Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Homework - 11 Questions

I've really enjoyed reading other peoples' "homework".  These questions were sent to me by Chris Wejr.  I am now working on my 11 people to send this to.
First:  10 things you probably didn't know about me:
*I was a military brat.  I think my ability to adapt to new situations is a direct result of regular moves during my childhood years.  I also learned to be good friends with my siblings because of the many moves.  Many times (leave this one alone), they were my ONLY friends :)

*I was a tomboy.  If there was a game on, I was in it; football, hockey, baseball, red rover.  I remember so clearly how it sucked that girls growing up during my era could not dream about being a professional athlete (other than golf or tennis which required rich parents, which I didn't have )

*I married my high school sweetheart.  Our first date was on my birthday and he bought me a necklace and earrings.  What a keeper! 

*I have four adult children (now there's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one).  They are all happily married  and are responsible for our amazing grandkids; Elizabeth (9), Kai (5), Austen (16 mos.), Ava (16 mos) and Nico (6 months).

*I had no university until after our four children were born.  My husband talked me into giving university a go and I started my teaching career at 34 years old.  From my first course to the end of my Masters degree took me 21 years with only 1 summer off from coursework.  It was ALL worth it!

*I would love to have an old home with a big garden, a great tree for climbing, a large front porch and big windows (that someone else would clean) for the sun to shine through.

*My BEST holiday ever was a bike tour of Southern Ireland.  My husband and I did this to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.

*This summer I will go to Haida Gwaii and cross that off my bucket list.

*Really?  Is that only 8?   Hmmm. . . . I could read books 24/7.  In fact I do.

*We have plans to do extensive travelling but I think the holiday I look forward to the most is the one we will take (some time in the future) with all of our family.  There, that's 10, not interesting, but 10~

1. What was the biggest AHA moment that changed you as an educator?
Without doubt the biggest AHA moment I had as an educator came while participating in Diane Gossen's workshops, Restitution: Creating the Conditions for Change.  The big shift was viewing discipline as something done 'to' another person in order to control them to viewing discipline as an opportunity for empowering students/adults to fix the mistake (because we ALL make mistakes).  If the solution to the problem doesn't make the individual stronger, then it's not a solution. If it's easy to do, it's not a solution. 
2. Provide an example of an activity you do that symbolizes your family tradition or culture.
I wouldn't say that our family has any special traditions.  We spend a lot of time together out of choice. I love the time we have with our grown children, their spouses and our grandchildren.  We have four adult children and they all have family and they all have busy lives. That they choose to spend the free time they do have with us is an honor we don't take lightly.  We help each other out when we can.  We holiday together when we can.  We share our problems and our successes and I believe we all make each other stronger because we know our love is unconditional with each other.
3. Do you like the use of school-wide awards?
YIKES! Chris Wejr, did you really just ask me this question?  Now that I've over-reacted, I will say that I love to honor the gifts that all children bring into our lives, inside of school and out.  If the honouring is sincere then yes, I do like it.  I think on-going legitimate praise and recognition are more valuable than one big ceremony.  I think taking a child aside and recognizing the gifts they share with us at that moment, is more effective and meaningful than award ceremonies.  There, now I can breathe again.  That question just riles me up!!

4. Left or right handed?
When I'm adventurous or pushing my creative limits I try left-handed.  If I don't want to hurt myself I use my right hand.  I love it that my son brushes his teeth and shaves with his left hand.  Now that's living on the edge.  I love it that when my daughter was in grade 12 and got tendonitis in her shooting hand (basketball), she simply switched to her left hand.  No problem.  Me? I may as well cut off my left arm :)

5. What is your favourite line from a movie?
"I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills."  This just makes me close my eyes and feel the power that people who make these choices in life must have.   Followed closely by, "There was a wandering Chinese named Chang Wan…and a girl named Shirley who spoke perfect Chinese which she learned from her missionary parents.  Chang Wan lived alone in a room on Formosa Street above the Blue Lantern, and he sat at his window and in his poor, listening heart strange echoes of his home country." Storytelling, what an art!

