Christmas comes but once a year …

What song do you sing at a snowman’s birthday party? …… Freeze a jolly good fellow.

What carol is sung in the desert at Christmas? …. O camel ye faithful.

santa and sleighI know, I know.  I couldn’t resist.  We’re getting close to the height of the madness associated with the  Christmas season and my kids have been busy rehearsing for their School Christmas Concert.  It’s a serious affair.  My middle kid is in Grade 5 who have the honour of performing this year’s coveted christmas play, entitled, ‘A Pirate’s Christmas’, during the concert.  Rehearsals have been underway for the last month or so and it’s at times like this that I’m always reminded of the scene from the Richard Curtis film, Love Actually, when Emma Thompson’s daughter arrives home from school to announce she’s got a part in the School Christmas play…..  love actually

Karen: So what’s this big news, then?
Daisy: [excited] We’ve been given our parts in the nativity play. And I’m the lobster.
Karen: The lobster?
Daisy: Yeah!
Karen: In the nativity play?
Daisy: [beaming] Yeah, *first* lobster.
Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?

This always makes me chuckle.  In my day, school nativity plays were pure and simple.  There was Mary, Joseph, a ‘tiny tears’ baby doll, 3 Kings, couple of Shepherds, the ‘Angel Gabriel’ (always the second most popular choice after the part of Mary & Joseph was awarded), Innkeeper (and wife), with the rest of the class making up the stable ‘animals’.  The standard ‘tunes’ were customary – ‘Away in a Manger’, ‘We Three Kings’, ‘O Little Star of Bethlehem’ ….. and by the time you were in the ‘top class’ in primary school, you never needed to learn any of the parts as you’d seen it rehearsed and performed so many times since the age of 4, that you knew it off by heart.  Oh, how times have changed …..

nativityBack to recent school events, and there has been quite an intense process of auditioning for parts and judging from the daily ‘feedback’ from my middle kid, there’s clearly a perceived hierarchy associated to the roles awarded – she was desperate to be ‘Prancer’ or “Dancer’ as these were ‘talking’ reindeers.  Auditions mustn’t have gone to plan as she was relegated to being ‘a non-talking reindeer’ – the irony of the part not being lost on us, as the challenge for my middle kid to remain silent for any longer than 30 seconds only usually occurs when she’s fast asleep.

reindeersWhilst a smidgen of disappointment was apparent, she accepted the role with good grace.  We had instructions to source brown tops and bottoms (for reindeers, obviously), and were kindly informed that antlers would be provided.  In the meantime, my youngest kid has been learning all the songs as ‘Grade 2’ are to be the accompanying ‘choral’ voices.  She’s been taking this very seriously, insisting her older sister acts out the play whilst she sings along – and rather like a mini-Simon Cowell, woe betide my middle kid if she doesn’t perform to the youngest’s exacting standards.  My role during all this is rather akin to the UN Peace Talks …..

santa sleighDramatic events transpired during rehearsals earlier this week and the role performed by the reindeers in pulling the sleigh across the stage transporting Santa to his final destination.  Apparently, only ‘Prancer’ and ‘Dancer’ (you’ll remember these as being the ‘talking’ parts), were asked to pull the sleigh whilst all ‘other’ reindeers would follow behind.  This provoked outrage in the muted reindeer community who insisted that Santa would always have all reindeers pulling his sleigh and wouldn’t invoke favouritism.  It’s clearly been a bone of contention.  I didn’t like to point out that the opening scene of a reindeer ‘dancing’ with a beach ball was slightly out of character …..

reindeer protestAll in all, it’s definitely Christmas.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Christmas tree is up, sparkly lights are switched on and there’s an accompanying Christmas moose (the size of a Great Dane) lit up on our decking.  Snow has fallen, temperatures are below -20 and I’ve got the heating on full blast.  It’s certainly a Canadian Christmas.  Ho ho ho ……

🙂

Thanks to google images for the pics in today’s blog

Making magic happen …. literally …

Magic in the makingDon’t you just love it when 5 minutes before the kids leave for school on Monday morning, the youngest produces a bedraggled piece of paper from out of her bag and attempting to ‘iron’ it flat again with her hand announces, ‘oh, I forgot about this – it’s for you, Mum’.  Monday was Halloween, and as a result, we’d been up since the crack of dawn amassing the costumes and vast array of accessories ready for each kid to wear to school.

I’m always up first, and on a ‘normal school day’, there’s usually a high degree of reluctance to move from under the bedsheets by each of the kids, and my vocal chords get a daily battering – constantly imploring all to move with a pace quicker than that of a senile snail, and get ready for school.  Even my ageing cat who witnesses this morning ritual seems to roll her eyes with the inevitability of what’s to unfold, deploying her caterwauling as a counter-measure to the heated arguments that rapidly re-ignite upstairs – each kid aggravating the other in a move to create as much distraction and blockage to the morning process as humanly possible.

I, on the other hand, just turn on the kitchen radio (BBC Radio 2 – ‘Steve Wright in the Afternoon’ acting as our daily breakfast show given the 7 hours time difference), and switch the kettle on for a brew.  The volume and urgency escalates until all 3 kids appear in the kitchen – and proceed to stare aimlessly at the breakfast goods on offer – as though awaiting a fairy godmother to appear and morph them into something delicious.  Each morning without fail, there’s a stunned surprise as I suggest they do it themselves ….witchesHowever, Halloween morning is unlike any other morning in the school year.  Bounding out of bed like puppies desperate for attention, they hastily put on their attire and rapidly move to constructing and demolishing their breakfasts, jovially making conversation with one another incorporating even the odd chuckle and giggle as they do so.  Slightly stunned with surprise, and wondering why there isn’t the same level of cooperation every other day of the school week, I get on with my usual chores and with plenty of time to spare, everyone is ready and waiting to leave the house – on time.

