A Cuppa with The Queen

“Where are your manners? What would the Queen say?”

Commemorating Coronation of The Queen 1953

The Queen always referenced HMR Queen Elizabeth II.  She was the Queen of our coins, exquisite hats, and good manners.  She was a lady.  The gold standard of manners. My mother was determined that my sister, my cousin, and I would also be ladies.  That if need be, we would be ready to sit down and have tea with the Queen.  Over Kentucky Fried Chicken, we would discuss whether the Queen would use her fingers to eat drumsticks.  We quickly established concensus that she would.

I didn’t grow up in England attending events with the Queen.  And she never did come for tea. I grew up in Canada with a mother who believed in the power of etiquette.  The Queen hung in the halls of my school.  We sang God Save the Queen in my early years of school.  Details of the Queen’s life and family permeated my mum’s conversations with her mother, my aunts, and her friends.  What they wore.  Where they went.  Outrageousness that followed them.  Speculation over the truth of the information.  Yet, my personal connection with the Queen came from drinking tea.

Tea was more than a beverage.  It was a ritual.  When you went to visit, the first thing the hostess did was put on the kettle.  The first thing that my mother would do when someone popped by was put on the kettle.  The tea preference varied.  My Nanny and Mrs. Patrick would only drink black tea, preferable Red Rose.  I always assumed Queen Elizabeth would drink black tea, being a woman of tradition.  My Mom’s favourite tea was Earl Grey.  My Mum’s friend, Joanne, served peppermint.  My Auntie Myrna was more exotic and served rosehip tea and orange spice tea.  If we were lucky and it was a special occasion like a baby or wedding shower or anniversary, we’d also have finger sandwiches.  Those were the days when even Safeway’s would bake the extra-long loaves and slice them lengthwise for perfect rolled sandwiches.

While waiting for the kettle to boil, our attention shifted to choosing the bone china teacup and saucer for our cuppa.  This was a privilege extended only once you proved that you could be trusted with the good china.  Sometimes the selection was based the look of the cup. Sometimes it was about the story of the cup. I liked the cups with a good story even as a child.  So much so that I amassed a collection of tea cups with really good stories.  

One of the best stories, of course, includes the Queen. I had a special bond with my next door neighbour, Mr. McMillan.  We enjoyed a daily chat. My Mum and I moved next door to him and his wife the year my sister went to live with my father and my stepmother in Los Angeles.  I was in Grade 3.  It was not hard to see that my mother was in the process of unravelling, and I was in limbo.  I would ask if I could shovel his snow.  He’d agree then come out to shovel with me and then pay me.  I tried to throw my body at the push lawn mower and he’d come to the rescue with his electric mower.  He helped my Mom and I dig up the garden in the back and gave us the cuttings and seeds to plant.  He taught me about the merits of composting.  He was just as excited as I was when I won third prize for my pumpkins.  Likely because he was the one taking care of them while I went for summer holidays in L.A.   He found no end of amusement when my dog would eat the heads of the marigolds and dig up the carrots for a snack, then jump over the fence to visit him.  

After Mr. McMillan died, his wife invited me over for tea.  We sat.  We chatted.  We talked about her teacups and what we loved about her husband.  We cried.  She went through many of the stories of things I had done over the years that had made Mr. McMillan laugh.  Apparently, he had watched as I piled the paint tin and bricks on top of the ladder to break in the house via my bedroom window when I forgot my key.  He also knew it was me and my friends that broke his gate playing tag at one of my sleepover parties, even before I confessed and apologized.  That he despaired that my Mum and I would throw the dahlia cuttings he gave us into the ground and they would grow twice the size of his.  Then just before I left, she told me that I could choose a teacup from her collection.  Any teacup.

“Any teacup?  Even the Queen teacup?”

“Yes. That is a very special teacup.  That is from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. Long before you were even born.  A Paragon cup.”

The coronation cup has been in my collection of teacups since I was 16 years old.  It is reserved for special occasions.  I got up early on Monday morning to attend the Queen’s funeral.  I made a big pot of tea and got out the coronation teacup.  As you get older, the impact of attending funerals in cumulative.  You experience the loss of everyone who has died before.  You reflect on the past.  The good.  The bad. And the ugly.  The Queen and her life represents so many of the values and attitudes and strength of women in that era.  My grandmothers.  My mother.  My aunts.  Kindred spirits.  Women with perseverance and tenacity and sometimes too much to bear.   Yet it explains why when the going gets tough, the tough put on the kettle.  

Dandelion Dreams – Stories of my past

Back to School for Teachers:  Building Classroom Culture

I loved Back to School throughout my career as an educator.  I loved buying new school supplies.  Choosing new posters.  Back to school clothes shopping.  Fresh bulletin boards. Welcoming students to a new school year.  I was a big believer in tapping into student excitement to be back and involving them in creating an inclusive culture.  The concept of “inclusive classrooms” has become a buzz word in education and too often void of meaning.  It is worth the time for educators to think through what that means and plan deliberate steps, so all students feels like they belong the minute they walk into the classroom to start a new school year.  

Learning Names 

My first job was in a Grade 2 classroom in the Abbotsford School District.  Sandy Murray also taught Grade 2 and we did a lot of our planning collaboratively.  At her insistence, we used singing games to learn the names of the students in our two classes.  Although music was not my strong suit, the song experience games provided an excellent avenue to use repetition and practice for us to pronounce student names correctly and the language for kids to say when their name was not being pronounced quite right.  The class would sing:

“Hickety, tickety, bumble bee, can you sing your name for me?”

