Sunday, November 27, 2011

Take Care of the Light

Today is the first day of advent. I attended an advent festival at our school today. Twenty-five Grade One children walked a spiral of evergreens in the darkness heading for a single candle flame. In their hands they carried an unlit candle nestled into an apple. They light the candle at the top of the spiral and then as they walk back out of the spiral they place their candle on a golden star somewhere within the darkness.

This festival of advent is a metaphor for each of us to carry the light within us in these dark months of winter. Whether or not you are a Christian, this symbol is a powerful one. Sometimes there is so much darkness around us. We have to each carry light. I watched these small children today: so serious, so solemn, carrying their small candles, lighting them with care, taking such care to keep them lit as they found the place to set their candle down safely. It was an inspiration. Sometimes I don't think I take care of the light. Sometimes I walk too quickly, and don't notice the flame flicker and die. Sometimes the flame starts to gutter, and I give up on it, when if I had just been patient, just waited a little bit, it would have glowed to life.

I love advent. I love the darkness in the morning, the candles in my classroom, the singing, the quiet, and the anticipation of the holiday season. It is a busy time with four advent assemblies, shepherds' play, saint nicholas festival, santa lucia festival and winter choral concert. It is hard to imagine that in between all those festivals I will also teach geography and math and painting lessons.

But, I will, because, after today, after seeing those little children lighting their candles, I will carry all those lights. Tomorrow I, too, get to walk the advent spiral. I wish everyone a moment of peace and light in the darkness of winter. I wish for them to carry that moment through the Christmas season. I wish everyone took as much care of their candles as those Grade One children did today.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Opposites Attract

Fourteen motors spinning! 104 magnets, 28 nails, 280 feet of copper wire, 7 - 6volt batteries, sand paper, 12 feet of wood, 14 shish kebab sticks and some yellow, red and black electrician tape. Oh, and 13, Grade 8 students. The classroom was an electro-magnet factory for three morning lessons. And a couple of lunch hours and recesses too! It was a delightful end to our Physics block - with everyone being successful. I am always so nervous about teaching Physics, but I can count this one as one of the most relaxed, and the most fun. I also think they learned alot about hydraulics, aero-dynamics, magnetism and electricity. Can't complain there.

But when you work with magnets you learn that opposites attract and like poles repel. Attraction is of interest to 13 and 14 year olds. The thought you might be attracted to someone who is different from you is a scary thought. The thought that the people who bug you the most are really the most like you, is equally scary.

I said that they may be a neat freak, who loves to socialize, and go to restaurants and they will fall for a recluse who loves to cook, and leaves his socks on the kitchen table! - oh wait, that might have been my story :). Except I am not a neat freak - I just don't leave socks on the kitchen table.

Anyways, suffice it to say it was food for thought. And, it is true, at least for me. Melancholics kind of annoy me. I totally understand them, but still. Sometimes they should just suck it up and get on with it. (Note to self: are you listening?)

And, as it always is, one block ended today, and a new one starts on Monday. So, tonight I was already leaving Physics behind and browsing through my World Geography notes. I like to do this block via the economic realm. Where do all the things we use, eat, wear, buy, and want come from? In my daily life, who are all the people that, in one way or another, support me, by either harvesting the sugar that I like in my afternoon tea, to picking the cotton in my comfortable cotton bra?

I bet some of them are just like me. I bet some of them are just the opposite.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I think I am drowning. This is how it feels. The waters are closing over my head and I don't think I have the energy to kick up and break the surface. Except drowning, they say, is peaceful. This doesn't feel peaceful. It feels dark.

I wrote this at 7:45am this morning. But, then, and still, I had to go to school. So, I did, shedding a few self-pitying tears on the way. Then, into the school, a dose of Pasaflora (a homeopathic dose for emotional upset), and into the classroom to begin the day. We started our day doing some Bal-a-vis-x ball exercises, and after 30 minutes I was feeling better. Not great, but better.

I had a good main lesson, teaching single, parallel, and serial circuits, and then went to Rona with my (long-suffering) husband to purchase the necessary supplies to make electro-magnetic motors with my class tomorrow.