So imagine my dismay, when the youngest reached into her bag with 5 minutes to spare and showed me a letter from her teacher.  They were having a Halloween party in their class that afternoon and each child had been selected to bring specific items as contributions towards the Halloween feast.  Looking for her name on the list, I discovered she had been asked to bring ‘baked goods’ as dessert for her and 20 fellow classmates.Halloween sign‘Happy Halloween’ was not one of the few choice words which immediately sprung to mind – let alone the fact that this had been festering in her bag for the entire weekend without so much as an acknowledgement.  To say this went down like a lead balloon was an understatement, and she was left in no doubt that this news hadn’t been well-received.  I have been known to produce the odd miracle every now and again, and whilst it was Halloween – and yes, I do have a black cat and a broomstick on my wall – the ability to concoct something both appetising and fit for human consumption in the space of 30 seconds, has even me domestically challenged.  Tears welled in her eyes as she realised the true horror of not having something to take in for her classmates later that day.

Frantically looking in the larder and feeling like a contestant on the Canadian cooking programme, ‘Chopped’ – minus the major $10,000 incentive; I focused on the few key ingredients I had to hand and rapidly attempted to recollect my back catalogue of cooking treats.   My youngest went off to school dressed as a vampire witch (as you do), and the confidence that something would arrive in the next 20 minutes.Magic happens

How on earth I then pulled off ‘Rocky Road’ in the space of 20 minutes was sheer brilliance – even if I do say so.  It was like making magic happen ….. literally.   Let’s hope next Halloween is less eventful, I could do with no sudden surprises …..

🙂

Thanks as ever to Google images for the pics in today’s blog

Should I stay or should I go now?

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It’s a pretty momentous day for Britain as we go to the polls and cast our votes as to whether we stay in or move ourselves out of the European Union.  Now, as a point of note – and this has been commented to me on several occasions over the past few weeks – if we do choose to depart, it doesn’t mean we’ll be picking up anchor and sailing ourselves over to another continent as we’ll no longer be part of ‘Europe’.  Mind you, judging from the news coverage of the Euro 2016 football, plus our consistent track record of coming bottom in the Eurovision Song Contest (key indicators I’m sure you’ll agree), I’m pretty sure the rest of Europe wouldn’t object if we did …… maybe that’s where we’ve gone wrong?  It may possibly have been a better option to ask the rest of Europe if they wanted Britain to stay.  I think we all know the answer they would give us  …… 😉

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Talking of news coverage, I’m only glad we haven’t been in the UK for the full media run-up.  It seems that whatever decision is made will either prompt the ending of the world, trigger World War 3, spark financial ruin or promote another series of Big Brother.  On a more negative note (!!), it could just be like all the preparations that were undertaken as we moved into the new Millennium, when, – guess what? – nothing happened …….

British news does get coverage over here, and indeed, it has been taking more and more of a prime slot as we’ve moved closer to the event.  Almost everyone I’ve spoken to over the last week, has made reference to it during conversation, and it’s notable to me that British news gets such high billing on the media platform.  That said, so does Trump and all the American antics associated with the presidential elections – another key event which is scheduled to take place later this year.  It certainly seems that 2016 is a pivotal year in world history ……. let’s hope it’s remembered for promoting fundamental change and improvement, rather than complete catastrophe.

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I was reminded about Britain’s illustrious past only last week during yet another school trip to the Edmonton heritage park, ‘Fort Edmonton’.  Named after, and housing the original fort which was constructed during the height of the fur trade when Edmonton was first established back in 1846, it reconstructs a further 3 distinct time periods in Edmonton’s history – 1885, 1905 and 1921.  I was accompanying the Grade 1’s, and they were spending the day exploring the 1885 street, with all the various buildings and ways of life that existed during that time.  It’s wonderfully done – with fully functional houses from the time, and staff in costumes depicting the era.

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One of the first places we saw was the schoolhouse.  All the class were asked to take a seat at the desks, girls on the right (hats could be left on), whilst boys to the left (hats removed as a sign of courtesy).  And no talking.  The very first action was to all stand and sing the national anthem, to which the entire class starting reciting and singing, ‘Oh Canada’.  The school mistress brought them to a halt after 2 lines of the verse and admonished the class by stating that whilst melodic, this was not the Canadian national anthem of the time.  Could they now recite, ‘God save the Queen’.  Rather like a familiar tune coming over the airwaves on the radio, my youngest kid remarked, ‘oh, I know that one!!’, whilst her fellow classmates looked slightly bewildered around her.  I couldn’t have been prouder …..

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After this, they were instructed to draw the national flag on the chalkboards in front of them.  As expected, they all started to illustrate the Canadian flag with the red maple leaf.  Unimpressed, the schoolmistress was aghast that a piece of broccoli was on the Canadian flag, and could they all please behave and draw the Union Jack.  A knowing smile resonated from my youngest kid, and I did chuckle ……

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Britain has clearly left marks on the world and today’s vote will no doubt have repercussions no matter what the decision is for decades to come.  The well-known song, ‘Should I stay or should I go now?’ by The Clash back in 1982 had the following refrain, ‘if I go there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double’.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come back to haunt us ……

🙂

Thanks as ever to Google images for the pics in today’s blog …

Parlez-vous, Anglais??

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It doesn’t take much for me to get distracted from the task at hand, and today is no exception.  Foreign languages have never been my forte – I’m more of a ‘wave your hands around, speak slightly louder and slower in basic English’, in the hope my ‘conversation’ translates to the other respective party.  In fact, I always remember my Gran remonstrating her conversation and discussions with full arm movements – so much so, that we used to hold her hands behind her back and ask her to continue talking – after which she was completely unable to utter a word without her arms in full flow ……

So given my lack of significant knowledge in being able to communicate in a foreign language, you’d probably assume that I’d be pretty competent in English.  I’d like to think so too, but this week will be pretty pivotal in confirming whether this assumption is accurate or not.  I have an ‘English’ test on Saturday, here in Edmonton.  In preparation, I’ve been sat for the last few hours trying to hold my concentration by completing various sample test papers on different elements of the exam.  The wonders of modern technology have seen me diverted by incoming emails, browsing websites, and now I’ve been distracted yet again, and am writing this blog instead of focusing on the task at hand ……

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Yes – an English test.  The last time I did an English exam testing my language capabilities was when I sat my GCSE’s in the late 80’s.  I did pretty well, and my logical reasoning has me thinking that a further 20 years experience in the English language will have enhanced my skills yet further …… but will it?  Or will it be like driving tests, where thank god they don’t do them more frequently in the UK and I bet if I had to undertake one today, all my bad habits may come to the fore?

