Monday 27 February 2017

Donkey's Early School Years, And A Very Special Teacher

Heads up: this is a longer-than-usual post. With bagpipe music, if you're so inclined :)

I've mentioned my elementary school teacher a couple of times in connection with my art projects, here and here. It's time to write about Mrs. M., herself, I think. She influenced my life greatly in some of my most formative years. And I can't really write about her without describing the schoolroom in which she taught and the range of activities she provided for us, because they were a reflection of her approach and her commitment to teaching.

Mrs. M. was responsible for Grades Primary to Three in one room of the two-room school in my village. She provided a rich learning environment for her little students: lots of books in all reading levels; a dollhouse with a downstairs and an upstairs, little furniture and little dolls; a model of the solar system that she and her husband had made, with the biggest light bulb I'd ever seen as the sun, and planets on metal arms to show how they revolved around it; two elevated sandboxes right in the classroom, for days when the weather was too poor to go outside at recess; paints and brushes and a tiny sink where you cleaned your brushes after use; toys, such as building blocks, and pop-together beads.

There were other interesting things in our classroom as well. A high, narrow sickroom bed, where anyone who was feeling ill had to recline. A goldfish in a bowl on the side cupboard. An old-time wall telephone with a rotary dial and a crank on the side to ring the operator and the rest of the telephones in the community. Maps that unrolled from a tube above the blackboard. And cupboards full of supplies - stickers, buttons and fabric and bits of this and that for making collages, the aforementioned paints and brushes, sponges, coloured chalk, and construction paper, scissors. (This was waaaay back, decades before little kids each had to have their own scissors, their own crayons, their own planners, their own tissues, their own everything.)

Buried in one of those cupboards were also our band instruments, because - yes! - we had a rhythm band that performed when our parents came to visit for the final day of the school year. We always played the same piece to the accompaniment of  "Scotland The Brave" on the record player (click here for a YouTube rendition that lasts ten hours, but you'll get the complete song in the first two minutes; the rest is repetition. Why? Check out the poster's answer to that below the YouTube video.)  The youngest kids played rhythm sticks, the older ones played kazoos, several kids had triangles, and the coveted position of band leader, complete with director's baton, went to one child each year. We got to wear little capes and hats and the kids in back had to stand on a bench so their parents could see them.

For Parents' Day we also had either a play (for which we made costumes), or a puppet show (for which we made papier mache puppets). One year we made marionettes and a stage for them, and put on "Cinderella" - I remember that one especially because we managed the fairy godmother's magic by having two Cinderella puppets, dressed differently, yanking one out while dropping the other one in. 

For the two weeks prior to Parents' Day, Mrs. M. took all of us kids, two at a time, after school, to her house to make cookes, squares, and other delectables to be served on the final day. Thus we gained cooking experience on top of everything else.

And in the late June days before school let out for the summer, Mrs. M. took us to the provincial park just across the road. Like a mother duck with her extremely large family of ducklings, she led us across the road in her little Volkswagon Beetle, driving slowly ahead of us as we walked through the forest to the open grassy intervale with picnic tables, where we ate our lunches. 

The most amazing thing about this lady? She did all these things for us while suffering from crippling rheumatoid arthritis, at a time when there was little pharmaceutical relief for this painful condition. Her legs were crooked and stiff; her hands gnarled and misshapen. It was a slow, painful trip with a cane for her to get from her car, up the two steps to the school building, and to her desk inside, and she rarely moved until the end of the day when she made the reverse trip. It was hard for her to hold a pen, but she had beautiful penmanship. I was too young to know it at the time, but she was in constant pain, yet she was patient and kind and caring.

So how did she manage to teach a room full of little energetic kids without getting up and around? I would guess there were about twenty to twenty-five children in that room in any given year, ages five to eight, but I don't recall there ever being a discipline problem. She kept us interested and busy all the time. We took our work to and from her desk, rather than have her come to us to check our work. She got the bigger kids to help set out supplies, pass out papers, and prepare for art activities. We had a structured week which included art every Friday afternoon. We took turns reading aloud after lunch, something I remember because I loved to do it so much; we'd take our choice of book to stand beside the teacher's desk in case we needed help with a word. There was a small playground outside, where we burned off energy at lunchtime and recess. And there was also another teacher in the other half of the school (Grades Four to Six), who checked in on her a couple of times a day.

