Stylocycle’s Blog

Brioche — first try
November 17, 2012, 7:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Brioche -- first try

When I went on sabbatical in 2007, I really wanted to learn to make brioche. I ended up not spending time to learn until this year. These turned out pretty nicely, and the idea is to use the bread to make proper French toast.


It’s been ever so long!
August 31, 2012, 7:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

OK… so, I’ve been away for *forever*. I know. Things have been busy. They are going to get busier. I keep trying to scale back, and then fail because I get called into service on a variety of projects, community organizations within my profession, and extra duties to under-staffed faculty programmes on campus… 

But this post isn’t about me. 

It’s about how proud I am of my boy… who has a conditional acceptance to a really great chef school that happens, by chance, to be in our region. He needs to pass his GED at the end of September because, as a home-schooled kid for his last 2 years of HS, he needs to demonstrate to Premier McGuinty that he deserves the opportunity to enter a Red Seal apprenticeship-based programme, and he can only do that with a GED. It’s time for a change on Ontario. 

Anyway, in the meantime the boy has created a blog of his own, with a mandate to bring cooking skills  to (young) people who have no idea how to feed themselves, but who know they need to learn how PDQ. He’s starting out with a list of basic supplies that a student needs to start cooking. You can follow him at his blog, A Life in Food.

So long, 2011. So glad to be done with you.
January 2, 2012, 1:50 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Yeah, this past year just sucked.

My mother wonders what to do with her days now that she has no companion to share them. She went from the full-throttle demands of being an intimate care-giver to being a widow, all without ever having had the time to come to grips with the idea that her husband was sick… his cancer was terminal and advanced at the point of discovery in late March and he died in early September.

We made it through his funeral in later September: a quasi-Catholic service for the cremains. A very liberal parish was willing to provide a mass of sorts. “Of sorts” here indicates that most of the significant parts of the mass were omitted, and it left those of us with more Catholic upbringings a little confused, a little like amputees… But in early October we held a memorial for him at the Faculty Club on campus, and that was lovely. My dear friend, whom Tom had quickly grown quite fond of closed out our evening with a lovely story about Tom, and the chicken… Lucy, and how we came to be the joint custody holders of a laying hen.

But then in early November that same dear friend, who is quite young, was diagnosed with cancer herself, and so I found my heat and my time preoccupied once again. Fortunately, we have access to the best cancer care and surgeons and early detection meant that at her post-op meeting last week we were thrilled to hear that the surgeon fully expects her never to be bothered by this again and to live to a very old age. Thank you socialized medicine!

The two great reprieves of the past few months have been the weather, which has allowed me to continue daily cycling for commuting purposes, and that my friend got me completely hooked on rock-climbing (indoors — for now).

We have a new rock climbing gym in town, just about 3km away from the house, so it’s a pretty easy bike ride to get there. Each time I go I spend about 2 hours on the wall or on the belay side of the rope. It’s incredibly great exercise and it helps enormously with my tendency to get really neurotic. The only thing I can think about when I am on the wall is solving the route (and not falling off the wall); it leaves no room to think about the people who annoy me, or the projects that frustrate me. I am really grateful to have been able to learn to do it, and to find that I am reasonably good at it. Like cycling (which also helps me to avoid neuroticism), climbing seems to be a good fit with my ability and with my personality.

I hope that from wherever you are reading that your 2012 will bring some new surprise that is a good fit with your abilities and with your needs.

