Saturday, 24 January 2009

Happy Birthday Weekend

I need more sleep. I need more energy. My usually high but controlled blood pressure is way low. My asthma is acting up. I need for my mouth to start tasting sweet instead of salty ... or at least neutral. I need to return to a sane appetite. I need to get off these damn pills!

Denis, the roofer, is coming this morning to take snow off the roof. He thinks the ridge cap is the problem, something about short pieces of tin up there ... don't ask ... I just pray that the tradesmen are honest and know what they are doing these days. He was truly concerned ... can't fixthe leak till spring, but can remove the snow and allay my fears that he might not give a damn. I think he is one of the good ones.

I also need to stop endlessly sweeping and washing floors and tidying because I am too exhausted and scattered by lack of sleep to do anything truly physical or creative.

Today I will start my real day, the one away from the computer, by planning the weekend meals. It is a birthday weekend. I will be celebrating it with one of the people born on January 25, and thinking about the others who are not here with me ... Mud Mama ... Robbie Burns ... Virginia Woolf.

Robbie ... we will try to attend your party at the Black Sheep tonight ... and sing a rousing cheer to a poet who understood the nature of wee sleekit cowerin' timorous beasties whose lives are upended by an uncaring larger world.

Virginia ... thank you for the courage you've given me ever since I was a young woman, for helping me find the strength to rise at times above being a cowerin' timorous beastie.

Mud Mama ... who was raised in the light of Virginia, and who radiates strength in adversity, may your prayers be answered ... I love you.

I am thinking of grilling fillet steaks dressed with Boursin cheese and serving them with tiny potatoes, beets done with either orange juice or caraway, and sugar snap peas ... plus a special birthday dessert ... have to hunt something up. Not sure whether to do this tonight or wait till the 25th ... Maybe the 25th would be better since we can just hunker in after dinner with wine rather than heading off to the Sheep. And this would be a good meal to have after skiing in the cold.

So ... off to my cookbooks ... and maybe later to the latest tea cozy ... one based on parachutes ... it is down to its last stitching ... all those safety lines. One of my second hand shop purchases has five pages ... five! ... on different embroidery stitches. What a deal! The whole book cost $1!

And here is Chapter 4 of Explosion for those reading it.


Art class had been fun. Mrs. Maxwell had brought in twigs and dead leaves and all kinds of other things from her cottage near Lunenburg, and they had created pictures from them. When Kate had to draw, she produced rigid figures with no life or movement, but when she was allowed to play with materials and move them around on the page, she could set free her imagination and her natural sense of order and beauty. She had created a haunted wood peopled with fantastic creatures. The trees and undergrowth gave hints of their presence, but there were no actual representations of them. She particularly liked the bark of one tree in which she could see a Puckish face. She thought it might provide the inspiration for a poem. Maybe she'd do something with it in Friday's creative writing class.

There were a few grade seven students lingering by their lockers when she arrived at Miss Johnson's door. This better not take long; she wanted to get to the riding club in time for her group riding lesson with Dick Zwicker. She nudged open the door with her shoulder, and set her binder down on the counter top. "I'm here to wash the floor, Miss Johnson," she said to the teacher's back.

"Have you written out your lines, Hennigar?"

Kate gritted her teeth. Mr. Zwicker called all of them by their last names, and he sometimes got her name wrong too, but she knew he liked her. When she'd recited "Abou Ben Adem" and won an elocution competition in grade six, he'd been the only adult to make a fuss. Her father had been too busy to come, but the next day Mr. Zwicker had called her over to the box stall where he was trimming Fairy's hooves, and had said, "Congratulations, Hennigar, I heard you won the speaking contest. I'm always proud when one of my kids does well, " and then he'd planted a big sloppy kiss on her cheek. She'd thought 'yuck' but had hugged that memory to her ever since.

"No, Miss Johnson. I thought that was homework. I've been in class all day. I'll give it to you Friday during class."

"All right, but see that you don't forget. It might be a good idea to do it tonight so that you don't."

"I don't forget things," Kate said coolly. When Alice reminded her of the forgotten apron, Kate flushed, and, in a more subdued tone, asked how she should wash the floor.

"The broom, bucket, cloths, brushes, and soap are all in the tall cupboard. Sweep it well first and then fill the bucket with warm water, add soap, and scrub it well."

"On my knees?" Kate asked incredulously. "I'm wearing my good kilt and stockings. They'll be ruined."

"You can use the small mat to kneel on. It's the one I use, and I never get runs in my stockings," Miss Johnson countered quietly. She had made up her mind to deal with this girl calmly. She'd taught five classes today and she didn't need any more stress. Her head ached and she just wanted to get home to her apartment where she could lie down for an hour before dinner.

"Haven't you got a mop I can use?" Kate asked.

"No, I don't, and even if I had, you can't get into the corners properly with a mop."

