Wild About Reading

Bill and the Fish was not a particularly inspired book.  Vocabulary was controlled.  The illustrations were mundane.  Yet, the year my younger brother took an interest in fishing, that book became part of our cabin life.  I can still hear my father’s voice.

Books being handed out by BC Literacy Council at Tidal WAV 2022

“Bill land the fish,” he’d roar in an attempt the make the book sound as interesting as the real life event.

Yet, Bill and the Fish was the book my younger brother would want to hear again and again and again.  He would stare at the book with rapt attention as Bill would bait the hook, cast the line, wait patiently, feel the fish nibble, feel the fish bite, reel in the fish, and hold up his prize for everyone to see.  That summer, anyone could be reeling in a fish and someone would holler,

“Bill, land the fish!” with exuberance.  

Then the proud fish would be held up for the camera and all to see.

That book became part of our lives and is etched in my memory along with happy memories of my brother as a preschooler.  Books have a way of becoming reference points for different places and spaces in our lives.   Wombat Stew, Noisy Nora and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie are embedded in what I have learned about emergent readers, writing a thesis, and building community in the classroom.  The Harry Potter books are intermingled with memories of snuggling up with my own children in front of the fire and reading far beyond bedtime.

Educators who join The International Reading Association have a love of books in common. They are also educators who identify reading as a foundational in their own lives and understand that the act is required not only to succeed in school, but to change lives. The British Columbia Council of the International Literacy Association (BCLCILA – yes we know the acronym is way too long), has found COVID a struggle, much like everyone else in the world. Social connections make the work enjoyable, and ZOOM has been limited in maintaining them. However, we are hopeful. Our focus this Spring is on growth.

We are very excited as a council to be participating in Wild About Vancouver’s Tidal WAV (pronounced “wave”) Outdoor Festival on June 3, 2022 at Ceperley Field in Stanley Park.  The modus operandi of WAV is to help people in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver to get outdoors more often for a myriad of purposes.  The purpose for BCLCILA is to make face3face connections with educators, children, and parents and celebrate the power of books to inspire outdoor learning and provide answers to questions that emerge from spending time outdoors.  Of course, we are also hoping to recruit more members interested in networking and working for literacy outside the walls of the classroom.  

The decision to put books in the hands of children at this outdoor festival to inspire outdoors activity and provide information for project based learning has been energizing. This is where the BCLCILA Executive Council members jumped in and created our WAV Working Committee. Linda Klassen, a recently retired principal from Langley, organized promotion of BCLCILA, ordered pens, a banner, and took care of the logistics for the BCLCILA table and tent at the Tidal WAV Outdoor Festival. Larkyn Froese, an aspiring teacher at Simon Fraser University did the site visits and designed several scavenger hunts of different levels to engage participants so they could “earn” their book selection. Garth Brooks took on the huge task of making requests to book distributors and publishers for donations of outdoor learning books to give to children and educators at the Tidal WAV 22 Outdoor Festival.
Gratitude to Larkyn, Linda and Garth.

We have been blown away with the generosity of publishers.  They have sent the best of their outdoor learning books to share at the Tidal WAV 22.  There are books to inspire imagination, to provoke questioning, to provide information, and to focus attention on using all senses to notice what is happening in the garden, in the forest, in the park and in the ocean.  Garth’s condo has become a warehouse for almost $5,000.00 of high-quality books that invite you into stories with poetic language, captivating ideas, artistic illustrations, and fascinating information.  Please see the list below for a full list of publishers who have supported us in this project.  You have our deepest gratitude. 

Larkyn identified the need for graphic novels, sports books, and titles by local authors and artists. My first thought was to call our long-time friend, supporter and owner of Kidsbooks, Phyllis Simon. She has been a big supporter of both LOMCIRA and now the provincial council (BCLCILA). Kidsbooks has become part of the fabric of the Vancouver community and has been able to expand to North Vancouver because staff is knowledgeable about children’s literature and recognizes the importance of matching kids with the right book. I contacted Phyllis with five requests. She responded immediately with “yes” to all of them.

The staff at Kidsbooks will be helping Larkyn in her effort to purchase the books to allow BCLCILA to offer scavenger hunt participants with a full range of titles to choose from.  Kidsbooks has also donated gift certificates from Kidsbooks for draw prizes at the Tidal WAV 22 Outdoor Festival.  I encourage you to also pick up a bookmark from the tent and find your way to one of the Kidsbooks locations to find or order the books that BCLCILA is handing out on June 3rd at the Tidal WAV 22.   I am working on an annotated bibliography that will be posted on both the BCLCILA website and the WAV website.  Amazon’s home delivery during covid served a need, but now it’s time to focus on community building and ensuring the relationships between books and readers remains fluid, informed and filled with joy.  

I can’t wait to see the delighted faces as children, educators, and community members as they make their book selection after finishing the scavenger hunt.  If you plan on participating, please bring a backpack or bag to carry your selection safely home.

Special thanks and appreciation to our very generous publishers and book distributors for their donations.

Thanks also to Garth’s niece, Lyndsay, from Power Apparel who donated a display tent and T-shirt’s for volunteers.

Your generosity and efforts make the world a better place!

Sunday’s Child: The Power of a Neighbourhood Park

What defines a park?  Many years ago in Buffalo, New York, I had time to kill while waiting for a bus to take me to Youngstown, Ohio to visit my grandparents.  I got on a city bus and got off at a local “park” that had ‘lake” in the name.  It turned out to be a relatively small gravel area with an extremely large puddle of muddy water in the middle, some trees on the perimeter, a set of swings, a bench and a surprising absence of birds.  I was shocked that this would be called a park.

