So, it’s Christmas holidays, and I finally, finally have three minutes to myself to catch up on some blogging.
As I have moved from a job (classroom teaching) that was about 80% “doing” and 20% thinking and writing to a job (education officer with the Ministry of Education) that is about 15% "doing” and 85% thinking and writing, I find myself with little steam left at the end of the day to keep up my personal blog.
Whereas I used to crank out about 4 blog posts a week, I’d be hard pressed to write 4 a month now. And even then, I’m finding they’re not particularly well written.
Never Enough Time for (Good) Writing
The trouble is in part time, it’s true… somehow, I managed to find a job that is at least as consuming as classroom teaching -- and that leaves me little time to blog. While I’m taking far less work home as a public servant than I did as a classroom teacher (or university instructor, instructional coach, workshop facilitator, etc.), I don’t typically arrive home until 6:30 or 7p.m. at which point it’s all I can do to get supper on the table, chase down kids’ school forms and homework and get everyone to bed before collapsing into a semi-comatose state in front of Instagram for an hour or so before bed myself.
Inspiration and Permission
The other issue is inspiration. As a classroom teacher, I was constantly excited to share what I was learning alongside my students and colleagues. But as an education officer with the ministry of ed., I seem to have far less to write about. Or, perhaps, less that I can write about, due to the political nature of my current job: Much of my work is “in-progress” and as such, not open for sharing outside of the office.
As a teacher, I was constantly reflecting on practice, and sharing stories of my successes and failures with my spouse, my children and my blog readers. But as a public servant, I had to take an oath of office that precluded me from sharing publicly pretty much anything I do before it formally becomes public. (And even then, my ability to comment on it is limited, as it should be.)
So what’s a novice writer to do, then? In what ways can I continue to hone my craft?
New Genres, New Skills
I’m finding it interesting to develop new skills as I spend so much of my time now crafting emails, memos and issue notes and a wide variety of genres I did not know even existed until this year!! From parent guides to teacher guides to internal and external FAQs, everything I write goes through multiple layers of approvals and is edited (sometimes heavily) by a variety of co-authors and editors before it is ever seen by an "end user". I consider purpose and audience like never before… and I realise daily new examples of how my understanding of said purposes and audiences may differ from others’ interpretations.
Evolution of Content… and Audience?
The amount of wordsmithing I am learning to do in my new job makes me considerably less prolific than I am used to being, but perhaps more nuanced in my writing. That’s a gift I hadn’t considered when I first accepted the job, and I am considering how best to apply my evolving written skills to my blog as that, too, evolves.
If I no longer write about classroom happenings, and can’t write about emerging themes in public education for an audience that was primarily comprised of teachers, then how can I instead develop new, possibly non-education-related content in a way that interests them (you), or begin perhaps to foster a new audience for my blog?
Maybe the bigger question now is, why am I even keeping a blog?
Some years ago, I read and wrote about an article from the The Atlantic, “Why I Blog”. I reflected on how the sometimes error-riddled writing in a blog post was -- as the article implied -- part of the genre of blogging, which is in some sense a less “published” style of writing than, say, a paper magazine article or a book, which has gone through many, many rounds of editing before it is ready for public consumption.
But do we blog for public consumption?
I know some teacher colleagues blog very intentionally to build their “brand” and develop a following. I’ve never done that, and don’t even know if I have a brand to speak of. (And now that I’m an OPS employee, I can’t really go seeking specific fame and fortune anyway!) No, for me, blogging has always been more of a public scrapbook, a place to store and reflect on photos or written memories of various facets of my family/personal and professional life, open for others to peek in on and laugh alongside me at my shortcomings and marvel at or cheer me on in my sporadic successes.
While I’ve occasionally kept more topic-specific blogs (such as my Learn to Fly with Vera or Smart Bansho sites) over the years, in general, everything’s kind of begun to merge together in one place for me over the past 24 months, and I’m okay with that. Afterall, why limit one’s eclectic life to a single theme or passion online?
So now I have to figure out -- if it’s important to me to maintain this online scrapbook -- how I can continue to make time for and find joy in writing my blog posts more regularly, despite or perhaps somehow enhanced by the inordinate amount of writing I already do as part of my new day job!
One advantage of being a public servant is that unlike when I was a classroom teacher, I get Remembrance Day off work. In an effort to keep it real, I decided to spend the morning at my old school, and asked my former principal if it would be okay for me to attend the Remembrance Day assembly there.
A former colleague who lives nearby was kind enough to drive me in, and even invited me into his classroom to do a little math lesson with his Grade sixes.
