Thursday, December 09, 2021

Throwback Thursday

Since it's the first snow day of the 2021-22 season, I was going to post my usual photo taken through the window of my chicken coop surrounded by snow, with a slate grey sky and the yellow tufts of grass showing through the snow lying on the field. 


When I saved the photo, I saw that I have posted a lot of snow day photos over the years, so instead I decided to post a photo of what was going on my life on this day in 2011 -- the year I started this blog. 

The puppy had arrived! The photo shows Stella and Abby, the pup, just a couple of weeks into their new co-existence. 

Stella died in the spring of 2015, and Abby turned ten in September.

And this is the point where I tell you I will no longer update this blog on a regular basis. I don't want to say I'll never write here again, because as soon as I say that, something will come up that I want to share.


My life has moved in a different direction, again. I'm not longer writing about country living. The whole "city girl, country girl" persona has wound itself down. Now I'm teaching almost every day, and my writing is moving more into the genre of spirituality and faith. I miss being home every day and living my country life to its fullest AND I miss writing every day (boy, I really miss my writing life), 


if anyone knows that life is constantly changing, and a person is (or could be) constantly evolving, it's me. So I'm okay with these changes, knowing that at some point, they'll change again. 

 This blog began ten years ago after I published my first Field Notes column in the Oxford Journal community newspaper. It closed in March 2015, Stella died a month later, and six months later, I sold my first book -- a collection of those columns. So yeah, you never know what is going to happen and what path through the field you're going to find to follow. 

I finally gave up that column, which had moved to a magazine, in the fall of 2020. Just couldn't hang on for another year to make it an even ten! Field Notes is part of my life, but no longer part of my daily life, or my future.

So it's time to move on from maintaining this blog on a regular basis. The publisher of my new book, Alphabet of Faith, has asked me to do a blog about faith, ethics and spirituality, so I created one but I don't have much time for writing posts there either Teaching takes a lot of energy and creativity, and I don't have much left for writing. 

That bothers me, but I'll figure it out as I go along. Teaching every day is new to me so I'll eventually find my rhythm and learn to preserve my energy. That involves creating priorities and this blog -- writing about my country life in Nova Scotia 15 years after I moved here -- is no longer a priority. I've exhausted everything I have to say about it.

Thank you for following along. I appreciate your interest. It's been a joy to share these stories and this life with you. Take care! xo 

~ Sara Jewell 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Old and Tough

The long morning walk on the trail was finished and we headed back to the car, me thinking of coffee and toast, Abby thinking of her breakfast. 

As we passed the gas station, the car in sight, I heard a dog bark across the road to my left. Of course,  Abby responded. Ferociously as usual. 

It was a German Shepherd, the pretty kind with the mostly black face, and I just knew it was going to be a male. I didn't notice if he was intact because I was focused on the fact he was likely going to cross what is normally a busy road. Thankfully, early on a cold, cloudy Sunday morning, even Tim Horton's wasn't that busy -- so he was able to cross safely to check out Abby. 
She endured thirty seconds of his sniffing her backend, then she told him off. I heard him yip, and we sent him home with blood on his nose. 

That'll teach him. 

This is the second time in six months that Abby and I have been "greeted" by a loose male dog, and both times, when I started to insist we ALL cross the road to return him home, she told him off. Put him in his place. And both times, the male backed off and respected her authority. Her dominance. 

Abby! My girl. 

She learned this from Stella, my old girl who died in 2015 and who was with me through a lot of upheaval from the time I picked her up as a puppy in 2002. A couple of years ago, I read in a book that if you have issues with your current dog, you might not want to get a puppy because the older dog will simply teach those issues to the young dog. 
As soon as I read that, I knew that had happened. That Abby's protectiveness and barking was taught to her by Stella, who was exactly the same. Given the emotional rollercoaster I was on for much of Stella's life, I guess she felt I needed protection; but it's not the same with Abby. 

But seeing her in action, watching her "put the boots" to a friendly but forward, and unknown, male dog, I'm grateful for her strong protective streak. I appreciate her taking control of the situation. After all, neither male dog was listening to me; they were much more interested in sniffing Abby's backside. So she helped us get rid the nuisance, motivated by the fact we needed to get home for breakfast. 

