Passionate Curiosity

A few weeks ago, one of the teachers at our preschool asked me to answer the following question:

What do you know of and/or recognize in your child today that you hope will always remain or be true?

The answers were written on the back of our child’s photo and hung inside clear ornaments.

What a great question!

Sometimes, through all the runny noses and temper tantrums, it is hard to pause and recognize that our littlest people have intrinsic positive qualities. Taking the time to observe these qualities can provide important lessons for adults about life and happiness.  (It’s also probably good for your parent-child relationship).IMG_20140904_092332

My answer came to me very quickly. More than anything, I want my child to continue to be passionately curious and always find joy in discovering new things about the world.  (Yes, I know, a little predictable coming from me.)

Humans are born curious. Small children thrive on new information. As a species, our natural curiosity has led us to do incredible things (granted, some of this was destructive, but we have certainly learned a great deal about the world). But, somewhere along the way, many adults forget about the happiness that naturally comes from engaging with the world with curiosity.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” ― Albert Einstein

Do you remember how fascinating it was to watch a snail inching up DPP_0049.JPGthe side of a plant? Do you remember the pure joy in the feeling of jumping in a pile of leaves or finding the absolutely perfect seashell on the beach? Do you remember wondering why the sky is blue, or peeling the bark from a birch tree? At some point, did you stop asking questions? Did you stop engaging with the world? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe more than you’d like to admit?

Sometimes, my son’s two tiny little hands will grab my face and point it in the direction of something I should be watching. I have to admit, IMG_20151015_113917577.jpghe is usually right. If you can deal with the runny noses and temper tantrums, a little time with 3 year olds is a wonderful lesson in mindful living.

Thank you little one, for reminding me what is important. Thank you for helping me to step away from my electronic devices, and my obsessions with the past and the future. Thank you for encouraging me to engage in the present with happy curiosity. Thank you for being my inspiration.

Please don’t lose this quality.




Here is one of my favourite book passages of all time:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” 
                              ― T.H. WhiteThe Once and Future King



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Can See Clearly Now, The Rain is Gone

leaves(Or…. Unlocking the Gate goes to Ottawa)

(Disclaimer: If you’re sick to death of Canadian politics, you might want to skip this one. We watch elections like sports in my house, so I’m afraid this was inevitable.)

On Tuesday morning, the weather may have been damp, but we all woke up to a slightly sunnier Canada.

We have endured 10 years with a Prime Minister who (among countless other things) thumbed his nose at the environment (on a national and international scale), was the first PM to be found in contempt of parliament, implemented an economic plan to benefit the rich, killed countless necessary research programs, gagged government scientists, introduced a bill that allows the government to revoke Canadian citizenship, eliminated the long-form census, and ran an election campaign rife with juvenile tactics and racism (If I listed everything, we’d be here all day.)

For my international friends, our First-Past-The-Post system, paired with the spoiler effect has resulted in 10 years with a federal government that made the majority of Canadians unhappy.

Check out these fantastic videos that explain some different electoral systems, and why ours is broken:


Alternative Vote:

Mixed-Member Proportional Voting:

But on Monday, Canadians finally figured out how to force the broken electoral system into change, in a big way. With a tidal wave of support, and buoyed by fear of another four years of the Conservative “Harper Government,” Justin Trudeau and his Liberal team swept the country to a very solid, very surprising, majority.

It’s a tentative, cautious sort of optimism that many of us feel this week. Many of us voted strategically, meaning we made a decision based on who we wanted to lose. So, we have put a lot of faith in the Liberal party, to follow up on their many campaign promises, and fix the current mess. Many people voted while holding their noses, for candidates they didn’t actually support. The NDP and Green party lost too many seats they should have won.

And yes, the Liberal party has made some questionable decisions, most recently and notably supporting Bill C-51 and throwing our basic rights and freedoms into question. They’ve also made a lot of promises, including electoral reform. With such a massive show of support for Trudeau, it would be easy for the Liberals to get cocky, and conveniently forget about this promise (which would significantly weaken support for their own party).

But, as Canadians have pointed out very clearly, it was time for change, and we were determined to make it happen. No party is perfect, but any alternative was better.

