Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I'm much too tired to do the post that I'd planned for today (or even think of a good title for this jumble of words that I'm about to inflict upon you all).

This class is so exhuasting. I'm working with the same group of students what I was with before Half Term (a year two class), since their teacher is still very sick and needs another two weeks of recovery (at least). So back onto autopilot I went this morning, and happily went about my routine without worrying about getting onto the wrong train.

At school, we're not allowed to talk about Halloween or dress up or do anything related to it (meaning no stickers even - although I gave a few out anyway, since nobody actually told me not to), so today was just "the last day of October". Poor kids - the grownups have ruined this holiday with their political correctness and desire to be so inclusive of other cultures that they forget their own rights.

Anyway, before I get carried away with this topic (it's easy for me to do), I'll get to the fun things I was going to write about. I was going to write Top Tens lists, but there is no way I'll get this done by the end of tonight. So here are some that stick most in my mind...

Scariest Things I've Heard a Student Say

"I TOLD you I really needed the toilet!" (A little boy with a wet patch on his jogging pants)

"I'm gonna kill you all" (from an angry kindergartener with a plastic bat)

"No, I don't know where C went after the concert. He was behind me a minute ago." (About a student who disappeared for 30 minutes after a school performance, scaring the crap out of me, his classroom teacher, parents, and 20 other grown ups. He was found safe and sound, waiting outside his classroom door)

"I'm going on a diet. I'm too fat!" (a third-grader who was NOT fat)

"40!" (A JK student trying to guess my age. His friend guessed that I was older than his grandma because I was "smarter")

"Miss, Miss, Miss - T has red spots all over her and she says they itch and really hurt" (This was today by the way. Apparently she's never had chicken pox... neither has half the class. Good times.)

Scary Things That Happened to Me While Traveling

Having a flight take off 45 minutes late from Raleigh, NC on its way to Detroit, where I needed to catch a connecting flight to London, Ont, meaning I'd have 10 minutes to get from one end of the Detroit airport to the other. (this took more speed and talent than I thought I possessed, but I did in the end make it. I'll always remember running at top speed past everybody, lugging a suitcase, carry-on, and laptop. I guess fear of being stranded in the airport was a good motivator.)

Getting Lost on the highway between Portland and Corvallis, Oregon. In the rain. And fog. (did I mention I was by myself and had been traveling for 22 hours? Or that I'd never been in that state before and had only a vague idea about how to get to where I was going?)

The Bathroom Lady in NYC (screeching at the top of her lungs, effectively terrifying a group of 16 year old girls on their first trip to the city)

Thinking I'd left my passport behind at the toll bridge in Sarnia (another first visit to the city), and having to run back to the booths in new shoes and a thunderstorm. Turns out the passport was not lost at all, and I had brutal callouses on my feet for two weeks. This happened right before moving to England, so the passport was kinda important)

Getting on an airplane bound for London, England. (not only is 7 hours in a plane 7 hours too long for me, but I was terrified about what was going to happen once we arrived. Total state of fear.)

Seeing a man jump into a cab and pull a gun in NYC (Okay, so this might not be a completely accurate story, since we were into high drama back in high school, but I remember being scared out of my wits and cramming into a phone booth with 4 other girls as our friend was telling her dad about the "great trip" we were having.)

Seeing a huge brown bear while horsebackriding in the Montana mountains. (this one doesn't really need an explanation, except to say that we're pretty sure it wasn't a grizzly)

Turbulence. (Any airplane turbulence, but particularly on the way home from Florida with Jeremy. As he and his brother slept on either side of me, I sat with tears streaming down my face, convinced we were gonna crash. I still get teased about being such a wuss.)

Things I Was Terrified of When I Was Little

The basement (always ran after turning the lights off)

The Goonies, The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Gremlins, and Dr. Who (I know, I know, not that scary, but for some reason I couldn't stand any of these movies or the intro music for Dr. Who)

The vaccuum (I refuse to apologize for this one. What kid wouldn't be scared of a really noisy device that sucks up everything in its path?)

Unsolved Mysteries (even though I listed movies and a TV show earlier, this one deserves its own note, since it was the first time I watched something scary (Robert Stack was a scary man with an equally creepy voice) but still enjoyed.)

Rabid foxes. (There was a scare about these in the area where I grew up for a year or so, and I spent many years afterwards scanning darkened woods for the glowing eyes of crazy foxes who could come chasing after me 'any minute'. It eventually translated into being scared of the dark woods, which was inconvenient for a girl spending 4 months of the year living in a camp on a lake.)

I'm sorry these aren't longer, but I need to get some sleep so I can spend a day trying to calm down 30 sugar-filled children.

I leave you all with a picture of me in my Hallowe'en costume (courtesy of Jeremy):

You guessed it - I was a Sleepy Teacher... all I needed to create this costume was 6 hours of sleep, 5.5 hours trying to get 30 excited children to behave, 2.5 hours of travel to and from work, and a looong walk up the road to grab something for dinner because I was too tired to make something. Add comfy red pjs and my favourite blanket (knitted by Jeremy's grandmother for Christmas a couple of years ago), and I was all set.

Happy Halloween everybody!!
(hope yours was more eventful than mine)

Monday, October 30, 2006

a tribute to those who came home

I could fill pages with commentary about the war in Iraq, but avoid the topic because some things are too inflammatory for open discussions. And so I keep my opinions to myself...

I have a friend (old work colleague) whose husband went to Afghanistan with the Canadian military. This man coincidentally was an old teacher of Jeremy's (small world), so the news of his upcoming tour of duty was difficult for both of us. I watched my friend go through a LOT of different emotions during his time away - I can't imagine what it would be like to live your life knowing that the person you're married to is in a dangerous place on the other side of the world, and that if something happened to him, she could find out on the 6 o'clock news. Luckily, he came home safely.

I remember her mentioning the difficulty he had after returning to Canada, and resuming his old life as a working husband and father of three.

Until this morning, I never really thought about just how difficult it was for him.

Please read this article - it's very powerful and made me appreciate the sacrifices that the armed forces give each day (regardless of the endless debates about the war back home).

I'll be back later with something a little more upbeat...

Sunday, October 29, 2006


"mmm McDonald's egg McMuffins... hash browns... coffeeeee"
... my waking thoughts.

Never mind that I haven't gone to McDonald's in a really long time, and never mind that I swore I wouldn't go there unless absolutely necessary (i.e. stuck in country where no restaurants have edible-looking / recognizable food), I really wanted an Egg McMuffin.

Realizing that breakfast is only served till a certain time, I got myself out of bed, spent 3 minutes trying to put a sweater on (since my arm is still not working right), and headed out of the door.

When you live in the basement of a building, it's very difficult to know what the "real" temperature is outside - you always dress for cooler weather. So it was a very pleasant surprised to realize that on the 29th of October, I only needed my sweater and jeans - no jacket.

Humming Hey Beautiful Day, I make my way towards Bayswater Road, smiling at the sunshine and breeze rustling the trees (still with all of their leaves) in Kensington Gardens. People are all hurrying around me, as usual, making their way to the Tube station, running to catch the double decker tour bus, or meeting friends at the coffee shops with tables full of people enjoying a late breakfast outside.

Protected by the cover of my sunglasses, I do a little people-watching as I walk, noticing a pair of girls (who look 16) walking unsteadily in their wrinkled party clothes towards Starbucks, a smiling Indian restaurant owner standing in his doorway (he spends hours there) trying to convice people that curry makes a good Sunday breakfast, and a woman who resembles Naomi Campbell in a tweed jacket and oversized sunglasses. Briefly, I look down at my shadow, realizing with great pride that it looks smaller than it has in years, and wonder what people are thinking when they see me.

A girl with somewhat messy hair (windblown and not brushed very well), a brown & pink sweater, jeans that are a little too big, sunglasses, and a hint of a smile. Friendly? Tired? Or maybe somebody who's in a rush to get a dose of grease & salt to cure a hangover?

