My Five Rules for the Leisure Pool

On a warm August morning what is a mom of four young boys to do while her husband and father of her offspring is getting ready for the new school year?

The park? Went to four of them last week.

The library? Did that yesterday.

The toy store? Did that the day before yesterday.

Why not try the local indoor pool? It’s FREE admission.

“But we have our own pool” is clearly not a valid argument when the pull of going somewhere new and adventurous is strong. So off we went and now I share with you…

My Five Rules for the Leisure Pool

Come on in, the water's fine.

Come on in, the water’s fine.

1. Apparently, elderly swimming patrons do not appreciate loud references to “Cocoon”. Think it, don’t say it.

2. Don’t wear a bikini to the family swim, no need to rub in to the rest of us. Yay you for bouncing back into your pre-baby shape. I hope you slip on the deck.

3. Avoid playing “Pretend To Drown”. Ditto for “Dead in the Water”. Best not to let your kids play it either.

4. It might be called a “leisure” pool, but bringing your own margarita is frowned upon.

5. If you discover hair floating near your person, stay calm. It’s just hair. It might not be your hair, but you’ll be okay.

How about you? Any tips for swimming with strangers?

Be A Learner

Last summer I was invited to share some thoughts with a  roomful of student teachers. I was nervous, they were nervous, we were all nervous.


Welcome to teaching. This week you begin a year that will transform you. I must confess, I’m a little envious of you.

This is the year you get to try all kinds of new experiences with the security of being partnered with an experienced teacher. There are times you will sink a little bit, but you will not drown, because someone is by your side, encouraging you, making sure you’ll be okay, and a little bit better for the experience. That person is your Associate Teacher.

I’ve had the privilege of being a mentor to more than a dozen teacher candidates during my career. It is exciting, challenging, thought-provoking, and stressful.

Yes – it can be stressful. We wonder who our TECs will be. Will I like them? Will they like me? Will they be a hard worker? Will they cry if I have to give them some critical feedback? What if we aren’t a good match?

You are probably feeling nervous about starting your year, but rest assured, even old veterans like myself, get the jitters, too. We’ve been where you are.

So, how do we establish a positive working relationship?

Here’s a little secret – we are often asked to take a student teacher as a favour, but the fact is, we really enjoy it. Through the process of mentoring a teacher candidate we question our methods, we try new things, we learn through observing and collaborating with you. It’s a win-win.

But there is that relationship piece. And it’s a big piece. So my advice to you is: Be a Learner.

A learner asks questions, even if they might seem obvious. We’d rather have you ask for clarification than to feel uneasy or unsure.

A learner looks for things that need doing. It’s important to observe and watch, but not exclusively. Jump in. Help a student manage their belongings, sit with a group who seems to need help staying on task. Offer to run down to get the extra paper from the supply room. And if in doubt, ask if there is anything you can do.

During my very first practicum, I asked my associate if there was anything I could do to help her get ready for the day. She pointed to 3 stacks of paper and asked if would staple them. I then proceeded to staple each of the 3 piles. When she returned I asked what else I could do and she smiled and told me she had meant for me to collate the three different piles into 3 page double-sided booklets for the class. So, although I did look for things to do, I didn’t ask the obvious question. I did wonder why she had me do such a simple task and also why the booklets were so thick.

Ask the obvious questions.

"Do you drink coffee?" is an excellent question.

“Do you drink coffee?” is an excellent question.

A learner takes risks. This is your chance to try out all kinds of things. While I do recommend discussing it with your associate first, this is the best opportunity to apply new methods, new strategies, new techniques. And the really great thing is that we learn through you as well. We appreciate when you try to maintain the overall tone and classroom culture, part of the excitement of having a TEC is that we get to learn what you learn and see it put into action. I had a student teacher who really wanted to try a new game for gym. Right in the middle of it he turned to me and said, “this is a total bomb.” It was, and we regrouped, and then the next day, it went really well. He took a risk –he was a learner.

