Get your learn on!

I’m no longer on an academic calendar, and don’t have kids starting back-to-school but it is hard not to get caught up in the energy of new beginnings at this time of year.

Kid President has a fun message for those who are headed back.  He may be young but he is wise enough to remind us that we are all teachers and all learners.

Take his advice:  Be More Awesome – and Get Your Learn On!


Back to school memories

Here in Canada, students head back to school this week.   That means it is a perfect time to capture memories of the new beginnings.   Amy at Positively Splendid has a great list of suggestions and printables to try at this time of year in her post 35 Must Try Back To School Ideas.

If you didn’t clear out saved work at the beginning of summer, this is a great time to do that for the last school year.  That the opportunity to prepare for saving the best from the coming year by creating a work portfolio for each student in your family.   Have a box, folder or binder to store work from the year.  Decorate the cover with important identifying details like name, school, grade, teacher’s name and add fun facts like a favourite quote,  tv show or hobby.    This is a great place to gather work samples, journal entries, special writing assignments, notes about special projects or team work, pictures, videos or awards.  Regular review can help to manage the contents and have a record of growth and creativity for each year.



The case for imperfection

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.
Henry van Dyke

I have been accused of being a perfectionist.   It always makes me bristle.  “Ridiculous!”  I shout.  And, as proof,  I argue that my work isn’t perfect.  Turns out,  That is a classic symptom.  So is my tendency to take waaaay too long to do just about everything,  typically a result of redoing or overthinking or restarting or, worse yet,  not starting.  All in all, strong evidence of a perfectionist – or at very least, perfectionist tendencies.

It is not like I don’t know I’m doing it.  I am aware that that I am taking too long and tell myself to consider it done and move on to the next thing.  And I do to – you know, right after just one last adjustment.  It is time to get that under control.

I need to let it go so I can accomplish more in less time.   And finish more.  Take for example past efforts to keep a journal – or blog for that matter  – to track progress.  Inevitably I miss a day and then feel compelled to ‘catch up’  before moving forward, which obviously somewhat defeats the purpose.

What was my point – oh yeah, not a perfectionist.

Perhaps I could stretch the truth just a little and claim to be a ‘recovering perfectionist’ (read that somewhere at it appeals to me).  I’ve made some progress but not nearly enough.  It is time to again take up the charge and embrace imperfection.

Perfection stifles creativity AND productivity.

Aim for progress, not perfection and just get started


Aim for progress.

Aim for excellence.

Be realistic- about time, about expectations, about resources.

Don’t procrastinate or wait for the perfect time. Start now, today.

If you have stories to tell, don’t let perfection be an excuse for getting started. Don’t worry that you have all the details exactly right.  Do not stress over finding the perfect font, the ideal picture the best quote.

Even the biggest failure beats the hell out of not tryingGet it started.  You can always refine or revise – to a point of course.

Progress, not perfection!




Where are you on the perfectionist scale?   Are you a perfectionist and proud of it? A sometimes or situational perfectionist? A denying or recovering perfectionist? Or perhaps you are the polar opposite of a perfectionist – would that be an unperfectionist – or maybe anti-perfectionist?

Share your strategies to be sure that perfectionism doesn’t become procrastination.

A new Canadian anthem

Commander Chris Hadfield has done it again, this time with brother Dave and other family members.  For Canada Day, the brothers released “In Canada”, which they described as an effort to make the most Canadian video ever.


Definitely a bit of fun and full of quintessential Canadian pastimes. With lines like “There’s workman’s comp and pogey, for when we’re shown the door. There’s Canadian Tire money in at least one kitchen drawer” it is certainly uniquely Canadian. Be warned that this catchy tune is sure to get stuck in your head.

Do you have a song that says Canada to you?

Happy Canada Day

Happy Canada DayCanadians are usually not considered big flag wavers but today is one day when we take out all the stops.  Home owners drape the flag from windows and decks, drivers attach the maple leave to their antenna and streets and businesses are festooned in red and white.  And of course it is a big day for family activities like BBQs, picnics, parades and fireworks.

Ready for a morning paddle
Boats off the roof rack and ready to go.


Brunch on the deckWe started our day with a paddle on the lake.




After our paddle, we had brunch on the deck. Fresh strawberries, French toast with homemade bread, sausage from the local farmer’s market, smoothies made with local fruit and maple syrup.  Our red and white napkins made by my Dad, who always loved Canada Day.   Sadly he died on this day 7 years ago, making the day bittersweet but we celebrate in his honor too.