However, there is another VERY good reason to be optimistic. A record number of people voted – 68.5%. That’s quite a leap from 61% in 2011 (CBC News, October 21, 2015). Also, a record 46 visible minority MPs were elected (Globe and Mail, October 20, 2015). This means that a record number of people cared, really and truly cared what happens to our beautiful and diverse country, and we will have a Prime Minister that believes, along with most Canadians, that Canada is strong not DESPITE our differences, but BECAUSE of them.

Tuesday I woke up happy. I woke up knowing that at least for the next four years, I won’t have to be embarrassed for Canada as I introduce the concept of government to my children. And, if all goes as promised, I will be able to tell them that every single vote actually means something.

Mr. Trudeau, I’m counting on you.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I don’t like “Nature Walks”

IMG_20130717_103818Looking for something to do this weekend? Hundreds of online lists will suggest possible activities for your family:

  • The museum
  • The playground
  • A particular festival with expensive food, long lines and a bouncy castle.
  • The library
  • The zoo

Or perhaps…..

  • A nature walk

Hmmm…..what to do?

My family spends a lot of time hiking. So, the title may have been a bit misleading.

The term “Nature Walk” just doesn’t work for me.


To begin with, “Nature Walk” implies that nature is something separate from us.

IMG_20131016_161628As in: “Let us go for a drive to find nature. When we get there, we will leave our car, and experience nature for an hour on our “Nature Walk.” Then, we will leave nature and go home. We will have lovely memories of nature. One day, we will visit nature again.”

No! We are part of nature. It is not something you seek on occasion. Every walk involves “nature” in some way. Even dense urban areas have elements of (even non-human) nature all over if you look hard enough, be they pigeons or tough little sidewalk weeds.

Secondly, “Nature Walk” sounds completely contrived, forced and artificial: “Go take a nature walk and call me in the morning.” Walking is such a normal human activity, and the concept of doing it somewhere wild shouldn’t sound so uncomfortable. If you say, “Time for our Nature Walk” to a child, it becomes a chore. Why not “Let’s go exploring!” instead?

Finally, the term highlights how unusual this activity has become. “Remember that year we went on a nature walk, Dad, and you got all the bug bites, and swore we’d never go into nature again? Remember?” Nature is no longer considered home or a child’s play space, but rather somewhere to be visited on occasion, and listed alongside museums and zoos. When do we start calling them “Tree Museums” like Joni Mitchell?

This is funny:

I will accept “hiking,” or “walk in the woods,” “exploring the great outdoors,” “excursion to the wilderness,” or “walkabout in a natural area.” I would be delighted to join you geocaching, camping, or cross country skiing but please, do not invite me for a “Nature Walk.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let Nature be Your Teacher”

“Come forth into the light of things. Let nature be your teacher.”

– William Wordsworth (from The Tables Turned)

It’s no secret that the “connecting children to nature” movement is strong and growing quickly. There are wonderful examples of schools and preschools that are embracing it fully. Forest Schools have actually been around a long time, starting in the mid 1900s in Sweden and Denmark. (And frankly, wasn’t the forest our first school, as a species? But I digress…)

While this is a more recent development here (the first opened in 2008), we do have them now in Canada.

Forest School Canada

These schools aren’t everywhere, but educators are increasingly recognizing the value of IMG_20150917_113925749nature-based, hands-on learning experiences for children.  If you need convincing of the benefits of nature, check out the rest of my blog.

As a completely immersive forest school isn’t always possible, practical, or even desirable in some cases, many schools are starting to incorporate natural play spaces and elements into their existing grounds.

For example, at one Early Childhood Education Centre, the staff just introduced a whole series of natural elements into their playground, including logs and stumps to balance and climb on, a “fire pit,” plenty of mulch, sticks to build with, and pine cones, stones, and other loose materials to manipulate. Staff asked for donations of hostas and phlox to plant around the edges.

IMG_20150917_113950899 IMG_20150917_114008226 IMG_20150917_114110154 IMG_20150917_114117898 IMG_20150917_113935083

Not only do the children get hands-on contact with natural elements, but the design also employs the theory of “Loose Parts” which proposes that creative play is greatly enhanced when children have a variety of materials to manipulate.

