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Give Your Kids Great Stories to Tell

There’s a sing song timer on our new stove. Every time the music plays, our little one year old throws his arms up in the air (his version of dancing). It’s so cute.

Last weekend, my husband decided to pick up dinner for him and I.  We were cleaning up before the kids’ bedtime when I heard our toddler say, “Bracelet, Mama.” I turned around to find him with a cold onion ring dangling on his wrist. Perhaps it’s a good thing he doesn’t realize what it is?

We all have great little stories about our childhood that have been passed on by family or friends.  This is the reason why I love writing to my kids.

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They each have notebooks filled with stories of silly things they’ve done and memories I want to share with them.  After I wrote, “Why I Write to My Boys,” I heard from other parents.  They wanted to start writing to their kids.  So for those of you out there who want to give your kids great stories to tell about their childhood, here are a few quick tips that will help you get pen to paper by next week!


Go Shopping!

Buy a notebook for each of your children.  Choose something with a great design or colour – not an old school, thin Hilroy notebook that will remind you of third grade.  You’re creating something special here!

I like going to Chapters to find my notebooks.  They have a range of colours, textures, and prints.  Choose something where you won’t feel overwhelmed by the number of pages or the size of the page.

Gather your Inspiration

For one week, make note of funny or memorable things that have happened with your kids during the week (usually it’s something I look forward to telling my husband at the end of the day).  You can make a mental note or jot them down somewhere.  For me, I like to write down a few things in my phone so I don’t forget. By the end of the week, I have an abbreviated list of ideas in my Notes app.

To help gather ideas, here are a few prompts…

  • Was there something funny that your kid did / said?  
  • Was there something you did together that you enjoyed?  
  • Did they have a first this week? (First time saying a certain word?  Doing/accomplishing something new?)
  • Was there something they did that gave you a weepy mommy/daddy moment?  


Get it Down on Paper

By the end of the week, grab your notebook(s) and get out of the house.  Go to your favourite coffee shop or a place where you enjoy spending time alone.  Get a coffee or tea, and enjoy!  Pull out your notes to help get started or maybe you’d prefer to just free write. Both work.

I like to date my entries and include the time I’m writing.  It may sound weird, but then my kids can see that Mom snuck out of the house at 6 a.m. to a coffee shop near the house to write to them while they were still sleeping or that it was 11 a.m. and they were at the park with Daddy while Mom wrote down some stories for them.  To me, it gives another little snapshot of our life – another story to share.  It’s completely up to you.

Set Some Goals

When writing to your kids, don’t feel like you need to document every great moment or you’re a bad parent.  You should enjoy the process.  Each time you write, you’ve given them something they didn’t have before.  Keep it casual and don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself – but just enough that you’ll actually write to them regularly.

I’d suggest that you decide how often you’d like to write.  Maybe once a month is do-able for you or you’d like to write every two weeks.  Either way, it gives you something to work towards.  Otherwise, we’ll keep saying that we’ll do it and we won’t.

Capture the Good Stuff

The main thing is to write when you have great things to share – when there’s something you don’t want to forget or something that was so funny they have to know the story when they’re older.  If we just write for the sake of writing, our kids will get notebooks filled with boring retells of their day-to-day.

We want to give them great stories to laugh about, to get a little emotional from, and to share with others.   We want to give them great stories to tell.

Happy Writing!

My First Week with Three Kids Under Three

Everyone in the kitchen while Mom made dinner this week.

This past week was my first time being home alone with our three kids. We have a 3 week old daughter and two boys (1 and 2 years old). With my parents no longer visiting and my husband back to work, here’s a snapshot of how it went and what I’m learning along the way…

Monday: Unusually Quiet and Calm

Where I usually spend my days separating the boys as they fight with each other over toys, today they were as sweet as pie. I heard “thank you, mama,” there were no meltdowns when it was time to leave the park, they looked quietly at books when we were at the library, they had long naps, and they played well on their own. It was eerie. I’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts!

A BIG thank you to my friend Heather for the Duplo Lego Construction set she bought our boys. We opened it today and it kept the boys busy for hours! Heather, I owe you big time. Even though I had to build and rebuild a crane, dump truck, bulldozer, and car multiple, multiple times, it was totally worth it. Thank you!

Tuesday: Two Smooth Days in a Row?

Today I took the kids to an indoor dome to play. You know you have three little ones when you now pack a stroller to get them inside the building from the parking lot.

