You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Makes a Great School Great?

I work in a great school. I've mentioned this in many of my previous posts, including Come Together

It's a stretch to even say that it seems like work. There are definitely times when it is tough to get going in the morning and I certainly enjoy the holidays we are blessed to receive. I've worked in several different schools and I say with absolutely certainty that Grandview is great.

It's worth examining and I hope I can do it justice. What happens in our building really is special.

At the heart of a great school are great people. In my mind, education is about allowing children to see who they are and what they could be. Every decision that is made in a school must be made with its students' best interests in mind. Our school motto is "Parents, Students, Staff - Now That's Teamwork". I didn't make it up, but I like it because we really do live it. There will always be people who don't quite fit in, parents who mistrust the system, students who have trouble accepting the culture of how things are done, staff who do not commit themselves to the hard work it takes.

Overall, things work very nicely in our building. We have great kids. The vast majority of them have bought in to what we do. Work hard and play hard. Treat others with respect. Have fun! We don't have a long list of rules, but some things are not negotiable. As the vice principal of the school, I sometimes have to point out to children that it's not OK to play fight. Usually, they believe me and their behavior gets adjusted accordingly. If they don't "get it" the first time, then I need to spend time with them at recess. We watch the other kids, we walk, we talk and usually, they realize that play fighting is not what we do. There have been a few students who either don't get it or tell me they plain don't like that rule and those kids get to be my executive assistants. They get to do jobs inside, help with recycling, or work in my office. These kids are the exception because overall, the students who walk our halls understand their part in making Grandview a great place.

We also have amazing adults in our building. Starting with our indefatigable and overwhelmingly positive principal, Grandview is full of master teachers who care deeply about their students. Our staff is flexible and innovative. They openly embrace guest clinicians, performers and speakers. They seek out new field trips and technology to make learning come alive. These teachers understand that it's not possible to do a great job by arriving at 8:30 and leaving at 3:05 every day. Even better, they know how to work together. When they are given time to collaborate, it's all business and the business is making sure every child in our building gets the best opportunities possible.

The support staff does exactly that. They support the kids and the teachers. They do an amazing range of things and it all helps the kids in our building. Individual assistance, working with groups, tending to cuts, contacting parents, helping students with special needs participate in every activity, preparing materials and learning environments. These ladies do WAY MORE work than they need to and they do it because they enjoy it.

Much of what happens is a result of the prevailing culture in our building. In general, if people don't "get it", they leave sooner or later. I've been at Grandview for five years and we have some turnover each year. The core staff who drive the culture here have also been here for at least that long. It really is an amazing thing to be a part of.

You'll note that there is nothing in this post about achievement. We don't need an outside test or survey to tell us we are doing things right, though we do very well on those externally imposed and contrived "measures". There is nothing in this post about being a "Renaissance School" or a "Seven Habits" school. We don't need to attach any stickers or gloss on what we do. We are not a "Program of Choice" with a focus on arts/technology/languages/science etc. We have never attached the label of a "Professional Learning Community" to what we do, but if you understand what a PLC is supposed to be, you'll see that the definition applies very nicely.

We don't need labels, programs, high test scores and positive survey results. The people who spend their days in our school know it is a great place. You FEEL it the moment you walk in the building and to my knowledge, there is no way to measure a feeling like that.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

This is real. This is your life. In a song.

I need to get something out in the open. Country music makes me cry like a baby. I can't help it and I'm pretty sure I know why.

You need to understand that I love all kinds of music. I don't love them equally, but I can honestly say I have a very open mind when it comes to the things I listen to. Rock, alternative, country, folk, ska, reggae, big band, easy listening, classical, Broadway, jazz, blues, hip-hop, metal, you name it, I can probably listen to it. My iPod play list goes from The Animals to The Emeralds to Eminem to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones to Neil Young to Zac Brown, with lots of stops between. While my late father-in-law liked music that had a good beat, I'm a lyric guy. I am tone-deaf and have only recently gained the ability to read music. I have no talent or rhythm, but I definitely understand how to put words together.

The lyrics don't need to be particularly meaningful or evocative, I just love the way artists assemble words. My favorite band of all time is The Tragically Hip and I honestly believe part of the reason they have not experienced worldwide success is the Canadiana that is infused in their lyrics. One of my favorite Hip tunes starts with a reference to the Group of 7 painter Tom Thompson and that line evokes Thompson's paintings, a canoe and images of a place that is on my bucket list (Alongquin Park).

The lyrics of a song don't need to be particularly profound to elicit a powerful response. The Counting Crows' debut album has a track called "Time and Time Again." It was never a hit, in fact, I'm not sure I have ever heard it played on the radio. The opening lyrics, though, send shivers down my spine.

I wanted so badly/
Somebody other than me/
Staring back at me/
But you were gone. 

I listened to this song repeatedly as I drove to and from a good friend's funeral. It framed the entrance and exit to a monologue I wrote and performed to deal with how profoundly Jeff's passing changed my life. Even today as I write and listen, my eyes fill up and I'm transported to my old SUV
(The Millennium Falcon).

Aside from a few tunes that Gordon Downie would refer to as "weepy little things", most of the music I listened to in my teenage years did not reduce me to a puddle. I liked big, brash, fun music and particularly liked tunes with interesting lyrics. When I met my wife, things changed in a few ways. I started listening to country music.  We bought a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. It was all downhill from there.

After a big all night party at a teammate's house, we were killing time and watching CMT. Now, I'll admit that I was a bit fuzzy and compromised to begin with, but when my buddy Hammy said "This is the saddest song ever", I was a bit interested. The band was called Pirates of the Mississippi and the song is called Feed Jake. It's written from the point of view of a 20something guy who drives home to attend a childhood friend's funeral. In spite of cheeseball lyrics like "What we are and what we ain't/What we can and what we cain't", the video had me fighting back tears.

My next weak moment came on a Friday night when I was in university. My best friend Jeremy came to pick me up and we were having our usual warm up drinks before heading out for the night. The CMT Top 20 countdown was on and a new video by Travis Tritt came on. We were transfixed to the television, sipping a Lucky Lager. The video tells the story of a paraplegic war veteran named Mac Singleton who struggles to readjust to society with the help of his wife Annie and a fellow veteran named Al. By the end of the video, we simultaneously glanced at one another and realized that we both had the waterworks turned on. It was a true "I Love You Man" moment.

