It's an imagining of the future reminiscent of her classic novel The Handmaid's Tale (McClelland & Stewart). In the new novel, religious leader Adam One has long predicted a natural disaster that will render Earth unrecognizable. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have been spared: Ren, a young trapeze-dancer, locked inside a high-end sex club; and Toby, who is barricaded inside a luxurious spa. Have others survived? The Year of the Flood follows the stories of Toby and Ren.
In a telling Q & A with Margaret Atwood, CanadianLiving.com Senior Editor Jennifer Villamere uncovered the Can Lit icon's inspiration and her future plans.
JV: The Year of the Flood features a trapeze dancer, a bioartist and a host of other extraordinarily detailed and unusual characters. What inspires the idiosyncrasies of your characters? MA: Real life! People with these jobs do exist. In some form, they have probably existed for a very long time – my "future" variations are just that – variations. ("Bioart," for instance, was probably the first art – as in cave paintings and giant earth sculptures.)
JV: With which of your characters do you most closely identify? MA: If you are staying with a character, seeing things through that person, you have to identify. But it's not a "they-are-me" identification. For those moments, it's more like "I am them." JV: You create such delicious tension and suspense in your novels. Where do you find tension or excitement in your own life? MA: Every day is a challenge, especially if you're driving anywhere in a car… I still find thunderstorms pretty tense. But the main excitement comes from writing, and from stumbling across new ideas….
JV: How closely tied is The Year of the Flood to your 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake (McClelland & Stewart)? MA: It's the same time period, and with some overlapping incidents and characters. But it looks at that world through different eyes. Instead of sad, world-weary Jimmy, we approach the landscape through two women – one older and with good survival skills, one much younger, naïve, but wiser than she at first appears – and also through the God's Gardeners, a religious group dedicated to a meld between science and nature. So – closely tied, in some ways. But a freestanding structure as well.
JV: What are you reading now? MA: At this very moment? The page proofs for Graeme Gibson's fall book, The Bedside Book of Beasts, about predators and their prey– a companion volume to his earlier Bedside Book of Birds (Random House). There is some overlap in our subject matter, too, as you might expect -- I couldn't have written the God's Gardeners Predator Dayhymn without his insights!
JV: What's your next project? MA: Getting through the fall book tour. After that – touch wood – I'll begin a third book about the world of The Year of the Flood – to be called MaddAddam.
Sweet potatoes offer a tasty addition and creamy texture to your meals, and they're great when eaten alone, too!
They're found in desserts, they can take the place of regular potatoes as a healthy (but still tasty) french-fry alternative and they continue to gain recognition and popularity at the dinner table. Aside from being the only veggie you can get your kids to eat, they come with a huge range of benefits you might not have known.
They're good for your heart. Because of the great source of B6 vitamins and potassium, sweet potatoes contribute a great deal to heart health. The Harvard School of Public Health says the B6 vitamins found in sweet potatoes are great at breaking down homocysteine, a substance that hardens the blood vessels and arteries.
They can help you de-stress.Yes, there's a healthy food that can help keep your stress level in check. Although sweet potatoes alone won't relieve all your life-related stress (we wish!), they contain magnesium, which is the original "chill pill," according to Psychology Today. Magnesium promotes relaxation, calmness and a good mood.
They can maintain blood sugar levels & stabilize appetite. A 2007 study done at North Carolina State University found that sweet potatoes might just be the secret weapon against diabetes. Sure, they're sweet, but they have a low glycemic index and release sugar slowly into the blood stream, which reduces the risk of sugar spikes and unbalanced levels of blood sugar.
In addition to maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, the mineral element manganese, which is found in sweet potatoes, also helps the body metabolize carbs, utilize antioxidants and stabilize your appetite, according to a report done on manganese by the Micronutrient Information Centre at Oregon State University.
They help prevent cancer. There are anti-carcinogenic properties in sweet potatoes, thanks to the beta-carotene found in orange veggies. Purple sweet potatoes have also shown to have cancer-fighting abilities, with a positive effect on cancer cell growth.
If you want to take advantage of these health benefits but don't know how to incorporate sweet potatoes into your family's meals, check out these recipes:
The day before Valentine’s Day is Galentine’s Day—a day to celebrate your best girlfriends. It's all about ladies celebrating ladies. Whether you choose to host a girls-only party, share some yummy treats or binge watch your favourite shows on Netflix, gather your girls together and give them a card that captures just what they mean to you.