Picture a large indoor dome filled with kids running everywhere, a bouncy castle with two boys that go at it and fight every week (apparently they are neighbours), and foam baseball bats on the turf. Let’s just say I was a little unsure how it would go (keeping an eye on three of them), but it turned out to be a lot of fun.

For the hour and a half we were there, our newborn slept in the stroller. I pushed her around the play space and watched the boys as they chased soccer balls around, giggled under the huge parachute, and jumped around in the bouncy castle.

Highlight of the Day — being able to play more with the boys. Getting down onto the turf became pretty awkward and not so flattering at 9 months pregnant.

Wednesday: The Day the Wheels Fell Off

I knew things were going too smoothly! Today I had two little ones who fought their morning naps like nobody’s business. Imagine a newborn and a one year old crying at the same time from opposite ends of the house.

I decided to pull ‘chute and pack up the crew to head to a new park. Our oldest was happy as could be — right up on the play structures and burning around the place. Which is great, except try keeping an eye on that, plus push another one on the swing, and keep a newborn from screaming her head off in the stroller. Let’s just say our trip to the park became a calm family walk down to the boardwalk to watch kites and the waves crashing in.

Highlight of the morning — having a little snack together on a bench along Queen Street. We sat in the sun, ate some hot cross buns from the bakery down the street, and drank out of sippy cups (not me) while watching the traffic go by. With two little boys, this was heaven. They were doing their two favourite things — eating and watching cars. “Streetcar, Mama!” “Delivery truck!” “Mama! Mail truck!

Thursday: The Wheels are Gone

Fighting morning naps continues. Fun times. We bundle up and head out to a nearby Early Years Centre to find upon arrival that it has reached capacity. Plan B! Off we go to Riverdale Farm. The boys love it. The first request is to go see the horses. Pigs were the hit of the day. And our oldest was more interested in a parked animal trailer than the cows. “Wow, mama! Trailer! Big wheels.”

Highlight of the day — three kiddos all napping at the same time! But instead of mama grabbing some needed sleep, I worked on the online course I’m currently teaching.

Watching chickens at Riverdale Farm

Friday: My Last Day Flying Solo (for this week!)

Our morning began with my oldest asking to watch a “moo-bee” (translation: movie), which he never asks for. While his brother had his morning nap and his sister was snoozing, we cuddled on the couch and watched part of Cars 2. I’m becoming more aware of his need for more one-on-one time. He’s been amazing with his little sister and not so much with his little brother.

Today I packed up the crew and headed to the mall to buy a few new clothes. Life after maternity wear. It was quite the shopping experience; I grabbed clothes as quickly as I could while the boys were restless in the stroller and I had a newborn attached to the front of me in a carrier. We’ll see how the clothes fit when we get home.

Highlight of the Day — “Come sit on couch, mama.” Cuddling with my oldest and watching a moo-bee, just the two of us.

Lessons Learned 

What I’ve realized this week is that having Three Kids Under Three isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It’s just a lot of juggling and trying to think ahead.

It’s having a newborn in a carrier, a toddler on your hip, and another toddler reading a book at your feet as you try and make supper.

It’s truly testing your patience and organizational skills to bundle up three kids in winter clothing and get out the door 30 minutes later.

But the hardest part for me, with having three kids under three, are the constant comments from complete strangers.

Yes, I know how it happened.

Yes, I’m busy.

Yes, they are very close in age.

Yes, it was planned.

No, they’re not twins.

Each time I go out with my kids, I feel like I’m answering to every stranger we meet.

I don’t mean to sound harsh. I’m sure everyone means well and there was likely a time before kids where I might of said the same things.

It’s just hearing it every single day and multiple times within an hour that’s getting to be a bit much.

We wanted to have three little ones close in age and we’re so happy to have them. Bathtime is nothing but splashing and giggling. Suggesting that we go for a walk or a car ride is met with squeals and running for their boots. And early mornings (the kids are usually up by 5 or 6 a.m.) are loud and filled with the sounds of toys being dumped on the floor. Let the playing begin!

Yes, we are busy. And we are so lucky.

So if you happen to see a mom or dad with little ones in tow, just smile and say how cute they are. You might just make their day!

Top 5 Reads for Thinking Differently

In no particular order, here are five books you need to read to challenge yourself to think differently in your personal and professional lives…










1. Change By Design, Tim Brown

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, will get you thinking about the experiences you provide for others, regardless of the profession in which you work.

