Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Waffle Iron!

I was ecstatic to unwrap one of my Christmas presents this year to find a waffle maker. Being the Belgian waffle lover that I am, it was only natural that I should receive an iron of my own. As I lay in bed the night after receiving it, I pictured what it would be like to make my own waffles.

Picture the scene with me:

The perfectly mixed batter, which practically made itself, was poured into the waffle iron. Each little waffle square rejoiced as it was filled with such battery goodness. The lid is pressed down and gentle and re-assuring sizzling ensues. After an impossibly short time, the ready light comes on – it’s wondrous green light flooding the room. Somewhere the ethereal chorus of children fill the room as I lift the lid. A billowing cloud of delicious steam envelopes me as I peer inside. They are perfect waffle specimens! Golden and fluffy, the savoury waffles practically leap onto my awaiting plate. Cheers can be heard from the adjoining dining room as I bring in the platter of mouth watering, steaming, exquisite and delectable waffles into the throng of eager diners: “He’s done it again! For he’s the jolly good fellow, for he’s...”

Unfortunately my waffles did not quite live up to this blissful premonition.
After finding a recipe online, I scrounged the necessary ingredients together. I pulled out the whisk and started whisking. The recipe said to mix ingredients until the batter had a nice fluffy consistency. Here’s a tip – unless you’ve got arms like Popeye and the patience of a snail, leave the whisk in the drawer and go for the hand mixer.

When all the lumps were obliterated, I brought the bowl over to the waffle iron. I had pre-heated it and it was ready. Because I did not want flaming waffle batter streaming out of the waffle iron, I was very conservative with my pouring. Here’s a tip – just give ‘er!

Having poured in the batter, I closed the lid and clamped it down. The sizzling did not immediately start, as I had imagined, but the batter did start to sputter. I watched with growing alarm as the waffle batter began to ooze out of the sides. It was while I was watching the batter flow out of the waffle iron like molten lava that I noticed the sticker on the side of the waffle iron. In bold capital letters it read “DO NOT CLAMP DOWN WHILE BAKING”. I hurriedly undid the clamp and peaked inside. The waffle did not really resemble a waffle at this point, but rather a sad looking square pancake. Apparently you are not supposed to clamp it down so that the waffles can naturally rise. Here’s a tip – unless you are planning on mailing your waffles to a friend, DO NOT CLAMP DOWN WHILE BAKING.

Finally after what seemed like an eternity, the waffle looked ready. It was not golden and fluffy. Instead it looked like a flat tire. I grabbed the corner and pried it out of the iron. Here’s a tip – unless you like the look of the waffle design on your fingers, use a spatula to get your waffle out of the iron.

After running my waffled fingers under cold water (they almost looked more appetising than the actual waffle), I put some butter and syrup on my sad little waffle. I briefly considered getting the bike pump to inflate my waffle, but realized that that was just wishful thinking. I then reasoned that even though it looked like it had just been run over by a steam roller, the waffle might actually taste good. With renewed hope, I cut off a corner and put the large chunk of waffle in my mouth. Here’s a tip – unless you like the look of the waffle design on the roof of your mouth and tongue, I suggest that you let the waffle cool.
Although most of my taste buds had been singed off by this point, I still had enough left to tell me that the waffle was disgusting. It was like eating a leather belt (with a waffle design). Apparently I had overcooked it.

There was still a little blob of my pathetic batter left in the bowl. My pride needed some serious salvaging at this point of my waffle debacle. I grabbed the bowl and unceremoniously dumped the remaining batter into the iron. I closed the lid and did not clamp down the waffle iron. Sizzle, Sizzle, blah, blah, the rotten waffle was finally finished. I grabbed a spatula, pried it under a corner of the waffle and flung it onto the waiting plate. Though disillusioned and dispirited from my first attempt, I looked at the waffle, and was surprised to see that it was a lot puffier than the first waffle. ‘But will it taste better than my belt?’ I wondered. I sagely let the waffle cool down. I carefully cut off a piece and put it in my mouth. Hmmm. It was not amazing, but it wasn’t bad either. My mediocre waffle was a good starting point I decided. Here’s a tip – unless you like eating flattened waffles that could double as coasters, make enough batter for a second attempt.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Move

