November 9th To-Do List: When Bad Things Happen

This election got under my skin and I didn’t handle it well.

So, I’m going to write a to-do list for myself for today and the days to follow.

My to-do list:

  1. Meditate – Focusing on breath (something I have control over) is calming in stressful times. A little loving-kindness meditation couldn’t hurt today either. (Whether or not you believe in any sort of supernatural power behind this practice, it is healthy for the meditator to focus attention through that lens.)dsc08930
  2. Find a green space – Green spaces are healing. Research on stress demonstrates profound benefits of nature time. Most importantly, green spaces remind me of the interconnectedness of all species, and my role on earth.
  3. Accept impermanence – Everything changes. Accepting that fact is the path to peace.
  4. Acknowledge the complexity in politics – With some help, I came to understand that we only see a tiny fraction of the actual, established political operating system. Keeping perspective here means that I don’t really understand all of the forces at play. I can’t predict the future, or use historical events to assume an inevitable outcome.
  5. Don’t let Trump win twice – Donald Trump won the election last night, but he also beat me. He got into my head, and he made me afraid. That was his plan all along (although I THINK he wanted people to be afraid of other races and religions and not of him, I’m not entirely sure at this point). Fear is the path to the dark side.
  6. Remember that the medium is the message – Social networking and constant media coverage now shapes our relationships with the big issues. I must be careful about how I am being manipulated.
  7. Be mindful of the children – Children hear everything, and they internalize our fear. While I think they should be appropriately informed about issues, they often don’t have the capability to process what is going on. We can be matter-of-fact without getting all apocalyptic.
  8. Have compassion – The right and the left wings both belong to the same bird. Every person who voted had a reason for what they did. It appears the public felt a need for change and that this was their only option. Try to account for the forces that led them to this unfortunate conclusion.
  9. Focus on positive actions – When it comes to a number of issues, the path ahead appears to be somewhat steeper, so it is time to dig in for the climb.
  10. Be grateful – I am incredibly privileged to live in the time and place that I do. I do not want to forget that. As a Canadian, I am grateful to have a leader right now that shares many of my values, but human rights violations around the world hurt all of humanity, regardless of borders.

Last night was a very long, sleepless, panic-stricken one, but, the sun rose, the cats walked across my face, the kids bickered at the breakfast table, and the newspaper, shockingly, had multiple other stories that didn’t focus on US politics.  Breathe in. Breathe out.

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Bad things come in big packages: Part 2

On the way home from a doctor’s appointment this morning, I found myself stuck in quite a jam at a roundabout. Then I remembered, Costco opens today.

For those of you who don’t regularly read my blog, please take a look at this post.                 Bad things come in big packages: The real costs of Costco

I get it. Most people love Costco. Obviously people like to save money. Sometimes, there are limited other options because the big stores have eliminated them. But, when you step back and look at the bigger picture, there are so many other costs to big box stores that were never considered.

I wrote this post two and a half years ago, when the store was still up for debate.  Now, I knew at the time that there was no stopping Costco, but I had hoped at least there would be SOME discussion that would take place among our politicians and in our community.

Perhaps we could have had some discussion about:

– Economic costs and the risks to small business

– Environmental costs

– Social and cultural costs

– Health and safety costs

(Please see linked article for my full discussion of these issues).


The ONLY discussion I heard in this community was over the traffic. But, those concerns were supposedly adequately addressed to the satisfaction of Council, and the Costco moved forward quickly.

So, it was with a heavy heart that I watched the cars inch through that roundabout, drivers carrying wallets full of dollars that they will use to vote for the direction of our community. Now, I’m far from perfect in my spending habits, and you could say I have no right to throw stones, but I’m still putting this out there, also as a reminder to myself. There may be one big election in the US today, but make no mistake, we are voting in a very significant way, every single time we pull out our credit cards.