6. If someone has to share a concern with you, what is the best way to do it?
Straight up!  No beating around the bush!  Get right to it and let's see if/how we can solve it.

7. If you could retire tomorrow (or are already retired) how would (or do) you spend your time?Spending time with family and then travelling, reading, golfing, creating, knitting, biking, reading, creating, cooking, reading, travelling, reading, hugging my wee ones, reading and travelling.  Not necessarily in that order :)

8. In your final days/minutes, when you about to take your last breath, and you think back to all that you have done or going to do… you will be most proud of
MY FAMILY and my passion for life.  I don't tend to do things, feel things, see things, experience things in small ways.  I love this quote, "Never touch anything with half of your heart".  I'm not always easy to live with because of this but, oh well!
9. Which book is next on your “to read” list?
The one that's closest to me!  Seriously, I consume books.  I LOVE books.  Next on my list?  To Dance on Sands: The Life and Art of Death Valley's Marta Becket.  Now THIS was a passionate woman who danced to feed her own soul!  Also, maybe Dream Big Dreams, The Jack Donahue Story.

10.  Describe a moment on social media stands out to you as something that has had a significantly positive impact to you or someone else?
I LOVE Social Media.  For me, that mostly means Facebook.  The number of articles and creative ideas and powerful moments that I have witnessed because someone shared them on FB is incredible.  Now, the BEST one (aside from TED Talks) that someone shared with me was the documentary called, I Am,  by Tom Shadyac. A must-see!

11. How do you make the time to be quiet, still and alone?
I'm working on this one.  Other than when I'm reading, I don't really do "still" very well.  I like to have lots to do and I am a busy person.  The other time I'm "kind of" still is when I am creating.  I did not know I had an artist within me until I was in my middle 40's.  I have learned to honor that artist and love to journal, paint, create statues from t-shirts (yes, it's true, stinky old b-ball t-shirts into beautiful statues) and I am an on-going student of meditation.  Now that I'm retired and have a lot of free time I am able to practice 'still' but it is definitely a 'work in progress'.  These are my wee ones and a couple of my statues. ENJOY!


Friday, March 21, 2014

The Calm Before the Warm

 Each spring as I shake the laziness from my winterized self and get out on my bike for the first ride of the season I find my thoughts, like my muscles, get a bit of a workout.  I am always amazed and grateful when winter begins to lose its grip and spring is about to burst forth. 
As I rode along our country roads this afternoon the first thing I noticed was the mud.  In every field, on every road and in every ditch there was mud.  At first glance it all looked so dormant, so still, so anticipatory.  But my wintery eyes adjusted to the sunshine and I began to really SEE what was around me.  The blue skies were filled with marshmallow-y clouds.  Yes, the bottoms were definitely flat and more grey than white but there was a fluffiness to them that you just don't see in the winter.  And even more miraculously, in between the clouds the sky was a beautiful spring blue.  There wasn't a trace of that inky, flat grey that surrounds us from the end of October until the middle of March.  In the large barren trees you could see mama and papa eagle, sitting beside their nest which grows larger and larger each year.  The fields are filled with puddles that are in turn filled with ducks and snow geese and swans.  The odd robin flies by and I even catch a glimpse of the stellar jays that we just don't see during the winter months.  Daffodils and snowdrops push their way through the mud and the tulip trees are loaded with buds.  As I take it all in I almost miss the telltale signs that spring REALLY is here and I swerve quickly to avoid the track of slick, slimy, brown splotches left on the road by the manure spreaders.

 Spring.  Spr"ing".  I think it's more like spr"ing".  All around me "ing's" are happening.  Blooming, bike-riding, manure'ing, singing, planting, walking, enjoying, breathing deeply,  you get the picture.  All the 'ing' words I can think of are floating through my brain as I ride.  My legs are pumping, my lungs are filling, my muscles are tiring and I am thankful for all of the beauty and peace in my world.

 While that beauty and peace are always around me I am not always aware of it or appreciative of it, especially during the dreary days of winter.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Fraser Valley.  I just don't love winter in the Fraser Valley.  I know it's hard to complain, particularly in light of the winter that has gripped the rest of the country, but I am SO, SO glad that spring is making inroads. 

