Podcast Passion: Duolingo French

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I love the French language and I love listening to podcasts while I am out walking. Nothing improves my conversational skills more than listening in on native speakers. Duolingo French is my favourite language podcast that I have discovered so far. Every episode is beautifully presented, centered on an inspiring true story, told by the person highlighted.

The producers showcase different cultural perspectives and delve into issues such as equity, diversity, social justice and anti-racism, which I deeply value. I highly recommend that you check it out. It is a high quality listening experience. Let me know if you have any recommendations for podcasts that you love!

Madagascar, mon amour (Madagascar, My Love) Duolingo French Podcast

The first time Onja Razafindratsima stepped foot in the Madagascar rainforest, she fell in love with the unique plants and animals that call it home. But when she realized all these species could go extinct, she decided to protect her home country’s incredible biodiversity. A transcript of this episode is available at https://podcast.duolingo.com/french.
  1. Madagascar, mon amour (Madagascar, My Love)
  2. Lausanne, mon amour (Lausanne, My Love)
  3. Lyon, mon amour (Lyon, My Love)
  4. Étretat, mon amour (Étretat, My Love)
  5. Trailer Season 6

Watch List: “Call My Agent”

I love French culture and the French language. As a way to build my skills, I am trying to watch more French content, and Netflix has some good shows on offer.

“Call My Agent!” revolves around the personal and professional lives of a tight-knit but dysfunctional team of charismatic Parisian talent agents. Called “Dix Pour Cent” (10 percent) in France, every episode features a string of cameos from well-known actors, such as Juliette Binoche, Monica Bellucci and Sigourney Weaver. 

The series is very well-done and I am enjoying it a lot. It is an extremely witty satire of working in the film business. The characters are both flawed and endearing. The story-lines are fast-paced and funny. The comedic writing, timing and delivery is impeccable. It is easy to lose yourself in each well-crafted episode and I highly recommend that you check it out. Let me know if you have any shows that I should see!

Shop Local: Massy Books

As we look for ways to meaningfully support anti-racism efforts and reconciliation, choosing to spend our money in a locally-owned, independently run BIPOC-run businesses is a great place to start.

Massy Books is 100% Indigenous owned and operated bookstore located in Vancouver, British Columbia. They operate on the ancestral, unceded, and occupied territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

The store opened its doors in June 2017, and in addition to books, it houses a performance space and art gallery. Massy Books is committed to supporting the local community, and it has partnered with non-profit organizations such as Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), The Writer’s Exchange (WE), and Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs (RAVEN).

Independently run bookstores need us, now more than ever, to choose them over online retailers and big box stores. Shopping at a locally-owned business generates three times as much economic benefit for your community versus shopping at a chain. Buying local also means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint. Lastly, it generates more income for the writers who create the books that we love to read. I would love to hear more about the local bookstore that you support!

Holding Pattern

Photo by Leonardo Yip on Unsplash

Life these days reminds me of the film, Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character becomes stuck in a time-loop, and he is forced to live the same day over and over again. There is so little variance in daily life under COVID; it all feels the same. Our social circles are tiny, if not non-existent; we meet with colleagues via Zoom or Teams and rarely see people in person. Many of our activities occur within the walls of our own homes. I sometimes feel like a passenger gazing out of the window of a plane, circling above the airport, waiting for permission to land: waiting for “life” to start again.

We recently marked one year of living under COVID restrictions, and despite the many challenges, I have been reflecting upon the unexpected benefits. I can take my daughter to school in the morning and I am here when she arrives home. I no longer make the commute twice a day; and it is an easy transition from ending work to beginning our evening routine. My workplace has fully adapted to online collaboration, something which normally would have taken another decade, or more, to come to fruition. Our lives generally move at a slower pace. Less driving. Less commitment. Less rushing.

My main source of joy at the moment is spending time outside with friends and family in nature. We cannot currently do any of the things that we would normally do, such as travel, gather for dinner, or attend events, so the outdoors has become our playground. There is something so nourishing about being outside together. We hike and explore in sun, rain and snow. All it requires is a pair of waterproof hiking boots, a warm jacket and a trail app. My daughter has also become quite the little walker, so it is something we now look forward to doing together. There is so much beauty to discover in our local area, surrounded by trees, water and sky.

I have also discovered the joy of cold swimming. This global phenomenon gained traction at the start of the pandemic when people sought new ways to connect and combat depression. Coldwater therapy is known to support a range of health benefits, such as promoting good mental health, boosting the immune system, enhancing circulation, reducing stress and inflammation. I am hooked. I regularly meet with my friend for a weekly plunge in the ocean and it is always a fun and memorable experience. Not only is it a wonderful opportunity to catch up but my body feels electric all day after a swim.

