The creative girl I used to be

Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit with an elder and have a long chat. We were trapped together on a plane for the long haul from London to Vancouver. He was much older than me and works for the Canadian Government, doing important things. I spend most of my time working in the apparel manufacturing sector for a global brand. I indirectly make stuff for people who enjoy leisure activities in the outdoors.

But, I am interested in so much more than my current job. And my husband does important work. So we talked a lot about that. Then, all of the sudden I was filled with one of my core memories from long ago. Why I took one path over another, and created the future which I am living today.

I think we were talking about the US election and how people are divided into camps, political and otherwise. Then I remembered why I only went to University for one year. I was enrolled in general studies and taking a variety of courses, one of them introducing me to the b-comm faculty where I desired to attend in 3rd year. As I neared the end of that first year, I had a glimpse of myself 20 years down the line. I would be married to one of these guys in the faculty. One of these “Gordon Gecko wannabes”. (It was the late 1980’s). I would be a secondary thought, the wife, maybe a mother. Even if I had a career, it would not be as important as his. My girl friends would be in the same boat and we would spend all our time commiserating over our plight in life. I finished that year and transferred to fashion design school, where I had always wanted to study.

Then my school closed in Calgary, Alberta. Wide sweeping Government cuts to liberal arts programs, at that time meant that the little private school would have to stay in the small scope it was. The founders of the school wanted a something different, an education experience which could reach a wider audience. So they packed it in. Just as I had found my ultimate education experience, it was snatched away.

Of course, there were other schools in Canada operating at that time, with roughly the same curriculum. It was either turn right for Toronto or left for Vancouver. I hedged a bet that Toronto would contain far more of the type of people I had left behind in University, (plus it was very far away), and I headed West. A girlfriend and I found a program which would transfer our Alberta program and we finished our design education. She went back home, but in the first weeks of our adventure on the West coast, I had met the young man who would become my husband.

I don’t want to give the impression that my life has been a fairy tale. I’ve had some lucky times, worked extremely hard and been granted some wonderful experiences which I will always be grateful for. But the young woman who so much enjoyed design school, who thrived on the creative experiences and work, she has kind of been lost along the way.

I’ve rationalized that over the years. After all, I had to make a living, had to pay the mortgage. Bit by bit, I made decisions which continually distanced myself from the creative fire at my core, which once burned so brightly. It happened so slowly, I didn’t really notice it. Now, as I look around me, I am surrounded by the next generation, these promising 20 something year olds. They are passionate and talented. But they too are having to make compromises. They have to accept “the way things are” and do things they didn’t expect.

What is the solution? I suppose if I have learned anything in all this time on the planet is that finding a way forward will be complicated. I am intertwined with the decisions and responsibilities I have accepted over many years. Decoupling and untangling will require me to understand my emotions again. All of them, not just the good ones. That is daunting and scary work, which I have started.

But yesterday, I had a vision. That young woman who wore these wild and outlandish clothing combinations, who spoke her mind with conviction, who didn’t feel the need to be smaller to please others, who wasn’t always having to compromise her core values, she is still in there. She is hiding behind clothing combinations which help her blend into the background, where no-one takes notice. She speaks up, but gets shot down and then stays down. She is exhausted from trying to keep the peace. She has become smaller.


That young woman from the 1980’s is waking up. There are parts of her that need to shine in me again. I love much of the woman I am today, but I think it is time for a make-over. I want to re-capture some of the gumption and spirit the photo above shows. (Easter weekend around 1989 at my Aunt and Uncles cabin where we were kind of Spring camping. I’ve got some kind of sunhat on, big hoop earrings, big cotton sweatshirt, down vest, shorts over wildly printed tights and slouchy socks with desert boots.)

Where is the list?

My husband posed this question to me this weekend. I think the nature of a blog, is really a list of posts. So I don’t see the literal problem with the name of this blog versus the content structure. But, in actual fact, it didn’t start out with this name. I changed it.

