The 5 best storytelling podcasts

In a previous post, I mentioned that I love podcasts and use them as a way to get out of my own head. This is a surprise to me, because I’ve always been the kind of person who tunes out audio. It could just never capture my attention. But maybe that’s because I wasn’t listening to the right stuff.

I started listening to podcasts in the last couple of years, and it’s made a huge difference in my commute, which has gone from long and painful to me wishing I could drive around the block to keep listening to the stories.5 best storytelling podcasts

There’s an art to telling a story well, and not everyone can do that in a purely audio form. I’ve found some podcasts on topics I’m interested in but that I can’t bear to listen to because they’re dry and/or awkward. When I find a good one, I so appreciate the thought that goes into it. Here are my five favourite storytelling podcasts.

1. This American Life

This one is at the top of my list and the one I always listen to first when there are new downloads. They choose a theme each week and tell different stories on that theme, and they’re hugely insightful. I often find myself wondering where on Earth they find the stories.

Some recent favourite episodes:

Captain’s Log – about the cryptic notations people make (in varying mediums) and the unexpected stories behind them. The story about Girl Scouts and their “unrelenting cheerfulness” was profound.

Lower 9 + 10 – these stories about the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, which has been the slowest to rebuild after Katrina, are not the usual ones we’ve heard.

2. Death, Sex and Money 

A big part of what makes or breaks a podcast for me is the host, and I love the host of this show. Anna Sale has a way of conversing with guests and delicately asking tough questions in a way that elicits really interesting stories. This is a new(ish) podcast that covers just what it promises to – death, sex and money.

Some recent favourite episodes:

A Dirty Cop Comes Clean – A Brooklyn cop talks about how he stole from crime scenes and got into drug dealing in the 80s. Fascinating

W. Kamau Bell Wonders How Much Is Enough – Kamau Bell is a comedian, and happens to be a black man married to a white woman. His stories about race and finding work in the world of comedy are really enlightening.

3. Planet Money

Oh, NPR’s Planet Money is just awesome. I’ve long been aware of it but only started listening recently, because, you know, finance. Not my thing. But it’s so good. Various hosts tell all kinds of stories related to money, finance, economics… Wait! Don’t run away! Really, it’s fascinating.

Some recent favourite episodes:

The Moonshine Stimulus – Did FDR really buy moonshine during Prohibition? The Planet Money team gets to the bottom of it.

The Chicken Tax – how the American auto industry is built on a trade dispute over frozen chicken parts (aka a story about the economy that actually makes sense to me)

How Much Does This Cow Weigh? – on why a bunch of people together can end up with the right weight of a cow (and how that same phenomenon applies to the stock market)

They also did a great series on t-shirts (based on their own Planet Money t-shirt) – from how they’re made to where they end up when we’re done with them.

4. Radiolab

Radiolab is another podcast on a topic that wouldn’t immediately catch my interest – science. (Hey, I’m a word girl.) But I love the wide range of things they cover, and the hosts are great too.

Some recent favourite episodes:

The Rhino Hunter – Ooh, this is a good one. An episode about big game hunting in Africa (coindentally released after the Cecil the Lion fiasco) that addresses the role conservation plays. (I’m not sure I buy the argument, but I don’t think they do either.) Really well done.

Mau Mau – this is another one you’ll listen to with incredulity. It’s about a rebel group in Kenya and the information revealed through rare documents from the British colonial government.

Patient Zero – This is a wide-ranging discussion of the patient zero concept, including AIDS and Ebola, but it was the Typhoid Mary story I couldn’t stop thinking about.

5. The Memory Palace 

I can’t even remember how I found this one, but I suspect it was host Nate DiMeo’s voice that drew me in. It’s just lovely. In any case, these are short podcasts about history, carefully crafted and fondly told. I recommend it for a little something different.

Some recent favourite episodes:

The Ballad of Captain Dwight – interesting insight into an African American pilot who was tagged by JFK as the first Black astronaut, and how history ultimately stole that opportunity from him.

High Above Lake Michigan – a story of a 19th century ferris wheel

Harriet Quimby – an inspiring story of an early female aviator

This is just a partial list of the podcasts I listen to regularly, and some of my other favourites happen not to be in the storytelling format, but what have I missed? Do you have any favourite story-based podcasts?

11 Ways to Let the Light Back In

I recently ended up in a crappy situation and had to scrape myself off rock bottom – possibly the rockiest bottom of depression I have ever encountered. I couldn’t stay like that, literally couldn’t live like that, so I deliberately and thoughtfully found a way to pull myself back up. The beautiful thing was that I did it, and it was hard but also not really that hard. It showed me that even in the crappiest of situations it’s possible to find your strength – even more than you knew was there – and draw on it. It’s possible to let the light back in.

I’ve been thinking about how to do that and there are some strategies that usually work for me, so I thought I’d share them with you (and with myself for the next time I need them, because there’s sure to be a next time).

Here are 11 ways to let the light back in.