After I moved on from Mrs. M.'s classroom, I don't remember seeing much of her. We were supposed to stay in our respective areas according to our grade. I remember my mother encouraging me to go visit her later, when she was retired and bed-ridden. I was shy and not much of a conversationalist and she had to do most of the talking. But I'm so glad I went - and also sad that I wasn't comfortable enough to visit her again before she passed away. And very sorry that I never told her how much she had added to my life, both educationally and as a reliable, trusted, and kind adult in my little world.

Thank you, Mrs. M. You were my first school teacher, and although I had some fine teachers after you, you were the very best.      

This is the only photo I have of Mrs. M. - she is in the back on the right - and you can't see her face, only her glasses reflecting the light. I am in the front row, second from left, the blonde with the pointy chin. We are all in our Parents' Day best: white tops, dark trousers or skirts. And bow ties for the boys!

Friday 24 February 2017

50 Years And Nothing Has Changed

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I mentioned in this post from a few weeks back that I'd noticed a sort of peace sign in the sidewalk cracks while out walking. At the time, I failed to get a photo, so I went back for one a few days later.

Along the way, I noticed a few more peace signs so I started taking pictures of those, too.

Not a crack, but the right arrangement of straight lines to meet my requirements

I don't know what people thought as they drove by, while I seemingly took pictures of my feet.

We suffer for our art, do we not?

Anyhow, the peace signs were not really complete because they had no circles surrounding the lines.

So my next thought was that, by Jove, I'd learn to use Paint to draw the circles on my photos. Usually I try to avoid voluntarily learning new technology, but I really wanted to do this, so I called an emergency meeting of my two brain cells and figured it out.

While looking for peace signs in the sidewalks, I had also started noticing patterns in the cracks in the streets as well, and found one that reminded me of the "Kilroy was here" pictures that we used to doodle on our binder covers in high school.

So then I used Paint to fill in the details of that sketch.

What on earth is going on with that nose?

Refined the details after researching Kilroy on Wikipedia

And THEN I noticed a place in the sidewalk that had a lot of random cracks in it that reminded me of one of the kinds of "art" our elementary teacher had us do. She called it a "Scribble Picture" and it's just like it sounds. You scribble randomly around the page, and then you fill in the various shapes formed by the lines with different colours.

Here is my inspiration piece from my little art book that I wrote about in this post:

Please remember I did this somewhere between age 5 and 8. You were expecting Monet?

And here is the sidewalk "scribble picture" without colouring:

And this was where things started to go off the rails. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to use the "fill" option in Paint to fill in those shapes. However, I'm a persistent donkey and I chose the "marker" option and began, laboriously, to colour in my sidewalk scribble picture using the mouse.

(No, I am not five years old. Or even ten. But I'm stubborn. And have too much time on my hands now and then.)

Now, I was not a good colourer in school. I could never do it neatly, nor consistently, nor within the lines. I couldn't see the point of it, I didn't enjoy doing it, and I was terrible at it.

Apparently nothing has changed in fifty years. Computer colouring is every bit as horrible and crazy-making as crayon colouring.

By the time I had that sucker finished, there was a cramp in my mousing hand, my left eye had started to twitch, my shoulders were somewhere north of my ears, and I had to resist a serious urge to fling both the mouse and the computer screen across the room.

But having done all that work, I couldn't NOT post the result here.

Donkey gets a D grade in colouring, and an E for effort. I think those are two different marking schemes, but whatever.

I think I actually prefer the one I did in elementary school.

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Here is a link if you're interested in the background of the peace sign. Did you know, for instance, that it's based on the semaphore (flag signals) for the letters N and D - which stand for Nuclear Disarmament ... I had no idea before the article in that link popped up in my email.

And here's a link to a Wikipedia article on Kilroy -- who seems to be known as Foo in Australia and Mr. Chad (or Chad) in the United Kingdom.

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Peace out, people. And if you know how to use the "fill" option in Paint, for a photograph, I'm all ears. As donkeys tend to be.

Donkey ears courtesy of Pixabay, my favourite donkey supplier.

Monday 20 February 2017

Random Winter Scenes

I have a few photos to share from the past two months ... an easy post, where I don't have to hack away at my tendency to wordiness and try to reduce the word count!

Morse code on the floor of the observation shelter on the trail where I walk - anyone care to translate?

Late afternoon shadows of the trees on the snow-covered river next to the walking trail

The sky was so blue; the tree was so lacy - I don't know why I like this so much, but I do

Taken at the edge of the tidal river; under pressure from the changing water level, the ice has cracked in lines parallel to the bank

Trees weighed down with our recent snow ... plus a telephone pole, the bane of town photography - always in the way of a good shot!

