Monday, 29 September 2008

Purple cows

I hope my kids colour their cows purple.

I was at our Early Years Centre the other day and a four year old girl proudly displayed her beautifully coloured picture of a cow - bright purple. Her mother took the paper and looked over it, then commented kindly: "You silly, silly girl. Cows are supposed to be brown! Next time you'll have to make sure you colour it brown."

And you know what? Next time she probably will colour it brown, just like cows are in real life.

Is it important for her to know cows are brown? Sure - if she looked out on a field and thought the cows were actually purple, there might be a problem. But personally I think art is a time for unlimited creativity. What if someone told Jackson Pollock that painting is for portraits? Or John Cage that you can only play the 88 notes on the piano? What if the Wright brothers were told that wheels are only for the ground and not to help launch themselves into the air?

As I watch Colin and other children grow, I'm starting to believe that most people's creativity peaks around the age of 4 or 5 years. Up until this age, children are free from inhibitions and the rules imposed from outside forces. They see absolutely nothing wrong with colouring a cow purple - in fact, they probably don't even consciously decide whether or not it's an appropriate colour choice. Some burning flame of creativity chose a crayon and simply created.

Too often I hear of stories where children and youth are discouraged from thinking outside the box. Too often teachers simply want a regurgitation of what they put into their pupils minds.

James tells a story of reading "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in high school. He posed the question in class "What if McMurphy really was crazy?" "No, he wasn't," the teacher replied. "But what if he was?" James persisted, perhaps on the brink of opening up an entirely different conversation about the book. "No, he wasn't. That's the point - he wasn't crazy." "But what-" "You're wrong," the teacher insisted and shut the door on the possibility. Now the author may very well have never intended the character to be perceived of as crazy - but what if he was? Let me tell you - a paper on "why McMurphy wasn't crazy and what is incarceration in the mental hospital says about society at the time" might get an A from the teacher, but would probably not have an original thought in it. But a paper on the idea that McMurphy really had mental issues and how the other characters aided in his demise - now that is something new and might even be read by more than one high school English teacher!

I'm an artist, and so I obviously have tendencies to nurture the artistic aspects in my children. But creativity is about so much more than purple cows. It's about free, independent thought, thinking outside the box, and societal revolution! In my books, purple cows breed the new, unheard of inventions and ideas of tomorrow.

Pass the green crayon, please.

Friday, 26 September 2008


I don't know when I become so emotional, but my best guess is to tie it to becoming a mother. I never used to cry. I think if I cried when I got hurt as a kid my mother would rush me to the ER. And emotionally I was a tomboy and for some reason never wanted to cry around other people when it came to feelings.

But I've just come from watching the final season premiere of ER, a show which I've seen most of over the 15 years it's been airing. I can still remember the series premiering in September 1994. I was entering high school, and my mom let me know that I could stay up late on Thursday nights to watch it, just her and I. It was "our thing". We hung in there for the first 5 years together before we started to fade from it. University brought commuting, jobs, filmmaking and a hundred other commitments, all of which edged out the show. Over the years I've come in and out, catching at least some of each season, and staying fairly on top of the characters.

And today as I watched the premiere of the 15th season, I was a total wreck. One of the lead characters lost his life; thank goodness no one was around to witness the tears streaming down my face.

As I'm sitting watching the screen, I'm telling myself inside that it's a little ridiculous. First of all, it's not real. Second of all, it's not real! Third, I'm a filmmaker myself and know all the tricks in the trade on how to manipulate a viewer's emotions. Oh yeah, and did I mention it's not real?

Didn't matter. I'm up there blubbering like a fool, with no kleenex box in site, trying to catch each word because I've got the volume at "1" because the kids are napping. Each scene milked my emotions for all they were worth, adding element upon element until there was no hope for my recovery.

You know, it wasn't even really the show itself that was making me cry, because he wasn't even a favourite character. It wasn't really the idea of death, because I haven't experienced the loss of someone really close to me, and I have a firm belief of seeing those who pass on after this life. What I think it really was, was the idea of not being able to see someone I love, someone who loves me, someone whose daily existence in my life is so important that I would feel the acute emptiness of the days without that person. I would miss their influence in my life and who I was because of him or her. All those people I see day in and day out, with whom I have seemingly mundane interactions like cooking a meal or going for a walk. The thought that one minute all that is taken from me is what really made me a sucker for that episode today.

It's not real. I know that. I also know that good stories and good writing are borrowed from our lives. What makes us connect with film and television is that we've been there, and we intimately know those emotions. And so I allowed myself a good cry, allowed myself to share it here, and now I think I'll go hammer some more pickets into my fence.

Every day things

This morning after breakfast while I lingered at the table indulging in a few friends' blogs, Colin crept up and longingly asked:

"Mommy, can I sit on your lap, just for a minute?"

