Office essentials

One of the things that Kelvin and I like most about our current house is that it has a study at the front. This is our workspace, our think space…and more often than not, our YouTube/Netflix space. Alas, like many other well-intentioned spaces, it is also often a messy space, full of paper and miscellany that make working at all a difficult thing. 

That changed this weekend.

Thanks to a trip to IKEA, family visiting, and a holiday weekend (time off!), we made this room just a little more functional. I cleared off my desk (finding a professional magazine from two months ago…along with a number of statements that needed to be filed), and assembled this:


Prior, we had had a tall bookshelf in this space. It was white, but it blocked a fair amount of the light, plus it was full of books that we didn’t access often. Our files sat lined up along the bottom shelf, making any sort of filing a pain. 

The solution?

We bought and built a white GALANT file cabinet system (SO great…other than the really tricky lock which we decided to not install after having read a number of horror stories). It also gave us a good surface to house our printer (which had been upstairs in our guest room for the longest time). Third, we mounted an ALGOT to the wall, complete with three shelves. Now everything is clean and accessible. And I’ll know where to find it all!

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Minecraft Adventures: Part 1

Gaming and I have an interesting history.

I am known to have quite a penchant for certain iPhone games. And in Grade 9, I played Tony Hawk Pro Skater so much during my exam period that I got blisters on both thumbs. Needless to say, gaming can be a bit of a black hole for me. Knowing this, I am fairly wary of the sorts of games that I introduce myself to.

Earlier this year, I started teaching in Kindergarten. And it just so happens that in my class, there is a small group of boys who absolutely love Minecraft. They talk about it all the time, and much of their writing revolves around Minecraft-related stories. I had very little idea what they were referring to, so I thought I might download a demo of Minecraft just to get a feel for it.

I hadn’t read much in the way of tutorials, and from what I could see, I had been dropped into a random world with nothing but my bare hands. I started chopping away at things aimlessly with no particular goal in mind, and before I knew it, the sun was starting to set.

This is where it got terrifying.

If I had read some of the aforementioned tutorials, I probably would have built myself a shelter really quickly. Instead, I spent a good chunk of time running from zombies, creepers, fire people…I kid you not, it was frightening. I don’t know how some of my students are playing this. Unless they’re on creative mode…which I know they’re not, because they talk about creeper heads all the time. Needless to say, I died and respawned half a dozen times before I smartened up and built myself a very small 2 x 3 abode to stay safe. It was very simple. No roof, no doors, just walls. I had to let myself out the next day by knocking down the walls.

A few hours passed, and I developed a basic Minecraft foundation thanks to the Minecraft Wiki. I made myself my first home, complete with crafting table, furnace, and bed, and I set out to conquer this virtual world. Here are a few shots of my virtual home.

I do have two additional shelters, both of which were created because I ventured too far from my home and I couldn’t find my way back. However, neither are as extensive as my main home. I’m not entirely sure I can locate these homes again, as the map is really big, but I’m hoping I do find them. I died by falling too far into a hole in one of them, and so I have a lot of items sitting at the bottom of a pit. It would be good to reclaim those.

Saying Goodbye

It’s a bittersweet time.

Today, Kelvin and I closed the sale on the first house we ever owned. It wasn’t a big home, nor a fancy home, but it was our home. And for that reason, it will always hold a special place in our hearts (okay, maybe a bigger place in my heart than in Kelvin’s…he is super thrilled with our current home).


That little home was where we hung our own artwork, and painted our own walls. It was where we hosted small groups and where we invited friends to stay with us. It saw many iterations of IKEA and Target furniture and linens. It’s where we started our family, and where we set up Andy’s first nursery.


Things I will miss:

  • the foyer (which we REDID)
  • the proximity to everything
  • the white walls (in our MASTER and our DINING ROOM)
  • the front door
  • the ceiling fans (Andy loved them, plus they were so awesome in the summer)

Things I won’t miss:

  • the orange/pink colour in the kitchen
  • the weird cut out in the basement wall between the main room and the storage room
  • hearing our neighbours through the walls
  • that finicky sliding door leading to the deck
  • the struggle of getting the lawn mower to the backyard

I moved into this house in October of 2011, just a few months out of school. I was working 3 different jobs to piece together an income, and I was just discovering what Kingston had to offer to those who were no longer living the student life. THIS is what the house looked like. 4.5 years later, a lot has changed, and though this little home will no longer be part of our everyday, we are grateful for the memories that we made within its walls.

