Monthly Archives: November 2012

What Diversity!


Check out some of the things that are happening in Winnipeg to help young people celebrate and share their cultural diversity on my Destination Winnipeg site. 

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Filed under Art, Books, Culture, Education, Winnipeg

The Weekend- Go Go Go

This morning I was visiting my Mom at St. Boniface Hospital and told her all about my weekend. Here’s what happened.

Friday morning I gave an art gallery tour to grade twelve students called Media Messages. The kids kept a running record of the different kinds of art media we saw. The installations in the Winnipeg Now exhibit made their lists very long. We learned different artists convey the same message using very different media and artists can use the same media to convey very different messages. I also told them the story of the Tobit Tapestries which I enjoy more each time I share it. 

Friday afternoon I worked on a slide show I’m putting together for my Aunt Vi’s 90th birthday party this coming Friday. I’m really looking forward to seeing my cousins who will be in attendance. I haven’t seen some of them in ages. Aunt Vi recently wrote her autobiography so I used photos she had collected for that life story to create the power point for her party. It was an interesting project because it gave me new insights into my mother’s life as well. She is my Aunt Vi’s younger sister. 

Friday night we went to Steinbach for supper at the home of our friends Don and Marlene and then went to a concert at the ninety- year- old  Calder House, an interesting feng shui style bed and breakfast just outside of Steinbach. The performer we saw was Joe Grass a folk musician from Quebec.  The concert was sponsored by Home Routes a not-for-profit arts organization that is trying to expand the performance infrastructure for folk music in Canada. A number of friends as well as former student of mine were in attendance so it was nice to visit before and after the concert and during the intermission. 

Saturday morning we met our friend Les for breakfast at the Free Press Cafe and together with him visited an art and craft show called Crafters Anonymous at the Exchange Community Church. Another friend Di was showing her leather work and we bought some pieces from her as Christmas gifts. I also couldn’t resist some earrings made by a woman who creates all her jewelry out of materials that don’t decompose and are difficult to recycle. My new earrings were assembled from computer parts and buttons. 

Saturday afternoon it was time for house work. You know from previous posts I’ve done that I don’t like it; but my fridge and kitchen cupboards were in a sorry state and I was scared we might soon have a ‘creature’ infestation if I didn’t attack things with elbow grease and detergent. 

Saturday night we had supper with my brother and his partner at Prairie Ink at McNally’s. I had a couscous salad I had never tried before. Highly recommend it! Then we were off to see The Life of Pi. My brother, having read my blog post A Crick In My Neck, made sure we got there early to get good seats. I loved the book  The Life of Pi and so I was somewhat apprehensive about seeing the movie because I thought it would disappoint as film versions of books so often do. But the Ang Lee version is true to the book and although the ending is perhaps spelled out a little too clearly, the whole thing was a cinematic wonder, a luscious feast for the eye and quite an experience with 3D glasses. 

Sunday morning we attended Hope Mennonite Church. Dave and I have been church tourists for over a year as you will know from previous blog posts but we hadn’t tried Hope Mennonite yet. They share their space with Young United Church and this Sunday they happened to be having a joint service. What a treat! The sanctuary was full, Lottie Enns Braun, Young United’s organist extraordinaire was at the pipe organ and directed the choir. The final hymn Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah with a soaring choir descant and full harmony was a thrill to sing and the postlude, a Bach fugue Lottie played was worth the trip to church all on its own. The sermon using the plot from The Wizard of Oz and the Biblical story of the Loaves and Fishes from John 6: 1-15 as reference, was a reminder that things are always more easily accomplished when people with different gifts and strengths work together. 

After the service Paul and Elisa, university friends of our children, invited us over for lunch to their home. Paul had made a hearty and delicious chowder and there was crusty bread. It was interesting to catch up on their lives but especially fun to play with their son and daughter little Joanna and Caleb. Joanna was full of smiles when you sang to her and Caleb has a great throwing arm and wanted to play catch. He also loves listening to stories. 

When we got home I made a salad and then we were off to our friends’ home for the Canadian Football League championship Grey Cup Party. We have gone to our friends Fran and Marge’s house for Grey Cup parties for over 30 years, although we’ve missed the last six or so because we were in Hong Kong. The game I have to admit was of little interest to me, although I do know Toronto won, but the visiting and food was definitely a highlight. 

Now that our busy weekend is over, I’m ready for the more regular routine of my week. 

