Journeys by Journal

Jo’s Journal – ITALY 2011

My wife, Jo, journals every day while we travel. She’s been doing this for almost 15 years, faithfully reflecting on the previous day’s activities over morning coffee. Each major trip deserves a new journal, and by now Jo has amassed quite a collection.

According to research studies, journaling offers many mental and physical benefits to those who habitually record their thoughts and feelings. Journaling…

  • Strengthens immune cells called T-lymphocytes
  • Decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ups the I.Q. by increasing vocabulary
  • Boosts memory
  • Improves comprehension
  • Untangles emotional knots, allowing the writer to solve problems and move forward rather than dwell on the past
  • Lowers stress and anxiety
  • Improves communication skills
  • Furthers creativity: Writing, especially writing quickly, occupies the analytical, rational left side of the brain, thus freeing the creative, intuitive right side.

And the list of benefits goes on. But for Jo and many others who journal daily, the motivation to write goes beyond this harvest of benefits.  When I asked Jo why she journals, she cited other reasons…to chronicle life… to process the everyday … to reference later.  I’ll add another – to leave a legacy.

Recently, on our way back from Arizona where we had wintered for 3 months, we repurposed one of Jo’s journals. The drive home took days and the route we followed cut across miles of nothingness.  There wasn’t much new to see along the way – just an endless ribbon of grey highway.  This was nodding off material of the first degree.

On one particularly long stretch, Jo pulled out a journal from our time in Italy a few years ago. While I manned the wheel, she read to me. What a difference that made!  As Jo recounted each day of our 5 weeks in the land of amore, the miles flashed by. Together we relived moments that we’d mostly forgotten.  We laughed about the times we got lost on roundabouts, sighed over descriptions of luscious meals we’d enjoyed, and marvelled at the enduring construction methods of the ancient Romans.  In short, we journeyed together anew.

Jo ends each of her journals with a summary.  She polls me with questions like “What did you like?”…”What would you not want to do again?…”What was your favourite day?” …   She writes several pages reflecting on the entire experience from both of our perspectives.

After she finished reading to me, Jo closed the book. “Would you go again?”she asked.

“Sure,” I said.

But then, somehow I felt as if I just had.

What You Might Not Know About These 6 Kid-Lit Authors

Ever wonder what Robert Munsch did before he became an author, where Roald Dahl’s hatched his twisted plots, or if J.K. Rowling actually drew a floor plan of Hogwarts before she started writing Harry Potter?  These interviews and articles explore the curious and fascinating lives and work habits of 6 popular kid-lit authors.


10 Things You Didn’t Know About Robert Munsch
The Huffington Post Canada

No Canadian storyteller is more celebrated than Robert Munsch. With over 50 published titles, the children’s author has been stealing our hearts for years with his memorable characters and hilarious stories.  When Robert Munsch turned 70 in 2015, Isabelle Khoo shared these 11 little known facts about the famous author.

 


 

My years with Roald, by the ‘love of his life’
The Guardian

Felicity Dahl was married to the much-loved children’s writer, Roald Dahl. In this article from The Guardian, she recalls the great man’s charms, his impish generosity, and her special relationship with him.

 

 

 


 


The Magic of Where the Wild Things Are
The Atlantic

Brian Selznick, the author of The Marvels, never intended to make books for kids. In this article from The Atlantic,  Selznick reveals how Maurice Sendak altered his career path and showed him the power of picture books.

 



Interview with J.K.Rowling
Scholastic

Caught in the Harry Potter craze, on February 2, 2000, kids went online to pepper J.K.Rowling with burning questions.  From Was it hard to think of the monsters’ names? to How does it feel to know that millions of kids are reading your books? their questions reveal as much about the curiosity of children as it does about author and her characters.

 

 


 


Beverly Cleary on turning 100: Kids today ‘don’t have the freedom’ I had
The Washington Post

When Beverley Cleary turned 100 in 2016, Nora Krug interviewed the prolific author of such classics as Henry Huggins, Beezus and Ramona, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and Dear Mr. Henshaw.  Turns out the feisty lady is still writing.