Heart disease and stroke are one of the leading causes of death for Canadian women—and risk factors, symptoms and even treatment might vary by age. Here's what you need to know.
It was Dec. 13, 2014. I was getting ready to go out for dinner when suddenly everything went wrong. I lost coordination, almost like I was drunk. I went numb, as if the local anesthetic that dentists use had been applied to half of my body. My arm went limp, I could barely walk and, out of the blue, I got a raging migraine. At 31 years old, I was in the midst of a transient ischemic attack, often called a ministroke, but I had no idea.
It wasn't until the next day, when I was feeling only slightly better, that I realized something was really wrong. I didn't want to wait for an appointment with my family doctor, so I called Telehealth Ontario, the provincial service that connects callers to a registered nurse via telephone. In the very back of my mind, I wondered if I'd had a stroke—but I was too young, or so I thought. But when I described my symptoms, it became clear that I wasn't too young. In fact, the nurse who took my call was worried enough to send paramedics to my house. Soon, I was in the back of an ambulance, rushing through Toronto's busy streets on the way to the hospital.
The statistics Luckily, my stroke was mild, and, in July 2015, I underwent surgery to have a patent foramen ovale closure device inserted to close the hole in my heart. But, to this day, I'm still shocked at how little I knew about the risks associated with stroke and heart disease, or just how common they are. As I soon learned, about 1.6 million Canadians—557,000 of them women over the age of 24—report having cardiovascular disease. And, according to a study looking at factors and behaviours affecting cardiovascular health published in 2013 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, fewer than one in 10 adult Canadians were in ideal cardiovascular health from 2003 to 2011, which means 90 percent of us are making choices that are increasing our risk for a cardiovascular event. In fact, heart disease and stroke is one of the leading causes of death for Canadian women, and most of us have at least one risk factor.
It's a club that I didn't particularly want to be a part of, but having joined, I began wondering what other women's experiences had been like.
Unlike me, when Victoria resident Carolyn Thomas started having a range of symptoms— crushing chest pain, nausea, weakness, sweating and a persistent ache down her left arm—on her 58th birthday, she immediately thought it could be a heart attack and went straight to the ER. But when she got there and told the doctor on duty about her symptoms, he said it was just acid reflux. "I remember exactly what he said," she recalls. " 'You're in the right demographic for acid reflux. Go home and call your family doctor for a prescription for antacids.' " Embarrassed and apologetic, she did just that. But her symptoms persisted for two more weeks. She eventually went back to the hospital, and this time, she was told she was suffering from what was actually one of the most serious types of heart attacks—a complete blockage of her left anterior descending artery, which is often referred to as the widow-maker.
Since then, she has recovered, but it's far from full—she had to retire early and continues to see a specialist at her regional pain clinic.
Irmine MacKenzie also went to the hospital immediately. It's been 35 years since the New Waterford, N.S., resident lost the use of her left arm and leg after suffering a stroke caused by carotid artery stenosis, narrowing of the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the brain. She was 61 years old and, having just finished eating breakfast with her husband, John, she headed to the kitchen to tackle the dishes. Suddenly, plates started dropping from her hands, shattering as they hit the floor.
After a six-week hospital stay and a three-month stint in a rehabilitation program in Halifax, she eventually learned to walk again. Her ability to manage quite well over the past three decades is clearly a testament to her grit— and maybe some kind words from a stranger. "I won't ever forget the ambulance driver who took me to the rehabilitation centre," she says. "He told me, 'We're taking you by stretcher now, but you'll be walking out of there with a cane.' " Sure enough, that's exactly what she did.
A better understanding It has now been two years since I suffered my transient ischemic attack, and I feel like I'm still learning about heart health. I now understand the importance of cardiac rehabilitation, for one thing. When I had my stroke, I didn't know this kind of program existed—my cardiologist didn't refer me to one, but having access to dedicated professionals in a safe, encouraging environment could have helped me navigate the health-care system and guided me toward healthier choices.
One thing I found myself, Carolyn and Irmine echoing is how, as women, we must advocate for ourselves in the health-care system, ensuring that our voices are heard and our health is looked after. We need to put ourselves first, without shame or guilt. As Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, says, "It comes back to education and partnership with your health provider. Don't be afraid to ask questions and be informed."
Heart health by the decade Nearly two-thirds of all heart attacks and strokes occur in Canadians 65 or older, but younger Canadians are increasingly at risk. Here's what you need to know at every age.
