Saturday, February 25, 2006

Pacing the Cage

This is the weekend to sit around the house in my long underwear and catch up on some grading which has been begging to be considered for the last long while. The dining room table is piled sky high and the coffee machine is chugging away as I push aside some of the papers so that I can create some space for me to do hours and hours worth of Su Doku puzzles...thanks a lot Alice.

This week Tuesday is my last day of work at my current position. I must admit that I am beginning to worry a little. Today I found myself tearing up as I was listening to a promotional CD for an upcoming CD release and concert by Steve Bell. The concert is titled Steve Bell - my dinner with Bruce. All of the tunes will be Steve's interpretations of Bruce Cockburn's songs. The song that caused my eyes to well up was Pacing the Cage and Steve's words that accompanied it. He said that when he heard that song for the first time, it was during a period in his life, and we all have these, where confusion, uncertainty, fatigue, and the reality of human suffering were pressing in. He found himself on the floor, weeping beside the stereo holding his stomach in grief. I wasn't in great turmoil this afternoon as I sat in my long underwear at the dining room table, but I felt someone else's pain, and I closed my eyes and cried. I felt one with Steve, and Bruce, and my situation, all mixed up and uncertain.

I felt like doing something other than writing percentages and comments on student's work, so I picked up my guitar and fiddled with the song that had just moved me. It wasn't long before it could have been me playing for the recording.

Later on, after Joyce had returned from her trip to the mall to pick up my ordered book from Chapters, I told her of my wet eyes. My daughters overheard and remarked that they had never seen me cry. I told them if they came with me to the concert on Thursday, they would see their dad crying like a little baby. They plan to join me.

I'm thankful that I have something to look forward to this week, as after Tuesday, I have no classroom to call my own and pace back and forth in. Getting out of the house will be crucial as pacing at home will certainly lead to a hasty emergency relocation for this wild animal.

Anyone need a sick day this week? I know a good substitute teacher.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

jurisprudence of public speaking

The volume in the classroom varies drasticly during the day, depending on the activity. There are number zero activities where no talking is allowed. During a number one activity there is a minimal amount of communication allowed, but only when necessary. And then there are numbers two and three, where three would be at free centres time and all sorts of fun and exciting sounds are welcome and expected.

There are several students in my class, boys mostly ( its always the boys isn't it ) that love to talk loudly, and especially to someone on the opposite end of the classroom. They will be in mid shout when they will receive the evil teacher eye from me or hear the first syllable of their name from my lips, and they will know that the sound laws have been broken. Quickly, and ever so humbly, they will give me the look which shows they realize their transgression and peace is once again restored...until the next exciting communication opportunity, and the cycle repeats. "But it's not because he is deliberately being disobedient", I tell the parents at interview time. "He's just a kid and he's excited".

Every Thursday before lunch time we have free writing in our journals. This is a time where the students can write about any topic whatsoever...and there will be no editing by me, none at all. I won't even care if they write about Bionicles or Barbies, Nintendo or My Little Pony. The only rules are that they can't use potty language and can't use repeated words...such as "I love my teacher very, very, very, very, very,very much." The kids like to do that so they get their quota of words in without working too hard. Plus I give them secret bonus marks for saying something really nice about's my love language.

When the writing is done, they are each given an opportunity to come to the "stage" which I have set up ( a music stand and a microphone hooked up to my boom box). When the reading is going on, it is considered, for the students listening, to be a number zero activity, no exceptions. If this law is broken during public speaking, the teacher's death stare becomes thrice multiplied.

It was excited boy's turn to read. He walked to his position and began, quite confidently, to read his tale of St. Valentines love. Near the end of his 90 second oration, his speech began to increase in speed and intensity...almost in a panic. When he finally finished, he was breathing heavy and looked really upset. I asked him if he was O.K. and he very quickly said "No...I peed my pants." As he made his way out from behind the music stand I could see the facts. "You shouldn't have called me up there..." he shouted. "I had to go to the bathroom." Without trying to defend my position and realizing his utter embarrassment, I quickly whisked him out to the bathroom, but not before giving the death stare to three students who were laughing.

We returned from the changeroom and all was remedied..all except his pride. Excited kid number two, from the other end of the classroom, calls out through the silence of the number zero activity, "That's O.K....It happens to me all the time." And suddenly a mini discussion begins about wetting ones pants, who still wears pull-ups, and, "I wet my bed lots of times."

Sometimes it's O.K. to break your own laws of silence, and allow good, spontaneous, and honest speech take place.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Marcel Dubreuil

High school has always been a time of excellent memories for me. Even though I chose to spend much of my time hanging around with people that couldn't give a rat's ass about life, I cherish the remnants of hope and beauty which regularly rose to the surface during our times at the pool hall and smoker's corner.