The child would sing or say his / her name.  The class would repeat the name.  Then the student would have the chance to respond with a yes or no.  We’d repeat the child’s name until we got it right.  Several students had unfamiliar South Asian names so sometimes it took several times.  The follow up was using the child’s name throughout the day and checking that it is being pronounced correctly, as well as encouraging the students in the class to do the same thing.  This process would be repeated when a new child joined the class later in the year. 

The message to students that each one of them was important and we cared enough to get the correct pronunciation.    

Although when teaching older students or adults I didn’t use singing games, I discovered it was equally important to learn names.  We came up with other names games to accomplish the task.  When I was teaching teachers in China, it became part of morning English language warm up.  Investment in class was higher and behaviour was better once I had learned names.  It is hard to develop a relationship with students if they are part of the anonymous masses.  

Respectful Classroom Environments 

I had a Grade 9 English teacher who would regularly say,

“People, everyone should have their hand up!  Even *Kevin has his hand up.”

She always got a laugh and Kevin got derisive sneers.  The obvious implication was that Kevin was not too bright and even he had the answer.  The less obvious implication was that it was completely acceptable in that classroom to target and ridicule other students.  I certainly wasn’t taking any risks in my learning in that class, and neither was anyone else.  All Kevin’s energy was directed to his reptilian brain with survival as his modus operandi.  

Respectful treatment of students is required for teachers to cultivate respectful environments.   That is easy on good days when students are following classroom rules and able to self-regulate their own behaviour.  This is less so in the face of blatantly unacceptable behaviour.  If the teacher or principal treats a student like he is a bad or naughty kid, then so will the rest of the class.  That child will be excluded from the group and likely receive fewer birthday invitations.  

From pre-school to university, there is a jockeying for social power.  I have a daughter and a son, so it was interesting to watch the difference between their worlds.  In my son’s world, the focus was on activity.  You didn’t have to be the best at the activity, but you had to show up to be accepted.  One day in middle school, my son went snowboarding with friends.  One of the very athletic kids was making fun and ridiculing the newest snowboarder.  He was shunned by the group until he agreed to stop being suck a jerk.  It was a tougher go in girl world.  Girls were fully aware of the power of gossip and exclusion.  Modelling by a mother or an older sister often provided the scaffolding for the “mean girl” that enhanced their social power and ability to impose misery.

The hit or the shove is more obvious and usually noticed by teachers.  We know by now that the old saying is just not true:”

“Sticks and stones will break my bones,

Words will never hurt me.”

Words scar.  Exclusion alienates.  They must be identified, discussed, and an action plan must be implemented with the involvement of students and parents.

A Focus on Self-Regulation Strategies 

Expecting conflict and behaviour challenges in the classroom will help you to prepare you intervention. Students do not generally come to school wanting to wreak havoc or annoy the teacher or lash out at their peers.   However, many students do come to school with an inability to manage big emotions and cope with stress.  All students need to develop an ability to identify the emotions they are feeling and strategies to cope with them.  In some cases, children are coming from homes with well-meaning parents who have intervened to prevent the child from developing these skills.  Parent do not do their child any favours when they try to remove all stress and conflict and prevent the development of coping skills. 

There are many tools and published programs that are available to teach self-regulation strategies.  Starting the year by having children in the class create a bank of emotions, situations that prompt these feelings, and coping strategies is powerful.  The diversity of emotions, situations that prompt them and coping strategies is always interesting and informative.  My students always knew that exercise or a pot of earl grey tea was one of my coping strategies when the going got tough.  

At one point a very frustrated teacher delivered four fighting boys to my office.  I had just finished a meeting and my big tea pot and cups were still on the table in my office.

“Is the tea for us?”

“Would you like a cup of tea?” I replied.

“Yeah, I would.”

“Do you have sugar?”

“Yes, and milk, too.”

That sealed the deal.  The teacher came to check on the boys because they had been so aggressively fighting.  In my goodbye speech when I left that school, the teachers recounted,

“I walked into that room and there were my boys, sitting drinking tea and talking about their feelings.”

In my debrief with the boys, we had a lot of discussion about the calm down strategies they could add to their repertoire.  Was it the Earl Grey Tea?  Taking some time to calm down?  Having a chance to express their feelings?  In four out of four cases, they decided that all of them would go on their lists.  

When students are escalating, directing them to their calm down strategies creates a different focus and provides them with something to give them a feeling of control.  It also gives the teacher the ability to compliment the student on the ability to use their calm down strategies.  This doesn’t mean you don’t deal with the problem.  That needs to happen but problem solving needs to come from a place of calmness and in private away from an audience.  My four fighting boys were involved in choosing the consequences for their inappropriate behaviour.  They were more severe than I would have assigned.  All the parents were on side because their child explained the resolution process during the parent-child-principal meeting.

It is instructive for students to learn that everyone gets upset and that calming down is the first step to dealing with the problem.  It also allows for problem solving to be moved to a private place to avoid further embarrassment.  

I always provided a separate desk and, in some cases, a few extra desks that students could choose to work. Making the choice to work in a quiet workspace was a student choice, sometimes at the recommendation of the teacher.  Choosing a quiet workspace becomes a self-regulation strategy and replaces the archaic tradition of the student desk beside the teacher.  This labels the child as problematic, isolates him / her from the group and undermines the child’s belief in his/ her ability to control his/her behaviour.  

Differentiating Between Helpful and Hurtful Behaviour

“I was only telling the truth!”

I have dealt with this response in preschool, elementary school, middle school, secondary school, and in my own life.  It is often paralleled with,

“I’m being a good friend.”

The most helpful response I have used, “Is it helpful or hurtful?”