You know what else a learner does? They communicate. Let us know how you felt about your teaching, or your interaction with a particular student. If we’ve given you some constructive criticism, when you’re ready, talk about how that might have changed your teaching. I had a TEC who needed some time to process some feedback I’d given her and the following day she told me, “I remembered what you said about non-verbal cues and this morning I did more of that and I felt it went much better. “ She was right, it had. She was a learner.

It’s good to let your associate know some of your goals for the block so that they can give you better feedback. And this may seem insignificant, but communication includes being friendly – a warm hello to your associate and also other staff, emailing or texting if you are going to be absent.

A learner plans. Planning is perhaps most important during this year as you learn more about your teaching style and the curriculum. With time and experience, you will need to formally plan less and less, but it’s good practice for beginning teachers. Planning in advance allows you to ask for resources, to discuss possible glitches with your associate, and to seek feedback or brainstorming ahead of time. Collaboration can only occur when you know where you are heading.

Along with planning is preparation – if you need sand or lego for an upcoming lesson, ask your associate ahead of time where to get those materials. It can save you a lot of last minute stress and the school day is unpredictable, you might not always have those 20 minutes before school to gather up your supplies.

Did I mention “ask”? It bears repeating. If in doubt, ask.

How do you think that lesson went?

What would you do if the smart board did that in the middle of your lesson?

What do you think I could do differently next time?

What does IEP, IPRC, TLPC, ESL, ELL , FDK mean? (teaching has more than it’s share of inside lingo – sometimes we forget, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification)

 Make the most of this year. It will be busy, at times daunting, but it is an up-close glimpse of the amazing world of teaching.

Be a learner.

Always Talk to Strangers

We just stopped to watch the tree trimmers.

He was so high up that you can’t even see him against the backdrop of the sun, but he was there, making my stomach flip.

photo 2-11


A random stop in a random neighbourhood because we spotted an arborist trimming a tree at an amazing height (I would have stopped even if didn’t have a van full of boys, you don’t see that every day). The tree trimmer had a chainsaw dangling from a rope, engine running, and he’d swing it up to himself as needed – it was spectacular.

As we gazed up at this wondrous balancing act, an elderly lady emerged from her home and approached us.

“Good morning! Would you like some greens? I’m going away for 2 weeks and I know Alex is gone, would you eat them?”

Which just goes to show you, when Alex is out of town – greens for everyone!

No, no, no. Which just goes to show you, he who gawks get greens.

Wait, no. Always stare at strangers.

Tonight we feast

Tonight we feast

I’m sure there’s a wise truth in this story somewhere – thoughts?

Oreo Flowchart

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 8.23.21 PM



He Made Reservations

When you’re a parent of young children and someone is coerced graciously offers to take your offspring for a two-night sleepover, the whole world opens up.



The possibilities seem endless – where to start? Hang the curtains that were bought a year ago? Weed the garden? Fix the fence post? Clean out some closets? Switch rooms around? Do some coding? Churn some butter? Start raising bees?

Wait, that sounds like work.

Better book some social time in there, too. Apparently, my bearded husband was thinking the same thing. We were hatching our plans for our FreedomFest when he gazed at me lovingly and said, “Tuesday I am taking you out for lunch.”

“Oh! Yes! Will I need to get dressed up?”

He smiled, nodded, and replied, “I’ll let you know what you should wear.”

This clearly meant that yes, we were eating somewhere fancy. Plus, he had made a reservation. You don’t need a reservation for Pita Pit.

Tuesday rolled around and as I headed out for breakfast with a friend (must cram in as much social time as possible when a babysitter is not necessary) BH said, “Don’t be back too late, we can’t miss our reservation. Do you want to know where we’re going?”


“We’re going canoeing and I’ll pack us a picnic.”


could wear a dress and my nice shoes, but not the most practical.

It was a good thing I was going out because I needed time to adjust my expectations and my attitude. By the time I arrived home I was, if not excited, at least mentally prepared for our adventure.

And so we were off to canoe the Grand River.



There were four other canoe enthusiasts along for the ride. Five if you count the dog one couple brought. Very thankful I was not in their canoe.

Canoe Mascot

Canoe Mascot – that’s a thing, right?

Soon we were dropped off at the start and ready to go.

