Saturday, October 29, 2011

School Story #3

"Mrs. Sotham".  Another portrait by a former student.

Children often give their teachers gifts at Christmas.  In my time I have received many sweet, heartfelt gifts.  Framed photos of my students, chocolates, candles, pennies.  Once I got a coupon for a turkey!

But there was one gift I was not prepared for.  I still think about it from time to time.

It was Christmas 1999.  A few of my students had brought gifts for me on the last day of school before the holidays.  They were so excited for me to open them.  I oohed and ahhhed over each and every present.

Hortense (not her real name) handed me her gift.  She had wrapped the small box herself.  She was beaming.  Absolutely beaming.  I went on and on about how pretty the paper was, how I could hardly wait to see what it was, I was making guesses as to the contents of the box.

I lifted the lid off the box and there, sitting nestled in some tissue paper, was a STICK OF DEODORANT!  


I looked up at the girl.  I thought, "Is this a joke?  Or is this a serious gift?  Do I have such bad body odour your mother felt compelled to buy me some anti-perspirant for Christmas?  And then thought it was a good idea to wrap it up and have you give it to me as a gift?  In public?"

I dryly said, "Thank you, Hortense.  Merry Christmas."

Later that day I polled my colleagues and asked them to tell me truthfully if I suffered from B.O. and wasn't aware of it.  Everyone assured me I did not stink.  I asked my family the same question.  I was given the same answer.

I have often wondered about the motivation behind that Christmas gift from long ago.

The moral of the story?  No matter what, never give deodorant as a gift.  Ever.  Ever.  Ever.  Ever.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

School Story #2

'Mrs. Sotham'.  Another portrait by a former student.

Several years ago I was teaching a class of very fun and funny Grade 2 students.  We were in our groove as a group.  We had gelled.  We were a team.

Halfway through the school year 'Gordon' (not his real name) moved to our town and into my classroom. Things were never the same following his arrival.

Gordon was disruptive to say the least.  He was up.  He was down.  He was under tables.  He talked incessantly.  He didn't stay on task.  He was never on topic.  He blurted out answers.  He didn't talk, he shouted.  He never walked in the classroom, he ran.  It was like he was driven by some invisible motor.

And he never, EVER, sat in his desk.  I don't think he was in it for more than 2 consecutive minutes.  No wonder he couldn't get any work done.  It seemed I was constantly ferrying him back to his seat.  And I am not a teacher who has her students sit for long periods of time.


Every day at 1 o'clock I read a chapter or two from the novel we were studying.  One day the word 'conscience' came up in the book.

"What's a conscience?" someone asked.

I put the question to the students.

Ashleigh answered, "It's like you have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.  You should listen to the angel."

Mark said, "One day there was a piece of cake in the fridge for my Dad's lunch and I really wanted to eat it.  But I didn't because it made me feel funny inside.  That feeling is your conscience."

Good answers kids!

But the best answer came from one of my quietest students.  Mitchell said, "Your conscience is the voice in your heart that tells you the difference between right and wrong."  Thank you, Mitch!  I couldn't have said it better myself.

The topic of conscience came up a lot that week.

One day during that time, Gordon was particularly manic.  He could not control himself.  It was as if all his disruptive behaviours had been cranked up tenfold.  At snack time he did not eat.  Instead he was twirling around the room bumping into furniture and people.

After ignoring many requests from me to return to his desk and eat his snack, I lost my patience.  I walked over to him, planted my hands firmly on his shoulders and marched him back to his desk.  I plunked him onto his seat.  "Sit down!"  I ordered.  "And don't move until the bell rings for recess!"

Gordon sat there with his arms crossed and a smoldering look on his face.  "Too bad for you," I thought.  "Sit there."

The recess bell rang and the students ran out the door to the playground.  Gordon came up to me with the hugest smile on his face.

"Mrs. Sotham!  Mrs. Sotham!  My conscience talked to me!"