McDonalds only serves breakfast until 10:30am. It was just after 11am... On to Burger King, where I've also heard the breakfast food is good. They too disappoint me by not serving breakfast anymore.

I've always thought that if they pushed their breakfast hours too even 11:30am, that they would get business from people who slept in because they were drinking the night before. 10:30am is much too early - the only people in the streets are families and couples who probably have kids in bed in the stage where they sleep till noon. These people want the posh breakfasts, Starbucks coffee, maybe a little shopping, then a tour bus ride to the City, where they'll see Westminster Abbey in the morning sunlight, and perhaps partake in a tour of the Tower of London just in time for Halloween.

Funny how the people in the park on weekends are usually my age, sitting in groups in the grass, sharing coffee or wine or beer (depending on time of day), or jogging with a cute dog beside them. These posh people have no idea what they're missing. But I digress...

Deciding to make my own McMuffins, I wander into a market, get the necessary ingredients, then realize that I want a coffee and that the instant brand we have at home is not going to do the trick. I make my way to Starbucks, where every table is full of people looking tired but happy, and join the line of people waiting to order their drinks and breakfast.

The line takes me past a beautifully lit display of cakes, muffins, and other goodies that I know I don't really want, but are so delectable looking that I find myself ordering two blueberry muffins to go with my cafe mocha.

Carrying my bags, I ignore the slight pain in my right arm, take a sip of very good coffee, and make my way through the growing crowds on the Queensway towards home.

Everywhere there are tourists: lugging suitcases, carrying pets or children, buying miniature statues of Big Ben and "I got Smashed in London" shotglasses, posing with friends in front of bright red phone booths and double decker buses, and studying maps of the City as though they're written in Greek (now that I think about it, some of them probably are).

The sunshine and warmth in the air seems to have a calming effect on everybody, so nobody pushes through groups or gives the people who stop dead in their tracks in the middle of the sidewalk to look at their maps dirty looks - not like you see on Monday mornings. People move out of other people's way. People smile at each other. Today, even the air smells sweeter.

I take several deep breathes and glance at Kensington Gardens, wishing that I hadn't just bought bacon and eggs, because they wouldn't enjoy sitting in the sun like I would. Promising myself that today I will spend some time in the park even if Jeremy wants to stay home (he's got that cold too), I keep on walking.

This morning, when I trip on the uneven pavement (this happens more often than I will admit in this blog), instead of getting irritated, I smile to myself, hold my head up high, and wink at an elderly couple as I pass by, feeling happy that I didn't spill my coffee.

In this moment, there is nothing but sunshine on my face, a warm breeze through trees slowly turning golden, and the taste of chocolate and coffee. In this moment, I am happy...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

adventures of the one-armed lady

I fell asleep two nights ago with perfectly working limbs. Upon waking up yesterday morning, I realized that this was no longer the case - my right arm was refusing to work. Even stretching it in front of me caused searing pain that both alarmed and confused me. Especially when the pain didn't go away...

After a hot shower, things had not improved. Jeremy figures that I've somehow pinched a nerve in my shoulder and that it will take a few days for things to get back to normal again. It feels like somebody punched me really really hard in the upper arm, and the pain occasionally spreads to my wrist, fingers, elbow, and the back of my shoulder. Not fun at all.

In the meanwhile, I can't lift my right arm to do anything and now depend on my left one to get me through the mundane tasks (like brushing hair, teeth, stirring soup, etc) that take 5 times longer now - if I can do them at all. I'm pretty useless with my left hand so it must have been pretty entertaining for Jeremy to watch me muddle through the day yesterday.

While he went to the store to get food for last night's dinner, I tried to brush my hair and pull it into a ponytail, figuring that since blow-drying it was out of the question, I should at least try to look presentable. The brushing part wasn't too bad - a little awkward, but I managed to get things smoothed out and ready for the hair tie.

I ran into trouble with the hair tie. Usually, I used my right hand to brush, and the left hand to hold the hair into place as I use the right hand again to fit the hair neatly into its ponytail. (It's amazing the level of detail that goes into a process that I've never put any thought into at all)

I figured that reversing the process should be just fine. Clearly, this was faulty logic. Here are the 9 steps to trying to make a ponytail with the wrong hand:

(Note: this will only work if your normally dominant arm has some strange problem that leads to impressive amounts of pain when you forget it's not working right)
(Another note: the last 3 steps really just describe what happened with me, but I'd be willing to bet that similar results would happen for most women in my situation...)

1. Brush, brush, brush. Lift right hand to hold hair in place.
2. Experience flash of blinding pain, drop hair and arm.
3. Try again, this time leaning right arm against bathroom wall so it will stay in the air.
4. Another flash of pain from annoying right arm.
5. Curse in frustration and try again, this time propping right arm on sofa while bending head forward to keep hair in place.
6. Make 3 attempts to neatly pull hair into ponytail with left hand, finally being rewarded with a messy looking ponytail.
7. Boyfriend comes home with groceries to find me teary-eyed with anger on the floor, demanding in a very unreasonable tone that he help me "pull my stupid hair back because my stupid arm won't work"
8. Boyfriend laughs, hugs me, pours a glass of wine (in hopes that the alcohol will dull the pain since we don't have Ibuprofen) and insists that I look fine
9. Look at grumpy self in bathroom mirror, realize that today will not be the day I will win a beauty contest (if ever) and pull hair out of messy ponytail

Finally, I gave up and sat sulking while he cooked dinner, made me coffee, and in general has taken care of everything for the last 24 hours.

It's taken that long to figure out a somewhat comfortable position to type at my laptop (a position that requires a cushion, blanket, and the careful positioning of my right arm so I won't get stinging pain everytime I breathe).

I've realized how much I take my right arm and hand for granted and now am promising to be thankful for its (painless) use as soon as things get back to normal.

In typical teacher fashion, I've also fallen victim to the Fall Cold, a nasty bug that hopefully goes away quickly. Lots of vitamins and cold remedies should do the trick. I'm used to battling these little colds and am pretty confident that this will be a short-lived illness. It's a good reminder to get signed up with a GP (doctor) just in case one becomes necessary. After months of reading Magazine Man's adventures, you'd think I'd learned by now not to tempt fate... (by the way, if you haven't checked out his October Moments, this is a great time of year to read them)

On that bright note, I'm hoping to at least get out for a walk (since my legs appear to be working just fine) to try and get some pictures of the park, which is FINALLY changing colours! Eve and I went for a quick visit the other day, during which the reddish tint of one of the maple trees caught our eye. Might be a nice day to wander down to Buckingham Palace, where the parks and trees must be spectacular now.

Still not sure what we're doing for Hallowe'en, if anything. A teacher friend is trying to get something organized, which means we'll need to figure out a couple of costumes. You would think that a teacher would be pretty creative when it comes to costumes, but I get this mental block when it comes to this holiday and can never think of anything good. Having recently acquired the nickname "Gimpy" (I'm sure you can guess who came up with that), I may have to think up some costumes incorporating my new status as an uncoordinated Leftie. Any ideas?

My mother, who is a retired teacher who can come up with good costume ideas, dressed up last year as a gay prince. She claims that this costume kinda fell together, but I still give her full marks for something that inventive - it's different, easy, and shows great effort. Suldog had a great post about Hallowe'en costumes and the reactions of people who "don't get it" - demonstrating how annoying it can be when you have what you think is a great costume idea, but nobody knows who / what you're supposed to be.

My arm is giving me the "time to stop" signal (meaning a dull pain that's slowing getting stronger), so I guess it's time to try another left-handed shower.

I'm not even going to try a ponytail today.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

our "House of Cards"

We don't know very many good two-man card games.

This is our attempt at building a "really cool house of cards"...

At first we started really slow (especially me) since the deck we'd chosen was new an pretty slippery. Things kept falling apart.

We managed to make a few somewhat nice little card houses, then tried another deck, where we met with a lot more success.

