Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Yesterday, I was teaching a delightful group of brand-new grade three students. 

We had a rollicking good time, in spite of the weather (which was awful), and all of the cooped-up indoor-time that it necessitated.  If there's one thing I've learned, it's that ALL kids-- especially the ones who have only been trapped in school and told to sit-down-and-be-quiet for a scant two weeks-- need regular opportunities to get up and get their sillies out.  Preferably, outside in the fresh air.

We read books.  We picked out characters, settings, problems and solutions.  We made predictions and connections.  We took turns writing on the whiteboard. 

We talked about gravity, and how we need it to keep the food on our plates, so that peas and rice and chicken fingers don't go flying up in the air all around us.  One kid even asked the Famous Question:  "How do astronauts go to the bathroom?", which threatened to start us off on a WHOLE other tangeant...

At the end of the day, we did hard math.  I searched for and dragged out every manipulative I could get my hands on, to help those kids visualize and understand the concept of Growing Patterns.  WHY this unit is introduced to little ones right smack at the beginning of the year, before we've even had a chance to review Whole Numbers, is beyond me.

But, somehow, we managed.

I signed agendas, instructed them to "Read for twenty minutes tonight!!", and sent them on their merry way at three o'clock.

I was kneeling on the floor, tidying up the last of the coloured wooden shapes that had been liberally passed around during our last period, when one of my more "restless" boys came bursting back into the room, backpack flying.  He tore over to his desk, and proceeded to empty half of its contents onto the floor.

I straightened up, and went over to lend a hand, wondering what on earth he was up to.

Me:  (scooping two books and a pack of Spiderman trading cards up off the floor)  What's up?  Aren't you supposed to be getting on your bus?

Him:  (slightly frantic)  I forgot my math books!!  My mum says I have to bring my text book and my note book home EVERY NIGHT this year.

Me:  Your mum sounds like my kind of lady.  She must really love you.

That dear, sweet boy looked up at me and grinned hugely.

Him:  Nah.  She just thinks I watch too much Spongebob.

I roared with laughter, helped him on with his backpack, and put my arm around his shoulders as we walked out towards the bus loop.

Ah, my little friend...  Your mum loves you more than you will ever, ever know.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

O, happy day!!

"We are the music makers,

and we are the dreamers of dreams."

--Roald Dahl

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


"Endure, and keep yourself for days of happiness."
--Virgil, The Aeneid, Book 1

It's been eleven years today.

The anniversary is painfully easy for me to remember-- I simply have to recall my second child's age.

My baby was only a few months old on that shattered morning-- a morning that, for me, started out as any other. 

Rose at dawn with the teeny tiny siren that was my "starving!!" infant daughter, and then hustled my eldest girl off to another day in kindergarten.

Once children were ensconced in school, my next-door-neighbour and I pointed our strollers towards the trail that winds around the pond.  After two kilometers (that baby weight was hard-pressed to melt, I'll tell you), we headed over to our neighbourhood coffee shop.  The littles were fast asleep, wrapped up in cosy blankets, and it seemed as good a time as any to take a rest, ourselves, before continuing the daily routine.

As we eased ourselves into our chairs and wrapped our hands around a couple of mugs of strong decaf, a stranger burst through the door, took three steps into the shop, and changed the world.

"A plane just flew into the World Trade Centre."

That was all he said, before turning and leaving.

You could have heard a pin drop. 

Back home, I began the surreal experience of watching sheer horror unfold, live in front of me on my television screen.

How could it be possible to bear witness the deaths of so many thousands of people-- REAL people-- right in front of my eyes? 

People just like me.  Just like my family.

Like any other parent, that day I wondered what on earth I had done, bringing my innocent children into a world full of such horror and danger and sadness...  How I could have been so selfish...  so naive as to think that I could possibly keep them safe.

But, as New Yorkers and many, many more hundreds of thousands of people around the world proved after the disaster, through their acts of sympathy, generosity and peace:

Together, we're better than all that.

Evil, sadly, has its place-- but it must not define what we believe our world to be.

Instead, we must rise up in the face of that which we abhor, and show the very best of ourselves.

In so doing, we realize what we're made of...  we find out just how much we can endure.

Ubi Caritas
arranged by John Rutter, with The Cambridge Singers

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
WHERE charity and love are, God is there.
Christ's love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

WHERE charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

WHERE charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Words to live and die by.

This week, I've actually had TIME.

Time to myself, that is-- with everyone else out of the house, and my full-time work not yet begun, I've actually had moments where I have had the conscious thought, "What should I do?"

Well, time-vampire that it is, I inevitably wind up on Youtube.

I love Youtube.  You can type anything-- ANYTHING-- into that search engine, and learn something.

More often than not, I learn that some things simply should NOT be posted on Youtube, and the incredible capacity the human race has for stupidity.

But sometimes-- sometimes, there's a gem.

I have learned new knitting stitches from someone who calls herself "The Knit Witch".  I still won't face the Kitchener Stitch without her gentle guidance.

I've learned the art of re-upholstery.  I kid you not.  I decimated and re-covered a couch in my basement last year, after discovering that it was simply too heavy to lift, and too large to fit up the stairs so I could throw it out.

Following a small pipe explosion in my children's bathroom late one night, my eldest discovered me sitting in the tub (fully clothed), laptop in one hand and a large wrench in the other, trying to teach myself emergency plumbing.  Incidentally, that little escapade was slightly less successful than the re-uphostery, and I wound up having to call a plumber in the morning...  but, at least it gave me something to do all night.