So, I’ve got an English exam on Saturday.  It’s a full day ‘experience’ where I’ve even had to pay for the privilege and sees my English tested against 4 key variables – listening, reading, writing and speaking.  Proper ‘exam’ conditions will apply, there are invigilators upholding the rules and ensuring consistency amongst all candidates, and the only items I’m allowed to take into the exam room are 3 HB pencils, an eraser with no writing on it, and a basic pencil sharpener.  There’s also a warning not to wear any deodorant or perfume as this could be off-putting to others nearby ……. I’m hoping this was a general clause on the ‘welcome’ document and not one specifically targeted at me.

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Tactics may have to play a part.  I reckon I’ll be fine on the reading and writing elements – how hard can that be really?  The writing element will require me to pull together a cohesive argument on a specific topic – my husband has commented that I’m award-winning at generating an argument – it’s making it cohesive and logical where there’s room for improvement.  Charming!  Equally, I’ve been the brunt of his sarcasm when it comes to ‘listening’ too.  After 14 years together, I’ve developed a knack of trying to complete the sentence my husband often starts, as a means of avoiding the need to ‘listen’ further to what’s being said.  I may have to concentrate a little bit more when we come to this part on Saturday …..

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No, my biggest worry is in the speaking.  I’m easily understood in northern England, but will often walk out of a Tim Horton’s coffee shop here in Edmonton with completely the wrong order, or a confused expression by the server behind the counter prompts my oldest kid to ‘translate’ my request into Canadian english that is met with instant acknowledgement.  Not just the speaking, it’s the ‘stopping’ me from continuing speaking which others are often challenged by.  To say I can talk the hind legs off a donkey, would be an understatement ….. Let’s hope I have a sympathetic examiner.

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I’m not sure what will happen if they determine my English isn’t up to par.  Given I’m unable to speak any other language, I anticipate that this may be slightly problematic and a significant confidence hit.  That said, I’m up for the challenge and let’s hope sensibilities prevail.  I get the written results (in English) of my performance after 13 days.  I’m wondering whether I’ll score extra points for artistic merit in arm interpretation and hand movements??  Let’s hope so …..

🙂

 

Thanks as ever to google images for pics used in today’s blog …

Books bizarre, brilliant and baffling …

book club

One of the challenges of arriving in a new place is getting out and meeting people, finding different things to do, and new things to talk about. I’ve been lucky. I’ve met loads of really great people – one of which invited me to join a local book club just over 12 months ago. Probably 15 members in total, averaging between 7 – 10 attending each month due to the challenge of juggling other commitments. Some sessions you can make, others you can’t. And that’s perfectly fine. I mentioned in a recent blog my pastime for reading (click here for a re-cap), so always up for trying something new, I’ve been fostered as the newest member of the group.

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Back in January last year, collectively we agreed the books we would read each month, and who would host each month’s ‘event’. It’s been a tough challenge, as most of the books were unknown to me – whilst a lot of ladies had read them the previous year and submitted them as books they enjoyed or felt would be worthy of a monthly book club ‘discussion’ – so I’ve been on catch up, trying to read the required books in time for each month’s meeting. Some I’ve managed, others I haven’t – but nobody minds too much if you’ve not completed it. What’s been most interesting, is that I’ve read books I would generally have ignored – some I’ve enjoyed and others I haven’t, but it’s a super way to widen my reading and also, the discussion that each opens up has been positively enlightening. My husband refers to it as a ‘wine club’ under the guise of ‘books’, and that’s partly apt. November saw me as ‘host’ for the monthly ‘gathering’, and whilst we meet around 7.30pm, that particular month saw us only managing to get to the topic of the selected book just after 9. Just to ease things along, I offered a range of delicacies procured from the Italian market – meats, cheeses, dips, plus concocted a simple fruit salad, made ‘sticky date cake’, and also got hold of some homemade cookies from a new shop just at the corner of the road recently opened. Along with wine (the preferred liquid of choice), a great evening was had by all.

read between wines

Some books have been by Canadian authors – and I’m sure if I really hunted them out in the UK, I’d probably find them – but they’ve never had much precedence when I’ve been browsing the book stores back home.  They’ve been great reads, and I’ve been given different perspectives of historical time periods that  I’ve not come across before.  For example, ‘Requiem’ by Frances Itani, deals a lot with the treatment of the Japanese in Canada after Pearl Harbour in 1942 – something I knew very little about.  Most history I’ve come across has been european-based – especially during WW2, so it was refreshing but also shocking what happened elsewhere.

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On a lighter note, the last 2 months have seen British authors and with both being set in England, I’ve enjoyed the references to places, past-times and practicalities.  What’s had me chuckling the most is how British references translate across the pond to Canadian readers – or not, as the case may be.  The ladies in the book club have required the occasional translating of particular phrases, explanation of who various celebrities are (‘Katie Price’ – say no more), and verification over whether life is how it’s actually described in the books.  The funny thing is, this must be rubbing off on my oldest kid.  She’s reading a British fiction book in school and the teacher regularly asks the class about what words or phrases mean in the context of the writing.  What had me laughing the most, was when my oldest kid described what the word ‘priorities’ meant to the class and then was challenged to put it into context in a sentence for the class to understand.  She said her example was, ‘my Mum is always saying, I’m not doing that just yet as it’s not at the top of my list of priorities’.  The teacher could readily appreciate the sentiment ….

