Category Archives: Learning

Beyond the Brown Exterior (hint: NAC ticket giveaway!)

Beyond the blah-brown exterior of our country’s National Arts Centre is a vibrant group of employees, volunteers and an ever-evolving programme of theatre, music and dance.

Don’t believe me? Well, here’s proof for you: their marketing department has a cyber-marketing division. How hip is that?  

This same cyber-marketing division is hosting a “Blogger Night” at the NAC on Wednesday, September 30th. By a Blogger Night, I gather that they’re aiming to secure third-party endorsement and generally create some buzz over their programming by inviting a group of local bloggers to attend an event. And it’s working, isn’t it — cuz here I am talking about it!

But more than that, I am also inviting you to attend with me. No, it’s not a Seinfeld event or even a performance by the National Ballet (hey, don’t snicker! Ballet is cool, don’t ya know?), it’s classical music.

I’ve never been able to get into classical music, have you? I’ve always been more attracted to music with words. No surpise really, since I just love anything with words strung together in interesting ways.

But like the brown exterior of the NAC building, I suspect that classical music offers something truly satisfying … if I could just get “inside” it. And if you’re like me, here’s our chance.

Beyond the Score
Mozart’s Final Piano Concerto

Why it’s Different:
Aiming to take attendees beyond the basic score of the music, there will be an actor playing the part of Mozart and a narrator describing actual events that were happening in Mozart’s life at the time when he wrote this musical piece. This interpretation part will take place during the first half of the event, and in the second half the music will stand on its own just for listening.

At least that’s how I understand it. And I think it sounds so interesting. If you do too, let me know by dropping me a quick comment.

You’ll need to be able to be in Ottawa for the evening of Wednesday, September 30th. The winner will be able to pick up 2 tickets at the front box office before the event. I’ll do a random draw on Sunday morning from those who have commented and post the winner’s name on the blog.

Good luck!

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I’m still here, are you?

I started this blog in June. Within 2 weeks, I was an addict. My head is always spinning about, thinking about potential blog posts and ruminating about other people’s posts. I just love how the blogosphere keeps my mind a-buzzin’.

Most of all, I love the fact that people actually come here, read my words and take the time to comment. Oh, I love, love, love that! Not sure why, but if you want, you can pay a therapist to figure out why I need this type of affirmation. As for me, I’ll just keep carrying on.

And on this theme, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve got in the works. It’s a new blog design!

I am really excited about it, but trying to squeeze it all in between my paying gigs has resulted in a slower process (thanks for being so patient Brendan!). It’s almost ready for show now. The design idea was developed by my friends over at AN Design Communications. They know me well, and managed to visually create something that looks like it came right out of my head.

So, all this to say, it’s been 4 months. I’m still here. I hope you’ll stay with me on this journey.

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4 Ingredients — episode 3

Ah, wondering why I’ve tried another recipe so soon after the last one? I know, it’s out of character but hubby’s away. And while hubby’s away, this wife must cook.

Well, okay, not really — he did leave two meals for me in the freezer. And I admit to ordering in pizza last night. But tonight, those chicken breasts sitting in the fridge gave me the guilts. As in, “if you don’t cook me tonight, you’re throwing good money into the garbage!”

So, don’t get too excited now … I’ve got another (wait for it), yes, CHICKEN recipe for you again! One day I may venture out of the chicken section of my 4 Ingredients cookbook. In fact, after tonight, that day may just come sooner than expected.

Here’s the recipe, exactly how it appears in the book …

Cranberry & Orange Chicken
Serves 4.       Y.u.m.m.y!
4 chicken breasts
1 pkt French onion soup
3/4 cup cranberry sauce
3/4 cup orange juice

I didn’t have the onion soup or the cranberry sauce, so I picked them up this afternoon. I almost decided to cancel the whole exercise when I realized that every package of French onion soup in the grocery store listed MSG on its ingredients. I also heard my husband’s voice in my head saying, “never trust a recipe that lists soup as an ingredient!” But I didn’t listen.

Silly me. Cause it was Y.u.c.k.y! And I think it was all because of the darn onion soup. I ended up scraping off all the topping before serving it up. We did eat it, but only because it didn’t have a speck of the actual recipe left on it.

