Thursday, 30 June 2011

QUOTES ~ A Definition of Family Literacy...

Family Literacy

"Family Literacy refers to how families use reading, writing and communicating to work, learn and play together - both at home and in their community.  It's about families taking time to develop relationships.  Everyday activities that parents share with their children are not only learning opportunities for the child, but the parents as well.  When families take time to read, explore a city or countryside, visit a museum or park, bake or cook, share stories or celebrate traditions together, they are preacticing family literacy."  [Emphasis mine]

To learn more about literacy, check out the Saskatchewan Literacy Network website.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

FAMILY LIFE ~ "Big Foot" Walks Among Us!

This post was written a few weeks ago, but it didn't get published as I was waiting to take a photo of the shoes ... well, finally I got around to it!

As you can see... the shoes are no longer new!
We even went back to buy a second pair (different pattern but same brand).
It's still pretty muddy outside, but in a few more days it will have dried up and we'll be able to "fling" the winter boots for this season.

Since Isobel has "indoor" shoes at school, and she usually just runs around the house in her stocking feet, I didn't realize how much her feet had grown over the colder months.  But last night, when we were in North Battleford, we went to Payless Shoe Source to look for new Spring shoes.

"She's about a 12.5," the sales clerk advised, before leaving us to find a suitable pair of runners.  It seemed like there was more to choose from in some of the smaller sizes.  The search was frustrating.  At first it seemed we would be going home empty-handed, but then the clerk explained to me that some of the shoes that looked like lace-ups were actually slip-ons.  Finally we found a pair that Isobel liked, were suitable for everyday wear, and fit our budget.  The little red LED lights were a bonus! The new shoes are actually Size 13!

As Isobel was experimenting with them, she ran down the aisle of the store and then took a big leap.  "I can even JUMP in these," she excitedly exclaimed!  She held the bright pink shoebox all the way home but, when we arrived home, was too sleepy to show them to her Stepdad.  I'm sure that will be the first thing she does this morning!

Early this morning, I took two tiny pink pairs of shoes from her closet (to place in the give-a-way bag for the Mennonite Community Closet).  Both had size 9.5 imprinted on the soles.  Could Isobel possibly have grown THAT much, just over the winter?  Then I realized that was in UK sizing.  A quick check of a conversion chart showed they were the equivalent of a North American size 11 ~ so that's still a jump of two whole sizes!

Isobel seems to have this "shoe thing" all figured out.  She told me, "I grow and the shoes shrink to me!!!"  I can sort of understand her logic ...

Sometimes Isobel likes to slip into a pair of John's shoes to go out in the yard or to our "other house" next door ... her feet look petite in those man-sized boats.  But in her new silver AIRWALK butterfly runners they look big ... my "baby" is growing and developing in so many ways (like my recent post about her first attempts at learning to read).

Yes, "BIG FOOT" truly walks among us!

KINDERGARTEN ~ "Mini" Field Trips and a "Beach Party"....

In the last few days of Kindergarten, Isobel's class has been taking some "mini" field trips around the Village.  The children have, for the most part, lined up and walked to and from the school (when it rained one day, they were "rescued" by the spare bus)!

The first time they ventured out, the students went to the Synergy Credit Union and the Co-op Grocery store.  Isobel was thrilled that the children were allowed to scan items into the cash register.

Another day they walked to the local hair salon and the Lakeland Vet Clinic.  This would have been quite a long walk for the children as the clinic is on the far edge of town.  Isobel had enjoyed the trip but complained that when they got back to the school, they didn't have any time and "not even a drop of recess!"

The group also toured Pat Gibbons Ford dealership.  They had also initially planned to tour the Canada Post outlet but due to the current strike action (and the lack of mail flow) they cancelled the visit.

Tuesday afternoon the Kindergarten students will participate in a "Celebration of Excellence" where they will sing "O Canada" with some of the other elementary children.  They will also be called up to the stage to receive recognition for completing their first full year of schooling.  Wednesday, June 29 the children only attend school in the morning. To wind-up the year, the Kindergarten class plans to join the Grade 1 and 2 students at a "Beach Party" in the Village Green Park!  Isobel keeps asking, "How long till the beach party??"

Thursday morning is "Report Card Day."  The students, and their parents, are expected to pop into the school and to pick up any belongings that remain in the building and to get their Report Card from their teacher.  For Isobel, it will also mean a farewell to Mrs. Winsor as she will be on maternity leave for the 2011-2012 academic year, so they will not be frequently bumping into each other.

It's hard to believe my "baby" is all ready for the adventures of Grade 1 ... she's growing up, all too fast!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

CELEBRATIONS ~ We are IN the News!

Since I have written local news for the North Battleford News-Optimist/Regional Optimist, for more than a decade, the "writer within" decided to submit my "First Person Account" of our trip to Calgary to see "Titanic:  The Artifact Exhibition" to the editor for publication.  The article was basically the same as my blog post about this experience.

Yesterday, (Wednesday, June 22), this feature was published.  Due to the postal strike, I have not yet seen a hard copy of the paper, however the story is also in their online edition.

The article is titled, "School Lesson Leads to Titanic Adventure".  The webpage shows the family photo we had taken at the exhibition that I couldn't post here due to technological difficulties.

I'm looking forward to eventually obtaining a copy of the newspaper to add to Alisdair's binder!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

LETTERS ~ Off Colour Advertising Irks

The local Synergy Credit Union has a new advertising campaign.  Benches, billboards and print ads bolding exclaiming "I did it in my slippers," and another boasting, "I did it in my truck."  Underneath, there is a caption that reads, "I got a mortgage."

When we were driving through Lloydminster recently, Alisdair commented to me about the ads and after our discussion, he said he was going to write a complaint letter to the bank.

