Did you say dance…?

Who doesn’t love to dance? Even if you aren’t any good at dancing (like me). The kids at our school love to dance and so we get them into it, as soon as possible once they start….. “Put your right hand in, put your right hand out, put your right hand in and shake it all about,” “Open shut them, open shut them, give a little clap…”, “Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around…” And of course, it’s the best way to learn vocabulary through using actions.

You put your right foot in (or was it the left?)

This month I found out about the Dance for Sick Kids Fundraising Program run by Ronald MacDonald House here in Australia. Not sure if there is something similar in the US, but I expect there is. I discovered that you can raise money through schools by having your students dance for a certain amount of time per day for a week during May. I thought our students can do some dancing then and between now and then and I will give some money to the Program. This will give them the chance to feel they are a part of something that is helping other children.

As I said, our kids will dance whenever they are given the opportunity to all kinds of music and songs. One of our favourite times was a few years ago when we had two Israeli girls who were visiting India after finishing their compulsory military service, come and stay with us for a few days. We met them by accident on the street and invited them to visit the school. They had such a good time and taught the kids to count in Hebrew and a couple of Israeli dances. Such fun!

The circles are going in opposite directions which caused a bit of confusion!

‘D’ is not a hard letter for students to sound, although they need to make sure it’s a hard sound and not a soft sound like ‘t’. For Khasi speaking students it’s a little tricky at the end of a word as all their words end in soft sounds, so we tend to get kindergarten kids to super stress ‘anD’, ‘saD’, beD’. It’s a bit trickier when it comes to writing, as ‘b’ and ‘d’ can be commonly confused by all students, not just ESL ones (which one has the circle then the stick, which one has the stick then the circle?)

Hoping everyone has the opportunity to enjoy some dancing sometime soon….!!

Quiet …

Quiet is warm,

Quiet is soft and patient, stealing up on you when your heart might be clenching,

Quiet may be the hush between an angry outburst and a ringing phone,

Quiet may be the mist of time swirling through your mind, remembering when you watched clouds shape their way overhead, or contemplated leaves hanging motionless on a tree.

A quiet place when seas are still

Quiet may thread its way into your room in the still of night when you don’t hear even a breath;

Quiet used to be the moment when our five kids tumbled out the door, lunch boxes in hand, to catch the local bus, husband off to work and …. what was that sound, before I began the rest of my day?

It was a gentle embrace as I drifted in solitude for just a moment.

QUIET.

If I ever got the chance, this would be my ideal quiet getaway!

It’s not a problem letter for students to pronounce, you just teach them there’s always a ‘u’ after it and it makes the sound ‘qwa’. It’s a little trickier to write and to remember the difference between the curly capital and the partly circular, partly straight lower case letter. Quack is everyone’s favourite ‘q’ word in kindergarten, closely followed by ‘queen’.

Do you have a minute to help me make some sugar cookies in the shape of a unicorn on this lovely autumn day, while I check the number of my son’s flute teacher which is buried somewhere under here?”

The significance of this whatsapp message may be lost on most of my American fellow slicers, but it brought such joy to me this morning…I can truly say my heart soared when I read it, as uniform is just part of the school day in India and our students have not worn it to school since the middle of March last year. For poor kids, it’s especially important because we have designed a cheap pinafore or pants in the practical material we buy in bulk from the capital that matches with a red or blue T shirt. Super simple, super easy and non-discriminatory. We have been running the school as unobtrusively as possible, because we are small in numbers.

And of course it absolutely clarified what was going to be my letter of the day….I usually wait for some little word to pop up from somewhere and give me the ‘go ahead’!

When we teach our students we usually focus on the short ‘u’ sound such as ‘up’ and ‘under’ or the ‘you’ sound as unicorn (every small kid’s favourite animal). But let’s not forget the ‘schwa’ sound as in ‘autumn’ that kind of sounds like ‘er’, but in ‘bury’ it is the short ‘e’ sound. In the word ‘sugar’ you need to use the short ‘oo’ sound, whereas in ‘flute’ you need the long ‘oo’ sound. In the word ‘suite’ we use the phonetic ‘w’ sound and in the word ‘minute’ the sound becomes a short ‘i’. Hence the title of this slice… minus ‘suite’ which I just couldn’t fit in…!