Tatlow Park “Monkey Tree” Safe zone during childhood tag games

Sunday dinners at my maternal grandparents’ house are some of my first memories.  My Mum had one brother, two sisters, and when tallied, there were ten grandchildren.  On Sundays, everyone was invited, in fact expected to come for dinner.  Friends, and neighbours were also welcome.  My grandmother was a good cook and lived by “throwing another potato in the pot” to stretch meals to accommodate anyone who would walk through the door.  Boards or perhaps old doors were put on top of the table, hidden under tablecloths, when there were not enough leaves in the table to accommodate the group.  TV tables were for delighted kids when more space was needed.  In a pinch, you’d just put your plate on your lap.  

The extended table in Tatlow Park house

Summer was the easiest to accommodate our rambunctious crew.  The baseball game of “scrub” was halted, and we’d picnic on blankets outside.  Then we’d be off to play in the massive “yard” that included climbing trees, monkey bars, swings, a stream with a pond surrounded by a rock wall, two wooden bridges over the stream, tennis courts, a path around the perimeter to roller skate or ride bikes and a diverse range of trees with prickles, red ants, and long whip branches.      Sometimes a blanket was set up and my cousins would share their large collection of comics while sucking on homemade popsicles.

Edna and Bill Keenan Tatlow Park Care Takers ( 1965 ish to 1975 or 1976)

My grandparents were not affluent.  Tatlow Park, where they were caretakers, is just one of the many neighbourhood parks open to the public in Vancouver.  “Go play outside” was the refrain of my Nanny, Grandpa, aunts and uncles.  And when we did, we learned all about working together on collaborative projects, solving fights, making new friends, and noticing the animals, plants, and trees around us throughout the different seasons.  We learned that death is part of life and that respect was required to mark the occasion.  We reminded each other to never touch a dead thing with your hands.  Disease existed and you had to take care.  Strangers were potential friends but you always travelled in a pack for safety. We learned what rain smells like and the feeling of sun on your skin when you’re sitting quietly in a hiding spot.

We learned that risks need to be calculated.  Roller skating down the “big hill” at the end of the park took skill.  So did jumping to the rock in the pond or climbing the big trees.  We also learned to watch the direction of the wind carefully if you were going to fly a kite in the park and that a high tangle meant saying goodbye to the kite.   

We didn’t go outside to exercise and take care of our physical and mental health or to develop relationships.  We played tag, hide n’seek, baseball, climbed on monkey bars and trees, roller skated, rode bikes and ran from each other, ran to the monkey tree, and ran to get dinner.  The outdoor activity was fun in the park in the midst of the tumultuousness of all of our lives.  Any physical health, wellness or development of relationship was a fortuitous by-product.  

Tatlow Park has a special place in my heart.  My husband knew it when he proposed to me on the bridge.  As he was on bended knee, my first impulse was to grab the ring.  I’d dropped and lost many things into the stream below that bridge as a kid.  I stared at the ring on my finger and then noticed that we had an audience.  Everyone in the park had gravitated towards us to watch the proposal and share in the excitement.  Because that’s what neighbourhood parks do.  They build community.   

Venturing Outdoor with Kids

Jericho Beach

All the research points us outdoors for physical health, wellness, learning, and to pause and appreciate nature.  There are some ways to make it easier for adults to venture outdoors with kids in your own family, in classrooms and in day programs.  Some pre-teaching of expectation, routines , and information is involved, as well as lots of positive feedback for remembering the expectations and behaviours when you head “out and about.” 

As the world opens up after the COVID shut down and the blossoms show their faces, people are enthusiastic about outdoor adventures.  Screens are less appealing, and the outdoors beckons.  As I am walking and biking and running, it is easy to spot those who are delighting in the experience.  It is equally apparent who is stressed with the demands of keeping children safe outdoors.  I am going to give your several things guaranteed to make going outside with children more manageable and ensure that everyone is having fun – even the adults in charge of safety and really wanting those in their charge to have engaging outdoor experiences.  

I watched in amazement as my friend Anne-Mari opened the door to accept her the frequent deliveries to her home.  Her son would stand beside her as she signed for the package.  My son, the same age, was not one to stand in one spot when the door opened.  His world would open and he was off to explore if escape was an option.  He would bolt with me in close pursuit.  Daily outdoor adventures required planning and preparation.  I came up a bag of tricks that allowed daily outdoor time to become part of our lives, even once his active little sister joined the mix.   Some procedures came from supervising 90 kids in an out of school care program.  Some came from working with students in my classroom, on fieldtrips, during camp programs, ski/snowboard programs, and even with students at university and teachers in China.

THE FUNDAMENTALS:

Developing respectful relationships is fundamental to working with groups of children or adults. Have many conversations about what respect is, and what respectful relationships look like.  Talk about your expectations.  We expect young children to be egocentric, but they do not emerge from that developmental stage without guidance from the people around them.  Even young children need to be taught that other people have needs and wants too.  Learning to recognize missteps and apologize is part of that learning.  The apology must come from wanting to repair a relationship rather than a power based demand.  

Model expressing your own feelings.  Encourage your child to use words to express their feelings.  It will give you the opportunity to respond to your child or student in a respectful way.  If someone talks to the child or asks her a question, let her answer.   This helps your children to develop relationships apart from you and to develop the confidence to talk to others to keep to keep themselves safe. 

SAFETY FIRST:

My mother was cautious by nature and my father was a neurosurgeon.  I spent many days being warned about things that were not safe and looking at my dad’s slides (I know I’m dating myself) of serious head trauma and hearing stories of injury.  I was taught what I was not allowed to do.  I was not taught that my own safety was more important than being polite.  I find that children’s books are a great way to teach safety rules.  They give you time to engage your child in conversation about safety so they develop a good understanding.  These are some of the key safety rules you want to teach your child.  