And so, despite the mail strike, he wrote a letter to Synergy Credit Union's President, Wayne White.  In order to deliver it, we put the letter in the night depository at the local branch and asked that the envelope be sent through the courier bag.

Alisdair's letter read as follows:

"I am an 11-year old member of Synergy Credit Union.  I am writing about your recent advertising scheme.  These ads are inappropriate.  They sound sexual.

Let's say this is on a billboard and you can't see "I got a mortgage" and only see "I did it in my slippers."  You would read:  "I did it in my slippers!"  This is bad enough, but take a look at this:

Once again, lets say you didn't see, "I got a mortgage."  You would read, "I did it in my truck!"  Is this some kind of a joke?  If you would say, "I got a mortgage!  It took no time at all!"  -- that is appropriate.  Does everything in today's modern life have to sound like it has something to do with sex?

Please try to keep your advertising cleaner."

Let's hope the "powers that be" take heed to Alisdair's concerns when they plan their next advertising campaign!

COOKING ~ Recipe for Raspberry Jell-O Salad

Raspberry Salad
No ~ we haven't actually made this "Pink Salad" (as Isobel called it) for ourselves yet, but I didn't want to lose the recipe, so I thought I'd post it here, as promised, for others to enjoy. Isobel ate two helpings of this dish at the Lloydminster Homeschool Association's wind-up BBQ and asked for the recipe on her own!

So, on a hot summer day, when the raspberries are in season, you can whip up a bowl of this pink treat.

Raspberry Salad

Serves: 4-6 (very generously)
Prep. Time: 30-35min. (not including chill time)


3 oz. Raspberry Jell-O (smallest package that serves 4)
2 c. Whipping cream (whipped--that's 1c. of plain cream)
¾ c. Boiling water
½ c. Sugar
1-2 c. Raspberries, fresh or frozen (thawed, if using frozen it is recommended to use the fresh, frozen ones, NOT the ones frozen in syrup)
1 c. Mini marshmallows


Dissolve Jell-O with water and sugar (It will want to stick to the dish, so you need to scrape it away from the dish and keep stirring until it is ALL dissolved--about 5-8 minutes!!!)

Let chill until syrupy (about 15 minutes).

Put whipped cream in a medium bowl; add Jell-O.
Fold whipping cream into Jell-O.
Add raspberries and marshmallows.
Fold in raspberries and marshmallows.
Chill thoroughly (Preferably overnight, but can do 4-5 hours).
Before you serve it, gently mix it up so it doesn't look smooth.

TIP: Make a double batch because people LOVE it!

* Thanks to the Krenz family for the link to this recipe and the photograph of the finished product.

Friday, 17 June 2011

SWIMMING LESSONS ~ Last Session at the Pool. . .

... Time in the Pool ...

Although Alisdair was very reluctant to take swimming lessons, we thought this was an important skill to learn.  He was going to take lessons in Lloydminster back in the fall of 2010, however there was a shortage of instructors at the Leisure Centre and the session (sponsored by the Lloydminster Homeschool Association) had to be cancelled.

Then, we were going to sign him up for another 8-day session at the end of March/beginning of April, at the Leisure Centre, but some of the dates conflicted with the Battleford Kiwanis Music Festival we had already registered for.

At that point we began thinking swimming lessons were no longer an option.  Then, we learned about a series of lessons, sponsored by the Battlefords Homeschool Association.  They were to be held on Friday afternoons from 3 to 4 PM.  Since Isobel's Kindergarten classes occasionally fall on a Friday, we enlisted the assistance of Grandma and Grandpa.  On the days when I couldn't take him to the lessons, his grandparents kindly met us halfway and we would exchange Alisdair in the parking lot of a restaurant!  Sometimes, he would even get lucky and be able to stay with them for a couple of days before returning back home.

... One-on-One instruction
(while other students enjoyed the hot tub
 for the last few minutes of the lesson time) ...
This afternoon is the final session of this series of swimming lessons.  When Alisdair began taking these lessons, he was extremely scared of being in the water.  He didn't even want to get his head wet.  Now, if he is wearing a life jacket and his bright orange goggles, he will even go in the deep end of the pool . . . I call that progress!

So, although we'll be surprised if the instructors present Alisdair with a badge for successful completion of the course, (as some of his skills are still a bit "weak") -- he is a winner in my eyes.

With a little more practise, I am sure he'll soon be successful with his flutter kicks and underwater breathing!

COMPUTER FUN ~ How Well Do You Know Your Geography??

How well do you know your World Geography?  Back in 1989, I convocated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a Major in English and a Minor in Geography, so I thought I knew something about the topic.  But last night, when I was looking online for math games to play with Alisdair to reinforce his numeracy, I discovered I knew a whole lot less than I gave myself credit for.

We found a site called "Cool Math" and, in addition to various puzzles and games to assist pupils with that subject, there were also other things posted.

One of the things we found we several "Snap Maps".  We started with a game featuring the 50 States.  The outline of a state would pop up and you were given four choices to choose from to provide the proper name of that particular shaped piece of the map.  Some were easy (like Hawaii and Alaska), while others (like the New England States) were pretty complicated.

Then we found a "Snap Map" of Canada.  Of course, being Canadian and having such large portions for most of the provinces and territories, we were able to complete the task very quickly.  Next, Alisdair and I decided we should do the map of Europe!  That was a completely different ball game . . . Do you realize how small Litchtenstein really is?  You could hardly click on the tiny green shred representing that country!  And the countries in the Balkans were really difficult to piece together, too.  Slovakia? Croatia? Tricky, indeed!

Like the Canadian map, the one for Australia is also fairly easy.  Then I tried South America and on to Asia... again unbelievably tiny pieces for countries like Oman and Kuwait, or Lebanon and Israel.  You know countries like Laos exist, but where exactly ARE they??  I persevered and eventually got all the pieces snapped in and the clock stopped but the minutes had added up to a ridiculous total.  I didn't even try to do the map of Africa!

