What Brings Your Family Together?

Our Tree Named Steve is a story about a family who comes together and grows together around a tree in their yard. The parents build the family’s house and leave the tree standing for their family to enjoy. The youngest child isn’t able to pronounce the word “tree” initially, so instead she calls the tree “Steve.” The name sticks and the tree is referred to as Steve for the remainder of the story.

Steve is a constant figure for the family as the children grow up. Through happy times and through tough times, Steve is there.

As I was reading Our Tree Named Steve, I was reminded of the various objects and events in my childhood that brought my family closer together. I lived in five different towns growing up, which always meant changes in houses, schools, friends, etc. However, no matter where we went we had our family dog. This family dog lived for 16 years and was a constant companion for us — no matter where we were living.

My parents also tried to make sure we sat down and had supper together as much as possible. As much as I grumbled about eating together with my family (as I would have rather sat in front of the television), I am thankful for our mealtimes together. It was a consistent event every week that helped us to know what was going on in each other’s lives and get to know one another better. In fact, some of the biggest laughs I had with my parents and my brother growing up were at the supper table!

What brings your family together? Is it a weekly family games night? Do you take a regular family trip to the grocery store? Is it a swing set or a sandbox in the backyard where you can play? Do you have a favourite book that you like to share before bedtime?

Whatever it is, enjoy the things and events in your family that bring you closer together!

Our Tree Named Steve is written by Alan Zweibel and illustrated by David Catrow.

Never Give Up

This is a story of never giving up…

After one year at the Africa Centre doing Rhymes That Bind, I’ve finally broken the ice with a little boy. He’s been my toughest challenge yet. Not because he’s a difficult child. He is shy, he began coming with speech difficulties, and English is not his first language. He has an older brother who comes and loves to run, and challenges his mother. Mom has her hands full with two older children in school and these two boys a year apart in age. There were many times where you could see her on the verge of tears, her older son pushed her limits to the end. She persisted in coming to RtB and other programs that ran out of the Africa Centre. With the help of staff at the Centre and some friends encouraging her not to give up, she continued doing all she could for her boys. She knew it was important for her older one to learn social skills before he starts school. She also knew it was doubly important for her younger one to have the benefits of the oral language we offer in our program.

I am so pleased with how this story has turned out. The older child now sets a better example for the younger ones. He has shown great improvements in how he talks to his mother, and other adults. He HELPS me in the program!!! but…the biggest moment for me was the little shy guy: with limited verbal skills, and mild speech delay (not sure if it was because he chose to be silent). He has begun talking to me, we have found things in common (he likes spider man), and he started giving high fives. Now he insists on hugging me and wants to be my partner for the RtB hour. I love listening to him talk, he has an adorable accent, but his speech is so clear. What a change!!!! Their mother is now beaming with pride most days. She is my most consistent participant!! Even when the weather is bad, the roads are icy, and it’s freezing cold, often the Africa Centre will not run their programs in those conditions because their families don’t come out. Not any more, this mom does! This mom wants to be there! So do her boys, and now I look forward to each week when I get to see what else they will share with me.

I know in our program we are modelling for our parents, we are helping them bring skills to their homes and encouraging them to enjoy teaching their children. However at this program, this mother has taught me so much. She is an inspiration. She is who I think of when I think, never give up…

Christmas Treats

Every year when I was young, my brothers and I would spend a day with my Grandpa and Grandma, and decorate a tree outside with treats for the birds. It was usually on a Saturday close to Christmas, to give my parents time to do their Christmas shopping.

We would spend the morning making treats with my Grandma, and after lunch we would go outside with my Grandpa and decorate the tree.

