Friday, June 24, 2016

Regina Shen: Resilience (Book 1) by Lance Erlick

Review of book 2 Vigilance -  HERE!

Regina Shen is an outcast forced to fend

for herself. A storm is coming.....

Synopsis - 

Regina Shen is an outcast forced to fend for herself in a world that bans books and artifacts from before the Great Collapse. An approaching storm could be the least of her problems. The World Federation condemns Regina and her family to live on the seaward side of barrier walls. Those walls were built to hold back rising seas caused by abrupt climate change and as a place to dump outcasts.

A hurricane threatens to destroy Regina’s world, tearing her from sister, mom, and home. Now Federation agents claim she has unique DNA that could prevent human extinction. It's too bad she doesn't trust them enough to barter fairly, let alone with her life. Three-hundred-plus-year-old Grand Old Dames rule the all-female Federation using a rigid caste system. Their notorious Department of Antiquities, under the command of Chief Inspector Joanne Demarco, polices barrier walls, destroys knowledge from the past to suppress dissent, and pursues Regina for her genome.

Regina survives by her wits on swampy islands and thrives on salvage from sunken cities, including illegal print books from before the Federation. With her photographic (eidetic) memory, she defies Antiquities by consuming salvaged books not available in the Federation, which makes her an outcast even among her exiled peers. With Antiquities in pursuit, Regina fights to stay alive and avoid capture while hunting for her family. Does she have the resilience to survive both the storm and Antiquities?

Review - 

Regina Shen: Resilience is the first book in a YA Sci Fi series set on earth in a future where the melting of the polar icecaps tumbled the world into disorder.  A new order has arisen. Males have been wiped from the planet, books were destroyed to limit knowledge and procreation for the all-female population is now handled in a lab. An ever changing truth is dictated by the government and a caste system is firmly in place.

Undesirables are cast outside the walled cities on whatever small swampy bits of land they can find - less after every storm as the water level continues to rise. They are called Marginals and live by scavenging, raising what food they can and hunting/fishing.  Regularly their daughters are rounded up to provide slave labour. Inside the walled cities you have the Working Stiffs whose lives are limited to low level job and strictly defined roles, and the Working Professionals who have more money, more freedom and more power. At the top are the GODS - old dames whose medically extended lives have gone on for over 300 years.

I love strong female role models and Regina is just that.  A "swamp rat," she learned from an early age how to take care of herself and stand alone.  She also has a photographic memory and quick mind, so has been privy to study with a teacher who has given her access to a true education and salvaged forbidden books. This teacher struggles to prepare a confrontational Regina to sneak into the walled city, take on a fictional identity and study at one of the universities.

An infertility issue arises that needs to be addressed and it looks like Regina's blood may hold the answer. This puts her in the eye of the storm as bounty hunters, government agents and desperate marginals looking for a reward all search to be the one to turn her in. She is resourceful and brave as she stays one step ahead of her pursuers.

This is a dark story set in a somber future, but it is also full of action, adventure, interesting characters and personal strength. A great read.

​Buy the book: Amazon Barnes & Noble

Meet The Author - 

Read a fab interview with the author HERE!

He was raised by a roaming aerospace engineer, growing up in various parts of the United States and Europe, as well as traveling through Asia. He took to stories as his anchor, including the works of Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein, and has been writing since age eleven.

Growing up, he was inspired by his father’s engineering work on cutting-edge aerospace projects to look to the future.

In an ideal world, Lance would find time loops where he could step out for a week at a time to read and write. Then he would return to the moment he left, without life getting in the way. Of course, since everyone would have the same ability, he suspects life would still sneak in.

Lance is also the author of short stories and novelettes.

Connect with the author: Website Twitter Facebook Goodreads

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Interivew with Lance Erlick - Author of the Regina Shen YA Sci Fi Series

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author?

My first writing adventure began at age eleven after reading an enjoyable story I thought I could do. I learned a lot from trying, including that it was much harder than it seemed, but the result was disappointing. The inspiration kept coming back and each time I wrote another piece, I could see my writing improve. Years later, I wrote a full length novel, thinking I would write the most fearless tough guy, but no matter how much I tried to bring the story to life, it fell flat. From that, I learned that for a story to jump off the page, the characters have to have passion for life. They have to be motivated toward something and to care.

After that, I wrote short stories, but kept coming back to the novel. There’s something about having the time to develop characters and explore them in action that has been quite satisfying. When I got the inspiration for the Rebel series, I first wrote Rebels Divided. Annabelle Scott was one of the co-protagonists and she insisted I write her own story, which became The Rebel Within. I hope the passion I felt for the story and for the characters comes through.

What was your original inspiration to create this character and the dystopian future earth she lives in?

The original vision for what became the Regina Shen series was a resilient young woman, an outcast in the midst of a hurricane that took her home and family. From that came the question of why she was an outcast—she was born to a woman who had been thrown over the barrier wall into the swamps. Thus, she was an outcast through no fault of her own; she was suffering the guilt of her mother. The next question was why the barrier walls were built and why the swamps were so perilous. That led to imagining a world after abrupt climate change had melted the glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica, significantly raising sea levels and altering climate that led to worldwide famines. From that catastrophe arose a Federation to save humanity.

Review HERE!
The Federation having punished Regina’s mother and kept her an outcast led to imagining what sort of Federation this might be. What came to mind was a World Federation based on a caste system in
which outcasts were below the lowest caste, left to die on shrinking lands with storms and rising seas. That Federation also banned all books except their official words in an attempt to prevent another civilization like the one before the Collapse. Rising seas meant that there would be cities under water and that opened up salvage potential. Thus, Regina became a salvager.

