Monday, April 30, 2012

April Fools!

April 2011

There is one day of the school year that teachers dread above all others: April Fool’s Day. This is the day where students are given licence to wreak havoc on their poor teacher. I’ve seen a lot of destruction over the years on this day of treachery. Teachers’ cars covered with shaving cream, coffee sabotaged, clocks turned ahead, water balloons bursting, chalk turned into dust, saran wrapped doors, stick-it notes covering teacher’s desk, missing students, and general chaos.

I was dreading my first April Fool’s Day as a teacher. What would these students try to pull on their rookie teacher? As I lay in bed that night, terrible premonitions danced through my head of books on fire, water guns, fire extinguishers, paintballs and me screaming hysterically as I ran out of the school parking lot never to be seen again.

The dreaded doomsday dawned.

I was on guard the moment I pulled into the school parking lot. I looked around carefully before I got out. No kids were waiting in the trees with balloons filled with water or flour. Like a highly trained Navy Seal, I ran for the safety of my portable. With a flash, my keys were in the lock and I was in. I closed the door behind me and let out a sigh of relief. So far so good I thought; only seven more hours to go.

The buses rolled into the parking lot and delivered their deadly payload – children. They looked so innocent, but I knew better. I suddenly wished I had a metal detector and a sniffer dog at the door as the students began to pour through the door.

“Goodmorning Mr. S.!” the students said cheerfully. Too cheerfully, I thought.

“Is it a good morning?” I said suspiciously.

They looked bewildered and sat down at their desks. My eyes were like eagle eyes. I only allowed myself to blink every five minutes so as not to miss any movements. I made my way to the front of the room, careful not to turn my back to them at any time. I stood at the front and stared at the students and searched for any signs of impending mischief. There were no sideways glances or smirks. No notes or nudges. They are good, I thought.

We got started, and the morning wore on. Finally the recess bell rang and I dismissed the class. My nerves were starting to get a little frayed as I waited for the shoe to drop. I sat down heavily at my desk as the students went out for recess. I concluded that they must need the recess to plan their assault. At this point, I was almost wishing they would try pulling something, just to get it done and over with. I went into the staff room and had a coffee with the other teachers. They all had stories about what the students had done for April Fool’s day. I found myself laughing at the creativity and genius of some of the students. If they would only apply that same genius to some of their assignments, we would have a lot of Rhode Scholars on our hands.

One teacher asked me what my students had pulled off this morning.

“Nothing.” I said blandly. I should have been happy about this, but I found myself oddly dissatisfied.

Instead of racing to my classroom after recess to protect my castle, I lingered in the staff room for an extra minute. When I came into the classroom, the students were nicely getting ready for class. I heard laughter from other classrooms as the teachers walked into booby-trapped rooms.

Hmmm, I thought.

I then noticed a strange bag on my desk. They had done something! My heart raced as I walked towards my desk. What did they put in there? Was it a live rat? Was it horse manure? Was it going to explode as soon as I opened it? The bag was familiar – very familiar – it was exactly the same as the bag I used for my lunch that morning! Brilliant move! I was fully alert though and would not fall for such a fiendish ploy.

Clever as it was, they would have to step it up if they wanted to fool me! I opened the bag and looked inside. It was my lunch. Hmmm.

I looked around the classroom to see if they re-arranged anything. Nope. Everything was exactly where it was supposed to be. I walked to the front of the room. I picked up a piece of chalk expecting to see it painted with whiteout. Nope. I looked at the clock thinking that the student’s would have moved it ahead an hour. Nope.

A disturbing thought was fighting its way in my mind. I found myself hoping for something exciting to happen. I was longing for a good joke, but there was nothing.

At lunch time, I sat down at my desk despondently. It was April Fool’s Day, and no joke had been played. That wasn’t right. Then a rare thing happened – I had an idea! I will play a joke on them! As Francis Bacon once said “if the hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the hill.” Ideas started flying in my mind like sparks from an arch-welder. In no time flat, I had planned a joke. I rubbed my hands together gleefully.

As the end of the school day approached, I handed out an official looking waiver to each student. At the end of every school year, the students look forward to going on a three day camping trip. I explained to the students that due to some incidents at this camp over the past year, they now required students to sign a waiver stating that they would follow all the rules on the paper I had just handed out. They would only be allowed to go on the trip if they had signed the waiver. I had carefully crafted the rules into the acrostic (first letter of every line) APRIL FOOLS. These were the rules:

All campers will wake up by 6:00am at the latest.
Permission must be obtained before getting out of bed.
Rules may not be broken, otherwise students will have to find their own way home.
I will not allow any student to open their eyes after 10pm
Lazy campers will be made to cut the grass, bring out the garbage and chop wood.

