Author Archives: Brigitte Pellerin

And then there’s the sheer grit required to drive to the tournament

I do try to live life as though it was an adventure, but there are times when it’s not easy…

Eldest and I left Ottawa at 10 this morning in our shiny rented car (2015 VW Jetta, which was a free upgrade from the tiny thing I’d booked – they always upgrade you like that, I wonder why people bother to book regular-sized cars, but I digress).

Beautiful sunshine, fun songs on the radio, we’re singing and moving along quite fine. Hit the 401, things are still good, until about Gananoque, when the snow started flying. Not much accumulation, but near-whiteout conditions. And it occurs to me that the rental car probably doesn’t have winter tires. Oh well!

Fortunately, Mama learned to winter-drive in Quebec City using old beaters with rear-wheel drive (remember those?) and bald tires. I’m pretty decent at it. Still, this is a car I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out how it handles the hard way. So we slow down to 70-80 km/h and keep going. This will get us there later than planned, but no biggie.

It took a while for us to clear the snow (basically it was on-and-off until about Oshawa) and then we made it to Mississauga safely… to find out on my Facebook feed that a bunch of our teammates who left Ottawa later than us got caught in a worse storm, with lots of accidents and cars in the ditch, slowing them down to 40 km/h. Which makes the drive rather a lot longer, and more treacherous. But these people are warriors, and they’ll pull through.

We think sometimes that the way to succeed at this game is to train like a machine. And for sure training is crucial. But having the right attitude and plenty of grit is kind of important, too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a date with the hot tub.

Values over rules – how to foster creative thinking in children

Wonderful Q & A here about how we should go about fostering creativity in children. The whole thing is interesting, but by far my favourite part is right at the end:

Lahey: So, what’s the first step? If we want to change our parenting and teaching today and encourage our children to become originals, where should we begin?

Grant: Focus on values over rules. The parents of highly creative architects, for example, modeled and emphasized core values, and gave their kids freedom to figure out how they wanted to express those values. The parents might say, “Respect for others is important in this family. What kind of impact do you want to have on others?” or, “We take joy in our work. What kinds of jobs sound like fun to you?” When the kids grew up, they were more comfortable going against the grain, because they had taken ownership over their own system of values that guided them. It would be wonderful to see more teachers adopt a similar approach.

Notice, if you please, the use of “modeled and emphasized core values”. And remember that modeling the right values came before emphasizing them. If you want your children to learn the right kinds of values, you have to model them yourself. It’s not enough just to talk about them.

A simple, but difficult job well worth doing.


Mississauga, here we come

Eldest and I are gearing up for our second tournament, which takes place in Mississauga on Saturday (it’s at Mentor College, 40 Forest Street, if you’re in the area and want to come say hello – look for Team Douvris uniforms, we’re the cute ones). We’ve been training pretty hard for it. Eldest even started adding more training a few weeks ago. Her technique is slowly but surely improving, and so is her endurance. Combined with a healthy clean diet and enough sleep, she’s turning into a fine little athlete. But what’s really impressing me about how she takes all this is her attitude. She works hard during training and doesn’t mind getting yelled at (and yes, there are times when yelling is called for). When it happens she hustles and tries again harder. Which usually leads to praise and that seems to make her happy.

She’s even improved her attitude at home and with the homeschooling. Every now and then, when I have some computer work to do, I’ll ask her to read something to her sisters (these days they’re reading a mini-biography of Leonardo da Vinci) and she’s happy to do it. She can also be relied on to coach her sisters (properly, that is) through their math or grammar exercises when I need her to take over from me. All this without neglecting her own work. She’s also more thoughtful and helpful with chores; instead of waiting for me to ask her to set the table, she notices me preparing lunch and starts doing it. The other day I commented that she would be having fun at the tournament playing with her friends once they’re done competing, and she said you know, Mom, I don’t think I want to play and run around as much this time. I think I want to go from ring to ring and cheer other members of our team.

I’d like to take all the credit for this wonderful attitude of hers, but I can’t. Most of it is her, of course, and being part of this fantastic competitive team has certainly given her a great deal of motivation to improve herself. And I’d say that’s money and time well spent.

Kicking butt while pregnant

In the dojo the night before my due date with the Eldest, with Sensei Domenic Aversa

In the dojo the night before my due date with the Eldest, with Sensei Domenic Aversa

One of the ladies at our dojo is expecting and she’s training through her pregnancy, looking mighty fine doing it, too. Obviously she’s not doing every single thing like she used to, and not always with the same intensity, but she’s working hard and it’s a very wonderful thing to see.

We were chatting about the benefits of exercising while pregnant the other day and I mentioned that I’d done just that – continuing to do karate all the way through three pregnancies, and coming back to the dojo within days of giving birth. OK, so I wasn’t very intense at first, but to me what mattered was to keep up the exercise routine. I knew if I took a break I would have trouble coming back, so I took no break.