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For those interested, the list below is an eclectic mix of books read over the past 12 months that I’ve enjoyed – and you never know, you may too …..

P.D. James – ‘The Lighthouse’ 

Rachel Joyce – ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’

Donna Tartt – ‘The Goldfinch’

Andrew Davidson – ‘The Gargoyle’

Cheryl Strayed – ‘ Wild’

Paula Hawkins – ‘The Girl on the Train’

Kimberly McCreight – ‘Where They Found Her’

Linwood Barclay – ‘No Safe House’

Francis Itani – ‘Requiem’

J.B. Morrison – ‘The Extra-Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81’

Happy reading  🙂

Credit to google images for the pics used in this week’s blog – they had me smiling so thought they’d make you smile too

Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to school we go …

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When I was young, I always loved the school holidays (is there anyone who doesn’t?), and come the prospect of the new school year, I always felt they’d gone way too quick, I hadn’t done half the things I had hoped, and needed much longer off.  That said, off I’d trot on the first day and by the end of the first week, it felt like there had never been a holiday at all.  Teachers and pupils alike, I’m sure the feeling was unanimous.

Well, we can’t delay the inevitable and our first Canadian summer holiday is finally over and all 3 kids have returned to school.  After 2.5 months off, things are slightly different on this side of the pond.  All 3 were keen to go back and return to the normal routine and rhythm that school brings, which, quite frankly, was a blessed relief.  Mind you, it could say more about the delights of spending time at home with me than it does about returning to school …..

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It’s been a great summer.  We’ve had grandparents visiting, been on holiday, visited new places in and around Edmonton, all of which has been accompanied by truly superb ‘proper summer’ weather.  But that’s starting to change, the leaves are changing colour and Autumn is calling.  School has started.

There are some differences to school in the UK.  For starters, you have to provide school supplies.  At the end of last term, each kid came home with a list of supplies that needed to be procured and sent in with them on their first day back.  Things like rulers, paper, pens, crayons, binders, folders – virtually everything that Staples stocks.  It must be a stationers dream having this requirement and costs parents an absolute fortune.  It just goes to show how much stationery budgets must amount to back in the UK to keep school’s fully stocked and maintained – something I never gave much of a thought to until now.  On the plus side, the kids love choosing their items and then getting home and putting their names on everything.  I remember when I was little, even the simple chore of choosing a sparkly new schoolbag and pencil-case for the new school year being a highlight.  It doesn’t take long before the zips are broken, graffiti is on the front, and the bits from the pencil sharpener have made their way into the dark recesses of the lining – but the novelty of choosing new equipment never seems to wear off.

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Back home in ‘Blighty’, kids move up to the next year, change teacher, and often stay with their classmates. Here, kids will move up to the next year (or ‘grade’ as it’s called over on this side of the pond), but that’s about all is known until the first day of school.  There’s more than one class to a year, and come the new school year, all the classes are mixed up, and there will be a new selection of school friends in each of the classes – some kids they will know already and have met previously, but others who they’ve never met or taken a class with before.

All my kids were looking forward to finding out who would be in their class, who they would know already, who they would make new friends with, and who their teachers would be.  The advent of modern technology has kicked in for my oldest kid who instantly took to social media and messaged her friends from her class last year, to find out who would be in the same class as her this year.  All three haven’t batted an eyelid at the change and difference to being back in the UK, and I guess like everything in life, variety is the spice of life …..

AlphabetTeachers change, and there are also at least 2 teachers for each class, specialising in specific subjects and alternating their time between two classes during the day and across each week.  My youngest kid has finally started school full-time and on her first morning, found that a number of her previous friends from Kindergarten were in the same class.  She’s thoroughly enjoyed walking to school each morning and being stimulated with a full day of lessons and new things to learn.  Her biggest excitement on her first day was attending the music class and providing the accompaniment on the big bass drum.  Hitting things hard seemed to appeal to her immensely, and she couldn’t wait to go back and try it again!

I received a present on my first day dropping my youngest kid off in Grade 1.  A lovely note from the teachers in my youngest’s class, with a sachet of tea for me to sample on my return back home, and a suggestion that I could finally put my feet up and relax until home time.  I certainly sampled the contents, although not sure I managed to get as far as putting my feet up  (note to self: must try harder tomorrow).

All the teachers go out of their way to encourage communication with parents, wanting to know how they can achieve the best out of each child over the next school year, each child’s specific areas of strength, and whether there are areas they need to be mindful of.  It’s clearly seen as a partnership between parents and teachers to help each child’s learning and growing.  Some children manage the transition back to school better than others – and that’s only natural I guess.  My three kids seem to transition with ease – and I wonder if it’s partly to do with the way I wholeheartedly embrace change and new things.  Talking of which, I’ve now the opportunity to create my own routine and daily activities whilst my three monkeys are otherwise occupied.  I’m not going to struggle with this challenge, I can tell …. 🙂

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(Credit to Google Images for the majority of pictures above)

School’s almost out

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One of the benefits of schools not having any breaks during the school year apart from Christmas and Easter, means we’re down to the last 3 weeks before the end of this school year and a monster 2.5 months off!  It seems to have flown, and not having any breaks during the year also means the rhythm of getting 2 of my 3 kids up for school every morning, doesn’t get broken and they carry on and just accept it without a bleat.

Maybe it’s also the novelty of our first year being in a Canadian school, but I can certainly say we’re not as drained and frazzled as we have been in past years during the last few weeks.  For my oldest, she’s doing her PAT exams in Grade 6 (equivalent to SAT’s in the UK), and they’re into the school revision period and different techniques for reminding them all of the content and refreshing their knowledge banks ready for the final exams.  The exams themselves are scheduled in the final 1.5 weeks of the term with the added incentive of 2 whole days on a ‘school trip’ at the local Recreation Centre full of swimming, playing and picnics after they’re completed.  Whilst I’ve no doubt the kids feel an element of pressure and the need to perform their best in their PAT’s, I wouldn’t say it was fraught or full of additional homework or stress at all.  In fact, whilst I know the school is maintaining the momentum and pace, the kids seem to be enjoying the process.  Or at least with 3 weeks to go – they are at the moment!

