Thursday, 28 October 2010

What I'm reading ...

Eight days of reading.  What bliss.  Since I've re-commenced studying, I seem to spend all my free time reading text books and academic journal articles.  So, I'm excited about just reading for pleasure this week.

To Kill a Mockingbird - I've just finished re-reading this.  I think that it should be a compulsory read at least every couple of years.  It is so comforting to dive into a book that is so beautifully written and has such a wonderful story line.

Empire of the Sun - I've nearly finished this book.  I read most of it on the plane from Canada (when I wasn't conked out from wonderful herbal sleeping tablets).  It took a while to get into but once I was in, I was in.  Although the book is a novel, it is based on the life experiences of the author as a child during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  The main character is very likeable and the language is beautifully descriptive. 

Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud - I started this book at a bad time, when I was frantically reading and writing for my last uni assignment.  I put it down because I felt that I wasn't giving the story justice with my distracted mind.  I intend to pick it up again this week.  It is the story of the author (who also wrote one of my favourites, A Year in Tibet) following Xuanzang's (a famous Chinese monk) trip in search of the origins of Buddhism.  A very inspiring story so far.

The Blind Assassin - The purchase of this book was a treat to myself for finishing my uni assignment.  Can't wait to dive into another Booker Prize winner.

Nine Parts of Desire - I stumbled across this book at my grandmother's house last night (she and I have such great reading discussions).  I have read Geraldine Brooks' novels but haven't touched any of her non-fiction books.  C. couldn't put the book down, so I'm hoping that he will buy it this week so I can read it while he is working!

Social-Emotional Curriculum With Gifted and Talented Students - Yes, I'm a nerd.  I couldn't resist buying this book at the conference I went to last week (more on this during the week).  Two of the editors were very inspirational speakers (and quirky characters) during the conference, so I'm looking to do a little bit of professional reading too.

A whirlwind trip to Melbourne ...

In fact, my trip to Melbourne was such a whirlwind of catching up, eating and drinking that I forgot to take any photos, so I apologise for the lack of visuals accompanying this post.  The trip was quite crazy.  Three jetlagged nights staying in three different places, driving all over Melbourne - Yarra Valley, Point Cook, Collingwood, Eltham, Fitzroy, Fairfield - for quick catch ups with family and friends, and drinking far too much wine and eating far too much food.  I was thrilled to be in Melbourne to take my baby brother out for a 25th birthday dinner, finally meet a good friend's 4 month old baby, meet some of C.'s friends and see my family.  Obviously, I was trying to show off Melbourne to C. in the hope that he'll fall madly in love with the city and want to move here.  Right now, I'm sitting in Virgin Blue's 'The Lounge' drinking wine while waiting for my flight to Brisbane.  I've been here since early this morning thanks to Tiger cancelling my flight.  I had to pay an extra $300 for the only available Virgin Blue ticket which just happened to be a corporate ticket, hence my entry into 'The Lounge'.  I'm looking forward to 8 days of relaxation in Brisbane while C. works - plus, it will be my first (and probably last) visit to the World Lottery Trade Show.  Reading, running, sleeping, swimming ... what is not to look forward to?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

An adrenaline filled morning of departure ...

My flight back to Australia leaves at about 3 o'clock this afternoon, so I have plenty of time to pack, do the last minute things and go for a walk.  I got up at about 6 am, and headed out the door for a walk.  It was dark.  Very dark.  And cold.  I had a little debate with myself - "It's too dark."  "It's too cold."  "What if I run into a bear?!"  "It's quite scary out here."  And finally, "Don't be such a wuss."  However, my wussy side won and I turned around and had a cup of tea in front of the open fire.

7.45 am.  It was still cold outside but a lot lighter.  So, I set off on my walk with the two dogs.  Half way through my walk, I rounded a corner and through the trees, I spotted a big, black animal about 50 metres away.  "Holy sh*t!"  I thought to myself ... "it's a black bear!"  I took a minute to assess the situation.  The animal was looking at me.  It clearly was not a cow because there are no black cows on this ranch.  It was not a moose or a deer because I couldn't see its legs.  It was big and it was black and ... it must be a bear.  The dogs took off after it and I spun on my heels and went for the world record in power walking while my heart thumped wildly.

