Seeking Out Joy

Bhangra Joy with Gurdeep Pandher

The first tweet @GurdeepPandher that I saw was from his little cabin in the Yukon.  His bhangra dancing with abandon filled my heart with joy.  For those of you that know me well, this will not surprise you.  Dancing with abandon always fills my heart with joy.  And so, I retweeted.  And I have continued to retweet as he has danced his way around Canada through the COVID-19 pandemic.  He’s danced in Nova Scotia, in Ottawa, with the Canadian Armed Forces, and to bagpipe music. The list goes on. And every time he dances, he makes me smile.

I am on the Board of Directors for Wild About Vancouver.  Gurdeep has inspired the dream of people dancing their favourite dances outdoors throughout the Lower Mainland of Vancouver and tweeting it out @WildAboutVan.   It would be brilliant.  I am also back at school as principal of David Livingstone Elementary School. He has inspired the notion of teaching kids dances that they can do outside at recess and lunch. Socially distanced joy. Not a bad plan!

I went to Gurdeep’s website and was able to purchase and download music for bhangra dancing and sign up for an online dance class.  AND I was able to do my first class this morning and talk to Gurdeep.  He is just as lovely in person (which means on ZOOM in the COVID-19 world) as he is in his tweets.  His direction:

Stand up straight and engage your core.

Shoulders back.

Chin up.

Express joy in your face, and happiness in your heart and soul, with a smile.

This is certainly one pathway to mental health and physical fitness. I certainly need more practice to coordinate moving my arms and legs in sync with the hops but then … joy on the playground and around the Lower Mainland. Thanks, Gurdeep!

Check out his site ( gurdeep.ca) and join the celebration and opportunity to, as Gurdeep puts it – “Have some fun in the chaos.”

Noticing Details

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What makes a person notice?  What makes one person look out the window in the morning and see rain and another person look out the window and notice the exceptionally red breast of the robin trying to pull the long, stretchy worm out of the ground?  Or the difference in the appearance of the cherry blossoms in spring as you travel east through Vancouver?  Or the difference between happy chirping and the sound of going to war to protect young from predators?  Why does the curiosity of the very young diminish as some people grow older but emerge as artistic creation or scientific discovery or unbridled joy in others?

Noticing comes easily to preschoolers.  A short walk can take hours because it is punctuated with countless numbers of studies of rocks, branches, bugs, and wonderings.  I have recently framed a study of birds to hone the observational skills of Kindergarten to Grade 7 students while they are doing “SchoolAtHome” during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Teaching kids to be observers in a face-to-face context is nothing less than joyful.  Discovery is exciting, whether you are making the discovery or watching the “eureka” moment in child.  Of course I speak with the perspective of a long time educator.  In the early years of school, all we need to do is take kids outside and give them time.  To look.  To listen. To smell. To touch.  To note changes over time.  Adding a few open-ended questions sends them deeper into their observational studies.  More focused attention from the obvious to minute detail evolves when you teach older children to use a ruler, a magnifying glass, a set of binoculars, a camera or an iPad with picture and video capacity and provide a format for observations.  Encouragement to make anecdotal notes with drawings of observations unleashes creativity.

When I was little girl, I lived close to Jericho Beach by a big vacant lot.  I called it “The Baking Lot”.  It made sense because all of the neighbourhood kids went to make mud pies and squish in the mud.  We rescued our rubber boots when they were sucked off our feet.   We caught tadpoles, frogs, butterflies and bugs.  We braved stings to capture bees and wasps in glass bottles so we could study them close up. We ventured further afield to the beach and created habitats for our collected crabs to live in.  We built castles that were gobbled by insatiable waves.  Our curiosity was never satisfied and our attention to detail was ever present.

When all of the older kids went off to school, Gordon, John and I were left behind to continue our explorations under the supervision of their mother.  This opened up another world of discovery to me.  The world of “boy” toys.  Growing up in the 60’s with an older sister limited my world to dolls, and fancy dresses.  Now I was able to explore the world of Hot Wheels and pedal cars.  Outdoor observations were assisted with Tonka Trucks as we excavated the land for new bug habitats in the backyard.  We got very dirty and it was all very acceptable and even encouraged.

John and I both emerged into adulthood, still curious and still friends with the unconditional acceptance of tight knit families.  In fact for many years, my kids thought we were related.  John’s curiosity took him into a fascination with antiquity, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Classical Studies and a Diploma in Fine Arts.  My curiosity pushed me to try new things like snow skiing, water skiing, snowboarding, canoeing, hiking, biking, travel, meeting new people and developing interesting relationships.   I emerged with a Bachelor of Education Degree, a Master of Arts Degree in Education with continued diplomas and credentials in language, Special Education, leadership and management.