I didn't say all of the attempts were pretty...

This one fell apart pretty quickly after it was put together. Not that I'm surprised at all by this - it wasn't very stable.

I like this one alot - it was the first one I tried that seemed to look pretty nice AND stay standing for longer than 30 seconds anyway.

Jeremy was much better than me at building these - this is one of his earlier attempts. He'd mastered the art of getting them to stand up and stay standing while I sat and tried to sweet-talk mine into staying put.

A few lessons learned:

* If your house of cards keeps falling down, try another deck
* If your house of cards still keeps falling down, walk softly on the carpet so you don't knock them over as you pass by
* Beer will almost definitely make this more fun (a little more difficult too)
* No matter how good you think your house of cards looks - if it's not stable, it will fall down

* If it doesn't work the first time (or 29th time), try again

I hadn't planned on this being a metaphor for our lives, but it's kind of a good one right now. Jeremy is in the midst of planning his return to Canada (sometime in the first week of November) so he can apply for his Working Holiday Visa. In the meanwhile, I've realized that I may be going without pay for 3 weeks in December (due to Christmas holidays and the fact that I'm "guaranteed work" up to only december 6th. This doesn't mean I won't get to work the rest of the month, just that I'm not protected under the umbrella of getting paid even when I'm not working.

So many things I wish I'd known before getting on that airplane last August...

I know we don't have a lot of stability (money-wise), but when you really really want something and work hard for it - it seems only fair that good things will happen.

After two beers and a lot of frustration, we stopped playing with the cards, deciding the only way we were going to get them to look like we wanted was to use glue.

In the real-world case, him getting a job here in London will probably substitute nicely. Getting a second job will help me get through things until that happens (plus it will keep me busy while he's away), plus earn a little extra money for Christmas.

As I prepare for 5 weeks alone in a foreign country, I hope I remember that this is all for the best, and that this situation will NOT last forever.

And maybe, if we keep working hard, we'll get to have one that looks like this:

obviously this one needed a LOT of glue...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sometimes being judged is okay...

My blog was critiqued!

Mac, an blogger expert at Critique My Blog had some really nice things to say about my blog:

Coming up on Melinda's one year anniversary with this blog it is clear that she is in it for the long haul...lots of interesting posts and funny stories. The one about the moose is a little scary. One thing I might add is a counter to see how many visitors
you are getting...Nice job!

Thanks Mac - I really appreciate it!

Want his opinion on your blog? Maybe a little more traffic to your little corner of the Web? All you have to do is email your URL to him (see website) and in a little while, you'll have a critique of your work.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Here fishy fishy

Finally we decided on a tourist-y thing to do in London: the London Aquarium. The day was cloudy, with little bits of sunshine peeking through every once in awhile. Until we got out of the Underground station, that is. It started drizzling in this strange way that I don't remember happening back home... I don't know if anybody else who's been to London knows what I mean - there are so many different kinds of rain here - sometimes you get a really unique type of rainfall.

Luckily we got to line up inside for tickets. Since we went in the late afternoon, most of the tour groups and families were either already there, or had come and gone (and were likely standing in line for the London Eye, which is very close by).

The aquarium was so much fun! We wandered around looking at all sorts of different kinds of fish, pointing out really colourful ones or some that we'd never seen before. Jeremy patiently waited while I stared into some of the tanks (especially the really big ones with the sharks - it's so easy to imagine yourself swimming with them).

I got tons of pictures, most of which I'll post in my photoblog, so click here to see them. (I promise they turned out really good!)

The rain was really coming down when we started walking across Westminster Bridge, which is along the Parliament Buildings and Big Ben. A strange (but pleasant) yellow light was in the clouds, highlighting the rain on the ground and giving everything a really dramatic appearance. I thought I'd post one of them here...

Not too much else to talk about right now - going to have come McVitty's (the yummiest chocolate-caramel-digestive cracker ever) and read.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Black Shadow Beside the Road

Thanksgiving Weekend 2001

This was NOT a fun weekend for me. I had gotten into a gigantic fight with my then-boyfriend over something I didn't understand, where things were said and done that I had a very hard time forgiving (part of me never completely did). After a LONG talk, I decided to go away for the weekend for a family dinner with his family, some of whom I got along with very well and others who seemed to take pleasure in making me uncomfortable.

It was a strange weekend, and as I drove back to the camp around 7:30 that Monday evening, I had a lot on my mind.

The road to Ella Lake is difficult for people not familiar with its twists, turns, and sudden hills. Especially at night. I learned to drive on that road and could navigate it without any thought at all, usually tearing up the road much faster than the speed limit. I knew when to slow down and when it was safe to fly past the trees (usually with the window open and the music blasting).

The sky was getting pretty dark, but I was still able to make out the shadows of the trees and rocks as I drove past. Around a corner, then another, down a hill, then...


A very large black shadow appeared in the middle of one of the swamps that the road passes. A shadow that is not usually there.

At first I thought it was a bear...

Then it lifted its head, showing a very impressive rack of antlers that revealed its identity as an adult bull moose.

Anybody living in Northern Ontario knows that moose are BIG, and DUMB. Why God made an animal that large without proper brains, I'll never know, but there they are. Specifically there he was, watching the lights of my approaching car as I begged him to stay put as I passed by.

For those who don't know, moose have a problem with car headlights. They don't like them much, and often charge oncoming vehicles (including buses and trains) because the lights piss them off. Instead of being sensible like squirrels and deer, a moose will instead decide since it's BIG that it can win a fight against a car.

Usually nobody wins these fights.

With this in mind, I drove very slowly, watching the moose watch me inch by as non-threateningly as possible. Just as I was getting past him, he turned his massive body (we later found out he weighed about 1400lbs) towards the car and started to move.

I hit the gas, knowing that my car could most certainly outrun him.

Unfortunately, Mr. Moose was on a date. Unfortunately for his date, my car got in the way of the romantic interlude as she darted out from a brush where she had been completely out of sight a moment before my car slammed into her.

What I remember about this moment will probably always be with me. The car clipped her legs out from underneath her also-massive body (she weighed about 900lbs), causing her to go up into the air and land on the hood of my car, where the momentum of my car rolled her up into my windshield, shattering it (but leaving the broken pieces still hanging together), then up and over the roof of the car, finally landing beside my door on the road.

The interior of the car was illuminated during this time, I can close my eyes and see light glinting off of the breaking glass, shining onto fur, then darkness again.


I don't remember starting to drive again.

--- I should mention that I was driving an 1988 Chevrolet Beretta, which was built low to the ground and had a very solid metal frame that suffered no damage at all from its enounter with the moose, and an engine that kept running without any problems either. The only things that required fixing were my windshield, passenger side window, hood, and roof (which needed repainting). The car definitely had a part in saving my life. ---

I remember making my way through the dirt road surrounding the other camps near our own, saying "just make it home" to myself over and over again. I drove with my head out the window, not being able to see through the windshield.

When I pulled into the driveway, I jumped out of the car and tore into the camp as though the moose was still chasing me.

Nobody was home.

Stifling a cry, I saw lights on next door at our very close friends' place and threw the patio door open. My next memory is lying on the floor with my mother's arms around me, smoothing my hair and trying to explain what happened to the completely freaked-out group of people looking at me as though I was a ghost.

After a sip of brandy, I was able to calm down enough to start explaining. My father had been on his way home from town, and came in as I was finishing my story. He had seen the moose sitting on the side of the road (I hadn't killed her) and his first thought was "Oh no, not Melinda".

To this day, I still shudder to think that if I had been seriously hurt or killed that my father would have been the first person to come onto the scene. He was only 5 minutes behind me on the road...

Knowing that I inherited his lead foot, my dad accused his traumatized daughter of driving too fast, prompting our close friend Jackie (now deceased) to tell him to "fuck off". It was the first and only time any of us had ever heard her say that. He quickly calmed down too, and spent the rest of the evening by my side as the police came to check things out and file a report for insurance purposes.