This is a website we will be bookmarking as I am sure we can learn a lot more about the world around us if we try to become more familiar with Geography facts.  I'm just glad my old professors weren't around to witness my struggle with the various "Snap Maps."

Try your hand at some of the maps and leave us a comment about how you managed!  Good luck . . .

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lloydminster Homeschool Association ~ BBQ Wind-Up Held

Sunday evening (June 12) the Lloydminster Homeschool Association held a wind-up BBQ at Sandy Beach Regional Park, just a few miles north of the city.

Although we were a little late, the children and I went to meet with some of the people we have come to know through our homeschooling adventure.  I'd never been to Sandy Beach before but it is a beautiful place worth returning to!  Even if they do charge $8 for admission to the park if you don't have a season pass!

Isobel enjoyed playing on the swings on the playground, while Alisdair made a new friend named, Johannes.  He is a homeschooler who lives in Lloydminster but is originally from South Africa.  They played on the teeter totter together.
... enjoying the swings ...

...  please let me down!" ...
Isobel and I took a walk down to the water's edge and she enjoyed wading in the cool lake. 

Isobel also enjoyed a pink raspberry salad that one of the group members had brought.  She liked it so much, Isobel asked for the recipe and they kindly emailed it to us.  Watch for a future cooking post when "Chef Isobel" learns to make this delicacy!

We left the park about 7:30 PM as we didn't have extra time to linger ~ due to our early morning start for Dorintosh the next day.  However, it was nice to briefly experience what Sandy Beach was like and hopefully we'll be able to go back later this summer for a family picnic (or maybe even for a camping trip ~ although apparently there aren't many fish in the lake).  It's definitely a hidden gem!

TRACK & FIELD - "I CAN" Games in Dorintosh

It was a long drive - 3 hours each way, and about 575 kms, but like the Battleford Furniture commercials say, "The difference was worth the drive!"

... "Dorintosh ~ 'Where the Prairie Meets the Pine' ...
We left home Monday morning at about 7 AM, with the kids soon falling asleep in the back seat of the car.  I was listening to the radio and driving the backroads, with little traffic, headed north to Dorintosh.  Alisdair had attended the "I CAN" games last year and, even though we were homeschooling this year, his Occupational Therapist made sure we got an invitation to attend this event once more.  The "I CAN" games are a track and field day with a difference.  It doesn't matter if you are athletically inclined, or how you place in any of the events -- as all the participants are "WINNERS."

When we went last year, I didn't know what to expect.  I'd always hated track as a child and didn't know if we'd have fun or not!  And how could people struggling with disabilities compete?  My skepticism, however, was soon gone and after experiencing the inclusive atmosphere at the Dorintosh, "I CAN" Games once, I knew we had to go back again, if at all possible.

And so I found myself headed back to Dorintosh for the 12th Annual "I CAN" Games.  This inspirational event, almost didn't happen for 2011, due to the current teacher's strike.  When volunteer services were withdrawn in late May, the games were postponed, much to the disappointment of many.  Luckily, with the appointment of a mediator in the dispute, the "I CAN" Games were once again scheduled, with many students, parents, volunteers and school staff looking forward to attending. 

When we walked into the Dorintosh Community Hall, it all seemed familiar.  We looked for the sign, taped to the wall, that said, "NEILBURG," and stood underneath it.  Surveying the gymnasium, we scanned the crowd and saw some familiar faces -- people that had participated last year, too.  There were children with leg braces, a girl with neon pink tape wrapped around her crutches, many individuals in wheelchairs, people that looked "different" and others like Alisdair that struggle with disabilities but outwardly appear normal. (He has "dyspraxia" which simply means he has difficulty with tasks requiring certain kinds of fine/gross motor skills - for instance, the hand/eye coordination required to throw a ball or the balance to ride a bicycle.)

Soon it was time to start and the athletes took their signs and went out of the hall. The piano began playing and Mr. MacCormack, the Principal of Dorintosh Central School, began announcing the various schools that were participating. He called out names like the "Flying Dust Reserve", "Marsden", and "J. H. Moore High School."

When the principal called out "Neilburg School,"  Alisdair marched into the gymnasium holding the bristol board sign we had made that said "Neilburg Homeschoolers" in colourful metallic lettering.  Underneath was his photo and his name written in glitter glue.

... Our sign ...
Each athlete walked in a circle around the gym, until they arrived back at their designated spot on the wall.  It was something like the athletes marching in at an opening ceremony for the Olympics.  I quickly snapped a photo and Isobel and I cheered loudly.

Then it was time for "O Canada."  I started to sing the national anthem but then my voice broke, and tears began to spill down my cheeks.  Finally I was able to join in once more. 

Carolyn Forsey, the Superintendent of Student Services for the Northwest School Division, asked all the athletes and their teachers or aides, to form a circle in the center of the gym.  She then retold the story of "The Little Engine Who Could" and got everyone to repeat the phrase, "I CAN," three times.

Then Kier Barker was introduced.  Barker is an inspirational speaker from Ontario, who happened to be in the area, and shared a little of his own story.  Born with spina bifida, his parents were told they would never take their son home from the hospital.  "But I'm here," Kier exclaimed, as he limped up and down the gym, leaning on his black cane.

... Kier Barker and Alisdair ...
"Then they were told I would never walk," he said.  But Kier was fitted with braces and overcame that challenge, too.  One day, he walked into the doctor's office without his brace -- and his physician couldn't believe what he was seeing.  "It's impossible, you're not supposed to be able to do this," the doctor exclaimed, to which Kier replied, "Well, that's your problem" and he continued walking!  Now, despite a stutter, Barker is a motivational speaker.