Truth or versions of it can be used as weapons and too often are.  This often plays out as reporting something hurtful someone else has said, most often in confidence.  Motivations are sometimes targeted to hurt due to jealousy or anger about another incident.  It never has to do with being a helpful friend.  Often, the intention is just to exert social power and ensure control.  

Children need to think through who they want to be in the world.  In the classroom or in social interactions, people need to understand that is a choice to make someone’s life a little bit better or a little bit worse.  For the students that chooses to hurt, they need to ask themselves why they lashed out.  For the person on the receiving end, there is also a decision to be made.  How do I want to be treated?  Is the person who repetitively hurts intentionally a good friend?  In school situations, social distancing is not an option but controlling the information you share is still under your control, as is expanding other friend groups.

Collaborative Learning 

I dreaded “group” work, particularly in university when the marks assigned made a difference to future aspirations.  My kids felt the same way about it all through school.  The kids that cared about the grades did the work, often for group members who were less able or less willing.  As we have come to appreciate portfolio assessment in the school system, this has improved somewhat, but only with careful planning.  The value of collaborating with peers extends far beyond preparation for the workplace.   Getting to know peers opens an avenue of support and learning in classrooms with respectful environments.  

The expectation that everyone will work by themselves, in pairs, in small and in large groups should be an expectation set up at the beginning of the year.  There should also be an expectation that everyone has skills, background experiences, strengths and challenges that help all of us to learn and grow in some way.  That growth could include patience, empathy, or knowledge.  There should also be an understanding from day one that everyone in the class deserves to be treated with respect.  The decision to make someone’s day a little bit better by a small kindness not only makes a difference for the person but also for how you feel about yourself.  

“I hate that kid” or “Oh no!  Not her!” is not acceptable language in respectful classrooms.  It is hurtful, not helpful.  Teachers must assume responsibility for functioning in the group.  Members must have clarity around roles and responsibility in the group.  In some cases, the roles and responsibilities will need to be taught.  Active listening is a skill to be developed for the group to function.  If a group member is not functioning in the group, they require support in self-regulating.   This is the responsibility of the teacher, not the group members.  Assigning a mark based on the work not completed by one group member is the reason that cooperative groups continued to be reviled in some school and work contexts.  

Seating Arrangements 

Seating arrangements are easier once you have established a respectful environment in your classroom.  I also found it was helpful to have seating arrangements that change and some student choice in the process.  I usually created groups of four because they lend themselves to the “Think, Pair, Share” and Think, Pair, Square” strategies for concept development and discussion.  The following guidelines are helpful:

Choose a friend you can work with?  Some friends are for giggling with on the playground.

Choose someone you don’t know very well.

Choose someone you think you can learn something interesting.

Choose someone outside of your friend group.

You decide on the guidelines with your students.  I tried to put one person on their self-selected list in their groups.  Groups changed at least every month.  Every student was placed in a group.  Every student understands they will be working with every child in the class.  


Building classroom culture is complex and will require your effort throughout the year.  However, these six considerations will make an immediate difference in your classroom.   They will impact how students see themselves and how they see others.  They will also cement parental support if the rationale is communicated to parents prior to classroom conflicts.  Learning to deal with people in a respectful way is learned behaviour.  The pressures of covid and modern-day politics have lent themselves to several interaction patterns that are not respectful.  You will need to be vigilant to ensure that respect is the cornerstone of your classroom.  It will take time and talk.  It will be worth it!

*Kevin – name changed to avoid this unfortunate student more embarrassment

Family Tradition at the PNE

Classic Roller Coaster Fun

As a kid growing up in Vancouver, the annual Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) was greeted with great anticipation and excitement.  It had something for everyone from kids to grandparents.  Buying tickets and lining up to win the PNE Prize Home was the first requirement for my mum, her siblings, and my Nanny Keenan.  As was crossing your fingers to win the show home!  Candy apples, cotton candy, the Petting Zoo, stuffed animal wins from the games in the breezeway and looking through the trade show were also standard fair.  

It did in fact take YEARS for me to finally get out of the Kiddieland and reach the line required for me to ride the rides I longed for.  Although my mother was never a daredevil, the old wooden roller coaster was part of her youth so we would ride it again and again.  All of her siblings had summer jobs and connections at the P.N.E.  Often, we’d travel to the PNE in a large Keenan family pack and break off into groups and then reconnect for horse or dog shows, or meals.  My Auntie Myrna had Coke Booth connections so my cousin Darlene and my sister worked at the Coke Booth, and it was a meeting spot that everyone could find.  

I considered the Ferris wheel in the realm of “calm” rides so when I’d babysit my younger cousins, I take them down on the bus and we’d take our breaks on the ferris wheel.  Their Mom, my Auntie Peggy would have a fit. Her youthful memory was of my Uncle Al and his brother Alfie rocking the little buggy until she felt like it was going to tip.  I didn’t rock cart.  I took my babysitting very seriously!

Part of the fun of the rides was the thrill of “danger.”  I have clear memories of my sister being terrified on the Double Ferris wheel. A ride we had picked out to be very calm for her.  Darlene, and I made faces instead of screaming because my sister sat between us, eyes squeezed shut, praying for our survival.  My friend, Armando, made is very clear he would NOT be riding the Zipper with me again and could not believe it was my favourite ride.  Instead, we ended up nauseous on the Spider ride.  Another closed in upside-down contraption ride had to be put in reverse because my cousin Ryan conveyed enough legitimate terror.   One of my most fun times at the P.N.E. was when my cousin, Darlene, took me to the P.N.E. for my birthday when we were in high school.  We were ride compatible and ran the whole night from ride to ride, screaming at will. 

