It's great to get together


Despite the rain and overcast conditions on Sunday, we headed off to the small country town of Baden, about 10 minutes from Kitchener, one hour from Oakville and the home of Sharilou and Mark.

Since 1987, Sharilou and I have only met once, that being last month. This time, we were going to be able to share our families, our stories and start to put together the pieces of our respective puzzles which have made up our different lives over the past 19 years.

Mark entertained us with stories of his work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and fielded, very successfully, my hundred and one questions. Rebecca in Grade 10 and Trevor in Grade 7 are great kids and entertained Alex and Kate quite well for many hours. We then all enjoyed a wonderful dinner together, shared stories and had a laugh.

Sharilou seemed surprised when last month I showed her a slide show that Chris made for me for a milestone birthday recently which featured two photos of her taken with Elyse and I in Europe. I was equally blown away though, when during lunch, she pointed to an Egyptian papyrus, which was framed and hanging on her wall above her dining table. Although I don’t actually recall doing it, apparently I sent this to Sharilou from Egypt when Elyse and I visited there before returning home to Australia. I guess when you really connect with someone, neither time nor distance sever that bond.

We have already scheduled our next get-together and I am just so grateful that our exchange has provided opportunities to not only make some incredible new friends, but a chance to become reacquainted with a very dear ‘old’ friend.

All the World's a Stage


Considering we only ever really started this blog to keep a personal record of our time in Canada, (and maybe to let our mums know what we were up to) I'm always surprised when I check the logs and see who's hitting it. The map above shows the location of the last 100 visitors to the site. It's just astounding how these things grow...

If you're a random visitor to the site and you have a spare moment, drop us a line at and let us know. It really makes our day!

Meet Percy Julian


Before we made the long drive back home to Toronto, Janet invited us to come visit her school, Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park. In the years that I've known Janet she has always talked very highly of her school and so I was keen to visit and have a look around for myself.

When we arrived she had one of her classes in the computer room and we were invited in to see what the kids were up to. Such a confident and creative group of kids! Janet's classroom is based on many of the same educational beliefs that I hold... that kids should be at the centre of the learning process, that learning tasks should be relevant and engaging, that learning should be "hard fun"... and it was wonderful to see a classroom where these things were actually taking place. We then got a tour of the schol by two wonderful students, Hannah and Darien, who expertly guided us around the building, showing us the features of the school and explaining a bit about what its like to go there. We were so impressed by the facilities and the staff we met as we went around! The way the school was structured and managed was quite unlike most other schools I've ever seen (and I've seen a few great schools over the years!) It was nice the see the way the building and the infrastructure within it was set up to support 21st century learning styles, with a team approach to core classes, open spaces for individual learning, and amazing facilities like the gym and performing arts centres. I'm so glad we got to see it all.

Oh, and a short note to the Percy Julian kids, if any of them read this... you guys are so lucky to be going to that school! You probably take it for granted since you just go there every day, but trust me when I tell you that the school you go to is very special and the education you're getting there is set up in ways that you will appreciate more as you get older. If you haven't done it lately, thank your teachers for what they do for you... they deserve it. Trust me.

Chicago, and all that Jazz


There’s something quite exciting about arriving in a city like Chicago, a city that you’ve never been to before but have heard so much about. We had left Detroit after lunchtime on Saturday and arrived into Chicago around 5:30pm. As we cruised up highway 94 towards the city we crossed the Skyway bridge, passed the Chicago WhiteSox’s stadium and got our first glimpses of the city skyline in the distance, including the impressive Sears Tower, the tallest building in North America. The traffic got progressively worse as we approached the city itself, but thanks to Donna’s excellent navigation skills we soon found highway 290 and veered west towards Janet and Richard’s house.

I first met Janet back in 1998 when we worked together on the AT&T Virtual Classroom Contest, an educational initiative that connected teachers and students from around the world into crosscultural teams whose goal was to collaborate across the Internet to build websites together. The VC experience was very intense, and had a profound effect on my whole approach to education. Janet and I (and a wonderful guy from Japan called Hajime) mentored our team into third place – quite an achievement really. The next year, Janet and I (and another Japanese teacher named Mariko) again worked together with our students to create a global collaboration and this time we were rewarded with an overall first place, something that I know we are still very proud of. In the course of this program, Janet and I exchanged literally hundreds and hundreds of emails and spent many hours using ICQ to chat, share ideas and plan together. We finally got to meet each other in Hong Kong as part of our prize for winning the contest that year, although when we parted ways at HK airport I suspect neither of us really expected that we would ever meet in person again. However, when the teaching exchange really started to take shape I contacted Janet and we made plans to get together for dinner at her home just outside Chicago. So you see, it really is a very small world.