My heart melted as I pulled him up, acutely aware these moments will fast disappear in the coming years.

Once on my lap he laid his head on my shoulder, gave me a quick hug, and then impishly reached for my glass of orange juice and drained it to the last drop.

Then as a peace offering, he serenaded me with "I've been workin' on the railroad".

I love my boys.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Colin keeps on learnin'

I am completely amazed at not only how much children need to learn, but how quickly they learn it also! Here's a summary of where Colin is at right now, at 2 3/4 years:

1. He can count to 20
2. He knows his left and his right.
3. He can tell you how many of something there is without needing to count it (ie: on a walk yesterday: "Look, there's three pumpkins" and "where are the two girls and one boy going?")
4. He can transfer knowledge to another context (ie: When he came home from nursery school he came across his basketball, brought it to me and said "Basketball starts with a "ba ba ba" sound!" Earlier that day he had coloured a cutout of a basketball when he learned the sound at school)
5. He knows (and will tell you) that ladybugs eat aphids, but that birds will not eat ladybugs because they taste gross.
6. His vocabulary is astonishing. He uses a whole range of synonyms for the word "gross" (including, but not limited to: disgusting, yucky, chalky, terrible, awful.) He speaks in full, proper sentences, and often strings thoughts together using "and," because," "if...then." He understands verb tenses, also. He expresses his emotions like "excited" and "sad" and tells us he's not feeling well and needs to either go to the doctor, or in the ambulance to the hospital.
7. His memory of songs is always expanding. His catalogue now includes a whole host of Michael Jackson songs (thank you, James) including "Stranger in Moscow".
8. His memory alone is amazing. He never forgets anything. If you are talking about something when he goes to sleep at night, he wakes up in the morning and continues the conversation as though you had only pressed "pause". He will recall something months later a fact he only heard once. He reminds me of things I forget all the time, which used to be a little embarrassing, but which I am growing used to now.
9. He still loves to read, devouring on average 8 books a day. He commits the story to memory instantly and will retell it throughout the day. He can also answer questions about the story, and applies what he reads to what he sees in the world around him.
10. This is a phrase he used on me this morning that made me double over in laughter inside: "Tell you what, Mommy: if Caleb goes to sleep in his stroller, then we can all walk over to Every Kids Park, if you want. Isn't that a great idea? Yep, it sure is."

(Because of my seeming inability to get myself together to scrapbook, I'm hoping these entries will serve as a good alternative for my boys down the road when they ask me at what age they accomplished certain things. Hence the daily diaries on our lives!)

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


My parents never discussed their personal political views as I grew up, but they taught me that to be informed and to vote is an important aspect of being a part of society. They didn't want to push their own views on me, but rather let me find my own way, listening to debates and sorting through political platforms.

I vote in every election. I read up on the party leaders and my local candidates. I try to attend our local all-candidates meeting and debate. I sort out my own feelings on the different issues and categorize them into priorities. I've always known that I should participate, but today I read an article that articulated perfectly why it's so important.

Women constitute 51% of Canadian voters. I bet I could say most of them are mothers, or have the mothering instinct in them. That means if we all got out to vote, we would have total control of who is elected to govern our country. We could have our voice heard, and lead this country where it needs to go.

Here are some excerpts from the article that inspired me today:

"Why Moms Need to Vote"

Since becoming a parent, I've tapped into something more primal, more global, more far-reaching and intuitive than a political loyalty. Yes, I (usually) identify with a particular party, but I'll back any politician, any bill or measure that I believe to be in the best interest of children. My kids. Iraqi kids. Sudanese kids. Your kids...

The problem is not our failure to vote. It's also our hesitation (frequently inspired - it's true - by exhaustion) to stand up, speak out, and rock the boat even as we're rocking the cradle. It's our failure to recognize, celebrate, and effectively seize the vast power inherent in the mothering role...

We all have dreams, and here is mine: that one day, all mothers will use their political power and voice not in the way that the media and our husbands, pastors, fathers, and political leaders direct us to, but rather as we're led by our personal wisdom, our deepest intuition, our maternal instinct...

I dream of a day when the image of a woman with a child in tow is the first one that comes to mind when people hear the word "activist." I envision a country in which voters' primary concerns revolve not around oil and money, but around the issues facing families and children, issues like health care, education, paid family leave, and flexible workplaces....I picture a day when the driving force behind politics in my country is not power or money, but maternal love.

If my experience raising three children has taught me one thing, it's this: There is no more powerful political act than mothering. There is no greater reason than my children for me to become politically involved, and there is no more important work to put my efforts to than those things that will make this world a better, safer place for my kids. And your kids, too.

