Monthly Archives: August 2009

Letter from South Korea: Part 1

How does a recent graduate stay hopeful?

The unemployment rate for youth climbed to 14.9 per cent in May, says Stats Can. One in five young adults have moved in with a friend or relative, says Maclean’s. Most are suffering from recession anxiety, says the Calgary Herald.

If you’re graduating soon, recently graduated or a parent of one of the former, I hope you’ll take heart with this “Letter from South Korea” post.

Below, you’ll find Part 1 of my interview with a 24-year-old recent graduate from a Canadian university who has chosen to teach English as a second language in South Korea.

Meaghan Harrison @ National Museum of Korea

Meaghan Harrison @ National Museum of Korea

Her name is Meaghan Harrison, and she’s a fiesty young woman who I’ve known since birth. I’ve always admired her beautiful outlook on life. Hand her lemons and she honestly wouldn’t think to do anything else but throw a lemonade party.

What made you decide to leave Canada?

Ever since I was a little girl and saw my big sister (you might know her, she happens to write an interesting blog in Ottawa) travel after university, I knew I wanted to do the same. I thought I might do some back-packing around Europe, but that didn’t really fit well with my economic situation. Teaching overseas is the perfect way to meet both of my goals: travel and pay-off student debt.

Job opportunities are pretty limited in Canada right now. You can take a low-wage entry position (which I did for a while), but this makes it extremely difficult to make rent and pay-off student debt. I actually made more money waitressing, but I wanted to get into something different.

 How did you pick South Korea?

Gyeonbokgung Palace

Gyeonbokgung Palace

As soon as I decided I wanted to do teaching abroad, I started researching on the internet and contacting friends that had done the same thing. I just kept hearing great things about South Korea and I got in touch with a recruiter who really helped me decide that South Korea was the place to do. Some of the other Asian countries are more expensive to live in, and South Korea has a reputation for better contract and employment conditions.

Have you always been interested in teaching?

In some ways, I always have been … but I never thought I would want to be a teacher as a full-time job. I enjoy working with children and I also did some hockey coaching for youth when I was in university. And I can remember, when I was very little, that I used to hold classrooms in my bedroom for my stuffed animals! I even gave out assignments and graded how each one did; I think my stuffed lion animal was my best student!

With students

With students

Now that I am actually teaching full-time, I can definitely see myself doing this when I return to Canada. I really love my job. I teach kindergarten level now and if I end up teaching back in Canada, I would like to teach older children. But this is an excellent way to start – if you can teach six-year-olds to read, write and speak English, then anything is possible!

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!

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Filed under Adventure, Family, Guest Posts, Headlines, Learning, Living, Media, Observations, Tales, Travel

Thursday’s Thought

“I realized the power writing has, and it has also helped me deal with my rage … It gave me a lifelong commitment not to be afraid to speak out about injustice.” — Dominick Dunne

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4 Ingredients

The only thing that Julie from the movie Julie and Julia and I share is a name. I have never lived in New York City (although I certainly would if opportunity afforded it), I am not a newly wed (we’re clocking 13 years over in this corner), and perhaps most critically, I do not enjoy cooking.

I just don’t understand how people love to cook. It’s sort of how I just can’t understand how people love to go running. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to be able to cook and run, it’s just that I find myself facing a lot of failure when I do so. I have tried to acquire both skills and countless occasions.

And I will continue to try. Unlike the ‘movie Julie’, I don’t find cooking to be a way of releasing stress after work. Instead, I find it to be a stress-inducer. This stress is beyond the fact that, for a parent, cooking dinner is often just another chore on a very long list.

For me, cooking = failure, even public ridicule. I’m not even kidding — my parents love to tell a tale of how when my mom asked me to put spaghetti sauce in the pot, I took the sauce and dumped in the wrong pot. Yep, I dumped it in the boiling water. Hardy, har, har.

But, like I said, I’m going to keep trying at this cooking thing. I know I’ll never be a Julia Child, but at least I could pitch-in on this often tedious family chore.

My first step? It’s a cookbook called 4 Ingredients. Hey! Don’t laugh — it’s the number one cookbook in Australia. I picked it up while I was living in Sydney last year and hadn’t really even touched it except for a salad recipe that I used on a girlfriends’ getaway to hide my utter incompetence in the kitchen.