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My youngest kid started school in the UK back in September – which is full-time from 4 yrs old.  Things are slightly different in Canada and she’s been to reduced to half days at ‘Kindergarten’ since we arrived and doesn’t go full-time until she joins Grade 1 in September.  Whilst she’s more than ready for that event, the 2 of us have had a ‘bonus’ 8 months spending time each morning doing ‘stuff’ which we hadn’t thought we would – and we’ve had a great time in the process.  She’s been doing ‘KinderArt’ sessions at the local Recreation Centre for 2 mornings a week (see earlier blog) and thoroughly enjoying getting paint everywhere, throwing the odd ‘pot’ working with clay, chalking drawings on the sidewalks and trying out pastels, crayons and oils.  The outputs and drawings have been prolific and I’ve certainly appreciated the fact it’s been created in another location and not in my kitchen or on my floor!

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The different celebration activities put on by the school have been a super experience too.  I was invited to a Mother’s Day Tea Party by the Kindergarten class a few weeks ago, and a ‘Volunteer Appreciation’ Tea (I assist with the Kindergarten book programme) last week.  Both events are meticulously planned by the school and clearly a lot of time and effort goes into the arranging, coordinating and presenting.  Both were held during the normal school day, had different classes performing various functions, e.g.. cake serving (and very tasty cakes they were too), iced tea pouring, guiding to seats, etc.  Several classes then provided entertainment in the form of songs that had been learnt, dances performed, readings made, and pictures presented of artwork created.  The Assistant Principal was on hand to voice a huge ‘thank you’ for either the work Mum’s do, or the time offered by volunteers for the benefit of the school – a message vocalised by all the various members of staff presenting their classes during the event too.  The staff don’t get forgotten either.  There is a ‘staff appreciation day’ and kids are encouraged to complete small ‘superhero’ logo’s and put a few words about why they think their teacher of choice, has been a ‘superhero’ during the year.  It’s entirely voluntary, with the outputs presented to the teachers at a specially held luncheon over the dinner period – staffed by volunteer parents.  Everyone is encouraged to send some buffet-type food into the school for this lunch with 2 stems of cut flowers – which are then carefully crafted into handmade bouquets and presented to each of the teachers.  It’s a brilliant concept and together, all these events certainly create a community culture with everyone working together to make their school better and a great place to educate the kids that go there.

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My middle kid is already talking about the different lunch-time and ‘recess’ groups she wants to join when she returns in September.  The youngest can’t wait to ‘walk’ to school ‘by herself’ with her 2 older sisters and keeps asking when will September arrive.  A reassuring sign that as they near completion of their first year in a Canadian school, they’ve settled in extremely well, and are looking forward to more in a few months time.

Phew …. it could have been so different, and much like everything else over the past 8 months, the transition has been pretty smooth and without major incident.

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We’re now in the final 24 hours prior to the arrival of the first set of grandparents who fly into Canada tomorrow for their very first trip over here.  It’s going to be great seeing family and familiar faces – plus hearing additional English accents!  I can’t wait to see what they make of it all ……

🙂

Half a year is gone already!

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Would you believe it.  This week, we’ve been in Canada for 6 months.  6 whole months.  Most of them spent in sub-zero temperatures and covered in snow and ice.  I’d like to say that based on my blog last week proclaiming ‘the big thaw‘ had begun – oh, how wrong I was – which will serve me right for tempting fate.  I’m now back to -7 with 30cm of snow falling over the last 48 hours, and very sore muscles spent shovelling it from the drive.  Anyhow, I digress……

6 whole months.  When I mentioned this to the kids, they all agreed that it felt more like 6 weeks, and I’ve got to say, I absolutely agree.  Whatever ‘half a year’ feels like, it certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve been over in Canada that long already.  And such a lot has happened in such a short space of time.  A quick reflection on the half-year events and we mount up a heck of a list …..

  • We spent the first 4 weeks in apartments and during that time not only viewed properties to buy, but offered, arranged finance, secured and moved into a property.  Not bad going.
  • Within the first week, the kids were enrolled in school and had recommenced their education.  (If truth be told, they were all disappointed it happened so quickly …….. unlike me!!)

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  • Bought a Jeep which has been brilliant combatting the ice and snow.  Oh, and have learnt rapidly how to drive and manoeuvre on such road surfaces too.  I wouldn’t say I adopt a reckless approach, but I’ve certainly built up loads of confidence navigating the terrain.  Plus my major KPI of ‘not having a road-accident’ seems to be a minor miracle but reassuringly unblemished!
  • All our worldly possessions safely arrived after 8 weeks in a container from the UK.  Even my 19-year cat made it across on a flight and settled in like the move was just next door (by the way, she’s still with us for those slightly nervous to enquire……)

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  • Learnt how to ice-skate – and equally, how to break a wrist.  I’ve experienced the health-care system in Edmonton and whilst excellent, am hoping there’s no repeat visits.
  • My oldest kid is competing in all manner of swimming competitions, and has even been away with her team for 4 days by herself.  Is loving it, and has benefitted hugely already from the training and coaching support – plus new friends that she’s made along the way.
  • Spent New Year’s tobogganing on a slope whilst watching fireworks go off – a fantastically memorable event.
  • Had several glimpses of the ‘Northern Lights’ from our house so am holding out that a really vibrant display at some point will arise.