The girlies and I have learned to weave bracelets, to cook amazing desserts, and to do hard math, amongst a million other things.

And then, there's "people" searches.

I love searching up great musicians, great actors, and great comedians.

Most of all, I love searching my childhood.

Today, I looked up one of my absolute favourite people; one of my heroes.

Jim Henson was the creator of The Muppets, and founding father of all the delightful insanity that surrounded them.  He was goofy, but no goof-- through his life's work, he brought to the world much love, uproarious laughter, and later, through the early years of Sesame Street, learning

I often wonder what the people on my list of The Great Ones of Children's Programming:  namely, Jim Henson, Bob Keeshan, Ernie Coombs and Fred Rogers, would think of "educational television" today.  As tragic as it was to loose these men, I am grateful that none of them lived to see what my students watch at home.  The dumbing-down of popular entertainment is one of this generation's great tragedies, in my opinion.

Jim Henson left us far too soon, at the age of only fifty-three, in 1990.  He waited to treat what turned out to be "galloping pneumonia" for three days, and by the time he reached hospital, the illness was far too advanced to be cured.

The gaping hole that he left in our world can still be felt...  I feel it, every time I hear a little green voice that isn't the "real" Kermit...  and, every time I hear the one that is.  Which is often, actually-- The Muppets are still my favourite, and I play old episodes and albums over and over.

They still make me laugh.

Yesterday, I found Jim Henson's memorial service on Youtube, and I watched every, single minute of it.  The best bit, of course, came from Jim. 

His last words, read by his friend and colleague Richard Hunt. 

They are words to live by, and to die by:

Jim did not cling to the past, he did not worry about the future,
that would work itself out.
And he did not live for the moment, instead he lived in the moment.
Because that’s all we really have.
It’s important that we all stop giving ourselves such a hard time.
We’ve got to remind ourselves and push ourselves to let go.
Not much we can do except to be and in being to become aware.
See what’s going around all the time and allow it to happen,
all the sadness, all the joy.
And that’s why Jim’s last words are most important.
Please watch out for each other he says
Love everyone.
Forgive everyone including yourself.
Forgive your anger, forgive your guilt, your shame, your sadness.
Embrace and open up your love, your joy, your truth and most especially your heart.
Let us all have mercy on each and every one of us.
And every day, we will open up like a cocoon
and turn into beautiful butterflies
and live this moment,
and the next, and the next, and the next …..
Someday, when it's my own turn to go, I hope my memorial service will sound a lot like this:

Thursday, September 6, 2012


School is back in, and my part of the world is slowly but surely tilting away from the sun.

I have always dreaded fall, right from the earliest parts of childhood that I can remember. 

In spite of the intense beauty that I see all around me-- the brilliant colours of the changing leaves, the sharper angle of the light in the early evenings, the ducks and geese streaking noisily across the sky, pointing their beaks firmly south-- I carry a dull ache in my stomach every waking minute of my day.

I guess it stems back to childhood, and the sheer dread I felt, going back to school.  Then, it was the overwhelming anxiety of scrambling through university.  Now, I'm a TEACHER, for crying out loud, and I feel as guilty about trapping little people indoors all day after a summer of running wild and free, as I feel about sending my own babies to their new classrooms and into the care of strangers.

I know, I know.  I could deal with this-- SHOULD probably try to deal with this-- by changing my attitude.  Cognitive behavioural therapy, and all that. 

I've tried.

It's the darkening of light.  It's the whiff of freshly sharpened pencils and the coarse stiffness of brand new jeans.  It's the alarm clocks, the sandwich meat, the chrysanthemums instead of roses. 

It's the emptiness I feel when my children sprint from my arms and into the school playground.  It's the distance-- not just physical, but emotional distance-- between my girls and me at this time of year.  I know it's necessary-- they're growing up, and we all need to live our own little lives.

But it takes time for me to get used to it all. 

Every, single year.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Do you remember...

This amazingly talented and beautiful man?

Freddie Mercury and Queen were a huge part of my adolescence.  I was left simply gobsmacked by Freddie's "appearance" at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London this summer-- which took place in the very arena where his most spectacular live performances had occurred.

This past weekend, my sister and her boys came to stay.  We all have a legendary hatred for Labour Day: the final few precious hours before the school year ramps up again for us all (both sis and her husband are teachers, too...)

One night, while we were cleaning up the aftermath of another "kid-friendly" (read:  MESSY) meal, we chatted about her family's recent trip to London, and all they had seen and heard when they attended Olympic events.  It sounded so wonderful to have been part of the crowds; a witness to the "magic" that manifests itself at such world-wide events.  She hadn't seen the entirety of the closing ceremonies, however-- after running after little boys all day, it was impossible for her to stay up waaay past midnight, goggling at The Box, no matter how incredible the talent was!

So, we dialled up my favourite moment on Youtube, which led to another video, and another... 

Finally, we came across this recording from one of the pinnacles of our youth:  the 1985 LiveAid Concert.

That's 72,000 people out there in the audience, all singing and swaying, clapping and cheering...  I can assure you, we were all feeling just as "connected" to Freddie Mercury through our old-fashioned radios and tv sets as we danced around our living rooms at home, all over the world.

It was nothing short of astounding.

Queen's set has been called the greatest live performance in the history of rock music. 

You get no argument from yours truly.

Ready, Freddie.
I just wish you could have stayed with us longer.

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