A garland of stale popcorn and dried cranberries strung together was a treat for the sparrows and little chickadees; and peanuts, threaded through the shell and hung, were for the Blue Jays.  My Grandma would mix up peanut butter, suet and cornmeal and we would coat pinecones in this mixture and roll them in birdseed. We hung these on the tree branches with red yarn so the birds would notice them.  We would also hang dried apple slices and mesh bags (like lemon or orange bags) filled with suet for the other birds.  As we were doing this, my Grandpa would talk about the different birds that would come eat the treats, pine siskins, grosbeaks, nuthatches and woodpeckers; he would tell us what they looked like and their funny little mannerisms.

After the tree was all decorated, we would clamor back inside and race each other to the couch, the best place to view the action outside.  After the usual jostling and complaining, we would finally settle to watch with delight as the birds visited the Christmas tree we filled with treats.

This Christmas tradition is one of my favorite memories of my grandparents.  I feel so fortunate that they took the time to do this with us when we were kids.

 

Pinecone treats for the birds:

Mix equal parts peanut butter (use the natural kind with only peanuts listed in the ingredients) and suet (or lard)

Stir in enough cornmeal to make a thick paste.

Press this mixture into the pinecone.

Roll in a wild birdseed mix.

String or tie cotton thread to the pinecone and hang from a tree in your yard.

Enjoy the birds that come visit!

What’s Your Favourite Holiday Tradition?

Every year I look forward to Christmas.  I like setting up the Christmas tree with my family and reminiscing over old ornaments and past Christmases.

For the last 4 years it has just been my fiancé and myself setting up the Christmas decorations.  While I sometimes miss the loud and crazy times, I have come to appreciate and love the quietness of our new Christmas tradition.  I am one of those people who have the “show home tree”.  I have 3 separate sets of tree decorations that I rotate every year.  Each has their own matching color scheme with a few accent colours to really make the tree “POP”.  Having no kids, it’s easy for me to avoid the homemade ornaments and the haphazard look of children’s decorating.  I’ve been told that once I have children, I will love the above-mentioned tree; however, I think I might go with the new trend that’s starting – a small tree for the children to decorate and the main tree for me.

I say “me” but to be fair my fiancé does help me decorate.  He helps me pull out the tree, set it up, and put the lights on.  He is then happy to sit back and put on a favorite Christmas movie while watching me finish decorating. (Side note *** As I re-read what I have written I do realize I sound like a decorating tyrant – but my fiancé isn’t one of those patient decorators.  He’d be more than happy stopping with lights.)  I ask his opinion on the placement of ornaments and he lets me know where I need more, or where I need to take away a few.

After the tree, I set up the Christmas village and my collection of snow globes.  Every year I debate setting up a few of the statues that we have been given as gifts, and every year they go back into the box with the excuse of “no more room for knickknacks”.

This routine has become our Christmas tradition. It may not be the tradition that I grew up with, but it works really well for us.  While I like the loud, chaotic pace of my extended family, I love the nice, quiet evening I get to spend with my partner.

 

Literacy and Health: What can we do?

On the 27th  of November, the Northeast Edmonton Literacy Network hosted a workshop entitled ‘Literacy and Health – What is the Connection?’

The workshop provided an opportunity for health care providers, literacy and community service organizations, and literacy learners to come together to discuss and engage in activities focused on health literacy challenges.

Isabelle Tapp, a CFL learner and literacy advocate, was the first speaker at the workshop. Following her, we heard from Mayor Mandel and Nancy Becker, Health Literacy Consultant from Alberta Health Services.

Isabelle spoke about her own experiences dealing with literacy challenges. She called upon health practitioners to be conscious and more respectful of the health needs of people with low literacy levels by using clear and plain language.

This is Isabelle’s story:

“I’m Isabelle Tapp, a mother of two, and I’m like most of you in the room. And I have a learning problem. One of the things that I became very good at through my life was hiding this problem.

Six years ago, I found a paper about tutoring. I picked up the phone and dialled three numbers and hung up. I did that many times and finally called. My reading is now up here, and my confidence is up here. And because of that confidence I am able to talk to you about how literacy and health are connected.