While March 20th/21st are considered the 'first' day of spring, in my world it isn't official until I've taken that first longer bike ride of the season.  So, now it's official.  Welcome Spring!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Idiots, Losers and Non-Achievers

The debate is on again.  A middle school in Calgary has decided to end the practice of year end awards and replace it with a broader system of recognition.  The responses to the article in the National Post  ( are very negative and perhaps those responses themselves point to a need for change.

The comments that support this traditional practice use statements and language such as the following to support their argument:

"Thank our "progressive" education system, we don't reward those who work hard instead help the mediocre fool themselves into believing we are all "equal" (from an achievement / skills point of view)."

"Why demote the winners, our future, to appease the losers?"

We should push the non-achievers to emulate the performance and behaviours of achievers, not the other way around"

And my favourite. . .   "The world has their share of winners and losers, and geniuses and idiots. No amount of PC bull can change the fact that some are more able than others."

Winners and losers.  Non-Achievers and achievers.  Hard workers versus the mediocre.  Geniuses and idiots.  Is this what these people have left school believing about themselves and their classmates?  Is this what they want to perpetuate?

These statements make me even more sure that it is time for a change.  Contrary to what many people believe the education of our children is not meant to be a competition full of 'winners' and 'losers'. 

I was raised to do my best, to work hard and to be a good person.  Sometimes I won awards, sometimes I didn't.  This never changed how hard I worked, how much I achieved, how I viewed myself and my classmates.  Education is not about having one winner and twenty-nine losers every time an assignment is completed.  Working hard is not about being the best.   Working hard to be your best helps you live a fulfilling life and makes you proud of yourself.  You don't work hard because you want to 'win' some award or even view yourself as the 'best', you work hard because it's the right thing to do.

"There is no success. No failure. Only a fuzzy middle." Not winning an award should not be synonymous with failure.  There are many successful people who have never won an award.  There are many successful people who are successful because of their talent, their passion and their dedication. They are not motivated by looking over their shoulder to see where they are on the 'winner' and 'loser' scale or if they are stuck 'in the fuzzy middle'.

"Psychologically, humans crave praise and feedback, which serve as motivating incentives for further, future performance."  This quote was used to support the continuance of awards programs when I believe it does exactly the opposite.  If praise and feedback (this is a whole other blog) serve to motivate, shouldn't schools be using this for all students.  Don't we want all students to be motivated?

The perception of people that the goal is to make everyone 'equal' is also ridiculous.  Do you really think that by removing awards students won't know where they stand.  The outstanding athlete, academic, musician, artist, problem solver, scientist and world citizen will still be outstanding.  Nothing will change the fact that students (and adults) are all blessed with different talents and that those talents will shine through regardless of whether or not awards ceremonies exist.  Most of us know we are not 'the best' but it doesn't stop us from striving to be 'our best'.

Nothing will change the fact that some students come to school with full bellies, freshly cleaned clothes and an army of support behind them while others come hungry and dirty with only a few supports in place.  Our job is to support all of these students, to educate all of them, to motivate all of them and to help all of them recognize their own strengths and talents.  Not just the 'winners', 'geniuses' and 'achievers', but ALL students.

I have no understanding of how recognizing more students in more meaningful ways can create such negative dialogue. I am ashamed of being part of an education system that has produced thinkers who believe that children who do not step onto that podium in June (and that's the majority) to receive their 'award'  are 'idiots', 'non-achievers' and 'losers'.  And by the way, school is the 'real' world for everyone within its walls.

