Noticing Details

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What makes a person notice?  What makes one person look out the window in the morning and see rain and another person look out the window and notice the exceptionally red breast of the robin trying to pull the long, stretchy worm out of the ground?  Or the difference in the appearance of the cherry blossoms in spring as you travel east through Vancouver?  Or the difference between happy chirping and the sound of going to war to protect young from predators?  Why does the curiosity of the very young diminish as some people grow older but emerge as artistic creation or scientific discovery or unbridled joy in others?

Noticing comes easily to preschoolers.  A short walk can take hours because it is punctuated with countless numbers of studies of rocks, branches, bugs, and wonderings.  I have recently framed a study of birds to hone the observational skills of Kindergarten to Grade 7 students while they are doing “SchoolAtHome” during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Teaching kids to be observers in a face-to-face context is nothing less than joyful.  Discovery is exciting, whether you are making the discovery or watching the “eureka” moment in child.  Of course I speak with the perspective of a long time educator.  In the early years of school, all we need to do is take kids outside and give them time.  To look.  To listen. To smell. To touch.  To note changes over time.  Adding a few open-ended questions sends them deeper into their observational studies.  More focused attention from the obvious to minute detail evolves when you teach older children to use a ruler, a magnifying glass, a set of binoculars, a camera or an iPad with picture and video capacity and provide a format for observations.  Encouragement to make anecdotal notes with drawings of observations unleashes creativity.

When I was little girl, I lived close to Jericho Beach by a big vacant lot.  I called it “The Baking Lot”.  It made sense because all of the neighbourhood kids went to make mud pies and squish in the mud.  We rescued our rubber boots when they were sucked off our feet.   We caught tadpoles, frogs, butterflies and bugs.  We braved stings to capture bees and wasps in glass bottles so we could study them close up. We ventured further afield to the beach and created habitats for our collected crabs to live in.  We built castles that were gobbled by insatiable waves.  Our curiosity was never satisfied and our attention to detail was ever present.

When all of the older kids went off to school, Gordon, John and I were left behind to continue our explorations under the supervision of their mother.  This opened up another world of discovery to me.  The world of “boy” toys.  Growing up in the 60’s with an older sister limited my world to dolls, and fancy dresses.  Now I was able to explore the world of Hot Wheels and pedal cars.  Outdoor observations were assisted with Tonka Trucks as we excavated the land for new bug habitats in the backyard.  We got very dirty and it was all very acceptable and even encouraged.

John and I both emerged into adulthood, still curious and still friends with the unconditional acceptance of tight knit families.  In fact for many years, my kids thought we were related.  John’s curiosity took him into a fascination with antiquity, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Classical Studies and a Diploma in Fine Arts.  My curiosity pushed me to try new things like snow skiing, water skiing, snowboarding, canoeing, hiking, biking, travel, meeting new people and developing interesting relationships.   I emerged with a Bachelor of Education Degree, a Master of Arts Degree in Education with continued diplomas and credentials in language, Special Education, leadership and management.

Both John and I continue to be friends.  Our differences are more readily apparent than our similarities.  He fits the typical mold of an introvert.  I fit the typical mold of an extrovert.  Both of us are voracious readers and lovers of language.  We are definitely mourning the loss of Bard on the Beach this season due to the COVID-19 restriction on large gatherings.  John’s thinking is clarified through listening, reading, art and the lens of a camera.  His understanding of the world is most often communicated in cartoons, paintings and photographs.  My thoughts are formed through listening, reading, writing, talking (to myself, to a series of family dogs, to kids, to adults) and through writing.  My thinking is expressed through language.   Yet our biggest similarity is that both of us continue to  notice.  There is no doubt that asking questions has led both of us down paths to find the answers that matter to us.  It has been important to our learning but it has also been important to how we experience joy in our lives.  Noticing details changes how we experience the world.

Our paths have recently converged once again.  His fancy new camera has focused his attention on capturing the solar system, birds, flowers, the ocean – everything nature.  His mode of communicating his learning – posting the images on Facebook with the name of each bird and observations.  I have channeled his learning into the challenge of teaching observational skills to students online, entice kids to go outside daily for physically distanced activity, and help them to experience joy and gratitude during this tumultuous time.  He has indulged me with setting up a Twitter account @JStCPatrick to tweet out his posts on birds so I can retweet them @LivingstoneVSB and Wild About Vancouver @WildAboutVan.  I hope the sounds, scenes and details about our local birds will pique the interest of my students at Livingstone Elementary.  And of course, I am thinking this may be a future book that John and I co-author.

