Memoir, Pop Culture, Princess, Raves, Suburban

True Confession: I was a Disney virgin

writing90Growing up in the suburbs of New Brunswick in the late 70’s, it was pretty clear that only the rich families went to Florida on vacation.

Vacations with my family did not consist of getting on a plane and flying to…well, anywhere.

Instead, they involved an annual 14-hour drive (each way) to southern Ontario to visit the grandparents and assorted relatives.

My mother packed breakfast, lunch and supper and we drove straight through. My father white-knuckled it beside crazy-Quebec drivers, while my brother and I bounced around (sans seatbelts) in the back of the car. We would flip the seats down in the station wagon and lay out the sleeping bags, so we could read our comic books and punch each other until someone reached back and smacked at us from the front seat.

We never stopped at a hotel on the way for a night of fun and frivolity. Well, we might have once but I think it was because the car broke down and I don’t believe there was any frivolity.

Like I said, Disney was not part of my childhood. (Thanks a lot, Dad…you owe me for some serious therapy).

Fast-forward 20 years: my children are of that “Disney” age but still it’s not in the cards. For one thing, my boys were runners and climbers. Both had near-misses with cars around the age of 3 and I spent much of their early years just praying they wouldn’t die on my watch. Combine my fears of them running off into the Magic Kingdom and being kidnapped by Goofy with the fact that we had about 37 cents to rub together and once again, Disney was out of the picture.

It seemed as if I was destined to be a Disney virgin for life.

But then…all that changed.

writing93On a whim, my husband and I decided to take the plunge. We pulled the kids out of school and flew to the magical land of Mickey and Minnie. Granted, it wasn’t exactly the best time…my eldest graduates this year and 7 days out of school when you’re facing grade 12 exams probably wasn’t the smartest thing we could have done, but we were on a mission – we were Disney bound!

We left on a cool Canadian morning in May and arrived to steaming hot Orlando temperatures.

Our days were full.

I had bought tickets for 3 days in Disney, 2 days at Universal Studios, 1 day at SeaWorld, and 1 day at Wet and Wild. We left two days open for shopping and relaxing.

Let me tell you – those two days off?

Priceless.

My senses have never been so overloaded in my life.

Sights, sounds, smells – everything comes at you full speed at Disney (and by Disney, I mean all of the Orlando theme parks…they’re all Disney to me). You are on a thrill ride before you even set foot on a roller coaster.

I am grateful to have gone but I don’t know if I would go again. I think it’s something like childbirth. You would only do it again if you could forget what it was like the first time around.

All that said, since I am now an experienced veteran of all things Orlando, I will share my tips and observations with you. (You’re welcome.)

  1. All good things end in the gift shop…and all rides…and all shows. You literally walk through hundreds of gift shops during a week at Disney. Put on the blinders and march quickly through the gift shops. There are hundreds of discount stores mere miles from the amusement parks. You do not need a set of salt and pepper shakers shaped like Mickey and Minnie. And if you really, really do? Buy them for $9.99 at the outlet store, instead of $29.99 at the gift shop.
  2. As much as I enjoyed all of the ‘activities’, waiting for my boys to finish riding the crazy-ass roller coasters gave me the chance to people watch. There is nothing like people watching at Disney – you see all shapes, sizes, ethnic groups, ages and personalities and hear all types of accents. I saw people in clothing choices that made me wonder if they owned a mirror and I saw tatoos on everyone from grannies to pre-teens. It was like watching a movie.
  3. Babies at Disney…WTF?! I don’t get it. What benefit does a BABY get out of a day at an amusement park? Now, if you have other children and you’re just dragging the baby along for the ride, I kinda get it…I couldn’t do it, but I understand. But there were adults there with just a baby…trying to get the carnie-worker to let them take their BABY on the rollercoaster with them?!  Stop. Put.the.baby.down.  (One exception to the baby rule is my cousin Tracy, but that’s only because she is a superwoman and she does Disney with kids the way it should be done…with kid rides and kid activities.)
  4. Water rides will save your life. Don’t worry about getting soaking wet…you will get soaking wet but you won’t care because Orlando is stinking hot and you will dry quickly. The water rides will cool you off but even better than that, they will soothe any crankiness or nastiness that might be setting in after a day of sensory overload.
  5. Street food is everywhere. Word of advice? Walk away from the giant “turkey legs”. At $10 a piece, these things could feed an entire family. But should they? I have never seen a “turkey” with a leg that big. And the meat is pink, more like ham than turkey. I am pretty sure these things are made from some sort of weird hybrid. Turkey + pig = purkey.  I would not encourage the eating of purkey until more testing can be done.
  6. Carry your own bottled water. We bought a two-four of bottled water at a local convenience store for $2.99, which coincidentally is what you pay for ONE bottle of water at the parks. We hydrated ourselves like we were hiking through the Sahara desert.
  7. Carry some real food for lunches and snacks. Yeah, the street meat and deep fried foods are fun…for awhile. But there comes a time when you hit the wall and you can’t bring yourself to pay $7 for a hot dog that tastes like…well…a hot dog.
  8. Allow yourselves downtime. For us, it was sitting around in the evenings, watching TV or hanging out around the hotel pool. That’s when the kids would tell us what they liked, didn’t like, wanted to do, didn’t want to do.
  9. Enjoy it for what it is. Yes, it is a super-sized, commercialized, sensory experience but for me, it was a chance to spend time with my husband and our boys without any interruptions from real life. Just us and Mickey.
Turkey...really? Purkey is more like it.
Turkey…really? Purkey is more like it.
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Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