I didn’t know that cough medicine could last for a long time. I would throw it out after 3 months. I didn’t know that you had to take the whole prescription. I would quit taking the pills when I started to feel better. Nobody told me you had to finish all the pills in the bottle.

Sometimes I hate seeing doctors. When most people go to the doctor for the first time, they just have to worry about being sick and meeting a new person. I had to worry about knowing what it said on my medication bottles. I had to worry about whether to tell them about my problem. And then there are the forms. They hand you a clipboard, and it’s like staring down a long hallway with no end. It’s so embarrassing to have to ask for help.

When this happens, I have to swallow my pride and ask other people for help. I don’t want to ask my family. That’s like asking for money.  Plus, I don’t always want them to know my health issues. I want to have my privacy. I wish so much that it was different.

When my daughter actually told my doctor that I had learning problems, I wish he would have said “I’m glad you told me. I want to help make this easy for you”.  But instead he gave me that look, you know the one, the pat on the shoulder and he rushed out the door. That’s when you sink in the chair, feel small and wish things were different. Sometimes it feels like they think I’m not smart enough to know. I hate that. If they ask if I understand, I just nod and say “yes”. Sometimes they don’t even ask.

I wish they would see me the same as everyone else. I wish they would make sure I understand my health issues. Then I would sit a little higher in the chair (instead of hiding under it). Everyone should understand what’s happening inside their body when they leave the office. No matter how well they read.”

Isabelle is not the only one. Listening to her sharing her frustrations with the health system brought to mind the 60% of adult Canadians (reported by the Canadian Council on Learning in 2003) that lack the necessary skills to manage their health adequately. The questions remains, what can you and I do to make a difference?

Remembering

It’s hard to believe that November is here. I always feel that our beautiful fall days have gone by just a little too quickly. The days are getting shorter and the air more chilly. For me, it is a bit of a quiet time before the busyness of the Christmas season.

Of course, it is also a time for remembrance. Remembrance Day was always an important day in our house. My grandfather had served during WWII, but it is only as I have gotten older that I have come to appreciate more fully the sacrifices that were made by many Canadian families when their loved ones went off to war.

For many children, Remembrance Day can be hard to understand.  Sometimes the right book can help build that understanding. Two books worth reading to children are A Bear in War and In Flanders Field: The story of the poem by John McCrae.

A Bear in War, written by Stephanie Innes and Harry Endrulat and illustrated by Brian Deines, is a touching story told from the viewpoint of a small teddy bear. The bear belongs to a young Canadian girl, Aileen, who sends her beloved teddy to her father who is on the front lines during World War I.  The book was inspired by the true story of “Teddy” who traveled from the family farm in East Farnham, Quebec, across the Atlantic to Europe to be with Lieutenant Lawrence Browning Rogers.

In Flanders Fields: The story of the poem by John McCrae is written by Linda Granfield and illustrated by Janet Wilson.  In Flanders Field is a poem that many Canadians are familiar with, recited during Remembrance Day services throughout the country on November 11.  John McCrae was a medical officer during WWI and wrote the poem after experiencing the death of a close friend.  The book describes details of McCrae’s life and the first World War.

Coming Together

I had a feel good, but make you cry sort of moment with a mom recently. She began coming to one of our Rhymes That Bind programs in the beginning of the 2012 year. She quickly became a regular, and I have gotten to know her two little boys. Her older boy at first seemed like he might be shy, or perhaps had a speech delay, but the more they came the more I learned from observation that he is not shy, he is quite an observant little guy, an eager participant and very friendly. He does have a “quirk” though. It is one I am familiar with because of my own son.

I could tell that his mother has been increasingly bothered by his “quirk” and has begun asking him to stop. I can sense that she is concerned he is bothering me, or I might think he is being rude or disruptive. When they returned after our summer break his little “quirk” has become  much more noticeable. What this little boy does can be called echolalia. It can occur in speech delays of some forms, it can also occur in spectrum disorders such as Tourettes, as my son has.