I may just need to venture farther out than 4 Ingredients to become a half decent cook (and I do have some great suggested learning sources now thanks to the commenters on episode 2!). The promise of cooking with only four ingredients is so compelling though that I think I’ll give at least a meat recipe a shot.

There’s no scoring for this one because we didn’t even eat it. (And Lynn, I’m purposely not listing the instructions this time. I don’t want you to bother!)

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4 Ingredients — episode 2

It’s okay, you’re forgiven for thinking that I’d given up (again!) on the idea of teaching myself how to not suck at cooking.

My first post on this topic sparked comments from readers that reassured me that I am not the only female lacking in such talent. Instead of mocking me, these lovely folks were sympathetic and encouraging.

This propped me back up because despite it being an age of so-called gender equality, people do tend to go on and on about just how lucky I am that my husband cooks for the family. I wonder if my husband’s male friends go on and on about how lucky he is to have a woman that does the dishes every night? 

While my husband has been working his way through the complicated recipes in the latest Food & Drink magazine (and people wonder why I can’t keep weight off), I have worked my way through the 4 Ingredients cookbook.

Okay, so not really. But I did do one more recipe. Sure, it was another chicken recipe, but it was a recipe. And no, it didn’t work out like it was supposed to, but it was edible.

Here’s the recipe I picked:

Chicken with Lemon & Honey
1.  1 chicken, cut into pieces
2.  2 lemons, quartered
3.  2 tbs. honey
4.  2 springs of rosemary

And here’s how it went:

First of all, I didn’t have a whole chicken. This is just too much for a squeamish, former vegetarian. Instead, I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts that magically grow in plastic packages at the supermarket. (I was nervous about this switch but checked with hubby and he assured me the recipe would still work.)

Then the next hiccup was a lack of rosemary springs. So I just pretended that they were not a part of the recipe and went about my business.

The result was a fresh tasting chicken that the whole family deemed enjoyable. My husband did remark on the lack of rosemary, saying he’d been thinking about the delicious combination of it with lemon. I explained I didn’t that we didn’t have any. He explained we had some growing on our deck. Who knew.

The ratings: Hubby gave it an 9/10, Stella gave it an 8/10, and I gave it an 8/10. It’s easy and the mild taste goes down well with the younger set.

The cookbook I’m using for these posts was written by two Australian women. It’s readily available in Australian and in the U.K. since it’s been a huge hit. And here’s why: (1) All recipes have 4 or fewer ingredients, (2) All can be measured in terms of cup, tablespoon and teaspoon, (3) The methodology is explained on average using 4 sentences, and (4) All recipes use ingredients mostly found in your pantry or fridge already. If you’re one of my Canadian or American readers, fear not, you too can get a copy! Here is a link it on Amazon.ca and here is one for Amazon.com

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SIGG: not so super, afterall?

Sending back my Siggs

Sending back my Siggs

We’ve been using Sigg bottles for ages. And that really says something, since we don’t spend our money lightly on fads. We’re talking $30 for a water bottle to put in a child’s lunch box. When there’s a plastic alternative that’s less than $5, we’ve clearly drawn a line in the sand.

Why? It’s enviro-friendly not to be constantly purchasing plastic water bottles all the time. Sigg bottles are also extremely tough and survive even the worst treatment — from my husband’s camping trips to the disaster that is the back of my car. And last but not least, we didn’t want any chemicals to be leaching into the water we drink.

Naturally, then, I was surprised to find that the inner liner of my Sigg bottles contained BPA. Thinking back now, I can’t actually recall ever reading that Sigg didn’t contain BPA, but I had somehow linked the Sigg brand with safety.

Sigg is now fighting the PR battle of its life. And it all started with a proud announcement that it had developed a new liner — the EcoCare liner — which is apparently 100% BPA-free. This caused many existing customers who’d been using the older models to step back in alarm: “Huh? That means my old liner was not 100% BPA-free?” (Here is the letter from Sigg’s CEO explaining the whole mess.)

