What’s in a decade?

I thought I’d sit down and take stock since, after all, just about every social media feed has been telling me to do so for the past couple of weeks.

I clicked open my Pictures file and scrolled down to 2010. I then opened up my journal and wrote Last Decade at the top of the page and 2010 in the margin. I began viewing the photos and writing down the highlights of each year: trips, graduations, sports events, publications, relatives…

Once I’d finished, I mulled over the list. Wow! I realized that the past decade was rich in learning and insights, mainly around three themes.

#1. The Value of Life

In 2016, my husband Vincent went into the hospital for a day operation. The doctors wanted to do an angioplasty (insert stents into the arteries). When Vincent was wheeled back to his room, he said, “They have to keep me at the hospital. I’m going to have an operation this week”.  Less than three days later, he had multiple by-pass surgery. While he was in the ICU, I realized that life is as close as a heartbeat away. One millisecond it is there; the next it may not.

We both came away with a different point of view on life, and a new drive to make every moment count.

#2. The Value of Family

The same year, in 2016, I had the wonderful privilege of meeting biological relatives on my father’s side in England in 2016 (I was unable to meet my father since he had already passed away when I found him). It was amazing to feel the connection that we had even though I hadn’t been brought up with them. It was palpable. My husband and sons couldn’t deny the metaphysical link that they saw especially between my aunt and cousins.

A year later, in July of 2017, since my biological mother had moved back to Montreal, she accepted to meet me for the first time ever. During the three days we spent together, we went out for coffee, went shopping and talked about so many things. It was precious – doubly- so since I lost her to cancer less than two months later.

That was painful because I had just found her. But I take comfort in the fact that I was able to meet a number of other biological relatives on her side of the family that still live in Montreal.  

Hers wasn’t the only death I experienced this past decade. I lost two brother-in-laws and an uncle, too. Death separates us from family members we love, but life continues and gives us the wonderful opportunity to keep strengthening the bonds with those we still have.

#3. The Value of Breathing

This has undoubtedly been the decade that I learned the importance of breathing. Through learning and practicing mindfulness, meditation and Bodyflow (a combination of TaiChi, Pilates and yoga), I have experienced the amazing the healing and restorative benefits of breathing deeply: heightened awareness, more powerful stress management skills and greater emotional balance.  

Learning to breathe changes everything! The more I learned about it from books, practice and courses I took during my certificate in Developmental Psychology, the clearer I became on who I was and what I wanted. I retired from teaching in the school system and embarked on a career change process (which was ironic since I only just officially earned my teaching permit in 2011, after over 20 years in and out of various teaching capacities.) I just didn’t want to work in an environment whose values didn’t match my own.

I am now trained in mindfulness meditation and coaching so that I can help others develop their own mindfulness lifestyle and experience the benefits.

In conclusion, my backward look leaves me with the insight that it isn’t the trips, nor the professional, personal or academic achievements that give me the greatest buzz. It’s being able to look forward to celebrating 30 years of marriage with my husband Vincent in three weeks, seeing my sons Nick and Olivier develop and thrive in their personal and professional lives, and helping others live mentally healthier and happier over the next ten years.

What about you: what are your greatest take-aways from the past decade? And what are you looking forward to in the new decade? Drop a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers, and keep learning!  

Claire xx

[Photo Credit: Nacho Juarez/Pexels]

Outer mess, inner stress?

“Tell me something you don’t like”, I asked my student.

“I don’t like when things are messy.”

“”Really”, I responded, “why? “

I don’t know.”

“Okay, well, what does it make you feel?”

“No idea.”

“You just don’t like it. You prefer when things are in their place, organized, structured?”

“Yes, let’s say I arrive at someone’s house and it’s a mess. I feel like taking a huge garbage bag and shoving it all in! “

I wasn’t really surprised. She works in administration. It’s her job. But also, I surmised, a part of her personality. Someone who likes everything in their right place.

Right place. What a concept! Is it possible we polarize things right down to our belongings?

Reflecting on ideas I’ve been reading from Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and from my Authentic Leadership course at university, I mused on that right and wrong reflex we develop from such a young age.

From what I’ve gleaned, our polarization is a prehistoric reflex we develop to ensure our safety and security; once we learn to distinguish the presence of objects outside of ourselves, we start categorizing them into good and bad, nice and mean, right and wrong.

Of course, we need to differentiate if something is good for us or not, however when it starts influencing our inner states of well-being or ‘rightness’, it may have become a little excessive.

Let me share one of my own typical personal default settings. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do when arriving in the kitchen is to scan for orderliness and cleanliness. If it doesn’t meet my standards, I start putting things away.

Why? Otherwise I just can’t relax.

Okay, so you’re saying you’re the same as your student?

Yes, guess so!

You may now well ask: what can you do about it?  

I must admit it’s not an easy reconfiguration to make. However, my university class is challenging me: what belief does that discomfort stem from? What is the deep-down need that is being jeopardized?

Ouch! For me, I realized that I was taught: work, before play; you can go out once you’ve done your chores; you have to clean your room before you can go and play.  

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Good work ethic, but is it always realistic, to keep everything in order, structured, under control? No, it would perhaps be healthier to learn to accept that I can’t always be in control, that there’s a time for everything.  

Upon deeper thought, I realized that that work ethic was instilled in me at a time that it equated acceptance and love, and a sense of security.

Yikes! Does that mean my OCD could stem from that?

Perhaps yes, perhaps not. I’m just saying our behaviors sometimes stem from a deeper belief that may not be entirely appropriate now that you’re an adult.

Does that mean anyone’s OCD stems from that?

Only they know that! Maslow’s pyramid of needs refer to physiological, security, love & belonging, self-esteem, fulfillment, and transcendence. Only they can know what need was at stake when they developed the automatic behavior, which instilled a foundational belief that would guide future action.

Final thought: when you’re getting all worked up from the visual chaos, you might want to ask yourself:

Why am I getting so worked up?  When did I start reacting like that? What is the underlying belief?

Maybe it’s time to let it go and be a little more realistic – and at the same time become a little easier to live or work with!   

Does your inner level of stress grow in proportion to the outer mess? How do you deal with it?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

[Photo: Conrado/Shutterstock]

Three Questions & A Birthday

Why can’t I say Happy Anniversary when it is someone’s birthday?”, many an ESL student has asked me.

That’s a great question and one that merits a post about to explain the answer – especially since I just attended a very special birthday celebration for someone close who was celebrating 90 years (name withheld to protect the identity of the person in question. Don’t ask!)   

Here’s the deal. The definitions of the words will help us out.  

Question 1: What’s the difference between the words birthday and anniversary?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, an anniversary is defined as: the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event.

In English-language culture, this applies to notable event such as the following: the founding of a company, a wedding, a graduation, a natural disaster… however, it does not apply to a birthday! (Unless you want to say: Happy Anniversary of your birth!)  

A birthday, by definition, again according to the online Cambridge Dictionary is: the day that is exactly a year or number of years after a person was born.

So, if you want to wish someone well on the day they are born, the term that is used is birthday, not anniversary.

Question 2: Are there any other ways to say Happy Birthday?

Ah-ha! Another great question. You could say any of these:

  • Best wishes for the day!
  • Enjoy your day!
  • Have fun on your special day!
  • Many happy returns (British)!
  • May your day be filled with love, laughter and joy!

Of course, there are as many ways to wish someone a happy birthday as there are people. I won’t even try to list them here (just google Ways to say Happy Birthday for more).

Question 3: Are birthdays really that important?

I added this as the third question because the person who we celebrated this past week would have preferred us not to celebrate their special day, especially not talk about the number of years being celebrated.

My answer to this question is a resounding yes! Yes, yes, yes! Please celebrate your birthday and the birthday of those around you! A life is important, precious and unique. There is only one day in the entire year dedicated to celebrating the presence of that person on this planet and in your life.

Each person arrives in our existence for a reason. Yes, I believe that those skeptics and cynics may smirk and scoff. What reason you may ask? There is no one-size fits all answer.

The answers to that precise question lies in what makes you so incredibly unique. Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential.

  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your special abilities?
  • What are your talents?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What moves you to tears?
  • What kind of music makes you want to get up and dance?

Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence, in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential. The number of years is inconsequential to your specialness.

I’ll leave the final point to Dr. Seuss, who always knows how to say things so eloquently!

It basically comes down to the fact that celebrating your birthday is a day to honour you, not your achievements or non-achievements, that you are, not what you are or aren’t.

Thanks for dropping in to read. What do you think: Why are birthdays important to you? Or are they? I’d love to hear what the youer-than-you has to say!

Cheers, and keep on learning!

Claire :o)

3 Reasons to Savor the Summer Solstice

Got to admit it, I didn’t know much about the Summer Solstice. Yet the more I Googled, the more I learned, and the more I realized that this is a date to celebrate.

1. Summer has arrived!

The word solstice comes from Latin and basically means the day the sun stands still (solstitium: sol – sun; stit – stand). Scientifically speaking, it is when in the Northern Hemisphere the sun hits its northernmost point (called aphelion), thus causing June 21 to mark the longest day, the shortest night and the beginning of summer.  

2. Love is in the air!   

Ever heard of Puck? He was the mischievous hobgoblin (a bizarre-looking fairy) who turns a man’s head into that of a donkey’s and mistakenly spreads a love potion on the wrong suitor so he falls in love with the wrong girl in Shakespeare’s comic play A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Just think: that means he wrote an entire play just to underscore the importance of the summer solstice!

The question is: why would Shakespeare have chosen this event? He obviously knew what he was doing! In many countries in both ancient and more modern times, people celebrate courtship and romance with many rituals and traditions, such as jumping over bonfires as a couple (Sweden), floating wreaths to snag an eligible bachelor (Poland) or leaving a personal belonging beneath fig trees as they dream of marriage (Greece), or contemplate the marriage of the Earth and the Sun over the circle of rocks at Stonehenge (England).   

3. Great food abounds!  

For those who live off the earth, the Summer Solstice marks the beginning of a season of growth and imminent harvest. Spring planting and rain have prepared the crops, and the heat caused by the sun’s position above the earth means that farmers will begin harvesting soon, and enjoy the fruit of their labor, in both food and income.

Of course, if you’re an urban citizen, like I am, it means the heady delight of local market produce and country drives to purchase freshly picked fruit and vegetables that actually taste like the fruit or vegetable their physical form denotes!

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like all the ingredients for a party! Savoring warm temperatures, love and friendship, and delicious food is what summer is all about. So how are you celebrating the arrival of summer?

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

[References: https://www.etymonline.com/word/solstice; https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/summer-solstice-world-traditions/index.html; https://www.themanual.com/culture/what-is-summer-solstice/; https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/21/summer-solstice-celebration-facts-longest-day-year/721004002/ https://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/msnd/character/puck/; https://www.space.com/june-solstice-northern-summer-2019.html; Photo Credit: Tatsiana Hrak/Shutterstock]

In Honour of Father’s Day

How many ways do you know how to say father in English? Three?  Five? More?!

I thought it would be à propos on this Father’s Day (note that it is Father’s, the day of father, as opposed to Fathers, plural, the day of/for fathers) to write a post on that precise question, and perhaps provide a bit of insight for English language learners who may be a bit confused at the nuances of difference.

I was amazed to find 16 synonyms listed! Just have a look at this:

ancestor                begetter                padre                    sire

dad                        daddy                    papa                     source

parent                    origin                      pop                        forebearer

predecessor          pa                          progenitor             procreator

Obviously, some are more stilted (read, formal or scientific) than others! If we are talking about ‘Dad at home’, then let’s remove ancestor, predecessor, begetter, origin, progenitor, sire, source, forebearer and procreator right away!   

That leaves us with dad, daddy, pa, padre, papa and pop. Let me explain where you would probably see them used.

Dad – that’s usually the teen or adult’s way of addressing their father. 

Daddy – we’ll leave this one for the kids!

Pa – this is another way most young people call their dad, though there may be some adults too, who still prefer using it as a particularly affectionately way of speaking of their father.

Padre – I was a little surprised to see this one here, but since I know Spanish, I suppose you would see this one in families with Hispanic roots. Correct me, any of you out there who beg to differ!