Both John and I continue to be friends.  Our differences are more readily apparent than our similarities.  He fits the typical mold of an introvert.  I fit the typical mold of an extrovert.  Both of us are voracious readers and lovers of language.  We are definitely mourning the loss of Bard on the Beach this season due to the COVID-19 restriction on large gatherings.  John’s thinking is clarified through listening, reading, art and the lens of a camera.  His understanding of the world is most often communicated in cartoons, paintings and photographs.  My thoughts are formed through listening, reading, writing, talking (to myself, to a series of family dogs, to kids, to adults) and through writing.  My thinking is expressed through language.   Yet our biggest similarity is that both of us continue to  notice.  There is no doubt that asking questions has led both of us down paths to find the answers that matter to us.  It has been important to our learning but it has also been important to how we experience joy in our lives.  Noticing details changes how we experience the world.

Our paths have recently converged once again.  His fancy new camera has focused his attention on capturing the solar system, birds, flowers, the ocean – everything nature.  His mode of communicating his learning – posting the images on Facebook with the name of each bird and observations.  I have channeled his learning into the challenge of teaching observational skills to students online, entice kids to go outside daily for physically distanced activity, and help them to experience joy and gratitude during this tumultuous time.  He has indulged me with setting up a Twitter account @JStCPatrick to tweet out his posts on birds so I can retweet them @LivingstoneVSB and Wild About Vancouver @WildAboutVan.  I hope the sounds, scenes and details about our local birds will pique the interest of my students at Livingstone Elementary.  And of course, I am thinking this may be a future book that John and I co-author.

We all have opportunities to take a closer look.  When we pause to do it, often that is when the discoveries and experiences that mattered most in our lives happen.  It requires a concerted effort to invest the time and create the space to notice the details.  It guarantees learning, joy in the experience and a sense of gratitude for all that is amazing.  For John and I, it has made all the difference.

 

 

 

A Dozen Ways to Find #Joy During COVID-19 Self Isolation

1.  Celebrate a really good cup of coffee first thing in the morning.  I discovered I had one more tin of coffee from the Café Du Monde in New Orleans.  Oh the happy memories of travelling.  Bonus!

2.  Prepare really good food to eat.  It might be cooking old favourites or involve trying some new recipes.  I had just recently came across the recipe for the cinnamon buns that I adored when I was getting my Bachelor of Education Degree at U.B.C.  I am still trying to perfect the carmelized topping that I remember from back in the day!

                                                                                                Aspiring to recreate iconic UBC Cinnamon Buns

3.  Be grateful for small kindnesses.  After I sent my second letter home to parents and students, I got the gift of a drawing from one of my students for the Easter weekend.  It made my day.

4.  Marvel at Springtime Blossoms and amazing views during physically distanced outings.  The cherry blossoms and the magnolias are particularly magnificent right now!

5.  Feed your mind.  Read lots of books.  Fat, sad books.  Non-fiction.  Listen to audiobooks.  Poignant books read by the author and hard-boiled detective novels.  Professional sources.

6.  Write journals, stories, blogs and poems.

7.  Slow down and take time to notice details in familiar places. 

 

8.  Sink your teeth into a great binge watch.   Netflix.  Showtime.  Cable TV.  When else will you invest the time to commit to several seasons in a few days!  A binge watch of  Marie Kondo inspired me to go crazy with organization! 

9.  Start new routines.  I did an online workout and discovered muscles I forgot I had.  

10.  Take the opportunity to do chores that haven’t been done in years.  Or perhaps should be done every week.  The joy for me is in the finished product.  The clean gene skipped me and I find NO enjoyment in this task.  I also find that I am able to control the start and finish of these tasks.  And yes…I do like that.  The big joke when I lived in the suburbs was that if there was ever an earthquake, the coats of paint on the walls would hold up the house!

11.  Plan at home date nights, virtual social times, celebrations, and events – even if it is just a very English tea time.

 

     

     12.  Plan for when life goes back to normal and the possibilities open up.

#NYR2019 – Do Less

One of my favorite reads of 2018 was Andrew Sean Greer’s hilarious book called LESS.  It is a laugh out loud book that has left me thinking about it for a long time.  What matters in life?  A work-life balance is elusive if work comprises a good chunk of what is in fact LIFE.  This year I have one all encompassing New Year’s Resolution.  A resolution that that I’m not even certain is achievable by me.

  1. Do Less.

I have finally come to the conclusion that more is not better.   More is exhausting and never allows for completion, no matter how hard I am running.   It also has a capacity to suck the joy out of life.  I am a writer and consumer of lists.  Things to do to get in shape.  People to call.  Books to read.  Places to go before I die.  Errands to complete.   Things to do before I finish the school year.  The month. The week. The day. Before I get up from my desk.  Goals, tasks and projects.

