Saturday, 24 July 2021

Dance with me daily

AJ took tap dance this past year at a local studio. I was very excited to find it as it was about 10 minutes from our house and 5 minutes from AJ’s school. This meant minimal commuting: we would just pop in after school on Friday. I looked forward to this studio being part of our lives for many years.

Unfortunately it was not to be. The owner decided to close shop after this year. It was not directly Covid related as far as I can tell, though it was surely an exhausting year for her. She decided she needed a break after 16 years.

Toady she held a garage sale and I picked up two of the costumes. They inspired immediate joy and dancing and I actually love this photo.

I have found a new studio for both girls and very excited about it….more on that another time.

For our days are filled with wonder
Nothing should ever stay the same
Let our hearts beat the rhythm
May love show us the way

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Summer bossoming

I remember being very young and admiring houses, imagining what my “dream house” might have in it. A porch, a globe on a stand, a willow tree and a spiral staircase were some particulars I remember. I don’t particularly want a globe on a stand anymore, or a staircase of any kind. I still like porches: they give a house a friendly look I think. I also really like stone and brick work. Willow trees are pretty, but some neighbours have them and they completely cover the ground in leaves in the fall. That’s a lot of raking.

At some point in my 20s or 30s, the “dream house” ceased to be a thing. Perhaps it was when my husband and I bought our house. Then we had a reality, not a dream. Or rather, once that goal was achieved we had other dreams. The truth is, I want a house with heat, clean running water, a toilet that flushes the first time, and safety and privacy. I have learned I don’t care that much about anything else. I wouldn’t want to live in a shack but I don’t envy anyone their mansion.

My other criteria when we bought our house was a yard. I wanted to be able to dig holes if I felt like it. I don’t exactly know why I had that thought  as it’s not like I dug a lot of holes in my youth. But I had a notion that a yard connects you with nature, I guess.

The nature in our yard is interesting.  I have a hypothesis that our neighbourhood wants to be a forest. Things just grow madly, trees included and I believe that without constant intervention, there would be little evidence left of people in a few years. Many of the plants in our yard preceded our presumed ownership and they will be there after we are gone I am sure.

The interior of our house is pleasant and as organized as it ever will be with children. But I have never been able to find a happy balance with…..whatever is going on in our backyard. The main reason is that we have invasive plants that evolved in some dark circle of hell. The ultimate invasive has to be creeping bellflower. If allowed to flower, each stalk can produce up to 15 000 seeds. The roots are thick and deep, often the size of carrots. Herbicides may briefly kill it but it returns from the root. Nothing likes to eat it. And if pulled or dug up, which I did week after exhausting week for 10 years, it will regrow from even the tiniest fragment of stem or leaf left in the soil.

I never was able to think of what would make our yard pleasant or attractive because of the constant battle with this many tentacled beast. Finally, last year I read online about something I hadn’t tried: kill it from the top by covering the ground. I put down old yoga mats and a tarpaulin in the areas that were worst invaded and weighed them down with bricks. It looked ghastly and sad, and fetid pools of water formed on the tarp when it rained.

It worked.

Slowly I replaced the old tarps and yoga mats with landscape paper (not even burying it, just putting it on top. My in laws gifted us with a few pretty perennials last year. I added a few herbs as Dani will pick and eat everything in the yard and I thought I could at least provide something that is actually edible. Perhaps she would learn to prefer it. The bricks and paper still looked nasty though.  But a trip or two to the dollar store gave me ideas, and soon the girls and I had collected a bunch of inexpensive decorations that we could add to our space.

All through this process I was still weeding regularly, BUT, I actually was making some progress now.

This week, we finished our initial creative spurt and I find myself feeling something unusual when I look at the yard: pride and happiness! It actually looks….pretty. I don’t feel immediate despair and existential defeat when I look out the window or step out the door.

The wide view of one corner

Close up

Out of control strawberry patch, that never makes strawberries. (Whatever. It has fertility issues I guess.) Also rhubarb.

Herbs: mint, chocolate mint, lavender, parsley. Also some leftover garlic and lettuce from my refrigerator, which I planted instead of composting.

A shady corner. I would like to get a small bench for under the tree.

Along the fence. This edge is where the creeping bellflower is still trying aggressively to push through. I’m holding it back, but it’s hard to eliminate along the edge of the paper as it invades the grass. But a stalemate is better than a rout.