Early on in my first year of teaching at Oxford Reformed Christian School, we went tree planting. We were listening to a man from the conservation authority who was talking about how to properly plant trees and where to plant what kinds in which spots. There were a couple of different species, and they came in all different sizes. Some were just slender shoots that could easily be planted with little digging. Others were quite large saplings that would involve some serious digging. When the conservationist told the students to go pick out some shovels and trees, I expected the students to all go for the little trees. I watched wide eyed as they all sprinted off towards the large saplings. Dirt flew everywhere; the pile of trees dwindled, and in no time a beautiful grove of trees and dogwoods emerged around the Stubbe pond. The trees were planted in an hour flat. The conservationist thought it would take half the day and was astounded as I was. It was then that I realized that the students from ORCS knew how to work and they knew how to work together.

This was reaffirmed this week during “the move”. Our school was housed in a church for the past years. With the new school completed, it was time to move. I came to school on Wednesday and was told that our portable was going to be moved first thing the next morning. The pressure was on! I have twenty seven students, which means twenty-seven desks, and twenty-seven sets of various textbooks. There was also a fridge, piano, shelves and all of my books, desks and cabinets.

I gave the word to start packing shortly before lunch. The students swung into action without any prompting. Boxes appeared, and the students formulated themselves into groups. Different parts of the classroom were tackled and packed.

After lunch, the excitement was palpable, and the students were raring to get the job finished. Each student had a box and was responsible for packing their books and binders. Once packed up, all the students grabbed their box and desk and brought them to the waiting transport trailer. Within no time, the classroom was completely empty, and cleaned out. Once again, I watched all the action with wide eyed wonderment.

Thursday was another big moving day. This time the whole school was in on the action. The high school students helped the younger kids and hauled out the pianos and heavy furniture. Even the smallest of the students carried things out to the trailers.

Not once did I hear a teacher say “Get going!” or “Help out!” While packing up the staff room, I had students of all ages coming in asking if I needed help or if I could find something for them to do. It was great! I had a couple of my trusty sidekicks from grade 7/8 helping me out the whole day which made for a fun day.

By four o’clock on Thursday, the bulk of the school had been packed ahead of schedule, thanks to the amazing effort of the school body.

We will be moving into a new building shortly, but I hope we never lose the school spirit and strong collective work ethic that propelled us through “the move”.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Adrenaline Junkie

To avoid thousands of questions throughout the school day, I write down the schedule for the morning or afternoon on the left hand column of the chalkboard. Recently I came into the room to find that someone had added a third subject to the morning’s agenda: bungee jumping. I can just imagine how long that permission slip would be.

The student’s are aware of my fear of heights and my general distaste of anything that raises my adrenaline, which is why they chose bungee jumping as the subject to cap off the morning. I took a survey of the students of who would go bungee jumping if they had the chance, and most enthusiastically raised their hands. I wonder if that enthusiasm would wane once they were perched on the ledge preceding the plunge.

Like I said, I don’t like heights. I’ve never been on a roller-coaster, and in all likelihood, never will. When just a small child, I was once forced on a terrifying log ride (thanks Dad). My heart has never been the same. I prefer to read on the beach as opposed to be dragged around the lake on an inflatable ring by some kind of maniacal boater who’s only goal is to turn you into a piece of driftwood.

I don’t like living life on the edge, though that was not always the case. I did go through a very brief spell of recklessness as an adrenaline junkie.

I was quite young – maybe grade two or three. It was the summer holidays and we kids lived on our bikes. My brothers, neighbour kids, and I all had very unique bikes. Some had banana seats, some had flags on the back, some had a couple of gears, some had handlebar brakes, and some even had a light. My bike was nothing special, but it was perfect for my size. My memory is still a little blurry from that summer (as you will soon realize why), but it was a lavender and white bike with white rubber handlebars. The pedals could not sit idle when coasting like those fancy mountain bikes – the faster your bike went the faster the pedals would spin. When going at top speeds, my little legs and slam n’ jam high-tops would be a blur. To stop, you simply stomped your feet in the opposite direction, which stopped the pedals and wheels, and sent your bike into a cool skid.

