There’s No Job Too Small, Thanks

Dark red wine in a glass (free Microsoft Clip Art)I spent the last two nights volunteering for the Vancouver International Wine Festival. I’m a big wine lover, and while I hadn’t attended the festival in years, I’d often thought about volunteering.

The main incentive? As an English major, I wish I could say that my prime motivation was the worthy cause—the event’s now a fundraiser for Bard on the Beach. But no. The main incentive for me was a free ticket to the International Festival Tasting, worth $95!

As a first-time volunteer, I didn’t know what to expect, but I suspected that it wouldn’t be glamorous. My suspicions were confirmed upon check-in when I was instructed to grab an apron and a pair of rubber gloves. During my following 5-hour shifts, my duties included refilling water jugs (easy peasy) and emptying the cardboard spit buckets at each of the wineries’ tables, which I didn’t find quite as easy.

In the workplace, I pride myself on the fact that I don’t consider (m)any tasks beneath me. Yes, I have a master’s degree and years of management experience. So what? That doesn’t make me any better or smarter than the receptionist at the front desk or the clerk on the retail floor. I’m usually willing to help out with any task if needed.

So putting on rubber gloves and emptying countless buckets of people’s spit and discarded wine shouldn’t have been a big deal. And, for the most part, it wasn’t. But there was still a part of me that felt oddly embarrassed, part of me that wanted to be among the glamorous revellers and not the invisible server.

One guest said to my teammate, “Wow, I hope they pay you a lot to do that job.” If only he’d known we were actually volunteering to do it!

Beyond fellow volunteers, there were a small handful of people who said thank you. Winery principals who noticed. A spattering of guests who clapped for our tired crew as we left the floor en masse. It felt good to be recognized; to remember that no job is too menial or too small and that no one deserves to feel invisible or taken for granted.

So tomorrow night, I’m looking forward to cashing in on my free ticket. I’m looking forward to sampling some of the world’s best wines, being out with friends and wearing something I feel good in. I’m going to remember not to take myself too seriously. Most important, I’m going to remember to say thanks.

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I am the lake
Cradled in your mountainous folds
My cracked shores exploding
Into snow-capped glory
I am the jet plane
Speeding in the other direction
My destination fixed
But unknown
I am the baby boy
Squealing with joy
His parents relieved
By smooth sailing
I am the captain
Proclaiming our progress
I am the larger lake
Proud, sprawling
My body solid
And opening
I am the tree on the peak below
I may look small but I am
If you stood beside me
You wouldn’t believe
My strength
I have stood here for a hundred years
And may root here for a thousand more
I am the engine outside your window
My propellers dutifully charting
A “perfect” course
Trust me
I am the sun the snow the people the land
I am at once each of these
Know me

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Ghosts of Boyfriends Past


Jason was my first real boyfriend. We met when I was in grade 10, on a field trip to NYC with my drama class. He wasn’t from the Big Apple, though that certainly would have been glamorous! He was from the neighbouring arts high school back home and I’d seen him around once or twice. It’s long ago now—the memory looks more like a faded Instagram—but I still remember the moment he first sat down beside me on that old Greyhound bus.

Getting to know each other over the next few days was exhilarating. We went shopping (an absolute must in NYC, of course) and Mr. Predictably Tall, Dark and Handsome picked out the perfect velvet evening smoking jacket. I scored a collectable goth record imprinted with a glow-in-the-dark image of Bela Lugosi. Chris Isaak’s popularity was at an all-time high and I adopted Wicked Game as our song, listening to it on endless repeat.

Back home, we dated for about a year. His family was kind. We shared many of the same interests and spent lots of time together. But I was a young drama queen, still in the early days of figuring out who I was, what I wanted and who I was destined to be. This natural indecision prompted us to break up God knows how many times.

Cue dramatic memory of running from his house out into a late summer night downpour. I’d paid attention in English class and knew this screamed of pathetic fallacy. But I suppose being chased through the streets by a love-struck man calling out your name is a worthy right of passage. An experience every woman should have at least once.