Yep, that’s right. Sigg may not be so super, afterall. I’ve recommended these bottles to countless friends. And frankly, the levels of BPA potentially present from the old liners is hardly anything to worry about. (Here is an independent study on BPA levels, published by Z Recommends.) But still … I feel like I was duped and I feel silly for pushing these pricey bottles on my friends.

Sigg is now voluntarily replacing (note: this is not a recall) customers’ old bottles for ones with the new liners. If you’d like to send yours back, go online to www.mysigg.com/liner and click on the menu item “Exchange Program.” Be sure to download the shipping label for Canadian customers.

Naturally, there are many who will refuse to use Sigg products again. They’ve simply lost trust in this brand. If you fall in this boat, here is a comprehensive review of alternative BPA-free bottles for you to choose from.

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Letter from South Korea: Part 2

In my first “Letter from South Korea,” we covered off the basics of who, what, when and why Meaghan Harrison chose to leave Canada and teach English overseas. Now, in Part 2, we can learn a bit more about this experience on a personal level.

 

 

 

A Street-view

A Street-view

You’ve been in South Korea for six months now … what’s been the most challenging aspect so far?

 

The most challenging is just the day-to-day life. The majority of Koreans don’t know English, so basic things like going out to eat can be made difficult. You have to plan your actions much more carefully. If you walk into a Korean restaurant and do not know how to order something in Korean (in most restaurants there are no menus anyway), then you probably aren’t going to get any food. Although living here can be challenging at times, it really is a learning experience and has made me respect and admire immigrants in Canada much more.

The most rewarding?

The kids! I was going to put them in the most challenging aspect of Korea, but really they have given me the most rewards. When I started school in the beginning of March, the kids knew some broken English and I had to constantly tell them to stop speaking Korean. Now most of the kids do not speak any Korean at school, they can write and they can read sentences. They truly amaze me. Although some days can be so challenging, they can always make me laugh at least once a day! In Korea, it is totally acceptable to be very playful and loving with your kids as a teacher, in fact it is expected. It is so nice to be able to pick them up, hug them and kiss them. I will miss that if I ever teach in Canada.

The most fun?

To be able to work at a job I love and respect. I have never had a job that I truly enjoyed like this. It makes every day fun. 

The most bizarre?

I think just being a ‘foreigner’ is the most bizarre. People stare at you no matter where you go. One time I was on the subway and I saw a man taking a picture of me with his cellphone, trying to pretend he was texting. It is a very strange feeling to stand out, and it doesn’t necessarily feel good. I don’t think it is really rude to stare in Korea, so people will literally just sit with their eyes on you non-stop. The younger Korean people are very nice, in my experience; but some of the older Korean people don’t understand why we are here and can make that very clear (sometimes using negative words for white people). Basically being a foriegner anywhere must feel bizarre, this is just my fist experience with it. 

 

Meaghan and her husband Adam Smith

Meaghan and her husband Adam Smith

You are there with you husband. Do you think you would have made this choice if you were travelling alone?

 

I know I would have made the same decision if I was alone. I always wanted to travel, this is just one way to do it. Having said that, my husband has made this experience ten times more fun and easy. We always have each other no matter what, which makes living in a new country much easier than it is for most people. Many people come to Asian countries to live and end up feeling very alone and isolated, because I have my husband I can avoid that kind of homesickness. We have been able to share the ups and downs together and I feel so lucky to have him here by my side. 

 

A typical Korean restaurant

A typical Korean restaurant

How do you spend your free time?

What we like to do most is have good food and be with good people. When you eat Korean food, it is a very social activity. All the food on the table is to be shared, and it can take many hours to finish. It is definitely my favourite thing to do here. 

When you complete this experience, what do you hope you can walk away with?

So many things … I will have a better opportunity to get into good schools for teaching, as many of them see experience as a requirement for acceptance. I will have a better understanding for different cultures, specifically how difficult it is to live in an unknown country. I have also seen a side of my husband I didn’t know existed. How giving and gentle he is with the children, has made me love him even more. A deeper appreciation for Canada and all the space and beauty we have. And finally, I hope to walk away with money in my bank account and to be debt-free!

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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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