After this last week, I waited until we were one on one and I approached the mom and gently offered that I really enjoy her son, I think he is brilliant, fun, and I am definitely not concerned that he “echos” me. I began to tell her that my son has done that in his own way since he was very young so I take no offense, and its ok with me if she does not try to correct him.

Well the flood gates opened and she let it all out how they have begun assessments for her son, and its all so new to her, and she doesn’t know where to begin or what to think. She said that it meant a lot to her that I let her know that I am not bothered by what her amazing little man does, and it makes him so special.

I am so blessed to have this job and get to feel like I was there for someone who really needed it at that moment. I KNOW without a doubt she will keep coming to our program and even if only in some small way it has helped her feel that she and her son have a place they can belong, without it being a “special” class for kids with “disabilities”.

Missed Opportunity

The past few months have been full of excitement and anticipation for me. I was due to meet the mayor of the City of Edmonton on September 7th, 2012. This was International Literacy Day.  In celebration of this big event, over 8 Literacy Organizations in the Edmonton area (under the umbrella of Literacy Works), and including the Center for Family Literacy, joined hands and organized a book give-away at the Clareview and Churchhill LRT stations, where hundreds of transit riders were to receive a free book. I was honored to represent the Centre for Family Literacy for this big event.

 Mr. Stephen Mandel, the mayor of the city of Edmonton was taking part in the book give-away. This was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I was going to share the platform with the mayor. I woke up at 5:00 am and started preparing myself.  I put on my lucky colourful top and headed for the Churchhill station. This was one occasion, when I was determined not to be late.

The book give away was a success.  We gave away many books and bookmarks to the transit riders. While I was excited to connect with the people and share the books with them, I was still on the lookout for the mayor’s arrival. I was disappointed when by eight o’clock the mayor had presumably not turned up. “He must have forgotten all about us”, I confided in one of colleagues.

Unbeknownst to us, the mayor had come and all the time I was waiting for him he was standing right in front of me, handing out books to unsuspecting LRT riders. It was evident from their response to his attempts to give them a free book and a bookmark that they did not recognize him. Many of them ignored him or they just smiled politely and passed him without a hint of recognition. We missed the opportunity to formally introduce ourselves to the mayor because we did not recognize him.

This experience brings to mind the 40% of Albertans who struggle with reading and writing. I thought about the many opportunities they possibly miss because of their struggle with reading. The information may be available, yet it is inaccessible to them.   As a result, they end up with limited knowledge and awareness, thus missing out on opportunities right at their doorstep.

The Centre for Family Literacy and other Literacy organizations in Edmonton play an important role in helping learners with low literacy levels to improve their reading and writing by offering one-on-one and group tutoring. This tutoring equips the learners with the literacy skills and enables them to function effectively in society.

Would you like to make a difference in someone’s life? It is easier than you think. Call the Centre for Family Literacy at 780-421-7323 for more information.

Tangled Ants

Has it ever occurred to you that we appear to live in society like a bunch of tangled ants? Everybody is rushing to and fro, getting frustrated and angry in traffic. People cut other people off and honk their horns, and generally make things worse. Those of you who travel the Anthony Henday know what I’m talking about! This all reminds me of a bunch of tangled ants, every time I see it. I just want to jump up and shout, “read a book and relax”! Obviously, do not read while driving. However, do take the time to read a book, find something that makes you laugh, something that takes your mind off the traffic, the rushing, and the stress. Books are such a great escape!

Preparing for the school year

For the first time in many years, I helped two children get ready to go to school and I was surprised by the focus on making sure that they have all the supplies  and new clothes that they need. So much is needed to go to school and learn.  What an opportunity to share the love of learning! It is a chance to share some of your back-to-school stories and talk about the difference between needs and wants, what things cost and what is important to your family.  Have you talked about all the great experiences they will have?  How are you preparing your children for the choices they will make in the school year ahead and into their future?