Every year… new academic year
September 21, 2011, 10:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

…when September rolls around I listen to David Sylvian, but this year I forgot to do it. I was busy, preoccupied…
Today is a rainy, very fall-kind-of-day, and it would be a very good day to listen to Sylvian sing his short refrain about September being here again, but we’re 2/3 of the way through and so it seems a little absurd to be heralding the arrival of a month that is on its way out.
My step-dad died on the 11th, only a few short hours after I’d written my last entry. We were with him when he went, and the night was clear, with bright stars and a warm wind; it was a good night for travel.
We all miss him. I still feel inclined to call my mum to see how Tom is doing, but then I remember the answer.
I’ve decided to use the tools that he gave us to build a proper standing desk for myself… something white and clean-lined and spare. I’m not sure if it’s feasible but I aim to build it in the basement over the course of the winter. I need to begin by drawing up the plans.
What else?
Twice some random person (I presume in a state of drunken inspiration) has tried to take one of our bikes from the side yard where they are locked up. I am happy to report that they have given up their efforts after no more than about 50 feet, finding the steel wheel locks entirely too impossible to get through to bother with the effort. Nonetheless, rather bored by retrieving them from the sidewalk, we’ve had to take to chaining the bikes to our fence. I did, however, manage to find a nice cable lock that is easy to use, and can be made longer or shorter as needed.
One of the things I really enjoy about September is that I start riding purposefully again, and that means I’m on my bike *more* in the academic year than I am in the summer (when I hang out at home more). Having a lock that is easy to use means I’m a lot less grumpy about getting out the door and onto the road than I used to be when I had to find a place to store a clunky U-lock, or a ridiculously cumbersome coiled lock.
Yay for refinement of a good idea. Check out Knog cable locks (especially as a supplemental lock because you know that you can rely on a good wheel lock and a heavy bicycle to be added impediments to the theft of your beloved).

It’s been forever… and here’s why
September 10, 2011, 9:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In February my step-dad fell ill with what we thought was a flu; he was tired, had joint pain, but no other specific complaints. You know what’s coming, don’t you?

Within a few weeks, he was seen in the ER for pain in his abdomen that was non-specific, but my mother was tired of him moaning and doing little, so she forced him to go. They sent him for a CT scan and discovered lesions on his liver. By March 17th, we were sitting with the general surgeon who explained that the lesions were likely a metastasized cancer… and so the hunt was on for the source.

By April 2nd, we had our answer: small cell lung cancer with metastases to the liver and the bone marrow. Spring and summer were consumed by palliative chemotherapy, and other clinical visits. His final chemo treatment was on July 28th, and his final CT scan was on August 21st. While the liver initially responded well, and the bone marrow was more resistant, by the end of the treatment regimen that pattern had been reversed; the liver cancer cells had become resistant and were growing like wild-fire. In the two weeks since his final clinical assessment with the head of oncology he has gone from tired but mobile to hospice care.

My step-dad is currently in hospice, and my spouse and I take turns staying through the night so that there is extra support there to prevent him from being in danger as a result of his attempts to get out of bed at night. If he were to fall, he would be seriously injured, and then he would have to go to the hospital, and nobody wants to see him in hospital.

We expect that it won’t be more than a few days now, but even that would be too much suffering. What the oncologist said was, “You won’t have any pain; you will just become more and more tired, and eventually you won’t wake up again.” That doesn’t sound like such a bad way to go. Too bad it’s complete bullshit. It’s true enough that he does not have much pain, but until you witness it, you have no idea what this kind of exhaustion (and severe jaundice) mean. He still has the mental will to do things for himself, but his body is incapable of cooperating. Swallowing is a task. Speaking is near to impossible. He has trouble breathing because the fluid in his abdomen and his enlarged liver compress his lungs. It’s not *painful* but it’s harrowing nonetheless. He has no muscle left on his bones, so his legs cannot take him to the washroom; he cannot go outside except in his bed.

I’d like to chain the oncologist to a chair and make him sit in the hospice for two weeks to witness what “tired” means.


Soon, my step-dad will be released from all this… but he gave us a gift that was meant as a bit of a joke… which we have kept as a joint effort with a friend. We now have a laying hen, a little Rhode Island Red, and she gives us an egg a day.

And so, from commuter cycling to the backyard farming… my life takes turns I could never have predicted.

Enough already.
February 28, 2011, 8:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I embrace winter. Really. I do.
I ski (both downhill and x-country).
I skate.
I go walking with my friend and her dog on looooong walks.
I ride my bike all year round….
But dammit! The 14 day forecast isn’t even hinting that spring might be on its way.
I am ready to pack it in. It’s time to hibernate until, oh, early July.

