Friday, December 30, 2011


For all you Lego fans out there, here's some inspiration: a large detailed model of the Supreme Court of Canada.

This beauty, created by Andrew Frape, 27 years old, of Saskatchewan, was intended as a combination Christmas and birthday gift for his wife, Bryn, who had asked him to build her a Lego model for her office to make it more homey.

In using more than $1500 worth of custom-ordered Lego pieces, 5000 pieces in all, Frape created a model that exceeded all expectation. It measures 1.2 metres by 60 centimeters, is 1 metre high and took more than a year to plan and build in the family living room.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Adding Up To Confusion?

Did you realize that kids (in Ontario, at least) are learning math in a much different way from the way their parents learned it? Memorization is no longer used. The emphasis in teaching now is in understanding how to arrive at a solution. So what's the problem?

The problem is that our kids do not have their "math facts" at their fingertips the way we did. Solving simple problems takes much longer and kids are arriving at university without the confidence in math that they need to move on to more complex ideas.

Now, for example, instead of lining numbers up in a column to work out the solution to an addition problem, kids are laying the numbers out horizontally and then observing the properties of the ones, tens and hundreds columns in order to solve it. While a person's understanding of the concepts involved may be satisfied, I believe it is an understatement to say that such a solution lacks elegance. Parents also find themselves at a disadvantage in trying to help their kids with math, since the methods the kids are supposed to use are so different from the tools their parents have used successfully for many years.

There are some who believe that this new way of understanding math provides fodder for private tutoring schools when desparate parents and kids reach for help.

See more at The Globe and Mail. The issue seems to strike a nerve with Globe and Mail readers, as at last count there were 559 comments! Many of them are from teachers and all of them are interesting.

Feel free to comment too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Books Vs. Screen

With the proliferation of I-pads, e-readers, smart phones etc., do you ever wonder what the effects are of all this electronic reading? Reading for only brief times, with frequent distractions on electronic devices is very different from the immersive kind of reading that we engage in with a book. Is it possible our brains will lose the ability to become deeply involved with the content of written material and that we will eventually fail to ponder deeply?

As adults, we probably are not completely distanced from that kind of engaged thinking that we did as students. But what about our children? Will their brains ever develop the ability to concentrate for long periods of time and to solve complex problems that academia and everyday life may pose?

There was an interesting article on this topic in the Globe and Mail the other day. You can read it here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

7 Ways to Raise Resilient Kids

December 8, 2011                
Brandie Weikle Editor

You don’t need to be on a playground for long before you hear the choruses of “Good job” and “Careful!”

Yes, ours is a generation of parents fully indoctrinated in the powers of both healthy self-esteem and a complete set of elbow and shin pads.

The only thing we like more than catching our kid at the bottom of the slide – lest her tender bottom hit gravel? Telling her that was the most awesome sliding job we’ve ever seen in our lives.

And can you blame us? We’re presented with so much information not only on our child’s secure sense of self, but on how to parent, how not to parent and the various toxins, predators and superbugs that threaten our children’s wellbeing every day.

But as the first generation of kids raised on a steady diet of praise and “everyone’s a winner” trophies reaches university, we’re hearing some sobering stories about the risks associated with sweeping every challenge out of our children’s way.

Alissa Sklar saw this play out time and again when she was an assistant professor at Concordia. “I have seen the consequences of kids who have been over-praised,” says Sklar, now an education consultant and blogger. “Some of these kids just crumple at the first sign of adversity. They can’t handle a D on a paper. They don’t know how to handle themselves when things fall apart because everyone has always told them how wonderful they were.”

If we focus too much on ensuring our kids have good self-esteem, kids don’t get a clear picture of how their skills stack up and where their strengths truly lie, she says – think shattered NHL dreams and ear-splitting Canadian Idol auditions.

Does that mean we should never praise our children?

Of course not. But there’s something called “necessary social pain,” says Sklar. “Kids need to know what it’s like to occasionally fail at things and to dust themselves off and get back at it again.” This extends to preventing every little scrape and bump, too. “Sometimes we need to bite our tongue when kids are running down the hill and not yell ‘be careful’ because sometimes they need to scrape their knees.” With the lesson learned, next time they might opt to go a little slower.

