Reflecting on light, warmth, and the words of Stuart McLean, Sherman Alexie

The sky is staining light over the snow-covered fields surrounding my house. I love these quiet mornings. Perfect for reflecting on where I am.

Later on today two old friends are coming over. The four of us will eat and laugh together. There is never enough eating and laughing with old friends.

But that is later, right now… I feel content, with a slight backlight of worry to do with the usual money-type issues. I’m learning that owning a home in the winter is expensive. I managed to go through 800 litres of oil between Dec. 15 and Jan. 22. And it wasn’t that cold. The consequences are very romantic though, we’re turning down the furnace and lighting more fires to keep the house warm. This 100 year old house with the dirt-floored, stone-walled basement is not as well-insulated as a newer home might be. Still wouldn’t trade it in, just need to focus on old knowledge concerning the conserving of energy. Like the wood burning stove. And time spent in the arms of another.

Some of that worry also has to do with my daily travels to work. I think, like my lesson with the furnace, I need to tone things down. Simplify. 130 kms/day is not simple. That would entail either my moving closer to work or finding work that is closer to me. To be continued…

The content part has to do with the quiet of the morning. Keith in my life. The coming of the light – it comes earlier and stays later these days. My dogs chewing their bones on the carpet. Betty staring at them from her spot above the fridge, taking her space though safely out of reach. The fast crackle of the fire as the kindling does its magic, preparing for the slow heat of the day.

It also has to do with words. I’m ever in awe of the power of words. Yesterday I laughed out loud to Dave’s plight with the treadmill, told so cleverly by Stuart McLean (January 30th, 2010 “Dave’s Shoelace”). Through the sharing of our stories, Stuart McLean reaches out to that which is common to so many people. Those stories about ourselves that you have to laugh to or else you just might cry. If you’ve never heard of The Vinyl Cafe, go give it a listen. The Vinyl Cafe podcasts automatically feed into my ipod as they are available. Or sometimes I wait for them to play on CBC radio 1, Saturdays or Sundays. I think they play on NPR as well.

I’m just starting Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer. Real words there. He does things differently than Stuart McLean, that’s for sure. Yet the last book I read of his, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, was also filled with stories that hold truth, that use humour to get at the essence of what makes us, us. Definitely closer to the painful side of the truth. The more uncomfortable side of the truth, yet with a glimpse of hope, a glimpse of the why. I know at least a few of my students have been drawn to that book, have read it voraciously during our daily reading periods, have snuck it into history or art class as well. Words that connect to teens as well as adults? Wow. Thank you Mr. Alexie.

Have a wonderful Sunday everyone. Keep your eye on the growing light.


Photograph by Brian Bailey. Click for source.

I could have called this post ‘failed dialogue’ but that wouldn’t be entirely true.

One of the courses I teach is called ERC, Ethics and Religious Culture. The course has 3 competencies – reflects on ethical issues, demonstrates an understanding of the phenomenon of religion, and engages in dialogue.

So yesterday we did a little work on the 1st and third competencies with an adaptation of lesson 2 in the teaching kit on tolerance called The Power of Words from

The activity starts with individual work. I handed out a piece of paper with a list of names on one side, a list of occupations on the other. I modified the list from the teaching kit to make it more specific for our area of the world. I inserted Mohawk and French Canadian names as well as some occupations from around here. I asked my students to draw lines between the names and occupations.

Once they had made their decisions – and it was very difficult for them to remain quiet throughout the process, the activity was unsettling for them – I asked them to place their chairs in a circle and we were going to talk. The first thing I asked about had to do with some things I heard during the activity:
“I feel uncomfortable doing this”
“I feel like I am racial profiling”
Saying of names (Eli Goldstein, Latisha Smith, George Two Axe…) and then snickering or laughing out loud

Then I asked people to talk.

(this is where we get to the failed dialogue part)

It quickly became evident that 2 boys were getting into an argument about the activity, which is not necessarily a bad thing but isn’t optimal when we are sitting in a circle for the purpose of open dialogue. One boy said it was a set up, that I put ethnic names and specific jobs to make them be racist/sexist/prejudiced, and the other said that it was just a list of names and jobs and it was their minds that was doing the rest.

They wouldn’t let anyone speak. For real. Each time someone else tried to talk they continued their argument. I reminded the group of our norm, seek to understand before being understood. I asked the group to go around the circle and take turns to say their piece. I introduced a talking stick (actually a talking pine cone). One of the boys tried to sabotage the process by telling the other students to keep passing the cone around so it would get back to him. Luckily the majority of my students stood their ground and spoke their piece when they had the pine cone. It wasn’t easy though, 2 or 3 boys were fidgeting (ok, jumping up and down in their seats) and saying pass the cone, pass the cone. I had to keep interfering so the dialogue was quite stilted to say the least. Some of the other students were getting frustrated with the boys, telling them to shut up, to stop.

The pine cone finally made full circle and the first of the 2 boys had it again. The funny thing is, they couldn’t speak. They started to argue about the pine cone, about whose turn it was, about anything but the task.

At the beginning of the class I reminded my students that each time we have dialogue I will be evaluating their participation and competency development. So at this point the two boys who had so much to say asked what mark they would receive for today’s dialogue. I told them a 1 to 2 (we mark on a range from 1-5, 1 being doesn’t meet the requirements, 5 being exceeds the requirements). They couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t fair. After all, they were the only ones who had anything good to say. It was lunch time, so I asked the rest of the class to leave except for the one prime arguer and the one prime jumper up and downer ‘pass the cone, pass the cone’.

We talked.
(this is the part where the dialogue becomes unfailed)
Oh geez. It’s 6am. I need to run. I will update this from school. But I think I’ll post the first part anyways, keep you on your toes ;)

Wordling away :)

Here’s a fun site to create instant tag clouds based on 3 different sets of criteria:

Here is one I created with this blog’s url:

I see a few possibilities for this:

I would like to see it embeddable…for now it seems to only be able to pop a tiny image into my blog (as you can (barely) see above.

I discovered Wordle via TechnoSeeds. Thanks :)