Rather than assuming we know what’s best for others, design thinking has us put our opinions aside and involve consumers in the design process.

This book is my favourite in this list.  It challenged me to think differently and to seek input from others.













2. Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind, Biz Stone

I knew nothing about Biz Stone prior to reading this book.  I rarely even read autobiographies, but decided to give it a try because I was curious to know more about how Twitter came to be.

This book is so much more.

Yes, you’ll read about why tweets are only 140 characters and where the idea of hashtags came from.  But what makes this book, is getting to know Biz Stone and how he sees the world.

This book is inspiring. Read it.



3.  A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations into Advantages and Why It’s Everyone’s Business, Adam Morgan & Mark Barden

I had to read this book.  When we often hear things like, “Yes but…” “We can’t because…” in our workplaces, it’s pretty refreshing to read a book that views constraints as beautiful.

This book is full of real life stories of clever people who were able to adapt and think differently to provide great experiences for others, all using constraints to help imagine something new.

This book will leave you thinking about your current challenges in new ways – personal and / or professional.  The prompts and questions they share will stick with you and you’ll start to find yourself trying to approach your own problems with a more open mind.  At least, it has for me.




4. Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, from Stanford’s Design Program, remind us all that there isn’t just one path for us in life.  At any time, we can create a life that is meaningful and fulfilling.

The writers encourage us to stop worrying about making “the right decision” and to get out there to experience new things – as that’s when we come closer to finding what we truly enjoy and were meant to do.

Whether you’re someone who is in a job or career that doesn’t feel like a right fit or someone who strives for work-life balance, this book is a must read for you.

It’s one that I looked forward to reading at night and has encouraged me to think about my own life and possible pathways.



5. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential in All of Us, David and Tom Kelley

David and Tom Kelley, co-founders of the global design company IDEO, describe how design thinking can change the way we work in our organizations.

Rather than spending a lot of time trying to envision the perfect end product/service, design thinking has us taking action rather than having another meeting to discuss options.

I read this book three years ago when I was a web designer and e-learning consultant.  It inspired me to get out of the office and actually talk to those who would be using the resources I was creating.

Creative Confidence is still one of my favourite reads and continues to inform the way I think and work.

If there’s another great book you’ve read that you think I might like, please share it in the comments section!

Home Renos: An Outlet for Creativity

creative-process-messyThis is totally what home renos are like!

We’ll just knock down these walls to open up the space, put in some new windows here for lots of light, and put in a new entry to the basement…it will only take a few weeks!

Fast forward to the actual work in progress and it’s beyond messy.  Those walls were full of electrical that needed to be rerouted.  The new basement entry required drawings from a structural engineer, permits, and contractors.  Let’s just say that a few weeks can quickly turn into a year.

Last fall, my husband and I bought a brick, 1920s home in Toronto.  We wanted a fixer upper, something with character.  The main floor was split into multiple small rooms, the orange-tinged laminate flooring made me cringe, and the bad 1970s iron banister made me long for what would have originally been there.

We didn’t love it, but we would.

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Now imagine having a baby and and toddler in with this fun…


Despite the absolute mess and dust, and keeping our kids from eating random debris,  I have enjoyed it.  Working on the house has been a creative outlet for me.

I get to design a space for our family that is functional and is us.

Below are a few before / after pictures…

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The front entrance of our home.  We installed a transom window to bring some character back into the house, laid some Spanish tile, put in new doors, and exposed the brick wall.


We opened up the space by removing walls, refinished the stairs, added new light fixtures, and put in new hardwood flooring.


Our kitchen now feels more open with a bank of new windows. We installed new cupboards, counter top, and the tile for our back splash is still a work in progress.


Inspiration has come through reading books and searching online.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up made me think about the importance of getting rid of clutter and only keeping pieces that have meaning or bring joy.  Reading about the bagua map got me thinking about the spaces within our home.  Do we have a space for our children to be creative?  A space for career/life paths? Health? Travel?

All gave food for thought, yet the biggest influence on our design choices has been our kids.

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We had a coat rack made for the kids from barn wood and hung it low so they could reach it.

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We chose a glass storm door at our entrance to bring in sunlight and so the kids could easily look outside.

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I designed a wall for the kids to play and create.  They can draw, display their art work in the frames, and play on the magnet wall.