Although “regular life” currently feels like it is on hold, I am grateful for the opportunity to discover new ways of spending time with loved ones, despite the restrictions. Nature is a remarkable phenomenon that should not be taken for grated. This pandemic has taught me to appreciate each and every day and to seek joy in unexpected places. I have also been reminded of how precious our natural surroundings are and how we all need to work together to actively protect these gifts: both for ourselves and for generations to come.

TED Talks: My Stroke of Insight

On December 10, 1996, Jill Bolte Taylor, a thirty-seven- year-old Harvard-trained brain scientist experienced a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. As she observed her mind deteriorate to the point that she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. Taylor alternated between the euphoria of the intuitive and kinesthetic right brain, in which she felt a sense of complete well-being and peace, and the logical, sequential left brain, which recognized she was having a stroke and enabled her to seek help before she was completely lost. It would take her eight years to fully recover.

For Taylor, her stroke was a blessing and a revelation. It taught her that by “stepping to the right” of our left brains, we can uncover feelings of well-being that are often sidelined by “brain chatter.” Reaching wide audiences through her talk at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference and her appearance on Oprah’s online Soul Series, Taylor provides a valuable recovery guide for those touched by brain injury and an inspiring testimony that inner peace is accessible to anyone.

“Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse is a stark, yet incredibly beautifully written novel by Ojibway writer Richard Wagamese. As one of Canada’s foremost Indigenous authors and storytellers, Wagamese’s body of work includes six novels, a book of poetry (Runaway Dreams), and five non-fiction titles, including two memoirs and an anthology of his newspaper columns.

Indian Horse tells the story of Saul Indian Horse. It is set in northern Ontario in the 1950’s and 60’s. It begins with Saul, a former minor league hockey star, recovering in a treatment centre for alcoholism; he is chronicling his life experience as a means of facing his addiction. Although a deeply personal tale, it is also reflective of the wider intergenerational trauma experienced by thousands of Indigenous residential school survivors across Canada.

It begins in the northern Ontario where Saul lives off the land with his parents, grandmother and older brother Ben. Saul is happiest when learning traditional skills and family lore from his grandmother. Both of his parents are residential school survivors. They desperately hope that living in the wilderness, away from their community, will save their boys from being taken away to from them; but despite the family’s best efforts, the boys are eventually found, and taken against their will.

Once Saul arrives at St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School, his experience is harrowing: the students are subjected to beatings, sexual abuse and ritualized humiliation. The school is not designed to teach them to thrive in a new world but to break their spirits and erase their traditional ways of life. Although exceptionally difficult to read, Wagamese truthfully reflects the dire reality experienced by thousands of children across Canada: chronicling a dark chapter in history that should never be forgotten.

A form of hope arrives for Saul when an idealistic young priest introduces the older boys to ice hockey. The priest takes Saul under his wing, and allows him to play, even though he is younger than the other players on the team. The reader observes eight-year-old Saul exuberantly clearing the snow off the ice for the school team and practicing stick handling in the pre-dawn hours using frozen horse turds for pucks. Saul has a natural talent for the game and, like all great players, he visualizes complex plays before they unfold on the ice. He is soon outplaying the older boys, and he is eventually given permission to board with a family in Manitouwadge, so he can join the Native Tournament Circuit.

Saul finds love and acceptance in his new home: both with the Kelly family and his team, “The Moose”. He enjoys camaraderie with his fellow players both on an off the ice. But as Saul’s opportunities increase, so does his exposure to the overt racism and discrimination of the 1960s hockey world, and Canadian society. Saul’s rise up through the ranks of the minor-league is swift but it is also fleeting. He is stripped of his passion for the game and he ultimately walks away from his dream: adopting the nomadic life of a drifter. After many lost years, he hits rock bottom. With some support, he eventually finds his way home, rediscovering his connection to the land, his people, and himself.

Wagamese’s use of language throughout this novel is masterful. He is an incredibly skilled storyteller, with an uncanny descriptive power. I especially appreciated the visceral way that he captured Saul’s experience playing hockey; it helped me to understand the joy of the game. Throughout the book, I found myself stopping and rereading sections, just to take in its richness. Indian Horse is one of the most heart breaking and heart opening books that I have ever read. It is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit and a stunningly beautiful piece of literature that everyone should experience.

New Year’s Nourishment

My thoughtful friend Elise gifted me a five-day, self-led virtual retreat for Christmas. It is offered by Jennifer Doheney of Welloga. I am already on day three of the course and I am enjoying it a lot. It includes a range of high quality videos and educational handouts on topics such as meditation, healthy cooking, mindfulness and yoga. Each day of the retreat is broken into small learning units, with a total time commitment of approximately 1.5 hrs, so it is very manageable.