I don’t know what ever happened to Jason. I imagine he’s now married with 2.5 kids. I hope he’s happy and that his life has unfolded in wonderful ways he never dreamed possible in high school. I think of him every once in a blue moon, usually when I’m looking at a calendar. JASON. July, August, September, October, November. Goodbye.


Dave took me to his high school prom. I remember when I volunteered to go, folding jeans at the local mall and making casual conversation. He’d come into the store with his dad. In preparation for the big night, I chose a black dress from Tristan & America, and practiced wearing high heels, walking up and down the carpeted stairs of our suburban home with my stepmom cheering me on.

Although Dave was interesting, handsome and creative, we started off just as friends. It wasn’t until we went on a day hike in the Gatineau Hills one fall Sunday that things changed. It wasn’t romantic.

We lost our way, the sun set and the temperature dropped below freezing. We walked through marshes and dead lands, saw trees that had been used as scratching posts by bears, and listened to the chilling call and response pattern of hungry coyotes nearing in the night. We hadn’t been missing long enough for the authorities to search for us, so who came to save us in the wee hours of morning? My dad, his dad and his dad’s friend. There are times when your dad really is your hero.

After having shared that experience, Dave and I grew closer. I learned that he played jazz guitar, was passionate about the arts and was quietly, intensely passionate about life. I remember being led through the streets of Old Montreal in search of the perfect vintage guitar. Later, when he moved away to major in music and minor in outdoor recreation, which struck me as the oddly perfect combo, our relationship wasn’t strong enough to survive the distance. We had dated for about two years.

I don’t know where Dave’s life has led him. I hope he’s in a great relationship, living in a vibrant city with a direct b-line to a remote cabin somewhere. Most important, I hope he’s happy and that his life, too, has unfolded in amazing ways.

I still think of him from time to time, especially when I’m standing on a particular corner of the sidewalk in my suburban neighbourhood. Carved in the cement are the initials “C.M.” which are the initials of a woman he’d had a crush on before we met. I remember he advocated for C.M. to explore her (obvious) artistic talents. And although it was an affection I’d envied, I remember being deeply impressed that he’d taken such an interest and such a stand.

Goodbye, Dave. May your ghost rest in peace.

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What the heck’s a MOOC?

What’s new in mobile learning? What the heck’s a MOOC? And how do we define our identities online? At the Educational Technology Users Group (ETUG) Fall Workshop, we explored these questions and more.

Mobile Learning

To kickstart the day, Paul Hibbitts led an engaging session on mobile learning from the user experience perspective. Here are a few of the people/things he mentioned that I’ll be checking out:

Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

Some of us had never heard of a MOOC, while one of the day’s panelists had participated in over 30! Interestingly, only one or two people in the room had ever actually completed one. I’ve never started let alone finished a MOOC and am now curious about the possibilities. Sure makes me wish I’d attended the recent Open Education Conference here in Vancouver! Oh well, there are lots of other ways to learn. :)


Amy Perreault and kele fleming from UBC facilitated a thought-provoking session on identity, and how to create learning spaces in which critical thought and reflection about identity can take place. Their Q&A included, “Where are you from? What’s something you learned in that place that’s still with you today?”

Throughout the day, I was struck by seemingly random yet connected comments about learners’ identities face-to-face versus online.

One woman admitted, “I’ve never taken an online course and never will. If I studied with people online, I wouldn’t know who they really are. And I don’t think I’d feel comfortable sharing about myself.”

“Interesting,” I said. “I took my entire grad degree online. Based on my experience, it seems as though some people actually feel more comfortable being open and honest online.” Sadly, we didn’t have time to further explore our conversation. But I do remain thoughtful about the construction and expression of learner identity.

