The "Whiz-ard" That Is Dr. Oz

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Well, I Declare! Do You?

Getting back to travel, I’m just wondering how many of you shop ’til you drop when you vacay?  I bet many of you are taken in by useless tchotchkes, shoes that you just have to walk away with, jewelry that matches the sparkle in your eye and clothes that will reside on your elliptical for years to come.  I eschew touristy souvenirs, I have absolutely no use for them.  I do have a weakness for clothing and accessories though.  Plus, I’m a generous hearted Leo who likes to buy useless, yet thoughtful gifts, for family and friends that make the cut.  This translates into sometimes going over our paltry $800 limit (remember I’m Canadian).

It used to be even worse, and cross border shopping meant pulling tags off, donning about 6 layers of clothes, throwing out old shoes so I could wear new ones and looking like the Michelin Man as I got questioned by Canadian Customs.  Not being a natural liar, I usually stuttered through the answers or mumbled into one of the 5 sweaters that I was wearing (in the heat of the summer) that I spent about $50.  LIAR LIAR pants (3 pairs to be exact) on fire, I knew that Officer Bob was thinking to himself as he sighed and let us pass through.

There were times that I couldn’t lie or layer my clothes in such an overt way because I made the mistake of going to the US with someone that had been black listed.  Declaring pained me, so I’d sneak a sweater or blouse into my over-sized purse and hope that my friend didn’t discover my little peccadillo.  Then, I started going with one of my dearest friends who could lose her job if she was caught lying at the border and a condition of cross border travel meant…shudders…being completely honest.  At first, I resented it, but as more time went by, and I was waved through without paying duty, even when I overspent, I started appreciating the weird freedom that honesty brought.  I no longer was tongue tied  when I spoke to Customs.  I also looked better – 3 pairs of pants and 5 sweaters is just FUGLY.

The last two trips that I took, I was declared positively everything to the dime, and guess what?  I got brownie points.  One nice Agents of the Shield gave me a discount because I was honest so I paid a measly $30 – think of it – you lie to save $30?  Not worth it in my humble opinion.  Last night, when I got back from New Orleans, I was over by $50 – but declared it anyway – I have to be honest because I have Nexxus Card.  Once again, I was rewarded for being a do-gooder and paid absolutely zip.

So what does this all add up to?  Do you really want to stammer haltingly through a border crossing or sweat through your new clothes to avoid a few dollars at the border?  I no longer do, and I do declare, it’s freeing.  Enjoy your travels.


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Why This Canadian Is Still With Her

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Photo courtesy of Time/Twitter

I’ve been a fan of Hillary Rodham Clinton since Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign in 1992.  Her line –  “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” told me that this was a different kind of candidate.  Obsessed with US politics, I’ve watched every political convention and election since Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter.  I never watch Canadian elections or debates, but for some reason, I can’t get enough of what’s happening in the US of A.  Maybe it’s the pomp and pageantry, the true power of our neighbours to the south.  I can’t answer that, but I can say that in 1992, I knew that Hillary wouldn’t be a traditional First Lady, and she wasn’t.  She was as accomplished and brilliant in her own right as her husband.

I’m not going to recite her resume for you, we all know that, but I can tell you that it was beyond exciting to see a woman on the ballot for President.  I, like many, were convinced that Hillary was going all the way to the White House.  I had my Hillary shirt on last night, and have a Madam President magnet on my refrigerator.  All the way through the election, Hillary was criticized for being too scripted, too studied, disingenuous, over-prepared, and a host of other sins that any Type A would find annoying.  She never lost her cool or said that I’m running for President, not Prom Queen – bless her heart.  I had the honour of seeing her speak several years ago, and yes, I’m sure she was paid for the event, but I don’t care.  She was warm, funny, brilliant and didn’t look at a single note.  I wish people could have seen the Hillary that I saw.  It was in that moment, that I realized that I was in the presence of greatness.  I’m not exaggerating.