He told those gathered at the "I CAN" games to remember these things:

"Dreams are possible."
"Create your own plan."
"What you think about matters."
"Words hurt -- What words do you use when you talk to yourself?"
"Never give up."

Soon it was time to break up into groups and to head outside where various events had been set up.  Alisdair was assigned to "Amanda's Awesome" team.  Amanda is the Occupational Therapist who comes to Neilburg on an occasional basis and so she knew both Alisdair and Isobel.  Even though Isobel wasn't pre-registered (and doesn't have any disabilities), she was allowed to fully participate in all the activities -- making it a wonderful day for her, as we cheered her big brother on.

Participants were not competing against each other to be the "top" athlete -- rather each was out on the field simply to have fun and to try to do the best they could.  For example, in one activity, a girl did not want to kick the soccer ball.  So, instead of getting upset with her lack of cooperation, the organizers encouraged her to throw the ball into the net!  It worked ... and she decided to do that!  After each event, the participants were able to choose what colour of ribbon they wanted to pin onto their t-shirts.

For "Non-Wheelchair Athletes" like Alisdair, there were activities like the obstacle course; running in between pylons; a beanbag shuttle run; a rubber boot toss; a duck hunt (shooting rubber ducks with a garden hose); a newspaper toss; toilet paper roll toss; and many other "fun" events.

... The Duck Hunt ...

... Beanbag Shuttle Run. ...
(Also pictured is a participant
who has received a heart transplant
 and another who uses braces. Amanda
is the lady on the far right.)
... Rubber Boot Toss ...
Soon it was lunch time and we all went inside the gymnasium for an hour -- allowing the students who attend Dorintosh Central School to use the playground for their own activities over the lunch hour.  While inside we were served hot dogs, watermelon, juice boxes and popsicles.  Since it was so hot outside, being indoors was a good break from the sun.

Before we knew it, we were back outside for the final hour of the "I CAN" Games.  The group were able to squeeze in another three events before heading back indoors for the "closing ceremony" and ice cream cups "for the road."  Many individuals were thanked for the role they played in making the "I CAN" Games possible -- people like the volunteers from the Dorintosh Lions Club and the dedicated ladies in the kitchen, behind the scenes, who prepared the food.

It was almost 2:30 PM as we headed out to our stifling hot car and began driving home, arriving in Neilburg at 5:40 PM -- just in time to deliver our newspapers and for soccer practise.  We were hot and tired but we were glad we'd been able to participate in the 12th Annual "I CAN" Games in Dorintosh.

According to an archived article from "The Meadow Lake Progress," the concept of the "I CAN" Games began back in 1999, when the then principal of "Dorintosh school, John Carr and teacher Brenda Neufeld, came up with the idea to hold a special organized track and field event to accommodate children with mental and physical challenges."

"They visualized games that would be open to children in the Meadow Lake School district, ranging from Kindergarten to grade 12."

"Carr and Neufeld planned the events to meet the needs of numerous degrees of developmental challenges, ranging from autism, to fetal alcoholism, to Downs Syndrome."

Since it's inception, the good people of Dorintosh have put the "I CAN" Games on for a total of twelve years.  They are to be commended for their efforts, and for the difference this event brings to the lives of each athlete and their parents.

"Can we go to that place, again, Mum?,"  Isobel asked me this morning.  I tried to explain to her that the "I CAN" Games are only held once a year.  It's going to be a long wait . . .

Watch for an additional post with more photographs from our day at the "I CAN" Games.

Friday, 10 June 2011

FIELD TRIPS ~ Kindergarten Students Have Field Trip Fun!

On Thursday, June 9th, the 13 Kindergarten students, from NCS,  joined with the pupils in Grades 1 and 2 for their annual "end-of-the-year" field trip.  The school bus was Lloydminster bound, with several parents following behind in their own vehicles.  Isobel was very excited about the special events planned for the day.  The first stop was "Explosion Gymnastics":

... The Balance Beam ...
The group spent about an hour at the gym, trying out various equipment.  They walked on balance beams, crawled under parachutes, slid down slides made of huge mats, as well as performing other exercises.  Unfortunately Mum got lost, (the gym had recently relocated and I was unaware of the new location), so I missed most of the fun.  Isobel was with the group, on the school bus, so she took full advantage of the experience.   

From the gymnasium, the group travelled to "Bud Miller All Seasons Park," where we sat at the picnic tables and ate our bagged lunches.  Then the children had time to play on the equipment - swings, slides, tunnels, and in the sand.  Isobel found some pine cones and made this little creation:

... Nature Fun! ...

Finally it was 12:30 PM and time to go swimming at the "Lloydminster Leisure Centre."  As a safety precaution, all the children were required to wear life jackets, which were available to rent for a dollar.  At first the pool wasn't too crowded and then several other groups from other schools joined us.

... Water Fun! ...

Isobel was even brave enough to try the waterslide -- once!  She was glad her teacher was at the end of the slide to catch her . . .

Before we knew it the hour and a half allotted for swimming was over and it was time to head home.  Someday soon we'll have to go back to the Leisure Centre, as a family, to have some more "water fun!"

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

VIDEOS ~ Duke Ellington - "It Don't Mean a Thing" (1943)

Here is a little music to go with the "poetic" post about Duke Ellington.  It's definitely inspiring stuff!

