Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Blood: Movie Thoughts

Last Tuesday night, my history curriculum teacher decided to throw a movie night.  As the end of the semester is winding down and we're working our way through our last assignments and last couple weeks of classes, he wanted to provide us with a social night to help de-stress and watch a bit of "created history."

There was roughly twenty of us who showed up for the movie and after voting, he put in First Blood (also known as Rambo), based on the novel by David Morrell.  I don't know if you are familiar with the story, but this was the first time for me.

In summary, in this 14A movie (Canada's rating) John Rambo is a Vietnam veteran who is now back home in the USA.  From the get-go, we understand that he does not have a permanent home and walks from town to town.  His hair is shaggy, his face unshaved, he's dressed in a dirty old jacket and he carries a sleeping bag over his shoulder. Near the start of the movie, he comes to the town of Hope, Washington and immediately runs into sheriff, Teasle. The sheriff takes one look at him and classifies him as a vagabond.  Not wanting that sort of trash in Hope, he drives him out of town.  Rambo though, is hungry and wants to get some food, so, after Teasle drops him off, he turns around and walks back into town.  This leads to his unwarranted arrest and then abuse by the police force.  The tension escalates and things progress to a whole out war between Rambo and the police.

I would say that overall I enjoyed the movie because it is different from what I am used to watching. In reflecting, I would say the biggest difference is that although Rambo is the main character, he hardly talks throughout the whole movie.  A lot of what we know about him is shown or said by other characters.  What is powerful about this is that the other characters, such as the police force, are very quick to voice their views and theories but slow to actually see who and what Rambo is.  To me, this implies that his actions mean little against the opinions and labels of others.

I felt a deep sadness as I watched the film and found myself getting increasingly frustrated with the sheriff and his men.  They judge Rambo as a vagabond and a criminal because of how he looks and not what he has done. Even after they find out that he is a veteran, their attitude toward him does not change and he is still painted as the enemy.

At the end, our teacher said that this film is a metaphor.  Rambo is not just one veteran but represents many who come back from wars to find that their country and the people that they fought to protect--the people that they fought to bring hope to--reject and fear them.  People are quick to make assumptions about Rambo without figuring out where he has been and what he has been through, classifying him as crazy when he doesn't fit their "normal" mold.  Rambo should not have been shunned for merely passing through a town.  He should not have needed to carry his sleeping bag on his back with no place to call home.  He should not have to worry about holding a job. And he should not have to deal with PTSD all on his own.

In conclusion, I thought this was a powerful movie.  It raises an issue that will affect our society as long as we send men and women off to fight our wars.  When their service is done, how do we care for them?  How do we show them respect?  Even if you are a pacifist and are very anti-war, that doesn't mean you should disrespect the men and women who have fought and died in wars.  In comparison, let's imagine that you are anti-garbage.  You hate waste and live an all-green lifestyle.  Do you then hate garbage men/women?  If you do, that doesn't make sense.  They don't make the garbage; they just deal with it.  Wars are caused by a series of complex factors and not by the soldiers who are merely tasked with "dealing with it."


Thank you for reading.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Send me a Postcard: From Fort Henry

Well, we're into December and the weather still cannot make up its mind.  Monday was 9°C, Wednesday 5° and Tuesday?  Well, Tuesday this week was a startlingly frigid -17° feeling like -22° with the wind.  My body was not prepared for that sudden descent into the ice box.  And you know, I probably would have been okay had I only needed to walk to and from school, but nope.  Tuesday, I had the pleasure of going on a field trip with one of my classes to see and experience Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario.

I had never been to the Fort before and was excited to see this historic site.  And honestly, the day was lovely: the sun was shining and the sky was patched with blue.  But, as the main body of the Fort is pretty much outside... Cold. It was a cold field trip.  I say that I couldn't feel my nose, toes or fingers after a few minutes, and sadly I am not exaggerating.  An hour after I got in from the cold, I was still struggling to warm up my finger tips.  (Luckily no frostbite!).  Still, despite the cold, the Fort was pretty cool.  And it had a killer view of Kingston!  Just look at that lovely image.

Image of Kingston from the Fort
Image of Kingston from Fort Henry
What's really cool about Fort Henry is the way that the site is run.  The employees work hard to create an interactive learning experience.  At different times in the year, they put on dramatizations of battles that the public can come and watch.  And, in addition, our tour was also like a play.  Our guide was in character the whole time (I think he said he was a Lieutenant Colonel... either way he was near the top and he was in uniform) and addressed as army recruits.  We had to march and answer his questions as if we, too, were part of the militia force.  It made for a fun learning experience.  At one point, he mentioned how groups would sometimes spend the night and I honestly wished that we could have been doing a sleep over trip.  Before I knew it, our time was up and it was time to leave.  This was definitely one of the best Tour Guide/Museum experience that I have ever had and I wish it had been longer.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Thoughts on Dream Interpretation

I always loved the story of Joseph (and the Amazing Technicolour Dream-coat).  Ever since I first heard it, you could almost say I was enamoured.  My six-year-old brain couldn't quite understand why Moses got "more press" (shall we say).  Sure, God used Moses to save the his people from the tyrannical pharaoh, and yes that is important, but in my mind, Joseph was cooler because (1) he had cool dreams and he could interpret dreams for others, (2) he was a poster child for family problems and survived some pretty rough situations--I mean, his own brothers sold him as a slave and then while a slave he was thrown in jail because the wife of his master framed him for sexual harassment!  Talk about rough. And (3) I must admit that I really liked this story because Joseph's mother was named Rachel. Hehe...

In any case, I would read his story, learn about it in Sunday School, watch different cinematic representations, and pray that God would let me have the same gift as Joseph: dreams.  As a kid, dream interpretation seemed like an amazing super-power because I saw dreams as a way of hearing a message more directly from God.  My young rational was that God, being so holy and us being so not-holy, would make our head explode if he spoke to us directly all the time, but if he speaks to us more indirectly (e.g. through dreams), we'll be okay.  As an adult, I can still see the sense in what past, kid-me thought.  But I digress.  Point being: I prayed a lot asking for this gift.

Where am I going with this?  Have I been having prophetic-type dreams?  Nope.  Only the déjà vu kind with the occasional feeling that what is happening in a current situation happened at one point in a dream.

So..?

In the past week, I have been reading the book of Daniel which is another one of my favourites--well, at least the first few chapters are.  When you get to Chapter 7, things start to get a bit more heavy and confusing.  You see, Daniel, like Joseph, was a dreamer.  And Daniel, like Joseph, received wisdom from God so that he could interpret the dreams of others.  As I was reading this through the book this past week, I found myself noticing more Daniel's prophetic dreams.  These were not simple dreams and their content greatly stressed Daniel.  So much so that his "spirit within [him] was anxious, and the visions of [his] head alarmed [him]" (Daniel 7:15).  Later, Daniel says, "I was overcome and lay sick for some days.  Then I rose and went about the king's business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it." (8:27)

What I first thought would be a really cool gift also seems to be a burden.  Not only were the dreams hard to understand, but the visions caused Daniel great distress.  I can't imagine being sick because of a dream.  After reading that, I also rethought Joseph's story.  When he first had his prophetic dreams at home with his family, he did not know what they meant--only that he will be lifted above his brothers.  What kind of thoughts went through his head as he contemplated its meaning?  Did it gnaw away at him?  An annoyance like an itch that can't be reached?  Or what about the time when Joseph was in prison and two other prisoners asked for help interpreting their dreams.  How would it feel to tell someone that their dream foretells their death in three days time?  As a kid, I was so caught up in the miracle of the truth that Joseph and Daniel spoke that I never really noticed the weight of this gift.

