Forget what you know about houses

One of Elora Hardy's "Magical houses, made of bamboo"; photo clip from her TED2015 talk

One of Elora Hardy’s “Magical houses, made of bamboo”; photo clip from her TED2015 talk

Elora Hardy uses the bamboo so ubiquitous in tropical climates, and her native Bali, to build houses that will defy any preconceptions you may have about housing…and about bamboo. Houses do not have to be straight-walled rectangles. They do not have to rely on concrete or wood. They can be airy, fanciful, sturdy, curving homes made of bamboo.

Elora Hardy’s TED2015 talk shows how to treat bamboo so it will last, resisting both insects and weathering. She and her fellow designers and students completely eschew straight lines, using the natural curves of bamboo to create “Magical houses” (the apt title of her talk).

I remember seeing bamboo scaffolding in Asian countries and Pacific islands and wondering how they could risk their lives on such flimsy platforms. What I did not understand then were two essential qualities of bamboo: strength and sustainability. With skilled craftsmen and endless ingenuity, bamboo houses in Bali are becoming works of art that will make you rethink possibilities when it comes to housing. Made of materials that re-grow quickly, these exquisite houses are designed with an eye for beauty and durability.


Honouring First Nations strengths is the path to reconciliation

Image from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Facebook page

The history of colonialism in Canada is not a pretty picture. The past cannot be changed, but it can be acknowledged, the consequences understood. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has been looking into the impact of one particularly painful part of that history, the effects of removing children from their families with the express intent of dismantling cultural ties. The commission was required by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of 2007.

When he released the report on June 2, 2015, Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the commission summed up the findings by saying, “What took place in residential schools amounts to nothing short of cultural genocide, but as the survivors have shown us, they have survived.”

Survivors are justifiably skeptical that anything will change as a result of the TRC’s investigation. But change can and must happen, both for the country’s First Nations people and for the broader population. Canadians have a vision of themselves as basically decent people, who believe in social justice. Reconciliation offers an opportunity to live up to that vision. It will not be a smooth path, but here are some reasons for hope:

      1. First Nations authors are publishing books that deepen insight into Canada’s history and point the way to a better tomorrow. Here are a few that every Canadian should read: The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America and A Short History Of Indians In Canada by Thomas King, One Native Life and One Story, One Song by Richard Wagamese, They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School by Bev Sellars, and The Orenda
        by Joseph Boydon.
      2. John Ralston Saul’s book, The Comeback: How Aboriginals Are Reclaiming Power And Influence
        shows the strength and vitality of modern Aboriginal life in Canada.
      3. Though published in 2001, “Challenging the Deficit Paradigm: Grounds for Optimism among First Nations in Canada” is still a good alternative to the almost consistently negative views found in media accounts.
      4. John Kiedrowski’s article for the National Post tracks the progress First Nations police are making in reducing crime on reserves.
      5. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada shares dozens of First Nations success stories on its site.
      6. First Nations University of Canada is providing models of learning based on values that can benefit all of Canadian society.

Canada’s First Nations people are not problems to be solved. They are resilient survivors with a great deal to share and teach. Their languages, teachings and spirituality are a legacy that can benefit all of society.

Moving forward on the recommendations made by the TRC, the federal government should act to bring about a more unified, just and supportive country for all Canadians. But individual Canadians do not have to wait for government to act. Social change happens when individuals insist on it in numbers large enough for the halls of power to take notice. Reconciliation comes about when we understand the brokenness of our history, look at each other as equals, acknowledge our part in maintaining an unhealthy status quo, and agree to move forward in a spirit of acceptance and healing.

We can do this.



Watch out! Granny’s got a spray can

Street art is appearing all over Lisbon, ranging from plain old graffiti to artistry like this in a photo by Bjarke Liboriussen; via Flickr Creative Commons

Street art is appearing all over Lisbon, ranging from plain old graffiti to artistry like this in a photo by Bjarke Liboriussen; via Flickr Creative Commons

They set out with spray paints, stencils, creativity and determination. Their intent is to enliven some of Lisbon’s neighbourhoods. What is groundbreaking is that they are seniors, not youth.