We continue to dream about future projects.

Our dining room will one day have a long live edge wood table with benches and seating for 8.  We’d like to have a new mantel built for our fireplace with built-ins for storage. Someday maybe our third floor / attic space could become a “Lainie Room” – a place where I can work, write, and be creative.

And although the creative process is a messy one, imagining spaces, planning, and experimenting is all a part of the fun.

I’ve already started gathering ideas for what’s to come.




Note: When I mentioned “we” in reference to the work that has been done, it encompasses many who have done so much to help us out.  My parents, brother-in-law, our friends, and contractors. We are so thankful.

Why I Write to My Boys

On the day I saw two pink lines on the pregnancy test, I began writing to my boys.
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Each of our children has their own notebook.  Once one is filled, the next begins.

Their notebooks look like scrapbooks with ultrasound photos, first paintings, tracings of hands…

I write to them every few weeks – leaving the house for a few hours to write in a coffee shop.  I’m so grateful to my husband for this time.  

As parents, there are so many great moments we have with our kids.  We say we’ll never forget them, and then we do.   I forget week to week.  It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that so much happens every day and soon there are more stories we say we’ll never forget.  For me, writing is one way to capture these memories so they’re not forgotten.

There are lots of different ways we can do this.  I have friends who take amazing candids, some who use social media, others who prefer video… We all have our own ways.

For me, I choose old school writing in a notebook.   My main reason is that when my boys are grown and I’m no longer around, I like to think that their notebooks are a way to still be with them.  Yes, I know it may sound a bit morbid, but that’s okay.

I like to think that my boys will flip through their notebooks and laugh about the funny things they did as kids.  They’ll see my handwriting on the page and hear my voice.  They’ll read about the fun we had, the silly memories, our time together as a family, and they will be reminded of how much I love them.  

I hope they’ll hear me. Mom.

I don’t filter what I write.  I did at first. I wanted to write with proper sentence structure and to model good use of vocabulary and grammar (the previous teacher in me).  I scrapped that.  Now I write like I talk or think.  I write as it lands on the page.  I want it to be me writing directly to my kids; not a recount of events that feel distant or impersonal.  I want it to be me.

When I was carrying the boys in pregnancy, I would share information about their development.  I would tell them about how long they were – crown to rump.  I would draw out their lengths so they could see how substantial the growth was week to week and how excited I was to have them.  I was clueless about how babies developed until I was pregnant.  I think it’s neat that they’ll learn about it before I did.  Boys should know about pregnancy and how babies develop too.

I like to share what we like to do together as a family.  The excitement of seeing them begin to crawl.  Hearing them try to sing a song for the first time.  Their first words.  The fact that our oldest could say cat and car before mom and dad…what a kid.  I also have my sentimental moments where I say out loud, I never want to forget this.  

I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep up with the writing.  My hope is that I will write to them until they’re teenagers.  I’ve got a way to go!  But I know how special it is to me that I have all of my grandma’s letters and I can take them out to still hear her voice.  For that reason alone, I know I’ll stick with it.

And now we have a third notebook that has since joined our collection!  The excitement still feels the same. I enjoy sharing information about her development and including recent ultrasound photos.  It doesn’t feel monotonous.  It feels like I get to write to someone new and to give her something to have for life.

Writing is a gift.   

Learning Made Better with Design Thinking

Starting a new job can be a humbling experience. There might be a new building to find our way through. We try to understand who’s who and what we’re supposed to do each day. Training or orientation might happen right away or months later, and despite good intentions, only bits and pieces may stick with us.

There has to be a better way.

One telecomm company tried. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently shared an interesting story of a company who chose to approach onboarding differently.

Rather than trying to teach new employees everything they need to know all at once, they designed an experience that would span a full year. They used elements of design thinking to create professional learning that was customized for a specific role in their company.

To begin their planning, the company studied the job of a retail sales agent over the first nine months. Brilliant. In the design thinking world, this is starting at the ‘empathy’ stage. Spending time observing and speaking with others to better understand whom we’re designing for…

  • What are their urgent learning needs? What needs to be addressed immediately?
  • What systems need to be learned?
  • What products do they have to understand?
  • What processes will they need to learn over the first year? (e.g., getting to know customers, product experts, fundamentals of sales and customer service)

With this information, the company could get a sense of what learning is imminent and what might be offered over time. And time has been found to be an important facet of effective professional learning…

From the report, Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability (2013), in order for professional learning to be effective it needs to:

  • Take place over time
  • Provide support at the time of implementation
  • Be active, and not passive

From the article, it sounds like the company’s design thinking approach did just that.