On my way home, I came across my neighbour, the resident cowboy, who was on his way out.  I asked him to check it out and get back to me.  By the time I got home, I received a text message ... it was a big moose with a calf.  I'm disappointed that I didn't hang around to watch the mum moose with her baby.  I drove back down to check it out but she was gone by the time I got there.  Now, wouldn't that be a story, seeing a black bear on my last morning in Canada?!  Oh well, there is always next year.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Charter schools ...

Generally, there isn't a lot of good publicity for North American schools.  Certainly, when I was at the ASCD conference in June, I wasn't impressed with some of the narrow-minded perspectives I heard.  However, several months ago, I came across an article on charter schools in Alberta.  Charter schools are government schools that offer innovative schooling with a unique focus, such as art, science, single sex or gifted learners.  My ears pricked up when I heard that there was a charter school in Calgary that was open exclusively for gifted learners, which happens to be my specialisation for my Masters degree.  After reading the article, I did a little more research and discovered Westmount Charter School.  I was particularly excited to find that they offer an annual conference (which is part of the deal with charter schools - they learn about and try educational innovations and then share their learning with other teachers).  So, today I'm off to check out the school.  Today's pre-conference session involves classroom observations and chats to the school's teachers and adminstrators.  The actual conference is on tomorrow (after the obligatory wine, cheese and mingle evening tonight, of course) offers sessions for teachers, adminstrators, parents and the gifted learners themselves.  I'm hoping that I'll be able to find a glimmer of hope in the North American schooling system, wish me luck!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Missing Chinglish ...

Sunshine City Plaza, Squat to do to enjoy life

I've missed China a lot this week as C. is there on a business trip and is making me jealous with his description of all the sights he is seeing and the yummy foods he is eating.  He sent me the above picture during the week and it prompted me to look at my photos from China and giggle out loud at all the funny Chinglish.  Here are some of my favourite Chinglish examples.

I still don't know what this means (Better Fitness Wuxi gym)

Wash your hands! (Beijing Olympic Stadium)

Really?  (Forbidden City, Beijing)

Appropriate parking (Suzhou)

Say no to drugs!  I don't really get the picture though (A hotel in Shanghai)

Don't walk on the grass (Hangzhou)

A list of public rules (Chengdu) 

This last sign is a little tricky to read but very funny, so I've reproduced it here (and highlighted the bits that I find the funniest). 

  • Please keep the environment clean.  Don't spit.  Don't spit the chewing gum.  No littering.  No smoking except in the designated areas.
  • Please follow the public order.  Keep silent.  Don't jump the queue.  Please keep gateways clear.  Please do not talk loudly in public areas.
  • Please protect the ecological environment.  Don't step on the grassland.  Don't pick flowers or fruits. Don't chase or beat animal.  Don't give any animal food without permit when you are in the zoo.
  • Protect the historical relics and sites.  Don't paint or carve on the historical relics.  Don't climb up the historical relics.  No photos without permit.
  • Value the public facilities.  Don't dirty or destroy any installment in the hotel.  Don't destroy the public facilities.  Do not be out for small advantages.  Save water and electricity.  Don't waste food.
  • Respect other people's rights.  Don't force foreign tourists to take photos.  Don't force other people to buy or sell something.  Do not occupy public facilities for a long time.  Respect people in the service sector.  Respect religious customs of different nationalities.
  • To be polite.  Wear clean and proper clothes.  Do not wear clothes exposing the neck or shoulders in public places.  Take care of the elderly, children, the sick, handicapped.  Do not utter dirty words.
  • Advocate a happy and healthy way of life.  Resist superstition.  Avoid pornography, gambling and drug.
Oh, how I miss China and their funny Chinglish.

One year down, two to go ...