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Filed under Reflections

Teacher Can You Spare A Dime?

This last week I was at schools observing and assessing the student teachers I supervise.  As the young woman in the first class I visited got a copy of her lesson plan out of her school bag I saw it was full of new mittens, hats and scarves. I asked her about them. “It snowed last week and was so cold. I noticed lots of the kids weren’t dressed properly when they went out for recess so I bought them some things,” she said. 

In the next classroom the student teacher had a brand new book she was reading to the kids. When I asked her about it later she told me she’d bought it at the book store because the school didn’t have any books on her lesson topic. This  student teacher had printed up hundreds of tiny colored pictures on her own computer with her own paper to create a math learning game for her students. 

Student teacher number three had brought her personal computer to school to present a slide show for her math lesson because the class didn’t have a lap top computer. She was paying up to $15 a day for parking because the school couldn’t make room for her in their parking lot, despite the fact she was donating dozens of hours of her time each week to coach one of their volleyball teams. 

One junior high teacher had bought deodorant for her students who really needed it after gym class. She had a table full of props and samples she had purchased as a way to illustrate her science lesson on optics. In that same junior high school another teacher introduced her poetry unit by handing out poetry journals to each student. You guessed it! She’d bought them herself. And so it went with each student I visited. They’d brought in art supplies, prizes, books and all kinds of things.

It reminded me of my own teaching career. When I taught elementary school I bought rugs, pillows, puzzles, bookshelves, magazine racks, charts, toys, maps, math manipulatives, puppets and hundreds of books for my classroom. I even had a sand table custom-built. I bought food stuffs for baking projects, gifts for children at Christmas, stickers, craft supplies and in the age before digital photography paid for film and developing hundreds of photos each year.  In one school I kept granola bars and other breakfast items in my cupboards for kids who weren’t getting breakfast at home. I also paid for professional conferences and professional books and education courses I took.  

I never kept track of how much I spent because it would have been too scary and I couldn’t claim it for a tax credit, even if I had kept track. According to this document  while anyone can claim a tax credit for professional expenses in order to do so; their employer must sign a form agreeing that those monies were indeed spent. School divisions refuse to do this because they say teachers are not required to spend their own money on their classrooms; they choose to do so. 

Teacher Can You Spare A Dime was the title of a Time Magazine article about teachers spending money on their classrooms. It was also the headline for a feature story in the Toronto Globe and Mail in 2002. Investigative reporter Jan Wong interviewed teachers in Ontario, and did research nation wide, to find out exactly how much of their own money Canadian educators spent on their classrooms each year.  $180 million was her conservative estimate. Although the average teacher was ‘out of pocket’  $600 annually, Wong had no difficulty finding educators who were investing  $2000  a year in supplies for their students. 

Businesses are well aware teachers are willing to spend their own money on students. Some office supply stores, have special aisles just for educators, which hold some five hundred different products for classroom use. Jan Wong interviewed one Staples manager who offered a five percent discount to educators because they were such good customers.

I was a little disheartened to discover that in the last decade or so nothing has changed when it comes to teachers investing financially in their classrooms. Teachers still do not receive compensation for their outlay of personal funds.  My student teachers are supposed to be learning what the real world of teaching is like. I guess they are. They are realizing that being a teacher means you have to be willing to invest more than time and effort into your career. You need to invest a fair bit of your own money too. 

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Filed under Education

Residential Parking Crisis in Winnipeg’s Exchange District

Last night residents of Winnipeg’s east and west Exchange Districts attended a meeting where they hoped to hear about the city’s solution to the lack of residential parking in our neighborhoods. We weren’t presented with a solution, only a promise one is being worked on. It wasn’t what many people came to hear. Read all about it on my Destination Winnipeg site.

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Filed under Winnipeg

Retirement Advice From New Zealand

We got some valuable advice about getting the most out of life as a senior citizen on our trip to New Zealand a few years ago. We stayed in three different bed and breakfasts each run by a couple in their late seventies or early eighties. I learned something from each one.