We all have opportunities to take a closer look.  When we pause to do it, often that is when the discoveries and experiences that mattered most in our lives happen.  It requires a concerted effort to invest the time and create the space to notice the details.  It guarantees learning, joy in the experience and a sense of gratitude for all that is amazing.  For John and I, it has made all the difference.

 

 

 

A Dozen Ways to Find #Joy During COVID-19 Self Isolation

1.  Celebrate a really good cup of coffee first thing in the morning.  I discovered I had one more tin of coffee from the Café Du Monde in New Orleans.  Oh the happy memories of travelling.  Bonus!

2.  Prepare really good food to eat.  It might be cooking old favourites or involve trying some new recipes.  I had just recently came across the recipe for the cinnamon buns that I adored when I was getting my Bachelor of Education Degree at U.B.C.  I am still trying to perfect the carmelized topping that I remember from back in the day!

                                                                                                Aspiring to recreate iconic UBC Cinnamon Buns

3.  Be grateful for small kindnesses.  After I sent my second letter home to parents and students, I got the gift of a drawing from one of my students for the Easter weekend.  It made my day.

4.  Marvel at Springtime Blossoms and amazing views during physically distanced outings.  The cherry blossoms and the magnolias are particularly magnificent right now!

5.  Feed your mind.  Read lots of books.  Fat, sad books.  Non-fiction.  Listen to audiobooks.  Poignant books read by the author and hard-boiled detective novels.  Professional sources.

6.  Write journals, stories, blogs and poems.

7.  Slow down and take time to notice details in familiar places. 

 

8.  Sink your teeth into a great binge watch.   Netflix.  Showtime.  Cable TV.  When else will you invest the time to commit to several seasons in a few days!  A binge watch of  Marie Kondo inspired me to go crazy with organization! 

9.  Start new routines.  I did an online workout and discovered muscles I forgot I had.  

10.  Take the opportunity to do chores that haven’t been done in years.  Or perhaps should be done every week.  The joy for me is in the finished product.  The clean gene skipped me and I find NO enjoyment in this task.  I also find that I am able to control the start and finish of these tasks.  And yes…I do like that.  The big joke when I lived in the suburbs was that if there was ever an earthquake, the coats of paint on the walls would hold up the house!

11.  Plan at home date nights, virtual social times, celebrations, and events – even if it is just a very English tea time.

 

     

     12.  Plan for when life goes back to normal and the possibilities open up.

“Fenced In” during COVID-19 Lockdown

Lockdown in the city.  Although social distancing could have been the answer to the dramatic effort to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, stronger government measures have been required to enforce common sense measures like social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.  As a result, most of us are in our homes for most of the day in Vancouver and many other places throughout the world.  Only Taiwan used the SARS experience to prepare adequately to manage this recent global pandemic.  For people in Taiwan, life includes travel restrictions, regular temperature checks, masks, and strictly enforced isolation for people who have travelled or feel sick.  It also includes going to work, restaurants, and the gym.  For the rest of us, we’re inside.  No socializing.  No yoga.  No gym. No eating out at restaurants.  No visits to the local coffee shop to sit, work or socialize.  Even the logs at the popular Vancouver beaches have been gathered and fenced in to prevent people from gathering and socializing in groups.  The quest to cope is daunting for many who feel like they have exchanged control of their lives for abject boredom.  However we continue to have control of how we perceive our situation and how we spend our time.

I am grateful that we our two week Spring break that pushed the card on self isolating and government enforcement of Health and Safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while my family, friends and my school community are still healthy.  Prior to the break, our school did a good job of reminding kids to wash hands properly, cough into their elbows, and maintain clean spaces and surfaces.  We are now in a better position to teach and reinforce the importance of social distancing.

My Grandma Derksen kept four young kids together and alive through-out World War II in Germany.  She lived to be 100 years old,  Her stories of rats nibbling on toes in emergency shelters and other horrific conditions framed her later life.  She demonstrated a fastidious attention to cleanliness.  For her joy came with a clean and organized household.  When I was newly married, I’d take a toothbrush to crevices when she came to visit and shove piles of stuff into closets.  The family joke has always been that the clean gene skipped my genetic make-up.  I prefer to go out and do something.  If I’m at home, I’d prefer to read or write rather than clean the house.

I was gifted with the collector gene of my Grandma Keenan.  Books, rocks, shells, tea cups, photos, letters and other treasures carry stories and possibilities.  My recent obsession with clean surfaces have brought the realization that the clutter also brings dust and presents a cleaning challenge.  I will require more than a two week lock-down to meet the Grandma Derksen standard, but I am well on my way.