Monday, 22 September 2008

First steps

Yesterday Caleb took his first steps. I thought he might be an early walker. He has been so eager to catch up with Colin. He actually walked holding onto our hands or furniture before he started crawling. As we all sat playing in our playroom last night, Caleb stood holding onto one of his favourite toys (see photo), dancing up a storm to the sounds it makes. Then, seeing me sitting across the room, he simply let go and walked over to me, about six or seven steps. Completely balanced, slow, deliberate steps! It took me by surprise. He loves to motor around holding himself up on furniture, and I just figured his first steps would be a few between furniture pieces. But this event took place simply because he saw something he wanted (me) and came over to get it.

As we bubbled over Caleb and his accomplishment, Colin (true to older brother form) exclaimed: "I can walk too!" then proceeded to crawl around the room on all fours.

Sunday, 21 September 2008


4am is a time of day I am seeing quite often. With a baby who rarely sleeps more than two or three hours in a row, I often find myself squinting at the clock through bleary-eyes to register the time and figure out what my next move is (let him cry a little, get a bottle, breastfeed, rock him, medicine, etc).

4am is also a very bad time of day to have to converse with another adult.

I am really starting to hate 4am.

James and I try to alternate nights getting up with Caleb, so that we can each have some semblance of sanity during the days. We seem to engage on a never-ending battle of who is more tired, whose day is more taxing, who needs the rest more, who can best (and most quickly) get Caleb back to sleep. Generally we go it alone on these nights, but once or twice a week after listening to the other person get out of bed every hour, and hearing Caleb's cries mount to long bouts of screaming, we drag ourselves out to intercede in rescue operations.

At 4am, all those little things that irk you about another person become huge giants. And all your "best" characteristics come roaring out also. The comments are snide, the digs are deep, and there arguments are senseless. The battle to rack up points for your side is not only redundant, but can descend into downright meanness. Apparently, the censor in your brain does not wake up at 4am with you, and words come tumbling out, pushed to the edge by raw emotion.

I hate 4am. Terri-Ann at 4am is not who I want to be. It is not a person I want anyone to meet, let alone my patient and enduring husband. He is the one I love most in the entire world, and too often becomes the brunt of all my negative energy storing up inside.

I want to end these 4am meetings with him. I'd love to spend every moment of every day with him, but really, a 4am rendezvous is not all that necessary. Perhaps we should kill the idea of rescue operations - it might actually be more healthy just to leave the other one to his or her own devices .

But then I realize that that isn't really what I want. What I really want is to overcome those 4am moments, not avoid them. I am not becoming a better me by evading the hard times. I want to reach down deep inside of me and be grateful when my husband pulls himself from the warmth of our bed to come to my aid. I want to remember that he is not commenting on my mothering skills after 6 hours of my inability to soothe my baby. I want to come to his side willingly when he is exhausted from work and church and family responsibilities and send him back to bed without spite. I want to be worked on by God's love so that I can reflect that love in my life, not just while the sun shines, but at 4am also.

I am not perfect. I am not perfect. I am not perfect. I cannot be perfect. Others are not and cannot be perfect. Stop expecting perfection!

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Do clothes make the man (or woman)?

As a woman in the 21st century, I admit that I have a love
of clothes. Not an over-indulgent, buy a new wardrobe every season obsession, but I like to spoil myself once in a while with a cute sweater or a nice skirt. I get caught up in the new fashions, and in making some sort of attempt to make my shoes match the outfit. Every year I go through our closets and donate a bag of stuff to Goodwill. I have enough clothes that I can put my winter stuff away for the summer months, and vice versa in the winter. I only buy things on sale or clearance, and can rarely bring myself to spend more than $25 on an item. And I keep my favourites a long time - I'm still wearing a lot of stuff I bought in high school.

But even all my frugality aside, do I realize just how much I have? I am learning what it really means to "need" a pair
of jeans or a shirt. To be honest, I could probably go the rest of my life and never need to buy another item of clothing.

Above is a picture of Ghandi. He is wearing clothing made from cotton grown in his homeland of India, and spun by himself into the outfit. And this clothing is doing exactly what he needs it to do, nothing more and nothing less. It is protecting his skin from the elements, and actually looks quite comfortable. Clothes actually were a part of who he became, as he advocated for both giving away unnecessary worldly possessions, and supporting his homeland's economy with what he did purchase. He knew that he could speak volumes in the small details of his life.

The further I get from my teenage years, the less important clothing seems to me. I'm beginning to understand the importance of the idea that "the Lord looks not on the outward appearance, but on the heart". I have been blessed with more than "just enough" to get along in this life, and there is much, much, much more I can do with even the little amount I spend each year on treating myself to new clothes.