How can meaningful online learning relationships be created and maintained? Can you really know someone online? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Flaws and All: Creating Believable Characters

What makes a story? According to author and instructor Caroline Adderson, “it’s when a character changes or chooses not to change.” As someone who’s passionate about lifelong learning and personal development, I’m intrigued by these different alternatives. I can’t help but wonder if choosing not to change is like electing not to vote.

One change I’m currently struggling with making is setting and sticking to a daily writing schedule. I recently heard about a woman who “structures her day so that she gives the best part of herself to writing, not to her job.” I’m thoughtful about the typical structure of my days. Who and what is getting the best part of me?

Adderson describes writing as “an act of empathy,” which I believe to be true. She offers fiction writers the following tips for creating believable characters:

  • Study real people;
  • Study fictional people;
  • Open yourself to other people;
  • Be interested in other people; and
  • Listen to their thoughts, motivations and concerns.

In short, she advocates the value of “enlarging your circle of compassion.” This reminds me of the value of being “generous of spirit,” which is a long-held belief of my mom’s and one of many I’ve inherited.

On a lighter note, Adderson also counsels writers to read the horoscopes as they can shed light on the possibilities in people’s lives. I love reading the horoscopes and even clip and keep the few that really resonate with me. When I doubt myself as a writer, I read this one:

“You have something worth saying, something the world needs to hear, and it would be a crime to stay silent.”

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Thanksgiving on Mayne Island

This year we celebrated Thanksgiving on picturesque Mayne Island. It was a relaxing, fun and peaceful weekend.

We wandered down to the beach…We gazed out at sea…We played with sticks and stones…We checked out the farmWe took tractor driving very seriously…We hung out with the goats…We fed the chickens…We collected fresh eggs…And then we came home and told Dad and Grandpa all about it!

I’m thankful for such a lovely weekend with my wonderful family. OX

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Tofino, BC: Heaven on Earth

This weekend we enjoyed the ultimate West Coast experience in Tofino, BC. World-class accommodations? Check. Private fishing charter? Check. Mouth-watering meals? Check. Doing it almost all for free? Priceless.

Wild Pacific Trail

As winners of a Feast! BC contest, sponsored in part by the Tofino Ucluelet Culinary Guild, we’d scored 2 nights at the wonderful Wickaninnish Inn. Since we eloped there 5 years ago this month, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Our room afforded us a view of the very spot on Chesterman Beach where we got married.

Room with a View

We also scored a 4-hour private fishing charter with Cleanline Sportfishing. Our guide, Blake, was knowledgable and super nice. We caught 2 crabs and a coho salmon for supper, which RedCan Gourmet prepared as part of our prize.

Feeling Crabby

Coho for Supper

You can imagine the gourmet picnic back in our room!

We did lots of other fun things too. We biked into town, checked out the Tofino Brewery, and wined and dined at the fabulous Pointe Restaurant.

Time for a Cold One

Shrimp & Asparagus Eggs Benny at the Pointe Restaurant

Being so spoiled was a definite delight. (Special thanks are due to Bobby Lax, who helped organize our amazing weekend.)

But most priceless of all was simply being back on the true West Coast. There’s something so rugged about Tofino’s coastline, so magical about the forest and so peaceful about the beach.

Chesterman Beach

Hiro’s Happy Place

Fabulous Seaweed

In some ways, time seems to stand still out there, especially on Chesterman Beach. Five years of marriage felt simultaneously like nothing and also like a very big deal. I imagined what it must have been like walking that same shoreline thousands of years ago.

This sense of timelessness reminded me of how the world (such beauty!) is not simply a backdrop to my particular human experience. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the drama, minutia and routine of the everyday; whether it’s in my marriage, work, or even my relationship with myself. To imagine I’m the centre of something bigger, instead of the other way around.

Tofino holds the power to reaffirm an intuitive understanding of one’s own incredibly good fortune. How lucky I am to be here a little while to play in the sun, sand and surf! It’s like heaven on earth. There’s indescribable beauty all around us, a grandeur and simplicity of which we are but the smallest part.

Chad & Hiro

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