This week, I handed in my last assignment for my first year of Masters study.  Being the perfectionist I am, the last few days of writing an assignment are always stressful and tiring.  I was very happy to press 'send' and let my essay and PowerPoint presentation fly off into cyber space.  Year one will definitely be the easiest year because next year I have to do a research subject and the following year, I'll be researching and writing a thesis.

My 'study' in my ranch apartment

As a treat to myself for finishing all my uni work, I decided to spend yesterday afternoon doing two of my favourite things - browsing the bookstore and watching a movie.  I treated myself to a new book for the long plane ride on Sunday - Margaret Atwood's Booker Prize winner, The Blind Assassin.  I can't wait to delve it into it.  I also bought a couple of books for gifts - buying books for others is nearly as exciting as buying for yourself.  When my literary side had been satisfied, I grabbed a Starbucks hot chocolate (another treat) and headed to the movies where I watched The Social Network.  Not exactly a riveting movie but I found it interesting to learn about the (accurate or not-so-accurate, who knows) story behind the development of Facebook.  Perhaps the most satisfying part of the movie was the scenery of Harvard - oh, how I would love to be a Harvard student!  Going to the movies by yourself, especially in the middle of the afternoon, is just so wonderful, it feels so decadent.  Now that I have my afternoon of 'treats' out of the way, I can get on with packing for five months in Australia - most of my luggage will be uni books it seems, ready for the beginning of my second year of Masters early next year.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Winter preparations in Canada ...

The path leading to my ranch apartment during the April snow storm

Whilst the bears are preparing for winter hibernation, so too are the human Canadians.  All the talk at the moment seems to be about getting ready for the winter.  Hay barns are being stocked.  Woodpiles are being replenished.  Fences, decks and houses are being painted.  It's all happening for winter time and the onset of the freezing weather and snow.  I try not to mention to them that I'll be on the beach in Manly this time next week.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Back to Australia ...

Yesterday, it was home-schooling day at the Calgary Science Centre and we happened to have the chance to see the 'Australia: Land Beyond Time' IMAX movie.  It made me miss Australia so badly ... I could almost smell the gum trees as I watched the movie.  So, it's lucky that in just 5 days, I'll be heading back to Australia!  Seven months in Canada has gone by so quickly and I'll miss the country, with its beautiful scenery and friendly people, but luckily, I'll be back here in March.  In the meantime, I'm looking forward to seeing family, friends and enjoying some summer weather on the beach in Manly, where I'll be living until March.  Ah, now I can not only almost smell the gum trees but feel the sand under my toes!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Happy Persons Day!

Thanks to five Canadian women (only 4 are pictured here), women are now considered to be people.  After their claim - that women should be considered as persons - was rejected by Canada's supreme court in 1928, they took their fight to the high court in Britain.  On 18 October 1929, it was officially decided that yes, indeed, women were people!  In Canada, 'Persons Day' is celebrated each 18 October.  Happy Persons Day eveyone!

Nelly McClung

Henrietta Muir Edwards and Louise McKinney

Emily Murphy

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The New York subway ...

At last, photos can be uploaded!  The tiles in the New York subway were just beautiful.  Every station was announced with an old tiled sign, often accompanied by tiled pictures.  Just gorgeous.

Subway entrance at Times Square

A scene from Alice in Wonderland 

50th Street station

More art

New York University station

Christopher Street/Sheridan Square station

Friday, 15 October 2010

A pop rock concert ... in a church?!