I got to ride in the back of the police car with my dad as we made our way down to where I had hit the moose. The police officers, who were incredibly kind, wanted to see the skid marks and make sure that the moose had safely gone back into the woods. Turns out, she hadn't made it far, since her legs were broken, so they had to shoot her.

Wide-eyed, I peered out the window of the car at an officer pointing a rifle towards the bush where she lay (I couldn't see her). My dad stopped him, pointed at me, drawing an embarassed look from the police officer, who apologized for being so insensitive.

After deciding to let the young officer keep the moose meat (which would very much impress his new father-in-law), we bid them goodbye. My parents poured me a drink and kept me distracted (I'm sure so I wouldn't hear the crack of a rifle from a kilometer away).

For the rest of the summer, I was terrified of driving down the road at night, slowing down to a crawl every time I passed the spot where the accident happened.

The policemen told me how lucky I was. If I hadn't seen the bull moose, I would have been driving down the road at around 70km an hour. Hitting a moose at this speed pretty much guarantees that they're going to wind up hurting or killing you.

I walked away from that incident without a scratch - not even a bruise. Just a little soreness the next day (and the mental trauma that followed me for a long time afterwards).

I still wonder about the light from inside the car. The interior light was not on.

Why could I see the broken class and the fur of the unlucky moose as she slammed into my windshield? Why didn't I get cut from the shards of glass that did fall into the car? How was it possible that I was driving just slowly enough to stop her from coming right into the car, where her body would have pinned me against the car seat?

As far as I remember, I didn't have any glass on me at all...

a hard habit to break

I've needed a new belt for about two months. The one I've been using makes me crazy every morning because the solid leather part is broken at the notches that I use most often - meaning it's a major effort each time I need to fit the belt through the loops of pants. I swore that as soon as I got a paycheck that wouldn't all go to rent, I would buy a belt.

Finally yesterday I wandered around Oxford Street (one of the main shopping areas in London), going in and out of stores like the Gap and French Connection, wishing I had money to spend on their clothes. Eventually, I found two very nice belts for a decent price at Dorothy Perkins. And a pair of really nice earrings that I can wear with pretty much anything. After spending a little more time in another shop, I added a few more pairs of earrings and necklaces to my little shopping bag.

I really like all of the things I bought, and went home feeling happy that I could spend a little bit of money on something frivolous for once.

Now I feel guilty.

I'm so used to not being able to spend money on anything but rent, food, bills, transportation, and other practical stuff that part of me feels like I should have stuck with one belt and left the rest of the purchases in the stores.

I hope when we go to visit the Tower of London or the Aquarium that my guilt stays home. I'm usually very practical with money and it's getting annoying to not be able to enjoy the benefits of the hard work I do.

I think I'll wear my new earrings today...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

one of those moments...

Every morning, I trudge out of my flat, walk up the stairs to the street (basement flat), look at the sky to make sure it's not going to rain on me, then begin my walk towards the Underground station.

I look at the trees in Kensington Gardens (to my left for most of the walk) for signs of the beautiful autumn colours that I'm used to seeing, dodge around other people walking down the pavement, then grab my Oyster card and a free copy of the London Metro (newspaper), and wait for the elevator to take me down to my train. The trains look like a sea of open newspapers, dotted with the heads of well-dressed business people, who jump up importantly when their stops are called. I contemplate taking a picture for my blog, but realize they might not feel photogenic first thing in the morning...

I get off the train at Oxford Circus (even the tube station's like a circus - so many people) and then onto another one that takes me to the area where I catch a bus to get to my school.

Instead of going to the bus depot, I walk down the road a little to extend my outside time. Yesterday the sun shone on me and a family of birds chattered at me as I walked underneath their tree. Guess they thought I was going to steal their food or something...

The bus passes Walthamstow High Street and I watch the people putting up their tents for another day, thinking that I can't wait until I can afford to shop at the High Street in Kensington (need some plants in my flat), and try to ignore the noise from the secondary school children at the back of the bus.

A crossing guard stands on the opposite side of the street who always presses the button to stop traffic when she sees me coming (even though we both know that she's really supposed to only do that for the children). We have a friendly mini-conversation and I enter the school grounds with a smile on my face.

After 5 weeks of the exact same routine, I can do this without thought. Even though I have given a lot of description, I really haven't been noticing much around me (especially in the morning before I have my first coffee), so I've probably missed out on some good blogging material.

Like this:

Today, I walked up a tunnel surrounded by people making their way home, absorbed in their own thoughts, checking text messages, chatting with colleagues or friends, or racing through the crowds to catch the next train. In the midst of this, a guitar plays a familiar tune, accompanied by an untrained, but not unpleasant, voice.

A long, long time ago...
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they’d be happy for a while.

I smile as I start singing softly along with him, thinking about how even when I'm dead tired that certain music always makes me happy. We make eye contact as I continue to sing along, him knowing that I'm enjoying his music even though I didn't have change to drop into his guitar case. As I walk down the steps to catch my last train of the day, the strains of music follow me.

Last week it was another person singing "Imagine" from John Lennon. Two days ago, another man sang "Beautiful" by James Blunt.

I always look forward to the part of my journey when I pass these lone musicians, knowing that those few moments make my day just that little bit sweeter...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

... and I ramble on

Lots of little things to talk about right now so I thought I'd toss them all into one post, rather than writing them all seperately...


Yesterday, I received my very first "teacher gift" from one of the students in the class I taught for a month. This little boy was one of the hardest working children in the class - both at academics and at behaviour. The gift was (on first glance) a very nice bath set, complete with a couple of scented candles, and a card thanking me for being his teacher. Very sweet and I plan to keep that card (along with the others I've received from students) in my teaching scrapbook.

When I got home, I opened up the bath set to show Jeremy and realized that this little boy's mum had probably chosen this thoughtful gift without reading it's labels.

If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see what I mean. The description on the lotion brags about helping to induce "relaxed sensuality" - something I'm pretty sure my student's mother didn't intend to give as a gift.

Okay, well maybe the British are more in tune with those things. I dunno...

I wasn't sure if I was going to blog about this, since I genuinely appreciate how thoughtful my former student and his mother are for giving me something - but it really is pretty funny.

especially if you consider what is written on the back of the tube of lotion:

The gift pack included room spray to "get into the mood", scented candles, and bath oil too. All with a very nice scent, but I just can't get past the labels...


Speaking of school...

This week I'm working with a class in year 2. This group of 30 children (again with 30 children!) has had 4 different teachers come into their lives in the last 3 weeks (not counting their regular classroom teacher, who I believe is in the hospital). This has proven to be very hard on both the students and their parents, since each teacher has a different management style and a different set of expectations.

My goal this week was to get through the curriculum as best we could, while trying to get them settled down and back into a routine of following classroom rules and behaving properly. My first morning with this class brought a major headache as I surveyed the room while they worked independently. The noise level was completely ridiculous and after 5 minutes, I decided to interrupt them (at the risk of offending the teacher who has been with them for quite a long time - and whom I was supposed to basically be observing). They responded very well to me asking for their attention, but took less than a minute to start talking loudly once again. I made a vow to myself that I would help them to remember how to behave in the classroom.

This has been a major challenge. I really don't like playing Drill Sergeant Teacher Lady but sometimes it's completely unavoidable (like all afternoon today) and I found myself actually using a whistle at one point to get them to stop talking. They froze as soon as I blasted the thing and stared in amazement. I had no choice but to use the sternest tone possible and demand that they all sit at their desks NOW and listen carefully. After putting their heads down on their desks to think about their own behaviour, I slowly went around the room, tapping students who had been "sensible" before the interruption. They worked in total silence after that.

For about 10 minutes.

