Posts Tagged With: Rachel Muenz

Five child authors who have stayed successful

Rachel Muenz Writes About Child Authors - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Child Authors – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - James Valitchka - October 11, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

It’s a common story: An author gets published at a very young age. For a few weeks, she is the centre of media attention, people rave about her talent, her book may sell well, but then she vanishes from the literary world, never to be heard of again.

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Rachel Muenz Writes About a Missing Person - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About a Missing Person – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - J.J. - September 16, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

There was this kid who lived in a town near where I grew up. He was a friend of my cousin’s cousin and went missing when I was in elementary school and he was a teenager. His friends might have called him J.J. so I’ll call him that too.

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Is the media biased against rural areas?

Rachel Muenz - Rural - September 15, 2009

Rachel Muenz Writes About How the Media Portrays Rural Communities – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Rural - September 15, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

Almost every article I’ve read in urban newspapers about the countryside and its people seems to rely on stereotypes. Maybe it’s just because I’m from a small town and more sensitive to these things, but media coverage of rural areas often appears condescending.

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How safe is the H1N1 vaccine?

Rachel Muenz Writes About the New H1N1 Vaccine

Rachel Muenz Writes About the New H1N1 Vaccine – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Vaccine - September 8, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

A friend of my family, who is a nurse, and her colleagues have always refused to get flu shots. When their hospital tried to make the shots mandatory for all staff, they went to the union to put a stop to that plan.

They certainly won’t be getting the H1N1 vaccine when it arrives this fall.

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Simple writing is best for everyone

Rachel Muenz Writes About Simple Writing - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Simple Writing – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Writing - September 12, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

Every English teacher I’ve ever had has always said using plain, clear language is best in any kind of writing. Authors don’t make readers think by language that’s impossible to understand, but by the complex themes and ideas, they write about.

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Cori's Newly Acquired Cell Phone Tells Quite a Story - Photo Courtesy of

Cori’s Newly Acquired Cell Phone Tells Quite a Story – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Abandon - September 1, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

One afternoon Cori found a token and stayed on for the whole route pressed to the back with her nose against the glass, watching the city leak out behind the red and white canister of people. Someone had opened a window at the front of the streetcar and the air chilled her throat all the way down to her stomach.

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Want the best Canadian writing? Read short fiction

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Canadian Giller Prize - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Canadian Giller Prize - Photo Courtesy of

By Rachel Muenz

A couple of weeks ago, British Giller judge Victoria Glendinning bashed Canadian writing in the Financial Times of London. She said our stuff is too homogenous and that it’s easy to get grants and be published if you’re Canadian, no matter how bad your writing is.

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Categories: book reviews, Creative Writing, Culture, Education, Entertainment, Events, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The evil alternatives to Site 52: Part five of a five-part series

Rachel Muenz Writes About Politicians in Comise County as Parody - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Politicians in Comise County as Parody - Photo Courtesy of

By Zema Luncher

North Comise County politicians are disgusted with recent suggestions for the storage and use of garbage at Site 52. Protestors say a landfill is not the best option for the site and there are other methods that would be better for people and the environment.

“We could use one of those new-fangled methane things,” said protestor Shawn Ottens. “Yuh know, like they use over in Europe.”

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A Good Home

Rachel Muenz Writes About Finding a Good Home - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Finding a Good Home - Photo Courtesy of

By Rachel Muenz

I don’t like cleaning because it’s not something where you use your head and when I don’t use my head, it wanders into things I’d rather forget. But I don’t like living in filth either. I’ve had enough dirt in my life as it is. So that’s why I’ve got my fingers down the bathtub drain and the smell of Vim burning the inside of my nose. I find the piece of hair and pull. It keeps coming and coming, a whole ponytail slimy with old shampoo.

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Categories: Creative Writing, Culture, Entertainment, Home Decor, Living, Media Writing, travel, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Struggling Schizoprenic Mother Tries to Make it on Her Own - Photo Courtesy of

Struggling Schizoprenic Mother Tries to Make it on Her Own - Photo Courtesy of

By Rachel Muenz

Uneven rows of umbrellas bobbed towards her. Their metal frames frightened her to the edge of the sidewalk and then back into the alley against the cold dumpster. The thin spokes reminded her too much of wing bones. Her fingers dug at the air around her knees. She looked down and jumped, shocked to find nothing there.

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Categories: Creative Writing, Culture, Disability, Education, Health, Living, Media Writing, Religion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Discoveries of Columbus

Rachel Muenz Writes that Lorian Has a Deep Love for His Dog Columbus - Photo Courtesy of Stockexpert

Rachel Muenz Writes that Lorian Has a Deep Love for His Dog Columbus - Photo Courtesy of Stockexpert

By Rachel Muenz

Lorian sat in the sand, his lap cold without the dog. He glared at the black and silver points of the waves. His father had no right to get rid of it. But Lorian figured he should have seen it coming because his father had never gone out of his way to make him happy.

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Rachel Muenz Writes About Blood, Guts and Gore  - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Blood, Guts and Gore - Photo Courtesy of

By Rachel Muenz

The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen was the blood, spraying from the brick like fireworks. Glorious red. White shards fell among the pinecones, bits of his teeth. His square-jawed face erased. And the shriek had such power, it seemed to vibrate the stripe of sky, the only bit you could see through those God-awful trees. All of it painted by my nine-year-old hand.

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A Rookie's Story is Told by Rachel Muenz - Photo Courtesy of Stockexpert

A Rookie’s Story is Told by Rachel Muenz – Photo Courtesy of Stockexpert

By Rachel Muenz

Jo Henday, Sister:

I should be proud of you but I’m not. Not of a single shot.

Your first goal came off my stick, remember? The puck was pinned to the boards by a couple pairs of skates and there were five of us from both teams working at it in a clatter of wood. Some kid kept cross-checking me in the back – no penalty – but I fought my way through the press of jerseys and dug the puck out. I flung it towards the net because I knew you were there.

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Blue Death: A five-part series by the Teeny Tracer on how protestors are destroying money and lives at Dump Site 52

Rachel Muenz Does a Parody on a Dumpsite - Photo Courtesy of Stockexpert

Rachel Muenz Does a Parody on a Dumpsite – Photo Courtesy of Stockexpert

The plight of North Comise garbage: Part one of a five-part series

By Zema Luncher

In homes across North Comise County, the garbage bag is kept hidden from sight in cupboards or garages, unable to socialize with the families it lives with and treated as less than the family dog. After a week, it is stuffed into a bin and left for hours until it is hurled into a truck for a long, crowded journey to an even more crowded landfill. Here, it is dumped in piles with thousands of other bags, left to be torn apart by seagulls, crows and other scavengers, never knowing the taste of clean water or the smell of fresh air.

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Categories: Creative Writing, Culture, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Health, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Financial degradation at Site 52 puts species at risk: Part three of a five-part series

Rachel Muenz Continues With Part Three of Her Series on Garbage - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Continues With Part Three of Her Series on Garbage – Photo Courtesy of

By Zema Luncher

Protests at Site 52 are putting a severe strain on the financial ecosystem, damaging the habitats of taxpayers and politicians, says Comise County Warden Tom Gudgeon.

Blockades at the proposed dump site in Teeny Township are not only harming these species but the protestors as well, he added.

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Brainwashed by Site 52 protestors: Part four of a five-part series

Rachel Muenz Writes About a Character That Loves Garbage in Part Four of Her Series - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About a Character That Loves Garbage in Part Four of Her Series – Photo Courtesy of

By Zema Luncher

Charlene Rawston used to love garbage. Instead of keeping it in bins or in the garage, she kept the bags in the living room where she could talk to them and share stories. When Site 52 was first proposed she wholeheartedly supported it, happy that other bags like her close friends would finally have a proper home. But then the protestors came and everything changed.

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Bicycle Time

Rachel Muenz Explores Bicycle Time in a Short Story - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Explores Bicycle Time in a Short Story - Photo Courtesy of

By Rachel Muenz

The road unrolls before him, cracked and purple-grey. The pavement is worn but good, better than that behind him, cratered and half-repaired with uneven disks of tar. On either side, trees slide past the corners of his eyes, their branches reaching for his arms. Beyond the trees, the hunched forms of hills, shadowed and filmed with pale green, rise and fall. He feels the hum of the tires in his chest, right through to his heart. It is pure joy.

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Muttluks to the rescue!

Rachel Muenz Writes About Muttlucks for Dogs - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Muttlucks for Dogs - Photo Courtesy of

By Rachel Muenz

They protect your feet from extreme cold when playing in the snow. Military personnel use them to keep the pads of their feet from burning up on the hot ground of Afghanistan. Broken glass and other hazards won’t hurt you because of these boots. You are a dog, after all, and you don’t always pay attention to where you’re walking whether you’re just fooling around or saving lives.