We still need to do some major work on the yard. These improvements are quite superficial. We have the budget too; it’s finding the mental energy and time that has been a roadblock. But even though my efforts are relatively minor, they have made such a difference in my mental state. I actually believe we can have a pleasant space in our yard now! I feel motivated to do more. I have a sense of accomplishment. 

If there is a moral to this story, it is that total victory is not necessary to move in a positive direction. What is needed is just a little bit of encouragement. Progress is anything that is slightly better than complete and utter defeat. At least, that’s how I feel about it. I made something pretty and I even have some time to stop and smell the mint now. Next year, maybe roses.

Monday, 28 June 2021

2020 to 2021: scool perspective


The "Sc ool House" from Megamind

So, we are wrapping up another academic year: 2020 to 2021. If spring 2020 blindsided everyone, then September 2020 to June 2021 was the school year everyone knew would be…different. That is something; it allowed for preparation anyway.  Perhaps we didn’t know exactly what to prepare for but we could make a few reasonable guesses.

There were a lot of things that worried me about this school year, but by and large I took the attitude that having some opportunity to do good is much, much better than no opportunity. And I never doubted that I had some opportunity.

Actually, it turned out there was plenty of opportunity. Of course there were also arguments and strained nerves and stress and anxiety, because of the situation and because, well, people are people. But overall I feel very lucky to have landed where I did.

Here is an example of what we have literally and metaphorically grown this year.

In the fall I was trying to think of ways to get us outside as much as possible, for physical and mental health reasons. I came up with idea to plant some bulbs, which would then hopefully come up in the spring (which felt ages and ages away).

Planting bulbs in the fall

We found a neglected corner of an outside planter box and teachers and students set about weeding and planting bulbs.

Our garden - ready to sleep all winter

As we worked through the garden project and other shared initiatives, my co teacher and I became more and more comfortable working together. In terms of individual and collective resilience, we also found it wise to plan and teach closely. For example, if one of us was away from school unexpectedly the other was almost sure to be teaching both classes solo. (Substitute teacher coverage became increasingly poor as the Covid -19 waves impacted the city and its school system.) When the opportunity came up, we moved out of our separate classrooms into a big shared classroom.

I didn’t forget our garden through the long cold winter and its trials. I wondered if any shoots would come up at all. I thought there was a decent chance we’d get zero. But imagine my excitement when I saw several of these one day! One small success felt like it justified all the doubt and effort and was a promise for even better to come.

It's ALIIIIIIIIIVE!!! First shoots in the spring

After some more gardening and a lot of water hauling, we had a beautiful flower bed!

Flower Garden after some spring TLC

I remember taking drama in high school and learning the most important rule of improv. Whatever happens on stage, you never stop the action. This basically means never saying “No.” You can take someone else’s idea in a new direction, but you don’t just negate it. It’s an act that requires a high level of trust and openness from the participants.

I feel like at its best our special Ed class is like an improv act. We are also working closely with (so far) a couple of our CTS (Career and technology services) teachers. As the temperatures turned chilly outside and our bulb bed lay dormant under the snow, we wondered how we could grow some plants in a windowless room with only artificial light. We asked the shop teacher if he had any ideas and one thing led to another and ultimately led to this:

We are trying to teach people to call it a Life Star not a Death Star.

The Life Star is an indoor garden, and when complete will have its own lighting system and plants on most of the shelves, except the lowest one which we will put cushions on and keep as a bench (three people can sit comfortably inside).

The design is open source online, and you can learn more here:

We got a corporate-funded grant to purchase our supplies, and the building was done over the past semester by several of our special education students, who were mentored by advanced construction students. It was an amazing partnership that worked very well for all the students, and we want to continue it in the coming years. Perhaps we will make Life Stars for other schools. We would love to create a business where students make and sell products, learning skills and getting work experience. Conversations bloom into more and more ideas for the future, and who knows how much is possible, but we intend to find out. If you hung out with us, you would want to be part of it too. What a time to be alive!

With much gratitude,

Preferably with a little less pandemic-induced stress and anxiety

Saturday, 26 June 2021

2020 to 2021: Family perspective


AJ completed Grade 1 this past week (!!!) and according to her and anyone else whose opinion matters, she had a great year. Dani turned 3 in January and was in preschool/daycare full time. She also made friends and became increasingly chatty and imaginative. She knows the letter D and thinks all D-words are her name.