My husband is also a fan of fast and wildly exciting rides.  It may have been a prerequisite for marriage.   Once the kids came along, we’d flip a coin for who would “win” and get to take Larkyn to the kiddieland rides while the other would take Tyler to the fun rides with the height requirement.  It didn’t take Tyler long to figure it out.

“The winner is the really the one who gets to go on the good rides with me, huh, Mummy!”

Today we are heading out the PNE once again. Dancing to Chicago tunes, hot mini-donuts, Skeeball, Whack-a-Mole, duelling pianos, the Show Home visit and a new cell phone case are on the list of musts. Good fun. Can’t wait! More memories to create!

Dandelion Dreams is the section of my blog devoted to myself as a writer. The name is inspired by my favourite piece of art by David Klassen. It was previously known as Sunday’s Child. Too many of us were born on a Sunday.

Introducing WILD ABOUT Outdoor Learning Society

Wild About Outdoor Learning Society

Wild About Vancouver has split its seams. The work and networks of WAV (pronounced “wave”) now extend well beyond the boundaries of Vancouver, British Columbia. What started as a grassroots movement in 2015 spearheaded with the zestful enthusiasm of Dr. Hart Banack, and a team of outdoor education advocates, has morphed into an incorporated non-profit society in British Columbia called Wild About Outdoor Learning Society. It has retained and expanded its original mandate to encourage people to #GetOUTdoors and #GetINvolved in their local community. Wild About Outdoor Learning Society has adopted educational, environmental, recreational, and charitable goals to educate and support the people of British Columbia. Wild About goals are based on the body of research documenting the many ways that time spent outdoors positively impacts health and wellness, as well as environmental outcomes.

City Farmer Compost Garden on The Arbutus Greenway Bike Path

Wild About Outdoor Learning Society has four goals that are deeply entwined and articulated in our constitution.  

  1. Wild About Outdoor Learning will provide options and support personal engagement in accessible outdoor opportunities for people in British Columbia to fully participate to advance their learning, physical, mental health, and environmental engagement. 

2. Wild About Outdoor Learning will provide opportunities for people to build community through actively participating outdoors in social activity. 

3. Wild About Outdoor Learning will heighten the potential for environmental stewardship by educating and engaging British Columbians, outdoors and on the land.   

4. Wild About Outdoor Learning will strengthen networking across the groups involved in promoting the value of time spent outdoors to create connections and structure collaborative activities between local groups including families, youth, Indigenous, seniors, new British Columbians, community organizations, schools, teacher education programs, and other allies. 

Wild About Outdoor Learning Society success will depend on the enthusiasts who share a passion for the outdoors to improve physical health, mental health, environmental relationships, and community engagement for the people of British Columbia.  As with Wild About Vancouver (WAV), Wild About will do what we can to network and support groups with like-minded interests and goals. 

The annual Tidal WAV (pronounced “wave) is a success that will continue and become a model for other communities to plan, promote and sponsor outdoor learning festivals in their own communities.  Perhaps Wild About West Van, Wild About Chilliwack, Wild About Prince George and Wild About ??? (Hopefully your community in B.C.)  Eventbrite sessions, TwitterChats, and face2face sessions will provide information and templates to facilitate fundraising, planning, and implementation of events for people in the community to #getOUTdoors and #getINvolved in an outdoor learning festival.  

We will continue to encourage participation in adding to the lesson plans ideas for educators and provide educational sessions to support educators.  Last year Meg Zeni’s online session, Outdoor Play and Learning in the Rain, was well subscribed to and perfect for those of us living in the temperate rainforest.  Karen Addie’s session provided useful connections between books and science instruction.  The list of 100 books to support outdoor learning collated by the BC Literacy Association for the Tidal WAV 2022 also serves to be a helpful resource.  

We welcome and encourage mass participation in Wild About Outdoor Learning Society.  Our members and community partners will be vital in sharing out the information, networking opportunities, and educational events in their local community.  To serve on the board of directors, steering committee, or vote at our AGM, you will need to be a member of the Wild About Outdoor Learning Society.  Stay tuned for how to become a member.  

Congrats to Dr. Judith Scott for induction into Reading Hall of Fame

Congrats Dr. Judith Scott aka Judy Scott

The British Columbia Literacy Association is proud to announce that Dr. Judith Scott is one of five 2022 inductees into The Reading Hall of Fame. On December 1st, she will join the 136 living members in the RHF and will receive one of the highest honours bestowed on literacy scholars worldwide. Dr. Scott recently retired from the University of California – Santa Cruz in the Department of Education where she taught for 22 years. While at UCSC, she served as the Chair of Academic Senate Committees on Teaching and Career Advising, the Chair of the Indigenous Faculty Networking program, the Director of the Vocabulary Innovations in Education Consortium, and Principal Investigator of the Central California Writing Project. She has also been the Chair of Undergraduate Programs in Education, Graduate Director for the Ph.D. program, Chair of the Language, Literacy and Culture specialization as well as the Co-Director of a Professional Development Institute in California that served over 350 new and veteran teachers for three years, focused on English Language learning using teacher inquiry and coaching. In her spare time, she was the Principal Investigator of four large grants funded by the United States Department of Education/National Center for Educational Research and the State of California.

In Canada, the British Columbia Literacy Council proudly embraces Judy as our own. She was a well-loved member of the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University from 1991 – 2000. She was also instrumental in creating the Early Literacy Network of 52 school districts in B.C. and active in our International Reading Association chapter. Throughout her career, Judy has been known for her support of classroom teachers and recognized their pivotal role in putting research into practice. Her focus has always been on how to evoke a sense of playful discovery in the teaching and learning of words. We are thrilled for her work to be acknowledged and for her to take her place alongside educators such as Ken and Yetta Goodman, Rob Tierney, P. David Pearson, Shirley Brice-Heath, Annmarie Palincsar, Allan Luke, Vicki Purcell-Gates and David Olson.