Last night, I went to a music concert ... in a church.  It was an odd experience.  When I was growing up, my family were not involved in any religious activities whatsoever.  My only religious experience was attending a Quaker school, where we had weekly 'meetings' in the meeting house, the Quaker version of a church.  The first time I sat through a 'real' church service was when I began teaching.  At my last school in Melbourne, I really enjoyed the weekly chapel services - the messages were fun and appropriate for kids and the singing was beautiful.  Given my limited contact with churches, it's fair to say I don't really have much connection with the church.  Which is why I found it odd that I felt slightly uncomfortable when listening to pop rock music in a church.  In some ways it felt very 'ungodly' because churches are normally such quiet and peaceful places but once I got over the initial 'oh-my-goodness-I'm-listening-to-a-rock-band-in-a-church' thought, it was actually kind of cool.  The first act was Hannah Georgas from Vancouver.  I had listened to her CD which I thought was great but the live performance was just okay, not fabulous.  The main  act was Royal Wood, a smartly dressed guy who played the piano beautifully as well as singing and performing a few songs on the guitar.  I hadn't heard his music before but I loved it.  The band were also super cool - they all wore suits and looked just like a group of professional guys having a jam session after work.  A pop rock concert in a church?  Just an ordinary night out in Calgary.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Busy times and no more space ...

Yesterday, I planned to share some photos of the New York subway - an odd blog entry, but the art in the NYC subways is just so beautiful - only to be met with a notice that I had no more free space for photos.  Luckily, I was able to purchase greater photo capacity ($5 a year for about 10,000 photos) but I'm still waiting for the purchase to come through.  Until then, there are no photos to be shared.  It didn't come at a great time because for the next week, I was mainly planning on sharing photos due to lack of time.  Because my Mum was visiting and we were sightseeing across great distances at great speeds, I neglected my Masters study.  So, I'm now in a frantic rush trying to finish my last assignment for the year.  Hence the need for easy-to-post entries filled with photos.  Stay tuned, hopefully you'll get to see the NYC subway pictures tomorrow!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

An odd weekend in British Columbia ...

The Frank Slide

After farewelling Mum on Saturday morning, I headed off with C. for my first Thanksgiving weekend in Canada.  We were bound for Cranbrook, a small mining town on the other side of the Rockies in British Columbia, which is a 4 hour drive from Calgary.  As with most road trips, there were plenty of sights to stop and see along the way.  One of the most fascinating stops for me was the Frank Slide, which occurred 100 years ago and destroyed the town of Frank.  The side of Turtle Mountain gave way, showering boulders, rocks and rubble over Frank.  The entire town disappeared, killing all 70 residents.  The only survivors were the miners who were in the mine at the time of the accident and managed to dig their way out.  The rubble still remains today, with a small area carved out for the highway to pass through.  It is hard to believe that under all those rocks are the remains of an entire town and its inhabitants.  The sight that didn't interest me so much was 'The World's Biggest Truck' - perhaps it's a gender thing because C. seemed impressed.

Frank Slide ... on the other side of the highway

The world's biggest truck - Sparwood's claim to fame

Our purpose for visiting Cranbrook was to visit C's cousin and her family, who live at the base of the Rockies in an old trapper's cabin, a small log cabin where hunters used to stay when they went hunting in the nearby woods.  It was a very special place to stay indeed.  On Sunday, we followed C's cousin into the wilderness on a beautiful off-track hike.  As we ate lunch, we watched huge numbers of eagles fly over top of us ... we were obviously sitting underneath their migration route.  Unfortunately, C's car chose this middle-of-nowhere trailhead to break down.  Not a great place or time for it to happen.  Tonight, we have an earlier than planned return trip to Cranbrook (an 8 hour return trip) to pick up his car.  All in all, an odd but weekend.

View from the Wolf Creek hike

Our beautiful picnic spot

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Calgary Stampede Cattle Drive ...

Cowgirls for the day

For Mum's last day in Canada, it was only fitting that she was involved in a cowboy event.  We were lucky enough to be invited to the annual Calgary Stampede Cattle Drive, which is hosted by the family I work for.  The morning began with a big cowboy breakfast before everyone was allocated a horse to ride (Mum was given a quiet ranch horse while I rode a not-so-quiet but still well behaved polo pony).

