, then future lists will take in the full year.

most useless and annoying advice ever: it's cheaper if you make it yourself

I did not make this myself.
Ever since moving to Canada, people have been telling me how I could make something myself for less money than I paid for it. Curtains, chair coverings, scarves. Kitchen gadgets. Dog needs. Skin care products. And food of all types. 

You can make that yourself, so much cheaper. 

I've heard this so often and from so many people, one might think everyone in Canada was crafting everything by hand. Which would not explain the crowds buying cheap merchandise in Canadian Tire.

Similarly, in certain Canadian circles, there is disdain for hiring someone for any personal or home labour. Snow shoveling, house cleaning, dogwalking, lawn care. Oo-hoo, look at you, throwing money away instead of picking up a shovel! It seems I am finally old enough for people to give me a pass on this one. The hidden joys of aging!

I find this "you can make it cheaper yourself" mentality annoying on so many levels. One, it's my money. I can spend it however I want, and I'd rather do so without your judgement. Two, isn't your time worth anything? My time is more valuable than money. Money can be earned, but time is a nonrenewable resource. (Yes, I know this is a privilege.) Three, mind your own business!

Perhaps this is not a Canadian thing at all. I don't know if people dole out this "advice" throughout the rest of the US. But I can tell you no one does in New York City! 

Long before the pandemic forced everyone inside, New Yorkers had everything delivered to their apartments. Since everyone walks or takes public transportation everywhere, deliveries are a way of life. So is paying for convenience. New Yorkers eat at restaurants or takeout almost every night of the week. They drop off their laundry. They hire dogwalkers. They rent car shares. And most of all, they have everything delivered. It's not an easy city to live in. Everyone who can afford to buys every convenience possible. And nobody ever tells you how you could make things more cheaply yourself.

Like Elaine Benes, I love a "big salad". In fact, one of my favourite meals are salads with lots of different ingredients. I love chopped-salad restaurants, and happily spend $16 or $18 to choose 10 different ingredients tossed in freshly-made, creative dressing. I am not often in an area with these restaurants, but when I am, I enjoy this very much.

Big salads are something I will never make for myself. I cook a lot, and I do quite a lot of other food prep. We do sometimes have a protein salad for dinner, but it's much more simple: lettuce, tomato, mini cucumber, chicken, cheese. I'm the only big salad fan in the house, plus, it's just too much effort.

In our previous suburban home, there were no restaurants that offered big salads. The closest we came was when Whole Foods opened a Mississauga location, but a salad bar is not the same. And of course there is nothing like this in my tiny little town now.

But now big salads have come to supermarkets! This has been a great development for me. I take a packaged salad kit, add a hardboiled egg and some grated cheese, and I have the perfect dinner. If I have some leftover grilled chicken or salmon on hand, I throw that in instead of the egg. 

This is one of my favourite meals and it helps me eat more vegetables -- more raw vegetables, which is even better. The only downside is there is a lot of plastic waste. This disturbs me... but not enough to stop buying the salads. 

But salad kits are expensive! 

In my experience, if you mention salad kits -- or if a busybody sees you buying a few in the supermarket -- or if you look for information online about a salad kit... You can make that cheaper yourself! 

Is this even true -- can you make the salad more cheaply yourself? I don't know. I haven't tested this claim, because I don't care. But some years ago, I wondered if Whole Foods' delicious, expensive tuna salad would be less expensive to make at home, and discovered it was only slightly more expensive to buy than to create. Sometime after that post, the store's prices went up, and later I started using less expensive tuna (for environmental reasons), so the balance would have changed. But the assumption that the prepared tuna salad was vastly more expensive than homemade was incorrect.

The salad kit I ate for dinner last night contained: white cabbage, red cabbage, kale, romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, cilantro, crispy noodle strips, and slivered almonds, and dressing. I added an egg and a bit of grated cheese. 

  • If I had made this myself, how much cheaper would it be? It's not a $6.00 salad versus a free dinner. After I'm done buying all those ingredients, what have I spent? 
  • Unless I used two entire heads of cabbage, an entire head of lettuce, and an entire bunch of kale within the upcoming week -- which I won't be able to do -- some of the vegetables will go bad. I would be wasting money and wasting food.
  • I can buy all different flavour combinations of salad kits, and eat different ones whenever I like. Having variety helps me maintain a healthy diet.
  • And finally -- but most importantly -- making this salad myself is too much effort for the end result. Everyone has (or should have) a personal time vs money formula. I would much rather spend $6 than make this complicated salad myself, and if I had to make it myself, I wouldn't eat it.

In short, it's a no-brainer: healthy, convenient food that I enjoy is worth the price of the kit.

I don't care if I could make it cheaper myself! 


welcome to the world, asher


This beautiful little human is Asher, the newest member of our family. 

Asher joins Sophia in the next generation, the child of one of my nephews and niece(-in-law)s. My brother and sister(-in-law) now have two grandchildren, and my mom has two great-grands! 

Asher was born on January 13 in Berkeley, California. When I texted with the Dad this morning, he said: "We are deliriously happy. He is the most amazing thing I've ever seen."


sidney poitier, rest in power

Sidney Poitier was one of my favourite actors. He starred in two of my favourite movies that I watched as a child: "A Patch of Blue" and "To Sir, With Love". Of course I loved him in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "A Raisin in the Sun," and "Lilies of the Field", but it was those two early films that imprinted him in my heart.

Both those early movies led me to books, and I watched and read both, several times. 

I have a personal memory connected to Patch of Blue. The story revolves around the friendship between a Black man, played by Poitier, and a young woman who is white -- and blind. Selina is isolated and uneducated; she lives with her drunk, abusive grandfather and her mother, who is a sex worker. Through a chance meeting, the two become great friends and fall in love. Of couse Selina doesn't know that her friend is Black. Their friendship, let alone their love, is forbidden.

When I was 10, I spent the summer with my grandparents and great-aunts in Brooklyn. They were wonderful to me and I have only happy memories of them. They were also horribly racist. One night I watched A Patch of Blue on TV, not for the first time, and was telling them about it. They thought the movie was very sad, because "they loved each other but could never be together". I said, "Because he was so much older than her." They all gasped in horror, and fell all over each other correcting me, "No! They can't be together because he's a Negro!" They were genuinely concerned that I didn't understand this very important life lesson.

A Patch of Blue is about racism, about the unnecessary cruelty that keeps these two good people apart. But to my relatives, the movie was a tale of star-crossed lovers: how sad that she fell in love with a Negro and didn't realize it. Not how unjust and ridiculous it was that these two people should be apart. I always associate the movie with that conversation; I look back on it with amusement.

(A Patch of Blue was also part of the beginning of my interest in disability, along with a children's book called Follow My Leader about a boy who is blinded and his guide dog.)

I loved A Patch of Blue, but when I saw To Sir, With Love, I fell in love with Sidney Poitier. He was a great actor, a steadfast activist, and an incredibly important figure in film. I'm thinking a Sidney Poitier film fest in chez Kaminker-Wood is in order.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: goodbye for now, see you at the library

Goodbye for Now… See You at the Library

This is my final At Your Library column. I'm grateful to Kathy O’Reilly, indefatigable publisher of The Eagle, for giving me this opportunity. When I came to Port Hardy – exactly three years ago – I didn't know a soul, and now I feel so much a part of our community. This column has extended our library's reach into that community, and I hope you have enjoyed it.

To stay in touch with what's happening at the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL), consider subscribing to Well Read, VIRL's monthly newsletter. It will keep you up to date on new services, special events, and highlights from our collection. To subscribe, go to virl.bc.ca > news > Well Read. You can read it online, or click on "Sign up for our e-Newsletter" to receive it by email every month.

Another great way to stay in touch is "Meet Me in the Stacks", a podcast presented by a group of VIRL librarians. You can find "Meet Me in the Stacks" wherever you subscribe to podcasts, or you can listen online through the VIRL website. Go to virl.bc.ca/podcast or to listen online, go to virl.bc.ca/podcast/listen-now/.

Your favourite VIRL branch is also on Facebook, and you can follow the branch page for news and updates. 

To review and sum up, here's everything you need to know.

* Reading is great. 

* Read to your kids and grandkids. Help them read on their own. It's super important to their healthy development.

* The library has so much more than books. Check out our e-resources!

* Everything at the library is free of charge.

* Everyone can have a library card.

* We are here to help you.

To stay in touch with me, email me at lkaminker@virl.bc.ca. Hope to see you soon!

"at your library" in the north island eagle: we heart your small or home-based business

Small or Home-Based Business? Your Library Can Help

So many people in our North Island communities have been opening new businesses lately! It seems like every edition of The Eagle features at least one story about a new business in one of our towns. Some are "bricks and "mortar" businesses that we can physically visit, while others are home-based operations that reach potential customers through Facebook and other social media. 

Everyone in our towns wants to support local businesses – including your library. If you've ever considered starting your own business, or if you're currently developing a fledging business of your own, your library can help. Check out our "e-resources" – powerful databases available to you, free of charge, with your library card.

Wherever you are in your business development, we have e-resources to support and assist you. Whether you're writing a business plan, researching the competition, launching a marketing plan, creating a logo, learning how to keep your books – and so much more – your library can help. 

* Business Plan Handbook is a huge collection of actual business plans created by entrepreneurs who were looking for funding for their small businesses. There are sample business plans from all sectors – manufacturing, retail, and service industries. You can learn what makes a successful business plan and begin to create your own.

* Business Source Premiere is a comprehensive collection of articles and guides on every area of business, including marketing, management, accounting, banking and finance. You can use this e-resource to research company profiles, research markets, conduct SWOT analyses, even read papers from world-class business schools. Another great plus: you can use Business Source Premiere to access trade publications in many fields. These publications are quite expensive to subscribe to, but our e-resource lets you browse and read them for free.

* LinkedIn Learning (formerly called Lynda.com) is an amazing platform for self-education. This e-resource contains thousands of video tutorials on hundreds of topics. All the videos are professionally made, very high quality, with no interruptions for ads or the questionable content that you'll find on YouTube. Learning how to use social media to grow your business, beyond just having a Facebook page? Need to learn about spreadsheets to track your marketing contacts? Designing a logo? Hiring an assistant for the first time? LinkedIn Learning can help you get there.

To find these free e-resources, go to virl.bc.ca > learn > all databases. The e-resources are listed in alphabetical order. What you'll find may surprise you.

* Books! The library has a huge selection of books on all these topics, too. We can help you find and request whatever you need.

It all starts with your library card. Stop by your local branch to get one today, or apply online at virl.bc.ca > get help > get a library card, or virl.bc.ca, then scroll to the very bottom, and click on "get a library card". 

"at your library" in the north island eagle: build early literacy with storytimes

Build Early Literacy with Storytimes – Every Day in Port Hardy

In a year when we desperately needed good news, the Port Hardy branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) had the best news: a huge increase in hours. And one of the best things about those new hours is the daily storytime. 

At 10:00 every morning, Tuesday through Saturday, you can come to the Port Hardy Library and participate in a storytime. There’s no need to sign up in advance or even let us know you're coming. Just take your little one – your own child, a grandchild, or a group of little ones you take care of – and show up at the library. 

Storytimes are fun for kids, but the reason to attend goes way beyond entertainment. 

By the time a child starts kindergarten, we want them to have "reading readiness". Reading readiness is closely tied to early school success, and early school success is closely tied to increased life chances. This means when we help children build reading readiness, we are helping them succeed in life! And hearing stories read aloud is one of the best ways to build reading readiness.