I started out with “The Good Stuff”. Over time that name, which was intended to be cheeky, just rang of consumerism. Not at all what I am going for. And then I wanted a .com URL, and those are hard to come by. So I had to modify the name of the blog. That is how we arrive at the list part.

Now that I think about it more, I really love lists. All of it. Creating them, checking things off, the sense of accomplishment. It is one of the reasons I stick with a paper planner, rather than moving to a digital version. The mental satisfaction. I’ll take that whenever I can.

Since I’m not a web designer, and don’t plan to hire one anytime soon, there is not a big design update coming to make this blog look like a list of entries. I’m about simplification right now, and probably always. But I think I’ve got an idea to start making future posts feel a bit more list-like.

See if you like the new feature of The Good Life List. 3 or more, (depends on how I feel that day), links, references, a small list related to the content of the post.

  1. Workflowy – popular technology platform for making lists
  2. Ray Bradbury on How List-Making Can Boost Your Creativity from Brain Pickings, (an amazing blog)
  3. The Amazing history of the To-Do List, (I love the Johnny Cash list)

Grad school

It occurred to me this past weekend, I’m kind of going to a type of grad school. I was looking through my personal email folders and realized I have taken a lot of courses over the past few years. Most of what I’ve read also has something to do with my education. I know a few things about these subjects I’ve been lucky enough to study. Maybe, I can even say I’m a bit of an expert. OK, maybe that stretches it too far. But I feel more knowledgable, for sure.

My husband and son went camping and my daughter and I had the house to ourselves. The weekend stretched in front of me like a blank slate. Uninterrupted time to go wherever my mind wanted to take me. When my husband came home, he commented how cluttered the bed was with all my learning materials. Books, computer, art supplies, iPad, journal, pens, coloured pencils, day-timer, etc. I was in heaven. He shook his head.

Saturday kind of evaporated. We had stuff to do, chores to finish, groceries to buy, my daughter wanted to bake. But Sunday, oh lovely, blessed day, we had all to ourselves. Since I was in bed so early Saturday night, I was up early. Weather looked poor, so I was going to read….

Rainy Day Books_web

Then I was inspired to complete an exercise from last week for my “Thrive” course being taught by Arianna Huffington. I have been wanting to do something like this for a long time, was even on my list of goals for this year. Now a third chart needs to be completed, what do I wish the chart could look like?

Time Pie Chart_web

My daughter finally woke up and we had to be at the White Rock Farmer’s Market. Even though a chorizo hot dog is NOT on anyone’s diet, it had to be done.

Market Chorizo_web

Later in the afternoon, I just had to take this photo of our cat – snoozing in the boat. How cute is that?

Cat in boat_web

My next phase in education arrived today. “Zen Habits” by Leo Babauta, a project I helped fund through kickstarter. What a wonderful world!

Zen Habits_web

Private School

2 weeks ago, our son started grade 8 in a private school. As they say, “timing is everything”. We had actually made this decision over a year ago. Today it seems like the most amazing thing we could be doing for a number of reasons. But a year ago, we were scared.

I have been a huge believer in public education. Like life itself, I thought your school experience is what you make it. You get out of it what you put into it. This philosophy works great for a certain number of students, but not for everyone. When I was in school, I had no perspective or tolerance for the struggles of the wide array of different learning styles and needs.

As I grew older and then had children of my own, I started listening to stories. Heart breaking tales of people who did not find public education so rewarding. My position started to soften and shift. Maybe, in its current state, public education cannot serve everyone. But I was still concerned about completely turning away from it.

Then the research began. When you start looking for information, or learn the first point of a new topic, it is amazing how the world opens up. I listened to lectures and watched videos. I read and read. What I have discovered is a paradigm shift in education is underway. The old rules simply need not apply.

But, still, as I dropped off our first-born for his first day of school this year, it was with some trepidation. Was this going to be that different from public school? He was already missing his friends. His typical day was going to be extremely different. Would he adapt?

