“Tecumseh and Brock”: The War of 1812″: battle in The Endless War

I love Canadian history, which is probably why I love the Alberta grade 7 curriculum so much.  I taught about the War of 1812 last year for the first time, yet I didn’t fully understand the history of pre-Confederation until I read James Laxer’s book Tecumseh and Brock: The War of 1812.


Source: https://www.amazon.ca/Tecumseh-Brock-1812-James-Laxer/dp/0887842615

Laxer focuses a lot on one of the major issues of the war: seizure of land.  The American settlers want land, and they make policies to aggressively move different First Nations off of their land that they have used since time immemorial.   The massacres and loss of life is hard to read about, especially the rotten deals that the US Government made with weak chiefs for land.  Laxer shows how the American greed for land allowed them to believe that taking over Canada would be as easy as marching in and taking over.  They had no idea that the people living North of the border would want to stay loyal to England.  They assumed that everyone wanted to be part of what they were doing and would want to join in on the ideologies.  Sure, many did move or side with the US at the beginning of the war, yet as British North America (Canada) saw the way the US fought (pillaging and sacking towns and burning villages and homes), they wanted no part in what was happening.  The stand against the new American ideals and way of governing was something that people north of the United States didn’t want a part in.  They were content to stay a colony, making its own way while staying connected to England.


Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2012/06/17/the_war_of_1812_shaped_canada_forever.html

Although Brock dies early in the war, the relationship between Sir Issac Brock and Tecumseh is the most important part of the story for me.  Brock wanted to keep Canada a colony, in British possession.  Tecumseh wanted to keep his people’s lands theirs, and saw that the British were to side to go with.  Their respect for each others’ goals and their common battle strategies of going on the offensive produced an amazing leadership duo that surprised the poorly prepared Americans.  Tecumseh was a great leader and almost acheived his goal because a major part of the Treaty of Ghent negotiations at the end of the war was to set aside a large portion of land that would become a sovereign nation for the First Nations tribes of Eastern America.  Laxer calls this this the Endless War.


Source: http://www.pbs.org/wned/war-of-1812/essays/british-perspective/

I believe that in war no side wins.  There is only loss.  This is true for the United States, as they lost the opportunity to gain the land and trade access that Canada would have given.  They also lost the fight against their sailors being pressed into the Royal Navy.  The British lost because it cost them so much money and so many men.  Yet is the First Nations who lost the most: they lost all of their land and they lost all protection of their lands and they lost their leader.  The Endless War continues to this day, in both Canada and the US.  Yet the relationship between Tecumseh and Brock provided Canada some hope: we Canadians can work together with our First Nations neighbours, because in the end we forged friendships and relationships for hundreds of years that were mutually beneficial.  We just need to get back to that place of respect and working together alongside each other to make Canada a country that truly does believe in reconciliation.


Source: http://www.eighteentwelve.ca/?q=eng/Topic/9

Despite my aversion to reading about bullets in knees, bloody massacres, and the newest types of weapons, I really enjoyed Laxer’s book on the War of 1812.  It truly helped me to have a better understanding of why Canada and the US are so different, and will remain different in our politics and ideologies for hopefully hundreds of years to come.


Source: http://www.nflibrary.ca/nfplindex/show.asp?id=363685&b=1

“Had Brock and Tecumseh lived, it is reasonable to speculate that Brock would have used whatever influence he had to win the deal for Tecumseh to which he had committed himself…Tecumseh’s confederacy was the final occasion in history when native forces played a crucial role in determining the outcome of a geostrategic struggle in North America (Pg 297).


Source: http://ontarioplaques.com/Plaques/Plaque_ChathamKent31.html

“A Boy Called Christmas”: finding joy in the season (again)

When it comes to Christmas, I’m a bit of a Humbug/Grinch/Scrooge.  I’m not a big fan of Christmas.  Growing up, I was afraid of Santa and refused to get a picture with him (I didn’t get a picture with Santa until I was maybe 15).  I think I always knew he was fake, and as if the fake white beard tricks anyone.  For years in University, I worked at the mall and that made me aware of just how commercial Christmas had become.  People talked about a season of giving and gifts, yet all I saw were angry people spending more than they should.  I became bitter and disillusioned. I couldn’t stand the Christmas music, because I had spent eight hours a day for five days listening to it non-stop at work. It was at this point that I asked my family to consider drawing names for Christmas instead of buying unnecessary gifts.  One is enough, especially as an adult.  A real Humbug.

To this day, I prefer National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation over Elf any day.  In enters Matt Haig’s book, given to me by a co-worker and friend, A Boy Called Christmas.


