By , July 20, 2017 12:00 pm

No, not the animal. GOAT – greatest of all time. Roger Federer? While he has now won eight Wimbledon titles and 19 majors overall, he may be a contender. It’s hard to imagine him self-labeling as GOAT. I don’t know him, of course, but he doesn’t seem the egotistical type.


(ATP World Tour photo)

The most famous of all should be Muhammad Ali, the boxer, not the Egyptian khedive (for those of you who are history-minded). Ali appears to have first used this phrase to describe himself, though not necessarily the acronym which seems to be a more recent phenomenon.

Full disclosure: I hate boxing. However, I was thoroughly engrossed in David Remnick’s 1998 partial biography King of the World: Muhammad Ali and  the Rise of an American Hero. It’s more of a social history  – my favourite – than a boxing tale though it certainly does have some colourful descriptions of his most famous matches with Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Much in the same vein as Ken Burns’s documentaries Jazz and Baseball opened the door on segregation in the US, especially in the northern states where one might not have expected it to be so strong, King of the World reveals the boxing world of early to mid-1960s in its all its grittiness. In today’s parlance, we might say it was a highly racialized playing field. Ali, with his ties to the Nation of Islam (or Black Muslims as they were derisively known by Ali’s critics), was a crucial figure in trying to recast the Black boxer as an independent figure. Not the white man’s Black man, not the Black civil rights integrationist hero.

Front Cover


Since Ali died in 2016 there have been many tributes and documentaries that have portrayed him as the ultimate American hero, most notably as the final torch bearer at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games opening ceremony. However, it’s important to remember that he wasn’t always perceived as a hero by the American public, thus the “rise of an American hero” in Remnick’s title. Because he associated with Malcolm X (before breaking off ties with him as per Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad’s wishes), because he out-rightly expressed his desire not to integrate but to remain separate, at this stage of his career Ali faced a huge public backlash. Certain sports columnists refused to even refer to him as Muhammad Ali.

At least at the stage of his career highlighted in this book, Ali was a complicated character, at once a professional athlete with excellent training habits and a fast-talking provocative player with a mouth as big as his talent.

I urge readers to pick up the book and find out for themselves what Ali – one of the world’s most celebrated heroes – was really like. It won’t hurt that Remnick, New Yorker editor, is a fabulous writer.








H Is For Hawk

By , July 14, 2017 11:24 am


I just bought this book, and I just finished this book. Usually I am not a quick reader; in fact, I am reading four other books right now. On so many levels I just could not put it down.

Absolute kudos to Helen Macdonald, an absorbingly beautiful nature writer. I love nature (to look at it) and I love birds: What a wonderful combination in the hands of Macdonald. Weave in some psychology, history and literature and you have an enthralling story. Fellow history person (she is a teacher of history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University), Macdonald was, from a young age, obsessed with hawks and became a falconer. The book tells the story of how she trained a goshawk after the sudden death of her father, a very special person in her life. So yes, it is a psychological tale of coping with grief through depression.

There are many reasons why I wouldn’t like, or even want to read, this book. Admittedly the goshawk is a bird I had never heard of. I looked it up in our birding books at the cottage. My closest experience is with “Ossie”, the osprey that visits the tallest branch of the tree at the cottage next to ours. Ospreys are related to eagles, not hawks. Both eat meat (well, ospreys eat fish). The book contains many vivid descriptions of hawks tearing apart rabbits or being fed baby chicks. More correctly, during the training process, Mabel the hawk would catch the rabbits and Helen the trainer would kill them. Not exactly a book for vegans, one would think.

The other reason the book wouldn’t seemingly be fit for me is that it is a literary exploration of falconry through the ages, and I, directly, don’t do literature. In particular, Macdonald weaves into her personal story the biography and work of TH White, author of The Once and Future King, the source material for the play Camelot. I know nothing about King Arthur and Merlyn and all that stuff. Have no interest in it whatsoever. However, Helen Macdonald does a masterful job of making the reader care about this complicated character, even a misfit,  who also tried to train a goshawk.