As many of us are stuck inside at the moment, due to the pandemic, it is a great opportunity to do something nourishing for yourself. The retreat is also currently on sale, so it is financially accessible. Jennifer is offering it a very affordable price of $37 (USD). Please note: I am not affiliated with Welloga or receiving any financial benefit from this post. I am just loving the experience and I want to share it with you, as I think it is a valuable resource. I hope that you enjoy it!

Click here for more info: https://offers.welloga.space/finding-your-middle-ground-offer

A season for giving and receiving

For the past ten years or so, instead of purchasing gifts for the adult members of my family, I have chosen to donate to charities over the holidays. I also love to pick out special books for everyone, from a locally owned independent bookstore, but the main gift remains the donation.

This year, I am targeting funds to support a family in my community through the Giving of Good Food holiday fundraiser. It provides them with a fresh fruit and vegetable box, on a bi-weekly basis, for a year. Food security is a chronic issue, but it is particularly difficult during a global pandemic, and especially challenging for children.

For me, this act of giving is in keeping with the spirit of the season; it promotes connection and love. It chooses to consciously step away from consumerism and towards gratitude. It is bigger than me and you. It is about us.

If you are able to give this year, please consider donating to a cause that is meaningful to you, or shop locally to help keep businesses open. If you do not have money to give, but you are emotionally available, take a moment to open the door for a stranger, offer up a smile, listen to a friend, or provide words of encouragement. These small and consistent gestures of kindness can be equally as powerful.

“The most treasured gifts in the world are kind words, spontaneously given.” Dean Fred Hargadon

If you are in a place of needing support over the holidays, please allow yourself to ask for it, and to receive what is offered. I hope that your community wraps around you like a warm blanket and keeps you close in its embrace. It is important to remember that we belong to one another.

“Son of a Trickster” by Eden Robinson

Son of a Trickster is a 2017 coming of age novel by Eden Robinson. The first book in Robinson’s Trickster trilogy, Son of a Trickster, was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and Canada Reads 2020. The second title, Trickster Drift, was also a bestseller; and the third volume, Return of the Trickster, is set to be released in March 2021.

Robinson is a member of British Columbia’s Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations. She weaves together traditional Indigenous narratives, with contemporary tales of violence and survival. This unique, genuinely surprising novel is a blend of difficult coming-of-age story, with mythic fiction, and it is powerfully subversive.

The story’s protagonist, Jared, lives in the basement of his mom’s house and gets by selling drugs to other kids at school. His northern town, Kitimat, is being torn apart by a pipeline debate, with one side for jobs, and the other fighting to protect the land. Jared’s parents are divorced. He financially supports his unemployed father; and his mother’s addiction, erratic behaviour, and love life, are a constant source of stress.

Robinson’s writing leads readers down a path in which Indigenous spiritual and supernatural worlds collide with the everyday world of pop culture and high school coming-of-age narrative. Son of a Trickster is exactly as slippery as a trickster tale should be, changing direction and shape, even as you convince yourself you know what is going on, and what will happen next.

Jared is followed by a chatty raven, who later claims to be his real father, and an old woman who appears to have a creature moving beneath her skin. When he starts to see animal spirits and strange ape-men everywhere, his mother admits that his father is a trickster named Wee’git.

“Wee’git is a transforming raven and he has a very specific role in our culture. We tell our children Wee’git stories to teach them about protocol, or nuyum. But he teaches people this protocol by breaking all the rules. He is the bad example, the example of what not to do. So his stories are always funny and he’s a very lively character.”

~ Eden Robinson

Son of a Trickster was recently adapted into a six-part television series by CBC, called Trickster. Robinson worked with filmmakers Michelle Latimer (RiseThe Inconvenient Indian) and Tony Elliott (12 MonkeysOrphan Black). It features Indigenous actors such as Joel Oulette, Crystle Lightning, and Kalani Quepo. The creative team includes notable Indigenous writer-directors Jesse Wente, Marie Clements, and Adam Garnet Jones; and the soundtrack features Indigenous musicians, such as the Snotty Nose Res Kids.

Although the series diverges from the novel in places, it is a strong interpretation. I highly recommend that you watch it, once you read the book. It can be accessed, for free, on CBC Gem.

“Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad

As a part of my anti-racism journey, I am committed to reading more works written by Indigenous, Black and People of Colour (IBPoC). There are some amazing resources available and I am grateful to these creators for sharing their time, expertise, and emotional labour. I will be featuring the books that have made a big impact on me through a IBPoC Authors’ Book Club. I hope that you will read them and tell me what you think. The more we read and share these resources, the farther the message spreads, and the more likely we can influence meaningful change. This starts by using our financial resources to support this important work.

