Friday, 20 January 2012


MarziMarzi by Marzena Sowa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A graphic series of vignettes about girlhood rivalries, mischief, being an only child and growing up in communist Poland.

Definitely of interest to readers who were born in Poland or are of Polish descent. Sweet nostalgia.

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Monday, 16 January 2012

Something Fierce

Something FierceSomething Fierce by Carmen Aguirre

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Think about your childhood. Was it anything close to this?

At age eleven, Carmen Aguirre was in the food court of LAX with her mother who is dressed like one of Charlie’s Angels and biting into a Big Mac in order to look like a middle class tourist. Originally from Chile, Carmen and her family had taken refuge in Canada when Pinochet staged a coup and cracked down on dissent. The reality was that her mother had joined the underground Chilean resistance movement and was bringing Carmen and her sister along for The Return Plan. Aguirre spent the next ten years moving between revolutionary Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Canada, constantly on the move, with her parents disappearing for weeks at a time.

Carmen at first embraced the adventure, but as she became a rebellious teen, she started to act out and became the Kissing Queen of her Bolivian neighbourhood. Several moves later, in Argentina, she stopped coming home because she could not face the uncertainty and the terror.

At one point, I wondered what Aguirre’s mother actually did in the resistance. Carmen as a child did not know and, since we are witnessing the story from a child’s point of view, the facts are not revealed to us. What is more important is how Carmen spent her childhood. Eventually, we do find out what is expected of a resistance fighter when Carmen, herself, joins the group. Truly, it is surprising that she joins the cause since she suffers from The Terror: the pervasive fear that keeps her consistently twenty pounds underweight and paranoid, causes the separation of body and soul, and creates the necessity to develop deadly cool nerves.

I loved this book. I’m debating right now which book is my favourite for Canada Reads: The Tiger or Something Fierce. Carmen Aguirre’s book is an education on a lifestyle that you would only see in a movie. She has exposed what life was like in the underground – and that it was real. Something Fierce is a fascinating look at living your politics, to truly fight for what you believe in. The book’s epigraph, “Courage” is a perfect introduction to the book.

The true test is that Something Fierce has activated my interest in South America. Perhaps a trip to this continent is in my future.

It is also a great book for Canada Reads because, like Marina Nemat’s Prisoner of Tehran, we learn more about the complex lives of our citizens.

Now, as I reflect on Something Fierce and think about my ESL classes, I wonder: Who is in my classroom?

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Friday, 6 January 2012

Desserted Balcony

What's better than a getaway that includes a three-course dinner and an amuse bouche? Here's a picture of our dessert. Not pictured: my first encounter with bison steak and ribs.

The breakfast nook balcony with a view.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Arrival at the Mill

Christmas ain't over until we say it's over.

As we were looking around the lobby/restaurant, one of the friendly waitresses kindly showed us this view from the dining room.

The Tiger

The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and SurvivalThe Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This true story of a man-eating tiger in the Far East of Russia reads like one of the very best suspense thrillers. I felt sheer terror from the beginning of the book. A man and his dog are returning to their cabin after a day of hunting. Suddenly they realize that something “is there by the cabin. The hackles on the dog’s back and on [the hunter’s] neck rise together. Together, they hear a rumble in the dark that seems to come from everywhere at once.”

John Valliant skilfully delays revealing what actually happened. We know there is a killer tiger out there but we also learn there is much more than just an animal gone mad. Valliant deftly weaves together contemplations about human nature, animal psychology and the history, politics and geography of Russia. Indeed, his research on all of these topics is impressive.

I had the constant feeling of being stalked as I read the book, and there are many moments where I was left trying to catch my breath.

It is no wonder a judge is the champion for this book. Evidence is given from both sides of the story: man and tiger before judgement is given.

So far, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival would be my pick for winning Canada Reads.

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Walkabout on Wed Jan 4th, 2012

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Bikes on indoor trainers

After our run of Californian winter ran out, our Ontario winter began with a vengeance. Being -25 C with the windchill factor, we decided to ride our bikes indoors.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Hilton Falls & 100 Mile Club

This year, I've decided to take the 100 Mile Club challenge once again. Members have to walk 100 miles within 10 weeks. The only condition is that the walks have to be outdoors. It's a great way to motivate yourself to get outside during the winter.

Today, we walked 6 km through Hilton Falls.

In this picture, deer tracks.

Hilton Falls resevoir

View of Kelso and ski runs

Close-up of bridge over river. Water running down the incline made for mucky walking conditions.

New Year's Day 2012

We had spent the afternoon with Marc Chagall at the AGO. Driving home along Lakeshore Blvd., we saw some high, white-capped waves. We stopped by Budapest Park to take a look at the winter lake.