Living a Life of Honour

In Canada, and in many countries around the world, Earth Day occurs in April, at or near the beginning of Spring. Earth Day is especially relevant these days because of the nature of Climate Change on our planet. One of the most symbolic aspects of Earth Day is something called Earth Hour. During Earth Hour, people are encouraged to eliminate electrical use from their lives for one hour. This means leaving lights off and using candles, for instance, just for that one hour. It is a visible gesture that lets other people know that you are supportive of good practices when it comes to the environment.

I can remember when Earth Hour first started, fifteen or twenty years ago. It was a fairly big deal. On the late newscasts that night, you would be able to watch notable structures like The Eiffel Tower, The Empire State Building, The C.N. Tower, etc., all go dark. In school, we would practice going non-electrical by turning off our computers, our overhead lights and working quietly with only the daylight to illuminate our work space. Those were heady times when it came to raising environmental awareness and empowering citizens to take action. However, as the years have gone by, fewer and fewer people pay attention to Earth Day and to Earth Hour. Those who no longer participate will tell you that turning your TV off for an hour really makes no discernible difference to one’s carbon footprint so, why bother. Those who don’t participate but have a more positive outlook will reply that caring about the Earth is not a one-day event. Every day should be Earth Day. It should be a lifestyle of positive choices, not just one single day of showy displays.

I will admit that in my house, we no longer light candles and power down our devices during Earth Hour. Instead, we have opted for a full year of positive environmental choices including virtually eliminating the use of plastic bags and straws, planting pollinator gardens for bees and butterflies, using rain barrels to capture rain water and reduce our water consumption and so on. We are not environmentally perfect but, we are making good choices and are on the right track 365 days of the year. To our way of thinking, living an environmentally friendly lifestyle trumps the showy symbolism of participating in Earth Hour. Most of our friends and family members agree. Most of our neighbours do, too. Lifestyle choices and systemic national choices are what will save our planet in the end and since I believe that we have ourselves a nice, little old planet, I advocate for living an environmentally friendly life all year long.

There are many other days on our calendar, like Earth Day, that are really not that important. For example, I love my wife all year long, not just on Valentine’s Day. I love my children all year long, not just on their birthdays. I love my mother all year long, not just on Mothers Day. I am a proud Canadian all year long, not just on Canada Day.

For each of those “days”, I have opted to take the longer term view and incorporate the message that each day brings, into a lifestyle that spans the year. I’m a loving, generous person to everyone I care about. No one has to tell me to treat my family nicely. I care about each one of them and do as much as I can to make their lives better, each and every day of the year. Doing so is an attitude that permeates everything that I do each day. For example, I am retired but, my wife isn’t yet. So, everyday, I do simple things like running errands and doing housework so my wife doesn’t have to worry about that sort of thing when she makes it home from work. This isn’t the showy, red roses kind of gesture that happens on Valentine’s Day but, it does make a difference in the life of someone I care about and it happens every day of her working life. It is a way of living one’s life for the benefit of others and doing so all year long. Because of that, those special days such as Valentines Day, seem forced to us. We almost feel obligated to make some sort of public gesture toward each other so that other people will be ok with it. For us, our love is deep and true and we feel it all 365 days of the year. We don’t need a special day in February to know that we love each other, despite what advertisers may wish us to feel. We live a love-filled life and that trumps the showy symbolism of Valentines Day. I can say the same about birthdays, Mother’s Day and Canada Day, too.

My reason for writing this post today is because of certain events that have transpired in Canada this past week. On Monday, we marked a special day known here as Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day is a day set aside to honour all people who have worn a military uniform for Canada and have fought, in some capacity, in wars around the world. Like caring for the Earth or loving those members of your family, showing respect to those who gave their lives so that we can all live a rather free and democratic life, is something worth doing. Like shutting off your lights for an hour on Earth Day or giving your loved one a box of Belgian chocolates on Valentines Day, there has come to be a socially-acceptable way of symbolically showing respect on Remembrance Day in Canada and that is, by wearing a poppy on the lapel of your coat, over top of your heart.

Remembrance Day is rooted in our History. For example, we observe Remembrance Day on November 11th at 11:00am because that is the date and time that the Armistice agreement was signed, ending World War 1. We wear poppies because of a famous poem written by medical doctor, Lt. John McCrae called In Flanders Field, about poppies growing on the battlefields near where he was tending the wounded. As a country, Canada came of age, in part, because of our participation as our own nation in the Allied Forces that battled on the Western Front in Europe. All through my life, until this year, Remembrance Day has always been a respectful and solemn observance that has always helped to remind everyone of the incredible price paid by some so we can live as we do.

This year in Canada, Remembrance Day didn’t feel like that. It felt divisive.

Increasingly, we seem to be living in a culture of “us vs them”. If you aren’t with us then, you’re against us. There is no common ground anymore. These days, we dig ourselves into our respective social media trenches on either side of our partisan demarcation points and we launch barrage after barrage of verbal grenades at those who aren’t like us. It is all so very ugly and it is a stain on the memories of those we used to seek to honour with our solemnity and decorum. This Remembrance Day was an ugly affair that ended up having very little to do with honouring anyone’s memory and everything to do with creating a patriotic litmus test over the showier aspects of the day. It was very much an “us vs them” yelling match over that ubiquitous notion of what constitutes “Canadian values”. The powder keg that ignited this blast? The little plastic poppies sold by The Royal Canadian Legion.

Apparently, fewer and fewer people have taken to wearing a plastic poppy. Like attendance in Church, poppy use has been on the decline in Canada for several years now. There are various theories on why this is; all of them containing some measure of validity. But, for many Canadians, a decrease in poppy use struck them as just one more attack on the history of Canadian culture. That our country is changing and evolving over time was cloaked in rhetoric that described that change as being a threat from “them” to “us”. In the process, TV personalities and media pundits all got involved in demonizing those bringing change….immigrants…….and the ugliness of it all erupted in volcanic proportions. Somewhere, lost in the muck and the mire, the dead bodies of those soldiers left behind in Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, rotated on a slow burn.

