Thursday, January 26, 2017

Multicultural Book Day- #ReadYourWorld

I am Not a Number
by Kathy Kacer and Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis
Published by Second Story Press

I can't remember how exactly I found out about Multicultural Children's Book Day, but I do know that when I read the below mission "to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid's books that celebrate diversity in home and school" I was all in.  I applied to be a reviewer of one of the MCBD books, and was lucky enough to get chosen.

So in the mail Second Story Press sent me "I am Not a Number" by Kathy Kacer and Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis Second Story Press. This beautifully illustrated and well written book describes the real life events of 8 year old Irene Couchie Dupuis, a Nipissing First Nation Indian.  Irene at age 8 (some children were as young as 4), along with her brothers, were removed from their home and taken away to live and attend a residential school .  These residential schools were across Canada and for over a century approximately 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children were taken away from their homes to attend these schools.

In the story Irene and her two brothers are taken away from their home by an Indian Agent and transported to a residential school.  This school was run by nuns and each child who entered was no longer called by their given name, but instead given a number.  Irene was number 759. Besides the demoralizing act of no longer being called by name students were also not allowed to ever speak in their Indian language,  and they were forced to have their hair cut (long hair was a source of pride in their community and the only time hair was cut was when a loved one died).

One of the toughest parts in the book, for me, was when Irene spoke in thanks to one of her classmates in her native language at lunchtime.  Irene was immediately hit with a wooden spoon across her head and then taken down the hallway to learn her Lessons by Sister Mary.  Sister Mary proceeds to ask Irene to hold out her hands, palms up,  and then placed a hot bedpan onto her palms- scorching and burning her skin.  This Lesson was to help Irene learn to not "speak the devil's language". 

Irene and her brothers eventually end the school year and are returned to home for summer break.  However, as the summer rolls on Irene's father discovers the truth about Irene's experience at the residential school.  The family then makes a plan for the children to hide when the agent comes back to take them to the residential school in the fall.  The day arrives when the agent again returns to retrieve the children and Irene and her brothers hide and escape return to the residential school.  It ends on a high note with all of the family safely together after the agent departs.

The story was well written and kept my attention throughout. I had not heard of the residential schools in Canada prior to this book.  At the end of the book there are three pages filled with biographical facts about the real Irene Couchie Dupuis, author Jenny Kay Dupuis' grandmother.  I found these three pages to be super informative about the injustice brought onto these children, and their families, because of their ethnicity.   

"The schools were created and funded by the federal government in the belief that Indigenous peoples were uncivilized and needed to be 'saved" from themselves."

In 1986, The United Church of Canada, apologized to the Indigenous people in regards to the residential school program as Roman Catholics, Presbyterians United and Anglican churches staffed the schools with nuns, priests, and teachers. Sadly the last residential school didn't close until 1996 and it took until 2008 for the Prime Minister of Canada to issue an apology to these Indigenous people.

The affect of these kinds of stories are powerful. It makes me realize and remind me of how little I know or have heard of other people's cultural, and ethnic struggles.  It reminds me to open a book and read on diverse groups of people, not to stay within my own ethnicity and culture.  We need to hear and read more of these stories and I feel grateful to have been introduced to this day of celebrating multicultural children and the books that tells their stories. 

The following is further information about MCBD and links for those interested in further information and resources. 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that. 

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

  Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin,  Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O'Malley, Stacy McAnulty,  Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela TiscareƱo-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

  Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Delores Connors, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin,  Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O'Malley, Stacy McAnulty,  Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela TiscareƱo-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
MCBD Links to remember:
MCBD site:
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators:
Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents:

Friday, January 20, 2017

What is meditation?

I'm currently in a 7 day consistency challenge hosted by my friend/health coach  Kelly Fogarty
( ). The activity I chose for my challenge was daily meditation.  When I first started posting in the group challenge some had questions about what meditation was all about so I said I write a post on it and share it with them, and heck why not all you guys too. 

I am by no means an expert in meditation.  I'm a beginner and still learning. Prior to the class I took I always thought of meditation as a somewhat mystic/magical- even "hokey" practice, and for some a religion.  So if I felt this way what brought me into the practice and opened my mind?

2014 I had a major injury (2nd time tear of ACL) and require major surgery (ACL repair with tibia break to realign my leg so further damage couldn't be done to my already "60 year old knee"- I was 38 at the time).  Along with long rehab and some bumps along the way, 2nd surgery to remove some floating bone where it shouldn't be floating, I mainly struggled post-surgery with the fact that I'd likely not be running any time soon or really no long distance running in the future. 

I'm no super star athlete, but I was pretty active and loved having races: marathons, half-marathons,  triathlons, 5Ks etc., to train for. Losing these goals in my life were pretty tough.  To add to injury I had another major life- "not fun" -event occur in my family that shook my world.  I was pretty down and out and the clinical term appropriate would be depressed. 

I'm not one to be super patient with feeling "blue" and I was realizing how my depression was affecting my immediate family so I wanted to look into ways in which to help me get through this tough time.  The hospital I work at has a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class that they offer to the public and employees.  I was lucky enough to get into the class and for 8 weeks (2 hour class time one day a week and one all day retreat) I was a MBSR student.  During that 8 week period I was a "good student" and did all the required homework and daily practices.  Well as is so frequently seen in my life after the 8 weeks were up (i.e. goal finished) I had a hard time staying consistent with my daily meditation practice.  I've practiced it on and off, but not consistently and so this recent challenge has been perfect and I'm hoping will remind me of what a difference daily meditation means in my life.

Again, not an expert, but this is what I've learned about meditation and mindfulness over the last year.  I'll start by sharing what I learned by reading Jon Kabat-Zinn's book "Full Catastrophe Living".  This book was the only textbook used in the class, but there were several articles, poems, and handouts given on weekly basis- and I'll share info from them too. 

Brief intro...Jon Kabat-Zinn is a professor emeritus at University of Massachusetts's Medical School.  He has brought his experience with meditation and science together and leads the Stress Reduction Clinic.  He has looked at ways to accomplish healing the mind and body together through mindfulness based stress reduction. (This brief synopsis is really minuscule and he is a very interesting person whom I'd recommend you read up on if at all interested in theories behind mindfulness. He is currently doing and has done studies showing major brain changes (good changes) through MRI findings of the patients who practice meditation).  The following are different quotes that I think best explain, in his words, what mindfulness and meditation mean and can accomplish...

"allowing yourself to be as you are, and discovering the fullness and vast potential within such and approach " - on mindfulness and meditation  

"cultivation through practice"- self-discovery and being present

Mindfulness is "awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."

"The present is the only time that we have to know anything.  It is the only time we have to perceive, to learn, to act, to change, to heal, to love."

"Health is a dynamical process. It is not a fixed state you 'get' and then hold on to."

"People come to us when they finally decide that they have had enough...when they finally decide that there just has to be a better way to live and a better way to handle their problems." - in regard to those who attend the stress reduction clinic.  Some have major chronic health conditions, chronic pain, and some with mental health concerns.

The foundations of Mindfulness Practice are:
1. Non-judging ( I found this to be tough- when you are lying down trying to be present and focus on your breath, or focus on an area in your body and instead you are thinking about all the "to do's" on your list - i.e. not being present, it is easy to be hard on yourself and almost mentally punish yourself for one more thing you can't do right- being present.)
2. Patience (Pretty tough one for me- throughout the 8 weeks some of the students in the class with me would report these profound "aha" moments and I just wasn't having the same experience and so I was inpatient to experience my own "aha" moment.)
3. Beginner's Mind-- "a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time". (again hard to do because of preconceived notions, past history, etc.)
4. Trust
5. Non-Striving ( again tough for me- wanting to make sure I'm doing the best and doing it right- instead I had to learn to "just be")
6. Acceptance-"doesn't mean you like what has occurred or that you are merely passively resigned to it".
7. Letting Go

The class practices done during class time and outside of class as our homework (goal of 6 days/week) were:
1. Body Scan- lying down on yoga mat, floor, or bed you would listen to a 35 minutes recording that leads you through the practice.  Focus on breathing, clearing your mind and only focusing on the present and the directions of the recording.  The body scan was tough for most of us students.  Some students would fall asleep- which although sleep isn't bad, this isn't really being present and not a goal of meditation.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes "meditation is not relaxation spelled differently". For those students who just couldn't stay awake they would stand or sit for their body scan practices. 

2. Breath Sitting Meditation- could be done sitting in chair or on floor with legs crossed, really can be done in any position, but I did find sitting on the floor with legs crossed I was most apt to stay focused.  This practice was again about 30 minutes.  The hardest thing with this practice for me, besides not letting my mind wander all over kingdom come, was just sitting still. 

3. Floor Yoga- this exercise was excellent and reminded me of what I think of restorative yoga practice.  I liked this practice as it made me feel like I was doing something physical (gentle stretches, holding poses, etc.), but I didn't always feel I was present in the moment due to always thinking about what the next pose would be.

4. Mindful Communication- this was pretty fascinating.  We paired up with partners and the first exercise was one partner would talk for 5 minutes straight and the other partner would just listen, no response either physical or verbal was allowed.  It made me realize how "not present" I am when communicating with others- kind of half-listening.  You hear what the other person is saying, but so many times I was already thinking about how I was going to respond or interact- so I wasn't really hearing all they were saying.  This practice also made me aware of how many people weren't really listening to me when I was talking.  How many of us have experienced or been the culprit of cell phone or computer use during conversations when we really should have eye to eye contact and be purposefully listening to those who communicate with us?

5. Walking Meditation- It is as exactly as it sounds.  Take a walk and notice the movement of your body, the presence of your step in detail, the breathing pattern, and then add some external parts of the walk- weather, nature.  No talking, no cell phone, no ipod, no sound other than your breath and the sounds that nature brings to the walk.  We practiced this during our daily retreat and the walking was slow and purposeful- not a speed walk, or walk to burn tons of calories. 

Another topic that was touched in an article by Mark Williams and Danny Penman during class was about "autopilot".  If there is too much information constantly bombarding our brains our working memory begins to overflow.  The human reaction to this "overflow" is called stress, forgetfulness, exhaustion and feeling out of control.  If one can recognize through meditation and mindfulness when this "autopilot" is occurring then changes can be made.  They write, "You need to relearn how to focus your awareness on one thing at a time."

At the end of the class I came to the realization that I would likely not have an "aha" moment.  I did however, have a better feel for how being present in my daily life, purposeful communication, and meditation practices had brought a calm that I much needed.  Meditation didn't solve my personal problems, but it really did make me feel like I was responding to my life not just reacting to it.  I don't think you need to do a formal practice everyday, but I think the formal practice does lend itself to the realization that you are carving out time to work on bettering your mindfulness and being present.  I feel being mindful and being present will allow me to better experience my life- the good, the bad, the sad, and the happy. 

I'll leave you with this lovely poem by Christina Feldman
How can we know
all of who we are
unless we take the
time to be silently
with ourselves, and
to listen to the
many voices of
our heart?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Nov/Dec Reads...

So I'm real, real behind.  Here are the books I read in Nov/December and I'm hoping later this week to get my "year in reading" review/post out.  I'm sure some of you will recognize a few of these "reads".  Always love hearing any comments or suggestions in prep for my next (this) year's reading challenge. 

So here goes in no particular order:
November Books
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

I will always remember this book as I was reading the end of this, the 6th, Harry Potter the week the 2016 presidential elections occurred.  I thought it was somewhat fitting and quite eerily ironic that I read about Dumbledore's death/murder the same night I found out who would be the next president of the United States.  I felt like the dark really set in for me that election week and found it fitting that along with mourning the defeat of the candidate I had voted for in the election, one of the most famous "good guys" around in fiction died for me during the reading of this book.  It was a good read- not my favorite of the Harry Potter Books, but still a good read.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This was our book club book for the first Wednesday in December.  It was just "ok" .  Ove is a grumpy old goat of a man who isn't real happy with life.  Some of his angry/irritability is quite funny, and as the book rolled on I grew to like him more.  I however, struggled with some of the author's writing style and didn't always feel like the book was reading quickly.  I did find the characters amusing, but overall it wasn't one of my favorites.  However, some of the "bookies" really enjoyed it, so don't let me deter you from picking it up. 
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
This was my audiobook for November.  It was intriguing, but a few too many story lines to follow.  They all in the end connected, but I don't listen to audiobooks as fast as I use to, and so I think I missed some major story connections due to the way in which I listened to the book.  When I was in my training days for triathlons and marathons, running quite a bit, I would go through audiobooks quite quickly.  My 2 1/2 mile walks don't cut it now a days and so I end up listening to books in a somewhat disjointed fashion.  OK- back to the review... This book is a great mystery/espionage (reminded me somewhat of a Jason Bourne story on steroids) read.  I liked it, but again I don't know if I liked it enough to pick up another in the series.  We'll see. 
The Taxidermist's Daughter by Kate Mosse
I truly loved this book.  It was beautifully written.  It reminded me of historical fiction and due to the 1912 setting in Sussex read like historical fiction.  Constantia Gifford is a great heroine in this book and although just 17 her character reads like a mid 20 year old/early 30's.  It is a fascinating story that has some good mystery to it.  Besides the mystery I found just the detail in regard to being a taxidermist and the art of taxidermy to be quite fascinating.  This is one of my top picks for 2016.  If you love historical fiction or just really good fiction I'd suggest this book.
December Books:
The Secret Place by Tana French

My audiobook for December.  I was really excited about reading/listening to this book after reading her first book in the Dublin Mystery series- "In the Woods" -back in October.  I really enjoyed #1 and was looking forward to being brought along through a great mystery in this read.  I was disappointed.  I just couldn't seem to get into the story.  I don't know if it was because I was listening to it instead of reading it.  I will likely read another book by her in the future, but not sure I'll choose to listen to it as an audiobook.  Funny how some books read better than sound and some books sound better than read. 

Light in Paris by Eleanor Brown

Madeleine, is the main character in this book, along with the side kick or second main character, her maternal grandmother.  I found both these main characters to be intriguing.  Both of their stories with some common themes, but yet lifetimes apart.  Madeleine's common day issues with marriage, losing herself, struggling with her mother while Margie (her maternal grandmother) is struggling with finding her self, figuring out her destiny in Jazz Age (Hemingway era) of Paris.  I thought this was a great read and look forward to reading other books by Eleanor Brown. 

Grace Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy by Emily Ley
This was a good read to finish the year with.  It had a little bit of that self-help, get ready for the New Year's Goal making that I enjoy doing each year.  I thought it was very easy to read and applicable to everyday life.  She does have a religious undertone throughout the book, which didn't overwhelm what she was writing and so references to God, didn't grate on me as I have experienced with other nonfiction reads that overdo "GOD" in its text.  The one complaint I have about this book is the author sells a year planner and so it was referenced some within the book.  I felt at times as if the book was an infomercial for her product, not all the time, but some of the time.  When I looked up the planner online I was a little surprised at the sticker price...$40-58/planner. I guess my Target specials aren't cutting it.  However, the overall meaning and purpose of the book I really did enjoy- Grace not Perfection!
Aim True: Love Your Body, Eat Without Fear, Nourish Your Spirit, Discover True Balance! by Kathryn Budig

Another perfect read to pick up before starting the new year.  I thought it was a good read.  The photography in the book is quite beautiful.  The recipes in the book are a little "too healthy" for me :).  However, I came away with some interesting "food for thought".  Reading this book also reminded me of my love for yoga, and made me question why I don't make more of an effort to practice yoga more often. 

Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern

I was introduced this past year to Cecelia Ahern and am making my way through reading her books.  This was another good one.  The idea or premise of the book is what happens to one person who receives blood from another person via blood donation- does the donor's memories or knowledge travel onto the recipient of their blood.  Well you'll find out in this entertaining read.  I will continue to read her books and am so thankful for the first book I picked up by Cecelia. 

Holy Bible- NIV by Anonymous
Last but not least the granddaddy of them all- The Holy Bible- New International Version.  Last January 2016 I started reading the Bible daily- with a great APP calls She Reads the Truth (you can pick the version of the Bible you want to read).  I decided to do this for several reasons: a. I've never read the whole Bible, b. I figured it would help me continue to try and figure out my faith journey, and c. two of my dear friends were along for the ride too and we met this past year (about every month or so) to discuss how the reading was going, and mainly so I could ask them my "bible questions".  Overall I did good with reading the daily reading, but about mid October something happened and I got lazy and just stopped reading daily and so would do "catch up" reading on Sundays.  It worked out OK, but I don't know that I gave it my all.  I hope to write about this specific reading adventure later in a different post.  Overall I think it was a good experience and good read, but I don't feel amazingly different or more Christian since reading the whole Bible- another work in process on my faith journey.
Well that's November/December... now onto year in review and 2017 Reading Goals.