An appreciation of the power of words has always been part of Judy’s life.  Her stay-at-home Mom was an avid reader with an exceptionally well-developed vocabulary.  Her Dad is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and use to read the dictionary on a regular basis to improve his vocabulary.  His parents instilled in him that proficiency in English was the way to success.  His time in boarding school in Oklahoma, where one of his seven siblings died, fueled a keen desire to create a better life for himself.  He recognized early on that you couldn’t change first impressions, but you could change minds when you opened your mouth.  Judy was a middle child.  With an older brother who became a lawyer and a younger sister who became a teacher, good communication skills were needed to survive.

Judy’s interest in words followed her into her graduate studies with Richard Anderson and her work with Bill Nagy at the Center for the Study of Reading.  Her work on vocabulary acquisition and blending vocabulary instruction with effective teacher education within the context of language, literacy and culture has received international recognition throughout her career, but this is a particularly note-worthy honour.  

Since retirement, Judy has pivoted into working as an educational consultant in the private sector. This has allowed her to focus on the work she believes will make the biggest impact. Her first children’s book, When the Mission Bells Rang, was written in consultation with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. It tells the story of colonization through an Indigenous lens using the voices of the animals in the Monterey Bay area whose lives were disrupted by the Spanish Missions along with those of the Indigenous peoples. The Mutsun names for animals are used in this story and underline the sophistication of the Amah Mutsun culture that had evolved in the area for thousands of years before the Spaniards arrived in the late 1700’s. The inclusion of the Mutsun vocabulary speaks volumes and underlines the power that words carry.

For more information go to:

The Reading Hall of Fame

Parking the “Momma Bear”

As a kid, I was shopping downtown with my mother.  I headed to the counter to pay for my purchase.  The woman at the counter kept taking the purchases of the adults around me.  I repeatedly said excuse me and held up my money.  She continued to ignore me.  I watched my mother checking her wristwatch and she gave me the non-verbal prompt to stand up straight.  And then she lost patience.

“Excuse me. You have a customer waiting politely to pay for her purchase,” said my mother in a cold, icy tone that never ceased to get attention. The clerk was in the process of reaching over my head, yet again. She froze and looked at my mother, then at me.

“Will you be serving your next customer, or do I need to get your manager?”

At this point I didn’t even want my purchase anymore.  My preference was to just slink away.  My mother was having no part of it.  Her stare bore holes in the woman as she took my money, bagged my purchase, and thanked me for shopping at Woodward’s.

“Don’t you ever let anyone treat you with disrespect!  You have as much right as the next person to be here.  If her manager knew that she was treating a paying customer that way, she could be fired.”  

I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but I was at counter height, so I was young. One moment in the life of a primary school student frozen in time. You cannot protect your child from being treated disrespectfully but you can teach them how to process the incident and believe they can handle it. Had my mother stepped in to deal with the situation herself, I would have learned that she can stand up in the face of wrong. As a young child I learned to stand up straight, stand my ground and identify that I could deal with the situation even when it made me uncomfortable.

I have a rule. When I ask a child or a young person a question, I wait for them to answer. It always amazes me how quickly a parent will step in to answer for their child or how often children look to their parent to answer for them. Children will not develop the ability to think, and problem solve for themselves in a void. Communication skills require practice. Good communication skills also allow your child to develop meaningful relationships with people who cannot read her mind. This will be a good source of fun, support and meaningful engagement throughout their lives.

The ability to say, “Excuse me, can I get by, please” happens when the child needs to navigate through a group of people. Allow her to navigate and learn that she can. Your job as a good parent is not to do everything for your child. You job is to teach your child to independently cope with the challenges in life.

Do not take away learning opportunities from your child. Engage them in conversations about what they think. Ask them to explain their own thinking. Let her evolve into the person she is meant to be. It will take time. This is not just one conversation, but a life skill that needs practice to develop. It will also give you insight into your child as a unique human entity.

I regularly interact with adults who are unable to verbalize how they are feeling and why.  This frequently corresponds with conflict avoidance.  This is the bare minimum to being treated respectfully in life and to navigating conflict situations. Big or small.  And yet they managed to get to adulthood without it.

“I didn’t like it when you embarrassed me in front of the group when you said…”

This statement allows one thing to happen. The person involved addresses the situation. It could be that it was not her intention to embarrass with the comment, and she apologizes and repairs the relationship. It could be that she was intentional in trying to embarrass you but learns you will call her out on her behaviour. It may be that this person doesn’t care. Then you know. You are able to convey that you expect better. And believe it.

Your job as a supportive parent is to let your child know that you believe in her to deal with difficult situations. Many times, as a child, I did not want to leave the safety, security and fun with family and friends at my home in Vancouver to go to live in Los Angeles for the summer with my father, step-mother, my older sister, and two younger siblings. I experienced a lot of disapproval, exclusion, and never quite understood the rules I seemed to be breaking. My mother was the queen of outlining the positive aspects of nurturing these relationships. Her belief that I could singlehandedly make these relationships better without compromising my own identity was perhaps overly optimistic. However, I always knew that when I got home, her unconditional love and warm hug would be there. Although my mother succumbed to her battle with breast cancer years ago, her steadfast approval for the person I am lives on. That is the enduring mark of a great parent.

