Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

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2015 looms just hours away! Our world is confusing right now, no doubt. Our young people seem baffled about their futures, so many contemplating work possibilities while still seeking balance with free time and fun. Uncertainty prevails.

It seems similar with my own cohorts too! Many of my friends are approaching ages of equanimity and awe. Change is imminent and possibilities are grand. I am at a stage of my life where everything I’ve always dreamed of is achievable.

My word for 2015 is awesome! I am aware of the complexities in our world. Sometimes I feel frightened about the unknown of what could happen. Random terrorist attacks, natural disasters that happen in response to our misuse of environment, disease and death resulting from toxins and poisons that we continue to ingest. To some degree, we as a civilization have not learned how to deal with the changes and complexities in our evolving world. I think we need to start zeroing in on what we have learned, and begin to fine-tune our journey to create a cleaner, safer and more productive world!

During my first few teaching years, I taught grade one children. I always say that in grade one, children come to class in September with their fingers up their nose and their thumbs in their mouths. They leave grade one as literate human beings no longer learning to read, but in pursuit of reading to learn. Learning is about being exposed to everything and absorbing only little bits at a time. We need time to process change to successfully grow.

Contrary to conventional lesson planning, my ‘reading’ classes were about ‘hanging out’ on the floor reveling in the experience and joy of books. Children lying on the floor, sitting together, or cuddled up in my lap were happily devouring a variety of picture books. Some ‘read’ upside down, simply making up words that told a story that they wanted to tell. Some children just simply carried the book, becoming comfortable with it in their hands, getting the ‘feel’ of books. Some children looked at the pictures and, not able to read the words, made up their own stories. Sometimes, since I had read the book to them so often, individual children would be able to read the book to each other by memorization.

The new skill of reading began with total immersion - an exercise in becoming familiar and comfortable with resources and concepts available for reading. Once the students settled in and demonstrated a comfort with books, I began the practice of teaching specific reading skills like phonics, word recognition, looking for meaning in text and pictures, fluency and critical thinking. That specific attention to skill development happens best once we have identified how a child will learn best, and only when he/she is ready to weed through the abundance of context to acquire and improve specific skills.

Maybe this won’t make sense, but I think the way my grade one children learned to read reflects the way we all learn to live a happy life!

I feel a little like that now. My life for the last few years has been an immersion in semi-retirement, and a push towards a life that is very different from my experiences of the last 40 years. I no longer have children at home. I have greatly reduced the hours I work in classrooms and universities. I go exploring in the world and travel to places that I never dreamed I’d see. My body is aging and functions differently from when I was younger. Mortality is ahead in the future. And I am less afraid about death and even about living!

I feel good about the future. I sit in meetings with young, energetic, smart teachers who are passionate about learning and living and teaching. I see a genuine focus on developing healthy communities in our cities and on world improvement through environmental repair and a healing of relationships. More people talk about the need for love and compassion when negotiating complex decision-making, conflict resolution and solving challenging problems in our world. Our own children are independent, committed to their work, their lives and bettering the lives of others. I still feel eager and able to give back to our generous universe.

As I anticipate the final decades of my life, I feel confident and strong. My shift in priorities becomes more obvious and my journey continues with clarity and intention. I am looking forward to a strong future of carefully crafted activities specifically focused on a new sense of priority and to the next decade of growth, continued health and adventure! Happy New Year all!

Sunday, December 28, 2014


The coral bubbles out of the sea floor, varying shades of yellow...everything from sunshine yellow to pale beige. Every type of fish has some expression of yellow. Schools of bright yellow fish, one looking just like the other, dance together as they twirl through the waters. Hawaiian Hogfish, Trumpet fish, Hawaiian cleaners, Butterfish, Triggerfish and even the Moorish Idol adorned with yellow stripes. Hews of turquoise sometimes show glimmers of yellow. Even the large Honu (Sea turtles) sparkle with various sizes of yellow dots.
The turtles on The Big Island are regular residents. Unlike the fish, which primarily travel in schools, the Green Turtles tend to wander alone. They’re quite large and, though they’re not necessarily friendly, they tend to just go about their business without avoiding human encounters. I spend time following turtles when I spot one. They swim through the ocean, their massive span of wing-like flippers delicately flapping through the waters. Occasionally, one turns around, presses it’s turtle nose close to me and then turns back carrying through with his original intention. I am a mere curiosity. Sometimes he nestles under a rock and rest.  I saw at least one turtle every day. I think they’re probably my favourite sea buddies now!

Hawaii is wild! The topography offers spectacular vistas as we drive around the coast of the Big Island. Lush, green forests line the roads. Then black rocky lava loads cover the grounds. Lava rocks intermittently display sprouts of dry spiky clusters of yellow grass. The ocean is visible always, as we make our way north towards the volcano.

I feel a great sense of my parents’ presence. I was here with them more than 30 years ago. It was a gift from them for my 30th birthday, so memorable, maybe because it was the only one. Their essence is present as I explore.
Hula and belly dancing accompany musicians in the cafes and restaurants. Hawaiian people are, generally welcoming and inviting. The music highlights the shrill, high pitch of the ukulele, and the voices compliment the sounds. Proprietors, entertainers, and servers demonstrate a love for their island, engaging vacationers to share it together.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we’re in the United States. “There sure are a lot of Americans here!” I said shortly after our arrival on Oahu. It was one of those statements we call ‘Jacquisms’ whose sense of humour targets the obvious. Hawaii is America. Culturally it displays a strong Polynesian and South Asian flavour. Hawaiian language is not English, though most residents speak both.

Daily rainbows span the sky as a gentle “Blessing Rain” settles on the ground and on me. Hawaii is a gloriously beautiful place to be. I definitely feel the blessing!