"Well I'm not going to crawl all over a wet floor on my hands and knees in my good clothes. You may be a charwoman, but I'm not. And besides, I've got riding and I'll be late if I take forever washing this floor. I thought this would be a fifteen minute detention not an hour's drudgery. "

Alice Johnson felt the scar tissue on her face grow fiery red, and she knew that Kate must be as aware of it as she was. She willed her fury to subside, closed her eyes and said quietly, "You will wash the floor, Miss, and you will do it properly."

"The hell I will," Kate said, and flounced out of the room. As soon as she was out in the hall she knew she'd gone too far, but she tossed her head and marched defiantly past the staring grade seven kids. "That ugly old fart has no right to expect me to do her job," she spat out as she headed down the stairs, past the gym, and out the front door.

Alice's response to Kate's outburst was to draw a deep breath and to let it out slowly. I don't want that girl in my class. She's one of those kids who can destroy a class. She sat down and wrote a report on the confrontation and tucked it into the corner of her desk pad to deal with the next day. Then she took the broom and dust pan from the cupboard and swept the floor. As she filled the bucket, she thought how soothing the warmth of the water was, and felt her headache receding to that place just outside her skull; the place where she still knew she had a headache, but where it didn't pound with each heart beat.

She dropped the rubber-backed mat to the floor and with some difficulty let herself down to a kneeling position. It had certainly been easier when she was a girl and her mother had overseen her floor washing. Then she could move with the agility of a young animal, and never felt discomfort from being on her knees. However; despite the nuisance of aching knee joints, she got a certain satisfaction from seeing the clear black and wine tile emerge from the greyed surface, just as she always did. When she rose after forty minutes on her knees, it was with the grace of a fifty-three year old elephant, and she thought wryly of her mother's words,"Of course you must wash the floor, Miss, I'm past the age when I can do everything in this household. I'm forty-four and you're fourteen. If you don't learn now, you'll be useless when you get married." Oh, Mama, if you had only known then what the future held.
At five o'clock, Alice glanced with satisfaction around the clean room, tucked her scarf in at the neck of her coat, picked up her handbag, and locked the door behind her. The corridors were quiet, and except for the odd teacher still marking at a classroom desk, and some students playing volleyball in the gym, the school was deserted. She walked out onto Preston Street and strode north until she reached Quinpool Road where she turned left. She lived above Bligh's Radio and Record Store and a florist shop beside the Royal Bank building at the corner of Oxford and Quinpool. It was an easy walk to school and handy to the stores and buses. The Oxford Theatre was on the opposite corner, and one bus ride took her out to Armdale where she could shop at Simpson's.

Once she climbed the dark staircase and let herself into her apartment, she felt a sense of relief she never felt at school, or indeed anywhere else. She carried her coat into the bedroom to hang in the closet, took off her shoes and considered lying down for a half hour before starting dinner, but decided against it. Her headache had subsided on its own, and she'd rest after dinner.
As she passed through the small livingroom on her way to the kitchen she thought about what she would do after supper. She'd read all the books in the shelves, all Victorian novels, and she hadn't been to the library for a couple of weeks. The show at the Oxford was Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn. Maybe she'd go to that, or maybe she'd just listen to music and write in the diary she'd kept since she was a girl. Yes, she thought, a quiet evening would be nice.

She walked back into her bedroom, changed into a faded house dress and slipped her bare feet into a pair of comfortable shaggy slippers with rundown heels. It was cool so she took out an ancient grey cardigan whose elbows had been darned with a wool that didn't quite match and put it on over the dress which in its youth had been Kelly green but was now a shade almost indistinguishable from the cardigan.

She was having fish tonight, a piece of cod she'd bought on Saturday that needed eating up. She peeled two potatoes and put them in a small pot. A quick glance in the fridge revealed no fresh vegetables, not even carrots, so she took a can of peas from the cupboard, and dumped them unceremoniously into a second pot. Using a wooden kitchen match, she lit the gas stove and set the two pots on the burners. Then she washed, floured and seasoned the fish fillets. She melted a small piece of butter and checked the potatoes. Yes, just turning tender, time to put the fish on. The butter sizzled when she placed the fillet in the pan, and she turned the heat a notch lower. She was reminded of the only time she had taught a class to cook fish. Never again. Most of them said they hated fish and the smell made them sick. She'd remonstrated with them saying they were Nova Scotians, that the mainstay of Nova Scotia's economy was the fishing industry. They were unmoved and most refused to touch the fish to wash it, and, when she had expected them to eat it, had become absolutely mutinous. She'd finally had to call in an administrator because she had lost control of the class.

Being a young teacher had been difficult. That first class and their looks of disgust when they looked at her face. She'd almost given up, but an older teacher had said to her, "Alice, give it a little more time. You'll get better at classroom management. The secret is to be tough at first so that they know who's boss. I know teachers who never smile till Christmas, my dear. And the other thing is that your scars are still quite new. They'll fade in time, you'll see. Soon the girls won't even notice them." Well, she'd been right. Alice's classroom discipline was now excellent, and the girls no longer looked at her in horror, but she couldn't remember when she'd last smiled in a classroom, and she felt stressed all the time.

