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London Calling

I live in England now.

Today marks two months since I made the trek across the pond at the end of August, and I must say I’m settling in nicely. I’m always amazed at how adaptable humans are, I live in a new community, with new people (with some old familiar faces), and a new job. The time I lived in Saskatchewan and the time I’ve lived here seem to have rolled over seamlessly and comfortably, which sometimes leaves me feeling bewildered if I think about it for too long.

I stick out, not necessarily meaning to, but wherever I go, my accent is sure to follow. In London, most people seem very unconcerned with it, but living in a little town, I am often stopped to ask if I’m American, I correct them by telling them that I’m Canadian, to which there is usually a smile, or some kind of other exchange about how they have family there, they either want to or have visited there, or that they might have guessed my accent was Canadian because it sounds softer than the other American accents they’re more familiar with from T.V. For example. I was in Lush when one of the employees came up to me:

“Are you American?”

“No, I’m Canadian”

“Ah, I should have guessed, you don’t sound like the people I listen to on CSI, I love CSI, don’t you?”

“To be honest, I’ve never seen it”

She has a shocked look on her face, and then proceeds to tell me about CSI.

When I first arrived here, I grabbed a cab and the cab driver assumed right away that I was Canadian, and when I asked how he came to that conclusion he responded by saying:

“Well, I find if I assume people are American, people get offended, but if I assume everyone with a North American accent is a Canadian, Canadians feel welcomed, and Americans feel flattered”.

I found this to be an interesting statement, but because I was jet-lagged and in a new country, I thought pushing this discussion piece would be best done at another time (if it ever came).

Moving to another country tends to test your common sense skills. Simple things you take for granted doing everyday, are now time consuming tasks that often leave you feeling humbled. During my first week here, I was kindly invited to stay with some other Canadians that had already been established here, so that I wouldn’t have to stay at my flat while I was waiting for my other Canadian roommates to arrive. They were gone one morning, and I needed to make a British phone call. This seemed like a simple task, but I soon found out it wasn’t. I had not yet set up my cell phone, and so I had this portable phone in my hand and every time I dialed different variations of numbers, the end result was the same, I wasn’t able to call who I needed. I then did the only thing I could think of doing, I went to the streets. I flagged down this lovely older couple who were visiting their grand children.

“Excuse me, can you help me?” (holding a portable phone)

“Uh, sure?” (says the older man)

“How do I call people here?” (handing him over the phone with a little piece of paper)

“Aren’t from around here?” (says the older man)

“No” (I just moved here two days ago)

He stands there fiddling with the phone.

“We’re not from around here either, so I’m not sure if we can help you” (says his wife)

“No, but we’re from England dear, surely we know how to dial a phone!” (he says to his wife)

He tries several times to no avail, even the man from Britain can’t dial the phone. He apologizes profusely going back along his way, and while I am so grateful for this help, I literally have no way to call this number. I stand on the front stoop of the house, staring at this phone, using every brain cell that is available to me, trying to figure out a solution. I then see the older gentleman running back towards me, yelling,

“Dial 0 before the number!”

I frantically dial the 0 and then the rest of the number, holding the phone to my ear waiting anxiously, the man staring at me, his eyes wide with expectation, I stand there waiting for the sound of ringing…and then I heard it! I don’t think I’ve ever grinned so hard in my life.

“It worked! It’s ringing!” I yell out to the man high-fiving him, thanking him profusely. He grins in return running back to his wife, she’s giving me the thumbs up from a distance.

It’s all in the little things.

That’s just one example of the many little frustrations and triumphs I’ve had living in this country. When people ask about the differences, they’re so subtle, they’re often difficult to explain, Canada and England are so similar but yet so different. Getting a bank card feels like a small victory, grocery shopping for the first time feels like one of the most mind boggling things I’ve ever done, and things like getting a GP are an ongoing process.

I live in a place called Dartford which is a town about 30 minutes outside of London by train. For a while I had very little to compare Dartford to aside from London (and is anything really comparable to London?), and it seems clearer to me now that Dartford differs from other towns I’ve been to in terms of its’ socio-economic standing. From the locals that I’ve been lucky enough to interact with, it seems that Dartford has taken a bit of a fall over the last thirty years or so. I’m not sure why, or if  that’s purely nostalgia from people who remember things differently, or if Dartford was indeed another kind of place. But it does seem to have a bit of a melancholic vibe, I’m not sure if that`s because it’s cloudy 90% of the time here, or if it’s something else. It does not have the hustle and bustle of other towns I’ve visited, it’s got a quieter feel, which I must say can be quite comforting after getting off the train, walking along the little river up the hill back to my part of the world.

So, how do I sum up my first two months here? It hasn’t been perfect, but I’m meeting wonderful people, seeing/experiencing lovely things and working in a job that challenges me in ways I’ve needed for a long time. With all things considered, I think I’m doing pretty well.

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These are vacuum cleaners that they use here in the UK that are absolutely adorable. They use them at the school I work at, and when I was gushing about adorable they were, I was told they had a female counterpart, a pink vacuum named “Hetty”, I nearly died laughing because it was so ridiculous.

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There are snails everywhere,

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View from my backyard

Some Bansky found at Notting Hill

Some Bansky found at Notting Hill

 

George Orwell at Notting Hill.

George Orwell at Notting Hill.

Local Pub (although strangely, I haven't been in it yet.)

Local Pub (although strangely, I haven’t been in it yet.)

Really beautiful park by my house that has this great view of the town. However what makes it even more unique is that there are gravestones all along the perimeter of the park, but it's not considered to be a cemetery.

Really beautiful park by my house that has this great view of the town. However what makes it even more unique is that there are gravestones all along the perimeter of the park, but it’s not considered to be a cemetery.

 

Some of the headstones in the park.

Some of the headstones in the park.

 

Super cute, "Little Queen St."

Super cute, “Little Queen St.”

 

River shot by my house.

River shot by my house.

 

Dartford Saturday Farmers Market. I love going here because stall owners yell back and forth to each other and call out deals to customers, it's a great experience.

Dartford Saturday Farmers Market. I love going here because stall owners yell back and forth to each other and call out deals to customers, it’s a great experience.

 

My street.

My street.

 

One of the houses I pass by on my walk home.

One of the houses I pass by on my walk home.

 

Another house I pass by on my walk home.

Another house I pass by on my walk home.

 

My tap, I love how it tells me the date it was made on the top part of each faucet.

My tap, I love how it tells me the date it was made on the top part of each faucet.

 

Self explanatory.

Self explanatory.

 

Greenwich

Greenwich

 

View of London from the top of Greenwich.

View of London from the top of Greenwich.

 

Big Ben.

Big Ben.

 

2013-09-14 16.24.552013-09-14 16.25.322013-09-14 16.28.12   All different views of Westminster Abbey, the tourist attraction I probably want to see the most, but I didn’t make it there in time to go inside.

A very blurry look at London Bridge lighting up when it is about to open for ships coming through.

A very blurry look at London Bridge lighting up when it is about to open for ships coming through.