Now on to finish David Remnick’s King of the World: Muhammad Ali and Rise of an American Hero which I started a few months ago at the cottage. Ali (then still Cassius Clay) is about to win his first big fight against Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston. From great nature writing to masterful sports writing.

Alternative view 1 of King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero


Bells on Danforth

By , June 25, 2017 7:31 pm

Val’s car came out for its second appearance, the first being Halloween, this Saturday for Bells on Danforth. It has been repainted in anticipation of the East York Canada Day Parade on Saturday.

Last Days of School June 2017

By , June 20, 2017 10:03 pm

Here are some photos from the last few days of school. Thanks for a great semester!

Akhenaten in the News

By , June 6, 2017 8:42 pm

Our man Akhenaten – remember – tyrant or visionary? – is in the news a lot lately.

Read this interesting article on archaeological excavations at Amarna, Akhenaten’s capital, suggesting that child labour was used to build the new city.

Here are some other interesting Akhenaten links:

The Lost City of Akhenaten (CNRNews – 3D models of buildings in the city)

Meet King Tut’s Father, Egypt’s First Revolutionary (National Geographic – amazing photos, including the one below of a skull with preserved hair)



When are people going to stop referring to him as Tut’s father? Tut should be Akhenaten’s son!

U of T – TDSB – History Conference

By , April 13, 2017 9:14 am

Here is the brochure which lists all the workshops. You’ll need to choose your top 2 for each session. 


Please return permission forms to Ms. G ASAP = first come, first served (I can take 8 people). Bring your $5.00 as well.


Ms. G


An Open Letter to My Students and Their Parents

By , April 9, 2017 2:21 pm

Years ago, in the span of two weeks, my grade 11 students would take notes for a 5-paragraph essay on Egypt or Mesopotamia and produce the actual essay, including a draft. These days, time has slowed to a crawl and I have tried to adapt; I’ve changed the essay to a paragraph, and scaffolded it to a major degree, with the opportunity for feedback on an outline via comments on google docs.

Sadly, despite these adaptations, I have received a surprisingly low number of outlines. Now that the “deadline” has passed, I think I have received  16 out of 27.

What has happened? Or more accurately, I think, where has students’ time gone?

In the past, students didn’t spend 4-5 hours per day on social media.

If we think these phones aren’t harming students’ productivity, we are deluding ourselves. If we think these phones aren’t harming students’ ability to write, we are lying to ourselves.

I am seriously concerned about some students’ ability to be productive on any job, including paid work.

Students need to take responsibility for their own learning, which is precisely why I have increased my use of “assessment as and for learning”, wherein I give feedback but not necessarily marks as practice for upcoming assignments (as per the requirements of the Ontario curriculum). This Egypt or Mesopotamia paragraph will eventually be the first body paragraph in the students’ culminating essay at the end of the semester. Why wouldn’t students jump at the opportunity to get it done early and receive feedback from the teacher? The Ontario curriculum is designed for students to practice their skills. I am providing that opportunity. The fact that some students don’t want to take it really concerns me. That’s why I say they have to take responsibility. I’ve created the conditions in which they have the opportunity. They just have to do it.

Ultimately, it may be that paragraphs and essays aren’t the most engaging types of assessments. I get that. But I feel that after my nearly 20 years of teaching I have a position from which to judge what they need to work on most. I’m really trying to get my students to think, first and foremost. But I also believe that expressing themselves, both in terms of detailed evidence and strong arguments, in a formal written manner, is crucial for their future.

It seems to me that the culture we live in does not promote responsibility. I will keep trying to go against this current.