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25882558-a-boy-called-christmas

In this novel, Nikolas (born on Christmas Day and so called Christmas as a nickname) does not ever let his belief in magic and goodness falter.  As his father leaves on a royal expedition to prove that elves do exist in the north, Nikolas is left along with his wretched aunt and so he runs away to find his father, with his pet mouse.  Along the way he meets a reindeer that becomes his friend.  When he eventually finds the elves, his belief in goodness and magic is challenged.  Yet, his belief in magic does not falter and he decides to risk his life to save that of another, the ultimate gift.

In the end, Nikolas becomes Father Christmas and lives and works with the elves and eventually determines that he needs to share his happiness and magic with the human world.  And so the story of Christmas gifts delivered by Santa on a sleigh is born.


Source: https://tygertale.com/2015/12/18/a-boy-called-christmas-qa-with-illustrator-chris-mould/

I appreciated Haig’s book because it was funny, it had pictures, and it reminded me that Christmas is fun.  Believing in Santa and flying reindeer is fun.  Waiting with painful expectation to open gifts is fun.  Getting together with family and seeing the joy in their faces as they open gifts is fun.

At the end of the day, Christmas is about being with loved ones and reminding ourselves that it’s ok to believe in magic, at least for one day of the year.


Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2526518/Photographer-inserts-selfies-dressed-Santa-famous-works-art.html

“An impossibility is just a possibility you don’t understand yet” (Matt Haig).

“A joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).


Source: http://shirtigo.co/jesus-santa-selfie/

“Birdie”: power of prayer

I’m not quite sure how to write about this novel.  It took me over a month to read it.  I had to set it down to read a book for work and then a book for book club.  But I think that was for the best.  Birdie, by Tracey Lindberg, isn’t a novel you can rush.  The main character, Birdie, is in a state of rest and otherwordliness through the novel and I think to rush this novel is to brush it off, just as people would brush of Birdie’s inner journey.


Source: http://www.cbc.ca/books/2015/06/tracey-lindberg.html

Throughout the book Lindberg shows the devastating effects of broken, abusive families and how at times inner strength isn’t enough.  Birdie grew up with some nasty uncles and that shapes her life.  She ends up on the streets of Edmonton from the small Reserve.  Mostly, Birdie likes the city because of the anonymity.  She doesn’t have a past or a present in the city.  She can just be Birdie.  Yet this life allows her to avoid confronting her teen years, and eventually she slips into another world.  She is from a line of shapeshifters; her Grandma was also a shapeshifter at a time when this ability was seen in the community as significant.  For Birdie, she ends up in a psychiatric hospital, living within herself.

Yet I’m not sure if Birdie’s experience is the true story.  Once Birdie leaves the psychiatric hospital, she ends up in Gibsons, BC where she finds work and an apartment at a bakery.  This is where I think the story requires time.

Birdie retreats into herself for healing and the women around her–her boss, her aunt, and her cousin–do everything possible to make sure that Birdie stays alive.  They visit her, they talk with her, they change her, they make food for her, they take on her job at the bakery.  And that’s just it; this book is about Birdie, yes, but it’s also about the need for community, especially for female community.  How do you rush that?  Birdie is in ceremony within herself, seeking answers and healing from another world.

While reading this, I couldn’t help but think of all of the amazing Water Warriors who have created community at Standing Rock.  Women are protectors of water and they have been awakened to their role and are making a stand for their people, and all of North America.  The camp is all about prayer.  These women have created a prayer community to demonstrate and show the sacredness of water.  Prayers can’t be rushed.


Source: http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=20412

The positive outcome for those Water Warriors is a testament to the power of prayer.  The media focused on the protesting and the government’s response, yet this protest was about prayer.  One of the local photographers I have meet along the way in my teaching is Joey Podlubny.  This man has chosen to tell the story of some of Alberta’s First Nations through photography.  A couple of weeks ago I was excited to see an email from Joey in my inbox with a link to his latest project: a photo essay about prayer at Standing Rock.  The essay starts with these words: “If you plan on going to standing rock, the main course of action is to pray.  That is the wish of the elders circle. ‘The greatest action you can take is prayer’.”

So as I think about Birdie, I feel that I need to read it again, this time with the mindset of prayer.  Healing through community with other women and prayer.


Source: https://350.org/view_from_standing_rock/

“At night you can hear prayers, singing and drumming in between the frequent helicopters and planes  that the hired police fly low over the camp” (Joey Podlubny).

“Sometimes when you see something every day you forget its mystery” (Tracey Lindberg).


Source: http://www.letstakeashelfie.ca/2016/03/birdie-by-tracey-lindberg.html

“Half-Blood Blues”: music will save the world

I just finished reading Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan and I understand now why it was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, the Giller Prize, and the Governor General’s Award.  At first I was concerned that the style of the voice might get in the way of the story, but it didn’t.  This book is beautifully written!