Learning Over Time

Rather than learning everything they needed to know in a few days/weeks with no follow up, there was a planned progression to the learning based on agents’ needs and their work.

From the company’s observations over nine months, they developed a “journey map” that showed what agents needed to know the first day, the first week, the first month, and then over the first few quarters. True, deep learning could take place over time.

Providing Support at the Time of Implementation

To help us truly understand new information and develop our skills, we need multiple opportunities to use it. As the old adage goes, “use it or lose it.”

To support employees implement their learning on the job, the company built an app that looked more like a game than a learning system. They could access videos on demand, add social connections, sign up for coaching sessions, and share their learning with others online. Rather than receive an overwhelming amount of information in an isolated training session (maybe months before they’d use it), they could access exactly what they needed and when they needed it. Just enough, just in time, just for me.

Active, Not Passive

There are lots of different ways we can learn something new. We might watch how-to videos on YouTube, read, listen to podcasts, sign up for online courses, observe others, discuss… we learn in varied and active ways. Sitting passively and being told what we need to know doesn’t work for us all.

Although the HBR article didn’t share the specifics of how each learning session was designed, we can begin to imagine how we might make learning more active for those we design for.

All in all, I loved reading the HBR article, Using Design Thinking to Embed Learning in Our Jobs. It was encouraging to read about a company who was interested in understanding the experience of new employees and were open to taking a new approach to previous practices.

I recognize the article is a snapshot and I don’t know whether the company created an onboarding process that made a difference for employees. I do, however, appreciate how the article inspires us to approach learning and onboarding differently through the lens of design thinking.

We can do things differently.

We can learn more about the people we’re designing learning for. We can think about what learning might look like over time and say goodbye to the archaic practices of orientation days or isolated training sessions. From both our own experiences and findings from research, we know they need to be a part of a much bigger picture.

Design thinking has a role in our organizations, especially when it comes to how we learn. It’s a matter of asking ourselves, how might we get started?

Author’s Note: If you’re interested in learning more about the design thinking process, Stanford has a great overview and a video from 60 Minutes shows the process in action.

Design Thinking Process. Image from:

Smart Design, User in Mind

I admire people with clever ideas.  Those who notice what doesn’t work, who come up with a solution to make our lives easier and better, and then make it happen.   I appreciate smart design.


Here are five smart designs that I encountered in one week…


1. Packaging from LEGO
I ordered additional tracks for our son’s LEGO train set.  When the box arrived, I didn’t think anything of it.  Until I opened it up and saw this message…

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Smart!  I quickly looked on the outside of the box and there was no mention that the parcel was even from LEGO – nothing in the mailing address, on the box… no child or adult would ever know that a fun, colourful gift was inside.  Even when the delivery man handed me the parcel, he spelled out L-E-G-O.  “Never want to ruin a surprise!”  Apparently keeping LEGO a secret is a thing…

2. Online Chat Help

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I was teaching an online course and a candidate was having difficulties using a mind mapping tool.  I was in our son’s room, waiting to see if he’d nap in his crib, when I decided to look on their web page to check out their FAQs.   A customer service chat box appeared.

After typing in one sentence, within seconds I was offered a solution.  Not only is this great customer service, but an example of smart design.  A solution that provides access to support that might be helpful to people with hearing impairments, a Mom in a quiet room, or someone in the middle of a meeting.  It meets the needs of many.


3. Poke-A-Dot

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Our son LOVES this book!  From the moment I showed it to him in Chapters, he carried it around all day.  It’s a counting book where each animal has a “bubble” to pop.  As he gets older, it will encourage him to touch objects as he counts and he’ll know which animals he’s already counted.  Smart design.  A fun book that teaches early number concepts.

4. Jamie Bell Adventure Playground

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As soon as I saw this park, I loved it.  It looks and feels magical.  Imagination is the word that comes to mind.  So when I read the sign near the park, it totally made sense.  

This is a very special playground.  Children contributed to the design by drawing their ideas of a dream playground.  Then in the spring of 1998, children worked alongside parents, teachers and volunteers to build the Adventure Playground.  