It was nice to see -- as I passed my old classroom -- that the new teacher there had left up my safe space sign and rainbow flag, and had even added a welcoming sign of her own just outside the classroom door. Definitely gave me a much needed boost after the discouraging world events earlier in the week!
I felt a little bit like a rock star as old friends greeted me with big smiles and open arms. It was so nice to see everyone again, and catch up -- I admired many reorganized classrooms and launched into excited conversations with teachers about their observations about the impact on their students of adopting a more democratic process around setting up the learning space, where the students themselves had had a say in how things evolved.
One teacher in particular had spent a great deal of time on this, and I wished I had thought to take photos in her classroom.
Not having classroom responsibilities of my own made visiting a unique experience indeed, and I joyfully cut paper squares in preparation for one teacher's lesson and offered to make some last-minute photocopies for another. And still I had time to spare to say hello to some old friends before the bell rang!
Paper Folding Math
Soon, though, it was time to get down to business, and my morning host and I did a brief run-through of the lesson we had planned, one of my favorite low floor - high ceiling tasks, courtesy of Jo Boaler's You Cubed site.
The learning goal they'd begun working on, he explained, was communication. More specifically, communicating thinking effectively in math. We brainstormed what this might look like, and together with the students, posted a few possible success criteria (later in the lesson, we added another, and were I coming back to this class another time, I might facilitate a conversation with the students around what a makes an answer "complete", ie how to craft a fulsome response, and add something like that to the list, too).
And then it was time for the lesson -- students worked in small groups to meet as many of the five challenges as they could, and one recorder in each group documented her peers' thinking on Edmodo, using a personal device or one of the class chrome books.
As the students worked on the tasks, my former colleague and I circulated, asking provoking questions ("What did you mean when you said, 'it's the same'?", and "How do you know 'all rectangles are squares'? Where could we check if that fact is true?") and providing descriptive feedback based on the criteria we had co-constructed.
Afterwards, I was able to check in and respond to some of the work students had posted online...
It was a pleasure to see how engaged they were with the task, and I was also excited to continue working on the math and with their communication about the math with them later, on Edmodo.
Impromptu Music Lesson
Afterwards, I was invited to join another friend and former colleague to do some co-teaching in music, as the teacher there was working with the choirs in the gym. As we were unable to locate the lesson plan after a cursory look around the room, we decided to facilitate an impromptu conversation about hip hop in different parts of the world.
We asked students to identify their favourite musical artists; perhaps not surprisingly for middle school aged kids, North American hip hop artists topped the list. Then I asked whether any of the students had seen the recently released film, Queen of Katwe, chronicling the rise of Ugandan chess contender Fiona Mutesi. Disappointingly few had seen it, or even heard about it, but I did not let that deter me.
Thank goodness for the Internet; my friend quickly pulled up the video on Youtube, and the students actually seemed to really like the song, engaging with the beat, and being drawn to the colourful local language the performers sing mainly in.
Spurred on by a comment during our subsequent discussion of some similarities and differences between #1 Spice and the type of hip hop they usually listen to, we got into a bit of a conversation of colonialism, and the effects on the arts and local culture in a colonized place. We were able to draw comparisons between those effects, and effects like the ones students had discussed previously in social studies, with the impact of the residential school system, for example, on the cultures of Indigenous people in Canada.
I loved where the students moved us with their interests and knowledge in our short 40 minutes together, and it make me miss working with Grade 7s!
Effective Classroom Management
I was reminded during my morning in the classroom, how critical a role classroom management plays in effective teaching and learning, and also how complex elementary school classroom teaching really is.
Whether you prefer to call it "creating a safe and inviting learning space" or "fostering an effective learning climate" or whatever, it's important, and without considerable time spent there before, during and after the students arrive on the scene, the rest of the package just falls apart. Having the luxury of contemplating and discussing in great detail one facet of education (such as assessment, for example) in relative isolation, or even two or three or seven factors, is a completely different reality than the 11 000 factors that come into play all at the same time in a real life classroom setting!
I know this of course in theory, but it was good to have a concrete reminder once again.
Lest we Forget
Next it was off to the gym, where the second of two multi-media Remembrance Day assemblies were in full swing. Although I have mixed personal feelings about the value of such observances, it was nevertheless comforting to be altogether in one place like that, with more or less a common goal for an hour.
The music teachers had worked hard with other staff on the assembly team, and the choirs sounded truly lovely. A highlight was listening to one Grade 7 girl sing -- I'd known her since Grade 3, and she had been an elective mute! What a beautiful, clear voice she had. My belief in the far-reaching benefits of music (and the importance of highly qualified music teachers!!) were affirmed.