 

 

 

 

9/11

Today is September 11th, just saying that date alone is enough to identify what day people think of and remember. Students in my class today were born in 2001, the year it happened, and had no idea what I was referring to. I know this happens in every generation about previous historical events that happened, but I must say it’s still strange when it happens. This also happened when I said “Columbine” to one of my previous classes and again, they had never heard of it. It’s so isolating isn’t, it when you have such a vivid memory of such a tide turning event, and people can’t share in that with you?

I wrote this post because I wanted to feature the writing of my colleague Luigi. Last night as I was lesson planning, he sent out an email with two things attached: a photo of where he worked in New York, and an account of what it was like for him to experience 9/11 in New York with a wife and two children. I started reading his account, and I couldn’t stop. I know there’s so much controversy around 9/11 and that many feel like it’s been talked to death (and both are fair points), but it really hit me hard that someone I knew was present for such an awful moment in time. I sometimes forget that real people were involved in that day, people just trying to get home to their families to let them know they were alright.

Here is Luigi’s account:

September 11, 2001 

I arrived in the office just before 9am.  Between the planes, as it turned out.

I rode the elevator with a colleague, a ‘co-worker’ as they are called here. ‘The World Trade Centre is on fire’ he told me. I feel guilty now but he is Russian and his English is patchy so I didn’t trust his report. I had come directly from the subway into our building without stepping on to the street. I had no idea of the commotion that was unravelling outside.

When we reached our floor the panic was more evident.

‘A plane has hit the World Trade Centre’ someone said.

I went with the Russian guy and another co-worker, an Indian, to an office at the south-west corner of our floor, 18 storeys above the street.

Through a gap in the buildings across Broadway between us and the World Trade Centre we could just see the south-facing side of the south tower. The first plane had hit the north tower but that was blocked from view. We were craning our necks to see the smoke when, after ten seconds, no more, the second plane flashed across the scrap of sky and disappeared into the building.  There was a flash but we were insulated from the noise. Nor did we see the up-town explosion until the evening news.

In a second – a micro-second – it was gone. 

I can’t remember what was said. A woman outside the corner office screamed and hugged someone, and I think we all ducked expecting the windows to implode. But it was surreal, like TV, really like TV, and I remember thinking that the plane looked small as it was swallowed by the giant building against the backdrop of the bluest sky.

As we evacuated the building some people shouted ‘You don’t need to leave,’ but they hadn’t seen what we’d seen. We stood in the plaza and had almost the same view but now from street-level. The south tower looked intact though violated. There was a hole and it was smoking, and there were some flames, but it looked controllable.

‘It was a small plane, I’m sure,’ I remember saying, unwittingly proving that perspective fools us.

All the talk was of terrorism. 

No one knew the tower could fall, but we knew it was stupid to spectate. Cell-phones were useless, the networks were wrecked or overloaded, and there were queues at all the payphones, so I went with an English friend and an American to a bar behind our building with telephones and televisions so we could watch CNN while we rang home. Perhaps we were foolish. Perhaps if we had seen more (more than a plane flying into a building?) we would not have gone to the bar but we were desperate to call our wives. There were queues at those phones, too, and the connections were unreliable, so we had a drink.  They had beer, I had Diet Coke (I was playing squash later) and we stood watching the giant screen while we waited.  People were calm.  At least, sort of calm. I am sure some people were drinking brandy. 

If I remember correctly the news of the Pentagon strike had just been announced when the first tower fell. The noise was incredible; I thought it was a bomb. The street outside the bar was dark in a second. Now people were screaming and running inside and out, and I saw faces pressed against the window. I am going to die, I thought. I really did. Fireballs and smoke inhalation, something like that, in a bar in New York City, drinking Diet Coke. That would be my epitaph. While New York burned he drank Diet Coke.

The pub filled with smoke and what I now know was ash. One of the barmen had the presence of mind to shut the doors and lay damp towels against the gaps. People grabbed napkins and handkerchiefs and covered their mouths. I went with another barman through the kitchen at the back of the pub. ‘Is there a door back there?’ I asked, knowing they must get deliveries from the smaller street behind. The kitchen was hot from cooking. There were corridors leading to the delivery door. As we got closer the smoke was more intense. ‘This is crazy,’ the barman said, and he was right. I was more convinced than ever that my moment had come. It was a rolling metal door and we pulled it up so that the gap was no more than a foot. The smoke poured in and there was ash like snow on the road. Really, like a light dusting of snow or a heavy frost. And we could hardly breathe. We pulled the door shut again and went back into the bar. People were panicking.  There was an emergency exit but it only opened into another building so they were waiting, screaming, unsure what to do. When the smoke cleared slightly we could see people on the street again. My friends and I agreed (two to one) that we should leave. We grabbed napkins and wore them like bandanas. I picked up my squash bag and we went back through the kitchen.

The street behind was deserted. We walked eastwards to the river and then north to Brooklyn Bridge. I live in Brooklyn beside the bridge so my friend came with me while our colleague went uptown.

We were only a short way across the bridge when the second tower fell. We looked back. It was incredible, the noise, the power, a city disappearing. The cloud of dust and smoke followed as we turned again towards Brooklyn.  The Blitz must have been like this.

My mind was full of nonsense . . . going home to the UK, real estate prices, arcane poetry. People were approaching the bridge from every angle, some running, some screaming, some bleeding. The circular slip-road from the FDR Drive was filled with humans instead of cars. ‘This is like hell,’ I said to my friend. ‘In Dante, people walking round. So many, I never knew death had undone so many.’ He humoured me. Unconnected nonsense. 

My wife tells me she has never felt emotion quite like when she heard my key turn in the lock. I still had not called her but she had watched it all on TV and from the car park of our apartment block, and she had left messages on my voicemail at work. I hugged her and our boys, our native New Yorkers (what will they ever know of this?) then I opened a can of Diet Pepsi to wash the dust from my throat. I was covered in ash.

Diet Pepsi. 

We passed the rest of the day watching TV. My friend left about five. My wife and I pushed the children in the stroller up to Brooklyn Heights promenade to see things with our own eyes. The smell and the smoke was too severe for young children so my wife turned back while I went to get Arabic takeaway food.

I didn’t play squash.

The next day I was called into another office of the company but they sent me home at lunchtime and told me to take the rest of the week off. I took my family away from the city to Long Island for six days. The Wall Street office has now reopened but I have been permanently relocated in midtown. Yesterday I went to pick up my things. My desktop calendar was open on 10 September. Time suspended. Almost two weeks. I stood again at the window on the south-west corner and looked out. The sky was so empty. Is so empty.  Where the World Trade Centre stood, now there is only light. Light, space and smoke. I walked to Broadway and stood as close as you can get to ‘Ground Zero’. The towers may be broken but the wreckage is massive. The  skeletal steelwork stands over a giant pile of rubble. It is shocking. Not just shocking, but truly sickening. And everywhere there are soldiers, police, firemen, security personnel and construction workers.  The only traffic on Broadway is trucks, fire engines and police cars.  And television crews. TV.  Everywhere TV. This drama has been lived on television all over the world, or so I am told, but I’m sick of it. Sick of watching, sick of not being able to turn it off, sick of the film of when the second plane hit.  And we all swap stories, over and over. The Russian went closer than me. His wife works nearby and he was almost flattened on the way to her office. The Indian went for a proper look and was knocked to his feet by the blast when the first tower fell. When he opened his eyes he was in darkness under the smoke and ash and a pile of fibreglass insulation. Next to him there was a gigantic slab of concrete that had exploded into the sky and dropped to the floor. He’d lost his spectacles but found his way from the scene by joining hands with other people. It took days for his throat to clear of dust.