She'd begun to dream of being a home economics teacher when she was about fifteen. Her mom had been very strict about teaching her to keep her room clean as a small child, and, once she was eleven, had expected her to help with the running of the household. Until she met Kjell, she'd resented any household responsibility that had interfered with her social life. If the girls thought she was tough, they should have lived with her mother!

She'd been a pretty little thing back then. In fact she'd looked a lot like that Stockwell girl, Miriam that is, not the older one, Donna; the same electric black curls, brown eyes and full lips. But she'd been more wilful than Miriam appeared to be. As a matter of fact, she'd been more like that uppity Kate Hennigar. A wry grin creased her face as she thought about her younger self.

Then she remembered when her mother was so ill after her brother was born. She'd been eleven, and they'd had Mrs. Cormier from Spryfield come in to help keep house for about a month. Alice had resented her obtrusive presence in the kitchen. She was a poor, raw boned woman with reddened hands attempting to support her twelve children. Alice was angry about the extra burdens her mother's illness forced her to carry, and missed being able to rely upon her mother, so she was unable to feel much sympathy for Mrs. Cormier. One day, after a particularly unappetizing meal, Mrs. Cormier had asked Alice to take out the garbage and she'd yelled, "Take it out yourself. It's your job. That's what you're being paid for, and if you can't do your job then you'd better clear out."

Mrs. Cormier had gone directly to her father who had taken her down to the coal cellar, his belt in his hand. As he strapped her, he spat out the words that hurt as much as the licking. "You had better learn to have some feeling for other people, young lady. Mrs. Cormier has a hard enough life and does not deserve your scorn. What she does deserve is respect for her hard work. You could be helping out a lot more than you are. She won't be coming back, and you'll soon realize just how much you should have appreciated her, because you'll be doing her job from now on."

How right he had been. She'd learned to cook and clean and do laundry, and she'd looked down at her hands one day, and gone crying to her mother's bedside, "Look at my hands. They're as ugly as Mrs. Cormier's. When are you going to get better?"

Her mother had put her arms around her and said, "As soon as I can, Alice. Perhaps my illness has helped you to understand something about people. We all have to chip in when there's work to be done. Can't any of us just leave things for the rest, can we?" And within another month, Mama had been up and about and Alice's life had returned to normal ... well as normal as possible in a house with a demanding new baby.

By the time Jock was a red-cheeked four year old, loved and spoiled by everyone, they were in the middle of a war, and she'd met Kjell. She'd been singing for the patients at Camp Hill one weekend. He'd been working on one of the British merchant ships when his appendix ruptured and they'd moved him to Camp Hill for emergency surgery before leaving port. The two months that elapsed before his ship returned to Halifax had given them the time to fall in love.

Kjell was just eighteen when she'd brought him home the first time. He loved to play with Jock, tossing him in the air, and in his lilting accent, would spend hours telling the little boy folk tales. Even her dad liked Kjell although he had some misgivings when she'd first started seeing him. "He's too old for you, Alice. Three years are a lot at your age, and those Scandinavian boys are too fast for a fifteen year old Canadian girl."

Little did he know that she was the one who would move faster if Kjell would only let her. It was Kjell who always drew back when their breath quickened and her temperature rose. He'd say, "You're too young, Alice. Wait, Love, till you're sixteen; then we'll get engaged."

Her mother had a suspicion that Alice's sudden interest in home-making was directly connected to her interest in Kjell. The girl who'd had to be coerced into every domestic activity just a few short weeks before suddenly began asking for recipes for pies and cakes. One Saturday night she subjected all of them to something called risengrynsgrøt: a rice porridge that Kjell said all Norwegians ate for their Saturday evening meal. Jock was delighted, particularly by the melted butter and the sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar, an almost unknown luxury in the war years with rationing. Kate's father had refused the toppings and gone looking for ketchup. "Anything to turn a breakfast into a decent supper," he'd growled. "I hope you're not intending to feed us this every Saturday night from now on."

Alice had laughed and said, "Don't be silly Daddy. Kjell's away more often than he's here, so you'd hardly need to worry about eating risengrynsgrøt every Saturday night," and her mother had reminded him of the scarcity of butter and sugar needed for the dish.

Alice sighed. All so long ago now ... Mrs. Cormier, Saturday evenings at Camp Hill, life with her parents and Jock, those years as a young teacher coming to terms with the scraps of a life without Kjell.


ProfSeeman said...

You make some good points above.
However, I also think that this can be helpful to you:
The book and Training Video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems

If you can get this book and video: [they are in many libraries, so you don't have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

If your library does not have them, you can get them at:

that are also used at this online course:

See: Reviews at:

If you cannot get the book or video, email me anyway, and I will try to help.

Best regards,


Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus,
City Univ. of New York

Prof. Seeman

Mud Mama said...


Oma said...

Maybe I should have Alice call???

Barbara Carlson said...

When automatic key-word computers go bad.,,
Very funny.
Yes, have Alice answer him.
What else have you got to do??? Ha!