Sandwiches from Sidewalk Citizen and lunch at the Calgary Zoo, minutes from Calgary's East Village
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Weekday without work? Get a sandwich, bike to the Calgary Zoo

When I met Jason, he was a funemployed screenwriter who counted sandwiches at the Calgary Zoo among his favourite pastimes.

At least a few times a month in spring and summer, he’d hop on his bike—a slightly rickety number nicknamed Blue Thunder—for a short ride to one of his favourite sandwich shops near Riverwalk (Thi Thi Vietnamese Submarine! Jason would say go before noon if you want to skip the line that curls out the door.). Sandwich would join him for the rest of the bike ride to the west entrance of the Calgary Zoo (about 10 mins/2.7 km).

The tiger cage is right at that entrance, but Jason’s preferred picnic spot is by the flamingos. That’s also one of the favourite hangouts of the grouchy, sandwich-mooching peacocks, but that just makes lunch more entertaining.

In June 2013, the flood brought serious havoc to the Calgary Zoo and its island home. Luckily, the zoo reopened fairly quickly, but the west entrance—a lovely shaded quiet thing tucked beside the Bow River pathway system—remained closed. Until this spring!

When, after a trip to the Crossroads farmer’s market earlier this month, we saw the entrance was staffed again, Jason and I knew it was time for us to get our zoowich on.

This time the recipe was our Hillhurst neighbours Sidewalk Citizen (two roasted salmon sandwiches, beet salad and sweet potato salad) + Riverwalk bike ride to the zoo (about 15 mins/5.1 km). We dined with the Calgary Zoo’s flamingos and the peacock and topped it off by stumbling across a keeper presentation about the gorillas. In the corporate world you have to pay big bucks for a lunch & learn. (We learned why some of the gorillas at the zoo like to carry a burlap sack around like Linus, how lazy Kakinga the silverback is, and what kind of birth control the females in his troop are. It’s Tri-Cyclen, if you were wondering.

This blog post is part of my bid to become the East Village Resident Ambassador! In that role, I would live in the East Village, an exciting new neighbourhood rising on the banks of the Bow River in the heart of Calgary and tell stories about that life. If you think I’d be pretty good at this gig, you can help by watching my 30-second promo video, sharing it and keeping an eye on my tweets tagged with #EVliving. When you fave, RT and reply to those tweets, you’ll help my chances of becoming the Resident Ambassador.

Why pick Zoey for East Village Resident Ambassador? She'll show you.
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A compelling argument to choose Zoey Duncan to be East Village Resident Ambassador

Calgary’s East Village is a neighbourhood on the banks of the Bow River, steps from downtown and made of the most mouldable hunk of putty basically anywhere in North America today.

I call it mouldable because East Village is a new community rising in the heart of an established, energetic city. It’s near parks people already love (hey, Prince’s Island!), transportation options for all seasons and reason (hey, RiverWalk, Calgary Transit, cycle track and all those roads!), and local businesses and BRZs part of the fabric of Calgary (too many to name, but Chinatown, Bridgeland, Inglewood and Kensington begin to scratch the surface).

But there’s also a newness. New opportunity for new homes, new businesses, new neighbours to live.

With all this newness, East Village needs an ambassador to the rest of Calgary and the world. The team behind East Village is hiring a Resident Ambassador to “live the East Village life” for a year in a rent-free condo while telling stories. It’s got to be someone who is passionate, community-minded and can write with genuine excitement what it’s like to live in Calgary’s oldest neighbourhood in its newest moment. I’m striving to be that Ambassador.

Allow my application video to explain for 30 seconds:

What you can do: Help me in my pursuit of the ambassadorship by watching my video and sharing it with your friends on Twitter and Facebook. Check out the #EVliving hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to see what me and the other contenders are up to. Also helpful: RT or respond to my #EVliving tweets that pique your interest.