We’ll be continuing our Canada Day celebrations with time in the garden, a walk on the beach and a BBQ.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide
Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Happy Canada Day to Canadian friends at home and around the world.    What are your Canada Day memories?



Recording Oral Histories

I have been working on a strategy to gather information for starting a new project to design memory quilts.  And in doing so, thinking lots about one I want to do as a tribute to Mom and Dad.  I’m missing them lots this week which spans both Father’s Day and Mom’s birthday.  It seemed a good time to revisit a topic that I had written about in a previous blog about recording stories that are mainly stored in someone’s head.  Here is a slightly revised and updated version of that post from October 2012.

Do your parents have a box of old photographs with no identifying features?  Does your favorite aunt keep trying to give you memorabilia from her days as a roving reporter?  Does your grandfather regale you with stories and offer you tokens of his adventures?
You might value the collections and want to restore them for display and sharing.  Or it might be that you want to learn the stories behind accumulated stuff that has come into your possession.  Or maybe you don’t even want all the treasures but  you  want to be sure that their tales are not lost.  Whatever the reason, now is the time to record some of those details.
  • Sit down with Mom and Dad and have them tell you about the people, places and events in those old images.
  • Interview your aunt about her days on the beat and have her tell you about the people she met and the meaning of all that memorabilia.
  • Listen to your grandfather retell his stories and hear them with new attention – ask questions, make note and seek details.
Otherwise, that history might be lost forever.  Don’t wait and later regret not asking the questions.
It is not really that long ago that the source of much of our family histories were from the oral tradition and reminiscences of people who lived it.  Maintain that tradition and speak to older family members to learn about your family history.

Tips for conducting an oral interview

  • Ask permission to take notes or record the discussion.
  • Have a list of questions to start the conversation but don’t be too tied to a specific list or order. Be able to change course according to the whims of the speaker.  Ask follow-up questions and be flexible.
  • Start with brief, biographical questions for context and to help your subject relax.
  • Use open ended questions that invite a detailed response rather than a yes / no answer.
  • Give the person time to think and answer.  Be prepared to wait and learn to be comfortable with silence.
  • Be an active listener and check understanding of words, phrases and references.
  • Rather than one long marathon session, plan on multiple smaller ones.
  • Make notes shortly after the conversation while it is fresh in your mind.

Most people welcome the opportunity to share their stories. For you, it can be gift, a chance to spend some time connecting with family and friends.  I remember a few sessions when I encouraged my parents to label pictures and they brought out one of the boxes then went back and forth with stories while I noted details on the backs of the photos they described. Those were fun evenings with lots of laughter. I feel lucky to have shared that time with them and only wish we had done it more often.    Now they have gone and there is still so much I wished that I had asked.

 Time to connect and gather the stories is never wasted. So, you might want to decline the generous offer of a stuffed swordfish but don’t miss the chance to hear its meaning.  Invite Gramps to pose with his trophy and tell you again about the day he caught it – and how it fought the good fight.  You’ll be glad that you did!


Organizing and Reclaiming

Well, despite my best intentions, another long delay between posts here.  I’ve not been very successful in my resolve to stop waiting for a perfect topic or direction – or something with some jaw-dropping insight.

Today, back to the my original goal of getting rid of some stuff.  I have decided it is time to par down on my t-shirt collection, particularly since I rarely wear t-shirts except when I am doing some work in the workshop or around the house.  This has not stopped me from collecting and saving enough of them to overflow the drawers and to fill too large containers in my off-season attic storage.  Needless to say, I’m not going to address that all in one sitting  This weekend, I plan to switch the winter and summer clothes and that is always a good time to pare down and regroup.  In prep for that effort, I thought this would be time to tackle the 3-drawers that are stuffed to overflowing in the guest room.

before_drawer1overfilled drawers

One of the reasons that I keep holding on to the accumulated T-Shirts is that most were collected at an event or for an occasion. Most stand as testament to some affiliation or achievement.  As such, it can be hard to part with them and when I have thought of donating them, I think that they wouldn’t really have meaning for anyone not connected to the same event.  As I was sorting through, however, I realized that some still held strong positive memories but many, not so much.  I dedicated an hour to these three drawers, set an alarm, and determined to work quickly (not my forte) and get a start on the reduction.

