Thursday, January 24, 2013

Never a Dull Moment

Here’s a sneak peek into my classroom this past week...

Ere Zij God

We begin every morning with singing.  We usually sing three or four songs which are chosen by the students.  On Monday morning, one of the students chose the Christmas carol ‘Ere Zij God’, or ‘Glory to God’.  This was unusual not only because we were in the middle of January, but also because none of the kids know Dutch.

I had to bite my cheeks to keep from smiling as I suggested we sing the English version of the carol, but the students insisted that we sing the carol in all of its Dutch glory.  And so we began our week with ‘Ere Zij God’.


Winter is a great time for board games.  A group of boys in my class pulled out Risk two weeks ago and are still playing.  The rules have been modified somewhat and alliances have been forged.  Recesses have become intense strategy sessions.  For those of you who are not familiar with this Risk, the point of the game is world domination.  To achieve this end, players must build up their armies and strategically attack continents and take over countries. 

Risk games usually do not last for two weeks.  Because of their huge armies and their intricate alliances, one false move will plunge the entire board into a total war.  I have a feeling they will have a déjà vu moment when they study the causes of World War I.

The board is so full of little plastic armies that you can’t see the borders of the countries anymore.  Reagan and Gorbachev would be in awe of this arms race.  I’m waiting for the final battle to happen and am expecting it to happen sometime late next week.  It will either end with an epic struggle or they will simply run out of playing pieces.  Hard to say.  

High School Day

The students have been very excited for ‘high school day’.  The middle school will be spending the day in the high school wing where they will be experiencing life as a high school student.  Why are they so excited?  You would think it would be because of the change of scenery, the new classrooms, the high school gym, the science lab, or the high school style classes, but you would be wrong.  They are the most excited about being allowed to have their shirts hanging out.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Never a dull moment.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Year of the Squirrel

They seemed friendly, which was a good thing because my backyard population of squirrels was very large.  The squirrels appeared to be cute and harmless at first, but Courtney and I gradually began to notice that these swarms of squirrels were a force to be reckoned with.

The warning bells starting ringing in my head when I saw them hanging around the little shed in my backyard last fall.  The squirrels were preparing for winter and had decided that the colony would spend the winter months in my shed.  The fastened door and window was no obstacle to these fluffy tailed rats.  They chewed two squirrel size holes in the front of the shed for easy access.  After the holes had been chewed out, these enterprising squirrels invited their extended family to join them in the comfort of my shed.  

The shed was built right alongside a fence, and the top rail of the fence lined up perfectly with the hole that the squirrels had made.  Courtney and I began to watch with horror as the top rail of the fence became a super highway for all of the neighbourhood squirrels.  I briefly thought about painting a centre line on the top of the rail to prevent any head on collisions.  

Going in the shed quickly became a bit of an ordeal.  At first, the squirrels would scamper out of the shed as soon as I opened the door.  I could have lived with that.  As time passed, the squirrels must have sized me up and realized I was no threat to them.  When summer rolled to an end, the squirrels would no longer leave the shed when I walked in.  They merely stared down from the rafters at me with their beady little eyes and made threatening screeching sounds.

It was clear that I was no longer welcome in their shed.

At the end of the autumn season, I tidied up the shed for the advent of winter.  The squirrels watched me malevolently from their perch up in the rafters.

The winter passed by quickly, and I didn’t see the squirrels quite as much.  They would venture outside on the milder days and scamper around the backyard looking for anything edible.  I noticed that they were looking very well fed.  Could it just be their new winter coat?  By March, the squirrels were noticeably fatter and were not able to pop through the squirrel holes with such ease anymore.  I concluded that they must have stored a lot of food up in the rafters of the shed.

Spring finally arrived.  One early spring Saturday, I ventured out to the shed to pull out the lawnmower.  The grass was getting green, and I wanted to get the lawnmower ready by cleaning the deck and putting a new air filter in.  When I opened the shed door, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The shed was a disaster.  The squirrels had obliterated a couple of cardboard boxes into tiny little pieces of confetti which must have been used for their wild winter parties in the shed.  Most stunning of all though was the jumbo bag of sunflower seeds that was in the shed.  The squirrels chewed the bag apart and ate every single sunflower seed.  The shells from the sunflower seeds thickly carpeted the floor, shelves, and even the rafters.  

