Open House.

My house is for sale. The open house is today. Yes, random, curious strangers will be traipsing through my apartment today. Oh, happy day.

Having an open house is sort of like going on a first date. You clean everything up as well as you can. You shave your legs and pits, exfoliate, moisturize, try outfits on, and worry about your figure flaws. All the while, you’re aware that it may be for nothing more stimulating than a weak margarita and an hour of stilted conversation.

Likewise, while I have been working on my skin care regimen, I have been cleaning and polishing, dusting and puttering to make my apartment as nice-looking as I can.

Some may ask why. After all, I rent. I gain nothing from the sale of this house.

Part of it is vanity. I mean, I live in a basement suite, but that doesn’t mean I’m subhuman. The suite itself is fairly shabby, but I am not. Or, rather, I don’t want people to think I am.

I want potential buyers to see the place and think not, “Hey, I could be a slum lord!”, but rather, “Hey, interesting and intelligent people live here. I’d like to buy this house.”

Also, I have an ulterior motive. Our upstairs neighbour mentioned that the relator had expressed interest in E and me as tenants for one of her houses. I’d like the realtor to see that we are quirky yet responsible, people who treat their living space as a home. Everything would be a lot easier if we didn’t have to go on the apartment-hunting circuit.

So, yeah. Off to put lemon oil on my sideboard now.

Nice News.

Okay, it’s not wildly groundbreaking. But it’s kind of nice news for my students, and for me.

We started the ‘Best Book Report’ contest early this year. February went to one of my students. Today I learned that March went to another.

I’m so pleased for them and proud of them.

And pleased and proud for me. It looks like me being the stingiest-with-marks, most nit-picking, most-comment-and-suggestion-and-encouragement-giving teacher at work has its advantages.


The Angriest Man

The other night, walking to the Acropol with E’s parents, Aunt Peg and Aunt Barb, and Uncle Ray, we wandered past The Angriest Man In Kitsilano. And I felt some kinship to him well up in my cold-befuddled mind.

First: E’s parents walk slowly. The aunts and uncle also walk slowly. They are somewhat advanced in years, and they also need to stop to look in windows of shops. So the block-walk from where the cars were took us about eight minutes.

Second: The Angriest Man in Kitsilano is part of our community. Most of the people I know kind of look out for him. He’s probably not homeless, he’s always wearing clean clothes. He’s not always clean-shaven, but I can kind of understand why.

His brain is wired so that he is almost always angry. Sometimes he is just surly-looking, his handsome face furrowed in ire. Sometimes he’s muttering to himself. Sometimes he is shouting at invisible opponents. Sometimes he is so angry that he’s punching invisible attackers, throwing himself off balance. I’ve never seen him hit anyone else, and when he’s that mad, he tends to circumnavigate groups of people, so I assume that, on some level, he is aware of his physical surroundings, even though he’s whaling on someone on another plane of existence. Also, when he stops for coffee, he can control his anger long enough to get the coffee and walk out of the shop.

So, I’m walking along with E’s family, and I spot The Angriest Man up ahead, slouched at a Starbucks table. He’s at his least angry, only surly. We walk past him, and I meet his eyes. There’s anger there, as usual, but there’s also a sheer, deep, bone-weary sadness.

I want to sit down with The Angriest Man, I want to hear what he has to say. But I keep on walking, shuffling along with the in-laws, nodding solemnly to E’s mother’s recounting of the last Regina Madrigal Society benefit dinner.

Spring Break

Spring Break is kind of an interesting time at work. We’re not just working with our usual kids, but with ones we don’t know as well, too. Schedules are changed, kids are going on vacations, and sometimes there are three signed up for a class and only one shows up. Mixing up the students gives us a lot of insight.

It’s a great chance for teachers to verify or comment on others’ observations about students. I can look back at notes other teachers have made and be able to tell what strategies will motivate a student, or where he or she has improved. I can also support other teachers’ findings by writing “Reading with good inflection, sometimes misses silent ‘e’”, or “Disruptive and unruly”, or “Wow! Congratulations on the great vocab scores!”

It’s also fun because kids have things they want to talk about, a ski trip to Whistler or the Tae Kwon Do level test. These translate into better writing, because they’re experiencing stuff in their lives.

It’s a pretty fun place to be.

How To Make A Great Weekend Even Better.

Get sick.

I woke up yesterday morning, throat on fire, achey and dizzy and gross.

So I spent seven hours on the couch watching Sex and the City episodes. Around nine o’clock last night, fueled on Neo Citran and green tea, I morphed completely into a neurotic Manhattan single woman. I craved Manolo Blahniks and fabulous outfits. It was really strange.

It’s still vestigially around now. Let’s see how that flies with E’s parents at dinner tonight.

Dinner Post-Mortem.