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Snake vs. Frog: An Epic Battle

Early this fall, my husband and I were hiking at our local conservation area, when I noticed something dramatic happening on the path. Usually, when you see a garter snake, it is only for a moment, as it slithers quickly into the grass or the bushes. They are hard to photograph, and we’ve only managed a small image once (See my other blog site: Featured Species). In this case, however, the snake stayed put, and this was because he had a firm grip on the hind leg of a live leopard frog. He wasn’t going anywhere.


It was an epic battle for survival.  The frog thrashed desperately around, and the snake, millimetre by millimetre, continued to swallow the leg. Size-wise, we couldn’t imagine what the snake would do once it got past the leg.  Of course I’ve heard about snake jaws (and how they aren’t actually connected), but it is difficult to envision in real life. We were able to get an incredibly close look at this interaction, as neither animal was particularly concerned about our presence.

Would you watch? Would you help the snake? Would you help the frog?

Unabashed, flag-waving Trekkies that we are, this quickly turned into a discussion on the prime directive (see prime directive) of non-interference, and we decided let nature take its course. Who are we to decide who wins?


Now, during this encounter, something strange happened.  My husband had his camera (see pictures), and was focused on getting a good shot. When another couple came up behind us on the path, I pointed out what we were watching. With not even a glance at the snake and frog, they hurried on their way. As a student of human behaviour, I find this almost as fascinating as the animal battle.

Wouldn’t you stop to watch that? Or at least take a quick look? Although clearly somewhat gory, it was undeniably fascinating. I wished my kids had been there to see it. What a great ecology lesson! We know we aren’t alone in this. There’s a nature channel for a reason.

Eventually the frog and snake thrashed their way into the bushes, and we continued our walk. I was left with three questions.

1. Could that little garter snake’s mouth actually stretch wide enough to fit that whole frog? (A Google image search on the topic would indicate yes.)

2. Are my husband’s amazing frog-snake pictures too gruesome to put on a wall? (If your answer to this last question is yes, ask yourself if a picture of a fish being caught by a bear, an eagle or a human would pose the same problem.)


3. Why wouldn’t those people stop to look at the frog and snake?


I suppose, on the flip side of this, I could ask: “What made us stay?”





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A Surprise Photography Adventure Weekend (or…the Search for the Elusive Moose)

About a month ago, an e-mail popped up in my inbox. “Congratulations!” it read… “You have won a trip…”

My immediate reaction, of course, was “SPAM.” As my finger headed over to the trash button, I happened to notice the words “Algonquin Park” in the following text.  I thought, “That’s funny, you don’t usually associate spam with Algonquin.”  Reading further, I noticed the trip was a guided “Photography Adventure” tour at the Wildlife Research Station in Algonquin Park. SPAM or not, I had to look further.

Apparently, a donation I had previously made to the station had automatically entered me into a contest arranged through

What a happy accident!

As my husband is an avid photographer, and I am an avid “doer of things that involve canoes, hiking, wildlife, and the natural world in general,” clearly this was going to happen.

So, we arranged babysitting, waterproofed our hiking shoes, and headed up this past weekend to the Wildlife Research Station nestled in the spectacular fall colours of late September in Algonquin Park.

Let me tell you a little about the WRS from their website:

“The WRS is situated on Lake Sasajewun in Algonquin Provincial Park and operates as a not-for-profit organization.”  It is “A leader in wildlife research through experiential learning.”


“The goals of WRS are: To Educate: scientists, the public and policy makers;

To Conserve: biodiversity, ecological integrity, and a culture of field-based research; and

To Inspire: environmental stewardship, a community of collaboration, and a connection with nature.”

