Big Orange

“I can always spot you a mile away – your coat is a beacon.”

We were chatting in the schoolyard as usual, waiting for our children to exit for the day and hurry home for snacks.

“I should get one of those for outdoor learning time with my kindergarteners. I hate wearing those safety vests, especially over my winter coat. That looks so warm, too. Might need to invest in some new teacher gear.”

We both chuckled and then moved on to other small talk. The bell rang minutes later and our children rushed over to our waiting spot, bursting to ask if their friends could come over and if we’d carry their backpacks for them while they did the monkey bars one last time before the walk home. Eventually he went his way, and I went mine.

A few months later there was a knock on the door. When I opened it, there he was, the husband of my friend, smiling and holding out a brand-new neon orange fleece coat.

“I got this for you at work. I remembered how much you said you could use one for your job.”

I’ve received many thoughtful gifts in my life:

  • a copy of my favourite novel after I’d dropped the original in the tub
  • a necklace with all four of my boys’ names engraved on it.
  • my four children (most days)
  • a latte dropped off when I was housebound with four children under six who had the chicken pox
  • the chipmunk stuffy from my dad that was not what I’d asked for, but cherished

There are many others I could mention, but the best gift I’ve ever been given was the bright orange safety jacket.

I’ve bestowed the name Big Orange to this coat as it is indeed big and quite orange. It is a fantastic coat and by far the best piece of teacher clothing I have ever owned. It is roomy and has large pockets where I store bandaids, tissues, mittens, pens, and sometimes my sanity. Students exclaim over it, teachers envy it. The coat is essentially the Room of Requirement in clothing form.

Its functionality is second to none, but that is not why it is the best gift I’ve ever received. You see, the coat was really a message to me. I was valued enough that a casual comment I made was filed away and remembered. That coat told me that I was heard and seen by this friend, that I matter.

Best gift ever.

Currently accepting applications to be the heir to Big Orange upon my retirement

Share one of the best gifts you’ve ever received.

Sleep, You Fickle Friend

Ah, sleep, how I adore you.

Twenty-something me was a sleeper. Even when I was living on my own, I knew the importance of a good night’s rest and would pack it in at nine or ten if I was tired. Pull an all-nighter to study for an exam? Me? My motto was I know what I know and staying up won’t cram any more psychology facts into this brain. May as well go to bed. Some roommates suggested it was an avoidance tactic, I preferred to call it strategic, peaceful oblivion designed for optimal test-writing performance.

I could drift off anywhere if I was tired. Loud party? Snoozing. Watching a squash game? Napping on the gym bags. As a child, my friends thought I was hiding so well that I didn’t want to give up my primo spot, but I had fallen asleep behind a chair and didn’t hear them declare that round of Hide-and-Seek was over.

Sleep and I were best friends. I could not relate to people who struggled to sleep well or, even moreso, those who deliberately chose to get up earlier than necessary. Sure, going for a predawn walk is good for you, but you know what else your body needs? Sleep. Yes, you can get a lot accomplished in the early hours of the morning, but you know what else you can do? Sleep.

My thirties came along and so did four adorable sleep robbers. My memories of these eight years are disjointed and vague. This could be due to the sleep deprivation or my tendency to squash any stressful memories into a teeny-tiny box, never to be opened, but who’s to say? I recall panicking and unable to remember where I put the baby that I was holding in my arms at the time. More than once I woke in the morning baffled as to why I was wearing a completely different set of clothes than the ones I had worn to bed. And then there is the repeated occurrence of being scared by creepy toddlers standing silently at my bedside.

As I entered my forties, my children entered their best sleeping years. No more middle of the night wake-ups. They could stumble to the washroom on their own. There were the occasional nightmares, vomiting, and nosebleeds, but for the most part, sleep and I were reunited. It was a glorious and brief season.

Friends who were ahead of me in life and the parenting journey tried to warn me, but I was in blissful denial. My children were independent and so now I would make up for all those years of choppy sleep. Ha ha ha. No.