Two weeks have passed now.  So many phone calls and emails. People worried or wanting first-hand accounts. We feel as if an enormous pair of arms has been put around us. People ask if I was scared. Well, I was, very.  And I still am. We live so close to the financial centre and to Brooklyn Bridge (a likely target?) that I feel we’re in the middle of it. I get on the subway and every time it slows I feel my pulse quicken. And I frequent too many busy places. But there’s nothing I can do. When I leave for work I say goodbye to my wife and children and shut the door when all I really want to do is stay inside and hug them. 

And to live somewhere safe.

The Twin Towers had cast a giant shadow when they were standing but there’s a bigger one now they’re gone. People on the street stop and look over their shoulder to the space, to the light as if it’s a trick, a dream, and the towers will reappear. Something permanent has gone.

The families of the lost are the same.

There is nothing else to say. 

Luigi Di Castri

Unlike many other eastern Canadians, I had been to Saskatchewan twice before I actually moved there. Both times were unique and wonderful, and I fell in love with the province, actually said out loud to the people I was with “I’d absolutely move here”, not knowing how true that statement would eventually be. My two visits to Saskatchewan included Bruno (a tiny little town where I stayed in a Nun’s convent) and Saskatoon, the province’s most bustling city, (where I stayed at The University of Saskatchewan’s campus).

When I found out I was moving to Saskatchewan I had two week’s notice, and that I was moving to Regina. The only thing I knew about Regina at the time was that one of my closest childhood friends had taken her RCMP training there. So I decided to ask the only other dear friend I had in Saskatchewan what things he could tell me about Regina. Let’s just say, it wasn’t much. So I boarded a plane to Regina, not knowing anything about it except that it was flat, the RCMP headquarters was there and that the city had an IMAX.

Immediately upon landing you can feel how ‘western’ Regina is, I know that might sound like a weird thing to say, but it feels immensely different than the eastern part of Canada where I’m from, but I must say that I felt quite smitten with the place. Although the first apartment I stayed at was admittedly the worst place I have ever lived, I loved walking through the post-work day abandoned streets of downtown Regina, it was eerily quiet, with large buildings looming over you, and the sun peeking around these buildings like it would never set. At the time it seemed I heard every train passing through the city (which are many), with the whistle sound coincidentally sounding like “wheeeaaat, wheeeaaat!”,  a sound I later become so accustomed to, it felt like I never noticed it anymore.

I remember so clearly seeing the actual prairies for the first time while living there, I remember being unable to keep up my part of the conversation because of how much awe I felt for the beauty I was seeing. I think there are many reasons why I felt at home even while being in the middle of the country, but the one I finally figured out was that the endless distance of fields stretching on forever seemed to mirror the ocean I so dearly loved growing up near to. It felt peaceful and calm leaving the city and seeing nothing for as far as I could see. I’m going to be honest, the rest of Canada does tend to be kind of snobby about the prairies, that they’re flat, boring and that you just want to rush right through them to get to either Ontario or British Columbia, and before living there I would agreed with them, but now it seems to be a fundamental under-appreciation for a place that is so undisputedly beautiful. Driving through the prairies gives you a stark explanation of how how tough the settlers had to be that formed those towns and cities, people that didn’t see water or trees, but understood that they had to make it work and did. It gives you an idea of what the world looked like so long ago, when you’re driving along what used to be the ocean floor.  Sun sets, sun risings, thunderstorms, tornadoes, the Northern Lights and even beautiful sunny days were all capable of stopping me in my tracks. I later understood why some prairie folk tend to get claustrophobic when visiting the mountains, even though I personally never felt that way, they love the open skies, and being from Nova Scotia, I wholeheartedly understand that. Early on in my time in Saskatchewan,I remember listening to this CD where this man had written the whole thing about his love for Saskatchewan , and now that I’m gone, (while I do think a whole CD was excessive), I now understand how someone could feel that profoundly about a place and I include myself as one of them.

How can I summarize the almost two years I lived in Regina…it seems impossible. I had the fortunate experience of working several  jobs that ranged from working at places including two wonderful summer camps, working at the immaculate legislature building in provincial politics (a childhood dream) , a non-profit organization (that appealed to my bleeding heart) and teaching, all of which deeply lent themselves to where I am now. I met so many incredible people through those jobs and experiences that while I will always miss loved ones from other parts of my life and the world, I felt the distance was bearable because of the new home that people helped me form. I tend to be cheesy in even the best of times, but I truly feel that I left Saskatchewan a better person than when I entered it. The people there, strangers or friends were always so ready and willing to help, or explain, or just be a smiling face in one of Canada’s easily most unknown cities.

Honestly, I think that’s Saskatchewan’s appeal, you arrive with no expectations and leave more than pleasantly surprised at how such an unknown place can hold such an abundance of extraordinary people and experiences. Thank you Saskatchewan (or more specifically Regina), for embracing me with both arms, I’m a very lucky gal.

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Arcade on Fire

I was at an end of school year staff party looking at my phone to see what time is was, I was double booked for another event, and my ride who had brought me to the party was checking in with me about where to drop me off on her way home.

“Wonderland Arcade” I tried to say quietly to her (although most likely failed)

“You’re going to an arcade?” one of my other co-workers asked

And it seemed at this moment that the whole room stopped with their individual conversations and became quiet, totally engrossed at my new disclosure of my next location.

I stood there among my fellow employees most of them middle age or older, feeling suddenly like I was 13 years old.

“Uh…yeah, it’s this thing my friend organized” I said sheepishly, bracing myself for some unknown reaction.

“You’re SO lucky!” Another co-worker exclaimed

“You’re going to have so much fun!” another co-worker added

And all of a sudden I DID feel really lucky to be spending my night in an arcade.

Now to be fair, you could probably bring me anywhere and I could make it work. I can see the appeal in most things, and if I don’t, I’ll most likely try to see the appeal in the people that might be there. In this current situation, that wasn’t going to be an issue though. I’d never been to this location before, and as a Regina newbie (well kind of), I was excited to see a new location and my friend had rented out the whole establishment so that all of our other friends could go hang out there exclusively, as long as our little hearts desired. However, there was one important factor in me going to the arcade, I’ve never been a ‘gamer’. Honestly, I’m not a fan of electronic games, I wasn’t that kid that was addicted to video games, I find them stressful, I tend to press down on the buttons too hard, and have stressful dreams about levels I didn’t beat, and constantly agonizing over strategies to beat levels I have no business facing.  So what was I going to do at an arcade?

Have the time of my life, apparently.