It all sounds very exhausting.  It is.  I have loved early mornings and delighted in late nights for most of my life.  As a child, my biggest challenge on long summer visits to see my father and step-mother, was staying in bed long enough to not get in trouble in the morning.  As I got older, I loved to read and dance and socialize late into the night.  However, as my Nanny Keenan reported, time moves faster as you get older.  And the lists move beyond fun to include many things that need to be done but do not fill my heart with joy.  I arrive home exhausted and can barely get up from the couch after dinner and an episode of Modern Family.

Ultimately the things I end up doing are not even on my list.  They are the things that jump up in front of me and require my immediate attention.  The time left over does not allow me to derive a sense of accomplishment from list completion.  I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the multitude of things not yet done.  Before I know it, I become a slave to my “Things To Do” list, and people are commenting on why I’m sending emails at 2:30 am.  Weekends are easily consumed trying to catch up.

This year, I aspire to change all of that.  The goal is not just DO LESS but to be JOYFUL DOING LESS.  To prioritize the things that matter most.  What are the things that require my undivided attention?  How is my attention to the task at hand going to make the biggest difference?  To my health?  To my well-being?  To my relationships?  To my integrity?  To the functioning of my school?  To my learning?  To my experience of joy in daily life?

The quest is to NOT to get lost in the minutia.  To engage in the things that matter over the long haul.  Yes, I still have a goal to read 100 books this year.  I didn’t make the target last year. Not because I couldn’t, but because I limited my reading to way too many books that I figured I SHOULD read.  This year, I’m blowing that open.  I still have a plan to get in better shape and relieve stress through exercise.  I will take the time to do the ENTIRE circuit around Stanley Park on my bike.  I’ll take the weekend to go skiing.  When I check off those items on the list, I will feel PURE JOY and NO GUILT.  I still aspire to actively participate in the BC Principal Vice Principal Association Committees, Book Clubs, the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee, write more and embrace other sources of new learning as well.  Learners and learning energize me.  I also aspire to spend more time with students, teachers, parents and colleagues and acknowledge it as time well spent.  Emails, paperwork, and other tasks will not garner my immediate attention.  Everyday, the number one thing on my list will be to do some things that bring me joy.  I will invest in the people and things that I enjoy.  I will accept that I can’t do everything today.  I will do less.

Wild About Vancouver

Wild About Vancouver is a celebration of the outdoors being held from April 18-25, 2018.  Activities are planned by individuals, schools, sports organizations and community groups and centres.  All activities planned during the week are free to participants.   The goal for the week is to generate lots of energy, ideas and momentum for participation in outdoor learning, activities and fun that continues well beyond the week long celebration.  There are lots of opportunities to participate.

  1. Get ideas and register on the Wild About Vancouver  website. Tweet out lesson ideas, activities, events and blog links.  Be sure to include @WildAboutVan so we can retweet and generate some excitement!

Hashtags #getoutside #getoutdoors #outdoorlearning #outdoorclassroom #natureschool 

3.  Email blog posts to banack@ubc.ca

4.  Encourage a friend to participate in an outdoor activity.

  • Ideas from University Hill Elementary School for the 2018 Wild About Vancouver
    • scheduled weekly nature school / outdoor learning experiences
    • Hatch butterflies in the classroom
    • Create a butterfly garden for them to live in when they are released
    • Create an Outdoor Classroom
    • Start a leadership group to teach playground games
    • Plant Potatoes.
    • Start Worm Composting
    • Raise salmon fry  and release them into the wild
    • Read Gillian Judson’s new book, A Walking Curriculum with your staff or community group and try out a few of the walks or ALL 60!
    • Host an Earth Day Barbeque

#GetOutside  #HaveFun

For those interested outdoor enthusiasts outside the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, British Columbia, consider of the continuing the movement in your community!

Have a Hyggelig Day

I inadvertently learned a new word today.  I was following the array of posts and articles on happiness and gratitude.  Long ago, my husband noted that he had never met anyone who worked so hard at being happy.  It was a hard-fought learning from my childhood that has become as natural as breathing, albeit sometimes breathing with a harsh chest cold.  The morning reading included yet another article on how the Danish have a long standing record as being the happiest people in the world.  Hence the new word – hygge (hue-gah).

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, is one of the bibles of this Danish word.  Yet, another internet discovery.  I was taken through a you tube walk through the homes of both a self acclaimed 100% Danish expert returning from a hard day at work and Scottish Diane in Denmark who is married into the expertise.  Apparently life’s simple pleasures really are the best.  Wiking lists 10 things that can be found in the typical Danish home to create the comfy, cozy context to induce this relaxed sense of security and contentment.  It includes everything from candles (or a fireplace), lamps, blankets, books, hot beverages, to wood furniture, comfy clothes and thick, wooly socks.  Apparently I am well on my way to developing my own hygge expertise.  I am certainly committed to doing the research.