My recent painting, organizing, and cleaning obsession has been made enjoyable with audio-books and the Netflix binge watch.  I have discovered that weekly featured audiobooks are available for under $10.00 and some great classics are even cheaper.  Nothing like a hard boiled detective with Tourettes to entertain you while you paint a bedroom.  Multiple seasons of a series on Netflix with well developed characters has kept me shuffling papers and sorting “stuff” well into the night.

Social media has the merits of checking in on people and statistics, but like binge watching television or the news can become a black hole.  It has the same capacity as empty grocery store shelves to fill me with anxiety and apprehension.  My mother was the ultimate worry wart.  The worst things that happened in her life were the things she never saw coming.  The worry just made her more nervous and less able to experience joy.  I have found the need to just turn it off.   Daily technology and television breaks are mandatory.

Reading is how I cope with life.  It allows me to shift gears.  It provides the front-end loading that feeds my curiosity and helps me process life.  It allows me to do big picture thinking and make sense of things in the past and yet to come.  It’s not an “add on” to a busy schedule but part of my life.  The additional time at home has diversified my reading.  I am even listening to a grisly book called Still Lives that would make my older sister proud – the ultimate consumer of scary books and movies.  I just finished a book called Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang that has reframed my thinking around work/ life balance.

Daily outdoor exercise is part of the mix.  It provides a welcome addition to the day.  There is something to be said for the positive addition of having time with nature to calm our nervous system and experience joy in its beauty.  There is time for long walks and bike rides.  My preference is for long bike rides because it gives me a better way to work out.  Spring is a great time of year.  As new growth emerges, so do the possibilities for learning, considering things in a new light and creativity.  With this new learning and inspiration comes the desire to write and to cook.  Olive’s bran muffins from when my cousin and I worked on 4th Avenue at The Computer Tax Service, Nanny Keenan’s oatcakes, along with homemade croutons have become staples.

By the end of the day, I still find I have more to do.   Today I will venture out into the rain.  Then the promise of a pot of tea and a good book.  Tonight I have decided that it will be date night.  I will put on nice clothes and perhaps even make-up and make a fancy dinner.   Something to change things up.  I may even let my husband teach me a new card game.  My husband will be delighted not to be co-opted into another organizational venture!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Life in a Temperate Rainforest

This blog post is intended for families in the school community to help get students prepared for the rainy season.

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I understand that in the far north, the Inuit people have many words for snow and ice.  Each word indicates an overt or sometimes subtle difference in the snow and ice.  It could reflect the conditions or qualities within the ice and snow.  As a Vancouverite, we see snow as fluffy which translates into not good for snowballs but very pretty.  There is “perfect snowball” weather which translates into good for building snow people, forts and snowballs.  Then there is wet snow which is horrific for driving in and is generally a wet, soggy mess.  There is slippy ice we can see and black ice that forms a slick surface and is hazardous on foot and in the car.  Our vocabulary around ice and snow is pretty basic.

Vancouver is an amazing place to live and is a popular tourist destination because of the oceans, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains and the green.   Basically it is amazing because of the water.  It provides an astounding range of things to do and a diversity of plants and animals in our own backyards.  It is a place that beckons us to “Get Outside”.  The reality is this amazing city exists because we live in a temperate rainforest.  The temperature remains mild throughout most of the year.  We don’t have snow and ice very often so we don’t really see the nuanced differences.  What we know is rain.  Throughout the year, it sprinkles, floats down water, drizzles, mists, showers, rains, rains cats and dogs, pours, and sleets.  I challenge you to add to the list of words and expressions to describe our plentiful precipitation.

The question that always comes up is what to do when it rains.  One option is to just stay inside.  I must admit, I love a rainy day when I can curl up with a good book and a pot of tea.  However this is just not a feasible everyday option.  Life goes on, even on a rainy day.  We have places to go and a body that requires activity to be healthy.  I believe there are three understandings to be ready for the rain.

Number 1:  Wardrobe Matters  If you are warm and dry, you are ready for anything.

The standards include:

A waterproof coat, preferably with a hood.  This allows maximum flexibility to do stuff.

Boots.  There will be puddles.

An umbrella.  I have purchased many and have left them all over the city.   I worked at Lost Property for Metro Transit when I was in university and there were hundreds of umbrellas of every size and colour left on busses.  Guess what the most common colour was abandoned in the Lost Property Department?