Here is a post that explains the theory of Loose Parts (first introduced by architect Simon Nicholson) and their importance in creative play.

Loose Parts

As the play area IMG_20150917_114125230_HDRat this particular preschool was already in a location with beautiful tall trees and plenty of shade, this was a natural transition. While there is a new industry that revolves around designing and building sophisticated and expensive “natural playgrounds,” many smaller changes take relatively little time and money (when compared to traditional equipment). Professional consultations or installations are not always necessary and many of the materials can be donated or collected for free.

“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The other day (the other day), I met a bear (I met a bear).

The best way, they say, to see large wildlife in Algonquin Park, is to look for a long line of DPP_0066cars parked on Highway 60. This has been my experience in 30-plus years of camping in Ontario. The line of cars will almost always lead you to a photogenic moose. Moose often hang out in the lower marshy areas beside highways.

While there are always warning signs about bears in the campground, and clear instructions about food storage, I have never seen one up close, until now.

Our family was camping at Pog Lake a few weekends ago, and we saw a total of three black bears. (No, they weren’t in a cottage, and they weren’t indignantly commenting over
broken chairs and consumed porridge. However, one WAS a baby bear.)

One swam across the Madawaska River 30 meters in front of us (this where I learned to paddle, and where we are now teaching our own little ones). He didn’t seem affected by our presence, just climbed onto shore, shook himself like a giant dog, and proceeded on to his grocery trip at the campground.

We saw two others by the side of the road. One was pulling a harvest from roadside bear cropbushes. It didn’t seem to mind us, and just kept plucking. The other (the baby) was just running across a footbridge. My pictures had to be taken with my phone through the window of the car. (You don’t mess with bears.) (Picture to the right…not bad, considering!) Unfortunately, my husband’s camera was in the trunk.

It was really exciting to see these animals in the wild (from a safe location of course). I feel fortunate that my kids are still able to experience this sort of thing. However, the reasons the bears are in the campgrounds are not so positive.

We found out from some other paddlers that the bears are suffering this year from a lack of berries. The late frost in spring killed off the buds, leaving the bears to venture closer and closer to people, roads, and campgrounds in search of “Pic-a-nic baskets” (

The fact that bears (even black bears) are increasingly spending time in campgrounds is less than ideal both for them and for campers. People are sometimes irresponsible with their food and garbage while camping, making their campsites very attractive to hungry bears. Human food isn’t good for bears (heck, most of it isn’t good for humans), and they can form a dependency on it. Bears can become aggressive if they feel threatened, and “nuisance bears” sometimes must be relocated (or worse).

Over the past few years, I have also noticed the absence of the squirrels that typically chatter loudly and indignantly throw pine cones at our tarps. Apparently their food sources have been altered this year as well.

I confirmed both of these changes (more bears, fewer squirrels) with the people at “Friends of Algonquin Park” and they told me that both animal populations have been affected by food availability.

As we tear down more habitats, build new roads and mess with the climate, it is clear that animal patterns are going to change. Perhaps the changes this year are just a part of natural fluctuations. Perhaps not. Perhaps they are part of a bigger pattern of change.  I just don’t know.

I’d love to believe that Algonquin Park is immune to these sorts of things, a place where nothing changes year after year. Of all the places I know, Algonquin Park is the one that has changed the least since I was a child. But, change is inevitable.

It was still pretty amazing to see the bears.

Please see my other articles on camping at Algonquin:

Oh, and if you don’t know the song, here:

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Run, Run, As Fast As You Can!

I used to hate running. No, I mean, really, really HATE running. I hated gym class generally (being a nerd, I was always picked last for teams), but the running unit was particularly bad. In high school, I remember one day, we were forced to run laps around a muddy track, in the rain, when I was feeling less than well. If teenage resentment alone could kill a gym teacher, it would have happened that day.

In those days, if you saw me running, you probably should have started running too, as something big and scary was probably chasing me. I even disliked people who ran, with their perky little ponytails, and perfectly coordinated stretchy outfits.

If you had told me back then that I would take up running, I would have wondered, first, where you got your nifty time machine, and second, who you had me confused with.