The assembly also afforded me to opportunity to see some of my former students -- several of them rushed me when I walked into the gym, and I had to temper my own exuberance to see them, too, with a professional response that was appropriate for the occasion.
It was so encouraging to see so many happy, hopeful faces. I've had many classes and students near and dear to my hear, but my time at my last school was special in that it was a middle school that several lower elementary schools I had previously taught at fed into, and so some of the students I worked with last year had been known to me in some capacity or other since Grade One!
Shopping Mall Dates and Challenge Winners
Too soon my morning at school drew to a close -- after catching up with some colleagues and new Syrian arrivals in the ESL room over lunch, I signed out in the office and Uber Pooled to the mall, where I started in on a little Christmas shopping and met my partner so that we could buy her some decent winter boots.
After finding suitable footwear, we enjoyed an eclectic dinner together at the food court, complete with Japanese dessert and bubble tea.
Then we happened across a Metro, which I grabbed, eager to see whether my submission to their recent Arts Challenge had been published. What a pleasant surprise I had when I discovered that my "emoji epic", chronicling my burn, had not only been published, but also chosen as the contest winner!
Tired but happy from a long, full day, my girlfriend and I headed home with her boots, our bags, and the page from the local newspaper confirming my status as a winner!
I had a conversation the other day about the importance of teaching history from a less eurocentric perspective and through a more FNMI-focused lens. The teacher I was chatting with was lamenting
the lack of ready access to good FNMI resources for students and teachers.
As someone who grew up with little if any authentic teaching about FNMI realities in Canada, I shared her frustration: How do we begin teaching well about something we know so little of? Last year's Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action calls for the integration FNMI history, contributions, current events, etc. into the curriculum at all grade levels, and not just for FNMI students. We are to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and teaching methods, and we are to teach at all grade levels about the legacy of the residential school system, and its attempts at systemic eradication of an entire cultural group.
But how can we do it all justice without a firm understanding ourselves of FNMI realities?
I was embarrassed -- when talking to a colleague at the office later that afternoon (one who had recently published a relevant children's book about her grandmother's experiences with the residential school system) -- to be reminded that it is not just in History that we should be thinking about how to infuse FNMI realities into the curriculum; Dr Jenny Kay Dupuis, who happens to work in a cubicle a short walk from mine, patiently pointed out that there are many opportunities to highlight Canada's injustices to our FNMI people, and to integrate Indigenous knowledge into our teaching.
Jenny shared with me this guest blog post she co-authored, which includes a number of links to FNMI sites and other resources for teachers and students.
Coincidentally, she also happened to be interviewed by CBC's Matt Galloway that very morning, to share about her new children's picture book: I am Not a Number, by Second Story Press.
The audio interview is under 10 minutes, and provides listeners with some poignant historical information about the residential school system.
It would itself make an interesting study in oral language for students -- as I listened to it, I imagined immediately how I might use it with my students, were I still in a classroom: How effective is the interviewer (Galloway) in extracting information from the interviewee (Dr. Dupuis), etc.
It could perhaps serve as a catalyst for having students interview a family member about their own history, or write about a time when they first remember hearing an important family story. I could also see myself using this interview as a jumping off point for students to develop inquiry questions; the ESL teacher in me wants to begin by supplying a list of relevant vocabulary words: Grannie, Residential School, haircut, and so on, before students listen to the interview, and have them write a few sentences predicting what it will be about.
After talking with Jenny about her book, I offered to let her write a guest post on my blog (which I am still hoping she will do at some point), and sent her a follow up email saying "anything I can do to help!"
I realized after I sent the email that I was guilty of the same crimes that the T and R commission's report urges us to fight against: Although well-intentioned, my offer of help could easily be construed as demeaning; Jenny and her people don't need my "help". What they need is for me and my fellow non-FNMI Canadians to stop helping and start learning. Ugly history, beautiful history, troubling current events and discrimination, beautiful arts, culture, medical and other contributions... we need to take responsibility for our part -- direct or indirect -- in the ugliness, and make it a priority to learn the story of our FNMI sisters and brothers so that we can share the same with our children at home and in our classrooms and begin the long climb out of darkness and into a lighter future in which we acknowledge the mistakes of our past authentically and celebrate our truly equitable and respectful co-existence.
And it has to be authentic, not just a memorized and script off a printed page, poorly recited at the beginning of a meeting or over the P.A. system at school each morning so that we can say we've fulfilled our legal duty -- no, we have to go our of our way to learn something we didn't know before, and get excited to share about it with our colleagues and children.
This weekend, my partner and I visited Port Perry with one of our sons. We geocached on Scugog Island, home to a Reserve; one of the caches was placed on the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, which the cache owner alleged to be a part of.