  1.  Stranger Danger 

This safety rule is highly overemphasised.  When a stranger says hi, he is most often being friendly rather than a threat.  If a person you don’t know asks you to go anywhere, it is odd.  Don’t go.  If a person makes you feel uncomfortable, then leave immediately.  Children should be empowered by this message not frightened that imminent danger is lurking. 

  • Buddy Rule – Stay Together.  Take care of each other.  

Our job is to take care of each other.  A buddy or a partner may be a sibling or a peer for the program or classroom. 

The extension of this is that there is safety in numbers.  Be aware that a crowded street is only helpful if children know how to ask for help.  Therefore teach children to make their own requests.  It may be asking for help from a police officer in a uniform or the clerk at convenience store.  

  • Traffic Safety 

Kids can be impulsive so adults must be vigilant around streets and parking lots.  For young kids, I turn it into somewhat of a game with this little poem.  We add hand motions and say it together on neighbourhood walks or on fieldtrips.  It is a reminder to pause that I found has worked well over the years.  

Look both ways before you cross the street.

Use your eyes.

Use your ears,

Before you use your feet.

  • Wild animals are not your pets

Educate yourself and your child to the appropriate boundaries required when encountering wild animals.  On a bike ride one day, I watched as a grandmother pulled out a sandwich to give her very young granddaughter to feed the coyote hovering at the edge of the garbage can in a park.  She unknowingly put that child in danger.  Aggressive young coyotes needed to be culled (killed) from Stanley Park in 2021 due to habituating behaviour such as this.  You may have seen the signs, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”  The same goes for coyotes.  Sometimes the safety concerns to both the child and the animal are not as obvious.  The squirrel running up your leg could have fleas or a disease transmitted through bites.  Feeding the ducks or geese bread could result in unhealthy animals that cannot make the flight south in winter.  Feeding raccoons increases the chance of aggressive attacks.  As with any animal, it also changes their natural patterns and ability to take care of themselves.  

  • Not all pets like people

Do not approach an animal unless you have asked the owner.  An animal will bite if it is scared and feels trapped. 

PLANNING YOUR ADVENTURE:

  1.  Involve kids and Children in Planning the Outing 

                        If the kids are excited about the trip and involved in the planning, they 

will be more likely to know what to expect and how to act.  Having them 

consider the weather, choose appropriate clothing, and pack their snack

in their backpack, not only builds excitement but also develops independence.  

  • Set Clear Expectations 

Children need to “know the rules”.   Be clear about what your rules are and communicate them to your child or students.  I was very patient with requests, but my children and my students knew I had no time for whining.  

If a tantrum or rude behaviour works, it will continue to be used as a strategy for the child to get his own way.  Name the behaviour as unacceptable and that you will discuss it at a later time. Public humiliation should be avoided at all costs in that it erodes your relationship with the child, creates even worse behaviour and undermines the child’s self esteem. 

Review logical consequences for not following agreed upon rules.  This is easier with kids than adults Going home early or sending a kid home from camp only needs to happen once to underline that you will follow through with consequences.  

HEADING OUT AND ABOUT: 

  1. Safety Scan                 

When you first arrive, always involve the kids in a safety scan of the area.  You may need to set boundaries around water, traffic, treed areas or animals.  

                        Discuss what safety rules that will be most important today?  Discuss this

with students and give frequent positive reinforcement for targeted 

behaviour.  

  • Prompt Observation, Inquiry and Imagination

Encourage children to use all of their senses to make observations.  Model making connections to the things this place makes you think of.  Encourage children to ask questions and make predications.  Don’t be too quick to provide all of the answers.  Give them time to consider the possibilities.  Starting sentences with I wonder.  Encourage factual answers and imaginative play.  Again children’s books are a wonderful way to support this thinking.  

  • Encourage “calculated risks”

Just like adults, kids feel good about conquering something hard.  For some kids this could be walking across a log without any help.  For others, it could be walking across that same log with someone holding hands with an adult.  It may be going down the big slide.  Help to instill the belief in your child that she can take on great challenges.

On the playground, when you hear,

“Watch me!  Watch me!”.  

You will see a kid who feels very proud of something he has just accomplished.  

Celebrate.

When you here, “Oops.”

Perhaps the puddle was too big.   Or perhaps it was deeper than anticipated. 

Celebrate that your child or student felt there was a freedom to explore without the pressure of perfection.

REFLECTIONS:

One Saturday morning, when my own children were still very young, I walked into the rec room where Larkyn and Tyler were watching television.  The sandcastle competition at Spanish Banks was being featured on local tv.  

“Hey, do you know where that is?” I asked.

Both kids took a better look and responded with amazement.

“Spanish Banks!” the yelled excitedly in chorus.

I asked “You wanna go?”

Both kids sprang into action.

Larkyn:  Tyler, pack your backpack!  I’ll get the beach towels.

Tyler:  I’ll put the sand toys in the car.

Me:  I’ll pack lunch and get the sunscreen.  The blanket is already in the fam van with my chair.

Larkyn:  Okay.  Let’s meet in the fam van in 15 minutes.  No being late!

Now it may have taken us longer than 15 minutes to actually get in the family van, en route to Spanish Banks from the suburbs, but not much longer.  The kids were motivated to go.  They knew what to do.  We all had a great day!  And it was easy!

The stories and adventures that are told over and over again in the midst of gales of laughter are often outdoor adventures that take us outside into the world where anything can happen.  They become the shared experiences that create community and learning that lasts a lifetime.  It is well worth taking the steps required to ensure that when you go out, everyone is able to enjoy and learn in the moment.  Best of luck on the many outdoor adventures to come.