This is the danger when we, as a society, invest all of our energies into symbols instead of practices. The real-life litmus test about how to honour our fallen soldiers is no more about wearing a little plastic Belgian flower in November than buying my wife flowers in February is about how deeply my love runs for her. It is all about lifestyle choices and the attitudes that colour our lives all throughout the year. If we really want to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, here is a list of things we should do:

1- Vote: If the crux of why Canada went to war twice this past century was to preserve democratic values for those of us left behind then, it is our responsibility to help maintain democracy by voting in the elections that are held. Voting is one of the main ways we can all ensure that our country is run for the benefit of a majority of its citizens. So, if you want to honour a fallen soldier, whisper their name as you mark that “X” on whatever ballot you happen to have. Participatory Democracy is a wonderful thing and something that thousands of soldiers felt was worth fighting for. So, vote!

2- Listen/Read as a Critical Thinker: Somehow, in the poppy debate that sprang to life this week, a lack of critical thinking skills was on display for all to see. Somehow, all Canadian soldiers who fought in wars were white men and we can’t say Merry Christmas anymore and our Prime Minister wore black face at a party in his younger days and so, what ya going to do about that, eh?! Logic disappeared down the rabbit hole and it quickly became very difficult to have a sensible conversation with anyone about Remembrance Day at all. The talk all became about TV personalities and immigrants who, if you follow the Alice-in-Wonderlandesque logic displayed in most online comment threads, aren’t real Canadians and they are the cause of change and we don’t like change now, do we?!

Sometimes a news story is what it is about and, sometimes, it is about something bigger. There was, obviously, a political aspect to the debate about poppies and immigrants and Canadian values. Anti-immigration views are held by right-wing political parties around the world. Seeing as we get so much of our news online these days, it is important to know the spin behind the post or tweet you read. It is equally important to understand how media ownership in Canada shapes the way stories are reported and/or not reported at all. Being a critical thinker and understanding how information makes its way to your screen is a very important skill to have. Sometimes, a simple sound bite is easier to digest than to actually take the time to examine an issue but, if you really want to honour the memory of a fallen soldier then, take the extra time to read critically so you completely understand what you are debating and what is at stake. Because, let’s be honest, the poppy controversy this week was never really about poppies.

3- Be a Decent Human Being: If you are ever read a survey of citizens of foreign countries being asked about Canada and Canadians, you always get the same results: Canadians are nice and friendly and kind and caring and have good education system and healthcare and lots of beautiful land. Our image in the world remains very positive. We can honour the memory of our veterans by helping to keep Canada that country that is a such a role-model throughout the world. One of the best ways to do that is by being all of the things that we are known for. Be kind to those you come into contact with. It costs nothing to smile and be pleasant and polite. Live an environmentally friendly lifestyle because it helps preserve the wonderful countryside, of which there is so much in Canada. Be thankful and grateful to those who work on your behalf. If you want to thank a veteran or honour a memory, do so but, as well, thank your waiter/waitress, thank the cook who made your meal. Thank your child’s teacher. Thank a police officer or fire fighter or nurse for all they do. Be thankful and positive as your go-to option in life. People appreciate being treated nicely. Raising the tenor of our social conduct is a wonderful way to maintain a Canada that the world loves and that millions died to protect.

4- Be Receptive To Change: Change is a part of life. I know that I certainly live differently now that I did half a lifetime ago. Some of those changes have come at my discretion but, others have come because of age or finances or external factors such as the environment. Regardless of how I arrived at each new point in my life, each new point appeared and I was tasked with accepting said change or fighting it. When it comes to the poppy debate, this is one of the fundamental underlying aspects: change and how people react toward it.

Those who stoke division as a political tool will tell you that change is to be avoided at all cost. Change is a threat to a way of life that deserves protection and continuation. For example, green energy is portrayed as a threat to those who favour fossil fuels. Immigration is portrayed as a threat to those who believe that a white, Christian culture is the foundation of our History. There is never room for blending options; one is good and one is always bad. One is to be treasured, one is to be feared. In the poppy debate this week, immigrants were used as a political tool to reinforce the notion that change is bad and is to be resisted. I have had several conversations this week with people about this and each of them said, at one point or another, “I wish things didn’t have to change.” It was said with a sigh and a sense of resignation that “others, who are different from us” will be defining how we live our lives going forward. That is too bad because that is not how it needs to be. Change can be wonderful.

Meeting my wife changed my life in a significant way, as did, having children. But, in both instances, that change bettered my life. When I grew up, I did so in a house that served a meat-and-potatoes meal almost every night. I loved those foods and still enjoy ham and steak and roast beef, etc. today. But, moving away from home brought me into contact with people who came from different cultural backgrounds and who introduced me to things like pirogies, curry, homemade tortillas and so much more. My diet is richer and more varied because I accepted change into my life. The biggest recent change for me has been retirement and the greatest positive consequence of retiring has been a complete revamping of how I spend my time during a day. I am more relaxed/less stressed, I do more of what I am interested in doing, I still get to be helpful to others and because I can get things done around the house during the day, it changes how family time is used because that time is no longer having to be spent on errands or chores as much as it once did. Change has given me a family and good food and time to use as I see fit. Change has been good and I am thankful to all of the various kinds souls who have come into my life and helped me grow as a person.

As we move onward with our lives, it is my belief that we need to do so with a greater resolve to move away from placing too much importance on symbolic gestures such as wearing a poppy or turning off your lights on Earth day and move toward developing a year-long set of lifestyle choices that demonstrate our commitment to a healthier environment, a more loving and positive social life, a more involved and aware sense of civic responsibilities and a broader, deeper appreciation for the changes that life throws our way.

I will end with the following: at the beginning of the movie Patton, actor George C. Scott, in the title role, famously said, “No one ever won a war by dying for their country. They won the war by making some other dumb, son of a bitch die for his country.” Our soldiers fought their wars with the belief that they were the good guys. They believed that they were representing a nation that was good, as well. They fought against oppression and cruelty. They fought for freedom and democracy. If we want to honour their memory, wear a little plastic flower on your lapel if that so moves you but, more than that, honour their memory by living a life of honour and charity and faithfulness. Be a good person. Last time I checked, good people came in all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, genders, and cultures, too.

Sesame Street Turns Fifty!

In 2014, when Sesame Street turned forty-five, I wrote this blog post about the importance of a television show for children that, for my money, was the best of all time. Not only did the show teach academic skills such as letter recognition and counting but, it taught life skills to children in a very natural and respectful way. As an elementary school teacher for 27 years at the time of the creation of this post, one of the lessons I had learned is that children want to understand their world and that they are capable of understanding weighty topics when the adults in their world take the time to explain things clearly and with respect. The episode on Sesame Street that dealt with the death of Mr. Hooper is the best example of how to help children deal with important issues. Please enjoy this important post from five years ago. Thanks.