"It did?!  Your conscience talked to you?"

Inside I was beaming.  Finally, something had gotten through to Gordon.  It was a fine teacher moment.

"Gordon!  What did your conscience say?"


And with a smile on his face he skipped out the classroom door to join his friends on the playground.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

School Story #1

Some teachers and I were 'talking shop' the other day and I was sharing some funny anecdotes from my somewhat illustrious career.  And it made me think that I should publish a couple of these stories on my blog.  I offer you Story #1.

'Mrs. Sotham'.  A portrait by a former student.

We bought our first house and moved to Squamish in 1993.  At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom with three very young children.

But stay-at-home moms don't generate any income and there were bills to be paid.  Many bills.  Lots of bills.  We had a huge mortgage (or so it seemed to us at the time) and we decided that after being home with the kids for 8 years, it was time for me to ease back into the work force in 1995 and bring home a little bacon.

I proudly became a teacher-on-call.  I had never been a substitute teacher before and I naively thought, "How hard can it really be?"

One day I found out.  The hard way.  The hardest way.

One of my first assignments was to teach a Grade One class in a local elementary school.  The students were unruly, they were disruptive, they were disrespectful.  My previous 7 years experience as a classroom teacher did not help me one bit with this group.

By 2:40pm I had had it up to here with their shenanigans.  I decided I would have the children gather up their jackets and backpacks and head out to the playground where we would thankfully end our long and painful day.

I stood at the front of the classroom and explained to the students what we were about to do.  I noticed 'Aurora' (not her real name) crouching on her seat in the front row.  She watched me intently.  Her knees were up by her ears like a frog.  I also noticed that she was slowly taking her socks off and balling them up.  I didn't even ask what she was doing because by this point I didn't care.  I. Did. Not. Care.

All of a sudden Aurora leaped out of her desk, crammed her damp ball of socks in my mouth and shouted, "AAAAAAAH....PUT A SOCK IN IT!"

That was it!  Without saying a word I grabbed her by the wrist and marched her down the hallway towards the principal's office.  She went boneless and slumped to the floor shouting, "Ow!  Ow!  You're hurting me!  You're hurting me!"  I just snarled at her, "Stand up and walk.  Then it won't hurt."

I stomped through the secretary's office with the six year old offender in tow and barged through the open door into the principal's office where he was writing at his desk.

I spluttered, "This, this girl, Aurora, just jumped out, out of her desk and tried to shove her socks in my, my mouth."  As the words were spilling out I knew how ridiculous it all sounded.

As the principal listened to my tale of woe (still focussing on the paperwork at his desk), a slow grin started to spread across his face.  He half-heartedly tried to muffle a chuckle.

I said, "You don't know me Mr. Smith-Jones (not his real name) but I happen to have an excellent sense of humour AND I DON'T FIND ANYTHING FUNNY ABOUT THIS!"  With that I released Aurora's wrist, turned on my heels, and stormed out of his office.

Mayhem greeted me upon my return to the Grade One classroom.  I barked for everyone to get outside and go play on the jungle gym.

The blessed school bell rang at 3 o'clock.  I dismissed the students from the playground and returned to the classroom to tidy up.  Mr. Smith-Jones was there with his arm around the sock crammer.  "Aurora has something to say to you."  I looked them both.  "Sor-ry".  It was one of the most pathetic apologies I had ever heard in my life.

I left a note for the classroom teacher saying "If I ever return to this classroom it will be against my better judgement".  The teacher, who has since become a good friend, felt terrible and called me at home that night.  We had a laugh on the phone and have shared many laughs about it since.

Several years later, I attended a Squamish event and who did I run into?  Why, Aurora, of course!  At first she looked right past me, not recognizing me.  But when she came to the realization of who I was, she appeared absolutely horrified.  Her eyes grew wide, her mouth shrank to a small 'O' and she covered her face with her hands.  Aurora gasped, "Ohhhhhh.....I am SO sorry!"  Now that was a sincere apology.  We hugged, we laughed, we were friends.

