Friday Two Cents: If Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade


 

This past week in Ontario many elementary and high schools were out for the annual March/spring break. In previous years I have always worked during this week at various afterschool programs, yet this year I had the need to take the week off. I didn’t want to go somewhere far-flung or exotic, I just wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the students. Don’t get me wrong I adore the children but I was feeling a bit rundown and I needed sometime to be alone with my thoughts. To chill out, ironically speaking.

I decided to take a mini vacation to Niagara Falls and more importantly the Niagara Wine country. I live in the Toronto area and Niagara Falls is only a 1½-hour drive but I have never seen the falls in the winter. Besides I love visiting the wineries in the area for some wine tasting. It would also be a great opportunity to do some drawing and hopefully get inspired.
However Mother Nature had other plans this past week. I left for my vacation on Monday and of course that is the day when a winter storm just happens to blow into southern Ontario.   I am only few kilometers into the trip when the storm really picks up. With high winds and lake-effect snow traffic literally comes to a halt. I continue but the traffic is moving about 5 – 10 km/hr. The slowdown is mind numbing and it is all due to the weather. The truly amazing thing was that after I traveled past the city of Hamilton the weather clears up. It was eerie. On the east side of the highway, the lakeside, you can see the blowing snow and dark clouds yet on the west side of the highway the sun was setting and it was clear. It felt like I was driving through the eye of the storm or at least the edge of it. I arrived at the hotel safely yet the normally 1½-hour drive took 4½hrs!
I was stressed worst then before I left. So much for my relaxing vacation. However I was able to have a great meal at the casino and then soak in the hot tub after. I could feel the stress just melting away in the Jacuzzi. Especially since I could see that the storm had reached Niagara Falls and I was safe inside.
The next day the storm was in full force but that did not stop me. I was prepared with winter gear and I went for a walk to the Falls in the middle of the storm. I was able to get a few nice photos and I was able to talk to a few people who I met there. Yes just call me Mr. Sociable.  

Panoramic view of Niagara Falls during the Winter Storm.

Panoramic view of Niagara Falls after the Winter Storm.

Panoramic view of Niagara-on-the-lake after the Winter Storm.

I for one do not like the winter season. I do not like the cold or the lack of sunlight. Yet I made it a point to not let this winter storm ruin my vacation. The storm lasted about a day and a half but in that time I was able to do all that I wanted.   I was able to draw, read, write, explore and of course enjoy a couple of wine tastings. Call me Mr. Optimist but I simply adapted to the situation I still had a wonderful time. I would imagine that old saying is true…

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  

Art Inspiration: Québec Trip / Art Is Everywhere


 

 

ArtInspirationPaulGLogo

Québec_Trip

When I went to Québec I was fortunate to go with someone who grew up there. I told them that I was in their hands and that they were my guides. They are aware that I love the arts and they took me to places in the Old City of Québec that had many artists and artisans.

Along Saint Paul Street there are many galleries and artisans that would satisfy any art enthusiast. I could not take too many pictures of the artwork but it was a fabulous experience non-the less. Another place I went to was Le Petit Champlain, a small market area just down the hill from the Château Frontenac. There many artisans, artists, cafes, restaurants and merchants come together.   It is a beautiful place that has the feel of an old world market. There were many things to see but I was very impressed by a glass blower. I was able to take some photos for I was mesmerised by the skill and craftsmanship of the master.
Yet there are times when I did not just take in the traditional art but the artistic beauty of nature. Near my friends family home, there are a lot of wooded areas where the city has kept it as natural as possible. There I enjoyed the natural beauty and I even was able to eat a few wild black berries as I walked along the path.
From the natural surrounding to something equally as lovely, we went for a road trip outside Québec City to a place called le Domaine à l’Héritage near Saint-Séverin de Beauce. It is a pristine garden set in the middle of the country where people are welcome to enjoy nature and the garden as classical music is played throughout. There I saw many people bring out their dinners and enjoy a picnic, as did we. The place has many tables and reclining chairs for people to stay, relax and enjoy each other’s company.
The thing I found amazing is how easily everyone simply talked to one another. Strangers having conversations about anything that came up with other strangers. This is where I realized the whole ‘Joie de vivre’ that is so present in the Québec culture. It is everywhere, in everyone. The sad true is that something like this garden could never exist near Toronto because I could see people ruining it. There, the people made sure they cleaned up after themselves and they were respectful to everyone there and the environment.
Everywhere I went in Québec I found art. In the trees, the water, the air and the people. This is what life should be like, the joy of life, the joy of living. Of all the things I learned and brought back from Québec this ‘Joie de vivre’ is what I want to continue in my life. Perhaps not in Toronto but wherever I go I will strive for my own ‘Joie de vivre’.