Cowboy boots and autumn flowers

When everyone was kitted up, we headed out into the paddocks to round up the cows and drive them out onto the driveway and then we were on our way.  It took about 5 hours (note: 5 hours of riding always equals a sore butt and legs for the next few days) for us to move the cows from one ranch to the next.  The cows moved slowly for most of the way because it was hot and they continually stopped to drink the water by the roadside.  Along the way, the lovely Calgary Stampede ladies provided everyone with drinks and snacks to keep us energised and moving.  Many of the visiting cowboys (Chet from Wyoming, Chuck from South Dakota, Buck from Montana etc.) took advantage of the 'beer stops' to stock their saddle bags with 'travellers'.  Needless to say, there were several inebriated cowboys at the end of the 5 hours.

Mum gets the hang of riding like a cowgirl

Moving the cows through the paddocks towards the driveway

Once the cows were safely in the paddock that will be their home for the winter, all the riders were driven back to the other ranch for a big feast.  Needless to say, everyone enjoyed a hearty lunch and several drinks after such a long time riding.  A full on cowboy experience was the perfect way to end Mum's Canadian adventure.

... and onto the driveway

Hot and thirsty cattle stop for a drink along the way

Mother and calf

A lone cow

Cowgirl on a polo pony?!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Plain of 6 Glaciers hike ...

Lake Louise

Despite my initial thoughts on Lake Louise, I was keen to head back to do the Plain of 6 Glaciers hike, which leads walkers along the shore of Lake Louise before steadily climbing up along the glacial valley.  After several hours of walking, weary hikers can take a rest at a gorgeous tea house, which is an unexpected pleasure high in the mountains.  The tea house was built in 1924 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a place for mountain climbers to stop and rest before continuing their journey.  Although we were not climbing any higher, we took the time to enjoy soup, scones and tea whilst admiring the view over the 6 glaciers and the nearby mountains. 

The end of Lake Louise

Lower Victoria Glacier

What a pretty picnic spot!

Upper Victoria Glacier

The tea house

Mother and daughter on the mountain

View of Lake Louise on the way back down

The Lake Louise Chateau from the other end of the lake

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Moraine Lake and Larch Valley ...

Bear warnings at Moraine Lake

Feeling energetic after our early morning hike near Lake Louise, we met up with C. to do some hiking near Moraine Lake, the lesser known but possibly more beautiful lake close to Lake Louise.  We chose the Larch Valley hike, often described as the autumn hike, due to the stunning colours of the larch trees.  The trail is also well known for the presence of grizzly bears - you are required to hike in groups of 4 or more.  Luckily, for our group of 3, the trail was packed with like-minded hikers, so rather than finding a group of 4, we joined a group of about 400!  There was definitely no chance of us encountering a bear on this trail.  Although such large numbers meant that the trail felt like a highway and wasn't very peaceful, it was so great to see people enjoying the beautiful weather in the mountains.

Larch trees

Larch trees

We hiked up the steep trail before it levelled out into the Larch Valley.  Despite the fact that we were a few weeks too late for the peak period of the autumn colours, the trees were still beautiful.  The deep yellow of the leaves against the backdrop of the blue sky and the snowcapped mountains was splendid.  The Larch Valley trail ended at the bottom of Sentinel Pass where there were several small lakes, Minestimma Lakes.  Here, we enjoyed our lunch while sitting on a huge flat rock in the sunshine.  However, we didn't get to enjoy our bar of chocolate for it was stolen by a cheeky little chipmunk looking to stock up for the winter.

More larch trees and more mountains

A dead tree amongst the colourful larch trees

Despite the sunshine, it was a bit chilly at the top, so after sufficient admiration, we headed back down the trail to enjoy some time at Moraine Lake.  The lake had a much quieter, more peaceful feel to it than Lake Louise and the colour of the water was just spectacular.  After some time exploring and admiring the view, we headed back to the hotel, feeling not quite so energetic as we did in the morning.  We pressed on into the night with dinner and drinks, fuelling up for another day of hiking.

Minestimma Lakes

Minestimma Lakes

Mother and daughter in the mountains

Moraine Lake on the way down

More Moraine Lake

Down level with Moraine Lake

Spot the mother and daughter on top of the rock pile

Mum above Moraine Lake