Monday, December 14, 2015

Blast from the Past

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting hosted by the Durham Teacher Local GSA Committee. It was for a viewing of the LGBTQ video and, as a participant in the video, I was an invited guest. It was my 4th time seeing the video - and my first time with a group of teachers who basically knew nothing about it. The video was very well received and the discussion following was rich. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of it!

The Durham ETFO Office is in Whitby, which is quite a lengthy drive to make for a 90 minute meeting, so, knowing that my good friend Susan Field lives in east Scarborough, I invited myself there for dinner and a sleepover and turned the whole thing into an event! The meeting wasn't til 5, but I left home around noon to miss traffic and to also give me some time to do a little shopping. Also, because I started my teaching career in Durham, I decided to take this opportunity to visit my very first school, Bayview Heights PS in Pickering. I hadn't been there in over 30 years ..... and it was nothing like I remembered. There was a new single storey addition at the front, with expanded office and lobby areas, so it really looked completely different. There were also portables which meant that the yard area had to be redesignated. All in all, I hardly recognized it, but it was still pretty cool to visit and think back to those first days of teaching. I taught there for 2 years, from 1979-1981, and taught Kindergarten in the morning, Gr. 6 in the afternoon, and choirs at the J and I levels during lunches and breaks. It was a pretty typical new teacher gig - quite overwhelming at the time, but it provided me with an array of varied experiences and a wealth of wonderful memories.
Here we are, reunited .....

Just a quick story about the picture below. After visiting my old school, I drove to the Pickering Town Centre. The mall has been there for years, however, it's been hugely renovated and is now very large and pretty fancy compared to what it was 35 years ago. However, this green machine is still in the exact same place! I remember it vividly from an experience in my first fall of teaching. I came down with laryngitis and had to leave school in the middle of the day. I needed medication, had no money and had to stop and get some. Here. At this machine. Which ate my card. So I had to use the phone to call and troubleshoot, but I had no voice! Haha - they couldn't hear me and hung up! I had to call back and make sounds to be heard - it all worked out I guess, but it left a vivid memory! And the dumb machine was the first thing I saw when I walked in the mall, bringing it all back!

I have my friend Susan Field to thank for getting me that Pickering teaching job in the first place. She and I met at teachers' college (OTEC in Toronto - its LAST year before extinction!) and became fast friends. We were both in the music elective, so that was our first connection, but as we got to know each other, we found many more. It was a great year of teaching and partying! During the summer after graduation, I went to work for the CJRT Orchestra in Toronto and didn't give too much thought to where I might end up teaching in the fall. Susan, on the other hand, took the matter in her own hands, and drove her resume around to many many schools in Durham Region. She got a job of course, and when she was offered an interview for a second position, she called me up, told me about it and advised me to get my butt to Bayview Heights that day. I did what I was told, and got the job! She was teaching just down the street at Sir John A. MacDonald PS, but actually ended up at BH herself as the junior music person, when I moved back to Kitchener.

Although Susan and I have had some long gaps in time over the years between visits and contact, it's always very easy to get right back into it again when we are together. This visit was no different. We spent a wonderful evening of animated conversation, passionate reminiscing, fortified with pizza and maybe a little wine. Although Susan had warned me she might crash early, we all lasted way into the wee hours. So sorry, Susan and Gord, for keeping you up so late! I know that my retirement hours and flexibility are enviable! What a fun night though, right??

Here is their beautiful home in Scarborough (with my car in the driveway!). They have a great property and I look forward to returning when we can enjoy the gorgeous pool in the backyard!

I slept right through Sue and Gord's early morning departure. I hit the road about 9:30, had a wonderful shopping spree at IKEA on the way, and was home by early afternoon. No traffic! Mid-day is the way to go in the GTA! What a great 24 getaway. Blast from the past - nothing quite like it!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Tacky Trend

Is it just me, or have you noticed how 'tacky' Christmas sweater events are so in vogue this year?

It's been a growing trend over the past few years. It started out with people digging out the old sweatshirts from the back of closets that at one time were the 'must have' of the season, and wearing them to the office to get a laugh. Then it became 'Tacky Fridays' and things turned a bit competitive - who has the ugliest, tackiest attire of all? This year, the tacky Christmas dress-up option seems to be everywhere. You can actually buy brand new 'ugly, tacky' attire. I saw these T-shirts at Giant Tiger this afternoon. For the ridiculously inexpensive price of $6, it's hard not to imagine the Bangladeshi sweatshop where they may have been produced, and the disadvantaged workers who toiled to churn them out.

