My Costco Stalker Was Wrong!

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was in the book section of Costco when a stranger put this book in my hands and said, “This is the best book you will ever read.” I politely acknowledged her enthusiasm and put the book down. She followed me along the book display and repeated, “No really, this is a GREAT book.” Who stalks people in Costco because they are so excited about a book? I was curious. So I bought The Goldfinch.

170 pages in – I was captivated and slightly overwhelmed by the dismal experiences; nevertheless, the writing was exquisite.

771 pages done – I was extremely irritated by the author, the characters and the final resolution. I was left with one question, “Where the hell was the editor?” While reading the book the editor forgot to EDIT the parts that are not essential to the plot and development of the characters.

This book is like sitting down to a decadent dinner for two and being served a feast for 20. For those who like to gorge on words, this is your book. For those who appreciate the brilliance of brevity, by page 771 you will be jaded by the unlikelihood of Boris’ “faithful dog-like” character, very annoyed by the laboured monologue at the end – no longer in the voice of Theo and bewildered by the lack of influence of Theo’s true love – Pippa.

If I see my book stalker in Costco again I will say, “Spectacular writing – abominable editing.”

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Organizing Your Junk Drawer of Fears ~ Sweat The Small Stuff

In his book, An Astronaut’s Guide To Life, Chris Hadfield emphasizes the  importance of paying attention to the small things. His ideas resonated with me and these are some of my personal precepts I gleaned from his book.

Sweat the small stuff and slash your fear. Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 8.16.16 AM
I think the root of most of our fears, especially those fretful reels of “what ifs” on rewind in our heads emerge from missing information.  Most “cerebral cinematics” keeping us awake at night are spliced together with snippets of limited information that we often perceive to be unpredictable and thus out of our control. Some of this information is easily accessible and it just takes a level of intention to search it out and create systems for easy retrieval.  Minimizing some of these apprehensions requires a discipline to search out the facts in order to form and hold a broad understanding of all possibilities.  The parameters of any given problem are often much more expansive after further inquiry and thus less frightening. Hadfield suggests that,

 “fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen. When you feel helpless, you’re far more afraid than you would be if you knew the facts. An astronaut who doesn’t sweat the small stuff is a dead astronaut. Part of it is ‘how do you deal with fear?”

We all have fears. They jumble together with real and perceived threats in our personal junk drawer.junkdrawer

When my junk drawer can no longer be slammed shut I reluctantly take stock of what’s knocking around together and empty out knickknacks I no longer want. There may be answers and even insights if I resolve to organize my junk drawer of fears. Maybe I can repurpose this junk drawer by taking a little more time to scrutinize their diminutive purpose in my life.

Sweat the small stuff  and cultivate competence. Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.55.21 PM

Competence is not dazzling – it’s discipline. Hadfield defines competence this way:

“Competence means keeping your head in a crisis, sticking with a task even when it seems hopeless, and improvising good solutions to tough problems when every second counts. It encompasses ingenuity, determination and being prepared for anything.” 

Competence requires courage. Courage to gaze beyond the clutches of our perceptions and consider our past and present choices.

Sweat the small stuff and experience wonderScreen Shot 2015-05-26 at 1.39.33 PM

“Life off Earth is in two important respects not at all unworldly: you can choose to focus on the surprises and pleasures, or the frustrations. And you can choose to appreciate the smallest scraps of experience, the everyday moments, or to value only the grandest, most stirring ones.”

I want to experience wonder every day and sometimes it will randomly happen but most of the time those “ah ha!” moments are a result of my discipline to clear the landscape of niggling irritations and fears so that I can appreciate the spectacular. I did some junk drawer cleaning today. Part of the task was writing this post and experiencing sparks of wonder in the process.

Your Purpose Is In Perpetual Beta

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 7.26.23 PMI just finished writing an essay about the number of rabbit trails I have found myself traveling down while seeking out a specific goal or dream. I entitled the piece, In The Meantime and the writing itself was a meandering discovery of amazing encounters I have experienced while wandering around the bulls eye of purpose. Here’s a segment.

Where would you like to be?