LATA 65 is an initiative designed by Cowork Lisboa in partnership with Wool – Covilhã Urban Art Festival. The intergenerational project brings together Lisbon, Portugal’s young street artists and elderly residents. The urban artists teach the seniors about street art and then set them loose to brighten the city.

This is a clever scheme for creating awareness and understanding of street art as well as for connecting young and old. Seniors’ artistic impulses are given a public outlet, and they likely never look at graffiti in the same way again.

So far more than 100 Lisbon residents, between the ages of 63 and 94, have become street artists since the project began in 2012. Check out some of their creative efforts in the photographs on the LATA 65 Facebook page. This is an idea that could go global.


LATA 65 | workshop de arte urbana para idosos from wool on Vimeo.




Your heart will break open reading these notes

Kyle Schwartz honouring another Doull Elementary School "nurturer of kids"; photo from her Twitter feed

Kyle Schwartz honouring another Doull Elementary School “nurturer of kids”; photo from her Twitter feed

Some people were born to teach. Kyle Schwartz is one of them. Wanting to know her students better, she gave them an assignment: Take a note card and write on it things “I wish my teacher knew.”

She could never have anticipated the deeply personal responses she would receive. Or perhaps she could have because it is evident she looks at her students through love-tinted glasses.

The children poured out their hearts in a way that shows how much they trust their teacher to honour their words and the tender hearts behind them. The third-grade children’s responses were so moving she shared them on her Twitter feed, using the hash tag, #IWishMyTeacherKnew.

We have all sat in a classroom—or in an office, a party or a room full of strangers—nursing our private hurts, our unexpressed joys. But these children were especially vulnerable. They live in a catchment area of Denver, Colorado where 92 percent of them qualify for subsidized school lunches.

Poverty takes its toll on children. The American Psychological Association cites such impacts as “poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays.” The effects follow them through life and have consequences for the entire society.

Kyle Schwartz has no magic wand to erase poverty. What she does have is a big heart. She believes in the children in her charge. They respond by stretching to meet her expectations and by offering their trust.

Schwartz’s assignment has gone viral. It tapped into the hurt child in all of us and into the dreams we cherish in our hearts. Here are a few of the notes she posted on her Twitter feed:

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.29.48 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.31.37 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.31.54 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.32.07 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.32.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.32.26 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.31.54 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.32.26 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.29.48 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-28 at 4.32.17 PM

Watch to the end of this short clip from 7 News Denver. A teacher loved this much is someone very special.

You can follow Kyle Schwartz on Twitter and learn more about her dreams for her students on

Read more about Kyle Schwartz and the assignment that went viral:


Poking fun at e-reader critics

Kindle Fire on Books; photo by Zhao, via Flickr Creative Commons

A Chilliwack, British Columbia, book store called The Bookman created a delightful video “All About Them Books!” (embedded below) and set it to Megan Trainor’s catchy song, “All About That Bass”. As a reading lover who adores everything about books, I smiled at its celebration of small books, tall books, hardcover books and paperback books.

I love them too, but I also love reading on my iPad. Initially an e-reader skeptic, I have become an avid user of the digital format, both as a reader and as a writer.

So when the CBC Daybreak South hosts, Chris Walker and Jaimie Kehler, both insisted they eschew e-readers in favour of print books, I was inspired to write alternative lyrics. So here, with apologies and gratitude to Megan Trainor, is my take on the digital divide in reading because, really, books are delicious in any format.

It’s All About Those Words

Because it’s all about those words, about those words
Not format
It’s all about those words, about those words
Not format
It’s all about those words, about those words
Not format
It’s all about those words, about those words

It’s pretty clear, it’s true, that books are good for you.
But you can read ‘em, read ‘em like you’re supposed to do
On screen or in your hand, just try to understand
A book’s about the words and not where they are found.
So grab your tablet and load it with mysteries
Or what you want to read, romance to histories.
The words are all right there, just waiting for your mind
In print or digital, no matter how you are inclined.

