CAIS Middle School Leadership Camp


It’s been a year since our last CAIS Middle School Leadership Camp, and once again, I’m at Onondaga Camp for our Middle School Leadership Camp listening to amazing speakers, and enjoying the workshops, activities, and most importantly, the weather! The students from across Canada are engaged in long days, but their energy level is high. Really, that’s no surprise when you put over 100 Middle School students together!!!

Thanks to the CAIS National Program Committee and the Onondaga staff for creating a strong program and thanks to our schools for promoting the value of cross-Canada leadership development.

Most of all, thanks to the parents who shared their children with our CAIS family.  We are having a great time!

My guess is that some of these friendships will continue beyond our week together and how cool is it for kids to have friends across Canada?

I will let these photos tell their own story.

Are we raising activists?


I have a tattoo on my arm that says, “I am Pro-Pasture”.  I am not at all the tattoo type, but I let some man in a plaid shirt put it on my arm on Saturday in the Homegrown Tent at Farm Aid. 

For those who don’t know about Farm Aid, the short story is this – Farm Aid is a day dedicated to supporting farmers.  Willie Nelson (who is now 80 years old and going strong) started it 28 years ago, with a vision to bring together some of his musician friends and farmers and advocates. This year in Saratoga Springs, over 27,000 people gathered and over the years, he has raised over $43 million dollars to promote strong family farms. It is humbling to see what one person can inspire.

Now I admit – I only went for the music.  One concert with Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, and Neil Young?  No question; I’m there.  The bonus is that I was introduced to some new favourites too – the Bahamas are an awesome young band from Toronto and Willie Nelson’s son, Lukas, is a talented heart-throb.  (There’s just no other word for him – look up one of the closing songs where father and son play “Just Breathe” and you’ll see. You might even fall for both father and son…)

But here’s the thing – in addition to the incredible music, there were tents with amazing local food and groups everywhere advocating about every issue related to farming.  While the plaid-shirt man soaked my arm with a sponge and gripped it to let the tattoo seep into my skin, he told me about how it is best for cows to roam free.  My tattoo is not a permanent one, obviously, but it has a picture of a cute cow and I wore it proudly, mostly because it seemed that most people in the crowd at Farm Aid had a real tattoo, and I like to fit in. 

I chose the tattoo, but others lined up for anti-fracking stickers, bandanas in support of organic food, and t-shirts in support of a range of other causes.  There were games and interactive displays and people everywhere, craving more information. I was so inspired by the passion of the farmers and activists.  Rather than listen to the music, they stood in these tents to share their stories and convince the rest of us of the value of family farming and getting to know your food. Farm Aid was full of passionate people, and that tattoo felt like a symbol of those who are living intentionally and dedicating their time to making the world a better place. 

When Kevin and I got home Sunday night, Kathleen really wanted to show us a YouTube video.  We were tired from a full weekend and a long drive, but we hadn’t seen her all weekend and wanted to indulge her in her interests.  I thought it might be a scene from Modern Family or some other funny video, but instead she wanted to show us “The Story of Stuff.”  As we watched activist Annie Leonard on the iPod set up in our kitchen, Kathleen pointed out that this was her favourite part and told us to listen carefully here to the story of consumption.

Turns out, Kathleen was feeling inspired by a homework assignment, and as we watched “The Story of Stuff”, the spark in her eyes was such a reminder that children have an innate desire to make the world a better place.  Our responsibility – as parents and educators – is to ignite that spark and nurture it.  Fortunately, I see it in our CAIS schools all the time.

At the moment, I am writing this blog at Onondaga Camp where over 100 CAIS Middle School students from across Canada are gathered for three days to learn more about taking risks, finding passions, and making a difference.  There is a terrific line-up of speakers and activities; the surroundings alone are an inspiration.  These students have got that spark, and I look at them and I wonder:  which of you will be like Annie Leonard, or Willie Nelson, or a farmer?

As for me?  I like my tattoo and I refuse to scrub it off… it is a good reminder of a good weekend and it makes me think of my own passion – to develop passionate students who want to change the world.  

Who knows?  I might even get a permanent tattoo in support of that cause.


Letter to my son at boarding school

Dear Jacob,

You have been away from us for one week now, and so much has happened since you left for boarding school.  In case you were wondering…

The first few hours were brutal. As we drove home, I checked my iPhone every ten minutes.  That first night, both Dad and I kept our phones by our side and turned on all night.  We never do that.

The next morning, I put some of your clean t-shirts in your drawers and opened your curtains.  I rarely do that.  Then I just stood there, and lingered in your room.  Dad found me and understood immediately.  He asked, “Does it feel like we are giving our son a gift? It doesn’t feel that way to me.”  And then we both had a good cry.  We never do that either.

I checked my phone all day the next day.  Other people texted, emailed, and/or called, and everyone I met in those first few days asked about you.  I had to suck it up and tell them all the same thing – we haven’t heard from him.  Not a word.