More than anything, though, fatherhood has rendered me completely useless in the face of songs about families, dogs, and being a daddy. Even when the songs are meant to be funny or tongue--in-cheek like Lonestar's Mr. Mom, they can make me weep uncontrollably because they remind me of a long-lost time when my kids were still babies. Nothing evokes a greater response in me than my family. Last year, I wrote a post (My Most Important Job) that explains how being a dad is more important than anything else in my life. Songs like Gord Bamford's Little Guy and High Valley's A Father's Love hit on themes that are the heart of how I see myself. I joke with my wife that these sorts of songs are inherently "unfair".

Even when the song does not directly connect to my life, if it tells a story and has a video that expands the story, I will watch it over and over again. Songs like Here Comes Goodbye and Colder Weather tell stories about relationships and loss. Jason Aldean's Amarillo Sky shares the story of proud farm families, Brad Paisley's Whiskey Lullaby tells the tale of lost love and alcoholism. These are not the stories of my life, but they make connections to my experiences and the people I love the most.

I suppose that the stereotype about country music is somewhat true. There are plenty of lost jobs, dead dogs and broken relationships in the music I listen to. On the other hand, though, being a parent and a husband is precisely "what I do". It's a good place to be and I'm glad that the musicians I admire and enjoy are providing the soundtrack.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Millennium Falcon

I imagine that most of my readers remember the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. In the Star Wars films of my youth, Han Solo piloted an old ship that (almost) always came through tough situations. It didn't look like much, but it was Han's pride and joy. I am proud to say that I also owned a Millennium Falcon. Both of them carried beautiful women, hairy creatures and precious cargo. Both were driven by rugged dudes with sketchy backgrounds and plenty of scars. Both of them took part in plenty of amazing stories..

The main difference is that my Falcon was an SUV. A decked-out 1993 Nissan Pathfinder SE. In true early 90s fashion, it was teal green. It had custom-moulded running boards and a tint package that I paid way too much money for. Like many young professionals, as soon as I signed a continuing contract, the first thing I bought was a new set of wheels. All of my roommates at the time had taken the plunge. The truck I started my teaching career with was a gift from my parents, a nice little Ford Ranger with jump seats and a cool box cover. I really liked that truck, but it was 2 wheel drive. During my first year of teaching, we went on a New Year's ski trip to Whitefish and I couldn't push my little Ranger up the hill to catch our last day of skiing. I swore that day I would buy a 4 wheel drive vehicle (and I've owned one ever since.)

I clearly remember the June day I picked up the Falcon. We were into our middle school exam week, so we were going out for lunch. I picked up my new wheels, then sped back to the school to pick up "the boys". On the way, it sputtered and spat. Like Han Solo's Falcon, my truck couldn't reach the speed limit, let alone light speed. It was probably a vapour lock of some sort and it NEVER happened again. Nonetheless, I could see obvious doubt in the faces of my colleagues. I'm sure they believed that dumb old Ted got taken to the cleaners on his Japanese P.O.S.

From that day on, though, my truck never let me down. Ice fishing, off roading, long journeys on the highway, scooting around town, pulling trailers, trips to the dump. None of it fazed the Falcon. I went through several sets of tires, a transmission,a few fender-benders and my fair share of repairs. For the most part, though, I tried very hard to keep it running smoothly. Mechanically, it was a dream. Right to the end, it started happily in the winter and hummed like a top. It was a very sure-footed and well-balanced offroad vehicle, too. I never got it stuck (and I pushed it through plenty of scary spots.) It had all kinds of extras like "sport suspension", an 8 speaker stereo, a sunroof , plus power locks and windows that didn't like cold weather. My brother-in-law, a complete car junkie, loved the look and smell of my Pathfinder. This kind of compliment, coming from someone who has owned so many vehicles, always made me extra proud of the Falcon.

From a memory point of view, it was also fully loaded. I proposed to my wife in the Falcon. We took it across western Canada and through the Pacific Northwest. The console was extra worn because our pooch would stick her head between the seats so she could see where we were going. It seems fitting that our pup took her last breath in the Falcon. She went with us almost everywhere and when we had two car seats filling up the back, Bailey had to ride in the hatch with the luggage, but she didn't mind. It's a good thing my truck saw me through plenty of sad drives, because the day Bailey died just outside of Sherwood Park, I needed the Falcon to run on autopilot back to Red Deer.

More than anything, I remember going fishing in my Millennium Falcon. Ice fishing, fly fishing, lake fishing, bellyboating, canoeing, fly-in fishing. It had a second sense for finding fish and getting me home safely. Sometimes, it was my accommodation for the night. It was always a place where I had great conversations with great friends. My good friend Wayne called it the "Finder of Paths...Fishing Paths" and my buddy Dave immortalized it in a song about fishing on the North Ram River.

At times, my Pathfinder stunk. I usually had a Vanillaroma stinky tree dangling from the rear view mirror, but there were certainly times when other stenches overpowered the faux vanilla. A hatch full of wet neoprene or hockey equipment would billow the rankness of man sweat. After a night of eating red meat and drinking draft beer, it smelled like ass.. Following a ski trip where we tried to drink every Corona in the town of Canmore, the Pathfinder reeked of limes and onion rings from Peter's Drive In for a week.

The worst smell, though, was provided by the Falcon's most frequent flyer, Bailey the Chesapeake Retriever. My buddy Brian and I took her fishing on the Red Deer River a couple days after a freak September snow storm. We must have timed the trip to coincide with the arrival of the water from the Blindman and Medicine Rivers to the west of town, because our poor pup came out of the river smelling like manure. She could barely stand herself and we had to drive home with the windows, sunroof and rear hatch wide open.

I believe that you can tell a great deal about people by the vehicle they drive. Even when the rust started to wear though, I was proud to hop in my Pathfinder. It was me, from the roof rack to the upgraded stereo to the various dings, scratches and dents. When I sold it for $1000, it had over 320,000 kilometres on it. If you approached from the rear, it definitely looked worse for wear. The moment I got inside, though, I couldn't help but smile and think of all the great adventures made possible by the Falcon.