Why Learn Outdoors?  Education

“I have learned that outdoor quests are not about the summit, but rather the journey.”

Hart Banack

Recently I had the opportunity to visit two stellar outdoor learning programs.   Megan Zeni works with her teaching partner, Sarah Regan, providing outdoor learning for all students attending Homma Elementary School in Richmond, British Columbia.  Both teachers are both passionate about their “Outdoor Library” and are skilled teachers.  They have garnered the enthusiasm of students and the support of administration and the Parent Advisory Committee. The outdoor learning space has two sheds for materials, picnic tables for group collaboration, a whiteboard and loose part seating for lessons, garden boxes, a mud kitchen, a bug hotel, and are in the process of building a gazebo.  Evidence of student inquiries are everywhere you turn.  It is a rich and exciting learning environment for student learning.  All teachers in the school get preparation time twice a week.  That means that all of the students in the school have scheduled outdoor learning sessions which lends itself to collaborative sharing across kindergarten to Grade 7.  Curriculum integration can be facilitated, as can physical activity, self-regulation strategies, and a joy of being outdoors.   Megan is offering an online session Outdoor Play and Learning in the Rain on Tuesday, April 19th, 2022.  Register now to learn how to support learning outdoors in a temperate rainforest.

The other program I visited, iGeneration Education, is a private program for pre-schoolers developed by founder and CEO, Lulu Wang.  Sessions for this program are held throughout the city.  I caught up with her group and their instructors at Van Dusen Gardens.  For those of you that have been to Van Dusen Gardens, and certainly everyone should, the learning opportunities are plentiful and the garden landscaped with ponds, a waterfall, a maze, a rock garden and a variety of garden beds is a peaceful and contemplative space.  Trees, flowers, and other plants are diverse and labelled with Latin and common names.  Birds flock to the area and the Bird House for little people is a space to engage students in outdoor play and get started on bird watching essentials.  Our little group was lucky enough to spot a turtle and that took the learning in a new direction with more inquiry possibilities.  There were hints of sun but dark clouds were looming in the sky and the smell of rain was in the air.  More questions.  More learning opportunities.  Ms. Wang hires staff with subject specific knowledge and today they are being trained by a member of a research team member from Capilano College working to integrate Reggio Emilia philosophy into the program.  Next class will take the iGen program to another location offering rich learning opportunity.  Certainly, there is no shortage of amazing outdoor spaces in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver.

Dr. Hart Banack, an assistant professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, has inspired and supported these educators and many more in developing their outdoor learning programs.  His work at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University has trained many pre-service teachers to facilitate meaningful student learning outdoors.  His background in education is rooted in active engagement in sport, backcountry wilderness trips, camp programs, instruction and certification of swimming and canoeing levels.  However, his educational practice incorporates his belief in the power of outdoor learning in developing not only physical health, but also the sense of awe, wonder and curriculum learning that is a byproduct of experiential learning.  

Dr. Banack and I met each other when I was a vice-principal at Tecumseh Elementary School many, many moons ago.  At that time, he assigned his U.B.C. education students to work in collaborative groups to survey several Vancouver Elementary Schools to determine what was available in that specific place , both on the school grounds and in the neighbourhood, to facilitate meaningful outdoor learning.  Then these students were given scaffolded experiences in how to develop student centered collaborative learning communities with trust building activities and outdoor activities to develop physical skills, health, and content area knowledge, skills and appreciation of that specific place.  Students took this information into their practicum experiences and teachers continued the work when they moved on.  

At Tecumseh, I worked with Community School Team members to develop an Outdoor Einstein Program that we ran at Tecumseh Elementary School each term.  The CST Team also implemented the program at other interested schools.  Instructors were equipped with backpacks filled measuring tools, magnifying glasses, binoculars, waterproof notebooks, ropes and tarps.  Students headed out on sensory walks to learn to pay attention, sock walks to collect seeds, adopted a tree or plant on the playground to document changes, tied knots, built shelters, navigated with a compass, and made connections with First Nations teachings and legends.  They observed with and without tools, measured, predicted, hypothesized, asked questions, and designed inquiry studies to find answers.  

As Dr. Banack has aptly noted, “… outdoor quests are not about the summit, but rather the journey.”  In every outdoor quest in education, the common factor in the equation is the person passionate about taking kids on an outdoor journey.  I wonder where this comes from.  Did it come from experiences that were present in childhood?  In school?  At home?  Or did it come from a place where the desired experiences were absent?  These questions will frame my most recent inquiry.  I’m hoping educators doing interesting outdoor things with students and implementing outdoor learning practices will participate.  The goal is create our own “Human Library” of Outdoor Educators to celebrate and share our outdoor learning inspiration and practices.  Thanks to social media for the “Human Library” share and inspiration!  

Please let me know if you’ re being interested in being interviewed about your outdoor learning program and why it looks the way it does.  What motivated you to facilitate an outdoor learning?  What is most important about your program?  Interviews will be published on 

Inquire2Empower.ca 

Wild About Vancouver.com 

YouTube – Carrie Froese

@CarrieFroese @WildAbout Van (Instagram and Twitter)

and hopefully in a book!

Interviews will take place in school gardens, parks, playgrounds, and at Second Beach in Stanley Park during the Wild About Vancouver Tidal WAV event in Stanley Park on Friday, June 3rd, 2022.  You pick the place. Please contact me at inquire2empower@gmail.com  to participate.