Goodbye, house. It’s been so nice knowing you.

The Joy of Partial Solutions

I’m someone who has a hard time getting to the gym. It’s a ridiculously short drive away (or a 2.5 km run), but the mental effort required to get me there is unreal. 

Enter: the partial solution. 

Last week when I was really not inclined to go to the gym, I decided to go for a run instead. It was just a short one, but I felt energized. I had done some exercise, and it had only taken up 20 minutes of my time. 

While on that run, I was listening to the Simple show, and it referenced the idea of partial solutions. Serendipitous much?

Anyways, all this to say that sometimes doing just a little bit of something is better than not doing it at all. 

Failure

I have never been good at dealing with failure.

Despite my love of learning and my penchant for creativity, I will be the first person to say that I do not fail well. I take things super hard and I dwell on failures and mistakes for quite a while. I let them fester and take root and bring me down. I start questioning my identity, my purpose, my actions. It’s a vicious cycle.

This past week, I had a bit of a rough day in school. Classroom management has never been a forte, and I felt like I was getting walked all over. By 4-6 year olds. Coupled with some concerns that I had had over Andy’s development, it made for a very emotional car ride home.

But I came to a realization today.

In parenting and teaching, I’ve been focusing so much on me. On my accomplishments, my abilities, my goals and dreams and plans. But what if I started with the kids? With their circles of experience? Instead of success being defined as them meeting this arbitrary goal that I set in my mind, what if I measured it according to the lasting improvement I saw in them over time? I bet it would take a whole lot of the pressure off while also freeing my mind up to actually do great work with them. Hmm…

An aside, THIS was a timely post about What Teachers Can Learn from Elon Musk.

A Brief History of Community Building

I was fiddling around on YouTube just now and rediscovered some videos that I made a few years ago during a Culture Days weekend. That got me thinking…

First, a bit of background. Culture Days was actually one of the catalysts that led me to stay in Kingston for good (the main catalyst was Kelvin). It was 2011 and my burgeoning love for community building inspired me to organize a Culture Days event here in town called KINGSTON THROUGH MY LENS. It was essentially a 10-day, city-wide photo project that aimed to visually share community stories. That year, I also sat on the first Kingston Culture Days planning committee. It was great fun.

Fast forward one year, and I decided to participate in Culture Days once again. I was in the midst of planning our wedding at that time, so I wanted to take on something a little more low-key. Enter: THE HAPPY POST PROJECT. My goal was to collect a whole whack of post-its with things that make people happy written on them, and to then display them at my favourite west end park in Kingston. The day before the installation, I did a full-day bike blitz where I biked around the west end and asked people to write down what made them happy. I filmed a series of videos to document the day. I also live tweeted the whole event using #HappyPostYGK. Reading through those tweets gave me great joy.

This past September, after a few years away from organizing community initiatives, I spearheaded the development of EDCAMP KINGSTON, which is/will be an annual unconference around education in our city.

Kelvin mentioned this morning that I have an “entrepreneurial spirit”. And I’ll be honest, if it weren’t for my parents both being civil servants, I very well may have picked a more entrepreneurial route in life than teaching (though I did say that even within education, there is plenty of room for exploring uncharted territory). I inherited from my father a love for the city, and this has resulted in a tendency for me to develop random community projects.

Recently, I was listening to Episode 21 of THE SIMPLE SHOW, which featured this amazing community movement called NEIGHBOR’S TABLE. I’ve decided that I’m going to do a rendition of this in my own neighbourhood. I’m fairly inept on the cooking and hospitality front, so it’s going to be a much simpler version, but I’m really looking forward to it nonetheless. I’ve shared the idea with some of my neighbours already, and I can’t wait until the warmer weather to get my dinner organized. I have high hopes for this little initiative!

Commuting

My commute to work used to be 10 minutes by car. Now, it takes me about 35 minutes. If this were the GTA, 35 minutes would be merely peanuts. But in the Kingston area, 35 minutes often means you’re in a whole other world.

There are definitely pros and cons to this arrangement. Let me outline a few of them.