“Flori-duh”, “Dump Trump”, “Lock Him Up” – these were some of the things going through my mind last night.  I had hope that she would pull out a victory, but at a certain point, it wasn’t meant to be, and my heart broke a little bit.  The glass ceiling was not going to be shattered, Bill wasn’t going to be First Gentleman and the Pant Suit Brigade was going to have to go for a new look.   It was a bitter pill to swallow.

Today, I found more reason to admire HRC as she gave her concession speech, tears in her eyes, in a rare display of emotion.  She showed grace and dignity in the face of abject disappointment.  Her speech, one of the most inspiring of her run, brought me to tears.  I learned valuable lessons from Hillary – love Trumps hate, showing graciousness in defeat says a lot about a person, a life devoted to service is a life well spent and never believe polls.  I know I’ve been broken-hearted, but I also learned from Hillary that you have to keep moving forward, so in my head, I’ve already committed to stop commenting on this election, it’s not my election, nor my country and it is what it is.  I want to leave you with the quotes that touched me the most from her speech today:

“To the young people, in particular, I hope you will hear this.

I have, as Tim said, spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. I’ve had successes, and I’ve had setbacks… sometimes really painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional, public and political careers. You will have successes and setbacks too.

This loss hurts. But please, never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

“To all the little girls watching…never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.”

Thank you Hillary Clinton for inspiring me and for teaching a generation of little girls that nothing is impossible and to keep moving forward, even in the face of defeat.


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Shake it ‘Til You Make It

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Our Troupe

A long time ago, in a hair colour far, far away, I began what is likely one of my life’s great passions – belly dance.  I started this hobby, like everything in my life…by accident.  My friend and I wanted to take Latin Dance and I called around, and ended up on the phone with my beloved dance teacher Samia.  She explained that all Latin dances come from Belly Dance and I should come and check out a beginner class.  My friend agreed and off we went.

I didn’t love it right away.  I had an instructor that was a little bit of a snooze for me, but we got to watch the advanced classes.  These ladies were amazing and turned me into a little wannabe.  One day, we were told that we were going to be in a recital, and I thought FAT CHANCE, NO WAY JOSE, NOT HAPPENING, so yup, you guessed, it, I got suckered into buying my first skirt and belt and practiced my little heart out.  As we practiced, Samia came into the room, with her French/Lebanese accent, and her watchful eye, she made me soooo nervous.  She always had a couple of corrections, then did a quick sweep around the room, and then left as quickly as she came in.  I was hooked, and hoped that one day, I’d learn from this master and literally, right after the recital, I joined her Wednesday class.

Samia was an amazing teacher.  When she taught us new choreography, she would dance a section for us, and when you watched her, it was magic.  Something swept over her  – it was like she was performing on a stage in some distant land, not in our little dance studio.    She was tough, don’t get me wrong, but once you got to know her, she became your dance mother.  She wanted to know about your life, and she learned so much about you.  There were no secrets with her, she just knew us so well, that it was impossible to not spill your guts.

Once you started performing, she would select a dance name for you.  I wondered what exotic name awaited me, as my fellow students walked away with  monikers like Najwa (meaning secret conversation), Aisha (alive) or some other names that implied strength.  I walked in and Samia smiled at me, and told me that my name would be Shams.  Ugh, I thought in my inside voice, it’s doesn’t end in a cute sounding vowel.  When I asked her what it meant, she told me, it means “The Sun”.  She then humiliated me, unintentionally, by telling me that it was because my cheeks are so cute when I smile, it charmed her so much that it reminded her of the sun.  Yup, tough girl, that’s me.  Eventually, it grew on me.

One day, Samia asked me to join her troupe as a performer.  The goal was to create shows, not recitals and that we would all pitch in with the hope of earning money just for doing what we all loved to do.  It was fun, but a lot of hard work practicing 3 days a week.  There was nothing better though, than performing with the troupe and seeing what choreography Samia would dream up.  Everything was amazing, until one day, our beloved teacher told us all some devastating news – she had to retire because of issues with her feet.  It’s hard to explain what it was like to hear that news.  She was a safety net for all of us, and we all fell apart that day.  I tried to stick with the school that she had built, but after less than a year, I gave up.  It just wasn’t the same.  I tried other places, but some people are irreplaceable, so after ten years, I put my costumes away and moved on.  Then, life happened and I got completely distracted by other things.