In my lifetime, I have not owned many vehicles. A '69 Olds Cutlass, an '80 Olds Cutlass, an '89 Ford Ranger, a '99 VW Jetta (The Red Rocket) and a '10 Subaru Forester. My present truck is an '06 Nissan Frontier. Each vehicle has special memories and I'm sure that many of them will appear in a blog at some point.

None of them match up to the Falcon and none of them ever will. Get ready for the jump to lightspeed, Chewie!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Everyone and Their Dog

"Looks like everyone and their dog is here." ~ Stewart Hutchings

I grew up with a distaste for crowds. I learned this from my father, who intentionally avoided places he considered tourist traps. Many of my friends got to visit the Flinstones theme park in Kelowna, B.C. The Hutchings family drove right past places like this without slowing down. Dad would gladly stop at a place that had historical or cultural significance. Initially, I was led to believe that these were more worthwhile places to visit. In hindsight, it is entirely possible that we actually stopped at these places because they were far less crowded??? We would go out of our way to find campsites that did not have power hookups and showers. When it came time to visit Klondike Days in Edmonton, we went with mom and our grandparents. For the most part, I still dislike crowds. Like the narrator of Robert Frost's famous poem, I prefer the road less taken.

On the May long weekend, we decided to go for a hike on a very popular trail. The Kootenay Plains are a remarkable place to visit and the most traveled path in the area goes to Siffleur Falls. It really is a beautiful spot. The trail is wide, well developed and flat. It is a very easy, accessible, family friendly hike. It is not as busy as a place like Johnston Canyon or Bow Summit, but on the day we hiked it, there was no solitude.

We passed groups of every imaginable composition. Families with three or more generations. Church youth groups. Mountain bikers. Buxom young ladies in bikini tops. Solo trekkers. Shirtless dudes with potbellies toting a Coors Light in one hand and a lit Export A in the other. Young couples. Asian, German, First Nations, Redneck, Quebecois. Aside from the trail we chose to spend our Saturday enjoying, the one thing that most of the groups had in common was a canine companion. When we pulled into the nearly full parking lot, I couldn't help imagine what my father's reaction would be. I honestly think we would have circled the parking lot and left. It was that busy.

While I have many of my dad's quirks when it comes to spending time outdoors, I happen to be a dog owner. One of the first things my wife and I bought together was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. We named her Bailey (after the character in WKRP, not the Irish Creme) and she was a huge part of our life. She passed away when our boys were fairly young and we were poochless for about three years. In September 2008, we got an e-mail about a litter of seventeen Chesapeake puppies. The pictures were incredibly cute and you can guess the rest of the tale. We have another Retriever in our lives and she keeps us on our toes. She is very true to her breed, though she is quite small. What she lacks in size, she makes up for in speed, agility and stubbornness. Maggie is, shall we say, a spirited creature. She needs to run, swim and retrieve things. She digs, barks, jumps up and listens when it suits her. I am concerned that she could die of gastric misadventure.

In spite of her overall goofiness, we love her to bits and I think the feeling is mutual. She spends most of her nights in the bedroom of one of our family members. If we are not home, she plunks herself between the boys' bedrooms at night. She really is at her best when we are hiking, biking or near a body of water. Needless to say, she was in her glory on the hike to Siffleur Falls. Not only did she get to swim, run and explore, she got to sniff the rear end of dozens of new pooches. Talk about doggy heaven!

I know that this journey would have made dad's skin crawl. It was a bit much for me, but when I really thought about it, it was a great way to spend the afternoon. All of the people we encountered were there for the same reason - to enjoy the outdoors on a beautiful spring day. The dogs we encountered were very well behaved and the hikers were generally well-behaved. My kids had a great trip and I'm pretty sure that, given the opportunity, they will bring their kids to hike this trail.

It is true that I am more willing to visit a crowded place than my father. I have endured the wildlife-induced traffic jams of Yellowstone Park and elbowed for a view of Old Faithful. On our family journey to Los Angeles, we made a bee-line for Hollywood and Disneyland. I love visiting big cities like Toronto and Chicago. Somehow, I don't mind Las Vegas in spite of the incredible excess and waste it represents. Last fall, we spent the night in a Motel 6 in Niagara Falls, ate at the Rainforest Cafe, went on the Skywheel and took a cruise on the Maid of the Mist. Talk about full-bore, crowded, cheesy tourist traps!

Given the choice, I still prefer to have a stretch of river or trail to myself. I don't mind sharing with wildlife. When I fish, I like to go with partner, mainly because my favorite fishing spots tend to be pretty secluded (see my post The Places I Love to Fish).

If I must share the outdoors, I prefer to share with my family. And my dog. After all, I can endure any crowd when I'm surrounded by those I care for the most.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Technological Dissonance

dis·so·nance Noun /ˈdisənəns/
  • dissonances plural
  • Lack of harmony among musical notes
    • an unusual degree of dissonance for such choral styles
    • the harsh dissonances give a sound which is quite untypical of the Renaissance
  • A tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements

The idea for this post has been percolating for over a year, but I never seem to get around to actually writing it. I've changed titles, messed around with the topic and even now, I'm rewriting this introduction for the fourth or fifth time. In essence, this post is about saying NO to your kids even when you eventually say YES. It's not easy to explain, so here goes.

I’m not talking about a state of total denial. I’m just saying that it is a parent’s job to teach their children. As a child's primary teacher, parents do children no favors by saying “Yes” to all of their requests.

For several years, I was absolutely adamant that our children would not have video games or a gaming system. I said no for a long, long time. At times, I ranted and raved. I cited the "vidiots" I taught who spent every waking hour gaming instead of reading or doing my incredibly meaningful homework. I read to my kids every chance I got. We did not (and still do not) have a DVD player in our vehicle. When we went on a long road trip, we took books, played games like 21 Questions and, if it was an extra long trip, we purchased an Invisible Ink puzzle book.

My reasoning went something like this... I didn’t have anything like it when I grew up. Most of my friends had some sort of gaming system – Atari, Intellivision, Colecovision. I made do with my handheld Coleco football game. I never was very good at video games (with the notable exception of Galaga) so I spent a lot of my childhood enjoying simple things like reading and playing with sticks. I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I missed anything because I didn’t own an Intellivision until 1996 (a fellow teacher had a system gathering dust in his garage, so I brought it home on a whim.)