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Categories: Culture, Education, Environment, Living, Media Writing, Pets, travel, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Shoes of mass destruction

Some People Will Do Anything to Blow Things Up - Photo Courtesy of

Some People Will Do Anything to Blow Things Up - Photo Courtesy of

By Rachel Muenz

It begins with a flash of light just below the windows of the aircraft. Then, the fuselage buckles outward and bursts into thousands of pieces which flutter to the ground like shreds of paper. A cloud of thick smoke engulfs half the plane. A shot from inside shows the craft rocking to one side as the floor begins to disintegrate, the camera lens going black as everything is destroyed.

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No country for shoe schools

Rachel Muenz Has Discovered There Are No Shoe Schools in Canada - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Has Discovered There Are No Shoe Schools in Canada - Photo Courtesy of

By Rachel Muenz

There are no shoe design schools in Canada and you can blame that on our climate.

Because of our ever-changing weather, Canadians tend to put function over fashion, according to Sarah Beam-Borg, the assistant curator at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum. “North Americans, traditionally, haven’t been sticklers for beautiful manufacture in footwear also because we need so many different kinds of shoes for our climate,” she says.

There’s a saying at the Bata Shoe Museum, Beam-Borg adds. The average Italian is willing to spend up to $500 for a single pair of beautiful shoes and they’ll have about 10 pairs of shoes in their closet.

The average North American will spend about $70 for a fashionable pair of shoes but they’ll have 30 or 40 pairs in their closet.

Canadians need winter boots, summer sandals, footwear for wet weather, shoes for work, and shoes for play. Paying $500 for each pair would put most people in the poorhouse.
As a result, we don’t worry about style so much and Canada has never gained a reputation for fashion.

“We have our own Fashion Week but Canada isn’t really a fashion centre on the world stage,” says Beam-Borg. “It isn’t known for its footwear design or manufacture and never has been.”

Most shoe manufacture is done in China where labour is cheapest and most of the design is done in Italy, seen as one of the major fashion centres of Europe, Beam-Borg says.
There’s also been little interest in shoe design programs here.
Beam-Borg has worked with the Ryerson University fashion department for the last six or seven years doing shoe design competitions with the students. When the competitions were mandatory, 150 students would show up, but as soon as shoe design was made optional, only nine came to compete.
“Unless it’s a course requirement, students aren’t seeking it out,” she says.

As far as Beam-Borg knows, no one has tried to establish a shoe design school or program in Canada and she doubts anyone ever will.

Greg Flood also says no one has tried setting one up in Ontario.

Flood, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, says if post-secondary schools in Ontario saw shoe design as necessary, they would submit curriculum and criteria for a shoe program to the ministry for funding.

No such submission has been put forward.

“I’m not aware at the present time about a university or college that has identified shoe design as a need within the province of Ontario,” he says.

But, there is one program that focuses on shoes in Canada and it fits perfectly with the North American desire for needs over style.

It is the post-graduate program in pedorthics at Western University.

Pedorthics involves the making of special shoes and inserts for people with foot injuries or ailments. Those who practice it are called pedorthists.

All aspiring pedorthists must take this program.

“Anybody new now entering into this field must graduate and get a diploma through Western,” says Linda Deschamps, a certified pedorthist and kinesiologist who’s also an instructor in the program.

Before, students did an apprenticeship program which involved three years of work to get certified. Deschamps says the new program is better because it is more objective and faster to finish, taking only one year to complete.

With Canada’s aging population, you would think a single program wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the demand for pedorthists’ skills, but Deschamps says this isn’t so.

“If it was just pedorthists that were dealing with the aging feet, it would not be enough,” she says from her clinic in Kingston, Ontario. “But there are other Allied Health Professionals who also deal with the feet.”

Orthotists, who make custom inserts for shoes, chiropodists, who treat foot diseases and deformities, and podiatrists who also care for the foot, are some of the other professionals helping to deal with the increasing foot problems that come with age.

The program at Western is also open to people all across Canada because the courses are offered online with three work terms in between that can be taken almost anywhere in the country.

It was started by one of the first Canadian certified pedorthists, the late Howard Fiegel, and is in its fifth year. Only about 20 students are accepted and around 12 to 20 graduate each year. But, there are advantages to staying small.

“They’re not high numbers from our course but these are very strong students who help another clinic along the way and eventually open up their own,” Deschamps says. “We could take more but those are the numbers that appear to be good candidates.”

She says the program is growing slowly because pedorthics is not a well-known field, having only been in Canada for about 30 years. There are now around 400 pedorthists registered with the Pedorthic Association of Canada.
This slow growth does have its positives though.

“In some ways it’s a very good thing because we have control over the students that come through and the product that leaves in the end,” Deschamps says.

She expects the program will expand to another university in the future, possibly in western Canada, but says it probably won’t get bigger than that.

Also, a second program isn’t likely to open soon.
“There’s only one program because of numbers, because of financing, because of the need at this point,” says the pedorthist, who was certified 17 years ago through an apprenticeship. “We’ve looked into it, [. . . ] but at this point, numbers are only dictating the need for one.”
There are negatives to those low numbers as well.
“If we had larger numbers applying, of course, it would allow us to open more doors and offer more because, financially, we would be more feasible as well,” Deschamps says.
Overall, she says the program is a great one to be in.
“It’s a very strong, young program,” Deschamps says.
As for Canadians interested in the fashion side, there are still options.

Beam-Borg says people usually go to schools in other countries, such as Cordwainers, a shoe design school in London, England.

“You go where the best education is and [. . .], Canada’s never been a traditional place for shoe design or shoe manufacture,” she says.

But she agrees it is difficult for people who don’t have a lot of money to afford the cost of a foreign education. The one-year, post-graduate shoe design program at the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing in California costs $30,000 in tuition.

“If you can’t afford to go then perhaps you can’t be a shoe designer, which sociologically is a problem, absolutely,” Beam-Borg says. “But I think if you have the skill, a lot of people also get bursaries and grants.”

Many people could also take a fashion illustrations program in Canada and then get into shoe design by gaining experience at a fashion house or shoe design company in the U.S. or Europe, Beam-Borg says. There are three such programs in Toronto at Seneca College, Humber College, and Ryerson.

“If you want to do shoe design, fashion illustration seems to be the quickest way to get into that vein,” Beam-Borg says. “If shoes catch your fancy, odds are really good if you can draw a shirt, you can draw a shoe.”

Categories: Beauty, Education, Living, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tabi make ninjas happy

Rachel Muenz Discovered There Are Special Shoes for Ninjas - Photo:

Rachel Muenz Discovered There Are Special Shoes for Ninjas - Photo:

By Rachel Muenz

Most people in Toronto put on high-heels, polished oxfords or running shoes when they go to work. Matthew Wright puts on a pair of tabi.

Tabi are a traditional type of shoe worn in Japan mainly for festivals and are essentially like mittens for your feet, keeping the big toe separate from the rest of your toes. They also happen to be the favoured footwear of ninjas.

Wright has been making training tools and fixing swords for people who practise ninjutsu for about three years.

“I’m very lucky with my profession that I get to say I’m a full-time professional ninja,” he says. “It’s very awesome.”

He says he finds wearing regular clothes strange because he is used to wearing his ninjutsu uniform all the time at work.

“When I go out, I feel I’m putting the costume on. I put the jeans on. I put a shirt on and I look in the mirror and I think I look very funny,” says Wright, who has practised ninjutsu for two years. “I don’t put Gators on, I put my tabi on.”

The shoes look cool but there is more to them than that.

Greg Tremblay, a full-time ninjutsu instructor at Kageyama Dojo in western Toronto also wears tabi every day to work. He says these unique shoes give a ninja’s balance a boost with their split-toe design.

“The big toe is absolutely of prime importance for balance,” Tremblay says, tugging on his own toe  that is poking through his well-worn tabi. “It’s where all your balance comes from and so having that toe separated from the rest of them adds to that feeling of balance.”

You wouldn’t think so, since the cotton tabi tend to slip, but this actually helps with a ninja’s training, says Tremblay who’s at the rank of seventh dan in ninjutsu and bears the title of Shidoshi.

With Canada’s icy winters, training with tabi help simulate a situation where you might be fighting on a slippery, snowy road, says Tremblay, who opened Kageyama in 1996 and has been doing ninjutsu since the early 80s.

The easy-slide fabric forces ninjas to concentrate on their balance instead of taking it for granted.