Our house was at the bottom of hill. Few cars ever came down the country road, and so we spent our days owning it – up and down we would cruise. One of our favourite things to do on the hill was to go flying down as fast as you could, jump our ditch at the bottom, ride between the telephone pole and a large Austrian pine and then do a big skid on the gravel driveway. I would usually slow down a little before hitting the shallow ditch so as to stay in control, but as the summer flew by and confidence grew, I began to keep those little legs whirling as I ramped the ditch and past the telephone pole.

One hazy August afternoon, we were hanging out at the top of the hill. We saw Dad pull in the driveway with his brown Chevette. He got out of the car and waved to us. “Let’s go say hi!” someone yelled. We all aimed our bikes towards the bottom of the hill and pushed off. Dad was watching at the bottom as we started cruising down the hill like a formation of F-16s. I wanted to impress Dad with my incredible riding, so I pumped my bendy straw like legs all the harder. The first few bikes hit the ditch and went flying through the narrow opening between the pine and the pole. My bike was a little behind the pack by the time it got to the bottom. The last bikes then hit the ditch and went through the gap.

My turn. I piled on the coal as I went into the ditch. I had never hit the ditch that fast before, and my fifty pound body was thrown off balance. My bike lurched out of the ditch at a dizzying speed. I managed to stay on the bike, but to my horror, realized that I was off course. I was right in line with the telephone pole. I sailed through the air and only my hands stayed in contact with the handlebars. Everyone gasped as if they were watching Evil Kenevil jump a row of buses.

If it had been target practice it would have been impressive. It was a direct hit – a perfect bullseye. My bike slammed into the pole and stopped. My body did not stop. As I flew over the handlebars, I reflected on the brevity of life. Then everything went black for a few minutes.

Thankfully Dad was right there to help me up, tell me who I was and what happened, and to assure me that I hadn’t knocked out the hydro to the entire Niagara Region.

I learned something important that hot, humid summer day: hurtling over your handlebars into a telephone pole is not enjoyable.

The next day I turned to a book instead of joining the gang. Biking had lost some of its lustre. And so began a boring life devoid of thrill seeking and adrenaline.

Bungee jumping? Nah... I prefer to read about it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Writing: A Labour of Love

My students are in the middle of writing research papers. They are all making great progress as they try to produce a major piece of writing. I have been reminded throughout their writing struggles and development of my own writing progression.

Someone once said about writing: “You don't have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great.” My first serious start at writing was in my first tumultuous year at University, and it was definitely not a great start.

The class was on the Middle Ages in Europe. The professor was about to retire (I think he lived through the Middle Ages in fact) and was going through the motions until he would escape down to Florida. If I had to choose a word to describe the lectures, it would be ‘wearisome’. I love History, but this professor was extinguishing that love the same way a spot of flatulence would derail a first date.

When I signed up for the course, I expected exciting lectures on the bubonic plague, battles, knights, the inquisition and great architecture. Instead we learned about other things – things that were boring, things that would not stick in my mind, and things that caused me to be attacked by sleepiness during every lecture.

A large part of the course mark was based on the end of term paper. This was a large research paper on a book that the professor had chosen. I’m sure that you can guess what kind of a book this professor chose. It was not the type of book that kept you up till three in the morning because you just could not put it down. It was the opposite. Just looking at the front cover drove me into hibernation. If I ever become an insomniac, this book will be put on my night table.

The book was about a fine fellow named Bishop Rimbert and about how he wrote an even more exciting book on Anscar. What? Never hear of him? What a surprise! I tried reading the book, but it was tough. It was like walking through deep, thick mud where the earth is trying to suck you down, step by step. Panic began to swell as the realization dawned on me that I would have to write something about this book – preferably something intelligent.

I started writing. Every word was a struggle. I felt like I was chipping each word off of a giant rock with a dull pickax. How was I supposed to write 2000 words on Bishop Rimbert? As the hours passed, the word count slowly rose – it was like a never ending PBS telethon (We need just 20 more callers!) For those who have done a lot of writing, you know that writing can be an extreme struggle at times – especially when you are dealing with subject matter which makes counting fluffies in the carpet more exciting.

