Buy a book at the Last Chance to Buy an Aqua Book Book Sale

Today is the last day you will be able to buy an Aqua Books book. As I’ve been tweeting and Facebook posting, former bookstore owner Kelly Hughes will be selling books out of a warehouse at 165 Garry Street in Winnipeg from 12 – 6 p.m. today. You should go.

Kelly tells the tale much more eloquently than I can about how the cultural city hall of Winnipeg that was Aqua Books went from reality to memory and how his mental health withered along with it (we all hope he writes a book). For now, read his Facebook posts at Kelly Hughes. Add him as a friend. He has lots but could likely use more. You can also follow him at @kellyhugheslive on Twitter for up-to-the minute posts on the progress of his sale and other interesting tidbits like his adventures eating ube-filled crackers.

I’ve blogged about my favourite used bookstore before but never really from a personal perspective. I relied on Aqua Books not only to buy books but as a haven from a marriage breakdown that I didn’t want to break down and that broke down with little prior warning, leaving me in shock and a bit of a stupor (edit: life is good now :) . I went to Aqua Books to be among writers, poets, musicians and other like-minded people that didn’t mind I was newly, awkwardly single with nothing to do on a Friday or Saturday night or even a Sunday afternoon. It was kind of like my local hangout and I either got lost in the many shelves of great books or sat at the back near the door during events in the makeshift theatre upstairs in case someone asked too many questions. I heard my favourite writers and local political and musical celebrities interviewed during Kelly Hughes Live shows. Even though, hailing from the country, I couldn’t make every event, Kelly made me and countless others feel like regulars. Aqua Books was my second home.

Always a writer, but more of the journalistic and PR sort in recent years, I took part in a number of creative writing workshops, finding inspiration for a book while writing at the foot of Kelly’s The Stone Angel, a prop from the movie version of one of my favourite books. I read my poetry out loud for the first time and a few other times. And, as always, as a librarian, I bought books, lot of books.

I am working up the energy to go to Kelly’s last book sale today because for me (and likely much more for him although he seems to have come to terms with it and just wants to get rid of all the books) it is a sad day.

But, it is also a new beginning and I, like many others, look forward to what Kelly is going to do next.

If you can, go and buy a book today… or lots of books. And, if Kelly isn’t too busy, get him to sign one. He’s not just former bookstore owner Kelly Hughes. He’s a cultural superstar as far as supporting the arts in Winnipeg and from what I’ve seen since Aqua Books closed for good, I think he will continue to be. Kelly did a lot, often for free, for this city and the creative people in it. And we should pay him back.

Buy a book.



Heather vs The Coconut


Bought this coconut and wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. One of my former students from the Philippines advised me to peel it down to the “meat” and then stick a straw in to drink the liquid or drain it and then just break it open.







I think I peeled off enough of the wooden coconut covering to make a bread board. I had to switch to a much sharper knife and it took forever.


Of course, I cut my finger in the process but I was finally able to make an incision to drain the milk



There is a lot of liquid in one coconut. It tasted sweet and refreshing and made me look forward to the lovely coconut meat inside.


But alas, twisting, hitting it on the bottom of the sink and even scoring it with a knife and hitting it with a hammer would not open the coconut.


The coconut, in an unatural habitat. I am hoping -20 C (-36 wind chill by morning) will cause it to crack… or that a swallow will pick it up and drop it, finally revealing the tasty white coconut flesh I imagine inside.


The coconut suffered -20 C temperatures and blizzard conditions and still it would not crack.


 I dropped it from arm’s length onto the cement…




I contemplated next steps while it thawed…









I tried this Wiki How recommended technique of baking at 200 degrees…








Tried cracking it again by hitting it with a hammer while rotating the coconut. I even tried wrapping it in a towel and hammering it, to no avail.







Success? I was about to give up on the coconut and throw it out (couldn’t drive to my dad’s today to use his sawzall because of blizzard conditions) when I decided to take a knife and pry at the incision I made to drain it the day before. Once the crack was bigger, I was able to hit all around the area with a hammer and make a small hole at the top. I guess the freezing, baking and sitting had dried out the shell making it more brittle so it finally gave way!








I was never able to crack the coconut in half, however, so I had to use a fork to pull the coconut meat through the small hole I was able to make in the top. I guess because I had baked it in the oven for 10 minutes, the meat of the coconut had entirely pulled away from the shell.



The empty coconut shell and the finally “freed” tasty coconut meat. I had a bit and it was good but perhaps a little dried out from being baked.

I managed to quell my urge to grate the rest of the coconut and store it in a bag (because then what would have been the point really?) I’ll save it in a container for later. As a bonus I now have an empty coconut shell that I plan to fill with pineapple juice to drink while reading The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.





Desert island books revisited… would I even survive long enough to read one?

In a former post I considered which five books I would choose to be stranded with on a desert island.

Since I have been trying unsuccessfully for two days to crack open a coconut, I am beginning to doubt I would survive as a castaway long enough to even re-read ONE of my favourite books. My failure (so far at least) with coconut opening has me wondering why when I saw the coconut in the grocery store I was compelled to buy it. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a bag of shaved coconut. And, if there’s ever a coconut sprinkled item offered at a bake sale, funeral, or family gathering, I’m likely to skip it in favour of those sweetly indulgent squares seemingly solely fashioned out of peanut butter and miniature coloured marshmallows.

So, what was it about the coconut in the grocery store that called to me? I had a lot of time to ponder this while I waited for the coconut to freeze and subsequently bake at 200 degrees when the apparently tried and true methods of draining, hitting, twisting and hammering the coconut refused to yield its white inner flesh.