Le Petit Champlain / Château Frontenac

Natural Beauty Near Québec

le Domaine à l’Héritage

Friday Two Cents: Summer Vacation Part 4: Up North


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Last week I was not able to post a Friday Two Cents because I was north of Toronto at a friend’s trailer enjoying what Ontario has to offer. I love going up north and spending time in nature and being at my friend’s trailer is a good compromise from camping. I say this because I do enjoy camping with a tent and cooking outdoors but it is hard to find people who enjoy sleeping on the ground and of course the bugs. This also has the advantage of all the comforts of civilization like running water, flush toilets and electricity.   I do like roughing it but I like my creature comforts too.

The region is about 1 – 2 hours drive north of Toronto in the great community of Midland and Penetanguishene.   My friend’s trailer is situated in the outskirts of Penetanguishene with wonderful scenes of nature and beaches within driving distance, which we partook.
Besides all of the natural beauty there are other interesting places about the area. My friends took me to see the Big Chute Marine Railway. It is part of the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site, which stretches over 386km through central Ontario. It is a series of locks and canals with beautiful views of a not often seen part of Ontario.
Big Chute Marine Railway is the 44th lock in the 45 lock system. Yet unlike the other locks it is a rail system that lifts the vessels out of the water and places them in the other body of water. It works on an inclined plane to carry boats in individual cradles over a change of height of about 58 feet (18 m). It is the only marine railway of its kind in North America. You can see it work in the photos I took.
It was an amazing thing to see and we spent a good couple of hours watching them lift boats from one body of water to the other. I noticed that it worked very similarly like a cable car. There were a series of cables that would pull the railcar and then control its decent. It was a very interesting and unique experience in the heart of Ontario.
Another day trip we took was to the Blue Mountain Village near Collingwood. I remember going to the Blue Mountain area when I was in high school and later yet I haven’t been to it in some time. To say that it changed would be putting it mildly. It was a spectacular experience with all the shopping, restaurants and adventure experiences. I even took a ride on the Ridge Runner Mountain Coaster. It’s a roller coaster that starts at the bottom of the mountain (hill) and then it takes you up in individual cars that you can control the speed. I for one do not like coasters anymore, I use to like coasters and I would ride them whenever I can. However in resent years the height makes me dizzy and my natural instinct kicks in.
Yet never let it be said that I will not try a new experience, even though I was not sure about the ride I did it anyway. Mind you, you can control the speed of your car going down. I did slow down a because of the height. I did not want to black out or lose control. And after I did it I did have fun doing it. I will probably not do that again but it was a fun experience.
The other days where full of fun and trips into Penetanguishene and Midland. In Penetanguishene we saw the Urban Slide, a giant water slide that people can ride down 1000 ft. in the middle of Main Street. Then in Midland we went and saw a cruise ship in the harbour. This was new to everyone because we never knew there were cruise ships running in the Great Lakes. This was not a one of those large cruise ships, it only carries 210 passengers but it is one of 12+ voyages that are making a regular stop in Midland. Amazing, this will be great for the local economy and help spread the word about how great this region is.
The entire trip was for only a few days yet it was enough to help recharge my batteries and make me re-appreciate the magnificent country I live in.

Friday Two Cents: Summer Vacation Part 1: Stratford Ontario


 

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This week I was able to indulge in one of my favourite activities, live theatre. Even better is that it is Shakespearean theatre. This year I was able to enjoy several shows on several trips to Stratford Ontario. Every year they have a wonderful collection of shows that excite the mind and touch the soul. I have already seen two plays earlier this year , ‘A Chorus Line’ and ‘As You Like It’.   This past week I was able to enjoy two more plays “Shakespeare in Love’ and ‘Macbeth’.