I finally got dropped off by my kind co-worker and I stood in front of this sign.

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The doors were locked, and inside I could see a nicely sized crowd of ages ranging from mid twenties to mid thirties laughing and giddy with excitement. It was at that moment that I was reminded of the excitement you would get before going to a really cool birthday party. Since adult birthdays are generally restaurant, pot luck or cocktail related, you forget the anticipation of hanging out with your friends in a really cool place sometimes.

The doors were unlocked by the lovely lady hired to chaperone/run the arcade for us throughout the evening and she ushered me in like a VIP, locking the doors to the public behind me. No matter what the venue,  there is something pretty special about renting a whole space for your people and your people alone. People walking by on the street wondering if the amount of fun we looked like we were having reflected the amount of fun we were actually having, the answer is yes.

Immediately, the place filled me with a deep sense of nostalgia, bringing me back to a simpler and younger time. 2013-06-15 22.53.452013-06-15 22.53.33

I looked around to see bowls of party mix, and other familiar party treats, and looked down to see a huge cooler full of beers, putting the adult spin on this location.

My friends greeted me, quickly looking over and yelling to me, but desperately trying not to break their hard earned concentration and scores. I walked over to them, drinking in everything with my eyes, and so happy to be in such a place doing such wholesome things while having a Kokanee in hand.

We all had our vices, the game you just couldn`t walk away from, the one where you just had to try one more time. My friend V`s was the basketball net, she just couldn`t get enough. Mine was Skee ball.

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I felt like a Disney underdog playing that game. Having no idea what score was high or not high, not having one sweet clue what constituted a game well done, or a dud. It wasn`t until a friend of mine passed by, looked at my score and whistled, with a `wowzer, you’re incredible at this!’

Was I? Their reaction was to this score:

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I’ll have to take their word for it.

My stress case of the night was this game.

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It was a game in which I had a gun and basically had to machine gun kill tons of zombies flying at the screen. I’m not a Zombie lover, I can’t even watch “Walking Dead” because I’m so afraid of them. And there I was, gun in hand, shooter position, massacring every terrifying thing that lunged toward me. It felt like the game was never going to end, my shoulders were up to my neck, my hands gripping the gun tightly, and my occasional yelps. The game ended with what felt like an hour long battle with some zombie like Marie Antoinette flying around, to which I shot her to a bloody pulp.

I could see the concern in people’s faces as they witnessed my stress as they passed me.

I’m not built for these kinds of games, I probably wouldn’t make it in a Zombie Apocalypse, or maybe this game was some kind of test that I passed? Let’s hope it’s the latter.

These games:

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Car racing games, I could have played for the rest of my life.

And of course I played a lot of this:

Ms pac man

Does anyone else always think of ‘Wayne World’ when they hear of Ms. Pac Man?

And finally, I glanced up while watching my friends do ‘Dance, Dance Revolution”, I saw this familiar and yet disturbing image that certainly was a blast from the past:

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Is it supposed to be Elvira? Can someone help a sister out? And while that’s cleavage I’ll never be able to pull off (both because of biology and pure modesty), I do respect  her hair feathering, that’s a real commitment to beauty.

I played a solid three and a half hours at the arcade after I decided to gracefully bow out of my evening of gaming.

And on my way home I came across these lovely Reginian landmarks.

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All in all, it was a uniquely splendid evening that was too cool to repeat. Thanks N for organizing, I never would have thought of it, and it ended up being one of my favourite evenings maybe ever.

Game on Wayne.

Glass Class

When I arrived back in Saskatchewan after Christmas holidays in January, I was itching for some kind of activity to get me through the winter. I wasn’t sure what to choose, but I wanted it to be something where I got to learn something I hadn’t ever done before and ideally, it would be creative.

One day after teaching I was walking through my old neighbourhood when I saw it. I was reminded of this adorable little store with large windows that featured stained glass, and more importantly people learning how to work with stain glass. When I lived in that neighbourhood, I would slowly walk by this beautiful store and tried to not too creepily (but probably failed ) look into the windows.  Not that it was hard for me to do, they were these enormous windows that looked onto these two very large tables, with soft lighting, and a trelis with ivy that hung over the table.  This place called out to me, and so eventually, I decided to answer. I walked in one afternoon and inquired about what exactly happened in this cute little place and wondered about how they could hook a sister up.

Inside I found an older gentleman whose accent I couldn’t quite place at the time (but later learned was Iranian) and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction. He literally showed me how to cut glass right there and then just so I would understand how the classes worked, and then he convinced me to bring a friend with me because it would be more fun, he showed me pieces he had made around his store/studio, and I can’t emphasize enough how amazing of a space it was, so obviously, I signed up.

I have a creative mind, but have a real difficult time connecting what I want to do, with what I actually do. I have discovered through the sketching and painting classes that I’ve taken, that visual art tends to be a lot more mathematical than I previously assumed, which is probably why I have so much difficulty with it, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.

And try I did, with my trusty friend J, all through the winter months we toiled (and I’m not exaggerating) through our two projects. Monday nights we’d head on in to this beautiful warm space when it was -40 outside and got to work. The owner, Houssein has owned his store for 12 years and came quite late to stain glass, even though he was involved with visual arts for most of his life. Through talking to him, and watching him teach others, you understand why he does it, and it’s because he such an innate passion for it, and the more unique of a thing someone is passionate about, the more curious I am about that passion. What’s even more endearing  about Houssein and his studio is that he has this group of women that took classes with him when he opened his store, and they still come in and do their projects every Monday night, 12 years later. There’s probably about 8 of them that are such a lovely friendly group of women that seem completely at ease. In contrast, are the new, more transient students that sit at the other table looking worried and concerned at their ability of coming even remotely close to producing anything close to the beautiful things that surround them. It’s really easy to hate your own newbie work when these women are making jaw droppingly beautiful work beside you, and they say sweet things like “You’re doing so well!” or, “I wish I was that good when I started!”, and although you know they’re probably just saying it to be nice, you smile gratefully nonetheless.

I’m a sucker for creative spaces where people are brought together by a common love of something despite their very different backgrounds.  Make that into the feel good movie of the year, and I’ll be the first in line to see it in theatres with tissues in hand, I’m a sucker like that. Houssein would also make a pretty good character in a movie because he’s such a jovial character that always seems to say the right thing. I tend to be self deprecating when learning new things, I like to think it’s because I’m being realistic about the crappy work I’m producing and that I’m alleviating the instructor from having to break the hard news to me. So I’d say things like “I’m really sorry this sucks so much Houssein”, he would stop, put down his tools and say

“Lillian, if you know a lot about stain glass, then why are you in the beginner class?”

“Because I don’t know anything about stain glass”

“Oh right, so how about you let me judge your work, and you worry about learning”

“You’re right Houssein”

to which he’d usually immediately reply

“This…is not good”

to which I’d exclaim

“See!” while laughing.

And then he’d laugh.

This happened a lot.

He’d often also remind his students that “they must walk before they run”, like some kind of Yoda, because well, he just has that effect on people.

Houssein’s shop is like a candy shop for glass, every kind of colour, texture, size, opagueness (?) you could imagine, you could spend hours just pairing together a combination of different things you think would look magical together and then take a shot. I must admit, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction you receive when your instructor is just as or more excited about your project than you are, and I could always count on Houssein for that. I didn’t produce any amazing works of art, and to be honest, I probably won’t go any further with stain glass because there are other things I want to pursue, but Glass Class sure was an amazing time to spend the winter/spring of 2013, and I’ll always remember the warm glow of that studio.

Below are some pictures of the studio, classes, processes and final products! The redish/greenish mirror and Calla Lily are mine.

2013-04-15 21.19.182013-03-04 19.10.39

2013-03-04 19.10.192013-03-04 19.10.262013-04-15 21.06.062013-05-06 19.58.112013-04-15 21.20.12

2013-04-15 21.24.032013-04-15 21.21.48

2013-03-04 19.15.152013-03-04 19.34.402013-03-04 19.15.34

2013-02-11 21.45.002013-02-11 21.45.33

2013-04-22 20.31.022013-05-06 20.53.082013-04-15 21.06.49

2013-04-15 19.30.162013-04-22 20.25.352013-06-19 20.36.08

Writer’s Block

During my Education degree one afternoon a few years ago, my class and I watched a video that I think about (and re-watch) frequently. It’s a TED Talk, and it’s probably one of the most popular if not the most popular talk on the TED website. You’ve probably seen it, and if you haven’t, I think you should pause reading this and take some time to watch this video:

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

I have an academic crush on Sir Ken Robinson and I feel pretty certain that I’m not the only one. I own two of his books, and it’s easy to say that I consider this man somewhat of a role model as an educator. I have an Education degree that came from a program called “Artists in Community Education”, I’m reluctant about calling myself an artist, but exist among and associate with many talented artists. I’m an art advocate, so when I watched this TED Talk for the first time it’s not surprising that I sat there watching the video as goosebumps ran up my arms, completely enthralled by this man who was making me laugh with his witty humour, but also incredibly sad when I thought about the state of the arts in our schools.

But, at the time, I misunderstood the video and I didn’t realize this until a few weeks ago.

I  teach English to kids of different ages, and through this experience it dawned on me loud and clear that this video is not just about the arts. Granted, Ken (do you think he’d mind me calling him that?) might have specifically meant it to just be about the arts and typically, we associate creativity with the arts. But the understanding I now have of the idea that “schools kill creativity” is a much more encompassing term. As an educator,I think that ‘creativity’ means not being afraid to take risks, and not being afraid to think differently.  As Ken explained eloquently in his talk, this isn’t happening enough.

Kids are not pulling enough Susan Boyle moments:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSDoPY9B0wQ

 

or taking the risks and chances Celia Gimenez did on this now, infamous painting.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19349921

Now, granted, sometimes  risks work out for you and sometimes they don’t, hence the word “risk”, but they’re important none the less. The fact is kids aren’t taking enough of them within our school system, because they’re really afraid of “being wrong”, which can be one of the worst things you can be accused of when you’re a young student.

I guess this has been something of concern for me lately because of my challenges regarding students and writing. We’ve all heard the term “writing is a process” because, well it’s true, writing IS a process. I mean, I know that now because I’ve done a lot of writing, granted a lot of it wasn’t good, but I’ve learned that writing is something that takes time. I couldn’t tell you exactly when I learned that, but like most adults, you just know that you know it, and often can’t remember how. As an educator, that’s a real problem. My job is to try and take concepts that we as adults take for granted and try and make them accessible to people that have not yet learned them. Too many kids aren’t writing because they’re afraid to take risks, because they’re afraid that their writing won’t be perfect right off the bat, and they’re afraid their writing will be terrible, so many of them don’t try at all because then they can’t be wrong.

When it comes to writing I feel like you can break it down into a couple of categories:

-Writing you want to do

-Writing you have to do

and

-Writing that sounds stale and forced

-Writing that actually sounds like you

Obviously, the two categories are connected, and I would argue that if you’ve been through the schools system then you’ve definitely done the Writing that sounds stale and forced because you were (are) forcibly engaging in Writing that you have to do. As much as I always loved and enjoyed English throughout my years in the public education system, I couldn’t write an essay to save my life. There was something that always felt so unnatural about it that I couldn’t quite get my mind around, it never quite sounded like me. 

This may not sound like a big deal, but I’ll tell you why it is. It wasn’t until my first year of university that I discovered that I had a voice when it came to writing. That I could write something that sounded exactly the way I wanted it to, and that it felt very similar to something I would actually say. Again, that might sound really redundant, but most children right now are writing things that don’t sound anything like them and they’re uncomfortable with that, but they don’t know any other way, and in turn, many of them hate writing.

They hate writing because they don’t know how good it can be, how genuine it can feel, but I understand completely why many of them can’t stand to put a word down on the page. I believe it’s because we’re mixing two important aspects of writing:

-Content/Style/Ideas

-Grammar/Spelling/Formatting

Both are integral to good writing, because the Grammar/Spelling/Formatting portion allows people to understand the Content/Style/Ideas of a written piece.

The problem lies in our obsession with overly focusing on the Grammar/Spelling/Formatting section first because it actually instills a huge sense of fear and paralysis that keeps people from writing because they’re afraid they’re going to be wrong. Wrong, before they’ve put anything down on a piece of paper. To me, there are few things more heart breaking then watching the stress of a student sitting with a blank piece of paper in front of them, unable to write anything because they’re afraid I’m going to mark a big red x on it before they’ve even gotten a chance to get some kind of writer’s flow. The sad thing is that this trepidation affects students of all ages, and the fear is very real.

As I said earlier, I wasn’t aware a place existed where I could write as me, myself and I until University. I was so deeply fortunate to be apart of a life changing and unique academic experience where on the first day we were asked to write a paragraph. All 17 of us did,( including our three professors) and then an incredible thing happened, our professors asked us to exchange our writing with each other, okay…but here’s the really incredible part, they explicitly explained that they didn’t want us to correct each other’s work, but to actually comment on each other’s writing, i.e. tell them if you really liked the way they explained something, tell them if you agreed with what they said, or tell them why you might disagree with what they said. Essentially we were asked to have a conversation on paper with each other, and it is because of this experience among others that I feel I am more comfortable with writing. It’s wasn’t about the little red pen marks on my page, ticks where commas should have been, ? if they didn’t understand, or awk. if you couldn’t get your thoughts down in a more coherent way. I learned that when you know you have a reading audience of people you like and respect, people you actually want to write for (besides just one teacher), then you’ll take the time and care to want to be clear and coherent for them.

I struggle with how to recreate this kind of writing environment in my future classrooms. How can I take away the fear associated with writing and “being wrong” and replace it with taking risks and wanting to genuinely share thoughts with their peers? Furthermore, how can I explain this amazing process to people who don’t yet see the value in writing, not understanding why they have to write when they can just talk to each other vocally, in person?