 

 



Dr Seuss
The Economist

Little known fact: Theodore Geisel became “Dr Seuss” after he was caught drinking gin with nine others at his Ivy League university and lost his position as editor of the humour magazine. From then on, he contributed pseudonymously, using his mother’s maiden name which was also his middle one. In this article from The Economist, Robert Butler probes Geisel’s strengths, foibles, and the habits that led to his success.

 

 

 

Bookmans, A Very Different Independent Bookstore

Wherever I travel, I like to check out independent bookstores in the area.  Chains like Barnes & Noble or Chapters-Indigo offer much the same fare across the nation.  Each Independent bookstore, though, is unique, and I’d count Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Arizona as one of the most original.

Started 38 years ago, Bookmans now operates six stores in Tucson, Mesa, Phoenix and Flagstaff.  Based on the concept of “buy, sell, trade”, Bookmans relies on customers for their eclectic inventory and an assortment of in-store-events that range from art exhibits to yoga classes.

When I visited one Saturday morning recently, the place was a busy hive.  Young and old roamed the aisles, looking for just the right articles to purchase.  Others came in carrying boxes of items they wished to sell – books, CDs, albums, comics, musical instruments, electronics, video games, knickknacks and whatnots.  Maps at the door showed the locations of various items. If that wasn’t help enough, friendly, knowledgeable staff guided treasure seekers to the proper destination. 

I asked one employee how the Bookmans’ system worked.  “Each item is appraised,” he said, unpacking a box of DVDs. “We check Amazon, Craig’s List, Barnes & Noble and other outlets to determine a fair price, and we check our inventory to see if we need more of the item.  Once we fix a price, the seller has two options.  Take the cash.  Or take a store credit.  Store credits are often higher than the cash option so many people opt for that one.”

Bookmans is far more than just an independent bookstore. It is philosophy passionately churned into action.  An advertisement in a local community resource guide put it this way: “Stepping into a Bookmans alters your view of what buying used is and should be, and our philosophy of DIY creativity, integrity and community involvement has helped make us one of Arizona’s most beloved local businesses.”

I left Bookmans empty-handed.  It wasn’t because I couldn’t find things I would love to own.  I’m on a mission to declutter, not accumulate more.  Given the store’s mandate to ‘sell what you don’t use, buy what you need’, I think Bookmans is fine with that.

The Science of Walking and The Art of Creating

My wife, Jo, and I are ardent hikers. She more than me, actually. Jo outpaces me on every trail, faithfully charts her steps with her Garmin, and competes with other’s online. I’m a bit slower, usually a quarter, perhaps a half kilometre behind. I track my steps, too, as well as heart rate and total distance, but I’m more interested in how far I’ve gone.

Recent studies tout the benefits of walking. Moderate walking reduces the odds of heart disease, stroke, insulin dependence & diabetes. It improves mood and sleep, reduces stress and anxiety, boosts energy and increases focus. Walking also changes the brain in remarkable ways.

A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that regular brisk walking increases the size of the hippocampus, the brain region that monitors verbal memory and learning. Stanford researchers, meanwhile, discovered that creativity jumps 60% when subjects walked. Other studies showed that walking for 40 minutes three times a week Increased performance on cognitive tests and reduced declines in brain function as we age. It didn’t matter what kind of walking – whether on a mountain trail or on a treadmill – the benefits were the same.

Many writers incorporate walking into their regimen. Aside from the physical benefits, walking is a way to kick start creativity, channel ideas, and bypass dreaded writer’s block. William Blake, William Woodsworth, and Henry Thoreau were among the many writers who embraced walking. “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move,” Thoreau wrote, “my thoughts begin to flow.”

When I walk, my mind drifts which might explain why I sometimes lose sight of Jo and have taken a wrong turn more than once. While that’s not a good thing, the drifting part can be – at least to a writer like me. With walking, the mind roams, free of its usual constraints. While plodding along a respectful distance behind Jo, I’ve solved writing problems and come up with some of my best ideas.

All the while I am solving problems.  Turns out, I am growing my brain, too.  Who knew?