Back to school by 12:30 and then meeting with a colleague at 1:10. I was still drowning, at least in the metaphorical sense. But, she lent me some moral support (water wings?) and swam by my side, stroke for stroke, for 90 minutes. We got alot done, and I felt better after. I felt like I was floating, and the tide was beginning to carry me to shore.

I made the decision, out of self-preservation, to skip the faculty meeting and head straight home after school to build the proto-type of the motor. Dear husband beside me for moral support.

3 hours later, motor complete, and running, and fresh quiche (made by afore-mentioned husband) out of the oven onto my dinner plate. Hmm, maybe I could even begin taking a few tentative strokes to shore.

And then, ironically enough, I spoke to my brother tonight. My brother, the long distance swimmer. He talked about how he needed help to get into his wet-suit. So, even though swimming is a solitary exercise, he still needs help to prepare for the swim. Hmmmm. I think there is a lesson here for me. I have to ask for help. I don't have to 'swim' alone. I don't have to succumb to 'drowning'. There are people to help me put on my wetsuit. There are people who will watch from the shore to make sure I get back. There are people who will row beside me, and sometimes even get in the water and match me stroke for stroke. And, there are people to feed me when I get back to shore.

When I get back to shore, and put my feet once more on dry land.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Yesterday was one of those days filled with experiences and memories. It was our school's Christmas Faire. Yes, our school can call it a Christmas Faire. It is a wonderful experience filled with puppet shows, children playing stringed instruments, children singing (that would be my grade 4/5 choir), candle dipping, candy apple eating, wreath making, and lots of chatting and hugging and as we browse through two market places of hand made gifts. It was a beautiful day - cold and sunny, and for the first time in 22 years I felt so at home there. It was ironic, because this will be my last year as a staff member at the faire. In the future I will be one of the many alumni students and teachers that come back bringing young family members - great nieces and nephews, or perhaps grandchildren. Brian and I ran into friends who have known Brian since before he and I were married, they had sent their children to the Vancouver Waldorf School in the early 80s, and there they were with a great niece in tow.

In the middle of the day my husband and I drove down to Hastings and Gore to the Union Gospel Mission. I had my car filled with warm items for the downtown eastside homeless residents. I had four huge green garbage bags filled with donations from our school's Peace Assembly. Walking up the steps, passing by many homeless people, lugging in my donations is quite the experience, going from a faire where we all have so much, to a place where they have so little. And yet, everyone was in a good mood. People held the door for me, greeted me, hugged me, blessed me. It was surreal. The workers were ecstatic. They were down to one small bin 1/3 filled with toques and scarves. Here I was with bags full of hats, mitts, coats, blankets, scarves and SOCKS. Oh my God, they loved those socks. They went on and on about how socks are something they really need! So, after being showered with thanks and love, I headed back to the North Shore to work in my school's open house and then to put my classroom back together (it had been the cookie house for the Faire).

So then I was home for my after faire ritual. I make a cup of tea, and cut up my carmel apple and eat, sip tea and relax. It is lovely.

After a couple of hours we met friends of ours for dinner. It was at the restaurant where my husband and I had our first date. These are friends we met 34 years ago when she and I both were first year teachers in MacKenzie. It is a friendship I cherish. It can be months between visits and we all take up where we left off, chatting, laughing, sharing, and enjoying the company that is comfortable and loving.

I am a great believer in the number three. A priest friend of mine once said she was a trinitarian. I think I am too. At our school, in grade one, we spend two weeks talking about the quality of numbers. What is one? What is two? A teacher I am mentoring asked me for some ideas about three. Of course the famous one is Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but you can't use that in a classroom setting. The Three Kings? probably not. Mother, Father and Me? Well, this isn't always useful, especially when now for many children this is not their family constellation. The three bears? Three little pigs? Well, you get the idea. Me, myself and I? I know, too cerebral.

But there I was yesterday. The perfect quality of three. Faith, Charity and Love. Perfect.