I still think that Dreaming is a cool spiritual gift, but my perspective has changed.  I think now of having a dream that is so vivid that I can't forget it.  A dream from which I wake in a cold sweat, shocked, confused and afraid because of content that later leads to sleep loss as I replay the images through my head.  I imagine having to tell someone what their dream foretells unfortunate events--Could I do that?  Would they hate me for telling the truth?

Some heavy food for thought.

Salut et bonne semaine !

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

a quote: tag along by Tom Ryan

The thing I've never understood about dancing till now is that it only looks stupid when you're on the outside, watching other people do it.  When you're part of the crowd, moving along with everyone else, I can't imagine anything else being quite as much fun.
My Thoughts:  It's better to be in the thick of things and having fun than to be on the outside thinking that everyone else looks stupid.  At the end of the day, I think it's more about what we're willing to do than about what we're willing to look like.  Worrying about how we look like in life prevents us from actually living and enjoying life.  I'd rather dance, personally.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lessons from Prac: The Last Day

Yesterday was my last day with my students during this first block of practicum.  Tomorrow is a P.D. day and I will not get another chance to see them until next semester.  

It's hard to believe that six weeks have already come and gone by.  It doesn't feel like I've been with them and teaching for six weeks, but it's true.  And what a crazy six weeks it has been.  I feel like I've been constantly on the go, trying to keep up in a race from one lesson to the next.  Coming into this career path, I don't think I fully understood the type of difficulties and challenges I would face.  I knew that teaching would not be easy--I mean, I was the type of student who sometimes needed a concept explained multiple times and in multiple different ways, forcing my teachers to re-explain things that they probably thought were clear.  I recognized that I would have to teach lessons, make assignments, give tests and then mark( and for the most part I dreaded the marking).  I also understood that in a classroom full of teens, there are bound to be other problems that arise with the students, whether individual or group problems, and that as a teacher I might need to handle difficult situations.  

But what I underestimated was the time and the challenges that some of these different aspects would present.  Namely, I did not anticipate how long it would take to plan and prepare a lesson.  It's one thing to have taught a course for years and have oodles of materials available in the wings just needing to be printed and photocopied and another thing entirely to be creating worksheets and hunting down resources.  Thus was my battle.  The Ontario government recently changed for the grade 10 history curriculum and there is now a lot more emphasis on understanding the "big six historical thinking concepts" (click for an overview).  One of which is the evidence or the primary documents.  

I spent hours on Saturdays or weekday evenings hunting down different documents, reading and assessing whether they meet my needs, and then organizing them into different lessons.  My biggest problem: I was teaching an Immersion History class.  If you don't know what that means, I'll break it down: the class is in French. This means that the primary documents need to be in French.  My task just got 100x more difficult.

At the start of my placement, I thought I'd have more time at home to work on my classroom assignments from my professors.  Nope.  I have not touched a single thing; I haven't had the time.  Don't get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed placement and I really loved my students and what I was teaching (I honestly wish I could be teaching about the Second World War next week with my 10s!).  But although I enjoyed it, it was hard and time consuming.  I did not have much down time for myself.  Now, I can say that I have a whole new perspective of this profession and a whole new respect for the teachers already working.  

This job may be difficult, but it sure is rewarding.


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The Unavoidable Seating Plan

If you've gone through any sort of government run school system, you've most likely been the victim of a seating plan.  Those teachers, they come into the classroom and move students around like shuffling a deck of cards.  They take us from our friends put us beside people we may not know very well (or even like) and stick us up at the front, or in back corners when those may be the opposite of what we want or are comfortable with.

Seating plans whomp.

Image of a classroom with rows of empty desks and chairsAnd yet, now in the Teacher-role, I become the perpetrator.  I see that in some cases (and classes) seating plans are unavoidable.  Left to their own choices, certain students will group together and chat the period away.  What choice does a teacher then have?

This is one of my current challenges.  And I mean challenge.

I am learning that there can never be a perfect seating plan--at least, not while my classroom is at capacity.  Every way I turn, there are obstacles.  First and foremost, the chatters.  A and B cannot sit together because they do not pay attention.  G, L and N are not overly chatty, but they should still be separated as well.  Students S through Z need to be moved to the center of the classroom and if possible the front because they are zoning out in the wings.   Ah! But don't forget that students F and H have vision problems and need to be closer to the front.  And then, if you're moving the more inattentive students to the center, where do you put the students who are really trying?  Will they think you are punishing them if you put them in the wings?

It may seem silly to worry how 15-year-olds will react to a seating arrangement.  I am, after all, the teacher and I will have the last word in this scenario: the end.  But... I honestly wish that I could make a seating plan that they could both accept and and understand.  A seating plan, in my view, is not supposed to be a punishment of any sort.  It is meant to help foster learning by creating a better environment in the classroom and ideally putting students in a position to build their own knowledge. 

Ideally.  

Ideally, seating plans would not be needed and students would be find no matter where they sat.  But, this is the real world and seating plans, in many cases, are unavoidable.

Friday, October 31, 2014

To Make a Jack-o'-lantern

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to carve a pumpkin at a school event.  I was helping man the "pumpkin patch" while students cycled through two different hour-long sessions.

It's been a few years since I've last carved a pumpkin and as I surveyed the room, I was struck by how silly it might seem for someone who does not celebrate Halloween or even know much about it.  Why do we make Jack-o'-lanterns?  At the moment, I could go look up the history and explain it all succinctly, but that defeats the purpose of my question here.  I just want to rest for a moment on the questions and the absurdity I see in this strange behaviour.  (In all honesty, this line of thinking most likely stems from one of my classes where we have been talking about different cultures and their norms.)

From the outside looking in,  pumpkin carving seems a little strange.  Putting faces (and other images) into the flesh of a pumpkin and then later lighting a candle to illuminate the design as the fruit sits for one night by your front door... Why?  Why pumpkins?  Why are they called Jack-o'-lanterns?

Things to think about... maybe for another time. =P

For me, pumpkin carving has a strong link to childhood and Halloween.  A few days before all Hallows' Eve, my mum sister and I would sit in our kitchen (sometimes on the floor) and pull the gooey intestines from within the fruit's thick orange walls.  After getting all we could with just our fingers, we'd draw on the power of spoons to scrape down the insides until smooth.  It never took long for our hands to become tinted orange and flecked with goop.  The smell of pumpkin hung throughout our main floor.  We would be in the clear upstairs in our rooms, but then one too many steps down the stairs and it was like stepping into a dense fog of scent with no escape.