Writing in many ways is like child birth (members of the opposite sex don’t seem to appreciate or understand this analogy for some odd reason – especially considering they are the ones that go through it!). The writer labours to get the paper from his brain to the computer screen. It is an intense struggle – there are tears and extreme pain (albeit mental). Then – the moment of joy – the paper is delivered out of the printer! The proud student carefully and proudly picks up the paper and cradles her in his arms.

The paper was finally done (delivered). There was just one final thing that had to be done. I needed a title for the cover page. This often overlooked element of the paper is critical. The title gives the reader the first impression of what the paper will be like. Because my paper needed a little help, I knew this paper would need a real zinger for a title. I needed something that was equal parts salacious, tantalising, mysterious, insightful, profound, and original.

I came up with the stunning title “Bishop Rimbert”.

I handed my baby, I mean the paper, to the professor at the beginning of class the next week. He glanced at it and put it on the growing pile of papers. He didn’t seem exactly bowled over by my title.

Three weeks later, the professor announced that he and his teaching assistants (his personal minions) had marked all of the papers and that after class they would be handed out. I had trouble paying attention to the lecture because of the anticipation of getting my first paper back (and because counting the few remaining hairs on his head proved to be more exciting).

The lecture finally ended – much in the same way a tortoise finishes a race. He announced that the teaching assistants would be handing out the essays. He gave out the instructions: “People with the last names that start with A-H stand at the back entrance to receive your papers. Those with the last names I-R stand by the podium and S-Z to middle aisle.”

I went to the middle aisle and waited for the TA to start calling out names. The tall TA, who bore a striking resemblance to Ichabod Crane, began reading the names as eager hands reached for their papers. My hand began to twitch with excitement in anticipation of seeing my first paper graded. They would start piling on the scholarships after reading this paper. The names began “Esther Sallsworth, Jonathan Seer, Veerpal Singh.” Then something strange happened. He called out “Bishop Rimbert.”


He repeated himself louder.

“Bishop Rimbert!”

Awkward Silence.

The beleaguered TA cleared his throat in frustration – obviously annoyed at these first year students.

“I guess Bishop Rimbert is not here!” We, the pesky first year students who surrounded him, looked at each other with confusion. We were all thinking the same thing: “Was this guy serious?” We had all written a paper on Bishop Rimbert, and he had probably just spent the last three weekends marking them.

It was when he was putting Bishop Rimbert’s paper to the side when a thought came to me. Wasn’t ‘Bishop Rimbert’ my brilliant title? Maybe he had read that off instead of my name which was located in the corner.

I cleared my throat. I was very timid in those days, but I managed to get his attention.

“Is there a name in the bottom corner of that paper?” I said meekly.

The TA looked at the paper. A strange look came over his face. We all watched in silence as his face went from light pink to a dark crimson. It was like watching a Tahitian sunset.

We then heard him start to mutter to himself. “Stupid! So stupid! Of course his name is not Bishop Rimbert! Stupid!”

“Greg Slingerland” he finally sputtered. I stepped forward uneasily – my face was almost as purple as his. I was embarrassed for him, and embarrassed at how bad my title was. I knew then, that there was little hope for my paper.

I snatched the paper from his hands and bolted for the door. As I walked through the door, I could still hear him muttering “Stupid!”

The paper was a disaster, but it was a good learning experience. I learned that I should do exactly the opposite with everything for my next paper.

I still have my ‘Bishop Rimbert’ paper. In fact I’ve kept all of my University papers (aka babies). Every time I am in need of a good laugh/cry I turn back to my first year papers. My first essays were not great, but looking back, they were great starts and great tries. I am enjoying (and a little envious) seeing my students take that first leap into the wild world of writing.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Gingerbread House

Sugar can be quite a dangerous substance to any school aged child. Parents don’t think of the poor beleaguered teacher when they pack their child’s lunch full of sugary snacks. As a teacher myself, I treat sugar with care, the same way the bomb squad treats a suspicious package. If ever there is a class party or anything that involves pop and candy, it is saved until the end of the day. This is a win/lose scenario. The teacher wins because the students leave after they have consumed the sugar, but the bus driver and parent lose as they have to deal with the sugar rush and impending sugar crash. I have experienced the power of sugar personally and have gained a healthy respect for its power. Here is my sugar saga...