Simon wondered aloud about the relationship between these people and the Mississaugas of the New Credit, whose traditional land his school is built on. It led to an interesting conversation, just a drop in the bucket, but another seed was planted, none the less.
It is through a combination of these opportunistic teaching moments and through careful, planned, integrated instruction that we will begin to fulfill our responsibilities with respect to the teaching part of the reconciliation recommendations.
Not knowing is no longer an excuse. We are called to wonder, to question and -- if necessary -- to google!
Much has been written and discussed lately about Airbnb, the self-professed "rent out your spare room for a little extra cash" website and app.
Not all of the commentary has been flattering. Home wrecking incidents and competition for affordable housing are highlighted, and some local governments are imposing heavy (and in my opinion unfair) restrictions on hosting.
Personally, I think that – – done "right" – – Airbnb is a great way to build community and make the world a kinder, smaller, safer and more respectful place.
Here are some of my top reasons for hosting on Airbnb…
Meet Interesting People
Over the past several years, we've had the privilege of hosting a variety of noteworthy visitors, including an engineer working on the island runway extension at the airport I fly out of in Toronto, two retired biologists (ornithologists), a group of Polish astronomy students, and a PhD student working on the Hadron collider. We've also had our share of artists and musicians hoping to be inspired by new surroundings on PEI and and in Toronto, as well as travellers coming to North America for their first time and stopping in for a night or two at one of our places to rest up and get their bearings before setting out on a cross-Canada camping tour.
Whoever comes to visit, we almost always end up having some deep conversations over breakfast or before turning in at night, about the state of various world affairs.
Sharing ideas about ways to support and promote things like sustainability, feminism (and equity in general), responsible parenting and/or dog ownership and a wide range of other important topics invariably flow from these sorts of conversations.
Airbnb facilitates the sorts of "kindred spirit" relationships that no sports team or dating site could ever hope to foster!
Share Favourite Local Hangouts
Another reason I enjoy hosting on Airbnb is that I get to share some of my favourite places in Canada with others who have not yet discovered them.
Whether it's where to have dinner, or the best place to catch a beautiful sunrise or sunset, as a lifelong Torontonian and an avid wanna-be PEIslander, I am fairly knowledgable about both locales, which works out well for visitors trying to get a sense of what they should do with their limited local time.
I'm always eager to share my favorite, less-touristy hotspots with both our Toronto and PEI visitors, and get a real kick out of other people getting as excited about a place as I have been when they, too, discover it.
Support the Local Economy
People who use Airbnb tend to be people who would not necessarily use a more traditional hotel, either because they can't afford it, or because they prefer a more personal, authentic accommodation experience. And so I feel like hosting brings spenders into town who might otherwise not be here.
At the very least, they have to buy food/visit local restaurants while staying, and, often – – as in the case of the antique and curio-hunter staying in my kids' play house tonight – – they buy a lot more while traveling.
Since I provide essentials and a few little frills at all my listings, I am also pumping money into the local economy that might otherwise not have been spent.
Practice and Develop Life Skills
Running a side hustle like renting a spare room on Airbnb allows one to develop a number of important skills. First and foremost, I love hospitality and the art presentation, two skills I learned by necessity the summer before my mother died.
Painfully uncomfortable and often nauseous from either the cancer or the toxic chemo she was taking to buy herself a few more months to get her affairs in order, my mother spent much of her final summer on earth tucked into a sleeping bag on a fold-out lawnchair nestled into a corner of the garden she loved so much. I returned to Toronto the summer of '94 from a stint working at a hotel in southern Germany, where I had learned about presentation at a mid- to high-end restaurant on site. I quickly put these skills to use preparing small, tasty drinks and light meals, enticingly presented, for my mother, while as she/we played host to various friends and work colleagues of hers who had come to basically pay their last respects before she finally moved into palliative care at Toronto Grace that fall.
Hosting through Airbnb some 20 years later has helped me to revive these skills and honour the memory of my mother as I prepare artfully designed breakfast services for my various guests.
Even when we have visitors availing themselves of more basic, "self-serve" accommodations, I always prepare a nice breakfast basket and fresh flowers (when available) to make the first impression pleasing to the eye. These frequently get rave reviews, and I relish helping make people's stay a delight.
Developing one's ability to be a great host is a skill which I feel is easily transferrable to many other parts of one's personal and professional life.
Imagine if we all treated one another in our day-to-day lives as valued guests in our personal space… How much kinder a place could the world become?!