Pop – that’s a familiar way many teens and young adults refer to their fathers.   

And let’s not forget father, which is a more formal way of referring to one’s Dad.

Around my home, we called our father, Dad (daddy, when we were young). He was a great man: energetic, intelligent (often pulling out the encyclopedia to answer our questions at the dinner table), interested in us (he bought me books to satisfy my inquisitive mind as I went through phases of interest in geology, wild flowers, archaeology…), disciplined and stern (there was no point in arguing when he laid down the law!)

I miss him dearly (he passed away of cancer in 2009) and think of him most often in two specific places. One is at work, since he was an electrical engineer who worked on the first flight simulators ever at CAE in Montreal, and I teach English to employees working in high tech. The other is in the garden, when I’m pulling out the weeds, pruning the hedges or tending my flowerbed. Dad loved to garden!

I am thankful to carry his name as his adopted daughter. I wouldn’t be what I am or have what I have today if it wasn’t for his patience, love and guidance.

So, on this Father’s Day, 2019, I pay him homage. Thanks, Harold E. Ford, for giving me a name and a future.   

Whatever the name you call your own father, I hope that you, readers, had an opportunity to thank him for his input in your life. I am well-aware that some people had experiences much less than ideal growing up, and I am so sorry for you. However, I invite you to look for the blessings in the input your male parent did give you: a life, opportunities, the possibility to change the past and do better.

I leave you with one question: What’s your favourite name for your father (or father figure, if such is the case)?

  • Claire :o)

3 Lessons My Students Taught Me

I came across this quote on my Facebook page this week, a gif shared by the BrainPower Neurodevelopmental Center in Newburgh, Indiana.

At first, I thought about my home situation; the older my sons become, the more I realize they are their own selves. What a myth to believe that kids become what parents ‘make’ them! Even if you raise them in a totalitarian environment, their personalities will surface (I hope!) and they will emancipate themselves to become who they truly are!

However, the second part of the quote was what really got me thinking, the part about children teaching their parents so they can become what they, as parents and people, can become.

I suddenly mentally flipped over to my classroom situation. My students, too, are what they are supposed to be, not what I thought they’d be. Oh, so what have they taught me then to help me become a better teacher and, ultimately, person? Certainly, a lot! Here are just three examples.

Lesson #1: You don’t have to know everything.  

Teachers know that questions are a sign of intelligence. I always say it is the door opening to understanding. I get excited when students ask questions; it means they are ready to learn, and they are going to ‘get it’. The brain is processing the data. Cognitive psychology explains that the more the brain processes the information, the more likely it is that the individual will develop the neural pathway and maintain the information in their long-term memory. Deeper learning means greater mastery and that leverages competence.

Yes, but sometimes a question comes up that you just weren’t anticipating and just don’t have the answer. You don’t know. Brain freeze! No matter how much you search your brain, the answer is just not there. For example, how come ‘theirselves’ is not the correct reflexive pronoun? Not so easy! Some of the forms take the possessive form of the personal pronoun (I – myself; You – yourself). It would seem logical to then say They – theirselves). But that is not the case. It’s just one of those things – something you have to memorize.

You’re almost afraid they’ll ask questions! No big deal. You can’t know everything, so you use that handy phrase: That’s a great question!  And then, either follow up with a Google search live, or go home and do your homework so you’ll be prepared with a fantastic explanation next class.

Lesson #2: You don’t have to always be in control.

The other day, I suddenly felt sick during my first of two morning classes. I was sure I was turning green and about to fall of my chair. Catastrophe! I’m the teacher, I’m supposed to be in control! I couldn’t move, and just wanted to put my head down and rest.

The students were great. They offered advice, they suggested I drink some water or go for a walk. When the class was over, the next group came in and continued the good work. They got me laughing. They took over. They first took out their homework and began correcting it with my weak input. Then one of them asked if I had any games. I did, so she went and chose one and got the other two playing. By the end of the class, I felt much better. They were wonderful.

The concern, care and initiative of the students blew me away. It also reminded me that I didn’t always have to be the boss. After all, what is student-centered learning all about? Students take ownership of their learning. The teacher is just there to guide and facilitate.

Lesson #3: It’s okay to not be perfect.