When a child listens to a story, they learn a huge array of language skills. They build vocabulary and reading comprehension, learn how to pay attention and to follow a story, they learn the sounds and rhythms of language.

Storytimes engage children's imaginations, which is one of the most important ways they learn about the world. It introduces children to new ideas and new fun things, like dinosaurs, whales, and trains. 

Hearing stories help children cope with their feelings, and navigate scary things that all children go through, such as conflicts with siblings. It helps them learn about how other people feel, which builds empathy and compassion.

Stories teach about culture, from Halloween and Thanksgiving to cedar weaving and the Big House.

Attending a storytime at the library is an opportunity for your child to build social skills, to interact with other adults, and even to learn a little patience.

Plus, storytimes bring families to the library, where they can borrow books to read with their children at home. It helps children associate the library with a fun and happy activity, and you know we love that.

Thanks to our dedicated library staff, and to the Mount Waddington Family Literacy Society, we're able to offer this amazing opportunity, every day that the library is open, for free.

And all you have to do is show up. 


not a resolution part two: habit tracking and 85% thinking

If there's a universal truth about getting older, it must be that we need to take better care of ourselves. Habits -- or the lack of habits -- that we could get away with in our 20s become more difficult in our 30s, barely possible in our 40s, and downright self-destructive in our 50s and beyond.

Like many people, as I've gotten older, I've been more motivated to take better care of myself -- physically and mentally. To that end, I have found two indispensable tools: habit tracking, and something I call "85 percent thinking".

The whys and hows of habit tracking

Random habit tracker I found online
Habit tracking is the practice of tracking how you're doing with various habits that you're trying to work into your life. Habit tracking is:

- focusing: it provides a daily reminder of your goals,

- motivating: ticking the box or tapping the green square is a form of mental reward, and

- factual: it provides visual evidence of what you've been doing or not doing. In other words, it keeps you honest.

The format you use to track your habits should be whatever is easiest and most natural for you. 

There are dozens of habit-tracking apps, or you can treat yourself to a special notebook, or use your favourite pen on graph paper. I avoid the fancy stuff -- try googling bullet journals -- because I don't want the tracker to become an end in itself, a cute time-waster of limited value.

I use a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is:

- convenient: I keep it open on my computer's toolbar. 

- flexible: I can easily add new habits or gray-out columns that I'm no longer tracking. 

- tidy: if I used paper, I'd be annoyed at erasures or cross-outs. 

- easy: dates on the vertical, habits on the horizontal, and you're good to go. Excel (or whatever program you use) can insert the days and dates, saving you from repetitive writing.

There are dozens of habit-tracking apps that you can use on your phone. I purposely don't use an app, because:
- most have ads and other distractions,
- I like to archive all my past trackers, so I want files I can save independently,
- I don't want to obsess: with an app, I'd be likely to check it throughout the day, and
- I want fewer reasons to pick up my phone.

Using a spreadsheet works for me, but many people find a notebook is easier.

The content of the habit tracker is also totally personal. 

My tracker includes health goals, such as minutes per day of exercise and meditation, stretching before exercise, plus any simple habits I'm trying to get better about -- things like caring for my dry skin, wearing my mouth guard at night (apparently it doesn't protect your teeth if you don't use it, go figure!), or having a mug of herbal tea when I feel like eating but I know I'm not hungry. I also track days I read, and days I blog, because both of those are important to me. 

My 2022 tracker has 17 habits, some daily, and some weekly. If you're new to the idea, it might be better to start small, with five habits, or even three. When tracking itself becomes a habit, you can add more variables.

I also find it helpful to have a mix of "gimmes" -- goals that you are doing anyway and unlikely to drop -- and more challenging goals that you might do less frequently, but are cause for a bit of self-congratulation when you meet them.