Seems innocuous when your partner isn't rocking it.

Seems innocuous when your partner isn’t rocking it.

You know what’s fun? When your fellow canoe-er pretends to tip the vessel. Twice. Hilarious.

The pros don't wear the life jacket.

Pros don’t wear life jackets.

I am not a pro.

Look at me being all adventurous.

Look at me being all adventurous.

Highlights from this trip included the guy who wore a leather coat underneath his life jacket. To canoe. In August. We noted that he did very little paddling. Also, there was some lovely scenery.

It took effort to deface this bridge.

It took effort to deface this bridge.

Local wildlife

Local wildlife


Free souvenir!

Free souvenir!

Along the way I found an ideal spot to hide and scare people, should we make this trip again with friends.



Despite my poor attitude going into this journey, we had a great time. The sandwiches were delicious and the company, acceptable.

Still smiling. Wait, this was taken before we left.

Still smiling. Wait, this was taken before we left.

If you had two days to yourself, what would you do? Can some peaches? Go to the beach? Clean the grout in your bathroom?

The Van of Enlightenment

It’s taken me just under ten years but I have figured it out.

Cracked the code.

Uncovered the secret.

Distilled the formula.

Want to know what your son is thinking? Interested in his school life? Curious about his peer dynamics? Or just wondering what he really thinks about that girl Paige in his class? (she’s the worst, by the way).

Here’s the answer. And it’s foolproof.

Drive the van.

That’s it.

Load up the van with him and a bunch of his friends and drive them somewhere. The destination doesn’t matter, but try for something fifteen minutes away, minimum.

And drive. Just drive. Don’t pepper them with questions, don’t insert yourself into the conversation and do not make eye contact. Pretend you are on a safari observing animals in their natural habitat (but don’t take notes, because they will see that and wonder why you pulled over. Same goes for whispering recordings into your phone).

The information you will gather by listening in (it’s not eavesdropping if they forget you can hear them) is astounding. Here’s a recent sampling, in case you doubt my methods:

Josh thinks he’s so great at soccer, but really, he isn’t.

Someone needs to tell Julia to settle down – everyone knows she’s loud just to get attention.

Adam claims he got to level K in math drills, but he totally didn’t. Liar.

Ryan is so mean that they’d like to take a power washer to him and wouldn’t even feel bad about it.

There are also some epiphanies which give you a peek into alternative parenting choices. For instance, one boy piped up with incredulity, “Wait, you can ride your bike on the street? Such freedom.”

You might be tempted to jump in and ask some follow up questions, but play it cool. Stay in the shadows. That time will come later.

It can be challenging to listen and not reply, but it’s worth it. You might want to chime in that maybe Julia feels insecure and is looking for a safe circle to be herself. Squash the urge to point out that maybe life is hard for Ryan and that’s why he acts out. Perhaps Josh doesn’t feel good about himself so he shows off the skill he is most proud of.

There will be opportunities for those conversations, but for now, just listen.

Drive the van.


Watermelon Wasteland

Once there was a tired mom who groggily dragged herself downstairs. All poor mom wanted was a cup of coffee. She could almost taste it.

The elixir of life

The elixir of life

But instead of a hot cup of joe, this mom was greeted by devastation.

A giant watermelon that was awaiting consumption decided nighttime would be the right time to give up all hope. This depressed watermelon sprung a leak and all its insides had oozed out onto the table.

The carnage was not limited to the table. One of the mom’s sons had created pottery with air-dry clay. The fish and bowl were the first victims, reduced to soggy bits of sadness.

Next in line was the chair and wall. Although watermelons are mostly water, there is a high sugar component. Sticky watermelon intestine juice removal is not a simple task. And it stinks.

Clean up was swift and efficient, despite lack of help.

Clean up was swift and efficient, despite lack of help.

Poor mom was heckled with unnecessary observations from her offspring about the “grossness” and the condition of the pottery. But no one offered to hold the garbage bag for her. Weird.

The final victim of this culinary savagery was mom’s sanity. Because coffee.

Production has already begun on the sequel, “Mango Mayhem”.

Just give it one more day

Just give it one more day


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