100 Books in 2014

PhilomenaMy book club read the book Philomena, by Martin Sixsmith and we met to discuss this week. The book is purported to be about a mother’s search for her adopted son. But the majority of the book is about her son trying to find himself and his birth mother. It should be called Anthony. We chatted about the themes in the book. The consensus was lukewarm.

For me, the book is monumental, not for itself but that it’s the 100th book I’ve read this year. That seems like a mountain of books, but honestly, since beginning my reading mission in 2007, this has been the easiest year to meet my goals.

(If your eyes glaze over when you see numbers, skip the next two paragraphs).

In 2007 and for the next two years, I read a book a week. Partway through 2010, I realized I was reading two books per week so that became my new goal for 2010 to 2013. At the start of 2014, I had read 579 books since 2007. With a bit more effort I knew I could get to 700 in 2014.

Then I decided, why not strive for 1000 books in ten years? That meant I had to read 421 books in three years, 140 books per year. The hundredth book puts me at 679 so far. 321 books with 28 months to go: 2.5 books per week. Let’s call it three.

It may seem obsessive, but it’s quite exhilarating to be accumulating knowledge on a wide variety of topics, including health, business, politics, marketing, speaking, writing, spirituality, food, gardening, real estate, self-help, history, various other non-fiction, poetry, and even a few novels.

People are shocked to learn of my reading habits. It has become such an integral part of me, I’m not as impressed as I once was. Here are my tips for those who desire to read more.

Make reading a priority. We all waste time every day. If you truly love to read you will find some wasted time. And read!

Carry a book. I always have one in my purse because I realized much of my wasted time is waiting…in line at banks and supermarkets, at appointments, even at restaurants and coffee shops when clients are late. (I sometimes purposely get there really early so I can read a few chapters!) I read about two “purse” books each month.

I also have partly read books throughout my house: one where I sit in the living room, one on my nightstand, sometimes, one in the kitchen. I rarely read two novels simultaneously. The last time I tried, one book had a man who had lost a daughter and the other had a woman who had lost a son; I had a hard time staying on track: which book am I reading?

Trade TV watching for reading. The average North American watches 35 hours of TV each week, a full-time job! Watch one less hour of TV each day and devote that time to reading. At one hour a day, everybody can read one or two books a month. Soon your books will call you away from most TV.

Schedule reading times. My husband likes to sleep in on weekends. I usually can’t sleep past eight. So I read for two hours, keeping the house quiet for my sleepyhead husband. I often read a novel on a Sunday afternoon. On vacations, I plan to read a book each day. Airports are a great place to read books since so much waiting is required. And a four hour flight whizzes by when a mystery is unfolding in your hands. I can usually read a book before I get there and one to get home.

I appreciate e-books when I travel. Before I go, I load up my iPad with books. I always bring a couple real books because airlines won’t let me use electronics on take-off and landing which can last many “chapters”. Sometimes I take books with me I don’t expect to want to keep so can I leave them behind in public places, surprises for strangers.

I naturally read more in winter as I’m not distracted by my garden, golfing and summer socializing! I guess that’s one good thing about living in Calgary: long winters for reading. (As I write this on September 8, it is snowing!)

Start with one book. Many despair that they could ever read three books a week! Start with one a month. Then two. You will become a faster reader. That’s what happened to me. I got faster so now I can read more. I can read 100 pages per hour unless the font is miniscule or the language archaic.

I have no idea when this will stop. But I have a list of over 400 books to read, books recommended by somebody I respect, and there’s so much to explore at the library, I expect to keep reading. The number doesn’t really matter. It’s just fun to challenge myself and then reach those goals.

Keep a record. One of the best things I’ve done is to keep a spreadsheet record of my reading. I record the dates I read the book, the title, author, source, who referred it to me, and whether I’d read again, recommend, want in my library or am happy I read it. I also include a description or any quotes that grabbed me. Very valuable. I often forget whether I’ve read a particular book. I simply search my spreadsheet. Also when people ask me to recommend books, I can remind myself of my favourites and choose books I think will be appropriate.

Use your library! If I had bought every book new, I would have spent $20,000 so far! ($30 x 679 books). But I didn’t. I borrowed most books. Bought many used for $2 or less. Got some as gifts. And bought a few new, often at discount at Costco or as e-books. I estimate I’ve spent less than $700, including gift cards I’ve received, in nearly eight years, about $90/yr.

Join or start a book club: Your reading list will expand when others add to it. There is nothing more fun than discussing a great book with others who’ve just feasted on it too. My club has led me to read books I never would have thought to read. Some are among my all-time favourites.