M: M is for Mr. Hooper

North American network television is a vast intellectual wasteland…..with all due respect to those who consider The Jerry Springer Show to be fine investigative journalism or Honey Boo-Boo to be wholesome family drama.

But, one area where North American network television comes off shining like new dimes is in the area of producing quality educational programming for children.  Throughout the entire history of television broadcasting in North America, there have been plenty of examples of shows that were created to help children learn basic skills such as counting and reading, as well as, lessons in life such as how to be a good friend.

In Canada, we have had shows such as The Road to Avonlea (based upon Anne of Green Gables), Mr. DressupThe Friendly Giant, as well as, the whole segments of their daily schedules allotted to children’s programming by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (C.B.C.) and TV Ontario (T.V.O.).

In the United States, there have been excellent programmes such as Captain KangarooMr. Rogers Neighbourhoodthe Electric Company and, today’s great shows such as the Magic School BusSid the Science KidSuper Why and many, many more.   All of these shows are well-written; mixing the teaching of facts with adventure and humour. All are respectful of the intellectual development of their audience members and always talk to them at a level appropriate for them to understand.  All of these shows deliver good messages such as believing in yourself, never giving up and doing the right thing, even when no one os looking.  They are all good shows and, as a parent and a teacher, I can, wholeheartedly, recommend them as good viewing for today’s children.

However, there is one show that towers above the rest in terms of the depth, breadth and impact of its’ programming on the cultural landscape of North America.  That show is Sesame Street.   The cast of characters from this show is a veritable who’s-who of cultural icons:  Big Bird, the Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, just to name a few.   Sesame Street has been on the air for over forty years. In that time, countless children have learned to count with the number of the day, learned to spell because of the letter of the day or, to read because of the word of the day.  But, just as importantly, the characters all live together, in harmony, in their own neighbourhood.  If nothing else, Sesame Street has provided a visual demonstration, day in and day out, of how communities and neighbourhoods should be.  We should all care about our neighbour’s well-being.  We should all pitch in and work together to help maintain our neighbourhoods.  We should willingly join together to celebrate the good times and commiserate during the bad.  They did, every episode, on Sesame Street, in the most natural, unobtrusive way.

Being a parent and a teacher, I have found that, often, the best way to help children develop into well-adjusted, positive-minded adults is to treat them with honesty, fairness and respect.  There are plenty of moments that provide opportunities for the teaching of life lessons along the way.  Knowing how to handle such sensitive moments properly can help to lay a foundation of trust that will bear fruit, later in life, when the consequences of our children’s decisions may leave more permanent marks on their lives.   

Sunny Days
Under a cotton ball sky, A nest is discovered, One egg left unhatched. Tiny hands reach out to cradle newfound treasure. Lessons in life and death ensue. The price of growing up: Innocence.

When I think about moments life this, I recall one time when TV actually led the way. In what is widely considered one of the finest moments ever in all of broadcasting history, The Children’s Television Workshop accorded children everywhere the ultimate compliment by treating them with respect and compassion and believing them capable of understanding one of the most sensitive of all topics: Death.


When one of the long time actors on Sesame Street passed away in real life, the writers decided to use his absence as a teachable moment. They did so by having the rest of the adults on Sesame Street help Big Bird understand that Mr. Hooper, his friend, had died and what that actually meant. The airing of this episode was a watershed moment in Television history and one that still is used to help explain the concept of Death to children (most recently during the Sandy Hook tragedy). If you want to see television at its’ best then, watch “Big Bird Learns About Death.” Sorry, in advance, for making you cry.

You can watch this special scene here.

I always, always lose it right after Big Bird says that he is going to go into the store to give Mr. Hooper his drawing and the rest of the people gathered there react with uncomfortable silence.  I cry and I cry because Big Bird is about to lose some of that most precious of childhood treasures; his innocence.  But Death is a thorny issue, strewn as it is with emotional land mines all around.  In my opinion, the producers of Sesame Street handled this episode perfectly.

First of all, they didn’t tell Big Bird that Mr. Hooper died because he was old.  Many children view their own parents as being old. To equate age with death would needlessly worry millions of young children the next time one of their parents coughed.   Secondly, they didn’t tell Big Bird that Mr. Hooper died because he was sick.  Children get sick all of the time.  No one wanted them to become scared that they were going to die just because they developed a routine illness. 

No, Big Bird was told several important things:  Mr. Hooper died just because it is a normal part of life.  Big Bird was told that his friends would still be there for him and that life would continue to go on as normally as possible.  Big Bird was told that it is normal to feel sad and that the adults did, too.

I have been alive on this planet for fifty years and have watched tv shows, of one sort or another, for almost all those years.  In my opinion, as a seasoned consumer of television shows, those six minutes on Sesame Street are the finest moments ever to air on network television.  It just goes to show the power of television when producers create shows with thoughtfulness and respectfulness at the core of their broadcasting philosophies.

Did you have a favourite tv show when you were a child?  As parents, what does/did your child like to watch?  Do they watch tv at all or, is everything viewed from the Internet these days?  Whatever the case, please feel free to share your feelings in the comment box below.  Thanks, as always, for reading.  🙂

17- Grace, Too.

The Tragically Hip were about to experience their big moment in the spotlight of American television. They were the musical guests on Saturday Night Live, hosted by their friend and fellow Canadian from Kingston, Ontario, Dan Ackroyd. It was a star turn, ten years in the making by that point. Yet, for the most part, it was their national debut in the United States. For a band that had always believed that they would forge their creative identity by sticking to the roots of Rock n’ Roll….“The Blues are still required”…..as it were, appearing on SNL was a pivotal moment in their career. As it turned out, it was a moment that is remembered by many who watched them that night as the time when Gord Downie appeared to muff the opening line of “Grace, Too”. Canada’s rising musical stars appeared nervous as the cameras rolled and a continent watched. But, in reality, how Gord opened “Grace, Too” was as crafted as anything he had ever done on any stage. He was the master of calculated improvisations for a reason. On this night, the reason had something to do with a birthday party for his eleven year old nephew. For Gord Downie and The Hip, family always mattered, even on that night in Manhattan.