Jan and Lin’s beautiful home was perched atop a knoll overlooking a lake. Lin was in charge of the immaculate yard, lush with flowers and shrubs. Former dairy farmers, they decided to take in bed and breakfast guests as a way to fully utilize their large home. They had two children and three grandchildren living in Australia so they only saw them once or twice a year. Jan made us piping hot croissants and fluffy omelets for breakfast and set a lovely table with dishes and linens she’d collected from their world travels. She gave me my first piece of retirement advice. “You can’t count on your children to live close by in your old age so its important to have good friends. If you have the right attitude you can make friends wherever you are.” Jan was an avid quilter, belonged to a bridge club, sang in a choir and worked for the Save the Children organization. Lin was a member of the golf club, the Lions Club, the veterans club and a business association for bed and breakfast owners. He gave us our second piece of retirement advice. “You need structure, commitments and schedules to be happy”, he said.           

Structure and organization weren’t high on the list for Diane and Keith our next bed and breakfast hosts. Their home was fairly small and comfortably ‘messy’.  The heavily treed yard was a little on the wild side. We arrived on Christmas Day and the place was overflowing with people. Diane and Keith had their children and grandchildren over but also many other people who obviously needed a place to go for Christmas, new immigrants, lonely neighbors and a recently widowed friend. We were warmly welcomed into the milieu and there were even gifts under the tree for us. As we got to know Diane and Keith over the next couple of days, we discovered that while they spent lots of time with their children and grandchildren they had also extended their family circle to include many others. Seemed like a great way to enrich retirement.

Bob and Colleen were the oldest couple we stayed with. They were in their mid- eighties and already had five great grandchildren. Bob and Colleen regaled us with tales of their adventures on every continent. They were wine connoisseurs and talked excitedly about the recent wedding of a granddaughter.  They attended barefoot because she was married on the beach. Colleen belonged to a writers group. One afternoon during our stay she canned thirty jars of apricot jam and then whipped off a letter to the editor of the local paper concerning an issue she felt passionate about.

Colleen whistled hymns and Beatles’ songs almost constantly as she worked.  She gave me a piece of retirement advice over a cup of tea one evening, “ I love my children desperately” she said “but I’ve realized its not healthy for me to be involved in every detail of their lives.” Colleen was vivacious and opinionated and I wished I could be just like her in twenty years.

I saw some inspiring senior citizen role models during my trip to New Zealand. If I can have a retirement as rewarding and positive as theirs I don’t need to worry about getting old. 

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Filed under New Zealand, Retirement, Travel

Glass Half Empty? Glass Half Full?

Emptyful by Bill Pechet

I think I’m a glass half full kind of gal most of the time, but not always and not in all areas of my life. A recent CBC Ideas program about optimism had me thinking about what makes some of us decide to wear rose-colored glasses while others tend to be pessimistic.  We all know people who look first for what could go wrong rather than what could go right but according to a book by Tali Sharot called The Optimist Bias most of us are born optimists. The human species needs to be optimistic in order to survive.  

Most people are actually more optimistic about positive outcomes than reality dictates they should be. Reality sucks. 40% of us will get cancer. 50% of us will get divorced. 100% of us will get old and die. Being  unrealistically optimistic can be good for our mental health and make us less stressed. A positive orientation is also good for our cardiovascular health. 

I wonder if we inherit optimism?  I know families where both parents are very optimistic people but their children exhibit varying degrees of  optimism. I suspect that while biology and nurture can influence how optimistic we are, life events and experiences can also change a naturally optimistic person to a pessimistic one and vice versa. 

Charles Carver of the University of Miami suggests it is best to have a balance of realism, optimism and pessimism if we want to have safe and happy lives. A measure of optimism can keep us plugging hopefully along even when things aren’t going well. You need to have a certain amount of optimism in order to get married or have kids or pursue a career especially in certain fields.  

A little pessimism can be helpful if it inspires us to try to fill the half empty glass by taking actions that will improve our lives or the life of society. 

During a panel discussion on the CBC Ideas program one of the participants suggested that it is a mistake to think of optimism as an individual endeavor. We live in families and communities and networks so we need to help each other cultivate optimism. Parents who encourage their children and affirm them in their endeavors and pursuits make their offspring more optimistic about their chances of achieving certain outcomes.  If their parents continue to provide unconditional support, even when children fail, kids will be optimistic enough to try again. Schools play an important role as well in helping young people become optimistic individuals.

Cultivating a optomistic next generation is essential to the preservation of society and culture.


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Filed under Health, Reflections

Have You Lost Your Marbles?

If you drive down Portage Avenue in Winnipeg you will see a series of huge marble sculptures. Want to know more about them? Read the article on my Destination Winnipeg site. 

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Filed under Art, Childhood, Winnipeg