February 14, 2011, 9:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m not a big product plugger.

However, if you need a versatile pant that can take you from yoga to your bike to the office to a hike… (or whatever blend of professional and outdoorsy you want to make in a single day), then I really can’t say enough good things about Lolë’s ‘dress pants’. I love the comfort of the cut, the zippered flat pockets, the special internal pocket for things like rings or other small jewelry items that can get in the way, the fabric… and the price. I love that they repel water and operate as a nice windbreak in colder weather, and I love that once I’m in the office nobody is any the wiser to the fact that I may have just come from a ride (like today) through a combination of salty slush and wet rain, or from a yoga class.

Snowed In, Snowed Under
February 6, 2011, 4:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Blue Beauty is stuck in a snow pile over two feet deep. Until about 10 days ago I was still riding regularly. Winter arrived late this year insofar as snow dumps go. Another 10 cm last night brings our total over the last few days to something in the range of 30cm. Our roads are considerably narrowed by the ingress of snow-banks… but it can’t be too long now until the spring thaws start to take back our streets.

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing what I do when I’m not out and about. I think. I write. That’s my gig in this this life. Think. Write. Communicate ideas.

Here’s something that’s stuck in my craw and won’t leave.

I’ve recently heard the old adage that “parents are the first teachers of the child” much abused. The idea that parents are the first teachers is sometimes attributed to Schinichi Suzuki, and arises in much of the current public discourse about parental responsibility with regard to education. As a truism, it can suffer from being taken-for-granted as an obvious point that verifies whatever the issue that follows from it.

Here, I’d like to take it back to the point Suzuki was making: that children did not (when he was writing) generally encounter formal education before age 7, and yet were already aware of the larger world around them, and to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the ability of parents to invest attention and time in the children, would take on the values and talents and knowledge of the parents. I am reminded at this point of the anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu’s work on the transmission of class values and tastes from one generation to the next as exhaustively described and assessed in his sweeping study, Distinction. Unlike so many current educators who are obsessed with transmitting the “superior” values of the middle-class, Bourdieu made the point that there was no inherent value-difference between ‘high’ culture and ‘low’ culture. He did not advocate for schools to colonize and wipe away the tastes and values of the working class. Nor did he see any rational purpose to disparaging the tastes of elites as ‘frivolous’. He did outline the interests served by the bourgeois rationalisation of formal education, and of the working class disparagement of elite culture, but understanding the mechanisms served by each strategy does not amount for Bourdieu to advocating a particular approach.

So what has this to do with parents being the first teachers of their children?
So far as I can tell, the truism is descriptive, not prescriptive. It tells us that a child will learn internal anatomy of different vertebrates from the parent who hunts for food, will learn the migration and dietary habits of birds from the same parent… The description accounts for the tendency of children to learn valuable information through informal but repeated transmission.

Here’s what it’s not about:
Getting ‘the jump’ on a state-supplied curriculum so that you can get a wedge of advantage in over the other children in the class.

“Parents are the first teachers of the child” is a description of what we already do, more or less unconsciously. To use this point — as schools increasingly do — as a coercive insistence that parents should be enforcing tedious homework, or supplying the curriculum in advance, or trying to figure out how to do the formal work of the school in addition to holding down two or three jobs is just abusive.

It is abusive because it exacerbates existing class inequalities between children by measuring their ability to learn only against the given curriculum instead of using the knowledge and interests children arrive with to help them learn in school. It is abusive because it problematizes some families and privileges others. It is abusive because the declared rules of the formal education system tell us that the curriculum begins at the same place for all the children (unless you happen to know how to get the jump on it and are not concerned with whether doing so breaks the apparent rules). It is abusive because it understands teaching as the rote repetition of decontextualized information and recasts that as ‘knowledge’ while ignoring all the pragmatic and aesthetic knowledge that children may actually have. It is abusive because it passes off the responsibilities of state-mandated education to parents and thus responsiblizes them for the failings of a system that is too large to serve the specific needs of individual children. It is abusive because it teaches some children that what they know, and what their parents know is not worthy.