If your eyes they are failing,
Your brain’s rearranging, oh my.
You can still read your cookbooks
Or learn how to raise chooks; just try.
Grab your tablet and make those words
Simple to see and to read.
Tuck 50 books in your pack
Without breaking the back of your steed.

Because it’s all about those words, about those words
Not format
It’s all about those words, about those words
Not format
It’s all about those words, about those words
Not format
It’s all about those words, about those words

Oh, you can read at night
Without a light
While partners snooze beside.
And if you know you have a book inside
Write it for readers on a Kindle or a Nook.
They’re out there waiting for your book.

No need to cut down those trees.
Read as much as you please thanks to these.
Load your tablet with tomes
That are waiting for homes in your mind.
If you buy books or borrow
Today or tomorrow you’ll find
That books are words, not the format
In which all those words are enshrined.

Because it’s all about those words, about those words
Not format
It’s all about those words, about those words
Not format
It’s all about those words, about those words
Not format
It’s all about those words, about those words


Thanks, Teach…here’s $10,000

Gratitude - This Dawn #8; photo and art by Julie Jordan Scott, via Flickr Creative Commons

Gratitude – This Dawn #8; photo and art by Julie Jordan Scott, via Flickr Creative Commons


An apple maybe. A card or a letter…even better. But a cheque for $10,000? That is an exceptional way of thanking a teacher whose guidance influenced a young person’s trajectory.

Kevin Perz never forgot the teachers whose belief in him set him on a path of success. Their encouragement can be seen in his success as an entrepreneur. His company, Dynamic Fastener, has given him and his family a comfortable life. Looking back, he recognizes the role some of his teachers played in that.

He began sending cheques to former teachers in 1992, when he sent $5000 to his calculus teacher. Years later he tracked down Marilyn Mecham and sent her a cheque for $10,000, with the stipulation the generous woman spend the money on herself. The money arrived just as Mecham was honouring the memory of her beloved husband, who died of a heart attack in 2006.

What is beautiful in each case of Perz’s generosity is his unfettered gratitude. He has done well in life. As he looks back, he identifies those who made a difference. He does more than send them unspoken gratitude. He tracks them down and sends them a concrete measure of what they did to put him on the success path.

Perz’s gifts are a reminder that none of us makes something out of our life solely on our own merit. We all have angels looking after us. For Perz, teachers were among the best possible angels. They saw something in him at a time he was not sure anything special was there. Their encouragement fostered his ambition. His success is his own, but the path to it was cleared by people who believed in him.


Ireland shows change is possible

The work of supporters, like these at the 2009 gay pride parade in Dublin, has paid off; photo by Charles Hutchins, via Flickr Creative Commons

The work of supporters, like these at the 2009 gay pride parade in Dublin, has paid off; photo by Charles Hutchins, via Flickr Creative Commons

Irish voters have spoken, and 62.1% of them have made clear their support for same-sex marriage. The first country to ask voters to decide on the issue has opted for equity by a comfortable majority. Doing so made them the 20th country to legalize marriage for gays and lesbians.

Reacting to the vote, Prime Minister Enda Kenny gave a short, moving speech, in which he said, “With today’s vote we have disclosed who we are — a generous, passionate, bold and joyful people. Yes to inclusion, yes to generosity, yes to love, yes to equal marriage.”

The joy was palpable as supporters gathered to watch the results come in from around Ireland. High numbers of young people turned out to vote, some traveling from overseas to be part of the historic moment.

Since the 1990s, when child sex abuse scandals rocked the Catholic Church, the religious body’s hold over the population has been waning. RTE News spoke to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who said the referendum represents significant social change among young people and that “the church needs to do a reality check across the board.”

Ireland’s majority vote gives encouragement to supporters in countries still wrestling with the question of whether or not to recognize same-sex couples as having the same rights as those in heterosexual relationships. We are moving ever closer to the day we will look back and wonder why on earth there was ever such a fuss over a simple matter of human rights. Thank you, Irish supporters, for putting the pressure on democracies still dragging their feet.

Read more about the historic vote:



The company where everyone, even the CEO, will earn $70,000

Photo by kconnors, via morgueFile

Photo by kconnors, via morgueFile

Dan Price, CEO of Seattle’s Gravity Payments (a payment processing company) gave up a million-dollar salary to try an outrageous experiment. He cut his salary to $70,000 and increased every employee’s salary to exactly the same level.