Sunday’s Child:  Searching for Meaning – Memoir

 

A Spanish Dove from Sevilla

The beauty of Facebook is that it brings together a diverse range of people who bring a variety of values and ways of being in the world.  I believe it is limiting to only surround ourselves with people who look like carbon copies of ourselves, have the same ideas and agree with everything we say.  It cultivates a myopic approach to life, nurtures a sense that we have it all figured out and stops any further learning.  I had a conversation 45 years ago with a relative struggling to find friends who would not hurt her Christian witness.  It has stuck with me because it reflects what I don’t want to be in the world.  The fact that there are many different religions speaks to the fact that since the beginning of time, people have been trying to find meaning their world.  They have gravitated to a conception of God and built the stories around faith traditions that make sense to them or welcome them into a community of belonging.

We give ourselves lots of credit for being the most highly evolved species on the planet.  As a group we consider ourselves as intelligent.  This does not stop us from looking at the person standing beside us and judging them as “ignorant” or labelling them as “bat shit crazy.”  Or criticizing the way a person looks, or acts, or practices their faith.  I read a Facebook post the other day and read a diatribe dissecting the Christian faith and bemoaning the intelligent people who are ridiculous enough to believe in it.  This is not a perspective unique to this person.  Trash talking someone’s religion in the name of your own intellectual superiority is commonplace.  It just doesn’t have the earmark of the intelligent conversation of a highly evolved species. The more interesting conversation is to why faith traditions exist and why they play out as they do in people’s lives.

I grew up surrounded by Christian faith.  My mother, divorced in a time when the neighbours freely speculated about divorcees, gravitated towards propriety.  For her the shroud of respectability of the church and the promise of better times was survival for her.  My paternal grandmother lost the love of her life during WWII and kept her four little children together in Germany.  For her, Christianity was evidence of miracles and redemption for decisions made in the name of survival.  For some, the promise of second chances after bad choices, created the appeal.  For others it was the promise of better things to come.  For me it was about answers.  I figured the church would provide the answers in a world where the adults in my life could not.

I joined Explorers in Grade 3.  I had missed out on the Brownies uniform with the “twit, twit tawoo” tradition that I coveted when my older sister had been allowed to join.  I really wanted the Girl Guide uniform, complete with the special scarf.  It was not to be.  We had just moved to a new neighbourhood that had brought sunshine back into my life but no nearby Girl Guide pack.  I needed to be able to get there on my own.  Explorers had a uniform of a white blouse that you could sew your badges on.  You could wear a navy-blue skirt but I rode my bike everywhere, so I rarely did.  My competitive little soul gravitated to the badges, in a time when competition in girls was not ladylike.  Explorers was in the local United Church and had a strong thread of Christian education.   I took it to heart.  I read the bible from cover to cover.  I was very proud that I slogged through the boredom of the who begot whom part of the Old Testament.  It concerned my mum to find me reading the bible all the time.  It was not a quick read.  My sister had gone to live with my dad in Los Angeles that year and I had been sad, lonely, and afraid for the six months we spent living in the unfamiliar terrain of East Vancouver.   My mother called in the minister because it was counselling, she could afford.  He came to chat.  We talked about how Jesus communicated in stories and that you had to be a detective to figure out what he was trying to teach us.  I liked that.  The stories of Jesus made far more sense than the stories of the adults in my world.  I liked the idea that there was a plan for me and someone looking down over me.  Protection was good.  My minister reassured my mother that I was fine and perhaps would make a good minister one day.  

The notion of the plan and Jesus protecting good people came into question as I grew up.  My favourite aunt died when I was in Grade 7 and sent everything, I thought I knew about the world into a tailspin.  My mum was traumatized.  My favourite cousin was traumatized.  My sister had left to live in LA permanently at the beginning of the year.  The rest of the family was reeling.  None of it made sense.  My Mum and I went off to find a church where she would fit.  Although my mum lived in fear of what the neighbours would say, she was the toughest judge of all and perhaps her worst enemy.  This was much the same when I went to Los Angeles.  The minister in the white suit and suntan felt like a prop on a Hollywood set rather than a person filled with wisdom.  My father and stepmother wanted his approval.  The most important thing was to not be the one giving the neighbours something to talk about.

Then in Grade 12, my friend, Karen Lysyk had an aneurysm.  The first time I visited her in the hospital, the nurse had to point her out to me.   There was no plan.  There was no miracle.  There was no one to talk to about it.  Off I went to Ryerson United Church to find answers.  I didn’t find all of the answers, but I did find a supportive community.  I taught Sunday School.  I got baptised with an older woman who needed me to pull her up after we kneeled.  Because supporting each other was the point.  We planned.  We did volunteer work.  There were lots of people who fell short of being perfect but were kind-hearted and knew how to laugh.  

Many people gravitate to faith communities in the hope of being better people.  They believe that showing up on Sunday or giving big donations grants them “most favoured” status in the eyes of God.  They believe that somehow this status gives them the right to quote scriptures to others to show them the error of their ways.  To have others bend to their will rather than look inside to see how they themselves need to change.  Once scripture is used as a stick to beat people down, it has become an institution of power and control rather than an opportunity to grow and learn.  The corruption of the original intent of the faith community by the institution is evidence of fallibility of people.  It is not a judgement of the striving of people to search for meaning.

I found Victor Frankel’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, on the bookshelves of my Dad’s cabin many years ago.  I have gone back to reread the book many, many times.  I thought the book had been left there by the previous owner, Lyle Wright.  He was a librarian at the Huntington Library and left his prime choices and many mystery books in the cabin when he sold to my dad.  I just noticed a letter written in German to my dad this past summer in the front of the book.  Apparently his book.  His search for meaning.  The little boy who lived through WWII.  Who experienced hunger.  Who had experiences that all children should be protected from.  Whose father ended up in Russia after the war and started another life without looking back.  My dad too searched for meaning.  I can make judgements about his conclusions and his choices.  I have done so many times over the years.  Or I can just let his journey be his journey.