It was designed by kids!  It also explains why every kid who approached the park that day, did so with screams of excitement.  Kids creating for kids.  Smart design.

5. Booking Appointments Online

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My new favourite.  I’m so glad that more travel clinics, dentist offices, and medical offices are beginning to adopt online booking of appointments.  There’s nothing more frustrating than being on hold for 20 minutes just to book an appointment, when I can sign in, choose my location, date, and time in less than five minutes amongst the chaos in our house. Smart design.


What I love about smart design is that it doesn’t need to come from engineers or a research and development department.   It can come from kids, from moms with simple ideas that become million dollar companies, or grandfathers with solutions to everyday problems.  This is probably the reason why I love watching shows like Dragon’s Den.

Smart design is about people who understand the principles of human-centred design. They recognize a challenge / problem.  They come up with a solution in hopes of making things easier or better for others.  They prototype, get feedback from their target audience to help make their product/service better, actually use the feedback and make changes, and in the end have a solution that is tailor made to meet unique needs.  
No degree or training required.  To use or facilitate a human-centred design process,  you just need to observe everyday life, have a desire to do good, and be open to what others have to say.  



Grandparents: The Gentle Giant

With Father’s Day approaching, I reached out to a few friends to see if anyone would be interested in sharing some stories about an important male in their lives.  

I hope you enjoy this entry written about a man who continues to care for his family, even after his passing. 

Norman Rubinoff

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A photo of my dad and grandfather (Norman), on my parents’ wedding day. 


Norm was as kind and caring a man as one could find but stern in his ways when he needed to be.  He was tall, 6-foot-3, but truly the definition of a ‘gentle giant’.  Always selfless and always putting his family above anything else.

He was the true meaning of a family patriarch.  Norman set the tone for the entire family and led with his actions which is what a soft-spoken person does.  His humility was evident and so too was the respect he commanded from others. The way in which he raised my father is the same way my father raised me and that is why it is important that I do the same when I have children of my own.

I think about him a lot lately.

I am getting married this year and I can’t help but be reminded of how incredible it would be to have him there.


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My grandfather on his birthday, celebrating with his grandchildren.

His sense of humour was his most endearing quality.  Rarely ever did he frown, at least in front of his grandchildren, and would always make it his mission to greet them with a hug and a new joke he had learned.

His influence was his perspective.

My grandfather had an amazing ability to remain even-keel no matter what life threw at him.  For someone that grew up in a time where conservative beliefs dominated most of western culture and having witnessed and experienced first hand persecution and discrimination in his early years, he was an extremely progressive individual.

His belief in basic civil liberties and involvement in a Reform Jewish movement that focused on inclusion rather than traditional gender divide was somewhat ahead of his time and rare for a Jewish Canadian in the 1940s and 1950s.

Settled in Canada, Norman finished at the top of his class and was extremely well-educated.  His dream was to become a teacher but was unable to do so after rules stipulated that Jews would not be allowed to pursue teaching as a career.

Forced to alter his course, he became an accountant and ran his own firm until he retired. Now, two of his grandchildren are elementary and high school teachers, carrying out his dream for him.

In 2005, my grandfather suffered a stroke that would leave him without the movement of most of his body and an inability to communicate strongly with others. A year later, he would experience the passing of his wife.

Despite these losses, he never complained once.  Throughout his 10 years of battling through the effects of the stroke, he always smiled and managed to keep his mind sharp.

He could remember all of the songs he learned on the piano and continued to play for family with his one functioning arm.   He didn’t miss a family function.  And despite a difficulty in communicating, he still mentored people around him.

He faced more challenges in his final decade than anyone in the family but somehow his positivity uplifted us all.


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Norman passed away two years ago but just last week we received a gift from him.  

After settling his estate, it was revealed that he and my grandmother (who passed in 2006) left an allowance in their will for each of their seven grandchildren to be used as a small nest egg as they started families of their own.  A remarkable gesture that is representative of the love and selflessness that he and my grandmother had.

The way in which he raised my father is the same way my father raised me and that is why it is important that I do the same when I have children of my own.


Lainie’s Note: This piece was written by Norman’s grandson, Jonathan (JR).  I met JR eleven years ago when he began working with my husband.  Through the years I’ve heard stories about JR’s grandfather and knew that he was a big part of his life.  