Snow on the railing and on our burning bush shrub

A bit late for Valentine's Day, yet never really too late, is it? A tree appears to have lost a large limb, leaving a heart shape which the owners have defined further with ...  paint? (I'm guessing)

A deer left this depression in the snow after resting for awhile in our back yard. He or she would have been lying with feet tucked under and to one side, head up to look around, probably chewing on his or her cud. Deer are ruminants, like cows. I didn't see the deer that made this hollow, but a few days later there were two of  them lying as I described, in the early morning half-light, chewing away contentedly.

Deer tracks, also in our back yard. It's like a little traffic crossing - a four-way stop!

I see I've still managed to use All The Words and then some ... but if I didn't explain, frankly some of these pictures wouldn't make much sense :)

Hope you have a good week!

Friday 17 February 2017

We Have Snow. Plus: Hello Bonjour!

First, a picture to show you the results of our storm on Monday:

We've had another 15-20 cm of snow since this was taken.

Even our fire hydrants are feeling overwhelmed:

The red and white extender is to help snowplow drivers see the hydrant, so they don't run it over.

I went for a walk the day after the storm (when I took these shots) and it was like walking in dry, loose sand at the beach. My feet and legs got a good workout, so good that I thought I wouldn't be able to walk again by the time I got home.

We really can't complain too much, because parts of the Atlantic Provinces got more snow than we did, and it's becoming a real problem to know where to put it. Since our snowfalls were all melting or being rained away prior to this one, we are in better shape than other places. Small mercies. Or maybe not so small.


And now for something completely different. And embarrassing. I had to throw that in so you might be persuaded to wade through the first part and get to the rest. This memory re-surfaced while commenting on Yorkshire Pudding's post about blog stats a few days ago.

Canada, the country in which I live, is officially federally bilingual, with English and French being the two languages supported by legislation. French is taught in most, if not all, English Canadian schools. It can be offered as a single subject like history or math or science, or in a more intensive program, such as immersion where students study all subjects in French except for English grammar and literature. Immersion students can become functional or even fluent in French if they work at it.

Those of us in an earlier generation received only core French instruction (French as a single subject), for as little as eighty minutes per week for three years, with the option to continue for another three years if we wanted to. I did, because I enjoyed it, and by the standards of the day I did well in it. (Important foreshadowing there: "standards of the day")

When I saw a chance, years later, to use my French with several non-English-speaking people at a dinner my husband and I attended, I pushed my quiet, reserved self out of my usual safe little shell and opened up a conversation with them. Planning my sentences like a general plotting troop movements, I lined up my nouns and articles and verb tenses, gathered my accent (such as it was), and fired away.

I was almost simultaneously delighted that they understood me and horrified that they answered and I DID NOT UNDERSTAND A SINGLE SYLLABLE.

In hindsight, this should not have been terribly surprising, considering that the only oral French we heard was our non-native-French teacher asking questions such as What is your name, How old are you, Where do you live, What are you wearing, etc., and our equally non-native-French classmates laboriously giving stilted answers.

The people at our dinner table might have been interested in my name and where I lived, but the questions I had just asked them had nothing to do with that. Mercifully, most of my questions escape me now, but I do recall that one was about their children and grandchildren. I was out of my depth in both vocabulary and grammar. And they talked at a normal French-speaking pace, which was about 100 km/hr faster than I was used to.

Oh, the blushing that went on. And on. And on.

Luckily, there was one person in their group who spoke a little English, and with his help we all had a very VERY short conversation, with lots of huge, toothy smiles, after which I feigned keen interest in the guest for the evening who was about to give a speech. And the party of French speakers got up and left as soon as the guest speaker sat down. "Au revoir!" ("Goodbye!") (More smiles.)

I wonder if any of them remember that meal as clearly as I do, some twenty-five years later?

Pardonnez-moi? Je ne comprends pas ...  (Pardon me? I don't understand ... )  (Photo: Pixabay)

Have you ever (innocently) thought you knew more than you actually did? Are you willing to admit to it? C'mon, make me feel better, won't you? :)

Alternatively, for equal marks on this pop quiz, how many languages do you speak and how did you learn them?

I hope you have yourselves a good weekend! (Papers will be marked and returned within 24 hours of turning them in :))

Monday 13 February 2017

The St. Bernard Gets A Day Off

As usual, I am writing this on Sunday evening to post in the wee hours of Monday.

Earlier this evening I called my mother, who lives near us, to chat. We had both spent the day preparing for the day-long blizzard that Mother Nature is scheduled to hold here on Monday into Tuesday.

Now we wait.