AJ made great leaps in her reading and writing this year, and after reading her Writing Workshop compositions this week, I thought  it would be fun to include a few of them to create a story about her school year.

I like to look at the snow. Look at the snow it is so pretty.

Chinook adventures

I like carving a pumpkin

Halloween 2020

I like to bake cookies. Because they are yummy.

Peanut Butter Cookies

I like to open presents. With my sister.

Christmas 2020

The unicorns are looking at the stars. And the rainbow. And the moon. They like looking in the night.
AJ and rainbow

The ladybug is walking on the sidewalk. She is looking at the sunset. She likes the sunset.

Road trip sunset

I like to ride my scooter. My sister likes to ride her bike. My mom came too. We were at the park. I feel calm. I love my sister. Me and my sister race each other. First we went on the playground. We like to play on the swings. Then we went walking.

Dani - 3 years old

AJ - 6 years old

I am learning a fun one. I go to music class.

Then finally, there are creative works such as this:

All leviathans are different. This leviathan has tentacles and horns and wings. It has 4 wings. It breathes death fire. It eats ships and islands and mountains. Death fire is not ordinary fire. It is also poisonous and dangerous. It will burn you up and turn you into toast cover you in jam and somebody will eat you and die.

And on that note, have a fantastic summer!

Sunday, 9 May 2021


 Lately I've been watching Bernadette Banner videos. She creates and recreates historical clothing and produces videos of the process. I had no previous interest in this subject, but lately have found her videos strangely compelling and addictive. Perhaps part of it is her persona: she is reminiscent of  Rapunzel hidden in her tower and endlessly crafting ...and many of us have become a tad Rapunzel-like the past year and a half.

My sewing skills however are limited to making basic repairs and alterations, so I wasn't inspired to try any of her techniques. However, a recent video about lace insertion changed that.

I watched this and thought: That's something I could potentially do. And I had the right material to experiment on: Last summer I bought the girls matching dresses for our 10th anniversary photo shoot. 

AJ really likes her dress but it was starting to get small. So I decided to take it apart and do lace insertion at the waist and side seams to make it a couple of sizes bigger, and possibly also add a lace hem.

I was still teaching in school at the time, although all the students outside our program were at home (yes Covid-19 has upended our lives again).  One of my colleagues has a lot of sewing skills, so I shared my ideas with her and she helped me with the planning and design parts of the project (luckily as I would have approached it far more randomly). I did most of the sewing.  We used a few donated scraps we found around the school sewing room. It was tons of fun.

I didn't take a "before" photo, but this is the identical dress in a smaller size (Dani's)

Finished product

AJ loved it.....she couldn't stop dancing.
(We later took in the sides a bit more as they were originally quite loose.)

I enjoyed this project and it underscored the importance of having something creative and joyful to focus my attention on. I can immediately observe the differences in my mood and attitude depending where I am putting my attention.

I also have more ideas for creation through alteration of garments....though I am working at home now and not sure when I will next be able to put the ideas into practice. Although I did just mend a broken doll, so still have some little projects on the go.

Wishing everyone happiness and outside-the-box thoughts!

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Life in motion

Spring is well on its way here. Trees are budding. The tulips I planted at home and at school are pushing up through the dirt (hurrah! I was truly afraid that literally none of them would come up.)  We had a spontaneous playground/backyard visit with friends yesterday. Children played; adults talked. No screens involved. We still remember how to do it. We still like each other.

The Rockies, however, are still covered in pristine white and we get days of fluffy rain mixed in with our sunshine. This was a walk taken on a chillier day, which was nevertheless beautiful and peaceful (on colder days we can have the parks mostly to ourselves). Captured mid-step, mid-dance, I like this photo because it reminds me that life is always about motion, transformation, travel. You prepare as best you can, get dressed up beautifully (but of course!), put on your rain boots in anticipation of epic puddles,  and then you just go with it. 

My most recent favourite quotation:

In the place of stillness, rises potential. From the place of potential, emerges possibility. Where there is possibility, there is choice. And where there is choice, there is freedom!
—Gabrielle Goddard

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Big Picture Window

“In the big picture window, we can watch the world go by”

Big Picture Window, by Matthew and Jill Barber