One of her most prized discoveries was illegal print books from before the Federation. On top of everything else, worldwide fertility is collapsing and Regina’s genome holds the key to avoid human extinction. Thus, Regina is the lowest of the low and yet a very important person who will not be treated well by the Federation. Each layer added more challenges for Regina to overcome and to demonstrate that her tough upbringing and skills had uniquely equipped her to survive and rise above.

Over the next month I will be sharing my reviews on your 4 book Regina Shen YA SciFi Series. Were these books originally conceived as a series, or did the decision to continue with this character's life come about after writing the first book?

The Regina Shen series was conceived of as a series from the beginning based on the scale of the world she lives in and the conflicts that she was to face. There were simply too many notes and ideas to fit into a single novel. There was the entire issue of abrupt climate change and its implications on this world. There was the strange World Federation that used a caste system and an artificial fertility process in a world with no men. Now that fertility process is collapsing. The rulers are almost four centuries old, holding onto power and their vision of a perfect society. Now there’s a struggle for succession. With all of this as a backdrop and a young woman coming to terms with her place in this world, I knew from the beginning this would take more than one novel.

Book 2 review coming July 4th
What are the biggest challenges when writing a series that follows one characters life? How do you keep continuity in all the elements - characters, geography, history, etc.?

Since this is the second series I’ve written (after the Rebel series), the biggest challenge was to keep the characters consistent and yet show growth. The way I handled this for the first three books in the series was they were written as almost one very long novel in three parts. In other words, the first book wasn’t released until the third was complete and the fourth drafted. That way, the characters and story were very fresh in my mind. It also helped with keeping the history consistent. The geography wasn’t a problem because the setting shifts from book to book as she flees the swamps in search of her sister. Besides, I love maps.

A second challenge was to keep the story interesting over several books. I believe I’ve accomplished this by showing character growth as Regina moves from one set of challenges to another. She has certainly grown up quickly.

With 13 published books to your credit, how do you continue to find new ideas, new characters, etc., to keep bringing something new to the table?

Ideas pop into my head and swirl around based on what I read, see, or the day’s events. I often have characters and their stories floating around in my head, trying to tell me their problems and asking me to help them find solutions. Often ideas come from imagining “what if” situations involving people in unusual situations. Then my imagination takes off trying to figure out how a particular character might handle it. Basically, I find that characters arise from background and circumstances such that Annabelle from the Rebel series would be a much different character in the Regina Shen world.

There are a few common themes. I grew up with strong women. My mother put herself through school to get a PhD as a single mom and worked her entire life. I had two step-mothers, both with strong personalities. I’ve also had a number of other strong influences. That has brought a number of strong female characters to my stories. For some reason, I find it easy to identify with them.

As an avid reader of history, science, and science fiction, I’m inundated with ideas. If only I had a time machine that would double the amount of time I had each day.

Book 3 Review Coming July 12th
As an author - what do you enjoy most about writing process? What feels like a chore?

What is most enjoyable to me is exploring new ideas and situations with interesting characters, in other words, the creative process. Even my first rewrite is fun in that I get to expand upon my initial thoughts and enrich the story. Editing is definitely a chore. I wish I could just do the creative writing and development and then just telepathically order the draft to clean itself up based on my experience with editing. Part of the problem is each time I read, I come up with more things to change. In fact, sometimes I’ll change it one way and upon rereading change it right back to what I originally had. It can be frustrating, but it’s also necessary to make sure the story flows as well as I can make it.

Regina Shen's life and the world she lives in are both pretty depressing. What do you do to leave that behind so you don't carry the mood into you daily life?

For me, the world Regina finds herself in is quite distressing, but I take hope in the fact that she faces up to her challenges and refuses to give up. That striving to overcome can be exhausting to write, but it’s also rewarding. I believe in triumph of the spirit and that with one’s last breath we must carry on to do our best. That energizes me.

At the same time, I recognize the story to be a fantasy, a world I can enter and leave much as I would in reading someone else’s book or seeing a movie. When I’m not in the story, I become detached almost as a work strategy because most of my best ideas and work come to me when I’m not writing. So, I relish time away from the story for both for ideas and for a change of pace.

Book 4 review coming July 19th
What would you most like readers to know about you?

While I have not lived through what Regina has, my journey has been filled with challenges. What’s gotten me through them has been to try to be honest with myself about where I landed, what options I have, and then do whatever I can to work my way to a better place. One of the darker and yet brighter periods in my life was when I found myself out of work (from a brand new job) with two young children, a non-working spouse at that time, and a brand new mortgage when jobs weren’t plentiful. After an hour of grieving, I picked myself up and engaged in a marathon push to put our lives back together. Interestingly enough, I’d worried about losing my job before this and never again afterwards.

Any advice for young authors wanting to write books in this genre?

Read what you enjoy. Write what stirs your passion. Hopefully these are both in the same genre. If you try to write what’s popular or what you think will really sell, your writing will come out flat unless this coincides with what stirs you. Be true to yourself.

Connect with the author:  Website   Twitter   Facebook   Goodreads

One-Pot Chicken Fajita Past

I love when my Facebook friends share recipes. Let's face it - most are recipes they have seen posted on other sites and have never made. They really are food porn and ultimately make us wish we all had a personal chef we could hand the recipe over to.  Wouldn't that be amazing?

This recipe from BuzzFeed.Com was one I looked at several times. There were things I liked and things I didn't, but in the end I couldn't resist giving it a try.  I love the idea of a one-pot meal and yet it is still made from scratch with fresh vegetables, meat, pasta, cheese and milk. No crazy additives and really not a long list of ingredients.

June 21st was my husband's 65th, so I pulled this out of the must try file.  While he might have preferred BBQ'd steaks and mashed potatoes - what I make for his birthday when the whole family comes over - he's ultimately just happy to have food on the table. The fact I made it from scratch was an added bonus.

I changed just a bit in the prep. I cut the onions in half lengthwise and the sliced them crosswise into narrow strips.  The bell peppers I like in smaller bites and the image makes it look like they did in the original too. So once they are all cut in long, narrow strips, I turn them sideways and make one crosswise cut slicing the strips in half. This size is a little easier to work with.

In the end, I'm on the fence on this one. I did enjoy that it has a bit of zip to it, but not so much my husband couldn't eat it.  And it did have flavour. Pasta dishes can be tricky in this area. But I think for my taste something needs adjusting in this recipe I'm suspecting it's the Tablespoon of Chili Powder and/or Cumin. When I try it again, I'm going to cut the Cumin in half and see if that's does the trick for me. Cumin is not one of my favourite herbs, so I'm thinking the Tablespoon is too much for my palate. If you adore Cumin, then it's probably just right as is.

Lucky for you, Buzz Feed has created a video tutorial by Alvin Zhou, Emma Tyler and Tasty for those who prefer to watch.

= = =

One-Pot Chicken Fajita Pasta
Serves 3–5

3 T                     Oil
3                        Chicken breasts, sliced
1                        Red bell pepper, remove stem and seeds, slice lengthwise into narrow strips
1                        Orange bell pepper, remove stem and seeds, slice lengthwise into narrow strips
1                        Yellow bell pepper, remove stem and seeds, slice lengthwise into narrow strips
1                        Sweet onion, cut in half length-wise, then slice crosswise into narrow strips
1 tsp                  Salt
1 tsp                  Pepper
1 T                    Chili powder
1 T                    Cumin
1 T                    Garlic powder
5 C                    Milk (regular, half & half, skim or  your favourite mild subsitute)
4 C                    Penne pasta
1 C                    Pepper jack cheese, shredded (you could try a Cheese substitute here, but honestly                               think the cheese is an important flavour note. You could up the hot with a shredded
                          habanero cheese. )

Instructions - 

Heat oil in a large pot over high heat. Add chicken and cook until no pink is visible. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Add onion and cook 2-3 minutes, then add the bell peppers and continue cooking until the onion is translucent. Add the chicken back to the pot with salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder, stirring until evenly coated.

Add the milk and the penne, stirring constantly to prevent any pasta from sticking. SEE NOTE BELOW! Cook for about 8-10 minutes until pasta is cooked and the milk has reduced to a thick sauce that coats the pasta. Add the cheese and mix until melted. Serve!

(NOTE - doesn't say whether to leave the pot covered or uncovered, but assuming from the video it is uncovered. However, the liquid to penne ratio is low, so I think this is another reason for the constant stirring. It keeps you from having bits of penne that are cooked and other that are not.  I ended up needing to add just a bit of water to get the pasta to the texture I like.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NLA Designs Summer ‘16 - “Swoon” Collection launches in Vancouver, BC

As I have said before, I no longer remember where or when I first met fashion artist Nicolette Lang-Andersen.  I do remember photographer Harry Leonard mentioning working with her and how talented she was. However, her star rose quickly and finding an open spot in her busy schedule became more and more difficult.

Over the next few years, Lang-Andersen's resume quickly expanded - fashion stylist, personal stylist, writer, teacher and buyer. Then on June 15, 2016. she officially added fashion designer. Under the label NLA Designs, Lang-Andersen launched her Summer ’16 “Swoon” Collection to an appreciative crowd at Fine Finds Boutique in Yaletown. This collection was a passion project long in the making and her excitement at seeing it finally become a reality was obvious.

From the press release -

         "Inspired by a desire to create a single dress that can adjust to the wearer’s body shape, 
           enhance    curves and create a balanced silhouette, personal stylist and designer
           Nicolette Lang-Andersen (the creative force behind NLA Designs), dreamt up the
           Summer ‘16 Swoon Collection to offer the modern woman a comfortable dress with
           classic flavour in fresh and playful fabrics...[that] can easily swing between morning
           coffee with girlfriends, a day at the office or stepping out to a chic dinner."
Car photos credits - Producer - Crystal Carson -
Erich Saide & Prudence Eliza Gogh
Polka Dot Porsche provided by
Those arriving at Fine Finds were first greeted by a classy white sports car decorated with large black dots. The black/white theme continued inside.  A refreshment table offered black/white french macaroons, white jelly beans, black licorice in a few shapes, crispy cut cookies with artistic black/white frosting decoration (sponsored by Knead Consulting) and black foil wrapped chocolates. Nearby was a tray offering champagne - each flute outfitted with a black/white straw. Why the black/white theme?  It mirrored the palette chosen for this season - a white, a black, a black/white print with large polka dots and a black/white print with large horizontal stripes. Stunning.

Guests mixed, mingled, nibbled and of course headed to the dressing room to try on one of these great dresses. Numerous media outlets were represented including host Fiona Forbes of Shaw TV who filmed a live interview.  Others include, Nicolle Hodges (CTV Host), Samantha Sito (Otisamantha), Colleen Tsoukalas (Clothesline Finds), Leeta Liepins (Our City Tonight), Zara Durrani (Inspired Life Production) Dominique Hanke (Blush Magazine), Natalie Langston (Canada Wide Media) and myself of course.

The designer's long experience in the fashion industry also showed. Instead of coming up with a ton of separate pieces, Lang-Andersen offered a beautiful single dress with a unique concept. Women will love this. The dress is offered in sizes XS to X-Large and in a silhouette that looks fitted, yet adjusts gently and subtly to those small changes our bodies seem to go through from one day to the next. Brilliant!

          “I’ve always been interested in fashion and how clothes can transform a person’s 
            look an self-esteem. I can’t remember exactly when I had my lightbulb moment, 
           but I decided to create a single dress that works for most body shapes, different age
           groups, accommodates the in-between sizes and is adaptable for almost every occasion.” 

I just had to know more!  I hope you enjoy this behind the scenes interview with Nicolette Lang-Andersen as much as I did.  Enjoy

Images by Crystal Carson

= = = =

I know you're South African by birth. Can you share a little bit about how you ended up moving to Vancouver? What were the challenges?

Landing in Vancouver was a bit of a fluke really and not a city that had ever even crossed my mind to visit let alone live in. In the last couple years of living in London, my husband and I started contemplating on where we wanted to settle down and start a family. We pondered on a few different places. but a dinner with friends of our one night set the ball rolling. Our friends had just spent a month in Vancouver and raved about what a wonderful city it was - balanced lifestyle, not crowded like London can tend to be, a big enough city (for my shopping habbit), great people and great sushi. Well, that was that and by the following Monday we had started out application and a year later we arrived with more bags than ten men could carry (all my clothes and shoes of course)!

Image by Crystal Carson
 Also in the last two years of living in London, my personal styling business was taking great shape and I was definitely fearful that all my hard work and dream career could possibly come to a sudden halt when moving to Vancouver. I had heard numerous times that it wasn't a city known for it's fashion. But I thought - well, perfect - more work for me then! I researched as much as I could in the lead up to our move and joined many groups so that when I landed I had booked my first photo shoot the weekend we arrived. The following months I spent ferociously getting to know the city and the smaller retailers, walking in and introducing myself to anyone and everyone. For a year, I curated a great network of contacts who are now dear friends within the fashion industry and a year later I re-launched my personal styling business.

How did your journey to embrace a career in fashion all come about?

Like so many others in my position, fashion was never seen as a career option when I was growing up or thinking about what direction I wanted to go. I followed the path of the corporate field. This was my career for many years, but I always dabbled in fashion and sewing projects on a very small scale. It wasn't until work colleagues would ask for constant fashion advice that I realized I could make a career in Personal Styling.

Your resume is quite varied. Can you tell readers about all the things you are involved in?

Yup, I definitely have my fingers in a few different pies! And some are more on the forefront than others in this time of my life. For example, my writing has been on a bit of a back burner for the last year and a half, as has my personal styling - mostly because I have a 1.5 year old and I had to let a few things go in order to maintain some sort of balance. Being approached to buy for Fine Finds boutique and teaching positions at VCC and JCI have been a wonderful new experience that I didn't foresee in my fashion career, but roles I feel very comfortable and passionate about. My latest endeavor into designing has been all consuming over the last 6 months and out of all of my roles, it has been the most challenging but rewarding in the same breath.

Images by Rafael Escobar

Recently you launched your first collection. This is a passion project you've been working on for awhile. What was the driving force that led you to this moment.

The idea to create a single item that works for most (not all) body shapes hatched about 2 years ago after working with my female clients. Most of them brought up the same frustrations of not being able to find pieces that work for their shape among all the trend specific items on offer. Another challenge was the difference in sizes that were offered from one store to the next, which is where the NLA DESIGNS dress offers a solution. Each size accommodates for 2 sizes - for example, a size S works for a size 4-6 perfect for weight fluctuations or those with in-between sizes. Coincidentally, this was when I fell pregnant and although the prototype was complete, I decided to put it all on hold during my maternity leave and get acquainted with my little man. I picked up the project again November last year and it's been a whirlwind ever since.

Images by Rafael Escobar

Please share your inspiration for Swoon 2016. Who is this collection designed for?

This dress is designed for women from all walks of life - corporate, stay-at home moms, teens. The dress' classic style and design make it appropriate for many ages and for different situations, from office to evening, daytime frolicking to a day at the races.

Talk about palette, fabric choice, etc,

The dress is a crisp and timeless style enlivened by the use of two fresh prints (stripes and polka dots) and two versatile solids (black and white). The limited palette and bold prints allow the wearer to dress in comfort and accessorize with flare and imagination to create a personal statement what will ooze confidence.

Is this a line you will be adding to with each upcoming season?

I plan to, yes. The dress will always be the main focus and be a constant, but I'm already thinking about adding in a few pieces.

What advice can you give young people just entering the world of fashion?
Research! Research your product, your city, your client. Stay focused and remember why you started out doing what you are doing. Keep a group of positive and uplifting people around you on your journey and don't take to heart any negativity, they are just little hurdles. Always follow your gut instinct.

Please share a favourite fashion quote.