Now, I'm not saying that I'm giving all my clothes away to wear a sash of Canadian-spun white cotton. But I'm definitely seeing the "must-have-fall-line" of clothes in a new light. And while clothes might not make the person, it is impossible not to see that they do say a lot about who you are. It is a dangerous sliding slope from wanting to take care in personal grooming (a good thing) to being caught up in outward appearances.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Boys boys boys

About a week ago, Caleb learned to climb stairs. And no, not learned like: "I'll try to go up a few, then maybe teeter a little, try to sit down and then tumble back down." Learned like: These stairs are fun to hit my hands on. They make a great noise. Mommy is sitting reading her book and not paying attention. I think I'll climb these stairs. Hee hee. I can hear Mommy getting up and wondering where I am. She can't see me at the bottom of the stairs. Nope, not on the way up. Nope, not on the landing. Nope, not around the corner either. Yay! You found me Mommy, all the way up in your bedroom!"

But Caleb is like that. Once he watches you do something, I can see the wheels in his head turning saying: oh, that's how it's done. And then he does it. He already figured out all our safety locks on the cupboards. He's not an explorer; if he doesn't know how something works or that it opens/moves, he doesn't bother. But once he sees you do it, game over. Good example: I used to take him in the bathroom with me so that I could shower, and he'd just sort of sit on the ground and look around. Then one day he caught a glance at someone sitting on the toilet. As soon as they opened the seat, he was like "cool!" Now he likes to shower in the toilet while I get my shower. Caleb also uses toys really well. His favourite things are cars. He actually turns the car the right way and then crawls around making it "drive". People think it's hilarious, as most babies his age would just turn it over and spin the wheels. But he's seen us and Colin use the toy that way, and so he does, too. This quality is also the reason he's been eating what we eat since he was six months. He was no fool - no one else was eating that pureed stuff from a jar. And don't you try to cut up that apple - he wants the thing whole, just like you!

Both boys are determined. Colin, however, will go at something the same way, over and over and over again, until he gets the result that he wants. This morning he stood halfway across the room trying to throw his pajamas into his laundry basket. It took 16 tries, but he did it, without moving even an inch closer. Caleb, on the other hand, will try something twice. If it doesn't work by the second time, he reassesses the situation and tries something different. He may have to try 7 or 8 different possibilities, but he also sticks with the task until completed. It tries my patience to no end, but it's a characteristic I know will serve both of them very well.

Caleb is also nearly walking. His favourite activity now is to use anything he can as a walker and motor around as fast as he can. He can even maneuver corners, and back himself up if he gets stuck. Because he learns by watching, he's learning quite quickly with Colin around to show him the ropes. Oh, boy, are my boys going to get into all sorts of trouble one day!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Where am I coming from?

After reading a recent entry, my mom called me up and posed the question: "Where are you coming from?" I usually try to make most of my posts somewhat coherent, even when it comes to the subjects that seem to be so important and so urgent that they are bouncing around like ping pong balls in my head, waiting for action.

So, where am I coming from? I don't know that I could catch and contain all my thoughts on paper. Poor James is often at the receiving end of incoherent excitement spilling from my brain and mouth. Yesterday I announced that I need to spend some time helping to build up small villages in Africa. (James thinks I need to stop listening to the CBC radio.)

So, where am I coming from? Well, I think the only way to understand, other than daring to crawl around in the corners of my brain, is to start with:

"Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology"
"In Defense of Food"
"Homeschooling for Excellence"
"Shake Hands with the Devil"

"The Corporation"

"Les Miserables (Broadway Soundtrack)"
"Ragtime (Broadway Soundtrack)"
CBC Radio 2 (any program, but especially their morning stuff)

The 100 Mile Market (in Meaford, Ontario)
A local farm
Growing and preserving your own food

After all this, you might be somewhere in the same neighbourhood as my thoughts. I feel like I've been walking through life with my eyes closed. I feel like jobs and careers in our neck of the world are pointless. I feel like life is too short and precious to keep ourselves occupied with the things we do. I feel human beings deserve more of a chance than many of them ever get. I feel a responsibility to humanity to do something.

When I first began this journey about a year ago, I began to feel the urge to run away. I wanted to be as far away from life as I know it. I wanted to pick my family up and settle in a small Canadian town, and return to a simpler life. I wanted to protect myself and my family from the horrors around me. I wanted to turn inward.

Now I realize I cannot indulge in the luxury of retreat. I cannot hide from the troubles of the world. There are unjust laws to be broken. There are inhumane behaviours to protest. There is a life that needs to be lived and my emerging conscious will not allow me to ignore it. I'm not sure yet which of my passions I should pursue first, but I know that I can and must step out and choose something and do something.