My 10 year old brain could simply not comprehend what was sitting on the table in our house. It was a Gingerbread Mansion, and it was beautiful. This confectionary castle was from my uncle’s bakery and he had brought it for the family Christmas. The many roofs of this mansion were shingled with Skittles, M&M’s and Smarties. Jujubes of all colours formed the landscaping. Chocolate squares served as windows. Hershey Kisses served as chimney tops. Chocolate pretzels were turned into fencing. Peppermint paddies were the stepping stones leading up to the Kit-Kat front door. The best part of all though, the pièce de résistance if you will, was the large blobs of white icing that were used to hold everything together.

I don’t know how long I stood gazing upon this house – when a ten year old is in such close proximity to so much sugar, time become irrelevant. All that stood between me and this edible edifice was a thin layer of clear plastic wrapping. It was time for dinner, and I was bodily dragged away from the gingerbread house and from the large pool of drool that had somehow collected at my feet.

My heart was just not into the dinner though. The turkey seemed bland and tasteless (maybe if it had been stuffed with marshmallows it would of have been tastier). I picked my way through the meal and thought of the gingerbread house sitting upstairs all by itself. I used this time to think of what part of the gingerbread house I would eat first. Should I start slow or dive right in? Should I start with the roof, or with the fence? Should I bother with the candies or go right for the frosting? At what point should I start devouring the walls?

Finally dinner was coming to an end. The adults were all leaning back in their chairs, patting their bellies, and some were even loosening their belts. I knew they were done for the night – they would not be taking part in the gingerbread massacre. I looked around the table and spotted some plates that had barely been touched –these belonged to my adversaries. They had wisely chosen to skip the ‘filler’ and wait for the real feast. Coincidentally, they were all around my age. Their eyes darted around the table as well – they were sizing up the competition.

After dinner was over, we all settled in the family room in the basement. The presents were brought down, some hors de oeuvres (not going to fall for that trick) and finally the gingerbread house. It was even more beautiful than I remembered.

While the adults helped themselves to some pathetic little puff pastries, the kids positioned themselves around the gingerbread house. The hunt was afoot.

One of the adults finally had a good idea. “Well, why don’t we let the kids pick at the gingerbread house?” One of the other adults responded “Oh yeah – I almost forgot about the gingerbread house!”

Forgot?! How could you forget about this Taj Mahal of sugary greatness?
One of the adults carefully made their way into the ‘ring of fire’ of candy crazed cousins in order to take the cellophane wrapping off the gingerbread house. It was like watching the launching of the Titanic.

After what seemed like an eternity, the wrapping was clear. This was our signal to attack. I’m not sure if the adult got out of the way in time or not, but the cousins pounced on the house. I decided that using my hands would only slow me down, so I decided to just gnaw on the chimney. After some initial hissing and scratching the cousins all found a piece or corner to devour. This gigantic house was being mown down the same way a cloud of locusts devours a crop, or a flock of buzzards to a carcass.

The feeding frenzy eventually eased up as stomachs were filled to capacity with jujubes, icing and great chunks of gingerbread. I tore off a wall and retreated to a corner of the room to rest and nibble.

The Christmas party was ramped up further by sugar-filled cousins who proceeded to imitate ping pong balls in a cyclone. As time passed by though, the sugar comas’ hit and many of the gingerbread gorgers fell into very deep sleeps. I too could feel the effects from eating an entire Victorian chimney, front porch, and half a roof. I had conditioned myself however and was able to withstand the power of the sugar crash.

It was late and the adults decided to call it a night. They picked up their comatose children who littered the floor and headed out into the wintery night. Before going upstairs to bed, I gave the gingerbread house one last look. The gingerbread house was now just a heap of broken walls, but stilled managed to make my head swim. I headed upstairs and somehow found my bed. Sleep came quickly as did an amazing dream about living in an actual gingerbread house.

I’m not sure what time it was exactly but it was early when I woke up. The gingerbread house was calling me. Like some kind of zombie, I stumbled down to the gingerbread wreckage from the night before. I sat down beside the rubble and began eating. After I had eaten a couple of walls and another chimney I had to stop. My mind was urging me on, but my stomach had other ideas. I began to feel a strange gurgling feeling deep within as if a geyser was about to blow.