It’s unbelievable how useful all those five vowels are, despite having to learn which ‘u’ pronunciation is needed. Our kids can form the short ‘u’ vowel sound quite easily. There can be some confusion between the short ‘a’ and ‘u’ as they have to learn to open their mouths slightly differently. In Khasi they only have the longer ‘oo’ sound in their alphabet.

“Up.” I usually exhort my students,

“Look up and above and beyond,

And always, always try to UNDERSTAND.”

What do you do with an ‘x’ – Xolo anyone?

Okay I’ve chosen the letter x or ‘ks’, to my students, NOT k, it’s not ‘sick’ it’s siks’;

So thought I would check for animals starting with ‘x’;

Did you know there’s such a thing as a ‘xolo’, hmmm,

probably not, poor thing he’s a Mexican dog, but hairless

and quite unlovely to behold; what about a xenopus?

He’s a ghostly pale frog who looks not too well at all,

But it appears he has claws!

You’ve surely heard of a xerus?

If you’re American you’ll think his face resembles a groundhog,

But he sports a tail and he’s an African ground squirrel.

(Question, a squirrel who doesn’t climb trees?).

There is an x-ray tetra covered in scales,

It is apparently almost transparent with some vivid colour bands;

Sought after for aquariums but originally from the Amazon;

The two feathered ‘x’s I came across are small and striking;

There’s an eye catching brown and white xenops from Central and South America;

Small with a flat beak curved at the tip;

And the bold little xantu’s hummingbird from California,

dappled iridescent green with a red beak and shimmery orange tail

And undoubtedly, a long nectar-sipping tongue!

X is not a difficult letter to form, but its pronunciation can be a little trickier, depending on your own native language. My students speak Khasi at home and there is no ‘ks’ sound in their language, so they need quite a bit of reminding, as ‘x’ is most commonly found at the end of simple words like ‘fox’, ‘box’ and ‘fix’. Two straight diagonal lines are easy to form and remember when writing and of course it’s always around in times tables and in kisses at the end of messages and texts.

It is apparently, the third least used letter in English after ‘q’ and ‘z’ and we all know it’s not a popular letter to pick up in Scrabble. You are not one of my favourite letters, ‘x’ but I still salute you for all the work you do!

The Power of ‘P’ – plastic pavers

Today the letter ‘p’ became an easy choice after being led to the article below. Anything to do with that fearful word, plastic and finding practical ways of recycling it, will always grab my attention. And when it’s happening in Kenya, that’s a plus too, as that’s where our new son-in-law comes from. The article says that Nzambi not only wants to tackle the problem of Kenya’s plastic waste pollution, but to hopefully help solve the country’s inadequate housing problem.

This Kenyan Company Is Turning Plastic Waste Into Bricks | DeMilked

The letter itself is quite easy to sound phonetically and doesn’t usually pose too many problems for students, except when they are learning to write it and forget that it has a long ‘tail’ that goes down below the line where its curved part rests. ‘P’ is softly aspirated with just a gentle puff of air, unlike its partner ‘b’ that requires the lips to press together and vibrate slightly. Sometimes kids get the sound of ‘p’ and ‘b’ confused early on (like our twin daughters) and need a bit of speech therapy to correct the issue.

Hooray for the letter ‘p’ and all its perfect potential and ability to please and perform and hooray for Nzambi and her plastic pavers! And here’s a little pot of poppies that have just germinated (thanks to our local Woolworths store giving them away when you buy enough groceries!) I am not good at growing anything much but even though they look threadlike and fragile at the moment, I’m hoping they’ll also perform and reach their perfect potential!

H is for Holidays and Happiness!

H is another favourite letter of mine, you can write it in a really sweepy and dramatic curvy style or you can make it just straight up and down with just a faint half curve as required. Capital H is often written with some extraordinarily dramatic flourishes. I tried to reproduce one, but it didn’t really work out! I think ‘h’ is a very strong letter with an aspirated sound in phonics that is easy for kids to repeat. Link it with a ‘t’ in front and that’s where your problems start with ESL students, but that’s another story!

Our school is back for a new year, we started just five weeks ago, with all students turning up daily, just not in uniform, as nothing is ‘official’ for another couple of weeks…..so they are there in north east India with all their class teachers and I am here in western Australia (with no hope of getting out for the foreseeable future… our government is super strict). So I have a zoom writing class with each of the older classes once a week and so far it’s going really well (apart from the odd power cut or frozen moment!)

Considering they have hardly spoken English since March last year, although teachers have done their best to keep them in touch with learning at home and in other ways, I am very pleased with the outcome!