Fun fact: as kids grow up, they stay up later. And later. And cook a full meal at eleven. AT NIGHT. They also have no idea how to do things, anything, quietly.

This was an unexpected turn of events, but I was up to the challenge. Hello, melatonin and earplugs. I still had back-to-school dreams and some mornings I was up much earlier than necessary (and completely against my will) but overall sleep and I were once again on friendly terms.

We are now the parents of teens. Teens who have part time jobs. Jobs we strongly encouraged them to get. We expected them to gain responsibility, work skills, life experiences, and a paycheque. They have. They never miss a shift and give us lots of notice of their schedule so we can give them a lift. I did not, however, expect that one of our children would be slotted for a nightshift from time to time. Goodbye, sleep, it was nice while it lasted.

A fun discovery of parenting teens is that I don’t sleep well when they aren’t home. I also don’t sleep well if I am worried about sleeping through my alarm (please see melatonin and ear plug reference above) to do an early morning pick-up. Some night shifts he can go home early if all the work is completed. On these nights we have a protocol:

  1. Text Mom for a ride.
  2. Text again if no reply.
  3. Call. The text notification has been incorporated into her dream.

Usually I sleep very lightly on these nights and there is no need to move to step two. However, we have this protocol for a reason and the other night it had to be implemented.

I’ve told you the truth, I am a very light sleeper. Until I am not. If I do get into that sweet spot of a nice, deep, sleep it is anyone’s guess what disoriented-me will do. So when the phone rang at 5:21am recently, I was certain it was my alarm and I frantically hit it so I wouldn’t wake the baby (the baby is eleven and sleeps soundly in his own room). It took me a full beat to comprehend my oldest was not already home and asleep, but was instead calling me for a ride. BUT I PULLED IT TOGETHER and groggily lied/exaggerated, “I’m on my way.”

I pulled on a hoodie, popped a piece of gum and was on my way. Another successful early morning pick-up complete. As the parents of teens who guided me years ago, gentle reader, this story has a few take-aways I will now pass along to you:

  1. Car seats are cold and thin pajama pants do nothing to mitigate that.
  2. Any street is creepy and full of potential serial killers at 5am.
  3. Gum does very little to rid you of morning breath.
  4. Check your camera roll and remove any evidence that you were anything but calm, cool, and collected when your child phoned you.

I definitely didn’t frantically hit all the buttons in an attempt to stop the noise.

Mistake of the Day

“Mrs. Moyer, today is Day 3, not Day 2. You didn’t change the schedule.”

“Oops! Mistake of the day!”

Mistakes happen. We are definitely not perfect. And yet so often we get frustrated with others and especially ourselves when expectations are not met.

I wish I could remember the origin of “mistake of the day” but I cannot. As most great ideas do, I think this evolved from a combination of experience and influence of great people around me. Regardless of how it started, this phrase has become a staple in my classroom.

Forgot to grab extra pencils on my way to class? Mistake of the day!

Left the worksheets in the staff room? Mistake of the day!

Did the announcement team flub their script or play O Canada twice? No big deal, chalk it up to the mistake of the day.

The ability to laugh at yourself is a gift. Learning that making mistakes is normal, a common occurrence, and is to be expected eases the pressure we often feel to be near-perfect. When students see me failing with little things and shrugging it off they see that I don’t expect perfection from myself, so I certainly don’t expect it from them. When we can kindly giggle at a goof with announcements or a technical issue (again) with a presentation, it reinforces extending grace to others.

Social media allows us to post our highlight reels and successes and filter out the unflattering mistakes. We can curate an image we want to present rather than reality. That’s a lot of pressure. It’s so easy to compare and feel that we come up short. But we all burn the grilled cheese sandwiches (literally and figuratively).

A wise consultant once encouraged me to choose a “favourite almost” when marking assignments and highlight the things that went right with a student’s response when we reviewed as a class. Who wouldn’t want to hear how they succeeded rather than failed? Or be recognized for effort rather than perfection?