I also feel like being an Airbnb host it helps me refine my critical thinking and diplomacy skills: As a host I constantly need to assess the safety and feasibility of a situation. For example, should I accept this particular booking request or are these people just looking for a place to party?
I read reviews, research guest profiles, and – – if needed – – craft carefully-worded, diplomatic messages inviting new users to flesh out of their profiles and consider including a personal picture of themselves rather than their pet Chihuahua, in order to establish trust within the Airbnb community.
And as I am reading those user reviews, I consider how well I myself behave when I am a guest; am I respectful? Quiet? Tidy?
When Airbnb offers me options like "instant book" (which strike me as tailored to encouraged quick turnover and impersonal service) I develop the resistance to the temptation to make a quicker buck by rejecting that option, so that I can maintain the integrity of personal, clear communication between myself and my would-be guests before manually accepting any reservation request.
Become a Mentor Parent
This summer, my kids caught the Airbnb bug: Spurred on initially by the thought of making a few extra bucks for spending money, they pimped out their new Playhouse on Airbnb.
One of my twins in particular really got into the swing of things, writing a little welcome message in a guestbook on site, and preparing and rehearsing a "spiel" he gave to guests when they first arrived. He also had to negotiate with his brother about a fair pay arrangement, given the inequitable split in workload. Finally, there was the learning that there are different sorts of people in the world, and just because someone is not "like us", doesn't make them a "bad" person.
While the charm of being hosted by a 12-year-old monozygotic twins paid dividends with guests, my kids were learning valuable people skills and collaboration in return, both transferrable in the "real world".
We've had many conversations over the past few months about what it means to be a good host. As I have learned and continue to learn from my own experiences and from other, fellow hosts, hosting through Airbnb has helped me guide my young entrepreneurs in this learning.
Pay for the Extras
A lot of people think you can make buckets of money off Airbnb. And in some contexts you can. (Take, for instance, those who purchase multiple properties for the sole purpose of accommodating such short term rentals in cities were demand is high, or if you happen to have a spare room in a city like Boston, which has the highest hotel rates in America.) But if you are doing things as they were originally intended, that is, renting out "extra space" in your own home periodically, and you live in a more "normal" city, then the fiscal payout can be negligible.
By the time I buy the extra pillowcases and towels, refresh the flowers and/or buy the baskets to display the snack or breakfast items, pay taxes on my extra income (yes, I claim it like an idiot!), there is not that much left for "fun money". And there are some days when cleaning up after my guests and preparing perfection for the next ones seems considerably more of a time-consuming chore than the few dollars I make off the side hustle are worth.
On the other hand, if you do rent often, you can, over time, make enough money to save up for special projects or alleviate the burden of those little extras we all enjoy but most of us can't really afford. Some of the things I've paid for with Airbnb earnings outside our regular budget include dinner out with my girlfriend, shows and musicals, ice cream and other outings with my kids, car rental while traveling, and a playhouse for my kids (almost).
Now I'm saving up for a deck for my music cabin on PEI! :-)
It frustrates me when those who embrace and participate in creative disruptions like Airbnb are penalized. On PEI, for example, you have to be registered with the tourism board to run a bed-and-breakfast. The official reasoning behind us government cash grab is that they want to ensure an excellent user experience, since their economy still have a late depends on tourism.
But how do you meet the standards of such an operation with things like a play house without electricity or running water that is never the less in-demand? (The treehouse my boys and I stayed in earlier this summer – – also without running water, and no breakfast offer – – was doing a booming business at $30 a night!)
Besides, with almost exclusively five-star ratings, what is the tourism board really worried about? (on Airbnb, guests are strongly encouraged to rate their hosts anonymously in areas such as communication, cleanliness and overall value, so if someone is running a less than stellar operation, they won't be in business for long, even without the tourism board meddling in their affairs!)
It seems to me that there is room in the economy for both five star hotels and five star Airbnb listings. Someone who is bringing a sleeping bag and paying $22 a night to stay in a playhouse wasn't going to pay $125 at the official B&B up the road anyway, and those who are staying at the "official" hotels, are not being negatively affected by their Airbnb-surfing counterparts.
And in the meantime, ideas are exchanged along with smiles and often outstanding hospitality, making the world a smaller, kinder, safer, smarter and more creative place – – even for kids!
This has been the summer of comings and goings on PEI; kids left at different times, with some overlap of visiting friends and also Tats, and now, finally, some time to myself at the end!
These various visits have resulted in a little more driving than usual, most recently, a necessary trip to Moncton, as Tats, who could only spare a weekend for the Island this summer due to school, couldn't find a flight home from Ch'town.
We decided to make a road trip of it with Alex and Sneakers in tow, and do a little geocaching along the way.