There was spaghetti. Nobody died. The cat got called a grandchild. I heard all about how the choral group is getting a piece of music commissioned. And we heard the storyline of a comic called ‘Get Fuzzy’.

And now, some wine.


E’s parents are here. Originally we thought their schedule was too busy to see us except for Sunday dinner (no problem).

Now it seems that they want to spend all of Saturday with us. What can we do with them? Where can we go? I have Host Anxiety, which is a medical term I just made up. Now my stomach is full of knots and Ifeel slightly dizzy.

Good times, good times.

Complete Apathy.

If anyone sees my motivation, could they please return it to me? I’m serious. It’s MIA. I blame the fact that I am tired.

I am tired of caring deeply when a student masters the Past Progressive.

I am tired of thinking up things to eat to keep from starving to death.

I am tired of telling myself, “Tomorrow I’ll go to the gym,” and then sleeping right through the alarm.

I am tired of feeling guilty for not writing my daily writing assignments, and guiltier for not finishing the goddamned novel.

I am tired of telling myself I need to lose some weight, and not doing anything about it. (See gym, above).

I am tired of waiting for the weekend.

I am tired of the to-do list that gets longer and longer and never shorter.

I am so incredibly tired of it all.


There I was, innocently scrubbing the grout in my bathroom, and what floats into my mind, but the sound of my old pal Joye, calling me Scarlett.

I’ve had a lot of nicknames. Part of that is that for some reason, my real name has never stuck with people much. But I’ve also been a lot of things to a lot of people.

My mother had a whole host of nicknames for me. Sometimes I was Gumdrop, usually shortened to ‘Gum’. For a while, I was Tigerlily. My brother, who was Tiger, kept that for longer. Tiger suited him. He roared and struck out. Me? I was not a passive enough lily to keep the name.

Mostly, to my mom, I was Biz. Short for Busy. My Dad still calls me Bitz. Bits of something, I don’t know what.

In school: Littlebit and French fry.

When I started working in Port Hardy, my cousin was already Liz, short for Lizard. In time, I saw that people differentiated us with slightly different tones of voice. For him, they used awed respect. For me, affectionate amusement. No problems, then.

But on the barge, hardly anyone called my Liz. One old guy started calling me ‘Smiler’. It stuck with the Older-troller-in-leather-elbow-patches set. Another called me Mademoiselle. He pronounced every syllable. I loved it. I was ‘darling’ to any number of these guys, but I can’t say that was a nickname. That was just their name for someone with breasts.

‘Scarlett’ was the best nickname. Although I was making fast friends with gillnetters and trollers, the seine boats held my attention. Specifically, the handsome, competent deckhands of the Joye fleet. Joye’s dad had about a dozen boats named after her, usually double-barreled with the skipper’s wife or daughter’s name. My first year on the barge, I used to recite them while going to sleep. There were so many, I always forgot at least one.

Bringing in boats in order on the barge was a challenge, because when they’re floating, there’s no line up. I developed a kind of full-body semaphore to indicate which boat should come in next. It was a very active job.
One time, indicating that it was the Island Joye’s turn to come in to the barge, the deckhand on watch gave a wide, sweeping bow to my go-ahead signal. Before I could stop myself, I’d given a wide, sweeping curtsey in return. Before long, I was fast friends with the guys on the boat, and then the other Joye boats.

That’s how I started being called Scarlett, my favourite nickname of all.

Stump The Tutor, Premiere Edition.

It finally happened. Someone stumped me.

I always thought it would be one of my adult students, since most of them are visiting scholars, Korean professors who have come to UBC on exchange. These are some smart people. With them, I have discussed maxillofacial surgery, dental implants, French cuisine, cell phone technology, the effects of nanotechnology on air quality, the history of Western Europe, and the relative merits of communist and capitalist societies throughout the ages, among other things.

So who stumped me? A grade five boy whose teacher has some very strange ideas about Social Studies curriculum.

We have a tradition here in Vancouver. It’s not a rule, but, since we have an amazing museum devoted to the First Nations people on the West Coast, we study those people. We practice note-taking about these peoples’ foods, clothing, shelters, ways of life, transportation, and society. Then we go to the Museum of Anthropology and giggle at the carving of Raven and the First Men, where the men are nude and we can see bums and penises. By Grade Seven, it is a relief to stop note-taking about salmon, cedar, potlatches, and longhouses. We’ve mind-mapped and note-taken and poster-boarded the information so many times, we murmur the information in our sleep.

My student isn’t learning about the indigenous people of the coast. He’s learning about the Dunneza, a group of people who are decidedly un-coastal. Also, they’re a group of people who are not represented in the artifacts at the Museum of Anthropology.

I wonder if the teacher, too, was tired of salmon and cedar.

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