During the weekend, we hiked through pristine wilderness, canoed through glassy lakes, searched for elusive moose, took more than a few pictures (yes, even me, and no, not with my cell phone), met some really interesting people who are genuinely passionate about the work they do, and temporarily cured ourselves of Nature Deficit Disorder (See Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv). The research station is not generally open to the public and we felt immensely lucky to be granted this privilege.

dsc08931As I am a wannabe naturalist (see my other blog – Featured Species), I wasn’t as focused on taking photos as I was on trying to retain all the details of the flora and fauna being pointed out by our incredibly knowledgeable guide. Did you know that wood sorrel (which, if you’re like me, you would probably mistake for clover) tastes like Granny Smith apples?

We had so many great conversations, but we spoke at length about the importance of environmental education that occurs away from a desk or lecture hall. If you’re at all familiar with me or my blog, you’ll know I’m a huge advocate of experiential environmental education for students of all ages. You’ll know that I don’t believe that a trip to a landfill (for three consecutive years) qualifies as environmental education for a JK/SK/Gr1 student (but I digress).


With degrees in Biology, Environmental Studies, and Planning, one might assume that I had my fair share of field courses and time in nature. Yet, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of course field trips I took in my 12 years of university education (and that is probably generous). Most of those lasted less than half a day. I actually took a course in plant identification, which never left the building. Yes, my Masters and PhD involved field work, but those were self-directed.

In this one short weekend, while spending time with an experienced guide, I know I learned more than I learned in whole courses.  THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT MUST BE LEARNED IN THE FIELD. Are you hearing me, school administrators, funding sources, teachers and professors?


If you feel that researchers need wild places that are untouched by tourists in order to gain accurate information about the health and long term sustainability of the natural life of this beautiful country….


If you feel that students need places to visit to be fully immersed and connected with the natural world, and inspired to pursue a career in conservation….

Perhaps you will consider making a donation to the not-for-profit Alqonquin Wildlife Research Station.

(You’re probably not going to win a trip, but is that really the point anyway?)

Thanks again to our hosts at WRS, (station manager Tim Winegard), and (founder Gregg McLachlan), for this incredible opportunity. I hope we have the chance to cross paths again!



Photos by Cathy McAllister, processed by Paul Habsch

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Being Brave

My youngest son just started junior kindergarten. This morning we had a little talk:

“My darling, I have a very important job for you.”

“What is it?”

“Well, there are going to be some kids in your class who are sad or scared. I need you to be brave and help them out. Maybe you can ask them to play.”

“Or to be my friend?”

“Absolutely! Do you think you can do that?”

“I don’t know. What if I’m one of the scared ones?”

“Oh love, that’s ok. You just have to take a deep breath and keep going. Helping people is the most important job in the world.”

Then, I took a long walk in a beautiful, quiet forest, and came up with the long answer.

To my sons:

Being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared. Being brave means taking a great big breath and doing the things you need to do anyway, even if you’re scared. 

Some days that’s all you’ll manage, and that’s OK.fear4

But sometimes, after you do those things you need to do, you might have a little bit of that big breath, a little bit of strength, a little bit of bravery left over. If that is the case, you have the great privilege of giving it to someone else. You get to put out your hand and help another person be a little less scared, or sad, or hurt, or lonely.

You see, there’s a special kind of bravery, the very best kind, and it’s called being a hero. Now, real heroes don’t fly or wear capes or have x-ray vision. You can find real heroes everywhere. They’re called teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers. career-1501615_640They’re called volunteers and good neighbours. Heroes are the politicians, researchers, lawyers and writers who spend every day trying to make the world a better place. Heroes are the kids who stand up for other kids being bullied, and the kids who spend their free time raising money for charity. These are real-life heroes, all the people who use their extra strength and bravery to help others.

And do you know what the greatest part is about being a hero? Every time you help someone else, it makes you just a little bit stronger. It also means that on those days that you don’t feel like you have very much bravery, someone else might be willing to share some of theirs.

Now, you’re going to school, and you’re going to learn a lot of things. But the most important thing I want you to learn, my love, is how to be the best kind of hero you can be.

This morning, we lined up at the Kindergarten door. I kissed his cheek and squeezed his hand. He grabbed my face and kissed my cheek too. I stepped back while he stood in the line. I watched him take a deep breath, and I took one too.