Over the course of these first days, the answers are clear.

  • A weight has been lifted from our son’s shoulders. He comes home each night sounding strong and confident. Everyday we ask, “how did it go”? He answers, “great”.
  • Every week we get a detailed summary of what has been accomplished and goals yet to be achieved. There is a sense that these things will happen. There is hope.
  • The communication from the teacher has been focused only on our son. No comparisons to other students. No shame. Confidence is what we hear. Our son will get there, it is process along a winding path.
  • The faculty and other parents are very excited to meet us and share stories. The level of support is something I have not experienced before. (There is even a parent book club!)

We are realistic, though. There will be tough days ahead. Not all goals will be easily achieved. Mastery comes with intent practice and determination. What is worthwhile does not come easy. We will be tested in the weeks and months ahead. But with this level of support, I am so confident we will overcome the obstacles, eventually. I am more engaged in this school environment than I have ever been before. The future seems so bright for us.

A footnote – private school is extremely expensive. But I look at this as an investment. Over the past 8 years, since level K, our son has struggled with a learning disability in math and been unchallenged with his gifted classification in language. His unbalanced learning profile does not fit the mold in the public education system. We tried every type of learning support and amendment, nothing made a significant difference. So instead of continuing to do the same and hoping for a different outcome, we decided to make a change.

Education hacking

“In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these.”   ~Paul Harvey

There is a measure of comfort in knowing there are many others who have come through a situation like this before. In fact, there are 10’s of thousands of parents dealing with similar circumstances in rather uncharted waters.

The situation I am talking about is the BCTF job action with their employer the BC Provincial government. The bottom line is the school aged children of British Columbia are not attending class and have not done so since early June. My daughter thinks she has won the lottery.

What has been kind of interesting, as a result of all this, is our own education hacking program. First week of September, my daughter attended full days at her mixed martial arts club where she played games, watched movies and hung out with a bunch of much younger children, most of the time. As we headed into week #2, (actually week #4.5 if you count June), the realization became clear. Time to create her own education plan.

My daughter is only entering grade 6, so she has a limited perspective of how to create a proper plan, but she is taking guidance and following through. She is determined and fairly receptive to new ways of working. We are having a little bit of discussion about novel study. She wants to have all the questions ready to go for any novel of her choice, for example. With my schedule and my husbands to consider, we are barely holding on to help her with her planning, let alone create a novel study of her preference. So we are hacking it. I’ve grabbed a template online and we are working through a new way to novel study, which is mostly self-directed. She remains skeptical, “it is not the way my teacher does it,” she grumbles.

To show flexibility and keep engagement high, we decided on a block of self-study. In class last year, this was called “genius hour”. My daughter asked if she could study, “anything“? I said sure. It matters how one studies and the quality of the research, analysis and writing. So she picked – Superwoman. No, not Marvel comics. Someone far closer to her heart and her generation’s pop culture.

Breaking it down, here are the 4 blocks she is working on:


I think my daughter will learn a number of lessons as the days pass on. Probably, quite a few of them are not in the prescribed learning outcomes from the BC Provincial government. Valuable they will be in life, though. For that, this exercise will be worthwhile. And I am learning some things too. I am watching a young person adapt and change and blossom. She has impressed me with her enthusiasm and passion. I almost didn’t realize she had all that gusto inside of her.



School report cards

My kids brought home their report cards last week. This is a confusing situation for a parent. How we feel about our children’s grades, tends to be wrapped up in our own school experiences and improved expectations for our offspring.

Education reporting seems to be evolving all the time. All classes used to receive letter grades, now that distinction is reserved for the intermediate levels. Apparently a note about “meeting” or “exceeding” expectations is all that is required for young children.

But what does any of it, really tell us about how a child is faring in the school system?

My son is enjoying a most amazing Grade 6 experience this year. The combination of his learning style and the class dynamics are shaping up to elevate, not only his grades, but his whole outlook on school.

