Friday, December 25, 2015

Every year I struggle with writing my Christmas letter, something I have been doing for almost 30 years!!!  Wishing you all a very happy holiday season!!!

So here is this year's version.

Another good year.  I went to South America for the first time.  I got to literally fly to Rio and take a cruise ship back to Miami.  I went places I never dreamed I would go.  Who knew that when I read the book, Papillon, and later saw the movie long ago that  I would actually go to Devil's Island, the French penal colony in French Guinea?   There were many magical moments with stops in Rio, Salvador, beautiful Recife, Belem on the Amazon, Barbados, and Gordon, BVI,  , and my friend, Val, from Montreal was a great travelling companion.

Watercolour classes on the ship inspired me to take water colour classes here which I thoroughly enjoyed.  A friend gave me a membership to Van Dusen Botanical Gardens and I took two courses in doing botanical watercolours. It was so much fun.

Before the cruise in February, I did a weekend in Seattle in February with friends.  In April, Val and I went to Salt Spring Island, staying at Sandy's mom's condo now sold.  I spent a couple of days in Victoria in May and made several trips to Whistler.  I began the summer with a trip to visit Elaine and Terry at beautiful Christina Lake where we had a rather warm Canada Day celebration after which I had to throw myself in the lake to cool down!!!

My friend, Donna and I did a fun road trip in August to the Shakespeare Festival in southern Oregon in Ashland and stopped off in Oregon's wine country and Portland as well.

In September I went back east to try to catch some leaves changing colour-I had a great trip with stops in Ottawa, Quebec City, and North Hatley, as well as Montreal, but the weather was warm and the leaves were just beginning to change.  It was great to reconnect with friends and family, and to visit favourite places.

I became a cherry blossom spotter  (Vancouver has a big cherry blossom festival) and learned more about cherry trees than I ever imagined it was possible to know!  I tried to teach myself Brazilian Portugeuse with a couple of iPad apps but fortunately I didn't need to use my rather inadequate language skills much in South America!

I took another knitting class and actually gave away a couple of hats away!  I kept on with yoga and my fitness class as well as taking lots and lots of walks and I took zillions of pictures.  I continue volunteering two mornings a week in a first grade class and have been tutoring my next door neighbour's seven year old.

I got involved in an unsuccessful  campaign to recall a provincial MLA and enjoyed the enthusiastic people I met in the process.  Even though I supported the NDP in the federal election I was still thrilled to have a change in government with a Liberal victory.

The garage finally was taken down that had been falling down for years and eventually (after an aggravating summer on this front),  my backyard was restored although I still need to fill in my new back garden bed.

It was  a winter with little snow even on the mountains and then a summer with no rain so that the rainforest seemed to be becoming a desert but we had enough rain this fall and the mountains have had snow already.

Even in retirement there are issues-hard seeing some friends and family struggle with serious illnesses, and I was shocked and saddened when an old friend died in Nova Scotia and my cousin in Winnipeg.  On the other hand, it has been nice to reconnect with some old friends and generally discovering that we are older but not really all that changed.  My most serious medical problem (not very serious) was a mysteriously wrenched shoulder this fall, but thanks to physio I am back to normal.

Next year I am looking forward to a trip to Spain and Portugal in March.  Many places beckon but I still love living in Vancouver and try to keep exploring.

Holly the cat is fine, slowed down but still furry and purry and yowly at 20 years old!

So I really have no major complaints with 2015.  It was a really good year!
Wishing you all a wonder filled 2016!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Easing into November

I always hate the first week of November.  Now the time changes back to Standard on November 1 and the fun of Hallowe'en just ended and suddenly it's dark at 5:00.  For Canadians the next "holiday' is Remembrance Day which is not exactly joyous.  Americans have their Thanksgiving it must be a mad panic to Christmas, but at least they have a fun holiday in November.

The leaves are not giving quite as colourful a display anymore and it's too early to want to think of Christmas.  The weather is usually rainy and cold as well, and I wonder why didn't I book a trip somewhere warm and sunny the first week in November.

When I taught report card writing was another thing that spoiled November.

Some people don't like January but by then the days are getting longer and when you live in Vancouver you can see new growth beginning.  I went away in February last year for three weeks and missed my crocuses!  I am planning another trip this spring but feeling a bit sad I probably won't see some of the bulbs I planted in bloom.  So January I can tolerate...

And that is another thing about November, I always end up still planting bulbs and it's cold or damp or both.

I have to ease into November and start to see the positives.  I love craft sales for instance and they are already beginning.  I finally feel inspired to knit again (keep in mind I didn't knit anything for over 40 years until a year and a half ago) and I am honestly enjoying it.  It seems the right thing to do in November.  I also can feel still ahead of the Christmas rush.
 I don't think I like change in some ways.  I like holidays but I am usually late in preparations and then don't want to let them go.  So now in the second week of November I can feel myself easing in, content to stay home this evening and think that maybe a fire in my fireplace would be cozy.