Janet and Richard were wonderful guests. We got to have dinner together on both Saturday and Sunday nights, and spent a lovely couple of evenings talking and eating. Richard’s culinary skills were fabulous, and he really spoilt us with a lamb dinner one night and the world’s biggest ham the next. It’s a nice feeling to be able to go to the other side of the world and have people there you can call your friends.

Janet’s home was not really set up for overnight visitors, so she had arranged for us to stay with a colleague of hers, Harla. Harla’s daughter Katy was one of the students from the winning Virtual Classroom team so we had met her in Hong Kong. Harla and her husband Jim very kindly offered us a place to stay at their home in beautiful Oak Park. Great people, so friendly and inviting, and we really appreciated their hospitality. I absolutely fell I love with their home! It had so much character and charm… I felt very privileged to have been able to stay with them for a couple of nights. For all the cynicism and negativity that exists in the world, it’s nice to know that there are still wonderful people like Janet and Richard and Harla and Jim. Thanks guys, we really appreciated your generosity during our time in Chicago!

On Easter Sunday we planned to enjoy a day in downtown Chicago, but first we attended a church service at St Giles Catholic Church in Oak Park. A wonderful old church, filled with people it was standing room only, but with great atmosphere. Oak Park is a beautiful village town, filled with tree-lined avenues and charming homes. The famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright grew up in Oak Park, as did the writer Ernest Hemingway. I would have liked more time to look around Oak Park, it was a very interesting place.

However, it was off to the city of Chicago where we parked the car and headed off on foot. It’s a lively bustling city although, being Easter, many of the shops were closed. We had lunch in a very nice little Italian deli, then walked along “The Magnificent Mile” of Michigan Avenue. Donna found a place that did tours of the city in an open-top double-decker bus just like those in London, so we joined a tour – not cheap but a great way to see the place. The rest of the day was chock-full of interesting things – a trip up the Sears Tower, a walk around Millennium Park to see Cloud Gate (otherwise known as “The Bean”), a visit to Navy Pier, and a bunch of other things… it was a busy day! The weather eventually turned nasty and it poured with rain, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm at all.

Chicago is certainly a city that respects and honours architecture. It was wonderful to see the work of people like Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe in person. These are names that I have only read about in books, and to come face to face with great architecture was quite inspiring. One can’t help but feel that architecture in Chicago is more than just making buildings, it is the art of designing buildings that matter...

It’s a wonderful city and one we are keen to revisit.

Welcome to Motor City


Happy Easter. It’s a long weekend here in Canada, so with both the Friday and Monday as holidays we have a few more precious days to go travelling. This time, we’re heading into to the USA to visit some folks we know. So we packed the car early on Friday morning and jumped on the QEW to head west.

First stop on our agenda was Farmington Hills, a city on the outskirts of Detroit, to visit Fran and Zeke. Our friends back in Australia, Sue and Greg, had met Fran and Zeke about 20 years ago while they were on holiday in Fiji and insisted that we simply must visit them since we were so close. Although I must admit I felt a little strange just dropping in on friends of friends that we’d never met, we did exchange a few emails with Fran and Good ol’ Zeke and they were so welcoming that we simply couldn’t say no. So we headed out on Highway 402 across western Ontario to Sarnia, and over the bridge to Port Huron to enter Michigan in the United States. The trip was fast on the highway, but it took a while to get across the border… there was a huge number of cars trying to get across so we sat in a queue for nearly an hour on the bridge.

We finally arrived at Farmington Hills (thank goodness for the Google mapping service!) to find the Aussie flag flying outside the house.

Sue and Greg were right… Fran and Zeke are a really lovely couple. They made us feel extremely welcome in their home, and we sat and enjoyed a nice lunch and some good conversation. After lunch, Zeke took us for a drive downtown and showed us some of what Detroit is most famous for – its automobile production. Nicknamed Motor City, Detroit is the home to the three big names in the US auto business, Ford, GM and Chrysler, and everywhere you look you can see evidence of the car industry. Zeke drove us past the Ford offices and production plant, where he used to work when he was a young fella. Henry Ford built the world’s very first production line right here in Detroit and the Ford factory still sits on the same site today. It is just a mind-bogglingly enormous production facility! Zeke explained that the factory is “fully integrated”, meaning that the entire production is done onsite including the production of the actual steel for making the cars. Ford don’t just buy steel from a third party supplier – they actually have their own blast furnaces onsite and take the raw coke, iron ore, etc and produce the steel themselves before using it to then produce the cars. Everything is produced onsite from raw materials, so the factory looked very industrial, a lot like Port Kembla back home in Wollongong. (and almost as big!) As you drive around Detroit you can see the evidence everywhere of Henry Ford’s influence… lots of buildings, libraries, parks etc named after him.