However, most children at our local public elementary are getting pretty much the same education as students from generations ago. In a time when technology can play such a vital role in how students learn and how educators teach, it is kind of sad that the system remains pretty much the same.

The bright spot is availability. The days are over, (if they ever existed), when you send a child out the door for grade one and don’t expect to be involved in their education until they are launched from grade twelve graduation. Today, the question is more likely to be, how involved should parents be in helping their children meet their educational goals? Schools are badly under funded, extra curricular activity choices, (at the school) are few and far between. Parents can fill in the gaps of core learning and extra activities, almost to a point of over scheduling.

We have always taken the approach that less is more. From a selfish perspective, who has the time? But also, who are we to interfere with professional educators? Turns out, parents know their children best – full stop.

So years ago, we waded into the murky waters of the public education system. It is not easy to be stymied when seeking solutions to help your child. It is shocking to learn that, while educators expect children to constantly be learning new things, they are quite reluctant to do the same. On the upside, it turns out to have been a learning opportunity for all of us. Finally we feel that all the work we have done together as a family and with the help of everyone at the school, progress is being made.

My kids came home from school and opened their report cards. They reviewed their progress since first term and gave us a summary of their status. They set goals for the final grades they plan to achieve. That is all I can ask for, really. Ultimately, these are the kinds of skills that will make them successful in the world, regardless of the grade achieved in elementary school.

Life changing

Every May for 3 years, we have taken a journey. It involves a trek back into Richmond on a sunny Friday night. (For those of you living here and contending with the tunnel traffic know exactly what this means). We eat incredibly early, (before 5pm) and take our place in line at the Gateway Theatre. Then we wait and wait for the event to start, after securing our perfect seats.

The lights finally go down and the music starts to blare from the sound system. The curtain goes up and within a dry smoke effect and a fantastic light show, the Grand Master takes the stage with a big sword. It is like watching a movie full of special effects, but it is right there, in real life. Adding to the drama is the fact that the Grand Master is not a youngster, (I don’t know what his age is, but I’m sure most men even half his age could barely lift that sword).

So begins the black belt ceremony for Tong Moo Do mixed martial arts. Each class of young people take their turn, grouped together by the their current level of belt. The white belts are the ones starting out, sometimes very young and so very cute with their fists raised in the sparring stance.

My children have advanced from that stage and are towards the middle of the pack, on their own journey towards a black belt. The reason for the evening is the awarding of the black belts, but it is so much more than that. And it is the circumstance and ceremony of it all that is so life changing.

In a fast paced world where we need to be reminded to turn off our cell phones and give loud cheers for all the participants, (not just for our own family or friends), this type of ceremony is a welcome breath of fresh air. Throughout the evening you witness the evolution of what the black belts have physically achieved as they moved through the belts. The advanced level belts wearing colored jackets are athletes of the highest calibre. It feels like you witnessed a miracle to watch the performance and remember they all started as white belts with a half a dozen moves.

But beyond the physical achievements there is a recognition of the personal changes each member has gone through. Black belt candidates are asked to write an essay, detailing how Tong Moo Do has changed their life. The excerpts that are read at the ceremony and posted on the blog are very profound. I always feel a close connection to these letters, because gymnastics had a similar effect for me.

This form of MMA also teaches one key value that I think is missing from most childhood teachings; respect. There a number of moves that pay respect to each other, the instructors and masters. In a modern world, it is so nice to watch this quick and easy way that people can honour each other.

I leave the evening feeling inspired, enlightened and optimistic for my children’s future. They are learning positive, life changing skills. That is good stuff.

Education revolution

It is without question that my real education began after I left formally organized education programs. That was grade 1 through 12, a year of University and then 2 years of design school. All those classroom hours did was allow me the opportunity to get out in the world and start my life.

I made it through, albeit without a proper degree to show for my efforts. And that would come back to pose a bit of a problem later on. In a job that I landed in the USA, I had to jump through quite a few hoops in order to prove to the INS that I was worthy to do the job, given that I was short that all important degree.

