Heart…A Winning Story of Remembrance

From a blank page to a winning essay…Aaron Lu is an outstanding young writer, whose essay, Heart, came first locally, regionally and then third out of thousands of entries provincially for BC and the Yukon in last year’s Royal Canadian Legion Essay Contest in the Intermediate level.

His process began with storytelling. I shared some of my stories of having been at Vimy and showed him pictures of the monument, of the trenches, the landscape and of the carvings that soldiers left behind in the tunnels. This inspired him to do his own research and write a story that was definitely full of heart. Lest we forget…

Heart

By: Aaron Lu

 History was not that interesting to me until I read about some of the things Canadian war heroes had left behind. A story that stuck out to me lies underground at Vimy Ridge. Soldiers waiting there carved images on the walls. The men may not have survived but their feelings and emotions are preserved in their artwork. The carvings helped me to relate to what they were experiencing in the days leading up to the moment they went “over the top” and to understand what they might have been feeling. I imagined what it would have been like to be one of them and suddenly, history was not something of the past, but something that lived on.

The souterrain felt claustrophobic. It was damp, dark, stinky and muddy. Rats ran everywhere, jumping over our bodies. I hadn’t seen sunlight for a whole week, and I really missed the outside world. Because of my skill in the mines back home, I was assigned to dig under the German trenches, and place explosives there so we could blow their trenches up from underneath. It wasn’t nearly as easy as it sounded. I had been told that there were German soldiers quietly listening for us, and any noise that we made would expose our location. We also had to be fast, because we knew the Germans were trying to do the same. It was gruesome,monotonous work. I toiled in near silence, and every moment, I was scared that I was going to be blown up by a German mine. Sometimes, I felt like running home, away from the war, but I knew it was my duty to be here for the benefit of our nation. This morning, German soldier movement was detected and I was ordered to stop digging immediately.

            Now, I was sitting in the tunnel, and I felt a familiar longing for home. Even though the past few days had been frustrating, frightening and cold, there was one moment that lit up my whole body. It happened two days ago, when I received a package from my family. It was the first time in weeksthat I’d felt happiness and excitement. Inside the package was a red heart, carefully knit by my younger sister. I kissed it. I missed my family so much and I really wanted to get back home and reunite with them. The other soldiers were either sleeping, or carving on the chalk walls. Some drew maple leafs the new symbol of Canada as a nation. Some wrote words, and some drew pictures. I took out my knife, and started carving my own image. I might not survive this war, but my inner feelings would. I drew a heart, representing my love for my family. I was about to draw a family picture, but just as I started, I heard an order from the commander. It was time to go over the top.

 

            Canadian soldier J. McCormick killed in action on April 9th, 1917.

            Lest We Forget.

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Essays on Remembrance…

It is that time of year where we pause to remember those who paved the way for us to live in peace.

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I always encourage students to enter the essay and poetry contest sponsored by the Royal Canadian Legion. You see the national winners, representing the youth of Canada laying the wreath at the War Memorial in Ottawa each year.

Lewis Fang. last year, started with an, “I don’t have any connection to the wars or remembrance…” Then, with some research, some conversations, some thoughtfulness and some creativity, he composed this winning essay.

Lewis won first place locally and first place regionally, going on to compete on the provincial level for BC and the Yukon in the Junior Essay Division.

I hope his story inspires you to take your moment of silence on Monday.

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My Moment of Silence

By: Lewis Fang

The left side of my chest. My heart beats under it. A heart that feels the pain of many people who suffered and died. I pin a red poppy there every year on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. This connects me to hundreds of thousands of people out there who sacrificed their lives for their families and people that they didn’t know. The poppy represents bravery and sadness, but at the same time love and encouragement. A poppy symbolizes freedom and safety for our country.

Every year we have a Remembrance Ceremony at school. When the moment of silence began, my head used to be filled with unimportant things like my upcoming classes and who I might play with at recess.

Now, in the moment of silence, I think about the kids who lost their dads in war. Now I imagine their faces and what they would be thinking. The kids would look out the window every day hundreds of times with tears filling their eyes and their moms would be trying to calm them down.