I then remember this TED talk that has also deeply changed the way I think about writing:

http://www.ted.com/talks/roger_ebert_remaking_my_voice.html

I love this video because I remember the moment I found out that Roger Ebert had cancer and had undergone quite a dramatic visual transformation. I was reading through his blog when he made mention of his illness and someone on his blog made a comment about how different he had looked. At this point, I had no clue he had undergone anything and felt quite shocked when I saw a picture of him. I think the part that shocked me most was that if I hadn’t read that comment, I may never have known that Roger Ebert had lost his literal voice because his writing was so clear and beautiful. When watching this video, I am reminded of this moment I had because he talks about the relief he feels about being able to remain the same person he’s always been when he’s writing, and I don’t think we should take those words lightly.

Like Roger Ebert, if I were to lose my speaking voice right now, I feel self assured that I too would be able to feel like myself through the written word. I’m not belittling the experience, it would clearly be difficult, but when I think about all the kids that sit and look at that blank page on the verge of tears, I know that we’re doing something wrong, and based on the enlightening experiences I was fortunate to have, I know it can be different.

The question is how? How can I help my students express their “voice”, whether it be in person or in text? Let’s just say that like writing, it’s an ongoing process.

 

Rhythm is a Dancer

I love dancing. LOVE it. But, I’m not a dancer, and honestly, that doesn’t matter to me. I was that child that had a Mickey Mouse leotard and wore it daily with whatever shoes I thought looked good with them (apparently I thought leather loafers with tassels were a good choice). I had in it my mind I was going to be a ballerina, much like many other little girls around my age. I would talk about it endlessly with my parents who would try very gently to let me know that the life of a ballerina is a hard one, that I would probably destroy my feet, and get arthritis and be decrepit when I was 30 years old. They weren’t wrong, these things would probably have been true, but a bigger reason, the actual reason I never became a ballerina was because I was a pretty chubby little girl who just threw her heart out to everyone she met and I think they thought the world was going to be pretty unkind to me. To their credit, they were probably right, but I just kept on dancing, and I guess to my credit, I still do, albeit badly, I just move to the beat every chance I get. 

I do think I have limitations on what kind of dancing I will do though, and I think a conversation I had yesterday with (you probably already guessed) my cabdriver. I was in a rush to get somewhere and was rifling through my bag and the car was silent. A few minutes into the car ride, my cab driver points to his dashboard where there is a business card sitting on it, and asks while pointing to the business card:

“Have you ever been there?”

I read the card and it says “TruClub”

Ignoring the interesting spelling choice, I’m still rifling pretty vigorously through my bag, but not wanting to be rude said

“Uh, no. Have you?”

“Yeah, it’s a good place, it’s brand new”

“Wow, that’s awesome” not really knowing what else to add to this conversation

He then adds: “Yeah it’s a dance club” 

My interest is somewhat peaked at this point, so I ask, “Oh, cool, do you dance there?”

He gets kind of serious and says “Oh no, no, I can’t dance, but you could dance there or anyone could dance there if they wanted”

“Oh well that’s good, I love dancing”

“They even have poles there”

“Poles? Like to do pole dancing?” at this point I’m wondering where this conversation is headed

“Yeah, you can dance on the poles, or anyone can dance on the poles. They also hire people to come and dance on the poles, it a mix. They have men and women dancing on poles”

“Oh, well, I mean that’s good that there are both men and women dancing on poles there, I don’t think I want to watch people dancing on poles though”

“Well, you can dance on the poles and not watch other people, or you can just dance on the normal dance floor”

“So what you’re saying is that I have dance options?” At this point I’m full on laughing out loud at this conversation I’m having with this guy. He seems amused and also laughs.

“Yes, many options. I don’t dance, I just watch. Some people can dance, some people can’t, and those who can’t watch.”

“Well, I guess so. How do you know about this place?”

“I own it” at this point, I’m opely laughing at how ridiculous this conversation is

“You own this dance club? How did you decide to open it?”

“I own the building the club is in, so it’s good”

“Yeah, I really hope it works out for you, and maybe you’ll decide that you want to dance there one day?”

This left him roaring laughing, which again I mirrored as I was getting out of the cab. 

I forgot about this conversation yesterday I had in the cab, until I went to my Zumba class at lunch today. Now before I start talking about Zumba, let’s just make sure we’re all on the same page here. It’s a ridiculous class. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE it, but it’s ridiculous. I take it because a.) I love dancing b.) I laugh during every class and c.) It attracts such a mish mash of people that I find fascinating and today was no exception. 

Before I get into Zumba, let me describe where Zumba is located in the gym I go to. Zumba occurs in the middle of a lot of action. It’s in the interior of the running track with people zooming around you, on one side there are huge weights and machines with many people doing serious pumping of iron, and on the other side is a group of serious fitness enthusiasts who are doing the craziest circuit training routine I’ve ever seen. Then there’s us, the Zumba folk in the middle, with me usually sneaking in to be at the back of the class so I can muddle through without too much attention. 

Zumba doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s a very confusing mixing of different ethnic dances with the word Zumba thrown into famous pop songs. As a person who took ballroom dancing, the massacre of the Samba, Cha Cha, and Merangue are particularly painful, so I just overide and do my own thing during those times because I just think of my past dance instructors and how they would openly weep if they saw what was being done to these beautiful dances.  

The instructors are usually pretty wonderful, and they work it. It takes a lot of energy to lead a fitness class, but Zumba takes it to a whole new level, not because it’s crazy difficult, but because you have to thrown on a persona to do it. What’s weird about Zumba is that it makes me feel like I’m auditioning for a bad dance troop. We get the choreography just as we start, we’re all in front of a mirror and we’re being watched by everyone exercising on the track. We’re all there staring at our instructor as she leads. I don’t know why I never noticed how hilarious Zumba was until today. There we all were, getting through each song doing the best we could, and I started looking around at everyone, and I think the reason it felt like an audition is because everyone was so committed to the music and the ridiculous dance moves, and it feels like everything is on the line. We get the choregraphy two seconds before and it’s show time. Perhaps my feelings towards Zumba are heavily influenced by my deep love of dance movies/shows ie. Center Stage, Step Up and SYTYCD, I mean can you really blame me? 

Another thing that makes Zumba really hilarious is all the “sexy” dance moves it incorporates. I love dancing, but you will never catch me grinding with anyone, or doing a Beyonce booty shake, it’s not in me, and you can go ahead and call me a dance prude, I won’t put up an argument. But in Zumba, there’s an excessive amount of “sexy” dancing. Like I’m talking full shimmies, bum shaking, hand sliding up the leg and body, it’s all a lot. And there I am uncomfortably sticking out my bum wanting to die, while hilalriously laughing, while trying not to trip the runners with my booty. It’s a lot to think about. 

I always leave a little bit of my pride on that Zumba floor, but I’m usually grinning as I leave thinking about how badly I looked. Today, I was in the dressing room when I ran into my Zumba instructor when she stopped me and asked:

“Are you a dancer?”

“Uh, no, but I used to do some ballroom dancing, but it was a long time ago”

“You move so beautifully, I was watching you behind me in the mirror doing the Cha Cha and all I could think was how I wished I could dance as well as you”

Huh. Well, look at that. Apparently I’m not as invisible as I thought I was in the back row and…apparently someone thinks I’m a dancer. My five year old self would be pretty pleased with this news. 

