Podcast: Mothers and Memoirs with Melissa Cistaro

podcast melissa cistaro memoir pieces of my motherPodcasting was my most favourite thing for a time, and now I’m thrilled to be slowly getting back into it. The opportunity to chat with interesting people about interesting things is amazing – I highly recommend it. Today I’m excited to share another conversation with an interesting person. Melissa Cistaro is the author of Pieces of my Mother, a memoir that was released in the US on May 5, 2015 and seems to be gearing up for official release in Canada on May 15, 2015.

Melissa’s mother left the family home when Melissa was very young. The memoir covers her experiences growing up without her mother in the house, and her experiences being present when her mother was dying. In her mother’s final days Melissa found a box of “Letters Never Sent” that shine a lens on the past and the present. I got my hands on an advance copy of the book and I found it readable and engaging. Whether or not you share her experiences, Melissa’s memoir will resonate with you in some way. As we all recover from Mother’s Day, this is an interesting take on a different side of motherhood.

podcast melissa cistaro memoir pieces of my  mother bookDuring our conversation Melissa and I talked about writing, publishing, motherhood and a whole lot more. Whether you are a mother or you have a mother (which is pretty much all of us, right?) there is something in this book and conversation for you. Sit back, relax, and take a listen. And stop by www.melissacistaro.com to find out more about Melissa, or pick up a copy of her book pretty much anywhere books are sold. Enjoy!

If you enjoyed my conversation with Melissa Cistaro, or you’d like to hear more of my interviews, check out the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes. As an extra bonus, if you subscribe you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. And if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Censoring Queen Victoria: Who Was She, Anyway?

I have been really behind for a really long time. This means that while I received Censoring Queen Victoria by Yvonne M. Ward almost a year ago, I’m only reviewing it now. My apologies. You can expect more of these coming up in the not-so-distant future, as I embrace the policy of ‘better late than never’ and attempt to make good. Call it an exercise in forgiving myself. Anyways, on to main event.

censoring queen victoria history book reviewAs soon as I heard about Censoring Queen Victoria: How Two Gentlemen Edited a Queen and Created an Icon I was intrigued. I have a thing for royal histories, although I know quite a lot more about the Tudors than pretty much anyone else. I viewed this as an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with one of England’s most renowned monarchs – and the mother of Canadian Confederation.

The premise behind the book is that Victoria’s son, Edward VII, commissioned a book containing the late queen’s letters. Two men – and gay men, by all accounts, to boot – were given the job of editing the volumes. As Victoria was a prolific writer this was no small task. The editors had to be brutal, including only a small fraction of the queen’s correspondence, and trimming even those pieces that they selected. They also had to be very careful that nothing they selected would portray Victoria – or anyone else – unfavourably. The were tasked with creating an interesting book that wouldn’t ruffle any political feathers at home or abroad. In short, it was no small task.

The title – Censoring Queen Victoria – suggests a more sensational book than this one actually is. It’s more about the politics of the editing process, and how the selections that these two men made framed Victoria in a very specific light. This is a history book, not a tell-all or a romance novel. Still, it was a fairly short and easy read. I wouldn’t describe myself as a lover of academic writing, and I didn’t struggle with this. If anything, I could have used more.

censoring queen victoria history book review

The editors

So, what was edited out? There are a variety of examples. For instance, the queen gave birth to nine children while she was on the throne, but pregnancy wasn’t deemed a suitable subject for a book of this type, so any mention of expecting or delivering a child was omitted. Similarly, while Victoria corresponded with many women, the editors found such letters boring, and included very few. Here is where I would have liked more detail from Ward here, though. What exactly was excluded that would really change our impression of Queen Victoria? A few juicy tidbits can never hurt.

If you enjoy history, specifically Victorian history, this book is a great, quick read. I enjoyed it, and I’m sorry it took me so long to actually pick it up.