I can write pages on how I enjoyed these shows but I think Less is more.

A wonderful musical that kept me singing after the show was over.

 

A fun Canadian take on a classic that made me laugh throughout the performance.

 

Love, Sorrow, Fear, Excitement. I felt every emotion as it was happening on the stage.

 

Hauntingly spectacular. Descent into evil, obsession and madness. Was Macbeth always evil or did the prophecy kindle the embers of evil within every human.

 

What have I learned from my journey?  What Hamlet says with irony I say with Conviction,

 

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel,

     Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 2, scene 2

 

Friday Two Cents: It’s Good To See The Fruits Of Your Labours


 

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Follow-Up to Friday Two Cents: Using Statistics To Help Teach

 

On Tuesday we had the championship game for the softball league at the school. The game itself was extremely exciting to watch and in the end it was a shame to see it end.

Let me set the scene for you. Both teams are lined up along the base lines in what I call a learning circle. We begin with the Canadian National anthem and then I gave some last-minute words of encouragement. The Bears have home field advantage and they take the field to warm-up and throw the ball around. We play slow-pitch with your own team pitching to you with four pitches maximum. The Dolphins are up to bat and began their routine with their pitcher warming up as well.

Bears vs Dolphins Lined up for the National Anthem

Bears vs Dolphins Lined up for the National Anthem

The game begins with the Dolphins getting a single from the first batter but the Bears respond with a couple of great defensive plays getting players out at first and the runner advancing to 3rd. The next player hits a line drive along the first base line for a triple scoring a run. The next batter gets out with a play at first and the Dolphins lead 1 – 0. The Bears are up in the bottom half of the first but the Dolphins are equal to the task and get three outs for a 3 up 3 down inning.
Not to be out shown by the Dolphins, the Bears respond defensively getting three outs out of four batters in the top of the second. Yet the bottom half is where they showed their stuff. With a batter on first and two outs the Bears look like that might not score a run. However the next two batters get singles to load the bases setting the stage for what comes next. The next batter rips the ball past the outfielder for a grand-slam home run. The inning ends and the Bears are now leading 4 – 1 after 2 innings.
In the 3rd inning both teams got players onboard but could not cash-in any runs. With the top of the 4th about to start I checked my watch and saw that we had extra time. The players suggested they play 5 innings because we had extra time (we usually play only 4 innings because of time restrains but we always have a 5th inning available). I told the players that it was up to the captains’ to decide and I would abide by they their decision. So both teams went off and discussed it and the Bears captain said yes as did the Dolphins. I said are you sure otherwise we only play the 4 innings. They both agreed and we continued the game. The enter exchange took about 2 – 3 minutes and we continued the game with a 5th inning agreed to. Would this decision be a good or bad choice for either team? Will one take advantage? I wasn’t sure, so I bid the game continue to find out.  
The Dolphins were up and their captain responded with a single. The next player came up to the plate and on his second pitch hits the ball over the second baseman’s head. By the time the ball got to the infield the runner on first scored and the batter was on his way to 3rd. The fielder threw the ball to third but over shot the 3rd baseman. The runner continued home without stopping and was awarded with a home run, making the score 4 – 3 Bears.
The next batter for the Dolphins continued the hitting spree with a single, but the next batter rockets a hit into deep right field. Both runners round the bases with the batter stumbling on his way from third to home plate but still scoring a home run. The Bears buckle down and get the next three batters out but the damage is done. With the bottom of the 4th coming up the score is Dolphins 5 – Bears 4.
The Bears quickly respond with a single but the next batter pops up the ball in the infield and gets out but the runner on first does not tag up and the fielder gets him out by stepping on first for a double play. Yet with two outs the Bears get two more runners on base but cannot bring them home. The inning ends with Bears trailing 5 – 4. Now the Bears are feeling glad they added on the extra inning where the Dolphins are not.
But the feeling of regret quickly fades as the first batter gets on base. The second batter hits the ball into right field and is running to second when the fielder over throws the 2nd baseman allowing the runner to 3rd and continue home scoring a home run. The Bears then get two outs but the Dolphins are not finished. A runner gets on base and the following batter hits a hard shot into deep centre field. The throw to the infield is coming but it is too late the runner scores another home run. In the last two innings the Dolphins hit 4 home runs, scoring 8 unanswered runs. The bottom of the 5th inning is coming up and the Dolphin’s lead has grown to 9 – 4.
The Bears have one last chance to get six to win the game or five runs to tie and force an extra inning. The two first batters get on and with the third getting out the Bears have two runners in scoring position at second and third base. The next batter comes up and pops the ball in the infield. A fielder gets the ball but the runner on third does not tag and the fielder runs over and steps on third base for the game winning double play. The Dolphins begin to cheer as they win the 2016 Championship game. The final score; Dolphins 9 – Bears 4.
Championship Trophy. Gold, Silver & Bronze Medals and MVP Balls.