 Number 2:  Attitude Matters  Regardless of how miserably you complain, it will rain.

 If you choose to be miserable because it is raining, you are committing yourself to a lot of bad days.  When you frown at the world, it frowns back.  Smile and make a rainy day plan.

 Number 3:  Observe Rainy Day Life  Life in the rain is different.  Not better or worse, just different.

 Just after my daughter’s 6th birthday, we went traveling in Italy.  A torrential downpour hit one evening in Venice.  People ran for cover.  Our family was the only one strolling down the street and delighted with the break from the perpetual heat.  My daughter looked up at me and said “Oh, Mommy.  It smells like home.”

It did.  And it was glorious!

Perspective is everything.  Expect rain.  When it comes, dress appropriately and venture outdoors.  Adapt your activities to accommodate the changes.  Running on wet concrete can be a problem.  Find another option.  Going for a walk under a big umbrella is a good option.  Open your eyes and look for changes.  One of the first songs I learned in kindergarten at Queen Mary Elementary School from Mrs. Hicks was “Robin in the Rain.”  There is a reason there is a song about it.  Look how the plants and animals respond with joy to the rain.  Close your eyes and take a big breath and try to describe it.  Look up and notice how the clouds change.

Expect that almost every day will be an outdoor day.  And smile about it 🙂

Long Weekend Power Relax

Yes, I realize it sounds like the ultimate oxymoron BUT in the quest to cope with job stress, time is limited so strategizing is required.  This plan played out quite well for me on this Victoria Day long weekend. The weather cooperated and I am feeling grateful.

This may be the recipe… at least for me!

  1. Starting the weekend in a noisy, hip hop and happening hot spot like Local Bar and Grill.
  2. Finishing an entire book that I WANTED to read, as opposed to one I SHOULD read.  This requires reading in bed.  Curled up in a favourite chair.  In a great coffee shop (like 49th Parallel) with a sunny deck.
  3. Biking around the Stanley Park Seawall before the tourists have set out for the day.
  4. Breakfast at the perfect hole in the wall spot, yes called The Spot.
  5. Halsa Spa float in an ocean room.  Thanks for the introduction to this, Celia!
  6. Golfing.  Working out the angst on little white or fluorescent balls.  Soaking up the beautiful sounds and sights.
  7. Self designed Semperviva One day Yoga Retreat – Hatha in the am at the Sea Studio.  Restorative in the afternoon at the Kits Beach Studio.  Yin before bed at the Sun Studio.
  8. The promise of a good sleep 🙂
  9. Reaffirmation that there is life beyond work!

 

Have a Hyggelig Day

I inadvertently learned a new word today.  I was following the array of posts and articles on happiness and gratitude.  Long ago, my husband noted that he had never met anyone who worked so hard at being happy.  It was a hard-fought learning from my childhood that has become as natural as breathing, albeit sometimes breathing with a harsh chest cold.  The morning reading included yet another article on how the Danish have a long standing record as being the happiest people in the world.  Hence the new word – hygge (hue-gah).

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, is one of the bibles of this Danish word.  Yet, another internet discovery.  I was taken through a you tube walk through the homes of both a self acclaimed 100% Danish expert returning from a hard day at work and Scottish Diane in Denmark who is married into the expertise.  Apparently life’s simple pleasures really are the best.  Wiking lists 10 things that can be found in the typical Danish home to create the comfy, cozy context to induce this relaxed sense of security and contentment.  It includes everything from candles (or a fireplace), lamps, blankets, books, hot beverages, to wood furniture, comfy clothes and thick, wooly socks.  Apparently I am well on my way to developing my own hygge expertise.  I am certainly committed to doing the research.

 Beyond Routine

I have never been a creature of habit.  When things get to be too predictable, I get an anxious feeling that life is passing me by.  Perhaps this is the reason that eduction has been such a good fit for me.  Change and new learning are always afoot!  Meeting new people, changing grade levels, attending professional development and navigating through the politics of the time provide food for thought and a landscape to navigate that takes all of my personal and professional resources.  The quest for me is to maintain a larger perspective of what really matters and not get sucked into the vortex of ever increasing demands.


I work hard and play hard.  A good friend of mine use to marvel that one hot tub after I arrived at “The Secret Garden”, her B&B on Bowen Island, and I had geared down from “10” to a happy “2”.   This Spring Break, my play opportunity, aka Spring Break, has taken me to Vietnam for a much anticipated visit with my darling daughter.  We have escaped the humidity of Hanoi and are now settled in a little piece of tropical paradise in Phu Quoc.  One day on our secluded little beach with hammocks, a few kayaks for our use and a good book and I have officially geared down to a “2”.  I suspect the relaxation speed corresponds directly with the lush greenery surrounding us.  All that O2!  Although I must confess I pulled my hammock away from those green coconuts overhead on the beach with a remaining vestige of control.