Forest hikes will only be permitted if one has a whistle, compass, life jacket, matches and a sense of direction.
Ontario’s wildlife must not be disturbed; this includes insects as well as small animals.
Oxford Reformed Christian School student’s luggage must not exceed 10lbs.
Loud talking will not be allowed.
Students should bring at least two books for the daily quiet reading time.

I watched with pure delight at the looks of total outrage on the students’ faces. I had to summon all of my strength to keep a straight face. One of the students, who had a strong dislike for reading, stared dejectedly and mournfully at the last rule about ‘daily quiet reading time.’ Other students were more vocal in their outrage.

“What!? We can’t have more than 10 pounds of luggage!”

“We have to be up by six am?”

“I’m not bringing any books!”

“I’m not going if I have to chop wood!”

“Why do we have to wear a life jacket in the woods?!”

After the uproar had died down to a dull roar, I asked if anyone knew what an acrostic was. No one knew what one was, or what an acrostic had to do with these rules. After I had explained that an acrostic spelled something using the first letter of each line, there was pin drop silence for a few moments. When the students caught on to the joke, they joyfully ripped their papers up and had a good laugh. The student who did not care for reading had tears of thanksgiving glisten in his eyes.

The students filed out of the room for the buses still talking about the ‘rules’.

I watched the buses roar off into the distance and reflected that it had been a pretty good day after all. I was suddenly looking forward to next year’s first day of April...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Howard the Cat

His name was Howard, and he was our pet cat. We had a lot of cats growing up, but somehow Howard stood out from the rest. Howard, a grey and white spotted fur ball, had a mind of his own. If he wanted to be cuddled or carried, it had to be on his terms. If Howard did not want to be picked up, he would transform himself into a slippery eel and slither to the floor. Only my sister Becky could subdue Howard in her patented feline choke-hold.

Furthermore, Howard was a tomcat through and through. I don’t have to delve into the details, but let’s just say that there are probably a lot of Howard jr’s running around the neighbourhood. Howard was mostly an outdoor cat but did come inside from time to time. It was often in the mornings that we saw Howard at the patio door. One of us would slide the door open, and Howard would limp in. It was clear from Howard’s battle wounds that his nocturnal activities did not involve a restful sleep.

Howard didn’t come inside because he loved us. Rather, he treated our home as more of a convalescent home or an ER. Howard would slip through the door opening, and head straight for his food dish. After filling up, he would find a nice place to sleep and lick his wounds. As the sun disappeared for the day, Howard would be waiting at the door to be let out for a night of ‘tomcatness’.

Howard would show his appreciation every once in a while by bringing dead mice and bunnies to the patio door. Oh, how we would eat! Just kidding. Sometimes, Howard would save his show of appreciation until he was inside and then he would heave up the bunny or mouse.

After a while, we could see that Howard’s nightlife was taking its toll. He had scars upon scars and his fresh wounds were not given time to heal. We became particularly concerned about his ears. Howard’s poor little ears were torn to ribbons and had lost their fur. He kept scratching them as well, which further aggravated them. What to do?

Mom, who obviously missed her calling as a veterinarian, had the perfect plan. First, Howard would not be allowed to go outside until his little ears were healed. Second, he needed a cone around his head to keep himself from scratching his tender ears. Most people would zip out to a pet store and buy a collar cone for their pet in this situation. Mom was not ‘most people’. She was the queen of garage-sales, the dickering diva, the coupon connoisseur, and the rebate ruler. In essence, she was Dutch. She would not buy a fancy cone for the outrageous price of $9.99 – she would make one!

And make one she did. I came into the living room to find Mom eating baby carrots and doing a Sudoku. I heard an odd moaning sound coming from across the room. There was Howard with a crudely fashioned cone around his neck. The cone was made out of a Fruit Loops box – this was Mom’s idea of recycling. I couldn’t decide if Howard was struggling with the cone because it was taped to his fur, or because Howard wanted to eat Toucan Sam.

Mom looked up from her Sudoku with a triumphal grin. After a few moments, we realized that this cone was not going to work. Howard had nearly clawed it off and was clearly not impressed. I removed the cone as Howard glared insolently at Mom. Howard settled down, but soon began scratching what was left of his ears. We were back to square one.