We then got a grand tour of the city itself – past Comerica Park, the big baseball stadium and home of the Detroit Tigers, where a game was starting in a couple of hours so people were beginning to gather around the outside for tickets. Baseball season started a few weeks ago here in the US.

We drove past the riverfront area, and waved at Canada on the other side. Its kind of weird that there is such tight security at the border to cross into the US, but it would be so easy to just cross the river, especially in Winter where the river freezes over and you could literally just walk across between the two countries. We saw the rather spectacular offices of General Motors; a large glass skyscraper right on the waterfront in the centre of Detroit city. Zeke drove us around a bit before eventually heading back home for dinner.

At dinner Zeke and Fran’s son Hub and his wife Nancy, their granddaughter Carrie-Ann and Fran’s sister Margaret joined us. We had a lovely dinner and some good conversation. The whole family are extremely well travelled, so there was plenty to talk about. Zeke also showed us his study, where he has an amazing collection of memorabilia. Photographs of their travels adorn the walls (Zeke has been to all 7 continents of the world, including Antarctica – Fran gave Antarctica a miss so can only claim six!), and there is a world map covered with red pins showing the places they have visited. We were also fascinated by Zeke’s collection of military bits and pieces, including helmets from WW1, WW2, artillery shells, war medals and decorations, and what I think is the most amazing artefact, a genuine rifle and bayonet used in the US Civil War.

We eventually said goodbye to Hub, Nancy, Carrie-Ann and Margaret, and retired for the evening. After a really good sleep we awoke to more wonderful hospitality from our hosts with a big breakfast and a quick tour of the area around their home before we reluctantly said our farewell. I can see why Greg and Sue enjoy the company of these guys so much… nicer folk you wouldn’t find anywhere.

Around 1:30pm we hit the road again, next stop Chicago!

Never on a Sunday


We did a little jaunt down to the US border today. After picking some things up at Burlington, then ending up in Hamilton due to a wrong turn, we had an early lunch at Tim Hortons. We grabbed a box of TimBits to sustain us, then jumped onto the QEW for the trip south to Niagara. Thanks more to good luck than good management, we went straight through to Fort Erie, which is a far more straightforward way to get to Buffalo than by crossing the river at Niagara itself.

We arrived at the Peace Bridge where we did US customs... very straightforward... the border lady asked us our nationality, looked at our passports and off we went. It was all done in 30 seconds. I've heard a few stories from other exchangees about all sorts of hassles crossing into the states, but we've done it twice now and it's been just the same both times. We're off to Detroit and Chicago next weekend, so we'll see how that goes.

Once in Buffalo, we were surprised by how dead the town was! In Canada things seem to be always open, till quite late, 7 days a week. Here we were in Buffalo, in the middle of the day, and the place was near deserted. We drove around to get our bearings, went up and down the main street a few times (we found out later it was the main street... you certainly couldn't tell), and eventually got out for a walk around. Seriously, the place was deserted. In Australia, we have a phrase for places that seem deserted... "you could fire a gun here and not hit anyone", but that's probably a phrase I would avoid in the USA, especially after watching Bowling for Columbine the other day. It's a weirdly scary feeling being in a place that you know people have the right to carry guns. Check out the photo of the statue in front of the bank... I couldn't get over how much it looked like an Aussie digger. The whole slouch hat and uniform looked just like an Australian ANZAC.

Anyway, we took a few photos, had a look around, went for a drive to see some of the houses (huge houses! We couldn't get over how big they all were!), and eventually headed back north to cross into Canada again at Niagara Falls. As we did the border check coming back to Canada, we were asked, with a grin, which we preferred, Canada or the US...

I'm sure we will see plenty of really great places in the USA when we go travelling later this year, but I don't think Buffalo is somewhere I'll be rushing back to in a hurry.

Donna's Random Thoughts


Just wanted to share a couple of picci's of life here in Jasmine Crescent. Nothing terribly exciting, but I just thought I'd share them.

One is of Kate on her way to school wearing rollerblades. Now the weather has warmed up, we are walking to and from school most days, and because Oakville is quite flat it makes rollerblading an easy option. Fortunately, Kate's foot is the same size as Heidi's, so she's been lucky enough to get to use the ice skates and now the rollerblades.

The other photo is a squirrel sitting in a tree outside our dining room window. Squirrels are so very cute, running across the grass and up and down the trees. They are easy to spot at the moment as the trees are still without their leaves, although that is slowly changing. They are generally about the size of half a cat, long and skinny, close to the ground with a big fluffy tail. I still get excited each time I see one! (and its not just because I am easily impressed!)