Pro: I get to listen to podcasts.
This was probably the thing that excited me most about my longer commute. I am terribly behind in my podcast queue and this has helped.

Con: The gas.
I used to fill up maybe twice a month. Now I fill up about twice a week.

Pro: The drive is scenic.
About 15 minutes of my drive is in town/on the highway. The remaining 20 minutes is straight up a county road until I get to my school. I slow down exactly two times, as I pass through two small towns. Only one of those towns requires me to stop at a stop sign.

Con: I get sleepy sometimes.
35 minutes is not an insignificant amount of time. One morning, I was really tired driving in, and to make sure I made it to school alive, I had to stop at a country store to pick up a shot of caffeine. I found it in the form of a Starbucks frappucino drink. It was mostly sugar.

It’s only been two weeks, but the drive is starting to grow on me. I find myself becoming more familiar with the landmarks I pass, and I’m starting to be able to list off the roads that come and go.  I pass the same black Q5 on my way to and from work (they head in the opposite direction), and occasionally I find myself right behind my colleagues who are also driving from town. I look forward to driving up the hill to the school parking lot and to walking down the hall to my little corner of the school. This is my new normal.

Random aside: we have the most amazing schoolyard.

Candid Manila

Though this is only my second time to the Philippines, there’s something very special about coming here. Kelvin’s grandparents live in Manila, in what I think of as a Chinese-Filipino fortress in the heart of the slum district, in the same complex as virtually all his extended family. It’s home for us whenever we come here.    

 If someone were to ask us to describe what we like when we travel, we’d say a combination of good food, interesting sights, and modern amenities. We don’t travel to developing countries often, but when we do, I’ll be honest, we get a pretty sterilized version of the place. We stick to “safe” neighbourhoods and westernized environments. One thing I love about visiting Manila is that this is not the case. We get to live more like locals. We still see things at an arm’s length, from the comfort of an air-conditioned, chauffeured vehicle, but if you look out the window, you are hit with the stark reality of what life looks like for many others.

  
The squatter district we pass most often is not far from the compound, opposite the ports. Laundry hangs outside homes of scrap metal, cardboard and fabric. Garbage spills out its sides, and scantily clad (and sometimes naked) children run in groups along the streets. Waterways are littered with trash and little streetside shacks serve as the barangay’s eateries, pharmacies, and local hangouts. 

  

Transportation is comprised of a mix of cars, taxis, rickshaws and jeepneys. Traffic here makes gridlock in North America look like a breeze, and rules of the road don’t really exist. When you’re stopped, people come up to the cars and tap on the windows to sell you things. 

  

But perhaps the most distinct qualities of all in Manila are its colourful neighbourhoods and its sense of community. Taking pictures here are a joy, as the city is saturated in technicolor and life oozes from its every pore. People fill the streets. Children gather around makeshift basketball nets. Women give each other pedicures on the sidewalks. And even abroad, there’s an unmistakeable sense of comradery between fellow Filipinos. It’s a warm place in every sense of the word. 

  
There are many places in Metro Manila that we have yet to visit, but now that I’ve been here twice, I think I have a better general lay of the land. With a population of more than the entire country of Canada, it’s no small city, but we are slowly carving out a sense of place in this wonderful urban jungle. 

The Grit and Glamour of Air Travel

When you think about it, it’s unbelievable the distances that we can travel nowadays. Places that even a few generations ago seemed inconceivably far can now be reached by spending a handful of hours in a floating metal tube. But air travel isn’t all pretty – especially when you’ve been cooped up for 16+ hours. Here were some of the nice and not-so-nice moments from our recent flights.

Glamour: LOUNGE access complete with hot shower facilities, laksa and sesame balls. And lots of Andy-friendly food as pictured below. 

  

Grit: the state of once-clean bathrooms by the end of a direct YYZ > HKG flight


Glamour:
the baby set-up on Cathay Pacific, complete with bassinet, diaper care package, and baby food set (now if only Andy would actually sleep in the bassinet)  
  

Grit: questionable airline food. Especially when you see where it comes from in the galleys. 

Glamour: personal entertainment devices and catching up on fairly recent releases

Grit: having those same entertainment devices about 10 inches from your face because the person in front of you has reclined back so far

On the whole, our flight from Toronto to Hong Kong was quite smooth. Andy didn’t sleep all that much, but he was in really good spirits still. And I sat beside a really nice couple from Niagara who are chicken farmers and had a connecting 10-hour flight to Auckland prior to getting on a cruise. They were the best.