Here are the outcomes:

Repurposed materials

I decided to cut the logos/images off the T-Shirts that were valuable memories but no longer worn.  I’ll collect them up and make something of them in the future.  Perhaps a quilt or wall hanging.  In the meantime, I drastically reduce the space required AND still have the reminder of the associated event.  I cut the rest of the shirts into strips for rags for the workshop and garden shed, where they will be put to good use.  An unexpected bonus of this approach is that some of the well worn shirts would not last

much longer and this way the most important part of the story is preserved.  I turned this stack of shirts…



…. to this collection of images and pile of rags.



Improved Organization

I reduced the number of shirts in the drawers dramatically, leaving only ones that I continue to wear when I exercise or do work around the house or garden.



I put clothes that no longer fit or suit, as well as a number of T-shirts that I realized didn’t really have an emotional attachment but are still in good shape – in a bag to donate  While I was at it, I collected some items already set aside for that purpose and bagged those up too.

Result – 1 1/2 garbage bags of clothes and a bag of bed clothes taken out to the car to drop at Value Village on my next trip to the city.

Time well spent

In just over an hour, I cleared some space in the drawers for the inevitable seasonal clothing change later in the week.   Maybe I’ll put some unused T-Shirts back in rotation – or I might even take the plunge and cut some up or donate them rather than just putting them back in storage.

What do you do with all those T-Shirts from runs, school events or promotional activities?  Do you wear them?  Use them for night shirts? Donate them?  Discard them?  Share any suggestions in the comments.

Telling Star’s story

I was just out shoveling snow (yes, it is officially spring but here in Nova Scotia, we are shoveling out from one of the biggest storms of the year).  Today, the shoveling made me remember that the last big storm when one of our feral cat friends surprised me on the back deck. I had been shoveling but gone in the back door to get dry mittens.  When I returned, I surprised Star, who jumped back into the snow.   I gave him extra food – and cried for hours about him being out in the miserable weather, somewhat to the amusement of my husband who reminds me that they are wild and we are helping all we can.

Star, a white cat, in the snowI thought of Star today when I was shoveling on that deck. Unfortunately, little Star won’t be be back on the deck.  He died last month after a bad reaction to anesthetic when he was taking in for medical attention.  It’s a good time to tell his story.

Star started showing up for food last spring.  We thought he was a she, mainly because of the almost calico coloring.  I called ‘her’ Star because of the inspirational story of the starfish.

Starfish story

Star showed up almost daily, sometimes twice a day for food but wouldn’t let us get too close.  Sometimes I was concerned because he was so scrappy – he chased away other ferals we were feeding and I thought we’d seen the last of them.  He hopped on an grabbed birds right off one of the feeding stations.  (Intellectually, I know that feral cars will chase birds but didn’t like the idea that I was luring them in just to make them part of a buffet meal.).   Star was also quite aggressive towards our indoor cats, lunging at the screen when they were enjoying warm weather – to the point where they gave up some of their territory.  He often showed up with scratches or cuts.  So, while I didn’t like some of the behaviour on the deck, I admired ‘her’ ability to protect her territory.

However, in early February, he arrived with several deep cuts and scratches, running eyes and dried blood.  I posted this picture on Facebook to ask for help getting him in for some medical help and several cat rescue operations joined forces to help get him in for care and neutering.

Poor scratched up little Star

That is when we confirmed that he was, in fact, male.   He tested negative for any disease and got some gentle care for his wounds.  Unfortunately, he had a strong reaction to the anesthetic and died a few days later.  The vet estimated he was probably 5-7 years old, which is pretty old for a feral.  He was a survivor and must have been strong.  In the end, not strong enough to survive capture and  medicine.  Ironically, the effort to help resulted in a negative outcome.  Is that the very definition of ‘killing with kindness? I wondered if I should have left him alone.   I don’t know the answer to that one.

I do know that our efforts to help Star did help two other little fellows who we trapped while trying to get Star.  One had the same reaction to the anesthetic, which suggested a familial relationship for cats in the colony in our rural area.  This second cat made it through, perhaps because he was younger and not already suffering battle scars.  As a result of those experiences, the vet made an adjustment for the anesthetic for third little guy.  Those two were both tested, dewormed and neutered then released.  It wasn’t the outcome I wanted as I was hoping that they would be placed in homes but they were determined to be too wild (I like to think of it as independent).   Still, they probably have a better chance now and it will help prevent new additions to the growing colony.  I guess that is part of Star’s story too.

Star lazing on the deck on a sunny summer day.
Star lazing on the deck on a sunny summer day.