Making Your Own Cleaning Products

homemade cleaners green living enviro-mama booksHave you ever had something nagging at the back of your mind? Something that you really want to do, and have been meaning to do, but just can’t seem to get around to actually doing? I’ve been feeling that way about a fabulous book that has been sitting in my tray for months. It’s called Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes, and it’s written by Mandy O’Brien and Dionna Ford. Unfortunately, being back at school, living through a major renovation fiasco, working and parenting all conspired to keep me away from this book.

I knew I wanted a copy as soon as I heard about it. I’ve always been intrigued by making my own cleaning products. I did attend a local event last year where I tried making my own all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner and tub and tile cleaner. It was good, and it whet my appetite enough to learn more. I’ve looked online, but I found it overwhelming. There’s so much out there, and people seem to experience such mixed results, that I’m not really sure where to start. This is why I appreciate this book, which provides a friendlier introduction to non-toxic cleaning.

For such a small book, Homemade Cleaners is packed full of information. It starts out by encouraging simple steps, and explaining why we should care about the chemicals in our cleaning products. Then it’s divided into sections by cleaning task. There are tons of tips, and recipes for everything from all-purpose cleaners to glass cleaners to furniture polish to laundry soap and more. There’s also information on dealing with bugs, keeping your yard healthy, purifying indoor air and choosing and cleaning a grill (which, being from Vancouver, I will insist on calling a barbeque).

I haven’t tried as many of the recipes as I would have liked, but even on first glance I’ve appreciated that green cleaning doesn’t require you to go out and buy a whole lot of stuff. If you’ve got baking soda, vinegar, borax, castile soap, lemon juice and some essential oils you’re most of the way there. There are multiple recipes you can try for most cleaning tasks, so if one doesn’t work for you there are lots more to try. With the renovations happening in my house and new wiring, tile, cabinetry and paint in my bedroom and ensuite, I especially appreciated the tips on how to use plants to remove chemicals from indoor air.

homemade cleaners non-toxic cleaning book review

I would say that Homemade Cleaners is mostly about how to adopt a simpler, less toxic cleaning philosophy for yourself and your family. It’s much more than a recipe book. If you’re wondering how to reduce the number of chemicals your family is exposed to at home, it’s a great place to start.

What about you – what are your favourite green cleaning resources?

Developing a Sense of Perspective

It’s Forgiveness Friday here at Strocel.com, which means that once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

I got some iTunes gift cards for Christmas, and I used them (in part) to buy some books on forgiveness. My reading list so far consists of:

Aside – Enright is the same person I quoted last week in Fairness and Forgiveness.

the sunflower simon wiesenthal bookI’ve started reading The Sunflower, and so far I’m about 40% of the way through. It’s an interesting book. Simon Wiesenthal is a concentration camp survivor. During his years as a prisoner he was assigned to a work party at his former high school, which had been converted to a hospital. While he was there, a nurse pulled him aside to speak to a dying member of the SS, who wanted absolution from a Jew for war crimes he had committed. Wiesenthal shares his story, then 53 luminaries weigh in with their opinions on what he should or should not have said to the SS man, and what it means to forgive.

There is a lot of material in the book about the finer points of forgiveness, absolution and reconciliation, and their significance both to individuals and to groups. There is a lot of room here for theologians, academics and deep thinkers to weigh in and share a very meaty discussion. I’m enjoying it a lot. At the same time, as I read, I can’t help but feel a little uneasy in myself. That uneasiness comes out of the stark contrast between the petty nature of the affronts in my life and the large crimes experienced by Wiesenthal and many of the other contributors to the book.

What can I, as a middle-class, white, Canadian woman, really understand of profound suffering? I have never been beaten. I have never actually been hungry. I have never been deprived of my liberty. If I hold grudges over the small bumps and inconveniences of my daily life, what does that say about me? And what can I learn about forgiveness by examining a situation that is on an entirely different scale?