Wright agrees cotton tabi improve a ninja’s stability.

“They allow me to grip surfaces that are uneven,” he says from the beige mat in one of the dojo’s training halls. “I can feel the terrain so it allows me to really work on my balance.”

Tabi are also easier to clean than other shoes.

“You can throw these in the washing machine and wash them,” Tremblay says, clapping a hand on his tabi-clad foot. “They’re just kind of like really thick, convenient socks.”

There are also more durable, rubber-soled tabi called jika tabi, which ninjas use mostly for outdoor training. In Japan, this type of tabi is used by construction workers.

Wright says jika tabi are excellent for training on hardwood floors because they grip much better than cloth tabi. Jika tabi also make it easier for him to train with his problem knee.

“With a rubber sole, my foot doesn’t slip so I can really feel where the pressure is on my knee,” Wright says, gesturing to his left leg. “It allows me to have a lot more power and accuracy.”

Some moves can only be done wearing tabi.

Amon Kage, who’s been training in ninjutsu for three years but has only been at Kageyama for a week, says he wears tabi just for one type of strike.

“The only reason I actually use them is because of the toe kick,” Kage says. “That’s the only footwear you can effectively use [for the kick].”

This move is a kick with the big toe to any target on an opponent’s body, says Kage, a literature student at the University of Toronto. The split toe is what allows a ninja to pull it off.

When buying tabi, Wright says he wants ones that don’t bite between his toes but have a seam that fits tightly to his foot. He says he still needs some space in the toe area for movement, but not a lot.

“If there’s too much space . . . it doesn’t hold nicely and it’s like wearing a loose sock and you’re trying to move,” he says, running his hand along his new-looking navy tabi. “It’s just uncomfortable all the time.”

Both Wright and Tremblay say it’s best to buy directly from a supplier rather than the Internet. Tremblay finds it easiest to get his tabi directly from Japan, which he visits often.

He says they cost about $15 to$20 Canadian and the larger sizes are around $30 to$35 and last three to nine months before they wear out, depending on how often they’re used.

If you have to buy tabi over the Internet, asking questions is important to make sure you get the right type and best quality, the two ninjas say.

“Ask if they’re Velcro,” Wright says. “If they’re Velcro that’s usually the first sign that they’re not good tabi.”

High-quality tabi have metal tabs at the back that can be adjusted for a better fit.

While Tremblay wears tabi as often as he can, the navy blue ones for ninjutsu, the black jika tabi for outdoor training, and white ones for doing Japanese archery, he avoids wearing them in public. He wore a pair of rubber tabi similar to rain boots when he went out only once.

“I wore them one time on the subway and everybody noticed,” he says with a smile. “It’s totally not something that a ninja would actually wear because then everybody knows you’re a ninja, right?”

Categories: Culture, Health, Media Writing, Technology, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , ,

The shoemaker and the “magic box”

The Shoemaker and the Magic Box - Photo Courtesy of

The Shoemaker and the Magic Box - Photo Courtesy of

By Rachel Muenz

I take off my shoes and socks, roll my pants up to my knees, pull on a pair of thin nylon stockings and put my left foot into what Ken Brubacher calls “the magic box.”

Brubacher is one of only a handful of custom shoemakers left in North America and, once he’s gone, his knowledge would have been lost. Until now.

Brubacher says shoemakers are vanishing partly because the trade is looked down on by the general public and because it is not being passed on to family members, who tend to go to university instead. But, with such a large aging population, there are more foot problems than ever.

Luckily, the box can help.

The “magic box” is the Otabo foot scanner and, in tandem with computer aided design and manufacturing systems and an exhaustive database, is the most sophisticated way of making custom shoes in existence.

Brubacher is showing me how the unit works from his shop, Brubacher Foot Comfort, in Collingwood.

He closes the lid of the box, which has a circular hole on top for my leg.

“It [the scanner] doesn’t like outside light so what we do is bundle the baby up,” Brubacher says, wrapping a blue towel around my knee where it emerges from the box.

He clicks a button on the monitor attached to the box and the scanner emits a high-pitched hum. Cameras move along a track beneath the glass, capturing data from 200,000 points on my foot using laser video technology.

A grey, 3D image of my foot begins to appear onscreen from heel to toe.

Brubacher repeats the process with my right foot and checks the data. There’s a hole in my left foot, which Brubacher says was caused by light.

“If a bit of light got in, and it [the scanner] doesn’t like that, then it will lose a bit of the data in the shaft of your leg,” he says.

Brubacher fills in the missing section with a quick stroke of the mouse, then clicks back to the grey model to show me the hole has disappeared.

A customer’s scans are then sent to the computers on his desk where Brubacher makes some more adjustments before the data is emailed to a factory in Guangzhou, China. Here, a plastic model of each foot, called a last, is made in a CNC milling machine and from those models, near-perfect right and left shoes are made. The shoes are sent back to Collingwood where Brubacher does the finishing touches and makes more adjustments based on feedback from the customer.

“It’s as close to perfection as anything that has ever occurred on the face of the earth, by far,” Brubacher says of shoes made from the scans.

Perfection comes at a price of around $1000 for the shoes, depending on what inserts and fine-tuning are required. But, the grey-haired craftsman says, if it is a case of “it’s either me or the wheelchair,” the shoes are a worthwhile purchase.
The new technology is also helping a small number of shoemakers tackle the public’s growing need for custom shoes by allowing them to serve more customers at a higher speed, says Rob DiFelice, a custom shoemaker in the Niagara region.
“With doing things by means of computers and all this new technology it’s going to totally be able to take over what the shoemaker had done . . . at a faster pace,” says DiFelice whose father taught him shoe repair. “And the product looks beautiful.”

DiFelice says he got into custom shoes because of the huge demand in his area.

Brubacher taught DiFelice how to use the scanner and computer systems in Collingwood and DiFelice still goes there frequently for more training.

He says Brubacher is a very enthusiastic and meticulous teacher.

“You can tell he really loves what he does,” DiFelice says. “He’ll tell me things in his teachings that he’s already told me five times over again.”

“He doesn’t even realize it . . . and he’s as enthused about it as he was from the first time he told me about it,” the younger shoemaker adds. “He likes to make sure you understand what he’s talking about, so he’s very thorough in his teachings too.”
Though Brubacher grew up watching his own father repair shoes, he taught himself how to make shoes and use the scanner and computer systems later on.

“My teacher is fixing my mistakes at night, for free,” he says, looking down his nose. “That’s a stern teacher. You listen to that teacher.”

Brubacher is also passing those teachings on to his daughter, Angela.

She agrees new technology like the foot scanner will replace the dying shoemaker but someone with shoemaking and orthopaedic knowledge and experience, like her father, will still be needed to properly serve those with foot problems. Technology will bring those skills to more people, she says on the phone from the family’s Elmira location.

“It’s much easier for him to teach somebody new, like myself, in a shorter period of time how to use all of that knowledge and the technology,” Angela says.

Brubacher says he’s lost a lot of money investing in the new technology, but he says the greater ability to help people walk in comfort has made up for the loss.

“It’s cost me my fortune but it’s worth it,” he says. “People come in, after the fact and they say, ‘You know, it’s just been an amazing, amazing, miraculous difference.’”

“We’re not dealing with covering up the feet here. We’re dealing with the quality of people’s lives.”

Categories: Beauty, Business, Entertainment, Media Writing, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Need help? Just give me a call with tobacco

Rachel Muenz Writes About Tobacco - Photo:

Rachel Muenz Writes About Tobacco - Photo:

By: Rachel Muenz

Before I climbed to the third floor of the North Borden Building on Spadina, I thought tobacco was bad. But now I know that it can be good, depending on how you use it. Tobacco can help students like me get the confidence they need to make their dreams soar.

It is here at the University of Toronto’s First Nations House where I meet Grafton Antone, one of two Aboriginal elders there, to talk about the work he does with students at U of T. In exchange for that information, I must give him a tiny packet of tobacco wrapped in yellow cloth.

Antone explains tobacco is sacred in Aboriginal culture because it is how natives communicate with Creator, their supreme being, when they need guidance.

“The smoke carries our prayers up to Creator and Creator said, ‘if you want anything, just give me a call and here’s my telephone,’ says Antone, holding up a piece of dried tobacco and laughing. This is why elders are given tobacco in exchange for information and counselling. It’s a way of asking for help.
Students can also bring the elders other gifts. Antone shows me the large block of pink salt stone he got from a student earlier that day who told him it came from Pakistan. He turns it in his hands so I can see the hole in the top where a candle can be put inside and lit to make the stone glow.