I am going to try to embrace the Danish concept of "Hygge", the idea of welcoming winter and enjoying the "coziness".  Okay, Vancouver doesn't have a very wintry winter but the nights are long and we do have many grey days.  But yesterday, although it  was November, was brilliant and I made sure I took advantage of it.

But now I am going to knit, light a fire, find my Newfoundland socks, watch TV, and look, I even got a blog done!!! And I have a new Elizabeth George mystery waiting for me as well.  And some recipes to read (I might even try making them eventually).

So embrace the darkness and find your favourite afghan to wrap up in.  And maybe I will tell you the time I had two winters in one year...

Friday, October 30, 2015

Learning to say good-bye

A friend, David Fry, died last week.  He was a friend I hadn't seen in years but always kept in touch with yearly Christmas cards and letters.  The fact he lived in Halifax and I, in Vancouver, was one reason I didn't see him.  And recently we became friends on Facebook.  And that is why a tribute to him flashed before me.  Strange… And then I did an internet search and found the news he had indeed died.  Chilling. Shocking as I hadn't even known he was ill.

 Tuesday night I was in a good mood and again the next morning and realized I really had been feeling very sad ever since I found this out Thursday night.  Curious in a way since I hadn't seen him probably in at least 25 years.  The last time I spoke with him, he was in Burnaby, and wanted to know if I could get together with him that night but I was exhausted-school-probably an after school meeting, and I just couldn't face going out to Burnaby.  Needless to say, I wish I had found the energy,  but as a friend said I had no way of knowing that I missed that last time seeing him.

Each year there would be the news and an invitation to visit.  I did go to Nova Scotia a few times but that meeting never seemed to happen.  And other than the airport and a couple of hours downtown I haven't spent any time in Halifax in about 38 years.

We met at Queen's when we were both doing our Bachelors in Education, but we weren't in the same program or courses.  A mutual friend introduced us and we became good friends.  I was impressed by his self-discipline and although not someone you typically thought of as a jock he would run each evening to the pool on Main Campus about a mile away from West Campus where we were and swim for an hour and run back.  He was also in the experimental elementary education module which was also a bit brave in the early seventies when you were a male and had a degree, especially at a university like Queen's.  Until that year, only high school had teachers trained at MacArthur.

We made a movie together-I think we signed up for a short course on film making, and cast our friends with dramatic aspirations in our film.  I know we loved doing this and it was all about the life of a teacher in and out of school.  I have no idea what happened to this brief "masterpiece". We were idealistic and wondered I guess as well how we would adjust to the life of a school teacher.

David loved his native Annapolis Valley(which I had then never visited) and introduced me to his  favourite book, The Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler, a book I enjoyed reading.  I think we thought it also had great potential as a movie.  Many years later I finally visited the Annapolis Valley and visited Wolfville where he grew up and where his dad was the post master and all through our day long journey I thought of him and how much he loved this beautiful area.  This picture was taken by one of his former swimmers.

He ended up teaching in Halifax and coached swimming and I met him several times when he brought swim teams to Ottawa and then Montreal.  My last principal in Montreal had a nephew who was on his team and I knew how well respected he was by his team members and their families.  That time in Burnaby he was staying with the family of one of his former swimmers.

I remember him and a friend staying with me in Montreal-I think they were on their way to Europe where they ended up at the home of one of my friends there.  Angela's parents wanted them to go to her wedding although they had never met her.  I loved that story!  He was also very kind of another friend of mine who moved to Nova Scotia.

He briefly went into administration  and decided it wasn't for him and went back to just teaching, and then ended up coaching swimming full time, becoming the head coach at Dalhousie and received many honours.  He did a masters and a law degree as well along the way as well. After retirement he ended up being convinced to coach the Acadia Team for this last academic year where he had once been a member of the swim team.

I kept thinking I would see him the next trip to Nova Scotia and maybe visit their cottage in Prince Edward Island, but that just didn't happen.  I had no idea he had apparently been diagnosed with cancer years before.

I was so moved by the beautiful tributes from so many of his former students. There have been newspaper articles and a beautiful obituary.  It was very clear that David was one of those people whose basic goodness and kindness were consistent.   And funny how I don't remember as many details as I wish, but I can still hear his voice with that Nova Scotian lilt.

I so wish I had had a chance to catch up or made a real point of doing so.  I always felt that it was a friendship that could have been easily picked up again.

Emails have gone back and forth with our mutual friend, Patti, who lives near Toronto.  She had seen him briefly in the spring and a couple of years earlier had made a trip with him and his partner, Alex, through the Maritimes.  She said she wished she was rich and we could charter a plane and go to the memorial this Saturday.  I had had a similar thought...I thought it was lovely that some of his former swim team members had their own memorial to him in Calgary this week.