Friday, November 18, 2011

restless legs

I think I have developed restless leg syndrome.  I have always had, what some affectionately call, dancing feet.  My feet are always on the move - it sometimes drives my husband nuts.  But lately, since September, I have noticed this crawly, gripping, annoying weird feeling in my lower legs that demands I move them, stretch them, or shake them out.  It's an awful feeling.  It is a feeling that I used to only get on long drives, or long airplane rides, when I was really, really tired.  Now, I get it all the time.  Well, not all the time - but all the time in the evening and when I go to bed at night. 

I have 'googled' it, and it seems that they, the infamous they, don't really know what causes it.  It is probably fatigue, or lack of some vitamin or other.  I am taking lots of supplements these days, and they are helping with my energy level and mood, and I have a new migraine remedy that seems to be working - I haven't had one for a couple of weeks now.  But this leg thing is kind of crazy making.  It is like I have bugs crawling up and down the inside of my skin.  Ick!

So, what is the metaphor for this.  Time to move on?  This is my last year teaching full time - at least that is what I keep telling everyone - and it certainly is my last year for a while, a year or two at least.  My husband and I are cleaning out the 'stuff' of 30 years and thinking of putting our house up for sale - so moving on in more ways then one. 

I am working on my bucket list - I have added calculus to it.  And selling my stamp collection (maybe I am a millionaire and I don't even know it).

So restless legs, yeah, it's trying to tell me something.  Maybe it has something to do with the pilgrimage I want to do on the Camino?  I am worried that with the new movie that is out, The Way, the journey will be filled with people trying to 'conquer' the distance.  Why do I care?  I will be doing it for my own reasons, and others for there's.  Sometimes I can be so judgemental.   I have to work on that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Remembrance Day

I have been thinking about this all day.  I have to tell a story for our 'Peace' Assembly tomorrow.  We don't call it a Remembrance Day Assembly for all sorts of political, inclusive reasons - and besides we weren't at school on the 11th, so....

Anyways, we ask the students in Grades 5 - 8 to bring donations of warm articles of clothing - mitts, toques, gloves, blankets, scarves to donate to the Downtown Eastside via the Union Gospel Mission.  Then each class shares an appropriate poem or song. 

My class is reciting "They are all children when they sleep, There is no war in them...."  but that is besides the point. 

The point is that my grandfather, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and my mother all served in the 2nd world war.  My Grandfather also served in the First World War, my uncle did a variety of peace keeping missions after WWII.  He was a career soldier.  My father was buried alive during the war.  I believe his wounds were deep for the short life he lived after the war.  But, that too is beside the point.

And, although we use November 11 to remember those who died in the war, it seems to me that November 11 is the moment of peace.  It is a remembrance of a truce, an agreement not to fight anymore.

Where I work we could use an armistice of sorts.  We could agree to not fight anymore.  We could agree to a peace.

On November 30, and this is what I will bring to the students tomorrow, November 30 is a day for the Vow of Silence.  To be silient not for 2 minutes at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, but to be silent for 24 hours.  And by being silent, no texting, tweeting, emailing, facebook....well you get it.  To really be silent.  To be silent to remember the children that are exposed to, or involved with war without their consent.  For the kidnapped child soldiers,  for the children for whom peace means nothing to them. 

What would that be like - a school taking a vow of silence?  I don't know.  But I would like to find out.  I am trying to get my grade 8s to buy in.  And tomorrow I will try to get grade 5 - 7 to buy in as well. 

Maybe if we didn't talk all the time, or tweet, or text, or facebook, we would realize that the world could be a peaceful place.  It has to start somewhere.  Let it begin with me.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I have been sorting through stuff for the past few days.  A lot of stuff.  We have lived in this house for almost 30 years, and we brought stuff with us when we arrived here.  A house full of stuff. 

Some of it I can let go - a broken ceramic box, a jewellery box an old boyfriend gave me, the cat perch, a foot brace from a long ago battle with plantar fasciitis.