Christianity has helped inform my search for meaning.  I don’t need for it to be the only way.  I don’t need for it to be the right way.  I don’t need to proselytize why others need to follow my path.  In fact, I’m not sure I would recommend the long circuitous route that continues to meander.  However, the beauty of a democratic system is that it leaves me free to choose.  And the path I choose leaves lots of room to respect the path taken by other people adhering to other faith traditions, other reflective practices, or other ways of being in the world.  Imagine a world where people did not feel judged but respected for their choices.  Where judgement was left to God if he or she felt compelled to do so.  

Sunday’s Child – This is the memoir thread in my blog. Many of my “aha” moments of life emerge from my reflections of the past. This is my place to do just that. And yes, I was born on a Sunday and was inspired by the oft-quoted poem.

Sunday’s Child:  Olive Persists – Memoir

Olive was not family. She wasn’t a family friend. I’m not certain I could pick her out in a line up. I remember her as old with curly hair that was starting to grey. Likely she was younger than I am now. She would tell you that she had “lost her figure” like it was something you had left on a bus and hadn’t been to pick it up at the Metro Transit Lost Property. Yet, Olive has persisted as a constant in my life since my first job.

My cousin came to live with my mom and me after my aunt died.  Although the circumstances were fraught with stress and sadness, she brought a vitality to the house that broke the silence of my sister’s final departure to live in Los Angeles with my other family.  She was filled with ideas of what we would do next and being two years younger, I followed her lead.  Her approach was “Of course, you can do that!”  Life opened to include new possibilities and the excitement of new risk-taking ventures. 

Darlene had looked in the newspaper and found a job that only lasted during tax season and paid higher than minimum wage.  The task was to add up columns of numbers on an adding machine to make sure the tax submissions were accurate.  Finding errors and fixing them appealed to her desire to bring things to closure.  Right here.  Right now.  During the next tax season, she decided that we could both work there.

“What if I can’t do it?” was my first response.  

“Of course, you can do it.  You’re my cousin.  You just have to add up numbers on the adding machine.  It’s easy.”  

I was not convinced.  I went to my mom’s work to practice on the adding machine.  My Mom didn’t really help my confidence when she demonstrated her speed and accuracy.  She was a Private and Confidential Secretary who prided herself in typing 95 words per minute.  I had taken Typing 9 and spent most of the time going to the store during with my friends under the guise of “really needing to go”.  I took no pride in my speed and accuracy and looked at the keys during drills.  I did come to regret this transgression when I was completing my master’s degree and the speed and accuracy would have come in handy.  However, my cousin brushed aside my trepidation and got me the job, even though I hadn’t turned 16 years old yet.

The job was one bus away.  Two possible routes.  In Kitsilano, where my mom’s family grew up and gravitated to whenever possible.  That part was straightforward, as was the actual job.  Darlene was faster on the adding machine and clearly found satisfaction in finding errors.  I would find an error and second guess that it was in fact my error and check again and again.  That would slow me down.  I was most driven by my “completed pile” being bigger than my “to be completed pile”.  I was driven by being able to conquer that adding machine.  At the end of the day, it was the first of many boring jobs to come.

Olive had a family and had worked every tax season for years.  She liked coming to work to get a break from her beloved family and to earn some pocket money that was just hers.  Olive didn’t care about making mistakes.  

“You worry too much.  If you find a mistake, it was because someone else was the dummy.  If you don’t find the mistake, it’s their fault because they shouldn’t have made the mistake to begin with.  Now tell me, how was school today.”Olive taught me that perspective is everything. 

As the weekend approached, the pub across the street would fill up and as the drunk got drunker, they would take notice of the young hottie’s working in the upstairs office across the street.   I was young, naïve, and didn’t know I was a hottie.  Olive would step in.  She would send one of us downstairs to make sure the door was locked.  Then she’d go stand in front of the window, shoulders back, and stare down the loudest and most raucous.  One she’d get his eye, she would wag her finger.  If they persisted or ventured towards our door, she’d pick up the phone and wave it at them.  

“Don’t make me do it.”

And they didn’t.  I wished that she could take the bus home with me.  Although I had some scary times at bus stops, I would never tell my mother because I knew that would be the end of the job.  However, I had internalized the rules.  Don’t look scared.  Shoulders back.  Stare down the person scaring the shit out of you.  Have a back up plan.

Part of the ritual conversation if you worked with Olive always included food.  She would detail what she made for dinner.  What she was thinking of making next.  What she would like to eat right now.  One of my favourite things to do was to go to Bino’s on Broadway and Arbutus for a giant bran muffin.  It was the muffin of all muffins.  I had been trying to replicate those muffins for years.  Well, of course.  Olive had a recipe.   Good thing since Bino’s is long gone.The recipe is handwritten and tucked away in a battered red duotang with my favourite recipes from high school and beyond.

It has been many years since I have worked adding up columns of numbers on an adding machine.  Yet, I think of Olive every time I bake bran muffins.  It makes me smile. I wonder how life turned out for her. It’s a big recipe, so there are enough bran muffins to share widely.

“Uhmmm.  Good muffins.”

“Olive’s recipes.”

“Who’s Olive?”

Sunday’s Child – This is the memoir thread in my blog. Many of my “aha” moments of life emerge from my reflections of the past. This is my place to do just that.