So far my best answer to my questions is that, by considering my relative good fortune, I can develop a sense of perspective. That is to say, I can understand that maybe it’s not worth hanging on to all of the little misdeeds that I have committed, or that others have committed against me. Hanging on to them doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t change the fact that they happened. It only amounts to so much baggage that I have to carry around with me, weighing me down. As I compare the weight of my baggage to the true suffering of others, I can see that there’s no value in clinging to old emotions.

Even so, I want to be clear about something. I am not saying that I don’t have a right to feel sad, or hurt, or angry when I have negative experiences. Certainly, this is a normal and human way to respond when bad things happen to us, even relatively minor bad things. If someone cuts me off in traffic my anxiety response allows me to react quickly and avoid an accident. It serves a very useful purpose. Being angry about that incident all the way home, ranting through dinner and staying awake tossing and turning over it doesn’t serve a useful purpose, on the other hand.

I am coming to understand that forgiveness is not about always being happy, or excusing people when they act carelessly or unkindly. Rather, it’s about framing a conscious response in my mind after the fact. This last bit is something I’m not terribly good at, and that will ultimately be my biggest challenge as I seek to learn how to forgive myself and others. I can say already, though, that developing a sense of perspective definitely helps in the process. When I have perspective, I can see what’s useful to hang on to, and what isn’t serving me. That can only be a good thing.

I wonder about your experiences when it comes to forgiveness and perspective. Do you find that hearing, seeing or reading stories of other people’s suffering helps to put your own into perspective? And if so, does that make it easier for you to forgive? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Podcast: Crafting Calm with Maggie Oman Shannon

strocel.com podcast crafting calm maggie oman shannonPeople create handcrafts for all sorts of reasons. Some crafts are practical, like knitting a hat to keep your head warm. Some are artistic expressions, like creating an amazing and colourful quilt. And some are rooted in our spiritual impulse, like creating a vision board or knitting a prayer shawl. That last type of crafting – that is, crafting as a spiritual practice – is something that Maggie Oman Shannon, minister, mother and author knows a lot about. In fact, she wrote a whole book about it, which is called Crafting Calm: Projects and Practices for Creativity and Contemplation.

Given the subject of her book, you might think that Maggie is a prolific and skilled crafter. After speaking with her, however, I learned that like many of us she finds time where she can, and that not every project turns out just how she envisioned it. She is a human being, which I found reassuring.

maggie oman shannon crafting calm podcastDuring our conversation Maggie and I talked about how she came to view crafting as a part of her spiritual practice. We also talked about different crafting forms, created objects and intentions. For example, is knitting a hat to keep your head warm a spiritual practice? Is painting superior to sewing, or vice versa? And do you have to feel perfectly spiritual and zen the whole time you’re crafting? (I seriously hope not, because I use a lot of bad words while I’m sewing.)

If you’d like to get in touch with your creative side, if you’d like to tap into something greater than yourself while you’re creating, or if you need a little bit of encouragement to pull out your crafting bin, you’ll want to listen to my podcast with Maggie. Wherever you fall on the crafting spectrum, you’ll find that there’s something for you. We are all innately creative, and we can all benefit from expressing that in a way that feeds the soul. We hold that in common, even if the crafts we create look nothing alike.

If you enjoyed my conversation with the inspiring Maggie Oman Shannon, subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute of my future broadcasts. Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Feelings … Nothing More Than Feelings

Book Review Happy Sad & Everything in BetweenMy son Jacob is four and a half years old. Right now, he’s learning a lot of tricky lessons about handling his feelings. This is all pretty normal stuff, and I know that. I’ve been through it before with my daughter Hannah. Knowing it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. Learning to handle strong emotions is challenging for my son, and for the people who live with him, too.

This is why, when I was offered a review copy of Happy, Sad, & Everything in Between, written by Sunny Im-Wang, Psy.D., S.S.P. and illustrated by Alex McVey, I jumped at it. Aimed at kids four through eight years old, the book aims to increase emotional literacy.