As the consequences of “helicopter” parenting become clear, there’s a movement afoot to reframe thinking about self-esteem, shifting focus to raising kids who have resilience.

What does that mean?

“The idea is to prepare our kids to go out in the world to be competent, confident adults capable of handling the things that life throws at them,” says Sklar.

Laurel Crossley, a parent educator and life coach, says a big part of making that happen is modeling resilient behaviour ourselves.

Say your car breaks down when the kids are with you, says Crossley. “Sometimes mom starts to scream and cry and then the whole car is filled with drama,” she says. That’s a missed opportunity to demonstrate some coping skills. Instead, she says, why not try something like “‘Oh, for heaven’s sake there’s something wrong with the car. Let me get on the phone with the garage, and let’s play a game while we’re waiting.’”

Looking for more tips on raising kids who can weather a storm?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has outlined what it calls the 7 C’s of Resilience.

Competence Everyone needs to have something they’re good at, which is why competence is the first pillar of resilience. “It could be anything from helping your baby brother to stop crying or being good at playing hockey,” says Sklar. Parents can help cultivate competence by letting little kids get dressed on their own, for instance, and by spending time on the activities that children truly enjoy and can master.

Confidence The next step is having confidence in one's abilities. It’s not enough just to be good at something; you have to get a chance to prove to yourself what you can do. For Sklar’s oldest daughter, that meant being allowed to take her little sister to the playground at the end of the street. For others, it could be having the opportunity to work out a problem with a friend before Mom or Dad swoops in.

Connection Close ties to family, friends, school and community provide kids with an important sense of security and shared values. Those go a long way down the road to reduce the chance that kids will seek choices that are self-destructive, says Sklar.

Character A fundamental sense of right and wrong helps children make wise choices, contribute to the world and become stable adults. Teaching your kids about character can start young with the lessons from storybooks and progress from there, says Sklar. Being kind to an animal, making sure no one feels left out on the playground and speaking up when a friend’s being bullied are all good opportunities demonstrate character.

Contribution Children who have the opportunity to make a connection between their actions and the betterment of others are more likely to make altruistic choices. Plus, the sense of purpose that brings is like money in the bank kids can draw upon in harder times. Your child doesn’t need to start his own charitable foundation, but could you work together to collect some canned goods this year? Or have your child select a toy for a toy drive?

Coping Let’s be real. Adult life throws us all kinds of hurdles from everyday annoyances like flat tires to big life events like the loss of a parent. Children who learn to problem solve and manage stress will be better prepared to face these on their own. Here’s the rub – kids can’t learn coping skills unless we demonstrate some at home. So if we lose our cool when the plumber is late, for instance, our kids will be sure to bring the histrionics when Luke’s lightsaber goes AWOL. The good news is that kids are perfectly willing to accept that none of us are perfect. What’s more, knowing how to acknowledge mistakes and start fresh is a decent coping skill itself.

Control It’s important to teach kids impulse control, because they don’t often arrive on this earth with a keen sense of delayed gratification. Think of the famous marshmallow experiment in the 1960s, says Sklar. Hundreds of 4-year-olds were offered one marshmallow now or two marshmallows if they could wait a few minutes. The kids who could wait for the bigger pay off did better in school, attended better universities and were considered more dependable by parents and teachers. So how do you bring these lessons into everyday life? Teach your kids to try some deep breaths when they’re frustrated. Set a maximum amount of TV time and let them decide whether or not to save a half hour for their favourite show. “When they realize they are in control of their own decision making, they’re more likely to make the right decisions down the road,” says Sklar.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Laboratory Beagles Outside for the First Time

It's hard to believe that these beagles have never been outside their crates, since they wouldn't be healthy or develop properly to be good lab specimens unless they were able to exercise. But the video is moving nonetheless.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Still Beautiful Today

Thanks to a night and day of no wind and temperatures hovering around freezing, the snow stayed put on the landscape. I just came back from a walk and took some pictures along the way.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011


From the Toronto Star on Tuesday Nov. 29: article by Bruce DeMara:

Joel Brochu has made a sweet masterpiece. Or perhaps a masterpiece made of sweets.