In your 20s and 30s: Young people with heart-health issues are part of a growing minority. A study published in 2012 out of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that, over a period of 12 years, strokes among people aged 20 to 54 made up an increasingly greater proportion of strokes across all age groups, growing from about 13 percent in 1993–94 to 19 percent in 2005.
Closer to home, the Heart and Stroke Foundation says several studies predict that the rate of strokes among younger adults will double in the next 15 years. The main reason? According to Dr. Tara Sedlak, a cardiologist at Vancouver General Hospital and clinical assistant professor at The University of British Columbia, it comes down to lifestyle—high stress levels, poor eating habits, lack of exercise and smoking. Research bears this out: The University of Cincinnati study suggested that a rise in lifestyle-related risk factors (such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol) may contribute to a higher incidence of stroke.
But there is a way to turn the tide: As with other age groups, simple changes such as exercising regularly, quitting smoking and eating healthily could see the rates of cardiovascular disease—and, more specifically, stroke—decrease, says Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto.
In your 40s and 50s: Cardiovascular disease is less common among younger women, in part because of their higher estrogen levels; the hormone offers some protection to the arteries. But as women approach menopause and their estrogen levels drop, the incidence of stroke and heart attack increases.
Unfortunately, broad knowledge of their increased risk may not protect perimenopausal women from misdiagnosis. According to research by the Canadian Medical Protective Association, which provides advice, legal assistance and risk-management education to 95,000 Canadian physicians, doctors are missing the signs of stroke in patients nearly 10 percent of the time, largely because symptoms are often nonspecific—patients often complained of headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
And women, who have historically been less inclined to advocate for themselves, are particularly at risk. Research out of the University of Leeds in England showed that, between April 2004 and March 2013, 198,534 heart attack patients at National Health Service hospitals in England and Wales were initially misdiagnosed—and most of them were women. During that time, women suffering a heart attack were 50 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed compared to men.
It might be difficult to challenge doctors who tell you nothing's wrong, but Dr. Sedlak encourages women to listen to their bodies and to be firm with health-care providers about what they're experiencing. "If you feel there is a real problem, be persistent," she says.
In your 60s and beyond: Women over 65 have the most strokes of all age groups, but they still have fewer strokes than men the same age. However, a Danish study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2015 found that, after 60, women tend to have more serious strokes than men—and they're more likely to survive, which can have serious repercussions on quality of life.
John Sawdon, the public education and special projects director of the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada, explains that cardiac rehabilitation programs, which are free with a referral from your doctor, are the perfect next step for recovering cardiac patients of all ages, but they're particularly important for older Canadians, who tend to live more sedentary lives. These programs are supervised by a cardiologist and, after an assessment, are tailored by your cardiac rehab team, which usually includes nurses, physical therapists, kinesiologists and social workers. They can provide exercise training, education on heart-healthy living and stress counselling—all of which can contribute to the health and well-being of people who have heart problems. And they're effective, too: "Research has shown that those completing cardiac rehab live seven years longer than control groups," says Sawdon. It also "reduces incidence of another heart attack by 50 percent."
What's your risk? Ninety percent of adult Canadians have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But while factors such as obesity, hypertension, alcohol abuse, family history and ethnicity increase everyone's risk, regardless of gender, the following three are particularly relevant to women.
Smoking: While we all know that smoking is seriously unhealthy, it can be especially damaging to women's cardiovascular health. Smoking when taking the oral contraceptive pill can drastically increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. But quitting can cut your risk within a year.
Diabetes: According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are at a very high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In fact, "they may develop heart disease 10 to 15 years earlier than individuals without diabetes."
Mental illness and stress: "Women have a higher frequency of stress-induced heart disease, and women's hearts are affected by stress and depression more than men's," says Dr. David Fitchett, a cardiologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
Heart health dictionary
Atherosclerosis: When arteries narrow and harden due to plaque buildup.
Cardiomyopathhy: Diseases of the heart muscle, which cause it to become enlarged, thick or rigid.
Cardiovascular disease: A broad term for problems with the heart and blood vessels, often due to atherosclerosis. These conditions can lead to heart attack, angina or stroke.
Heart attack: Also known as a myocardial infarction, these attacks happen when the flow of blood to a section of the heart is blocked, preventing the muscle from getting oxygen.
High blood pressure: Also called hypertension, this is when the long-term force of blood against artery walls is elevated, requiring the heart to work harder, which may eventually lead to heart disease.