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The Suburban Buffet

My husband likes to grow food.IMG_20140808_093734

Now, when I say “grow food,” I don’t mean a tomato plant or two. This year, he has been working on (with varying levels of success) strawberries, rhubarb, beets, radishes, zucchini, beans, peas, carrots, turnips, green peppers, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and yes, tomatoes (and I look after the herbs). Did I miss any?

We love that the children will happily eat out of the garden, and there is just something special about freshly picked produce. It tastes better, and you know exactly what went into growing and storing it.

You’d think with this level of farming, even on our suburban lot, that we’d be feeding ourselves all summer with nary a trip to the grocery store. Not so. Some crops just inexplicably failed (seriously….who can’t grow zucchini?), some fall victim to insects, but the majority have become an unauthorized, well stocked food bank for a veritable zoo of local fauna.

woodchuck.jpgNow, when I say “zoo”….I don’t mean a squirrel or two. In the past year, we have repeatedly had mice, chipmunks, a whole family of raccoons, countless squirrels, every type of local bird, rabbits, toads, snails, neighbourhood cats and a groundhog (who is nearing size of a small bear and lives under the deck.). I won’t even try to list the insect infestations.IMG_20140716_095310

My husband has tried a variety of half-hearted attempts at deterring the animals, from applying cayenne to the tomatoes, to building a cage for the strawberries. But, to be honest, I kind of enjoy seeing all these animals hanging out in our yard. Tomatoes don’t provide much entertainment value. On the other hand, watching my husband quietly stalking the groundhog with a big cardboard box, with the intention of running out and pouncing on it, is pretty damn funny. (What he planned to do if he actually caught it is beyond me).

Politicians in our community are considering a ban on “feeding wildlife” (with the exception of well-maintained birdfeeders). Uh oh. I hope they mean intentional feeding.

I’m thinking if we want a return on our investment of gardening supplies, effort and timeIMG_20130625_182241, we are going to have to take up hunting small mammals instead. How does pesticide-free, garden-fed, locally-grown, free-range groundhog sound? And, I’m about to go all Mr. McGregor on those rabbits.

At least they left us some rhubarb.

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The Kid at the Back    

I’ve decided to take a minute and dedicate this post to a special group of people.

Here goes: A big high five, a handshake, a hug and a sincere THANK YOU, to all the teachers, camp counsellors, children’s performers (and so on) who make the effort to notice the kid at the back of the crowd.

Which kid is that?


  • One who is battling anxiety or depression.boy-843484_640
  • One who just moved here and doesn’t speak English very well.
  • One who feels uncomfortable in large groups and is more at home with a book.
  • One who doesn’t like physical confrontation and doesn’t like the pushing that happens at the front.
  • One who is scared by loud noises.
  • One who has been taught to be generous and to let others go first.

But still know that….

  • he would also really like the corner piece of cake. You know….the one with the extra frosting and the biggest flower?kid back 1
  • she would really enjoy being chosen to shake a maraca during the song.
  • he loves red popsicles and is tired of getting stuck with the leftover purple ones.
  • she would really like to be invited to the party too.
  • they could really use a friend right now.
  • he deserves just as much, and maybe more, than the noisy kids shoving their way to the front.

I think we can agree that the world needs a little more gentleness, kindness and kid back30generosity, and a little less yelling, shoving and selfishness; a little less “ME FIRST!” and a little more “No, after YOU.” The kids at the back of the crowd need to know how much they mean to the world.

As an instructor or performer, it is easy to feed off the energy of noisy, enthusiastic kids. Your performance depends on them, after all.

It’s not always easy to look after the kid at the back, but it’s harder to be that kid. So, when you learn his name, give her the first balloon animal, notice his timid half-hand raise or take the time to get to know them, it sometimes means the world.

And for those that make that effort…

Thank you.



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