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  • Investigated Edmonton – been to the Zoo, Galaxyland, West Edmonton Mall (on many occasions), Farmers’ Markets, Strathcona shopping, visited ice sculpturing competitions, witnessed cross-country skiing, walked in the river valley (it truly is beautiful).
  • Been educated in the art of living in a winter city – it’s all about the layers, getting out and doing stuff.  Kids are enrolled into extra-curricular activities and we’ve got as busy a schedule here as we had at home.
  • Sampled lots of cuisine from around the world, from the vast number of eateries, diners and restaurants dotted all across the city.  With superb variety and an immense choice.  Even discovered a couple of ‘Brit Fish ‘n’ Chip’ outlets too – so my craving for mushy peas has been met.

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  • Husband procured a ‘fat bike’ to add to a growing Canadian collection of bikes to supplement his UK ones.  The grapevine informs me that there’s a potential Canadian biking trip on the horizon that’s in the planning stage with his ‘mates’.  The annual brokering of the arrangements for his ‘holiday jaunt’ has commenced …..
  • We’ve met – and made  – some superb new friends who’ve helped enormously with getting us sorted and providing different experiences for us to enjoy and participate in.

And I’m sure there’s lots more I haven’t covered.  The next 6 months should be equally exciting and enthralling.  We’ve already got serious stuff planned – most notably,

  • First on our list of places to visit will be Vancouver and hopefully, tick off some items on our bucket list (I haven’t forgotten!).  Just a stones-throw away in the next province, it’s 2 hours on a plane and right on the coast.  I still can’t get over the size and scale of this country.
  • Both sets of grandparents are visiting over the summer months, both looking forward to seeing all the grandkids again and all experiencing Canada for the first time.
  • All the kids completing their first school year in Canada and then getting 2 whole months off.  They can’t wait.
  • Finally seeing the warmth of the sun and experiencing beautiful summer weather!  I’ve got plans to invest in a serious Bar-B-Q and sample some of this outdoor living that’s been promised!

I’ll keep you posted.  🙂

Being 5 …

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My youngest kid is only 5 years old, and already almost as tall as her 8 year old sister, she has acclimatised to the move across the Atlantic as though it was just another trip to the shops and back.  Not a fleeting quiver of hesitation, she’s used to being one step ahead and taking opportunities where she can – based on the aged experience of having to fight her own corner (both literally and metaphorically) with her older 2 sisters.  This week has been no exception.

Unlike in the UK, children don’t start school full-time in Canada until they are 6 – which means she’s in Kindergarten (at the school) for half a day, each day.  Despite only being half the time, she absolutely loves it and has a superb teacher – who acknowledges it’s only a matter of time before the younger kid will be taking over and running her class.  They seem to get through as much in 3 hours as they did in a full day of school back in the UK – they’re reading, sounding words, writing, playing out, learning about space, planets, culture, dancing and making lots of new friends with everyone in her class in the process.

Volunteering plays a heavy part in Kindergarten, and the kids’ home reading programme is managed by parents who volunteer to exchange the class reading books according to the levels and instructions that the teacher has left each day.  It’s a great way to get involved, and the kids are loving the books they get – to the extent that the whole approach is around fun and building an enjoyment of reading, rather than ‘how many words can they sound out’ or academically recognise.  Likewise, I’ve fully anticipated not just an emphasis on English, but given we are in Canada and with French also an official language, all the kids learning this too.  What I didn’t expect was Chinese ……

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There’s a large community from Asia and with Chinese New Year celebrations over the past week, Kindergarten has been appreciating and recognising this culture as much as any other.  They’ve clearly been learning new Chinese words and as such, my youngest has started to reiterate these at home.  It was quite a surprise to even know she knew any words, and not knowing many myself (none to be exact), encouraged her to say a few more.  My middle kid was more skeptical about her younger sister’s capabilities and started testing her on some key words – to which her younger sister responded without hesitation.  This culminated in my middle kid ‘upping the stakes’ somewhat and posing the following key phrase, ‘could you tell me the way to the nearest bus depot’.  The youngest didn’t break sweat, just looked at her older sister with disdain and responded with absolute aplomb and utter seriousness with a phrase in what sounded like Chinese.  I spat out my spring roll, burst out laughing and gave her a round of applause – with the rest of us not having a clue whether she was correct or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if she absolutely right …..

For the remaining half of the day, she gets to spend it with me – and for two mornings each week attends a ‘KinderArt Class’ at the local recreation centre.  They get to play with paint, pastels, pencils, pottery and all manner of mediums – plus I only have to wash her clothes following her exploits afterwards, rather than the whole kitchen too!  She’s been producing some art work and has kindly given permission for all the images in this week’s blog to be used.  Not bad for a 5 year old …..

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We also had a day off yesterday from school so went to investigate ‘Galaxyland’ – the largest indoor amusement park in the world – at the West Edmonton Mall.  Absolutely huge, the size and scale is staggering and having the positive feature of being indoors and undercover (useful, when the climate is sub-zero for the majority of the time), we had a brilliant time.  I half expected the youngest to be dubious about the rides, but pouring scorn on the ‘baby and toddler’ rides as ‘being too young and not exciting enough’ (direct quote), she wanted to experience all the rides her older sisters did.  Having the advantage of size on her side, she was accepted onto all except the truly hair-raising and adult-only rides – which my oldest kid at only 11yrs, but being taller than me, went on by herself – several times (I had to watch you understand).  Only the haunted house had my youngest in sheer terror, but the majority saw cries of glee and complete hysteria, revelling in being thrown up and down the roller coasters at speed.

It’s been a good week.  No, a great week.  As usual 🙂

Holiday? Oh no it’s not … (oh yes it is)

Talking to my middle kid earlier this week, we were discussing when the next full week off school will be – and it’s not till the end of March.  I reminded her that the plan is to select something from our ‘Bucket List‘ and this is what we’ll do during the holiday, to which she responded, ‘well, living here is like being on holiday all the time’.

Very true.  Or at least, a winter holiday at that.