Over the past couple of years, gaming systems have gradually made their way into our house. Santa brought my oldest son a Nintendo DS and since then, a DSI, two iPods and an Xbox Kinect have appeared. My children have always had a computer to use. They are digital natives and it amazes me to watch them interact with and figure out anything that is electronic. What finally swayed me was watching how their peers interacted and socialized. Gaming has become a social event that can be shared whether they are in the same place as a friend or not. I wondered if I was turning my kids into social pariahs through my absolute denial of portable, personal gaming systems.

Their gaming was initially restricted to educational sites and games like Brain Age. Over time, we have mellowed. Before our New Year's Eve party this year, I even purchased the Dance Central game so the kids could play (and laugh at the adults.)

In retrospect, it appears that I was being obstinate and perhaps hypocritical about gaming systems. I did have handheld games as a kid – Coleco Football, Mattel Basketball, and an amazing piece of plastic called a Merlin. When I was twelve, one of the coolest things I did with the friend I wrote about in Stand by Me was to play Space Invaders on his Atari. During my third year of University, I bought a Mac Classic II (after all, it had a blazing clock speed of 16mHz, twice as fast as the first generation of Mac Classics. When I started dating my wife, I did enjoy playing Donkey Kong on their Nintendo. I have a laptop from work that I bring home and take with me when I travel. My wife and I both have an iPhone and when I’m away from 3G and WiFi, it seems strange to me.

Part of the reason this post has taken so long is that I don’t believe in preaching. I particularly don’t want to write one thing, then turn around and do the other thing. My first title for this post was “Do Your Kids a Favour and Say No”. Upon further reflection, dissonance has tempered my outer grouch.

In my job, I do encounter children whose parents indulge their every whim. For many parents, screen time for their children means peace and quiet. Buying candy in the store also buys a quiet child and prevents embarrassment. My wife and I try hard to ensure that our children understand that they cannot have everything. We don't have the financial resources, but more importantly, I really want my kids to understand that things need to be earned.

More than anything, I hope that parents think carefully about the decisions they make when it comes to their children. I take a very long time to make decisions because I really need to understand as much a possible about an issue before I determine my stance. I am pleased with the way technology operates in our home. It allows us to learn, to communicate and provides a great deal of entertainment. Like anything, moderation is crucial. Every hour spent in front of a screen is balanced with an hour of physical activity, homework, reading or family time.

After all, I spend a great deal of time writing this blog because I really enjoy writing and I love the feedback I get from people on the thoughts that rattle around in my head. It would be pretty sanctimonious for me to deny my children the opportunites that technology affords them. I may not always say what I mean, but I do mean what I say!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stand by Me

Over the past weekend, I led a group on hike around Nordegg, Alberta. The route follows an abandoned rail line and crosses three trestles that are in varying states of disrepair. As the kids (and adults) nervously picked their way across rotting boards, one of the group leaders mentioned how much the trek reminded him of a scene from Rob Reiner's great film, Stand by Me. This comment brought back a flood of memories for me that form the basis for this post.

Many people have seen this wonderful film and I imagine that most people know it was based on Stephen King's novella, The Body. I'm not sure that everyone knows that this story first appeared in a collection of King's novellas called Different Seasons, a book that also spawned the blockbuster film The Shawshank Redemption and the lesser-known Apt Pupil. When I was a teenager, I was a huge Stephen King fan. I purchased Carrie at Woodward's book section in July 1982, read it in two days, and was hooked. I plowed through all of King's books I could and was thrilled when my mom brought home the paperback version of Different Seasons in the fall of 1983. She bought it at The Wee Book Inn in Edmonton's old Strathcona neighborhood and it still sits on my bookshelf.

There is a line in the movie that says "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"

My answer is yes. And no. Let me explain...

When I was twelve, I had a fair number of friends. Like Gordie, the protagonist and narrator of The Body, I had three or four very close friends. Now that I am forty, I've lost track of most of them, stayed in contact with several and lost one of those friends to an automobile accident nearly twenty years ago. My youngest son is named after my fallen friend, who died two weeks after I had asked him to be in my wedding party. His loss had a profound impact on me and completely changed the way I look at the world.

Another of my very close friends had been my best friend through most of elementary school. We shared a keen interest in birds, fishing, music and sports. We were in the same class and Cub troop. We slept over at one another's homes, went camping together, rode our bikes along the roads surrounding our elementary school. I admired him and wished I could be more like him in so many ways. He was always a bit taller than me, even though I was very tall for my age. He was definitely far better looking. When we went to the local roller rink, girls lined up to skate with him. They skated with me, too, not for my looks, but because I could skate backwards. In grade six, he moved to another school and we continued to keep in contact, but things were never the same as they were when we were in grade five. He moved to Toronto for a year when we were in junior high but returned to Sherwood Park during the summer of 1986. It's somewhat ironic that one of the last things I really remember doing with him was going to see the biggest movie of that summer. You guessed it. Stand by Me.

At twelve, my closest friend had already been my teammate for six hockey seasons. We spent the winters traveling to the same arenas, eating in the same roadside diners, and staying in the same hotels. Our weekends consisted of practices and games throughout Alberta. We even travelled to Quebec to participate in the Tournoi Hockey de Carnival and billeted together with a man who drove an AMC Pacer, spoke fluent English, and made sure we ate plenty of pastries. When we weren't on the ice, we often went to one another's homes and spent our time firing orange street hockey balls, pucks and tennis balls at one another. We watched Stampede Wrestling with his Ukrainian Baba on Saturday afternoons. We listened to AC/DC on vinyl records and eagerly anticipated the opportunity to watch Wayne Gretzky and Edmonton Oilers rewrite the NHL's record books. By the end of most of our hockey seasons, our bounty included several medals, trophies and complete sets of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards.

He was a great hockey player. Smart, skilled and shady when he had to be. We were captains and assistant captains. We won far more games than we lost. Even at twelve, though, he had a different perspective. He loved the USA and had been thrilled when the American hockey team won gold at Lake Placid. Two of his favorite pro players were Dave Christian (a result of his preference for Christian hockey sticks) and Greg Millen (yes, the colour commentator). Like his father, my best friend thought about things in unique ways. Some of my favorite memories of those years included driving to and from hockey, listening to talk radio and discussing whatever event his father was interested in.