Back to School Series: For Parents – Part 1

A Perfect Sturgeon Moon


Sturgeon Moon

“Many, many moons ago”, I saw my first moon.  The old expression of my mother and her mother, captures the cyclical nature of time quite perfectly.  I love the moon as much, or perhaps even more than the sun. On special “moon” days, I have gotten on my bike to find the perfect place to watch the moon rise into the sky.  Our condo also has an upstairs deck where you can watch the moon.  However, I have never in my “many moons” ever seen such an amazing moon as the sturgeon moon a few nights ago.  Perhaps it was that I ventured out of bed and on to the deck at the perfect time.  Perhaps it was the place.  Perhaps it was luck. On this particular night, I was not on high alert for anything.

Certainly the night sky takes on a new light when you are high in the mountains away from city lights. However, the moon was so bright the other night that I initially thought it was a flashlight being shone in my window.  It crept around the cabin towards Carson Peak, the stream and then the lake.  It evoked descriptions of moonlight in a multitude of books I’ve read but obviously never understood.  Until now. The moon was not just something beautiful in the sky but a dominant force of the night sky. 

Everything was alight.  The waterfall on the mountain is usually identifiable as a dark streak down the mountain with a hint of movement depending on how much the dam ordains.  However, the bright light from the moon reflected off the waterfall and it looked like molten silver running down the mountainside.  It was magical enough that I sat down and watched the moon move across the sky and imagined what else was going on 

by the light of the moon.

A Dandelion Dreams post.

The Birth of a Birder – Part 2

Mono Lake County Park

I learned so much with my first Bird Outing at Mono Lake County Park and Tufa State Natural Reserve Boardwalk, that I decided to attend another.  I got caught up having coffee with the Red breasted Sapsuckers, the Steller’s Jay, the Hummingbird, the Mallard Ducks  and the Coots at Silver Lake. I was late for birdwatching!  My Birding Buddies were gone.  Logical consequences!  There was no sight of them when I arrived.  I had taken the advice of my last California Parks interpreter and purchased a comprehensive bird identification manual.  Did I really need a group?  

I headed through the park and met a robin.  I did not need the manual for this one.  The robin is a bird I can identify by sound and by sight, and likely in my sleep.  It is the first bird I remember from childhood in Vancouver, British Columbia.  I watched it stretch worms out of the ground before I went to school.   I sang about it in Kindergarten.  I love how it delights in the Vancouver rain yet is versatile enough that it can also thrive in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Years of observation has delighted and served a purpose in my life as a birder.  I felt my confidence grow and headed out on my solo birding venture.

I continued to hear lots but see little in the park.  The field guide doesn’t help if the bird won’t stay in one place.  And the antique binoculars belong on the mantle by the Mallard Duck lamp in the cabin.  My confidence as a birder waned.  I continued towards the boardwalk and the tufa towers.  I paid attention.  I heard a lot, saw some movement and the flicker of feathers in the wetlands as I proceeded down the boardwalk toward the tufa towers.  My attention was diverted.  Lizards.  Small ones.  Large ones the size of my outstretched hands.  Ones with bright blue iridescent chests when they lifted their heads to consider me.  And they stayed in one place so I could get a good look without binoculars.  

At the end of the boardwalk, I was able to identify the obvious birds in the mix.  The lone Canadian Goose.  Another familiar friend.  The myriad of Eared Grebes.  The sheer quantity made identification obvious.  The young Osprey poking their heads from their nest on their tufa tower castle.  The California Gulls so familiar yet so distinctly different with their black feathers and smaller size as compared to the massive Glaucous Gulls on the Vancouver beaches of home.  The dainty, long legged Avocets and the Phalaropes with their very functional needle-like bill. 

I made my way back towards the park, only to discover an obvious group of birders on another unfamiliar part of the park.  Binoculars faced skyward.  Telltales light clothing.  Hats.  Not one but two spotting scopes in the group.  I cut through the sprinklers and connected with my people.  

“We haven’t seen a robin, yet,” mutters one of the birders. 

Her self-appointed task is tallying birds and carting the second of the spotting scopes.  This person is an experienced birder and has also done the interpreter job.  The second spotting scope is for her to enters all of the information of birds sighted on the eBird APP so we can access the information from today’s bird watching endeavour.  This information is also fed into several initiatives involved in preservation of species.  She is very focused on the task and does not participate in small talk in the group.  

“I just saw a robin in the park.” Pleased that I have a contribution to redeem myself for being late.    

“Hhhmmm.  I guess I could check that off on the list,” she replies doubtfully.

Dave, was filling in for the regular California State Parks interpreter on this Bird Outing.  He retired a few years ago from this same job, where he had worked since 1983.  Word was out that Dave would be sharing his expertise. It was not a group of tourists like the last group, but a group of mostly locals who had been birding for years.

Dave is no doubt a font of knowledge but in a very humble laid-back kind of way.  He is the kind of guy who his favourite bird song on his iPhone.  He has an APP with bird sounds but doesn’t like to use it when he’s out birding because it disrupts that natural life of the birds.  In fact if he did want to garner the attention of the birds, he could do it without the APP.  Dave loves songs about birds.  His advice, get to know the sounds of birds.  

“It will give you a hint of where to look and what to look for.”

Since reading the book Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear, I ask everyone about the bird that drew them into the world of birding.  Dave’s “spark” bird was the Red-necked Phalarope.  Not surprising.  He sets up his spotting scope for us to get a good look.  He is familiar with this bird but obviously continues to delight in watching it.  He points out one of these birds swimming in tight circles and focuses the spotting scope on it. It looks very much like a little kid spinning around until she gets dizzy and falls on the ground.