Source: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/02/living/esi-edugyan-author-interview/

As a teenager I found learning about the World Wars worked best for me through story, through fiction.  For my final ISU (Independent Study Unit) in Grade 13, I chose to compares And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat and The Wars by Timothy Findley.  I was fascinated by the real, human experiences of war and the different points of view.  Reading fiction helped me to better understand the effects and the consequences of the facts I was learning in class.  I truly wish that Esi Edugyan had written her novel Half-Blood Blues 14 years ago!

I love jazz and I love the blues.  I remember in while I was in high school I wouldn’t let my Dad listen to the smooth jazz station because I told him it was imitations, weak imitations, or something real.  Instead, I made him listen to the crackly jazz station from Toronto that played REAL jazz.  I also loved the blues.  I ended up taking a guitar class my last year of high school to fill some open credits.  For the class, we had to research a famous guitarist and I chose Eric Clapton, Slowhand.  To this day, I still love listening to jazz and blues and any band that throws back to these classic styles I enjoy as well.


Source: http://www.last.fm/music/Eric+Clapton

Throughout the novel, Edugyan moves slow.  The narrative is smooth, yet there are moments that shock you and pull you back into the slow unwinding of the story.  Sid, Chip, and Hiero are jazz musicians during World War II and somehow they end of playing together in Europe.  Other members of the band disappear because they are Jewish or forced to stay in Germany while these three flee to Paris with the help of Louis Armstrong.  It seems surreal, yet Edugyan shows the pain and the suffering, the uncertainty and the fear through not only their interactions with each other, but also through their music.  As we learn more about these characters, we start to understand more of this period of history from a different angle: Hiero’s father is an African soldier brought up to Germany, and so he is a mixed-race German.  Sid and Chip are Americans, over in Europe touring and happen to get caught up in the war, yet are paranoid that they will disappear next because of their skin colour.


Source: http://www.nj.com/entertainment/music/index.ssf/2008/05/a_jazz_party_to_remember.html

Edugyan is able to share some insights into Europe at the outbreak of World War II from a different angle and I truly enjoyed her style.  She took something horrific, and brought it into the world of jazz, much like America was doing to protest against the Jim Crow Laws and extreme racism.  At one point in the novel, Louis Armstrong wants the guys to play a German song as a show of defiance.  Armstrong feels that it is necessary, and something that he can do to protest and bring attention to horrors of what was happening in Germany.  Like in every generation, it is the artists who stand up and bring truth to the public.  It is the artists who risk everything to share what is right.  As I reflect on the US election and the pain and division in most of the Western world, I can’t help but believe that it will be the artists who bring us back to our humanity.


Source: http://digital.inplaceofwar.net/various-political-messages-through-art

“I guess mercy is a muscle like any other. You got to exercise it, or it just cramp right up.” (Esi Edugyan)

“Do no be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)


Source: https://www.pinterest.com/SaraRivers13/music-saves-lives-33/


“Alias Grace”: before it gets on TV

I’m not sure what I think about Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.  At times it felt clunky (especially while discrediting Susanna Moodie), at times it made me feel super uncomfortable as I grappled with the horrors that women went through in asylums, and at times I felt disconnected.  Pieces.  A book of pieces.  Then I realized, that’s the point!  Grace Mark’s story is only in pieces and Atwood blends them together to create a quilt.  Got it.  Nice work, Atwood.


Source: http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/6090/alias-grace

I was in a hurry to read this novel because there is a lot of hype about an upcoming TV series with CBC and Netflix based on the book.  Although I have owned the book for years and can’t even remember when or where I got it, I knew that now was the time to pick it up.  But it wasn’t easy.

Grace Marks is a serving girl who was accused of helping to kill the housekeeper and master whom she worked for.  She was pardoned from being hung, but she spent 30 years in jail in the 1800s.  I can’t even imagine how horrible that must have been.

Using newspapers, confessions, others’ reports, and her imagination, Atwood pieces together an account of Grace Marks’ life and it is messy.  I have to be honest, I’m looking forward to how TV will interpret an author’s interpretation of Grace Marks’ life!


Source: https://www.tumblr.com/search/grace%20margaret

I’m glad I picked up Alias Grace before the show came on.  I will say, it was enjoyable but not one of my favourites by Atwood.  Bring on the mini-series!


Source: https://quiltsofaliasgrace.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/kingston-penitentiary-to-close/

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.” (Atwood, Alias Grace)


Source: http://nac-cna.ca/en/bio/margaret-atwood

“Anne of Green Gables”: kindred spirit

I’m not sure I have ever felt as many emotions reading a book as I did reading Anne of Green Gables.  I’m not sure if it’s because I see parts of myself in Anne, if I see my brother in Anne’s imagination, if I see some of my heartbreaking students in Anne, or if L.M. Montgomery is a writing genius.  I’m going to go with the fact that Anne wears her emotions bare and I am a Cancer and so I’m susceptible to getting carried away on Montgomery’s rollercoaster.