Shortly, we will write another little story book, maybe class by class, because they do so enjoy seeing themselves in print and as authors! The older students also touch typed the little passages onto a laptop. Meantime we work on adjectives and how to make sentences more interesting.

The m’s have it..Monday musings..

It’s Monday and it’s March, so for some reason the letter ‘m’ has been swirling around in my head all day. I have been debating some kind of theme to somehow thread this month together, so the thought of using a letter of the alphabet every day has crossed my mind (not in any particular order) so ‘m’ seems as good a letter as any to begin.

I enjoy the way the Roman alphabet is written, I appreciate the letters and their shapes and sounds. I have spent so much time in the past twelve years teaching phonics, that the ‘mmmm’ sound resonates as one of the easiest for kids to imitate and grasp. It’s soft and soothing and makes your lips a straight line that is so easy for kids to copy and remember. I have tried to learn a few other languages that use a different alphabet and I have NEVER said to myself, “Oh I love these letters and shapes, they make so much more sense than English.” I usually find them difficult to recall and write from memory and not particularly attractive as a script (with very many apologies to any non-English speakers who might read this and believe their alphabet is the best….it probably is…for you!)

Google calls ‘mmm’ an expression of ‘contentment or pleasure’ and it surely is. I love writing the letter ‘m’. It’s smooth and flowing without the need to lift pen or pencil off the paper, a double ‘n’, an upside down ‘w’. Or you can make it sharply stiff and resolutely bold, if it’s a capital letter, like a couple of upright mountains reaching for the clouds.

Thank you ‘M’, it’s been good to ponder on you today. I believe my Monday musings are complete!

This is day 4 of 14 days of quarantine, but am I really here?

I have spent the last fourteen weeks since our little school closed, wondering if it would be possible to get out of India. India’s borders closed and so did Australia’s at almost the same moment in late March. Australia has a very small population and a very low covid 19 tally, so it was never going to be easy and it became virtually impossible up until May 25th as all Indian domestic airlines were shut down.

We are six hours drive away from the closest domestic airport and to then travel on to a major city like Mumbai or Delhi, where all rescue/repatriation flights were departing from, just wasn’t going to happen. It would be a two or three day drive and all borders in between required e-passes. The Australian embassy would provide these, but we knew the local law enforcement people could prove very difficult. To hire a vehicle was also prohibitively expensive, although some people did so.

When domestic airlines did reopen, I held my breath. Yes, flights were taking off, in fact more flights were soon added, so then getting out became a possibility. The government airline put on lots of flights to countries and continents with large populations, like the USA and Europe. But to tiny little Australia (population wise), just a handful. Within five minutes of releasing tickets, the website crashed or announced that no more tickets were available. It became a nightmare. I joined several “Aussies stuck in India” facebook groups and a couple of Whatsapp groups, so I knew my pain was being shared by others. All flights were costing four times a normal ticket, but these are extraordinary circumstances. Were the skies going to open up to commercial flights in July or August, before our visas ran out?

On Friday evening  of 19th June, a guy advertised a Singapore Airlines charter repatriation flight on a facebook group, that would fly into Mumbai on 26th June. Bookings were going to open in four hours. If enough bookings were confirmed, it would happen. The flight had got the necessary approval from both India and Australia. I just knew this was the chance we had to take, so I went online and booked two tickets. Five minutes later, I got an emailed confirmation.

There is only one daily flight from our nearest airport to Mumbai; we are as far east in India as we can be and Mumbai is on the west coast. It’s a three hour plane flight. I booked our flight for Thursday 25th. Because of the current lockdown situation, domestic flights may be cancelled without warning, but this was the only flight to such a major city and it was a return flight, so seemed more likely to actually take off.

Now we just had to get to the airport. We used our vehicle to get to the border of our state. We had a pass to drive to the airport, but our friend who was driving, would then have to go back and spend 14 days in quarantine, in the local government hospital, where they provide no food, no support and because of the virus fears, might not even allow anyone to deliver food to him. That wasn’t going to happen!

So another friend organised  a taxi driver to pick us up at the Assam border and drop us at the airport. First leg of the mission accomplished! We’ve just heard that this state has gone into total lockdown since Monday because of new cases, so it will now be very difficult to cross.

