Friday Two Cents: I Love It When A Plan Comes Together


Between watching hockey games and playoff football, many commercials have been mentioning mental health awareness.  It surrounds the ‘Lets Talk’ campaign on January 30.  It tries to raise awareness and support for people with mental health issues.  Seeing these ads made me think about how many people I know are suffering and this time of year is not all that great to help people get out of there situation.  

You see the January blues, as many call them is a real issue for many people.   For years I have thought that the January Blues was simply a myth, but as I got older I found that January is probably one of my least favourite time of the year.  I could not explain it but I discovered that someone actually found a reason why.   
In 2005 person from the Cardiff University calculated that the third Monday in January as the most depressing day of the year. I am not sure of all the calculations but from what I read it involves, weather factors (the lack of sunlight and cold temperatures), the debt load people feel one month after Christmas, and the abandonment of new years resolutions.  All these factors are blamed for the most depressing day of the year and if you talk to many people they would agree with this.  
Yet Isabella Goldie, director of development and delivery at the London-based Mental Health Foundation says that “Blue Monday” isn’t real.  She says that this calculation is all a PR stunt to make people feel that they need a vacation or break and it motivates them to buy vacations. She continues to say that feeling sad or gloomy for a day and real mental illness are vastly different.  Yet she also notes that the idea of Blue Monday is not entirely off because the environment affects mental health.  Seasonal affective disorder, a depression that occurs around the same season each year is one example.  
Real or not real this time of year does affect many people.  So how can we fight back?  I found 3 helpful tips courtesy of Health Magazine that can help.  Mind you these are for any Mondays but there is nothing wrong with starting these helpful tips on Blue Monday is there?

  1. Make Monday’s plan on Friday – and write it down. That way you can relax without any “don’t forget to do this” thoughts echoing through your brain over the weekend.
  2. Indulge on Sunday. Dr. Suzanne Zoglio is the author of Recharge in Minutes: The Quick-Lift Way To Less Stress. And she says don’t waste Sunday worrying about Monday. Instead, do something you love that you didn’t have time to do during the week – reading a few chapters of a new book, or spending a couple of hours at the park. That way, you’ll be fully recharged and satisfied when the weekend ends.
  3. Give Monday meaning. Before crawling out of bed, Zoglio says take 3 minutes to focus on what’s important to you. What kind of person do you want to be today? Fun, kind, disciplined? What important thing do you want to accomplish? Once you have a plan, it’ll help make Monday meaningful, rather than dreadful.
After reading through these suggestions, I realise that I already do these.  Dr. Zoglio is basically saying that you need to plan out what you want to do. I usually like to know what I am about to do on a specific day and planning out, even in my head what the day will look like helps a lot.  I guess I have to remember that saying I from that old show “The A-Team”.   After every successful mission, the character John “Hannibal” Smith(played by George Peppard) would always say …

‘I love it when a plan comes together.’ John “Hannibal” Smith (played by George Peppard)

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Friday Two Cents: Positive Thoughts For The New Year


‘I do expect a lot from myself, but it’s also a balance of being… positive and also pushing yourself.’ Venus Williams

With the beginning of the New Year many people make resolutions to improve themselves in some way.  Many plan to get physically fit, eat better or others to do something they have always wanted to do.  I for one have never made any resolutions because I know I will not follow through on these empty wishes.  I know that true change takes discipline, determination and most important time. Several years ago I came to a realization that I needed to lose weight and have a healthier lifestyle.  I took discipline, determination and time to make them a reality and to be honest I am still working on them. 

Many people forget their resolutions by the time Super Bowl arrives.  That is usually the first weekend of February for those of you who are not into football. If you are one of those people I have found something that just might help you make some long-term changes in your life that is more effective than a spur of the moment resolution.  These tips come from Dr. Joan Borysenko – author of Inner Peace for Busy People: 52 Simple Strategies for Transforming Your Life. 
Take a few hours to envision your life.  A good way to do this is to imagine yourself at 90 looking back at your life and taking stock.  Then ask yourself these questions:
  • What matters most to me?
  • What did I learn in my life?
  • How do I want to be remembered?
  • Are there things I wish I’d done but never got around to?
From these write down your answers in 6 major groups relating to; family, friends, faith, finances, fitness and work. One example in the area of fitness, when you are 90 you won’t care that you have strong leg muscles but you will care that you can walk to couple of blocks down the street to the store. 
They say use a real notebook instead of typing these down in a computer.  This way you can look back at the answers and keep tabs for the year.  Also for most people when you write things down they become more real.  Think about it.  When someone tells you a phone number you retain it more if you write it down. 
Then one final tip is to find ways to use your talents to help others.  If you are a good storyteller, read to children at the hospital.  Make a positive influence in someone’s life. One of the best ways to increase your health and happiness is to make a positive difference in the world.   Sometimes it starts with your way of thinking.  

Which type of person are you?

As Willie Nelson once said …

‘Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.’ Willie Nelson

Friday Two Cents: A New Experience In Niagara


Christmas week for many people is a busy week.  Meeting with family and friends, preparing special meals and of course eating too much.  As a supply teacher this week is a welcome respite from the daily grind of working with students.  Not only teachers enjoy the time off, but also I have observed that students as young as kindergarten age needing this break in their routines. 

On that note I decided to get out of Toronto for a couple of days to help centre myself.  One of my favourite places to go to simply “get away from it all” is the Niagara region. They have many different diversions yet my favourite of them is visiting the local wineries.  I have been to a great many and this year I discovered a new winery that recently opened last year.  

At Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery

Opened in June 2017, Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery is in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region.  When you arrive you can see a modern building based on the design of a regional barn.  Inside though is a modern layout wonderfully decorated with photos of Wayne Gretzky’s hockey career.  Yet what impressed me was the skating rink just outside and behind the building. Beside the rink is a patio with a bar and a place to rent skates for both adults and children.  It was amazing to see parents and children skating around the rink while others sat at the outdoor patio bar with a hot chocolate. 
This is where the tour began and we were treated to home-made hot chocolate but with a special shot of cream whiskey that they make on the premises. It was delicious and a wonderful way to start the tour.  Nothing screams Canada more than hot chocolate outside in winter, beside a skating rink.  I know a lot about the wine making process, yet the tour was informative about how they make whisky and I learned a great deal. 
I asked the question, “Why do we spell whisky with a ‘y’ and others spell it with an ‘ey’?”  His answer was countries without and ‘e’ in their name use ‘y’ and those with use ‘ey’. Examples include Canada & Scotland ‘whisky’; United States & Ireland ‘whiskey’.  Yet another also mentioned that it might have something to do with immigration. This by the way is my theory when I asked the question.  Many Scottish people migrated to Canada and thereby we use whisky like them. Alternately a lot of Irish migrated to the USA who uses whiskey. 
Whatever the reason you cannot deny the results.  I am more of a wine and scotch drinker but I do enjoy a good Canadian whisky, which Wayne Gretzky’s whisky is up there with the best of them. If you are ever in the Niagara region I recommend a visit and of course, ‘a wee dram’, you know for the vitamins.  Enjoy!!

 

Friday Two Cent: Kindness During Christmas 


In the past couple of weeks I was able to supply in several different classrooms. With the Christmas season upon us it was a great opportunity to read my favourite Christmas story,  “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas By Dr. Seuss

If you are not aware of the story I strongly recommend you read it or more importantly share it with a young person in your life. It tells a tail of a person “The Grinch” who hates Christmas and in the end decides to steal it from the town near his home. He thinks that if he takes all the decorations, the food and presents that he will have stopped Christmas from coming. Yet the town’s people still celebrate Christmas without any of the stuff associated with it. The Grinch realizes that Christmas is not about the material gifts, food or decorations. That there is something more about this holiday, more than all the hype and acquisition of stuff. Perhaps this holiday is about being with family and people we love and care about; it’s about something more.
I have always enjoyed this story at Christmas because for me the giving and receiving of presents, is not what Christmas is all about. Even at a young age I thought that Christmas has become too materialistic, too commercial. I read this story every year and it helps me to remember the important parts of Christmas. It is about being with people I care about and the good feelings that are shared with them. It is about my traditions and faith that comes from my family and friends. No matter how upset I am during this time of year, I try to see that there are others out there worse off and I thank God for the blessings that I do have.  It is not always easy. I have had Christmas’s were I was downright miserable. But I try to see past these troubles, to see the joy and positive aspects of the season. 
This year I was out shopping for my family and the malls were full of people looking for stuff.  Many seem to be fixated with getting things. Even the students in the school appear to be focused on the material aspects of Christmas.  Everywhere I go there are ads and commercials wanting you to buy stuff.  That if you get more stuff the world will be better.  One perfect example is the “Ugly Sweaters”.  People buy these ugly seasonal sweaters just to say they have one but I say “No Thanks”.  This one example of widespread commercialism that is simply about having stuff.  It looks like this feeling of rampant commercialism appears to be spreading everywhere and sucking the joy out of the Christmas season.  Yet something as simple as an act of kindness happened that renewed my hope in people and the season. 
I was sitting in the food court of the mall having lunch one day, observing all the people rushing this way and that.  One person walked by and dropped a $20 bill near by.  A person at the next table rushed over, picked up the bill and quickly gave it to the person who dropped it.  They were extremely grateful to the person and some nice words were exchanged between the two.  That simple act of kindness not only made the person who dropped the money happy but also the person who helped.  To be honest I too felt good about that gesture and from what I observed of the other people around the area who witnessed the exchange, many of them had smiles too. 
Maybe there is still hope for people in this world.  I should keep in mind, the quote;

 

‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.’ Aesop

 

During that this time of year every act of kindness can have the same effect as ripples from a pebble being tossed into a pond.  So small at first but look how they grow. 

Friday Two Cents: Scotland Inspired Christmas Creation


With the Christmas season upon us I indulged on a yearly tradition of setting up my Christmas town at school. A couple of students asked how long I have been setting up the town at the school. I told them it is the 9th year I have set it up, yet I started building the town about 10 years prior to that starting with only 5 buildings that I hand painted and with a simple train. Today it has grown to over 50 builds, all hand painted and some that I built myself.

This year I added a new building or to be specific buildings and hill.  I had built a hill with a tunnel for my castle, but this year I wanted to add something new, something that I was inspired to create when I went on my trip to Scotland.  My trip to Scotland was filled with endless wonders, from the beauty of the Highlands to the wonderful interaction with the people.  With all those experiences, the one thing that suck out for me was the rich history created or forged by the Scottish people. I am talking about the endless castles and medieval ruins everywhere you go.  From Edinburgh Castle to Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland is replete with castles dotting the landscape.  My exploration of these historical sites inspired me to create a new castle and hill for my Christmas Town. 

New Castle/Citadel

Stage 1) I began by creating the basic shape of the hill and buildings using plastic cardboard.  I wanted a hill with a tunnel and a multi-layer hill design similar to the castles I saw in Scotland.  I also created the basic shape of the main buildings for the castle.  I wanted one large structure and a couple of smaller buildings again similar to castles I saw.   

 

Stage 2) I then got plaster of Paris and coated the entire hill and buildings. It did not look pretty but I knew that I would be adding more and moulding the plaster to what I had in mind. This stage was the most time-consuming and labour intensive.  I could not simply scrap or chisel away.  I had to be careful not to press too hard or the plaster would crack.   Instead I used coarse sand paper to help smooth and shape the hill and buildings.   The buildings required two layers of plaster to get the right look but the hill took several. 

 

Stage 3) With the building shape relatively done the hill required more attention.  I did not simply want to use plaster to create a wall around the compound, therefore I created one with grey pebbles.  I used the plaster as mortar and created a multilevel wall with battlements. I also moulded and carved the sides of the hill to resemble a cliff face making the entire structure look like a citadel.

 

Stage 4) I then painted the buildings and the citadel with a base white. Once dry I began painting the buildings and citadel the way I envisioned.  If you look closely you can see that I incorporated three stones from Scotland (near Eilean Donan Castle) into the citadel final design. 

 

Once done, I brought in the new citadel into the school as part of my Christmas town set.   Everyone loved the new citadel and castle.  Thank you Scotland for the inspiration.  

 

Friday Two Cents: Don’t Stress: Laugh And Have Fun


 

‘A day without laughter is a day wasted.’Charlie Chaplin

 

  Well this week I was able to put up the Christmas tree, string the outdoor lights and put out my nativity scene for the upcoming Christmas season. Yet one thing that always makes the season more enjoyable is the music of this wonderful holiday.  We in Toronto are quit fortunate to have a radio station (CHFI 98.1 FM) that plays Christmas music all day long.  They started last weekend at the beginning of the Santa Claus parade and will continue until December 26, Boxing Day. 