Dan Ackroyd was one of the original members of SNL when it debuted waaaay back in the 1975. He is a cast member emeritus. Consequently, when he agreed to come back and host the show it 1994, it was with one condition…..that The Tragically Hip would be the musical guests. Traditionally, the music slot on SNL is reserved for a big name act and/or a hot new act that has a lot of momentum or cache associated with their name. The Tragically Hip checked none of those boxes. In Canada, they were coming off of the huge success of the Fully, Completely album. They were something special back home. But, with the exception of some U.S. border towns like Buffalo and Detroit, The Hip were relatively unknown in America. But, thanks to Dan Ackroyd, there they were as the musical guest on the biggest stage in Television.

There are many ways for a band to approach such a moment. They could have prepped and preened and put on the kind of rock set that they felt an American audience would accept and understand. They could have played safe hits such as “New Orleans is Sinking”, which had received moderate airplay south of the border. But, instead, they stuck to their roots and their penchant for being somewhat contrarian when it came to the U.S. and decided to debut a new song. That song was “Grace, Too“.

Grace, Too” was the opening track on their new album called, “Day for Night”. The second song they played during the show was “Nautical Disaster”, also from their new album. It was a bold, risky move to use their golden moment on the biggest stage of their careers to debut two unknown songs. But, sometimes, the biggest statement any creative person or group can make is to have confidence in their work, regardless of how well it is known. The Hip had been rehearsing “Grace, Too” for awhile and they knew they had a powerful song on their hands. So, they opted to trust their own instincts and go with the best and freshest music they had. As a band, The Hip always played their best music and gave every audience their best show. That night in Manhattan would be no different. New song or old, The Hip took the SNL stage prepared to take on America on their own terms. They trusted that they, and their new songs, would be enough.

SNL came back out of commercial. Dan Ackroyd appeared wearing a white shirt with a huge red word CANADA emblazoned across his chest. He smiled and staked our national claim to that 30 Rock stage. He introduced, with pride, his friends from Kingston, Ontario, The Tragically Hip. The audience applauded then, grew silent in anticipation of what was to come from this unknown band. The now familiar opening guitar chords of “Grace, Too” were struck, Gord approached the microphone and launched into the song. Only, he said the opening line wrong! In the video of this performance, you can see Gord shake his head afterwards, as if to say, what the heck did I just do.

The opening lyrics go, as follows: “He said, I’m fabulously rich! C’mon, just let’s go! She kinda bit her lip, Geez, I don’t know“. When Gord’s opening words were, “He said, I’m Tragically Hip” it seemed almost cringeworthy. It reeked of the opposite of confidence. To name-drop yourself is the height of self-absorption. I can remember watching this at home, being so disappointed and thinking that The Hip’s moment was over before it had even really began.

But I was wrong.

In interviews afterwards, Gord admitted to being distracted prior to the start of his performance. Gord had always been a good family man. He was very loyal to those he loved. His personal generosity and charitable nature were legendary. So, it was in 1994, as The Tragically Hip were about to be given, potentially, the biggest opportunity of their career, that Gord Downie made a promise to his nephew. His nephew was about to turn eleven years old. Gord would have been there for the party if time had allowed but, he was to be in New York instead. So, he promised his nephew a secret shout-out from the SNL stage. Among the million and one thoughts coursing through his head as he hit the stage and listened to Dan Ackroyd’s introduction, was that he had to, had to, had to remember his nephew off of the top of the song. When you watch the video, you will see Gord bring his fingers together to make an “11”. That was the shout-out. That was what he was thinking most about as he mindlessly repeated Ackroyd’s final words.

As Gord realized his error, he quickly regrouped and gave a ferocious performance. Gord is at his finest, frenetic self throughout the remainder of the song. How he fails to bang his head into the microphone in all his flailing about is amazing to me. It is a showcase performance for everything that made Gord Downie the mesmerizing front man he was. While Gord thrashed about the space in front of the mic stand, the band played on. “Grace, Too” is a song filled with powerful, growling, driving guitar chords. Rob Baker turns in a virtuoso performance on stage-right from Gord; his notes revving Gord’s vocal engine from the start to the finish. One of the hallmarks of all great bands is the level of collective skill that the band brings to bear but, also, how well the individual talent of the players serves to raise everyone’s game. On a night when Gord experienced a rare stumble out of the gate, the band picked him up and helped Gord right himself and then, rise up above it all. At the time, I thought the SNL performance was a disaster but now, looking back at it with more mature eyes, it has become, for me, the definitive live performance of “Grace, Too“.

On the Monday morning following the SNL show, I was driving to work and listening to the radio. The Toronto-area DJ was raving about how The Hip had “killed it” on Saturday Night Live and that all of Canada must be so very proud of how they did. At the time, I had tuned into the SNL show because I wanted to see a Canadian band do well in America. Many Canadians felt the same way because that was an inherent measure of the worth of any of our creative talents. We appreciated them at home but, if they made it big in the U.S. then, we would reeeeeeally love them. The fact of the matter was that The Tragically Hip sought to change the metric by which success was measured for Canadian acts. They did this all throughout their career. They did it on that night in Manhattan, too. They took to the biggest stage in America and trusted themselves, as musicians, as songwriters and as performers. The lessons embedded in this translate nicely to real life for all of us. If we want to be liked then, the best way for that to happen is to be ourselves. We need to trust that who we are is enough for others. Those who like who we really are will be the ones to become our good friends and our family. Those will be the people whose opinion matters in the end.

The video for this great song, “Grace, Too” can be found here. Remember to watch for the secret shout-out as Gord starts to speak and then, the shake of his head and the roll of his eyes as he realizes his opening error. Then watch him work. What a tremendous live performance!

As always, I thank you for reading my words. If you have any comments to make about this song, this particular performance on SNL, on what you think this song is actually about (because it has been the subject of more debate than most Hip songs) or whatever you heart desires, feel free to do so in the comments box below. If nothing else, always remember that the essence of who you are is more than good enough to be welcomed into the lives of others. You are worthy simply because you exist. That, for me, is the lesson of “Grace, Too“.

The Tao of Halloween

Happy Halloween, everyone! It is All Hallows Eve in our neck of the woods. The pumpkins stand watch on our front step. The treats have all been readied to give to any nasty little Spirits of the Dead who dare to darken our door tonight. Costumes have been donned. Trick-or-treating plans have been formulated. We are all prepared. Except for one thing…….it is raining.