We have stayed in contact in spite of the fact that we live in two different provinces and lead much different lives. I really look forward to our infrequent visits, as do my boys, who idolize their "Uncle Weese". It is true that I don't have any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve. Friends like them are incredibly special and I am very fortunate that I get to stay in contact with many of the guys I played hockey and rugby with as a teenager. We lived, loved, got an education, made plenty of mistakes, killed a few brain cells and somehow managed to become productive adults. Even as adults, I know them by their nicknames. Willy, Billy, Hoovman, Otto, Goo, Colman, Pee Wee, Parkie. I love the fact that we still get a chance to pick up where we left off. We don't need to talk on the phone or send Christmas cards. These guys really are the best and the fact that we still dart in and out of one another's busy lives is a testament to what great guys they are.

In my new life in Red Deer, most of my closest friends are teachers. We have worked hard, played hard and laughed lots during the past eighteen years. I am blessed that my best friend and teammate through university lives about 500 steps away. We have been "best man" at one another's wedding. We have taught, coached, backpacked, camped, played and lived together. He is perpetually upbeat, easygoing and positive. Our kids all go to school together and I have the extraordinary opportunity to work at their school. Like their Uncle Weese, my boys consider Jeremy an uncle and I'm fortunate to call him my friend.

My adult friends are an awful lot like the friends I had as a teenager. They are quality human beings who are not afraid to have a good time. My adult friends love sports, the outdoors and their families. Like my buddies from high school, they all have nicknames. Bee. G-Mac. Jimbo. Jimmy. Noonan. Pearson. Pickles. Robbie.

My childhood memories are like a lawn full of dew. It only takes a small step before I am drenched with thoughts that run a gamut of emotions. The older I get, the more positive the memories. It is completely accurate to say that my friends today are nothing like the friends I had when I was twelve.

I am convinced that this is a good thing.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Peace be With You

I believe that you can tell a great deal about a person from the way they treat animals and children. My paternal grandfather was a tough man to be around at times. Even after he passed away, he requested that there be no memorial service. His final wishes were to be cremated and his ashes spread near the junction of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan Rivers. This spot is about an hour’s drive from my home in Red Deer and it is on the way to one of my favourite rivers to fish. Every time we cross the river, I smile to myself and think of the day we gathered to fulfill his final wishes.

It was a small contingent. Me, my parents, my aunt and uncle. We met for breakfast in Rocky Mountain House, a small town where my grandfather was stationed during his time with the RCMP. The restaurant is a short drive away from junction of the Clearwater and North Saskatchewan, so we found our spot quickly. It was a gorgeous spring day, but we were not able to access the actual junction of the rivers, so we settled for a spot along the banks of the Clearwater just upstream.

As we said our goodbyes and released his ashes, we heard the voices of two small children. Their dog bounded up to meet us and actually ran right through the recently spread remains of my grandfather. At first, I was taken aback that someone else had intruded on the final memory of a man I admired and learned so much from as a child. My aunt, as usual, was able to make me smile and put things into perspective. We didn’t say anything to the children, returned to our vehicles and came to my place in Red Deer to spend the rest of the afternoon. As we prepared for supper, Auntie Lee laughed to herself then told us how she thought it was fitting that our intimate memorial service had been crashed.

“After all,” she noted, “Dad loved kids and animals. He didn’t like most people, but he always had time for children and animals. I don’t think he would have minded that we had company today.”

I’m inspired to write this by the passing of a person I only saw three or four times a year, but I looked forward to seeing him each time. I didn't know him really well, but honestly felt like I got to know him better each time we came to Nordegg. Brent Young was a figure known by anyone who spent time around the Shunda Creek Hostel or townsite at Nordegg, Alberta. He managed the hostel, was a driving force in the volunteer Fire Department/Search and Rescue, introduced countless people to the wonders of central Alberta and put a smile on the face of everyone he talked to. Brent grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, but landed in Nordegg several years ago and chose to stay because "he liked the big back yard." He was full of unforgettable witticisms like "There's not much happening, but it's all going on in Nordegg.”

Brent loved the outdoors and the adventure it brought. He told me that the perfect drink was scotch because it was easy to carry into the backcountry and all you really needed to add was snow. One of his main mantras was “No dramas” and he spent as much time as he could climbing, skiing or just trekking around. He was absolutely selfless and never seemed to be in much of a rush. This summer, I watched him tour my ten year old son around the Nordegg Fire/EMS newest bush rescue vehicle. For at least fifteen minutes, he answered every single question with the same patience and enthusiasm. Brent loved to talk and treated people with dignity. He was a big part of the reason I wrote the following blog last summer. (Nordegg: Reason #3 To Love Central Alberta)

For the past several years, every time I brought a group of children to stay at the Hostel, I looked forward to visiting with Brent. My oldest son loved the hostel so much, he wanted to spend his tenth birthday there. From middle schoolers to Cub groups to my own children, Brent treated the kids with respect and loved sharing his little piece of the world with anyone who found their way to the hostel. Kids loved Brent because he wore knitted hats, spoke with the cadence of a surfer and dished out phrases like “Cool bananas” and "Have a sunshiny day". Even if we weren’t staying at the hostel, I loved seeing him around the community or when we came to the hostel for a hot shower.

Brent died last week in a backcountry skiing accident. It seems fitting because he made his exit doing something he loved to do. I’ve read many stories about the untimely passing of people who love the mountains. Will Gadd has written a couple of columns about people who remind me of Brent. Accidents are an acknowledged risk of anyone who heads into the backcountry. No matter how knowledgeable or skilled you are, nature is more powerful and unpredictable. I’ve often said that if I pass away unexpectedly, I’d want to do so while I was fishing. I honestly never believed that a person I knew and admired would be in this type of situation.

The world lost a beauty last week. Brent truly made the world a better place and people can learn a great deal from the way he respected and loved the outdoors, treated others (particularly children), and animals. He was the full meal deal.

We are heading to the hostel for Cub Camp this weekend and it saddens me deeply to know he won’t be there in person. Shakakan.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thanks, Mom

I stand outside/This woman's work/This woman's world" - Kate Bush

I'm certain I've said thank you to my mom more times than I can count. I'm equally certain I have never have explained exactly what I'm thankful for. There are several moms in my family and I work with a primarily female staff, most of whom are moms. With any luck, this post will illuminate the respect I have for these ladies and anyone who is blessed with the title of "Mom".

