Frederick and Val

By , January 22, 2022 10:43 am

Val did something very sweet for me yesterday. I didn’t know in advance – he just told me he needed the car.

When I arrived home he told me he’d gone to Sheridan. I immediately thought he’d purchased a sapling to plant at the cottage since we’ve recently had another tree taken down (and Val is growing a bunch of trees in the upstairs bathroom).

It turns out he went out to pick up a tiny puzzle of Frederick.

Frederick is the mouse in one of my favourite children’s books. I still have my copy from 1973.

Frederick is a different sort of mouse, a real non-conformist. I like him!

2021 Reading

By , December 19, 2021 2:36 pm

I did not read nearly enough books this year. Blame it on the pandemic, I conveniently and shamefully say.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

I started and got 300 pages into Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, really liking the personal and family bits. But I found myself politically tired as I read the sections on passing bills in Congress. By the time Afghanistan rolled around I could not stomach it anymore. I really admire Obama’s non-cynical nature and his careful examinations of his decisions. However, reading about damned if you do and damned if you don’t discussions on Afghanistan just tested my patience too much and I abandoned the book, hoping to return one day.

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to  Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

This one I got through pretty quickly. As usual I picked it up at my local Book City on one of the remains table. Liking social histories, I thought it would offer a good perspective on those who don’t always make it to the historical headlines, domestic servants. Yes, I’m a fan of Downtown Abbey and I used this book as a measuring stick to gage Julian Fellows’ historical accuracy! That aside, the book was fast moving, filled (nay – jammed) with incredible quotes. The only problem was I probably ended up learning more about the wealthy employers than the servants themselves. That is partially owing to the nature of the sources.

21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make  Reconciliation With Indigen..., Book by Bob Joseph (Paperback) |

I have no problem plainly saying that every Canadian should read this book. Though I considered myself relatively educated about the Indian Act prior to reading this short but devastating book, I realize that was just dispersed knowledge. Here Bob Joseph puts it all together, with historical context, quotes and commentary, in a way that is incredibly readable and relevant. There is just no way to understand Canada’s history without a full picture of the intents and damages of the Indian Act.

Romeo and Juliet (No Fear Shakespeare)

I’m not ashamed to admit I read Romeo and Juliet for the first time in modern English “translation.” Though I am of course familiar with the story through movies and the ballet (to which I took my mom some years ago), I had not actually read the play (it was Twelfth Night for grade 9s at St. Andrew’s Junior High School back in the 1980s). I started out reading the original play but I found it very difficult to navigate those little footnoted comments on the bottom of the page. My aging brain just could not handle going back and forth – it just broke the momentum of the narrative. So I picked up a few copies of the No Fear version, intending to read it with one of my credit recovery students. That didn’t happen. Nevertheless, I found it a fast-moving, relatable story. It provoked some uncomfortable thoughts about young love and its not so reliable passions.

I have now nearly finished this new book from Margaret MacMillan. Even when I am tired on my morning subway and bus rides, if I am sitting, I pull it out. It’s quite an addictive, easy read. Most of the examples are western, many pulled from the World War One era. Obviously I feel most comfortable with this book when it’s on familiar terrain (both the author’s and mine). She challenges me as a history teacher who likes to ignore war as too messy a subject, reminding me that so much comes of war. True. True. As much as I have enjoyed it, I would like to see the author stop using “the great” as a descriptor for all kinds of historical figures. It drives me mad!!!

The few other books I read this year have already been reviewed on this blog: David Chariandy’s I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, Melissa Gould’s Widowish, and Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe.

I resolve to read more this year, starting with Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers which I just received as a gift from the kind and generous Barry Pietersen.

Special magazine mentions:

When I’m on the streetcar heading down to riding at the Horse Palace, I often bring a copy of The Walrus or Scientific American. Here are some standout articles from this year.

“Journey into the Americas” by Jennifer Raff, Scientific American, May 2021 – about when and where the early people of North America came from (I am fascinated by this topic as a world history teacher)

“Deadly Kingdom” by Maryn McKenna, Scientific American, June 2021 – about the rise of fungal diseases (surprises lurking)

“Why Animals Play” by Caitlin O’Connell, Scientific American, August 2021 – who wouldn’t want to read an article accompanied by cute animal photos

“Lifting the Venus Curse” by Robin George Andrews, Scientific American, September 2021 – the case for new missions to study one of Earth’s closest neighbours

“Women at Risk” by Melinda Wenner Moyer, Scientific American, September 2021 – part of a special report on autoimmune diseases, this article really shows the double burden of the female body – incredibly interesting potential reasons why suffer disproportionately from autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

“Northern Inroads” by Gloria Dickie, The Walrus, Jan./Feb. 2021 – surprising ways China is making its way into Canada’s north

“How Immigration Really Works” by Kelly Toughill, The Walrus, May 2021 – we always think of federal jurisdiction when it comes to immigration but these days so much more is locally driven

“Justice on Trial” by Eva Holland, The Walrus, June 2021 – Canada’s legal system through the eyes of Indigenous Canadians

“Students for Sale” by Nicholas Hune-Brown, The Walrus, Sept./Oct. 20`21 – an indictment of the international student racket run by Canadian colleges and universities.

“The Campus Mental Heath Crisis” by Simon Lewsen, The Walrus, November 2021 – important reading for a high school teacher – the need to know what happens to mental health after high school is pressing

“The RCMP Revisited” by Jane Gerster, The Walrus, November 2021 – fascinating history of the national police force and its origins in the policing of reserves

Indigenous Education Week (Nov 1-5)

By , October 30, 2021 4:13 pm

Ever since my whole school live Zoom presentation on September 30, the first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I have said that I wanted to continue the conversation.

I have not lived up to that as well as I wanted. I’m working on it.

One thing I’d like to share is the “Save the Evidence” campaign from the Woodland Cultural Centre, home to the former Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School.

We know as historians how important primary source evidence is. That’s what the school building represents. People need to see it to appreciate its significance in the history of residential schools that Canadians are learning more about.

When I first drove up that driveway and saw that imposing colonial-style building, I felt uneasy. After learning more about the place known sadly known to students as the “mush hole”, I felt pretty sick. There is nothing child-friendly about it.

When our group visited Woodland Cultural Centre, we had the privilege of hearing survivor Geronimo Henry speak about his 11-year ordeal at the Mohawk Institute. He had a number of items with him – primary sources – including this letter that his mother sent the school to enroll him in 1942. Please note that Geronimo gave permission for me to take this photo.

We must always remember that history is about real people. Geronimo Henry, now in his 80s, speaks passionately about his experiences to educate the public about the impacts of residential schools.

Watch this short clip from Sept. 30 at the Mohawk Institute.

We must all keep learning and speaking out.

Van Gogh “Experience”

By , August 31, 2021 4:48 pm

My sister-in-law Felicity and I went to the Van Gogh immersive at the Toronto Star printer building. Fantastic!

I absolutely love Van Gogh’s paintings. Seeing them deconstructed and highlighted at the same time using modern technology was fascinating and wonderful. We thought it was going to be a walk-through; instead, the audience stays still and the images project on the walls, moving and dancing to music almost.

While I thought the music was a bit overwrought, it was appropriate, generally following the flow of Van Gogh’s short life from Holland to France.

There are cafe scenes…

Agostina Segatori Sitting in the Café du Tambourin

And agrarian scenes… with hillsides winding while cypress trees climb up the screen and clouds wander by..

And images from his famous paintings of irises and “Starry Night…”

We stayed for two loops of the show and were quite mesmerized by its animation of something old in a thoroughly modern way. To truly bring it to life.

The only bad thing was the usual exit from spectacular art to pedestrian commercialism as you move straight into the gift shop. That’s the same thing at museums these days too, sadly.

Sunflower Photo Shoot

By , August 31, 2021 7:05 am

My aunt and uncle brought us beautiful sunflowers. Here’s the photo op:

Tomato Days of Summer

By , August 24, 2021 4:13 am

I don’t have a dog, so it can’t be the dog days of summer for me. But I have tomatoes aplenty thanks to Val’s planters. And despite the squirrels’ efforts to steal them.

Also, these oyster and shiitake mushrooms from Waymac Farms (via Peterborough Farmers’ Market) need to get an agent! They are so beautiful and delicious. And obviously fun to photograph!

Summer Colours (and a Suggestion)

By , August 1, 2021 8:24 am

When It’s Not Raining

By , July 13, 2021 1:48 pm
Or after it rains…

I’ve been reading, too.

I've Been Meaning to Tell You | CBC Books

I came to know David Chariandy’s work through his young adult novel, Brother. I recently re-read it with a reluctant reader in my credit recovery class. We both loved its sympathetic and blunt portrayals of characters and of the sting of racism within Toronto!

This little book is addressed to the Vancouver writer’s young daughter, who, like him, is of mixed heritage. He expands on his background, his parents from Trinidad, and experiences in Canada, visiting Trinidad, and around the world. Much like in Brother, he shares stories of culture and belonging. He writes of the challenges his daughter will face growing up in Canada, a country full of opportunity but also full of racism, classism and anti-feminism.

In one message to her, he implores:

“You did not create the inequalities and injustices of this world, daughter. You are neither solely nor uniquely responsible to fix them. If there is anything to learn from the story of our ancestry, it is that you should respect and protect yourself; that you should demand not only justice but joy; that you should see, truly see, the vulnerability and the creativity and the enduring beauty of others. Today, many years after indenture and especially slavery, there are many who continue to live painfully in wakes of historical violence. And there are current terrible circumstances whereby others, in the desperate hope for a better life, either migrate or are pushed across the hardened borders of nations and find themselves stranded in unwelcoming lands. We live in a time, dearest daughter, when the callous and ignorant in wealthy nations have made it their business to loudly proclaim who are the deserving “us” (those really “us”) and who are the alien and undeserving “them.” But the story of our origins offers us a different insight, The people we imagine most apart from “us” are, oftentimes, our own forgotten kin.”

Though published in 2018, the book is made even more relevant by the pandemic and its pushing open of Canada’s need to address its multifaceted problems. I highly recommend it for its brevity, lyrical writing and powerful message.

Next, I’m well into Barack Obama’s Promised Land.

Summer 2021 Wishes

By , July 12, 2021 9:45 am

Hopefully Ontario won’t screw things up and move too fast on re-opening. While I enjoy going out and into a few stores (as long as they are not crowded), I don’t want to take it for granted that Delta variant is out there and we are all still held hostage to it in a way.

So, my wishes are:

vaccination rates increase EVEN more

people get to see their family and friends (safely)

students read something NOT on a screen

the weather permits lots of outdoor gathering

everyone stays healthy and safe!!

Dancing Cockatoo

By , May 11, 2021 5:12 pm

There’s more to animal videos than cats, apparently. Val shared this dancing cockatoo. But more importantly, there are two cockatoos. One seems to be embarrassed by the other. Sounds like how Shadow feels about Richard.

Have a watch for a smile. And keep your eye on the bird on the left (even though it’s hard to stop watching the adorable dancing bird).

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