The Skating Season Is Over – Sigh

By , April 1, 2017 8:13 pm

As usual I’ve watched a lot of figure skating this season. Most happily I have watched Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in every competition. That all wrapped up today at the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

TV+SM_Worlds_2017 (Global News)

While it wasn’t their best free dance, it was a great feather in their cap for Tessa and Scott to win at Worlds  in the first year of their comeback. I cannot be happier that they have decided to return. CBC ran an interesting feature on them in which they said that in the past they had created some programs they felt were never finished. I hope they weren’t referring to “Carmen”, one of my favourites. This year’s program is an absolute masterpiece of understated elegance. Even nicer, they have such a contrast between their uptempo Prince short dance and their subdued, emotional free dance.

While ice dance is a scoring mystery, I am very confident in my own preferences. In Tessa and Scott’s absence I had transferred my loyalty to Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, perennial oh-so-close finishers. Much was made this year of their coaching and training locale changes. I had not been buying in until the free dance today. I thought she was much more understated than in the past (which I prefer). They opted not to go over the top, a good decision in that they finished fourth. Again, oh so close, but much better than last year. Apart from Tessa and Scott’s free dance, my favourite program of the year is Paul Poirier and Piper Gilles’ exquisitely sharp tango.  Paul can cool it with the moustache antics – their skating is plenty fine.

I had quite a few Patrick Chan moments as well this season, from the high of clean skating at Canadians to the low of flailing at Grand Prix finals. I thought his long program at World’s, while not clean, was a good culmination to a rough season. At least he ended on a relatively high note: great quad salchow, no stupid doubling of jumps, beautiful programs as usual. I’m very happy he finally has some quality coaching and some recognition that his mental game is not strong enough.

I have said to Val many times that it’s hard to be a Patrick Chan fan. At Canadian nationals this year after his fantastic long program I actually cried.

PC_SP_Worlds2017 (Toronto Star)

I have to give a shout out to Javier Fernandez (who I love as much for his skating as for his personality) for an incredible short program and to Yuzuru Hanyu (who I normally do not love) for a perfectly controlled free program when it really mattered. And of course, to Brian Orser for having three pupils in the medals and Marie France Dubreil and Patrice Lauzon for their amazing coaching of the gold and silver dance teams! Heartbreak for their American team who were sitting in third but sadly screwed up what was a mesmerizing program.

It was most interesting to see Tracy Wilson on the sidelines and in the kiss and cry area with her students. I used to really like her as a commentator for the insights she’d share. I’m kind of done with her now as I tend to disagree with her assessments. It’s nicer to see her coaching and sharing her technical  knowledge and artistic intuitiveness.

I look forward to seeing most of our amazing Canadian skaters at Stars on Ice in May.



Richard’s First Few Weeks

By , April 1, 2017 6:44 pm

Richard Parker has been doing well so far in his new life. Sure, he gets a lot of corrections – “Richard, get out of there; Richard, stop that; Richard, calm down; Richard, don’t eat that!” But he’s very easy going. He has gained a lot of weight already, so much so that he’s not a super skinny guy anymore.

Yesterday he had surgery to “fix” him. We were hoping it would calm him down somewhat. When he came back from the vet last night, he was insanely hungry and tried to eat and lick everything. Today he’s taking it easier and napping a lot.


Bailey also had surgery yesterday, his to remove most of his horribly rotten teeth. He is not quite feeling better yet so no pictures.



Kitties Galore – That’s Number Four

By , March 19, 2017 7:19 pm

Oops, we got another cat. Well, really he adopted us. We found him wandering around at our cottage as the weather was getting colder and colder. Need I say more? Just look at him, scratching to get in. We did check with locals if they knew him. We did take him to the local vet to check for a micro-chip. He was a complete mystery.


So let me introduce Richard Parker, our newest addition. Fletch’s “mini-me.”    double_vision4


Sweet and cuddly. Obsessive eater. I have never seen anything like his ability to vacuum up food. Even Val, the cat whisperer, has trouble keeping him contained during feeding time – he’s in everyone else’s food in a flash.


He’s only about one year old, so he has a lot of energy, followed by a lot of napping.     Richard_Parker


We already love him very much.





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