Now, in the moment of silence, I think about how the soldiers felt when they were facing death. I think about how they found the courage to go on the battlefield, facing gunpoint.

Now, in the moment of silence, I think of how my personality would be affected if someone I loved disappeared from the world. Would a soldier’s family have felt the same way? How did they make the decision to leave their families and go to war?

Now, in the moment of silence, I give thanks to all of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for us, for our rights and our freedom. I give thanks for all the soldiers who refused to let their country down and went to war without a second thought.

Now, in the moment of silence, I think about all the things that my poppy represents. I put my hand on my heart and remember the thousands of hearts, both now and in the past that it connects me to.

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Tales Found Abroad: A Day with Dickens

“An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”
Charles Dickens

48 Doughty Street, Borough of Camden, London. Charles Dickens lived here in this gorgeous Georgian house. Here he dreamed, imagined, created and wrote from 8am to noon every day (a testament to the need for dedication, discipline and focus if one is to truly call oneself an author) from 1837-1839. The rest of his day involved going for walks and taking care of additional business. I am sure that those walks around London informed much of his writing and that on them, he took in the dialogue, smells, tastes and textures of the city at the time.

Here, on Doughty Street, he toiled at his desk (the one on display) and breathed life, colour and conversation into his ideas for characters such as Pip and Nicholas Nicholby. He spoke to them and they explained themselves in his fabulous narratives. He would often entertain people in his parlour, treating them to an electrifying reading from newly imagined pages upon which the ink was barely dry.

It might have been jetlag, but I felt a bit overwhelmed when we entered, like I was walking on some kind of hallowed ground, and in doing so, I might absorb some of Dickens’ genius through the very soles of my shoes! By the end of the visit, indeed I think I had…or at the very least found commonalities between Dickens’ experience as a writer and my own.

The house and its contents told a Tale of Two Dickens, presenting both the private and public sides to his personality. I loved seeing letters written in his own hand in curling cursive. I was impressed at his ‘touring writing podium/reading desk’ that he designed and had built especially for him. It showed he was one serious celebrity. I enjoyed discovering his life as an actor and seeing the souvenirs he collected in Montreal where he was the ‘stage manager’ in a play and where his wife also had a small role. He had a love of the stage and theatrics. He even had his own theatre for awhile!

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There were playbills, posters, his writing desk, his bed, his dining room table, chairs and table settings, a set of his clothes and even Dickens’ commode as he was know to have tummy troubles (even writers have to…you know).

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If someone were to create a museum to you, what would they place in it? What would these artefacts say about your life, your thoughts, your personality?

For me, they might include the coveted teaspoon collection that I inherited from my mom, or perhaps the ribbon I wore as the crowned Miss Summerama, or my Tickle Trunk…or everything fairy collection…or this mac where I dare to dream as Dickens did.

Leave your response in the comments section below!

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Tales Found Abroad: Lead Laden Curses and Long Lost Gems

What have the Romans ever done for us?

This question reminds me of a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. “All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?”

Can you picture Romans, in their tunics and cloaks setting up shop in Somerset, England thousands of years ago and bringing with them all of the above? Well that is exactly what happened! They brought, with their knowledge of irrigation and engineering, exquisite spa baths to the city known as Bath today!

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The Romans were expert at blending cultures, with a heavy serving of their own added to the ones they infiltrated. The mineral springs at Bath were known prior to the Roman invasion.  It was said that a legendary Celtic King, Bladud was cured of leprosy in the 9thcentury BC by wading through the area’s warm mud. It wasn’t until the Romans arrived, though, that the baths gained true fame.

They developed the baths with Roman architecture and decorated them with Roman art, establishing a temple to Sulis Minerva there, a god they invented by merging the Celtic god Sulis with the Roman one, Minerva. The town was known as Aquae Sulis at the time and people came from far and wide to worship, bathe, exercise and gossip from 80 to 400 AD. When the Romans left, the site was abandoned.

