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.)

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.




“I now see that cultivating a Wholehearted life is not like trying to reach a destination. It’s like walking toward a star in the sky. We never really arrive, but we certainly know that we’re heading in the right direction.” ― Brené Brown

Just started week #3 of the e-course designed to follow the 10 guideposts from the book, “The Gifts Of Imperfection”, by Brené Brown. Let me tell you, (I am trying to convey the slight Texas accent in her speech), this is big stuff. “Life changing” are words that have been uttered by participants who have taken this course already. If you scoff at the notion that a book and an e-course can be life changing, well that just shows how much you are missing out! Quite frankly, I was that skeptical at the beginning, so don’t feel bad.

I’ve never given much thought to the word wholehearted. I must have learned the definition in school, because the meaning seems logical enough. But to practice living in a wholehearted way, well that is another matter. There was no class about that. Not a day, or an hour or even a 15 minute segment was devoted to this extremely important word.

Ironically, it seems that as children, we were pre programmed to live wholeheartedly. It is life, school, society, etc., who have beaten back this natural tendency. One of the exercises last week, to reinforce the idea of authenticity, was to get a picture of ourselves that conveys an example of when we were most authentic. Some people had recent photos, some had to go back to being babies! Most photos were somewhere in the primary school era.

Somewhere along the way, most of us have lost our most authentic selves, those little people who knew in their bones how to live in a wholehearted way. Many of us had to focus all our energy on our school work and on the “activities” we seemed to show some aptitude in. The rest just fell away. Over the years, creativity was stamped down, no more drawing, painting, singing, dancing or playing. Writing became technical, a medium with which to answer the never-ending schedule of questions and tests.


The fantastic news is that the knowledge to live wholeheartedly is still there, buried maybe. The children inside of us know what to do. Like waking Peter Pan after he had grown up, it is possible to easily get in touch with that authentic part of ourselves.



It is the score I always strive for. I see perfection as the same. Riding off in the sunset with Prince Charming.

Yeah, right. I’m also a realist. I like facts, not just ideas. I love statistics.

But when 100% is bestowed on me for some minor accomplishment, I get such a thrill. There is probably a clinical theory for how my ego is taking over my true personality and filling me with an unhealthy dose of bad brain chemicals. Who cares, I like the feeling just the same.

There was a time that I did strive for 100% on exams. Those were the days when schools still gave out those kind of scores in the lower grade levels. Then came the notion of the bell curve. I was shocked to discover that one had to be near perfect to receive 100%. I’m no dummy, who wants to care that much about the biology of a frog, calculate the slope of a curve or know that much about Shakespeare?

It turns out, most workplaces use this bell curve to score their employees. Flashback city. Who knew, the bell curve was something useful to learn because it would continue to haunt me well beyond high school.

Being the literal, fact-based kind of person I am has made it difficult to separate a score on a bell curve which conveys a judgement on performance from my sense of self-worth.

I read a report recently which stated that happy people make more money. We know that money does not make people happy, so how did these people become happy? The are in the same workplaces as the rest of us. The report didn’t yield any facts. So one has to conclude that each person carries with them, a unique ability to score themselves.

Oh, don’t keep reading for a list of secret points to guide you. I’m trying to figure it out for myself. Every post of this blog lists some of the good ideas I come across. That is my way to move through this maze of life, since I am no princess. Therefore no Charming scooped me up.

But I did get a score of 100% last night. It was something I did in my bed. An iPhone app rendered the result. Whatever you are thinking, it was not that.

Sleep cycle – 100%! I won’t deny it. Made me very happy.

Sleep cycle

Small town

The first thing I used to ask when arriving to a new place was, “how many people live here”? It was an important thing to know when where you came from, was less than 5,000 residents.

That town was a place called Devon, Alberta. I attended most of my elementary grades there. Those are formative years. They help set your character. What kind of adult you will become grows out of that time.

For me, those were very happy days. The town had a kind of innocence. Modern life had not really bore down on us. We lived through the ’70’s in much the same way as decades before us had done. Because I didn’t know any different, life was good.

Robina Baker Elementary School circa 1977

Robina Baker Elementary School circa 1977

Then, my Dad’s job took our family to Calgary. That was the height of the super high mortgage rates in the ’80’s. Times were tough for many families. Homes became worth less than what was owed to the bank. People were forced to walk away, having to completely start over. While my family was not badly effected, these were problems that had not really touched any of us back in our small town.

And so it went. I was getting older, becoming a teenager, time to grow up and understand what was going on in the big city. Those years in Calgary taught me all of that, (and probably some stuff I’d like to forget). Then a funny thing happened. Back to Devon for grade 12.

So here I was graduating high school with many of the same folks I had played with on the elementary school ground. It was a little strange at first, but I fell back into that small town life pretty easily.

After high school I kicked around the area for a year, working and trying to see if I fit in. In the end, too much time had passed and something was pulling me back to Calgary. In truth, I really only applied to post secondary schools located in Calgary. So the odds were pretty good I would be moving.

Through a series of events, with the program I was taking in Calgary, the school was forced to close and I ended up moving out West to finish my education. Little did I know then, my heart would be captured by Vancouver. First by the beauty of the place. Then the weather. And finally, meeting my husband.

But somewhere down in my soul, I was a small town girl. Luckily my husband sort of felt the same. And we couldn’t afford the city anyway. Now that we can afford to live there, we won’t move anyhow. There is something about a small town that is very special.