Hmm, I don't have one favourite fashion quote, but this one is at the forefront at this time..."Life is too short to wear boring clothes" - Nicolette Lang-Andersen'

Links & Contact - 
Website –
Facebook -
Instagram - @nlastyleanddesign
Twitter – @NLAstylist
Interviews - Please email or call 1-778-558-8796

The Amazing Nina Simone: A Documentary by Jeff L. Lieberman

"She was left out of Civil Rights history,
erased by jazz critics, and forgotten by most
Americans because no one knew how to
categorize her greatness. But throughout the
1960s, Nina Simone was both loved and
feared for her outspoken vision of Black
Freedom. Her musical proclamations like
Mississippi Goddam, and her iconic style
gave voice to people of all colors facing
oppression, and continues to empower today
with its unrelenting appeal for justice."

I was fortunate to have my dear friend Randi Winter make me aware that the Canadian premiere of The Amazing Nina Simone: A Documentary was to be held right here in Vancouver - Writer/Director Jeff L. Lieberman's home town - at The Playhouse. Nina Simone was a mystery to me. However, her name has been in the press a lot lately, so I was curious. This evening was my chance to finally hear her story.

This opening show was a true celebration!  After a short welcome, the evening began with a musical tribute to Nina by The Henry Young Quintet (Henry Young - Guitar/Conductor, Jaye Kerbs - Piano, Paul Blaney - Acoustic Bass, James Nolan - Drums and Albert St. Albert - Percussion/African Instruments).  Singer/actor Candus Churchill took the mike, sharing introductory notes on each number first and then offering her strong vocals to bring the song to life.  Their set included such well-known hits as Milestones (Intro) into Devil's Workshop/Go to Hell, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, Love Me Or Leave Me, I Put A Spell on You and See-Line Woman. It was an amazing opening and the audience responded enthusiastically.

The movie came next.  It was a bit longer than the average documentary, but I can't image a single thing I would cut. Her life was interesting and varied, with many layers. The story line moved through her humble beginnings; prejudice, her training and phenomenal talent as a classical pianist and the roadblocks that arose to block that career; how her journey as a singer began; how she was truly unique from her contemporaries; marriage; mental illness; health challenges and more.

I want to offer my personal kudos to Lieberman. I love hearing unique journeys - the reason my career is focused on interviewing. Through original clips of Nina being interviewed and performing, historic images, interviews with her family/friends/associates (over 40 altogether); and commentaries on the political and racial issues that impacted her life - I came away feeling like I had been given the chance to really get to know Simone. Not an easy task.  I highly recommend this movie.  Not just to learn about the artist, but to more deeply understand what was happening in America during that time of unrest.

After the movie was finished, many of us had to unfortunately leave.  There was something special in store for those who were able to stay longer. Director Jeff L. Lieberman and conductor Henry Young took to the stage for an intimate Q and A with audience members. What a treat.  How many times does the audience get a chance to interact with the write/director to get answers right from the source?

For those who missed the premiere, I have fabulous news.  Lieberman has just announced that the Rio Theatre at 1660 E Broadway in Vancouver, will be offering additional showings (movie only) on July 2-4th, and may be adding more. Info on showtimes and how to purchase tickets can be found HERE.

I would book your ticket today as this movie is on fire! I know you'll love it. Enjoy!

Nina Simone Tribute by Brother Sam Waymon: "Just Like a Woman"

Links - 
Director's website -
Twitter - @JeffLLieberman and @AmazingNinaDoc
Movie Specific Website -
Rio Theatre -

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Siren Call of the Open Road

I love travelling.  Exploring unique areas of the world with different cultures makes my heart sing. When I get the opportunity to visit a new place,  I always pick a self-directed tour company to set up the basics and offer suggestions. But my daily schedule is always at my discretion. I walk the streets, I ride the transit, I try to eat in places the locals frequent and I book one-on-one guides who can open up the history of the area for me.

Then there are the visits to warm tropical destinations. Walking on beaches, snorkeling and watching the sunset from my balcony while sipping a fruity drink laced with rum is not to be missed. There is something truly relaxing about a trip that doesn't involve sight seeing - allowing yourself to step away, to fully relax, to just be in the moment and shed all the stress you've been carrying.

Another big favourite of mine is road trips. While I do not enjoy driving in the city, put me in a car on the open road and I can drive all day.  In my 20's, I didn't have a lot of money for travel. so road trips were perfect. I could spend 14 hours behind the wheel when I was in the groove.  Of course there were stops here and there for bathroom breaks, stretching and enjoying a beautiful view, but those were often few and far between.

My husband and I did a lot of driving when the kids were young. We couldn't afford the air fare for five people, so camping and visiting relatives topped the list. This meant driving - sometimes for long distances. The kids struggled a bit, but for me. the call of the open road was always one I loved. We spent many wonderful summers camped at Lakeside Resort at Tuc-el-nuit Lake. Another fav was visiting the uncles' farms in South Dakota for 4th of July where we enjoyed giant family reunions, ate tons of fabulous home-made food and blew up amazing fireworks not available to us in B.C. On the way home we explored the Black Hills/Badlands. Claustrophobic as I am, I somehow managed a cave tour. Mum's can't show fear. There was also a road trip to Yellowstone National Park (you just have to see those geysers!). All are fond memories.

Even our first vacation without the kids was on the open road. We again drove to South Dakota to visit relatives for the 4th of July and then headed down to Zion National Park in Utah where we spent seven days hiking the trails. By the time we returned to British Columbia we had logged in 7,000 kilometres.

These last six months I have found my creative well running dry. I've been pushing hard on writing, launching and then marketing my first book - Life Outside The Box: The Extraordinary Journey of 10 Unique Individuals -  for over two years with few breaks. There have been family concerns that have weighed heavily on my spirit. While I have several new books in development that are ready to go, the words just aren't flowing.