The first book that I am featuring is Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad. She starts the book by defining what she means by “white supremacy” and presenting an invitation to the reader:

White supremacy is a system you have been born into. Whether or not you have known it, it is a system that has granted you unearned privileges, protection and power. It is also a system that has been designed to keep you asleep and unaware of what having that privilege, protection and power has meant for people who do not look like you. What you receive for your whiteness comes at a steep cost for those who are not white. This may sicken you and cause you to feel guilt, anger and frustration. But you cannot change your white skin colour to stop receiving these privileges just like BIPOC cannot change their skin colour to stop receiving racism. But what you can do is wake up to what is really going on. I invite you to challenge your complicity in this system and work to dismantle it within yourself and the world.

Saad has structured her book around a 28-day challenge, which she first introduced on Instagram after writing a post entitled I Need to Talk to White, Spiritual Women about White Supremacy. After it went viral, she was left fielding questions from white women about what to do next. This book is the result and it is structured to be an active and engaged process. She asks the reader to not only to think about the intellectual concepts that she presents, but to journal and self-reflect upon how these ideas show up in our daily lives. The doing element is very important. Each day Saad presents a new concept and then asks you to closely examine it (e.g. Day 1: You and White Privilege; Day 2: You and White Fragility; Day 3: You and Tone Policing).

White people are not used to seeing themselves as a race. From my own experience, I’ve been very aware of being a black person from a very young age because, when you’re not part of the dominant culture, you’re always the other. And so you’re aware of the thing that separates you from being seen as ‘normal’ like everyone else. White privilege means you don’t have to think of yourself as white. You just think of yourself as a person.

~ Layla F. Saad

I appreciate how clearly Saad presents each concept and then lays out a series of reflective journalling prompts to work through. Rarely do white people, including myself, analyze their own complicity and participation in the racist system that we all inhabit. The emotional burden of fighting for equality is predominantly left to those already disenfranchised by the system. This cannot continue. We cannot keep looking away. I was personally humbled by some of the things I discovered through doing the work. When I investigated the questions that she asked, I began to recognize the invisible and pervasive nature of racism. My failure to previously see it does not make me a “bad” person. It simply reveals the inequity of a deeply rooted system designed to benefit white people; once it is revealed, however, the challenge is for us to do something about it.

It is not comfortable to admit that you are safe because someone else is unsafe or that white people benefit from structural oppression in a very real way. Anti-racism work is uncomfortable. This discomfort is insignificant, however, compared to the harm that comes from doing nothing. These conversations among white people are long overdue; and they have never been more urgent. We need to ensure that the attention raised during the recent riots, marches and #BlackLivesMatters movement are not lost with the next sensational news headline. This is lifelong work. A commitment is needed from each of us to keep actively listening, learning, speaking out and examining our actions on a daily basis.

And what I really want people to understand is that this is not a one-and-done thing, this is lifelong work. White supremacy is a system and it’s impacted people of colour for forever. And so it’s not going to be dismantled or overcome by people saying it as just a one-time thing or just a simple set of actions that they do, rather it’s seeing themselves in the practice of anti-racism every day.

~ Layla F. Saad

Something to Inspire

I recently watched a really inspiring three-part Netflix series by Davis Guggenheim on Bill Gates called, Inside Bill’s Brain. The series covers the basics of Gates’ life: his childhood, education, Microsoft stewardship, marriage to his wife Melinda, and the charitable foundation they co-manage.

Each episode of Inside Bill’s Brain focuses on one of the foundation’s major initiatives: improving sewage conditions, eradicating polio, and developing a cleaner, safer form of nuclear power. The three parts shifts rapidly between interviews, biographical material, and fly-on-the-wall footage of the Gates team’s philanthropic missions. 

I particularly enjoyed it, as the series highlights what individuals can achieve with personal wealth and influence, if they set their minds to it. Gates, and his wife Melinda, have dedicated their lives to tackling some of the world’s biggest issues and facilitating meaningful change; and it is making a difference.

Five years ago, Gates outlined his concern about an impending pandemic on the TED stage; his predictions were based upon the Gates Foundation’s direct experience in helping to tackle virus outbreaks with Ebola, Zika, MERS and SARS. In the presentation, he identifies the steps needed to prepare nations to face an outbreak on a global scale.

Chris Anderson, Curator of TED talks, recently interviewed Gates to ask him about the current COVID-19 pandemic and to learn how the Gates Foundation is investing in scientific research and the development of a vaccine to tackle it. Amazingly, Gates presents an optimistic view for the future: outlining how nations must act now, learn from this crisis, and pave the way for better response and preparedness in the future.