Just like lighting the salt stone, Antone helps feed the fires of students’ dreams with his booming laugh and encouraging words so they can shine with success.

“I work with people’s dreams and make them happen,” says Antone, who’s been an elder at First Nations House since about the year 2000.

Antone shows me how he does this by asking students questions and learning what their dreams are. Knowing a bit more about students, he can then bounce ideas off them for how they can go about achieving those dreams.

“That’s where we build; we build on our relationship,” Antone says. “We build on our conversations and that’s what I do. I dialogue with you and in dialoguing with you I’m able to work with you.”

But there’s only so much Antone can do to help a student. Overall, the student needs to have a goal and has to want to achieve that goal in order for Antone to give them guidance.
“A bird needs to have a dream to fly,” he says.

Kathy Marsden agrees. She’s been the native counsellor at the Aboriginal Resource Centre at Georgian College in Barrie for the past 12 years.

“If they’re [the students] not internally motivated, nobody can motivate them to change,” Marsden says. “The support services are about empowering, helping them to work things through themselves, not doing things for them.”

Like Antone, Marsden also uses Aboriginal teachings to help native students at the college. Her main way of helping students is by using what she calls “the medicine wheel approach.”

The medicine wheel is another important symbol of most First Nations, though it differs from group to group. It is a wheel divided into four sections: red, black, white, and yellow. The wheel stands for many different things, but Marsden’s counselling methods focus on the four parts of the self the wheel symbolizes: spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental.
Marsden mostly deals with the emotional part in her counselling but she says the four areas overlap.

“If someone’s under emotional stress, it’s affecting them in all those other areas,” she says. “It’s affecting them mentally, so they can’t concentrate on their academics. It’s affecting them physically; oftentimes they can’t sleep, so I don’t just deal with the emotional part.”

Balance is the aim of Marsden’s approach. She has students fill out a medicine wheel chart to show which of the four areas they need to work on. Eating well and getting enough exercise are some of the things she might help a student with in the physical part, while self-confidence issues could be a part of both the emotional and spiritual sections of the wheel.
“Depending on how lengthy the sessions are we may just deal with one specific aspect,” Marsden says. “But that’s OK. If it helps them get on with their lives, then that’s great.”

Helping students with those emotional problems can be hard.
Antone says that every single student that comes to see him is a difficult case in its own way, but it’s especially hard when the student is angry. Surprisingly, to help students get past their anger, he eggs them on to make them angrier.

“Sometimes when people are angry, it sometimes requires you to get a little bit more angry ‘til you realize that maybe that’s not really the right thing,” he says. “They catch themselves, they calm down and then I’m able to talk to them and maybe bring them down the good path.” The good path can mean forgiving people and treating them better instead of being mad, Antone adds.

Marsden agrees that anger shouldn’t be ignored even though most people see it as a negative emotion.

“The way we look at it is, all our emotions are given to us by Creator so we have to honour all those emotions and it’s how we deal with them that counts,” she says.

Smudging ceremonies are also a way that elders and native counsellors might help students deal with stress and other problems.

In his tiny office at First Nations House with the window open a crack, Antone shows me how smudging is done.

He takes a large shell from a table at the back of the room and sprinkles some grey-white sage leaves into it. He lights them on fire and smoke begins to curl up to the ceiling. I sweep the smoke over myself with my hands three or four times as Antone says for me to do. It has a spicy sweet smell and, as Antone says, “it makes you want to start cooking turkey.”

Aboriginals believe everyone has an energy surrounding them. The smoke from the sage or other plants First Nations use in smudging, such as sweetgrass, works like a shower to wash away negative energy, Antone says.

“What it does is it works with the thinking. It’s good for people and it’s supposed to bring understanding and it’s supposed to clear your mind,” he says. “And in the clearing of the mind it gives a new space, a new time, a new beginning for you to be able to walk the future.”

I feel calmer after bathing myself in the sage smoke and wish I had known about smudging during my last set of assignments.
But smudging doesn’t work for everybody.

“You only get out of it what you put into it,” Antone says.
He adds that postsecondary education is a kind of smudging, because by gaining knowledge, the energy around people changes too.

Learning about the Aboriginal worldview helps students with their personal growth, says Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, an Aboriginal studies professor at the University of Toronto.
Unlike mainstream society, the native viewpoint focuses on the success of everyone as a group rather than the success of one person, Wesley-Esquimaux says.

“When it’s all about you and all you’re concerned about is getting to the top of the game, then you don’t care who you step on,” she says. “Whereas with the Aboriginal worldview it’s not like that, it’s not competitive, it’s about trying to help each other get to a good place.”

By thinking of helping other people instead of just themselves, students not only become better people, they also become part of a community, Wesley-Esquimaux adds. Because of this, they avoid the loneliness and homesickness students often experience when they first get to university or college. Taking part in native community activities like potlucks and feasts means that students gain the support of many people and aren’t left on their own to deal with the transition to university or college.

“They [the students] seem to enjoy the inclusive nature of it. They like being involved in putting together feasts and spending a lot of time with each other,” she says. “They like that part. They don’t feel so isolated.”

Marsden says this idea of community and getting students involved is important at Georgian College as well. Though her counselling services are just for native students, the Aboriginal Resource Centre, like First Nations House, also has events and activities for all students and they have an elder on campus who everyone can visit for help.

“We’re not exclusive, we’re inclusive and that’s a huge factor,” Marsden says.

Changing students’ ways of thinking either through seeing an elder or learning more about Aboriginal culture can help them overcome seemingly impossible challenges at school, Antone says.

“It is not impossible, it’s only the space that you’re sitting in or the environment that you’re engulfed in . . . if we move you over just that much,” he says, holding his hands about an inch apart, “All of a sudden you say, ‘Oh I can see it, I understand it now.”

With a bit of nudging, students see solutions to problems that they were blind to before.

Talking with students and hearing their stories is what Antone enjoys most about working at First Nations House.
“I like to listen to people and I hear their stories. That’s how I can get a story.”

But it also makes him happy when he sees students carrying on what he’s taught them by performing various First Nations ceremonies themselves.

Passing on knowledge is what he really seems to love.
“I changed you,” he says with a laugh. “I smudged you. You’re no longer the same person as you were when you came in here.

You now have an access to the Aboriginal understanding.”
It’s true.

When I first climbed to the third floor of the North Borden Building on Spadina, I was nervous and scared. I didn’t know what First Nations culture was, though I’d read a lot about it.
Now I know a little something, and as I walk away from First Nations House, up the dreary wet street, I’m happy and confident. I know more about who I am.

All because of a little bundle of tobacco wrapped in yellow cloth.

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Canada stuck-up about its writing, but not too much

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Giller Prize - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Giller Prize – Photo Courtesy of

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By Rachel Muenz

Canada has often been criticized for being too snobby about its writing.

William Deverell recently wrote in the National Post that in Canada “there is a push to reward insipid stuff that will never sell” and Canadian publishing is suffering because of this.

I partly agree.

Though I’ve liked most Giller Prize and Governor General’s Award winners I’ve read, they usually aren’t packed with thrills and excitement. If they hadn’t won awards, I probably wouldn’t have bought them in the first place unless someone told me they were really good.

But this doesn’t mean that Canada should break out the awards for anything that sells well.

Canadian schools, libraries, and literary awards should choose books that both entertain readers and change them through the themes and techniques the books use to tell their stories.

There’s not much point in rewarding beautifully-written, thought-provoking books that people find too boring or difficult to read. A book’s message will never make an impact if only three people read it.

Yet, books that are just dumb entertainment without getting readers thinking shouldn’t be pushed either even if they do make big money. Canadian popular fiction writers should only be honoured if they also give their readers something meaningful to think about and debate.

Along with excellent storytelling and entertainment, good writing should always be important as well.

It wouldn’t be fair to writers who spend hours perfecting every sentence to give the Giller Prize or Governor General’s Award for a book that sells millions but is badly-written. Crappy writing should never be encouraged.

Yes, Canada needs to open its heart to popular fiction, but not too wide.

– with files from the National Post

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Harry Potter theme park has company

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Harry Potter Theme Park - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Harry Potter Theme Park – Photo Courtesy of

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By Rachel Muenz

When the new Harry Potter theme park opens in Orlando in spring 2010, it may end up being the most popular park based on either a single book or series of books. But it won’t be the first.

Information on the Internet shows that honour goes to Parc Astérix.

Inspired by the French comic book series and later cartoons starring Astérix the Gaul, Parc Astérix opened in 1989 north of Paris. It is one of the best amusement parks in the world and has rides and shows based on René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s popular character.