Why We Should Abolish Grade 8

Let the cats and the grade 8's roam free.
Let the cats and the grade 8’s roam free.

I have long proposed that Grade 8 be abolished.

Sort of like the 13th floor in a hotel. Just skip over it. It’s bad luck. No one wants to get off on that floor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying kids in grade 8 are bad people. It’s just that when they hit grade 8 they become afflicted with a condition I have coined Grade-Eight-I-Tis ©.

Grade-Eight-I-Tis, or G.E.I.T. for short, causes the adolescent brain to stop working, allowing the puberty hormones to take over.

Now, you may be asking yourself, what are the side effects of this dreaded condition?

Well, since you asked, let me give you an example of G.E.I.T. in action.

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Yesterday, as I was driving through my neighborhood, minding my own business, I saw one of my former students coming around the corner of the little side street where I was about to turn. He was with three other boys, all in grade 8.

I taught him three years ago when he was in grade 5. He was a cute little kid then. Nice, friendly, helpful.

I waved at him but he didn’t wave back. This was odd because he always waves at me. In fact, the other day, he actually stood in the middle of the road so that I would stop my car and talk to him.

That little mystery was solved in a matter of seconds.

As soon as I rounded the corner, I saw the fire.

I have no doubt that this former student of mine started the fire with his empty-headed buddies and then just sauntered away. There was no one else around and the flames were pretty high by the time I started beating them out with an old hat I found in the trunk.

Between my hat beatings and the man from across the street who came over with a bucket of water, we managed to put the ditch fire out pretty quickly.

But I was mad. I called 911 and told them they needed to send someone over to spray down the grass, just in case there was a rogue spark lurking somewhere. Then I told them to have the police call me. I was on my way to have a chat with a few budding arsonists.

I caught up with the boys pretty quickly (athletes they are not). The three I didn’t recognize took off running. My former student walked over to the car.

Trying to be cool, he leaned over my window, “Hey, what’s up?”

“You’re busted, buddy,” I told him. “Get ready for a chat with the police about the fire.”

“I didn’t light any fire,” he said, trying to look cool as sweat beaded on his forehead under his stupid backwards baseball cap.

“Whatever. Tell it to the police.”

Now, I know the worst thing that will happen to this little dumb-ass-kid, and his equally dumb-ass friends, is that they will get a slap on the wrist. Even if they are charged, the Young Offenders Act in Canada protects kids from their own youthful stupidity. And I suppose that’s a good thing. I can only hope that their parents will realize that unless they want to visit their kid in a juvenile detention facility in a few years, they need to step up and nip this problem in the bud.

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This incident just reinforced my belief that G.E.I.T. is a burning problem (no pun intended) that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

In my little fantasy-world, students in Grade 8 would not be in the classroom.  Instead, they would be out in the community helping: helping people, helping animals, helping the environment. This would help grow the parts of their brain that have been stunted by G.E.I.T. They would learn empathy, compassion and respect.

There would still be grade 8 teachers but their job would be to coordinate and supervise the work placements.  Yes, it would be like herding cats, but seriously, if we’re being honest here, isn’t teaching grade 8 like herding cats anyways?If you’re going to let the cats out of the bag, you might as well give them a wide open space in which to roam.

And who knows?

Perhaps if you’ve just spent the week cleaning out the ditches around your neighborhood, you might not be so quick to light them on fire.

I’m just sayin’.

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Checkin' for monkeys right now.
Checkin’ for monkeys right now.

UPDATE: I heard from the police this evening regarding our little junior arsonists. It seems three of the boys threw the fourth one under the bus and said that he lit the fire without them knowing. Apparently, this one rogue trouble maker ran off to the ditch (alone) to pee and then he started a fire. That makes sense to me. I always light a fire after I pee in the ditch. Yeah…and then monkeys fly out of my butt!!! Amazingly, their parents apparently bought this big stinking sack of doo-doo and all four got a “stern talking to” from the police.

I must say, I am a little concerned. I believe the United Nations puts “firm talking to”s in the same category as waterboarding. I hope the boys can get past this.

Princess, Rants, Raves, Teacher

Teachers: Love us or hate us, we’re still going to teach your kids.

A teacher for Prime Minister? What you talkin' about, Willis?
A teacher for Prime Minister? What you talkin’ about, Willis?!

If Liberal leader Justin Trudeau wins the next federal election in a few years, Canada will have a teacher for Prime Minister. Imagine! A teacher as the leader of our great country!

Although I think this would be fabulous, I can’t imagine it happening, seeing as many Canadians don’t even seem to want teachers to be teachers.

In last Saturday’s Globe and Mail, columnist Elizabeth Renzetti wrote an article titled, “Who You Callin’ A Teacher?” In it, she describes the twisted relationship the general public has with teachers.

“Is there another profession that’s so loved in theory and so loathed in practice?” she asked.

She continued by saying, “The love is everywhere to see, so long as it doesn’t cost us anything: Countless books, films and documentaries take a scrappy teacher as a hero…In real life, teachers get scant thanks from a public that expects them to perform ever greater miracles with ever fewer loaves and fishes.”

I love that biblical image: performing ever greater miracles with ever fewer loaves and fishes.

It’s what teachers do every day. Not only are we expected to cover the 3-R’s (and cover them well enough to beat out other countries on standardized tests) but we are also expected teach children things that their parents should, but often don’t, deal with at home (like, please don’t rape your classmate, put her picture on-line and then bully her into an early grave…but that’s a story for another time).  Add in the integration of special needs students who don’t get the support they need…oh, and do it with less money and little support.

What gives? Why the lack of respect for teachers? Renzetti explains it like this:

“There’s a particular store of resentment directed at teachers, perhaps because so much of their work is invisible to the outside world, but more likely out of numbing jealousy that they get summers off.”

I totally agree. In a past blog about snow days, I made the point that every job is different. Each has it’s own pros and cons and yet many people can’t get past the perks that teaching has to offer.

The green-eyed monster is a vicious, myopic creature. We often envy what we see on the surface.  Dig a little deeper and you’ll see all of the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears that go into a full school-year of teaching. There aren’t a lot of people who can do that well. And yes, I know there are bad teachers out there…just like there are bad nurses and bad toll booth operators and bad garbage men. But I think it’s fair to say that most teachers are well-trained professionals who have the best interests of their students in mind. It just wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t.

But let’s go back to Justin Trudeau for a minute.

In his recent blog post, Drama Teaching Experience, fellow teacher, Grant Frost noted (tongue in-cheek) that the Conservative attack ads on Trudeau had it right. What could a drama teacher possibly bring to the job of prime minister? How could a teacher possibly lead our country? His response?

“Drama teachers are a special breed of people who develop co-operation in their students, work tirelessly so that others can shine, and help all students reach their fullest potential…Canadians should dream of such a leader.”

In the end, Renzetti sums it up: “Those who can, teach; those who can’t, make fun of them.”

Excuse me, Mr. Harper, but who’s teaching your kids?

Love
Love
Hate
Hate
Memoir, Princess, Raves, Suburban

Bark, bark, barkin’ at heaven’s door: A tribute to the world’s best beagle

Rest in peace, sweet girlie. We love you.
Rest in peace, sweet girlie. We love you.

Our sweet old girlie enjoyed her last treat today. Four sausages, at last count. She died like she lived – well fed and well loved.

She has gone to join all of the other beagles in heaven, where the mountains of meat loom large and the bunnies and deer are free for the chasin’.

Maxie was the best dog a family could ask for. We adopted her just over 9 years ago. The ladies who gave her to us were only fostering her and they didn’t know exactly how old she was. They said they were told she was around 6 or 7; however, they also warned us against getting ‘two dogs and a goat’, so I don’t know how much faith I put in what they had to say. 😉

Maxie gave us many, many good years and despite ailing health over the past few, she managed to secure herself a place in our hearts and minds forever.

She will be dearly missed.

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Despite rumours to the contrary, I do not have a direct line to the big guy. But, if I did, I would be placing a call today and it  would go something like this.

Operator: Heaven’s Gate. How may I direct your call?

Me: Hi, may I speak to St. Francis of Assisi, please? You know, the Patron Saint of Animals guy?

Operator: Uhh…yes, I know who you mean. One moment, please. (pause) I believe he’s in the field throwing sticks, but I’ll find him for you.

(Sound of the phone being muffled: “Frank! Frank! Phone’s for you!”)

St. F: Hello? (sounding slightly out of breath)

Me: Hello, Saint, sir. Sorry to bother you. But my dog Maxie is on her way to your place and I just wanted to tell you a few things about her before she arrives.

St. F: Certainly, but…

Me: I’ve made a list of reasons why you should let her in. Can I read it to you?

St. F: Of course, but…

Me: OK. Here you go.

Top Ten Reasons Why Maxie Should be Admitted to the Land of Bacon and Free Range Bunnies

  1. Seriously…look at that face. Have you ever seen a cuter face in your whole life?
  2. Maxie could put a smile on our faces when nothing else could. My kids have come home from school angry, frustrated and in tears and immediately gone to the dog for a hug. She always responded by licking away their tears and reminding them that there was something else they could be doing, ie. getting her a treat.
  3. Maxie smelled like an angel…of course, that was only just after a bath. But even her stinkiness was part of her charm.
  4. She was the least fussy eater I have ever known. She ate everything from fresh baked donuts to dirty old lobster shells. Eating was both her job and her hobby.
  5. Maxie was also the most gentle dog…unless you were trying to take her food away. Rocky, the beagle up the street, learned that the hard way. (I know it was your food dish, Rocky, but you should have known better.)
  6. She taught my children how to love unconditionally. Even when she peed on their beds, ripped open their garbage, and ate their birthday cakes, they always forgave her.
  7. She taught us that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and colours…and species…and breeds.
  8. Maxie helped the local wildlife stay fit and healthy. The deer and the rabbits in the woods around our house got a regular workout when she was still able to run. One sniff and the howling would begin. If we opened the door (or she managed to push it open by throwing her substantial girth into it) she’d be off like a shot.
  9. In the end, she taught us, To everything there is a season. Translation? Eventually, we all have to say goodbye.
  10. Finally, not to appear biased or anything, but I’m pretty sure she was the best dog in the whole wide world.

(pause)

Me: So, what do you think St. Francis? Is that enough? Can you open the pearly gates and let my sweet girl into the land of unlimited bacon?

St. F: (chuckling) I’ve been trying to tell you that she’s already here. Who do you think I was throwing sticks for? Seriously…was there ever any doubt?

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“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.” St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Animals

Rants, Raves, Suburban, Teacher

10 Simple Things You Can Do To Help Your Child Get a Better Report Card (and lead a happier life)

writing72

It’s that most wonderful time of the year…report card time!

I jest, of course. Report card time is often a stressful time for children, teachers, and parents alike.

After report cards come home, the question parents most often ask is, “What can I do at home to help my child?”

They think the answer is going to be complicated and involve expensive tutoring support. And sometimes these things are necessary.

But in many cases, there are some simple (free) things you can do at home that will make a positive difference in the classroom. They aren’t based on rocket science and they’ve been proven time and time again by people way smarter than me (people like scientists and psychologists).  They don’t just help kids get better grades…they help them to become healthier, happier people. And in the end, that’s really what we want, isn’t it?

Keep in mind that these suggestions are designed for parents of elementary school children. Once your child hits middle school, you want to have good habits and attitudes ingrained.

  1. Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Get the TV and the game system out of their bedroom. If they have a phone, have them turn it off and leave it in the kitchen at bedtime. You want your child to have a restful sleep so they are ready to learn once they get to school. Kids can’t focus on learning when they are tired.
  2. Get your child to school on time. It’s disruptive to everyone when kids arrive late. And it’s often the same kids who arrive late every day. I get it. You’re saying, “Oh, but it’s just so hard to get out the door on time.” Uh, yes, it can be. But you need to make it a priority. By consistently allowing your  child to be late, you are teaching them that punctuality is not important when it is.
  3. Help your child with personal hygiene issues. Check them out before they leave the house. (I often do the sniff test with my kids.) Body odor, dirty clothes, bad breath, basically anything that involves bad smells, is going to make your kid a social pariah and a target for bullies.
  4. Teach your child that everyone has strengths and challenges. Your child may be good at math but struggle with reading or vice versa or both. Make sure they know that this in no way measures their worth as a human being or anyone else’s worth, for that matter.
  5. On that note, make sure your child understands that neither their self-worth and nor your love is tied to a grade on their report card. Remember: no one will be checking their grade four math mark when they are applying for college or their first job.
  6. Teach your children that popularity comes with both power and responsibility. If your child has been blessed with a leader-like personality, help her to use this power for good, not for evil.
  7. Keep an eye on what your child hears, sees and reads. There is a reason movies and video games have ratings. Movies that are rated R are not for children. Video games that are rated mature are not for children. Grow a spine and say no.
  8. Sexy lingerie is not for little girls, it’s for grown women. Even though they make thongs and lacy bras for the pre-teen set doesn’t mean you have to buy them. It’s not cute…it’s wrong. Same goes for Playboy t-shirts and sweatpants that have “Juicy” written across the butt. If she begs, see #8 for advice.
  9. Healthy food makes for healthy minds and bodies. If your child is coming to school already jacked up on a sugar-fueled breakfast (or worse, no breakfast) we are already at a disadvantage.
  10. Finally, don’t trash your child’s teacher in front of your child. The fact is, unless you can negotiate a class change, your child and his teacher will be spending more daytime hours together than the two of you. Be part of a team – your child’s team.

writing71

Raves, Teacher

Yoga + Writing = Happy Students who Will Write and Write and Write…

Author: Sheree Fitch
Author: Sheree Fitch

I recently published a review of the book Breathe, Stretch, Write in the winter edition of AVISO, a magazine for Nova Scotia teachers. I was paid the princely sum of $75 for my efforts. (Yes, this why writers are such wealthy, wealthy people.)

But it wasn’t the promise of great riches that drew me to write this article.

This book has made my writing classes more enjoyable (for both me and my students), more interactive, and best of all, more productive.

Like most Canadian parents, I knew Sheree Fitch for her lyrical children’s books. Our family copy of Toes in My Noes is 18-years-old, ripped, stained and completely well-loved. You know those songs that get stuck in your head? Earworms? Sheree’s poems are like that. To this day, I can start with, “I stuck my toes in my nose and I couldn’t get them out” and someone in the house will follow with, “It looked a little strange and people began to shout!

As a teacher, I still read her poetry to my students, of all ages, because it’s fun and well written and the kids like it.

But this book? Wow. It’s an incredible teaching resource. She has made the lessons so easy to follow that you could put a sticky note on any one of the pages and leave it on your desk for a substitute teacher…without any explanation. It’s that straight-forward.

If you teach writing to children, do yourself a favour and get this book. You won’t regret it.

Here is a link the AVISO article, Breathe, Stretch, Write: Using Sheree Fitch’s Writing Resource in the Classroom.” The article opens in Adobe and starts on p.22.

To purchase this wonderful resource, link here to Pembroke Publishers.