When I was a kid, the guy on the radio told us that we could expect snow, and that was about it. Now we get so many details it's hard to keep them straight. We get the minimum and maximum wind speeds, the range of snowfall amounts, the daytime temperature, the nighttime temperature, the temperature with wind chill factored in, the height of storm surges for those living near water, the barometer readings ...

Knowing all of that in advance has both good and bad points.

We can choose not to travel, and avoid getting caught in whiteout conditions on the highway. We can make sure we have bread and milk (and chocolate!) so we aren't inconvenienced by a shortage. We have time to check the batteries in our flashlights, top up our gas tanks in our vehicles, and write blog posts that will publish themselves at the time of our bidding.

On the other hand, the waiting is nerve-wracking. Will we lose power? If so, for how long? How cold are we going to be by the time it comes back on? How much snow will we need to move before we can free our cars from their snowy prisons, and how long will it take the town to make our street passable? When will we be able to get to our places of work and how far behind will we be when we get there? For those who get cabin fever easily (Hi, Mom!), the question is usually, when will we be able to get out and see other human beings again?

Of course, it's much worse for first responders and those who work in critical services such as hospital services, nursing homes, and power companies. They must find a way to get to work and be prepared to stay there if they can't safely travel home at the end of their shift. Police and paramedics will be bracing for accidents and emergencies, because some people will insist on driving and some of those will go off the road and need rescued, or get stuck in heavy snow and need rescued (so they don't either freeze to death or die of carbon monoxide poisoning when they run their vehicles to keep from freezing to death). Women may need to birth a baby, people may have heart attacks or strokes or otherwise become critically ill without regard for the weather, and need transported to the hospital. Snow plow drivers and salt truck operators and tow truck owners will be working long shifts in low-vision conditions.

I'll be glad when this storm is over.

According to the forecast, we're going to have one whole day to dig out before the next one hits.

P. S.  Our most recent snowstorm was last Friday (three days ago).
P. P. S.  If I'm not online to publish or reply to comments, you'll know why.
P. P. P. S.  I don't need a St. Bernard dog this time around; I made sure to buy my storm chocolate when I got groceries!

One storm ago

Two storms ago

Three storms ago

Four storms ago

You get the idea :)

Update: It is now 2 p.m. Monday, the storm has just reached us and is moving more slowly than predicted, which means higher accumulations of snow ... YAY!

Friday 10 February 2017

Still Crashing Around My Brain

Have you heard about NASA's mission to Mars, planned to take place in the 2030s? Yes, probably everyone but me has been aware of it since the announcement in October of 2015. Honestly, this information only penetrated my thick skull recently when I saw a headline on MSN or some such place. Here's a link to the NASA website that will give you an overview, if you're interested, or if you've had your head in the sand like I have for the past couple of years.

If you are of a certain age, you will probably remember the Apollo missions and even exactly where you were as you watched the first moon landing in 1969. While that was an exciting moment, I was just twelve years old then. In the years (many, many years) since then, I lost interest in space exploration as I realized how much money it costs to pursue it and how many more pressing problems we face right here on Earth, problems that could be helped with that money if it were directed the right way.

But then a couple of years ago I was tipped off to the story of Elon Musk, the incredibly talented and hard-working man who has brought the world Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX, among other achievements, and since then I've kept one ear to the ground, so to speak, for developments in both space travel and anything else Musk decides to pursue. (For a good read about his life and accomplishments to date, start here with Part 1 of a four-part series of posts by blogger Tim Urban at Wait But Why.)

In the midst of Christmas shopping a couple of months ago, I happened upon a book that looked interesting and decided I would buy it for myself because if I put it on my wish list and then waited for it to show up in my Christmas stocking it might be several years before I got to read it. The book is  Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, and as the cover states, it relates "the American dream and the untold story of the black women mathematicians who helped win the space race."

This was a book well worth the time and effort it took to read. I found it a bit heavy on the science behind the space program, and had to read it at a slower pace than usual, only one chapter a day, in order to absorb the technical aspects. But the reward for me was being able - for the first time in my life - to understand, even at a basic level, how the human race was able to launch itself from Earth and end up on another heavenly body, which, if you think about it, is pretty darn amazing.

That was only a part of the story. The other part, equally fascinating, was the huge contribution made by the ladies mentioned above, as mathematicians, or "computers" as they were called, in the age before computers as we understand that word today.

I was thrilled and awed by these women. They brought so much talent, brains, determination, ambition, and class to the space program. I think part of my awe stems from the fact that math is not something I've ever enjoyed, so to read about women who excelled at it was a whole new world for me. Add to that the fact that these were black women at a time in history when segregation was the law in southern states and de facto in northern states, causing widespread educational, social and economic disadvantages for all blacks, and you have an inspirational book indeed.