A life too short but definitely well lived.  I skimmed a critique of The Mountain and The Valley and the author cited an interview with Ernest Buckler where the author said, "Heart is what we live by; I don't think we live by mind, I think we live by heart".  And when I read all these beautiful memories and how he inspired and encouraged and nurtured them as people not just as swimmers, it struck me how David lived by heart.

Now back to the title of this piece.  When you are younger, the people who die are first your grandparents' generation, then your parents' generation with only an occasional person your age.  Then it seemed suddenly it began being more my generation.  Ten years ago a friend was diagnosed with bone cancer and almost five years later died.  Another close friend  from childhood died that year as well suddenly.  Last year two friend's husbands died the same day.  And I could go on.  Recently a close friend here was diagnosed with stage four cancer and I was once again devastated.

The other day another friend, talked about having to learn to say good-bye.  Basically as we get older there are more people that we will have to say good-bye to.  And we kind of have to learn to handle this…

And yes, we do have to learn to say good-bye-and probably each time it is different, but I also know that spirits live on.  Scenes for instance just live on in my mind for one thing.  I can see my friend, Kitty, dancing on a boat in Goa or feeling her clutch on to my arm as we had a ride wild ride in the back of a car in New Delhi.    I can remember how it felt walking around our small town with my friend, May, waiting, for our lives to really begin; and then almost fifty years later spending an evening with her beautiful daughters and the grandchildren she didn't know would exist…And right now I feel so happy that so many young people were coached by David and still feel his influence on so many aspects of their lives.  I am so glad my friend had such a deeply fulfilling life and that I had the pleasure of his friendship.  

Friday I saw this perfect cartoon just when I needed to.  So here is to a life well lived...

Going home in time literally and figuratively...

A few days I came back from a ten day whirlwind trip back east.  I have had a yen for awhile to catch autumn colours in the Eastern Townships where I grew up.  They don't last long but they are brilliant.  It's hard to know when they will actually be.  Last year they were early and this year later.  Due to not booking early and wanting to use those pesky Aeroplan points I was a bit limited about when I went and how long I stayed.  Leaves were only really beginning to turn when I left Montreal, but eight out of ten days were perfect weather wise and I was able to do much of what I wanted to do.

I have lived in Vancouver for 35 years and have made many trips back east, but generally in the summer and sometimes winter.  I went once at March break and said never again as it was spring here and still winter there.  I was there just once in spring, the beginning of May, and that was nice.  Two trips back in Autumn were due to family medical emergencies and too early or too late to see colourful leaves.  I usually have too many things I want to do and often not enough time and this trip I wanted to go to Ottawa and Quebec City as well, two cities I haven't been in in years, as well as spend a couple of days in the Townships.

The trip was a bit hectic and I had a slight cold through most of it, but it was kind of wonderful.  Seeing friends and family, catching up, getting to hang out in favourite places, fabulous.  I even checked on houses I once lived in, and of which I still have nice memories.  I went to places I hadn't been before as well.  I saw friends with whom I had gone to university and hadn't seen since, but with whom I had picked up the threads of friendship thanks to Facebook.  I spent time with one of my photo group friends as well, and it felt as if I had known her forever.  I was able to spend  to see my best friend from childhood's daughters and see her grandchildren who she sadly never got to see.  I spent time with friends who I have known since we were young and have kept those friendships always.

I saw the film, Five Easy Pieces, in university, and I think that was the beginning of my yen for the West Coast.  Mountains, ocean…and I have lived here now longer than I lived in Quebec, and I doubt I would really enjoy those long winters anymore but…

I always find reentry a little strange-putting my life back into this orbit, but I do love living here.

I had a somewhat frustrating summer after my falling down garage in my backyard was taken down and then the contractor quit.  My backyard was finally  put back together the week I after I returned, and perhaps the landscapers' hard work in the back yard, motivated me to work on cleaning out the attic some.

I opened a suitcase and went through old pictures, a journal from my second year of teaching, an old letter never sent, and bad poetry.  Another life in many ways.  Some of the pictures were very fun and not looked at in ages.  After reading that journal from my second year of teaching, it is a wonder I taught 38 years more.  But somehow nice, that many of those friends then are still friends forty years later.  Old letter, bad poetry I threw out, but I think some of those images and revelations that I had forgotten are stamped again on my mind.  To be young…In some ways exhilarating, but also heartbreaking, frustrating.  In some ways I haven't really changed but I hope I have become a bit more even!
But I am so happy I grew up where and when I did in the Eastern Townships, and I loved being young in Montreal.  And yes, I loved going home...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

I have been neglecting this blog again although I have been posting on my other blogs, my iPad travel blog and my Beautiful Vancouver blog.  But now that school is back in session even though I am retired but still volunteering in that first grade class, it seems time to blog again.  This time last year school teachers here were still on strike so it wasn't a normal beginning and I was posting madly about that sad situation.  This has been a "normal" school year although I don't think teachers in the public sector have found it a particularly easy set up.  I spent the morning with 22 new first graders and one teacher and I can tell you both of us were busy the whole time.  I couldn't help but think of private schools I know of where there is a teaching assistant in every primary class and often this is actually a certified teacher hoping one day for a real teaching job.  Anyway, I am not going to discuss that right now.

