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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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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



Lessons learned from my Sheltie

1. Never give up the opportunity to chew a biscuit
2. Approach strangers with curious caution
3. When in doubt bark to get a second opinion
4. A walk renews all the senses
5. Make time to unwind in a comfortable sunbeam
6. Sometimes it’s better to herd than to lead
7. Supper is always a time to celebrate
8. Grooming is a necessary evil
9. Seeing loved ones no matter how often is always cause for excitement
10. Chewing a woman’s shoes is a desperate, pathetic act but will get her attention.

What is your fast? What is your feast?

This is a season of fasting for some and I have been taught that to fast is to abstain from something that brings me pleasure. I read these words last week and their irritating rhythm keeps unfurling throughout this day.

Sometimes I find the most challenging acts of fasting are intentionally moving away from those behaviors and thought processes that are shallow caves of false security and self preservation and moving towards riskier, less desirable precipices of tenderness and integrity.

Depending on my choices – feasting is more challenging than fasting.

The verses above mean the most to me but the rest of these verses written by Bishop Arthur Lichtenberger can also be found here.

Inspiring People

On Saturday night I attended a presentation by two young men, Duncan and Jonnie Penn who are two members of the team called The Buried Life. These are four young guys who for the last few years have been traveling in a purple bus called Penelope to complete their “bucket list” of 100 things. They are the latest MTV Reality Show Sensation after being plucked from YouTube a couple of years ago.  There is no doubt that these guys are definitely entertaining with their “never say never” motivation to fulfill dreams that may seem impossible.

I would have walked away from the presentation on Saturday amused and entertained by their refreshing tenacity if it ended as all traditional presentations end – with a famous quote, joke or montage of footage from their recent exploits.

Instead the Penn brothers invited any member of the 300 member+ audience  to approach a microphone and declare their dream that they wished to fulfill before they die.

When this invitation to declare a personal dream was announced there was a rush of a few young girls to the microphone who predictably declared their dream to kiss one of the brothers on stage. But after the initial hugs and kisses were over, there was an uncomfortable transition in the evening.

Several young men and women tentatively described their struggle with mental illness, lost loved ones, abandonment and their simple dream to be healthy, or to be reconnected with people.  As I listened to one vulnerable story after another I became uncomfortable  because I was concerned with how the MTV  “hot shots” on stage would respond. My worry subsided as I marveled at Jonnie and Duncan’s tender, sensitive and sincere response to every person. They gave each young man and woman time to speak, weep, and find the words to express their heart’s desire. They took time to reaffirm each speaker’s struggle, pain, loss with a profound sense of empathy. Occasionally a clarifying question was posed or an encouraging statement was shared. Their responses were neither glib or patronizing. The MTV superstars on stage seemed to know this wasn’t about them it was about the people who bravely voiced their dream and those of us in the audience who were privileged to hear it.

This experience could have easily been a slick presentation to perpetuate the MTV machine but it became a catalyst event for everyone to consider themselves worthy of dreaming. Duncan and Jonnie showed compassion, wisdom and insight in their public interactions with each of the audience members who spoke. Instead of the the token 5-10 minutes at the end of presentation that is typically allotted for comments, 30minutes was given for people to share their stories and their dreams. This was one third of the entire presentation.

Walking out of the auditorium that night was like riding  a tidal wave of conversations, questions, declarations and laughter. People were actually talking- to one another!

And I experienced something I haven’t felt in awhile.


I realized that’s what I want in a presentation.

I’m done with sitting through and creating presentations with no or little time to connect with the collective inspiration of  those around us.

I’m done with technology tools that reinforce solo performances.

I want to create and attend presentations that promote the insights of others. I want to inspire people to really talk to one another againeven while in the same room.

Kudos to the men of  The Buried Life for not selling out as  just entertainers and for chipping out space in this crusty world to share the struggle and to dream.

© The Buried Life

Student Course Evaluations: Are they worthwhile?

©cho45’s photostream

So I finally found the time and admittedly the nerve to pick up and read my student evaluations for EDCI 336 from  last term. I promised myself that I would set up the scenario with the following parameters:

1. Read evaluations while experiencing  a high self-esteem trend.
2. Have someone available on speed dial if I need to banter about the results.
3. Read evaluations just before or just after a workout, tennis game, or exceptional bottle of wine.

Why so tentative?

Before obtaining my evaluations I talked to someone who I admire and aspire to be like (Em that’s you!) She’s the kind of person who is your multi-vitamin of life. She is full of joy, wisdom, perspective and with the precious capacity to listen. She said that her student evaluations were “brutal” very critical and full of comments that she deemed to be less than constructive.

My fear of experiencing a similar plight?

I gave it my all.

I don’t think given the same circumstances I could have worked any harder during this experience. Despite my best effort what if I failed? What if I somehow missed the connection?

So I’m well acquainted with failure and I find opportunities to proclaim the opportunities that failure awakens but when faced with the possibility of a teaching debacle it is truly uncomfortable..particularly when the edge is so fine between a great teaching/learning experience and a dismal one.

Walking to my car with the manila envelope tucked under my arm I felt the tension building so much so that upon arriving at my car I threw open the door, tore open the envelope and peered at the results. A confusing array of columns and numbers didn’t give me immediate clarity. I had to comb through mean, medians, standard deviations to condense my overall impression.

After a few minutes I breathed a sigh of relief. I reviewed a range of results from “Very Poor” to “Excellent” with more results on the “Excellent” side of the teeter totter than the “Very Poor”.

. …Exhale…  “Well at least I didn’t suck.”