Why Zoey would make a heck of a Resident Ambassador for East Village

OK, that was the “show, don’t tell” version of why I would make an engaging and self-proclaimed entertaining Resident Ambassador. For the studious, my footnotes are thus:

  • I’m a journalist specializing in mobile storytelling for a new generation of news consumers (think: engaging local stories, well-told in a smartly consumable format).
  • I served on my Sunalta community association board executive where, in addition to my duties as secretary, I helped make the community more visible online in social media during a time of collaboration with our neighbours. (I now serve as a director on a different board, where there’s somewhat more body checking).
  • I’m a firm believer that everything (job interviews, emailing landlord about that leak, online dating) can be done with a bit of wit. Smart humour is one of my greatest assets as a storyteller. I got to write a book because of my humour judo. True fact: Being funny makes your audience more likely to listen and remember what you said.
  • I really did write 1,000 blog posts one year. It was the year I worked for OpenFile Calgary covering hyperlocal news and a year in which I established myself as a voice in Calgary. Or at least I used the #yyc hashtag a lot.
  • My live-tweeting of local news and events in the past six year since I first joined Twitter is just one of the reasons I have a dedicated, locally concentrated following. I like to think my sense of humour and reliable puns are another reason, but I’m still waiting on that data.

All this to say, I know I’m well-equipped to help East Village tell their story and collaborate in writing the next chapter in Calgary’s “newest, oldest, coolest, warmest” neighbourhood. This isn’t the last you’ll see of me chatting about East Village-type things here at Zoey Writes. The EV folks are eager to see how their candidates already have an “EV-worthy lifestyle.” I’ll have a new blog post every week through the end of June to share that with you. Subscribe to Zoey Writes or bookmark EV.ZoeyWrites.ca so you don’t miss a beat.

The Department by Dr. Norman Schachar with Zoey Duncan
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I smelled the book I wrote for the first time

I’ve been holding off talking about it because I am constantly worried I might jinx it.

But now that I can physically hold and smell the covered and bound 320 pages in my hands, it’s officially real. Real, really, real!

I started working on The Department: A Surgeon’s Memories… Before I Forget as a ghostwriter with Dr. Norm Schachar in December 2012. He’d just been tasked with writing the history of the Department of Surgery at the University of Calgary. Dr. Schachar (or “Norm” as I would eventually call him after dozens of hours together) told us that plenty of his distinguished surgeon friends and colleagues had written books, but that they tended to be too dry. Basically, nobody wanted to read ’em. He didn’t want that to happen to his book.

“I’m a surgeon not a writer,” his first email to us read, after he came across our business card with the tagline Our Business Is A Joke!. “(I) would like to get your take on a humourous twist on this project.”

From there, we outlined the project and I started to learn Norm’s stories. He has a lot of them. At first, the story was going to be told as a wiki-type website, where people could later add their own versions of history. Quickly though, it began to evolve. We decided we’d tell Norm’s story from his first diaper change (when his parents began to wonder whether he would be a doctor or lawyer) through medical school, internship and residency and through the years of his career. Most of that story happens to align with the growth of the Department of Surgery at the University of Calgary. A perfect fit.

I interviewed him for dozens of hours and together we interviewed more than 25 of his surgical colleagues, bosses and former students-turned-bosses. We scrubbed up the storylines, put in a story his wife did not want to read, found jokes in the fourth retelling of stories and he insisted I put my name on the cover with his.

It’s real.

When the manuscript was finished, edited a million times (give or take 100,000 proofreads in my dreams), and proofed, it was time to design the interior. That was my job too. Oh, and the cover.

I’m not a designer but I’m nitpicky enough to do a decent job. Designing, though painful while I was relearning InDesign, was a different part of my brain completely from writing the book. As I emailed back and forth with the book printing company, I could believe that The Department was going to be a real book for people to read. Not just a PDF they download and then mostly forget about. Something that Norm can sign his doctor signature in and carry around with him for the rest of his life. Real!

The book officially launches at Surgeon’s Day on June 12, 2015 in Calgary. It will be available at the University of Calgary bookstore around that time.

(It smells a bit like Shreddies.)

Zoey Duncan holds a copy of her co-authored book, The Department

New book smell!

Oddly, buying this pen and paper didn't make me start a new writing project.
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Miraculously, the key to starting a new piece of writing is to start a new piece of writing

For the past two and a half years, I’ve been so caught up with finishing a project (a co-authored book that I also typeset and which will be printed this month) that I’ve forgotten how hard it is to start one. Presently, starting a new writing project is about as hard as convincing a perennially single friend to try online dating just one more time.

It’s exhausting to think about.