A quick Internet search shows there aren’t many more books that have been made into theme parks and most of them, like Parc Astérix, are in Europe.

Finland’s Moomin World is a children’s theme park based on the Moomin books by Finnish novelist Tove Jansson, who died in 2001. The books, written between 1945 and 1970, feature hippo-like creatures called Moomins.

Rather than rides, Moomin World has trails and the houses of characters from the books where children can relive episodes from the stories through different activities. It opened in 1993.

The Harry Potter park will also join a park based on the works of another great British author – Charles Dickens.

Dickens World opened in Kent in May 2007 and is full of Victorian everyday life like Dickens’ novels, though the dark side is toned down somewhat. There are also rides based on his books such as a Great Expectations Boat Ride.

Also influenced largely by the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s series, the Potter park will definitely give these other parks a run for their money.

Universal Studios,’ the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will have a replica of Hogwarts, shops selling Butterbeer, Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and roller coasters based on Harry’s adventures.

– with files from, BBC News,, Wikipedia, and

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5 video games with the best stories ever

Rachel Muenz Writes About Video Games - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Video Games – Photo Courtesy of

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By Rachel Muenz

Storytelling in video games seems to be getting bigger and more important year after year. There are now professional video game writers who craft game stories as carefully as any novelist or scriptwriter.

While the actions a player can perform are still the most important part of a video game, there are some stories out there that would still keep me playing even if the rest of the game was crap.

Out of all the games I’ve played – mostly for Nintendo systems – here are the five I think have the most moving stories.

1) Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean

I actually didn’t like this game when I first started playing it. It was the amazing story that kept me going. The main character, selfish and revenge-driven Kalas, is not the usual perfect hero, but he still has a good side too. The game puts you in the role of Kalas’ guardian spirit, sucking you right into the game’s beautiful fantasy world and forging a strong connection between you and its characters. There are also different possible endings based on decisions you make in the game.

2) Baten Kaitos Origins

This prequel to the first Baten Kaitos matches and at times outdoes the great storytelling in the first game. It’s darker, more violent and action-filled than the first game’s story and the voice-acting for the little movies between game action is miles better. The plot twists are even bigger in this story, though I somewhat expected them because of the shockers in the original game.

3) Golden Sun: The Lost Age

The sequel to another of my favourite games, The Lost Age concludes the story begun in the first Golden Sun. While I loved the story in the first game (it’s the only one I’ve played over and over just to experience the story again), The Lost Age adds even more layers and surprises to the plot. You find out characters that were just evil in the first game aren’t so bad after all and the ending brings both tears and joy.

4) The World Ends With You

This is the most recent game story that’s really pulled me into a game’s world. Though it’s a bit cheesy, it also has characters you end up loving and a darker side too. It is about a bunch of dead kids playing a game to get their lives back, after all. The story is told in awesome comic-book style panels and playing a game that gives you the chance to rise from the dead if you win, but permanently destroys you if you lose, makes you feel pretty bad-ass.

5) Chrono Trigger

Though first released in 1995, Chrono Trigger’s story still shines out among those of today’s games. Again, it’s the typical saving-the-world plot, but time travel adds more depth to the characters and setting. You have to save the game’s world in all its different eras to win, setting it apart from games of the same genre. Chrono Trigger also does a great job of making you feel for the characters and has a very sad twist that you have to work through to get to a happy ending. Like Baten Kaitos, the ending depends on your actions in the game.

For more information on role-playing games, the genre these games belong to, see

– with files from Wikipedia

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Ontario strongest wind power in Canada

Rachel Muenz Writes About Wind Power - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Wind Power – Photo Courtesy of

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By Rachel Muenz

Ontario continues to outpace other Canadian provinces and territories in the wind energy sector. The province has eight new wind power projects lined up, some of which are already under construction, according to the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

Although Ontario doesn’t have the highest number of projects, they should still help the province keep its place as the number one generator of wind-powered electricity in Canada.

The projects are to be completed between now and 2012 and will add almost 1437MW of energy to the 1161.5MW currently generated by Ontario’s wind farms, the association’s website says.

Most recently, reported that Korean company Samsung wants to build a wind farm on the north side of Lake Erie.

The company and the Ontario government haven’t come to an agreement yet but the farm would have 200 turbines if built. In the article, the government said a deal with Samsung would be a huge boost to Ontario’s green manufacturing sector.

If true, that would put Ontario even further ahead of Quebec, which is second to Ontario in wind-generated power. Data from the Canadian Wind Energy Association shows Quebec generates just 531.8MW from its 10 wind farms.

And, Ontario also leads the country in number of wind farms with 24 while Alberta is second with 22, generating 523.9MW of electricity. Nova Scotia is third with 19 farms, but only produces 59.3MW.

But Quebec is the only province that beats Ontario in one area of wind power development.

Ontario’s eastern neighbour has the most wind power projects announced with 23 set to be finished between now and 2015. Quebec’s projects should add about 2890 MW to its existing wind power production when they’re completed.

Ontario’s goal now is to have 4600MW from wind power by 2020 while Quebec plans to have 4000 MW by 2015.

The only areas in Canada without wind farms are Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and so far, they do not have plans to build any in the future.

– with files from, the Toronto Star and the Canadian Wind Energy Association

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Warm gadgets for a cold winter office

Rachel Muenz Writes About Computer Gadgets - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Computer Gadgets – Photo Courtesy of

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By Rachel Muenz

With winter on the way and a colder than normal fall already here, drafty offices can be a frozen Hell for any worker. But there are plenty of gadgets out there to help anyone stuck at a computer all day cope with the cold.

Here are just a few products that will keep you warm this winter:

ValueRays Mouse Hand Warmer three-piece set:

This set includes a blanket pouch, heated mouse and heated mouse pad. The fleece pouch keeps in the heat generated by the mouse and mouse pad, helping your hand stay toasty. The infrared heated mouse and mouse pad run on USB connections and the company claims they relieve arthritis pain and chills caused by bad circulation.

Cost: US$69.95 from

ValueRays USB Heated Keyboard Warm Wrist Pad:

For people who have sore wrists made worse by the cold, ValueRays says their ergonomic keyboard pad will also relieve arthritis and other kinds of joint pain. Like the mouse and mouse pad, it generates a steady temperature between 99 and 104 F and the case can be removed for cleaning.

Cost: US$19.95 from

Mr. Coffee MWBLK Mug Warmer:

As expected, the Mug Warmer keeps your coffee or tea warm while you work away at your computer and starts heating only when you put a mug in it. But, some customers on complain that it only keeps drinks lukewarm while others love it. Overall, it has a four-star rating out of 18 reviews on Amazon.

Cost: $US9.45-12.68 on but is only shipped in the U.S.

HeatMax Heated Socks:

If your office has a nasty draft around your feet, HeatMax’s socks should help. HeatMax says the socks keep in heat from the company’s Foot Warm-Up inserts with an elastic band around the toe. The heat lasts for six hours and most people who bought the socks on Amazon seem to like them as they have a four-star rating out of five reviews.

Cost: US$9.95-12.99 on but are only shipped in the U.S.

Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater:

Lasko’s small, portable heater has an adjustable thermostat, three different modes and a safety feature that keeps it from overheating. In the summer, you can also use it as just a fan. But, though the manufacturer says it’s supposed to be quiet, a few Amazon shoppers said the fan was loud and the heater didn’t last long. Most shoppers were satisfied though, with the heater getting a four-star overall rating out of 188 reviews.

Cost: US$24.08 on but is only shipped in the U.S.

Note: Products not tested by Donna Magazine

– with files from and

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‘Healthy’ cereals often just sugar in disguise

Rachel Muenz Writes About Healthy Cereals - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Healthy Cereals – Photo Courtesy of

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By Rachel Muenz

You may have seen the Quaker Harvest Crunch commercials. The ones with the middle-aged dad using reverse psychology so his son and father won’t eat his Harvest Crunch. He tells them it’s “bad” for them with its fruit and nuts and doesn’t taste good.

As the audience, of course, we’re led to believe exactly the opposite. That it’s both tasty and healthy. But Harvest Crunch is just one cereal in my cupboard that isn’t as healthy as it’s marketed to be.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation says cereal should have no more than 6 grams of fat per serving to really be good for you and no more than 240 milligrams of sodium per serving.

An article in Alive, a Canadian health magazine, says you should also check the ingredients lists of cereals before buying. The ingredient listed first is the one that makes up most of the cereal. If sugar is number one, it means you’re getting mostly sugar.