BOOK REVIEWS ~ "Ellington Was Not A Street" ~ By: Ntozake Shange

Mood Indigo

it hasnt always been this way
ellington was not a street
robeson no mere memory
du bois walked up my father's stairs
hummed some tune over me
sleeping in the company of men
who changed the world

it wasn't always like this
why ray barretto used to be a side-man
& dizzy's hair was not always grey
I remember              i was there
i listened in the company of men
politics as necessary as collards
music even in our dreams

our house was filled with all kinda folks
our windows were not cement or steel
our doors opened like our daddy's arms
held us safe & loved
children growing in the company of men
old southern men & young slick ones
sonny til was not a boy
the clovers no rag-tag orphans
our crooners/we belonged to a whole world
nkrumah was no foreigner
virgil akins was not the only fighter
it hasnt always been this way
ellington was not a street
                       - Ntozake Shange

This poem, written by Ntozake Shange, is the basis for a delightful picture book illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

Except for a brief mention on the inner dust jacket, there is little explanation about the poem, itself, or about Shange's life.  The jacket says:  "In a reflective tribute to the African-American community of old, noted poet Ntozake Shange recalls her childhood home and the close-knit group of innovators that often gathered there.  These men of vision, brought to life in the majestic paintings of artist Kadir Nelson, lived at a time when the color of their skin dictated where they could live, what schools they could attend, and even where they could sit on a bus or in a movie theatre."

Shange was born October 18, 1948 to Paul T. Williams (an Air Force surgeon) and Eloise Williams (an educator and a psychiatric social worker).  According to Shange's biography on Wikipedia, when "she was 8, Shange's family moved to the racially segregated city of St. Louis.  As a result of the Brown v. Board of Education court decision, Shange was bussed to a white school where she endured racism and racist attacks."  At that time, her name was Paulette L. Williams.

Shange is a self proclaimed black feminist and much of her work addresses issues relating to race and feminism.  The biography states that "her family had a strong interest in the arts and encouraged her artistic education.  Among the guests at their home were Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, and W. E. B. Du Bois."  In 1971, Williams changed her name.  Ntozakhe means she who has her own things (literally things that belong to her in Xhosa) and shange means he/she who walks/lives with lions (meaning the lion's Pride in  Zulu).

On the last two pages of the book are "mini biographies" of Paul Robeson [see previous posts], William Edward Burghardt (W. E. B.) Du Bois, Ray Barretto, Earlington Carl "Sonny Til" Tilghman, John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, Virgil "Honey Bear" Akins, and "The Clovers."  Members of this singing group were John (Buddy) Bailey, Matthew McQuater, Harold (Hal) Lucas Jr., and Harold Winley, with guitar accompaniment by Bill Harris.

Kadir Nelson's paintings for "Ellington Was Not a Street" won recognition for the artist as the winner of  the 2005 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award.  Since Alisdair and I found it difficult to pick just one favourite illustration, we decided to share several photographs of these award winning pictures:

"robeson no mere memory"

"du bois walked up my father's stairs"

"hummed some tune over me
sleeping in the company of men
who changed the world"

"our house was filled with all kinda folks
our windows were not cement or steel"

"our doors opened like our daddy's arms
held us safe & loved"

"children growing in the company of men
old southern men & young slick ones"

"sonny til was not a boy
the clovers no rag-tag orphans
our crooners/ we belonged to a whole world"

"nkrumah was no foreigner
virgil akins was not the only fighter"

"it hasn't always been this way
ellington was not a street"
"For what our lives were
And what we wish our children's lives to be."
                                                            ~ Ntozake Shange

Friday, 3 June 2011

FIELD TRIPS ~ The Titanic Exhibition ~ Telus World of Science, Calgary

It all started back in September.  We were waiting for my son's homeschooling curriculum to arrive in the mail and it was late.  He was bored and wanting work to do!  I did some research, on the internet, and pulled up some information on the RMS Titanic.  I printed the sheets off and assigned the questions to Alisdair to complete.

To "round out" the experience, I read him some articles about the ill-fated ship.  We ordered books from the library and later we found other curriculum to supplement these studies.

And then ~ I can't even remember how ~ I learned the "Telus World of Science" facility in Calgary would be sponsoring "Titanic:  The Artifact Exhibition" in 2011.  More than 300 items, retrieved from the wreckage, would be available for viewing.  I quickly wrote the dates in my day planner as I mentally added the show to our family's "Bucket List" of things to do.

The exhibition, subtitled "Real Objects/Real Stories,"  began in February and concludes on Monday, June 27.  Every once in a while, the topic of heading to Calgary, to see the Titanic memorabilia, would crop up in conversation.  I didn't want to drive by myself but it seemed like it never worked to get away as a family.  Finally, on the spur of the moment, we decided to take in the show over the May long weekend.
Almost at the last minute, my parents decided to come too, and so three generations of the clan climbed into the mini-van and headed to Calgary.   Despite the short notice, my brother and his wife, graciously hosted us and even chauffeured us to Telus World of Science.  Since a new venue is currently under construction, there were some minor detours required.

When we arrived, many people were plugging the meters in the parking lot, however my brother had contacted the Calgary Parking Authority earlier and learned, since it was a Stat Holiday, we didn't have to pay to park the vehicles.  What we saved on parking, we spent on admission, as the exhibition was quite pricey  - $12 for children; $19.75 for youths and seniors and $23.50 for adults.  Additional charges of $3.50 applied if visitors wished to take in a "dome show" (movie) and audio guides were $5 each.  After paying the $76 for admission and an audio guide, I hoped I wouldn't be disappointed.

Immediately upon entering, each member of our party was given a White Star Line Boarding Pass.  Each contained the name, and other facts about an actual passenger on the RMS Titanic.  My husband, John took on the identity of Mr. Thomas William Solomon Brown, aged 69, who was from Cape Town, South Africa.  Mr. Brown had been accompanied on his journey by his wife, Elizabeth and his daughter, Edith Eileen, who was 15, at the time of the voyage.  Elizabeth was his second wife and she was 20 years younger than Thomas.   According to the card, Brown was a successful hotelier ready to start a new business.  The family were travelling, as Second Class Passengers, from South Africa to Seattle, where his sister-in-law lived.