Every year, it was always a challenge to see what faces we could make.  I always wanted to do something different than before and if possible, something more challenging.  Pumpkin art is pretty cool and you can go to Google to find pages of carved pumpkins in any number of subjects.  Usually, my sister and I would have some sort of base idea, and then we'd head to Google to see what images inspired us. I must admit that drawing actual faces on a pumpkin no longer appeals to me and neither do the stereotypical Halloween images like bats, cats and witches.  I'd much rather carve something related to current pop culture like movies or books.  Which leads to this year's pumpkin.  For a brief moment in time, I considered doing a face, but then someone mentioned Despicable Me.  Naturally, I did Minions instead.  Considering the tools I had to use, I think they came out fairly well.

Pumpkin with Minion Carving


Happy Halloween!


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sending out a Probe

Blogger has a feature that lets you keep track the hits to your website, which is kind of cool.  It can break it down into the individual posts that get hits as well as letting you know where your blog traffic is coming from.  Every now and then I like to check it because it's nice to know that someone somewhere has decided to read my stuff--even if the posts that are being read are now four or more years old and were written from a, uh, different mindset, let's say.

That being said, I have noticed recently that I have been getting a lot of traffic from Russia and some other European countries.  I just wanted to say hello to any of you who are reading this from "across the pond" or even further away.  It is my pleasure to have you here today.

I think that it is amazing how the Internet has made the world a whole lot smaller than it used to be.  To think we can communicate with people living on the other side of the world with merely a quick typing of letters and a click.

Have a lovely day!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Submerged: The First Week of Prac

Well, I did it.  I survived the first week of my practicum: the teaching placement where I get practical experience.

I say "survived" but I don't mean that in the sense that it was hard or painful.  No, that creates a negative image and that would not be accurate.  By "survived" I mean that I have not passed out from exhaustion because, man, being in high school is overwhelming.  Everything is go-go-go as students go from one period to the next with a brief lunch in between.  I find myself once more in the centre of the stream, being swept along from one thing to the next as I try to get my bearings and stay afloat.

One of the big challenges of the week is learning the names of all the students in my three classes.  So that's roughly 75 names and seeing as they keep changing clothes every day, the students are not making the process any easier. Haha.  I think it's important to learn their names because I want to show them that they are important enough for me to know their name.  I'm not just here to "earn a grade."  By knowing their names, I think it also allows me to exercise my authority when needed.  It's a lot easier to tell a kid that he needs to get back on task if you can say their name versus saying, "You..."  And then, in addition to learning students' names, I'm learning the names of the staff.  And while I've learned a number of their first names, I don't know many last names, which can be a challenge when a student is referring to a teacher and I'm oblivious to the fact that it's the teacher to whom I was speaking to moments before.

Another challenge is merely the flood of information.  Globally, my host school is great and they really want us Teacher Candidates to have the best placement experience possible.  We have all been told that we are free to join an extracurricular activity or that we can help out in different areas of the school should we so choose.  All we need to do is pick something.

Zooming in on my country or host teacher, this week has been busy learning where she is in the curriculum, what style of lessons she tends to give, how she manages the classroom, how everything is received by the students, what she expects of me and what (and when) I can start teaching among other details.  We have wasted no time and I've already lead a few activities in a couple of classes this week--which has been fun and a tad nervous-making.

By the time I got home in the evenings, I felt like I could pass out, but then I had tasks to do for the following day and lesson planning to start for next week.  Nonetheless, even with all the work I am enjoying my practicum so far and can even say that I am having fun designing my lesson plans.  There are so many things I want to try and so much more to learn.

As I go forward, I hope and pray that each day is full of new opportunities and that I stay afloat in the days to come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Home for Thanksgiving

This past weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving.  I like the idea of Thanksgiving because it encourages us to stop and reflect upon all the things that we have in our lives that we have to be thankful for.  Really, it's not something we should only do at this time of year, but it is nice to have that reminder.

This year, I was home for the holiday and was able to see both my mum and my dad's family which is quite an amazement in itself.  Because my parents are divorced, there are always two separate Thanksgiving meals and during elementary and high school, they usually fell on the same day or for my mum's side, we would make the two hour trek, making it impossible to get back in time for my dad's.  To see both sides of my family during this weekend was a true blessing.

Not only that, but I was able to come home for Thanksgiving.  This year, it was my first time home since my first year in University, and even then I did not end up having a meal with my family.  During the past few years, I was working and though it would have been manageable (but tight for time) to come home, I chose to stay at my place.  Each year I still celebrated with friends and other families, which was awesome and fun, but I missed my own people.

In the past, when Thanksgiving was more constant, I never really thought of home and family as specific things during my thanksgiving reflections.  I'd think of the food, my friends, my house(s), clothes... But not really home or family. Sure, I know they are important, but when they are so constant and present in your life, they tend to fade from consciousness.  Really, at the end of the day, as much as people joke about the turkey and stuffing one's face, it's not about the food.  I wouldn't even say it's about the house or the clothes either, though the Lord knows I am ever grateful for those.  The way I see it, Thanksgiving is more about the people you're with and being thankful that you have each other.  (Even if that means your big meal is McDonald's or a few simple sandwiches).

I think the world could use a bit more of that.

Happy Thanksgiving,
R

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Practicum and Pep Talks

Tuesday, we Teacher Candidates will each be out in our respective placements as we start the first practicum portion of this final year.  It's all rather exciting and nervous making as each experience will bring with it challenges and excitement and plenty of learning experiences.

I will admit that I am nervous.  As much as I "don't want to mess up" as a teacher, I am more concerned with failing the students.  It's one thing to blunder through lessons and another to merely fail at keeping the students engaged and failing to transmit the necessary knowledge.  That is what makes me nervous.

I also recognize, however, that I cannot spend all of my time worrying about tomorrow or the next day.  One foot in front of the other; that's all I can do for now.

In one of my classes this week, the professor shared the following YouTube video.  It got all of us laughing and in a positive mindset.  As I go forward, I will do so with that optimism, I will do my best and learn lots in the process.

Enjoy!

Link to Video.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Send me a Postcard: From HoTT

Near the starting point, activity is a flurry!
As a teen, I never really understood the whole "homecoming" dances portrayed in movies and books and high schools.  Even during my undergrad, I wasn't quite sure what to make of the Head of the Trent (HoTT) weekend.  It just seemed to be an excuse to goof off and get drunk and that did not really appeal to me.

Coming back to HoTT as an alumni now, I feel my perspective has changed.  This truly is a homecoming because for four years, Trent (and Peterborough) was my home.  Here, I made friends who are now my family.  Some of them remain in Peterborough whereas others have, like me, moved away to other things.  This then, is a weekend where we can come together like one of those crazy family reunions.  Throughout the weekend, I know there are some who I'll see for an hour or more and we'll chat and eat, and catch up.  With some, I'll only have time for a quick hello and a how are you? before we're whisked away, and still others will be like those obscure aunts or uncles that you only ever see from a distance and through a crowd.  Whatever the case may be, this time together is precious all the same.

