Friday Two Cents: A New Experience In Niagara


Christmas week for many people is a busy week.  Meeting with family and friends, preparing special meals and of course eating too much.  As a supply teacher this week is a welcome respite from the daily grind of working with students.  Not only teachers enjoy the time off, but also I have observed that students as young as kindergarten age needing this break in their routines. 

On that note I decided to get out of Toronto for a couple of days to help centre myself.  One of my favourite places to go to simply “get away from it all” is the Niagara region. They have many different diversions yet my favourite of them is visiting the local wineries.  I have been to a great many and this year I discovered a new winery that recently opened last year.  

At Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery

Opened in June 2017, Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery is in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region.  When you arrive you can see a modern building based on the design of a regional barn.  Inside though is a modern layout wonderfully decorated with photos of Wayne Gretzky’s hockey career.  Yet what impressed me was the skating rink just outside and behind the building. Beside the rink is a patio with a bar and a place to rent skates for both adults and children.  It was amazing to see parents and children skating around the rink while others sat at the outdoor patio bar with a hot chocolate. 
This is where the tour began and we were treated to home-made hot chocolate but with a special shot of cream whiskey that they make on the premises. It was delicious and a wonderful way to start the tour.  Nothing screams Canada more than hot chocolate outside in winter, beside a skating rink.  I know a lot about the wine making process, yet the tour was informative about how they make whisky and I learned a great deal. 
I asked the question, “Why do we spell whisky with a ‘y’ and others spell it with an ‘ey’?”  His answer was countries without and ‘e’ in their name use ‘y’ and those with use ‘ey’. Examples include Canada & Scotland ‘whisky’; United States & Ireland ‘whiskey’.  Yet another also mentioned that it might have something to do with immigration. This by the way is my theory when I asked the question.  Many Scottish people migrated to Canada and thereby we use whisky like them. Alternately a lot of Irish migrated to the USA who uses whiskey. 
Whatever the reason you cannot deny the results.  I am more of a wine and scotch drinker but I do enjoy a good Canadian whisky, which Wayne Gretzky’s whisky is up there with the best of them. If you are ever in the Niagara region I recommend a visit and of course, ‘a wee dram’, you know for the vitamins.  Enjoy!!

 

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Friday Two Cent: Kindness During Christmas 


In the past couple of weeks I was able to supply in several different classrooms. With the Christmas season upon us it was a great opportunity to read my favourite Christmas story,  “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas By Dr. Seuss

If you are not aware of the story I strongly recommend you read it or more importantly share it with a young person in your life. It tells a tail of a person “The Grinch” who hates Christmas and in the end decides to steal it from the town near his home. He thinks that if he takes all the decorations, the food and presents that he will have stopped Christmas from coming. Yet the town’s people still celebrate Christmas without any of the stuff associated with it. The Grinch realizes that Christmas is not about the material gifts, food or decorations. That there is something more about this holiday, more than all the hype and acquisition of stuff. Perhaps this holiday is about being with family and people we love and care about; it’s about something more.
I have always enjoyed this story at Christmas because for me the giving and receiving of presents, is not what Christmas is all about. Even at a young age I thought that Christmas has become too materialistic, too commercial. I read this story every year and it helps me to remember the important parts of Christmas. It is about being with people I care about and the good feelings that are shared with them. It is about my traditions and faith that comes from my family and friends. No matter how upset I am during this time of year, I try to see that there are others out there worse off and I thank God for the blessings that I do have.  It is not always easy. I have had Christmas’s were I was downright miserable. But I try to see past these troubles, to see the joy and positive aspects of the season. 
This year I was out shopping for my family and the malls were full of people looking for stuff.  Many seem to be fixated with getting things. Even the students in the school appear to be focused on the material aspects of Christmas.  Everywhere I go there are ads and commercials wanting you to buy stuff.  That if you get more stuff the world will be better.  One perfect example is the “Ugly Sweaters”.  People buy these ugly seasonal sweaters just to say they have one but I say “No Thanks”.  This one example of widespread commercialism that is simply about having stuff.  It looks like this feeling of rampant commercialism appears to be spreading everywhere and sucking the joy out of the Christmas season.  Yet something as simple as an act of kindness happened that renewed my hope in people and the season. 
I was sitting in the food court of the mall having lunch one day, observing all the people rushing this way and that.  One person walked by and dropped a $20 bill near by.  A person at the next table rushed over, picked up the bill and quickly gave it to the person who dropped it.  They were extremely grateful to the person and some nice words were exchanged between the two.  That simple act of kindness not only made the person who dropped the money happy but also the person who helped.  To be honest I too felt good about that gesture and from what I observed of the other people around the area who witnessed the exchange, many of them had smiles too. 
Maybe there is still hope for people in this world.  I should keep in mind, the quote;

