Friday, January 24, 2014

Finding magic...telling stories...

At my house this morning
Today I decided to go for a walk this morning at Kits Point.  It has become a favourite place to go lately as there always seems to be lots to see with a different perspective than my usual beach walk at Spanish Banks.

When I left my house it was promising to be a beautiful day.  All was clear and the sky was turning blue (the sun hadn't been up very long).  I had heard fog horns and could see the cloud over the water as I drove down Cambie Street but I was still surprised when I saw how totally foggy it was at Kits Point.  You couldn't see the mountains or the oil tankers or the buildings of the West End, and you certainly couldn't see Stanley Park. I could barely see in front of me.  It looked like the perfect setting for a horror movie.  I was thinking no wonder they film TV shows like Supernatural in this city.

My first thought was I should have just gone on one of my usual walks up to Queen Elizabeth Park where it was already bright and sunny, but then I began to to enjoy the atmosphere.  I imagined myself in some strange surreal land feeling trapped and pursued by strange beings.  I took evocative pictures and posted them on Facebook with short lines about each.  I knew the fog would eventually lift but I was in this moment.  I also noticed that I was paying attention what I wouldn't have normally noticed.  I was looking at the trees-the beautiful shapes of their bare branches. Usually I am busy looking at the ocean, the ships, the buildings, etc.-none of which I could see today.  And of course the fog gave an eerily magical perspective to the scene.

My pictures led my facebook friend, Laura, to do some incredible writing, reminding me of how one of my favourite picture books, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, led my students to write some great stories.  For anyone not familiar with this book, it is a collection of powerful drawings with short beginning lines, apparently delivered to Chris Van Alsburg by a writer and illustrator, Harris Burdick, who never returns for his manuscript but Van Alsburg eventually publishes as he noticed children visiting him liked to write stories from the pictures.

From the age of two until almost eight, I lived in a farmhouse my grandfather had built.  There was a room called the Shed Chamber, a kind of attic on the second floor over the shed next to the house.  I loved to draw on the brown papered walls.  I did this long before I could read or write.  I loved telling stories with my pictures.  I think it is kind of fascinating how much I have grown to really love taking pictures this first year of retirement.  For one thing it is so easy and convenient to do so and they generally turn out so well.  I also have the time.  And then if I feel like sharing them I can do so instantaneously.  Almost the minute I post I am having a response from someone in Ottawa or San Juan, Puerto Rico, or Jerusalem.  This is when technology totally astounds me.

I heard on the radio today that thirty years ago the first MacIntosh computer was launched.  I think that it was the spring of that year, 1984, that we bought our first computer and it was a Mac Classic.  It cost about 2500 dollars and could do none of the things that my iphone can do, but at the time I thought my Mac was quite amazing-it certainly to me was the "coolest" computer available and I have been a Mac user loyally ever since. 

I see myself as a reader, and at times a writer, and I have always loved taking pictures probably because it is much easier for me than drawing!  I did take up sketching about 15 years ago after not really doing any art since adolescence.  I did enjoy it.  I found it made me look differently at the world, more closely.

When I first moved here I took several photography classes that I really enjoyed, especially the magic of the darkroom (a huge surprise as I didn't particularly like chemistry or biology labs).  Later I fell in love with digital photographer because I could immediately see exactly what I had created and even make changes.  And I have thousands of pictures to prove that!  But for me the iphone has been the most magical experience.  I kind of feel the excitement of that toddler drawing on the attic walls.

I truly believe everyone can be a reader, as a teacher I think I was quite successful in helping my students find joy in reading.  I believe we all have stories to tell and can figure out the world better from writing so I also loved teaching or encouraging writing.  I did have one student who I really didn't think I was going to get to enjoy writing but when he finally wrote it was kind of unbelievable what came out.  And I believe we all can be artists.  I think we all have a need to feel creative and capture beauty.  And a camera can be nice way to do that.

Social media makes it possible to share our experiences. As a teacher I heard the talk that technology was basically spoiling reading and writing but I really wonder how that can be.  People are communicating now with each other mainly through writing and reading throughout the world in crazy and wonderful ways.  I have never met Laura but today we were engaged in quite a creative process and I am looking forward to meeting her in person when I briefly sail into San Juan next month. 

back home into the sunshine...
So in the fog I actually found some clarification! 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Penguin and the Cupcake-a fun book for all ages...

This entry has had many false starts and now has taken a totally different direction.    Recently a friend became a grandfather for the third time and posted a picture of  his new granddaughter wearing an adorable knitted penguin hat which made me think of a favourite book of mine, Penguin and the Cupcake, by Ashley Spires.  I wanted to send the link and I was sure I had written about it in this blog.  Well I had but only briefly, mixed in with other books.