It was that particular brand of Alberta small town charm that my daughter has been experiencing this week. My Aunt has been giving my daughter the opportunity to live the way I used to. My daughter was marvelling at the freedom she has. Her bike is the locomotion and she is free to roam. And she likes it. I asked her if she was concerned about getting lost. She says, “it’s too small to get lost”!

Kids tractor races

Kids tractor races

On Canada Day, my daughter joined a family outing to an even smaller town in Alberta called Rosemary. In fact, it is a village. But no matter. There was a parade where candy was thrown a plenty. A tractor race for the kids. Tractor pulls for the grown ups. Food and drink and celebration. Everyone talks to each other, like a big family. To me, that is the core strength of a community. Which is probably why people stay.

Always makes me think of the Hal Ketchum song – Small Town Saturday Night.

I’m only a munchkin

2 definitions from the urban dictionary:

  1. Some one who is very small, not necessarily a child, just a small person. Generally used by people bigger than them.
  2. Creepy things from the Wizard of Oz that are either really brightly colored and often bear candy or are seen hanging in the background, if you look carefully.

My kids are in the school production of “The Wizard of Oz.” My son is playing Oz and we have been running lines every night. My daughter is playing a munchkin. One of many. I asked if she had any lines and she said no. We sing and dance.

This morning, there was a rush to get my son off to school, he is in the ski club and has to take all his equipment with him. We forgot one thing, I noticed after I got home, the script. I asked my daughter if she thought he could get another one at school, or if I should run the missing one over? She said, “I don’t know Mom, I’m only a munchkin”.

We always used that term as an endearment towards children. So not only is she playing one in Oz, but she looks just like a cute little person – a munchkin.

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

Web school

I am going back to school. And I am super excited. There are no typical supplies to buy, which is a bit of a bummer. But I just started my 2012 day timer with that freshly pressed paper smell, (that will have to suffice).

I am taking an online workshop – “Whole Food Kitchen”, and it is not too late to get in on the action yourself. Check out this fantastic blog called “Beauty that Moves“.

As a gal that should have gone to chef’s school, I am excited just to look at the module list:

  1. Whole Food Fundamentals
  2. Pantry and Kitchen Set-up
  3. Menu Planning and Recipe Organization
  4. Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts and Seeds
  5. Whole Grains and Legumes
  6. Animal Protein: Meat and Dairy
  7. Breakfast and the Lunch Box
  8. Celebrating the Dinner Table
  9. Holistic Lifestyle
  10. Nourishing Snacks
  11. Community, CSA, and Special Occasions
  12. An Evolving Journey

If my blogging during these 3 months slows down and / or turns only to food, now you will know why!

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.

Lunch boxes

We are now into the sixth year of making school lunches. 8 more to go….

So much has changed since the days when my husband and I were in school. Beyond the look of the actual lunch boxes, there are so many more interesting things to put in them today. However, if you have a picky eater in your house, the choices are of no real value.

I have one of each, one is picky and one loves everything. That means 2 different lunches, really. As a “love everything” myself, how can I deprive a child of a fantastic lunch experience? And then on the picky side, if a fantastic lunch is sent to school, most of the food will come home uneaten and the child will be super grumpy. Having an unhappy child due to not eating properly is something I cannot tolerate.

The other thing that has changed over the past 30 years is the garbage that lunches “of old” used to produce. We threw out everything, everyday. Not anymore. Some schools even have a “no garbage” policy. In order to work in this environment, we have assembled an impressive quantity of little containers. The problem with all these little pieces, (beyond the washing and storing of them), is the regular misplacing of them. Essentially we lose about half of what we send to school every year. What has been “lost” is also not getting recycled, but rather ending up in the landfill.

Enter the solution – Goodbyn. I bought mine at Raspberry Kids –

Here is the picture from today’s lunch menu. I think they are lucky little kids, but time will tell if they agree!

Zone defense

OK – a quick explanation for those who are not team sports fans, or don’t have children in the house. Zone defense is the alternative to man-to-man defense. When 2 parents are in the house working as a team against 2 children, you are running man-to-man. But when one parent is away, the one left standing is running zone.

That was me this week. I was running fast and furious to keep ahead of my 2 clever children. And to be fair, it was the first week back at school after summer holidays, so they were understandably not back in their groove either. So we muddled through together.

Here they are. Lately my daughter has been in the mood to pull goofy faces for all photo’s. They are loaded down with all the school supplies for the year.

For Sale

There has been some drama in our house tonight. It started with the realization – there was some serious unfinished homework. At 6:15pm tonight with dinner still being cooked, my son was frantically looking for a poem to memorize and dramatize for a class presentation tomorrow.

There was, of course, ample opportunity to do this over the weekend. Even by doing that, he was really cramming because the assignment was given weeks ago. Some non-inventive excuses were thrown out. An attempt was being made to choose a poem from a book in the house by Rudyard Kipling. Like that was possible to memorize in a few hours!

I basically escaped. I couldn’t see a way to speak nicely to either my son or my husband. Groceries had to be done, so I dashed for the door. If nothing else, they would have at least eaten by the time I came back and hopefully devised a plan that didn’t involve letting our son “learn the hard way“.

When I returned, my son was calmly memorizing “For Sale” by Shel Silverstein. The poem talks about selling your sister to the highest bidder. There are times when he wishes he could do just that. Not a stretch to memorize this poem.

All is well that ends well, I guess.