The trampoline we set up this week in the backyard has been a huge hit. Its unreal. As you can see by the number of bodies jumping or lying on it, its also quite a draw card for the neighbourhood kids. I haven't yet figured out a way to limit the use to one person at a time! I'll have to work on that, or hope the public liability insurance here is up to date. :-)

The Quiet Life


Things have been a bit quiet here lately.

Or maybe we just haven't been doing much of the sort of stuff worth blogging about. School is busy, I'm feeling like I'm in the swing of things now, and midterms are fast approaching so there is lots of marking and assessment to think about. Donna has been getting quite a bit of work at a private school here in Oakville called Kings College (nothing at all like the Kings College in Sydney!) She is still waiting for her approval to teach in the catholic system here... it has been an exceptionally long drawn out process and might make an interesting blog post one day. Maybe one day once we've left the country! :-)

The kids have made lots of friends and often have their mates over after school, or go around to their houses. The after-school playdate is pretty common here. Both Alex and Kate seem to be doing well in school and enjoying it too, so that's the main thing. Kate went on a school field trip to the Science Museum on Toronto, and Alex has had friends over working on computer games, er, I mean, school assignments.

We've had a few quiet weekends at home, just recovering from our first few months here, when it sometimes seemed that we were trying to do everything Canadian in the first few weeks (or so our Canadian friends seemed to think). It's been nice to relax a bit, spend some time at home, get a chance to chill out a bit, but we don't want to waste our time here either. With spring having sprung, we rigged the trampoline in the back yard and the kids have been enjoying a bounce or three. We've been out playing road hockey with the locals, we've got the bikes out and have been riding a bit, so life is good.

We had planned to visit St Jacob's markets today but Donna's a bit crook at the moment so we shelved that idea. I took the kids to the movies down in Oakville instead so Dons could have a rest. We'll do St Jacob's another time... it's a fresh fruit and vegie market run by the Mennonite folk down near Kitchener.

It's Easter next weekend and we're planning on going to Chicago to see my friend Janet, who I worked with a few years back when we did the Virtual Classroom Contest together. We're also planning our summer break, playing travel agent on the web and scouring through tons of websites for accomodation deals, as well as planning for visits from Gary's family and the Robs, who are both coming over to see us later in the year...

Hmmm, maybe things aren't that quiet here after all!

An Apple for the teacher


I've always wanted one. I finally got one.

My Windows laptop snapped the hinge the other day, (it had been back to Acer for repair a few times for a whole list of things) and quite frankly I was just sick of it. When I found out how much Acer wanted to charge to fix it, I decided to buy the parts and fix it myself. It will take a while to get parts, yadda, yadda, so that was a good enough excuse to say goodbye to Windows, head down to the AppleStore in Toronto and get myself a shiny new MacBook Pro.

After a few days with OSX, all I can say is, why did I wait so long to do this?

PS. thanks Dons! :-)

Dinner, Dogs and Dimitri


It's funny how you often don't do things that are available close to home. I've always wanted to see the Tap Dogs perform since I saw a story about them on TV. Dein Perry is an Aussie guy that started the group in Newcastle (where I was born!) and they have risen to some degrees of fame and notoriety on the world stage. Just before we left for Tremblant we saw an ad on TV saying the Tap Dogs would be performing at Hamilton Place, not far from Oakville.

So last Saturday night Donna and I, Sean and Kim went off to see them. We had dinner in a nice little restaurant in Hess Village called the Lazy Flamingo... nice food, pleasant atmosphere and great company.

The show was excellent. It's just amazing how creative these guys were with their dancing. They used all sorts of complex stage props, rigs and lighting, and their use of water was quite incredible. We almost got a photo for the blog, but the usher came and chided Donna for having a camera in the theatre... yes, we're all very disappointed in you Donna!

After the show, we got introduced to Dimitri and his fabulous deserts! Thanks Kim! We might have to get to know Mr Dimitri a little better ourselves!

Show us your Beaver


I've been intrigued by the amount of advertising that comes in our local paper, The Oakville Beaver. Most of the time, there is substantially more advertising than there is newspaper!

Take a look at the photo... the newspaper is in the centre of the picture, and it is a mere 48 pages long, but the rest of the stuff in the photo are all brochures, flyers and advertisements. (Maybe they have to send out so much printed material because people like me keep ignoring their telemarketing calls?)

All I can say is thank goodness Canada has a thriving lumber industry!

Skype: betchaboy

Recent Stuff

Old Stuff

Aussie Stuff

Canuck Stuff

Other Stuff

Powered by Blogger

Creative Commons License

Locations of visitors to this page