But, the masks of my children as teenagers, their school work, drawings, baby shoes, baby sun hats, photographs.  I can't let those things go.  I don't want to.  Because even if I only look through them every few years, they bring back memories.  My son and I spent some time going through his school box this weekend.  He was sorting out things to move out.  To leave home.  Again.  And there he was - sitting on the couch wearing  the yellow gnome hat he had made in kindergarten.  There we were looking at pictures of school friends.  Laughing.  Both, I think, feeling a little sad that he was moving to his new place, but knowing it was right. 

We also spent about an hour sorting coins, rolling pennies, nickels, dimes - and challenging each other to find the oldest coin.  He won - 1934 american penny. 

Because there are always treasures to find in boxes, under beds, in closets.  In this messy, cluttered, little house there are many memories.  Not always the tidiest of lives but ones filled with love.

Because there is my daughter's little blue sun bonnet, and I can see her face under it, as clear as 22 years ago.  And there is my son's hornby island hat, and I can see him sorting rocks on Carmichael beach 24 years ago.  All those years ago. 

So, tonight, my husband and I are sorting.  Papers, bills, wills and estates and parents lost.  Finding photos of ourselves as wee ones.  Finding remnants of jobs long gone, and sometimes finding memorabilia we have no recollection of.  So much stuff.

So, I am cleaning house.  Metaphorically.  Literally.  Paradoxically. 

Because there were moments I wish that my study was still my son's bedroom, that the guest room downstairs was filled with my daughter, and not just her stuff.  That the pictures of my father, and his sister were not just pictures - that there was still time to mend broken hearts with my mother.

My life isn't the stuff I have.  The stuff I have isn't my life.  But somehow we are inexplicably connected.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Taking crazy back

I have been listening to a podcast called Taking Crazy back. It is about how our culture treats people with mental illness. It is very powerful.

I suffer from clinical depression. I was diagnosed in my early 40s, but clearly it was someting I had lived with since my late teens. I had tried therapy, exercise, prayer, diet regimes, and just 'sucking it up.' There were days and weeks on end when I couldn't get out of bed, and my stomach was in knots all the time. Maybe it was ulcers? Maybe it was co-workers? Maybe it was diet? I tried being a vegetarian. I gave up coffee. I cried. A lot.

Then I started taking Paxil. This was around the same time the book came out called "Prozac Nation." People on SSRI's were criticized for taking these designer drugs because it was 'in', or'cool', or because doctors forced them on patients due to influence from pharmaceutical companies.

Today on the podcast were lots of examples comparing mental illness to diabetes, or cancer, or heart disease. Nobody would tell someone to not seek treatment for those illnesses. But the stigma around depression is all around.

For years only my family knew I was on anti-depressants. In the last few years I confided in a few close friends. Now, here I am blogging about. I want people to know. Depression is an illness and it needs treatment. Sometimes alternative treatments work. Sometimes homeopathy and naturopathy works. Sometimes therapy works. And, sometimes it doesn't. For me, medication works.

And, that is not to say that the medication doesn't have side effects. Although the new medication I am on, Effexor, has less side effects. It is not to say that I wish I didn't have to be on it for the rest of my life. It is not to say that I don't try every few years to wean myself off them. It is not to say that they don't change my personality - that they flatten my out. But I do know that if not for this medication my quality of life would not be what it is. My relationships would not be what they are. I may not have ever been driven to suicide, but the thought would occasionally arise that I could understand why people may choose that option, because living with un-treated depression is, in many ways, like being dead.

Years ago, I discovered my maternal aunt suffered from depression and was on lithium. Years after I discovered my brother was on SSRIs. My mother was hospitalized in her 30s for a mental breakdown. Hmmm. Family history? You might say so.

So, why am I writing this? I remember when I first was diagnosed and first put on medication it was a struggle. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know. But, then, the clouds were lifting and things were getting better. Still, I wished I had a cast on so people knew I was in the process of healing. So maybe they would cut me a little slack, like they would for someone with a cast. People sign casts. Nobody signs my pill bottle of SSRI's.

I have been at meetings or lectures where people making sweeping, judgemental pronouncements about people on anti-depressants. I didn't say anything. They wouldn't know how many people like me were in the audience, and how deeply we were hurt and mis-understood. People rarely make derogatory comments about diabetics, or people on thyroid medication, or cancer patients. People do make derogatory comments about people on SSRIs.