 

‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.’ Aesop

 

During that this time of year every act of kindness can have the same effect as ripples from a pebble being tossed into a pond.  So small at first but look how they grow. 

Comic Strips: A Compassionate Benefactor


 

  With the Christmas season in full gear I thought I would throw in a bit of a Christmas twist to the latest comic strip, The Craziest Things.  Many ideas for the comic come from situations that I observe from the students and this month’s is no different.

  There is a wonderful student in the older grade five class who is full of opinions and has no compunction in offering her point of view, especially when it come to politics.  I told her on many occasions that I may disagree with some of her points of view but I love that she has a passion for these issues.  I told her to question everything and do her research so she can be well-informed when stating her opinions, but never stop questioning everything.

  The situation in the comic is a direct result from her conversions and passion for the subject matter.  I hope you enjoy December’s The Craziest Things: A Compassionate Benefactor.

CrazyComicsDec2018

Friday Two Cents: Scotland Inspired Christmas Creation


With the Christmas season upon us I indulged on a yearly tradition of setting up my Christmas town at school. A couple of students asked how long I have been setting up the town at the school. I told them it is the 9th year I have set it up, yet I started building the town about 10 years prior to that starting with only 5 buildings that I hand painted and with a simple train. Today it has grown to over 50 builds, all hand painted and some that I built myself.

This year I added a new building or to be specific buildings and hill.  I had built a hill with a tunnel for my castle, but this year I wanted to add something new, something that I was inspired to create when I went on my trip to Scotland.  My trip to Scotland was filled with endless wonders, from the beauty of the Highlands to the wonderful interaction with the people.  With all those experiences, the one thing that suck out for me was the rich history created or forged by the Scottish people. I am talking about the endless castles and medieval ruins everywhere you go.  From Edinburgh Castle to Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland is replete with castles dotting the landscape.  My exploration of these historical sites inspired me to create a new castle and hill for my Christmas Town. 

New Castle/Citadel

Stage 1) I began by creating the basic shape of the hill and buildings using plastic cardboard.  I wanted a hill with a tunnel and a multi-layer hill design similar to the castles I saw in Scotland.  I also created the basic shape of the main buildings for the castle.  I wanted one large structure and a couple of smaller buildings again similar to castles I saw.   

 

Stage 2) I then got plaster of Paris and coated the entire hill and buildings. It did not look pretty but I knew that I would be adding more and moulding the plaster to what I had in mind. This stage was the most time-consuming and labour intensive.  I could not simply scrap or chisel away.  I had to be careful not to press too hard or the plaster would crack.   Instead I used coarse sand paper to help smooth and shape the hill and buildings.   The buildings required two layers of plaster to get the right look but the hill took several. 

 

Stage 3) With the building shape relatively done the hill required more attention.  I did not simply want to use plaster to create a wall around the compound, therefore I created one with grey pebbles.  I used the plaster as mortar and created a multilevel wall with battlements. I also moulded and carved the sides of the hill to resemble a cliff face making the entire structure look like a citadel.

 

Stage 4) I then painted the buildings and the citadel with a base white. Once dry I began painting the buildings and citadel the way I envisioned.  If you look closely you can see that I incorporated three stones from Scotland (near Eilean Donan Castle) into the citadel final design. 

 

Once done, I brought in the new citadel into the school as part of my Christmas town set.   Everyone loved the new citadel and castle.  Thank you Scotland for the inspiration.  

 

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