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Over time, other cultures built up over top of the town and it seemingly disappeared, until…in the 1700’s odd and interesting artefacts started popping up as sewers were being dug for the town above. In 1775, some workmen broke through a layer of rubble and discovered the spectacular Roman baths intact and in almost as good shape as they had been 1300 years ago!

I had the pleasure of digging for stories in Aquae Sulis myself. I am a lover of the strange and unusual, of mysteries and puzzles, particularly historic ones. On my journey to excavate story tidbits I came across a multitude of inspiring details.

Here are but a couple that were found in the drains of the pools of Aquae Sulis: Curse tablets and long lost gems.

Curse tablets were small messages engraved on lead or tin plates and then thrown by either the author or a priest into the waters at Sulis, to be taken care of by higher forces. Most were cursing people for stealing, and written with such vehemence, one would NOT want ot be on the receiving end of one.

The lost gems were interesting because they were so small, ornate and detailed. They most likely either came off the wearer’s jewellery in the hot water of the spa or were left as offerings. In these tiny gems, are insignias and carvings, so tiny they are hardly visible to the naked eye, but each means something.

I am sure I can find a place for a curse tablet or a long lost gem in a story somewhere. Can you? What would your character inscribe on a curse tablet? Who would they curse and why? What secret could be found in a long lost gem? What clue could it unlock? Tickle our imaginations by leaving your thoughts in the comment section! Happy writing!

 

 

 

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Tales From Abroad: Gretta’s Ghosts

My close childhood friend, Gretta, lives in a small town in Oxfordshire, England called Harwell. Her home has a great deal of character and indeed seems to be inhabited by a few characters too.

Her house is over 400 years old and as you ascend to the third floor, the beams get increasingly lower and the wooden floors slant. As the uncarpeted and somewhat creaky stairs curl upwards, you have to duck a bit so as not to hit your head on the doorframes. It is absolutely gorgeous, spacious, comfortable and, well, as you might imagine…haunted.

No need for goosebumps though. Gretta’s home was once used as a schoolhouse, so any spirits there are benign, curious, helpful and respectful. They are not your typical troublemakers.

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I had stayed there before, but in a different bedroom, a floor below, one that I felt sure should be haunted, but there was no supernatural activity that trip, at least none that I saw or heard. This trip was different. Some say that ghosts will only appear on the level of the home or place where they died or spent most of their time in the human realm.

One evening at dinner, we talked a lot about writing, schooling and Margaret Atwood (who is all the rage with her new novel coming out). I gave Gretta, her daughter and my husband a taste of “Hungry for Arts” my next book to be published; a little dramatic, old style reading around the table, as people did before television and the internet. They played along when I asked them to dance the motions of the Whammy Roo. It was fun and energized.

Other ears must have been listening in. That night, I did not sleep well. Something kept drawing me from slumber. Something or someone (there were two of them actually, standing side by side), kept wanting my attention. Over and over the little one said, “I’m Daisy.” The taller one said, “And I’m Evelyn. That’s EEEV-elyn, with a long E, not with a short E.”

“Remember us.”

“Write about us.”

“Put us in one of your stories.” They smiled excitedly.

Both were dressed in long skirts with pinafores and wore bonnets. Daisy had long, blonde hair. Evelyn could have been her sister, but certainly took a protective stance over Daisy. They did not come into the room, but stayed politely in the doorway…but the chatter!

They did not leave me alone until I acknowledged that indeed I would remember them and write about them. Their parting words, were, “Oh, and mind the stairs.”

The next day, I told Gretta about the girls, that was, after I fell down the stairs and earned myself a bruise the size of my palm.  I had not ‘minded the stairs.”

I told Gretta about the two and that they had given me their names. She was not surprised as people had told her that her place was haunted before. When I pronounced Evelyn’s name, I said it with a short E. Gretta said, “You mean EEEV-elyn”.

“Yes. EEEV-elyn.”

Do you have goosebumps now? Well I certainly do because I have to find a place for both Daisy and Evelyn in a story. One must always keep their promises to the spirits.

Have you ever seen a ghost or felt the presence of a spirit? Was it in a creepy setting or a rather normal one? Share a tidbit of your otherworldly story or suggest a place where one might encounter a ghost in the comment section below! Think out of the box!