The lawnmower tune-up was quickly forgotten (and buried under a heap of sunflower seed shells) as I started the clean-up efforts.  I shovelled out most of the seeds and shredded cardboard and planned to use my leaf blower to clean those hard to reach places.  I grabbed my extension cord and went to plug it in, when I noticed that the squirrels had chewed through the middle of the extension cord.  I looked back at the shed and could almost hear the squirrels snickering away. 

It was must have been quite the winter for those squirrels.  A whole clan of squirrels in a nice warm shed with an almost limitless supply of cardboard and sunflower seeds.  It will be the legendary winter that the squirrels will tell their children and grandchildren about.  “Chippy, let me tell you about the winter of ’12.  We were just young then, but those were the good ol’ days...”

A couple of months later, we had to say goodbye to our first little house.  It was time to move out and move on.  Despite our hostile regard towards each other, the squirrels were probably quite sad to see us go.  Life had never been so good for them.  Thankfully our new house seems to be squirrel-free so far.  I will not make the mistake of leaving a pantry of squirrel food in the shed this winter either.  Hopefully those squirrels never catch wind of where we moved to.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Snow Day

Christmas holidays have arrived and so has the snow.  As Courtney and I watched the snow fly, we reflected that it’s too bad we weren’t in school because then we could have had a nice snow day.  Then again, we were in the middle of our Christmas break, so I guess we can’t really complain.  It did get us thinking to a time a just before Christmas two years ago.

It was my first year of teaching, and I was teaching grade 7 & 8 at Oxford.  I was living in St. George and was dating Courtney.  When you’re dating, you tend to be on your best behaviour, but it was during a particularly bad snow storm that Courtney’s dark side came out.  

Oxford is in a snowbelt.  Powerful storms from Georgian Bay sweep across Southwestern Ontario and dump piles of snow on the beleaguered people of Oxford County.  My first year teaching at Oxford seemed to be quite a severe winter.  

The storm hit and in the space of two weeks, we had five snow days.  The odd part was that in St. George, we only got a slight dusting of snow.  For all of those snow days, I would get a call early in the morning saying that school was cancelled because of white-out conditions.  I would look out of my bedroom window and see blue skies, rainbows, and butterflies.  By the fifth day, I was getting a little skeptical about how bad the snow in Oxford County could really be.  I turned the news on that evening and saw that the highway going through Oxford County was closed due to a pile up and white-out.  So maybe it was bad after all.

The first thing I would do after getting the phone call saying school was cancelled was to text Courtney the news.

Day One

Me: School is cancelled today.  Snowday!!!  :)

Courtney: Oh.  I have to work today.  : (

Day Two

Me: You’ll never believe it – another snowday!!! :^0

Courtney: WHAT!  I’m jealous! :' )
Day Three

Me: Snowday today – day number three!!!  Yippee!  : ^)

Courtney: I am going to drive down there and start clearing roads myself!  I’m very jealous! : ^[

Day Four

Me: You will never believe it!  Another snow day!

Courtney: Life is not fair. 

Day Five

Me: The storm is letting up, but the roads are a mess.  Snowday!  

Courtney: The only thing that will make me happy right now is an engagement ring!

Life did return to normal after than – for two days anyway, then we were off for two weeks of Christmas holidays.  Life was tough back then.

It was strange having five snow days right in a row when there was no snow to speak of where I was living at the time.  By day five I was getting a little cabin fevered.  I was beginning to feel like a castaway and was even starting to talk to a volleyball that was in the house. 

I did find a new favourite spot to go and mark during those snow days.  It was a little cafe in Paris (no not Paris, France – I didn’t have enough air miles for that) called the Brown Dog Cafe.  It was perched on the banks of the Grand River and was oozing coziness.  The coffee was amazing and they had a nice fireplace where I would sit beside to drink my coffee and tackle my stack of marking.

The Brown Dog Cafe, Paris ON

Courtney still does not really get snow days (unless we get a jumbo blizzard and the only way out of the house is through the attic) and so the next snow day I get may not excite Courtney too much.