I’ll spare you the details, but needless to say, I spent the rest of the day recuperating from my gingerbread house overdose. A year later, my Uncle brought another beautiful Victorian gingerbread mansion to our house. Instead of sending me into a state of ecstasy, shivers ran up and down my spine. That ol’ familiar gurgling erupted again and I decided to retreat to the dinner table. Better stick with the turkey this year...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hitting the Slopes

December is here, which means that the cold hand of winter is upon us. Winter is not all bad though, in fact, I have many fond memories of this frigid time of year. I recently shared this family memory with the class...

We were at a ski resort in Collingwood some years back with the family. I had spent the afternoon with a book in front of a nice comfy and cozy fireplace. I drank voluminous amounts of hot chocolate. Dad, Scott and Derek had spent the afternoon at the ski slope. For me the decision to go skiing or stay back in the condo was a no-brainer.

By the end of the afternoon, we headed out to the ski slope to pick up Dad, Derek and Scott. I had never been skiing before and knew that it would not be my thing. I had an intense fear of heights, and just the sight of the ski lift gave me the heebie-jeebies.

We met the guys at the bottom of the hill. They were pretty tuckered out from a day of skiing and were ready to go back to the nice cozy condo. Scott was not ready to go just yet. “Let me go just one more time!” he said. “Wait here and watch!” he exclaimed as he skied away towards the lift.

Scott finally reached the top of the hill. Scott waved from the top and made sure we were all watching – he wanted to impress us with this run. Little did he know, but I was already impressed with the fact that he went on the ski lift. In my mind that was quite an accomplishment.

There were a handful of other skiers that were gracefully swerving back and forth down the hill. It all seemed very peaceful and cozy – the snow covered pines, the swishing of the skis, and the wildlife that watched from the sides of the hill (the wildlife part may not be true).

The beauty of the moment was shattered by a demented scream from the top of the hill. I looked around expecting to see Howard Dean, but realized that it was Scott who let out that battle cry. He launched himself down the hill with all of his strength. The deer and arctic hares fled for the safety of the woods. Mothers covered the eyes and ears of their young ones.

Scott was in perfect form for the first twenty feet. His head was down, his feet were a shoulder length apart, and his body was in the tuck style position. After about thirty feet, Scott was like a speeding bullet.

He then hit a gentle rise which caused us all to hold our breath and grit our teeth. Scott was having trouble staying in his crouched down position. He was fighting gravity and inertia and was losing!

He was going so fast by this point that his cheeks were flapping in the wind and a vapour trail appeared in his path. I waited for the sonic boom.

Scott was nearing the bottom and was losing more than his fight against gravity. His ski poles, gloves and hat were deep-sixed as his body became more and more erratic.

Scott knew that he would not be able to come to a nice graceful swooshing stop like the other skiers. He decided he would have to use his head. Literally. Specifically his face. White powder flew everywhere as his body slid towards us. When the ‘smoke’ settled, we found Scott in a heap. Remarkably he did not have any broken bones. He picked himself up (and everything that got sucked off in his final descent) and beamed at us. “Awesome, eh! Greg – you’ve got to try skiing some time! I’ll even teach you!” he said. I looked at the trail he had blazed straight down the hill and looked down to his smouldering skis. “I think I’ll take my chances by the fireplace.” I said.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Potency of Prayer

"The potency of prayer hath subdued the strength of fire; it hath bridled the rage of lions, hushed anarchy to rest, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, expanded the gates of heaven, assuaged diseases, repelled frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. Prayer is an all-efficient panoply, a treasure undiminished, a mine which is never exhausted, a sky unobscured by clouds, a heaven unruffled by the storm. It is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings."

- John Chrysostom

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Mouldy Book

I return once again to my early days at Brock University and to my quest at becoming a cultured intellectual.

The greatest extortion in this land happens every September across university campuses when students are forced to buy textbooks at exorbitant prices. A book that should cost no more than ten bucks can easily go for a couple hundred dollars at the bookstore. When my cousin Jen told me that she had some university textbooks that I could borrow I jumped at the idea. Perfect! I can save big bucks!