I'm troubled by this trend for so many reasons. I remember attending an ETFO Provincial Equity Leadership Symposium a few years ago where we had the privilege of hearing a 'Roots of Poverty' session. That was the first time that I was challenged to think differently about aspects of 'dress' at school. The example given that made the greatest impression on me that day was 'Dress down Fridays'. We were encouraged to examine exactly what we are doing when we 'dress down'. For example, when we 'dress down', what does this say to our most disadvantaged of students - the students who are lucky if they have 2 options of outfits to wear on any given day? One day a week, when we dress down, is the result, in fact, that we adopt a more casual, less put together, less affluent look? More like them, when, in fact, they have no options of dress and look like this every day? On the other hand, if you really look around at a staff on one of these days, often what you'll see is a showcase of the coolest of jeans, kickin' boots and the trendiest Ts. Cool and trendy are never an option for many children and their families. And worse, if we happen to gather in the gym and draw even more attention to our 'dress down', or worse yet, tally and compare the participation from each class  - how do our struggling students feel? This challenge to my thinking affected me deeply and I haven't been able to participate in a 'dress down' day, or any other showcase of privilege, since. Further, I believe that it's important that all of us examine the underlying issues that might be embedded in some of our favoured traditions, however difficult that might be.

Dress down Friday is not the only offender in schools. What about twin day if you're the child in the class who is always left out and who has limited wardrobe choices? Sports shirt day? Favorite character day? Red and green day? In fact, any day that implies that a student can go home, look through plentiful closets or perhaps make a trip to a thrift store to create the required look. Not all of our students have those options and if, as a teacher, your goal it is to create a loving, inclusive classroom, then these types of events have no place

On a more superficial level, I have a closet full of theme dress that I accumulated over my long career as a music teacher. These were the attention-grabbing outfits that gave kids yet another reason to be excited to walk through my music classroom door. I used these glittery wonders to motivate and engage. And it worked. And my memories are fond. I can't possibly look at these treasures today and call them tacky. So they remain secretly tucked away in the back of my closet. 

And if I pull one out to wear, I'll wear it with pride and with no reference to tacky.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Boy on the Bus

Last week, I had a wonderful mini-vacation in Montreal. How nice it was to just take off on a Tuesday for a mid-week getaway! I booked in at 'Chez Turgeon', Matt and Elise's place. Although I told them I would look after myself during the days when they were working, they took very good care of me. They planned a couple of art experiences that I would never have found myself, and that are always a highlight of time spent with them. Also, every meal and every restaurant was fabulous - something else that we anticipate and appreciate each time we visit Montreal. I loved every minute of the time with Matt and Elise, and thoroughly enjoyed this little 3 day holiday. I'll do it again!

It was my first time taking the Megabus. I booked a Wednesday 10 a.m. departure from Toronto and a return trip Friday evening. Trish and I actually drove down to Toronto on Tuesday after school as Trish was attending an OFL event on Wednesday. It was a pretty fun evening - Trish, Jeff and I went out for dinner at Bannock and had a crazy time, pretty typical when the 3 of us get together! We stayed at the Sheraton on King, so I had a short walk to the bus station in the morning to begin the trip to Montreal. I had a new book to read - I chuckled that this 'girl on the bus' would be reading The Girl on the Train (awesome mystery btw). I also had my iPad (since the Megabus has wifi), knitting, a big coffee, and snacks. I booked a good seat upstairs, near the front, with extra leg room and a little table. The bus was quite empty, so I had no seat-mate. I was all set and was pretty excited.

We had just left the station when the driver came to a rather abrupt stop on the street. I was upstairs so I couldn't see what was going on but I heard everything very clearly. Someone had obviously waved the bus down as it was pulling out. The driver stopped and opened the door, allowing another passenger to board, however, as he did this, he addressed this person in a very angry way, informing them that the bus leaves at 10, that they should have been at the station by 9:45, that they're lucky the bus stopped and how dare they flag a bus down on the street, bla, bla, bla. The driver was very rude and belligerent. His words were demeaning and insulting. I had no idea who this passenger was but I felt terrible for them. There was no need to speak in that tone, nor to be so aggressive. The new passenger was eventually able to speak and in a very quiet, gentle, deep, male voice, with a lovely African or Caribbean accent, said, "I'm so sorry to hold you up. I just arrived on another bus which came in very late. I apologize." That was it. The driver said nothing in response. The new passenger started up the stairs and the bus left the station.