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It’s been a cold January already – we’ve experienced -26 and below, and the kids still have to walk to school and everything functions as it would do normally.  They go in snow pants, boots and thick winter coats with hoods up and gloves – any skin left exposed quickly feels painful, but they’ve taken it completely in their stride and enjoy tramping in the snow which is a constant companion.  It’s warmed up this week and we’ve had a balmy +2 degrees which has seen the snow start to melt on the tarmac on the main roads – but never on the side streets or gardens.  It’s amazing how quickly your body acclimatises to different temperatures as I’ve generally been regarded as part-reptile and will always have cold extremities at the best of times in the UK.  But the last few days has seen me switch coats from my -30 winter duvet to my much thinner and somewhat frivolous jacket with a verbal comment or two along the lines of ‘it’s positively mild out today’.

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The kids take their toboggans to school and make the most of the snow and ice during their breaks or ‘recess’ during the day.  They have an hilarious time and the antics they get up to have me chuckling as they recall the day’s events.  I can see why they regard it as a type of holiday.

On top of that are their classes.  They always describe their school days as fun and yet when I see what they’ve been learning, the curriculum isn’t massively different to what they’ve had back in the UK – but ‘fun’ wasn’t a descriptive term that was prevalent.  Maybe it’s the delivery.  There’s a huge use of technology – everything is based on this as a platform, and an enormous amount of creative learning too.  My middle kid is currently doing a project at school over the next 2 weeks to create and build a series of musical instruments from recycled materials they bring in from home.  They’ve had a develop a plan and they’re now in the execution stage.  It’s Blue Peter on acid – but it’s getting them to think about construction and feasibility.  She’s loving it.  Goodness knows how she’ll get it back home!

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The amount of activities which are available and offered during the winter season is vast.  There are a large number of outdoor venues across Edmonton and despite the temperatures, people are out jogging, running, power-walking and cycling.  Ice skating is encouraged (although off the menu for me for the next 2 months since my last debacle ended in disaster), and is free – just turn up, get your skates on, and try not to fall over!  As is skiing – another one on our list for when my bones have mended.

And getting to all these events and activities is easy.  You may think that the snow impedes how much travelling can be done, but not in the slightest.  The City of Edmonton does an exceptional job of clearing roads and thoroughfares – obviously concentrating on the main artery roads when we have a heavy snowfall, and each area of the city has a specific day of the week for ‘snow blading’ – clearing and maintaining the side roads in that area down to 5cm above the tarmac level.  Refuse gets collected as normal, and the recycling which is encouraged is superb – compared to what we’ve been used to back home.  Nothing stops and if anything, cranks up a gear.

There’s a wider selection of food ingredients available than I expected – and some wonderful independent shops which bake their own breads, delicatessens for meats and a range of authentic spices which has seen me emulating some pretty decent curries.  The kids are enjoying the variety and different ‘treats’ which make it into their lunch boxes each day.

We’ve got all the benefits of living in a new place, different views and way life, but with our own stuff (or at least most of it) around us.  Social media means we’re in touch with friends and family much the same as we would be if we were back home – and in some cases, we now see more of – courtesy of Facetime and Skype!  The kids are starting to get party invites so the diary is filling up, and we’re even off to watch a British Pantomime this Saturday evening at a local theatre put on by a British ex-pat amateur dramatic society.

Oh no you’re not ……. oh, yes we are ….

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Holiday?  Life is what you make it and if it can feel like one for most of the time, then why not.

🙂

It’s cold Jim, but not as we know it

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Whenever I mentioned to anyone that we were relocating to Edmonton, Canada, the first comment invariably made was along the lines of, ‘you do realise they have snow there for 6 months of the year?’  This was then often followed by ‘and it’s extremely cold – minus 40 in the Winter’.

Both points are absolutely true, and yes, the snow has indeed arrived along with the sub-zero temperatures.  In the last 2 weeks, we’ve gone from being in the positive mid to late teens, through to minus mid to late teens – and a windchill that has seen it -24 on a few occasions.  That said, it’s hard to describe what this is like unless you experience it – it’s like nothing I’ve known before.  It’s wonderful, yet cold – although I’m conscious that it’s still a novelty at this point!

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The skies are often blue – pure blue, with not a single cloud in them, and the sun shining.  On the occasional day, there’s cloud cover – usually when it’s due to snow, but more often than not (so far at least), it’s been clear blue skies.  The temperatures are so low that there isn’t any rain anymore, just snow.  And now the temperatures have dropped and the first snow has fallen, it stays where it is and gradually compacts down on the surfaces as ice on the pavements and roads.  I’m used to seeing snow turn quickly into a mucky brown slush in the UK, but this never happens either here.  It stays crystal white – even after footprints and boots have trodden in it.

The air is so dry and cold, that you get ice particles in the air which shimmer and glisten in the light – it’s truly beautiful.  The trees stay covered in snow and ice crystals – and are mesmerising to look at and reminiscent of all the picture postcard scenes seen on Christmas cards in the Winter.

And talking of Winter – this hasn’t arrived yet.  It’s Autumn here – and Winter is still to come.  Everyone talks about February being the coldest month – and with the temperatures already plummeting, we’ve procured all manner of clothing and apparel that keeps us snug whilst outside.  Lots of layers is key, and anything left exposed feels the cold pretty quickly.

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Driving has also taken some getting used to.  Luckily, our new Jeep arrived the day before the snow so it’s been both fortuitous, but also a steep learning curve for someone (me!) who’s not been used to driving much in the snow and ice.  I’ve progressed though.  On Day 1 – I accept – I was as slow as a snail.  Driving with trepidation in the snow and on the ice, much to the disgruntlement of the locals who were extremely polite and patient – no honking of horns or gesticulating gestures which I would expect to find back in England.  It’s been a baptism of fire as I’ve had to drive and navigate myself around in order to deposit kids off to various locations and obtain food and necessaries for the house.  My confidence has grown and now – 2 weeks on – I’m driving on the sheet ice (which has become the new tarmac) with greater confidence and assurance.  There have been no minor mishaps, traffic accidents or vehicle breakdowns – key KPI’s from my perspective and a success story, I’m sure you’ll agree!