It's time for a change folks.  It's time.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Awakening My Senses

Saying Yes To the Moment - Day 2
This is our bridge
It crosses the mighty Fraser River
For 32 years crossing this bridge meant 'coming home'
The bridge is known by all who live near
So sad that it has no bike lane
which makes it almost impossible to cross without a vehicle
For young people this bridge signifies summer parties
bonfires and sometimes trouble
Nowadays, for us, it is a place to let our dog run free
as we walk along with the sun on our backs
and the crisp fall breeze softly blowing in our faces
The smell of rotting fish is familiar
and the bear scat reminds us to be watchful
A few fresh berries pop out on the fading
scraggly, mostly-dead blackberry bushes
which were ripe with fruit just days ago
The walks we take here are always peaceful
although we can hear the fisherman along the far shores
and a few farm dogs barking in the distance
beyond the freshly stripped cornfields
Garter snakes slither just beyond our steps
as we disrupt one of their last sunbathing days for this year
As we turn at the end of the path
with our dog bounding on ahead
we once again talk of how quickly the time passes
Today we are noticing that this is true with both
the seasons
the years
And we are grateful for the time we have
Just Say Yes To The Moment

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Saying Yes To The Moment

I have been meditating on and off for about  2 years now.  I'm not sure why it's 'on' and 'off' as it is the best part of my day when I am 'on'. 

I read a wonderful article the other day,, about slowing down and making that quiet moment to ponder life an integral part of your day.  "People put meditation on their To Do lists. This is something I tell my students: “If you don’t put meditation on the top of your To Do list, it will be at the bottom, and it won’t happen.” I find that if meditation is not the first priority of my day it won’t happen. You know if I am
foolish enough to say, “Well, I have to make this phone call, check my email…,” then it’s over. Finished. “I’ll do it later.” It never happens. Look at your life and ask, “Am I being honest with myself? Is it really true that I don’t have time?”

I'm afraid that when I was working full time meditation wasn't even ON my list of things 'to do'.  They call it a 'practice' for a reason - it requires practice!  Oh how I wish I would have known then what I know now! But, even in my retirement, with all of the time in the world, I still have days where I don't consciously set aside the time and revert back to my busy-ness.  The things that keep me busy are not urgent things; dishes, making the bed, planning meals, reading a book, going for a walk/bike ride/swim, driving into the city to see our wee ones, knitting or crafting or just making time to take pictures.  None of these things are urgent but unless you set the time aside and make meditation a priority there are days where it just doesn't happen.  Then, something happens that reminds me again of how peaceful my days are when they start with a few quiet moments just 'being'.

This week those reminders came one after the other.  I  read Dr. Ray's article and it certainly struck home with me, especially the parts about our fast-paced North American lifestyle.  Next, my daughter wrote a blog, ,  that reminded me once again to 'stay in the moment'.  As I read through her blog she referred to another blogger, Liz Lamoreux, who inspired Christine (and now me) to follow her on a 10 day journey of  "Saying Yes To This Moment".   I was just pondering what happened to my morning meditation and it's like the universe conspired to get me back on track.  This has happened before in my life and I am again reminded that if I just take a moment, one moment, to ponder life the answers will appear.

As I just finished  a photography course, part of my 10 day journey will be making a photo of one moment in each day that touches that quiet spot in my soul.  I hope you too can find a moment to 'just be' and join us on our 10 days of Saying Yes To The Moment.

Today's photo is from my photography course on Hornby Island.  What I love most about this picture are the rings of light in the front of the rocks.  It's all about the light :)


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Through My Lens

A few months ago when I signed up for a photography course on Hornby Island with Illuminate Photo Education ( I had one goal, to learn to use my digital camera off the 'automatic' setting.  Aside from the camera part of things Hornby Island is a place I love.  I have many fond memories of spending time there with my own family and our Nanny and Papa when we were all a bit younger.  Still, as with any new experience, I was a bit nervous.  I worried about my camera not being 'enough'.  I worried a bit about who I might be rooming with.  I worried a bit about not knowing 'enough' about photography.  I always worry a bit when I head out into the world on my own.

As I settled in that first day I was looking forward to meeting everyone.  It reminded me of my junior high years on the first day of school.  You knew everything was going to be okay but still you were a bit nervous.  I was anxious to get the first information session under my belt so I could relax about not being 'left in the dust' by those with more knowledge and experience.  Those first hurdles are important ones when you embark on a new experience and they often set the tone for the remainder of the experience.