No, not very mature is it? But I think I reveal the gnawing insecurity that educators who start their career today and those who have been teaching for over twenty years experience each time they dare to engage with this mystery called teaching. The teeter totter of engaged learning can be very unpredictable.

Did these evaluations help me in my pursuit to provide the best learning experience? Well, given the number of written responses trashing Twitter I likely won’t spend as much time badgering students about tweeting pedagogy. Other than a few minor modifications I’m not sure these evaluations are a valuable means of improving my practice.

I’m discovering that every group of students I encounter has its distinct characteristics and needs. I need to prepare presentations and activities that respond to the unique disposition of the class and learning styles during the course- while it still matters not after course has finished.  The most invaluable feedback I received was at the beginning and midway part of the term when I distributed an online questionnaire about the content, delivery and direction of the course. With this feedback I was able to make some changes to both the preparation and delivery of the course material. Next time maybe I’ll plan to canvass the class three times during the term or look for “mini-forms”  of feedback to see if this maintains or increases their engagement.


It’s Time To Break Some Rules

So I have been evaluating why I don’t seem to make time to blog and I realized that I outgrew my blog and that I needed to change it so that it reflects more of who I am at this point in my life. I spend a good deal of time  designing and evaluating educational technologies and online learning tools but this is only a slice of  life that I live. So despite the fact that blogs should be focused on one theme I’ve decided that the blog for me and one that I will invest some creative energy in is a smorgasbord of ideas and experiences. Speaking of smorgasbord why don’t we use this word anymore?
First up on the smorgasbord experience. An unexpected Victoria snowfall…Woke up motivated to continue my running regimen but not so fast…a foot of snow fell on Victoria snarling traffic and bringing Canada’s Lotus Land to a serene standstill. Check out my pics in my photo gallery.

Photo above by ©bayswater97

The Dark Side Of Technology

Bee Wolf Ray's Photo Stream

So despite my absence in the blogosphere I have  spent more time than I care to admit in front of the computer in the last six months. That’s the problem. After spending 6-10 hours a day working on projects and tasks that I am paid to do I have no motivation or inspiration to spend my ‘free time’ sitting in front of this screen.  This is significant because the learning I have acquired over the last six months has been grueling and satisfying at times but does not feed the other technically creative side that inspired me to use technology tools in the first place. What would I love to do on this silly machine?  I still have two thousand photos that I would enjoy sifting through from my recent trip to Italy. I would like to find some fitness apps that I can download on my iPod touch to monitor pace and distance in running, I would like to extend my editing skills with video and dig deeper into Adobe Premiere. By this time of the day I’m tapped out. So I’m off for a run and then out to celebrate a milestone. I cherish my time away from the keyboard and the screen and I’ll try and figure out a way to carve out the creative pursuits that drew me to this digital world  in the first place.

My Grade Six Teacher Is Haunting Me

Simon Hua’s Photostream

One of my most irritating memories of Grade 6 was Physical Education classes. We had a teacher who’s idea of PE was a daily regimen of jogging and Netball. We never experienced a game of  tag, dodgeball, or capture the flag. The ubiquitous metal climbing gym (that adorned all the Vancouver schools of the 1970s that were later deemed as “death traps” by risk analysis consultants) remained entombed in chains  against the gym wall for the entire year of 1976.

The only thing worse than jogging in the Vancouver drizzle for ten months of the year was squinting through the sweat and freezing rain at my PE teacher who would just stand on the sidewalk in her long wool trench coat looking like she was waiting to take her seat at an opera rather than jogging herself and in turn modeling for her students how to develop physical fitness and a love of sport.

Why do I bring up this annoying memory? Well I have an opportunity to show a few people the value of blogging as a reflective, connecting, creative activity; however, if I am not willing to sustain a blog myself then I might as well don my own comfy coat  find a place on the sidewalk and watch those I’m working with blog around me. Sorry Mrs R…..from 1976 I won’t be joining you. I am going to carve out the time to write.

Limping Out Of Lurkdom


NatalieMaynor’s photostream

For the last couple of years I have been part of the 90% of people who interact with blogs by simply observing the online dialogue. This is experience is contradictory to my face to face interactions in which I find myself comfortably and actively involved in small and large group discussions. I am a true extrovert and thrive in environments where I am meeting new people but in an online environment I am surprisingly guarded. I have been trying to figure out this inconsistency and here’s what I discovered so far.

Sometimes the prospect of contributing a reply or question to a blog feels like I am crashing a dinner party. This is because some blogs can appear to be cliquish if the same people are responding to the the blog posts week after week. It’s a little intimidating to post or respond if there is an ongoing pattern of communication between a few contributors. The online environment benefits specific communication styles that are concrete, direct and analytical. For those of us who are visual and relational communicators it takes an unpredictable amount of time to determine how and when to communicate ideas online because the visual parameters that provide clues about unspoken social mores are not available.

And just what are the rules?

Unlike many online bulletin boards, and forums that usually include a FAQ section that outlines the acceptable structure and content of the discussion, blogs don’t provide an introductory space for those who are reading blogs for the first time. The blog space is a much more individualized space,  a little like walking into someone’s home. Some guidance about how to actively engage in the space would be more motivating for those of us who are content to just read.

How do we lure lurkers to say something?

Here’s a couple of ideas I’m going to try to integrate with my own blogs:

Frequently invite people to respond and provide several possible ways to respond. Comments, questions, jokes, best title, caption, web links or even one word.

In the “About” section of my blog I am going to provide information about how people can interact. If it is an active blog maybe describe not only myself but who a little information about the frequent contributors.

How about you? Are you more comfortable lurking? If yes, why?

What other strategies could be used to encourage active engagement with a blog?