I usually use one tracker for a full year. Boxes either get an x for "yes I did that", or a number, such as minutes spent doing something. Every morning, with my first cup of coffee, I open the tracker and record how I did on the previous day. At the end of the year, I archive the file and start a new tracker.

The important thing, of course, is finding what works for you, then using it. And if the first format you try doesn't fit, you can try something else.

This year I'm experimenting with a section for weekly habits. There are five or six habits I'd like to do on a weekly basis, and I'm seeing if attaching a day of the week to each one helps me do them more consistently: this on Monday, this on Tuesday, and so on. 

Based on the popularity of books like James Clear's Atomic Habits, Make Your Bed by William McRaven, The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma, and a zillion other, similar titles, it would appear that many people are striving in this direction. The sheer number of books and apps and advice can be overwhelming. I think it's best to keep it simple. Grab a notebook or open a spreadsheet and let the tracking begin.

However... the goal is not to check every box, every day. 

85 percent thinking

One of my biggest pitfalls, something I've worked hard to recognize and reduce over years, is All Or Nothing thinking. All Or Nothing says that unless you do something all the way, it's not worth doing at all. All Or Nothing recognizes only two possibilities: on or off. But real life is seldom so simple. If we recognize only two possibilities, we're setting ourselves up for failure.

In my mid-30s, when I was writing professionally, I had a run for a while writing about eating disorders. It was through those assignments that I first recognized my own disordered thinking about food and dieting. I reached out to one of the therapists I had interviewed, and worked with her for some time. It was difficult work and it had an enormous impact on my life.

This therapist taught something she called 85 percent thinking. Whatever you're doing, whether it's eating healthfully, getting more exercise, or any other goal, if you're doing it 85 percent of the time, you're doing well. 

We're not machines that can be programmed to perfection. We're humans, with real lives, full of things we cannot control. That accounts for the other 15 percent.

To do anything well, especially to learn new habits, we need discipline and commitment and inner strength. But to be humane, we also need compassion, and flexibility, and forgiveness -- and we must extend those to ourselves. That, too, is the other 15 percent.

Habit tracking + 85% thinking = compassionate and realistic success

Habit tracking keeps me focused and motivated, and helps keep me honest. 

Eighty-five percent thinking keeps me sane. 

Eighty-five percent thinking does not come naturally to me. My natural tendency is obsession. But I want to reject obsessive thinking, reject beating myself up, reject the rigid, unrealistic confines of All Or Nothing. I consciously choose 85% thinking, a little bit, every day.


not a new year's resolution part one: precepts and generalities for 2022

A few years ago, I wrote in this blog:

I don't do New Year's Resolutions, but I do enjoy using the revolution of our Earth around the Sun as an excuse to take stock in where I am and think about where I'm going.

This is not a Big Promise To Do Something; it's not even goal-setting. In my ongoing work to free myself from a strong tendency towards All Or Nothing, to not paint myself into a corner, to not create Rules which I then use to limit my experiences, I don't even set concrete goals.

My thinking takes the form of general precepts that I'm trying to remember.

My guideposts for 2022 are pretty simple.

* Continue to work only the hours I am paid, to take breaks, and to work at a human pace.

* Continue ongoing digital minimalism: less social media, breaks from texting, enjoy analog pursuits.

* Pay attention to my important long-distance friendships.

* Spend time outdoors when weather and time permits.

* Continue doing what I can to stay healthy physically and  mentally. (New post coming soon.)

I am looking forward to several things this year.

* Seeing my mother and other family if at all possible.

* Zoom dates with close friends on a regular basis. (This is new.)

* Being active in my union.

* Allan and I have been working on financial goals, and I'm looking forward to those advancing.

* I'm more physically fit than I have been in many years, and I'm looking forward to maintaining that.

I hope you're being kind to yourself and looking forward to 2022 with at least cautious optimism.

happy new year from wmtc


Peace, Love, Good Health, and Solidarity to all.

Here's to a peaceful and healthy 2022.