The main character is named Kai, and with ambiguous features my son swears that Kai is a boy and my daughter swears that Kai is a girl. This made the book easy for both of them to relate to. Kai is very obviously white, however, so I’m not sure if that would impact things for children with other racial backgrounds. I appreciated the gender neutrality nonetheless, because it also underscores that feelings are universal.

The book itself is more of a resource book than a story book. We did read it cover-to-cover, but it took us several nights to cover the whole thing. There’s an introduction, and then each page addresses one of 15 different emotions: happy, loving, scared, anxious, worried, tired, jealous, excited, sad, shy, embarrassed, lonely, calm, frustrated, angry and silly. There’s an explanation of what the motion feels like and some questions to consider (What embarrasses you? What do you look like when you’re feeling lonely? What thoughts do you have when you’re feeling angry?). Then, a box offers suggestions for how to help yourself handle the emotion.

book review happy sad everything in between emotional literacy

The book covers mindfulness in an easy-to-understand way, talking about sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. There’s an emphasis on how to feel calm, which appears throughout the book, especially when dealing with very strong emotions. Frankly, I can always use a refresher on that stuff myself.

I’m mostly using this book as a situational aid. For instance, sometimes when Jacob is upset now he’ll bring me the book and search out the page to describe how he’s feeling. Seeing Kai looking frustrated, and then reading through the suggestions for how to deal with frustration, is actually helpful for both of us. It lets him know that it’s okay to feel this way, and it gives me ideas for how to help my son when he’s overwhelmed by feelings.

While the age guideline is four to eight, I found it was more helpful for my four-year-old than my eight-year-old. My daughter Hannah has better vocabulary, more self-control and greater emotional literacy. While she enjoyed the book, I wouldn’t say that she got as much out of it as Jacob. I would suggest this book primarily to parents who can see that their children are having a hard time dealing with some of their feelings.

How did you help your kids learn to deal with strong feelings? I could always use more tips!

Repeat: Podcast with Non-Toxic Avenger Deanna Duke

This edition of the Strocel.com podcast first ran on January 6, 2012. It’s full of good stuff, so I’m pleased to be sharing it with you again.

Deanna Duke Non-Toxic AvengerI first came across Deanna Duke on her blog, Crunchy Chicken. Her tagline is, “Putting the mental in environmental,” and I was hooked. Some time later, I joined the Green Moms Carnival, which she also belongs to, and I was even more hooked. Deanna is funny, frank and passionate. When she recently published her first book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, I requested a review copy, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Non-Toxic Avenger chronicles Deanna’s quest to reduce the toxic load in her own body. She did blood and urine tests to determine the level of toxins she was carrying around, then did nearly everything she could to eliminate her exposure to toxins for about four months. Finally, at the end of it all she repeated the testing to see what effect, if any, she’d actually had.

Deanna Duke Non-Toxic AvengerYou’d think a book about toxins and de-toxifying would be either dry, or terrifying, or both, but Deanna managed to avoid both fates. Don’t get me wrong – the number of toxins we’re exposed to in our daily lives really is alarming, and reading The Non-Toxic Avenger prompted me to go on a one-woman anti-PVC crusade in my own home. If you want a beach read, this isn’t it. But if you want an informative, readable, funny book that will help you to make some tangible changes of your own, I would absolutely recommend it. This is the first book I have actually finished in months, which tells you that I really enjoyed it.

I had the chance to catch up with Deanna for a chat. We talked about her attempts to remove toxins, and what did and didn’t work. I asked her about the testing she underwent to determine the toxin levels in her body, including what that cost and what challenges she faced in getting it done. I also asked what she’s continued now that the project was over, and what she hasn’t. And I asked my biggest question of all: how did everyone else (including her husband and children) react when she swore off all non-organic food and started examining every object in her home for potential toxicity.

It was great talking to Deanna, and you can really get a sense of her chatty, approachable style from our interview. Listen to it here:

Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes to stay up-to-date with the podcasts. Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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