Last year I "won" a book by a favourite author but I never did write about it and even accused one of my friends of borrowing it, but instead I found it tucked away at home recently.  Jen Bryant has been a favourite writer of mine for sometime.  I loved her middle school novel, Pieces of Georgia, about a young girl whose mother, an artist, had died several years earlier, and her own sketches seem to disturb her dad.  She receives an anonymous gift in the form of a free museum membership and this plus a good friend help her family come to terms with their loss.  I love how this is a real museum. Brandywine River Museum of Art, and that Georgia and the book's readers learn about real life artists, Georgia O'Keeffe and the Wyeths whose work is at the museum.  I also like how it looks at communication in its different aspects.  It is also a perfect book to remind teachers to look at their students' whole stories and to help them realize their dreams.

It also has a perfect companion piece, Georgia's Bones, beautifully illustrated by Bethanne Anderson.  This tells a bit of the story of artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, perfect for children of all ages.

Now about the book I won!  I think I actually had a bit of a choice of books and I chose A Splash of Red as it was about an author with whom I was not familiar, Horace Pippin.  And if you hit the link you can actually watch a short video about him.  And here from the National Gallery of Art is a unit of study!

This is a beautiful book illustrated by a favourite illustrator of mine, Melissa Sweet.  I love what she wrote in the dedication- To Jen, whose words make pictures in my mind.  That makes perfect sense to me as I think Jen Bryant is a beautiful wordsmith (not surprisingly as she is a poet too).   But I love how Melissa put those words into pictures!

It is such a beautiful story of a boy who absolutely loved to draw and did so even though he had to quit school in eighth grade to help support his family when his dad left the family for good.  Always people asked him to draw for them and he did so with whatever he could find to draw and paint with until his right arm was injured in the war.  But he even overcame this with sheer persistence and ingenuity.  He tried to sell his paintings at a local shoe store, but no one wanted to buy them until the president of a local artists' club saw Horace's pictures and his friend, the famous painter N.C. Wyeth saw them as well and recognized Horace's talents.

They arranged a one-man exhibition and soon he was famous and selling his pictures easily.

I love the book, the story, and the fact that he always added a touch of red to his paintings.  I would certainly love to use this book with students, and I plan to lend it to my friend who I accused of borrowing it, and see what her students might do with it as a starting point to learning more about his work!

I had so much fun with the first graders last year as they were doing a painting unit and I even got to come in as a local artist to work with them.  I loved how fearless they were with their water colours.  And again we had great fun using picture books with them to familiarize them with some famous artists.

I also love how Jen researches real people and makes them accessible to young readers.  For older students that process is a great entree into writing their own biographies.

 I was thrilled to actually win this book (from following her on Facebook) just as I was thrilled to hear her speak and meet her at a conference long ago.  If you aren't familiar with this award winning author's  books you are missing treasures!!  And I have only given you a sample of her work here!  Happy reading!!!

Saturday, August 1, 2015


I recently have gone through an experience where I realize I definitely had a communication problem.  It involved having work done in my backyard.  It did not end well at all.  There were clues at the beginning which I failed to recognize or recognized but continued on.  Anyway the result has been that six weeks later I don't have what I had hoped to have accomplished,  and the business relationship ended on a rather sour note.

A friend and I were having a discussion yesterday about how you seem to need to continue to learn lessons even though you think you should have learned them long ago.

And having spent four years as a consultant and many years on the executive of a volunteer organization I had to be very careful in my communication.  And as a teacher, one obviously has to be very clear in ones expectations.  In personal relationships, in the past I have had a tendency to  pretend a series of things didn't bother me when they really did, and then let my frustrations boil up and then tell someone off.   And this really is not that effective.  It is a pattern that I have worked hard to change.  I have also learned that we seldom know someone else's whole story so to perhaps give people a bit more slack at times as well.

But then with this project I saw myself end up back in that pattern, where I waited patiently outside but not inside for someone to continue a project which he did not I think ever really want to do it. His son needed some summer money so I think that is why he did quickly take my garage down but then nothing else basically happened for six weeks as he went on holiday etc.

Sometimes I realize I  also look for an easy way out.  "You know a good carpenter, great!"  And honestly that has sometimes worked out perfectly, but this time it did not.

So that is life, live and learn…or at least try!  And regarding my backyard, this is a first world problem-at least I have a backyard, and lesson learned is to be clear in your communication and expectations, and try to sense a communication problem right at the beginning!  And deal with it then!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


A friend phoned the other day, who hadn't recently talked to, and he asked me what I had been doing. I said I have been taking art lessons. Of course I do other things, but that was the first thing I could think of.

It started when I went on a cruise from Brazil to Miami and I took watercolour classes on board ship. I hadn't done anything like that in years and I found myself really enjoying it.

Next, back home, I signed up for a water colour plain air workshop, which other than having a friend for company, was a total disaster. I felt way over my head.

But I don't give up easily. I decided to take a watercolour course drawing flowers. I loved it so much that I signed up for a second class and convinced a friend to do so as well. Each week we got to go to the nearby botanical gardens and paint and learn about painting with a lovely group of people. I wasn't so good at practicing when I wasn't there but I tried.

A friend saw a one day workshop on botanical drawing at the other botanical gardens. I heard the instructor was knowledgeable and nice, so I decided to do it as well. One good thing is I didn't even have to supply a pencil.

It was interesting and much more exact but I really found I learned more about what is involved in drawing a flower. I also not sure I really like six hour classes!!! Notice I seem to confine myself to drawing flowers. Small steps...

There are always brilliant people in these classes who really draw well but they are usually quite self critical. I am not a brilliant artist but I think I am improving and my friends on Facebook are always very encouraging. That really helps!

I bought some very small note cards and wonder if I will ever have a completed card I can actually give some one. Photography is certainly easier though I did take lessons many years ago but now I just use an iPhone, no need for different lenses etc. I just have to look carefully as you do as well when you paint and draw.

I am still not good at practicing. I took piano lessons for seven years and didn't much like that part. Of course, I actually wanted art lessons, and so here I am many years later doing just that.

I keep wondering if I will end up back in piano lessons or try to learn to play the ukulele or something. Maybe I will take paddle boarding lessons. Anything is possible. I am currently considering a Mayan cooking class...Sometimes people say I should give courses on how to be retired. I could teach you how to stretch a half hour walk into a couple of hours...But I taught a long time and learned lots along the way but right now I kind of am focused on just learning, and stretching just a bit.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

An invitation

I have always lots of ideas for this blog but not usually when I am on my computer!  I also have been quite diligent lately on my other blogs, My Beautiful Vancouver Blog and My Travel Blog.  I really love taking pictures and like to take people along on my travels virtually, far or near.  I plan to get back to work on this blog but meanwhile please feel free to check out my other blogs.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Advice for someone newly retired..

I got an iPhone and learned how to use waterlogue app
I just received an email asking, "What was life like for you the FIRST year you retired? What ADVICE would you give to someone newly retired  this year (as of Sept 2015)?" 

I thought great, this is going to inspire me to write a blog post, but I missed the part that you were supposed to answer these two questions with a maximum of five sentences!  

I actually have written quite a bit about what being retired was like that first year in this blog.  Someone told me when I was first retired, that the first year was wonderful, then I asked what the second year was like, and she said even better.  And you know I think that is actually true.

I think people do worry about what retirement might be like and of course, we are used to summers off so it doesn't really hit until September.  And I must admit I went to the retired teachers luncheon that first day of school the first year,  and kind of thought, "I am not ready for this and I don't want to deliver poinsettias at Christmas to the retired teachers over 85"  not very charitable I know.  I preferred to volunteer two mornings a week at my old school mainly with grade ones and I even coached soccer and basketball that first year.  Another morning I read to kindergarten students for half an hour at the beginning of the day.  I think I was afraid of empty time.  I took Spanish lessons, I went on long walks etc.  And strangely for me, retirement wasn't as difficult as I once had feared, and honestly kind of liberating in that I could do exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to.

water colour lessons
I got to go on trips at less busy times and be away as long as I wanted.  I had time to reconnect with old friends.  I got to relearn how to knit and take watercolour lessons.  I had time to be a tourist in my own city.  I was able to pursue many interests. I got to be outside! And if I felt like it, I could just wander the beach when hardly anyone was there. And it was still important to feel that I was still making the world a better place by volunteering in different ways.    As teachers we have the beauty of really never having to question whether what we do is useful or important.  We know it is.  So I still need to feel that being retired.

So let's try to do those five sentences.  

"For me, life was really good my first year of being retired.  I loved teaching but I loved the freedom of retirement.  For me some structure was good but I didn't want too much.  I would advise you to find out what you really enjoy doing and what  you might want  to learn more about or have more time to do.  Be fearless and have fun!!!"

Saturday, May 30, 2015

What have I been reading…non fiction...

I have read a few books lately that I found absolutely compelling, the kind of books where you can't stop reading.

The last compelling read has been An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski.  As the book cover says it is" the true story of an 11 year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny".  I was thinking as I busily read it on the ferry the last book I can remember enjoying that much on a ferry was that later proved to be not strictly factual.  Oh well.

I guess we all like touching stories with happy endings, and this is a rather amazing story.  Maurice was     an 11 year old (actually 12 as he didn't know when his birthday really was) who lived in the worse possible circumstances, and Laura was a successful executive.  I liked how the story weaves in her background to explain why she may have wanted to help Maurice, to be his friend, and how honest she is in her telling of the story.  It really was amazing the commitment she did make, but she also is honest about when she thought she let Maurice down.  And there are times when he felt he let her down.  Anyway it was a great read…Maurice is an amazing example of how one can succeed against many odds and how the right mentor can make a real difference.

Now another book I could not put down was written by a Vancouver teacher about her family's struggle finding help for her daughter's mental illness, After Her Brain Broke by Susan Inman.  This was another book I could not stop reading.  This is a difficult story as well, one in which a family realizes that their younger daughter has a problem that suddenly escalates and they find themselves in a nightmare and in a difficult maze to find help.  Again the story does have a somewhat happy ending and Susan is the type of person who has worked hard to help others who find themselves in this type of situation.  Again she tells the story very honestly.   I read it and then lent it to a friend and her husband.  Her husband has a background in counselling and he thought it was excellent.  Well worth a read!

Another book that I found really interesting and had a hard time putting down was Elizabeth Jane Howard's autobiography, Slipstream.  She was an English novelist who grew up during the Second World War and whose husbands included Admiral Scott's son, Peter, and well known novelist, Kingsley Amis.  In my 20's I read and enjoyed her early novels and then later I read her Cazelet Chronicles, a series of historical novels about an upper middle class British family, not unlike her own.

I saw the book at the library and because I had enjoyed her novels, I decided to give it a read.  I found it quite fascinating.  She grew up in a very interesting but not easy family.  She married an older man  when in her late teens and was totally naive and also became a mother at 19. The marriage wasn't successful and she basically left it and her daughter, thinking she couldn't be a good mother.  Again she  wrote this autobiography very honestly.  At times I thought, another affair?  And you always knew it wouldn't end particularly well.

She often had difficulty getting writing done as she was busy trying to support herself.  It is an interesting picture of the arts scene in post war Britain.  And she certainly traveled in an interesting circle.  Her affair and then subsequent marriage to Kingsley Amis is an interesting story, and you can't blame her in finally leaving him.  She didn't get much writing done during those years.  (This part I found particularly interesting as I actually have a personally autographed book from Kingsley Amis as he ended up eventually living with his first wife and her husband, and she was a friend of a friend's sister in law-I know crazy but true).

I was impressed how she kept writing.  She also honestly sounded like a very nice person.  Anyway probably not everyone's cup of tea but I found it really interesting.

I am really much more a reader of fiction than non fiction so I was kind of surprised that a series of non fiction books grabbed my attention.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


disclaimer-this isn't the original camellia I painted-it died!
Yesterday I was working on my watercolour painting.  I had a plan to work each day on it but as of yesterday, that had only happened once.  And that consisted of me playing with washes and using salt.  I realized I needed to really practice on drawing not just playing and I needed to have a real block of time so since class is today that happened yesterday.

I decided to go back to the camellia I had started in class almost two weeks ago.  It actually didn't look too bad.  I hated to "mess" it up.  And I was trying to remember that lesson as well.  Watercolour often requires waiting, waiting for a section to dry.

While I was waiting I decided to try to draw another flower and work on it.  I wanted something fairly simple!  I decided to choose a perennial bachelor button which grow like weeds in my garden.

When I started drawing I realized it wasn't that simple and when I started trying to get the colours right in my painting I realized it really wasn't simple.

Watercolour painting required patience and I am not a patient person.  Long ago I remember my father saying,  "I don't know how you can teach those special children, you have no patience!"

Actually I can be patient but it isn't always easy for me.  It is something I am continually working on or I should be working on.  My lack of patience often has me not  following things in order for instance.

 I am not always convinced patience is a good thing.  There are times when I think we need to not put up with things but that is another story.

I am not good at waiting.  And watercolour painting requires waiting and it requires patience with myself, my lack of skill etc.  I also have to contend with that fear it isn't going to look right.  And in a way it may be that unwillingness to go through the steps, put in the effort.  My perfectionism comes out in be just saying let's just not do it.

In a class you generally have other people encouraging you, alone you have to be your own encourager.  Maybe that is why some kids don't get their homework done!!!

I think this is one reason I always liked going to work as opposed to the idea of working at home or on my own.

using Waterlogue app
I actually found myself posting my before and after camellia pictures on Facebook, no doubt seeking encouragement.

I actually have  things I enjoy doing on my own  but when I am doing something challenging to me I seem to need that encouragement of others.  I find it hard to struggle alone and not just give up or take the easy way out.

But as I was having difficulties yesterday, I was also thinking, "This is good because now I know what I need to ask in class"  I can show our instructor where my struggles are and ask for suggestions.  Not really very different to Grade 11 Algebra class with Mr. Cochrane.  Several of my friends wouldn't even attempt the problem they were so math phobic but it didn't bother me to get it wrong and find out what I needed to do to make it right then I would explain the whole thing to them.  My early teaching moments…

So I am trying to learn to have patience and not be afraid to "screw up".  And yes, I am looking forward to art class today.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Watercolour Lessons

still life by me from art class onboard ship
A former principal told me once you shouldn't say you are going to wait to retirement to start something new or something you want to do.  Retirement should be about doing what you enjoy and  learning more about something you already enjoy doing.

I have tried quite a few things in my life and others I haven't.  And for instance, I have never gone scuba diving and I have no desire to do so now that I am retired.  Although I have really enjoyed snorkeling and I like to look at things underwater I am kind of claustrophobic and the thought of all that water over me is not appealing so no scuba diving planned in my future.  I also have no plans to go crawling around in dark caves.

out the classroom window
But I am someone who kind of likes taking classes.  And if you have followed this blog you have probably heard about my going to Spanish lessons and my attempts to learn some Portuguese using iPad language apps.  And I have told you about my knitting lessons.  And lately I have also been learning about identifying different types of ornamental cherries!

In February I went on an 18 day cruise from Rio de Janeiro to Miami (for more details check out my .  I was a little worried about being on a cruise ship that long and about the nine days at sea. It all worked out, but a real highlight for me, was I got to take watercolour lessons on our sea days.  The lessons were only about an hour long but fortunately we had a skilled, former middle school art teacher.  For many of my fellow travellers and me, this became something we really enjoyed and looked forward to doing.
travel blog)

first class demo
I haven't taken much in the way of art lessons but I loved drawing when I was a child but I never really had access to much art instruction.  I think I took a drawing course in the community once when I was in university.  I did a bit of sketching much later,  and I did a one day seminar in watercolours about 10 years ago. I never really liked teaching art and fortunately, usually had a talented art teacher to teach my class.

But after the ship experience, I really began to think about taking a watercolour painting course.  First I did a plein air watercolour seminar with a friend.  It was a bit of a disaster for both of us and we actually quit early and had brunch.

I had already signed up for a watercolour art class apparently for all levels working with spring flowers and given at the nearby botanical gardens.  I was a bit worried after my last experience where I felt totally over my head.  I didn't have the right materials, I didn't even know the particular colours he was telling us to use.

When I got to the centre last week I was greeted by a lovely younger woman who asked if I was looking for the art class because I looked artistic (it was probably the big bag I was carrying).  It turned out she was the volunteer who is helping with the class, but it was nice to be greeted that way.

second class demo
Our teacher was excellent and although, I was a bit nervous, I was quite pleased with the beginnings of my camellia painting.  I left the class quite happy and excited.  But somehow life got in the way and I was busy and the painting didn't get touched again.  Not that we were given homework, but I kind of felt guilty but obviously not guilty enough.  In university I often seemed to carry books around that didn't get read and now I even took my painting equipment to Salt Spring Island but didn't do anything with it.

But no recriminations in my art class.  After my second lesson in this class, I was thinking how much I am enjoying it.  Some people are quite experienced, others are novices such as myself, but our teacher is able to accommodate our differences.  I also really like the people in my class and I love the beautiful setting.  There is a nice sense of community.  I think we are all nature lovers and appreciators of beauty.  

one of my talented classmate's work
I went into class today feeling a bit stressed out and noticed how good I felt by the end of the class.  That lovely sense of concentration.  I can see why my students always enjoyed art class.

Even in retirement I sometimes feel a little driven in a zillion directions.  It's nice to find a quiet place where focusing is required.  I also really like learning new skills.  I like that I am required to be patient.

And maybe this week I will find time to practice!  And perhaps work on that portrait of the camellia.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring in Vancouver

I love Spring and I love Spring in Vancouver because it lasts so long here. back east it starts late and it quickly goes into summer. Here you start to see new growth as early as January and now in late March while Eastern Canada got yet another snowfall, tulips are blooming here.

Each day I wonder what is coming up new in my garden. And I am currently learning about all the different types of ornamental cherry trees and trying to make it as an official cherry blossom spotter. There are 54 types of trees in Vancouver! We even have an official cherry blossom festival!

I spent an amazing three weeks cruising from Brazil to Miami but part of me was wondering what spring flowers I might be missing. And as I was working in my garden a couple of days ago I was thinking that I kind of did miss the full array of my crocuses as they were just beginning blooming when I left in February.

But of course it is wonderful to get away to exotic places and have longer days and real warmth from the sun so no regrets but I was thrilled to see my daffodils blooming on my return. To read more about this trip and other adventures just go to my travel blog.

One of my favourite things to do here is early morning walks. I have favourite spots but sometimes I go to other places as well, but each week I generally walk Kits Beach area, Spanish Banks, and Queen Elizabeth Park. And their are also shorter walks in my immediate Douglas Park-South Cambie-Main Street neighbourhoods. And Queen Elizabeth Park is actually just a walk up the hill. Other favourites are Stanley Park, Steveston, and downtown. And I could keep going about neighbourhoods in the Lower Mainland that seem to feed my soul. You can always check out my walks in My Beautiful Vancouver blog.

I moan and groan about planting bulbs and I do plant new ones every fall because as I look at my garden in spring I think about where I need more colour etc. and I am so,delighted that I planted what I did, it inspires me for the coming fall. Some bulbs only last so long while others spread madly. This year I really love the snap of colour these red small early tulips gave my front garden.

But you have to know I am rather random in my planting, planting what I look the looks of on the package!!!

Spring is also a season of fresh starts and on our days at sea I was able to take water colour painting lessons. I had doubled a bit in water colours quite awhile ago due to a couple of artistic friends, who sadly died too young, but thanks to a great instructor that interest was reignited.

So I am going to definitely take some lessons.

This week, after five weeks away due to my trip and the two week spring break, I was back volunteering with the grade ones and tutoring my next door neighbour also in first grade. It was great to be back and see all their learning taking place. And that actually could be a subject for a whole other blog, but no one should ever underestimate the value of the work of teachers. To be a teacher is to have the awareness that you never master the art but are constantly having to learn.

This is Holly the cat greeting her friend whose reward for reading aloud three books was getting to help me garden!

Cam helped me with my pruning of my hydrangeas so new flowers will bloom!

Monday, February 2, 2015


Well it is over a month since I wrote on this blog.  Now I have been posting regularly in My Beautiful Vancouver blog but somehow this one has been neglected.  But if you would like to take some neat walks around my city please visit that blog!
There have been a few starts here but they haven't gone anywhere!  Unfortunately when I have these great thoughts I am usually not near my computer.
I thought of writing more about retirement and started a post on that subject but it  hasn't really gone anywhere.
The bottom line is I am still enjoying it.  I love the freedom.  I especially love my morning walks.  I have to admit I prefer them when the weather is better but when the weather is not I kind of get the territory to myself.  And there is beauty in all types of weather.
I still enjoy volunteering as well.  For one thing it reminds me of why I am happily retired.  I love to work with the kids but I don't miss the relentless pace!  I like how those two mornings gives a structure to my week.  I like how it helps to give me purpose.  I like being with my old staff.
This month I began another project-working with my next neighbour's son who is in first grade and amazing but struggling with reading.  And I have to say this is challenging me as well.  I don't think anyone ever truly becomes an expert at teaching, especially in the initial stages of teaching children to read.  It is humbling.
After fourteen years of teaching special education I moved to a west side school in a wealthy neighbourhood and became a learning assistance teacher.  My job was to teach kids who were struggling in the regular class.  In many ways I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  For one thing for the first time I had parents who generally more concerned with their child's education than I was.  In many cases the parents I had had were more concerned with mere survival.  Thinking too much about their child's education was a luxury.
My new students were well taken care of, they had parents who were well off and well educated.  My students had parents who read to them and they had lots of experiences but I still had children with difficulty learning to read.  Now I am happy to say they all learned to read and when I hear about them now I find out they are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and all very successful.
And I have no doubt that my current student will be every successful as well.  But it isn't easy when you have difficulty learning to read and others find it much easier.
My goal as a teacher was to have students who learned to love reading and writing but again I have had my challenges but generally as a classroom teacher I was generally able to find the hook to make this happen.
In all types of learning we tend to enjoy what comes more easily.  I read something recently that said teachers need to make students enjoy the challenge, the struggle.
Well when my knitting went totally wrong and I must have started over countless times, I can't say I was enjoying the struggle.  In fact I finally just quit for awhile.  And then I decided that I would sign up for another knitting class.  I needed support!  I also wanted to become more independent and not just run to a friend to fix what I had done wrong.  And I am knitting again but I am still making mistakes and  not totally confident yet about fixing them myself.  But I know where to go when I need help!  I have support systems.
Long ago a journalist turned educator, Frank Smith, wrote a book called Joining the Literacy Club.  He talked about how if you want to learn to sail you might join a sailing club, etc.  And he talked about how teachers need to create literacy clubs.  You need to create community.
As a teacher, I would often tell my students that one teacher wasn't enough so that they had to be teachers as well.  In some areas they had better skills than I did.  I coached basketball but my basketball skills are practically nil, but I never had difficulty finding other students who had the skills and were willing to help.
At the moment, the six year next door is teaching me about MineCraft.  He draws intricate pictures and explains as he goes and I try to sneak a little reading and writing into the mix.
With the use of iPhone and iPad apps, I am currently trying to learn some Portuguese to prepare for my trip to Brazil.  I am trying to embrace the struggle!  It is a good thing these apps have positive reinforcement built into the mix.  It is also fortunate that I took a couple of Spanish courses before I hit Portuguese.
Thinking back to that essay I started to write about retirement.  I really think that being retired should mean the opportunity to keep learning...