What stuck with me all through my formal education was my parent’s advice – “school is what you make it.” It would of course be many, many years later that I would more fully understand that. But it gave me a sense that I had some measure of control, even while sitting in a classroom.

Fast forward to my children’s education. We have chosen to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. But one thing has always bothered me about British Columbia, right back to 1991 when I first moved here – the education system. Somehow when teacher’s “work to rule”, it takes a good deal of the fun out of a school day. There are just a few after school clubs or athletic programs left now. I noticed this long ago, but would not fully realize the consequences until very recently.

My son explained to me the other day that the best part of school was recess and lunch. I emphasized to him that he was missing the point of going to school if all he really enjoyed were those “social” activities. Or maybe I was missing the point. There are a number of basic skills that need to be taught and learned through the course of a basic education, but the current method of delivery leaves a lot to be desired.

Throughout this school year, my children have been subjected to a new kind of education. It takes the work to rule concept to a whole new level. The BC Teacher’s Union has been invoking a job action since the beginning of September. One of the ways they have been doing that is by not giving out grades or comments through the report card process. And now we get 3 days of no classroom instruction next week.

It is a failing on everyone’s part that the parties are fighting so bitterly. From all accounts this has been going on for longer than most of the membership on either side has been involved. It is an inherited problem.

So why is no-one talking about education reform or even revolution? Clearly the system we have is not working to anyone’s satisfaction.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”   ~Albert Einstein

This is a case where we all need to start thinking differently. We need to imagine a better way and then create that future. As the situation stands now, everyone digs in their heels and holds ever more strongly to their, (usually self serving), opinions.

An inspirational video on TED by Sir Ken Robinson is titled, “Schools kill creativity“. In that talk, Ken Robinson puts forth a quote that would be sound for parents, teachers and the BC Government to think about:

“The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
~December 1, 1862 Abraham Lincoln

The Good Stuff – TED Talks

Municipal Elections

I’m not sure why I like these so much. The elected positions are quite low profile, really. But the impact of these officials has a much greater impact on our day-to-day life.

There is a young man who is running for a school trustee position whose platform is perfectly in line with what I think. Now that doesn’t happen everyday in politics!

His name is Paul Hillsdon and I knew he was young from his picture, but it turns out he is really young! Some would question how wise a vote is for someone who doesn’t have children and is not an educator. I would say that both of those qualifications tend to give people too narrow a view. As a parent, you tend to focus on the problems and issues as it relates to your children. As an educator, you focus on what plagues your classroom or school. This young man is asking us to think differently, creatively and with courage. That is a platform I wish more people could find a way to adopt.

I might even watch the returns on TV this time. Seeing the electoral process addressing very local and personal issues, must have been what it was like for our founding fathers so long ago. It is the cornerstone of our democracy that has maybe been lost somewhere along the way with advent of big business politics.

The last day

We have a couple of very happy children today. It was the last day of school and is now the eve of summer break.

I can still remember how that felt. There was euphoria, (although I didn’t know what that word meant in Grade 4) from the long year finally being over. There was a little melancholy at the thought of not seeing dear friends for a while. Anticipation for all the fun and free time during the long summer days ahead. And mostly a sense of accomplishment for the reasonably good grades achieved.

It is times like these that I wish the passage of time in the corporate world could have a bit more ceremony. Instead of scaling back and almost relaxing a bit before holidays, we have the pedal to the metal working long hours to try to not have so much work piled up when we return. It is no wonder people don’t take long enough holidays or relax enough while away.

It goes back to what Robert Fulghum said about learning everything he needed to know in kindergarten:

ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder.
  • Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die.
  • So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
  • Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
  • Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm.
  • Think what a better world it would be if all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put thing back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
  • And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

It appears that smart adults are forgetting most of what we learned as little children. Maybe it is time to post these reminders back on our office walls and put something special into our working days. It might be surprising to see the kind of dividends these kind of endeavours would pay out.