One of the most important gifts you can give yourself is making time to read. Your knowledge will begin to expand immediately. Your vocabulary will grow: I’ve calculated I learn about 20 new words from every book I read. Reading strengthens your writing. I’m convinced I’ve improved.

One of my few regrets in life was not having a degree. One day I discovered a quote to the effect that everything is written down in books. If one can read, one can be educated. That made sense to me and I haven’t looked back.

Most people think I am educated in the traditional sense, often inquiring about my education history. I proudly tell them that my school is Life and my degree is self-directed and on-going. Then I tell them about the number of books I read and/or have read. It impresses. But it doesn’t matter to me. I do this for me, not to impress (unless someone is being elitist and snooty, then I might indulge in some chest beating).

I’m enjoying my book journey. Won’t you join me?

Cavalia Captivates Calgary

Cavalia Captivates CalgaryMy inbox delivered a delightful surprise this afternoon, a pre-sale announcement for OdysseO by Cavalia. When I saw Cavalia back in 2011, I was so inspired that I wrote this piece to describe it.

If Odysseo is anything like the first show, you MUST go! Enjoy!

Cavalia Captivates Calgary

The first image we see is the birth of a foal and its subsequent struggle to stand on its own four feet. He thrashes and tumbles repeatedly. By the time he triumphs, proudly balancing precariously on his stilt-like limbs, the audience is so invested in his quest they cheer him with a fervor that belies their allegiance to The Horse.

Thus begins the Cavalia horse show, now appearing in Calgary (May 2011), and already extending its Calgary dates.

I assume the name Cavalia comes from cavalier, a horseman, especially a mounted soldier or knight; also related to cavalry, meaning mounted military. The cavalry and, for that matter, the horse, have contributed indelibly to our North American history, especially in Western Canada.

Both my grandfathers cleared and farmed land, using horse-power (a term used still in the automobile industry). My parents both rode horses to school, as did both my grandmothers. I also grew up with horses, (see previous post, Ode to Horses) but I never got to ride mine to school, one of my childhood dreams.

It was on horseback that most of western Canada was explored and “conquered”. Calgary’s most famous annual event is horse-centric: the Calgary Stampede and its various related activities like the Calgary Stampede Parade. Over a thousand horses prance in the parade, not to mention all the bucking horses, cutting horses, and chuckwagon horses doing their part to produce “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”.

So I’m not surprised that local media has reported that Calgarians, indeed, Albertans, are stampeding their way to Cavalia to be captivated by this magnificent animal.

Cavalia was created and directed by Normand Latourelle, one of the original founders of Cirque du Soleil. Past Cirque exposure had us all expecting a high-quality, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring performance and I was not disappointed.

The history of the horse is communicated without words in this two-hour equine celebration, from the horse’s original domestication to its more recent involvement in trick-riding shows. Live music, dance, acrobatics, realistic backdrops and optical illusions weave together with the essence of the horse.

The animals are often “on stage” without halters, bridles and other means of control, yet they “perform” miraculous tasks.

My favourite segment was Liberty (name of which I was advised by my horse-loving niece, whose birthday ten members of our family celebrated by attending Cavalia).

In Liberty, a woman stands in the middle of the ring and somehow cajoles seven unfettered grey/white steeds into moving in magnificent patterns for the pleasure of the audience.

With a slight “sleight of hand” she lines them up with their rumps to the audience and their heads turn back as if to taunt us. One naughty horse takes shortcuts a few times, which only delights the audience, as opposed to marring the perfect performance.

In typical Cirque fashion, there is something going on in various areas of the “stage” at any given moment. I am entranced by a particularly intricate dressage “dance” by six white stallions, when suddenly they become eight. I totally missed the entrance of the two.

The show is infused with humour and poignant moments; and music, from thundering-hooves-music to pensive cello solos and haunting vocals. Vivid costumes and graphics enhance the overall experience.

The star of the show is the horse, depicted in many of its incarnations. One can’t help but leave with a sense of awe in the power and raw beauty of this creation and totally believing the Arabian proverb: The horse is God’s gift to mankind.

My sister and I treated our mother, two aunts, and some of our children and grandchildren to the show, which rendered my otherwise talkative family speechless. I’ve heard, “indescribable” and “dumbfounded”.

The tickets are quite dear, (and the souvenirs will lead you to the brink of bankruptcy) but the production meets and exceeds one’s expectations. We looked at this event as a once-in-a-lifetime (okay, Twice!) opportunity to connect with a creature that has profoundly touched us as individuals, as a family, and as a society.

Go if you can.

Resources and interesting links:






(If you think I have a vested interest in Cavalia, rest assured I only wish I were affiliated with them: I’m sure Cavalia generates healthy profits).