The whole premise of the book is that all its recipes involve only four ingredients, and they’re not weird ingredients that you’d have to hunt down at a specialty food store.

Tonight, I looked in the fridge and we had chicken breasts. Alrighty then … I looked into the “chicken” section of 4 Ingredients and found some possibilities. “Hon,” I said,  “if you want to take Stella to Jiu Jitsu, I’ll do dinner tonight.”

There was a long pause. Then he said, “uh, okay, sure.”

I picked a recipe called “Curry Mayonnaise Chicken.” (By “curry,” they’re referring to British curry, as opposed to Indian curry. It’s not spicy; it’s perfect family fare.) I thought hubby would like this, being Australian and having tastes that veer towards the other side of the pond.

This is it:
1.  6 chicken legs
2.  1/3 cup mayonnaise
3.  3 tsp. curry powder
4.  2 slices wholemeal bread, grated into breadcrumbs
Combine mayonnaise and curry, coat legs with the mixture. Roll in breadcrumbs and bake in a 180 C for 45 minutes or until tender.

Everything was going smoothly until I realized that the timer for the chicken was just about to beep and I hadn’t even starting boiling the potatoes (potatoes and salad were my side dishes). I opened the oven to see how well-done the chicken was. It looked kind of pink.

“Hmmm,” I thought, ” poisoning the family will sure go down in the family ridicule books.” Not good. So I checked the recipe again. It was 180 Celsius notFahrenheit! I was cooking on Fahrenheit, so Mr. Chicken needed a lot more time.

Long story short — no one got poisoned, family was suitably impressed, and hubby has now declared a “Mommy cooks one night a week” event.

So, did they actually like the meal?

Hubby gave it an 8/10. Stella gave it a 9/10. I gave it a 6/10 (I’m not a huge curry fan).

Edited to add: This post is now cross-posted on Blissfully Domestic, in the Blissful Delish section. You can see it here.

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Filed under Books, Family, Fitness & Food, Living, Media, Saving Time, Tales

This Audition may be a flop

I can’t say I would have normally picked this off the shelf, but a friend offered me a nice fresh hardcopy version of Barbara Walters’ memoir. Surely, I thought, it would have some tasty bits. How could it not, with such a career?

Walters initially thought of titling her book Sister, since her only sister Jacqueline “was unwittingly the strongest influence in my life.” It’s a tale that many siblings relate to, at least if the virtual shelves of Amazon.com are any indication (search “the normal one” if you’re interested in this subject).

Unlike today, where kinder labels are arguably rife, Jacqueline’s label was “mentally retarded.” I’m not yet half-way through the book yet, but so far, this element in Walters’ life is proving to be the most compelling, so perhaps she really should have called the book Sister.

Instead, she called the book Audition. It is a reference to Walters’ sense that she always had to be auditioning for social acceptance since her father’s career keep them moving from one place, and school, to another.

I feel like I want to finish this book … see if there are any fascinating tidbits shared about her famous political and celebrity interviewees. But I keep stalling. One reason is purely logistical: I only read in bed and the hard cover is heavy for my now-sore carpal tunnel-ridden hand to hold.

The other reason seems to be a bit of stubborn defiance on my part. As in, “I’m not going to read this book on principle.” And that’s because a section of the prologue keeps poking at me the wrong way. I keep wondering … Did she really write that? Did I misunderstand what she was trying to convey? Did I just not “get” it right?

So, my dear blogosphere friends, I am looking to you to give me the answer.

I don’t want to bias you, so I will just provide you with the section as it appears in the book with no following commentary from me.

Before I end this prologue, let me tell you a story. Back in the sixties, when I was appearing daily on NBC’s Today show, I was living on Seventh Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. My apartment was across from Carnegie Hall and on the corner of a very street. It was also near several large hotels that catered to businessmen. Perhaps because of this, the corner was the gathering place for some of the most attractive “ladies of the evening.” Each morning at five o’clock I would emerge from my building wearing dark glasses, as I hadn’t yet had my makeup done, and I was usually carrying a garment bag. It seemed obvious to the “ladies” that there was some big “number” I had just left. Now, bear in mind that, even then, I wasn’t a spring chicken. But I would emerge and look at the young ladies, some of whom were still teenagers. “Good morning,” I would say. “”Good morning,” they would answer. And then I would get into this long black limosine with its uniformed driver, and we would glide off into the early morning light. And you know what effect all this had on the ladies?