As one of my electives, I chose art with the very interesting teacher Marcel Dubreuil. Many of my friends also chose art, as they thought that all we would doing was filling in the spaces between the lines in a well-chosen colouring book. They were, I hope, pleasantly surprised.

I think I remember every lesson taught by Mr. Debreuil, and I use many of the same lessons, scaled down a bit, to teach art to my grade two students. The lessons are simple and yet very intelligent; easy and yet very challenging. Of all the classes I've ever taken, I remember and cherish these the most.

This is a drawing that I was inspired to do during my grade twelve year. I had it matted and had it on display for a while, but it somehow got into the hands of a toddler and received a bit of extra love. I've fixed it as best I could manage using Photoshop...

...and then destroyed it again...
Isn't this fun?

Photoshopped Joyce

The photograph of Joyce that I posted yesterday must have frightened everyone away, as only Rod the Brave was courageous enough to comment.

I've been practising using Photoshop to get myself ready for when my house will be flooded with 10 megapixel digital images from my new camera. I haven't purchased it yet, but the money is steadily filling my milk jug savings account.

My daughter Jane and I counted the contents, and I am now up to $418.89. At this rate it should only take me another 6 months to gather the rest of the necessary loot. I can't wait.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

All the better to eat you with...

since feeling is first
e.e. cummings

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Friday, February 17, 2006


Sitting alone in the 30 person hottub this morning, I was thinking about rites of passage. I was twenty eight minutes into my forty two minute swim this morning, when I received a rap on the head. This large fleshy laughing man in a blue shirt decided to introduce himself as I approached the home end of the swimming lane. He said that I should pick a side so that he could share my lane. He said that he tried to get the guys attention in the lane next to me, but when he approached, he was off like a rocket. I managed to gasp, "O.K." and launched myself off in the opposite direction.

Later, sitting alone, cooling off in the hottub, I was wondering what goes through a person's mind just before they rap someone they don't know, on the head. What "rite" have they passed?

Soon there were three of us cooling off. One of the others asked me how it felt to have my head rapped so early in the morning. "Oh, you saw that, did you?" I said that it took me by surprise...and I didn't know what to think. "I thought that there was some sort of protocol to enter a shared lane", I queried. "Something like sitting on the edge of the pool and hanging ones legs in full view of the oncomer, so that they would know that someone was joining." They both agreed...including the man with the smooth voice.

If the man in the blue shirt would have passed the required passage, it may have been different...but as it was , he clearly didn't know me at all. If gaining entrance into a shared lane required rapping the slowest swimmer on the head, then he was knocking on the wrong door. During his moments of waiting, he clearly didn't observe the wake left behind my sleek form and failed to notice the "off like a rocket" man envying my graceful strokes.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Can you feel the love tonight...

As I drove in to work this morning, the pair of male voices which made up the morning crew on 99.9 BOB FM, asked the question; one of several to be answered correctly to win the chance at a winter meltdown in Mazatlan; who received the most cards on Valentine's Day. Was it a) Mothers, b) Grandmothers, or c) Teachers. I immediately shouted towards the direction from where the voices came, "Teachers". I was correct.

I was looking forward to coming home today with my large bag filled with cards and chocolate and then dumping the whole works onto my scanner and posting the results...but I only remembered the plan when I was halfway home. I entered the classroom this morning to see that my Valentine's mailbox had had a bingeing episode and was nearing a necessary purge.

My 25 students and I spent the afternoon giggling about cards, love, kissing, and "will you be mine". Of course this was only after they had gym to prepare their metabolisms for the heavy consumtion of candy and pink-frosted, heart-shaped, last-night's baking. One of my students was wearing his favourite sweatshirt today which has a logo quite fitting for the afternoon's activities. It read, "Danger: Kid on Sugar". I sent them all home today with a non-apologetic smile. I'm sure they'll send me their love tonight.

Instead of yelling out my answer to the question this morning, I wish I had been the caller...the fifth caller. I would love to spend six days and seven nights in Mazatlan. I would love to spend any amount of time in Mazatlan. Heck, I'd take a couple of hours in a hotel with a hot tub that has a painting of any place warmer than it is in Manitoba tonight. Oh well...if I can't feel the warmth, at least I can feel the love.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone.

Monday, February 13, 2006


There are two recipe books which Joyce and I are proud to have in our possession. Not only do we possess them, but we make it a practise to make something from them regularly. I know that they are Canadian best sellers and wouldn't doubt if they were very popular in the States as well. The books are The Mennonite Treeasury of Recipes and More-with-Less Cookbook. Both are dedicated to promoting healthy eating and, at the same time, consuming fewer of the worlds resources.

I called Joyce from school today during my prep and she told me she was cooking. When I got home, I immediately smelled the delicious aroma of one of my favourite Mennonite soups: Cabbage Borscht.

Joyce bought her copy of "The Treasury" from the local MCC thrift shop for 25 cents. It came complete with some elderly Mennonite woman's handwritten notes telling what's good and what works best. It's almost enough just to read the cookbook and not use it.