Harvest Crunch, along with over half the cereals in my house, did not stack up to these recommendations. Here’s how they did:

A 2/3-cup serving of Quaker Harvest Crunch Original:

Though it says it “makes a nutritious snack” on the box and has 0 trans fats, it has 9 grams of regular fat and 7 grams of saturated fat. It also has double the amount of sugar suggested by the Heart and Stroke Foundation with 12 grams. A look at the ingredients list shows Harvest Crunch is mostly rolled oats but brown sugar makes up the third largest percentage of the cereal. At least it doesn’t have much sodium with only 35 milligrams.

A 3/4-cup serving of Quaker Life, toasted cinnamon flavour:

Quaker did not fare well, overall. A bowl of its cinnamon-flavoured Life cereal, though just 130 calories without milk, has 9 grams of sugar. Whole grain oats are the number one ingredient but sugar is number two, meaning that Life is pretty much just a bowl of sugar and oats. Again, the sodium’s not bad at 170 milligrams and there’s not much of any kind of fat, but that’s still a lot of sugar.

3/4-cup of Kellogg’s Just Right:

While the box boasts Just Right is low in all kinds of fat – 2 grams fat, 0.3 grams saturated, and 0 grams trans – it’s still over the 6-gram maximum of sugar with 7 grams. It also just meets the sodium requirements at 240 milligrams per serving. But, even though it has too much sugar, it does have some nutrient value. The main ingredient is whole wheat and sugar is just number five on the list.

Despite all that sugar, at least I can take some comfort in knowing my brands of choice, MultiGrain Cheerios, and Corn Flakes have passed the sugar and sodium test.

a 1-cup serving of General Mills MultiGrain Cheerios:

A bowl of MultiGrain Cheerios is just 120 calories, has little fat and just meets the Heart and Stroke suggestions with 6 grams of sugar. It’s a little high in salt but is still under the maximum at 200 milligrams. Sugar is high on the ingredients list in the number three spot but this cereal is mostly whole grain corn.

1 and a 1/4-cup of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes:

Not only does it have the biggest serving size, but Corn Flakes are also the healthiest choice in my cupboard. They’re only 110 calories and have 0 grams of any kind of fat, unless you add milk and only 2 grams of sugar. Sugar is second on the list of major ingredients though, after flaked milled corn, which makes me wonder a little about the vitamin content. It’s also high in salt, but still under the 240-milligram maximum with 220 milligrams of sodium in each bowl.

While it’s a bit depressing that over half my ‘healthy’ cereal is full of sugar, at least I know which ones to avoid now. And, though I’m often still hungry after some Corn Flakes, seeing how much healthier they are, I guess it’s goodbye cruel Life, hello Corn Flakes.

– with files from and Alive magazine

Categories: Culture, Education, Entertainment, Health, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Author profile: James Valitchka

One of James Valitchka's Nine Books is Superheroes Don't Have Dads - Photo Courtesy of

One of James Valitchka’s Nine Books is Superheroes Don’t Have Dads – Photo Courtesy of

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By Rachel Muenz

James Valitchka’s writing has put him on an ambitious road.

His ninth book, Superheroes Don’t Have Dads 2, is to be released Nov. 3 and focuses on his link to President Barack Obama. Valitchka got to meet and speak with Obama for a few minutes as part of a school trip to Washington on Jan. 19, 2009, the day before the president’s inauguration.

The 14-year-old author says it’s his dream to follow in Obama’s footsteps and become President himself, either that or the Prime Minister of Canada. As a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S., he would be eligible for either position.

That goal might be unrealistic to some, but Valitchka says this is the path he was meant to follow, though he adds he’s intimidated by the challenges he faces at times.

“It is strange because so many people tell me [being Prime Minister or President] is my calling and I feel it sometimes driving in the car with my mom,” he said in an email interview on Oct. 9. “I know that God has a purpose for my life and it’s scary and overwhelming but I have to be obedient.”

Superheroes Don’t Have Dads 2 is the sequel to the book that launched Valitchka’s writing career, Superheroes Don’t Have Dads. Published when he was just eight, that book went on to become a national bestseller and also proved Valitchka as a leader when he went on a tour to encourage literacy and discourage bullying.

Now an established motivational speaker as well as an author, Valitchka has plenty of good advice for young writers. He says his favourite part of writing is the creative aspect and adds writers shouldn’t be afraid of using their imaginations.

“I love escaping from the world as it exists and creating hope, new experiences, better experiences, with a pen or pencil or computer,” says the Appleby College student. “I always tell [other] students, ‘Go for it. Let your imagination run wild!’”

Valitchka says keeping a notebook with them at all times is also very important for young writers to capture that wild imagination.

“When I get the words I can lose them so easily and I don’t remember them later,” says Valitchka, who also runs two organizations that help youth, Stand Up and Speak Out – Voice for Children and Youth and Global Youth United for Success.

For Valitchka, overcoming the fear of sharing those words and finding the time to write are the biggest challenges he faces. But even with schoolwork, sports and hanging out with family and friends he still makes time to write for half an hour each day.

When he gets stuck with his writing, Valitchka says he takes time away from the problem, like he does with any other.

“I take a day off and usually in a quiet time a voice will speak to me and it is so beautiful I have to write it and those are always the best parts of the story,” he says. “When we are still we hear God’s voice and he is the best storyteller in the world.”

Writing in your own voice, no matter what editors or other people might say is also important for young writers, Valitchka adds. But he also points out that, although writing is fun, it’s not something people tend to make money doing.

“You have to be very realistic about a career in writing,” Valitchka says. “It doesn’t pay the bills.”

At the same time, he says staying positive is important, especially for young writers, who often aren’t taken seriously.

“You have to know who you are and believe in yourself and others,” Valitchka says. “When I’m faced with negativity, I say, ‘Nice to meet you, take care’ and I’m gone.”

As far as the writing process goes, the young author says he writes about what he’s experienced but also uses his imagination. He says he both plans and improvises when writing.

“For essays, I use an essay outline,” Valitchka says. “For story writing, I use my heart.”

However, he says he used more structure and planning when writing Superheroes Don’t Have Dads 2 because it is a sequel. He’s also working on another book, Mischievous Maiya, about his four-year-old sister.

Although being a world leader is Valitchka’s long-term career plan, he says he’ll still keep writing even once he’s achieved his goal.

“I will always write because that is how I connect with others and that is very important to me,” says Valitchka. “If God gives me a story, He expects me to do something with it and about it.”

It’s not mine, it belongs to the universe.”

For more information about James Valitchka or to contact him, visit his website For more about Stand Tall and Speak Out, visit

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Winter activities that should be brought from country to city

Rachel Muenz Writes About Winter Activities - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Winter Activities – Photo Courtesy of

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By Rachel Muenz

Back in January 2009, an article in the Toronto Star said Toronto should to do more to help its citizens love winter. The city should celebrate the cold and snow instead of complaining about it, the story said.

I couldn’t agree more.

Coming from the boonies, there’s always been a ton of fun things to do in the winter. I’ve always looked forward to it and was surprised by how much people hated the snowy season when I moved to Toronto. But, after finding out how little there is to do outdoors, I can see why Torontonians dread the first snowflake.

With winter already in the air, here are some pursuits from the country that should be imported to the city:

A sugar shack:

I’m not sure how it would be done but I’m sure someone smarter than me could figure it out. Put a sugar shack in the middle of downtown Toronto. Or at least snack stands to sell maple syrup products. What’s more fun than eating vanilla ice cream drizzled with maple syrup or a box of maple candies? Children and their parents could learn about how maple syrup is made and stay warm beside the boiling vats of sap.

Ugly snowsuits:

Torontonians are just too fashionable to keep properly warm. No wonder they hate the cold. In the country, people dress to stay warm even if they look like complete idiots. For just one day – Ugly Snowsuit Day – Torontonians would have to dress up in the most awful-looking, but warmest, clothes they own. At the end of the day, prizes would be given for the ugliest outfit.

Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing:

Toronto’s parks should be made more welcoming for both these sports. Stations could be set up in existing buildings where people could rent skis or snowshoes and warm up with hot drinks and snacks. Workers would be on hand to lead a nature ski or snowshoe through the park and get newcomers more comfortable on their skis. You could also buy birdseed to feed the birds along the way.

Snowball fight:

I’m sure kids in Toronto’s schools have snowball fights just as often as children from the country, but it should be made into a city-wide event. For a Saturday afternoon, if there’s enough clean snow, Toronto should shut down part of Yonge Street and have a free-for-all snow brawl. There would be rules for safety, of course, no head shots, but anyone could enter. Registration fees could go towards supporting homeless shelters and there would be food and prizes afterward.