Galileo Galilei’s Swinging Chandelier

pendulum-828641_1280

When I was an unpublished but eager new writer, I found a subject that eventually evolved into a series of books for young people.  As a science teacher, I knew the classic stories of discoveries made by Archimedes, Fleming, Pythagoras and a few other legendary mathematicians and scientists, but I didn’t realize how extensive the story pool was until I stumbled upon a weathered library book titled ‘Stories from Science‘. 

The book fascinated me. Until then, I’d thought of writing fiction, but the subjects in the book captivated me. I abandoned my fiction ambitions (for the moment, anyway) and wrote short stories about these instead. One book, Accidental Discoveries: From Laughing Gas to Dynamite, led to three others: Mysteries of TimeWhose Bright Idea Was It? True Stories of Inventions & Extreme Science: Science in the Danger Zone.

In the end, opting to write non-fiction narratives was a wise choice. So too was writing about science, a subject familiar and fascinating to me. Without realizing it, I was learning how to write stories of all kinds, a handy thing when I ventured into true adventure and later novels. I became ‘that guy’ – the guy who wrote science and history for kids. Not a bad moniker for a start-up writer, and perhaps there’s something of a lesson or two in my story for others interesting in writing. My advice?  Write about subjects that fascinate you. Tap into your sphere of expertise, knowledge or experience. Establish a line of credibility.  Write. Write. Write.  

The story of Galileo’s swing chandelier was one of the first I wrote. A brief mention of Galileo’s discovery in ‘Stories from Science‘ sparked my interest.  Additional research brought home the details. Eventually, several drafts later, the story became my own. And now it is yours, too.


Rather than listen to a Sunday service in 1581, seventeen-year-old Galileo Galilei studied a chandelier hanging overhead in the huge cathedral at Pisa, Italy.

Air currents flowing through the lofty building moved the chandelier from side to side, back and forth. Sometimes the chandelier moved gently; sometimes it swung in a wide arc. No matter what the size of its swing, it seemed to Galileo that the chandelier kept steady time.

One, two, three beats

There were no clocks or watches in those days. To time the chandelier’s swings, Galileo felt for the pulse in his wrist. He counted the pulse beats. One, two, three beats for one swing. One, two, three beats for another. No matter how wide or narrow the swing, it always took the same number of pulse beats.

Right after the service, Galileo raced home. He suspended a weight from a long string to create a pendulum then he pulled the weight back a short distance, released it, and timed its swing.  He tried it again, this time pulling the weight back farther before releasing it. After many tries, Galileo confirmed his suspicions – the time it took to make one swing was always the same whether the swing was wide or narrow.

Galileo tried other experiments with his pendulum. He discovered that the length of string, amount of weight, and other factors all had some predictable relationship to the time of a pendulum’s swing.

Galileo’s timepiece

galileos-boardSome years later, Galileo extended his research with gravity. Did all objects fall at the same rate?  To find out, he adapted the pendulum as a timepiece. First he carved a long, straight groove down the center of a board. When he raised the board slightly at one end and released a ball, it slowly rolled down the groove.

Galileo marked off his grooved board into small divisions of equal length. For a timing device, he rigged up a water-filled container with a small hole in the bottom. By counting water drops, he could keep track of time.

He released one ball at a time from the higher end of the board. As the balls rolled, Galileo timed how long it took them to cross each division of the board. To his surprise, Galileo discovered that the balls didn’t travel down the track at an even rate. Instead, they accelerated – or sped up – as they got farther down the groove. Falling objects, he found, picked up speed as they fell to the earth.

Galileo’s gift to science

In many ways, the swinging chandelier started a revolution in the world of science. With his pendulum investigations, Galileo pioneered the scientific method –the system of carefully controlled experiments and observations that modern scientists use today to prove a natural law beyond a shadow of a doubt

A more detailed version of this story can be found in Accidental Discoveries: From Laughing Gas to Dynamite

Visiting Amazon’s One & Only Bookstore

20160828_130719_001-1While in Seattle recently, I visited Amazon’s flagship, first-ever, and currently only brick-and-mortar bookstore. I was curious why Amazon – the king of online book sales – had changed its marketing strategy. Why invest in a traditional bookstore now after so many years of clobbering the competition by offering a broad selection at discount prices? What made this bookstore different from any other? And why build it in Seattle?