Rest in Peace little Star.  We won’t forget you.

Long time listener…

…first time caller.

I heard this on a radio call-in show when I was driving this afternoon.  I don’t often listen to call-in shows but it seems whenever I catch one, at least one person makes this comment to begin their conversation.  Today it occurred to me that is a bit of a rallying call for action – a decision to do something more involved.

Almost two years ago (is it really that long already??), I  decided to cut way back on my time on line.  I was spending much of my working day on the computer for my job at a not-for-profit, and more hours weekly for client work on a small home business.  To find some balance, I wanted to spend more of my own time on other projects so I stepped away from some forums, shut down my blog (no loss as I hadn’t really built much of a following) and drastically reduced my other social media time.  It was not a difficult transition but life changed, as it continues to do.  My work responsibilities evolved and I had less computer time so I renewed some of my online contacts.

I started Keep the Stories to promote an idea that I had had in the back of my mind for some time.  It related to my business and some personal challenges to organize and reduce.  I started with enthusiasm, a growing list of ideas – and the best of intentions.   I did the first few posts and was getting a rhythm, building to more frequent posts but then lost any momentum while I was waiting.

Waiting to resolve some technical issues… waiting for the ‘perfect’ idea …waiting for the right picture for the header… waiting for enough time to write extra posts to catch up on missed days …waiting for the brilliant idea to launch with a bang … waiting for things that were not going to happen.

It is time to stop waiting – time to stop just listening and make that first call.  Time to start with one post and then the next one.  To write when the mood strikes and not wait for some big inspiration.  To tackle the technical issues – or not – as they come and do what can be done.  AND to not worry about gaps in the posts but to plan to write with some regularity and consistency.

Long time reader, first time poster?   Well, not exactly first time but first this time.  As the Chinese proverb says “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The next best time, is today.”

It is the first day of spring, a great day for new beginnings.

Are you ready to make that first call?    Perhaps it will be to literally make a call but maybe your call to action will be to write a letter, take a trip, clean a closet, end a bad relationship, look up an old friend….   How will you take action today?

If these walls could talk

We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.

Winston Churchill

This weekend, I visited a number of venues in the first Doors Open Halifax event and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity.  Although this is the first running in Halifax, Doors Open events happen in many cities around the world every year offering a chance when Buildings of architectural, historic, cultural and social significance open their doors to the public for special programming and tours Visitors are invited to properties that are not usually open to the public, or normally charge an entrance fee.

(from Doors Open Halifax web page)

I learned about some facilities I didn’t even know existed, like the The Canadian Hurricane Centre & Atlantic Storm Prediction Centre and the Alderney 5 GeoThermal Vault in Dartmouth.  And I learned things I didn’t know about many other places.  For example, I did not realize that one clock on city hall is permanently set to 9:04, the time of the Halifax Explosion in 1917.

The program was suitable for families, although some of the venues hold more interest for adults and would not be appropriate for younger visitors.  My 13 year-old nephew joined me for most of my visits and was most impressed.  His favorites included City Hall, where he got to sit in the Mayor’s chair – and saw where the Queen and Wayne Gretzky and others had signed the guest book.  He also liked the Halifax Club, where we learned of the buildings role in the Halifax explosion and heard stories of ghosts and tunnels under the city.

The one disappointment that we had was at the water treatment center.  When we arrived, volunteers told us that the tour would take 45-60 minutes but the next one would start in about 10 minutes.  However, they continued to tell us that for the next 45 minutes and eventually we decided to leave without seeing the facility, which was of high interest.  Had we know that the wait would have been that long, we could have taken in another venue and returned.  While we were there, 15 other people arrived and waited varying amounts of time before deciding to leave.  My suggestion would be either to publish set times for tours or to have more accurate prediction on site – maybe a white board with the time that the most recent tour(s) left and when the next one(s) would be expected to depart.  This could have applied at a number of venues but at all the others we visited there were more frequent or larger tours so delays were minimal and volunteer predictions were pretty accurate.

Government House
Spectacular atrium at the Dominion Building

The event was generally well organized and I wish that there was time to get to all the facilities…. I hope they are all included again next year.   When I travel to other cities, I make it a practice to visit all manner of historic buildings but I don’t do it enough at home.

What stories are there in the buildings in your town?  Challenge yourself to learn more of their stories – and visit if you have a chance.

Every great architect is – necessarily – a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.

Frank Lloyd Wright