Sunday, 14 September 2008


Sometimes I have to wonder why the universe aligns the things it does. Yesterday, James and I watched the film "Ghandi", then listened to the Broadway soundtracks of "Ragtime" and "Les Miserables" while we painted our bedroom. Halfway through belting out the song "Do You Hear the People Sing", I turned to James and noted:

"Do you realize that today we watched a film about the revolution for independence in India, then listened to the industrial revolution in America and then about the French revolution? Maybe the universe is prepping us for something coming in the future...perhaps these elections will be much more than just elections..."

And then for something light, I put on "Cabaret".

Friday, 12 September 2008

A little bit on education

I've had four experiences over the past few days that I have given me food for thought. I don't want to comment on them myself, as I'm still processing how to interpret them in the realm of myself. but here they are:

1. A History of the World
A homeschooling mom was excited about a new series of books she ordered for her elementary-aged children. These books combine the historical timeline of biblical stories with the historical settings of past civilizations. What was really interesting, was that this mother mentioned how much she was learning herself. In her school career, she had taken only one course like this, called "World History", in high school. How on earth do you squeeze the entire history of the world into three months of classes? It almost seems absurd to try.

2. Editing an essay
I was asked through a friend of mine to edit a university paper. It was 80 pages in length, but I agreed because a) the student was offering to pay, but more importantly b) the paper was on the literacy gap between boys and girls, a subject that interests me greatly. I opened chapter one, which did not need editing as it had already been submitted, but was provided to put the paper in context. I got nervous as I read. The paper was replete with not only grammatical errors, poor sentence structure and meandering form, but there were spelling mistakes. In the age of spell check, I have little patience for spelling errors. I opened chapter two, and it took an hour and a half to edit 5 pages. No sentence was untouched. There were 15 comments (notes that had to be written separate from the paper because they involved more than a simple comment). After 5 pages I stopped and emailed the writer. I wasn't sure how much I could ethically and legally edit! She wrote back that it the entire paper was just a free-flow of thought, and she hadn't even looked back over any of it. It came out that the university provided a peer editor, but not for this early in the process. Really, she was too busy (or lazy) to do the work she was supposed to be doing. The whole experience made me seriously question: 1) the validity of the assignment if students didn't feel it was worth it to do the job themselves and 2) how on earth a university level student could write so poorly! Had more than 15 years of education failed her so badly?

3) A little theatre
is nothing as immediate as live theatre.Yesterday I ordered tickets for Colin's first trip to the theatre. I have had a love of the theatre since I can remember. I have viewed, read, acted, directed and crewed more plays than I could ever count. It's a beautiful, and engaging artform. Although I have an equal love of film, there A nearby theatre company is producing a black light, puppetry, musical adaptation of "Goodnight Moon" and "The Runaway Bunny", two children's literature classics. I'm beyond excited to take Colin's education in literature to this next level!

4) School around the world
In speaking with a friend this week, I learned about her neighbours who are university professors. They decided one year to participate in an exchange program with three other professors around the world. They swapped homes for the year, giving their families a chance to live in a different country. For that year, these children did not attend formal schooling. Instead, they spent time traveling around, experiencing new and exotic things, and documenting their experiences in essays and stories and poetry. One example: they spent a month caring for elephants who had been abused or hurt in the wild. Their days were filled with washing down these giant creatures, feeding them, caring for them and tending to their needs. Now that is education completely relevant to the world around you!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

"Shake Hands With the Devil"

I am currently reading Romeo Dallaire's auto-biographical account of his service in Rwanda and the genocide of the Tutsi people. I have held back posting much about this book, as I felt I would inadequately express my thoughts and feelings. It is a large subject (over 500 pages in the book) and Dallaire's writings are very intimate. I strongly recommend reading it, as it provides an excellently written account of humanity at its best and worst.

I often wondered how men and women find the courage to risk their lives for people living in countries far from their own, for causes that would barely effect their personal day to day living. Fighting a World War, or defending your own country I can understand (if one can ever truly understand the need to kill other human beings), but I was at a loss when it came to these far away missions we are fighting in remote parts of the world.

Today I read the following passage, more than half way through the book, and suddenly I received a clarity on this subject. I felt an instant kinship with humanity, understanding for the first time how we really are all brothers and sisters in this world. My heart ached for the horrors that innocent people endure, and I found awakening deep within me the ability to lay down my own life in defense of another. I discovered a strong urge to assist in such humanitarian and medical missions. Suddenly I did not fear the loss of my own life in serving such a cause.