“Why do you think they do that?”  

The probing question of an effective mentor.  Good teaching techniques in other fields always impress me.

“Chasing lunch?” was my guess.

“Actually, it is stirring up the larvae and alkali flies and bringing lunch closer to himself.”

Another illustration of smart behaviour from our feathered friends with the small brains that we continually underestimate.  Dave has well developed background knowledge that I assumed came from a degree in biology.  In fact, it was acquired through the pursuit of his passion for birds.  Another example of the power of inquiry learning.  

Dave identifies the bird call before he sees the bird.  He focuses his attention.  Waits. Then smiles. A genuine smile that has been sparked by joy.

“And there he is.  The Violet-green Swallow.  And there he goes.  Doing what Violet-green Swallows do, catching a bug in flight!”

Another clue that I will remember to verify what I’m looking at.  I have never been quick enough to locate the Violet -blue swallow with my binoculars or see it in the spotting scope before it is gone. And that is the beauty of a good mentor. They provide the hints that you need when you need them that allow for that “eureka” moment.

Identifying birds by sight can be as mystifying as identifying them by sound unless you know some tricks. One need to know fact is the male Mallard and many of the other male birds shed their colours after mating season. So my dabbling ducks by the cabin that look like Mallards and sound like Malillards are likely Mallards. A yellow bill to go with those orange legs is the male. The duck with the orange and black bill saying the iconic “quack, quack” is the female. Eureka! Mystery solved.

I have finally figured out that it’s a man’s world, even in bird world. Many of the birds are named after the male in mating season. He is not going to the gym or flashing cash, he is sporting some bright colourful plumage. So the Red Headed Duck, the Red Necked Phalarope or the Mallard may not be sporting any colour at all. This being the case, I ran to my handy identification manual when I saw black woodpecker with a white head and white markings. I went through two books before I discovered the name. A White-headed Woodpecker. Sometimes the name is quite descriptive. Or Sometimes it is named after the person who discovered it like the Clark’s Nutcrackers around Saddlebag Lake. They were discovered by Clark of the famed Lewis and Clark when they were trekking around Idaho in 1805.

Another hint that is important is about how to recognize one bird call in the myriad of calls. A little personification always helps. The hint that the Yellow Warbler is in the neighbourhood when you hear,

“Sweet, sweet, sweet.” has made all the difference for me.

“Oh, THERE’S a robin,” exclaims the “official” tracker.

“I told you I saw a robin.” 

“Yes, you did.”  

Clearly, I am continuing to radiate “novice.”  I am still sporting my antique binoculars and perhaps chatting too much and I am wearing black shorts.  Verification was required prior to including my sighting in the “official” count.  And yet, I can identify a robin with confidence. And with continued mentoring there is hope for my birding future!  

My Dad At the Cabin

Silver Lake – June Lake Loop, California

Sitting in his spot,

on the couch by the window,

Looking out on the lake, 

Clouds hovering low,

The juniper berries on the table reminiscent of the gin and tonics

I mixed for him as a child,

Playing bartender.

Considering the rocky path leading up toward Carson Peak,

To God,

Or at least to the waterfall,

To cool off in the now forbidden waters

Plunging down the mountain.

Or fishing early in the morning

When no one else was interested in getting up.

Quiet times.

Just me and my dad.

And it was good.  

Dandelion Dreams – the section of my blog devoted to my personal writing and reflections. The name is inspired by my favourite piece of art by David Klassen.

What is a Birder?

“Serious” Birders

For years I have done bird units with my students.  First as an elementary teacher introducing the basics of scientific observation of habitats.  Later as a middle school teacher facilitating inquiry studies.  As a COVID principal and entrepreneur, it provided a catalyst to get children outside and engaged.   It encouraged them to stop, listen and take notice of what was going on around them.  It sparked joy.  Since I can remember, I have connected with specific birds at specific times in my life.   The robin in kindergarten.  The seagull I aspired to be in Grade 2.  The red-winged blackbird that intrigued me at the cabin.  The eagles in the Haida Gwaii.  The stellar jay when I had a debilitating sinus infection.  The crow that shepherded my Mom when she was in hospice.  The blue heron that graces my presence with calm along the seawall.  Yet, I never considered myself a “real birder.”  I am a “faux birder.”  But then again, what is a birder?

On Sunday, I talked my husband into going to the U.S. Forest Services Bird walk in Mono County of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  We proceeded 5 miles past Lee Vining and down Cemetery Road to the County Park.  I spotted the birders.  There was no doubt in my mind they were birders.  Light clothing.  Hats. Binoculars around their neck and big cameras.  Clearly, they fit the stereotype of birders.   I proceeded to say hello, as my husband engulfed himself in a cloud of bug spray.  He is not a birder.  Just a husband with a willingness to play.  One man mistook me as the leader of the group.  Clearly another husband with a good attitude, along for the ride.

Our leader from California State Parks arrived with what looked like a massive telescope and tripod used to study planets, falling stars and other space phenomena. She went through introductions. One couple from Monterey. Another couple from out of state visiting the area. And my husband and I from Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. And our birding leader, Catherine, also initially from out of state. Catherine, handed out bird identification sheets and with incredible grace looked at me and said,

“I have some other binoculars that you could use, unless you prefer your own.”

I glanced down at my opera style binoculars that I had thrown in the car for the road trip.  I glanced over at the binoculars around my husband’s neck that had been sitting in the cabin since 1972.  

“No, yours would be good!  Thanks.”