Perfectionism is the bane of the teacher. We want everything to be just perfect (you know, a perfect A, 100%): the lesson plan, the presentation, the activity, the materials, even our appearance!  But sometimes you just don’t have the time to get it Just Right. Anxiety attack! And the quality of the lesson goes downhill from there!

Last week I asked a student what their lesson of the day was. The student answered: stop thinking, start doing. An enriching discussion ensued.

Once again, it was the disciple teaching the master. Do what you can with what you have. You don’t have to be perfect; be real, drop the ego, and enjoy the discovery of learning with your students.

In conclusion, maybe the people, places and events around us are not the way we expect but are rife with lessons to learn. Accepting, acknowledging and appreciating them for the truths they reveal, is not easy, but part of adapting to the ever-changing nature of life.

Does this resonate with you? Please let me know in the Comments section. I love hearing from my readers!

Cheers!

Claire :o)

 

*Photo and link to BrainPower Neurodevelopmental Center : https://www.facebook.com/BrainPower-Neurodevelopmental-Center-889931051105659/?tn-str=k*F

5 Ways To Boost Your Child’s ESL Learning (and it’s not as hard as you may think!)

The question my student voiced was valid: How can I help my kids with their English homework? They just don’t seem to retain the words I teach them.

This father was echoing the very same concern I heard over and over again when I taught at a local elementary and high school.

If you are a parent, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. You know how important it is; you use English at work, as soon as you do a search on the Internet or when meeting clients from the US or elsewhere in Canada. You know that these days, you can’t get by without it.

And to bring things home, Secondary 5 students in Québec can’t get their high school diploma without demonstrating mastery in English oral and written skills.

So, how can you help your child? Neuroscience tells us that to develop the pathways (learning), it takes repetition and constantly having to retrieve the information at varying times and in varying contexts.

Here are my 5 top tips to keep your kids on their toes.

  1. Surprise them – Sing to the songs the radio station plays in English on the way to school or dance lessons. Switch up the program on Saturday morning, and choose an English show instead. Use an English-language family event calendar on the fridge.
  2. Play with them – Challenge them to play online games and apps in English for a set time before being allowed to game with friends in French. Even bath-time can be an opportunity to identify objects, colors, shapes, textures functions of basic, everyday objects. Why not? Get on the floor and play Lego’s in English.
  3. Model for them – Once a week, speak in English at dinner time, or while having a snack. When I was doing a practicum in teaching in a grade 5 class, we had Star Time, in which the students could only speak English. They would earn stars for their efforts. If they spoke in French, they didn’t get their star. A chart on the fridge could keep track (just an idea!) The idea is to show that English is used outside the classroom walls, and that the words they are learning in class are useful at home, too!
  4. Read to them – Reading a book to your child before going to sleep is an excellent way to feed vocabulary into your child’s brain so that it processes during the night. Once a week isn’t a chore, and your child will come to associate English with a quality time with Mom or Dad. Emotions are key to learning, and snuggling up for a read is sure to give an endorphin boost that will lower the day’s stress levels, and help you both sleep better!
  5. Be a fan – One last thing, that I just have to mention here. Keep the tone positive when talking about or to your child’s English teacher. Teaching thirty-some children, all at different language levels, with different learning styles and needs, once or twice (maximum!) a week, to speak a foreign language is no easy feat. You are your child’s hero, and if you think your kid’s teacher is awesome, then chances are they’ll think so, too. Personally, I remember the students whose parents had a super-positive attitude towards me and the work I was doing with their child. The child always made more effort to do the homework and made greater progress when the teacher-speak at home was positive.

You know, when you make the effort to speak English, even if you make mistakes, your child is impressed (even if they laugh at first!) They see that making mistakes is no big deal, not the end of the world, but the beginning of an adventure. What’s more, they’ll be much more likely to take the risk of raising their hand to answer in class because they understand that taking risks can mean making mistakes, but more importantly, it means learning.

And that’s when your child will start retaining and speaking in English. You, as parent, are the one that can give them that essential boost. What are you waiting for?

Have fun! – Claire :o)

[Photo: Shutterstock/Dmytro Zinkevych)