11 ways to let the light back in
1. Listen to podcasts that make you think. I like This American Life, Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, and (when it returns) Invisibilia. Two feel-good podcasts are Dear Sugar and Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

2. Read the Brave Girls’ Club.
Brave Girls Club quote
3. Read stories from people who have experienced the same thing you’re struggling with. It will make you feel less alone.

4. Exercise. Just do it!

5. Find something that’s happening in your community that sounds interesting and go to it. Getting out is hard, but helpful.

train tracks
6. Put your phone down and pick something else up – a book, a craft, anything.

7. Related: turn off notifications for Facebook and whatever else sucks you in and allows you to be passive. Don’t wait for other people to post something interesting/inspiring/funny. Passive procrastination is a huge mood killer.

8. Go for a walk and deliberately look. Take pictures of things that make you pause.

art in a garden9. Eat ice cream. Or whatever you like to treat yourself with, but use it as a treat. Don’t make it a habit, or it will contribute to your crappy feelings.

10. Colour. Yes, with crayons (or, my preference, pencil crayons).

adult coloring pages

11. Make your bed. Truly, it helps.

What strategies have you found that help you let the light in?

Before you grow up

It snowed a couple of weeks ago in Calgary. It has snowed every month of the year here, as Calgarians are fond of pointing out, but I still wasn’t expecting to see it. It was actually the third time this month it had snowed, though it never stays. I’m glad about that, because it seems sort of silly to be making a list of summer activities when there’s snow sticking around.

I started that list a few weeks ago and it doesn’t have much on it yet, but I pulled out my on-again, off-again journal and found the list I had made the year my one word was “explore.” I didn’t get through that list (do we ever?) and there are lots of things on there I still want to do.

illustration-kid-bikeI’ve been feeling guilty lately, and my bad-mom voice has been creeping in. The boys have too much screen time and not enough time getting dirty and poking around in streams. Getting dirty is not usually the first thing on my list of appealing activities (hence my aforementioned summer emergency kit that is chock full of things like crayons and washable paint). But I have boys, and they’re the sort of boys who like to get dirty, so my summer activity list is going to have to expand to account for that.

The other list we’ve had on our fridge for ages is the UK National Trust’s list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4. It includes all kinds of things from playing Pooh sticks (totally in favour) to holding a wild beast (eep – does a caterpillar count?) and, thanks to living on the coast and having inquisitive grandparents, Connor has checked off a bunch of stuff from the list. Maybe we’ll have to work our way through that too and help Ethan catch up.

I’m looking forward to things like flying a kite and making a daisy chain (wow, how long has it been since you did that?) and less so to hunting for bugs (ick) and building a den (with a two-year-old, that has frustration and disaster written all over it).

I’ve started putting together my summer adventure kit, though, with some help from Boiron. They gave me a travel kit that includes a bunch of stuff that I’m sure will come in handy. This goofball here is especially excited about the insect bite cream (he’s not a fan of mosquito bites).


The kit includes other stuff too – all homeopathic remedies for the kinds of ailments that might come from from doing the kinds of things any good, modern boy should do before he’s 11 3/4.

Boiron naturopathic remedies

I’ll let you know how it goes.
Arnica flowers


This post was generously sponsored by Boiron (and they’re older than 11 3/4 so they know their stuff).Boiron logo

A summertime emergency kit

You know what’s fun? Shopping for crayons. You know what’s especially fun? Shopping for crayons you don’t plan on letting your kids use.

Staples is doing a promotion with Visa Checkout and I was offered the chance to build a summertime emergency kit. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that when it comes to this whole parenting thing, I’m pretty much always game for an emergency kit that will make this gig easier.

I’m a little anxious about school ending for Connor. He does better when he’s busy and active and challenged, and I’m concerned about what our days might be like when he’s not at school all day. Or more specifically what my evenings might be like, because I already get him at his most excitable and there are times I can barely get through dinner without eyeing the garage and wondering if anyone would notice if I duct taped him to his chair. With some stuff to keep him occupied, and some activities we can do on weekends when our time together is more, shall we say, in need of help, I’m feeling a little better.

So I went shopping on the Staples website. For starters, when I searched “Crayola” I got a ton of results. I had no idea.

I bought art supplies and paper and craft kits and paint and finger-painting kits. (I know. Paint. The whole idea of an emergency kit making me a fantastic mom might have gone to my head.)

I bought sketchbooks and glue sticks and construction paper. I might also have bought the 64-pack of crayons with a built-in sharpener and I might not let the kids use it. (Oh, who am I kidding? Connor claimed that one right away.)

6 pack crayons

But I did get them a crayon meltdown art set, so maybe they won’t notice.

Connor loves it when boxes are delivered and loves opening them, especially when he can get his hands on the goods, so this is a hit already.