On that very first evening I learned one new thing about myself.  I love pathways.  As you can see in the two photos above, things that lead to other things catch my eye.  I did not learn this on my own.  I learned this from someone else who was looking at my pictures. I hadn't, and wouldn't have noticed this pattern  myself.  I was a bit surprised to see that many, many of my photos from that first day had that very same perspective.  It was a great reminder to me that sharing a bit of yourself, in this case, through photos may teach you things about yourself that you didn't know before. 

The instructors in this course, Karen McKinnon ( and Boomer Jerritt ( spent time on the personal aspect of photography as well as the technical aspect.  We, as a group, all wondered if my penchant for pathways reflected where I was in life.  Having retired a year ago, I must say that I have spent considerable time contemplating where life will take me.  This personal aspect of photography really appeals to me.

As we all headed out to the beach that first day it was so interesting to see how each of us found our niche.  Some people shot high, some low, some faced towards the open ocean, some back towards the beach.  Some contemplated a shot for many moments while others clicked away.  Some waded right out into the water, some shied away from the slippery, seaweed covered rocks.  Each of us found our own path in our own way in our own time and each of us made beautiful pictures that were all our own.  And this was only Day 1!  As we viewed each others' shots later that evening the group really began to come together.  As diverse as we were we shared a common passion.  In a few short hours we were comfortable enough to trust each other and that first night tears were shed and laughter filled the room.  The journey had begun.
For me, this is what new experiences are all about.  They take me out of my comfort zone, emotionally, socially, and intellectually.  While there is some initial discomfort the rewards in the end for all of us included new friendships, new insights, new knowledge and new or renewed passion.  The best part of this course was that we were truly all students and instructors and this made the experience that much richer.  Kudos to Karen and Boomer for creating a safe, nurturing environment for this all to happen in!
I loved my time on Hornby but I was ready to head home after the four days.  For me, one of the best parts of new experiences is sharing them with my husband.  I was so excited to show him my pictures and talk to him about the people I met and the things I had learned, about photography and about myself.
For all of you out there contemplating stepping out of your comfort zone, I highly recommend it!  Your life will be richer for having stretched yourself!  To end - one of my favourite pictures from the week:



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Stories of Our Lives

One of my favourite movies is Out Of Africa and one of my favourite scenes from that movie is when Robert Redford's character challenges Meryl Streep's character to tell a story.  She tells him that when she tells stories to her nieces and nephews they must always provide the first line.

Robert Redford begins:  "There was a wandering Chinese named Chang Wan…and a girl named Shirley."Meryl Streep picks it up:  "who spoke perfect Chinese which she learned from her missionary parents.  Chang Wan lived alone in a room on Formosa Street above the Blue Lantern, and he sat at his window and in his poor, listening heart strange echoes of his home country…"

The art of story-telling is a gift.  While not many of us have Meryl Streep's character's gift we all have a story to tell.  Quite often these days those stories take the form of blogging.  There are many random blogs I read as I come across them on Facebook or on the internet as I go about my daily on-line activities.  There are also several blogs that I follow regularly.  I follow them because they tell me the stories of peoples' lives, people that I care about and people that I know through work or family. 

I'm always curious about this need to write, this need to share the story that is within you, quite often the story of your own life and experiences.  There are many people I know who do not feel this need.  They are happy enough to keep their stories to themselves and sometimes don't even understand those of us who do write.  So why do I write?  As my friend Rebecca describes it,  "I toss [an idea] back and forth and throw it at the wall like cooked spaghetti to see if it sticks. If it does, then I write about it."  A lot of my writing is done late at night (notice the time).  Usually I've gone to bed and then an idea creeps into my head and I just can't seem to get it out of my head until I've 'written' it down.  Then I can sleep.  Sometimes those ideas are memories of the good old days and sometimes those ideas are things that I've read about or heard about and I need to write to process my own thoughts or opinions on those topics.  Quite often I write about my family, to share my thoughts and feelings with them and also to act as a bit of a diary/journal for them to look back on later in life.  I know that some of what I have written has been read and re-read by my family.  I know I often wish my own relatives, especially those no longer with us, had written more. 