Microvascular angina: A disease of the small coronary artery blood vessels. Many angiograms do not view the small blood vessels, so this can be difficult to diagnose.
Spontaneous coronary artery dissection: A tear in the coronary artery wall. Physical or emotional stress appears to play a role. Most cases (around 70 percent) occur in women under 50—and a third of those are pregnant or postpartum women.
Stroke: When the blood supply to a portion of the brain is interrupted. This can happen when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain either bursts or is blocked.
Sugary drinks contain a lot of empty calories and have been linked to numerous health issues. Learn how to kick these drinks to the curb with five healthy alternatives.
Trading in your sugary chai latte for a chai tea made with steamed milk may seem like the end of the world. But, changing your diet can be easier – and yummier - than you think.
"The number one source of added sugar in our diet is from sugar-sweetened beverages," says Amanda Nash, a registered dietitian with the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Sugary drinks include things such as iced flavoured coffees, sports drinks, pop and fruit juice.
One problem with sugary drinks is that they don't leave you feeling as full as solid foods do– even if they both have the same amount of calories. After drinking a sugary drink, even though you might have consumed hundreds of calories, you're still hungry and you will continue to eat as if you'd consumed nothing at all. "That's really how sugar-sweetened beverages can add to extra caloric intake," says Nash.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends that your total intake of added sugars does not exceed ten percent of your total daily calories (and ideally five percent). "To put that into perspective, ten percent for the average person eating a 2000-calorie diet would be 48 grams," explains Nash. This may seem like a lot but one can of pop usually has about 35 grams of added sugar.
"Use almond or coconut milk blended with one cup of berries or other frozen fruit per serving," suggests Sara Jafari, a registered dietitian based in Toronto. Check the label to make sure the coconut or almond milk is unsweetened – most have added sugar.
2. Homemade iced tea
Leave the sugar-sweetened iced tea on the shelves. "Brew a naturally sweet tea like apple cinnamon tea, mint tea or berry tea," says Nash. Leave the tea bags in and let it chill in the fridge overnight. You could even make a fizzy iced tea by adding soda water to your homemade iced tea.
3. Carbonated water
If you love drinking pop, then carbonated water is a great option for you. Nash suggests livening up your water by adding lemon, lime, grapefruit, fresh berries, mint or herbs. Even a splash of fruit juice will help to minimize your sugar intake.
4. Chocolate and white milk combo
Although plain milk or a milk alternative, like soy, almond or coconut milk, should always be the first choice, some people can't escape their sweet tooth. If you really like flavoured beverages, fill a glass with half chocolate milk and half white milk. Plain milk contains important vitamins and minerals. It also leaves you feeling full!
5. Herbal tea
If you want a delicious hot drink, then herbal tea is the way to go. Teas can be sugary beverages, depending on how you prepare them, so make sure you take it plain. You'll find adding extra sugar isn't necessary because it already has a sweet flavour. With no added sugar, it can be a healthy way to satisfy your craving for a hot beverage. Some great herbal tea options are ginger, dandelion, hibiscus and rooibos.
Tips on sweeteners:
• Alternatives: Try sweetening your tea with raw honey or stevia. Flavouring your coffee with cinnamon is also a great alternative to adding sugar.
• Use sparingly: Nash suggests limiting the amount of sweeteners you add to your food and beverages. Over time you will adapt to natural flavours and enjoy beverages without added sweetness.
• Ditch diet drinks: "Diet" drinks and drinks made with artificial sweeteners are good for providing a sweet flavour without calories. But, artificial sweeteners can be tricky. Jafari explains that sometimes, artificial sweeteners can come from natural sources, such as herbs – but, they can also be derived from sugar itself! These drinks also do not offer any nutritional or health benefits.
Tips on label reading:
• Be aware of health halos: Jafari explains that lots of drinks like vitamin enriched water and coconut water are advertised as being healthy when in fact they contain added sugar. Be wary of these and coconut water because it naturally contains a lot of sugar.
• Be cautious of the word "original": Almond and coconut milk are often labeled as "original," so people think nothing has been added to them. But, these "original" drinks usually have added sugar - look for the word "unsweetened."
• Watch out for hidden sugars: Sugar can be listed in the ingredients under many different names. Nash says anything that ends in "ose," such as glucose, sucrose or dextrose, is sugar. Maple syrup and corn syrup are also different types of sugar.