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for our town that speaks of damaging winds and torrential rainfall and possible flooding. There has been some talk that communities in our area may dare to postpone Halloween for safety reasons and have it later on during the weekend. The children are having none of that talk. My youngest daughter has railed against the injustice of it all and this, being her final year of knocking on doors, has demanded to head out into the maelstrom regardless. As she stomps her feet and folds her arms, she looks to her mother and says, “We’ll go together, right Mom?!” Mom is not as enthusiastic.

Mom is a teacher. She still has to spend the next six hours of her life at school with several hundred costumed children; all out of routine, all amped up in anticipation of the sugar high to come, all without the benefit of the usual recess breaks because, as mentioned, it is dark and stormy and no one is going outside on this day. Teachers and students, alike, will all experience this day together for Halloween, in school, on an indoor recess day, is a day like no other. It is the perfect storm, as school days go.

A “perfect storm”, by definition, is an unusual event, characterized by the coming together of elements that usually remain apart. This day has it all! Children gorging on unhealthy food. No fresh air to stimulate young brains. Visual distractions everywhere the eye can see. The unrelentlessness of being trapped for six hours straight in classrooms that smell so much like sugar that your teeth begin to ache. The noise. The endless stimulation. It all can be too much and, it often is. It is a fairly safe bet that, before the school day ends, there will be vomit and tears and lost costume parts.

And yet, at the end of the school year, when students are asked to reflect upon all that they have experienced, many will point to Halloween as being their favourite day of them all. The overwhelming sensory stimulation will have been forgotten. What will remain is the memory of doing something special with people who are special to them and, most of all, that this day was fun. Every adult who works in a school for the benefit of young children deserves an extra bonus in their pay packet on days such as today for today, the magic they wield is very real.

If you have ever watched someone in a canoe battling to stay upright as they descend through a series of rapids then, you may have some idea of the awesome energy at play today in classrooms on Halloween, on an indoor recess day. A good teacher accepts that energy and absorbs it into the fabric of the class schedule for that day. For example, in many schools, one of the very first activities on Halloween is some sort of costume parade throughout the school or, if applicable, through the neighbourhoods that adjoin the school. This activity is very much by design and holds an important purpose. As the children first enter the school building on Halloween morning, they are, quite literally, pulsating with excitement. Fifteen minutes or so later, they are walking in a straight line for half an hour and they couldn’t be happier doing it. They think they are doing something grand and glorious; visiting classroom spaces normally off limits to them, seeing how other classes decorated their rooms, hearing the feedback from other students regarding their costume choices and yet, while excited, the kids are all calming down and settling in to the routine of the day…..a different kind of day, yes but, a school day, still.

By the time Halloween arrives, good teachers will have spent many weeks establishing consistent classroom routines. If they have been successful, a school day for their students will have a certain feel to it. That “feel” can best be described as a sense of comfort and familiarity for the students. One of the reasons that students like coming to school is that they know what to expect will happen to them throughout a day. There is little in the way of unfamiliarity to provoke anxiety. All is relatively well known. Establishing a consistent structure to each day allows the day to flow seamlessly from one activity to another. Halloween is the first real test of this in the school year. For Halloween at school cannot be six hours of straight unbridled partying. Six hours is a loooooong time when there is no structure to a day seemingly devoid of structure. But, there is always structure. That’s how educators make the day memorable for students and sane for themselves.

By the time the students have walked in a line for thirty minutes, they are ready to return to their own classroom space. They are ready to start their party. But, it is funny, young children do not know, instinctively, how to party. Unlike adults, they don’t tend automatically crank the tunes and commence with drinks and dancing. Young children tend to wait to be told how their party is going to work. What are the rules of this party? What order are things going to happen? When do we get to eat? If a teacher has done a good job of establishing the classroom routines prior to this day then, anarchy will remain a stranger and, instead, the kids will sit down on the carpet, as they always do, when they start their day. They will wait to start their day because that is what they have been trained to do.

A good teacher will design a different, looser day for their students because, despite their training, small children on Halloween on an indoor recess day are still small children on Halloween on an indoor recess day and their capacity for studious, industrious work is limited. No doubt, there will be Halloween colouring sheets and word search puzzles. There will be jigsaw puzzles and opportunities to build scary things with blocks. Students will be allowed to make Halloween crafts, draw spooky pictures, paint scenes that would make your hair curl. There will be computer time and story time, too. Of course, a classroom pumpkin will be carved, seeds extracted and counted and baked.

Then, of course, there will be snacks to eat along the way, as well. Healthy snacks first. Always healthy snacks first! This is when good classroom routines bear fruit. Prior to this day, whenever it is lunch time in class and the students open their lunch bags, a good teacher will always insist that students eat their healthy snacks first. Not all students have the healthiest of lunches. But, you want to honour their parents for sending in whatever they could afford so, you allow the child to eat everything in their lunch bag but, you always start by having them eat the healthiest foods first so that, if they are to fill up on anything, it will, at least, have been healthy for them. Halloween is no different. Food is one of the main attractions to this day for children. But, a good teacher will work to stem the tide of sugar intake by building on good classroom routines and inviting the kids to graze on fruit while they “party” at their Halloween activity centres. Once the fruit is gone then, there will be time for cupcakes. But, there is always lots of fruit to eat first.

You know, as well as I, that when our bellies are full, we tend to slooooooow down. So, time spent in the first half of the school day inviting children to fill their bellies has the added benefit of causing them to sloooooow down as well as the day progresses. Usually, around the half way mark, the kids begin to tire of their party and will want a break. This is when it is a good time for a movie and for some healthy popcorn, too. Keep eating, little ones, keep eating those healthy snacks.

By the end of the day, most small children are spent. Costumes are half on and half off. Their body posture can best be described as wilted. Not very many muster any level of excitement when the teacher brings out the big, heavily iced cupcakes just before home time. At the end of the day, the classroom will smell badly, there will be wrappers and crumbs around the room and no one will really care about taking home their Halloween worksheets and crafts, either. The kids actually do more resemble zombies than whatever it was they were supposed to be while getting ready for home. All in all, it will have been quite a day for everyone concerned. A day that, as tiring and overwhelming as it may have been; for many, it will be a day that they will cherish throughout the rest of the school year.