In books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched about characters being stranded on islands, the characters at least partially survived by eating coconuts. It made sense then, that the prominently displayed coconut with its outer husk still attached, like a freshly cut down prize from a  palm tree on an exotic island, would capture my attention. The coconut likely held even greater appeal than normal because I would be leaving the grocery store to step into the beginning of yet another Prairie blizzard. The impending storm was in fact the reason I was at the grocery store to stock up on supplies, although not necessarily coconuts, in the first place.

I can’t remember all of the details of The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe but I’m sure when he was stranded  on the island he ate grapes and goats to get by in addition to more romantic fare like coconuts.  Similarily, in The  Swiss Family Robinson, the family took some provisions from their sinking ship  to help them survive. Robinson_Cruose_1719_1st_edition

Still, there is something about the site of a coconut that provides the same feeling of “getting away from it all” as a “desert island” book both in the favourite book sense and as an actual desert island themed book. Although some would suggest an exotic vacation to chase the winter blues away, the combination of coconut and a good book are enough of an escape for me and much less costly.

Plus, if I did pursue a tropical vacation there is a chance my plane would go down leaving me in a real desert island situation. My inability to open a coconut would mean I’d surely starve. Worst of all, assuming I’d even thought to pack them, all of my favourite books would get wet.

What to Read: Here’s my list of Desert Island reads. What books would you want to be stranded with? You can read the classic desert island tales The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson by following the links to Project Gutenberg. Please donate to this amazing site that offers free-to-download ebooks and audio books if you can. Other great “island” classics  in my library are  Lord of the Flies and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Younger students also enjoy the Island series by Gordon Korman and the Flight 29 Down series based on the TV show developed by Stan Rogow.


Why I like my treadmill desk

treadmilldeskSince I started using my new treadmill desk about a month ago I’ve been walking at least one to two hours a day and sometimes more.

This past Friday night I walked for about five hours while watching a drummer drum along to requested rock and pop songs to raise funds for his friend’s chemo treatments. I sang along out loud while (at the drummer’s request to the people watching in the chat) typing lyrics. You will note that since my first post about my treadmill desk my multitasking skills have greatly improved.

I was only walking 1.2 mph so the drummer I was watching got a much better workout – drumming for basically 7.5 hours straight. (You should check out his next fundraising drumming session here). But being able to stick with any type of physical activity for five hours straight without getting bored is a breakthrough for me.

For the first two weeks that I used my treadmill desk I was working on a major desktop publishing project. Since then I’ve mostly been treading while writing. Admittedly this often includes time catching up on Facebook and Twitter, gaming, watching drum-a-thons and just getting lost in the wonder that is the internet.

Mindless surfing aside, I find my treadmill desk has really helped with my tendency to procrastinate about writing and exercising. Now, if I feel like walking, I might as well write. And, if I feel like writing, I might as well walk.

I read an interesting article recently by Justin Jackson on Lifehacker about keeping your desk as a place where you work and stepping away to complete non-work tasks. The writer had a standing desk. I’m wondering if he would step away as often if he had a treadmill desk.
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Oodena Magic


Oodena Circle at The Forks.

As I make my way past boys with skateboards tucked under their arms for the bus ride home, patio patrons lamenting their last outdoor latte of the season and river trail walkers returning to their cars, I momentarily get that panicked feeling I feel when I’m late or lost or both.

I’m here at the Forks for Voices of Oodena, a series of readings hosted by the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. The readings are to take place at the Oodena amphitheatre that should be here somewhere nestled into the base of a hill near the forks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers. Oodena is a meeting place of ancient times. It is a meeting place of today, except that today I can’t seem to find it.

As I stumble from a graveled walkway onto the grass I hear a low murmur. Walking toward the sound I come upon a giant but thin sculptured metal horn, with one end pointing to the sky and the other pointing into a bowled out area at the base of the hill I am now standing on. Below is a stage and seating area surrounded by a low circle of brick walls that form the Oodena Celebration Circle.

I would like to write that a sudden sense of peace and calmness overcomes me but instead I feel self-conscious as I pick my way down the hill and past the outdoor stage already populated by the authors and organizers who are here to share their words with those assembled.

I make my way to the cement stairs at the back of the circle opposite the stage choosing a spot away from the rest of the crowd where I can sit and lean against a brick wall, a handrail above my head that I can use to pull myself up again from sitting when it is time to leave. I choose this spot complete with handrail because I anticipate that as the sun sets there will be a damp chill in the air that will settle into my bones making it difficult and awkward to get up when it’s time to leave.

I stretch out my legs onto the step in front of me, zip my coat up to my neck and cross my arms on my chest, adjusting my hands so both of them are tucked in and warm even though the chill I expected has yet to materialize.

The moderator makes her way to the microphone and explains that all of tonight’s writers have a connection to Manitoba and its history. She adds that not once in the history of these summer turned to fall annual readings has the show had to be moved indoors; something magical about this place keeps the cold and weather at bay.

As one by one the writers step up to the microphone and read out loud their stories, poems and observations, the sun sets, darkness comes and a two thirds moon rises above the stage.

The yellow lights inset into the rugged bricks that make up the skeletal form of the amphitheatre give Oodena a warm glow. Or maybe it is the words the writers utter that bring warmth to Oodena – words about a Norse trickster god and his journey with a man to Gimli, words about familiar bridges with unfamiliar background stories, words about ancestors, food, gardens, families, awakenings, and muddy water – the aboriginal meaning of this place we call home.

And when it is over, I easily push myself up from the ground that anchors me to this place, this time and the time before it… somehow lighter than before I came.

- A special thank you to Chadwick Ginther, France Adams, Sarah Klassen, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, and Rhea Tregebov for their words.


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