I gave them hope.

Perhaps this book may do that for you.

Edited to add: As of August 31st, this entry is now cross-posted here in the Blissful Buzz section of Blissfully Domestic.

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Character flaws

I’m a sucker for anything with “character.” You know, one of those people that real estate agents market “charming” properties too. Also, the type that buys a new lipstick simply because its packaging is just so darn beautiful. And last but not least, the buyer of highly impractical, but terribly cute shoes.

I can see how this could be considered superficial. It’s that whole form over function thing. But so far, this has not led me wrong.

Back in 1998 when we wanted to rid ourselves of our landlady, we chanced upon a century-home which had a view, beyond enormous mature trees, of a river. And it was in our price range. Too good to be true? Oh ya, you know it.

What we didn’t notice before buying was that it had not a single closet, nor even doors for the bedrooms. It did, however, have lovely green shag carpet in the bathroom.

Indeed, the place needed serious help, but we saw only its “character.” Since then we have welcomed a dog, a daughter and a son to this home and now it really feels like a part of our family too. Albeit a member of the family that is often a pain in the ass, and demands ridiculous amounts of attention.

Sure, my friends’ homes are far more functional, roomier and offer greater creature comforts, but we still like it here. And so goes the story of my life.

When we decided we wanted to get a puppy, I happened to see an ad in our community paper. I called and went over to see the litter. Oh, I was smitten from the very moment I saw them. I especially loved a male one that had floppy ears and long, soft hair. Yes, long hair. Contrary to everything my husband and I had decided upon in a dog — a medium-sized, non-shedding, clever breed — I brought home our Riley, who was very large and very hairy. And as for clever, let’s just say that he was the only student who didn’t pass his basic obedience course. But you know what? He turned out to be the sweetest dog ever.

See what I mean … character over function. It works for me.

That is, until now.

I’ve been working from a home office since 2005. And in all this time, I still haven’t set up a “professional” working space. Instead, I choose to work on a desk that is solid oak, and made by my grandfather’s hands when he was a student in grade 7.

It’s a beautiful desk. Created before computers, it doesn’t, however, have a proper keyboard area or shelf for a hard drive. Nor does it have enough desk space for a wireless modem, camera, calculator, files and the rest of my tools of the trade. I also can’t really fit my legs under it properly so most of the time I sit cross-legged in my chair.

Ah, who can worry about such details when you’ve got deadlines to meet, right? Well, apparently I better start taking notice now. I’ve developed a really sore arm — from my hand all the way up to my elbow on my right-hand side. I’m not sure what you want to call it … repetitive stress injury, carpal tunnel. Whatever it’s called though, it hurts. Alot.

So tomorrow I will be dragging myself and my sore arm into some big box store for a desk with far less character. Paying good money for something that is functional. Who would’a thunk it.

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I blame Dora

Although I like to blame Dora the Explorer for my daughter’s pinata fascination, the truth is that it’s become a bit of a cherished tradition around here.

The 'Rough Dog' Pinata

The 'Rough Dog' Pinata

It all started on her fourth birthday (yes, that time when all children exposed to a shouting girl in a jungle become madly infatuated and start learning Spanish at amazing speed). We were in Australia at the time and the only thing that Stella requested for her birthday celebration was a pinata. Her grandmother and I set out with her to a party-supply store to hunt one down. We found some, but the pickings were slim. Stella examined each choice carefully and decided upon what she called a “rough dog.” The rough dog was actually a bull, so it’s no wonder it didn’t look like a “cute dog” to her! (To this day, she doesn’t know that it was actually a bull and not a dog. She really likes dogs, so I don’t want to stomp on this nice memory.)

You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that pinatas, like Dora, are of Mexican descent. Instead, China is said to have been the original creator of this paper mache treat.

It goes like this:  On his travels, Marco Polo came across pinatas in 13th century Orient. The Mandarin people would celebrate holidays with animal effigies made of paper and ribbon. These effigies would be filled with seeds and hung from a tree branch. And just like today, sticks were used then to beat open the pinata and release the seeds. When Marco Polo returned to Italy, he brought this pinata tradition back with him. From Italy, the fun was spread to Spain, and then from Spain to the ‘New World’ of North America.