Over time, trust builds with laughing off our missteps as do the inside jokes and our sense of community. Last year’s class would randomly calling out “Hey, Google!” when they felt overwhelmed and some of us really enjoyed Rick-rolling each other. This year we keep returning to the Clock Incident when someone closed the door, the clock fell off the wall, skidded across the floor and never told us time again. “Remember that time Jayden* broke the clock?” And there is also this gem: “Remember how Mrs. Moyer thought Abdul* was in grade 6 for the first month of school?” (yes, he’s a grade five, but who doesn’t like a challenge?)

Learning in a pandemic has brought unique opportunities for my mistakes: “I was sure I included the attachment in that assignment, just a second.” “What do you mean you don’t have access? Didn’t I grant that to everyone?” “Guys, if I get kicked out of this meeting, just sit tight and know my router conked out and I’ll be back as soon as I can.” So many mistakes of the day.

Mistakes are inevitable. It can be refreshing to celebrate them rather than cover them up. Trust me, I’ve burnt a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Like, a LOT of burned grilled cheese sandwiches.

*Names have been changed.

More Than Coffee

My junior students and I were discussing how smells can remind you of so many things and this piece came to mind.

Tough Bananas

Walk into my kitchen right this moment and you might think you smell coffee, freshly brewed and filling the room with its cozy aroma.

And you would be wrong.

Sure, there is a pot of coffee waiting to be served, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a portal to the past. A glimpse into the summers of yesteryear.

On a summer evening with the windows open and the coffee on, I am transported to my childhood. To summer evenings as the sun slips away and the busyness of the day settles into contented quiet.

I hear the laughter of my extended family as we wrap up our annual holiday weekend barbeque. I detectvoices of unseen passers-by taking in an evening stroll behind our house. If you’re still, there’s the sound of the tree frogs, the crickets, a motorcycle far off in the distance, the unique squeak of our…

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Word Choice

Have you ever chosen a word for the year? It can be an anchor, a goal, or a touch point of sorts. Last year I chose “joy” which turned out to be ironic, but also a challenge to find joy amidst the year-that-shall-not-be-named.

I didn’t enter 2021 with a specific word, but rather more of a mindset of positivity. Then as 2021 came tearing in like a hangry toddler looking for goldfish crackers, I concluded a general vibe wasn’t going to cut it.

Balance? Hope? Those were good options and definitely applicable, but they didn’t feel right. “Relax,” I told myself, “there’s no rule that you have to choose a word by a certain date, if at all. Be patient, you’ll land on the right one.”

Covid numbers started rising and it was clear school would not return soon to in-person learning. As a teacher and a parent that’s hard news. Not knowing how long this new lockdown would last or what it would entail caused a new wave of uncertainty. Be patient, there’s no point worrying about things you can’t control.

School reconvened online and I adjusted to teaching remotely. Our family found their “school” spots and we gradually got into a routine. However, technology lagged, links didn’t open as I’d planned, I got booted out of my own google meet (more than once), and I found myself frequently saying to my students, “thank you for your patience.”

On a rare trip to the grocery store someone accidently bumped into my cart as he navigated the arrows and people. “I’m so sorry!” he quickly apologized. “No need,” I replied, “It’s bound to happen.” The shopper ahead of me in line shrugged and nodded her agreement. And because I am the type of person who speaks to random people in stores I observed, “No point in getting upset, we just need to budget more time for these errands nowadays.” She whole-heartedly concurred and said, “We all need to have more patience.”

Patience. Waiting without getting riled up even if you’ve been waiting a long and tedious amount of time.

Haven’t the past ten months been tedious? They have certainly been cause to get riled up. And it often seems like we have been in an perpetual state of waiting.

Patience? Now? Come on. During this collective trauma? Patience when I literally and figuratively have 15 tabs open at once? Now, when we’re navigating a global pandemic and a Stay-At-Home order?