Since moving to Saskatchewan over a year and a half ago, I’ve been confronted with Christianity more than I have in a long time, maybe even ever.

Growing up, contrary to what maybe a lot of other people experienced, I had a wonderful religious upbringing (if you can call it that). I grew up as an Anglican that attended a really wonderful parish, and I was probably the only 7 year old that asked my parents if I could go to church, which they happily obliged to probably equally surprised that they didn’t have to force me. They didn’t even really go with me, mostly they just dropped me off and picked me up when church was finished, and I usually had a great time. I didn’t know it then, but the Anglican church in Nova Scotia, and maybe more specifically my parish, seemed to be pretty progressive in the 1990’s. I had fantastic women  role models and they played a huge role in my church (my minister went on to become the current Bishop), I never heard anyone speaking badly, or asking me to think badly about same sex relationships, and people were kind and generous. The people I saw on Sunday were warm people that genuinely made church a great place to go to. Sure, I’m sure there was politics going on that I wasn’t aware of, but even as I got older, and even now, it’s a place I feel like I could go back to with open arms waiting for me. It was not a hell fearing, God punishing church  guilting  people into giving a percentage of their wage and donating it to the church. In fact I didn’t know those kinds of churches existed until a friend of mine took me to her church when I was in my early teens, and I knew that I felt uncomfortable even at that age, something didn’t sit right with me. While I never really talked about homosexuality with my parents or parish, I just knew in the back of my mind that it was something to accept in other people, it didn’t even occur to me until I sat in that church that people could feel otherwise. I always knew there was differences between denominations, but it really wasn’t until then that I really began to understand how deep those differences could be.

Anyways, I digress, I had a positive religious upbringing where I didn’t feel like beliefs were forced upon me, nor did I feel like my beliefs were preachy or pushed upon others. I was probably most heavily involved in church related activities when I was in my teens. I attended a Liberal Arts Roman Catholic University that I loved (although I didn’t choose it because of its’ religious affiliation), and ironically, during that time, I became less religiously involved. Not because of any reason really, except that I got busy, I moved to New Brunswick and the Anglican church there is surprisingly different, and I never had much interest, so I just stopped being involved. Over the years, my feelings towards religion has changed, but it was never because of my direct experiences with it, in fact I still find a lot of solace just by sitting in a church pew, I’m still awestruck by the beauty of churches, even if I feel conflicted about them.

But this post isn’t about my religious beliefs. It’s about Saskatchewan.

I first came into contact with Public Catholic School Boards when I moved to Ontario to obtain my teaching degree. I don’t know if this is surprising or not, especially now living more and more west than where I initially came from, but the Maritimes don’t have a Public Catholic School Board. In fact when I first heard they existed I was…surprised, and really uncomfortable with the idea. In fact school and religion were very separate all throughout my public school years in Nova Scotia, and in hindsight I think that’s extremely important. However, I’m wondering now, what happened in the Maritimes to separate church and state that didn’t happen in other provinces?

Anyways, when I was checking off the boxes of where I wanted to teach in Ontario the options were

-Public

-Private

-Catholic

For personal and ideological reasons I only chose Public, and it’s not something I gave much more thought to. Many other teachers that I went to school with in Ontario spoke very highly about the Catholic School System, and I believe them, I believe they had wonderful experiences with wonderful educators and that they could readily defend them. When I moved to Saskatchewan, I once again discovered that  Public Catholic Schools were alive and present, and again I made a conscious decision not to teach there. But you can’t get away from Christianity here. Not that I’m trying to “get away from it”, but it’s never been so blatantly apart of my everyday life as it has been here, it seems to be everywhere I go. What’s also strange about Saskatchewan is the people that have brought up Christianity with me have done it in a very passive and friendly way in the assumption that I too shared in their beliefs, and that it was just common knowledge that most people felt that way. It was never hit me over the head, preachy, but it did catch me off guard because most conversations I have ever walked into was always under the assumption that people may and probably do believe in very different things than I do, and that it’s not always a good idea to bring up religion (or politics for that matter) with people you’re meeting for the first time because it may not end well.

Religiously speaking, negative conversations hasn’t happened to me yet here in Saskatchewan, but I do feel infiltrated with a lot of talk about Jesus and the daily role he plays in my life. Now, obviously you can take or leave it, but the awkwardness really comes into play when you’re working with children.

Kids are amazing and really fun to work with. I have the privilege of  tutoring kids during the evening, and I teach anywhere from 1-3 kids per hour and sometimes we get into some really insightful and lovely conversations. Many kids here are taught to love Jesus a lot, and they do, and Jesus would blush at all the great things that are said about him at my table. Even if they’re not in the Catholic School System, they’re still most likely talking about Jesus a lot at home, and while I think that’s great, it can make for some intense conversations at my table. Parents pay a lot for their kids to come spend an hour with me, ideally, you would want your child to return to you telling you about all the great writing they did, or how to write a nice paragraph, or tell me the definition of  word I made them look up. Hopefully, that’s what is being said, but on some occasions I worry. I’m an English teacher, and my job is to teach your child lessons about how to express themselves and learn about the world around them, somewhere in there, I may also talk to them about how to be a good and kind person to others, how to be more responsible, and how they should develop a love for reading. Something I didn’t think I’d be talking about is how much Jesus loves our table, and the things he has and is going to do for our world. One quote I heard that pretty much broke my heart because it was so touching was”

“My mom told me that God doesn’t make mistakes. That God created us all to be different so that we could love each other and learn to accept each other. So people with Special Needs are perfect just the way they are, and we should love and accept them”.

Whoa. I mean, that’s some heavy stuff from a seven year old. Also, I’m a huge sap for inclusion, and religious or not, I’m obviously in huge support of accepting everyone, and I love it when kids tell me that stuff early on, it makes me hopeful for the future they’ll be living in. However, I also want to be an honest person, and something that’s really awkward to tell a child with shining eyes, looking up at you, telling you about their love for Jesus, is that not everyone believes in this same great guy that they do.

I mean I only have an hour to cover a lot of stuff, and the belief or non belief in Christianity is not one of them, but I also want kids to be able to have an open dialogue with me and to slowly learn about the world.

Last week on Thursday night the day before Good Friday, one of my students and I were gushing about how great “The Half Blood Prince” was when suddenly he asked:

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Sleeping in, like, yeah, sleeping in like it’s my job”

“Are you going to eat meat?”

“Well..um, I don’t know, but, yes, probably”

“But it’s Good Friday, people aren’t supposed to eat meat”

Ummmmm. So yeah, just like that. Religion snuck up on me again. I gently told him that different families have different ways of experiencing Good Friday and that not everyone even celebrates it (although celebrate seems like an awful word to use to describe Good Friday). Anyways, we’re chatting, and things are going well until another student at my table asks:

“So when is the second coming of Christ exactly?”

Whoa.           Whoa.            Whoa.