Later that day something rare occurred: I had an idea. Why not use liquid bandage on his ears? With a simple spray, a protective healing coat would be applied to the cut. The next day Mom went out and bought a little bottle of liquid bandage (she probably would have made her own, but she was missing a few of the ingredients). Howard was nicely curled up sleeping. Mom removed the lid and sprayed some of the liquid on Howard’s ears. Mom and I were both amazed at how high a cat can jump. Apparently the alcohol stung a little. Howard was a furry blur for the next minute, but eventually settled down.

The next day, Howard’s war torn ears looked better. They were starting to scab – victory was within our grasp. We knew that his fur would never grow back, but we didn’t plan on taking Howard to any upcoming cat shows anyway.

We decided that one more spray of liquid bandage would do the trick and allow his ears to fully heal. This time Becky was in on the action with her patented feline choke hold. She held, Mom sprayed, and I watched. For the first time Howard squirmed out of Becky’s arms and bounced around the room like a bottle rocket.

His ears healed beautifully (well – except for the fact that his ears were forever bald) and he went back outside. We were afraid Howard would be reluctant to come back to the house for a while, but he was back at the patio door the next morning with a token of thanks: a big dead bird.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Easter Story

Barabbas shared the dark, musty cell with two other criminals. This was the end for all three – this was death row. They were to be brought out of the city that evening – to the place of the skull – and crucified. Barabbas felt his stomach lurch at the thought. His arms and legs were both chained to the wall so that Barabbas would not be able to end his life prematurely. Barabbas looked at the other two criminals. Their heads were hanging down, and they looked miserable and broken. Barabbas didn’t feel sorry for them though – they were thieves who stole from the Romans and from the Jews for their own gain.

Barabbas thought back to his own crimes. He had been the leader of a pack of rebels. They had only one goal and that was to get rid of the Romans. They did anything to achieve that goal – even if that meant stealing from their own countrymen, or murdering them. Barabbas had done some horrible things, he knew, but it was all for the cause. Many had accused Barabbas of only looking out for himself and his band of men. A lot of Jews were scared of Barabbas because he took what he wanted. The Jewish leadership didn’t like Barabbas either and Barabbas despised them in return. Barabbas spit on the floor as he thought about those power hungry Pharisees. In his mind, the Pharisees were no different than the Romans.

His crimes had finally caught up with him. He had caused too much trouble and the Romans, with the help of the Jewish leadership, moved in to crush him and his band of men. One night, his location had been betrayed. He wasn’t surprised – the Jews didn’t like it when he hid out in one their villages. The Romans moved in with overwhelming force. There was a desperate fight and many of his men fought to the death. Barabbas was taken, and dragged to Jerusalem in chains. There was a quick trial, and an even quicker sentencing by Pontius Pilate. Crucifixion.

Barabbas’s thoughts were disturbed by a commotion outside the prison walls. Barabbas could hear that a lot of people were gathering by Pilate’s portico. Were they here to watch the procession to Golgotha and the crucifixion? Was everyone turning on him? Didn’t they realize that he was trying to help them?

“What is happening?” one of the thieves said.

Barabbas strained to hear what was going on. Then he heard his name being chanted.

“Barabbas! Barabbas!”

Why were they chanting his name? What did they want?

The chanting died down but soon began again. This time the crowd was shouting something different.

“Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Barabbas began to sweat as his stomach heaved at the sounds of the blood thirsty crowd and the thought of going to Golgotha.

At the far end of the hallway, a heavy gate groaned open, and marching was heard coming towards the cell.

“They’re coming for us!” cried the one prisoner. He frantically pulled at his chains.

The footsteps of the Roman soldiers came closer. There was no doubt that they were coming for Barabbas and the other two prisoners.

“Open that door!” exclaimed one of the soldiers. A key sounded in the lock, and the door was pulled open. Light from a torch flooded into the room revealing the three desperate criminals.

“Stand up, Barabbas. The gods have smiled upon you!” One of the soldiers said gruffly.

“Take off his chains!” commanded the captain of the guard.

One of the guards moved quickly to loosen Barabbas’s chains. The chains fell to the floor.

Barabbas couldn’t understand what was happening.

“Where are you taking me?” Barabbas said as they led him out of the cell.

“You are free Barabbas.” said the captain.

“But I heard the crowds chanting ‘Crucify him!’ Why would I be free?”

“Someone has taken your place – they didn’t want you to be crucified – they wanted that man Jesus.”

Barabbas and the soldiers made their way out of the prison to Pilate’s portico overlooking the crowd. The sunlight blinded Barabbas who had spent a couple of weeks in a black cell. When his eyes adjusted, he saw a man to his right. He was badly beaten, and large thorns had been twisted on his head. In front of him was Pontius Pilate who appeared to be washing his hands in front of the crowd. The guards released Barabbas and lifted Jesus to his feet.