I was sitting right by the stairs, so as he arrived on the 2nd floor, he turned and looked in my direction and smiled, before he chose an empty seat a couple ahead of me. He had a warm, kind smile. He was a big man. A big, black man. My immediate gut reaction on seeing him was that the jerk who was driving the bus, the privileged white jerk with the big mouth, might have been exhibiting a bit of racism in his treatment of this man. I couldn't help staring at the new passenger and wondering how he felt. How often he had experienced this kind of treatment. How he can still smile after being spoken to in that manner. Whether he had even noticed what a jerk the driver was. I was still pondering all of this as we pulled in to the Scarborough Town Centre for our first stop. There was quite a long line of people waiting to board the bus, so the driver asked that if anyone had moved to one of the reserved seats that they themselves had not reserved, they should move to the non-reserved seating to make way for the new people. At this request, the new passenger got up, came back to me, and let me know that he had booked the seat right beside me. This explained why he had looked my way when he first boarded the bus. I also understood that he had chosen to give up a good seat with extra leg room, rather than disturb me. I had clearly established my 'territory' as all my stuff was spread out over the 2 seats. At this point though, I scrambled to gather it all up. It was done hastily so I ended up with my jacket, purse, knitting, travel bag and everything I had piled on my knee so that my new seat mate could sit down. He apologized and agreed that we'd wait til others sat down then perhaps move so we could each have more space.

However, then we started to talk. In the few minutes that it took for the passengers to board, we became engaged in such rich conversation that neither of us was inclined to move. In fact, I sat all the way to Kingston - 2 1/2 hours - with all my stuff on my knee. It started with introductions - he asked where I was travelling and let me know that he had never been to Montreal but would love to on his next trip. He wanted to hear all about it, who I knew there, how often I had been etc. etc. He was travelling to Kingston. When I asked if he lived there, he let me know that he was visiting Canada from Nigeria. That beautiful accent is Nigerian. He was younger than I initially thought - 27, just a boy, younger than 2 of mine, although he had life experiences and possessed wisdom far beyond his years. We learned about each others' families, jobs - past and present, goals and aspirations. We talked religion, spirituality, politics, core values and beliefs. He asked probing questions and was genuinely curious and caring. He told me about his sky-diving, other 'bucket list' items as he called them, and his extensive travelling. I asked a lot of questions about his upbringing in Nigeria and his travels around Africa. He told me all about the changing political climate in his home country. He works for Africa's biggest bank, but he's a proud Nigerian and has political aspirations. Maybe he'll be president some day. He was utterly fascinating. And kind. And sweet. The time flew by.

I never learned the name of the boy on the bus. Although I felt a profound connection to this intriguing person, I will never see or hear from him again. Some day, I expect to see him in the news. I hope I'd recognize him, but I don't know. I will certainly never forget meeting him.

As we said our good-byes, there was a big part of me that wanted to quickly exchange Facebook info. But I didn't and nor did he. We thanked each other for the meaningful time spent ... and parted.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Daytime Fitness

One of my favorite things - going to a fitness class during the day! No more trudging out in the evenings when it's dark and cold and the family room is so warm and inviting. I've been looking forward to this for a long time and the pleasure of it has not let me down. I tried classes at the local Community Centre during the fall. And while these classes take a break for December, I have just signed up for one month of unlimited zumba at Zumba Fuzion on King. Also close to home and the Groupon made this a tremendously good deal for a month's worth of classes. I've been to my first session - it was a great workout and dancing fun - my favorite combination! What a blast!
Retirement has its perks.