Plus there’s something extra badass about doing martial arts while pregnant, and it makes you look impossibly adorable, too. Pregnancy is not the best time to take up a brand new intensive sport, but if your body is already used to doing something, and your doctor is not fainting at the idea, by all means keep doing it. You won’t regret it.

Librum amo

What I think I’m saying is, I like this book. We’ve been using it for a few weeks now, at a steady-ish but slow pace (i.e. twice a week or so, for 20-30 minutes at a time), and so far we’re making good progress. We’re not very good yet, but it’s starting to feel less like a giant wall of incomprehension and more like something we can actually learn. And best of all, the kids enjoy being quizzed and enjoy getting the right answer ahead of their sisters even more. It’s very well done.

Bring on the bean pasta

Happy springy beans

One of my new hobbies after Sunday morning training (after I drink some water and scarf a banana) is to take my ginger-cinnamon tea (which I make myself; just slice up about an inch of fresh ginger, peel and all, throw it in the contigo with a stick of cinnamon, fill with boiling water and let sit for two hours – it’s strong but oh so yummy) and go wander the aisles at the nearby Bulk Barn.

No, really. I live a perfectly happy life. It’s just that I get excited with small normal things. You’ll understand some day.

I love the smells, the possibilities, that all those giant bins of stuff offer to the imagination. (I should have called this post Ode to the Barn of Bulk but oh well too late.) I find it relaxing and inspiring all at the same time. Yesterday I was looking for some noodles for the kids when I noticed a bin with black bean rotini. I’d noticed their red lentil pasta before and had briefly wondered about trying it, but black bean? That was a new one for me and, well, I didn’t want to try and resist that.

I love black beans. Plain boiled beans, mushed up with beef in lasagna, mushed up with rice, with spinach and a poached egg, you name it. But in pasta form? I’d never heard of that. I looked at the list of ingredients and it said, plainly, non-GMO organic black beans.

Well, now. Organic and non-GMO? Gimme that!

I bought a small bag, and tried them today. Boiled them as per the instructions (about 8 minutes), drained and let cool. Added them to bits of ham I had lying around and a giant pile of baby spinach with my usual salad dressing (mayo, dijon, honey) and it was excellent. The kids aren’t nuts about it, and I can’t blame them. When you think of this as “noodles”, it’s pretty lousy. It has the shape of noodles, but not the taste nor the texture. It’s a touch chalky, and it tastes (you’ll be relieved to hear) blackbeany. But if instead of thinking of this as “noodles” you think of it as “black beans in unusual form”, then it’s most excellent. And if, like me, you don’t actually eat noodles much because you’re trying to stay off the carbs and/or the gluten beast, the black bean springy noodles are your friend.

Next week I’ll even go crazy and try the red lentil pasta. I’ll keep you posted. 😉

I need me another mid-life, because I have another crisis

That’s a beautiful piece of music and it got me thinking this fine cold morning… Isn’t that just the most perfect guitar? I had no idea Stradivari made guitars.

As far as I can remember I was always a musical kid. I taught myself the basics of piano on a friend’s electric organ, playing Oh Susanna until my friends’ parents kicked me out. Then I got my own (old, very old) upright piano and worked on that. Then got some basic lessons with a kind young woman for a year, then moved on to a more serious teacher who got me into the university’s music school at the age of, if memory serves, 8. I stayed there and went through the music school’s degrees until I became a Really Terrible Teenager at which point I didn’t really feel like working the keys for four or more hours a day, which was what was necessary to continue past the 7th degree I’d earned.

So I quit music school. But I kept playing, and over the years and the countless moves in and around Quebec City and Montreal more or less always kept some kind of piano or keyboard around. I’m big on classical music, especially Chopin waltzes, and I play what I enjoy playing, just because. Of course since I’ve had children my time to play the piano has gotten squeezed out, but now they’re starting to learn it and I’m itching to get back to it.

I’ve also always been a singer, in and out of choirs, and also by myself. I remember as a kid I had to go to Mass once a week, and I hated it. They needed someone to play the organ and sing so I offered myself up. I was quite young (I want to say I was 9 or 10 when I started), but they were desperate so they let me try it and since I didn’t mangle anything they let me do it. I became my parish’s organist and also singer. I was mostly hidden behind a pillar and it was funny to see the faces of people filing by to go get Communion when they realized it was a kid playing and singing. I enjoyed doing that, and it helped make Mass fly by. Then when I turned 15 (see Terrible Teenager, above) I found a job and deliberately took shifts during Mass time so I could get out of church, and that was the end of my sacred music career. (Though it wasn’t always so sacred; we used to play a Glory Alleluia for Christmas that was to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic – Quebec Catholics are a weird bunch.)