Some wouldn't consider 10 minutes a victory, but I certainly do and tomorrow will try to 30 minutes. I don't want a classroom full of robots, and always encourage lively conversation and debate about academic topics during lessons. But needing to remind the same 10 kids over and over again about sitting quietly and getting their work done takes its toll. Completely tired out at the end of the day, I answered the Head Teacher's questions about how the day had gone with blunt honesty.

He was happy with my management techniques thus far and seemed very confident in my ability to get them settled down.

I hope I can prove him right...


Every day I take the Underground all the way from Bayswater to Walthamstow (where the school I've been teaching at is located). I've always been impressed with the helpfulness of the staff, most of whom are always willing to give directions or a helping hand.

Until today.

As I made my way down the stairs to catch the train home, I noticed a small group of elderly people making their way to the Tube with very large suitcases. Wondering at how they must be handling their luggage, I walked slowly behind them in hopes that they would make it down alright.

The man at the front of the group suddenly lost his grip on his suitcase, sending it plummeting down 8 steps to the concrete below. His group stopped moving and stared, as people pushed past them in their hurry to catch their trains. I just couldn't walk past them without offering to help. Together the old man and I lugged his suitcase down the final set of stairs, resulting only in a small crack to the plastic bottom after he dropped it on the last step.

He thanked me and I made my way through the station, stopping to ask an Underground staff worker if he might be able to help the man and his party safely make their way to their trains. There were 3 of them standing around, not really doing anything, but he said that this is not part of their job and he "couldn't help them".

Give me a damn break.

Honestly, if I wasn't so exhausted after dealing with 30 children all day long, I might have told him off for being so uncaring. As it was, I gave all three of them a disapproving glare as I walked past, turning to see a fellow passenger helping the old man push his suitcase onto the escalator. I would have helped them through, but he had ushered me along, saying that they could manage from where they were.

What really bothers me about this is that even if this isn't part of the job description of the Underground staff, I'm sure if the passenger was a sexy teenager that help would have been provided. It's really sad that people are so disrespectful to the older generation. I'm disappointed in the lack of aid provided, since spending 3 minutes helping these people would have made their lives a heck of a lot easier.

When Jeremy and I were lugging our 5 heavy suitcases from Gatwick Airport all the way to Willesden Green (where we stayed for our first week in London), we were exhausted from hours of traveling, and unsure of how we were going to get ourselves from point A to point B. Thankfully our fellow passengers took pity, and at every single stop we met a good samaritan who grabbed a suitase or two and helped us move them on or off the trains.

I will continue to pay that forward to anybody who looks like they need the same help. Because sometimes that little bit of time can make all the difference in the world.

It sure made a difference to two scared, and tired travelers who were trying to find their way in a place they had never been before.


...and finally autumn arrives in the city of London

On the way home from school today, I passed by a maple tree. Having a particular fondness for them (and anything that reminds me a Canada), I glanced up at its branches and noticed a reddish tint on many of the leaves.

I dropped my bags and grabbed for the camera, finally getting pictures of the first autumn colours of the year. Can't wait to visit the park next week - should be incredibly pretty.

I'll leave you with another image of what home looks like during this season (might explain my anticipation of the leaves changing colours a little better).


Don't you hate it when people just keep on rambling?

I had planned on ending my post with the autumn thing, but I just had to add this in. One of the things I got in my care package from Canada (darn pictures not uploading right so it's taking a long time to get that post finished) was a bunch of the CDs that used to live in the glove compartment of my car.

I miss my car...

I popped in Matchbox Twenty so I could listen to the acoustic version of "3am", one of my absolute all-time favourite songs. It's just Rob Thomas and a piano. Completely heartfelt singing and just bliss to listen to.

Next was the Tragically Hip, a band so stereotypically Canadian that I was immediately struck with a LOT of memories of high school, outdoor concerts (seen them 3 times live), and other memories from growing up. Some of these songs bring up memories so strong that tears come to my eyes as I can almost smell the wood walls of my camp and hear the voices of friends I haven't seen in a very long time...

Wheat kings and pretty things
Let's just see what tomorrow brings


Okay, I'm all done. Sorry for another mishmashed post, but I thought they'd be better all together (that way I can bug Ledawit with another super long post).

Until next time...

Monday, October 16, 2006

a Christmas card in the mail

Before you say "huh?!", I really did get a Christmas card today, all the way from Canada. One of our oldest family friends (who has literally known me since I was the proverbial twinkle in my father's eye) wanted to see how long it would take to send a piece of mail from my hometown to London. I'm not exactly sure how long it took, but I'm pretty sure it got here much quicker than she was expecting...

I am proud to say that this is the first Christmas card she has ever sent in the mail - so even if it was a little early, it was still a fantastic thing to find in our mailbox. (hint hint to those of you with my address - i love getting mail... and yes those postcards / letters are on their way)

Inside the card was a sweet note and these:

These pictures were taken in 1983. I was four years old, and as you can see, sported a set of glasses that clearly were built using coke bottles. My father looks SO young in this picture - he doesn't have a beard like that anymore and has long since gotten that distinguished salt and pepper hair that only men seem to wind up with in their 50s. My mom was in her 30's when these pictures were taken and still looked 22 (I'm so glad I inherited her genes). The little boy in the pictures is my brother (then tw0 years old), who took great pleasure in torturing his big sis through most of his life but now seems to have settled down a bit. Maybe we get along better now because I don't live at home anymore. Maybe we've grown up... The only people who could really tell you the reason for our newfound friendship are my parents - who I'm pretty sure would think twice before calling either of us grownups.

I'm slowly getting pictures put up on the walls (courtesy of the stick tack given to me from one of the teachers at the school I'm working at right now - she had three boxes of it) and each time a new one is added, it feels a little more like home.

Now I can look at the pictures of a very young me with pigtails and thick glasses and smile as I remember the little girl that I was. Imaginative, talkative, friendly, sensitive, and loved to be around people - I guess some things never change. I can remember my parents singing "You Are My Special Angel" as they danced me around the living room (still makes me cry when I hear that song). And I can remember the times between the seemingly endless battles with my brother when the two of us stuck up for each other or shared a joke that nobody else would have found funny.

I'm not sure if Susie reads this blog (we've been calling each other "Susie" for my entire life and I still don't know why, since neither of our names are similar), but if she is reading this - Thanks so much for the card and the pictures! Lucky me got to experience that warm Christmas feeling two months early and I have you to thank for it...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

i keep deleting my posts lately

I think I have writer's block. (does this mean I'm a writer? Or can anybody have writer's block?)

Usually I can toss out a really long post with no effort at all, but for the last week it's been a real effort to keep my blog updated. So much has been going on that I just fall into bed when I get home and haven't been doing much of anything.

When I do write, I wind up getting tired of what I'm writing about and either saving the post as a draft or just deleting it right away. As it is, this post is pretty mishmash, so I apologize if it's a little hard to follow... just gonna go with how I'm feeling and type whatever comes out...


Yesterday was another payday, in which i realized that 400 pounds are being taken away from me in TAXES. Completely ridiculous if you ask me... It's funny that people told me that the tax system "isn't so bad in England" before I got here, but now admit that things can be pretty bad. Just one of many things that I would have really liked to know before getting on that plane two months ago.

The mail has been very interesting lately - I received both the package from Canada (just finishing up that post) and my debit card in the mail. I was really excited about getting the card on Friday because it meant that I could finally stop doubling the cost of everything here.

Of course in a typical twist of fate (just like usual since we've moved here), the card cannot be used at any ATMs until I get another piece of mail with my pin code in it. So the card is completely useless for another 3-5 business days.

What I don't understand is now a bank that's been around for centuries can be so behind when it comes to banking. Checks takes 5-10 business days to cash, bank cards not usable right away, people waiting forever to get service. Waiting almost two months for a bank card because they didn't update my address (even after 2 visits and a phone call), then receiving a letter in the mail on the day it's due to arrive asking me to please call them to set up a delivery date, time, and location. Redunant and unncessary, not to mention frustrating.