When Glen and I discussed what our vacation would be this year - the first since he retired - it was the open road that again called. This time we'll be logging in around 10,000 kilometres as we cross parts of the U.S and Canada visiting family and stopping by Yellowstone. Glen is hoping to do a little fly-fishing in Montana on the way home - weather permitting. There is something very meditative about driving through natural landscapes where there are few cities and a great distance between them.

This is exactly what my creative soul needs. A LONG road trip is the perfect way to take a step back from everything, refocus and refill my creative cup to overflowing. I CAN'T WAIT!!!!! Cuing up the perfect road trip anthem – Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Wildly Successful TEDxGastownWomen Returns: Saturday, October 29, Bigger and Better

TEDxGastownWomen, Vancouver’s only TEDxWomen event, will take place on Saturday, October 29 from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM at The Imperial. The theme of this year’s event is “Power”’

Brittany Whitmore, founder and executive director of TEDxGastownWomen said: “The team is thrilled to bring back TEDxGastownWomen for a second year and continue to build on the momentum of our first event. We are doing it bigger and better this year, and have secured a larger venue with room for 320, after last year’s event sold out in just 20 minutes”

Images by Suzanne Rushton Photography

TEDxGastownWomen is currently seeking a diverse range of speakers covering topics related to the overarching theme of “Power.” Spoken-word artist, musicians, speakers and stand up comics and more are welcome to apply. In 2015, TEDxGastownWomen received nearly 250 applicants. The application deadline is July 15th

The event will also feature exclusive, new to the world, streamed TED talks from the TEDWomen event taking place only a day prior in California. The theme for TEDWomen is “It’s About Time.”

Aimee Sehwoerer of Investor’s Group, and returning partners: Langara School of Management, Tradable Bits, Suzanne Rushton Photography, and other businesses have already signed on to partner with the event. In 2015, the event partnered with over 30 businesses.

Images by Suzanne Rushton Photography

Sign up at to get on the mailing list and be notified of ticket sales and event updates. 

Read reviews of last year’s inaugural event on Hello Vancity and Vancouver is Awesome. See photos of last year’s event on Flickr.

TEDxGastownWomen Media Contact: Brittany Whitmore
Phone: 778.238.6096
Twitter: @BritWhitmore

More information is available at:

You can follow the event on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn
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Image by Suzanne Rushton Photography
About TEDxGastownWomen

TEDxGastownWomen was the first TEDxWomen event to take place in Vancouver - celebrating the power of women and girls to be creators and change-makers. The theme for 2016 is Power, 2015's theme was Fearless. TEDxGastownWomen 2016 will take place on October 29 and will feature a curated lineup of diverse speakers spanning industry, origin, age and experience. The presentation will also feature a selection of simulcast segments of the TEDWomen event taking place in California. The goal of this event is to help people connect in an environment that inspires the expression of unique points of view, and dialogue that can open minds and change opinions about the meaning of Power.

About TEDx

x = independently organized event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TED Talks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

Cynthia Pace Brings Class To Another Level

Guest Post By Vince Chura
Watermarked images by Silvester Law, all others courtesy of guests in attendance.

Place your napkin on your chair if you’re returning! Place your napkin neatly to the left of your plate when you've finished your meal! Don’t use that fork, use this one. It’s always to the left, not the right; to the left, I said! That guy just ate my bread, thinking it was his! Ugh, please stop licking your fingers! Oh, you didn’t just chew with your mouth open, did you?!?! I could go on, but it wouldn't be too terribly polite.

 Most people, unbeknownst to themselves, have atrocious table manners. People offend us, annoy us, and otherwise irritate us. We tolerate this politely because we don’t know how to tell someone, (in the nicest possible way), “Look, your table manners absolutely suck!” We’ve all been there, we’ve all been annoyed, and at times, couldn’t wait until the dinner or event was over to get away from that person. This can damage friendships and business relationships to the unaware. Then, someone like Cynthia Pace comes along and hope springs eternal. I think everyone should consider taking a dining etiquette course with her. She offer various different programs.

I attended a Lunch Etiquette 101 hosted by Cynthia Pace to learn the ABCs of table manners. I also wanted to familiarize myself with the dos and don’ts of dining and improve my social skills. During a beautiful two-hour five-course lunch, Cynthia covered a lot of ground. Around 30 other diners and I learned the basics of fine dining etiquette applicable to 5 separate lunch courses.

-how to place your napkin
-how to approach and sit in your chair
-navigating place settings and using utensils for five courses
-rules for eating bread and buttering it
-soup etiquette
-salad etiquette
-appropriate behavior at the table
-dealing with unwanted food
-how to pass food
-how to (or not to) share food
-basics on giving a toast
-slicing food
-much, much more

It’s amazing how much she packed into two hours. Most of us learned a lot, and we all left feeling more sophisticated and cultured. The two-hour class was friendly, fun, relaxed, and interactive. There were questions, hands-on practice, a PowerPoint presentation, and applicable music. The event really was flawless, and she made it so much fun!! Who would have thought this was possible with such boring subject matter?

I think I speak for everyone when I say that I was very very impressed. The event was fun and relaxed, while being informative with lots of etiquette takeaways. Today’s etiquette is still complicated, but it's more modern and relaxed than it used to be. Making people around you feel at ease and respecting the personal space of people around you is the key. I liked the practice with the group interaction. We all chatted as we practiced with our dining table mates.

She even passed out fancy cookies with one of her quotes on it: “A bad mood is no excuse for bad manners." They looked too good to eat, but someone had to do it. They tasted as delicious as they looked.