The moral of the story?  Teachers do not get paid enough.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hits and Misses

Life is full of hits and misses.  Every day in my life has some of both.  Yesterday was no exception.

We are planning to renovate our kitchen.  It is long overdue.  Our 31 year old kitchen is literally falling apart in our hands.  It should have been done years ago, but the seductive call of Europe has been too strong for us to ignore.  We are weak!!!  Instead of staying home and replacing our broken down cupboards, counters and linoleum, we have jetted off to France for the past 5 summers.  Well, those days are over my friends.  At least for now.  A new kitchen is in order!

I suggested to Joe that we take in the Vancouver Home + Design show yesterday.  It was a beautiful day for a drive and I thought we could pick up some much-needed ideas.

Beautiful downtown Vancouver.

I thought WRONG!  The west ballroom of the new Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre was full of vendors selling everything from stuffed animals, to vacuum cleaners, to Ginsu knives!  I watched a man steam-cleaning a toilet bowl.  Joe almost gagged when he witnessed a salesman pulling a bunch of hairy gunk out of a demonstration sink with a 'turbo snake'. To be fair there were people selling windows, countertops, and flooring.  But come on!  To call yourself a 'home and design show'?  Not even close!

Eggplant Penguins

A huge section of floor space was dedicated to selling ZOKU home popsicle makers!

This refrigerator had a glass panel so you can see what was inside without opening the door.

Sign me up!

A man appeared out of nowhere when I stopped to look at his little jars of no-snore green liquid.  Apparently, you take 5-6 deep breaths of the herbal concoction before you go to sleep and VOILA!  Your snoring woes are over.  Yeah, right.

We left the Home Show after 40 minutes of wandering its aisles.  What a waste of money.

A foodie friend of ours (hi Colleen!) suggested we go to the Tableau Bistro in the Loden Hotel for lunch.  She told us all about their delicious French fare.  We were hungry after wandering aimlessly around the Trade and Convention Centre.  We could hardly wait for lunch!

Beautiful buildings, beautiful windows.

We walked the pretty streets of Vancouver to the hotel only to discover that 'Tableau' isn't open for lunch on Saturday.  What restaurant is not open at 1:00pm on a Saturday?  The short answer?  Tableau!

Closed for lunch.

HIT #1
With rumbling bellies, we walked towards Burrard Street searching for sustenance.  We decided to stop at the Japadog food cart.  Vancouver Magazine says the Kurobuta Terimayo hot dog is one of the "101 things to taste before you die".  Why then, we figured we needed to eat one of those pronto!

"Our Mission:  Making the world happy and alive through hot dogs!"  Who can argue with that logic?

We loved seeing which Hollywood celebrities had endorsed Japadog.  When we saw that Joe's hero Anthony Bourdain had eaten here, we knew we were in good company.

Mmmmm....Japadog with seaweed and wasabi mayo.

Mission Accomplished: Happy and Alive.

HIT #2
As we were blissfully chowing down on our hot dogs, who came marching around the corner?  Why, the 'Occupy Vancouver' protesters!  "Come on, Joe!"  I yelled.  "Let's join them!"

We marched (with hot dogs in mouths) to the lawn of the Art Gallery and joined 7,000 others.  There were signs, there were tents, there were TV cameras.  There were babies, dogs, teenagers, young men, old women, children, and us.  There were speeches, there were interviews, there were free hugs.  There was laughter, there was music, there was dancing.

Amen, sister, amen.


HIT #3
On our way home from protesting corporate greed, we stopped by Colony Major Appliance Warehouse (winner of the "Best North Shore Appliance Store Award" in both 2010 and 2011, I might add) to check out their wares.  We chose a refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and microwave for our new kitchen.  Joe can hardly wait to get cooking on his new Bertalozzi Italian gas range.