Cardboard toboggan races:

An annual event in my area, cardboard sled races need to be brought to Toronto. Teams build, decorate, and then race their toboggans down park hills and get prizes based on design and number of races won. Sometimes the creations are pretty ridiculous and it’s great fun to watch with a hot chocolate in your hand, especially when people go for a tumble.

How could you not love winter with activities like these?

Categories: Beauty, Culture, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Events, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Torontonians wise to vehicle theft but not auto insurance, sources say

Rachel Muenz Writes About Car Thefts - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Car Thefts – Photo Courtesy of

Image result for Car Thefts

By Rachel Muenz

A little education can go a long way. It can vault someone into a higher-paying career, help people understand different cultures and keep them off the streets. It can also help reduce car theft.

Auto thefts in Toronto have been dropping steadily for the past few years, according to figures from the Toronto Police Service. In 2007, a grand total of 8,506 vehicles were stolen in the city, while in 2008, thieves made away with 6,687, a 21 percent drop from the year before.

And, so far this year, there’s been a further 20 percent decrease with 4,175 vehicles stolen as of Oct. 13.

Const. Wendy Drummond of the Toronto Police Service’s public information unit says this is likely because of increased knowledge of car theft and more focused policing.

“People are becoming wise to car security,” Drummond says. “The manufacturers are installing anti-theft products in the cars, people are using them and our general and overall police patrol have specialized units with auto theft.”

Thanks to information campaigns in the winter, more people know that thieves often steal cars when owners leave them running in their driveways with the keys in them, she adds. Drummond says Torontonians are also more aware of another type of auto theft that begins with a theft in their houses.

“We’ve had educational and public awareness alerting people to break and enters to their homes where usually high-end vehicles [are] parked in the driveway,” Drummond says. “[Thieves] would take the car keys knowing that they’re going to be right near the front door and then steal the car.”

Most of the new housing developments in Toronto also have secure parking garages to keep cars, which have also helped reduce theft, Drummond adds.

But there is one area where all drivers, not just ones from Toronto, could use a little more education – auto insurance.

In Ontario, there are mandatory types of auto insurance coverage and optional ones. Drivers need the mandatory coverages to drive legally in the province since they protect you if you’re injured in an accident or at fault in a collision.

But James Geuzebroek, manager of media relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, says the mandatory coverages do not cover auto theft.

To be covered if your car is stolen, you need to get comprehensive coverage, Geuzebroek says.

“Comprehensive, which covers theft, is one of those optional coverages,” he says. “So you don’t automatically have it.”

And, while Geuzebroek says most people know they need different kinds of coverages to protect against auto theft, there are still many who probably don’t.

“It’s true that many people just . . . don’t understand auto insurance well, so it is always a good idea to take the time to talk to your insurance provider and make sure that you do have the coverage that you want,” he says.

Geuzebroek says comprehensive coverage will give you the value of your car if it is stolen and not recovered, even if your car is left unlocked. However, comprehensive coverage is probably only worth getting if your car is worth stealing, he adds.

“If you’re driving an old beater, maybe [comprehensive coverages] aren’t necessary for you,” he says. “Maybe they’re not worth the premium that you have to pay for them.”

That cost varies depending on the make, model and year of your car and the kind of neighbourhood you live in, Geuzebroek adds. He says if someone makes a claim in a neighbourhood where auto theft is rampant their rates will probably go up. However, if a car is stolen somewhere where auto theft is rare, a claim likely won’t have an affect.

Also, there is one thing about auto theft coverage, in particular, most people don’t know.

If things are stolen from your car, unless they are auto accessories, they aren’t covered by auto insurance but by either home, condominium or tenant’s insurance. And some companies need evidence of a break-in to cover the theft, so if your car was left unlocked, you may be out of luck when making a claim.

Geuzebroek says many people don’t know items in their cars aren’t covered because most people don’t read up on their insurance.

“Insurance is a subject that is important . . . but it’s not one that many people are all that interested in taking the time to learn about,” he says. “We tend to buy it and renew it without really . . . giving much thought to what coverages our policy does have or what exclusions it has.”

To avoid getting stuff stolen from your car, both Geuzebroek and Drummond suggest keeping items, especially expensive electronics, cash, gifts and clothing in your home or at least out of sight. And, of course, keeping your car locked is always important.

“It’s a theft of opportunity,” Drummond says. “If you make it easy for the person they will target that vehicle as opposed to one that clearly has some type of security system or one that is locked or one that is secured in a secure garage.”

For more information on auto and other types of insurance, visit the Insurance Bureau of Canada website:

For tips on preventing auto theft visit the Toronto Police Service’s auto theft webpage: or the Ontario Provincial Police’s Provincial Auto Theft Team website:

Categories: Business, cars, Culture, Education, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: Mikaya Heart’s My Sweet Wild Dance

Rachel Muenz Does a Review of Mikaya Heart\’s My Sweet Dance – Photo Courtesy of

Image result for Mikaya Heart My Sweet Wild Dance

By Rachel Muenz

Mikaya Heart’s My Sweet Wild Dance is not an artistic masterpiece, nor is it meant to be. It is, however, a clear, well-written and honest coming of age story that most readers should find interesting at the very least.

Based on Heart’s own life, the book follows the main character Christine as she grows from a confused, frustrated child in Scotland, to a young angry teen and finally, to a spiritually calm middle-aged woman living in California. Through this journey, Christine overcomes gender and class stereotypes, the demands of her parents, childhood sexual abuse and her own negativity by discovering her sexual identity as a lesbian and through travel and spiritualism.

The story begins with something of a warning that though it is a “true story,” it is only Heart’s version of the truth. She says the book is not meant to have a moral but to show Christine’s path through the difficulties of life and to inspire and entertain others. Overall, My Sweet Wild Dance succeeds in that goal.

After the preface, a prologue and the first chapter introduce us to Christine as a self-confident adult before leading into a mostly chronological account of her life from about age five to her 50s. The first half of the book is set in the U.K. and the second half covers Christine’s life in the U.S.

Told in short chapters broken into smaller sections, the book is easy to get through and should appeal to those who like their reading material in small doses. However, the fragmented structure can sometimes be a bit disorienting. There are times, especially in the latter half of the book, where some sections in a chapter don’t quite relate to each other or flow as nicely as they could. The structure isn’t a disaster but some readers may find it too choppy for their liking.

Also, some scenes don’t seem necessary to advance the plot while others leave us wishing Heart had stayed with them longer and fleshed them out a bit more. A good example of one of these beautiful scenes is the stream Christine plays in as a child. Here, Christine learns “what will feel solid when [she] touch[es] it and what (such as the weeds or the illusory water itself) will disappear between [her] fingers like air.” This scene mirrors the contrast of how polite the adult world is supposed to be with how harmful it is to Christine in reality, a major theme in this part of the book.

Yet, often, we don’t get as strong a sense of the people and places in the book as we would like because these scenes begin and end suddenly. Characters and places flash into Christine’s life like sparks and disappear just as quickly. But, as the preface states, the book is about Christine working through and exploring her feelings rather than bringing settings and characters to life. It is Christine’s bravery and gutsiness in facing great difficulty that keeps us reading in spite of her flaws.

Throughout the book, Christine refuses to give in.

She battles through the effects of her father’s bullying to finally stop submitting to men and avoids conforming to her mother’s idea of an upper-class Scottish lady by becoming a hippy, political activist and, later, an agricultural mechanic and kiteboarder. Lastly, she overcomes the grief and anger of her experience with sexually abusive men through a heightened spiritual awareness and through her world travels, the beauty of nature and the love she finds with women.

Heart, like Christine, also shows courage in her use of language in the book.

For the most part, the language is plain and uncensored though it tends to be almost raving during Christine’s spiritual and sexual experiences, matching the emotional intensity of these events. Heart leaves nothing back in describing Christine’s sexual relationships and the sexual abuse she suffers as a child. As a result, the first half of the book and the flashbacks in the second are tough to get through because of the number of upsetting abuse scenes. However, the book is also filled with plenty of humour to lighten things up and Christine’s eventual triumph over this abuse makes up for the pain.

Finally, though readers may also find parts of the book repetitive – Christine’s constant cycle of falling in love with new women and then losing interest is one example – the spiritual growth and power Christine attains is just too interesting to pay much heed to the book’s few problems. As Christine says near the end of the book, “From the perspective of All-that-is, things aren’t so serious. Often they are simply experiences.” Ultimately, My Sweet Wild Dance is a record of both simple and extraordinary spiritual experiences that should leave all but the most cynical of readers uplifted.

