But you can’t give them everything they want—they will always want more than they have.

Marie Lu, The Midnight Star

Time for parents to stop succumbing to the annual hype.

Posted by martin.parnell |

Apparently, “Several children have been left disappointed after their Hatchimals arguably the most coveted toy of the 2016 holiday season, failed to hatch.”

Each Hatchimal comes inside an egg-shaped capsule that is supposed to be rubbed and patted for anywhere between 10 and 40 minutes before the toy gradually begins to hatch. The toy inside responds to tapping gestures by tapping back with its beak while making a variety of noises. Once the Hatchimal hatches, kids can feed the creature and teach it how to walk and talk. As the weeks go on, the Hatchimal will grow from a child to an adult, at which point it’s able to have more sophisticated interactions.

Adding to many parents’ frustration is the fact that the toys became so in-demand before Christmas, they were nearly impossible to purchase. In fact, the $59.99 toy surfaced on eBay Canada for as much as $10,000 at the height of the demand. This story sounds oh so familiar. Every year there is the “must have” toy that many parents will go to great ends to ensure their offspring have wrapped and under the tree at Christmas time. Who can forget Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies, Transformers, Rubiks Cubes and Furbies.

I really have to shake my head and ask “WHY?”   I cannot honestly believe that a child, especially ones as young as 2 or 3 (as has been quoted in the press) will really be “inconsolable” or “devastated” if this particular toy does not appear. What are they going to do? At the worst they may sulk for a couple of hours, before being distracted by all their other gifts, or a card board box sitting in the corner!

Will older children really be suffering from peer pressure if they aren’t able to tell their friends Santa was unable to come up with the goods? It’s more than likely their parents were unable to snag one of the eggs themselves. Wouldn’t it make sense for parents to communicate and decide not to give in to the hype and refuse to spend weeks and money hunting down a piece of plastic that will, after a few months, or even sooner, be relegated to the bottom of the toy box?

Surely, it’s time parents stopped being swept up in these annual trends and thought of other ways to keep their young ones happy? Should parents really be letting their children hold them to emotional ransom?

Something parents have a year to think about.

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Let the sky rain potatoes

William Shakespeare

Spuds and Speeches, it's all in the Preparation

Posted by martin.parnell |

A friend of ours was telling my wife about a recipe for coconut snowballs, using mashed potato, apparently they are an old family favourite and delicious. 

The lowly potato has also made its mark in the pages of the Guinness World Records. 

These include the:

  • Largest serving of baked potatoes
  • Largest potato salad
  • Largest serving of mashed potato
  • Largest potato dumpling
  • Largest pie, potato
  • Largest bag of crisps 
  • Most mashed potato eaten in 30 seconds
  • Most wins of the Mashed Potato Wrestling Championships
  • Most potatoes carried between the knees in three minutes (team of six) 

And, one that caught my eye............. 

The fastest marathon dressed as a Mr Potato Head was 3 hr 38 min 20 sec by Andrew McKenzi. 

It got me thinking about how many different ways one could serve up the humble potato and there are many, from just plain boiled, with a knob of butter and pinch of pepper to that delicious dish, potatoes au gratin. 

In a way, potatoes are like speeches. Some take less time to prepare, some need spicing up a little, to make them interesting and some can be kept plain and simple and be just as satisfying. 

But, in the end, a potato is just a potato, just as a speech is just a speech, what makes either of them great is how well you prepare and then serve them. You don’t need to keep rewriting, but it’s always worth spending some time on a little tweaking here and there, according to your audience and other factors you need to take into consideration. e.g. time allotted. 

So, next time you’re about to present a talk, why not see if you can treat it like the potato, use the same basic ingredient, just present it a little differently. 

And, for those of you who might feel inclined to try that coconut snowball recipe: 

  • Cook and mash potatoes
  • In a large mixing bowl combine shredded coconut, confectioner’s sugar, mashed potatoes and nuts.
  • Mix with clean hands and mould into small balls.
  • Set on aluminum foil and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  • Can be dipped into melted caramel, strawberry or fudge flavoured almond bark. 

And, you can adapt this recipe by using sweet potatoes – apparently.

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Today’s amateurs are tomorrow’s champions

Matshona Dhliwayo Author
When things get Serious and making a Commitment to the Next Step

When things get Serious and making a Commitment to the Next Step

Posted by martin.parnell |

I recently read a blog by Oliver Balch entitled “Lycra leggings – The final step in the evolution of a running fanatic”. In it, he talks about the realisation that he has become a serious runner: 

I was out running the other morning, the usual steady pace, gulping down the frosty air, when it dawned on me that I was wearing running tights. You know, the ultra-tight compression ones. The ones with antimicrobial technology and go-faster stripes. The I-take-my-running-seriously ones.