"The RPF had fired three to four artillery rounds into the hospital compound. Fumes and smoke still hung over the site, filtering the brightness of the sun and turning everything into a dreamlike image of atrocity...Inside the nearby walled compound stood the pharmacy and dispensary. It had a wired service counter in a doorway; people would line up along the front wall waiting for their prescriptions to be filled. The yellow-painted, one-story building was still standing although all the windows were smashed. After a closer look I was aghast. On the wall there were outlines of people, of women, of children, made of blood and earth. It was like a scene out of Hiroshima. There had been over forty people standing against the wall, caught between the shell blasts and the solid building. A medical person said that some people just exploded into the air. None survived.

I could not absorb the carnage. As an artillery officer, I had seen the effects of explosions on all sorts of targets, but never could I have imagined the impact of such hits on human beings. The age of abstract "exercises" was over for me. Hundreds of people of all ages were crying and screaming, and staff ran every which way trying to attend to all the wounded. With tears and crazed gestures, the minister of social welfare screamed at me that UNAMIR
(a division of the United Nations) and I were accomplices to this savagery and that he hoped I would never be able to erase this scene from my mind."

Monday, 8 September 2008

Moms with sons

One of the focuses this weekend at an inspiring church conference was the influence and power that mothers have in this world. Highlighted was one of my favourite scripture stories that I thought I would share today. It is from a book of scripture called "The Book of Mormon", which is an account of ancient peoples in the Americas (600 BC to 400 AD).

This story centres around a group of people who lived without God's light in their life. They had lived many years warring with people in the land, seeing much bloodshed and loss. When they finally heard God's word, they were converted, and had no more desire to participate in violent acts against the people of the land. So they made a covenant with God that would give up their lives before killing again. They buried their weapons of war so that they would never take them up again. Even after making this covenant this people still found themselves under attack, to the point that a neighbouring city offered them a refuge and protection.

The times were still wrought with violence, and this new covenant people saw the suffering of their protectors. They were brought to the point of wanting to break their covenant so they could assist in defending their city. However, a commander named Helaman knew the seriousness of a covenant with God, and knew they could not break it for fear of losing their souls. Fearing there was nothing to do, the brave sons of the covenant people stood up. They had not yet been born when the covenant was made, and so were not under the same promise. They gathered together to fight for their parents. They entered into a covenant of their own, that they would never give up their liberty, even if they had to lay down their lives for the cause.

2000 brave young men took up arms to fight under Helaman. They had never fought before, and yet did not fear death, for they knew that their cause was good, and that God would be with them. When asked what inspired such great courage in them, their response was this:

"We have been taught be our mothers that if we do not doubt, God will deliver us. We do not doubt our mothers knew it."

These boys had been taught from their childhood to trust God. They didn't doubt the existence of God, because their mothers believed. The miracle of this story is that although they suffered great injury, not one of the 2000 young men were lost in the battles they fought.

I yearn to instill this same courage and knowledge in my own children. They will fight for freedom in many ways: yes, they may one day need to fight in a physical war (pray, never!), but they will definitely need to fight the war on families, freedom, faith and God. I am feeling the weight of my mothering responsibility like never before. "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world". It is my privilege and responsibility to teach my sons truth and raise them in courage.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Learning to think

I think the following is a good measure of where my ideas on education are.


"Inquiry Education"
(from Wikipedia)

Inquiry education (sometimes known as the inquiry method) is a student-centered method of education focused on asking questions. Students are encouraged to ask questions which are meaningful to them, and which do not necessarily have easy answers; teachers are encouraged to avoid giving answers when this is possible, and in any case to avoid giving direct answers in favor of asking more questions. The method was advocated by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner in their book Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

The inquiry method is motivated by Postman and Weingartner's recognition that good learners and sound reasoners center their attention and activity on the dynamic process of inquiry itself, not merely on the end product of static knowledge. They write that certain characteristics are common to all good learners (Postman and Weingartner, 31–33), saying that all good learners have:

  • Self-confidence in their learning ability
  • Pleasure in problem solving
  • A keen sense of relevance
  • Reliance on their own judgment over other people's or society's
  • No fear of being wrong
  • No haste in answering
  • Flexibility in point of view
  • Respect for facts, and the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion
  • No need for final answers to all questions, and comfort in not knowing an answer to difficult questions rather than settling for a simplistic answer

In an attempt to instill students with these qualities and behaviors, a teacher adhering to the inquiry method in pedagogy must behave very differently from a traditional teacher. Postman and Weingartner suggest that inquiry teachers have the following characteristics (pp. 34–37):

  • They avoid telling students what they "ought to know".
  • They talk to students mostly by questioning, and especially by asking divergent questions.
  • They do not accept short, simple answers to questions.
  • They encourage students to interact directly with one another, and avoid judging what is said in student interactions.
  • They do not summarize students' discussion.
  • They do not plan the exact direction of their lessons in advance, and allow it to develop in response to students' interests.
  • Their lessons pose problems to students.
  • They gauge their success by change in students' inquiry behaviors (with the above characteristics of "good learners" as a goal).