Ethan likes to make stuff. He also likes to write on things like walls and floors, so I’m hoping the plethora of paper options will keep him from causing an emergency of another sort (the kind involving a Magic Eraser and mama saying some bad words).

doing crafts

I like to colour, so I figure the contents of the emergency kit will set us up for some good summer days. And if the finger-painting goes sideways, well, at least there might be a Mother of the Year award in it for me. Even if it’s just the E for Effort category.


I shopped online at and bought the supplies using Visa Checkout and a Visa gift card that was given to me. I’ll admit to being a bit wary about how easy it would be to use, but I needn’t have been. It was super easy.

It’s not finicky like other pre-paid cards I’ve tried, and Visa Checkout makes it especially easy because you can create a single account sign-in that can be used across all devices (and no need to keep re-entering the card number or address either).

VISA CheckOut Button_4

Here’s a quick how-to for all you Canadians out there. There are just three steps on

  • Step one: Create a username and password.
  • Step two: Enter your payment and shipping information. (You only have to do this once)
  • Step three: Look for the Visa Checkout button when you’re shopping online, enter your username and password, and go!

That’s it. Seriously. It’s secure and Visa’s Zero Liability policy applies in case of fraud.

You can use Visa Checkout at many of your favourite Canadian online stores, with many more joining each month. For a full list, visit

And bonus! If you want to create your own summertime emergency kit, there’s a way to stock it extra full. From now through May 12, 2015, Canadians who use Visa Checkout on will receive $20 off when they spend $100! More info at


Want to start stocking up with a Visa gift card of your own? Enter to win one here. (Just promise to keep some unbroken crayons for me.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


I never really wrote about the few days we spent in Radium, BC. Partly because I’m not really sure what to say about it and partly because it seemed ungrateful to whine about time away with my family in a lovely location with an almost ideal place to stay.

I love visiting the mountains. I love how they sit silently and provide a backdrop for whatever I might feel like pondering. I love how in my head they’re always covered in snow, even in the summer.

When we went to Radium the snow was in short supply, and that’s sort of where the problem started.

I went hoping to find the sort of place that has its own rhythm and order of existence, but when I got there I found that all the rhythms I’m used to had followed me – the morning rhythm that results in antsy kids if we don’t get out of the house soon enough and the lack-of-inspiration rhythm that still leaves me with a complete blank when the plans I had in mind fall through. I wasn’t confronted with much of anything except my usual frustration and the wish that the four of us could get our own rhythms more in sync.

When I was little we used to go through Radium on the way home from our cottage. At least I think that’s where we were going to and coming from. Nothing about my memories of that time fit with this experience over 30 years later. What I wanted to do was relive that experience of soaking in the hot springs and putting jammies on and feeling cozy and falling asleep in the car. I was even willing for it to be my kids falling asleep in the car instead of me.

I wanted to go and try some winter activities that have long appealed to me but that we haven’t really done, even with all our winter exploring here. I wanted to skate on the lake and go snowshoeing and possibly even ski for a day. But when we got there the lake wasn’t frozen and there was no snow on the ground and the hot springs weren’t at all like I remembered them. Still nice, but decidedly less relaxing with a hyper, impulsive six-year-old in tow.

It just wasn’t a good trip, you know?

In the end I think my feelings about the lack of inspiration that trip provided were more about my own (possibly unrealistic) high expectations and subsequent disappointment than anything to do with the place itself.

Luckily, I have found redemption.

Aerial view of Grande Rockies Resort

Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, we had a chance to visit Canmore. Another of my favourite places, Canmore is a truly lovely mountain town. It has a backdrop of snow-covered mountains and a pub I like and trains running through it.

So we went.

We stayed at a place I hadn’t been to before, in a nicely appointed two bedroom suite. Do you know how heavenly a two-bedroom suite is when travelling with kids? Of course you other parents do. You know that you can put the kids to bed (and not in the same room!) and not have to sit in the dark trying to be quiet. And that you can take advantage of the kitchen to feed your early risers some toast and cereal without having to change out of your pajamas and do something about your morning hair. And that you can make yourself a cup of tea whenever you damn well feel like it.

Two bedroom suite at Grande Rockies Resort

There was still no snow on the ground, but that was quite nice. We went out for lunch and for a bike ride and swam in the pool.

Indoor pool with waterslide

We floated in the indoor/outdoor hot tub at night and looked up at the stars.

Indoor-outdoor hot tub

I went for a run along the train tracks and wandered into a few stores and stopped for a drink at a coffee shop that I love and that reminds me of the time we went to a winter festival and went cross country skiing right down the middle of main street.

I’m sure it was just a coincidence, but I feel as though someone sensed my disappointment from our earlier trip and said, hey, I can fix that. 

And then did.



We were offered a chance to stay at the Grande Rockies Resort in Canmore and said yes before we could check whether they were teasing us with mountains. (They weren’t.) It was a great place that we hadn’t been to before and it had everything we needed to make a really good weekend out of it. They offered us this great hospitality without any expectation that I’d write a post about it, but I did because we really did enjoy it and I’m grateful for the time and experience our stay allowed us to have. 

All photos copyright Grande Rockies Resort.