I scour my memory for my favourite places. I think of the time I watched the sun set over the ponds that crotchet the Longji rice terraces. On our first afternoon during the last embers of the sun I lingered on the perilous deck of a mountain chalet. I gazed across the alluring vista and I was mesmerized by the local women lumbering home under the yoke of their bulging rice sacks. As the sun retreated behind the mountains I smelled the aroma of Szechuan food frying in the impossibly small chalet kitchen. I was hungry despite the questionable meat being specially prepared just for our group. I tried not recall the villager I saw just earlier that morning skinning a scrawny rat with a pairing knife while we trudged by him on the narrow the path leading to this mountain village.  Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.31.23 PM

I came here when I realized I was shrivelling with grief and boredom. I couldn’t figure out how to draft the next chapter of my life so in the meantime I traveled to this uncomfortable land. I almost lost my life to altitude sickness but the journey also showed me how to breathe again. I learned how to take a breath and let life unfold before me and endure the discomfort of waiting before attempting to shape and mold its edges and corners. This is where I have spent most of my life – in the meantime. While striving to achieve the dreams I precariously draft again and again I find myself straying to transitory trails and places. Are these ventures meant to distract me from the boredom of the not yet, or the despair of the never? I don’t know but in the meantime I’ll savour this sleeping beauty next to me, his fingers on my spine, his breath soothing me to sleep. Maybe, I’ll try to grasp just this moment just as it is right now – more life than I could ever imagine and more perfect than I could ever design.

This is a whisper of encouragement to those who also wonder if the circuitous experience you find yourself in is a misleading distraction or a constructive course of true purpose. Ask yourself, “What results do I want to create?” Don’t worry about how you will achieve your intentions/goals/dreams. Focus on what you wish to create and if you feel energized, excited and even a little unsure then that’s enough clarity to keep moving towards your target. Donald Miller says, Meaning is found in the movement. Even if you are not sure whether this experience is the right turn to achieve your vision, you will gain insights along the way and live the life you never dreamed possible.

Who is there when you’re halfway to the finish?

A few weeks back I ran the Victoria 1/2 Marathon. It was a majestic day in Victoria with unseasonably warm temperatures and a festive summer vibe throughout the streets. I had been training for this event for three years and finally the day arrived.  I had never run such an event before I had no idea what to expect. Aside from the delirious puking and fainting fears that lingered in the final moments before I fell asleep the night before the race I was fairly confident I could finish the course.

When preparing for such an event I sometimes thought about the finish line. What would I  feel at the end?
Who would I see at the finish?

Such images fill the spaces between each strike along the chosen path during  early morning training runs.

As it was no one was there to greet me at the finish line.

I sprinted to the end, crossed the line, passed the line of cookies and doughnuts desperately searched for more water and drove home.

In decades to come I won’t remember the finish line.

Here’s what I will remember.

My friend Jean.

..cheering me on at the 10km mark
with a smile
a laugh
and a front page illustration of Justin Trudeau
(I have a slight Justin infatuation- that’s another post)

My Reaction?

And here’s the gem.

It doesn’t matter who meets you at the end of an accomplishment.
Who meets you in the middle?
Who makes you laugh so deep you regain perspective?

Who doesn’t care if you ever accomplish anything? But is just there because



Out of the stock exchange into the climbing gym

Living most of my life on the West Coast has caused me to view our public education system with defensive dismay. Upon entering the teaching profession in the late 80’s no one warned me that I would experience negative perceptions from all levels of society- friends, strangers, media, government representatives and even fellow colleagues.

My first exposure to jaundiced public perception was in my first year of teaching when I listened to MLA’s publicly berate teachers with derogatory comments  such as, “Get your buns back to work” (Randy White, MP, Abbotsford) inferring we were delinquent malcontents who enjoyed celebrating  the disruption of the school year.

I stopped engaging in and defending the “teacher horror story” conversations that would spontaneously erupt at parties and filled numerous newspaper headlines aching for attention especially at the beginning of a new school year. I became numb to the numerous reminders of  how “lucky” I was to have a job that offers so much time off and short working days.

Anyone who lives with a teacher knows a different reality.

Some days I felt lucky to be a teacher.

Some days it felt like a curse…

This rant explains the mindset I arrived with when I attended The Seventeenth National Congress in Rural Education in Saskatoon last week.

Within minutes of being at this conference I immediately sensed a different connection among all levels of those who worked in the education system. The formal introductions at the beginning of the Conference included the Mayor of Saskatchewan, a MLA, the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Association President, the Dean of Education at The University of Saskatchewan-ALL OF THEM were actively involved in this conference.