Isobel, my 5-year old, became Mrs. Hudson J. C. Allison (also known as Bess Waldo Daniels).  She was age 25 at the time of her passage on the RMS Titanic.  Mrs. Allison was from Chesterville, Ontario and was returning there.  She was travelling First Class.  She had accompanied her husband on a business trip and the family were returning to Canada.  On a side trip to Scotland, she had selected furniture for their house and recruited new household staff for their two residences.

My son, Alisdair, was given a card indicating he was Mr. Edward Ryan, a 24-year old from Ballinareen, County Tipperary, Ireland.  Edward was immigrating to Troy, New York where his sister lived.  He hoped to find work there.  Edward was very enthusiastic about travelling on the RMS Titanic.  While on board, he befriended an engineer who let him tour the Ship's engine room.

I became Miss Hilda Mary Slater from Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Slater was returning from a trip to England where she had bought her wedding dress.  After she arrived in New York, Hilda planned to marry Harry Lacon, the son of a British Baron who lived on an island off the coast of British Columbia.  In 1902, Hilda had moved to Italy in the hopes of becoming a professional singer.  She met with little success.  Her brother, who had supported her for nearly ten years, withdrew his assistance, forcing Hilda to give up her dream.

Next, it was on to having our photograph taken in front of a "green screen."  Photos were later available for viewing in the gift shop.  Patrons could chose which background they wanted -- did they want to be standing at the foot of the grand staircase or with the largest piece of the Titanic that has been salvaged behind them?  You could even have the "ghost" of Captain Smith behind your family group on the staircase!  Unfortunately, all other photography on the tour was not allowed.

The first stop on the actual tour was the "Seabed Gallery."  It was darkened with a lot of blue spotlighting to make you feel as if you were actually under water.  In this section there was a special display case with plexi-glass on top.  Some round holes were drilled in the protective cover and those viewing the display were encouraged to poke their fingers through these to touch a piece of angle iron salvaged from the ship.  There was a video of an actual salvage operation on the seabed and another huge display case full of china. 

The wooden shelving unit, the dishware had been in, had rotted away, but the dishes were still stacked together in the sand.   There were small items, like someone's spectacles, or a lead pencil with an eraser still attached to the end, as well as much larger items.

From the Seabed Gallery, you entered what was known as the "Construction Gallery."  This section of the exhibition featured large actual photographs of the construction phase of the RMS Titanic.  Details were given about various aspects of the launch.  One of the most amazing things salvaged, in this area, was a huge piece of an engine, called an Eccentric Strap.  We then moved through, past a leather suitcase belonging to a passenger on the ocean liner, to the "Passenger Gallery."  Here we viewed things like a gold barrette, jewellery, playing cards, post cards, a bowler hat (with a few pieces of felt missing), a suit (found in someone's suitcase), razors, an actual sink (complete with taps), opaque crystal vases, and a selection of china from the First, Second and Third Class dining rooms. 

Some of the elegant blue and gold patterns had worn off some of the First Class china, due to the many years in the salty ocean brine.  There were even bottles of champagne  -- some unopened!  Other items were a spitoon, a fragile lightbulb that had been broken but painstakingly pieced back together, and even a glass pepper shaker.

At certain times of the day, children could go to an area, known as the "Engineering Deck" where they could do experiments  or other Titanic related activities.  At this point, one could continue up a ramp, to the Second Floor or branch off to the Creative Kids Museum.  Since, at five, Isobel wasn't very interested in the Titanic artifacts, I spent a lot of time in the Creative Kids Museum/Imagination Playground.  Admission to this area was included in the price of the Titanic Exhibition.  The designers of this play place seemed to have thought of everything.  There were musical tiles on the floor, a heat wall, walls to write on with markers and chalk, huge foam blocks to build with, a bed of nails to lie on, and even a stage area where would-be musicians could show off with toy air-guitars, and climbing facilities.  Workers were available to do activities with the children.  Isobel got to do some painting with ice cubes and tempera paint powder.  Eventually, I was relived of my childcare duties and could return to view the rest of the exhibit!

A feature display near the ramp, to the Second Floor, were three recreated ship whistles.  There was also a banner that noted the Titanic (if stood on end) would have been taller than the Calgary Tower.

We walked through a narrow hallway recreated to look like one of the Third Class Cabins, complete with narrow wooden bunk beds.  Another display cabinet held a huge lump of coal and a huge rusted  wrench used on the liner.  I  was surprised the coal was not black!  We passed an overhead "watertight" door, eventually coming to a display case with a set of binoculars in it. 

Unfortunately the binoculars that were supposed to be used in the crowsnest had been misplaced, so these are believed to have belonged to one of the passengers.  The loss of the binoculars may have contributed to the crash as we were told "only 37 seconds passed between the lookout's warning about the iceberg ahead, and the moment of impact."

In the "Iceberg Gallery" a huge man-made iceberg stood to one side.  Those touring were encouraged to touch the cold wet mass.  The audio guide suggests imagining what it would have been like in the water of the Atlantic Ocean that evening.  The water was even colder than the iceberg itself and it was suggested many of the passengers died of hypothermia and not due to drowning.

Near the end of the exhibit, was the "Memorial Gallery."  Here you learned the fate of the passender you had impersonated.  Both Mr. Thomas William Solomon Brown and Mrs. Hudson J. C. Allison perished during the sinking.   Their bodies were never recovered.  Hilda Slater and Edward Ryan were more fortunate and survived their ordeal.  Although she lost her European trousseau, Slater married her beloved and had a son.  She died of cancer in 1965 and was buried in Halifax.  Ryan returned to  England three years after the sinking of the Titanic.  He, too, married and had three children.  He died in November 1974.  In a letter to his parents, dated May 6, 1912, Edward wrote:

"I stood on the Titanic and kept cool, although she was sinking fast. She had gone down about forty feet by now. The last boat was about being rowed away when I thought in a second if I could only pass out [i.e. get into the boat] I'd be all right. I had a towel round my neck. I just threw this over my head and left it hang in the back. I wore my waterproof overcoat. I then walked very stiff past the officers, who had declared they'd shoot the first man that dare pass out. They didn't notice me. They thought I was a woman. I grasped a girl who was standing by in despair, and jumped with her thirty feet into the boat."