She left us with her top five etiquette tips:

1. Place your napkin on your lap as soon as you take your first sip of anything; that signals the beginning of your meal. Place your napkin on your chair if you’re leaving the table and planning to return. When you're finished your meal, place your napkin neatly to the side of your plate or bowl; this signals that you’re finished your meal.

2. Never reach across the table for something. Ask someone politely to pass it to you.

3. Avoid using utensils and cutlery as instruments to point at things or people. And once a utensil is used, it should never touch the table again.

4. Keep your mouth closed when chewing. Avoid making noises like slurping, clinking your glass or cup, or talking with your mouth full.

5. Do not blow on your soup or food, and don’t play with your food. Allow foods and liquids to cool down first. Leave food where it is, unless you plan to eat it.

If you’d like to level up professionally, clean up your image, present a more polished version of yourself socially, or are into self-improvement, but seek out fun while learning, contact Cynthia Pace. We had so many unexpected laughs while learning a lot. Many teachers could take something from her approach. Of course her inner and outer beauty doesn’t hurt nor does her kindness.

It was a superb and informative learning experience! Apparently, it can take years to learn all the etiquette, and it's impossible to learn everything during a two-hour lunch. Cynthia also teaches in one-on-one private lessons, small private group events, and intimate dinner parties. As well as etiquette for children, youth, professionals, and varying levels of high formal etiquette

You can contact Cynthia at her website. She's also on Facebook, Instagram and AboutMe.

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Cynthia Pace is an accomplished personal fashion stylist, etiquette teacher, image consultant and events host/MC. She has a BA in Psychology and an MBA in communications. "Always be appropriate" is her motto. And her visions come from inner and outer beautfy. She believes that anyone can be beautiful with the right clothes, the right hair, the right make-up and of course, the right attitude. Cynthia has a social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and AboutMe.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Two No Bake - Gluten Free Cookie Recipes!

I have been trying to keep more healthy choices at my fingertips these last few weeks.  Let's face it, breakfast never goes beyond peanut butter toast most days and when a snack is needed it gets even tougher. How many vegetable sticks can one consume?  They get unappealing pretty fast.

SO............last Sunday I put together 2 easy to grab breakfast options that last in the refrigerator for 4-5 days: Overnight Oatmeal for when I want something hot and Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding for when I'm okay with cold. Both are delicious.  I made too much this time around so need to cut the recipes if I'm going to make them both at the same time again.

One new snack I have embraced is hummus with sliced English cucumber rounds.  For some reason that is working for me.  But there are times I crave a sweet bite.  Fortunately, as I don't eat a lot of dessert and drink my coffee black, it doesn't have to be very sweet to satisfy my cravings.

The easy to embrace idea that drew me in were no-bake cookies with no flour or dairy.  So far I've tried the 2 recipes here. I think the oatmeal cookies from Caroline Phelps on the Pickled Plum blog are the most cookie like. I made them a lot smaller and put just 3 regular size DARK chocolate chips on top - one for each bite. The Dark chips are less sweet and sugary and the flavour more intense. These are a cross between a really dense, heavy fudgy brown and raw cookie dough. Of the 2 I think the first will probably have a wider appeal, but the 2nd will have it's aficionados. 

My next cookie came from a fabulous site called Delighted Momma. I have made many of her recipes and each has been wonderful. This she calls 4 Ingredient No Bake Brownie Bites (Paleo), but if you count the salt, there are actually 5.  I made them the first time with walnuts, but think I over processed it as the dough was dripping with oil. The second time I used Pistachios and was more careful with timing so avoided the problem. I also liked the green flecks in the dough createdy by the pistachios and my husband thought the flavour was more interesting. 

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No Bake Oatmeal Cookies
12 cookies suggested in original recipe, but I chose to make 24 smaller snack size cookies instead.

Ingredients  -
½ C            Creamy Peanut butter
1                 Ripe Banana, mashed
5 T             Honey
3 T             Unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp           Vanilla extract
¼ C            Unsweetened Rice or Almond milk 
¼ tsp          Salt
3 C             Quick oats
Dark Chocolate Chips - 3 per cookie (original recipe used mini-chips)

Directions - 
Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside. 
From Pickled Plum with and
without chocolate chip.

In the microwave, warm the peanut butter slightly just until liquid (could use small pot on stove).  Put peanut butter, banana, honey, cocoa power, vanilla, Rice or Almond milk and salt in food processor and pulse until smooth (this step can be done by hand as well, I just wanted the banana fully blended).  Scrape out into a bowl and add the quick oats. Stir until fully mixed.

The original recipe says to scoop out 2 T of mixture and shape into a round cookie, then place on the parchment paper.  I made smaller balls, about 1 inch I would guess, placed them on the parchment paper and flattened into a cookie shape.  This made 24 instead of 12 cookies which I prefer. When finished I topped each with 3 DARK chocolate chips.

Place cookie sheet uncovered in the refrigerator and cool the cookies for at least 2 hours. Place in an airtight Tupperware container and store in the refrigerator. YUM!

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No Bake Brownie Bites (Paleo)
Note - original recipe was with walnuts. I tried that once and then once with Pistachios. While both were good, I think they had a more interesting flavour with the pistachios.
Ingredients - 
1 C             Pitted dates
1 tsp           Vanilla
1/3 C          Unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt 
1-1/2 C       Pistachios (original recipe used walnuts)

Delighted Momma version made with walnuts

Directions - 
Add first 4 ingredients to your food processor. Process until fully combined. (Note - Delighted Momma put it all in at once. I don't know if I just over processed the dough, or if it was my walnuts, but the balls were uber oily. So changed to adding them a little later to make sure I didn't do it again. You could try it all at once, but just be careful.)