My girl! 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Screen Time


I just finished this book -- What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing -- by Dr. Bruce Perry, a child psychologist and neuroscientist, and Oprah Winfrey. It took me several months simply because I was working so much, but also because it was a lot of information. 

Not densely written; it's easy to read. It's fascinating, actually. The brain is remarkable, and does so much more than we realize, if we aren't reading books by neuroscientists. A lot of the information impacts me as a teacher; this knowledge about trauma and how what happens to children manifests itself in behaviour -- and how we treat those symptoms rather than look deeper at what happened to them -- that will make me a better teacher. Especially as we try to get students "back on track" in school when we finally exit the pandemic. 

There is far too much information to share here, but if you are interested in how the brain works and how it governs us (there is so much we don't realize goes on all the time!), I recommend it. It's $40 hardcover so you may want to wait for the softcover or request it from the library. 

In the spirit of this blog -- about rural life -- I want to highlight something that Dr. Perry wrote near the end of the book: 
"At home, at work, at school, we spend hours and hours in front of a screen -- on average, over 11 hours a day." 

His data is American but I think we can assume Canadians do the same: On average, we spend almost half a day in front of a screen -- a phone, a laptop, a computer, a television. 

Dr. Perry goes on to say: "The art of storytelling and the capacity to listen are on the decline. The result is a more self-absorbed, more anxious, more depressed -- and less resilient -- population." 

Absolutely. And the pandemic, with its lockdowns and isolation, has more this worse, has deepened our obsession with and immersion in our screens. 

I wondered, though, how it was possible to spend more than 11 hours a day in front of a screen -- until I overheard a woman say that as soon as her alarm goes off in the morning, she lies in bed and scrolls through her phone. 

Whereas, I get up and boil water and do yoga or walk the dog. I'll go two hours in the morning before I turn on my phone. When I go for my weekend walks with the dog, I don't even turn my phone on, until I decide I need to take a photo for Instagram! 

I think an important part of resilience -- of surviving and thriving in a world that is slowly unravelling -- is being outside in nature as often as possible. Looking up at the sky, gazing out over the sea (or lake or river), walking a trail through the woods, digging in the dirt, cleaning out the chicken coop, riding a horse around a field. Moving the body, filling the brain with sights and sounds and textures and tastes. Using all the senses to interact with the world around me. 

My favourite moment during my teaching term this fall? The one day we had rain and therefore an indoor recess at lunch? Not one student got out a laptop to play computer games. They played with the dinosaurs and the kitchen toys and the blocks and the race cars. Why is this significant? Because looking at a screen uses one sense predominantly: sight. Our senses, especially touch and smell, can't be involved. So we create a deficit in ourselves, in our children, when we neglect to engage all our senses in what we are doing. My student playing with dinosaurs and fake food and little cars? They were using all their senses, as well as their language, their imagination AND their social skills. 

Using technology in classrooms is expected now. I have no problem with that. I love an interactive whiteboard. I use the projector and the document camera. I play videos of books. But to see 11 five, six and seven year olds engage in unstructured play for 40 minutes -- what a wonderful antidote to the data about 11 hours of screen time a day. 

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Fall Back Into Routine

A photo on my photo doesn't capture how eye-catching this was

My two-month term teaching position has ended, and I have today off. 

It feels weird to be back in my "old" life again, yet very familiar -- too familiar! Falling back into that routine of only subbing a few days a week is not the new routine, even if drinking coffee and reading at eight o'clock this morning was really, really nice. I didn't book this day off, there were no jobs on offer, but I'm using it gladly to catch up on emails and blogs and maybe even write something unrelated to teaching! 

One of the unexpected joys of my busy days, getting out the door at seven a.m. and not leaving school until 5 p.m., was the light. The sunrise as I headed east, the afternoon sunshine as I headed home. I'd time my drives to catch the national news at the top of the hour then usually drive the rest of the way in quiet; it helped to calm me after a day of being "on the floor" as I refer to teaching: standing in front of the class and moving around a lot. I think of it as being "on the floor" also as a way of differentiating it from other teaching jobs. I filled in for a resource teacher yesterday and while that's a great sub job, I couldn't do it every day. It's a lot of sitting and listening to students read. Necessary work but not active enough for me. Even with all the planning and prepping that goes into teaching those primary grades, I'd rather be "on the floor" than sitting at a table all day. 