"Our educational system is traditional and backward-looking, and it produces students who cannot deal with change. It consists of an irrelevant, structured "subject matter" system where subject matter knowledge is the end goal, a paradox in an age of change. Traditional classroom organization must be eliminated (including grades, desks, courses, and administrations), and an inquiry system must be instituted which is devoted to instruction in the process of learning to develop in students competent "crap detectors" (with which they can deal effectively with change). A curriculum which trains students in the processes of learning, recognizing that the critical content of any learning experience is the method or process through which the learning occurs, must be student-centered, question-centered, and language-centered: it must consist of relevant questions (selected by the students as worth knowing the answers to) which will help students to develop and internalize concepts which are appropriate to reality; it must take place in a questioning, meaningmaking atmosphere in which students "learn by doing" how to be a successful learner and in which the teacher serves as a guide; and it must include a study of the new media language and of the relationships of language to reality so that the student can develop standards by which he can judge the value of perception. Training for the new kind of teacher who is needed for this system would shift him into the role of inventor of viable new teaching strategies and have him question what he is doing and why he does it."
- Neil Postman

You've gotta laugh

Colin: I'm hungry.
Terri-Ann: Would you like a snack?
Colin: Yes. I'd like some nutmeg, please.
Terri-Ann: Well, you can't eat nutmeg by itself. It's a spice. You put it on something. Would you like me to put some nutmeg on some apple slices for you?
Colin: Yes please.

(I slice an apple, sprinkle it with nutmeg and serve it up on a plate. Then I proceed to the living room and pick up my book. Colin follows me in.)

Colin: I'm just going to sit here, okay.

(He gingerly places the plate on the couch, climbs up, crosses his legs and pulls the plate onto his lap. He selects an apple slice, takes a bite and then casually says:)

Colin: So, how is your day?
Terri-Ann (stifling laughter) Not bad. How's your day.
Colin: Pretty good.

(Colin eats a few more slices)

Colin: So, how was your birthday?
Terri-Ann: A lot of fun.
Colin: Hmm.
Terri-Ann: Do you have any plans for today?
Colin: Um, yep.
Terri-Ann: What are you going to do?
Colin: My plans are green.


Terri-Ann: Oh, that's good.
Colin: I love nutmeg. It's my favourite.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

I enjoy being a girl

And now for something completely light, fluffy and fun (in light of the past few entries!)...the lyrics to a great little Broadway song, for all us girls. Let's all go back ten or fifteen years to those glorious fun-filled Friday nights as we dolled ourselves up for a date and remember why being a girl rocks!

"I Enjoy Being a Girl"

I'm a girl, and by me that's only great!
I am proud that my silhouette is curvy,
That I walk with a sweet and girlish gait
With my hips kind of swivelly and swervy.

I adore being dressed in something frilly
When my date comes to get me at my place.
Out I go with my Joe or John or Billy,
Like a filly who is ready for the race!

When I have a brand new hairdo
With my eyelashes all in curl,
I float as the clouds on air do,
I enjoy being a girl!

When men say I'm cute and funny
And my teeth aren't teeth, but pearl,
I just lap it up like honey
I enjoy being a girl!

I flip when a fellow sends me flowers,
I drool over dresses made of lace,
I talk on the telephone for hours
With a pound and a half of cream upon my face!

I'm strictly a female female
And my future I hope will be
In the home of a brave and free male
Who'll enjoy being a guy having a girl... like... me.

(click here to watch it on youtube)

(PS - if you know how to upload a youtube video right onto a blog, please let me know)

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Back to School

Today is "back to school" for millions of children. Probably one of my favourite days as a kid. The week before would be spent gathering up supplies, packing a new school bag, picking out an outfit. From nursery school through university, it felt like a new beginning. I was awash in emotions from excitement to nervousness. I loved to learn, loved to earn good marks, loved to read and present projects and write essays and do math problems (yes, I really did!)

Because of some readings I've come across of late, that feeling of excitement is a little dampened. What were all those years for? What did all those projects and essays and books and A's accomplish in me? Was there genuine growth within? Did I learn to question and dig deep and go beyond the surface? I wonder about that now.

In my own little corner in my own little house, I wonder what the larger purpose of my education was? I read this on a friend's blog:

Here’s a yucky quote by one of the men who had an early influence on curriculum

‘The real purpose of modern schooling was announced by the legendary sociologist Edward Roth in his manifesto of 1906 called SOCIAL CONTROL… In it Roth wrote… “plans are underway to replace family, community and church with propaganda, mass-media and education (of course he meant schooling)…people are only little plastic lumps of dough”.’