It led him to ask himself............

When did it come to this? When did I become the man who wore Lycra leggings? Leggings that cost as much as Levi’s. It’s absurd – financially, fashion-wise, every which way. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have scoffed at the thought. Now, I’m slower to chide. It’s OK, I tell myself. I’m just being me. The new me. The runner me. The convert.” 

It got me thinking, about when I came to consider myself a serious runner. The runner in me first raised his head when one of my younger brothers, Peter, challenged me to run the Calgary marathon, in 2003. Over the years, I had attempted various sports, but just going out and running had never really appealed to me.

However, I wasn’t going to back off from a little sibling rivalry. After attempting to train alone, starting with a 1km jog from my front door, I soon realised I needed help, so I guess the first step I took to becoming “serious” about it was to join the Sudbury  Rocks Running Club, in Ontario. I became hooked and have since run literally hundreds of races, including marathons and ultra-marathons. I am frequently asked to speak to running groups, having become somewhat of an expert on the whole subject of running. This and my philanthropic endeavours for the children’s charity Right To Play, led to my career as an author and speaker.

I had written blogs and articles about my various events and experiences and it was when I decided to use this as a basis for the manuscript for my first book, Marathon Quest and was fortunate enough to be published, by Rocky Mountain Books, that I began to think of myself as a serious author.  In order to hone my writing skills, I worked with the people at Rocky Mountain Books, who provided me with a wonderful editor.

I was soon being asked to speak about these topics on a regular basis and when I started to be paid for doing so that I came to regard myself as a professional speaker.  For support, when it comes to improving and promoting my speaking skills, I joined the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS), whose members are a constant source of mentoring and sound advice.

Most of us decide, from the outset, on a serious path to take, whether it’s in a career, pastime or other endeavour. Sometimes, these things slowly come to us, from what might seem a fairly casual approach.  It’s worth being open to realising when that transition might occur, be prepared to embrace it and see it as an opportunity.

It may give you the chance to set goals, achieve a sense of fulfillment and set you on an unexpected path to great things.

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I prefer the pen. There is something elemental about the glide and flow of nib and ink on paper

James Robertson, The Testament of Gideon Mack

Treasures in the Mail and why Handwriting still Matters

Posted by martin.parnell |

According to the website daysoftheyear.com, January 23rd. is National handwriting day.

National Handwriting Day was invented by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA).  "The purpose of National Handwriting Day is to alert the public to the importance of handwriting. It is a chance for all of us to re-explore the purity and power of handwriting. “

Last Friday, my wife and I received a handwritten letter from our 12 year old granddaughter Autumn. It’s a delight to see how her handwriting has changed over the years, from her first effort to write her name, with its backward letters and upper scale and lower scale letters mixed together, to this recent account of how school is going and her new interests.  Despite the fact that we regularly connect with her on Skype, there was something wonderful about receiving a letter from her, in the mail. But one noticeable aspect of her letter is that it is printed i.e. not cursive

My wife is a great believer in the importance of keeping the art of cursive handwriting alive. Some of her most precious possessions are notes and letters from her Mum, who had beautiful handwriting.  

In December 2014, The Guardian newspaper published an article by Anne Chemin on the question “Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard?” In it, she states that “Computers may dominate our lives, but mastery of penmanship brings us important cognitive benefits, research suggests.” And that “Some neuroscientists think that giving up handwriting will impact on how future generations learn to read.”

At first sight the battle between keyboards and pens might seem to be no more than the latest twist in a very long story, yet experts on writing do not agree: pens and keyboards bring into play very different cognitive processes. “Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought,” says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva. “Operating a keyboard is not the same at all: all you have to do is press the right key. “

Some neuroscientists think that giving up handwriting will affect how future generations learn to read. “Drawing each letter by hand substantially improves subsequent recognition,” Gentaz explains.

Marieke Longchamp and Jean-Luc Velay, two researchers at the cognitive neuroscience laboratory at Aix-Marseille University, have carried out a study of 76 children, aged three to five. The group that learned to write letters by hand were better at recognising them than the group that learned to type them on a computer. Learning to write by hand does seem to play an important part in reading.  

In a paper published by the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject. The study focused on more than 300 students at Princeton University. It suggested that students who took longhand notes were better able to answer questions on the lecture than those using a laptop. For the scientists, the reason is clear: those working on paper rephrased information as they took notes, which required them to carry out a preliminary process of summarising and comprehension; in contrast, those working on a keyboard tended to take a lot of notes, but avoided what is known as “desirable difficulty”.