Van Dusen Garden Possibilities – Education

with Lulu Wang
– Founder and CEO of iGeneration Ed and Sparks Ed

On Friday I had a planning meeting about the upcoming Wild About Vancouver Event in Stanley Park on June 3rd to celebrate learning and being outdoors. Lulu Wang, founder and CEO of iGeneration Education Group and Sparks Education, is on the Steering Committee for WAV. We hammered out some ideas and I packed up to set off to my next meeting. I paused. What a great opportunity to observe these little iGeneration Education Outdoor Einsteins in action. I sent a text and pushed ahead my next meeting to allow me to join their class. I could see them just past the main waterfall.

I am a member of Van Dusen Gardens.  They do great work in creating an environment to heighten appreciation and learning about flowers, trees, and eco-systems.  I love the educational programs and the lending library for great source material.  They hire skilled and knowledgeable instructors that have so many interesting learning opportunities that they share with enthusiasm.  Van Dusen Gardens is part of my family ritual at Christmas during the lights extravaganza.  I use to schedule meetings with friends after work to just breathe and debrief after a long, hard day working as a school principal.  Yet, the potential of a garden to engage learners of all ages never ceases to amaze me.  

The iGeneration staff now have marvelous orange jackets so they are easy to spot.  I set off in pursuit of my iGen group of learners.  How hard could it be to catch up with a group of preschoolers?  

Well, apparently, it is quite hard.  En route, I asked passers-by if they had seen orange jackets with pre-schoolers.  

“Yes, not too long ago.  They were heading that way.”

And so off I would go.  I know these paths.  I have longer legs.  Easy, peasy.

I set off.  I found lots of small giggling friends.  Adults taking photos.  Or sitting.  Or writing. Or strolling.

I discovered the kids giggling on the tractor were not the little people I was searching for.

I went to the maze.  

Followed the giggles in the maze.

Found the exit. 

Identified familiar flowers and trees and birds.  

Made observations about the unfamiliar. 

Hypothesized.

Checked out the Fern Dell.

Made many inquires. 

Checked out the rock garden.

Considered the sky and made predictions about the weather. 

Found the waterfall.

Made predictions.

Stopped to take my own pictures.

Made more predictions.

Made observations.

Asked more questions.

Went to the bird playground and info area. Made discoveries along the way. Celebrated nature.

I did not catch up to the last of our little group until the parking lot.  Most students had been picked up by their parents and had headed home to share their adventures. What an opportunity for learning.  For conversation.  For gratitude. By the end of the night, I had over 13,000 steps.  Many at Van Dusen Gardens.   The fact that I was not able to catch up to a group of preschoolers speaks to the rich opportunity and enthusiasm sparked by taking the learning outdoors.  

Education Thread of Inquire2Empower:

A Wild About Vancouver post that celebrates learning and being outdoors.

HoodooQuest:Sevilla 🍊-Travel

Plaza of Spain – Capitania General building
constructed 1929 for Iberian Exposition

Seville, or Sevilla as it is known is Spain, was a complete surprise. I wanted to go because it evoked images of old culture. Shakespeare and Rossini’s singing barber. I expected the architectural and cultural history detailed in online and in my trusty travel books. Tickets were booked online for the Reales Alcazares. I expected exceptional art, exceptional food and exceptional wine from my curated introduction to Spain by my daughter in Barcelona, Bilboa, San Sebastian and Madrid years ago. What I didn’t anticipate was to fall in love with this city. Our hostess at “Espectacular Casa en el Corazon de Sevilla” can be partially credited. She introduced us to Andalusian culture by graciously sharing her home and her life. Breakfast amidst her art, pictures and stories of equestrian tradition with full costume complete with braided horse hair, flamenco, and recommendations for her favourite restaurants made the stay amazing. And then there was a completely unanticipated delight!

We dropped off the rental car at the Marbella airport and made our way to the train station.  We got off at the San Bernardo train station to make our way to our Airbnb near Plaza Venerables.  We joined the other joggers, commuters, shoppers, and travellers in the city with a purposeful forward motion.  The clattering of our travel wheeled suitcases on the stone walkways announcing that COVID lockdown was lifting and the travel season had begun.  We’d sneak onto the bike path for a smoother pathways but there are many stations to rent bikes and you had to frequently make way.

Just as I was wishing that we had taken the recommended taxi, we arrived in [Plaza de Dona Elvira].  I’m not certain if the sight of trees with trees with glossy green leaves that are loaded with oranges or the smell of the tiny white orange blossoms hit me first.  It hit me like a warm hug from childhood.  As a little girl, my favourite aunt sold Avon, like many other women struggling for ways to make extra money.  I spent hours smelling product from her special blue tapestry Avon case.  Sweet smells.  Perfumes.  Bath oils.  Creams.  Lily of the Valley.  Roses, Roses.  Peach.  My Mum’s favourite was Honeysuckle.  My favourite scents were in my collections of Avon dolls.  The gel scents would go into special plastic pins and give me something to do during class.  I had a plastic gingerbread man whose head would pop up to reveal the little pots of sweet scent.  Very handy.  I could apply my scent of choice as a diversion. during class.  The girls would look on with appreciation and some boys would always whine,

“Not again!  That stuff stinks!”

My first response when I arrived in the courtyard was to stop and take a big breath in.

“Oh my gosh, it smells like honeysuckle. It’s beautiful.” I murmured.

“It’s the orange blossoms,” replied a smiling girl walking by with hand in hand with her boyfriend.  Clearly she was also someone who also delighted in the smell.

The oranges look very different than the ones we are familiar with eating. It’s like they have been coloured for a Hollywood movie. They are a bright orange. Yellow-orange in the Crayola box of crayons. And the skins are very rough, dimpled and knobby. There are always several on the ground that have been opened for sampling but flew look eaten. The skin is very thick and the inside flesh is quite pulpy and very bitter.