Late in August, over dinner, someone who knew that I used to dance asked very briefly why I didn’t do it anymore and my answer was lame.  I don’t even remember what it was, but I started thinking and thinking and thinking some more about it.  Within a few days, I was Googling belly dance schools all over Toronto trying to figure out which could be “the one”.  I had my first class tonight, deciding on a beginner course since it’s been so long.  It was GREAT.  The second song the instructor played was one of my old solos, so I knew that this was the right place.  It wasn’t easy at first, but once I started moving again, it just felt right.  It may not be the same as it was, but that’s OK, it doesn’t need to be.

 

 

 


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London Belongs to Me – The Final Chapter

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I admire writers…I always have.  Being an avid reader, it constantly amazes me that people can sit at a computer and create story arcs and dialogue and characters.  To know someone that has actually done this, is nothing short of inspirational.  I know that I write this little blog, but creating a book out of thin air and taking the time and the discipline to see the story through to the end is not within my skill set.  Luckily, I know Jacquelyn Middleton (JM), author of “London Belongs to Me” and even though I will never write a novel, I wanted to share her advice with you, my lovely readers, in case any of you were thinking about where to start.  Since she also writes magazine articles, I’m keeping that advice in too!

Q: How long did it take you to write the book and what was your process?

JM: Just over a year start to finish.  I came up with the characters and idea before I wrote the actual book.  I made bibles on each character.  I read books that related to my writing experience.  I needed to learn structure, character development, story arcs, scenes,  and acts.  I knew nothing and had no formal training!  I used highlighters and sticky notes to keep organized.  I always wanted to be a writer and I built the story from the ground up.

Q: How did you know when you were done?

JM: You just have to stop.  I could still  be writing and editing the book because it’s never perfect.  I read and edited it so many times.  I did have a great support system thanks to my family and friends.  My husband even read the book backwards to help with the editing.  I just knew that I wanted to create a book that I’d want to read.

Q:  What does writing success mean for you?

JM: With “London Belongs to Me” it was just getting it done and having it in my hands.  When I received the first proof, I knew that even if no one reads it, that’s a feeling that no one can take away from me.  It’s so special.

Q: How did you go about getting your book published?

JM: It’s self-published under Kirkwall Books.  There are many self-publishing companies out there.

Q:  What’s the difference in the process for writing a book versus a magazine?

JM: It’s very different.  Magazines are fact based and fact checked, where books can be fictional.  Each is telling a different type of story.  Magazine articles are based on different types of interests like health, fitness, travel, pets and sometimes interviews and again, based on fact.

Q:  If you were to give your 20 year old self advice on your future career, what would it be?

JM: You can do it, don’t be scared – just try.  I didn’t think that I could finish a book before, I was afraid of failure.  I tried writing in other ways like the Leaf’s Newsletter (a hockey newsletter) and was the editor of my high school newspaper.  Now, I’ve got “London Belongs to Me”.

Q: What would you say to people who want to write a book or magazines articles and don’t know where to start?

JM: Just do it!  Remember though, that the magazine industry is shrinking and writing for web is the new reality.

Q: Last question – what are your favourite books?

JM: “Charlotte’s Web” is my favourite childhood book.  Karen Swan’s “Christmas at Tiffany’s” is a favourite.  “You Had Me at Hello” by Mhairi McFarlane is great Women’s Fiction.  I just love reading a book because you get to see how the characters are cast in your head as you visualize who you think they are.

Get London Belongs to Me on October 14th when it goes on sale.  You can also pre-order it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Waterstones, Foyles, Indigo, and Chapters!  Just a couple of more days until you get to read this amazing first novel.  Thanks again Jackie for being such an inspiration and for answering all of my questions.


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London Belongs to Me – The Author

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I’ve wanted to interview Jacquelyn Middleton for my blog for awhile.  Originally, it was as part of my “inspiring” people series – I was inspired by her successful move from broadcast production and programming into award winning magazine writer.  Anyone that can make such a scary change inspires me.  Things got busy and often, it’s hard to find the time to interview people, but when she announced “London Belongs to Me” was coming out, that was a whole other cool factor and I had to reach out to find out more.  It gave me the opportunity to catch up with Jackie (JM), which was great, and find out more about her book and her writing process.