Add the pistachios and continue to process just until you have a sticky consistency. If you over process, the oil starts to come out of the nuts. If your brownie mix seems a little dry you can add a few drops of water. 

Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Roll out into bite size balls and place them in a an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Overnight Oatmeal - Ready When You Rise!

Image from
I really don't enjoy making breakfast first thing in the morning. All I need when I arise is a half a pot of coffee. Then awhile later a piece of hot toast with peanut butter is usually as deluxe as it gets.

I think that's why I enjoy going out for a wonderful hot breakfast so much. It's my favourite restaurant meal. Not only do they keep filling my cup, they offer me all the wonderful breakfast foods I'm too lazy to make at home - omelets, classic eggs and bacon and breakfast bowls.  I have, however, been exploring some make ahead options as my diet need improving.

First is a Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding (recipe HERE) that I chock full of fruit. It doesn't take long to mix up and is good in the refrigerator for several days. Another great option that takes a little more work is the BC Cranberry and Chocolate Power Cookies (recipe HERE) created by a local chef. They are gluten and dairy free, full of fiber and tasty as well.

Left Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding l- Right BC Cranberry and Chocolate Cookes

For a hot option I began to consider overnight oatmeal. There are a couple ways to do it - one with a thermos and the other in the refrigerator.  I have 2 links for the thermos variety. First is the tradition with steel cut oats (not rolled). I enoyed this at my brother's house - You just scoop it out in the morning and add your toppings at the table.  I also found another thermos recipe that uses rolled oats and suggests you can add dried fruit and cinnamon when you mix it up the night before - I am going to have to try this soon.

Steel Cut Oats cooked overnight in a thermos.

The one I decided to try last night is inspired by Scandinavian Muesli. Here you combine rolled oats, milk or non-dairy option (rice milk, almond milk, etc.) and Greek yogurt. You mix it up the night before and eat it cold or heated in the microwave the next morning.  Additions can be added the night before or in the morning for extra crunch.
Food Network overnight oatmeal options

There are lots recipes you can try, but here is the combination I came up with.  I chose to eat it hot more like cooked oatmeal. The yogurt added a tart note and it honestly didn't need any sweetener. Don't forget - if you want the final product to be firmer or runnier, just adjust the rolled oats to milk/yogurt ratio.

AND if this calls to you - you really should check out the great variety of options offered in this Food Network article HERE. Really fun and lots of choice.

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Overnight Oatmeal
Enough for 4 days unless you eat big servings.

1-1/2 C          Rolled Oats
1-1/2 C          Rice Milk (or Almond or Soy or regular - just use your favourite)
1-1/2 C          Greek Yogurt
1                    Ripe Banana, thoroughly mashed.
2 tsp.             Chia Seeds
1                    100 Gram package Slivered almonds
1-2 C             Mixed Berries (I added a mix of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries
                      and blackberries)

Mix rolled oats, milk, Greek yogurt, banana and chia seeds thoroughly. Gently stir in nuts and berries. Seal tightly in Tupperware container and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, place your desired serving amount in a bowl and warm in the microwave or eat cold like a traditional Muesli.

Option - fruit and nuts can be added in the morning instead of the night before, but I like it ready to go when I get up.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Interview with R. Breuer Stearns, author of The Question

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author?

I suppose that it might make for a more interesting interview if I told you that I always had a compulsion to write or overcame tremendous hurdles to move my novel from concept to reality. But, the truth is, an interesting concept bubbled into my mind that developed into a lively story. I think that writers can take many paths to become excellent authors. The key common point is that writers write. Saying that you are a writer does not make you a writer. Writers write.

When I look at your bio, the subject of The Question seems far removed from your career path. Where did the inspiration for this story line come from?

What inspires me inspires you and your readers, too. Regardless of our backgrounds and livelihoods, we are all innately curious about very fundamental unknowns. We all think similar thoughts when gazing at the Milky Way or across a vast ocean or into a lover’s eyes. We do. That’s why readers relate to THE QUESTION.

How did you conceive and develop your characters? Are they based on people you know?

Yes, the characters in THE QUESTION embody traits and characteristics of many people who I know. None of my characters are precise avatars. Each character is a combination of individuals. I try to make my characters believable . . . so that my readers understand why the characters act the way
they do.

As a first time published author - what surprised you most about the writing/publishing process? What came easy? What was a struggle?

Read Review HERE!
If you are looking for easy wealth and quick fame, writing is not for you. Writing well, for me, is hard. I want my readers to feel what I feel, understand what I understand, question what I question. To accomplish that, I try to balance vocabulary, perspective, tone, level of detail, and tempo. On same days, my writing flows easily. On other days, it’s a struggle.

What kind of research was required to accurately portray the government, research and military people and facilities included in this story?

Prior to and during my writing, I spent significant time reading about and researching the topics discussed in THE QUESTION. Additionally, I interviewed military, political, medical, and behavioral experts, as well as specialists at The Monterey Bay Aquarium.

What did you do to relax when you needed a break from the writing process?

Writing is very solitary, very “internal.” To relax, I try to increase my “external” stimuli by interacting with people and experiencing new places or situations. I try to see colors, hear sounds . . . in general, engage mentally and physically so that my mind and body is refreshed.

Any advice for young authors wanting to write books in this genre?

Start writing! Test your material on family and friends. Learn from constructive criticism. Keep your standards high.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Facebook