 

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A Harvest of Inspiration: Tales Found Abroad

I love travelling! It brings a change of scenery, a mix of new people, conversations, experiences and of course, inspiration that can fuel the details, conflicts and characters of stories both short and long.

I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to the United Kingdom which took us from Trafalgar and Piccadilly’s neon blinking, unevenly cobbled and vibrantly busy squares to thatched cottages and four poster beds down dark, quiet country lanes where we awoke to the cooing of morning doves and trays of home made jam and croissants and read Shakespeare and Shelley to one another.

It was my goal to find ‘aspects’ of a story or even a full story each day, to discover the fine details of setting, to expose myself to energies and artefacts that are not readily available ‘at home’.

My sensory bank is overflowing and there is an urgency, now that I am back to cash in on some of my experiences and find a venue for them. Where to begin? The various footsteps on the path below the bay window at our suite just off the shops on King’s Road in Chelsea? Some were slow and measured with a walking stick, others were more feverish, with a destination in mind and still others danced with the energy of a child walking one of the neighbourhood’s many wiener dogs. Should I begin with the tapestry of accents, the scent of a 400 year old pub? Should I describe the reflection in a London window, the taste of a Cornish pasty scalding out of the oven? Should I capture the feeling of being deep in the oak belly of Lord Nelson’s ship the Victory? Or reveal the conversations I had with a couple of young spirits in Harwell?

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration on this trip. England was a feast for all of my senses! All I had to do was look up, down and all around and most importantly…BOTH ways when I crossed the street. I’m sure they could tell I was Canadian by which way I chose to look first.

Stay tuned for more photos and blurbs in my autumn Harvest of Inspiration series! Leave a comment or share a story or a photo of what inspires you! Inspiration is a chain reaction!

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Summer Kickoff! A Couple of Hooray for Summer Poems.

School is out! Time for picnics, diving off docks, beaches, bike rides, mosquito bites, campfires, marshmallow roasts, shooting stars, holidays, outdoor concerts, baseball games, cut off shorts, running in the rain with your face turned towards the heavens, road trips and SPF 60. Summer conjures some of our favourite childhood memories and gives us the opportunity to create new ones. Summer is full of dog days…

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Did you know that the expression dog days originated in ancient Rome?  They called the hottest, most humid days of summer “diēs caniculārēs” or “dog days.” The ancient Romans associated the hottest days of summer with the star Sirius, also known as the “Dog Star” because it was the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog).

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So for all of you lovers of dog days and marshmallow roasts, here are a couple of summer poems composed by heading into grade 7 students Ivan and Andrew. Enjoy and don’t forget to try writing your own and leave it in the comment section!

Happy summer everyone!

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Summ’r,Thy Attributes Ye Shareth

By: Ivan Sun

Summ’r o summ’r,

thy bright blue sky,

thy shining stars,

glistening right by.

 

I adore thy warmth,

and plaited rays.

I visited the beach,

ye madeth so valorous,

I wast out of speech,

It wast marvelous.

 

The sunset ye provideth,

the beaming of lighteth,

on the tide,

the quite quaint sunset,

blasts of colour and lighteth,

 

On the beach,

the smooth, satisfying sand,

eating a peach,

listening to a night band with mine own cater-cousins,

staring at stars.

The days art longeth now.

Plenty of timeth to playeth,

 

The wind doth blow,

the summ’r day goeth.

I am nev’r blue,

lots on mine own mind,

I maketh the most out of the most wondrous summ’r!

Enjoying the attributes thee shareth with cater-cousins, and family!

 

Ode to Summer

By: Andrew Li

 

Oh summer oh summer
how lovely you are,
I’ve been waiting for you eagerly,

like a shooting star!

Chilling with best friends
No more work in mind
closing all my textbooks
what a wonderful time!

The grill slowly heats up,
cold drinks are handed out.
The aroma of steak rising,
a backyard party breaks out!

Oh summer oh summer
I wish your cousins were confined
My love is always with you
Your days dance in my mind

 

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