It just doesn't make sense. Especially the letter thing. Why wouldn't they just mail the card to the address that's been provided and confirmed - especially since the card is not usable until I get the other letter with it's pin code.

Things like that make me want to jump onto the next plane to Canada.

Speaking of planes, I just finished reading Lyndsay's last post, in which she was reunited with her best friend, who had spent a year overseas. I got tears in my eyes as I read, imagining myself in the same situation (which I kinda am) and missing my friends a lot. Saturday nights just aren't the same, and haven't been for a really long time.

On a happier note, my payday does mean that we'll be able to do a little bit of sightseeing before Jeremy goes back to Canada. We had wanted to go to Amsterdam (really cheap travel and lodging there compared to a lot of other places) but realized that once there we wouldn't really have enough money to get to do everything we would want to do... like the Heineken factory and a canal cruise. So we'll wait until he gets back. (I really hope he comes back)

What we are going to do is go to the Tower of London and actually do one of those tours, visit Kew Gardens (incredible botanical gardens), see Madame Tussaud's, and see the animals at the London Zoo and London Aquarium. We're also going to participate in a very cool wine tasting day at a place called Vinopolis, where you can partake in a wine tour, several wine and liquor tastings, and get a free t-shirt and corkscrew. One of the liquor tastings is absinthe, which I've never even seen before, so I'm a little nervous about that. Apparently it should be tried last because your taste buds take a long time to recover...

Half term (week-long school holiday) starts in one week, and with all of those things to do it should be a lot of fun. Jeremy has found some very inexpensive flights to Toronto starting November 2nd, so in less than 3 weeks, I'll be here alone. I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about then (and I apologize in advance).


Letters from the students

I said goodbye to "my class" on Friday, after being their teacher for 1 month. Part of me hoped that they would be sad to see me go (they were), but another part of me knew I needed to get them excited to have their regular classroom teacher (Mr. R) back. So I presented it as something wonderful and hopefully made the transition a little easier for them all (since for me it was very difficult - but I'm a grown up and can deal with the little unfair things in life). I'm leaving them after a month of great learning - for both myself and the class, I hope - and will always remember the first class I bonded with as a "real" teacher. Even some of the parents were sad to see me go, and commented that Monday was going to be hard on their children. I hope they settle in with their teacher quickly...

The school must have been happy with my work, because I'll be there all next week in a year two class, also spending an hour on both Monday and Tuesday in my old classroom, to help the kids transition go a little smoother. Hearing this plan made my respect for the Head Teacher grow even more, since he had obviously recognized that Mr. R would appreciate the support that somebody who knew the kids very well could provide, while at the same time helping the children to have an easier time with this change.

It amazes me how much you can bond with a group of students in such a brief period of time. Since many of them see their teachers more during the week than they get to see their families, it makes sense that they get attached to a teacher very quickly. What I didn't expect was how much I would come to care about them on such a personal level. If this is how things are after one month, I can only imagine what things are like after an entire school year. I hope that I will always remember the important place that a teacher takes in a person's life - especially the little ones.

Some of the children saw Mr. R in the staff room during lunchtime (he'd come in to meet with me briefly), and when I went out to pick them up at the end of their playtime, I was attacked by several students in the class, who were shouting "We don't want you to go! Are you leaving? We saw Mr. R in the school - we don't want you to leave us!"

Even typing this out breaks my heart a little. I hope every parent and teacher (and grown-up for that matter) remembers the role they play in the lives of the kids around them. They love you unconditionally, forgive you when you forget things, forget when you get cross with them, and accept everything you tell them as the absolute truth.

"I'm going to miss you, Miss Peterson" several students said quietly as they looked up at me at then end of the day.

I'm going to miss them too.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Time for a bit of a rant...

During my always-fun Tube ride home today, I found myself standing beside a little boy who was wearing a school uniform and looked about 10 years old. He was carrying a small blue book that his father took out of his hands and started asking him questions from what was written on its pages - that after awhile sounded like Latin conjugations.

So what was a little boy doing reciting Latin on an Underground train two hours after the school day has ended?

I can guess...

---backtrack to our third week in England---

Jeremy and I were watching TV in our temporary flat one night. There was a program detailing the work that several children and their families were doing to get their kids into the "proper" schools here in England.

Not the public schools - the privately funded ones. These schools have entrance / admission examinations that kids spend up to 4 months studying for. These exams are written in 3 hour blocks in testing rooms that closely resemble rooms I've written university exams in...

I got pretty pissed off watching the show, which showed some parents putting extreme amounts of pressure on their children to get into these schools. To quote one child during their interview:

"if I don't get into this school - my whole life is pretty much screwed up".

That little girl was 7 years old.

Under what circumstance should a 7 year old child (still so much a baby) feel like something they do will affect the entire rest of their life??? It's maddening to think about the things that her parents must have been saying to her that created this belief in "succced or else". It was so sad.

The efforts of an immigrant family to get their son into their school of choice chronicled 4 months of studying 2-3 hours per NIGHT, no playtime or downtime at all, and dreams of going bike riding "in a few weeks once the tests are over". This little boy wistfully mentioned missing spending time with his friends, but he too was concerned about "messing up his life".

Jeremy made me change the channel - I was furious.

---return to present day---

When I say that little kid on the train being quizzed on Latin verbs that I didn't understand, the memory of that show came rushing back.

I don't know if he was studying for entrance into one of those schools, but I'd be willing to be money that he was...

Teachers in Ontario (and I'm sure many other places in North America) often complain about all of the pressure we're putting on children, and have personally witnessed the (somewhat unreasonable) expansion of our curriculum to include more and more work for students to complete each year. Work that used to be done in grade 5 is now part of grade 3 curriculum. Teachers must find a way to cram a LOT of curriculum expecations into one year of schooling, in hopes that every student will be able to "get it" as soon as possible so they can move on.

Being unfamiliar with the private school system, I was fortunate to only experience the stress of trying to get into The School when applying for university, my Master's in Psychology (never did get into that), and then Teacher's College. It was extremely stressful, requiring completion of a test called the GRE (hated every second of studying / writing that damn test) and waiting for several months to hear about my fate.

I can't understand putting a CHILD through this. It doesn't make sense. They don't have the defense mechanisms or stress management skills to handle worrying for months about getting into The School or worse, disappointing their parents. These kids will likely benefit from learning to take responsibility for their futures, but enough is enough. They need time to play outside with their friends and be kids.

And every more importantly - if they don't succeed - they need their parents to be supportive, comfort them, and make sure that they know without a doubt that they didn't let them down. Of the 6 families profiled in the show we saw, 3 sets of parents failed to do this, leaving their child looked despondent and miserable. One kid mentioned having 11 sets of examinations to complete before they could have a break (a set could be up to 4 three hour tests on various topics, usually with an essay portion).

The parents of the children who got into The Schools looked so proud, often mentioned rewards, dinners out, and major celebrations with the entire family. The kids looked proud and happy with themselves and much more confident that most grown-ups I know. They were / are the lucky ones - they didn't "disappoint anybody" or "ruin their lives".

The ones who didn't get in?

They were the reason Jeremy made me switch channels.

The parents were terrible. Not once did I hear the phrase my own parents said so many times in the course of my childhood (and even now), "As long as you tried your best - we're proud of you no matter what".

One parent actually commented "Your best isn't enough unless it's better than everybody else's best - you have to try harder than everyone"


I hope that kid on the train just really wanted to learn Latin.

Each day teachers face classrooms full of young people who want so much to learn and succeed in life. These kids need the support of their teachers and parents to help them develop self-esteem and self-confidence so they will grow up strong and confident that their dreams actually are within reach. Regardless of what school they attend.

To any parents reading this - please tell your children how proud you are of them and that their personal best IS the best. Help them to always know that you're in their corner and that when they fail in life (cause at some point, we all do) - you will be there for them. Because no child should ever feel like they have failed in the eyes of their parents.

"And will you succeed?
Yes - 99 3/4 percent guaranteed!"