Today, though the weather is cold and rainy (as per usual HoTT), we congregate with each other along the banks of the Otonabee river, celebrating our years at Trent and cheering on the undergrads who are still there.  No matter where we come from and where we're going, we all have one thing in common: we all bleed Trent green.

Head of the Trent is Hot-to-go! H-O-T-T-O-G-O!
Race is session

Time to turn around

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Anticipation's Storm

I feel as though it has been a while since I have shared any sort of "creative writing" post and so today, that is what I shall do.  The short snippet below was originally a squabbling challenge for CleanPlace.  We were told to select one of three images and write a story centering on that character (not necessarily the setting they are in, but who they are).  The image I selected is included below.  This story is related to another snippet which I might share soontimes.  I like the ideas that are planted within Evy's life and I might revisit them at a later date.

For now, I hope you enjoy Anticipation's Storm.*
*Working title.
------------------------------

Darkness pressed down against the earth, sucking up the light like a parched root thirsting for water.  A blaze of light cut the sky, a brief flash into the army of trees below, and then vanished into the void.  Following came a sudden loud clash and bang as the clouds thundered their hunger.  In a lone and  battered cabin,  Evy's hand stilled for a moment as she glanced at the thin ceiling.  Water crept down the wooden walls to pool on the dirt floor.  It was a miracle that no water leaked in from the tiles overhead, leaving the center, where Evy sat on a small crate, mostly dry.  A cold draft licked beneath the edge of the boards, pulling back to howl in anger at the door that denied its entrance.  Panels creaked in protest, but stood firm in rebellion against the wind.   The stale, damp air kept the smell of mildew potent and fresh and Evy cringed every few minutes when she forgot to breathe through her mouth.

via the internet... not sure main source
Another hungry rumble sounded overhead and she bent back over her sewing.  Sheltered between her feet sat a small flickering candle that cast a dim glow on the taught piece of leather in her hands.  Her fingers trembled as she reached for the thick sinew cord.  Scowling at her hand, she pulled back and tossed her long orange hair over her shoulder. 

"Get a hold of yourself, Ev," she muttered, pulling her ponytail tighter.  Her right hand paused on a beaded necklace, rubbing the sculpted rocks a couple of times before she reached for the sinew again.  This time, with sure fingers, she pushed the needle through the leather and pulled it tight.  She added a few more stitches and then tied off the end before severing the cord with her teeth.    Pulling it back, she admired the odd trapezoid-shaped piece.  A strand of sinew formed a loop between the corners on the short side of the trapezoid while a clasp of sorts was connected to the other two points.

A crashing directly above her head caused her to jump, eyes wide and heart pounding.  The candle fell over in her sudden movement, and the darkness gobbled the small morsel of light.   She pulled her new makeshift glove onto her left hand and fumbled on the ground for the candle.  With a soft scratch against the crate on which she sat, she lit a match and relit the candle before lowering it back into its holder.  Evy then wiped the grim from her fingers onto her long and worn skirt as she pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her toes on the crate's edge.  With the next boom from above, she squeezed her eyes shut and whispered a count to ten.

A tap from below the crate startled her out of her concentration and she reached back for a long thin spear resting against the far wall.  The tapping continued with three quick beats followed by two slow.  Evy slid from her perch and pushed the crate back against the wall.  Beneath the box was a small latch.  While holding the spear poised at the ground, she twisted and pulled up with her free hand to open the hidden passage.  Her friend, Thom, stood down in the opening and she released a breath.  She flicked her pinky over a rivet in the shaft of her spear and it collapsed into a small cylinder that nestled comfortably in the center of her hand.  Knocking the spear onto a rope at her belt, she reached down for her candle and attempted a smile.

"Is it time?" she whispered.

Thom nodded, his shaggy brown hair glinting in the flickering glow.

"Are you sure?" She licked her lips and tucked some stray strands of hair behind an ear.  "'Cause you know the weather is kind of bad tonight and if we waited the storm will pass and we could do it then."

Smiling, Thom walked up the small steps and into the room, his head nearly scraping against the ceiling.  "Evelyn, what better night to face him than on a night you fear?"

"Well… never, really."

He chuckled softly as thunder vibrated through the air.  She squeezed her eyes shut, her hands clenching until her knuckles went white.  A cool touch pressed against her forehead and she opened her eyes to find Thom's brow against her own.  He looked into her eyes unblinking and she swallowed.

"You're right… I know," she murmured at last.  She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. 

"I'm ready," she said after a moment though the candle shook in her hands.

He grabbed her free hand and pulled her toward the stairs.  As she followed him down, he leaned over to blow out the lone flame.  Above them, the dark sang, at last content.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

History Repeats Itself: Fear of Books

"I tell you, sir, that the end of the world has come.  No one has ever beheld such outbreaks among the students!  It is the accursed inventions of this century that are ruining everything,--artilleries, bombards, and above all, that other German pest.  No more manuscripts, no more books!  Printing will kill bookselling.  It is the end of the world that is drawing nigh."

This is a quotation of a quotation.  It is from Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, but taken from Stephen Apkon's book The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens.  Apkon's adds, "This was fear not just of the strength of the Catholic Church [...] but the worry that the new technology would destroy economics and corrupt the youth." (pg. 52)

Sound familiar?  As I read through this section of the book, I was struck by how this idea finds its parallels throughout history.  When new technology first stretches its limbs, showing off its muscles, the initial reaction is not unanimously positive.  On the one hand, change can be good.  New technology can bring about solutions to problems that were previously unimaginable, but... technology can suck out our souls and steal our humanity as we know it leaving us as empty shells that stay in bed all day and eat food out of tubes and then the robots will take over the world!

And breathe.  

I kid.  Smile.  Though I'm sure most people have seen or heard at least one story where technological innovation comes back to haunt us.  I find it fascinating that people centuries ago feared technology that I now adore: the book.  (As an aside, I wonder, in another couple hundred years, what future generations will think about our reactions and beliefs about forms of technology?)

Back to books: Because of the invention of the printing press (1400s), books could be printed en masse and spread throughout the populace.  That caused fear for many people for a number of reasons.  One of these being that all of a sudden, impressionable young people (if they could read or if they were learning to read or had a reading friend), were all of a sudden much closer to "corruptible ideas."  Now, returning to the present, this idea hasn't really gone away and we see it manifest in the topic of banned books.  

This week is considered "Banned Book Week" and there are a number of articles and informational resources talking about this hot topic.  You can even take a quizzes that will tell you which banned book you are.  (If you're curious to know, I got the Hunger Games. I didn't even know it was banned anywhere).  From the perspective of a young adult who has only recently left her teens, I can say that I've read a lot of YA fiction.  Some have been more controversial than others and a handful have been banned, depending on where you go.  To name a few: To Kill a Mocking BirdFahrenheit 451, A Wrinkle in Time, all of the Harry Potters, Lord of the Flies... and others.  

I can't say that one book completely altered my way of thinking and made me believe certain ideas--maybe you or someone else can.  I find it hard to believe that we have this fear that if someone read X book, they will automatically learn to believe Y idea and thus become corrupted.  The human brain is only a sponge to a certain extent.  If a book can supposedly have that effect, what about the tumultuous number of infomercials and advertisements that we see daily?  Being visual messages, we can absorb them a lot faster than a book, so shouldn't we ban them instead?

image via google
I'm not saying that students won't be influenced by what they see and read, but instead of blocking them at the threshold, I think that we should focus on them how to take in what they read and evaluate it based on what they know to be true.  I think we should teach them to compare and contrast what they read so that they can recognize what it is they are taking in and why.  Let's raise a group of readers who will use the organ between their ears instead of soaking up what they see with their eyes.

Fear fosters fear.  Fostering the fear of a book seems pretty silly to me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Things I've learned in the Faculty of Ed - Bullying

First off, I just want to clearly say that I don't go to "Teacher's College."  I'm in the Faculty of Education. My professors have stressed to us that Teacher's College is not correct because we are in a professional graduate program and that Teacher's College is a specific place in some other country... or something like that.  Most of us still because when we say Faculty of Ed, people go "huh?" so we use an outdated and improper term to convey the right meaning.

Second, today's thought: Things I've learned in the Faculty of Ed take 2.

Today's topic?  Bullying.  Surprised?  Well, you shouldn't be because it's in the title.  Already rolling your eyes are moving your mouse toward the kill corner?  Bullying's been done before, eh?  Yes, and yet it still affects so many people.  As long as there is evil in the world, bullying, unfortunately, will not end.

My thought originates from a chat I had with some of my girlfriends.  As we were talking over dinner a few nights ago, the topic of bullying came up and we found that almost all of us had some pretty scarring bullying stories from elementary school.  We each could recount a moment or two when we were made to feel unwanted, stupid, or the odd one out.  From other talks about bullying that I'd had with others over the years, I've met many others who have similar stories, but for some reason, it hit me a little harder that night.  I couldn't help but think, We're going to be teachers.  We who have felt the pain of bullying are going back into environments where multiple forms of bullying exist and hide like bacteria floating through the air: hidden in plain sight.  How could we not move to address the issue?  And at the same time, what can we do?

Bullying is old.  Bullying doesn't stop.  What can we possibly do to help the kids who are hurting like we hurt?

In seminars and lectures, they talk about different intervention techniques and ideas, but I wonder: how successful are they?  Years down the road, will some students be hurting in silence while the teachers think in ignorance that their anti-bullying strategies have worked?  It could be that in some cases, the bullies don't know they are bullying: bullying through neglect.  A friendless child is hurting just as much as the children who are picked on and made fun of.  How, as teachers, do we keep students from falling through the cracks?

This probably seems like a depressing post, and it is.  I wish I could say I knew all the answers, but I recognize that I can only do my best in all situations.  It pains me to think that I will probably miss something critical at least once in my career, but I suppose that's why as teachers we're placed in a team.  Something I miss can hopefully be caught by a colleague or vice versa.

Some food for thought.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

to live somewhere VS to know somewhere

I would say that I've lived in a number of places.  From living with my parents in grade school, to their divorce and subsequent separate houses, to moving away to Peterborough for University (and then moving from year to year),  I have lived in a number of neighbourhoods.

And yet I've learned that even when you live somewhere, that doesn't mean that you know that place.  I still remember standing at my bus stop in the fall of my second year at Trent.  It was the morning and I was heading to class when a car pulled up beside me and a window went down.  "Do you know where a garden center is?" a middle-aged woman asked, sitting beside her husband.

I could only shake my head and apologize.  I didn't really know much of where anything was beside the University, my house and downtown.  By the end of my four years, my mind map had greatly expanded, although there is still a lot of holes in my mental representation.  And that took four years and a lot of exploration to build.

Last weekend, a few friends and I travelled out to Wolf Island on the free ferry here in Kingston.  It was a lovely day and we all wanted to cross it off our list of things to do while here at Queens.  When we came back, I made a detour to the grocery store before heading home.  Again, a vehicle pulled up near me while I was waiting to cross a street and a window lowered.

"Do you know how to get to the fairgrounds?" was the question this time.

At first, I felt a rock drop in my stomach.  I've only been here 3 weeks, and I was currently downtown, an area I'd only been two-three other times.  I don't know many street names, but I really want to help.  However, I had been to the fair with friends on the Thursday before and I remembered the way.  So, I opened my mouth and told the lady to drive up Princess St and turn right on Nelson, happy to be of help.

But.

image via google
I did my groceries and then walked back toward the bus.  When I got to Princess St, I realized my error.  Princess St is a One-Way street this close to the lake and you can only go down, not up.  I have no way of knowing what that lady thought when she got there, but I felt awful.  The sad thing is, I knew where she wanted to go and I knew in theory how to get there, but I didn't know the city well enough to account for One-Way streets.

The whole episode just made me realize how big a difference there is between living somewhere and knowing somewhere.  Simply living somewhere is passive.  Within your own bubble, you don't interact with where you are and only do what you need to get by--the typical university student life.  School, home, grocery store.  Those are the staples--maybe a friend's house or two.  Knowing somewhere though, it often takes courage to step away from the small world you may have constructed and to go places you haven't gone before.

I think knowing is more attractive than merely living.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Creating barriers in student learning: Learning styles and multiple intelligence theories

The educational system is creating barriers in student learning through the enforcement of learning styles (LS) and multiple intelligence (MI) theories in the classroom.

That is one of the major things that I have learned from being both learning to be a teacher and doing my undergrad in Psychology.  I recognize that education and educational practices may not want to be "behind the times," but to be honest, they are in a bit of a sticky situation because of two main reasons:

(a) To implement any new research into practice takes years and typically faces challenges from people set in their ways.  By the time things are in place, the research upon which those changes were based may no longer be relevant newer, updated versions have since become available, or alternatively, the research may have been shown to be flawed.   Or, it could simply be that something may have interrupted the flow of change preventing the research from having any lasting effects as education reverts back to where it was before.

(b) Schools and school boards want to show parents that what they are doing is for the good of the students.  This in itself is not bad, but sometimes parents want tangible evidence which leads to theories like LS and MI becoming predominant in classroom planning and application.  The idea then is that to effectively teach all of the students, a teacher needs to structure their lesson activities by catering to their different styles of learning or intelligences (e.g. people high in visual-spatial intelligence learn best with pictures, charts, graphs and kinaesthetic intelligence is best met with movement and action, logical intelligence... etc. and so on).  In including this into the doctrine of teaching, parents are then satisfied because teachers are seen to be doing their best to reach different types of students.  I want to stress that wanting to help students is absolutely the job of a teacher, but there is a problem with LS and MI which I will get back to in a second.
One of the things the professors stressed to teach us in my undergrad is that we need to think critically about everything.  Just because something is the common practice or just because someone tells us that there is a certain way to do something does not mean that is the best way or the right way.  There is no empirical research that justifies the use of LS and MI in the classroom.  These popular beliefs, despite all the power they hold over teachers all over the world, are merely theory and philosophy and serve only to satisfy parents who worry teachers aren't trying hard enough to reach their students.

I'm not saying that different teachers strategies will not help in the classroom.  If a teacher lectures every single day, eventually, a student will most likely get bored.  In that respect, I think it's good to liven things up and do a diverse selection of activities.  However, this obsession over understanding and catering to learning styles and different intelligences is unfounded and may actually lead to problems in the classroom.

What problem?  A self-fulfilling prophecy problem.

I remember taking a LS quiz in grade 10 and many of my peers likewise took a variation of an LS or MI quiz in their high school careers.  Whereas now I don't put much stake in those results, I remember at the time thinking that the test results explained why I felt I had to work harder when information was expressed verbally over visually.  I was simply more visual learner than audible learner.

Can you see the problem yet?

Students who take the tests (tests that are not necessarily reliable between testings and that measure preference more than actual style/intelligence), may build themselves a box.  They will put up walls that could prevent them from attaining their full potential.  A student who sees himself as having a low intrapersonal intelligence may give up sooner on individual work because that's not his "strong intelligence" or someone low on mathematical-logical intelligence may reason that they don't have a math brain so why try?

I do not want to be apart of the belief camp that is given our students the tools they need to fail.  Sure, not everything will be easy when learning, but as a teacher, it's my responsibility to help you find a way over the hurdle, not build it higher.

Thank you for reading.
----------------------------------------------------------
For more on this topic, see:
Re-examining Barsch Learning Styles, a critical reflection by me.
Here are also a couple of articles that I found via google search:
Multiple Intelligences: The Making of a Modern Myth, by Daniel T. Willingham
Multiple Intelligences theory by Gardner: myth, proven theory or philosophy?, by... Pedro, I think

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Re-examining the Barsch Learning Styles Inventory

The Barsch Learning Style Inventory (BLSI) (Barsch learning style inventory) is an assessment used to measure an individual's learning style.  There are many different theories on how people learn and the different types of learners.  The BLSI organizes people into the categories of visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learning and is widely used and promoted in school systems.[1]  In theory, by knowing the preferred learning style of the students in a classroom, a teacher can better construct their teaching methods to match and thus help facilitate better learning.  This matching of preferred learning style with the same teaching method is known as the meshing hypothesis(Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2008).  In order to meet all of the learning styles present in a group of children a lot of preparation would need to be undertaken by teachers.  However, before working on all these changes, it is important to consider the research on the use of the BLSI which yields mixed results.  Some researchers demonstrate evidence that matching an individual's learning style benefits memory (Korenman & Peynircioglu, 2007) whereas others have found little evidence for the meshing hypothesis (Krätzig & Arbuthnott, 2006; Pashler et al., 2008; Stahl, 1999).  Ultimately, at this time, there is little foundation for the use of the BLSI in classroom settings.
First, there is little empirical evidence for the meshing hypothesis.  Korenman and Peynircioglu (2007) examined whether learning style influences an individual's ability to learn and remember music.  They did find that participants were better able to remember melodies when the information matched their main style of learning.  However, the results of this study cannot be generalized to other disciplines as the experimenters were looking at short lines of music and poetry.  Other materials such as math, geography or history may not experience the same benefits.  As well, in a classroom setting students would have to be responsible for a lot more information than a couple of lines of text or music notes.
In his paper, Stahl (1999) reports the results from numerous review papers on the use of learning styles with regard to teaching children to read.  In each of the cited papers no significant effect for matching the visual or auditory learning styles with the same type of teaching was found (Stahl, 1999).  Furthermore, Krätzig and Arbuthnott (2006) sought to test the learning style hypothesis by having participants learn material and then complete a test in all three modalities.  The researchers found no evidence for the meshing hypothesis; there was no relation between participants' learning style and the individual memory tasks.  Reported visual learners did not score significantly better on the visual memory task nor did auditory learners on the auditory memory task and the kinaesthetic learners on the kinaesthetic memory test (Krätzig & Arbuthnott, 2006).  Their results do not support the learning style hypothesis.
Second, in order to collect evidence that would provide strong support for use of the BLSI, a certain type of study should be conducted.  According to Pashler et al. (2008), to properly assess theories of learning styles specific criteria need to be incorporated into an experiment.  The learners need to first be divided into their proposed styles and then they need to be randomly assigned to different learning conditions.  The measure of assessment, Pashler et al. (2008) state, needs to be the same across all of the learning groups otherwise the learning benefit could be attributed to the type of test and not the learning styles hypothesis.  The researchers would then need to find an interaction between the learning style and the method used.  Any form of additive results would indicate that one form of teaching is better than the others and would not support the use of the BLSI.  After outlining these criteria, Pashler et al. (2008) conducted a literature review of studies that assessed learning style hypotheses.  Of the countless articles that examined different learning styles, they only found one that could be said to follow these criteria and that study was not examining the use of the BLSI but another learning styles hypothesis.  Both Korenman and Peynircioglu (2007) and Krätzig and Arbuthnott (2006) do not meet these criteria as different testing measures were used depending on the learning modality.  In order to make more conclusive statements regarding the use of BLSI, more research is still needed.
Third, the BLSI has low reliability and validity (Krätzig & Arbuthnott, 2006; Stahl, 1999).  If the measure was reliable, we would expect the same results from the same participants each time they do the test, but this is not always the case (Stahl, 1999).  The implication is that a person's learning style is constantly changing.  In a classroom setting this would be problematic for teachers as by the time they alter their lessons to match a certain learning style, the children's styles may already have changed.  The BLSI is also more of a measure of what individuals prefer over what they are, meaning it's not a valid measure.  In their second experiment, Krätzig and Arbuthnott (2006) asked participants the reasoning behind their choices in completing the BLSI and found that participants tended to answer the BLSI using their preferences or beliefs about their learning habits.  To be a valid measure of how an individual best learns, the BLSI cannot merely be an assessment of personal experience or preference (Pashler et al., 2008). 
In addition, the items used in the measure are somewhat vague.  For instance, one of the items says, "Do better at academic subjects by listening to lectures and tapes" (Barsch learning style inventory).  This is a very ambiguous sentence and interpretation may differ among individuals.  Consider the following: in scenario one a student who is stronger in English or history courses may think back to his experiences in these types of classes where the teaching style is mainly audio lectures or discussion groups.  In scenario two, a student who enjoys math or chemistry courses may think of the visual diagrams or hands-on labs that she is more likely to see in the science-based courses.  When completing the questionnaire, the students' background experiences and preferences may then influence their interpretation.
In conclusion, research of the use of the BLSI is not substantial enough to endorse the use of the meshing hypothesis in the classroom.  The current research does not show that matching a teaching method to an individual's learning style will facilitate better learning.  As well, more research into the area is needed as the methodology and design of these studies is put into question by Pashler et al. (2008).  However, before more research is conducted, it would the BLSI itself should be reevaluated as it is not a reliable or valid measure. 


References

Barsch learning style inventory. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2014, from University of Utah School of Medicine: http://medicine.utah.edu/learningresources/tools/barsch_inventory.pdf
Korenman, L., & Peynircioglu, Z. (2007). Individual differences in learning and remembering music: Auditory versus visual presentation. Journal of Research in Music Education, 55(1), 48-64.
Krätzig, P., & Arbuthnott, K. (2006). Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: A test of hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 238-246.
Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.
Stahl, S. (1999). Different strokes for different folks? A critique of learning styles. American Educator, 1-5.





[1] As reported by many of the students in Trent University's Psychology 4590 course.  Though the students come from different geographic regions, many reported having learned about or taken the BLSI at a previous level of education.

**This was written February 2014 for a fourth year course at Trent University

Monday, September 08, 2014

"What are your learning goals?"

I've heard that question a lot last week. In most of my classes, the professors have asked us to reflect (another popular word) and think about what we are trying to achieve and learn in the particular course.  To some, this may seem like an easy question, but for me, this question brings the dawn of an ice age: my mind goes blank as snow and I freeze up.

What are my learning goals?  I'm not really sure and to me, it seems like the profs expect us all to pull answers like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat: 1, 2, 3, abracadabra and there it is!  I'm at the Faculty of Education because I want to learn to be a teacher.  Isn't that a goal?  My goal is to learn all that I can about as much as I can.  They seem to want specific goals, but their question appear vague to me to begin with.

I really don't know if other people struggle with this as well, but for me, this is a difficult question--one I'm not sure how to approach at times, let alone answer.

What do I want to learn by the end of this year? 

What makes it more difficult is that a few of my classes structure our work around our learning goals.  Our assignments are meant to help accomplish these goals and as such are directed by what we want to learn.  Without a learning goal, I feel afloat in an ocean, the sky a thick blanket of clouds, void of stars needed to guide my way.  It's a bit of an overwhelming and scary feeling.  I'm so used to having a course plan and now I don't.

I'm sure that everything will work out in the end, but for now, it's frustrating and I'm wondering how to move forward besides the obvious--one step at a time.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Together Again

Me, Melanie, Candice, Joel
Me, Melanie, Candice, Joel
After a long summer apart, the four of us are together again.  Melanie, Candice, Joel and I all started our undergrad together four years ago.  Mostly strangers (except for Mel and Candice), we met through a combination of res, mutual friends and common classes and have been friends ever since.  At last done our undergrad, the four of us are starting Teacher's College today and reunited last night for cake.  Starting off the year with cake is a good way to go, don't you think?

It's a little surreal to think that this is our last year together in "formal education."  A lot has happened in the four years that I've known these guys.  Some light fluff, and some heavy, thick mud--all mixed into the glue of our friendship.  In eight months, we'll be done and (supposedly) ready to start out into the world of teaching.  As teacher candidates, we can't ever really leave school.  We've set ourselves up to remain in that setting and that mentality.  But, we will at last be moving on from student to teacher and that is a big step.  We'll also most likely be moving away from each other as we go off for our own teaching adventures.

I'm both excited for the coming year, but also nervous that it's almost done.  However, despite where we may end up years down the road, with great friends like these and others, I know I'm better prepared for come what may.  These are the type of friends that whatever happens and wherever we go, when we are reunited, we can pick up where we left off.  Even if we end up living in different countries or provinces, I feel confident enough to say that I could reach out to any of them if ever I needed an ear and a friend, or maybe even a couch.

So as we head into this final year, I just want to say thanks to some of the best friends of my university career.  I'm glad that we're together again.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Consolation Prize

No one wants the consolation prize.

"What?  You got last place, here, have this consolation prize and try and cheer up.  We know you're in last place, but you can still have this prize as a reward.  Keep pressing on!"

The consolation prize is never as good as the winner's cut, and let's be honest, in comparison it's not much of anything.  After all, it's only given as a manner of formality; for appearances only.

At different stages of my life, I've often felt like I was the consolation prize.  The only reason someone would be in my company me was because I was the only option available--the winner's prize was taken and I was all that's left.

That hurts.

When I was in elementary school, I was never part of the "in" crowd and as such, often felt like I was on the fringe of society.  If any of you have ever read the picture book The Snowchild by Debi Gliori, you can get a pretty good picture of how I felt.  Katie only wanted to be on the "inside" but she always seemed to play the wrong games at the wrong times and the other children left her out.  It wasn't until she met Jenny that she found a friend who wanted to spend time with her for her.  Like Katie, I longed for that kind of friend.

Because my family did a lot of camping and I often had to amuse myself in foreign playgrounds, I wasn't a stranger to making friends.  I grew up learning to introduce myself as, "Hello, my name is Rachel, wanna be my friend?" or "wanna play with me?"  I remember using this one September in grade six.  It was the first day of school and there was a new girl standing by my portable classroom.  I walked up, and introduced myself, and in a matter of minutes, we were friends as only elementary school kids can be.  She seemed kind of shy and so I was quick to bring her over to where a couple of the other girls stood talking.  For a few months after that, I wondered what would have happened if I hadn't done that--if I had stayed talked to her until the first bell rang would that have made a difference or only prolonged the inevitable?  You see, after she had met the others, it was like I wasn't important.  They were the prize and I was not.

I remember a few other moments from those years where other students would talk and laugh with me--but only when I was the only one around.  If we were in a group, these same students wouldn't always talk to me or really look at me.  I was a friend of convenience and it was only convenient when I was the only one.

Talk about painful.

I experienced similar kinds of situations near the start of high school, but as I reached grade twelve and then university, I'd finally found people that valued me for me.  Friends that wanted to spend time with me because I was the prize.

This post is not easy to write.  Not because it hurt back then, but because recently I've felt the same pain and I've started to question whether I might have done the same to someone else.  The wounds that I thought to be healed have been torn open again and I lie once more bleeding on the floor.  Friends who were as akin as siblings won't give me the time of day anymore.  A few times, I've tried to make arrangements to hangout--even if it's just for an hour--just to talk and catch up, and yet I'm told that they are too busy or worse, I hear nothing in return.  This behaviour sends the message that I'm not worth the effort, sometimes the little effort it takes to send a text.  I've come to expect disappointment from these friends.  I've come to expect them to flake on plans, to ignore me, and to make no effort to meet me half way.  Without realizing it, they are breaking my heart and I'm nearing my limit.

I find it difficult to express how this betrayal makes me feel.  I'm sad, yes.  But more, I feel like someone is slowly beating me with a bat.  Not hard enough to make any clean breaks, but enough to bruise me repeatedly. Even the toughest wood will splinter under repeated abuse, eh?

It takes two people to make a relationship work and I can only call out so many times before I take the hint that I'm not a prize worth fighting for.

And yet... I'm not saying that I'll cut these people out of my life because I don't think that's right either.  If they decide to reach out to me, I will be waiting.  Friends do grow and change with time and people grow apart, as sad as that may be.  No matter the distance, a part of me will always wait with a hand outstretched toward those who've left me behind.  With nostalgia clinging like early morning mist, I can't do otherwise because I will always cherish the time we had together.

And now I feel like I've talked myself into a circle.  I hate feeling like the consolation prize and it makes me feel angry, bitter and so utterly sad, and yet I can't hate the friends that have made me feel that way.  I still love them and wish they'd fight for me, too.

In the end, maybe that's a reason I make a good consolation prize...

Je ne sais pas.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Let's talk about the weather.

I'm Canadian and I've been told somewhat recently that one of the odd features about us is that we talk about the weather.  A lot.  Now, I cannot attest for all Canadians, so I don't know how general that stereotype is, but I know it's true for in and around where I live.  Conversations about the weather are not simply small-talk but sometimes serious, life-or-death (well, maybe that's extreme, but they get close!) conversations.

The weather in my area is never constant.  Sometimes, we cycle through four different types of weather in a span of a few hours: cloudy-sunny-rainy-sunny-snowy.  As such, we talk about what the weather will be, why it's being so weird (or not weird), and will take time to relish a truly beautiful day.

Lately, the ho-hum about the weather is all negative. "This summer is too cold."  "This summer is too rainy."  "This summer is terrible."

Why is it that we always complain and long for what we don't have?

I feel like a lot of people have forgotten that last summer and the summer before were sometimes "too hot."  I mean sit-around-naked-without-moving-and-you-still-sweat hot.  I worked at a golf course last summer and the irrigation guy gave a report in August saying that they pumped more water last year (2013) than in 2012 by a long shot.  It was crazy-hot.  And people complained. Now people are complaining that it's too cold, but we still have days that reach, at the lowest, 20-23°C going up to 29° at the highest--and that's without the humid-X.  Sure, it may not be as hot as it's been in previous years, but that's still short and t-shirt weather.  Plus, with the horrendous winter we had this past year, how can a cooler summer come as a surprise?  Someone told me that the last time we got that much snow was 40 years ago.  All that water hanging around was bound to have a backlash.  It doesn't just disappear come spring.

In any case, I thought this summer was fine.  It never got too hot, which was great because I, like many others, work outdoors.  And despite it raining every week, there were plenty of sunny days for other activities.

You win some, you lose some, eh?

Enjoy what's here, while it's here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Line Trimmer's Nightmare

With less than two weeks left at my summer job, I thought I'd share one of the things that makes my job not only difficult, but annoying and a pain.  As I cut grass at different parks all day (everyday), I encounter different "obstacles" for my line trimmer. These obstacles are always a frustrating challenge and I will be oh-so glad when it is no longer my job to make them look nice and neat.

For those of you who have never line trimmed (or weed-wacked/whipper-snipped or however you call it), you may think that line trimming is a straightforward, fairly easy job, but it's not.  The line can get stuck in different objects or can fling things at you--not just grass.  I've been pelted with rocks, pine cones, bits of earth.  And those projectiles have surprising reach--hitting not only my legs but my arms, hands, neck, face and sometimes smack-dab in the eye (luckily for my safety glasses).  One of the worst is when a sharp piece of something flies straight up your nose.

With all that in mind, I've composed a list of THE SEVEN WORST THINGS TO LINE TRIM.  Call it a vent if you will, I think of it as a piece of interest, really.

7. Bleachers
 Grass and weeds growing beneath wooden and metal bleachers.
Really, bleachers aren't too bad.  More so an annoyance.  The grass and weeds flourish beneath the boards and at times grow tall enough to touch people's shoes as they sit to watch a game.  It looks bad which means it has to be cut.  The only way to do so is by maneuvering the trimmer underneath and between the metal frame at different vantage points.  And even then, it's hard to get everything.

6. Low-hanging trees
Tree with low-hanging branches that impede travel near the trunk.
 A fair number of trees on our route have branches that stick far out and then hang low to the ground.  To get all the grass beneath the trunk, I've had to duck and dodge limbs and hunch myself into small spaces.  This wouldn't be so bad if many of the trees didn't have spikes/thorns or were pointy coniferous trees.  

5. Parking Lots
Concrete blocks found in parking lots to mark the curbs.
The stone blocks used in parking lots are descendants of evil.  An army in number, they never seem to end and all four sides need to be trimmed.

4. Chain-link fences
Grass growing up through a chain-link fence
Really, all fences are annoying, but chain-link fences are the worst.  The trimmer line hooks into the fence if you go to close, thus chewing up your line faster than you can blink, as well as ripping your trimmer from your hands.  The grass weaves between the holes meaning that no matter how close you get, at the end, there will always be bits of grass peeking out. These fences never look good.  I wish all fence makers built fences with a could inches of give above the ground.  The the trimmer could sneak under.

3. Soccer Nets.
Worse than chain link fences are soccer nets.  The flimsy fabric hangs on the ground meaning that you either need to be uber-talented to both hold it out of your way and trim at the same time, or you need a buddy.  Like with the chain-link fence, if you go to close to the netting, your trimmer gets sucks in and tangled within.  That means you then have to stop and extract it with the utmost care.  If you're not careful, you can tear the nets, too.  An utter annoying.

2. Ditches 
A giant ditch.
 You may wonder how ditches can be worse than chain-link fences or soccer nets, but ditches are awful.  My image doesn't do this one ditch much justice (and please ignore my finger!  I didn't realize it was there until we'd left).  The far bank continued on around a bend behind me and is over six feet tall.  Ditches are a pain because even though the grass may be nice, it's too steep for the mowing machines to get to.  That mean it has to be completely trimmed.  It's awkward standing on a slant while you trim and depending on how steep the ditch is, it can hurt.  Other problems with ditches is that wet days mean water or mud in the bottom.  Say "ah" for a mouthful! Let's not forget there may be red ant nests on the slopes so keep those feet moving!

1. Rocks.
a rocky bank
While all the above are bad, the number one worst place to trim: Rocks.  Or in this case, a rocky bank.  Like a ditch, it creates uneven footing that is multiplied by the rocky surface.  It looks gross before you trim and after you trim.  Rocks, like metal fences also chew your line, and if you're trimming with a buddy, you may find yourself pelted with even more painful projectiles depending on where you trim in relation to each other.  I feel like I cannot express how truly terrible it is.  

And yet, despite how much I hate trimming these obstacles, I feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when it is cut and looks good (well, as good as it can looks).  Still, I will not miss them when my time is done.

For anyone else who has done landscape/ground maintenance, does my list match yours?   

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Checklist Season

August is a month of checklists, or at least, I think it is.  With September fast approaching, a lot of people need to get ready for the coming season and coming changes.  Teachers need to turn from their summer holidays to begin thinking and preparing for their coming classes; parents and children hasten to chaotic stores to replace those jeans that fit perfectly two months ago, but are now too short.  New binders, backpacks, and other supplies are also hunted down like a caveman after his dinner.  Students heading to college or university may need furniture or appliances depending on living arrangements and may be waiting anxiously for that move-in date.

Check-the-list.

Have you done ____ yet?  Have you gotten ____ yet?  Is _____ packed?  What about ____?  And on and on.

August is a season of checklists.  I move to my final year of university in a little over two weeks (16 days to be exact) and I am excited.  I'm slowly but surely building up my checklists and checking things off.  I know that soon I'll have to do some back-to-school-shopping, but I'm hoping that this year, it'll only be for a few choice items--and mainly for kitchen things.

One more year to go, and then after, the future is a whole lot less planned out and structure.  One more "back-to-school-checklist" as a student, and then who knows what checklists I'll be making next year?