Championship Trophy. Gold, Silver & Bronze Medals and MVP Balls.

I bring out the medals and I see that many of the Bears are crying because they lost. I told them and the crowd that they worked hard and they should be proud on how they played and put in their best effort. I know that at the time it does not mean much but I know they did have fun and that is what is important. I then handed out the MVP balls to the two players (male and female) and then medals to all the teams from 1st place to 4th. Everyone gets a medal (the two teams that lost in the semi finals both get bronze medals). Finally after the Bears take a team photo for the parents I get the Championship Trophy ready. I told everyone there that even though the Dolphins lost their first two games, they came together as a team to get to third place. They finished the season in third place but were first in runs scored. Now they are the first, 3rd place team to rally back, win both playoff games without home field advantage to win the championship game.
Leadership, Sportsmanship, Teamwork, and a Positive Attitude; attributes I was trying to instil in the students all year. It feels great that the 2016 Dolphins developed and showed all of these qualities in the last couple of weeks of the year. It’s good to see the fruits of your labours come to fruition.

Friday Two Cents: Using Statistics To Help Teach


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The week before the end of the school year is a crazy time. Teachers getting report cards ready, children doing last-minute assignments, end of the year concerts and so on. Everything is coming to ahead for the end of school and the beginning of summer break. With everything else the softball and t-ball leagues I run at the school, are all wrapping up and I have only one more game left to play.

I finished the T-Ball season with the championship game this week. The T-ball league is for students from the grades kindergarten to grade 2. It was a fun-filled game with all the students enjoying themselves while trying to capture the T-ball Championship. In the end it came down to the closest game of the season. The two teams, Monkeys verse Chipmunks, played their hearts out, but the Chipmunks prevailed defeating last year’s Champion the Monkeys. The final score was Chipmunks 29, Monkeys 28. A nail biter, right to the end.
T-Ball Championship Game: Monkeys vs Chipmunks

T-Ball Championship Game: Monkeys vs Chipmunks

This following week the older students will be playing their championship game on Tuesday, with both teams looking forward to the final game. The two teams, the Bears and Dolphins both came to the finals on two different paths. The Bears were in first place from the first week and never looked back finishing the round robin with a 5 win and 1 lose record. The Dolphins on the other hand started in the bottom losing their first two games, scoring a total of 3 runs for both games and having a run scoring percentage of 20%. But they rallied back and finished the round robin and even 3 wins and 3 loses. Yet the amazing thing is that they ended up finishing first in runs scored with 60 and having the highest run scoring percentage at 61.2%. How do I know this? I keep statistics for the league.
Yes I keep statistics on the children. They are not that detailed, just on-base percentage (OBP), numbers and types of hits and runs batted in. The beauty of it all is that the students keep the score and I enter the numbers into the computer to get the stats. At the beginning of training camp I would teach every child how to keep score on the score sheet and the teams would do so. They are very enthusiastic and do a great job. Many would think that keeping stats would be detrimental to the children; on the contrary, it encourages them and helps them with their self-esteem. On more than one occasion I would see students looking at the weekly stats and telling others what their numbers are. The children all look forward to them and it is also a great teaching tool.
You might not think it but it truly is. Many children would ask me how I come up with the stats and then I would explain that it is all simple math.   They all look at me in astonishment and then I would show them on the board how simple and useful math can be. One example is how to get their OBP. I would take the number of times they would get on base (OB) and divide by the number of at bats (AB). Then this would give me the percentage of how many times they get on base.