So, as my daughter looks to my wife for support on her determined quest to go out trick-or-treating in a storm, my wife looks back with an expression of weary wisdom on her face in reply. Much will have happened between this moment and the next moment they meet, eight hours or so, from now. So, Mom says, “I suppose but, we’ll see.” That seems a more realistic answer on a day that may turn out to be like no other. But, then again, it may, in fact, be a day of memories for my daughter who, years from now, will say to her Mom, “Remember that day I was a cow girl and your braided my hair for me and took me trick-or-treating for the last time? That was an awesome day, right?” And Mom will look at her daughter and say, “Yes. Of course it was. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

Living in a Man’s World

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning and came across a comment thread by a lady named Mary Robinette Kowal. She tweeted this photo of two astronauts working aboard the International Space Station. At first blush, this photo seems fairly innocent, as both crew members share the task of recording whatever observations they are making through the porthole window. But, maybe, my many female followers will be able to detect what is happening that prompted Mary Robinette Kowal to tweet as she did. From my male perspective, I first looked at this photo and saw, what looked like, gender equality on display. I felt good that both scientists were working collaboratively, in apparent harmony, as true partners in this experiment of theirs. But, when Mary Robinette Kowal looked at this photo, she saw inequity; an inequity that is a feature of life for most women living in a man’s world. Let me explain.

A few years ago, when I was still teaching primary-aged children, we had the good fortune to learn about the International Space Station from a Canadian astronaut named Chris Hadfield. Commander Hadfield was as skilled a communicator, as he was an astronaut. As part of his mission, he sought to educate children about space so, he would accept questions from school children and would answer them by making short videos. One child asked him how he slept at night without floating away. He replied by demonstrating how each crew member had their own sleeping bag tethered to a wall inside a compartment. He climbed into the bag, zipped it up and pretended to sleep, staying perfectly in place the whole time. Then, he went on to talk about doing his scientific work. Commander Hadfield said that whenever he had to stand still and perform a task or look out of a window, he would place his feet under a blue bar that was attached to the floor. By doing that, his feet would hit the bar and he would stand, rooted in place. So, what does this have to do with inequity, you ask? I want you to look back at the photo and find the blue bar on the floor. Now, look at how the astronauts are conducting their experiment of looking out of the porthole and recording their results.

Mary Robinette Kowal pointed out that the male astronaut had his feet tucked up under the bar but, the smaller, female astronaut could not use the bar to stabilize herself and still do her job of looking out of the window. She pointed out that the female astronaut was still able to complete her task but, that she had to do so by compensating for the fact that the International Space Station was built with male astronauts in mind. That, declared Robinette Kowal, is an experience shared by many females all throughout life.

Among the many thing Mary Robinette Kowal has done in her life, she is a professional puppeteer. She gave another example the contortions many women face in the workplace by describing her time spent working on The Muppet Show with master puppeteer, Jim Henson. She said that Henson was six foot, three inches tall and that because he was the main puppeteer, the sets were built to accommodate his body size and not her, much-smaller frame. She talked about wearing special shoes with six inch lifts, standing on boxes, etc. and how the mere act of bringing her characters to life in Jim Henson’s physical universe caused her discomfort and pain, at times. I never got the sense that she was complaining about her treatment on set by her male co-workers. But, I did get the very real sense that in order for her to work on set, she was expected to “do what she had to do” to reach the proper heights or, in other words, like the female astronaut above, it was assumed that she would compensate for working in a male environment.

I am a man. Yes, I am. I like to think that I am relatively forward-thinking when it comes to issues of equity but, just the same, my male privilege colours my experiences in life in ways that will always be different. For example, I never think twice about walking down a quiet street at night. The bill is almost always given to me to pay in restaurants after our meal is done. When trades people come to our house for any reason, they always direct their discussions toward the “man of the house”. Finally, at school, I was, almost always, accorded respect by parents because I was a male teacher. I was rarely challenged for my comments on report cards, certain students were placed in my room so that they could have a “male influence” to guide them and so on. None of these things make me superior but, they do serve to highlight that my life experiences are different in many ways because I am a man. The problem comes when, as a society, we accept these differences as being normal….so normal, in fact, that we don’t even see the evidence in front of our eyes, as in the photo above.

As a man, I remain a work in progress when it comes to issues of gender equality. I fully support issues of pay equity, for example and I try very hard to champion the accomplishments of females and to advocate for equal opportunities for all girls and women in life. But, admittedly, I accept my privilege easily, too. And, if I still have a way to go then, what about the majority of other men who don’t give gender issues a second thought?! So if you are a female reader of this post, I would like to learn from your experiences, just as I did from Mary Robinette Kowal and her tweet this morning. If there was one thing that you would like men to know about your own experiences that you feel they don’t they even realize, what would that be? Is there something that men should know that may help create a positive change in our behaviour? If so, let me know in the comments below. My blog is your blog this day. Let class be in session. As men, we all have much to learn. Thanks, in advance, for sharing your knowledge.

*I will add that those readers who know me in real life may feel safe in their knowledge that I am a good person and that I will welcome their words. For those who do not know me in real life, please know that my blog is a safe haven for your thoughts and advice. I am not a troll waiting to ambush you. Asking for trust is asking for a lot, I know. But, if you come to know anything about me, know this……I am a gentleman. I was raised right. You are safe with me.

I look forward to your comments and your wisdom.

Walking the Walk

Last Friday, on September 20, 2019, millions of people from all seven continents of the world, took part in public marches to raise awareness of the precarious nature of the health of our planet and to demand immediate action to start rectifying the situation. In Canada, there were no major marches that day. Instead, Canadians will show their concern this Friday. The biggest march is predicted to be the one taking place in Montreal. Greta Thunberg is scheduled to appear and help lead the march. Leah and I will be travelling to Toronto and participating in the march there. So far, an estimated 20,000 people will be there. I expect that number will be larger.

As the date of the Toronto Climate March drew closer, we began telling our friends of our intentions to attend the event. I was surprised that many of them did not know about the march or, worse still, they were not even that familiar with the issue of Climate Change and the consequences for us as a species. Let me assure you that this issue isn’t political spin. It is very real. As I type these words, the Amazon Rainforest is burning. I read a news article this morning that claimed that Alaska is ice free along its coastlines. You can easily search sites, such as YouTube, for video evidence of glaciers melting and collapsing. The Ozone Layer has been thinning for years. Our pollinating insects, such as bees, are becoming endangered. The list of calamities is unfolding, seemingly, in slow motion but, from an ecological point of view, we are rapidly approaching a “tipping point” from which recovery will be next to impossible. When the young Climate activists speak these days, they all say that, as a species, we are at the early stages of the sixth mass extinction. That sounds bad because, well, it is bad. Mass extinction means an entire species disappears, never to re-appear again. Let me tell you a bit about one of the most famous mass extinctions. This is a story I used to share with my students when I was still teaching. It is the story of the Dinosaurs.