Joe's new girlfriend.

HIT #4
No sooner had we walked in our front door, than we were invited up to a friend's home for dinner.  (Thanks, Colleen!)  This was, by far, the nicest hit of our day.  Dinner was delicious as always.  We talked kitchens for most of the evening.  An enjoyable end to a very enjoyable day.

HIT #5
I am so grateful that the hits far outweigh the misses in my life.

*As always, click on the photo to enlarge it to see the details.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Month That Was

I just looked at my blog this morning and couldn't believe it has been a month since I last posted something!

September is always a busy month for me.  Getting over my depression that I am no longer in Europe, returning to work, getting my classroom up and running leaves me with little energy for blogging in the evenings or on the weekends.

Here's what's been happening for the past 30 days......

I am teaching a wonderful group of Grades One and Two students.  There are 15 boys and 5 girls in my class.  It is a noisy, active, and fun (and funny) environment.

The boys are always making me laugh.

I have a classroom camera that they like to take photos with.  The shots usually include photos of their lego towers or K'Nex vehicles or unifix cube robots.  But nothing prepared me for this picture that I discovered when downloading their photos this morning:

See?  I told you they were funny.

We were invited down to Olympia, Washington to visit friends in mid-September.  On our way south, we stopped at 'Dick's'.  One of our favourite places to eat when we lived in Seattle.

Valerie and Don hosted us for the weekend in their beautiful oceanfront home.  We first met Valerie when she stayed with us as a 2010 Winter Olympics volunteer.  She and Don have become good friends over the past 2 years.

The third Saturday of September dawned bright and beautiful.  Joe asked me what I wanted to do for the day.  I said, "You know?  I have never been to the 'Word on the Street' festival in Vancouver.  I just read all about it in the newspaper.  It's on today.  Could we go to that?"

The next hour found us in the car driving down the Sea-to-Sky highway heading toward downtown Vancouver.  But when we arrived, I noticed people erecting tents and sound systems along the streets.  "Hmmm," I mused.  "They sure don't look very organized if the festival is today."

That's when I saw the sandwich board advertising the event for THE NEXT DAY!  We were a day too early. Sheesh!  Doesn't anyone read the fine print anymore?

To salvage our outing, we did what anyone would do in our position.  We found somewhere to eat!  We went to La Taqueria on Hastings Street.  Four delicious tacos and a Mexican beer took away any and all disappointment I felt about missing the 'Word on the Street' festival.

To round out our day we headed over to Stanley Park to walk the seawall.  But first we stopped to see the new Terry Fox memorial by Douglas Coupland.

I sure miss Vancouver.  It pulls at my heart strings whenever I am there as I was born and bred in the metro Vancouver area. Joe and I just may move back there at some point in our lives.

Paige's job on the tourist train ended toward the end of September, so she spent a week with her ma and pa.  Our kids love to return to their childhood home to drink their father's scrumptious lattes, eat his delicious food, sleep in comfy beds, go for long walks with their mother, and lay on her lap while she strokes their brow.  Pretty good life, wouldn't you say?

In a recent issue of Oprah magazine I read about a woman named Patience who writes the blog 'Kindness Girl'.  (  Patience's passion is about spreading kindness.  In one of her posts she wrote about Dolores whose adult son Jimmy had died in 2009.  Dolores' son was a fabulous cook and his favourite meal to prepare for family and friends was spaghetti and meatballs.  Patience suggested we all honour Jimmy's memory by cooking spaghetti and meatballs and inviting friends over to share it.

On Saturday night we invited some of the Moberg family to do just that.  We toasted Jimmy and dug into a fantastic meal cooked by our chef Joe.

As this weekend is Thanksgiving here in Canada, we invited our nearest and dearest for turkey dinner.  Our children, our parents, and Joe's 96 year old grandmother graced us with their presence on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.  "Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart." - Seneca

And that is the month that was!