After a fabulous lunch at the Landmark Cafe (officially my new favourite restaurant on the South Shore, BTW -- but make reservations, it gets busy!), we made our way to the gateway village where I took a nap, Sneakers had a run and a pee, and Tatsy and Alex played on the playground.
We also stopped in for the obligatory Cows ice cream and picked up some chocolate covered potato chips for Tats' work/school chums before joining the lineup of cars waiting to pay good money to get off the island!
Once in New Brunswick, we did a little more geocaching, and then raced to the airport to drop Tats off for her 8-o-clock flight back to YYZ.
Where to Sleep?
Knowing I probably wouldn't have it in me to do the long drive back home to PEI's north shore again in the same day, I had planned ahead and hunted around for a relatively affordable place to spend the night.
One of the things I love about AirBnB is the ability to find unique and interesting places to sleep, on the cheap! I figured, if I can find a $30 tree house in Crapaud, then surely there must exist a spot for a 12 year old boy, a rambunctious dog, and an old lady to spend the night!!
Sure enough, a search only a few weeks prior to our travel date turned up a barn just outside of Moncton. For $20, Alex, Sneakers and I would be dry (and safe?) for the night.
The property at Indian Mountain is newly owned by Melanie, a young gal in the film industry, who envisions a large, self sustaining gathering space. She proudly showed off her property, pointing out where the berry bushes had been planted, and illustrating some of her future plans.
She's already begun renovating; the upstairs of the barn has had one wall almost entirely replaced with a large panel of windows that looks out over the back of the property, towards the woodlot and pond. Also upstairs are two punching bags, several small tents and a hammock, the ambiance enhanced by strings of Christmas lights hung here and there.
Downstairs is a "bar" and a large open area where just last week, Melanie told me, they had a DJ and set up a screen on which people were playing "old school Nintendo".
Seems like a pretty cool space!
Sleeping Arrangements, Starlight and Kittens
The idea on the property is that people can just pitch their tent -- if they have one -- anywhere inside or outside of the barn, and use the facilities on site (Mel was just in the process of installing a shower the night we stayed over). Lucky for us, Melanie let us use a spare room in the small house next to the barn -- we hauled our sleeping bags onto mattress there, and set up a little "nest" for Sneakers next to our bed.
Before turning in for a restless night, both Alex and Sneakers discovered the two barn kittens that lived on the property. Curious little cats, they were not deterred by an overenthusiastic dog, and held their own, offering in no uncertain terms to scratch Sneakers' eye out if she didn't back off!
The night sky out in rural New Brunswick was at least as lovely as the one on PEI, and Alex and I stopped to admire the stars before going inside the house and locking ourselves and our wildebeest into our bedroom for the night.
The Next Morning
After a predictably restless night on an uncomfortable bed with a kicking child and an anxious, pacing dog in the room, it was finally time to pack up our things and stuff ourselves back into our rental car for the drive home to PEI. Before we left, we picked two apples (as invited to the night before by Mel) off the tree on the property; the apples turned out to be quite tasty, as I discovered two days later, when I finally got around to eating them.
Alex and Sneakers slept pretty much all the way to the Bridge, and I sustained myself with the promise of a nice, long nap in the hammock later that afternoon!
As we approached the Bridge, I saw a sign that announced breakfast was being served at the restaurant on the conservation ctre just before the Bridge, and eager for something more substantial than the emergency snacks in our car cooler, I turned off the highway and into the parking lot, arousing Alex from his passenger seat slumbers with my change in driving direction and pace.
Jourimain Nature Centre
The large park that precedes the Confederation Bridge crossing was one I'd not heard of before, and I was delighted to find this space: There are trails for walking, and a beach at the base of the bridge from which one can (and we did) take some incredible photos.
As tide was out, and it was quite early in the day, we let Sneakers off leash, and she and Alex splashed about on the beach, hunting for seashells. Alex and I found a small sand dollar -- a rare find -- and I tucked it away carefully in one pocket of my pants, where it was soon crushed when I jammed my phone in there, forgetting it was already holding precious cargo!
After a nice time at the beach, we parked under a tree and set Sneakers up on a cozy bed in the back seat, windows open more than a crack. Then Alex and I walked through the interpretive centre and into the restaurant to enjoy some eggs and pancakes before leaving New Brunswick.
Argyle Shore... Again!
We had stopped at the red shore the day before with Tats, only to discover tide was in, so there was no "beach", and the stairs led directly into the ocean! Today our timing was a little better, and Sneakers, Alex and I were able to enjoy a nice walk along the rocky shoreline before climbing back into the car for the final leg of our trip home.
While I don't enjoy driving as much as I used to, and find chauffeuring a bit of a chore, I did enjoy the opportunity for this particular mini-road-trip of sorts. Spending quality time with some of my few favourite people in the world and discovering new travel treasures like the barn and the beach at the bridge are things that make the hassle of driving worth it!
on the island, towards the end of the summer, I've seen the signs for Old Home Week. But I never really understood what it was.
This year, however, an opportunity presented itself, and now I know what Old Home Week on PEI is!
Last Friday, we dropped a friend off at the airport around 5 p.m., and had several hours to kill before picking up my girlfriend, who was just coming down for the weekend, but on a later flight. So rather than drive all the way back out to the house, Alex and I decided to check out this Old Home Week business and see for ourselves what all the fuss is about.
Turns out it's a bit like the CNE in Toronto, but on a smaller scale.
One similarity to Toronto' exhibition is the opportunistic parking business that springs up around the fairgrounds during the week: Just like in Toronto, Ch'town locals with homes backing onto the street adjacent to the fair put up hand crafted signs inviting people to park on their lawns -- and they pack those cars in! Alex and I estimated that on one lawn, there must have been at least fifty cars, which -- if they turn over 2-3 times a day -- garner the property owners a cool $5-6K in cash each year!!
As it was already quite late at night, the line ups were long, and Alex was pretty tired, we elected not to go on any rides. And although we did throw away $20 on one of those unwinnable ball-in-the-milk-crate carnival games, we spent most of our evening in the farm animal building, admiring the award-winning cows and alpaca, and trying our hand at some brain puzzles.
We also stopped to check out the horse races (but didn't do any betting).
Soon enough, it was time to hunt down our car and head back to the airport to collect our next visitor.
As Alex remarked, we were glad to have gone to check it out, but Old Home Week is one of those things where once is enough.
So, sleeping in an 8x8 "room on stilts" with two silly, kicking 12-year-olds was perhaps not my most brilliant plan ever, in terms of relaxation techniques while on vacation. Though in fairness, one cannot say it wasn't an adventure!
Perusing the AirBnB listings on PEI recently, I came across a budget listing for a no-frills "treehouse" in Crapaud, near the lovely, little village of Victoria-by-the-Sea.
Knowing the boys would love it, I booked one night.
After camp on Monday, we set off for Crapaud, making a brief stop en route to pick up a giant pillow which I had scored on Kijiji for the boys' playhouse which was due to be delivered to our property in St Peter's Harbour later in the week.
I had forgotten how hilly the south-west part of the Island was, and I enjoyed the scenery while the boys slept in the car, tired out from their first full day of camp.
The lovely thing about PEI is that everything is pretty close, so within about 40 minutes, we had arrived in the general vicinity of the treehouse, and as the boys woke up from their powernap, I tried to divine the somewhat sketchy directions included with my reservation.
We soon found the property, and sure enough, there was the treehouse!!
A Japanese exchange student staying in the main house checked us in and showed us the 2-piece washroom we could use, and then we climbed up the ladder to our room for the night.
The boys eagerly set about arranging the room: Organizing sleeping bags, pillows (including the new giant one we had acquired earlier in town) and various personal belongings they had brought with them for the night on the hooks and little "shelves" that lined the inside of our rustic hut amongst the trees.
We also had a little kitten climb the ladder and visit us. (After some petting, she just curled up outside the cabin door.)
Once out stuff was arranged in the tiny room to everyone's satisfaction, we drove 4 minutes to the nearby fishing village of Victoria, and enjoyed a great dinner (even vegetarian protein available!!) and excellent service at the Landmark Cafe, following which we picked up some ice cream on the wharf and sauntered around the lighthouse and antique market, taking silly selfies and admiring the imposing clouds in the evening sky.
We also saw PEI's oldest tree ("That's nothing compared to the trees we saw in Buenos Aires, right Mom?", Alex was quick to point out).
And then it was back to the treehouse.
We read a few chapters of our current read-aloud together (Deborah Ellis' Sacred Leaf), and then attempted to sleep.
I will say that the mattress itself (a reasonably roomy, high quality, inflatable affair) was considerably more comfortable than I had anticipated. It was my two restless bedmates who were the problem. Every time they moved, the mattress squeaked.
And also I had to pee. And I was not going to haul my corpulant, over-40 self down a rickety old ladder at 11:57 p.m. And 2 a.m. And again at 4:38 a.m. No way, no how. (Fortunately, I had anticipated that particular problem, and had done some advance planning accordingly, the details of which I will spare the reader.)