The story of the Dinosaurs is more complex than I will present it today. I am keeping things simple. While there are several theories as to what happened to cause almost all dinosaurs to become extinct, the most widely held theory involves a meteorite crashing into the Earth. It is said that the meteor was large enough and the hit was direct enough to cause a massive dust cloud to fill the air for years, blocking out the Sun. This set off a chain reaction of the Earth’s temperature cooling which, in turn, caused plant life to wither, which caused the plant-eating dinosaurs to lose their food supply and starve which, then, caused the meat-eating dinosaurs to lose their food supply and starve. In short, the climate of the Earth changed, setting off a chain reaction of events that the dominant species at the time were unable to reverse. The living conditions of the dinosaurs became unbearable for them, they lost their food supply and then, vanished into the History books of Time. Just like that. Poof! Gone! The biggest, brawniest, most massive creatures the world has ever seen……extinct.

Mass extinction doesn’t happen with the snap of one’s fingers. It takes time to die off completely. But, once essential elements begin to fall into place, it doesn’t take much to see how fragile our existence is and how we, as Humans, the smartest, most highly-evolved thinkers of all-time, could easily find ourselves relegated to the History books of Time, too.

I make no claim for having all of the answers necessary to reverse the negative consequences of Climate Change. I am not a superhero, nor is anyone in my family. But, as a family, we have made some deliberate changes as to how we live our lives; changes that, we believe, will help the environment and will lessen our impact upon it. None of these decisions, by themselves, simply because of us, will solve the issues that require solving. But, collectively, if we all take steps to do right by Mother Earth then, maybe, just maybe, we can slow our death march down and start to restore the health of Planet Earth.

For example, there used to be a TV show that we liked called CSI or, Crime Scene Investigation. My wife had a fangirl crush on the lead character, the head of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, Gil Grissom. As part of his back story, he studied bees and other pollinators and often spoke to his other actors of the importance to our world of these pollinating creatures and how they were becoming endangered because of pesticide use, habitat loss and so on. Grissom had being a Science-wonk engrained into his on-screen character’s personality. It was over a decade ago that he spoke of the fragility of our food supply because of the potential loss of bees and other pollinators. In that time, the MacInnes Family has changed how we use our own property. We have expanded our gardens and paid more attention to their composition; adding in flowers that are bee and butterfly friendly. We have done this for several years now and, this summer, we noticed more bees and butterflies than ever before. Whether this was just a lucky fluke, I can’t say. But, I can say that more and more families have planted milkweed (for the Monarchs to lay their eggs on) and planted flowers such as zinnia, daises, butterfly bushes and so on. As a family, the girls has raised and released 16 monarch butterflies. We have one more in a chrysalis in the living room and then, that will probably be it for this season. As a town, Cobourg has established pollinator-friendly gardens along our beautiful beaches and, as you can see from the photo above, the butterflies, in particular, have never been more plentiful.

Another thing we did as a family was to plant trees. As many of you know, trees are the “lungs” that help us all breathe. By converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, trees are among the most important weapons we have to fight against the effects of Climate Change. So, as you can see from the photo, Earth Ranger Sophie has planted a new tree in our front yard. But, both girls have helped to plant dozens of trees throughout our town as part of their Brownie and Girl Guide Troops. In one case, they planted trees along a creek, in a riparian zone, to help restore the integrity of the banks of the creek. In other cases, the girls planted trees in abandoned fields and have, as a result, helped create a new wrinkle to the eco-system that had previously existed there.

One of the easiest things we have done as a family to help the earth is cutting back on our use of plastic. (a) Up until this past year, I never gave straws a second thought. Now, in restaurants, we make a point of requesting that they not give us straws with our water or milk shakes. At home, we have purchased straws made of silicone and simply wash and re-use them. (b) When we shop at the grocery store, we always take in reusable shopping bags. Gone are the days when our food was placed in plastic bags. We have, also, purchased reusable mesh vegetable bags so that when we are buying grapes or onions, etc., we no longer need the plastic bags that the grocery store makes available and that we would end up throwing away and/or recycling.

Finally, we do a lot of other Earth-friendly things, too, in ways that make them easy to become good habits. For example, we compost our table scraps and use the enriched soil that is created in our gardens. We, also, use a rain barrel to collect Nature’s water for use in our gardens, too. We have replaced all of our lightbulbs with energy-efficient models. We keep our thermostat a few degrees lower in the Winter and a few degrees higher in the summer. We have upgraded the insulation in our attic so as to prevent unnecessary heat loss. The girls donate unused toys that they have outgrown so that they don’t contribute to landfill sites. We are eating less meat. It goes on and on. Dozens of small life changes to how we live and how we interact with our environment. We are not Champions of the Planet or anything but, we have taken simple steps to lessen our impact on the environment or, our carbon footprint, as all of the cool kids say.

But, we are not perfect, either. If we want strawberries for school lunches and the only strawberries available at the grocery store come from California or Mexico, we will still buy them. Our vehicles still run on gasoline. Our home is heated by oil. We usually remember to turn off lights when we leave a room…..but, not always.

We are not perfect but, we are improving and, if the truth be told, having healthier, more Earth-friendly habits has not been all that hard. I don’t begrudge having to make these lifestyle changes because, the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. Every time I see a dead whale with a stomach filled with garbage, my desire for change is renewed. Every time I see hurricanes and floods and earthquakes ravaging communities for whom these events never used to be issues, my courage to change my ways is plucked up. Every time I hear of an Indigenous community without clean drinking water, my shame motivates me to be a better global citizen.

And so, tomorrow, Leah and I will join tens of thousands of other like-minded people in Toronto and we will march and will raise up our voices in a choir of concern. In my town of Cobourg and our neighbouring town of Port Hope, smaller marches will take place. Hopefully, these marches will become a habit for many and change will arise as a result. So, thank you to everyone reading this post who recycles and composts and makes their yards welcoming spaces for pollinators. Thanks to all of you who have cut down your energy usage. Thanks for making single-use plastics a dying industry. I applaud each and every one of you who thinks about our environment, where once, we simply took it for granted. You are difference makers. You are the heroes whose efforts Leah and I will carry with us tomorrow in Toronto as we walk the walk for Climate Change and for a healthier world for us all.