Q: How did you start writing?

JM: I started contributing to the Slice website (where she formerly worked).  I always wanted to do more writing and freelance writing seemed to be a good fit.

Q: But why the complete career change?

JM: I got laid off in 2008 from a job I loved in broadcast, but was writing for a website.  This gave me a portfolio of work that I had done.  There were family issues that I needed to be around for and free-lance writing provided me with the flexibility that I needed.

Q: So you always wanted to write?

JM: YES!  My Mum would tell me that I needed to write a book, but that was scary because I thought what if I can’t do it?  What if I don’t have the goods to deliver the thing that I most want to do?  I was inspired by Stephen Beresford (he is an English actor and writer for stage and TV).  He wrote Pride, my favourite movie for many reasons.  Pride was at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) and I wanted to talk to him, but he was chatting with someone else so I didn’t get to tell him how much he inspired me at that moment.  As a freelance magazine writer, though, I got to interview him!  In magazines, if you have a great idea, you can make it happen.  I pitched an idea to Script Lab after he was nominated for a BAFTA for Pride.  I interviewed him in London (twice including last September).  He was wonderful – he delivered in the interview, was funny, and I just adored him.  He inspired me because nothing he ever wrote for TV ever went through, but he wrote a play and the National Theatre picked it up.  Remember, this was his first play and it was picked up by the biggest theatre in the world.  Then, Pride was picked up and he just made it happen.  He didn’t sit around and procrastinate.  Seeing him do this was a huge inspiration.  After the first interview with him, I knew that I needed to write a book.  I needed to try, even if it didn’t get published.  The book is a tribute to my Mum.

Q: How autobiographical is “London Belongs to Me”?  How close is the heroine, Alex Sinclair to you?

JM: Alex isn’t very similar to me at all.  I never moved to London, but I got to live vicariously through Alex.  I didn’t have a tumultuous relationship with my Mum.  My own Mum was my everything.  I had to visualize Alex’s relationship by removing my mother from my life and imagining what Alex went through.  Alex’s love of London is similar to my own and her drive to pursue the career that she wants is very much like me.   There are traits of Alex that I share and people who know me will pick up on them. Parts of me are in every character of the book.  It’s fun writing a book.  There are little tributes to people that only you or a select few would pick up on.

Q: Do you tell people that you know who the various characters are based on?

JM: No, I’ve stopped.  I can’t tell people in case they are wrong because that is how they are reading the story.  It’s personal and you should be able to read the story with who you pick or think the characters are.  I like it when people guess though.

Q: The book has a lot of fan girl moments.  What are your ultimate fan girl moments?

JM:  Meeting Simon LeBon from Duran Duran (Jill here – did I mention that Jackie has great taste in bands?) for the first time.  He never disappoints.  I have so many though!  Just a note, Jackie goes to Fan Expos and has met a lot of really cool people including one of my celebrity loves, Benedict Cumberbatch!

Q:  What books inspired you to write “London Belongs to Me”?

JM: Charlotte’s Web (She really has great taste in books, that’s my fave too!), 84 Charring Cross Road (true story and gorgeous movie), The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and My Love Affair with England (Jackie read it in 1993 before she went to England for the first time) all inspired me.

I’ll reveal more of the process behind writing a book in my next entry.  Remember that London can belong to you too if you order it!  Get London Belongs to Me on October 14th when it goes on sale.  You can also pre-order it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Waterstones, Foyles, Indigo, and Chapters!

Jackie – thank you for being so patient with all of my questions!