Did you know that in some countries it is illegal to homeschool? Did you know that they are trying to do the same thing here in North America? I wonder if it is because they think "the system" can do a better job educating our children, or if it is because they want to conform the children into one mold? Why on earth should every child be taught the same things in the same way and graded against the same standard? Who decided what the standard of a "perfect school child" should be? What if I don't agree?

I feel the crushing weight of the shackles they clamped on my ankles as they set us all up in a line.

The early years: give them lots of play time to teach that school is "fun"
The elementary years: teach the children to please the teacher and give him what he wants
The middle school years: give them a taste of the freedom high school promises
The high school years: make their world evolve around getting A's, so that they can get into a good university
The university years: four years for them to rebel against the system and then learn to conform again

The system is so well crafted, they even realized that if they even gave us a false sense rebellion so that we will come to our sense early in life and fall back in line with society. I always defended school as being a place where you learned to learn. The algebra questions weren't important, but the skills you developed while mastering them. Now I question the entire system. I wasn't learning how to learn, I was learning how to please. I was learning what I had to do to get the A that would get me into university that would get me a good job. How false this turned out to be. All my good grades and all my awards got me nothing when I got out of university. Did any of you out there also have your bubble burst when you graduated? I felt so completely inadequately prepared. No one was giving me projects with due dates, or providing me with subjects on which to write a paper. There wasn't a job to enroll in, like I did with classes. The summer after graduation came to a close and for the first time I had nowhere to go in September. If 20 years of schooling were supposed to prepare me for life, why was I so lost? Why do so many of us flounder completely upon graduation? Why do so many return home? It seems to me that the real education is only beginning, and the past 20 years seem to have been wasted.

Isn't enlightenment...enlightening? For the first time I feel like I can truly go "back to school", starting fresh, and really have the chance to learn something. I am master of my own education now. With a creativity, books, friends as teachers and a whole lot of personal discipline, I want to start really learning something!

There's that flutter of excitement and nervousness in my stomach again...

Monday, 1 September 2008

Bubbles and earth

I was going to write today about our eventful camping trip over the long weekend (torrential downpour while I tried to set up an 8 man tent on my own while my mom tried to soothe Colin and Caleb in a car packed to the brim with camping gear) but I have had my personal bubble burst just now. That bubble in which I live, where I control everything and life is just as it should be. My comfort zone, my status quo, my walking-through-life-blind state of living.

Why is it that we accept so many things without truly considering them first? "This is the way life is lived" they tell us. "These are the things you should do. This is what you should think of these things. Be joyful at this, be horrified at this. Vote yes, protest, complain at the dinner table but do nothing about it. Life is a pleasure cruise. Watch representations of other people's lives on tv, and find yourself wishing for that unattainable dream. Buy, spend, buy, spend. You deserve to have it. You need it. You want it. Buy it. This is the system. This is the way it's always been. This is the way it has evolved. This is the best it has ever been." A small dissenting thought creeps into a corner, and I feel fired by it. Then I feel inadequate, confused, overwhelmed, tiny. I feel the social pressure. I question myself and retreat. I worry about what people think of me. I long ago lost the freedom and abandonment of childhood. "What might they think?" Who is "they"? Family, friends, neighbours, strangers. As I grow I lose a bit of the worry. I realize it doesn't matter what other people think. Let them laugh, stare, wonder, deride, scorn. Sometimes I can let it slide, sometimes I can't.

Every step forward is followed by a hundred steps back.

But then I realize that every step forward is huge, immeasurably large. Every step back is tiny, immeasurably small. In fact, no amount of steps backward will ever erase the distance I covered in one step forward. I am changed. I am evolving.

There are others out there struggling with my struggles. I imagine looking down on us; we are all these little hands poking through the earth where all of humanity has been buried. I know there is something better up there. Once in a while I peek my head through and take in deep gulps of fresh air. I sink back into the ground. I pull myself back out and see others laughing and dancing and rejoicing at their newfound freedom. There are many of us who are just poking through, constantly struggling to get back up. There are many, many more who are happy to live in the darkness and warmth of the enveloping earth.

Laws, rules, regulations, guidelines. I have been taught unquestioning obedience. I am realizing that I need to fast unlearn all that I have been taught. I am experiencing a new form of learning and teaching. I am no longer performing to please, or learning to get an 'A'. There is something so much larger than that going on, and it is this I am striving for.

Thank you to those of you who remind me to get up out of my rut and breathe! My ideas need to be mine and mine alone. But opposition of ideas is not something to avoid. They need to be discussed and met head on! Only opposition can help us grow. I have heard this all my life, but the meaning of it is new again.

Push me. Let me push you. Let's discuss. Let's disagree. Let's express new ideas. Let's banish fear. Let's not judge. Let's learn. Let's grow.