The Canadian fine arts student, given a project to do on pointillism — the use of small, perfect dots of colour — decided to use tiny spherical candy sprinkles, the kind one usually sees on birthday cakes or ice cream cones.

The result is an incredibly lifelike portrait of a beagle getting a bath — at least from a distance. A close-up look reveals the tiny bits used to construct it, 221,184 in all. The portrait uses only red, orange, green, blue, black, and white.

A close-up of the beagle's muzzle

A computer-generated image, covered with double-sided sticky tape was used as a template. The sprinkles were then added, using jewellery tweezers and then overlaid with a thin layer of glue.

The work took just under eight months to complete, Brochu said. Once finished, it was permanently preserved with a clear acrylic resin.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Morning After...

...freezing rain. This is what we woke up to this morning.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Buck in Toronto Yard

The Ritcey family in North Toronto woke up yesterday morning to find this buck resting in their back garden.

The article and picture were in the Toronto Star this morning.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


We've already met Spike, the praying mantis. Was she was inspired by all the Halloween creativity?


It was a fine evening.

The Angry Birds were on duty.

They were almost all ready to go.

Here's the team: Gru, Vector, with his squid launcher and the Minions.

These are the principal trick-or-treaters.

Gru gathered his minions and Vector joined them to visit houses in the neighbourhood.
All were hoping for treats!

Back at home, Vector helped to examine and sort the treats.

while, nearby, Spike watched.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


We arrived in Asheville on a spectacular fall day and couldn't resist taking a few pictures of the house.

There are holly bushes in full berry everywhere in Asheville including the one you see at the corner of the house. Here's a closer view.

Here's the view across the street.

and some of the decorations.

The kids were starting to paint the pumpkins (future post)

and nearby was Spike, the praying mantis the kids found during the summer. Spike gave birth to a good-sized egg sac a few weeks ago and now spends her time eating meal worms and baby crickets. She appears to be quite intelligent. If you go near her enclosure to get a closer look, you can see her head swiveling to look at you too. It was hard to get her picture, but she hangs out near the top, so I pointed the camera downward through the top.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chapel Hill

Today we made a quick drive through the campus of UNC at Chapel Hill with thoughts of Wendy and Dave. The campus is very scenic, with beautiful buildings and lots of trees. It was humming with activity when we drove around first thing in the morning.

Of course, Don was interested in the athletic buildings, like the football stadium

and the Dean E. Smith Basketball Stadium

Then we were on the road to Asheville, enjoying the fall splendour.

Arrived early afternoon, took more pictures, and will post them in the next couple days.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Holiday in Nags Head

Tonight is our last night in Nags Head, NC. We took some pictures of the house we rented. It was a very comfortable raised bungalow close to Roanoke Sound. Here's the front view:

and here are a couple pictures of the interior:


and a sunset view out the front windows:

We had a great time exploring the Outer Banks from north (Corolla and Currituck Sound) to the south (Hatteras) and to the west (Roanoke Island and Manteo). A great holiday!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sand Dunes

I spent the afternoon at Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head, NC and what an adventure it was. There are several hiking trails that take you past points of interest with interpretive signs and also past people 'sledding' down steep sand hills and others preparing to windsurf or take off in ultralights and still others flying kites - it's the perfect location for all of these activities. Of course, to do anything remotely dangerous, you need to have proper certification.

Jockey's Ridge is one of the biggest sand dunes ever. 

There isn't much vegetation there, but I found these flowers blooming in October.

I took a picture of this interpretive sign.

Here is some more vegetation
and you can see what an amazing day it was in the Outer Banks.

These people were preparing hang-gliders for taking off.

Sand as far as the eye can see!

The park borders on Roanoke Sound. In the distance you can see the mainland of N. Carolina. The way back to my car was along the beach. I met a great blue heron fishing in the shallows, but didn't get a good picture, unfortunately.