No soup for me, however, as I decided last night that my body needed another cleansing and started another five day fast.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Meaningful gifts

When it has anything to do with composing a picture, I cannot recall a time when my daughter Jane has ever taken the easy route to getting a project done.

Today, she had her best friend Eve over after dinner.They had a lovely time playing, as usual, and when it came time to leave two hours later, Jane wanted to give her a parting gift. Jane composed, using her large collection of smelly markers, this lovely field of flowers. I only got to see it as Eve was leaving and asked if I could quickly scan it before she left.

If I was a nine year old, I would want to be best friends with Jane.

I have written before that I think Jane has an artist's eye, and a purposeful touch with a brush. As early as preschool she has caused me to look more than once.
Jane called this one "sisters" because she loves her big sister "Eeyanna".

She didn't have a name for this one but described it as having gold colours and pretty designs.

I had the privilege of being Jane's classroom teacher for one year. She was in my grade one class at Christian Heritage School in Brandon. Just 10 kids to mentor that year. Private dreamy.
I read Psalm 100 to the class and asked the students to draw a picture of what those words made them see in their imaginations. Jane drew the above picture..."These are the people, and they're praising the Lord".

If there's anything I have to praise the Lord for, it's the three women in my life.

Monday, February 06, 2006

My desk drawer

I've been on a mission lately to save enough money for a good digital SLR camera. I've narrowed the search down to three excellent choices. In order to speed the purchase process, I have resorted to drastic measures which, as it turns out, my be not so painful in the end.

I made a decision a few weeks ago that if I was to justify buying a GOOD digital camera, I would have to make a compromise in the spending priorities. I could never justify going out today and spending $1600.00 on a camera, so I had to decide, if this is in fact what I want to do, I need to plan for it. As it is, if I put away an amount of money away per month that I felt may be considered as extra cash, it would only be perhaps $10.00 per month. 1600 divided by 10 equals a hell of a long time. So I decided to take a look at what I spend per week on wine, beer, and the like. I found approximately $160.00 per month, which doesn't seem like a whole lot when I think back and compare it to what some of my university acquaintances spent on one night at the bar, which usually exceeded $200.00. I did further calculations: 1600 divided by 160 equals less than a one year sacrifice of no purchased alcohol to have a good digital SLR which would last a very long time. So now, on Fridays, instead of walking down the liquor isle in the local grocery store, I take $40.00 from the bank machine and put it in my camera fund; along with whatever I find laying around the house...a quarter here, a loonie there...just not the dollar coin from the change tray in the van. If I ever touch the sacred shopping cart loonie, I'm a freekin' dead Mennonite.

I've now saved somewhere around $250.00, and am not feeling the least bit deprived. You see, when I say that the money saved will be from alcohol not purchased, it doesn't stop people from bringing the drink, which they have purchased, to our house. (Sounds like a freekin' Mennonite thing to do...doesn't it? ) Walter still comes over for dinner every Wednesday and brings a bottle of some fine selection. Our Superbowl guests came with their arms full yesterday and had many varieties of fermentation. And to top it all off, Alice, dear sweet, thoughtful and generous Alice from the land of milk and honey, was in the liquor mart on the weekend and was feeling guilty about her purchase because she knew poor Brian was at home with his $40.00 in the jar and nothing to drink, when she decided to buy him a little taste of heaven. She came into my classroom this morning and presented me with these little pallet pleasers. I told her that I had always wanted a bottle of liquor in my desk. You never know when the appropriate emergency, or combination of emergencies will arrise. I told her that she was a good friend. As she walked out of the room, with a big smile and a laugh, she said, "No...I'm a 'du' friend."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Where does this feeling come from?

You would think that after three trips to the lap pool and nearly 20 miles run this week that I would feel good about my performance. Well think again.

This morning I got up at 7:10 and got ready to go for my weekend run with my running buddy Merle. As I was getting dressed I noticed that Joyce was not sounding too good as she had quite a bad cough and sniffles. I medicated her twice before walking out the door. As I was on the road running, Merle and I were talking as usual when I suddenly had this feeling that I needed to cut the run short as I was worried about Joyce. I think I ran only about three miles in the end.

Joyce still had a bad headache but she was essentially fine. I needn't have worried but I was glad to know that the feeling of compassion was something still alive and well within me.

A feeling that I am concerned with is the feeling of self-condemnation. I am already thinking to myself that I this morning's run was a failure...and the feeling that this whole week has been a loss. My question is where does this feeling come from? Just because I didn't set out to accomplish what I had intended to do this morning shouldn't negate all the good I have done. This feeling frustrates me and I don't know what to do about it other than go for another run to make up for it...but that, to me, doesn't solve the problem of where the feeling comes from.

Any reductionistic theories out there?