She dropped off a box of books the week before school started. “A couple of them might have a little water damage. Okay, bye!” she said. Her car screeched out of the driveway.

Most of the books were in pretty good shape and were the right editions. The book at the very bottom however was a different story.

After I scratched some of the mould off the cover, I discovered that the book was a History of the 20th Century. It smelled bad – real bad. I’m not sure what the book was supposed to look like, but it was now green and furry. I didn’t know they had chia pet textbooks. The pages were sticky and had to be peeled and pried apart.

I tried flipping it open. It didn’t flip open. After working at it a little, I did manage to crack it open. This sent a new wave of rank odour into my face. Everything went black...

When I came to, I was laying on the living room floor. Mom’s flowers had mysteriously wilted and died. The fish in the aquarium were floating.

Later that afternoon, I went online and checked the price of the book and saw that it was around two hundred dollars, and that it was three editions newer. I looked at the book on the screen and then back to the borrowed textbook. Two hundred dollars is a lot, I thought to myself. Maybe I’ll just use this text for a while and see how it goes.

It was my first seminar. I was very nervous too – for one hour, me, ten other students and the professor would sit around a table and discuss what we had read in our textbooks. The professor would mark us based on how intelligent and insightful our comments were.

The professor had given us the reading ahead of time. We were to read the first chapter. As I was to realize much too late, my chapter one was different than the new book’s chapter one.

When we got to the seminar room, everybody pulled out their nice glossy textbooks. My mouth watered at the ‘new book’ smell of their books (you have to be cultured to understand this). Rich snobs, I thought.

I reached into my book bag and pulled out my ‘book’. The students and professor began sniffing and looking around for the source of the smell. “It smells like there is a dead rat in the wall or something!” one girl said. At least my book was a good ice-breaker.

I coughed to cover the sound of me cracking my book open (and due to the fact that I was choking because of the horrid smell).

The student sitting beside me on my right looked at my book and me distastefully. She pulled on her hood and pulled the drawstrings until only her eyes were visible.

The student on my left side was an interesting character. He obviously wasn’t trying to go for the cultured intellectual look judging by all of the metal embedded in his face. He had python tattoos running down his arms to his fingers. He caught a whiff of the book and looked my way. He was a tough looking kind of guy and I didn’t want to get on his bad side. He probably had a python in his backpack. “Cool book dude” he said with an approving nod.

It turned out that the chapter 1 I read was quite different than the chapter 1 the rest of the class read. They all read about the death of Queen Victoria and the dawning of a new age (I was starting to suspect that Queen Victoria was still alive at the time my book had been printed). I had read about the Boer War. It was then that I started to panic – I had nothing to contribute! I had no gem or nugget of knowledge to share with the group! How was I supposed to become a cultural intellectual if I couldn’t even comment on Queen Victoria! I started breathing rapidly, but quickly stopped due to the noxious fumes coming from you know what.

The seminar was nearing an end and I was racking my brain for something to say. My thoughts were broken by the professor. “Greg, you’ve been quiet all seminar. What do you think about the Belle Epoque?”

I froze for a moment like a deer caught in the high beams of a semi. I had two options: I could run out of the room and never come back, or say something about what I had read in my mould encrusted textbook.

“Well,” I said (a very intellectual way to start any profound comment) “I think the real story here is the Boer War.”


The girl to my right peeked through her hoodie and gave me a confused look.

“Very interesting” the professor said after a long pause. “I’ve never thought about how the Boer War nullified the optimism and naivety of the Belle Epoque. Very insightful.”

“I concur” I said, even though I had no idea what he just said or what concur meant.

After class, the Goth to my left looked over with admiration. “Cool comment dude – was that in your retro book? Where can I get a copy?” Well, I thought, put that shiny book of yours in a box and store it in a very damp basement for a couple of years. “It’s one of those rare books” I replied. “One of a kind in fact.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

As Easy as Pie

Fundraisers are part of every school community. We’ve all pulled an Oliver Twist as we peddled our overpriced chocolate bars around the neighbourhood. Last year at ORCS, we tackled a completely different fundraiser. Pie making! I had no idea that pie making would be such an adventure...