He told CNN News he paid his first employee $24,000 and no health benefits. That troubled him so as the company became successful enough to pay higher salaries, he wanted to reward his employees. He chose $70,000 because of a 2010 Princeton study that pegged the happiness turning point at $75,000. Up to that level, every additional dollar increased happiness. Beyond that, more money has no impact on happiness.

Price looked at the company’s financial position and decided he could pay everyone $70,000, starting at $50,000 and working up to the full amount by $70,000. That is a big jump from the company’s current average of $48,000. He figured that would allow his employees could focus on their work rather than on money worries.

The gamble brought a flood of new business as well as interest in working for the company. At the time he spoke with CNN, he had two openings and had received over 3,500 applicants.

Price made the announcement in April 2015 and has received all kinds of media attention for it. He told CBS News he made the decision because, “I want to be part of the solution to inequality in this country, and so if corporate America also wants to be a part of that solution, that would make me really happy.”

A salary of $70,000 does not guarantee the recipients will live within their means or be happy. However, it sets an atmosphere of equality that is rare in the corporate world. Price’s experiment is worth watching.




Pedicab driver turned philanthropist

Pedicab drivers

Pedicab drivers in Shanghai; photo by Barbara Torris, via Flickr Creative Commons


By the time Bai Fang Li died in 2005, he had donated 350,000 yuan to enable more than 300 young people to receive an education. He did it all with the small amount of money he made as a pedicab driver.

When Bai retired the first time, he was 74 years old. He left Tianjin to visit his hometown, a visit that was to send him back to work for nearly 20 more years.

His plan to retire in 1987 stumbled over the reality he saw in the fields of his hometown. School-age children were toiling in the fields. Bai asked his daughter why they were not in school. When he learned their families could not afford school fees, he donated his last 5,000 yuan for them.

The plight of children from poor families haunted him. He wanted them to have the education his family could never afford.

Bai returned to Tianjin and went back to work. Each day he saved his earnings in a safe place, keeping it for the children. Eventually he moved into a small room near the railway station so he could work longer hours. He wore castoff clothing and ate simply, saving every possible yuan.

In 2001 he delivered his last donation to Tianjin YaoHua Middle School. He could work no more.

Lung cancer took Bai’s life in 2005, at the age of 93, but it did not take his legacy. It lives on in the young people whose lives he changed. Thanks to CCTV’S Unsung Heroes series, we can all learn about him.


Transgender widow wins victory for civil rights

Robina Asti

Robina Asti tells her story in the Lambda Legal video below

During World War II Robert Asti flew combat missions for the U.S. Navy. After the war he married and raised three children. He flew commercial aircraft, was a flight instructor, and became vice president of a mutual fund.

Inside the male pilot and businessman was a woman increasingly uncomfortable as a man. She knew her transition to a woman would be anathema in the business world so she ended up leaving her position. In 1976, at the age of 55, she became legally female and took the name Robina.

In 1980 she met Norwood Patton. Early in their dating she told him of her transition. He was startled, but a week later he assured her he had fallen in love with her as a woman and saw her that way. He was keen to marry her, but she put him off until 2004, when they formalized their relationship.

Patton died in 2012, and Asti applied to the Social Security Administration (SSA) survivor benefits. Although she had lived as a woman for nearly forty years, the SSA turned down her application. Their basis? She did not “meet the marriage requirement” because, according to them, she was not legally a woman.

Asti was devastated. With the help of Lambda Legal, a firm that has worked since 1973 to help lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people achieve their civil rights, she challenged the SSA and won.

Robina Asti is a quiet, unassuming woman. She has endured a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding in her life. She knows the thorny path young transgender people walk in their efforts to be recognized as the people they know themselves to be. Her fight for justice was not only about the money to which she was entitled. It was also about social change. Thanks to her and to the work of Lambda Legal, transgender individuals are now entitled to survivor benefits through their spouses. Asti tells her story in themoving documentary below.