It is time for that to stop. It is enough. Sometimes medication is needed. Sometimes I just need everyone to understand I am doing the best I can, and my medication helps. Sometimes, what it really is, is that I need to understand I am ok, and I need this medication to continue to be ok.

Sometimes what it really is, is that I need to be less judgemental towards myself. I need to be kinder to myself. I need to forgive myself.

It's a beginning.

Friday, November 4, 2011


I was on my way to the border when I heard on the radio that the Port Mann bridge was shut down. I should have immediately exited at Deer Lake, but I don't make decisions quickly and it passed by as the traffic slowed to a crawl. I crawled my way to Gaglardi exit and I kept thinking, I don't know now to re-route over the Patulla bridge, and I certainly don't know what to do once over it. What to do? What to do?

Well, I got turned around and decided to head over Knight street and through the George Massey tunnel. Despite some rush hourish sort of traffic it was going quite well, until I missed the turn off and realized I was heading for the Alex Fraser Bridge - me and everyone else who was trying to get into Surrey.

Anyways I persevered and finally ended up at the border two hours after I left home. At first I was upset, scared, sad, frustrated and then I thought.....someone died on that bridge today. I will get where I am going, albeit a little later than I planned. That 51 year old woman who died on the bridge today is on a whole different journey. I spent much of the drive thinking of her, and wishing her soul Godspeed.

So often I feel inconvenienced by another's need, experience, temperment, joy, anger. Being in relationship with others can be inconvenient. Sometimes they need to talk when I don't want to listen. Sometimes they need to vent, when I want to babble and be silly. Sometimes they want to laugh when I feel like sobbing. Sometimes we just don't fit.

But other times? We fit beautifully. We reach out and someone is there. We cry and someone has a kleenex. We laugh and someone joins in with breathless, tears rolling down the face laughter. Sometimes we need to sit in silence, and we are with a companion who is comfortable to do the same.

I heard today that the reason humans have lost their ability to be clairvoyant is because we are going 7 times too fast.

I am going to try to slow down.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Souls' Day

Today, as I do every November 1, my class and I sat quietly remembering people and pets we have known and loved who have died and left us behind to remember them. It is a quiet, reverent way to start the day after the excitement of Hallowe'en.

I had a picture of my friend's son, Michael, and their dog, Diesel. I lit a candle for them and also for my friend, Lorraine, who died of breast cancer last December. We took turns going to the front of the room and lighting a candle and speaking the name of the person who had crossed the threshold - those who have led the way for us back to our spiritual home.

It was moving, as it is every year, but even more so watching these 13 and 14 year olds standing up, lighting a candle and speaking the name of a loved one, or loved ones.

It was powerful. Everyone spoke. Some spoke twice. Powerful.

And then, after a half hour or so they were back to being 13/14 and talking about silly stuff, chatting while they worked, while I marked, while we continued on with our lives.

For our lives continue. In the face of loss and grief it continues. We laugh, cry, fight, eat, fuss, and generally carry on. We carry on.

I love this class. Even though I was cranky today, for a number of work-related reasons, I hung out amidst their noise and bustle, because I love them.

I realized tonight that my first class, the one I had for 4 1/2 years was really just the preparation for this class. This class: seven of whom I have had since grade one, two since grade three,one since grade four, two since grade five, and one since grade six. Four boys and nine girls - I have taken to sitting the boys, one in each corner of the desks arrangement - it brings balance to the classroom. Sometimes they retreat to their corners, sometimes I send them there. I feel like a referee at a boxing match - go to your corners!

Anyways, it's fun. Noisy, and fun. We are in a Physics block right now learning the laws of fluid mechanics. It is helpful to learn these laws. They seem to settle us. They are constant. When unpredictable things happen - when young men and women die - I can fall back on the laws of Physics to get grounded.

Physics is something I can count on.

My love for this class is something I can count on.

To Michael, and Lorraine, and all the other souls that passed this year - I wish you godspeed, and I promise to remember.