The one thing I do miss about my "old" life and the familiar routine is the daily walk. I made sure the dog and I got out every Saturday and Sunday morning -- even under threat of rain -- for a long, hilly walk. It meant getting up and dressed and heading out in the car, just like every day during the week, but my back and legs and lungs thanked me for it. It helped to clear my head, even during the hardest, most despairing days (which happened at the midway point, a natural shifting point from the easy days of back to school to the settling in of teaching and planning). As much as I miss the consistency and security of knowing where I am going every day and who I am dealing with, I will enjoy the shorter  work days and planning-free weekends of substitute teaching for awhile.

Can you believe it's only seven weeks until Christmas? 

Hiking along the TransCanada Trail in Oxford 

Monday, September 27, 2021

A Dog's Birthday


This sweet face is ten years old today.

Abby is 10! 

I'm very grateful she's made it to ten years with no health 

Let's not jinx it, okay?! 

She had dental surgery earlier this month and lost two teeth plus had a small lump removed from under her tongue so... let's just say I'm delighted to be celebrating ten years with this pup. Especially since I'm not home with her every day anymore. 

When I get home at the end of a long day at school, she greets me at the door with a squeaky toy then doesn't sit still long enough for me to pat her. She runs around the house like she's the one who's been away all day and is happy to be home. 

I'm too tired to run with her! But we get out every weekend for walks and now that I don't get to walk with her every day, I cherish our weekend morning time even more. Let's hope for many more Saturday and Sunday walks. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Salsa Garden

How ironic! 
The salsa garden ripened into perfect tomatoes and peppers AFTER I started school. So even though I didn't plan on doing preserves last weekend, we made another batch of salsa because I simply can't waste these beautiful tomatoes. I take no credit for how they turned out but they really are perfect tomatoes!

And the tomatoes kept ripening. So this weekend, today in fact, was supposed to be fruit relish; my recipe makes 6 jars and it's my favourite relish. But the school prep -- activities for the next three days leading up to the first day of fall -- took over my weekend. I managed to get everything done -- except for the fruit relish. I'm hoping the tomatoes last until next Saturday. 

How ironic!
I grow the best salsa garden I could hope for -- and I'm not around to make the most of it. I am, however, enjoying all the cherry tomatoes. They, too, came on strong just in time for school and my lunch every day. It's lovely to sit in a quiet classroom and eat cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices from my own garden. 

The "should" of teaching, especially for subs and new teachers, is to eat in the staff room, but I'm too old and too wise to listen to the "shoulds" any longer. I am so involved and put so much into my teaching, into my interactions with the students, that come lunch time, I don't want to talk to anyone. I need the quiet of an empty classroom to recharge and reset and renew. I'm lucky that the school I'm teaching at right now is so small, there isn't that pressure to sit in the staff room, nor is there any benefit -- we see each other in hall and in each other's classrooms all day. 

I'd rather have the quiet, and the chance to work -- some think you need a break but as a new teacher, I need to know what I'm doing next and feel like I have it under control. After a weekend of working at home on the activities for this week, I'm heading into Monday not feeling like I have everything under control -- but I get to work early, and I have a morning prep while my students are at music so we'll be fine. 

It's all good -- and we get to do art all week and I'm excited about that. I hope to post a photo of our creation next weekend. 

So in advance of this Wednesday: Happy First Day of Fall! 

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

The First Day of School!

You are never too old for a "first day of school" photo! 

And you can never have too many flowers in the classroom. 

I had two more bags to take with me plus a box of supplies. Fully stocked and ready to roll!

I think this proves, beyond a doubt, it's never too late to be what you might have been. I wanted to be a teacher, I let someone get in the way of that, but here I am three decades later, ready and willing and perfectly capable... 

to teach the kids their first lesson: You don't have to follow the rules.

Because here I am, wearing white after Labour Day!