My kid could read before he was 5 years old. Because his father has a musical talent and interest that our son also displayed from toddlerhood, our child had more musical training and ability by age 6 than most kids have at the completion of high school. Because we were fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in the countryside, our son learned a lot about the habitats and life-cycles of reptiles, amphibians and birds, about how beavers structure their dams, and about water cycles… all before he was in the third grade. We have no idea why, but the kid loved to play math-based games from a very early age and could do arithmetic in his head…

We sent him to school early so that he could have friends. He is an only child and when he was young he would look out our window longingly at the children who went to school and wanted to play with them too. We were not concerned about his ability to learn. It never occurred to us that school would end up being disastrous for him from an official measures stand-point.

The first 3 years were fine. But then we moved to a suburban location because my work required a move out of the city. In the suburbs, the new elementary school assumed that mothers stayed home and fathers earned income. The expectation was that we were at home to enforce the ‘extras’ required to master the curriculum, to police homework, and to supply the unpaid labour for the school in the form of fund-raising and child-supervision during lunch and recess. All of the things we had had to give the child that had made him ‘school ready’ were not enough. For other families who had produced school-ready children with other talents, but similar work-demands for parents, the results are predictably similar: failure to master the curriculum because the parents do not have time after work to do what ought to be accomplished with the child during the school day. It is made our failure instead of the school’s failure. We are labelled as uncommitted, as absent, as ‘poor’ parents, and our children are labelled as ‘problems’. We can find that our children are expelled from ‘good schools’ with provincial testing measures that they want to protect. Meanwhile, we are denied the right to educate our children in the talents and values and capacities that might actually profit them. Oh, sure, we can ‘home school’ but only if we agree to repeat the state mandated curriculum. Again, the knowledges of some families and communities are made abject.

As a professional with a work-week of 60-70 hours and more in the first years of my own career when the input required is steep, and as a parent in a commuter marriage with an out-of-town spouse, it was all I could do to get our son fed, clothed and out the door. When I was writing 5 new lectures a week, I simply could not police his homework completion. Of course, he was bright enough that he could sail through anyway, but it was clear on his projects and homework that they were missing the flourishes and embellishments of over-invested parents. We began to be the ‘problem’ family. The previous school board’s assessment of our child as probably intellectually gifted was sidelined and he was not assessed by the new board who decided simply to discard the previous board’s recommendation that he be formally tested. No pretty projects meant he could not possibly be that smart.

A little over a year ago, after a series of catastrophes, the state finally intervened and required an intellectual assessment. At age 16, our son who could not bring himself to pass his high-school courses tested as ‘at curriculum’ level for maths, and ‘beyond curriculum’ level for the complete humanities and social sciences requirements of 12th grade.

Ours is one version of the way that things can go horribly wrong when we abuse the idea that the parents are the first teachers. It does not mean that it is our job to teach (pre-teach) the curriculum.

For parents with less formally valued cultural capital, it can mean that all the really important things the child knows (l’m thinking of indigenous knowledges, for example) are derided and discounted. Not only is this latter issue morally repugnant, it’s also a pragmatic waste of all kinds of useful talent in working class and agrarian knowledge bases.

Finally, is the abuse of the truism, when used by state employed educators and state mandated education systems not a tacit recognition that they are failing at their own declared obligation to educate children in the things that the state has declared to be worthy of measure?

If we really are the first teachers (in this abused sense), then the state ought to be deferring to us, not dictating that it is now our obligation to use whatever privileges we have to get the jump on those who do not have easy access to Shakespeare, the Ballet, the art gallery and Saturdays with the retired teacher from down the street.