Every single person said the same thing, “No news is good news.”  But you know what?  No news didn’t feel like good news.

Dad and I talked about why you weren’t contacting us – Were you too upset? Were you too busy?  Were you trying to teach us a lesson?

We also reviewed the reasons we made this decision – it was as if we needed to keep reminding ourselves.  We knew we wanted you to enjoy more time outside, more time with friends, more time blurring the lines between learning and living.  We tried to picture all of those happy confident kids we met at drop-off, and we knew that would be you one day.

Most of all, we told ourselves – over and over! – that you wanted to go to Lakefield College School.  You were ready to grow independently from us and you could learn so much from a team of passionate people who share our values and have proven to be great at cultivating healthy, happy, generous, curious people. Do you remember what you did when we first told you that you could go to LCS?  You put your head down and did that “Yes!” motion, and then you looked each of us in the eyes and said, “Thank you Mom.  Thank you Dad.”

But I missed you.  Terribly.  And I wanted you back with me.  I also wanted you to write. Or call.  Anything!

On Wednesday, one of my colleagues asked about you.  I gave the same reply, although by that point, I was starting to feel bitter and even seeing some humour in your silence.   I may have called you a brat.

She said the same no-news thing, but then she reminded me that her boys went to boarding school.  I perked up.  I realized that I was so hungry to hear the stories of other families.  Two of her comments stood out.  She told me that she looked at boarding school as a series of summer camps “…and my boys LOVED summer camp!”   You said that same thing.

She also told me that her boys – all three of them! – have recently told her that boarding school was the second best thing their parents gave to them, after giving them their love.

And that’s when it hit me – I needed to stop thinking about me, and my feelings, and my needs.  Boarding school was not about me; it was what we knew would be best for you.  Deep down I knew it all along, but my heart still ached for you.  Still does.

So it helped that you finally made contact on day six.  I will forever have those first words memorized – “I’m at Tim’s with some friends and it has free wi-fi.  Lakefield is amazing. I’m so happy I came.”

Jacob, you have no idea how much those words meant to us. I’m not even offended that you wrote them to Dad and not me.  Really.  I’m also not bothered by yesterday’s email:  Hi mom I cant talk for long but everything is great.

Don’t worry about writing more.  Dad and I are just fine.

See you in two more weeks when we come up for the Fall Fair.

Love you more more more,


p.s.  Typically I check with you before I mention you in a blog.  Guess you should have written sooner.

p.p.s.  For the record – Jacob did sign off on this…

The Flow of Learning

A few weeks ago, I heard part of an interview by Shelagh Rogers of two aboriginal authors.  She asked a question about the significance of stories, and their answers were so powerful that I wanted to continue listening, but I had to get out of the car and run whatever pressing errands were dictating my day.  I intended to look up the two authors when I got home later, but life just got too busy, and I moved on.

But sometimes the world works in mysterious ways.

On Friday, I got to spend an amazing day in Nova Scotia with Kathleen and some of my best friends. At the Wolfville book store, Sonya (the four year-old flower girl at my wedding and now my close friend) suggested I buy a novel that she loved – Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

I devoured it. In fact, I got up early this morning to finish it because I felt that until I was done, I would not be able to get back to work.  I love that feeling, by the way, when you are lost in the flow of a great book.  In fact, one of the ways I judge the quality of a holiday is by the number of times that books capture me this way.  I felt so fortunate that I had today off, to take the time to keep reading, and even pour myself a second – and third! – cup of coffee while still in my pajamas.

But when I was done the novel, I still couldn’t get on with my day. I spent time searching for more information.  How did my education not include such significant parts of Canadian history – like the fact that aboriginal children were taken from their parents at gunpoint? And that the last of the residential schools didn’t close until 1996?  How is it possible, that as an English major, I didn’t read anything by an aboriginal Canadian?  I wanted to learn more, more about residential schools and survivors, more about Wagamese and his writing. When I finally snapped out of it and looked at the clock, it was after noon.  This experience is what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.  But I still wanted more, so I decided that I would listen to an interview with Wagamese while making muffins.

And that’s when it happened.  I was standing in my kitchen smashing bananas when I realized that the Shelagh Rogers podcast was the same one I heard in the car a few weeks ago.  What a gift – I had been captured by a story, but was too busy to learn more.  But now I had the gift of time to pursue something of interest.

Time, given the fact that it was the Labour Day weekend, and technology, given the internet and the marvel of podcasts, enabled me to follow a passion and learn all I could.  The question is this – how can we give this gift to our students?  How can we help them find flow and pursue their passions?

Here’s the best part of my experience today – the podcast was taped in front of a live audience of students and parents at Royal St George’s College in Toronto.

It made me feel proud that this CAIS school is encouraging students to understand the complex and challenging parts of our history through gifted storytellers and journalists, and all the while getting students to learn along with their parents.

As we head into the start of a new year, may we all look for opportunities when our students can pursue their passions.  Meanwhile, we adults have to wait for more vacation time…