- dr. suess (Oh The Places You Will Go)

There aren't any guarantees in this life. The only thing we can do is help the children of this world to grow up and do the best they can... because when it's all said and done that's all we can ask of anybody.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Today in History...

I've just spent a half hour trying to find interesting things that have happened on October 9th with very little success. It seems that some people I've never heard of died, some people fought battles in world wars 1 and 2, somebody got assassinated (Che Guevara if you care), and lots of "famous people" (who I bet none of you has heard of either) were born.

Today does seem to be historically significant in the life of John Lennon - he was born on Oct 9th, met Yoko Ono for the first time on this day as well.

In 1982 the 400th episode of Soul Train aired on October 9th.

Having no luck finding anything truly noteworthy (aside from the John Lennon stuff) about October 9th, I typed "one year ago today" into Google hoping that it would magically find some fascinating facts about this day in history. Unfortunately the search resulted in dozens of blogs with the same title. Of course none of them were about Oct. 9th...

If a Google search fails me, I usually give up.

This time though, I couldn't. Why?

There does happen to be one more important historical fact about this day in history that needs to be mentioned...

On this day in history, a baby girl was born in Ethiopia - she grew up to become one of my best friends and is now the proud mommy of a darling boy named Addis.

I won't say her age (not that she's old at all, but maybe she doesn't want you to know), but I can say


I wish that I could be there to eat chocolate cake (and spinach dip) with you.
You might not be in Google under special events in history, but rest assured that anybody who knows you thinks your birthday counts as something special. Hope it was a great one...

It's funny how you're smiling in every picture I have of you - which I suppose is fitting since you spend so much of your time doing that (even when you're not feeling happy...). Since a birthday is a time to celebrate the person being a part of your life, I'd like to thank you for being such a wonderful friend. I love the fact that we can talk for hours about nothing - no matter how long it's been between phone calls.

Thanks for being there through the rough times and making me laugh when I wanted to cry. I hope that I've been as good a friend to you as you have been to me.

Lots of love and good wishes from across the ocean... miss you lots and hoping to be there for your next one :)

By the way, you are now about 788,972,312 seconds old. (doesn't sound like much, does it?)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

October melancholy

Aside from cute kid stories and the odd post about fun times at Ella Lake, I haven't had very much to say lately. Things have been busy as always and I just haven't had the energy or will to write about what happens in my day.

Seems like many of the bloggers out there are suffering from the same affliction. I keep hearing variations of the same theme: "very busy, not much to write about"

I wonder if this is because it's October now... autumn has definitely taken over.

Autumn in London is very different from back in Ontario. Kensington Gardens is still full of bright green grass, green leafy trees, with few signs of the winter to come. The odd tree is beginning to turn colours, and some have started dropping leaves, but nature looks pretty much the same as it did back in August. The only telltale sign of autumn are the jackets, heavy sweaters, and scarves worn by people wandering around the park. It's very strange to me - seeing a person bundled up for autumn as they walk through a green field to sit beneath a tree still bearing all of its green leaves.

Back home, the leaves start changing as early as late August in Northern Ontario and by mid-September in Southern Ontario. Bright reds and yellow dot the landscape, mixed with the not-unpleasant brown of the oak trees and the hunter green coloured pine trees. Autumn in Canada is exceptionally beautiful - people come from very far away to take pictures of the trees and visit the lakes and rivers for one last time before the snow starts to fall.

It would be easy to blame the funk I'm in on homesickness.

Maybe that's all it is... Growing up, I would see the leaves changing colour and watch the mist on the lake each evening (signalling the heat lifting away) and I would mourn the end of summer's warm days and wish for Christmas to come quickly (my favourite thing about winter). The end of summer meant Back to School and moving from our camp back to our house in town. The first night back home always made me sad - sitting in my room thinking about the endless hours I had spent reading in the lake or spending time with friends (not having to worry about homework or getting up early the next day).

Some people celebrate the arrival of October, with warm, cuddly blankets, steaming mugs of coffee or hot chocolate, hunts for the "best pumpkin", excitment over Hallowe'en, and the mystery of watching the earth prepare for winter. It meant the last campfire of the season, taking the boat out of the lake, jumping in huge piles of leaves after spending hours raking them up, mugs of chicken noodle soup and closing up the camp for the winter.

Even though I missed the summer, autumn was never really that bad. Even on the colder days, I would curl up under a blanket on my favourite sofa and read, feeling comforted by the knowledge that it was cold outside, but cozy where I was.

I want to be out celebrating October in England. Maybe join one of the creepy Tower of London Hallowe'en tours before sitting in a warm pub with a pint and some chili. I want to take the train to Brighton and see the ocean before it gets too cold. I want to visit some of the other parks in the city to see if their trees are starting to change. I want to find out where a good soccer match is playing so we can finally go and see one. I want to take a tour of the Thames River on one of those cheesy tourist boats before the air is too cool to enjoy it.

Maybe this isn't about homesickness. Maybe for me, the temperature change and start of autumn is a reminder of all of the things I haven't yet done to enjoy my new city. Maybe sitting inside with a book isn't the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon anymore.

Maybe that's why I haven't had as much to write about...

Today, I resolve to find something to do. And I promise to write a good story about it later (as best I can).

I think I'll start with a hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

How will you celebrate October? Whatever you do, I hope I get to read about it...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Missing the "Ron and Don Show"

Most of you probably have no idea who the hell Ron & Don are.

I spent time with these guys every Saturday night for many years (especially the last 5), laughing at their commentaries and Don's strange costumes. Instead of wearing clothes like everybody else, Don wears costumes - loud jackets with crazy plaid designs, bizarre ties and an assortment of unusual headwear...

Ron always amazed me with his patience in the face of Don's rants and inability to sit quietly for longer than 2 minutes. He would just grin and let the man go off on tangents about everything from the Canadian military to the need for larger gloves. No matter the topic, Don Cherry always has an opinion.

Tonight is the first installment of Hockey Night in Canada - the first time I'm missing the season's kickoff in several years. If I could manage to find a way to watch the games on my computer - I'd actually stay up to at least see the first game (7pm games are on at midnight here).

I know it's one of those things that will be waiting for me when I return home, but tonight I'll definitely be missing Canada and my favourite game...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Just "Perfect"

Today you're getting treated to two-posts-in-one, since this title fits two stories... perfectly.

One is just a nice moment from today that reminded me that happiness can come from anywhere, and the other one is just plain funny. Hope you enjoy them :)


Autumn has arrived in London. In a 24-hour span, we went from wearing light jackets (or none at all) and enjoying the warm sunshine in the park on the way home from work to bundling up with heavy coats. With an umbrella as a constant companion... Yep, it's rained every day for the last 4 days and is supposed to rain for the next 3 at least. Every day I look at the forecast and say a little prayer that the rain will not happen until the school day ends so my kids get to play outside during their breaks.

I have learned that children who are stuck inside all day long get VERY hyper and noisy after a few hours. Especially when they know it's "almost hometime" when they're set free to leave school and walk out into the rain to meet their grown-ups. They love being out in the rain.

Today as I shivered in the miserable windy, rainy afternoon watching my kids run to greet their families, I noticed a boy in my class standing without a jacket staring up at the sky with a huge grin on his face, arms spread out and an expression of pure joy. Confused, I asked him if he wanted to stand under the shelter while he waited for his mom.

His response: "But this rain - it's just perfect!"

It made me want to take the hood from my jacket off of my head so I could soak it in too.


Classroom management. Probably the single most challenging part about being a new teacher is learning to make sure that all of the people in your classroom are paying attention and not distracting the other students around them. Some teachers threaten punishment, others use stickers and awards for good behaviour, others use whistles - it's different for every teacher and often depends on the type of rapport you have with your class.

I'm lucky to have a group of young kids who still want to please their teachers and actually care about not getting into trouble. Most of them anyway. For the last week, I've been struggling with how to manage the behavior of one of the girls in my class (let's call her L).