I soon discovered that the conference was attended by many school board trustees, parents, and reps from the Ministry of Education as well as teachers. I had never attended a conference like this before.

It felt like I had lived most of my professional life in an environment that resembled the stock exchange floor and someone just opened the door to the climbing gym where everyone seemed to express their role primarily as a support for one another.

While sitting there I tried to remember:

When was the last time I saw a MLA or an MP at a public school conference? Never.

When was the last time I attended a conference in which there just as many trustees, parents as there were teachers?


When was the last time I saw a sense of pride for the school system and those who work in it?
I wish I could remember.

Which makes me wonder… Why?

Why don’t I see MLA’s MP’s and representatives from all levels of education attending the same conference and meeting one another to discuss the topics that inspire and challenge them in British Columbia?

Maybe if this happened we wouldn’t find ourselves in acrimonious positions that result in loss for everyone.

Lessons From The Cowboy Trail

To really get the vibe of this post, listen to Corb Lund singing,  Alberta Says Hello by clicking on the play button below

I had the privilege of spending time with a friend who I have known for a long time. And every time we get together I experience what I call the intersection of all things good coming together- comfort, perspective, challenge and just knowing that the person you are sitting with knows you. We live in different provinces and sometimes months go by without hearing from one another but when we do connect, no excuses, no pretension, we just chill out and let each other in. It’s at these times when I feel the most blessed and humbled. Blessed because despite my personal baggage perceived or otherwise I know I have a friend who gets it and gets me. Humbled because I feel like I’ve won the lottery  in lifegood health, choices, freedom and a friend.

So if you haven’t chilled out with a friend for awhile I encourage you to call someone up right now, do it! Don’t listen to the negative reel, contact someone on a whim- the one who “fills your cup”  and gets you.


iPads and Playdough? The Use of Tablets in Kindergarten

Recently the school board in Auburn, Maine announced that it would be spending $200,000 to provide iPads for all their Kindergarten students. The District Superintendent, Tom Morrill
seem to inflame an already controversial decision by  suggesting that iPads in Kindergarten will provide “improved student proficiency scores” by sustaining student engagement with the curriculum. (Huffington Post). The parents of this community  have started a group called Auburn Citizens for Responsible Education and it is interesting to read their opinions and suggestions for iPad use in the classroom which includes a  “gradual thorough research based introduction of iPads with a select group of students to monitor effectiveness of the tool before proceeding with wide scale implementation.”

No kidding!

Were the school board officials drinking some kind of Steve Job’s martini when they decided on full scale iPad implementation without a modest pilot program?

Despite this clumsy decision making process I am cautiously celebrating this school board decision. It’s too early to determine what effect the iPad will have on student proficiency scores but there is evidence to suggest that computer tools provide students with extended, repeated, increasingly complex tasks that allow them to develop memory capacity and problem solving skills (Ray and Smith 2010). Environments that provide explicit, systematic and contextualized learning experiences can be enriched by computer assisted instruction because there is potential to foster increase of phonological awareness, vocabulary acquisition, and alphabetic knowledge in young learners (Macraruso and Walker, 2008) .

The key word here is  “potential” because there are too many other variables that determine the successful use of technology in a classroom environment not the least of which is  is the confidence of the teacher to use technical devices in creative and sometimes complex ways.

More often than not equipment such as iPads, Smartboards, laptops, iclickers are placed in classrooms and teachers are “strongly encouraged” to use these devices with little training and minimal time to learn, troubleshoot, and share their understandings and doubts about such tools. As a result, their unacknowledged investment of time and growing resentment forges a path of least resistance which can sometimes lead to mundane uses of the sophisticated tools that simply maintain a sense of order in a classroom and do not require a teacher’s undivided attention to troubleshoot unexpected technical issues. Do iPads belong in kindergarten classrooms? Given how diverse learning environments can be there is no conclusive answer- yet.

But despite the school board’s alienating decision making process  I hope this initiative is successful and that the teachers and students in Auburn discover imaginative, stimulating, connections and approaches to learning with the iPad.

More views about this topic:
Thinking about iPads in Kindergarten
The coolest Kindergarten ever

Digital Kindergarten

Teaching Kindergarten with iPads