20160828_121536At first glance, Amazon’s sparkling new bookstore looks much like any other. The perimeter of the store is rimmed with tall windows, flooding the interior with natural light. Tall bookcases line the floor, mostly fiction on one side of the store, non-fiction on the other. There’s a children’s section at the rear with cozy seats for young shoppers.

But browse further and you’ll notice a few differences.

20160828_124651 Book covers face outward. You won’t find any books filed with just spines showing. According toa sales manager I questioned, it was to “encourage the discovery process”.

20160828_130251New products are front and center, and you are encouraged to give them a try.

20160828_121619For the most part, only books that receive a 4 to 5 star rating on Amazon.com are stocked in the store. Cards positioned below each title provide a sample review and the book’s star rating on Amazon.com.

20160828_122019Actual prices are not noted on the covers or on the cards below them, but scanners are available throughout the store and you are encouraged to use them.

20160828_122003Prices are the same as the discounted prices on Amazon.com. This book by Erik Larson, one of my favourite authors, was listed at $17.00 . The discounted price was $11.70. Shoppers at the store gain by avoiding shipping costs and any mailing delays.

Displays throughout the store reinforce the Amazon.com connection. Online reviewers determine not only what books are stocked, but also to some degree where their favourite books are shelved and located.

If the crowds sifting through the store on the day I visited are any indication, Amazon’s just might be on to something with its new store. Certainly some – like me – were just curious visitors, but since I walked out with 3 newly purchased books when I had no intention of buying even one, perhaps that’s a testimony to Amazon’s clever marketing. As a reader, I felt strangely empowered. Here I belonged to a worldwide community of readers where our reviews, our feedback, our choices determined what was placed on the shelves. And talk about enticing prices. The discounts are hard to beat.

According to the sales clerk I questioned, this is exactly what why Amazon ventured into the brick-and-mortar field. “Amazon has been in operation for 20 years. We felt it was time to branch out, to offer more to our valued customers.”

Two more Amazon stores are set to open in the next few months – one in Portland, the other in San Diego. But why Seattle for the first? Perhaps a better question is ‘Why not Seattle?” Seattle is Amazon’s home base and at 20,000 employees in 30 buildings spread throughout the city, its largest private employer.  Seattle is where the company started, where it’s grown into a worldwide mega-empire, and where proof of it gigantic holdings can be seen in a new office complex currently under construction that will soon dominate the city’s downtown.

Behind the Scenes at a Press Run

Before ‘Dinosaurs’ of the Deep was in its current hardcover form, I scored a thrill by watching the book roll off the presses at the Friesens plant in Altona, Manitoba.

The Friesen plant is a huge place.
The Friesens plant is a huge place.
3
Stacks of paper…stacks of covers…. all set to go

I had never seen this end of the publishing operation before, and I was amazed at the complexity of the process. Then again the pros at Friesens made it all seem easy.

The Man Roland machine cranks out full panels at an amazing rate. Check out the video below...memorizing!
The Man Roland machine cranks out full panels at an amazing rate. Check out the video below…memorizing!
One panel = 24 pages on one side
One side from a sheet off the Man Roland equals 24 pages in the book or 48 pages when you count the 24 pages printed on the back sideI

Each panel is checked for colour and accuracy, and then signed off by the publisher before the run continues.

Turnstone's publisher Jamis Paulson signs the first panel giving approval for the run to continue.
Turnstone’s publisher, Jamis Paulson, signs the first panel giving approval for the run to continue.
Now we're good to go!
Now we’re good to go!

The cover looks amazing, thanks to the vivid illustration by Julius Cstonyi, a world renowned paleoartist.

Aaron, our Friesen guide, discusses the finer points of the cover with Jamis Paulson, Turnstone's publisher.
Aaron, our Friesens’ guide, discusses the finer points of the cover with Jamis.
One side from a sheet off the Manover machine equals 24 pages in the book or 48 pages when you count the 24 pages printed on the back side.
I get to sign off on the cover, too.

DSC08814(1)-1There’s something to see at every turn in the plant.  Here’s the trimmer.  It slices through a stack of pages like a knife going through butter.  Watch your fingers!

What a great day this was!

DSC08831-1

Follow

Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: