Thursday, March 29, 2007

spring project

A number of months ago I started a home renovation project. It was one of those that kind of got bigger and bigger as time went along.

Can I have a show of hands for those that have seen a project that didn't become much more than intended. I didn't think so.

Joyce and I moved out of our bedroom on the main floor. I gutted the entire thing right down to the studs. The room had very poor wiring so I redid all of it before putting in all new drywall, flooring, mouldings and paint.

The room took on a new purpose. Joyce needed a sewing room and I needed a desk, so I had to make one that fit my needs and the space where the closet used to be.

I remembered some of Cream's great tile work from over a year ago and wanted to try my hand at breaking my own share, so I used my router to gouge out a groove in the desk top and used all the broken tile bits to create a bit of an inlay.

That didn't seem to be quite enough, so I did a bit of a cartoonish painting of a classroom with me in the middle of a lesson. If you look out the window you will see a man sitting in the park on a bench playing guitar...which is what I would rather be doing in the springtime.

Half of the desk will be used for the computer and the other for whatever else it is that teachers


Oh, and if you're wondering where we're sleeping these days, we didn't think that the kids would mind if we slept on the floor of their bedrooms for a while. Joyce's blogging privacy is more important afterall. A woman's got to have space to be creative.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

coffee nation

Have you ever wished that you'd have come up with an idea first? When you see one, you sometimes want to smack your forehead with an open fist and say, "Now what was keeping ME from thinking of that?"

Talk around the staffroom table led to one person saying that every time we have trouble with something, it should be an opportunity for a new product. My synical mind immediately pictured ejector seats for student desks. Neh...that would never work. There's a ceiling in the way. What we need to think about is something truly unique...something truly Canadian.

Now why didn't I think of that? But that's not going to stop me from wishing others well during their times of success, Oh no. I'm going to do everything in my power to support the entrepreneurship of good Canadians.

Therefore, the first 20 people who email me with their complete mailing address and the words, "Brian, you make me so hot, but not in a sweaty kind of way" will receive one shiney new rimroller in the mail. Keep in mind that I'm a grade school teacher. I'll be checking for spelling.

Aaaaand, GO!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Do you ever think that people care about what you read; so much so that you want to post a picture of your bedside table and the stack of books you are pretending to read to make yourself look good?

I often get really excited about the books I'm reading or planning to read. Occassionally I will gather them together to gain some perspective of where I am going with all of this. Sometimes I find that it is time to buy some new ones. Other times I need to either quit buying and read what I've already got, or head in a new direction.

This time, what I have on the go is exciting for me. There is one that I want to reread, but the others have all been recommended to me by friends. I'm mostly through Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness. So far it is fantastic. I'm waiting to get to the part where she gives a mention of my late brother-in-law. They used to be sweethearts. Aparently, she would drive out to the farm and she and Ken would spend the day driving around on the field in the tractor stuff. It makes me feel like I kind of know her.

The others are not light reads, so I don't imagine to get through them quickly. I'm the kind of reader that needs to take heaviness palatable chunks...with some robust Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps.

What's in your stack? I'd actually really like to know. Perhaps I'll add some of yours to mine.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

preaching to the children's choir

I'm unapologetic about singing theme songs out loud in my classroom. However, it may be a little less embarrassing if I would sing something other than themes from preschool children's programming; but what's a simple guy supposed to do...

My grade 5 and 6 students cower in their desks every time I announce my entrance into the classroom by singing Mail Song from Blue's Clues

Here's the mail
It never fails
It makes me wanna wag my tail
When it comes I wanna wail...MAIL!!!

I have only one preschool child left at home. Sammy. His favourite show is George Shrinks. We LOVE singing the theme song to that one. I'm usually the one who starts it, and he is quick to join in. I'm sure that everyone else in the house is completely tired of hearing it, but I JUST CAN'T HELP IT.

Kids these days have a lot to be thankful for in their T.V. programming. Gone are the days when a kid's life was all about obedience and conformity. These days, they can be whatever they want to be. All it takes is "want to" because they already have what it takes.

Kids all around T.V. land chant these words each and every day:

Blue's Clues
Now it's time for so long
But we'll sing just one more song
Thanks for doing your part
You sure are smart!
You know, with me and you
And our friend Blue
We can do anything that we wanna do!

Blue's Clues
You know what to do!
Sit down in our Thinking Chair and think...think...think!
Cause when we use our mind, take a step at a time
We can do anything...that we wanna do!

We Figured It Out
We sat on down
Figured it out
What Blue's Clues are all about
Hey, you know what?
You're really smart!

George Shrinks
Well, the boy is kinda small
But it doesn't show at all
Cuz he's always acting tall
George Shrinks, George Shrinks
He's called

If a problem should be found
He's the boy to have around
Something big or something small
George Shrinks, George Shrinks
He's called
George always seems to find a way
To make his dreams come true each day

Rolie, Polie, Olie
He's short and smart and round

Tractor Tom
We couldn't do it without you.

Everyday when you're walking down the street, everybody that you meet
Has an original point of view...
Get together and make things better
By working together!
It's a simple message and it comes from the heart
Believe in youself (echo: believe in yourself)
Well thats the place to start (to start)

Bob the Builder
Bob the Builder!
Can we fix it?
Bob the Builder!
Yes we can!

There is only one problem with all of this positive self-speak. Sometimes kids who really have no clue at all about something, think that they really do. If you don't believe me, there's nothing like an evening watching American Idol auditions to set you straight.
Thank goodness for Little Bear though and the programme's keeping up with the times. Cat and Little Bear are a lot nicer than Simon, but could perhaps be a little more honest.

Friday, March 16, 2007

O'Brian the Mennonite

I have the rare privelege of knowing two men named Roderick. That's actually their formal name. Most of the time, people will know a Rod or a Rodney, but rarely a Roderick. And rarer still, two.

Every other Thursday, one of the Rodericks and I get together and have a guitar night. We meet at his house, close the door to his office, set out our guitars and the chips, and he pours the Scotch. That's our little arrangement. I provide the musical guidance and he provides the drink. He says that the better he gets at playing guitar, the better the scotch gets. I suggested that perhaps we should meet more speed things up a bit.

This Thursday I was running a little late after work and was looking forward to getting home and just putting my feet up. When I arrived home Joyce told me that Rod called and wanted me to call him back as soon as I got in. Something about going to the city to listen to some Irish music. I returned the call and he said he'd be over in 15 minutes to pick me up.

We drove to a part of the city I rarely see and were able to park nearly directly in front of the club's entrance. It was a small side entrance which immediately turned into stairs going up to the left. The room was large and homey. Two things immediately stuck out; the stage straight ahead by the fireplace, and the bar at the far right. The bar had a few of those decorative beer levers for pouring pints of Guinness and Smithwicks. I learned just a few days prior that Smithwicks is actually pronounced Smithicks. No w. I proudly answered the what'll ya have with Smithicks, please. At least I hope I remembered to say please. I was concentrating pretty hard on getting the beer correct. I didn't want to stand out too much.

We found a table near the front of the room where we'd be able to see the stage properly. Rod thought that the concert started at 7:00. We were just in time.

Looking around the room at some of the others seated, and still others arriving, gave me smile. Green hats, shirts, suspenders, and sashes. Guinness pride was everywhere, and well in hand. Everyone seemed to have their Friday faces on. I had on black jeans, black t-shirt and a Protestant orange vest over the shirt. I became quite conscious of the vest the more Rod spoke. He mentioned the lyrics to an old Irish tune he had learned as a lad where people were defined by the orange and the green. A glance around the room quickly reinforced the distinction between the two faiths. A map on the wall, lovingly made from metal by a member who teaches metal shops, clearly defined the poeple area groups. The people in the room were wearing their faith on their green sleeves. It felt a little like Christmas. I was beginning to feel a little out of place, despite my proper pronunciations. Rod said that if I got into a fight, he would be in my corner, which was way over there somewhere. Rather than leaving to avoid persecution, I removed the vest. I was all Johnny Cash.

The evening was billed Traditional Night. The club memebers all knew what that meant. Irish fiddle tunes, chants, stories, yarns, and poems. They seemed to keep the star performers for the later evening. The Irish dancers, fully adorned in dress and curls, took the stage and shook the second level floor. I was thinking Riverdance while everyone else was thinking Traditional Night.

Remembering it was only Thursday, and the pints being empty anyways, we decided it was time to leave to ensure a proper bedtime. If we timed it correctly, we'd be home by 11:00. The highways out of the city were quiet and as we drove I wondered about the evening and thought about Rod and where he's from. Rod's an islander. A Newly Found Land by some wild well-armed seamen with circular shields in the year 1000. They didn't didn't stay long, however, as they didn't get along with the others who had already found it thousands of years prior to their finding it.

I mentioned to Rod that it must be nice to know where he's from. I said that it was a little confusing for me because I don't seem to have a homeland. I have a definite culture, but we're a little displaced. The Mennonites have been all over the place. Holland, Germany, Austria, Russia, and now the U.S. and Canada. It's hard to know what land I'm connected to. It's hard to know the answer to the question, where are you from? I'm from wherever we weren't persecuted for wearing our faith on our sleeves. We find someone else's land for a while until the one's who found it first begin to protest. Then, rather than taking off our orange for a while to avoid conflict, we leave.

I know gambling is against my colours, but I'm willing to bet that we've perhaps missed out on some fine Traditional Nights because we were too quick to leave.

Thanks for sharing, Roderick.

Friday, March 02, 2007

question #4: you're my inspiration

All the way from somewhere in Ontario, Canada comes a question from Christine.

"I would like to know about the person who has inspired you the most."

One person immediately came to mind. My wife Joyce.

Joyce and I first met at summer camp back in 1984. It was the summer before final year in high school. She was the lifeguard assistant and I was the canoe instructor, which meant we were both on the waterfront for most of the day. She, in her deadly bluegrey bathing suit, and me with...well... Let's just say I was happy to see her. During what little free time we had, we managed to form a good friendship. I hoped that it would lead to more, but I was shy(ish) and she lived as far away as could possibly be. Only about an hour, but I didn't have a car so it may as well have been overseas.

We continued to communicate after the summer, but only through letters. I've never been any good on the phone. I think the letters stopped after she started to date another guy from summer camp. He lived even further away than I did, but he had a car; or at least his parents were willing to drive him. They went to a few concerts together in the city and held hands, I think. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's all they did.

Six years later, after four years living away from home getting my first degree, I was living at home again and working as and educational assistant at the same high school I had graduated from and working evenings as a waiter at the local Smitty's Family Restaurant. One weekend afternoon, I felt the need to clean out my bedroom closet. After pulling out several boxes full of odds and ends I used to tinker with, I found a shoebox which had a stack of letters bound together with elastics. I had forgotten that they were there. Letters from Joyce. I suddenly wondered what she might be up to. I wrote her another letter and sent it to the return address on her letters. A sort of casting out into the winds of chance. I included my telephone number.

The letter I sent had a bit of an adventure. She, or her parents hadn't lived at that address for a few years. The new occupants were a Haldemann family who sort of knew where her parents moved to. They brought the letter to them. Joyce had moved to the big city and didn't come home on a regular basis, so the letter had to wait until one of those times. The day came, and I received a phone call. It didn't take long to discover that I really didn't mind talking on the phone. Conversation was easy. Let's meet. And we did.

Two years of dating and rings were exchanged. Four more years of school for me, four children, four different addresses, four vehicles, and fourteen of the most challenging years of my life; and not once have I been uninspired. And I have Joyce to thank for much it. You see, Joyce isn't your average woman. She's fun to be around, nurturing, creative, caring, nice to children and old people, and great with a keyboard. But the thing that inspires me the most, is that she is volatile. No, I didn't say vital...I said volatile. Let me explain.

About 10 years ago I heard an investment tip that was promising to make a number of people wealthy. I decided that it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up, so I took what cash I had and I joined in. The investment was in a stock on the VSE, and it was one of those stocks that you never really knew for sure what it was going to do. You had to watch it very closely and pay extra attention to it. If you saw it moving, you had to be ready to act. They called it a VOLATILE stock.

Recently, Joyce and I had a meeting with a financial advisor in hopes of us gaining a vision of a comfortable retirement 25 years from now. If we continue on the path we are on now, things seem like they will be just fine. But if what we want is more than what we've got now, we have to move our investments into something a little more volatile. It's risky, but the payoffs can be really good. And you have to be willing to do it.

My history with volatile finacial investments has not been good. In fact, I think I have approximately 3%left of my initial investment from that single transaction. But relationships are much different than money. My history with those has been a little better. I couldn't say for sure what kind of percentage I'm getting for what I'm putting in. There are a lot of ups and downs, and you really have to stay alert or you'll miss really important times. But I'm a better person for it. And I'm still willing to do it. All it takes is the heart and the right place to put your investment...and that I've got. Thanks Joycie.

question #3: grade 5 lunches

I've decided to skip over question #2 in lieu of a lighter subject...for now. (Sorry Donn. But I think you'll understand).
Question #3 comes from Michele who lives at your local laundromat.

"Tell me about your school lunches in grade 5."

Wow...this seems like an extremely easy question to answer after my beautiful sister Janice's question #1... Or is it?!

Lunches in grade five is a bit of a mystery to me as, when the lunch bell rings at 12:05, I'm outta there. The E.A.s (they used to be called teacher assistants) supervise while I am away. The students are given 20 minutes to devour everything that mother (sometimes father) has prepared, and then they are shoo-shooed outside (unless of course it is below minus 30 degrees celcius). The only thing I notice about their lunches after lunch is the garbage can NEARLY FULL of "I don't like that stuff", or "My mom knows I don't like it but she always puts it in my lunch."

I taught grade one for two years at a private school and also grade two at a separate private school. During lunch, I was required to be in the classroom while the students ate their lunches. I had a policy in my classroom that when the students said they were finished, they had to show me their lunch bags and prove to me that they had indeed eaten what mamma sent. If there was anything that they didn't want, they certainly weren't allowed to throw it out...they had to take it home and tell mom. If there was ever a time when I wasn't able to be there for the full 20 minutes, I would check the trash bin on my way in, remove, and hold up anything that I found to be a wasted (intact) lunch portion.

I'd sometimes find ziplocks with entire bagels with lox and cream cheese, unopened cans of mango and passion fruit drink, whole bananas, oranges, and apples, symetrically folded waxpaper wrapped smoked turkey on pumpernickle, home made cookies, and those really expensive fruit cups with 100% organic fruit. It drove me crazy. Instead of holding it all high in the air and crying, "who the hell threw this out?" I felt like taking it all home and giving it to the less fortunate (my own was private school remember. They seemed to think paying staff 76% of standard salary is what Jesus would do.)

I haven't yet done that with my grade 5/6 class. But now that I am thinking about it and reminded of the incredible WASTE it is, I think I'll raise a little HELL on Monday.

Do you know what your children are eating for lunch?