Source: https://www.amazon.com/ANNE-GREEN-GABLES-Bantam-Starfire/dp/0553242954

Honestly I was afraid to read this book because I love the Megan Follow’s series so much.  I don’t remember reading it as a kid, but I do remember watching it, and watching it often.  Anne: she doesn’t let life get her down.  She has an indefatigable spirit and it’s infectious.  She sees the good in people and works hard to find the thing in them that is beautiful and tries to draw that out of them in her conversations and interactions.  She is not afraid to imagine, dream, and wish for things both romantic and pathetic.  Throughout the novel, you can see the positive impact she has on those around her.  I use the word ‘impact’ because she does create head-on collisions in her refusal to be negative or to let others change her.  She sees each part of creation as magical and wonderful and gives names to trees and flowers.  Even after Matthew dies, she hopes that the souls of each of the roses Matthew loved are in Heaven with him to welcome him.


Source: https://www.pinterest.com/debbydb/anne-of-green-gables/

Montgomery creates such a fantastic figure for girls and women: she works hard to see and love others, she finds value and meaning in true friendships, she is brave and courageous in developing and showing her talents, she is fierce in accomplishing her goals, she values education and self-improvement, and she does it all despite the nay-sayers.  Anne seeks her own way and in the process allows those around her to think and grow.  Also, she has some amazing female role models: Miss Stacey, Miss Barry, Mrs Allan, Marilla, and Mrs Lynde.  These women highlight different attributes that Anne seeks to cultivate.  Montgomery’s portrayal of women at a time when most thought like Mrs Lynde (women shouldn’t be educated, women shouldn’t be ministers, etc.) is telling of the kind of woman Montgomery was.  If in her own life she couldn’t be this strong and independent, she certainly wrote about female characters who defied parts of society to follow their own path.


Source: https://somethingrhymed.com/category/nora-lefurgey-and-l-m-montgomery/

So after reading Anne of Green Gables, I can’t help but consider L.M. Montgomery a kindred spirit.  And I am so grateful that generations of young girls and women continue to find solidarity and inspiration from this Anne-girl, Anne with an E.

quote 1

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/surabhirai/l-m-montgomery-quotes/

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” (Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables)

“Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” (Proverbs 18:24)

quotes 2

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/207376757816166695/


“The Shipping News”: importance of place

For some, place is everything.  This idea is what makes The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx so magical and enthralling.  She sets her novel in Newfoundland and uses the water and the coves and the harbours to help tell her story of how people from Newfoundland interact with each other and the place they live.


Source: https://bewilderedcreatures.com/tag/the-shipping-news/

I bought this book at a secondhand bookstore (Afterwords Bookstore) in St. John’s, Newfoundland last summer.  I went on a week-long adventure without knowing anything about the city except that it had a week-long music festival on George Street.  While I was there, I did eat cod and I did get screeched in at Christian’s Bar. I went on long walks up on Signal Hill and watched whales feed on caplin.  One night I went out to Cape Spear and stood on the easternmost point in North America and waved to my family across the ocean in England.  One of my favourite places to eat while I was there was The Sprout, a delicious place that catered to my food allergies.  One of the sections of the novel that stood out to me the most was when Quoyle goes on a boat trip with Billy and Billy is able to describe each rock and each harbor and tell the story that goes with the landmarks.  In Newfoundland, it’s all about place.


Source: me, summer 2015

In the novel, Quoyle had a miserable life in the US and moves up to Newfoundland with his Auntie who has the old family home at Quoyle’s Point.  He is a sub-par newspaper writer and gets a job in Newfoundland at the newspaper writing the shipping news.  Quoyle turns a list into a well-read column.  He looked at the history of a ship, the people behind it, and why it’s significant.  The opportunity to work at the paper allows him to find a new skill in making something extraordinary out of the ordinary.  For Quoyle, the depressed fishing villages of Newfoundland offer him a new start in life and a chance to find confidence in his abilities.

One aspect of the novel that I thought was brilliant was E. Annie Proulx’s writing style.  She often wrote Quoyle’s thoughts and observations in headlines.  Throughout the entire novel, there are short, chopped sentences.  This not only connects to the newspaper career of Quoyle, but also to the place itself: the ocean.  Proulx’s writing at times made it feel like you were going up and down on a wave, like in a boat.  Genius!


Source: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/177962622749543294/

Reading Proulx’s novel was like returning to Newfoundland for short moments in my day.  I was immersed in the lives of the people of Killick-Claw and how their lives are dependent on the land and the water around them.  What a pleasure it was to read this book and relive a week in my life that changed me.


Source: http://www.craigtravel.com/journeys/newfoundland-and-labrador-august-2015

“The only cities were of ice, bergs with cores of beryl, blue gems within white gems, that some said gave off an odor of almonds.” (Proulx)

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)


Source: Christopher Pratt, http://erasing.org/tag/christopher-pratt/