Sevilla Oranges

The Sevilla oranges were not just unique to this square.  They were everywhere, heightening the sensory experience of outdoor cafes, ruins, and strolls through the narrow winding streets, along with the bells from the Seville Cathedral that emerged from the original mosque in the city.   It was magical.  And in that Sevilla was experiencing more rain than usual, the smell was particularly acute when the sun would come out.  The smell of rain mixed with orange blossoms.  Clearly, I am a true Vancouverite, in that the smell of rain also floods me with warm memories of home.    

I have done some homework and these Sevilla oranges are not like other eating oranges.  In fact, I unlocked a long-held secret of why my marmalade is always disappointing.  I’ve been using the wrong oranges.  These oranges, a cross between the pomelo and mandarin, were introduced from Asia in the 12th century.  More than 14,000 bitter orange trees now line the streets of Seville as part of the urban landscaping.  Although the Sevilla oranges are bitter to eat, the skins provide the sharp taste of all the best marmalades.  In fact, most of these oranges are exported to England to be processed into flavourful marmalades.  On my latest trip to the grocery store, I paid attention.  You don’t have to pay exorbinant prices for specialty marmalade, you just need to look for product made with these special oranges.  I bought lots.  Not just for toast but for melting over cream cheese or brie during wine tasting endeavours.  Now Sevilla orange marmalade triggers happy memories of childhood, wonderful memories of Sevilla and the impulse to plan my return to this amazing city. 

Catedral de Sevilla

HoodooQuest ( https://hoodooquest.blogspot.com ) was my very first blog.  I started it in 2008 when I went to China to teach teachers.  It catapulted me down the rabbit hole of blogging to which I have continued to delve deeper and write and write and write.

Reflections On Writing – Morning Writing Ritual

I am pleased to wake up to the rain in Porto today. For the last month I have been travelling with my husband. Costa Del Sol. Sevilla. Lisboa. The Algarve. Porto. We have bemoaned the rain on occasion. The plan was to travel in March, before the hoards of people flocked to Spain and Portugal but while the weather was nice. From our perspective, we have escaped many rainy days in Vancouver this Spring and the sun has shown her face. From the perspective of the Spanish and Portuguese in the south who have been experiencing a prolonged drought that has emptied reservoirs and devastated crops for the past two years, they have been surprised by the quantity of rain but appreciated it all the same.

Today I find myself appreciating the pitter patter of rain mixed with the sound of cooing doves. Our place in Porto has all of my necessities for early morning writing.

First is a space where I can venture off to write. We climb 66 stairs to get to the top of the building to get to our newly renovated suite. Double doors lead into the addition of a sunroom with a little table with two chairs and big windows. I can creep outside and write without waking up my husband. This means I am alone with my thoughts for the time being.

I had aspirations of writing in little cafes and outside this holiday. Perhaps it comes from the stories of Hemingway and J.K. Rowling drafting their manuscripts in interesting places. COVID has made me very aware of the struggle that café owners have had staying afloat in the past couple of years. I think twice about taking up prime real estate without spending much money. I have a vested interest in the survival of the coffee shop. So this is not a place for me to focus at this time.

We rented a car in Costa Del Sol. This was not conducive to writing. We flew from Sevilla to Lisbon. Then we took the train from Lisbon to The Algarve and from the Algarve to Porto. Even a city bus has traditionally been able to lull my husband to sleep. He has easily nodded off en route home from work over the years. Trains and planes allow for a good nap for Brad and guaranteed focused writing time for me.

I have written at the park. At the beach. At our family cabin. Lots of outdoor spaces over the years. I still do but outdoor writing lends itself more to journal writing. I have been reading “Writing down The Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. She strictly adheres to writing with a paper and pen, and hires someone to do the word processing. I cannot even imagine it. My computer has become how I write. My proofreading and editing is very much integrated with my thinking and drafting. Taking a screen outdoors means having a table set up or bringing a beach chair, hat, ensuring no light on screen, no danger of sand being kicked up. So much complexity. Writing outdoors on the deck at the cabin in the mountains or on my patio in Kits seem to be the outdoor writing spaces for me. This month, outdoors has been for reading far more than writing.

The second most important part of the morning writing ritual is coffee. Not just liquid caffeine. Good coffee. This has been included as part of four of the five places we’ve stayed during our travels this month. Only one place provided the standard Mr. Coffee drip coffee machine. This will not do for writing. The first sip in the morning must provide that “Oh, yeah. All is right with the world” kind of feeling.” Most places in Europe understand that. It still shocks me that people go to the local Starbuck’s. In Spain and Portugal! The best coffee I have experienced has been in Europe. Hhhmmm, and Cuba. High quality espresso machines are considered necessities rather than luxury items. Good coffee is around and inexpensive. And the best!

Danger. Three things are conspiring against extended writing time this morning. The rain has stopped and the sun has poked her head out. Yikes! Diversion. The rule in Vancouver is enjoy the sun when it comes out! Who knows how long she’ll stay! Two workmen have started to work on the suite across the way. So very close to me. Everywhere you go in Portugal, massive cranes and scaffolding obscure the view of art and amazing feats of historic architecture.. There is lots of work and lots of real estate sales, particularly in Lisbon and Porto.

The pigeons can peer in the window to check out what I’m doing and they feel like comfortable friends. They can even move right on to my window sill and peer in. The workmen’s eyes just feel more intrusive. Yes, I’ll need to go get dressed for the day. It will be a blog day. Perhaps, my novel writing will need to wait for the anonymity of the masses on the plane or my own little condo in Kits on a rainy day. I still have grand aspirations.

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