A while ago, I wrote a blog for Father's Day called My Most Important Job. I was able to write it from my heart and speak very clearly about how much it means to be a father. I enjoyed thinking about the lessons in fatherhood I learned from my dad and both of my grandfathers. This post is a bit tougher to put into words. I hope I can do justice to how much I admire and respect moms.

In my line of work, I need to deal with situations that involve speaking to mothers about their children. The bond between a mother and their child(ren) is one of the strongest things I have run into. Even the toughest, most at-risk, troubled children will not betray their mom. Mothers of these troubled kids usually don't give up on their child. Even a mother who says "I don't know what to do with that kid anymore" has deep-rooted affection in their eyes. It's a connection that no father can really understand because we don't carry this child inside of our bodies.

Watching the birth of my children is one of the greatest experiences in my life. It was unbelievable, really, to see a new life begin. One of my favorite movies in university was John Hughes' "She's Having a Baby". In this movie, Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern play a couple who have a very difficult time bringing a child into the world. The scene where McGovern's character gives birth to their daughter is both gut-wrenching and touching. Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" provides an emotionally-charged soundtrack to the scene, but I never truly understood it until we rode the emotional roller coaster of becoming parents.

Our first son was born a nearly month early and my wife's labour was extremely quick. At first, we weren't sure it was happening. Within hours we went from being a married couple to being parents, completely responsible for bringing a new child into the world. The birth of our second child was more difficult and happened very close to when it was supposed to, but it was no less amazing. Giving birth is nerve-wracking, difficult, painful, draining, life-changing and ultimately SO rewarding.

My wife is my best friend and the best mom I know. Admittedly, I'm biased, but I get front tow seats to watch what she gives to our children every day. The patience, kindness and soft-heartedness that exist in both my boys is a direct result of their mother's influence. She has given them the gift of music and I so admire her knowledge and ability. My wife's tender spot for animals lives on in both of my kids. Their love for our dog is unconditional and automatic, even when she is poorly behaved. My wife has been sleep deprived for the last eleven years but she is always there for our kids. She clips fingernails, combs hair, changes beds, listens carefully, makes the best lunches and gives huge hugs that smell like love. When I am hard on our kids, she lets me know and provides a balance every child is entitled to. Her influence and my respect for her is impossible to fully describe.

My mother is equally admirable. She is one of the smartest and best-read women I know. Our weekly trips to the Strathcona County Library remain the best memories of my childhood. We would load into the baby blue Chevette and spend an hour or two exploring the wonders of the library. I knew that mom went to the University of Alberta and for as long as I can remember, it seemed like a given that I would also go the U of A one day (in fact, I liked it so much that went there to earn my Bachelor's and Master's degree). My mom was also patient and dedicated. She gave herself completely to a life of working for Safeway and watching her go to work at all hours of the day and rarely missing a day taught me the importance of dedication. Some of my favorite memories as a kid were simple things like going to the library or driving out of town for a hockey practice, game or tournament. Mom did everything she could for me and my sister. The sacrifices my parents made for us to be involved in sports, dress well, attend school and become adults are incredible. It makes me very proud to say that my mom is honest, selfless, creative and talented.

The other moms in my life possess many of the same qualities. The ladies I work with strike a balance between being amazing teachers and fantastic mothers. My mother-in-law has a huge heart and is absolutely there for all of her daughters. This dedication lives on in both of my wife's sisters, who live and breathe for their children. My sister is another wonderful example of how becoming a mom changes everything. She had her first child at a relatively young age and it completely changed her life. I have spent a lot more time with my sister's family over the past year and it is so rewarding to see how much she devotes to her three children.

I don't know if I have done justice to the importance of the moms in my life. I know it is impossible to cover all of the things that moms are. Moms bring softness to a cuddle and strength to a hug. They raise, feed and deliver children to our world. They are equal parts tender and tough. Moms protect and defend their children.

Every child deserves a mom like the moms in my life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rites of Spring

Spring is really important when you live in a cold place.

I live in a cold place. Don't get me wrong, there are many things about winter that I really like. Skiing. Hockey. Sledding. Bright blue skies crashing into blinding white fields. Watching my dog bound through snow. Chinooks. Let's just say that I tolerate winter and make the most of it. The things I dislike about winter far outweigh the things I love, but since I try hard to make this blog a positive place, I will spare you a rant.

In central Alberta, there are a few sure signs of spring. They are special to me because they mean that the longer, warmer, gentler days of summer are on their way. Summer has always been extremely important in my life. I have looked forward to at least two months of holidays for as long as I can remember. I chose to spend my life in school, which means that spring means the end of an important cycle for me. School years are cyclical roller coasters of emotion, urgency and commitment. I have always found that no matter what happens throughout a school year, May brings a degree of relief and contentment.

A sure sign of spring is the premature appearance of white legs in public. I wear shorts for most of the summer and I can't wait to throw on a pair of shorts in the spring. Some people certainly push it and wear shorts when they really shouldn't. I went to an Edmonton Oilers game on February 28. It was seriously cold, but we followed a dude wearing a Boston Bruins jersey and shorts into Rexall Place. Too early for me, but as soon as the daily highs reach double digits (Celcius), I can't help myself. Today was the warmest day of the year so far and it was no coincidence that my boys joined me in wearing shorts to school. At the best of times, my legs look like they were borrowed from a furry chicken. When spring arrives, though, they get unveiled.

Birds also tell me that spring is near. As a kid, my favorite book was An Introduction to Ornithology, closely followed by Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to Western Birds. The reappearance of geese, swans, raptors and songbirds always lets me know that warmer temperatures must be on the way. We had an unusally high influx of robins in central Alberta this year and it created false expectations throughout the region. When I was eight, a robin built a nest in a spruce tree on our yard and it was just low enough that I could check it every day. That spring, I watched a life cycle unfold from nest construction to the appearance of three baby blue eggs to the first clumsy flights of the young robins. It was magical to me (and I'm pretty sure I was wearing shorts every time I went to check the nest.)