My daughter, Larkyn, and her boyfriend, Justin, are both teaching in Vietnam at ILA, International Language Academy.  It has a carefully delineated program to ensure standardization in English language instruction in institutions around the world.  Yesterday Justin started to tell me about this new thing, PBL, that was being introduced into the courses with the higher level students.   The Project Based Learning is technology based and facilitates collaboration, communication and problem solving between students.  Students for the first time have the power to choose interest areas to pursue and develop vocabulary around those interests.

I taught practicing teachers at the Bureau of Education in Fuyang for two summer sessions in 2008 and 2009.  I worked with four other educators from Coquitlam, British Columbia, teaching educators English and ways to engage students in learning.  It was an amazing opportunity for personal learning.  I gained a much better understanding of my students from China and the challenges facing the educators in China trying to implement practices that were bringing such strong results in the Western World.  Rote learning was not just a philosophical position but a way to manage behaviour  and safety in classes of 50 or more students.  Teaching students how to write tests determined their ability to further their education, access opportunities and care for family.

Project based learning is an exciting possibility for implementing change in school systems.  My principal, Rosa Fazio, is off to China this Spring Break, to inspire educators with the ways teachers are using technology and student interest to inspire profound learning at the Kindergarten to Grade 8 level at Norma Rose Point.  There is part of me that is excited to go back to school after break to discuss what we have learned over the holidays.  Yes, I’m sitting with my coffee in  a little piece of paradise feeling very grateful to be an educator.

 

 

 

Feeling Grateful

This December is my last as vice principal at Tecumseh Elementary School.  I have been at the school long enough to work, learn, play and share  experiences with enough children and adults to make leaving a hard thing to do.  Many Tecumseh students have heard my heartfelt speech that you choose everyday if you are going to make someone else’s life a little bit better or a little bit worse.  I just realized that I have missed an important element.  You have to understand that you impact others with the things you choose to do and the things you choose not to do.  During my time at Tecumseh, particularly this past December, the Tecumseh school community has chosen to show me that they care about me.  That choice has touched me deeply.

The cards, songs, poems, books and kind words show that you understand the things that are important to me and are grateful for our time together.  I love that I have been able to help someone learn to talk to people and make friends, make someone feel special by saying hi and smiling, make someone else feel like they can kick a soccer ball or code or blog or learn English or choose who they want to be.  I’m grateful to have talked and listened and laughed and learned with you.  I appreciate that many of you have learned that strength can be physical but also standing up for what is right and believing in yourself.

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Staff gave me a beautiful silver necklace with the wolf symbol crafted by Harold Alfred,  as my parting gift.  This symbol was also given to me on a card when I left Norquay Elementary School.  I love it.  As you well know, I am very interested in Indigenous ways of knowing and worked hard to further our collective understanding of our history and traditional indigenous teachings.  I take the selection of this wolf symbol as a huge compliment and inspiration.   The wolf represents great strength, is considered wise and powerful, chooses one mate for life and demonstrates strong loyalty to family.  Not a bad symbol to have chosen for you!

I’ve learned many things about strength of purpose at Tecumseh.  I love that staff signed me up for the Bike to Work Week and tested by ability to persevere until I could pedal up the hills from Kits to 41st and Commercial Street WITHOUT getting off my bike.  I love that so many in the school community invested in our We Welcome Refugees project to show the strength of our conviction that Canada is a welcoming country that demonstrates empathy and belief in what people have to benefit our country.  I love the enthusiasm that Tecumseh students bring to new learning and challenges.  I love that so many students have the strength to continue to try even when they fail or the task is really hard or maybe not even fair.   I also value that the families in our school community are so invested in creating a better future for their children, often in the face of significant challenges.  My Mom struggled raising two daughters and supporting her extended family as I was growing up.  I admire the same tenacity in our Tecumseh families.

Students, staff, parents and community partners have shown me in so many ways that they value the relationship we have developed over the years.  I cannot tell you how much it means to me that the relationships we have developed means as much to you, as they do to me.  I am so grateful for our time together and I wish all the very best for you in the future.

P.S.  I am also grateful to Harold Alfred for creating my very special and beautiful gift.  img_0355