When I was in grade one our teacher let us bring in records to listen to during indoor lunches (yes, I’m old). One of my friends had an album with a singing snail and I can still recall the lyrics (no googling necessary):

Have patience
Have patience
Don’t be in such a hurry
When you get impatient, you only start to worry
Remember, remember
That God is patient, too
And think of all the times when others have to wait for you.

My students need to wait for me when an assignment didn’t load properly or my screen won’t share. My sons need to wait when I am still teaching, but they are done for the day and why can’t I answer their questions and requests RIGHT NOW? Or later when I am preparing lessons and focused on that instead of the story they are trying to tell me.

Being patient is hard work. The more I think about it, patience is an excellent choice for this year. We all need to have it and we all deserve to receive it, too.

I need to be patient with myself. That is particularly difficult when I feel like I have too much and too little time all at once. Or when I feel I am in a fog and can’t focus; or I feel overwhelmed by the unknown. It’s easy to feel like a failure when a reasonable goal isn’t met and the only reason is “welp, it’s Covid.” I will quiet the voice who berates me “What happened to reading more and cleaning out that closet?” I can be more understanding towards myself when I intended to be present with my family, but the latest presser got my attention instead.

I’m committing to demonstrating more patience this year. Yes, even towards my husband when he saunters into the kitchen and blows out my scented candle for NO REASON. I will be patient with students who turn in blank assignments or don’t log in all day. I will have patience for those who are trying to navigate these past, present, and future months as best they can, even if we don’t share the same point of view.

Patience isn’t all we need, but it’s a start. We are mourning the loss of how life used to be and a future that is uncertain.

Be patient with yourself, friend. You deserve it.

Me trying to wait without getting riled up.

Hot Sauce and Sneaky Tears

Did she notice the tears welling up in my eyes? I don’t think so, she was very focused on her job. But they were there and I was caught off guard and quickly composed myself. She carried on with her task, oblivious to the quiet sob I choked back. Or maybe she was being kind and ignored this burst of emotion – she probably sees it often in her role at the blood donation clinic.

As I reclined in the lounger and listened to the whirr of machines around me, I did some self-analysis. My emotions had snuck up on me and it was unsettling. It didn’t take long to think of another time I was ambushed by my feelings.

Covid-19 has caused me to become emotional many times, that’s not new or unexpected. When I drove by the local high school and the sign out front said “School Closed” I felt the tears rise with the realization that we would not being going back for a long time. My grief for the students was logical. Telling my children we wouldn’t be going to Disney like we’d planned was hard news to deliver and understandably sad. Finally seeing my parents after months of only phone calls had me sobbing as it was twinned with the knowledge it would be months before we could be together again. Those instances made sense.

Then there was the time, few weeks into the lockdown this past winter, when I was at the grocery store. Covid protocols were still being implemented and adapted. As much as I craved getting out of the house, I found it was upsetting to see the realities of our new situation: long lines, two metres distance, and masks. This trip was different, though. I was more relaxed and felt less like a scavenger scouring the shelves during a zombie apocalypse. But then I turned a corner and there it was: the bottle of hot sauce I needed to buy for the soup we were having for dinner. And along with that were the tears.

No, I’m not adverse to spicy foods. And no, it wasn’t out of my price range. The bottle in question was the exact same type that a student in my class brought along in his lunch bag. It was the topic of many lunchtime conversations with my classroom family. The hot sauce made me miss those kids in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

Grief is funny that way. It can sneak up on you when you least expect it. The smell of coffee brewing on a summer evening makes me miss my long-departed cousin. Wearing a cozy sweater brings with it the sadness of the loss of my sweet friend who definitely would have loved it. Jellybeans instantly and unfailingly connect me to memories of my grandpa who always had some in his pocket. And hot sauce was a tangible reminder that I would never teach that group of kids face-to-face again.

