When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, May 27, 2016

We were here

Photo Credit: SaultOnline.com

They're tearing down my old high school in Sault Ste. Marie. I've been following the process in bits and pieces over the last while, through news coverage shared by hometown friends and family members on social media. First, there was an auctioning off of the building's inside contents, then a poignant aerial video of the empty building set to Simple Minds' Don't You Forget About Me (sniff, sniff), and finally, this week, a photograph of the south wing of the school, its heart now exposed to the elements through the force of heavy machinery. Watching the building near its end has been an emotional sucker punch for me, and apparently also for the many other former students who have left nostalgic comments under the news posts. I found my inner self frantically yelling, "Wait!" when I realized that the demolition process had already begun, and there was no way of going back.

I transferred to Sir James Dunn C&VS at the beginning of my grade eleven year. It took a lot of effort and some really sound arguments for me to convince my parents to allow me to switch from the all girls Catholic school I had attended in grades nine and ten; they wanted to be sure I wasn't transferring schools just because many of my closest friends were doing so. They held me to my initial decision to attend "the Dunn" even after all of my friends changed their minds last minute and transferred to the co-ed Catholic school instead. I arrived there knowing only a few fellow students, and feeling as though I had something important to prove.

At the Dunn, bolstered by a new-found confidence necessary for my situation, I stepped out of the shadows and flourished. My memories of the three years I spent there are rich ones, filled with warmth and positivity. There was the locker I shared with my aunt Christina, and the way we liked to surprise our teachers with our unusual family story when we ended up in classes together. A quirky French teacher who was so enthusiastic about his subject he liked to jump on desks sometimes, and an English teacher who tried jovially all semester to stump me by finding a word I couldn't spell. (He couldn't.) Hours spent happily engaged with other enthusiastic students to plan and deliver a leadership conference for teens in our region. Parking my Dad's trusty silver truck along the school's back lane when he kindly let me borrow it on cold or rainy days. Lunch breaks spent sitting in the sunny catwalk, talking and laughing with friends, and cheerful spares passed doing Calculus homework in the library in a small, close-knit group. Most affecting of all, mourning the sudden loss of a smart, vibrant, wonderful friend who died after an accident in our OAC year, and the very moving honour of being presented with an award in her memory by her father (my Chemistry teacher) at graduation. (I still keep in touch with him today.)

We all have our carefully kept stories from the days we spent in high school, our challenging and triumphant moments that were key to who and what we became during important growing up years. It should be irrelevant whether the building -- a simple collection of metal, concrete, wood, glass -- still stands or not if our memories remain. And yet, a physical building gives a comforting weight to those memories; it anchors our fleeting past to our present. A building is a place we can go back to for reassurance that what we remember from all those years ago was real. A building testifies, like the letters carved into a high school desk, that at a moment in time, we were here.

I wish that I had known my old school was going to be demolished the last time I was home. I would have gone to peer in its windows one last time, to see if its rooms would have revealed any forgotten memories that I could have then tucked away more safely. I know I won't be alone in feeling a real sense of loss when that lot soon stands empty.

Photo Credit: SaultOnline.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

May Days

I went out walking by the river yesterday morning, welcoming the warm sun on my face after a weekend of unseasonably chilly air and even a few snowflakes (!?). The whole area surrounding the trail was noisy and teeming with life; there were singing birds of every colour flitting and swooping above me, long grasses rustling under a brisk breeze, streams gurgling over mud and rocks. It was welcome noise, the gentle kind that feeds the heart and grows ideas, rather than the distracting and frustrating kind of too much going on at once.

We seem to have landed in a more balanced phase of life here this year. Some of our activities and schedules have changed, and while everyone is still very engaged in pursuits that interest them, our days feel pleasantly full, rather than frantic and overwhelming as they've often felt in previous years during the months of May and June. There seems to be time for some of everything this spring, and we're all happy and thriving as a result.

I've been doing a lot of writing recently, just not as often here on this blog. The shift of focus has given me a new energy; it's feeling really good to work hard at something new that is still a little beyond my reach. Several weeks ago, I submitted my first ever book proposal to a publisher (for a children's non-fiction book that I thoroughly enjoyed researching), and I'm currently working on a picture book manuscript (which is much more difficult to write than it sounds!) This is work I've had in me to do for years, combining my love of children and books and teaching, and the time feels right now to explore it heartily and see if anything wonderful comes of it.

Here's what else we've been up to around here lately:

We had the opportunity last week to watch Noah perform in two different ways, first as a drummer at Arts Night at his school (he was so good!) and then as a runner at our district high school track and field meet. For anyone who fears that kids today lack grit: go and watch some fourteen year olds race a 3000m. There's plenty of reassurance there that the kids are alright. This week we'll get a chance to watch Will dance at his studio during parent viewing week, a sneak peak of his performances for the upcoming showcase in June. These are proud moments for Matt and I as parents, when we see the delightful results that grow out of all of the boys' passions and hard work.