Barabbas stared at Jesus. What had this man done? Barabbas had heard about Jesus and the miracles he had done, but did not understand why Jesus did not speak out against the Romans.

Then Jesus looked at Barabbas. Barabbas felt as if Jesus was looking into his very soul – such piercing eyes. Barabbas’s cellmates were brought out and each had a large wooden beam put on their backs. Jesus was unable to carry the large beam, so a man was pulled out of the crowd. The prisoners and the crowd left the portico and headed for the city gates.

Barabbas still did not understand what was happening but felt compelled to follow.
Finally the crowd and the prisoners made their way to Golgotha. Barabbas looked away as the nails were driven through the palms of the three men. Barabbas seethed inside as he watched a Roman soldier put a sign on top of Jesus’ cross that read “King of the Jews”.

“What had this man done to deserve this?” Barabbas thought. As the crosses were raised into place, another thought entered Barabbas’s mind. “I should be up there hanging on that cross – not him. I am the murderer and thief, and I’ve broken every commandment and law.

Barabbas moved closer to the cross just in time to hear Jesus say “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

“Forgive them?” Barabbas was ruled by hate and couldn’t comprehend how this innocent man could show love to his enemies.

The hours passed, and the crowd became silent. The mocking had all but stopped as the crowd strained to hear what Jesus would say.

One of the thieves turned his head to Jesus. “Jesus,” he said in a halting voice “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Barabbas looked at Jesus and heard him say “today you will be with me in paradise.”
More time passed, and the sky became as black as ink. The quiet and stillness of the crowd was broken by a loud cry from Jesus. Then the earth began to shake, and thunder and lightning erupted. Some of the people in the crowd fell down to their knees and cried to Jesus.

Barabbas saw the Captain of the guard who had released him approaching. He turned to Barabbas. “This man,” he said pointing to Jesus “was innocent. Truly, he was the son of God.”

Barabbas left Golgotha deeply moved by all that had happened. “I am alive,” he thought, “Because he took my place. He cleared my debt. He took my spot on that horrible cross. This morning, I was chained to a wall in a dark cell sentenced to die on the cross. Now, thanks to Jesus, I am free.”

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

- Charles Wesley

Monday, April 2, 2012

An Exciting Donation

Every two months I donate blood. This past Saturday was my tenth time, which still makes me a bit of a newbie in the blood world. The blood clinics are interesting places and the people that are there are super nice. If you don’t mind a needle poke, the whole experience is actually quite relaxing. The couches are reclined and your feet are up. TV’s are strategically positioned for you, you can read a book or a magazine, or you can chat with the blood lady (not sure if that is their exact job title). When you are done donating, you can go to a little cozy seating area and have a beverage of your choice (no daiquiris or anything like that) and some cookies, all while reading the newspaper or chatting with the nice cookie lady (again – not sure if that is her exact job title).

My last donating experience wasn’t exactly one of those serene warm fuzzy donating experiences. When I got there, I was seated next to a big fellow who wasn’t doing so great. His couch was in the laying down position and he had cold towels covering his forehead and neck. He is what they call in the blood industry a ‘fainter’. Fainting wasn’t enough for him though. His stomach wanted in on the action which prompted a blood lady to run and get a bucket. Thankfully nothing came forth, otherwise more of us in the room would of have needed the same treatment. He did have a couple good dry heaves.

After that drama beside me subsided, more excitement erupted across from me. When the blood lady pulled the needle from the guy’s arm more than just a cotton swab was needed. After a couple of minutes, the blood was cleaned up and he left.

After all those happenings, my blood saw what was happening out in the room and decided to stay in my arm (it might have been because of my low blood pressure too). The kind blood lady commanded me to squeeze a stress ball while she jiggled the needle (ouch). Finally the deed was done, and I left with my throbbing arm in tow.

A few hours later I was home and snoozing on the couch while watching Mansfield Park (yes – shocking that someone could fall asleep during such a thriller). When I woke up, I noticed that my arm was sticking to my shirt sleeve. I stood up and saw with horror that my whole sleeve was covered with blood. I then looked down at the couch (which is light beige) and saw a pool of blood on the couch cushion. A couple of pictures went through my mind:

1. The couch sitting on the curb waiting for the garbage truck

2. Courtney coming home and seeing the couch cushion

3. Me on a flight to a faraway country

To make a long story short, the blood did come out of both my shirt and the couch cushion (phew!).

The moral of the story? Donate blood! (and make sure you have a bottle of Oxi Clean in your house).