  Christmas music has always been a big part of Christmas for me.  I think because I use to play in several bands and we were always playing the songs for about a month and half before Christmas to help us prepare for our concerts.  However, about 10 years ago I discovered some alternate Christmas songs that I have to listen to that makes my Christmas complete.

Stressed Out Christmas

  They are a collection of songs preformed by Bob Rivers and once I heard them, Christmas hasn’t been the same. For some reason these songs connected with me. Perhaps it’s because I find that with everyone is running around trying to get things done, buy stuff and it places a lot of stress on people when there shouldn’t be.  I think people need to not take things too seriously. Everywhere people are worried about getting the perfect gift, have the perfect dinner and the perfect tree. These songs help me to see that there is some fun and laughter in this season.  We do not need to take things too seriously; relax, enjoy life, laugh and have fun.   Those are some of the important parts of Christmas.
  Therefore in the spirit of bringing some laughter and fun back into Christmas, I have attached a YouTube video/song of my favourite alternate Christmas song by Bob Rivers.  The tone is from the song “Winter Wonderland” but the lyrics have been changed into a new song entitled, “Walkin’ ‘Round In Women’s Underwear”. 
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do and remember to have a little laugh every once in a while. 

Friday Two Cents: Delayed Gratification A.K.A Learning Patience


 

  In the past two weeks many parents have been receiving progress report on their children and many have talked to me about some issues. Many parents have described their behaviour as lazy and not wanting to do the work. Why are so many students having problems focusing and doing the work? Where does the problem stem from?

  I have worked in many grades and I have seen the same issue in all ages. Wherever I go the students are given a task, be it math, literacy or art and they want an instant result. In other words; they want instant gratification.
  After telling this to the parents they look at me with surprise and I say look at our society. Today everything is instant gratification. If they want something all they need to do is to ask for it and they get it. Video games give an instant reward after, you want something you go online and order it. You want a picture of a cartoon, go online and search until you get it. Why draw it?
  I noticed this especially when I do art with the students. On numerous occasions students ask me to show them how to draw something and when I do, they are not happy because their drawing is not the same as mine. I constantly remind them that it took me many years to get to my level of artistic skill and they need to practice constantly to get better. Many do not accept this and destroy their creation or give up.

I want it now!! Instant gratification.

  The same can be said for other subjects and their seems to be a disconnect happening. The best way I can describe it is this way. They are at the foot of a hill. Their goal or task is on the top of the hill. They want the goal but don’t see the hill between them. It does not matter how you get to the top of the hill fast or slow but you still have to put the effort into getting to the top.  Many don’t want to because it would take a long time, in other words they want instant results or gratification.
  What we need to do is teach the students that delayed gratification has more rewards. Study after study have shown the benefits to children who have learned delayed gratification. One famous experiment by Stanford professor named Walter Mischel sheds light on this subject matter. In the experiment a child is placed in a room, sitting on a chair and a marshmallow is placed on the table in front of them. The researcher offered a deal to the child. He told the child that he was going to leave the room and that if the child did not eat the marshmallow while he was away, then they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child decided to eat the first one before the researcher came back, then they would not get a second marshmallow. The choice was simple: get one treat right now or two treats later. He left the room for 15 minutes.
  The footage of the children waiting alone in the room was very entertaining to say the least. Some kids jumped up and ate the first marshmallow as soon as the researcher closed the door. Others wiggled and bounced and scooted in their chairs as they tried to restrain themselves, but eventually gave in to temptation a few minutes later. And finally, a few of the children did manage to wait the entire time. The study was done in 1972 but the interesting thing is what comes later.
  The researchers followed the children and what they found was surprising. The children who were willing to delay gratification and wait to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents, and generally better scores in a range of other life lessons. They continued to follow each child for more than 40 years and time and time again, the group who waited patiently for the second marshmallow succeed in whatever task they were engaged in.
  So what should people take from this information. The one thing many students and people in our society need to learn and develop is patience. If you put in the work, the rewards are much better after time. We as educators and parents need to help the students solve the problem without telling them the answer. They need to put in the effort. If they fail once in a while that’s ok. Many learn more from failures than constant success. This way they can develop patience and enjoy the success more.

What did Edison say when they said he failed 10,000 times to make a light bulb?

‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’ Thomas A. Edison

 

Something we all need to keep in mind.

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