JR and his fiance are very busy with wedding plans, work, and life events, and yet he somehow found time to write this tribute to his grandfather.  Thank you for writing it, JR.  I wish I could have met him.


Growing Up Small Town

With stands of trees lining the provincial highway, beautiful clear lakes for swimming and fishing, and an area known as “Sunset Country,” it’s home.

1,200 people.

One grocery store. One bank. A library.
One elementary school. Five churches. One arena and a curling rink.

Lots of trucks, more boats. A winding river that divides Canada from the United States. A 30 minute drive to the nearest movie theatre (in Minnesota).

Small town, Northwestern Ontario.


Clearwater Lake

“Home” for me has always been two places — where I’m currently living and the small town where I grew up. And although I haven’t lived at ‘home’ since I was eighteen years old, it’s still very much a part of who I am.

It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve realized just how much growing up in a small town has affected how I interact with people and the work that I do.

When I decided to live in a city of 2.6 million people, I thought it was normal to ask colleagues about their families, kids names, what they like to do outside of work, or their plans for the weekend. But to some, this was seen as something unique or special. A skill set called “community building” in the world of learning and training. But to me, it was just being myself.

It wasn’t strategic on my part. I wasn’t hoping to achieve some ulterior motive. It’s just what you do in a small town — you ask questions about people’s lives.

I grew up in a place where people don’t talk about work.

They talk about people.

They share what they’ve been up to — what they’ve recently built in their workshop, planted in their garden, or read. I live a 20 hour drive away from home and I know who’s renovating their kitchen, who’s expecting a new grandchild, and who recently had to make the difficult decision to have their husband move into a care facility because he has Alzheimer’s.

There’s something about living in a small town that is different.

People make time to visit with each other. I miss this. The unexpected visits when you suddenly hear a door slam outside your house or the crunching of gravel in your driveway. My Dad is good at this — dropping in to visit friends.

So it makes sense why I look for opportunities to socialize with colleagues at work. I like getting a group together to go out for lunch or for drinks after work. I help plan ugly sweater days, coordinate group tickets to Argo games, and encourage colleagues to dress up for Halloween. It’s just what I do. Some may feel that personal lives and work should not meet, and I respect that. For me, I just can’t imagine working somewhere, where I can’t be myself.

In my work as an instructional designer, I’ve realized that it’s my small town upbringing that has drawn me to practices like user testing, design thinking, and human-centred design. When I’m designing or facilitating online courses, or creating professional learning resources for a specific group of people, this is when my “community building” comes through. I like to know whom I’m designing for — what they do, what they are challenged by, what they hope to achieve. Their interests, where they live, their family lives…

You might wonder what a person’s family life has anything to do with designing or facilitating learning for others. For me, it’s where I start. If you’re a single Dad with two young kids, is it likely that you’re going to sit and watch an hour long video to learn something new? Or would you prefer short video clips you could watch on your phone during your kid’s swimming lesson? Having a sense of users needs, interests, and goals helps me create something ‘just for them, just in time, and just enough.’

Time in itself would make for an interesting study. How we use it and where we place value. We have work commitments, errands to run, events to attend, our children’s activities.…there always seems to be a reason why we can’t get together with others. We start looking at each other’s photos on Instagram or Facebook as an acceptable way to keep in touch. But I think we’re missing out.

It matters to connect with people. By taking the initiative to make plans with others, it shows that we’re thinking of them and that we enjoy their company. When time seems like an invaluable commodity where there’s never enough of it, it says a lot when you give it freely to others.

I’m thankful for growing up in a small town. It, along with my parents, taught me to care about people.

Remembering Mom: “The Good One”


“The Good One”

I remember an old double length grey wool blanket that she would throw over her clothesline to make the most awesome tent for us on a hot summer day, along with homemade popsicles.  

She was the best grandma a child could ever wish for.  


This week, I asked my Mom to share a few memories of her grandmother, who was like a second mother to her.    



Stella George


Grandma George and I



I remember having three grandma’s – Big Grandma, Little Grandma, and Grandma Ina.

Little Grandma was my great grandma – a quiet little English lady who lived in a little house on the outskirts of Emo.  I remember her house being dark and smelling of mothballs.  She had a magnifying glass we played with and our treat would be an orange well past its best.

Grandma Ina came from a Scottish family and grew up during the depression.  Her world revolved around the material things – not hugs, kisses, and time.  Little time was spent with her own children as she focused on taking care of foster children who were a source of income.  