Of course, these days, you’d never find something as healthy as a seed inside a pinata. But that’s the New World for ya.

The Making of the Dino Pinata

The Making of the Dino Pinata

Speaking of the New World … when her fifth birthday hit and we were back in Canada, no simple ‘rough dog’ was going to suffice when my husband came on task. He took it upon himself to create a pinata from scratch in whatever particular vision Stella had in mind. Dinosaurs were a bit of an obsession by this point. (And I’m not exaggerating when I use the word ‘obsession.’ She insisted that we, and everyone at her daycare, call her Yellow Dinosaur and not Stella. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen the dino exhibit at the Museum of Nature.) 

I really couldn’t tell you how many hours went into making this dinosaur pinata. It was clearly a labour of love (although my husband would probably claim money-saving advantages).

Completed Dinosaur Pinata

Completed Dinosaur Pinata

The irony of spending hours and hours on something only to smash it to smithereens is not lost on me. Personally, if I had made this masterpiece of a pinata, I’d probably have thrown my body on top of it as soon as the stick and blindfold were brought out.

But no, this didn’t happen. Instead, we all eagerly took turns whacking it with a stick until its insides released sugar-laden goodies all over the grass.
We’ve just celebrated another birthday here. A 7th birthday. Stella, although still somewhat enamoured by dinosaurs has transferred her obsession to Pokemons. And yes, we’re in obsession territory here again. Anyhow, she picked a Pokemon by the name of Chancy to be the lucky effigy.
Chancy the Pokemon Pinata

Chancy the Pokemon Pinata

I tried to find an image of Chancy to share with you because, honestly, this pinata is a work of art! But alas, I could not. (However, if you have Pokemon fans in your home, a Pokedex is surely close at hand!) 

We spent the special day at Cosmic Adventures with a friend and then welcomed our family to our home for a BBQ. All this was nice, sure, and even the Pokemon cake was good. But the big highlight of any birthday for Stella is pinata time. When the big moment arrived, each child lined up to have their turn smashing Chancy three times. And I tell ya, this Chancy is cute and all, but man, is he tough! Each child had several turns before the goods started to seep out of Chancy’s belly. And then finally – bang! – every toy and goodie flew out. Chancy’s days were over.
After the party died down and we were tidying up, Stella told me she felt a bit sad about Chancy. She said she really didn’t like him get wrecked. This, I could understand. She and her father had invested a great deal of time in creating this Pokemon pinata. I gave her a hug and wondered if our family pinata tradition had shreeched to a halt.
Chancy doesn't stand a chance!

Chancy doesn't stand a chance!

Then I shook myself back to reality. I remembered in vivid detail how she clearly cherished her time pummeling poor Chancy to an untimely death.

So I’m hoping that our little pinata tradition is safe and sound until next year.
It’s hard to resist traditions — even the most illogical —  isn’t it?

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Travel with Baby

There is many a parent I know who choses not to travel when their child is a baby. I completely respect this decision.

But this post is for those who would like to continue travelling, even after baby, and might be looking for some tips. The tips here are a combo of practicality and inspiration …

5 Tips for Travel with Baby

Tip #1:  Try and keep your bedtime rituals going for the evening, but flexibility is the name of the game during the day.

Unlike most adults, babies can sleep just about anywhere.

Unlike most adults, babies can sleep just about anywhere.

Tip #2: When you see a fascinating new sight or a breathtaking view — look at baby to see her reaction. Is she focusing on a particular new sound or perhaps the sensation of wind in her hair — try to mimic her focus and take it in as well. Your experience will be all the richer.

Tip #3: If you know you’re travel-bound once baby arrives, don’t get him accustomed to food at a certain temperature. Room temperature food is just as yummy and makes eating anywhere possible.

Some places make nicer feeding spots than others!

Some places make nicer feeding spots than others!

Tip #4: Although marketers are keen on developmental or educational toys for babies, everyday objects can serve the same purpose. Expose baby to textures, shapes and colours just like the toys do and baby will be just fine.

Tip #5:  Budget-conscious travel as a family will often mean going without some of the comforts of home. Accept this before you pack your bags.

Rub-a-dub-dub in the SINK? Water is water.

Rub-a-dub-dub in the SINK? Water is water.

 Now that I’ll be travelling with children and not babies, I’ll need a new arsenal of tips. Do you have some to share with me?

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