Flowers also tell me that spring is near. We have tulips in our yard that tentatively poke their heads out once the ground warms up. In Alberta, we usually have a May snowstorm that knocks the stuffing out of the first flowers of spring, but I do enjoy looking for them. Last week, on our way home from the final ski trip of the season, we stopped at a small church just west of Morley flats. I love this spot because this church sits in a beautiful foothill location on the banks of the Bow River. I love not only the location, but the style of the history of this church. It is so representative of Alberta's missionary past. We stopped to look around and I was delighted to find crocuses in full bloom. On the acreage where I grew up, the crocuses would usually share their appearance with the robins. It seems odd how a simple flower can lift your spirits, but seeing those crocuses put me in a great frame of mind.

The most telling sign of spring in Alberta, however, is the magical reappearance of people outside. Through the winter, you see some people on the street. Kids playing hockey, the dedicated dog owners, health nuts and postal workers reign supreme once the snow flies. When the weather turns, however, the trails and sidewalks start to get downright crowded. Bikes, rollerblades, skateboards and scooters materialize. Ball diamonds come to life. The streets around soccer fields are lined with cars and the fields are lined with folding lawn chairs. The smell of grilled meat and the sound of lawnmowers fills the air. Recreational vehicles, shop vacs and pressure washers are pulled out of hibernation. There is a collective energy that is hard to explain, but you recognize immediately.

As I thought about this post, I thought of many other signs of spring. Hockey playoffs, flip flops, backyard fires, street cleaning, rabbits that turn from white to brown overnight, floods in Manitoba, my first sunburnt nose of the season, playing rock/paper/scissors to determine who does the spring dog poo pickup, heading out to fish even though I know the fishing won't be great.

I'm calling it, folks. Spring has sprung. What are YOUR rites of spring?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Mountains in My Life

Every time I have some moment on a seashore, or in the mountains, or sometimes in a quiet forest, I think this is why the environment has to be preserved.
Bill Bradley

One of the greatest legacies of my childhood is my life-long fascination with mountains. I love to look at them, drive through them, climb them and visit them every chance I get. It takes me ninety minutes to drive to the nearest mountain from my home in Red Deer and it seems like they beckon from the moment I see them. On very clear days, I can see the outline of the Rockies as I drive to school. As a boy, our summer vacations involved either camping or fishing. Often, we were fortunate enough camp and fish in the mountains.

Banff, Jasper, Kananaskis, Nordegg, the Crowsnest Pass, Wells Gray, Kokanee Glacier, Kootenay, Yoho, Mount Revelstoke, Mount Robson. The list of places I learned to love starts with these places and could go on and on. The more I think about it, the more I realize how lucky I was to spend my youth visiting and learning about our natural and cultural history. At first, we camped in Vanguard camper that perched on the back of dad's enormous Ford crew cab truck. The windshield of this truck bore multiple green and yellow National Parks annual pass stickers - the ones with the beaver on them. Yearly admission was something like $25 for Canadian residents and we often spent all of dad's holidays camping, fishing, and hiking.

As I grew older, we began to backpack. We would leave my mom and sister behind at the truck and spend a night or two in the backcountry. It was then that I really learned what it meant to be a part of the mountains. For brief moments as we trudged down I path, I would allow myself to see the land the way the first explorers like David Thompson and Mary Schaffer must have seen this land. Our guidebook for all of these trips was Patton and Robinson's Canadian Rockies Trails Guide. I read this book voraciously, repeatedly and constantly. I owe a great deal of my appreciation for the mountains to these trips. As an adult, my best friend would join dad and one of his friend for a extended backcountry trip. These trips were an amazing opportunity to learn, push myself and reconnect.

When I was twelve, dad and I took a canoe trip up Maligne Lake in Jasper. There are two campsites on this lake that can be accessed only from the water. We spent five nights at one of the sites, which is approximately half way up the lake and two bays away from one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island (the photo at the top of my post). Boatloads of tourists walk on and photograph this island because there are hourly boat tours to this spot. It took us five hours to paddle to our campsite and another 20 minutes to paddle to Spirit Island. I can only laugh and think of how many Japanese, British and German photo albums or slide carousels we must be in. Every time the tour boat would pass us, modern day voyageurs in a green Coleman canoe, the clicks and flashes would begin. The day we paddled to Spirit Island, we beached the canoe and took some photos. Just as we were about to have our snack, the tour boat pulled up. One British lady asked us if we were hired by the Parks to pose for pictures on the island. After three days of 30 degree weather and no shower, I imagine she thought we might be street folk who needed a few pennies.

As I have grown up, my time in the mountains has extended and changed. I still camp, hike and backpack. My wife introduced me to skiing, which gives me another excuse to visit the mountains every chance I get. Ski trips have added a new dimension to the mountain experience - visiting these fantastic places in the winter! Seeing the mountains blanketed in white is truly amazing and I cannot think of a better way to spend a winter day. Being outside, smelling the pines, riding a chairlift and racing down these hills is completely invigorating. Skiing is a nearly perfect family activity. It is expensive, but how can you put a price on spending an entire day visiting, exercising, and spending time with your spouse, children and friends?

I am writing this post from a hotel on Tunnel Mountain in Banff. When we checked in to our hotel, my wife said exactly what I was thinking for the last 15 minutes of our drive. Somehow, it feels different when you are in the mountains. It's better. You are closer to nature. I come to the mountains to be outdoors. I come here to spend time with the people I care about the most. I come here to exercise and challenge myself whether I'm camping, hiking, backpacking, climbing, canoeing, rafting, fishing, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tubing, or sledding. The Rockies really are special. They deserve to be protected and appreciated. For years, I really wanted to live a mountain community, and a small part of me still wants to. The more I think about it, though, I'm not sure if they would hold the same sense of wonder and delight if I got to experience them every day. I would never want to take a beautiful place for granted.

I can only hope that my children grow up feeling the same way I do. It could well be one of the greatest gifts I give my children. If we all felt as passionate about our wild places as I do, we wouldn't need laws and parks to protect them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Game I Love

Playoff beards. Dropping the flippers. Right skate first. Warm up tunes. Post game snacks and rehydration. Chirping the other team's goalie. Superstitions. Early morning practices. Freezing in the stands or on the bench. Riding the pine. Arena burgers. Going end to end. Road trips!!!

If you have played, watched or coached hockey, I'm sure you know what I mean. How does it get better than hockey? I can really remember the last 35 years of my life. I've been involved with hockey for each of those years. I've been concussed, elated, suspended, protected, selected, responsible, irresponsible. I've been a leader, a prospect, washed up, a coach, a teacher, a parent and a diehard fan. I've spilled buckets of blood and tankers of sweat. Hockey paid for my university education, but it still cost my parents thousands of dollars. It is full of paradoxes but it is oh, so perfect in so many ways.