In thinking back about Grandma Ina, the memory that comes to mind is that she gave me the worst Christmas present ever.  It was a shimmery bronze coloured pant suit and it was so ugly.  It did bring joy but not in the way she had intended.  We laughed until tears streamed down our faces.

And then there was “the good one” – an Irish lady with a sparkle in her eyes and the best grandma a child could ever wish for.

We called her Big Grandma and I have no idea why, as she was not a big lady.  


Grandma and Grandpa George


She had black hair and always kept herself looking so nice.  I remember the time she tried to put highlights in her hair.   She overdid it with the red and wouldn’t go out in the sunshine for days, as she didn’t want Grandpa to see what she had done.  Oh how we laughed…

Grandma was always laughing with us.  

As a young girl, I remember going with her to the local drugstore.  I think she sprayed me with every perfume sampler there was.  We giggled and laughed in the aisle.

I remember the time she made our very first pizza.  It was from a box – a kit by Chef Boyardee.  A cheese pizza consisting of a dough mix, a can of tomato sauce, a small package of parmesan cheese, and a little packet of spices.  The pizza was god awful and we laughed and laughed.

Grandma was always laughing with us.  She was so open-minded and with the times. I can even remember one time when she tried to get Grandma Ina to be more fashionable and wear a pair of pants, but that never went anywhere.

Grandma liked to dress up when she went into town, often wearing one of the many dresses she had made.  Grandma was the one who taught me how to knit and sew.

I served a long apprenticeship in her tiny little sewing room where there was just enough space for a little daybed and her treadle sewing machine.  I spent many hours on that bed watching her sew.  We would pick out fabrics from the Sears or Eaton’s catalogue for the next outfit or project.  Now, as an avid quilter, I go into quilt stores and look at all the fabrics and wish that Grandma were here to see all of the choices available now.  

My very first memory of her involves two little red plaid dresses.

Until the age of 7, I grew up on a trapline in Northwestern Ontario where my best and only friends were my sister and brother.  We spent a lot of time playing in the outdoors.  Always a time of concern was spring break-up or fall freeze-up.  At these times, extra care had to be taken as there was no way to get to a doctor if we were hurt.  And depending on the length of the season, supplies could become sparse.

I remember a neighbouring trapper landing his small bush plane on the frozen river in front of the cabin, to deliver supplies and a care package from Grandma.  In the package were two little red plaid dresses that Grandma George had made for my sister and I.

With her strong Catholic faith, Grandma must have said a lot of prayers for her grandchildren growing up in the wilderness – learning how to run boats and motors, and shoot guns at a very young age.  It must have been an enormous relief for her when we finally moved into town to go to school.

If I wasn’t at Grandma’s for a sleepover on the weekend, I phoned her every day to talk.  It’s been over forty years since Grandma passed away and I can still remember her phone number.  482-2454


The day she passed, I asked my mom, “Why did ‘the good one’ have to die?”  

It was a terrible thing to say but I loved her so much.  She was like a second mom to me. She had so little and gave so much.


I’ll always think of you Gram
when I smell sweet peas that were always on your kitchen table,
when I smell Herbal Essence shampoo that was always on your washstand,
when I drive down our laneway that used to lead to your house,
when I take out your little sugar bowl with purple flowers for my morning coffee,
or look at your old treadle sewing machine in my living room.

I’ll always remember the hugs, kisses, and time spent together.  And I promise I’ll always remember to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day for you.



Writer’s Note: This post was written by Stella’s granddaughter, Peggy, a.k.a. my mom. I’ve always known that my mom had a very close relationship with her grandma – a relationship similar to my gram and I.  Through the years, I’d hear stories about Grandma George – often short, as I think my mom still found it difficult to talk about her, even twenty years later.  She missed her so much.  

I heard about the Irish grandma who would dye everything green on St. Patrick’s Day and how my mom wished that Grandma George would have met her two redheads (my brother and I).  She passed away before we were born.

Grandma George was the one who taught my mom how to knit and sew.  As a result, I grew up with a mom who sewed the best Halloween costumes and could whip up a pair of homemade wool socks, mittens, or sweater in no time.  My boys have received many beautiful gifts from her – sweaters, mittens, toques, socks, and quilts.  It’s neat to think that something she loves to do today was a gift from her grandma.

Thank you for writing about her, Mom.