W is for Wrinkly Brain


This post was written for VIU’s 5X5X25 Challenge.


My son is two years old, four months, and 26 days old, and he is a genius.

No, really.  He read his first story book to me and my husband this weekend.

Okay – it was Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon and he took some liberties with the text – but still.  He’s heard enough of the book to recognize what part of the story goes with what picture (sort of) and can just about read the whole book himself.  And to me, that’s amazing.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing some sort of “fact” that said that the average human brain gets a wrinkle every time it learns something new.  This “fact” concluded with a little tidbit that encouraged the listener to think of how wrinkly one’s brain would get after reading a book.  That little visual stuck with me for many years.  As an avid reader, how wrinkly is my brain now?

Sadly, a quick Google search informs me that this “fact” is mere B.S., and that when you’re born, your brain is just about as wrinkly as it’s ever going to get.  But imagine what you learn, what new neural connections are made every time you read something new?

For example, just from having heard the story so many times, my son was able to demonstrate that he knew that in the great green room there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of “a cow jum’ing o’er a moon.”  Sure, he has no idea what a bowl full of mush is or why there’s an old lady whispering “hush” but he knows that you say goodnight to them, even if it’s just to be polite.  And that’s more than he knew two months ago, when he was still a passive member of our nightly storytelling gang.

I know it won’t end there; in fact, it’s just the beginning.  He’s already starting to anticipate the narrative in other favourites like A Cuddle for Little Duck and A Kiss for Little Kitten, both by the admirable Claire Freedman.  Alaska’s ABC Bears (Shannon Cartwright), with its S-is-for-swimming-bear and L-is-for-little-bear, has been mastered, even if he’s not sure what x-is-for-xray-bear really means.  But he’ll pick up the details later; for now, it’s all about collecting new words.

I can’t wait to introduce him to some of the books I read when I was younger, like James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl) and Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder).  Stories like these sparked my imagination and sense of creativity, and taught me a thing or two about friends and family and overcoming giant-peach-sized obstacles.  And oh, all the new words!

Books have taught me so much already, and I learn every time I pick another one up.  What will they teach him?  How wrinkly will his brain get?


Righty-Tighty, Lefty-Lovey

This post was written for VIU’s 5X5X25 Challenge.


My grandmother had magical hands.

Oh, she couldn’t move solid objects with a flick of her wrists but she was exceptionally gifted at transformation.  Flour, sugar, and butter were magically whipped into feather-light shortbread; yards of fabric could be reformed into skirts and dresses in no time at all.  Yarns were knitted into a staggering number of sweaters, hats, scarves, and baby clothes, each of them soft and durable, most of them destined for her favourite charities.  And she was more than happy to pass on the secrets of her magic to anyone who wanted to know them.

As I grew older, I wanted to know all these secrets, how to bend ingredients and textiles to my will.  Grandma taught me as much as she could, but when it came to knitting, we got hung up on one little thing: I am left-handed.

In fact,  I am very left-handed, so left-handed that I am forbidden by family to cut bread and set the table because I do it all wrong.  Grandma found it difficult to teach someone so left-handed something she could only do right-handed.  But we tried, sitting down with yarn and needles.  Right became left, left became right.  After a few starts, we got muddled and gave up, and concentrated on other shared passions, like shortbread.

A few years ago, as my girlfriends started having babies, I wanted to create blankets to wrap these wee newborns in.  I found a book in the library that showed me how to crochet left-handed, a skill I mastered with glee.  I churned out a few blankets and other assorted projects in crochet before I decided to look for a book or DVD or something to help me learn how to knit left-handed.  Luckily, the library came to my rescue, and one day, I sat down with a book, ball of yarn, and set of needles, ready to take on the task.

But it felt so wrong.  So, so wrong.

Right didn’t want to coordinate motions with left, left became confused and couldn’t wrap yarn around the point of the needle.

So I tried the other way.  Right was right, left was left.


Needles clicked and clacked together (although slowly and not without error at first); yarn slid through fingers and around needles like silk.  Who knew – I could knit the conventional way!

I was quick to relay the story to my grandmother, and we lamented the lost years that we could have spent knitting together if we had only figured this out sooner.  But when one is so accustomed to doing things one specific way, it can be difficult to try something completely different, isn’t it?

Titles: Impossible and Important

This post was written for VIU’s 5X5X25 Challenge.

VIU’s Registration Centre produces a brochure every semester that outlines various deadlines and guidelines pertinent to students attending classes.  This brochure goes through several drafts and revisions by members of the Registration Centre before it is sent to Marketing, Advertising and Design  to be produced and printed.  Normally, I am not a part of the creation of this brochure but due to staffing issues at the time of production, I was asked to take part in the meetings, make the necessary changes to the drafts, and bring them back for further review.  One change that is made with every new publication is the title of the brochure.

Now, as any writer knows, it can be incredibly difficult to come up with a title that is both clever and informative.  Titles should be succinct but provide enough information about the subject at hand.  Titles should be eye-catching and look interesting enough for someone to pick up the book, essay, brochure, and say, “Gee, I really want to read this.”  For a writer or editor, this can create a lot of pressure.