Originally published May 30, 2011. Edited November 27, 2013.

More Great-fullness: Insights into Programs for the Blind

ASRAB logoIt seems everywhere I go lately, I am reminded to be grateful, or great-full, as my granddaughter puts it.

One of my volunteer gigs is as a board member for ASRAB, the Alberta Sport and Recreation Association for the Blind. The mandate of the organization is to provide sport and recreational activities for visually impaired individuals.

Last week I was invited to an event attended by 25 children, all with varying degrees of sightlessness. They were hosted by an organization called Courage Canada, whose goal that day was to introduce the children to Goalball, a game specifically for visually impaired athletes.

The organizers started with some basic drills so the kids could learn the techniques of the game. After the drills, they all got the chance to “play” for a few minutes.

The kids were so engaged and enthusiastic about this new learning opportunity, I found myself caught up by their laughter and cheering them on (quietly, since the athletes need to hear the ball) as they practiced their new skills.

I once read that when it comes to acts of kindness, recipients and givers both receive health benefits. But most remarkable is that witnesses to acts of kindness also achieve health benefits.

I experienced a gush of feel-good energy coursing through my body when I watched those kids experience their first Goalball save. I was immediately great-full for the Courage Canada representatives and cognizant of the honour I have in being associated with these people and organizations, working towards this noble cause.

ASRAB’s major annual fundraising event, Sight Night, is just around the corner. On Saturday, November 16th, 2013 the light from hundreds of headlamps will bob and weave along the Bow River Pathway as enthusiasts and supporters of visually impaired Albertans join in sight night Calgary – a fun run after dark.
 Runners can select the three, five or eight km courses starting from Eau Clair and incorporating the Peace Bridge.

All funds raised go to ASRAB programs, benefitting real people as opposed to going to fund research like so many other charities. I got to see the faces of the children that were directly affected by the volunteering and funding gifted to them by real people. I urge you to support this cause.

It’s not too late to participate. To sign up or learn more, go to http://www.asrab.ab.ca/sightnight.html

I hope to SEE you there! At least remember to be great-full for your sight!

See Poster Physical Literacy and Adapted Sport for Visually Impaired Children: Flyer – Physical Literacy Calgary Nov 21

Flood Update: Hurt, Hope and Nenvy

Nen-vee T-ShirtIn certain areas of Calgary you can still taste the swamp in the air.  Debris forms ghostly fences in the middle of fields on the flood plain, reminders of the river’s ravaging reach.

Not all the roads are reopened and not all buildings are back to normal but the atmosphere is nothing short of “heady”!

Against impossible odds, the 101 Calgary Stampede is in full swing. Not without hitches, mind you, for the Saddledome could not be reclaimed in time for the big musical acts.

In the last two weeks hundreds of added staff have pumped and preened and polished the grounds and one would almost never guess the place was so recently under several feet of water and mud.

Crews completely rebuilt the racetrack, hauling in untold tons of material and constructing a half-mile of hell in mere days.  (I wonder if anybody got the irony).

What’s happened at Stampede Park is nothing compared to the outpouring of unconditional love exhibited by Calgarians, Albertans, and Canadians.

Red Cross donations reach monumental proportions.

Swarms of roving volunteers roam streets throughout flooded communities to haul trash out of basements followed by troops of other volunteers who, at their own expense, feed and water the worker bees.

Folks have come from BC and Saskatchewan with trucks and pumps to help out, leaving businesses and personal lives behind.

I attended a Stampede function on the weekend where several folks tossed in $100 bills and refused their tickets for the Flood Relief 50/50 draw. The winner donated back the $1400 she won. Her generosity brought down the house.

It’s not just Calgary. The devastated community of High River is now the focus of the volunteers, doing what they can to help alleviate the pain. Some homes are beyond salvaging and are likely not covered by insurance.

We can’t imagine what that will do to young families.

How many people have enough saved to payoff a $300,000 mortgage on a house that is a pile of rubble and another $300,000 to rebuild? And furniture and clothing and appliances? I reckon none.

Some have no land on which to build since the rivers carved out new paths.

The flood heavily damaged St George’s Island and the Calgary Zoo is not expected to reopen until late fall. Sadly 300 zoo personnel were laid off last week.

While hurt is high, hope is too.

Flood Fundraisers are part of almost every event.  Opportunities to donate abound.

Many households are back to normal.

One volunteer confided she thought that Mother Nature did many people a favour, forcing them to dispose of stuff they neither needed or used. Knowing how good it feels to purge one’s stuff, I must agree. But some things are irreplaceable.