Monday, November 9, 2015


I've always loved knitting. I love the feel of the wool, watching a project unfold, and the peace of mind that comes from creative projects.
I remember watching my grandmother knit when I was young. I was fascinated by the repetitive actions and although I didn't think about it in these terms then, she definitely found her creative 'zone' when she knitted. She found peace in it and managed to pass that on to me. I used to help her wind the wool sometimes. I remember loving having a role to play, even then.
It was my mum who taught me to knit. She is also a very accomplished knitter and seamstress and loves to pass on the skills and the tricks of the trade when she has a chance. I had make a few attempts as a kid, but I was on maternity leave with Dan (almost 30 years ago!) when I had the urge to really begin taking knitting seriously. A small group of us gathered weekly for our little knitting 'club', held at my house and led by mum. We each did our own projects with mum there to troubleshoot whenever necessary. And for any of you who have learned to knit, there is always a fair bit of troubleshooting needed. Even now, every time I drop a stitch, my instinct is to yell "Help" hoping mum will come running.
I've knit a few things over the years but it has been a while since I've tackled a big project. I've been pretty excited about getting going again in retirement. I've been imagining cold January evenings with wool on my knee as we watch TV. Mmmmm, sounds wonderful, doesn't it?
So, I dug out the needles, looked through leftover wool and old patterns and started with a wee blankie for Vinnie, made from wool from an unfinished project from years ago. And imagine that, he loves it :)
That little project got me hooked again so I've spent some time at Lens Mill (what an amazing store!) browsing through the huge selection of wools. Patterns are now readily available online, so I've also been browsing those and making plans.
I decided not to be too ambitious to start, and chose an afghan made with Homespun Thick & Quick, which has a natural stripe in the fibres. So there isn't really a pattern, but you end up with these beautiful stripes. I chose a colour scheme called 'Granite' with muted blues, grays, tan, and a light cream. This is the afghan half finished.
It only took me 2 weeks to complete it and it's lovely and cozy. I'm so happy with it I that went back to Lens and got more wool and I'm on to the next project!
Christmas is coming after all.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Encaustic Art

Last Friday, I attended an Encaustic Art workshop, organized by teacher friend and co-retiree Katie Saunders, and led by Guelph artist Julia Daly. Julia has a gorgeous studio in a separate building that she built 2 years ago on her spacious property. It is a wonderful, bright, creative space and was so well set up for a group like ours! There were 6 of us, of varying art skills. We learned the basics of encaustics, safety with the equipment, and we each completed a project to take home. I think these images will give you a feel for the experience!
Here is Julia's studio. I would live out here if I had a space like this!
The wax was warming in the trays when we arrived. The trays are basically pancake griddles!
Small amounts of oil paint added to the beeswax gives the colour.
Julia had a variety of her work on display. These are some of the smaller pieces.
Encaustic involves painting layers of wax on wood,
then using a blow torch to melt the wax and adhere it to the layer below. Fun!!
You can add textural elements as well - including lettering, fabric, carving, small beads, etc. 

This is my finished work. Yes, it's a bit of a hodge podge. Haha! I didn't go in with any type of plan, so this was a bit of a 'playground' where I could try out all the different techniques.
The end result has so much wax, it weighs a ton! I hope to go back soon - but next time,
I'll go with a concept! It was great fun - I look forward to trying it again!

Saturday, November 7, 2015


I don't even know how many years I've been attending the fall conference hosted by ECOO - the Education Computing Organization of Ontario. I've been an attendee, a presenter and for a couple of years, I even worked on the conference committee. It's been a good run.
This annual conference happened this past week in Niagara Falls, called Bring IT Together, or #bit15. It seemed like a good idea last spring to submit a proposal to do a workshop with Trish. My thinking then was that Retired Susan would be excited to attend and reconnect with friends and get a little technology boost to spur on my new projects. Well, that was then and this is now. I'm feeling a little differently now that I'm actually living in this place. I confess I'm feeling a significant lack of interest in some of the things that were my professional passion last spring. Usually I'm really excited in the days leading up to the conference, this year, I felt hesitant. I could easily have stayed home.
So how did it go? We were only there for one day, but it was a good day. A very thought-provoking day. Our workshop went well and we had a pretty good crowd. It was one that we've done before so we were quite relaxed presenting. Through the day, I reconnected with lots of friends and colleagues and that was really nice. The keynote was given by Sylvia Martinez, on the topic of the Maker Movement in education. Normally I would have been tweeting like mad and taking copious notes. This year, I chose to sit and listen. She was amazing. Such a refreshing way to think about classrooms and learning. My personal quandary with Sylvia's presentation, as well as with a couple of other good presentations later in the day, was 'now what?'. I wasn't sure what to do with my enthusiasm for the new ideas. No classroom in which to implement new ideas. No teacher PD to plan and incorporate new strategies. No presentations and pep talks to teachers. It felt odd. I shared some of this in a couple of brief conversations with 2 retired friends, Doug Peterson and Peter Skillen - they have more retirement experience than me and had some wisdoms to share. They talked about life long learning and the importance of taking my time to find new applications for new ideas. I respect them both and appreciated their comments and encouragement.
I will continue to ponder. Retirement frames everything differently and part of this journey will be to figure all this out.