Anyway. I want to sing again. I haven’t got a sweet clue where to start or where on earth I’d find the time to get more music back into my life, but whatever! Details! I shall find a way…

Why I homeschool, reason #873483 in a long series

When you homeschool and your child misbehaves, you have all kinds of options. You can talk to her, to make her realize what the problem is, then move on. That’s especially useful when a child does something they don’t quite know is wrong. If they don’t do it again, yay. If they do it again, next time around you have the option of making them deal with the consequences of that. Because if they do something they know is wrong more than once, you can assume there is an element of mischievousness or possibly malice behind it. So you react accordingly. If you child does something you know they know is very wrong, you have the option of going nuclear (however your family defines “nuclear”).

It’s so simple and common-sensical it almost hurts having to write it.

And yet:

NEWARK, Del. — Finding character witnesses when you are 6 years old is not easy. But there was Zachary Christie last week at a school disciplinary committee hearing with his karate instructor and his mother’s fiancé by his side to vouch for him.

Zachary’s offense? Taking a camping utensil that can serve as a knife, fork and spoon to school. He was so excited about recently joining the Cub Scouts that he wanted to use it at lunch. School officials concluded that he had violated their zero-tolerance policy on weapons, and Zachary was suspended and now faces 45 days in the district’s reform school.

“It just seems unfair,” Zachary said, pausing as he practiced writing lower-case letters with his mother, who is home-schooling him while the family tries to overturn his punishment.

Spurred in part by the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, many school districts around the country adopted zero-tolerance policies on the possession of weapons on school grounds. More recently, there has been growing debate over whether the policies have gone too far.

But, based on the code of conduct for the Christina School District, where Zachary is a first grader, school officials had no choice. They had to suspend him because, “regardless of possessor’s intent,” knives are banned.

But the question on the minds of residents here is: Why do school officials not have more discretion in such cases?

“Zachary wears a suit and tie some days to school by his own choice because he takes school so seriously,” said Debbie Christie, Zachary’s mother, who started a Web site,, in hopes of recruiting supporters to pressure the local school board at its next open meeting on Tuesday. “He is not some sort of threat to his classmates.”

Still, some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students.

“There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

See the problem is school authorities have no leeway. If they do take some anyway, they often get blamed, because there’s always some nit somewhere who makes the inane “but what if someone looses an eye” argument about everything. And it’s true. Someone might loose an eye. I mean, it’s life, right? It’s inherently not safe.

One of the goals of a solid education is to teach children how to take risks appropriately. How to gauge danger, how to think of possible ways to mitigate risks, how to back off when something is bigger than they thought, and how sometimes to trust themselves to do something scary. But if you’re in a school system where very strict “safety” rules are applied regardless of intent you not only fail to teach children how to manage risks, you’re also teaching them that the people in positions of authority make rules that are profoundly unfair when followed to the letter and then you proceed to follow the profoundly unfair rules to the letter, which breaks whatever bond there might have been between that kid and the school authorities.

Meanwhile, real bullies who are smart enough to understand how the game is played (i.e. don’t bring knives to school), have all the time and space in the world to traumatize their victims without being bothered much by the school authorities who are unduly busy evicting 6-year-olds who bring camping gear to eat their lunch with.

If they’d tried to design a school system upside-down they wouldn’t have done a better job.

A day of firsts – some excellent, some, well…

This morning I discovered that if you crank up your car’s butt warmer on your way to training it helps your lower back not hurt so much while the rest of your carcass warms up with kicks and such. It was most necessary today given the pretty intensive workout yesterday (one short jog, one cardio kickboxing class, one karate class, then 90 minutes of special black belt training). I slept like a log for 8 solid hours then went for a pleasant 3-KM jog this morning with the pup and a podcast about Aristotle’s Poetics, but for some reason I was still stiff at 9:30. You bet I’ll use that butt-warming trick again. It’s excellent!

This morning I also drew blood for the first time. We both came in with a back fist and reverse punch at the same time and clashed. So far so ho-hum. Clashes happen. But then she signaled the need for a break and explained that I’d somehow managed to get my elbow into her mouth, which made her bleed a bit. Which of course I felt terrible about. I know it’s part of the game, and personally I don’t mind it when I get hurt and it bleeds (provided it was not a thoroughly preventable accident; I dislike undue sloppiness), but I still didn’t like it.

I tried to drown my sorrows, as it were (okay, yes, I’m being dramatic), by going to David’s Tea and trying some chai tea (the Kashmiri Chai, with a splash of whole milk), which is apparently excellent for you. I don’t know if it’s true but I sure am enjoying the taste, so yay.

What else – oh yes! As we prepare for our dojo’s annual Kicks for Heart fundraiser (support me! I’m being out-fundraised by my kids) I decided to let the girls go out in the neighbourhood to try and raise some money for it. In previous years they’d just make a contribution out of their own pockets but this year they wanted to go knock on people’s doors. So I got them to practise their sales pitch and off they went and raised $150, doing the whole thing by themselves. They are back out there as I type, trying to get some more. That makes me feel so very proud.

Hope you’re having a happy Sunday, too! (Minus the blood.)