Now in my reincarnation as a retired teacher who likes to hang out with first graders and read to kindergarten students, I "hauled" out this book again.  It is a real go to book of mine for many reasons.  And due to my enthusiasm for it, Portia who once owned my beloved local children's bookstore long gone, Once Upon a Huckleberry, gave me the finger puppets that Ashley created that go with the story, and I have them still, of course! 

First it can be read on several levels.  There is the simple crazy story of a little penguin who finds out
about cupcakes and wants to taste them on his own as he is bored with his boring diet of krill etc.  His cousin has sent him a postcard from Florida where he has experienced cupcakes and Penguin decides to go off on his quest.  Did I mention I do like a good quest?  Since penguins can't fly he takes a plane but ends up in the North Pole instead of Florida (well they are in the same direction). There he meets a walrus and a polar bear who are not overly friendly and there are no cupcakes around.  When he finally, with great relief, is back on a plane heading south, a little old lady feels sorry for him and gives him cupcakes which he shares with his friends back in Antarctica.  But then in the bottom of the package he finds a pizza flyer, and gets new ideas...

For young children, they love the story, the penguin of course, and if I have my finger puppets they love those too.  The art is great as well.

For older children there are facts about global warming (or wierding) that go perfectly with the story.

Another reason I love it is I have factual books about penguins as well and it's great for comparing fact and fiction.  Of course I have a few more books about penguins, a larger puppet etc.  I have grown quite fond of penguins. 

Yesterday I worked with my "enrichment group" of first graders who are very competent readers and they were doing a play of Goldilocks and The Three Bears.  Their teacher had supplied us with tongue depressors, bristle board, crayons, and markers as  they were to make puppets to help perform the story.  I made one as well-Grandma Bear.  I couldn't help but notice how much the puppets helped them perform the story.  For their last theatrical effort they had worn character hat bands they had created. 

Once again I thought of the pleasure of just being with them, helping when they needed it (for example giving a model, helping with tricky cutting etc., a few simple stage directions).   Such simple pleasures are the life of a "retiree". 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Looking back at 2013

I try to figure out how I have become so far behind in blogging.  I think it may have something to do with Facebook where I can give instant observations and get instant feedback.  Writing a blog is a bit lonelier.  It is not easy to comment, you have to remember your password and decipher strange letters so that I don't get many comments which is fine but sometimes you wonder if anyone reads it and then you worry that people do.

I can't honestly believe that 2013 is over.  For me, personally, it was a good year.  I was able to take some interesting trips.  I had a good six months of teaching and retirement turned out to be a much easier adjustment than I thought it would be.

I think one of my greatest gifts was to really have time to find the beauty in my own city.  I have walked many kilometres and taken many pictures finding so much beauty everywhere.  I really have tried to be a tourist in my own town, seeking with fresh eyes...reading in a different way...

I only live a few blocks from Queen Elizabeth Park but honestly, it was not somewhere I spent much time.  I drove by it regularly.  Now I am there at least a couple of times a week.  It was so exciting when we had our first really serious snowfall.   It's an amazing place of natural beauty right in the city. I will never forget finding a heron totally confused perched on the ice in a pond.

Probably once a week I walk along Spanish Banks by the ocean.  It has always been a favourite place but now I am able to spend more time there.  Each time I go I notice the changes and I really have generally found the beauty in each season. When the leaves went, I could appreciate the good "bones" of the trees and so much easier to see the sky.

I also have really grown to appreciate my neighbourhood.  I love all the nooks and crannies in the older section.  I love how people get into decorating first for Halloween and then for Christmas.  I am impressed by how many people make efforts as well with gardening.

I really feared dark rainy days-at school I was usually too busy to worry about the weather.  And when the time changed that first week I found difficult.  But I just started getting out early.  I became a chaser of sunrises.  I joined a group of people from all over the world who like to take photographs and one woman is an early bird who lives in Ottawa.  She really inspired me to get out and look to see if the moon was still out or what the sunset would be like.  Also this site has provided a place to put some of my many photographs and know that they would be appreciated.  I have always loved taking pictures and now I really have had the time to really focus on this.

Looking back at my last entry about retirement I said that there was still things I hadn't "gotten to".  Well I did have to clean out the attic some to get to my Christmas decorations that for once  were up fairly early.There are many more things I still need to do  but always have to figure out which are most important!

I really have had no trouble keeping busy!  And I finished Spanish 2, and I learned how to make wreaths! This is a yearly project at the UBC botanical gardens where they are sold in the gift shop.  It was fascinating though I wasn't very speedy but I was pleased with the results.

I have kept my connection with school-still volunteering but spending the most time with first graders, always favourites of mine but for the last four years I have taught seventh graders so this has been a change and one I have enjoyed.  I went to some great performances at school in December and my respect for teachers just increases.  I still love to be around children, but do love being able to leave early with no marking!

There really is a huge world out here and it is fun to be part of it!  Happy 2014!