Will spent the weekend recovering from a nasty foot injury he suffered at school when another student accidentally ran over him with a heavy metal cart loaded with Chromebooks. (This is one of the lesser known risks of technology for youth, I guess!) He came home very upset on Friday about the state of his foot, which was cut and badly bruised in three places, but even more so about the fact that the child who hurt him didn't say he was sorry. A sensitive heart bruises just as easily as the skin does, I think. He's feeling better this week and is back to spending hours every day on his scooter.

Someone is excited about the new scooter parts he ordered with birthday money.

Matt and I have been working hard on the yard whenever the weather allows, mowing, weeding, edging, planting, mulching. It's always such a satisfying feeling to see our spring efforts combined with Mother Nature's to create an inviting outdoor space for all of the creatures who live in it. The robins nesting in our evergreen out front have been doing some work on the property, too. They seem to have a real flair for exterior home decor.

We're looking forward to a May long weekend with fun, good food, and a visit from family! It feels like summer is just around the corner now.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

For the Mamas

There are robins building a nest in the evergreen by our front door. I noticed long strands of straw-coloured grass and pretty blue string fluttering from the prickly ends of the branches near a small opening in the tree one day last week, and every now and then when I glance out the window I catch a glimpse of the mama bird flying into it with a beak full of soft mud, gathered from the backyard where we've recently laid some new sod. I always feel a tender sentimentality when the birds nest near our home in the spring. Watching the robin eggs hatch under their parents' care, seeing tiny pink birds grow into feathered fledglings who bravely spread their wings in such a short period of time makes me keenly aware of how quickly the years with my own two boys are passing.

My Facebook feed today is filled with lovely words of thanks and photos of beautiful moms of all ages, each of whom, in her own way, has created a safe haven for her children, nurtured them over the years, inspired them to sing, to spread their own wings and to fly. I've read them all and felt moved to know so many kind, strong women in my life. We are unique in the ways we mother, each of us, yet so many of our hearts beat in the same powerful, singular rhythm: we love.  

This pretty song, which I first heard on Rebecca Woolf's blog several weeks ago, seems a fitting tune for today, for all of the mamas who give so much of themselves to the families they cherish.

Happy Mother's Day to the many wonderful mamas I know, and especially to my own beautiful Mom. Though we live far away from each other, I can always hear her sweet melodies in my heart; her love is the gentle breeze that lifts me as I encourage my own two birds to soar.

Monday, May 2, 2016


I'm settling back into regular life this morning after spending much of last week away with Noah and his robotics team. We left last Tuesday morning, travelling over thirteen hours on a bus headed to St. Louis, Missouri, where the FIRST Robotics World Championships were being held. The four days that followed were an exciting and exhausting whirlwind of robots; there were more than 600 teams from around the world competing in the high energy event, and many thousands of people packed the stadium stands all day, each day to watch, cheer and marvel at the feats of engineering and the impressive performances of the machines and their teen builders and drivers, who had been guided throughout the season by helpful mentors. At the end of the competition on Saturday, our very tired team crawled back onto the bus and travelled another thirteen-plus hours through the night to arrive back home yesterday morning. As worn out as they were, I'm sure many of the kids spent yesterday wishing that their robotics season wasn't over yet. (I spent yesterday half comatose, trying to keep my eyes open and remember who and where I was!)

I had no idea before this year how exactly an FRC team works, and I'm so glad I had an opportunity to learn and be a part of one as a parent this past season. Helping to plan the trip to Worlds and being able to travel with the team gave me an up-close look at the truly inspiring enthusiasm, dedication, and skill of these robotics kids and the people who support them. We were up before 5am each morning during the competition, as the kids were determined to get to the stadium early and camp out in front of the doors in the hopes of securing the best seats for scouting once they opened at 7am. The team spent a minimum of twelve hours each day at the stadium, playing in matches against other robots on the field, taking scouting notes as they observed other teams' machines at work, troubleshooting, cheering, and building connections with robotics kids from around the world. After a late team dinner each evening, the kids often met again until 11pm to discuss strategy and to share funny stories from their day. The passion I saw in the students at Worlds reflected the commitment of the team throughout the build and competition season; they live and breathe for their robot and for their ability to accomplish something meaningful and amazing together.

Noah's team had a very successful performance at Worlds. By Friday's end, they had finished the qualifications round ranked second out of 74 teams in their division, which was thrilling for all of us. They made it through the division quarter finals on Saturday, and then were edged out of the competition during the semis, when one of the other robots in their alliance broke down during a nail-biting tiebreaker match. We were all so proud of our kids and what they were able to achieve with the machine they built with their own brains and hands. 

On a personal note, it was really nice to be able to travel with my oldest son on this trip, to catch a better glimpse of this world of robots he loves so much, to share in his excitement, to provide support for the hard work he and his team do by helping to feed them during the week. I appreciated the moments Noah spent enthusiastically explaining something to me about the various robots, or telling me how he was enjoying his experience. (I also really liked arriving home yesterday morning to a clean house, a batch of delicious made-from-scratch pancakes, and a vase of cheerful flowers, all courtesy of Matt and Will. It felt wonderful, in our worn-out state, to have such a loving support team waiting for us at home.)

I'm still feeling tired this morning, but like Noah and his teammates, that isn't stopping me from already looking forward to the next robotics season. I can't wait to see what these amazing kids will build next.

Photo credit: Team Dave