Voices Carry

All of my life I have been a quiet person. Some of us are just that way. But even though I may not be the best at starting conversations in social settings, I do have stories to tell and ideas to share. The trick for me in this life has been discovering the best way to make my voice heard.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately because I have discovered a new book. I know I am biased in this regard but, I think Children’s Picture Books are an art form and contain some of the best storytelling you are likely to find anywhere. I Go Quiet by David Ouimet is a book that I wish I had written. It is about me and those of you out there like me. It is about the quiet ones, the introverts and our place in this loud, noisy, busy world of ours. It is about those of us who paint pictures with silence and raise choirs of concerns within our minds. It is for everyone who has a song to sing but prefers doing so in the shower rather than on stage in front of an audience. This book is a wonderful affirmation that it is ok to look for comfort and inspiration from within and that learning to trust the voice you discover there is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.

When I was still a teacher, I always had a soft spot for students whose social presence was whisper light. I made it my mission to find out what made these kids tick and then, guide them to the place where their inner voice resided. Some of the best moments I ever experienced as teacher came from children who wrapped themselves in the safety of our classroom environment and found the courage to be their true selves. This manifested itself in many ways. Some children found their voice in Art. Some found their voice in Athletics. Some found their identity via books and stories. It never mattered to me what form this awakening took, as long as it happened for that child; especially, that child who may have felt that they didn’t matter because they never had an avenue to make themselves heard. Self-expression is very important, as is believing that what you have to say has merit. Helping children to learn to trust in the value of their thoughts, feelings and ideas is of immeasurable importance because when children learn to believe in the power of their own voice, they can change the world.

The most famous recent example of a child having a message to share with the world and having the courage of her convictions to deliver it is Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg. A little over a year ago, Greta begun a public protest regarding the dangers posed by Climate Change. She started a movement for young people that came to be known as #FridaysForFuture. What she did was to go out on Strike from school each Friday. While being on Strike, she sat quietly in front the legislative building in Sweden and demanded politicians take action. Initially, she was ignored by passersby. But, eventually, over time, people began to question why this girl in the yellow jacket, with the pony tails was sitting there, holding her signs. Greta found her voice and helped raise the alarm regarding the precarious nature of the state of our world. She promoted the scientific fact that our planet is approaching a very real “tipping point” of climate-inspired catastrophes that soon we will be unable to reverse. Our very existence is at stake and time is running out. So, Greta left school on Fridays and spoke for all of us.

In time, word of Greta’s School Strike for Climate got out, via news reports and on social media. Other like-minded students, such as 13-year old Alexandria Villasenor, shared Greta’s view that, while going to school is important, it is not important if there is no future for young people. Alexandria began her School Strike 4 Climate in front of the UN building in New York. Like Greta Thunberg, Ms. Villasenor looked within herself and followed the courage of her own convictions. She sat alone on the bench you see in this photo for weeks and weeks. Eventually, the positive power of social media helped propel the School Strike for Climate message so that it reached a wider, more mainstream audience. Climate scientists from around the world loaned their knowledge and credibility to this cause. Soon, local politicians in cities and countries around the world began declaring “Climate Emergencies” in their jurisdictions. Policies have started to be enacted in some countries such as the phasing out of gas-powered automobiles by the mid-2020s. Because quiet children have found their voices, a choir of concern regarding Climate Change is beginning to spread around the world.

It isn’t easy being brave when you feel as though your words are mere dandelion puffs scattered by the slightest of breezes. But, if there is anything that I have learned over the course of my thirty years hanging out with children it is this…….they have ideas that have value and they are worthy of respect from the adults in their world. I am not just referring to the Greta Thunbergs and Alexandria Villasenors of the world, either. Children, everywhere, have beliefs that are valid. They wish for safety and friendship and love and clean water and good food to eat and share together. Children espouse many of the core values that we, as adults, sometimes forget about, as we busy ourselves with things that often don’t matter. We exist on a planet where many adults strive for material gain and personal power. None of that will matter when our world burns beneath our feet. We will all be equally powerless when extreme climate disasters strike. Our money will not help us when the end is about to come and, as the old song says, “All we are is dust in the wind.” If only the adults would listen to the voices of our children.

Getting adults in positions of power to listen to the voices of children is why the School Strike for Climate movement is holding Global Strikes tomorrow (September 20) and next Friday (September 27) in cities all around the world. My daughter, Leah, and I will be attending the march being held in Toronto on the 27th. Greta Thunberg will be leading the march in Montreal that same day. She is marching with Alexandria Villasenor in NYC tomorrow. Tens of thousands of children and adults are expected to march for a better future for our planet and for us. Please feel free to find out more about these marches and about our Climate emergency by clicking on the link www.fridaysforfuture.org

We ignore the quiet ones at our peril. Those of us who are comfortable living, for the most part, within the confines of our own minds, still have a role to play on society’s stage. We don’t all have to lead the march, as the Greta Thunberg’s of the world do but, by lending our presence to the unfolding drama, we give strength to our message and allow our voices to carry. It is easy for some of us to exist, unnoticed. But, there are times when it is too important to remain quiet. The world needs us to all to speak up. Being quiet is no longer an option……even for folks like me.

***Author’s note: I am super-excited to publish this particular post today because it was created in partnership with a former student of mine, Erin Cutler. Waaaaay back in the day, Erin was a sweet, young girl in our Grade 2 class in Bowmanville, Ontario. Erin was always a hard worker and a good friend to others. But, what I always remember about her is the relationship we struck up because of an in-class activity called Journal writing. In her journal book, I would ask Erin to write a letter to me about anything she wanted to talk about and then, I would write back. On the surface, this was an exercise in writing and reading for the child. But, the deeper benefit is that it allowed a private conversation to take place, parallel to what everyone else saw in public. Whenever I wrote back to a student, I always tried to incorporate an illustration to accompany my words. Erin really liked that aspect of our journal conversations and, over time, began responding back with her own Art to go along with her questions and stories. Well, I am happy to report that Erin has grown up to be a lovely young lady who makes her living through Art. Erin specifically created two pieces of original Art for this post; the first is what I call Portrait of Greta and the second is A Choir of Concern. I am humbled beyond measure to have Erin’s great work adorning my words on this post. She is terrific in all regards. Thank you, Erin, for your hard work for this post. Hopefully, we can do this again sometime.

If you wish to see more of her work, please click on the following two links: www.illustrationsbyerin.com and www.instagram.com/illustrationsbyerin .