In France, in the early 2000s the ministry of education instructed schools to start teaching cursive writing when pupils entered primary school. “For a long time we attached little importance to handwriting,” says school inspector Viviane Bouysse. “But, in 2000, drawing on work in the neurosciences, we realised that this learning process was a key step in cognitive development.”

From August 2016, in Alabama, USA, a State law (Lexi’s Law) requires cursive handwriting to be taught by the end of third grade, in all state schools and all students should become proficient in writing words and sentences in cursive.

Cursive writing will begin in second grade with how to write lower-case and upper-case letters and will continue to be practiced in fourth and fifth grades.  When reaching out to local parents and teachers about Lexi's Law, many were positive explaining the benefits they have seen in teaching cursive writing to their children and students, especially those with learning disabilities.

Andrea Overman teaches at Alabama Christian Academy and said there is benefits to learning cursive writing before print. "With cursive all letters start on the baseline, which is the same place and therefore less confusing," Overman said. "Individual words are connected with spaces between words, which helps with word recognition. It requires less muscle control for their children who have fine motor issues.

Regardless of the scientific debate about the importance of handwriting in the development of cognitive skills, it is still something most of us will still do almost every day, whether it’s jotting down something on a post it note or  writing a shopping list, it is still something very useful and also something which can give pleasure to others. Think of the joy you get in receiving a Birthday card in the mail, or a postcard from abroad.

Handwriting Analyst, Julia Layton states that “Every person in the world has a unique way of writing.” She explains that we develop characteristics in our handwriting and this is why a sample of someone’s handwriting can be used as forensic evidence in court.  It would be a pity to lose some of that individuality, when so many aspects of communication are becoming standardized.

I for one will celebrate handwriting day by making notes for my next Blog and my wife will be writing a reply, by hand, to our granddaughter.

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Every great achiever is inspired by a great mentor.

Lailah Gifty Akita, Think Great: Be Great!

The Benefits of Sharing and Supporting in the Workplace

Posted by martin.parnell |

January is National Mentoring Month, an annual designation observed in order to celebrate mentoring and the positive effect it can have on young lives. Its goals are to raise awareness of mentoring in its various forms and recruit individuals to mentor, especially in programs that have waiting lists of young people.

Despite the perceived emphasis on supporting young lives, a mentor can provide valuable support to people of any age, especially at a time when some employees find themselves taking up second careers or having to adapt to new roles, in the workforce.

"Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be." Eric Parsloe, The Oxford

If you look up the word “mentor”, in the dictionary, you will find two definitions.The noun is used to describe “an experienced and trusted adviser”. The verb means to advise or train.

According to MENTOSET, a product of the Women's Engineering Society,“Mentoring is a powerful personal development and empowerment tool. It is an effective way of helping people to progress in their careers and is becoming increasing popular as its potential is realised. It is a partnership between two people (mentor and mentee) normally working in a similar field or sharing similar experiences. It is a helpful relationship based upon mutual trust and respect.

A mentor is a guide who can help the mentee to find the right direction and who can help them to develop solutions to career issues. Mentors rely upon having had similar experiences to gain an empathy with the mentee and an understanding of their issues. Mentoring provides the mentee with an opportunity to think about career options and progress.

A mentor should help the mentee to believe in their abilities and boost confidence. A mentor should ask questions and challenge, while providing guidance and encouragement. Mentoring allows the mentee to explore new ideas in confidence. It is a chance to look more closely at yourself, your issues, opportunities and what you want in life. Mentoring is about becoming more self-aware, taking responsibility for your life and directing your life in the direction you decide, rather than leaving it to chance.”

It goes on to list some of the benefits of mentoring, which include:   

  • The employee feels supported and has a mechanism for working through any problems that exist.
  • Mentoring includes training, support, encouragement, advice and guidance from people who have both 'done it before' and are usually independent of the mentee’s current organisation
  • Both the mentees and mentors gain confidence and leadership skills

You may not have considered yourself as a mentor, but there are probably times when you have supported a colleague, given advice and shared your experience. This is something to consider mentioning, if you are filling out a resume, as it is a valuable skill. You may have, at some time, been mentored and might consider passing on the lessons learned to someone else.

Although we are now almost at the end of this year’s National Mentoring Month, it is something to bear in mind for next January, an opportunity to reflect on the role of the mentor and consider how you might use your skills and experience to become one yourself.

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