 OB / AB = OBP –> (10) / (12) = .917 –> .917 * 100 = 91.7%   OBP is .917 or 91.7%

 Strictly speaking, I just taught them that math is a part of a game that they enjoy.
Yet I also discovered another benefit of the statistics for the students. Part of the program is to develop leadership for the older students and teamwork for everyone playing. The captains and assistants are given responsibilities, one of them is creating their lineups and player positioning for the games. I noticed the captains and assistants would use the statistics when they are creating their lineups. They told me they would place players in a specific way to help score more runs and position where their pitchers would pitch.
That’s what I love about baseball. You can learn to play the game and yet once you do you can learn something new about it. For the children, without even knowing about it, they learned math, strategic planning and social skills outside the classroom.  
Oh one other question the students kept asking me. ‘Who is going to win the Championship Game?’ I answered with ‘Who do you think will win?’ Many looked at the stats and gave me their predictions. Even teachers have given me their predictions after looking at the statistics.
I’m curious who you think will win based on the stats. The two teams playing in the championship game are the Bears vs. Dolphins with the Bears having home field advantage. Below are the stats and a poll. Let me know and I will let you know after the game Tuesday who the winner is and if your predictions were in line with the children’s.

Stats2016wk07-2

 

Stats2016wk07 copy pg03

 

 

Friday Two Cents: Happiness Is A Habit


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‘If you want to be happy, be.’ Leo Tolstoy

 

If many of you do not know I run a softball house league for an afterschool program.   The program is not just teaching the students the basics of the game but also to help foster leadership, teamwork and sportsmanship skills in the students. I take these extra learning goals to heart and I truly believe that these are life long skills that everyone must nurture and cultivate.

Many may think, what good is it to develop these skills in a baseball setting. Yet these skills are transferable to life objectives.

             

  1. Leadership – is an obvious skill for people as they continue their journey through life. Everyone at one point or another takes on a leadership role either in school, the workplace or in their family. Being able to lead others and respect those that you lead is a valuable ability for anyone.
  2. Teamwork – does not stop with school but continues in the workforce. Unless you plan to work alone and not interact with anyone else, you must learn to work with others in a respectful and cooperative manner.
  3. Sportsmanship – the aspiration that sports or an activity is enjoyed for its own sake with fairness, ethics and respect for all participants. Every activity from sports and board games, to friendly competition in the work force, fairness, ethics and respect for all participants can mean the difference in getting a promotion or employment.

 

A positive attitude.

For the students it is only the beginning of their journey, yet many of you know that it is a life long learning experience with many bumps along the road. To that effect I noticed many students saying that they are going to lose and would not even try. I then talked to them about another aspect that is part of all three sections, a positive attitude. Studies have shown that being positive has up to 80% of an effect on the final result. In other words if you think you are going to lose or fail, your already have.
When the students were being negative about their game, I then thought about how many adults do the same thing about their jobs, tasks, others or life in general. I then read a few studies about how having a positive attitude, or being happy can help to reduce stress and increase creativity. I found five things I would like to share with you on what you can do every day to reduce stress and have a positive attitude towards life.

  1. Enjoy at least 20 minutes of silence a day. Quiet time reduces stress and allows the brain to be in an optimal state of creativity. Meditation maybe in order.
  2. Give 5 hugs a day. Research shows that hugging can heal sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress.
  3. Read a book. Studies say that reading for 6 minutes a day can reduce stress by 68%.
  4. Laugh more often. Humour strengthens your immune system, boosts energy, diminishes pain, and protects from stress.
  5. Move your body. Staying active helps you feel better and clears your mind of negative thoughts.
I would imagine Elbert Hubbard was right, ‘Happiness is a habit, cultivate it.’ I plan to cultivate my happiness more starting today. Lets do it together.

 

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