(That reminds me it’s time I get my “important stuff” together and in a safer place. I have some photos in cardboard boxes. It’s my own fault if they get ruined!)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has stepped up and done what we wish all politicians would do.

He is down on the frontlines, communicating plans and processes. He routinely praises public servants for their long hours of service.  He rallies volunteers, urges Calgarians to help their neighbours, and cheers us on. All this has certainly helped his political career.

A new T-shirt has emerged: Nenvy: [NEN-vee] the feeling every other city has when comparing mayors. Especially Toronto.” Tee-hee!

Everywhere people marvel at what they’ve witnessed in the wake of the disaster.

Until one experiences this spirit of oneness, it’s impossible to truly understand how powerful acts of kindness are and what they do to the collective psyche.

I am honoured that these are my neighbours. Ya-hoo!

See other Calgary Flood posts by Shelley Goldbeck:

This is my City, Hell or High Water

Calgary Floods Expose Human Character

Calgary Floods Expose Human Character

Underpass in downtown Calgary June 21/2013 Photo owned by www.shelleygoldbeck.com

Underpass in downtown Calgary June 21/2013
Photo owned by www.shelleygoldbeck.com

Calgary residents are dumbfounded as their rivers, the Bow and Elbow run amok through downtown and other low-lying areas. As many as 100 thousand people have been evacuated, including hospital patients and long-term care residences. Many small communities in Southern Alberta are threatened by their waterways, which are usually no more than lazy creeks.

It is interesting to observe human behaviour in the face of crises.

Local police and politicians have begged people to stay home, stay off the roads but those pleas are unheeded. People park along the side of our busiest freeway, Deerfoot Trail, to get out of their cars to take pictures of the roaring Bow River. They imperil themselves and other motorists but they won’t stay away.

“Avoid the river”, the news chants, but the TV coverage is fraught with pictures of residents and news crews teetering on the edges of the floods only to scramble away as the waters rise. Pedestrians take pictures from bridges that are moments from being swept away.

Then there are the people who refuse to leave their homes, despite days of evacuation orders. Those stragglers, through their refusal to obey this common sense order, have to be rescued, endangering their heroic saviours and costing taxpayers money for equipment and personnel. As harsh as it may seem, I think the gene pool would be stronger if these  people suffered the natural consequences of their decisions.

We saw this in the Katrina hurricane disaster in New Orleans. People knew the hurricane was approaching their city. They had days of warnings to leave. They chose to ignore those warnings. And when Katrina hit, they moaned and cried that the government didn’t rescue them on time or provide adequate services to keep their sorry butts alive and comfortable.

Personal responsibility is sorely lacking among the general populace.

Then there’s the habit of humans to build their cities on the flood plains of rivers. Some of the most expensive homes in Calgary are within 50 meters of the Elbow River on a good day. I’ve often questioned the wisdom of their decision to live so close to the river. Sure it’s a beautiful setting when all is well, but this is our third major flood in less than 20 years!

I remember my Grade Six Social teacher, the late Herb Hay, describing the function of flood plains, places for the spill-overs of too-full creeks and rivers. The paradox is that the flood plain usually affords easy access to a river and we are naturally attracted to water.

We often question the wisdom of societies that rebuild on the edge of a volcano after an eruption. Yet the residents of High River (a community south of Calgary) seem to mop up flood waters every spring. The entire town of 13,000 is currently (pardon the pun) evacuated; the river has invaded nearly every building in town.

But will they take a clue from their town’s name?

No, they will clean up, rebuild, and then do it all again in a few years or likely, next year. I’m curious how much provincial money has been spent on flood relief in that community over the years.

There have been reports of stores gouging customers on bottled water, a $5 case sells for $50, but overall, Calgarians have been civilized. In typical western fashion, they have come forward in droves to help their fellow citizens. So many have volunteered they’ve been asked to stay away for now.

Social media is full of offers of beds and meals and places for pets to stay. My daughter suggested it was social media that kept us informed and likely saved lives. Certainly it has been an effective medium for the demonstration of our human capacity for charity. I’m proud of my fellow Calgarians, (except the “flood-chasers”, of course).

City services have been remarkably reliable except in the worst-hit evacuated areas. (If you were supposed to leave, you deserve to be in the dark!) Despite the wet chaos, the crisis has been remarkably smooth and safe. It proves that emergency planning and training is effective.

The rain has subsided for the moment and the rivers appear to have crested in Calgary; they’re not yet receding but the hope is no further damage will occur. We have months of clean-up ahead of us and a new-found kindred-understanding of other flood survivors.

My hope is that all will be safe and that we will all be wiser for this experience.