Near the end of the exhibit were two wall panels telling the story of Albert and Vera Dick. The Dicks, who were First Class passengers returning to Calgary after a European honeymoon, were on the RMS Titanic. Both survived, although Albert was derided for having escaped in a lifeboat. It was said he was embracing Vera before putting her into a lifeboat and was inadvertently pushed into it himself.

Another display case, near the end of the exhibit, featured the belongings of one man who had been going to travel on the RMS Titanic. A friend, who was to accompany him, brought the gentleman's tools aboard. The friend, lost his life, while the owner of the tools did not arrive on the day of the sailing and narrowly escaped death.

It was with mixed emotions we concluded our visit to the exhibition, realizing if we had indeed been on board the ship, only two (of our party of eight) would have survived. The stories of the individual passengers brought a sense of reality to the tragedy. We were also divided as some thought the wreck should have been left as a sacred burial ground, while others agreed with salvaging the items of historical significance from two and a half miles below the ocean. It is thought that, within the next few decades, the remains of the Titanic will be destroyed, due to the harsh environment surrounding the ship and so the thinking is, the various exhibitions will preserve it for others to enjoy for years to come.

There are currently six versions of "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" on display around the world. The current temporary locations are in London, England; Davenport, Iowa; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Calgary, Alberta and Porto Alegre, Brazil. All of these exhbitions will conclude in June or July, with the artifacts continuing to tour in other locations. Shows will be opening, later this summer, in Greensboro, North Carolina and in Detroit, Michigan. Visitors to "The Luxor" in Las Vegas, Nevada can also view items salvaged from the wreck. The Vegas showings began in 2008 and will continue over a period of ten years, giving plenty of folk the rare opportunity to see these items.

While perhaps slightly overpriced, our trip to Calgary to experience "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" was an interesting excursion and a learning experience. If you are at all curious about the exhibition, you haven't yet "missed the boat!" You still have a couple of weekends left before it ends. Pack up the family minivan and head to Calgary for a journey back in time and into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. After all, it's not everyone who can say they have "touched a piece of angle iron" from the great ocean liner the RMS Titanic!

EXPERIMENTS ~ #2 - Sound Waves & How They Travel

Can you see the "ring-shaped" waves??
Ian F. Mahaney also gave directions for a second experiment in his book "Sound Waves."  On Page 22 he tells readers, " Sound travels in waves.  These sound waves travel through the air in all directions.  Here's a way to show how sound waves work."

To do this experiment we needed:

sink, tub or plastic dishpan filled with water
food colouring

Here are the instructions:

"STEP 1 - Fill a sink, tub, or plastic dishpan with water.  Add a few drops of food colouring.  Drop a pebble into the water.  What do you see?  Ring-shaped waves travel out in all directions.

STEP 2 - Try dropping two pebbles in the water at the same time but in different places.  Two pebbles make two sets of waves that pass through each other.  Sound waves move like this.  That's why you can hear several different kinds of sound at one time."

When we were doing this experiment, Alisdair and I first chose a small stainless steel bowl and filled it with coloured water.  When we dropped a pebble in it, we couldn't see anything significant.  Then we decided that perhaps we did not have enough water and should do the experiment in the kitchen sink.  It worked!  However we had to be very coordinated to get these photographs -- Alisdair would drop the rock on the count of three and I would quickly snap the camera!

Alisdair says:  "This was a much quieter experiment.  We recommend it if you don't want your ears ringing!!  If you look very closely at our pictures, you can actually see the rings in the green water.  I got to choose the colour of food colouring.  In the book they used blue, but I wanted to use Saskatchewan Roughrider green!  (Sorry Winnipeg Bluebomber fans!)  It was fun to be allowed to drop stones in the water just to see the rings they made.  Now I know why they put ripples in comic books when something falls into a pool of water or when there is an echo.  It was an easy experiment but I am glad we did it."   

You can see the waves in the water and the rock in this photo.

The patterns when we dropped two rocks into the sink.
The brown flecks in the photo are weird.
  I think they are a reflection from the light above the sink.
The publisher of this book, "PowerKids Press" has an online list of websites, for additional exploration, which is updated regularly. Two of these sites are on the topic of sound waves.

SCIENCE ~ "Sound Waves" ~ The Parts of the Ear

"This picture shows the parts of the human ear. 
 Can you find the hammer, anvil and stirrup?"
Page 13
Ian F. Mahaney's book "Sound Waves" also provides this colourful diagram of an ear.

On Page 12 he tells readers, "The ears of people and other animals have three parts.  These parts are the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.  The outer ear is the part we can see.   Its job is to collect sounds from outside and pass them through the ear canal to the middle ear.  The middle ear includes three small bones called the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup.  These bones vibrate when sound waves reach them.  The vibrations are then passed to the inner ear.  The inner ear is a combination of tiny hairs and liquid called the cochlea.  The cochlea translates the vibrations into sounds that our brains can understand."

EXPERIMENTS ~ #1 - "Sound Waves" ~ "What is Sound?"

Alisdair banging his own "drum" . . .
Ian F. Mahaney tells us, in his book "Sound Waves" that "sounds are caused by vibrations."  Mahaney outlined an experiment and Alisdair and I wanted to try it.

Mahaney says, "When an object vibrates, it moves the air around it.  You can hear and feel vibrations.  You can't see vibrations in the air, but you can see and hear things they have an effect on, like a guitar string" (Pages 20 and 21).

To do this experiment we needed:

a sheet of plastic wrap or cling film
a saucepan
an elastic band
some rice (we used an Uncle Ben's flavoured mix!)
a flat metal pan (we used a 9 x 13 cake tin)
wooden spoon

Here are Mahaney's instructions:

"STEP 1 - Pull a sheet of plastic wrap tightly over a cake pan or a large plastic bowl.  Use a large rubber band to hold the plastic in place.  You've made a drum.

STEP 2 - Sprinkle a spoonful of rice on top of the plastic.

STEP 3 - Hold a flat metal pan a little above your "drum" and tap the flat metal pan with a wooden spoon or a ruler.  When you tap the pan, the metal vibrates.  The vibrations move the air around the tray.  When these vibrations reach the plastic, the plastic vibrates, too.  When this happens, the rice moves!"

Our "drum" . . .

Drum with rice on top . . .

Our "drum" and the cake tin . . .
Alisdair says: "It was a loud experiment and I liked it better when we took the equipment outside on the lawn and it was quieter.  At first we couldn't get the rice to move.  Then Mum pulled the plastic wrap a lot tighter on top of the pan.  It worked much better after that.  You could really, truly see the grains of rice bouncing up and down, which was fun to watch!  This looked a bit like people sitting on a trampoline with just one or two people jumping!  I would definitely encourage you to try this easy experiment.  The best thing about it?  Eating the Uncle Ben's rice, once we had finished . . . I even used chopsticks!"
Alisdair enjoying eating his snack!

BALLET ~ Isobel's Dance Recital ~ "Friend In Me"

Over the last few months, Isobel was in the "Tutu Ballet" group (of four and five year olds) at the Cut Knife School of Dance.  Throughout the fall and winter, we went to Cut Knife almost every Monday afternoon for practice.

The "Tutu Ballet" ensemble performed a selection called "You've Got a Friend In Me" from the movie Toy Story at the final recital, held on Sunday, May 1st, in the Cut Knife Elks Theatre.  Isobel was a cute little alien!  Grandma and Grandpa came to watch our little dancer on stage for her debut.

At the conclusion of the show, each dancer was given a carnation and a Certificate of Achievement.  Isobel loved being in ballet and she hopes to continue with dance in the future.  With all the driving, Mum's not so sure!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

COOKING ~ "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread" ~ Auntie Sharon's Recipe

A loaf that has been sliced ...
I hadn't made bread for several years but recently John urged me to make a batch or two!  It is considerably cheaper to make your own.  I just didn't have much confidence it would turn out.

I called my Mother and she gave me her sister Sharon's recipe, from our old 'Family Cookbook' compiled back in the late Eighties, while I was in university.  I scribbled the amounts and basic directions on a scrap of paper.

Auntie Sharon's Bread

2 cups milk
6 Tablespoons sugar (or a little less honey)
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 c. margarine (or a bit less). You can also use vegetable oil.
3 cups water
2 Tablespoons vinegar (optional)
Flour (I guess you'll have to go by the feel of it.)
2 Tablespoons yeast


Scald milk.  Remove from heat and add sugar, salt, and margarine.  Stir.
Then add the water and vinegar.
Add 2-3 cups flour combined with the yeast & beat it.
Add more flour, beating after each cup or two.
When batter is pretty thick to stir, turn out onto bed of flour on the counter. (maybe 1 1/2 - 2 cups)
Knead for about 8 minutes.
Put in greased bowl and let rise. Punch. Let rise again.
Shape into loaves and put in pans. (It makes 4 or 5)
Let rise 1-1 1/2 hours.
Bake 30 minutes at 350 or 375 (until brown on the bottom.)

Preparation Time:  About 4 hours.

I wasn't sure about this new venture, but I made a quick trip to the local store to buy a package of fresh yeast.  Then I called Alisdair to come and observe the process.

Here are some pictures of that first batch:

Scalded milk ...
Mixture of honey, milk  and yeast ...

Starting to mix in flour...

Stiff dough... ready to knead

Oiled dough ... ready to rise...
Dough is beginning to rise...
In the pans...waiting for last rise...
Freshly baked...
I still wasn't totally convinced it was going to work, so I was delighted to see the dough was rising! Eventually I had four nice loaves out of the oven and cooling.

A few minutes later, I went back and almost half of a loaf was GONE!  Someone had wanted to try the fresh bread!  Later, I went to cut a slice.  John complained that I was slicing it much too thin and said, "What's the point of having fresh bread if you're going to cut it like that??"  We froze some and ate some.  The bread quickly disappeared.  I made another batch.  Again, it disappeared quickly ~ even sending a loaf or two to Alisdair's Grandma and Grandpa for a taste test! 

One day Alisdair was eating a peanut butter and jam sandwich, made with thick, fresh bread.  "You've got to QUIT making this bread, Mum," he said.  When I asked why, he replied, "Because you are spoiling us too much!"

As I made each batch, I began to feel a "kinship" with the pioneer woman who had gone before me.  Women like my own Grandmother, who made several batches of bread each week, out of necessity, just to feed her large family on a tight budget.  I remembered Grandma's fluffy white bread and slathering it with peanut butter, jam or Cheese Whiz.  There was always a problem trying to toast her homemade bread, as it wouldn't fit in the slots of the toaster.  As a solution, they had a little wire rack (like you would use when camping) and toasted the jumbo slices of bread over the burner of her electric stove!  Later, I tracked down my Grandma's actual recipe ~ but that's a post for another day!


"Give us this day our daily bread"
                                                                              ~ Matthew 6:11