And we were off.  The beauty of this location was that it converged on three different habitats.  We started off in a meadow, interestingly enough belonging to Los Angeles.  The looming question of water rights has been pervasive in this area since Los Angeles started to suck Mono Lake dry in 1941 by diverting water from its tributaries to thirsty Los Angeles.  Then we moved into the County Park where a Native American group was hosting an event.  Then finally to the Protected area of the oldest lake in North America, Mono Lake with tufa towers created when calcium rich freshwater springs seep up from the lake bottom and mix with the lake waster s rich in carbonates.  This alkaline lake that is too salty for fish has was home to the Kootzaduka’a Peoples pre-Gold Rush, for thousands of years and continues as a habitat to brine shrimp, alkali flies, and millions of birds.  

Fortunately, the smoke from the Mariposa Fire did not thwart our bird watching efforts.  We listened.  We looked for movement.  We were very attentive.  We made observations and consulted our references.  Catherine was quick with her giant magnification tool and we saw birds up close.   In fact, after a life of being surrounded by robins, through the scope I was able to observe a mother robin feeding two babies.  It was like watching the videocam set up right by the Blue Heron rookery at Stanley Park or the eagle nests in Delta.  Amazing.  

I learned that the darting redhead I have been seeing while hiking is in fact the Ruby Breasted Sapsucker, that is prolific in the area.  The bird waking me up each morning is the Downy Woodpecker.  I learned that the osprey love making their nest with the safety of tufa towers in Mono Lake and commuting for food.  I learned that one of the Osprey that we were viewing in the nest was the baby even though it was almost the same size as the mother.  I also learned that the hundreds of birds on Mono Lake were Eared Grebes and they were there for the alkali flies and brine shrimp.  That the American Coots were not actually ducks.  With support, I learned that what really differentiated a birder is the extent of the background knowledge and that something or some bird has sparked their interest.  

Catherine, our California Parks Ranger, was drawn into the world of birding through a summer internship.  She spent her time in a museum cataloguing specimen of birds.  At that time, she became fascinated by the seemingly infinite differences and the capabilities of the birds she was studying.  In her book, Birds, Art, Life, Kyo Maclear talks about “spark” birds or the birds that first draw you in.  Kathryn says her husband, who also a birder in their first years of dating, refers to these as “gateway birds.”  People in the group shared theirs.  My friend John was drawn into the world of birds through the lens of a camera.  One of the group members was brought in during covid because it was a safe and interesting outdoor activity.

What I loved about this birding group was the coming together with a quest to learn.  The experts. The novices.  The “faux” birders all united in the quest to see a bird.  Identify it.  And share in the celebration of the sighting.  The process is not one of direct instruction, but one of mentoring.  Of inviting everyone in.  An inclusive sense of belonging emerges quite quickly.  A friend at home shares that she has been welcomed into her birding group even with her less than serious interest in becoming a “real” birder.  I have been coming to our family cabin since I was 10 years old.  Except for the robins, stellar jays and Canadian geese, it is a whole new world of birds.  Even the California Gulls are markedly different from our Glaucous Gull variety on the beaches of Vancouver.  

I learned in our group to never underestimate the power of a good resource.  Kathryn was quick to make a prediction and even quicker to verify using her well-worn bird identification guide.  With mentoring, I saw the Lazuli Bunting, Yellow Warblers, tiny Blackbirds, house wrens, the Western Tanager, the Tiger Swallow, Wilson’s Snipe, the Mourning Dove and the Eurasian Collared Dove, the Downy Woodpecker, the Violet Green Swallow, Marsh’s Wren, the House Finch, Bullock’s Oriole, the American Avocet and lots of Canadian Geese.  I promptly headed back to the Mono Lake Committee bookstore after my fieldtrip and bought a book to take hiking with me while in the Sierras and to leave in the cabin collection of books.  I got another more comprehensive text of all the birds common on the western coast of North American.  I have expanded my understanding of what to look for when I am trying to identify a bird.  It isn’t just colour, size, sound and how they move through the air.  It is the shape of the tail, the shape of the wings, the size of the beak and where they are hanging out in the habitat.  

Is it a Gadwall? Where is Alison, my favourite biologist when I need her?

It is early in the morning and I’m sitting by the lake writing.  The Downy Woodpecker got me out of bed.  An American Coot has just sailed by.  The brown ducks that I think are Gadwalls are hanging out under and around the dock.  My usual early morning risers, the Stellar Jays and the pair of very spousal acting, Red Breasted Sapsuckers, are nowhere to be seen.   A small black bird with a small beak and an orange chest and a white spot on his wing just flitted by.  The same shade of orange as a robin but not a robin. Making his way from the quaking alder to the bush to the grass by the lake.  Clearly, I need my bird field guides.  

During COVID, I spent a lot of time in the garden with the students I was covering for teachers in my capacity as a principal.  At one point three eagles were circling overhead.  One small girl came flying at me with her binoculars bouncing around her neck, waving the laminated bird identification chart from the outdoor learning backpack. 

“Where is it?  Where is it?” She uttered with urgency as she anxiously shook the chart at me.  

“Raptors section.  Look!”

She followed my finger as we scanned the pamphlet together. 


“Oh my gosh!  It’s a miracle!” she exclaimed.

Now that is the heart of a birder.  The victory of the find!


Dunn, John l., & Alderfer, Jonathan, eds. (2008).  Field Guide to the Birds of Western North 

America, National Geographic, Washington, D.C. 

Maclear, Kyo (2017).  Bird, Art, Life – A Year of Observation.  Scribner, New York.

Mono Lake County Park / State Reserve Boardwalk Bird List

Tekieta, Stan (2022).  Birds of California Field Guide, 2nd Edition.  Adventure Publications,

Cambridge, Minnesota.

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