We were six hours ahead of our flight, but that didn’t matter. We made it! We sat outside the airport under a giant fan for almost four hours, then had our bags sprayed with disinfectant and went in (yes, we had masks on, mandatory in airports and most other places). To get in we had to hold up our ID and tickets, we even had to print out our baggage tags (turned out to be unnecessary) to eliminate any physical contact.

The flight took off as scheduled and landed in Mumbai at 10 pm. Our next flight was at 1.15 pm the following day. We thought there might be some comfortable chairs somewhere in this vast deserted terminal, but there weren’t. We resorted to laying out coats, a pillow and a small blanket on a granite floor. It was definitely better than nothing and there were toilets close by and a power point to recharge phones.

We survived a few jumbled hours of dozing and maybe a fraction of sleep until about 5 in the morning. I watched tropical fish gliding lazily up and down the aquarium wall of an airport hotel. Possibly the only time I’ve ever envied a fish in its natural habitat.

From 8 am onwards we were occupied with queuing, checking in and waiting for the flight. Everything went very smoothly in the ghostly eerie emptiness of what would normally be one of the busiest airports in the world.

Fourteen hours later after a stop to refuel in Singapore we landed in Adelaide, South Australia. We made the headlines of the local news. Police and security guarded us every step of the way, but were friendly, cheerful and welcoming. We are now in an amazing hotel at the government’s expense for fourteen days. We’ve had our first covid test which was negative for us. Three people returned a positive reading out of 260 passengers. We’ll have another on the twelfth day.

We have a balcony and a wonderful view. There are police on every floor. We can only step outside the door to pick up our meals, delivered in paper bags. The overall sensation is still…. can this really be happening?

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Our balcony view by day and by night. Perfect winter weather right now.

Kind of dissecting a word and its sound..

So today, I decided the only way I was going to be able to write anything was to focus on a word and write about it in some way….

Thanks to the weather today and throughout the past week, the word I chose was drizzle. 

PS. I am only looking at it from the “weather point of view” and not from its other dictionary listed meaning, as all those delicious culinary ingredients that you can ‘drizzle’ onto or into various recipes. This is possibly because none of those delightful ingredients are currently available to me!

DRIZZLE  I don’t believe is exactly onomatopoeic as that ‘zz’ sound doesn’t really give the feel of water drip drip dripping through trees or onto rooftops or lightly spattering across windows or onto the ground. There is definitely a sense of light monotony, especially if you emphasise that ‘zzzzzz’ sound (why isn’t it the way we describe a bee moving from flower to flower…who knows?!) When I did a quick Google search it suggested the word has its origins in an Old English word linked to a Germanic word and to the word ‘dreary’.

Perfect! When it drizzles, it’s definitely a dreary kind of day…., usually overcast, cool to cold and fairly miserable.

As I love languages, I checked out the word in Spanish, French, German and Hindi…

My conclusion, none of them come close to the pleasure of reading or saying the word DRIZZLE or sound half as good as it does in English!

In French, it’s ‘bruiner’, even spoken with a lilting French accent, it doesn’t have the same impact.

In Spanish, it’s ‘lloviznar’ (double ll is pronounced as ‘y’ and v as ‘b’), but that’s really just a derivative of ‘llovar’  to rain.

In German it’s ‘nieseln’, (sounds a bit like ‘neezeln’) so a touch of similarity there.

In Hindi it’s written in our script as ‘boonda baandee’, which doesn’t have a great ring to it either.

So I think ‘drizzle’ is unique in English, in that it captures an essence that other languages don’t, even it does describe a rather drab event!

Come to think of it, the days at the moment seem to drizzle into one another, in the same hazy, innocuous way that rain does when it drizzles!

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And the silver lining is that drizzle is essential for flowers!

Woohoo they did it…!

Our beautiful daughter and her wonderful man, they did it….!

In the weirdest circumstances ever with only three other persons allowed in the enormous room including the celebrant…!

They livestreamed it on youtube, so we were able to share lots of laughter, lots of fun, shots of them going up in the lift via a handheld laptop, we glimpsed a stunning view over the lovely Swan River, love heart stickers on the carpet, designating where the about-to-be married couple should stand…! Even if we couldn’t figure out the live chat option, we still shared the joy and light in this bubble of delight!

Miriam’s bouquet was elegantly fashioned from a neighbour’s exquisite ivory petalled roses by her sisters.

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And they were allowed to hold hands and kiss at the end.

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YES THEY GOT MARRIED last Friday……………24/04/2020.

Even as I type it out, I realise how special that date looks, as it only needs two numbers and a zero!