Friday, August 22, 2014

What's Making Me Happy This Month - August

OK, I know a lot of people have had their fill of this. But what's been making me happy this month has been the Ice Bucket Challenge. Or, more specifically, the attention that Amyotrophic Lateral SclerosisALS /Lou Gehrig's Disease) has been receiving, of late.

Unless you've been living under a rock, or maybe just taking a well-deserved summer screen break, you can be forgiven for missing all the coverage that this viral fundraiser has been receiving. Everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Shakira have accepted the challenge and filmed themselves being dunked with - wait for it - a bucket of ice water. For Canadians, the craze really took off when Sidney Crosby posted his challenge. From then on, it has been a daily deluge of online videos. The majority of the challenges have been casual, low-budget affairs; however, NHL player Paul Bissonnette's over-the-top production needs to be highlighted.

Aside from the fun factor of the stunt, I have a personal connection to ALS. You see, ALS stole the very first storyteller that I ever knew away from me. My grandfather was a born storyteller. On any visit, he would always ask if he had time for "one more story." In a cruel twist of fate, it was his voice that this terrible disease claimed from him first. Sure, we had the little white board and dry erase markers to communicate with, but his stories were in the oral tradition. He loved to tell a good tale and the silencing of his voice was one of the most heartbreaking things that I have witnessed.

Poppa knew his celebrities (he loved Shania and Vanna White), and his hockey players, and I know he would have had a chuckle watching all these ice bucket challenges.

#IceBucketChallenge - definitely what's making me happy this month.

For information, or to donate to ALS, go to 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Time to Hit the Road Again

After a few weeks of hanging around doing home-based things, it was time to hit the road again.

Just a mini road trip, but with lots of learning opportunities, naturally.

We began our excursion in the tobacco-turned-hop fields of Norfolk County (Ontario). Accompanied by OnlySon, I toured Ramblin' Road Brewery Farm. What a concept! What a beer! In addition to the hops, Ramblin' Road grows potatoes. Potatoes for potato chips, and ... potato beer. It's all good. A complimentary tour and tasting was an easy sell, and we brought a couple of souvenir packs home for Mr. Fun.

I had the great fortune to tag along with Daughter1 to this enjoyable  event - the unveiling of "Kil(n) Hand," an installation by Saskatchewan artist and Norfolk Artist-in-Residence, Heather Benning.

Until this evening I knew absolutely nothing about the history of tobacco farming in Ontario. Thanks to the artist and the guests of the Norfolk Arts Centre, I feel so much more enlightened. The above tobacco kiln (or locally pronounced "kil") was donated by a family that has been farming in Norfolk since the 1950's. Not visible in the photo are 500-600 casts of hands suspended within the kiln. The pulled back tar paper allows the viewer to have a peek inside. The many hands that are required to work the family farms? The loss of manual work in the move toward increased mechanization? There are many interpretations. A very fitting piece of artwork to commemorate this International Year of Family Farming.

Day Two found me at another repurposed tobacco farm - Bonnie Heath Estate Lavender and Winery. Owners Steve and Anita Buehner have vineyards and lavender plants where tobacco once grew. (See this Norfolk News article).

If only I had visited a couple weeks earlier! I would have been greeted with the more vibrant purple that comes with peak lavender season. A perfect excuse to mark it on my calendar and return next July. And they may have their lavender icewine available at that time, too. In the meantime, I am enjoying a delicious lavender honey that I purchased at Bonnie Heath. It makes a wonderful addition to a cuppa tea.

While at Bonnie Heath, I got a tip to check out Whistling Gardens in the northern part of the county. Just seven years ago, this piece of land was a cornfield. It now houses a botanical gardens and garden centre.

It's my understanding that yoga is offered in the beautiful gardens. 


A few hours and hundreds of photos later,  I did a time check and realized that I had to get a move on. Daughter1 would be finished work and  there were trails to be hiked.

I got back on the trails the next morning. This time, on wheels, and headed for the beach. You know if there's a beach only 10 km away - I'm there!

Gotta hand it to Norfolk County - great trail system!

book + beach = bliss
Are you wondering about Pete the Cat? Well I've had an escort on all my summer adventures. My Early Years and Primary students love Pete. I plan on creating a video for them and sharing Pete's summer holidays. Stay tuned.

Unfortunately, I needed to end my tour of Norfolk before I had checked everything off my list. Mr. Fun can only go so long without having me at  home. But I will be back! Anyone from Norfolk have any sights or sites that I need to add to that list?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Back Again - Picture Books 10 For 10

Has it really been a year? Last year I was encouraged by Cathy Mere and wrote about my favourite Canadian picture books for this annual blogging event.

To choose 10 picture books is really an unfair challenge. Don't believe me? Just try it. Anyways, here are the ones I read over and over and over again this year. You may notice there are quite a few Canadian titles among this list. Yeah for awesome Canadian talent!

10 Picture Books I Have Been Loving Over the Past Year

Button, Lana. Willow Finds A Way. Illustrated by Tania Howells. Kids Can Press, 2013.
After finding her voice in Willow's Whispers, Willow acts as a leader when a classmate is getting a little too bossy. 2014 OLA Forest of Reading nominee.

Corey, Shana. Mermaid Queen: the spectacular true story of Annette Kellerman, who swam her way to fame, fortune and swimsuit history. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic, 2009.
A very cool biographical picture book. I loved learning about Annette's struggle to overcome her challenges in this vividly illustrated book. And Girl Power will always score some points with me!

Daywalt, Drew. The Day the Crayons Quit. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel, 2013.
Duncan just wants to colour, but his crayons have had enough. The true personality of each colour comes through in the hilarious letters that the crayons write. This book was always on my Holds Shelf last year.

Klassen, Jon. This is Not My Hat. Candlewick, 2012.
To know this Caldecott (2013) winning picture book is to love it. We had so many wonderful discussions about what really happened in the ending. Love, love love this one. 2014 OLA Forest of Reading nominee.

MacKay, Elly. If You Hold a Seed. Running Press Kids, 2013.
No words from me - just go ahead and experience this beauty. And when you're done, make sure to check out the youtube video of how Elly MacKay creates her stunning artwork. 2014 OLA Forest of Reading nominee.

Mann, Jennifer K. Two Speckled Eggs. Candlewick, 2014.
There will always be that student who is a little different. This is a beautiful story about finding friendship where it wasn't expected.

Reynolds, Peter H. Sky Color. Candlewick Press, 2012.
What colour would you paint the sky without any blue paint? Marisol learns a lesson in creativity in this simple book that inspired a few additions to my wall of student art. 2014 OLA Forest of Reading nominee.

Spires, Ashley. The Most Magnificent Thing. Kids Can Press, 2014.
Perseverance and creativity will get you a long way, as demonstrated by this fun story. I love the fact that it is a girl who is engineering this most magnificent thing. This is a great tie-in to the makerspace movement.

Stinson, Kathy. The Man With the Violin. Illustrated by Dusan Petricic. Annick Press, 2013.
I could say so much about this book. A true story, creative use of illustrations, and such a poignant message. A must-read.

Tullet, Herve. Press Here. Chronicle Books, 2011.
We had so much fun with this one! Students of all ages love this interactive picture book. Another constant inhabitant of my Holds Shelf.

Be sure to check out some of the other lists of 10 for 10 at or by following on Twitter #pb10for10.