Over the last couple of years I have also followed other blogs.  I've enjoyed reading about my friend Rebecca's childhood, one so different from my own.  She is an eloquent writer and along with her stories I simply enjoy the language she uses and the pictures she paints with her words.  She analyzes and questions and reflects on her own experiences along with her interactions with the world around her.  I always feel better, more peaceful when I read Rebecca's blog.  This latest one is her conquest of the local mountain many of talk about scaling, but never actually do.  Rebecca did!(

I also really enjoy reading my sister-in-law's blog.  She has had a writer lurking within her for many years now and has just found the courage to share her stories with the world.  She has gone from nervous blogger to published author in a very short time.  Sherri's writing often does not leave me peaceful.  It challenges me and causes me to reflect and question my own beliefs and practices about the way I live my life.  I love this about her writing.  While I know that it has been difficult for her to share her journey I also know that while it stretches her as a person it also provides both her and her readers with the challenge to just be who they are meant to be in life.  She encourages herself and the rest of us to enjoy the process of becoming our authentic selves.  This is one of my favourites

My daughter Kelly writes a beautiful blog as well.  Since the birth of her daughter, Ava, last November Kelly's blogs have focussed on the beauty of motherhood.  She writes monthly letters to Ava sharing the ways Ava has changed and grown and touched the lives of those around her.  These blogs are a gift to me as well as to Ava.  Kelly is a passionate person and this is reflected in her writing, no matter what the topic.  Kelly publishes her blog but shares it only with family and close friends.

Our son Jason also started writing a blog a couple of years ago and aptly enough it is called, Better Late Than Never.  Jason is a gifted writer and it is so wonderful to read his thoughts and opinions on a number of topics.  As a Gramma, of course I love the ones he writes about his family, especially his amazing daughter Elizabeth.  However, Jason also has written stories of his city, his roots and his  later in life journey to becoming a teacher.  The Olympic spirit touched us all and Jason wrote this patriotic and emotional blog during the Vancouver Olympics.  I believe that Jason has a novel inside of him waiting to get out.  He has also written a thought-provoking screen-play that I hope to see played out one day.

The original blogger in our family, the one that inspired me to start blogging, is my daughter Christine.  Christine has always been great at setting life goals, short term and long term.  This is clear in her blog in both her writing and in the organization of it.  Christine's main goal, much like mine, was to simply rid her head of all the thoughts that were swirling around in there as she lay in bed trying to sleep.  Her blog reflects on everything from yoga to veganism (is that a word?) to politics to simpler life reflections.  Of course much of her recent writing involves her role as mother, wife, teacher, daughter, friend, and woman in general.  One of my favourite blogs of Christine's reflects on balance. . .

I also follow blogs on education.  While I am retired I am still very interested in the goings-on in the education system.  I have strong opinions on many aspects of education and have become even more opinionated now that my precious grandchildren are 'in the system'.   I like to stay current and informed and do this through the reading of blogs, many of them written by practicing teachers and administrators.  What I love about the blogs I read (Tia Henriksen, Chris Wejr, George Curous, Pete Jory) is the sense of community and passion that these educators have formed through on-line learning networks.  It is a lonely job filled with change and challenges and it's fun reading about how these people seem to be able to do it all with a smile on their faces and still find time for their families.  Kudos to all of them!

And, of course, one could simply not write about writing and blogging and story-telling without mentioning Chelsey and Andrew and Lilee-Jean.  As I ponder their triumphant and tragic journey I am so sad. And yet I am grateful that they chose to open their hearts and share their thoughts and feelings and experiences.  The impact that this family has had on  thousands of people is simply amazing.  Chelsey and Andrew chose to dance in the rain and they took Lilee along with them, or perhaps she took them along with her.  The phrase 'dancing in the rain' was around long before Lilee-Jean entered this world but before her, they were simply words.  I don't think a day will go by for those of us who were touched by this family that we won't be a little more aware, a little more loving, a little more grateful, a little more adventurous, a little more caring and perhaps even a little more willing to open our own hearts and share what's inside of them.  I don't think a day will go by that we don't truly understand what courage it takes to dance in the rain.