L is the paradox-student who can either behave beautifully or very very badly. She moves from one end of the spectrum without warning and often refuses to follow instructions even when every other student is doing what they're supposed to be doing. Over the last two weeks, I've interrupted myself several times to stop her from talking when I'm talking, or to stop playing with that pencil / piece of paper / book / marker / rubber (they call erasers "rubbers" - just hilarious) / well you get my point...

Yesterday, I was in the middle of a math review with the class when I noticed her loudly counting on her hands. Thinking at first that this was math-related, I reminded the class to think "in their heads". She neither heard my suggestion, nor gave any indication that she even cared when I had to call her name to get her attention. Turns out she was working out the syllables for a haiku poem (what we had been working on in the previous lesson). I appreciate that she was doing work - but this was a math period and she knew she should be doing math, not poetry. This type of thing was very typical and after several run-ins with her, I finally assigned her to the dreaded Work Club (basically detention that is served during break-times). She just gave me a dirty look and after a half hour started repeating her behaviour. Sighing loudly, I told her I was very disappointed and that I really didn't want to have to keep giving her these punishments, so she was going to have to start improving her poor attitude.

If she was just getting distracted by other students or the objects on her table, I could easily let that go, but she would go out of her way to talk to other kids in the class when she wasn't supposed to, thus getting them into trouble too, AND she actively tried not to participate in any lessons.

Usually, I use positive reinforcement in my classroom management. But this doesn't always work - sometimes kids need to be reminded that bad choices or behaviour leads to a negative consquence. They're getting old enough to understand that they need to take responsibility for their own behaviour and that everything is a choice. They can choose to try their best, or they can choose to not bother.

The class responds very well to this, and we've built up and excellent rapport over the last few weeks. They sit quietly in the classroom, walk (usually) quietly in the halls, and have begun to catch themselves breaking rules (like calling out without putting their hands up) and correct themselves without me having to say a word. I rarely have to even raise my voice (I never yell) to get their attention. It's great.

L just wasn't responding. Maybe she wasn't buying it. I don't know. I had a private conversation with her about her behaviour, during which I reminded her that it was okay to make mistakes because nobody's perfect. I just expected her to try her best every day.

"But I AM, Miss!" (Little hands on her hips, and indignant look on her face, challenging me to argue)

"You're perfect? I find that hard to believe, L. No person is perfect. And that's okay"

"I AM perfect! I do everything perfectly. I don't make mistakes. You just don't know. I'm PERFECT." (Now she was getting pissed off)

"Oh man", I'm thinking, but instead say "Okay, so what you're telling me is that you're the only person in the world who is perfect in every way and never does anything wrong. It's just the everybody else who isn't perfect?"


I was not going to win this debate. Partly because I was trying so hard not to laugh at her insistent tone and combination of irritation and exasperation on her face. I gave up and sent her on her way.

This morning I asked for the advice of another teacher on tactics I could try to get L to see the light and start behaving better at school. She suggested rewarding her as soon as I did catch her doing something good - and doing that as often as I could. Basically even if I saw her talking a minute before sitting quietly to praise her for being quiet and ignore the bad behaviour. This didn't sound right to me, but since I'm new at this, I'm always willing to try something new.

This morning while taking attendance the class was dead quiet. I could have closed my eyes and not known that 30 kids were sitting in the room. It was such a big difference from my first week with them (when I had to remind them every 5 minutes to be "quiet and sensible") that I praised them immediately and told them that they were all going to have their names written on the board for doing something good. Starting with L. I told her that her name would be first. No individual praise or anything, just that it was special to have your name be first on the list of people caught doing good things.

Apparently this made an impression. Today, she:

1. cleaned up the classroom without being asked
2. sat quietly through pretty much every lesson
3. moved her pencil case to a different table when she realized it was distracting her
4. asked to sit at a different table so she wouldn't be tempted to chat with her friend
5. hugged me twice
6. decided to try doing the spelling dictation with the highest group (doing the most difficult work)
7. earned two "team points" for her great behaviour and attitude

She was like a different child. I'm still floored by the complete turnaround in her and am wondering which kid is going to show up in my classroom tomorrow.

At the end of the day, I told her how impressed I was with her behaviour and her effort to try her best.

Her response?

"See Miss?! I TOLD YOU I'M PERFECT! I knew you'd figure it out!"

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

a Re-Birthday is Celebrated

"Um, hi honey"

"Hi Mom - where are you?"

"I'm still at the hospital. The doctors wanted me to stay in for a bit longer...

The rest of this conversation is kinda blurry. The only other thing I remember this sinking feeling in my stomach that any child would experience upon knowing that their parent might have something seriously wrong with them.

Turns out she did have something wrong - something major.

For years my mother thought she had some form of asthma or respiratory problem because she would get out of breath and dizzy whenever she climbed stairs or a certain hill near our camp. Being the child of extremely healthy-eating / living parents, my mother would be the last person you would think of as out of shape. Deciding she'd had enough of this breathlessness / dizziness, she signed up to get a stress test at the hospital in Sudbury.

Thank God she did. It turned out to be the best decision of her life.

After what was supposed to be a regular test (and chest xray) on a regular Friday afternoon, the nurse refused to let my mother drive home or even leave the hospital. She said to please wait until the doctor could come in and speak to her. This was a bit of a problem because the doctor was Muslim and worshipping at mosque that day. Thinking that the nurse was being a bit power-mad, my mother tried to talk her way out of it, saying she would just talk to him later over the phone. The nurse held her own and refused to let her leave.

My mother didn't get home that night.

But we were okay with that because the xray found something that literally saved her life...

Shocked, I remember hearing that my mother had a tumour the size of a golf ball inside the left ventricle of her heart. The fact that it was non-cancerous was good news, but hold your hand in a fist and imagine a golf ball sized object inside that space - it was terrifying anyway.

The reason she'd been getting out of breath and dizzy had nothing to do with her lungs after all, as it turned out. Instead, the tumour had blocked most of the blood flow through her heart, leaving only a couple of millimeters of space. I refuse to think about what would have happened if that xray hadn't been done that day...

She went in for the stress test on Friday afternoon and had open heart surgery Saturday morning.

My father, brother and I were suddenly faced with the possiblity of losing one of the people we loved most in the world. We were terrified and in complete shock. My poor brother just didn't know how to cope with it and spent a lot of the next 24 hours by himself trying to absorb things, while my father and I cried together that night - and even more the next day when Dr. Mathur (bless him) called us immediately after her surgery to tell us personally that she'd come through surgery with flying colours - it took less time than they expected too.

The doctors were amazing. Dr. Mathur took the time to explain exactly what was going to be happening and patiently answered all of my brother's questions. He must have spent an hour just talking to my brother, clearly trying his best to make him understand. He was the best part about the experience - I'll always be grateful for his kindness and the time he spent with our family.

She was home within a week, sporting a new scar but in great spirits and praising God for saving her life (truly it was a miracle if you think about it).

She even got to direct me on how to cook my first turkey dinner, since her surgery was 1 week before Thanksgiving. They say laughter is the best medicine and she certainly got a lot of that watching me stick my hand up a turkey butt for the first time...

The recovery took a long time. She was out of her beloved classroom for several months and probably missed her busy life, but I don't remember her ever complaining. She calls today her "re-birthday" because God gave her life for the second time on this day.

That summer my mother climbed the hill near our camp proudly and without losing her breath. The look of triumph on her face is one that I'll never forget - or stop being thankful for.

So today, I wish my mother a Happy Re-Birthday and thank God for letting me have such a wonderful mother...

I will take care of you
the very best that I can
with all of the love here in my heart
and all of the strength in my hand
your every dream i'll share
for every tear i'll be there
my whole life through
i will take care of you

- a song by Amy Sky

If you can, please consider donating some of your time and money to the people responsible for saving so many people's lives (like my mom's).