In an effort to get out of the starting block, I’m trying to break some habits. “Trying to break” is what people say before they’ve really committed to changing a habit. That’s where I’m at so far. Writing instead of watching another episode of Call the Midwife might be a good start. There’s that word again. “Start.”

I keep telling myself that reading will help me write, but that’s just another wily excuse for not writing.

I bought a new notebook and pen, bargaining with my psyche that the pages of 90-lb ivory vellum were the only thing between me and my next finished product. Riiight. Nice try, Zoey.

The thing about writing it that it doesn’t happen until you do it. That’s like a lot of things. Writers, though, we’re especially good at telling ourselves we’re working on our writing when we’re not actually.

Sometimes when I’m avoiding actually writing I think of my brother, a sculpture student about to graduate from school, and think how painless it must be for him to hone his craft by spending 9 hours in a woodshop. Would he agree that it’s easier than my requirement to slouch at a desk for a few minutes every day and write? I’d ask him, but he doesn’t answer his text messages when he’s working (which also seems like a useful way of getting things done).

I talk to writers all the time who have trouble starting (or continuing once they’ve finally started). I think the failure to launch comes from the same place for all such writers: Fear. Fear that whatever we write won’t be good enough, that we’ll never write something as good as our previous best work, that we’ve lost our touch and it’s never going to come back. Ugh. This preciousness about writing drives me crazy, and yet here I am, feeling as precious as a giggling baby in a cotton headband.

The solution is obviously to write. And rewrite. And rewrite. Then publish the blog post and move on to the next thing you’re going to write.

Eau Claire Distillery's tasting room.
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Cocktail Talk: A gin-soaked tour of Alberta’s first craft distillery

Turner Valley, Alberta, 99 years ago was an intoxicating place to be, I’m learning from the founder of Alberta’s first craft distillery. I’m not using that adjective—intoxicating—to be playful. There is booze to be discussed here, but even more beyond that, David Farran explains to me as we begin a tour of his Eau Claire Distillery.

The town was electrified with the discovery of oil in 1914—one of the most important finds to the early of Alberta’s oil history. The onset of the war in 1916 ushered in foreign oil workers to town when local boys went to fight for Mother England, David tells me.

And on July 1, 1916, Prohibition began in Alberta. You might not have known it in Turner Valley though. David gestures out the front door of the distillery toward what was known as Whisky Row, where the local Speakeasies operated. Then he thumbs out the back way and tells me Whisky Ridge is where folks hid their stills to brew illegal spirits.

It’s in this rich bit of Alberta history (in a former brothel and movie theatre, specifically) that David and his co-founders planted Eau Claire Distillery. It’s Alberta’s first independent craft distiller, where they pride themselves on turning a local bounty into small batches of handcrafted spirits. David took me on a tour of the Turner Valley operation recently, giving me a peek into the world of distilling and a thirst for the single-malt whisky that won’t be ready for another five years still.

Keep reading over at my cocktail blog, Zoey Sips!

Just black, please.
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We spent all our grocery money and now we’re out of coffee

We’ve done a great job of spending all our grocery money every week of the magic jar experiment (we’re in Week 3). Routinely, we just pluck a few bucks from our “Entertainment” jar when “Grocery” runs dry. This works because we planned for a lot of money to be spent on Entertainment. I guess we imagine ourselves as big partiers.

This week we spent all the grocery bucks in one go at Co-Op. I blame this partly on shopping right before dinner (I bought pizza pops and a bottle of Yop), but also we were victims of not shopping the sales as well as we could have. For example we bought frozen lunches that often go on sale for 50% off at full price of $4 each. Very budget unfriendly.

But another big hit to our food budget were the non-edibles like toilet paper and kitty litter. (Our cat likes both).

We need to plan ahead for those larger expenditures by socking away a little grocery money each week instead of spending it all. Alternatively, we could adjust our grocery budget and entertainment budgets so they better reflect where our money is going. Once the month is through we’ll see about that.

Overall though, the experiment is going well. I’ve reigned in my spending, which was necessary post-Christmas, and we’re more thoughtful about where our dollars are going when we leave the house. Being self-employed means I can adjust my schedule to hit Happy Hour for cheap tacos, which I think is very smart budgeting.

If only we had some coffee…