I mean I had to laugh (internally of course), this conversation was getting way more intense than I could have ever imagined, but there he was looking at me expectantly, and although I was flattered that he would think I personally would know the answer, the only thing I could answer was:

“I really don’t know”.

That answer, surprisingly, seemed to satisfy him, and the other student I was previously was talking to, and they resumed working. I then breathe a huge sigh of relief that I have dodged another bullet and wonder how much longer before I get hit. My biggest fear is that one of these kids will go back to their parents telling them about our conversation and something like this will be said:

“So, Lill says that the second coming of Christ is not going to happen”

or

“So, Lill thinks people should eat meat on Good Friday”

Now, neither of these things I have ever said, nor would I say, but it’s easy to see how those things could be misconstrued. Now imagine that I taught in a Catholic School and had to teach Christian Ethics (which I didn’t even know existed until recently) and had to give students answers on things like The Afterlife, punishment for sins, and I can’t even think of what else. It’s enough to make me need to breathe into a paper bag.

These conversations are mostly with elementary aged school children, and when (it’s a lot less frequent) it happens with my High School students, the conversations are less of a statement and more of a discussion. Obviously, I’m sure there are other teachers in other places besides Saskatchewan grappling with the same issues that I am, and I’d be curious to their approaches, but here I am, struggling with religion and education even though I’ve done my darnedest to avoid it.

Apparently I can’t, and in the meantime, I’m learning some pretty amazing conversational redirecting techniques that I think will serve me well in other aspects of my life. Lord knows I’ll need it.

Dude, Where’s My Car?

It’s no secret to any of my friends or family that it’s time I got a Driver’s License, and over the years there’s been a whole load of reasons why I didn’t, except those excuses ran out, and I live in the prairies where people have been driving tractors on their farms since they were 9 years old. Let me tell you, nothing makes me feel more like a ‘city girl’ than not having my license, and anyone who knew me as a child knows that I obviously didn’t grow up in the city. I sat on the school bus with people who talked about how many deers they shot over the weekend, and how many beers they drank at their ‘camp’ which was essentially a secret shack that existed in the woods.

So, living in the middle of the prairies and having my then boyfriend pick me up from places like I was a 15 year old girl was wearing thin on me. I decided to take action. I had been slowly working my way to getting my full license after a very challenging experience of learning how to drive Standard with my then partner*.

(*Side Note: Don’t learn how to drive with your partner, no matter how patient, or good of a driver they are, they’ll never be as patient with you, and you’ll probably fight. Leave it up to the professionals, your relationship will thank you. This is quadruply true if you are learning how to drive Standard)

Anyways, 2013 started and I approached learning how to drive with a real commitment and hunger. I was determined to explore this province that I lived in by my own wheel, deciding where I got to go, how much time I spent there and I would have full control of the music that would play on my way there. I was doing pretty well, my driving instructor (who never seemed afraid no matter how dangerously I drove, and I later found out he was an ex-cop, it all made sense) was very patient with me, and I did get better to the point where I wasn’t flinching at oncoming cars, hugging the sidewalk or yelping everytime I changed lanes. So I was finally ready to take the test.

Before I talk about the Driving Test, let me tell you about reason #238 why I need to get a Driver’s License. Well actually they’re a pretty big reason, in fact they might be the most important. Cab Drivers. Anyone’s who has ever lived with me, knows intimately my experience of taking cabs. I take a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love Public Transit and I use that a lot too, but I take an awful lot of cabs. I always knew this to be true but this has been recently highlighted in the past week by several cab drivers that have made the following comments. Now, I’m obviously not a wall flower, I can be chatty and make conversation with the best of them, but in all honesty, I love not talking in cabs, like, I will tip extra if you don’t talk to me my whole cab ride. However I will also tip extra if you tell me your life story about where you were born, how you got to the city you’re currently in and how much you’re working to put your kids through college. I’m a bleeding heart, its written all over my face.

Back to the comments, in the last week I’ve heard:

“Hi, you want to go to (address I haven’t lived in for four months) right?

“You’re the girl from Halifax right?”

“Are you going to (my part time job location)?

And this is literally only within the last seven days.

Today was a real gem

My Cab Driver today picked my up from my work place to bring me to my other part time job, I got in the cab, he asks me where I’m going, how I am etc. It’s pretty quiet most of the way, I’m a pretty happy gal. Until he says in a heavily accented voice

“Is Linda your last name or your first name?”

“It’s Lillian, and it’s my first name”

“Oh”

Because I’m uncomfortable with him knowing my name, but me not knowing his, I ask his name:

“Gill”

“Huh, Gill and Lill, they rhyme”

“Yes, matchy, matchy”

I then laugh, he gets right to the punch

“You live at (gives my current street address even though I’m not going there) right?”

“Um, yes?” (at this point just so embarassed at how many taxi drivers know my address)

“Yes, are you married?”

“Um, no”

“Boyfriend?”

“Um, no” (at this point I’m laughing at how blunt his questions have become)

(something I don’t understand that sounds like “Girls?”)

“Uh do I like girls?”

“No, kids, do you have kids?”

“No”

“Do you drink beers sometimes?”

“Yes, I do drink beer sometimes”

“That’s good, you have a good day, okay?”

At this point I’m at my destination, and we say our goodbyes, once again just laughing at how ridiculous my interactions are with cab drivers and how I wished I had driven there myself. But I couldn’t, because I still don’t have my driver’s license. Even though I was scheduled to take it that morning.

Onto the more important part. I was scheduled to take my Driver’s Road Test at 9:30 am. I got lots of sleep, I practiced a bunch on the weekend, I ate breakfast. I felt like a champ. I headed over to the Driver’s Examination building signed in and sat down. I looked around the room and secretly enjoyed the variety of people were in the room, and how driving was bringing us all together, I sent positive thoughts to everyone before their test. Then my name was called. I took a deep breath, stood up and shook hands with my instructor. We then headed outside.

Instructor: “So what car are we driving today?” as she pans the parking lot

Me:”Yeah, I wonder what car we’re driving?”

Instructor:”No seriously, what car are we driving?”

Me: “I don’t know, you tell me?”

This is where it all fell apart. Both of us stood there thinking the other person was being cute and coy when really we were wondering where the hell the car that didn’t exist was.

Instructor: “Are you telling me you don’t have a car here?”

Me:”How could I have a car? I don’t even have a license, that’s why I’m here!”

Instructor: “Don’t you have freinds?”

(at this point we’re back inside infront of the group of people I had sent mental good wishes to, and now they were all witness to my mortifying moment)

Me: “Yes I have friends, but I just found out two seconds ago that I needed a car, that’s an important thing to tell someone before taking a driver’s test”.

Needless to say, she was not happy with me. However, the moment was redeemed by the very sweet woman who had registered me who said

“Well, I mean it doesn’t happen often that someone doesn’t show up without a car, but who could blame you? It’s not posted anywhere, how could you have known?

Yes, thank you, how could I have known? I felt like a moron obviously, but honestly, am I the one that’s a moron? Or is the government agency that expects people without driver’s licenses to bring a car with them somewhere?

So…driver’s road test and adrenaline postponed, until further notice.