Categories: Beauty, book reviews, Business, Contact Information, Creative Writing, Culture, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Events, Health, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Religion, travel, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: Dennis DesRosiers’ The Best of Observations

Dennis DesRosiers is Owner of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants – Photo Courtesy of Dennis DesRosiers

Image result for Dennis DesRosiers is Owner of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants

By Rachel Muenz

Apart from working in auto parts factories for a couple of summers, I have little knowledge or interest in the Canadian automotive industry. But, I found Dennis DesRosiers’ collection of articles on this topic not only informative but also quite fascinating at times.

DesRosiers, who heads DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc., is said to be one of Canada’s most prominent automotive industry analysts. His monthly “Observations” columns have looked at trends and problems in various sectors of the auto industry for almost 20 years. The Best of Observations, as the title suggests, is a collection of the best of these columns from the early 1990s to 2009. Though clearly meant for those who work and or invest in the auto industry, The Best of Observations is also a great read for the average person.

The articles are organized into nine sections which cover each sector of the Canadian auto industry as well as market outlook, strategy and policy issues.

DesRosiers provides his thoughts on where each of these areas is going, a bit of the history involved, problems and blunders in the industry and what he believes are the best ways to fix them. He supports these points well with both hard data and some ballpark guesses. Though these facts and figures can be boring at times they’re mostly presented in a way readers can relate to. Overall, the book is not data-heavy and is an easy and engaging read.

The language is straightforward though often lively with a dash of humour as well. DesRosiers clearly loves what he does and is passionate about the auto industry and this shines through in his writing. But, the book does have a bit of industry lingo and business acronyms which sent me off on some Google searches – OEM, for example, stands for “original equipment manufacturer.”

Also, the book can sometimes be repetitive since there is some overlap between articles. For example, the fact that most vehicles lasted around 150,000 km in the 1960s and now last around 300,000 km today is mentioned often throughout the collection.

Yet, as a whole, a little repetition doesn’t take away from the important insights in this book.

In particular, I found the articles on the recent crash of the Detroit Three automakers the most enlightening. DesRosiers examines how and why the decline happened, what he thinks of how it’s being addressed, what else should be done to improve these manufacturer’s fortunes and how things are likely to play out in the industry. And, while DesRosiers is realistic he also leaves us with the feeling that all hope is not lost for the auto industry.

However, though the older articles give an idea of how past trends are affecting the present, they may not interest everyone. Also, because the articles are not always in chronological order in their respective sections, this might make it difficult for some readers to see how some of the past articles connect to the present.

That small complaint aside, DesRosiers is also not afraid to make controversial statements, resulting in some very interesting arguments.

For example, when leasing was popular for both auto dealers and consumers in the 1990s, he wrote that for most consumers it is a terrible idea. Through solid numbers and examples he shows that leasing a car, while it can be a good idea in the short-term, actually costs more in the long-term than getting a car loan. Prospective vehicle buyers should find this section very useful in figuring out when it’s a good idea to lease.

The more recent articles in the book also have some very compelling points about fuel efficiency.

DesRosiers argues that government targets for fuel efficiency are impossible for automakers to meet by the 2020 deadline. He shows that an improvement of about 10 per cent in fuel efficiency has taken 25 years to achieve in the Canadian auto industry. Therefore, making a greater improvement in 12 years is just not feasible.

His main criticism of these government environmental policies is that they target automakers when consumers are also to blame for poor fuel efficiency. DesRosiers also points out that, considering the weak economy, governments should give automakers a chance to recover before making them tackle fuel efficiency. While environmentalists might not like the suggestion of putting money before fuel efficiency, DesRosiers does have a point. You do need money to invest in clean technology, after all.

In the end, this book has a lot of valuable information about the Canadian auto industry and makes you think about the changes and policies meant to improve it. Whether you want to be a better consumer, want to know what the future holds for the auto industry or you just want something intelligent to read, you’ll likely find something to enjoy in this collection.

Categories: Beauty, book reviews, Business, cars, Creative Writing, Culture, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Events, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Technology, travel, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Coming Up on Donna Magazine

Coming Up on Donna Magazine, there will be reviews from books by Dennis Desrosiers, Mikaya Heart and others. Look out for them soon.

Categories: Beauty, book reviews, Business, cars, Contact Information, Creative Writing, Culture, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Events, Health, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Technology, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year - December 31, 2009

This year has been a great one for Donna Magazine.The magazine took on an intern, Rachel Muenz, who did a wide variety of fantastic creative writing and non-fiction pieces. We also had the contributions of other writers such as Kirk Verner and Alex Young. Special thanks to all of those young people I met over the summer who also made great contributions to the magazine. Senior Writer Kathy Milton-Tapley also contributed to the magazine. The special artwork was added by Megan Leonard who is an up-and-coming graphic designer, as well as an animator. Dr. Brikena Ribaj has contributed some top-rated stories that I am extremely grateful for.

For anyone I did not thank by name, please do not think I have not fully appreciated your work. You have helped Donna Magazine to grow to be top-rated in Google and to increase its unique visitors listed on the blog stats on the front page.

Most importantly, thank you to you…the readers. I appreciate you so much sincerely.

Have a Happy New Year and please do look out for a lot more from Donna Magazine.

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Five child authors who have stayed successful

Rachel Muenz Writes About Child Authors - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Child Authors – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - James Valitchka - October 11, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

It’s a common story: An author gets published at a very young age. For a few weeks, she is the centre of media attention, people rave about her talent, her book may sell well, but then she vanishes from the literary world, never to be heard of again.

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Categories: book reviews, Business, Creative Writing, Culture, Entertainment, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ontario’s invisible DriveTest strike

Rachel Muenz Writes About the DriveTest Strike - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About the DriveTest Strike – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Office - October 9, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

Lately, if you search “Toronto garbage strike 2009” on Google you’ll get around 224,000 hits. Even this year’s garbage strike in Windsor generates 109,000 hits on the popular search engine. But if you search “DriveTest strike 2009,” only 97,900 will come up.

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Categories: cars, Events, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Fall movie season perfect for seeing the fall of humankind

Rachel Muenz Writes About End of the World Movies - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About End of the World Movies – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Apocalypse - October 1, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

If you’ve thought there have been a lot of movies about the end of the world coming out lately, you’d be right. Based on data from, September has the highest number of films dealing with apocalyptic themes out of all 2009.

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Categories: Business, Creative Writing, Culture, Education, Entertainment, Environment, Events, Living, Media Writing, Movie Reviews, Religion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Lack of protection for H1N1 vaccine nothing new in Canada

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Financial Situation Behind H1N1 - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Financial Situation Behind H1N1 – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Compensation - September 27, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

Concern over the H1N1 vaccine is growing and Canada still doesn’t have effective legal protection for people if getting the shot results in injury.

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Canadian content making its mark on U.S. media

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Impact Canada Has on the U.S.

Rachel Muenz Writes About the Impact Canada Has on the U.S.

Rachel Muenz - Canadian Impact - September 25, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

There’s been a lot of talks lately about how many Canadian TV shows have been picked up by U.S. networks this fall. But while U.S. TV has the most Canadian content, Canadians are having a decent impact on other areas of U.S. pop culture as well.

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Canada’s university magazines beat the U.K.’s in word economy

Rachel Muenz Compares the Word Count of Stories Between Countries - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Compares the Word Count of Stories Between Countries – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Writing - September 12, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

Apparently, Canada doesn’t think its university students can handle long articles. Either that or it just uses language more efficiently than its U.K. counterparts.

Based on a random selection of five articles each from five Canadian online publications for students and five from publications in the U.K., Canadian articles are over 120 words shorter than those in the U.K.

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Top 5 children’s books that are still fun to read as an adult

Rachel Muenz Makes Children's Book Selections For Adults - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Makes Children’s Book Selections For Adults – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Child Authors - October 6, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

Often, people read books as children that they think are the best things ever only to be disappointed when they return to them as adults. But there some children’s books that, whether you re-read them or explore them for the first time as an adult, are still great adventures.

Here, in my opinion, are the best kids’ books anyone of any age can enjoy:

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Categories: book reviews, Creative Writing, Culture, Education, Entertainment, Living, Media Writing, Opinion, Writing (all kinds) | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Simple writing is best for everyone

Rachel Muenz Writes About Simple Writing - Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz Writes About Simple Writing – Photo Courtesy of

Rachel Muenz - Writing - September 12, 2009

By Rachel Muenz

Every English teacher I’ve ever had has always said using plain, clear language is best in any kind of writing. Authors don’t make readers think by language that’s impossible to understand, but by the complex themes and ideas, they write about.

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