On Reconciliation

For the last two days, I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Library Association Super Conference in Toronto. To say it has been enlightening would be the understatement of the century. I have enjoyed it immensely, and I’ll do a follow up post with some of my sketch notes and thoughts, but I did want to mention one thing that really challenged me.

The keynote speaker yesterday afternoon was Wab Kinew. I will be entirely honest – I had not heard of him before. I have read Boyden’s The Orenda, so I had that connection, but I was otherwise unfamiliar with him. 

Anyone who keeps up with Canadian current events will know about the TRC report and the 94 recommendations that have been outlined in it. It is undeniable that we have a really ugly past when it comes to our nation’s relationship with indigenous peoples. The notion of reconciliation can seem overwhelming and I’m sure there are many who are desperate for examples of what it looks like. Kinew’s late father provided a poignant example, taking the matter into his own hands, by personally extending reconciliation with representatives (e.g. the pope) of the Catholic Church. To see these ultimate acts of forgiveness touched me in such a profound way.

I continue to be reminded of the brokenness that is present in our world, and how we so often make terrible decisions due to ignorance, misunderstanding, or fear of the other. Regrettably, as long as we live, we will continue to see things that are hurtful and unjust. However, I have been challenged in two ways:

  1. To consider more deeply what it means to be an ally to the aboriginal peoples of Canada
  2. To demonstrate forgiveness daily in my own life because He first forgave us

Thank you Wab for your message, and for what you are continuing to do in the name of reconciliation. 

Sunset strolls

Even though it’s only late January, I feel like the frigid temperatures have been around for so long. We hit in the positives yesterday, so Andy and I decided to get outside and go on a walk at one of our favourite places. 

  
I rarely go to Lemoine Point at dusk, but man what a beautiful time to go. The orange glow permeates the landscape and it makes you feel like everything is right with the world. 

Most of the time, I listen to podcasts when I’m on a walk, but I opted for a bit of quiet this time. Fitting, since I had forgotten to charge my phone the night before and my phone died during the walk anyways. It’s sad to say, but I had forgotten how nice it is to just listen to the sounds of nature around you. The sound of Andy trailing behind me in his sled. The sound of squirrels scampering among the branches. The sound of my own boots crunching the snow beneath my feet. We so often forget about these things. 

 
So more about this sled, which is possibly the best thing ever. Andy and I borrowed it from our friends/neighbours on Sunday so we took it with us for the walk vAndy honestly had a blast. He sang the whole time. And when we went down little slopes the sled ran a bit ahead of me and he sang a little louder. I think it was a completely new experience for him because he had a full 360 degree view of the world around him. He wasn’t in a carrier or in a stroller, with partially obstructed views. 

  
It’s sad to think that my daytimes with Andy will soon be drawing to a close, and it’s moments like these that I’ll miss the most. 

An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

I recently finished reading Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. If you’ve spent any amount of time with me in the last few weeks, I will have mentioned it. I talked about it incessantly.

In a nutshell, the author – Jen – embarked on a 7-month project to examine and reduce seven areas of excess in her life. She started off with food, consuming only seven types of food the whole month. Then she moved on to clothes, wearing only seven items the whole month. And so this continued. During the very last month, she committed to praying seven times a day – each time with a different focus.

There were definitely moments in the book that challenged me to consider whether I would be willing to part with some of the excess that exists in my life. We live a very fortunate and blessed life, but what good is that if it isn’t shared with others? What does it mean to be the hands and feet of Jesus? How does a modern day Christ follower live out their life according to His purpose with His blessings? I definitely want to do a rendition of this project for myself, but I’m not yet sure what this will look like. For a little while, I thought maybe I could focus on a different global issue to learn about so that I might be able to pray more boldly and take specific action in that arena. However, I think part of what this book draws out is the need to take action against seemingly mundane choices that we make, and to be more conscious of the areas of excess in our own life.

In the mean time, I shall continue pondering the convictions that I have, but if you haven’t read this book, I highly suggest it. And if you’re in the KFPL service area, I’m returning my copy to the library on Monday.