Then I had kids, and something invisible inside me switched on. It told me to run, as fast and as far as I could, away from the ear-splitting tantrums, the pee-soaked bathroom floor, and the battery-operated toy piano with the demo-mode that only plays Christmas carols all year round.

Fortunately for my husband, the switch in my brain also contains an override function which is activated by some sort of motherly instinct and love for my family. So, I come back.

I really enjoy it now. I get quiet time to myself. I don my stretchyshoes outfit, pull my hair up in a ponytail, grab my earbuds, and take to the streets with the masses of identical moms. I suspect many of them share the same motivation.

Exercise is one of the best ways to combat anxiety and depression. Most people know that exercise releases endorphins, which trigger positive feelings. It improves sleep, battles countless physical ailments, including some cancers, heart disease, and even some infectious diseases, and hey, look what I just found: it can even improve memory and concentration. Who couldn’t use more of that?

And, of course, I’d be willing to wager that most moms would like to lose a few around the middle. I also get to run through a lovely greenbelt, and take advantage of all the additional benefits of greenspaces (you can find half a dozen other blog posts by me on this topic, like this one.).

I have never been healthier. People change, habits change, abilities change. I’m not a fast runner, and I don’t go very far. People often pass me, (people pushing strollers, 80-year-olds, particularly ambitious turtles), but I don’t mind. I have no ambitions to run a marathon, or even a half marathon for now. However, a casual 5K at this point is quite manageable, and that’s 5K more than I could run 20 years ago.

So, take that, 15-year-old self!  I’m more than twice your age, and look what I can do that you couldn’t!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Simply Messing About

One day, Mole, fed up with spring cleaning, ditches his dust rag and heads out to the river bank. There, he encounters Water Rat, and they head out on their famous adventure. As Water Rat proclaims: “There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats” (Grahame, 1908).IMG_20130625_184218

Kenneth Grahame, inspired by the English countryside, and particularly the riverbank of the River Thames, published his bestselling classic “Wind in the Willows” in 1908. Yesterday, my son happened to pick up my copy (beautifully illustrated by Robert Ingpen) off the shelf for me to read as a bedtime story.


….now for a detour across the pond….

My husbandBig Ben Close and I returned this week from a tour of the UK and Ireland. We were blown away by the beauty of the architecture, and heard the echoes of centuries and centuries of history in the stone walls. We visited castles, cathedrals, pubs, universities, ancient graveyards and museums. We listened to Scottish bagpipes, Irish whistles, and British accents, and loved every minute of it. Beautiful countries indeed, but I wish we had been able to Big Benspend more time in the countryside, and less in the big cities. For example, the part of the River Thames we saw was that which runs under the Tower Bridge, past new skyscrapers, and over to the parliament buildings and Big Ben (or maybe the reverse direction,  I’m not sure). There were spectacular views, but the boat that took us through this stretch was crowded and noisy.  Tower Bridge

It can’t be compared in any way to Mole and Rat’s experience “messing about in boats” on the Thames. On the other hand, in Cambridge (UK), it was green and quiet, and there were dozens of students offering punting tours on the River Cam. I would have loved to go on one of those boats but we didn’t have time. They looked much more my speed though and were probably close to Grahame’s vision. (Unfortunately we didn’t get any good pictures there.)

…and back to Canada…

Today, I took my little ones on one of our favourite excursions. I grabbed my tour’s complimentary daypack, threw in 3 pairs of crocs, a few apples and water bottles, and we headed out to a small stream in a forest nearby.IMG_20150730_152900056

“All was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated” (Grahame, 1908).

We had a lovely time, splashing our way up and down the stream, slipping on rocks, dislodging ourselves from thick mud, and pointing out minnows and frogs. Then, I sat on the bank and watched the boys get entirely soaked, much to the amusement of passersby. I was told that not all parents allow their kids to do these things anymore. But, I feel very lucky to live in a place where it is still possible. No boat to mess about in this time though.

There is someIMG_20150730_154246793_HDRthing very magical about moving water, isn’t there?

One day, I would love to return to the UK, take one of the punting tours in Cambridge, and really see the countryside and riverbanks that Grahame was writing about.


Grahame, K. (2007 edition, first published 1908). The Wind in the Willows. Blue Heron Books, Vancouver, B.C.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments