View From The Glen

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Danish Christmas Eve

As a kid, in the UK, every Christmas Eve was dinner out and a trip into Liverpool to the Pantomime. I remember vividly the drive, counting lit Christmas trees in Windows with my brother, Barry, dinner all dressed up, and the floodlit, red-carpeted splendour of the theatre steps. Maltesers, music, dancing. Peter Pan. Snow White. Always a grande "Dame" whom we could boo and hiss at in true theatrical fashion. I always left floating, staying awake on the drive home to search the skies for a glimpse of Santa and Rudolph's flashing nose.

I could never imagine anything topping that. But as I look at my kids around the table tonight, their Danish heritage of pickled herring, rice pudding, and schnapps at a late Christmas Eve Feast with family is just as rich and vibrant to them as my panto was to me. It's all about the traditions you keep and the memories you forge.

That's what Christmas is truly about.


Sunday, December 21, 2014


December 21st. A day to appreciate the stillness, the silence.

A day to deck the halls for Yule, and light up the house in festive lights that serve both to ward off the darkness on this longest night of the year, and celebrate the return of the light. 

I think it's my favourite day of the year. It's when Christmas starts, truly starts, for me.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Move over, literary crushes (see )

There are a couple of new guys in my life.


William Murdoch is not my type. I usually go for the broody or the cavalier (think Aragorn or Han Solo), and this guy is way too clean cut, too fastidious, too cautious for me. Or so I'd have thought. And yet, I am utterly hooked on Murdoch Mysteries, and can't get enough of him. I think it's his brilliance. I really like intelligent men. And Murdoch is one helluva intelligent man. 

Funnily enough, I'm a fan of Murdoch, not the actor who plays him. In fact I was disappointed to discover that actor Yannick Bisson lives in a modern house with stainless steel appliances...the very antithesis of William Murdoch. How can that be? 

In complete contrast is this next guy. The broody one. The one whose film and television roles play second fiddle to the actor himself. Though I've admired the actor for some years since first seeing him in The Hobbit, I never thought much beyond He'd be great as Richard III. That is until a few weekends ago when the kids and Andrew were away and I watched a decade old British TV miniseries in which he starred. 

Richard Armitage

No doubt his most famous role is Thorin Oakenshield, the Dwarven King who leads the quest for gold. 

I loved the character of Thorin. Dark. Complex. Strong. Compelling.

And then in North and South I met John Thornton. Dark, Complex, Strong. Compelling.

And about then, I researched Richard Armitage himself. And he too is like that. Dark, Complex, Strong. Compelling. Also intelligent.

Irresistible really, that combination.

Monday, December 1, 2014

One Fun Lady

My mom is 68 today.

My mom who is quick to laugh, and has a sense of humour that just won't quit.

My mom who has an incredible, contagious, enthusiasm for all the fun things in life.

My mom who never lets anything get her down for long, who bounces back better than ever.

My mom whose childlike wonder of the world keeps her young. 

Happy birthday! 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thoughts on Inquiry Based Learning

I wrote about what I love about Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) and how I use it in the college classroom on my #EduBlog, Here, I want to look at it from a different perspective. From the perspective, in fact of a 14 year old grade 9 student who has been introduced to IBL this semester in Geography class.

And hates it. HATES. Did I mention he hates it?

That student is my son. And to be fair, hate is a strong word. Dislikes. Finds it inefficient. Never wants to do Geography again.

For the uninitiated, IBL (or Problem Based Learning, a close relative) is a new way of teaching material in which the student is given more choice, more say, and ultimately more responsibility in their own learning.

For Erik's first project, he was given a research question to research and answer and present to the class in the method of his choice. He got a B. He could have given more detail. He was frustrated.His problem: He felt he had answered the questions, but he needed to go one step further. "If the teacher asks for X but actually really wants Y + Z as well, why wouldn't she just say so..." said my mathematically-brained son. "Otherwise I'm like, WTF!" (Sense of humour intact).

It was time to get to the heart of the matter. He's not super communicative, Erik, especially when Mom starts bugging him about schoolwork, so it took a few weeks to elicit enough responses to really understand. Here's what I have:

  • Inquiry based learning is messy and there is no clear answer. His mathematical mind really struggles with this. It's happened for years in English class where he never understood how to give enough detail until I turned it into a math formula: Give as much detail as you think answers the question, then add 50% more (D + 50%). He could do that (or at least he understood that). So we tried that again: Answer the question, and add 20% more information (Q + 20%). So far, so good.
  • Inquiry Based Learning takes time. Erik has always been an efficiency expert. The shortest route. The fastest result. The quickest response. He does things once. So having to suddenly take the time to a) figure out what he wants to find out; b) add 20%; c) put it together creatively (not his strength); and d) ensure it is thorough....well this is not fun for him. 
  • We talked (car rides great for talking to recalcitrant teens...they can't escape) about WHY IBL is important. Would you, I asked, rather be told what to think or how to think? Duh. He is NOT a follower, that boy. Well, I explained, seizing my advantage, IBL is about teaching you how to think. I gave (top of my head, I swear) an example about trucks and fuel and how someone good at IBL would solve the fuel-environment issue (something he IS interested in)...and you know what, I think we were getting somewhere.
  • Erik is very introverted and has mild Aspergers. He is highly functional, but man, does that kid hate change. Always has. And loud noises. So a noisy class of IBLearners doing something brand new that many are excited's an understatement to say it is not Erik's cup of tea. His sisters, both introverts themselves, love IBL, and are keen to help Erik (to his infinite delight <sarcasm>. Nothing more fun than a younger sister who wants to tell you what to do).
  • Erik's memory is phenomenal. One of our big issues with him has always been that he gets good marks without trying too hard (grade inflation is another issue for another day...gets me too riled up), and this has largely been due to his memory. Because until this year, noone ever challenged him in a way where he needed to work hard. As a result, his grades in Geography are harder to maintain. This causes him stress. And why wouldn't it. As he said, it doesn't seem fair that they changed the system (translation: they changed a system that was working favourably for him to one that he struggles with, that is harder for him to achieve in, AND that is new - see previous point about hating change). Like I said...STRESS.
So what can we do? First, if you are a teacher who loves IBL/PBL (and I am too, I get it!) I implore you to please be gentle, especially if introducing it in a higher grade. Not all kids love it, many struggle with it and need some serious scaffolding. They need to be exposed to it slowly, and see small successes, not just a major project that is seemingly open ended (to them, it really is!). 

As a learner, embrace it. It's a great way to become a life long learner. It's a great way to have some say in your own curriculum and do projects that interest you (even Erik saw the logic in that). It needs to be broken down into manageable chunks, and its okay to get help along the way. Ask for it (Erik not a fan of asking for help - again, not something he is used to needing to no experience in it).

As a parent, take heart. It's surmountable. Erik's most recent project was on coffee (his choice) and though his research skills still need work (he flounders without specific guidance), he did bring home the work he had done in class  and we used it to put together a creative project. Neither of us knew what we were doing when it came to using Camtasia to make this video (ignore the echoing intro), so I used it as an excuse to model the Inquiry-Based Learning process. 

And whaddya know...? He even admitted it was "sorta fun" to make.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day Poetry

In Flanders Field is the classic poem of today, and when I teach war literature, that and Dulce et Decorum Est feature prominently in the curriculum.

Today however, I have two other poems. 

Written by Grace, in lieu of an essay for school... 

And written by Anna....

These are their drafts. Anna has finessed hers and is reading it at the school assembly today. Grace is working on hers, though is participating in her school ceremonies by playing the national anthem on her saxophone.

And me...I teach all day, but will be taking my police foundations students outside at 11 for a few minutes of Remembrance. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My weird family (but I love them anyhow)

Erik, 14, is the voice of reason. Overly much at times, but he does have a wicked sense of humour. Tonight he was enjoying a joke about H2O, H2O too (versus H2O2) and murderous scientists which was a little obtuse for most of his listeners, but that didn't stop him from explaining the details.

And that makes him the most normal of them all tonight.

His youngest sister, my sweet Gracie, 11, dressed as a bear, was explaining that she's been conducting a series of experiments on her friends and family regarding pupil dilation. Without their knowledge. She shrugged off with a very Gallic wave of her hand any ethical considerations of not informing them, stating that if people know you are experimenting on them, they are less willing, and results may be skewed. 

I worry about her.

Anna 13 was busy being teen girls are wont to be...between dramatic flair and most ernest concern. One minute she is recounting the needle she had today and how it hurt, and how she is never, EVER, EVAHHHH getting a vaccination again (insert heartfelt eye roll here), and the next, she is harnessing her inner middle age, all indignant about the state of education and how she feels she is being short changed and under challenged in school.

13 is about extremes, after all.

And then there is Andrew. I wasn't going to mention him, but then, post bath, I am shelving bath bubbles and lotion, and in among them on the top shelf is a syringe of topical medicine for cattle that clearly states, "For veterinary use only" and which, just as clearly, my husband has been using to self-medicate. Who knows why. 

I am not even going to try to understand that one.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Autumn Glory

I know, I know, I wax on and on about fall. Always have. Likely always will. It's by far my favourite season, and this particular weekend has been incredible. I considered joining Andrew and the two older kids who headed up into the Laurentians camping with the Venturers, but have a document to edit and papers to grade, so in the end stayed home with my youngest (currently looking long and lanky and making cupcakes while I edit).

And what a weekend.

First, it's been gorgeous. Summer weather, but not so sticky. And no bugs. The veranda was my office and I sat grading papers in dappled sunlight. The house is surrounded by colour. Out of every window, there is brilliance and wonder.

Second, it's been peaceful. A friend and her daughter came over last night and we sat outside under clear stars with candles and wine and black bean dip and cake and talked until late. The girls serenaded us with their saxophones for a while, the sound carrying through the open windows. So nice, and I have to remember to make more time for evenings like that.

Third, it's been productive. Rounded up some recalcitrant sheep with the help of a likeable young shepherd and his crook. Edited a government document. Got through the bulk of 65 papers. And did four loads of laundry, all of which got hung out to dry. 

Fourth, it's been tasty. My friend, Jeanne, brought yummy dip, I got to make fresh salsa. The girls shared some of their chocolate. And I tried a new wine. Cupcakes are now in the oven, and tonight I have a fresh pork tenderloin which I plan to stuff with spinach and walnuts so it's ready when we get home from swimming. (I exercise primarily in order to enjoy food guilt-free...makes sense to me.)

Finally, it's been lovely to just spend some time with my fast-growing, more and more independent, curious and witty 11 year old. Precious moments before she's all grown up.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Perfect September

It's no secret that I love September. After the long hot summer (not that we had one of those this year) cooler days are a respite. The leaves are turning, and the gardens have their last bloom of colour, graceful even as the foliage fades.

There are metaphors here, but I am ignoring them. It's simplicity I want today: cutting back withering perennials, dividing some ancient daffodil bulbs, pruning shrubs. Small focused tasks that restore order and rejuvenate the gardens. 

Rejuvenating myself too. I taught all week...the busy, content-heavy first week is always exhausting for faculty and students alike...despite the remnants of a lagging cold and losing my voice, and though I am on the mend, I am fatigued. 

Today, I am home, taking advantage of having no Friday classes this semester. Normally, I would be at my desk organizing for Monday, marking papers, and I will still have to do that over the weekend.

But not today. Today, spending time here in the gardens, in these cooler temperatures, with the smell of the damp earth and the freshness of a fall wind, is just what I need.

But first....

Coffee. Outside. On the mossy, stone steps beside a patch of late-blooming Black-Eyed Susan. With Galadriel, my grey cat, visiting for a head scratch.

September: "Season of mists and yellow fruitfulness..." (Keats)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

School is in!

It is that time of year again. The final sticky days of summer when mornings are still humid and the sun shines doen hot even as the first leaves start to turn colour around the edges; when coffee on the porch is swapped for a 6 am run, bowls of oatmeal, and packed lunches in bright containers on the counter; when hair is brushed, forms are signed, and at least one child is sent rushing back inside for something forgotten.

Back to school time. In our house, it is a positive change. Summer is always fun, but we enjoy the transition back to routine and order. Even if it is a bit rushed at first as we get back into the swing of things, the year once again has boundaries, structure.

It's easier now everyone is older. They make their own lunches (Halle-freaking-lujah) and clear away their own breakfast dishes. No longer do I need my "Get up and go" playlist that for years got everyone out the door on time. Now the music is as varied as the kids who choose it, and might even include a live saxophone rendition of Crazy Train. 

Yes, that time of year again. Welcome back.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cottage Thoughts

They carried their own canoe and kayaks to the water this morning. Down the steep path through the pines. And now they are off slicing through the flat clear lake water, their voices and the sound of their paddles dipping carrying --the only noise across the stillness, save a dog's bark far away and the faint rustle of wind in leafy branches overhead.

see them still: tiny confident specks in the distance. And I think to myself, when did they grow up?

And Homeward Bound...

Excerpts from journal
*please forgive spelling errors caused by technology that doesn't make it easy to edit and correct
**I'm a little OCD about spelling, capitalization, and grammar, so posting this is causing some consternation, and I daresay once my lap top is up and running again, I'll feel the need to go into editor mode and fix all the mistakes. I can't even bold or italicizes on my tablet! (I know....the horror!)

July 22

Andrew fiddling with westy again this morning.....leaking oil via a cracked pipe. Always something. Despite this, made it through the mountains and fog of early morning in southern coastal Labrador and are at ferry terminal in Blanc Sablon one hour ahead to make our booking.  Fingers crossed. 

We are all hungry. Andrew promising coffee and breakfast but may have to wait until on ferry. We are planning....hoping? stay tonight in a hotel with a swimming pool. Deer lake. Or cornerbrook? 

Fog horn sounds. Kids thrilled by it. Grace prefers to be out on deck. Settles her stomach. She isn't seasick exactly, but queasy with roll of the ship. Now here, playing hearts at tiny round tables in the front of the ship where the pub is when it's open. Not this morning. Had a bday party for Andrew for yesterday: the girls and I had fun finding gift store mini gifts in tribute (gourmet white chocolate and a small whale painting) and Anna drew Viking Daddy. So that was cute.

Stopped at the arches and again at Ss Ethie. Finally pulled into a valley to BBQ sausages for dinner beside a lake in middle of gros Morne. Andrew pulled out a red checkered cloth for the picnic table the way his grandmother would have. He even had clips to hold it down. Old school, baby.

July 23
No hotel rooms...with or without pools....available in Deer Lake or Cornerbrook. Then we found an online booking that reserved rooms at the Greenwood Inn and Suites for us. With pool. Yay. Swam and ordered room service and caught up on sleep. After sleeping in, Andrew hunted down westy road repairs, whole I took kids to pool, and now we wait under a shady tree fir Andrew. Boy, it has been hot, esp in cities. Record breaking heat this summer....but still cooler than ontario.

Turns out guy at welding shop thought Andrew's plan to fix oil leak ingenious and that Andrew should be a welder. Also turned out his son plays for Cornwall colts and he wishes he'd done road trip when his kids young. A got shop, material, welding and guy refused payment.. Another friendly, generous newf.

On way to port aux basques.

Dinner on a Sandy beach with powerful could feel tide pulling. Camping here in cheese an provincial park 7 km from ferry. Have to be there 430.

July 24
330: The adventure, bom, bom bom bom (cue LOTR)

I'm sure the young motorcyclists (early 20s, rode through Labrador in rein and thus, mud) were thrilled to be parked beside us in lane 2 while Grace blared the dance remix of My Heart Must Go On, the cheesy version of Happy Wanderer Andrew downloaded for this trip, and everyone's feel good hit: Let It Go from Frozen

5:30 and we are loading. We have cabins. 

1230 (Nova Scotia time): great sleep in utter darkness. Kids cabin had a window overlooking the port side deck and ocean, of which I was envious until reflecting that we likely had the better sleep. Got up around 11 am and strolled on warm and calm, it was hard to believe we were out on the Atlantic. 

Through Bras D'Or in beauteous Cape Breton. We are now heading to Saint John where we are visiting with Julie and breaking trip up. 

....and thats as good a place to leave it as any, with a romantic vision of the westy heading westward into the sunset towards New Brunswick and on to home....but of course it didn't happen that way

Life doesn't happen that way.


Smoke in Sussex, and finally wound up overheating on highway 30 mins to Julie. Had yo call in yow truck. Got to Julie's late. Spent half today (July 25) with Andrew trying yo fix it before giving up, having it towed to storage for a week or toe, and renting a mid-sized Chrysler to take us on what is likely to be a miserable overnight trip to Glengarry.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Newfoundland Trip: Red Bay

After our leisurely few days exploring gorgeous Bonavista (well named) and eating traditional CID-based food at small caf├ęs, and visiting John Cabot's museum (he also landed in this part of the world, setting up the start of the cod fishery....riches more valuable than the spices of the Indies he set out to find), it was time to move on.

                 The Matthew, a replica.

From our lovely cottage, we drove (with the westy part we picked up in St. John's earlier in the week) all the way back across the island, back up to the north when we caught the ferry back across the Straits of Belle Isle and back to Labrador. It was a long drive, but we made excellent time and as a result were able to catch the earlier ferry. We drive about a half hour down the paved part of the Trans Labrador to a small village calked Red Bay where we had secured renovated old whaler cabins to stay. The plan was for Andrew and Erik to get up early, drive back to Port Hope Simpson, get the van fixed, and return the same day to a Red Bay. We had rearranged our trip, and though it meant we missed the Burin Peninsula, we reasoned returnng to the East was something we could do another time. Our new plan was to catch the west coast ferry and so avoid a third pass across the long interior of Newfoundland.

The whaler cabins were charming, right on the water. Red Bay is also charming in that wild, isolated way. We ate world famous chalupa flush and chips at the restaurant. Chalupas are the smaller 6-8 man whaling vessels they took out to hunt whales with their harpoons. There was a restored one at the museum, and I thought, Crazy.

The next morning, the girls and I got up, explored the whaling museum with a great movie about the underwater archological dig of the 70-80s to find and examine what they believe might be the now 500 year old San Juan, lost here in a storm. Then we took a short and tippy boat ride out to Saddle island (which you can see from our big window) in the mouth of the harbour to hike the archeological remains of whaler stations from long ago and walk the windswept cliffs to be awed by the relentless North Atlantic as it sweeps into the straits.

Excerpts from a Journal
July 21
Now we are back, got a few small gifts and a card for Andrew tonight, and Anna drew Viking Daddy. Girls now exploring beach and I showered the salt away and am mesmerized by choppy gilded waters.

Seagulls, floating on the wind. Letting it take them. A lesson in how to ride out a storm. They are also making a terrible mess out of crab parts on a nearby rock.

We can hear the waves lapping against the cottage dock, and the creak of wood in the wind. Whipping up quite the storm out there. Easy to feel alone, solitary, even morose.

late: the lighthouse casts its beam. 1..........2, 3, 1.......2, 3. I watched it fall through the night sleepless. At the time, it irritated me. Only now that Erik and Andrew are back, falling in (with van) at 3 am (damn lack of communications in this part of world) does it once again seem friendly. Strange how a benign light can mean so much.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Arrived in time for sunset on the west coast. Kids loving the "nfld a/c" (open coastal window) and lack of Mosquitos. Some discussion about spending July up here every year.

Every time I turn around the girls are hurtling towards a rocky shoreline. 

Wildflowers on the windowsills, windows overlooking waving grasses, lupins, daisies, before rolling down to the ocean.

Boiled eggs on homemade bread left by our landlady, Sheila. Her husband Chris already offering fishing tours for cod. Lovely couple. 

Love the floors in this small cottage by the sea. Shades of wood.

Iceberg on horizon and whales in the bay. We spent ages watching the telltale water up spouts that preceded the breaking of the surface 

Went up to Bonavista. Thrilled to see a trio of humpbacks fluking, breaching and spy hopping in the bay below. We watched for ages.

And puffins. A nesting colony on a rocky fluffy island. Puffins flying everywhere with their short stocky wings.


Funny deck chair and a book (February) and Fogarty's Cove playing  as I read overlooking the sparkling white capped bay.  This is by far the most tranquil day of our vacation.

Reading February by Lisa Moore. Haunting.

Driftwood campfire on the slate and pebbled beach at sunset. Wonderful. Topped by another whale sighting.....a leisurely swim up through the bay at dusk.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Newfoundland: From Gros Morne to St. John's

After our wonderful time up in Iceberg Alley, we went into Gros Morne to Western Brook Pond. Hiked in to the fiord and took the boat is to the interior to admire the billion year old cliffs and the Teutonic shift that created this magnificent place. 

We had a prime camping spot reserved, but since our gear and camper was still in Labrador, we stayed instead at Tucker's Cottages, north of Gros Morne. 

Dinner was at Jackie's famous fish and Chips in Rocky Harbour. Drove along westward coast as the sun set and crimson sky razored across the crashing surf.

The next day rained, but we still enjoyed the limestone beach in Port Choix, beside a fabulous lighthouse.

Our plan had been to stay here until FedEx delivered our part, but FedEx couldn't get it to us as fast as they promised, so we rearranged our trip and drove to St. John's a bit early. Loooong drive across, but we got to visit with a good friend and her family, and then spend a luxurious night at a hotel.

In the morning, after room service, we hiked up Signal Hill, followed by lunch at an Irish pub on a George Street, and a drive out to Cape Spear to stand at the edge of North America.

Journal....July 18 Cape Spear
Enjoyed the 1836 lighthouse and tracks along the cliffs. Not a rogue wave in sight on a gorgeous (almost too hot!) afternoon, but we saw whales playing just offshore: great spouts of water followed by curved black backs. Awesome to watch.

 Now driving north towards Bonavista where we have a house on the North Atlantic for a couple of days.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Newfoundland: The Viking Trail

When the westfalia blew a head gasket outside Port Hope Simpson, there was a moment I thought our vacation was doomed. Not only did the esoteric part have to come from California to this small Labrador outpost, but there were no available rental cars closer than St. John's. The mechanic came to our rescue, lending us his Honda, and so we found ourselves on the last leg of the Trans Labrador. Given the excitement to date, I was scared to get on board the ferry that crossed the straits of Belle Isle from Blanc Sablon to Newfoundland's St. Barbe, but in the end it was uneventful.

We drove north into the (misnamed) Vineland to our cottage in St Anthony. Very highly recommend the Snuggle Inn.....a perfect getaway from which to explore L'Anse Aux Meadows and the northern shore.


Excerpts from Journal (cut and pasted as is from iPad notes page.....complete with crazy autocorrect and minimal editing because...on an iPad....I just can't!)

July 11
In loaner and en route to Blanc Sablon. Construction incliding a stop while they exploded some Rock. Made ferry with minutes to spare. Last car on. Just room.

Ferry ride Uneventful. I'd been secretly worried. 

Now very merrily ensconced in a charming seaside cottage in st Anthony's where we have fresh shrimp and mussels for dinner, and Viking promises for tomorrow. 

July 12
L'Anse Aux Meadows. Historic Viking site. Fantastic day exploring archeological dig, and hiking the windswept Viking coast. Bought Vinland sagas. Explored peninsula, had dinner at the acclaimed Norseman overlooking a silver sea ( where we dined on cod, crab cakes, and rich, dense, figgy duff), then returned to the Chieftains tent (Leif) to drink Lingonberry wine and listen to stories from the sagas and Nordic mythology from two Vikings. Images of Chris Helmsworth (Thor) in a dress.....

July 13
Whale watching.,ocean cruise. Salty air and wind in our faces. Kids all smiles into the spray. Got up close to an aqua iceberg 200 FT tall, and went "ice fishing", plucking up shards of the 150000 year old berg out of the sea to eat.  Saw a colony of kittiwakes on a cliff, a nest with a bald eagle, a sea cave, and a minke wave. Sadly, no humpbacks, though the girls heard them calling at night through the windows, and a trio of them were apparently frolicking in the bay earlier in the day.

Got home in time to see Germany victorious over Argentina in World Cup football.