As it turned out, after several drafts, no one had been able to come up with a good title for this brochure.  Previous incarnations of the brochure were called “A Helpful Brochure,” “This is Actually Pretty Useful,” and, my personal favourite, “This Will Be On The Test,” featuring a chalkboard-green cover with yellow lettering that looked like chalk lines.  These were titles that were proving to be hard to beat.  Suggestions from other members of the team ranged from uninspired to frightening, none of them appropriate or interesting enough for this certain audience.

In an attempt to just hurry the process along, I entered the following suggestions into the header, playing on the popularity of hashtag statements in social media: “#readthisbrochure” and “#viurocks” I highlighted the titles several times and make several notes to the team that these hashtags were just a placeholder until we came up with something else to print.  I had every faith in my coworkers that we would, indeed, come up with something else to print.

As luck would have it, I was soon removed from the remainder of the revision process as I had other responsibilities that required my attention.  The semester carried on and I was vaguely aware that at some point the publication had been completed and been printed.  As usual, we had hundreds and hundreds of these brochures printed for distribution.

It wasn’t until weeks later that there came a situation in which I needed to refer to the new brochure.  I hunted one down in the Registration Centre and stopped short at the sight of the title in heavy bold font on the shiny paper.

#readthisbrochure #viurocks

“This was supposed to be replaced with the real title,” I lamented good-naturedly to anyone who would listen.   “I put this in as a joke!”

From that time, I made sure to follow any project I was involved in right through to the very end #youknow #justincase

Dear Graduates: Skills are Skills are Skills

On January 30 and 31, 2014, VIU celebrated the graduation of nearly 500 degree, diploma, and certificate students.  Two convocation ceremonies were held at the Port Theatre, with all the time-honored traditions and more recent additions, passion and enthusiasm that have become synonymous with VIU.  We honored retired VIU employees with carrying the mace, a centuries-old tradition in which heavy, metal weaponry is paraded in symbolic protection of the scholars in attendance.  We cheered at students as they smiled, waved, dancing, back-flipped, and took selfies during one of the most important days of their lives.

I watched the ceremonies as I always do: tucked away in the stage-left wings, just behind the podium where the Master of Ceremonies presides over the event. Hundreds of students walk past me on the stage, their newly-minted credentials in their hands, the tassels swinging from their mortarboards.  It’s the best part of my day. These ceremonies are the best part of my job.

I always want to pull these new graduates aside, whisper my most heartfelt congratulations, ask them what they learned and how they’re going to apply it to their lives.  Sometimes I do get a chance to talk to the students before the ceremony as we’re getting ready.  They’re working already, or looking for work; some are going back to school, or some are just looking forward to not being at school.  Some students have their lives all planned out; some are just going to roll with it.

I was one of those, a student who rolled with it.  When I received my newly-minted Bachelor of Arts degree from Malaspina University-College in 2005, I had just started what would be a two-year stint in retail.  I didn’t plan to work in customer service; I was supposed to take my major in English, wave it in front of publishing companies and bookstores and wait for the job offers to fly in.  Well – it didn’t exactly work like that.  I worked at a clothing store until I had simply had enough, and then the universe gave me a heck of break and here I am, back at Malaspina University-College, organizing the ceremonies for our graduating students.  As it turns out, it’s awfully close to my dream job.

For all of those graduating students who have aspirations of getting the management-level jobs, the high-impact jobs, the dream jobs, I say go for it, and good for you. But don’t discount the value of the education that you’re going to get working at the mall.  Customer service means everything these days, if you’re selling something or not.  The skills that I learned in retail – work ethic, teamwork, honesty, organization, even getting to my shift on time – can be applied to any job or career. I have done just that and continue to build on these skills during my time here at VIU.  At the end of what I hope will be a long career at VIU, I would like to be able to look back and say that I had continued to learn and apply new skills to an ever-changing world, that, for some people, I had made a difference, even for one day, and that I was able to pass along my own advice and skills to others.  And I would also like to be deemed worthy to carry the mace at convocation that year.


Where Do You Learn That?

The following post was written for Vancouver Island University’s  5X5X25 Challenge.


My son is two years old.  He learns new skills and new words at an incredible rate: yesterday, he pulled on his shoes by himself –  today, he asked for chocolate milk and French fries for dinner.  (I expect that tomorrow, I’ll hand him the keys to the car and remind him of his curfew.)  Hardly a day goes by that I don’t ask him, “Where did you learn that?”

Where does he learn these new skills?  Some things he learns from school – the shoes, new words, good manners.  Some things he learns from me – an appreciation for fried food and snuggling on the couch.  But it wasn’t until asked to reflect on teaching and learning that I realized there was some things that I didn’t want him to learn from me, including how I learned and applied that learning when I was in school.

I wasn’t a poor student.  I maintained a B-average until I graduated from college, but I wouldn’t say that I ever made the most of my education. I didn’t take what opportunities were given to me, didn’t think and apply myself more than I needed to.   And that was my fault.   I don’t regret it, but like every parent, I want more and better for my children.  It’s so easy to say, “I want my child to be a good student.” But what does that mean exactly? Good grades? A master’s degree and a high-paying job? Fluency in another language?

As I watch my son develop his muscles, I want to tell him how important it is to develop his brain as well, to think critically and ask questions, especially in school.  I want him to flex his problem-solving skills like he’ll one day flex his biceps.  I want him to delve into his schoolwork and come out with an understanding of the subject and a desire to learn more.  But how do I teach him these things? That’s something that I’m going to have to learn myself.