With the possible exception of my family and fishing, nothing gets me more excited than hockey. The speed, the violence and the skill of the game set it apart from every other sport. Skating is not natural for the vast majority of people in the world. Anyone can throw, hit, or kick a ball. Very few can execute a pivot from forwards to backwards, throw a head fake and crank a tight turn on skates. Even fewer can pull off a toe drag at top speed, freeze the d-man and snap it over the goalie's shoulder. Fewer still can stack the pads, flash leather for a glove save and stretch a butterfly while doing the splits. Hockey is special. It is Canada's little secret that only a few people around the world really understand. Hockey is to sport what The Tragically Hip is to music.

I spent the past weekend watching the western Canadian Junior B hockey championship tournament, the Keystone Cup. The host team, the Sherwood Park Knights, is a team I captained and coached. I have many great memories associated with hockey and so many of them involve the Knights. As a good friend of mine pointed out, the young men who play for the Knights have no illusions. They understand what every kid who dreams of playing in the NHL eventually understands. Very few are selected and even fewer make a living in this game. When you play Junior B, you stop playing for yourself and your parents and really start playing for the guys beside you in the dressing room. You play to be around the game and hang out with the team. If you work hard enough, you get a chance to win your league, play in provincials or, if you are really fortunate, play for an even bigger prize like the Keystone Cup.

On Saturday, I volunteered and worked security for the tournament, which meant that I spent my entire day in the Sherwood Park Arena. I watched 5 games between 6 different teams. What struck me was that, no matter where the team was from, the differences were minimal. The language, the energy, the intensity, the look, even the smell of each team was incredibly similar. The players, coaches, fans and volunteers for each team were passionate about hockey. They grew up playing the game and they all knew that this tournament was, for the majority of the players, their last chance to win something big.

My nephew played for the host team like his dad and his uncle. The Knights proved they belonged in the tournament and made it to the gold medal game. The arena was packed and the energy was unbelievable. The host team scored the first goal, but was not able to hold on to the lead. They hit posts, crossbars, and had many chances to even the score. When the buzzer sounded to end the game, the cheers of the winning team were drowned out by the sound of hearts breaking throughout the arena.

When I got to my truck after the game, tears poured out of me like I was attending a memorial service. They weren't tears of sadness, though. They were tears of fierce pride.I was proud that two Alberta teams played in the championship game. I was proud to be a former coach and player. I was proud of the host team and the organizing committee for creating a first class tournament. I was intensely proud of my nephew and his teammates because I have watched many of them play since they took their first uncertain steps on skates. The Knights left nothing in the dressing room and poured their hearts into the game.

More than anything, though, I was proud to know that I am a hockey player. A hockey parent. A hockey coach. A hockey fan. Hockey makes me shout at the television, jump in the air, wake up at 5:30 on a weekend and occupies a great deal of my waking hours regardless of the season. It's the greatest game around and it's a huge part of who I am.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ode to Puddles

Last week, we returned to school following our Spring Break. I drew outdoor supervision for the first day back, which, as usual, was full of fun. Kids wanted to tell me all about their adventures, friends made a beeline for friends they had not played with for weeks, and parents were extraordinarily happy to send their children back...

By Tuesday, however, the wheels on our happy return began to wobble. A crisis was afoot, for beneath the incredibly popular tire swings, enormous puddles had developed. We faced an incredibly difficult decision.... Do we dare shut down the tire swings until our school's version of the Great Lakes dried up?

As the Vice Principal, I decided that a proactive approach would be best. Instead of bowing down to nature, we would beat it at its own game. I took my class to the playground before recess and explained that only their ingenuity and effort would prevent a minor crisis - the closure of the tire swing!!! My true leaders emerged as we chipped ice, bailed water and moved sand to ensure the tire swings would not be shut down. I was incredibly proud of my class and its leaders for engineering a joyful day of outdoor recess.

If you know me, you will recognize that my tongue has been planted firmly in my cheek for this post. I love my school and the fact that puddles are as big an issue as we face. After all, who can resist the lure of a puddle? Even better, who can resist a FROZEN puddle?

I grew up on an acreage in Alberta's parkland. As a boy, spring held incredible promise and wonder. Only those who have grown up in the Parkland know the smell of spring amongst the poplars. As the snow melts, it releases the musty smell of leaves, smells prairie dwellers recognize from raking leaves in the fall. Spring means potholes in roads and frozen puddles everywhere. A large percentage of families make the trek to Canadian Tire, Macleod's, Saan, Zellers, Superstore, or UFA to purchase rubber boots because last year's pair is simply too snug. The trek is worth it, because, even though these boots are usually worn three or four times, they allow their wearers exclusive access to water resistance.

When you encounter a puddle, several questions rush through your head (unless you are a dog or a child under the age of 8.) How deep is the puddle? How thick is the ice that covers it? Will the water go over my boots? Is it cold? Will I get in trouble for falling in? How far into the puddle can I walk?

I grew up on an acreage next to Alberta's Highway 21. The ditches were deep and filled with water every spring. Like most kids who grow up on acreages or farms, mother nature provided us with built-in entertainment. We did not need a gaming system, PVR or extended cable. Our environment regularly provided us with levels of challenge and excitement. How deep is the puddle? How thick is the ice? How far can I send my little sister on the ice before she breaks through? What do I need to do to keep myself out of trouble on this one? One year, the melting snow next to the highway revealed a mint-condition Playboy magazine featuring Miss Nude Texas. God blessed Texas, indeed!

Last Saturday, I felt myself return to the joys of my childhood when I took our dog for a walk at the edge of town. There was just enough exposed grass and dead leaves to bring back the smell of a gigantic pile of wet leaves. Every step was an adventure. Sometimes, the snow would hold. Other times, I would plunge to the ground in a layer of white snow and dark, dank water. At one point, I walked on an ice shelf that darkened and shot water upwards with every step I took. I couldn't help but be transported back to my youth, cautiously testing the thickness of the ice as I made my way to the bus stop.

I know that some people cannot stand it when their kids come home wet and muddy. To me, though, it is a rite of spring that no Canadian kid should pass up.