I’m snowed under, and really beaten down by an argument I had with a relative who is a retired principal who believes that there is nothing wrong with pre-teaching the grade 9 English curriculum to his nephew. I’m tired of the system trying to have it both ways, insisting that only its own knowledges ‘count’ while simultaneously asserting that it is the duty of parents to teach only those things (that are not necessarily part of the parents’ social and cultural capital) to their children. The point, it seems, is to get an ‘upwardly mobile’ job… a goal that for thousands of years was not the purpose of education at all.

We wonder all the time why our jobs are hateful, why shopping does not make us happy, why zoloft-use is through the roof, why over 60% of students in post-secondary are treated for depression…. and are missing what’s right in front of us.

It’s time to radically rethink what an education is for, and how to measure ‘knowledge’. I’d like to start by questioning the idea of measurement altogether.

My objections are part and parcel of the other things I reject: a car for every person, that labour is to be avoided, industrial farming and agrobusiness…

And I see a time in the not-too-far future when I may have to abandon the university because it has become too much like the state-mandated education from K-12, and no longer feeds any of my own soul either. That day is fast approaching.

I don’t normally go in for fund-raisers but…
January 3, 2011, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Get outta town!

A former student and current FB friend is joining the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Both her parents were diagnosed with cancer in 2009.

Not only is Melissa riding for the cancer fund-raiser, she’s also riding as part of a response to Rob Ford’s insistence that roads belong to cars. (Tell that to the Romans, Rob).

If you feel like donating, have a look-see at Melissa’s participant page, which you will find here:
Melissa’s Ride

New year… what?
January 2, 2011, 8:06 pm
Filed under: around town, Hop on the bus Gus

I never really expect things to happen all of a sudden just because yet another day has turned over on the calendar. It’s just another day, people.
However, much of the world does get all excited about the ‘new year’… so hey: smoke ’em if ya got ’em, I guess.

I’ll admit that this year I’ll be very interested to see how the local discussions about public transit progress. I happen to favour the development of a central LRT with a more grid-oriented bus service that would connect to the LRT with a few rapid bus routes heading east-west, and with localised routes for neighbourhoods bounded by those rapid bus routes. I can see rapid buses making sense on Northfield, Columbia, University, Victoria and Ottawa and the LRT to take us from the very North end of town to at least the bottom end of King St. in Kitchener.

Apparently 3/4 of the local population works in the Cambridge-K/W region, and the existing bus lines on the main corridor can’t keep up with demand, meaning that people continue to drive instead. I happen to have a bus that stops almost outside my front door, and if I take that bus and transfer to the mainline I can make it to work in 22 minutes (including a walk across campus from where I get off the bus). In good weather I can walk to campus in 28 minutes (i.e., when the sidewalks are clear and I don’t have to navigate snow, ice, or puddles). In bad weather it can take as much as 45-50 minutes to walk to campus and the bus will still get me there in under 30.

But my bike? Well my bike gets me to campus in about 15 minutes, and a smidgeon less than that to get home, and that’s door-to-door, with no walk across parking-lots or fields, etc.

Therefore, it’s almost always my bike that I use… but someday I imagine that I’ll be too old to do everything by bike. We’d like to give up the car, too. So for us, having an LRT line makes most sense. Thing is, I think it makes most sense for the region, too. Lots of people want to give up their cars, but keep them because the bus schedules are unreliable and because the transfers are terribly inconvenient. The only reason the bus works so well for us is that we live only 2 blocks away from the main line with something like 5 routes to choose from to get to our work-places.

LRT will not require more and more bus drivers or more and more buses to be added, and won’t require paving over even more space in order to create designated bus-routes all over the place. There’s a pretty compelling argument favouring LRT in Today’s local paper ( It outlines these and other observations that make the initial outlay for LRT the better financial and service choice.

All this said, I don’t have much faith in my fellow humans. Too many feel entitled to their private little living-rooms on wheels. Selfishness and griping about “my tax dollars” will persuade regional politicians… and the idea that bus-riding, bike-commuting people aren’t paying taxes will prevail.

I sure hope I’m wrong.