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.

CW_circa1989

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:

Daytimer_web

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.