 

 


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London Belongs to Me – Maybe

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Before I read “London Belongs to Me” by soon to be noted author, Jacquelyn Middleton, London was not on my to do list.  After chatting with the London loving scribe, I was warming to the rainy city.  After reading London Belongs to me, I’m convinced that I’ve made a mistake not spending a bit of time where this soon-to-be-released novel is set.  I asked the author what her top favourite things to do in London are, and coming from someone who has visited numerous times (we’re talking about 30 times), I think she can be considered an expert.  Here are Jacquelyn Middleton’s top picks and the places that I’m putting on my UK bucket list:

  • The National Theatre – it’s not only a huge part of the author’s life, but it’s the best supporting actress in her love story to London.  It’s also, according to Jackie, a great public space to sit inside of or on the patio.  It’s apparently got a great cafe on the main floor and a great book store.  Who doesn’t love books?
  • London Fields, in east London is where the heroine of the book, Alex Sinclair settles when she first moves to her dream city.  It’s home to great markets (including Broadway Market) and a place that isn’t on everyone’s must do list, which means that it isn’t packed with tourists.  Where do I sign up?
  • The Tower Bridge – a must see according to the author AND a great place to find a hotel.
  • Big Ben – if you look carefully for those of you who aren’t observant – it’s actually on the cover of London Belongs to Me.  Middleton feels ripped off if she doesn’t see it every time she heads to Britain’s capital (I’m running out of ways to say London without saying London).   She recommends taking a tour of the House of Parliament.  I saw it very quickly from a moving car and almost got whiplash – it’s spectacular.
  • Covent Garden – great shops and restaurants with cool street performers.  I don’t recall whether it was in the book or not, but I’m sure it was.
  • Pimlico area – this is near Westminster, north of the Thames.  This was the first place that the author stopped her first time in London.  She wanted to stay in a place in the city that she had seen in the movies.  This area always feels new and exciting to her.
  • Primrose Hill – the author loves this area mostly because of her passion for music, more specifically the band Saint Etienne.  They wrote and sang a song called Primrose Hill that she loves.  They also sing a little song, called, and wait for this…London Belongs to Me.  Sound familiar?  Well, it should.  It’s the name of the book that I’ve been blogging about!

To get inspired to travel to The Old Smoke, pick up a copy of London Belongs to Me on October 14th when it goes on sale.  You can also pre-order it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Waterstones, Foyles, Indigo, and Chapters!

 


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London Belongs to Me

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Well, actually it doesn’t, but it could belong to you if you buy the fabulous new book by first-time fiction author Jacquelyn Middleton.  I’m lucky enough to know the author and I got an advance copy of the book.  I do know Jackie, but that isn’t swaying this, my first review one little bit!

Confession time – I’ve only spent about 24 hours in London and this world traveller saw nothing, except Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum well before Brangelina’s statues were separated and the London Dungeon.  I never wanted to go back until I read this book, falling in love with the city, much like the book’s heroine Alex Sinclair.  Middleton’s (makes this feel more review-y) knowledge of the city is apparent in the rich descriptions of the various neighbourhoods.  It brings the reader into Alex’s world and makes you feel like you are seeing each place for the first time too.  It’s totally relatable for anyone that’s ever travelled or dreamed of relocating.

The book is not a hard read – in fact, it’s the perfect book to curl up on your “what will become of me couch” with your snuggie and a cup of tea (or at least that’s what I did every night).  The coolest part of the book, was that there were a few parts where I got frustrated, not getting some of the reference, but the, it was literally explained on the next page.   It’s almost like the author was reading my mind through length of the book.  This is female fiction for sure, but not predictable.  Some of the drama literally made me gasp (one part in particular – no spoilers, you have to read it).  It was refreshing to have a heroine that was an every-woman – totally relatable, not always sympathetic and slightly klutzy.

The supporting cast of characters was equally enjoyable.  Some eccentric, some snobby, some snivelling but all memorable.  There is nothing more impressive than someone who can write fiction – and this is very enjoyable fiction.  I probably started reading it because I knew the author, but I finished it quickly because it was that good.  It didn’t drag, there was nothing that could be cut and the heroine wasn’t cookie cutter.

“We’re all stories in the end.  Just make it a good one” – well Jackie, you did.

Pre-order ‘London Belongs to Me’ from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Waterstones, Foyles, Indigo, and Chapters!  Available October 14 from Kirkwall Books.

Learn more about London, the author and the writing process over the next few entries.