Let’s go over the ingredients:

A pile of apples
A pile of sugar
A pile of flour
20 grade 7/8 students

Mix all of these together and voila! Chaos!

The room was set up with all different stations. Students were divided into groups and sent to the stations. As time progressed the groups rotated so that everybody had a chance to experience every part of the pie-making process.

Station 1: Peel and Core

The apple peelers were clamped down to the tables. The student would take a luscious apple, and jam it on the sharp spokes of the peeler. A blade would be resting against the peel. When the arm was turned by the student, the peel would come off in a long strip. Once the peel was off, the apple could be slid off this contraption. The sharp spokes cored the apple as well. If done properly with a watchful eye, an apple could be cored and peeled in no time flat. If however, the peeler arm was spun too fast (i.e. warp speed), or the student was not paying attention (i.e. often) the peel and the apple would disappear under the arm of the peeler.

Station 2: Mix the apples into a large bowl of sugary, syrupy gloop

I suppose one of the fatal flaws of this fundraiser was that we made the pies right before lunch. Stomachs cried out as the delicious apple slices were dropped into a large bowl of some kind of cinnamon sugar potion. This station can also be called ‘the temptation station’. Many of the students began deftly munching on a few of the sugary apple slices. By the time it was time to rotate, these students were having a full out feast. Because it is not cool to wear aprons at this age (who can blame them?) many students got this syrupy slop all over their nice white uniform shirts. After a while, the fronts of their shirts dried as hard as a rock. While the futures of their uniform tops were in doubt, it did keep the students from devouring their sugary shirts.

Station 3: Make the pie dough

From the temptation station, where large amounts of sugar were consumed, students moved onto the pie dough stage. While the student’s eyes were already wide-eyed and wild after station 2, they only grew larger with wonderment and excitement when they saw the large pile of flour. They quickly turned into Robin Hood’s Merry Men. For every handful of flour that went into the pie dough, another handful went onto someone’s face/hair/clothes. Picture one of the students if you will. Hands and shirt were completely sticky – now add a shower of flour. Some of the students were beginning to look like mimes.

Station 4: Put the apples into the pie shell

This station was a déjà vu to the ‘temptation station’. The mode of operation was as follows: put an apple slice in the pie shell, and then put a slice in your mouth. Repeat.

Station 5: Crumble top

Never will I forget this station. My nice quiet, retrospective, civilized students were transformed at this station into rabid animals. I’m not sure what crumble top is all made of, but I do know that it is full of sugar, and that it is delicious. It certainly did not help that it was nearing lunchtime. At first students were sneakily eating little clumps while they worked, but that quickly ended. Finally we finished all of the pies, but there was still a large pile of crumble top left. The students descended upon this station like moths to a light. Snarling and growling could be heard as students jostled for position around the table of crumble top.

We finally finished, and the clean-up was minimal (I think the crumble top table was licked clean). As a thank-you for helping, the PTA (who were bravely helping us) baked two of the pies for us to enjoy at lunch.


Lunch is normally a lively affair in the classroom, but they all seem terribly dull compared to this lunch. The leftover boerenkoel and stamppott their mothers had so lovingly packed in the student’s lunches were quickly cast aside for the pies. By this point, the students were beyond hyper. They were at the climax of their sugar rushes and the pie served as fuel for the fire. Some of the students were so filled with energy that they were unable to sit down while they ate. I think one student was even levitating. After they inhaled the pies, they went outside and ripped around for half an hour.

As a wise man once said, ‘what goes up must come down.’ When the bell rang for the students to come back inside, I noticed that the sugar rush had worn off. Big time. They were all experiencing a severe sugar crash. I had an exciting History lesson planned for the afternoon. We would be learning about Etienne Brule, the first coureurs de bois, who met his unsavoury demise by being eaten by Natives. As I launched into this exciting story I noticed that some of the student’s eyelids were getting heavy. Other students were losing a battle with gravity and were sliding lower and lower down into their desks. Needless to say, it was a quiet afternoon.

The final bell went and the students silently shuffled out of the room. Instead of saying ‘goodbye’ a couple of them unconsciously said ‘goodnight’.

It was a roller coaster kind of day, but one of those days you are thankful for having the privilege of teaching.