It’s also interesting to see that life continues and nothing stops for the sake of sub-zero temperatures or a foot of snow.  Nothing can afford to – not when it lasts for 6 months of the year.  Traffic flows easily, there maybe the occasional bump on the roads (usually as the extra stopping distances required haven’t been factored in), but no great inconvenience.  Gritters grit the roads and life continues as before.

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Even the school has a policy that above -20, the kids will continue to play out at ‘recess’.  Below this (including windchill), the kids stay indoors.  But they need to be hardy, and make sure they always wear hats, gloves, thick coats, and waterproof boots.  It’s one of those learning points in life that you’ll only ever forget one of these items once – and you never do it again, as it’s so cold.

Walking to school in a morning, the school has a traffic light system displayed on the doors depending on the weather and temperature.  Below -20, it’s a ‘red’ system and the kids can access the school and wait in the gym until school officially opens.  Above -20, it’s a ‘green’ system, and they have to wait outside until the school doors are open.

You quickly acclimatise to the temperature though.  It’s warm today.  At only -8, I’ve put a thinner coat on and haven’t needed a hat.  Like life – everything’s relative.

Winter when it hits will be interesting …

Education, education, education …

SchoolThe kids have now completed their first full week at school and started their second week earlier this morning by bounding through the doors with excitement.  They’ve had a culture shock of a week – but in a really nice way, and a way which has seen them all unanimous in their views that they ‘really like it over here’.  Bit of a relief if I’m honest – I had no back up plan should they have pronounced they wanted to return to the UK and resume their education in their local primary school at home!

All 3 kids are at the same school.  It was built in 2010 and caters for Kindergarten (Reception class in the UK) through to Grade 9 (Year 9 equivalent).  It’s a larger school as a result – nearly 800 students, and there are lots of classes for the same year groups.  The nice thing is that they stay with their same class for most of the time so getting to know other kids is easier than being dumped in a class that changes constantly with the curriculum.  For the UK, this is a school which is like having Primary plus half a Secondary School included (or Middle School for those who live in areas where these exist).  I’ve got to say, I wondered about the larger school being too overwhelming, but it’s proved not to be the case and also, has the added benefit that my oldest kid gets to stay with her sisters for the next 3 years without having to change school again which was an important feature.

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It’s all non-uniform with very little rules about what you can and cannot wear.  Grades 1 – 3 have a milk option (I remember these from my days at Primary school although they were taken away quite a long time ago) – and not just an option of ‘plain’ milk, oh no – ‘chocolate’ milk no less is also offered.  I’m putting money that my middle kid just goes for the latter option every day ….

The timings are extremely exact – and a longer day than in the UK too.  This comes to fruition in Summer where they finish for the summer holidays a month ahead of their friends in the UK.  As someone said to me last week, ‘there’s not much point having holidays when the snow is thick on the ground for 6 months of the year – we may as well spend the time indoors educating the kids’.  Fair point.

They start at 8.20am (in the UK it was 8.55am), and finish at 3.01pm (in the UK it was 3.05pm).  Lunch/recess is between 11.17am – 12.09pm and they have the option of staying at school under supervised care (which you pay extra for), or taking the opportunity to walk home and have lunch there.  All mine are staying for the time being – mostly so they can make friends and play on the extremely good playground which has slides, swings, climbing frames, and numerous other items which the kids absolutely love.  These fabulous playgrounds feature in all the schools over here – and all look new and are well maintained, painted in bright colours.  There are no security fences – the community gets to also use the facilities when the school kids aren’t on them, and parents are welcomed with open arms into the school and the classrooms.

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It caught me by surprise at how open the school is.  Don’t get me wrong, there are security policies in place so it is ‘safe’ for the kids, but it’s a completely different level of trust and openness that takes me back to when I was at school.  It’s much more conducive to education and supporting the kids too and you forget how wrapped in regulation and security the UK has become that only by moving and experiencing somewhere completely different, do you realise how constraining it is.

All the teachers welcome direct email communication, visits to classrooms, and spend time putting daily updates on the school intranet site – to which all students and parents have direct access to.  Homework and all school news is also put on there – there’s very little physical paper.  Monthly progress updates on every student are posted by their year teachers and sent to their parents to assess progress.  It’s heavily technology driven – all the Grade 6 students and above are expected to have laptops which they bring to school and work on.  Mobile phones and iPads are allowed with the teachers permission and there is certainly a degree of freedom for the students which is refreshing and you can see they thrive on it.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a loud voice or shout in any of the corridors – everyone just gets on with doing what they do and the way they’re expected to do it.  It’s lovely.

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My oldest kid had a band concert on day 3 of her arrival – she learnt 6 of the pieces that were being played by her year group and joined in on the trumpet.  She has been learning the cornet in the UK, but it’s not a common instrument in Canada so the trumpet is going to take over.  She also did a written test on her first day and passed with flying colours – one advantage of moving from the UK with a curriculum that sees kids start school at 4 so puts them slightly ahead of their Canadian counterparts.

My youngest has just turned 5 and as such, has started Kindergarten – but they only do half days, not the full days which she’s been used to.  It’s not a hardship – she’s already enjoying the half day she gets to spend just by herself with me and we’ve been exploring the various activities and things to do during that time together.

Everyone is extremely friendly – all say ‘hello’ and have welcomed us into the school with open arms.  It’s a true joy walking in there every day.  One thing I’ve noticed, is that the assistant principal is always outside on the school crossing patrol every morning and every afternoon – says ‘hello’ to every student and parent and knows all by name.  It certainly makes for a wonderful atmosphere and if this is symbolic of their next 3 years at school in Canada – the kids are loving it and can’t wait.

And that’s all that matters 🙂