And there were mosquitos. (Not a lot, but enough bother a finicky sleeper.)
I debated whether or not to fish around in the catch-all bin we had brought with us for some mosquito repellent, and opted for some ear plugs instead, pulling the sleeping bag up over my head.
In between tossing and turning, I surfed Kijiji for deals and posted random photos with uninspired hashtags on Instagram.
Finally, blessedly, the morning arrived, another beautiful sunshiny day o PEI, and I roused the two sleeping bunnies to pack up their gear and get back in the car for the ride back into town for Day Two of Art camp. But not before using the real washroom, in the main house!!!
The ride back to Ch'town was uneventful; we enjoyed watching the pastoral scenery out the window while munching on cut-up peaches and strawberries and little boxes of dry cereal I had prepared ahead of time as a sort of en-route breakfast.
I wouldn't do it again, I don't think, and I am desperately looking forward to my real bed tonight. But my one night in a treehouse was worth it: A fun and affordable mini-adventure for all!!
You know you need to work on work-life balance when your personal blog that's supposed to be a fun, regular hobby has sat idle over over a week, and your IN box is overflowing with more than 600 emails -- ugh!! Ahhh, but summer, and PEI. Time.... time to relax, time to catch up, time to daydream...
From the first glimpses of the red, green and golden beauty from the sky, I could feel my muscles relax and my blood pressure lowering!
This beneficial effect was quickly enhanced by land therapy via open fields, children playing, our beautiful old lighthouse and the stunning colours of yet another unique sunset, all of which I availed myself as soon as possible after landing.
Indeed, whether it's watching my not-so-little-anymore kids running in the open field behind our house, and commenting on how tall the trees are growing ("Mom, I remember when they were this small!", remarked Simon, amazed), or catching a glimpse of no fewer than 4 red foxes on the way to the drive-in theatre, or enjoying an instagram-worthy brunch at a neighbour's house, spending time on PEI is time well spent.
And then there are the adventures, like spending a night in a tree house in Crapaud, or "biking" through the washed-out road down by the Harbour to the farmers' market in Morell...
The serendipitous connections that the island seems to foster are also fun: Two weeks ago I spent a few days in Fonthill, Ontario, facilitating an assessment workshop for teachers there. This week the B and B owners I stayed with flew into Cable Head and delivered my nightshirt, which I had accidentally left behind -- turns out they are both pilots, and, stumbling across the website I designed for the airpark owner a few years back, decided to fly down and check the place out!!
We enjoyed a (veggie for me) burger together at the BBQ on site later that afternoon, and joked about the excellent service provided by the BnB pyjama deliverers!
My "Office" in Town
But it's not ALL play and no work; one of my favourite weeks on PEI is the week the boys go to Art Camp at the Confederation Centre in downtown Charlottetown. (TB to 2013 here!)
In addition to being super fun for Alex and Simon, the week also affords me the opportunity to spend several undisturbed hours at Beanz, a pretty great little coffee shop (with the most amazing and delectable assortment of homemade squares!!!) a hop, skip and a jump from the Arts Ctr.
And hey, speaking of Beanz, check out the swank new outdoor seating in the pics below -- Beanz patio got a facelift!
Installed in my mobile office along with a tasty double fudge cream, choco-- oops, er, I mean, a nice, healthy salad, I spend my precious wifi-accessible hours doing some professional reading, taking online courses (Jo Boaler, here we finally come!!), or catching up with emails. (The backlog and overflow has gotten so rediculous that I recieved a notification from my provider the other day that they were going to stop sending new mails if I didn't get things under control soon!!!)
When not slaving away at my laptop, I stroll the streets of Charlottetown, enjoying this year a new sense of inclusion in the capital city of this once fairly homophobic province while running my errands or just sauntering around this picturesque Birthplace of Confederation.
Now it seems "we love you LGBTQ folks" rainbows are everywhere. Amazing what an openly gay leader can do for place's climate of inclusivity!
At 3:56 p.m., I pack it up and hustle off to pick up my babies, and then it's off to the beach, or the lighthouse, or tonight, a treehouse on the Island's south shore!!
The days pass quickly while drifting slowly along -- I feel very blessed to have this place to come to at regular intervals throughout the year.
After writing for several teacher and multiple birth publications, including ETFO's Voice Magazine, Multiple Moments, and the Bulletwin, Vera turned her written attention to prolific blogging for some years, including BiB, "Learn to Fly with Vera!" and SMARTbansho . Homeschooling 4 was her travel blog in Argentina. She now spends more time on her Instagram (@schalgzeug_usw) than her blog (pictures are worth a thousand words?!) Contact Vera by clicking the photo above.
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