I have given blood before. I have been poked and prodded and had medical exams. Needles do not faze me, nor does blood. In fact, the kind nurse hadn’t stuck me yet when I felt the tears gather. All she had done was take my hand.

It was not about the hot sauce, or the needles, or the masks, or the two metres, or the lack of human touch. It was and is all of it. And we all carry it differently on a given day. Let’s be kind to each other and gentle on ourselves.

Jenga Community

This year is different in ways I could never have imagined, but the sentiment as we wrap up (at a distance) remains true.

Tough Bananas

You take a block from the bottom and you put it on top. You take a block from the middle and you put it on top.

It teeters and it totters.

It weebles and it wobbles, but you don’t give up.

In September my teaching partner and I opened up a new pack of Jenga. Not literally, of course, but humour me. We opened up the box and there were twenty-eight fresh new blocks. Each one had a name and a story. They looked similar, but once you looked closer you could see the lines and grains that made each piece unique.

Gradually, over the days, weeks, and months, we created a tower together. Other pieces played pivotal roles: our fairy godmothers who brought us apples to feed hungry learners, guest teachers who taught us problem-solving and teamwork, community officers who cared enough to teach us about safety concerns. Steadily…

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I Blew It

We are further along in our parenting journey, but it still has its hard days. I still blow it.

Tough Bananas

I blew it.


Every day I wake up and tell myself to make the most of the day. To be patient. To be understanding. To be the parent our boys deserve.

Some days I hit a home run. I engage, create, play, listen, comfort, and console. Those days I tuck them in at night and feel content and hopeful. Hopeful that I’m doing this whole parenting thing right. Hopeful that this day’s good will spill over into the next one, and the next, and maybe even the day after that.

But the next day there are shortened tempers, tattling, demands for favourite pants that are still wet from the washing machine. But I cling to the good from yesterday and dig in deeper to make it return. But this day there are battles over diggers, refusals to put on socks, back talk over packing vegetables in their lunches.

There’s still…

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April Then and Now

Cliches are frequently used because despite being tired and worn, they ring true. I often do wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  I teach my students to read between the lines. Hindsight really is 20/20.

Hindsight, you fickle thing. Our current state of shelter-at-home has given a completely new lens with which to view our present circumstances as well as perspective on our past. If January me knew what was coming, she would not have gotten so upset about the mess in the basement or the piles of laundry needing to be folded. She would have spent her time hugging friends and buying stock in Lysol.

Alas, we do not have the ability to truly view our alternatives and their consequences in the moment, but we can learn from them. Our mistakes, disappointments, failures, successes, joys, and triumphs all shape us.

Today’s post is penned by a guest writer, my friend, Charmaine. We all have our “then and now” moments and I’m grateful she has allowed me to share hers.


“April 1992 included the wedding day I remember in vivid detail. I give it the place of honour and respect it deserves because it changed the trajectory of my life.  Now that date has a new importance. While It still reflects change, it also mirrors growth and healing. April 2020 me is okay. More than okay.

The 1992 version of me could never have imagined the Covid-19 reflections of the 2020 me. Then again, none of us were prepared then or even a few months ago for our current daily lives.

Now some people I love are on the front lines, at risk every day to help and support our communities. Others are at home, minimizing risk. Some of the people I love are out and about with little concern for risk while some live in almost constant fear of this unpredictable virus. People I love are dealing with significant health concerns unrelated to Covid-19, while others are battling anxiety, depression, and loneliness as a result of it. Many of the people I love are healthy and thriving – well, most days.

Hey, 1992 Me, did you know that in twenty-eight years people I love will include educators doing a crash course on distance learning? Not likely. People I love are students doing what they can (sometimes) to keep up. They are pastors shepherding their communities and law enforcement officers keeping us safe. People I love are essential workers doing their under-appreciated jobs. They are engineers developing new technologies to assist in crises and scientists researching and recording Covid-19 data. And there are skeptics in my circle, too.

1992 Me could not have predicted that people I love are now struggling to provide services and keep businesses afloat due to a pandemic. Some are unemployed and under financial strain while others are unfazed by current economics. I care and weep for those who are grieving loved ones they could not say goodbye to in meaningful ways. We reach painful milestones of past losses without the presence of friends and family.  People I love are displaced due to border closures and immigration bans.

People I love are living fretfully and in tension with the restrictions imposed on their lives, waiting anxiously for a return to normal. Some live chaotically with more responsibilities than before. Some live in resentment and defiance of current restrictions and legislation. People that I love are also living calmly in spite of restrictions and promoting peace.

Some believe these are the end times. Conversely others believe that the future will be a better normal than the past. How do I respond to these polarizing and painful perspectives? I don’t need to convince anyone of my version of truth. I don’t need to have all the answers about science, eschatology, human behaviour, politics or grief. People wouldn’t listen if I did.

Instead I choose to live gratefully for every day I am given; for people I love whose life experiences are different from mine, who challenge my perspective and check my privilege; for God’s grace to cover my mistakes, His abundance to provide for my needs, His presence to give me peace, His blessings to give me joy, His promises to give me hope. I choose to be kind and generous, humble and forgiving, faithful to my Creator and to those entrusted to me.

We are lonely, at times. We are scared, at times. But we are not alone.

I am grateful for all these people that I love. Thank you for influencing my life and shaping me into this 2020 version.”
A note from Charmaine:
Jan is an unsung hero of mine who I met teaching Bible stories to 2&3-year-olds. She was the voice of intrigue behind the puppets. I was the arm of comfort to the kids afraid of them. Okay, that sounds worse than it really was, but I think she would say “just go with it”. Please don’t blame her. Another spring day while I navigated my squad to hockey games, she enlisted her’s and mulched my flower gardens. In exchange for pizza that was more than 30 mins late. She drew the shortest straw that day.
There are lots of things we don’t know about each other, but they probably aren’t important anyhow. Mostly we share a virtual friendship, as old school as virtual can be. Messenger and email are just fine for us. I rarely process my thoughts on paper, and if I do they are awkwardly penned and endlessly critiqued. She creates delightful works of art that bring healing to my soul and normalcy to my life. Even now, during her own reflections of loss, she graciously offered to turn my left aligned bullet points into her signature style. She transformed them into another gift and drew the short straw once again.

Those Shoes

“I can try on these ones, right? That’s fine, but not those shoes.”

Correct. Not those ones.

Those ones belonged to her and now they belong to me. They are the best pair I own. Not because they are a certain brand or cost more than others, although they are a very good pair of shoes.

Those shoes were meant for someone else. Someone kind and wise and good who didn’t get a chance to wear them.

The owner of those shoes knew how to make you feel like the smartest person in the room. She listened with focused attention and compassion. There was no judgement, but she could challenge your thinking and loved you even if you didn’t see eye to eye.

She was the organizer of book clubs and prayer journals and pushed us to self-reflect. She valued friendships, relationships, and sincere dialogue.

She was my friend.

She would often arrive early to life group at our home and we would steal a few minutes to unload the frustrations of dealing with our loved ones. We talked about parenting and screen time policies and balancing the demands of family and work life. And she asked good questions about faith and God. It was a time I enjoyed and now I cherish.

Those shoes belonged to someone who was quick to tell you what she admired about you, who freely handed out hugs and arm squeezes. She loved cozy sweaters, chocolate, tea, and wine.  Oh, and camping, but I can overlook that.

She is gone, but not entirely.

See, those shoes belonged to someone with vast circles of friends. With her passing those circles have expanded and connected to create a web of relationships. When her girls get together I learn about her crazy summer adventures, her time as a new mom, and how she has impacted so many lives. Her legacy lives on in every telling of those memories.

Those shoes were bought by someone I wish I had had more time with.

So no, son, you can try on any of the shoes in my closet. Have fun, tease me about my fashion choices, hobble around in high heels, but leave those shoes.

Those shoes are special.