If you have the chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it. This is the closest I've come to writing a book review and it may be the last as well as the first, but I feel compelled to share my praise for the author and the knowledge that her book makes available to the average reader - the knowledge of both the contributions of these women and how the space program put humans on the moon.

Footnote: I've read that the film based on the book was good but not great. Has anyone seen it? If so, did you read the book also? How do they compare?

Monday 6 February 2017

Is It Monday Already?

There are several post topics buzzing around in my head, but nothing has made it to the screen yet.

I feel like this little guy:

Too much choice. Not enough concentration. Too many distractions.

I plead guilty.

See you on Friday!

(All photos thanks to Used almost as often as Pixabay round these parts.)

Friday 3 February 2017

Finding Balance

It's a longer post today than usual, my friends. Bear with me, please. I'm going to talk about dinosaurs, and what came after, for a bit. Even if you don't care about dinosaurs, they were once an important species on Earth, just as the species that are now on Earth are important, too.

And then I'm going to talk about something else, something I've been thinking about posting for awhile.

But first the dinosaur extinction. I've just read a science article about what happened after the asteroid that led to the end of the dinosaurs, and the ensuing period of "... Earthquakes. Wildfires. Volcanoes. Acid rain. Dust and gunk in the air, blotting out the sun..." which led to long-term twilight and widespread loss of vegetation.

The article tells how the demise of dinosaurs allowed other life forms to survive and eventually thrive. You may have heard that there was a link between the extinction of dinosaurs and the rise of mammals, including man. But it wasn't a straight line, and it wasn't fast.

From studying fossils and rocks, scientists can deduce quite a bit about the kind of animals that were able to survive in the smoking ruins of earth. The qualities the survivors had in common are any of these: A small body. An aquatic lifestyle. Night vision. An unfussy palate.

The small body required less food and shelter (small is defined as less than 10 kilograms for land animals). The aquatic environment would have been less affected than the land, as it was buffered from heat. Night vision would have allowed easier mobility and food-finding. And an unfussy palate allowed critters to make use of whatever food they did find.

So, being a non-dinosaur, assuming I was still in one piece after the asteroid had come and gone, would I have survived for more than, say, a few days?

I am certainly bigger than 10 kilograms. I don't like the water because it causes me to breathe badly. My day vision is not that good, let alone my night vision. And being sensitive to flavours means I would never be described as having an unfussy palate.

I'd be a goner, for sure.

Ah well, maybe I'd be food for some of the other survivors ... and I guess that means I'd be around in one form or another a bit longer. Or forever.

 After all, as the song goes, we are stardust ... (click here to listen to "Woodstock")

And with all that's been going on in the world lately, maybe it's time to remember that one day we will all return to being stardust. Our sun will eventually flame out. Our planet will be destroyed. We came from stardust, and we will return to it.

Some people might feel that's a pessimistic and helpless outlook, or that it means I am ignoring all the world's problems and living in a bubble

Not so. It simply helps me keep life in perspective: Life is to be lived. Nature is to be enjoyed. We should try to be good and kind people. We should make the most of our precious lives, in this precious, precarious world. We should help others improve their circumstances if we can at all. We must be thankful for whatever good circumstances we find ourselves in, but not continually beat ourselves up if those circumstances are better than someone else's.  We should try to right wrongs, on both a small and a large scale. We should try to leave the world better than we found it. But we should not obsess over it to the point that we fail to see the gift of life that we have.
We must do what we can. But we must also live as fully as we can.

That's the way I see it, anyway.

Thanks, Pixabay.You have a picture for everything.

Two footnotes:

1.  Did you know that "Woodstock" was written by Canadian Joni Mitchell? She never actually went to Woodstock because her manager thought it would be better to do a TV talk show, but afterward she thought "the deprivation of not being able to go" gave her a unique perspective on the event, and others have agreed.

2. Fellow blogger Steve (from Shadows and Light), who comments here, came up with much the same idea at the same time I did, except he won the posting race and published his thoughts last week! Steve, I swear I didn't steal your idea :) 
   Here is the quote I left on his post, which so well captures the idea I'm trying to get across:

“In the best of times, our days are numbered anyway. So it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly that it put off enjoying those things for which we were designed in the first place: the opportunity to do good work, to enjoy friends, to fall in love, to hit a ball, and to bounce a baby.” (Alistair Cooke)


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As always, thanks for reading.