Opening Mass


This morning Kate’s school, Holy Family held its opening Mass at Our Mother Of God Church in Oakville. Although the plan was for the students to walk to the church, overnight rain and early morning drizzle resulted in the students being bussed there on one of those cute yellow school buses but they still had the pleasure of walking back to school at the end of Mass.

Grade 6 was the class preparing the Mass and so all students had a role in the liturgy. Kate was thrilled to be able to be an altar server, something she hasn’t done since we have been here in Canada. The school community of Holy Family is so small we barely half filled the church, yet there was a wonderful sense of spirit amongst the children as well as the mums and dads who were able to attend.

Art for Art's Sake


If you're observant you might have noticed that the banner artwork at the top of this blog page changes every so often - usually when I remember to change it, and I've come up with something worthwhile to change it to.

Over the past few months I've actually created quite a few different banner graphics, all with the same text overlay but with a different background image. Because it's a wide format graphic, I usually take a series of overlapping shots and stitch them together with the appropriate stitching software ( for the nerds amongst you, I was originally using Autostitch on Windows but I'm now using Calico on the Mac - they both do the same thing, and I believe they use the same underlying technology)

Anyway, I was thinking about developing some way to randomize the images so that every time you load the page a different image appears. I hunted down a nice little piece of javascript to do the job, but it was going to be a lot of work to make it fit into the rather complex template code that Blogger uses, so I didn't pursue it. I also thought about converting it to an automatically rotating Flash banner, and even built a little working prototype to test the idea but in the end decided it was just more work than it was worth. I'm basically quite lazy.

So, I might just change it manually every so often when I think of it. In the meantime, if you feel like a quick stroll down memory lane, all the old banners are here. Enjoy.

Take me out to the Ballgame


I had a nice surprise this afternoon. Don, our principal at school, offered the staff a couple of free tickets to see the Toronto Bluejays play the New York Yankees at the Rogers Centre. There was only one set of tickets up for grabs, so I tried to grab fast, and Don was nice enough to let me have them.

There were two tickets so I was able to offer the other one to Darrell, who has been kind enough to drive me to work each morning. He was really keen to go see the game too, so I'm glad that I was able to take him with me.

It was an interesting game and having Darrell there to explain the finer points to me really helped. I sort of understand baseball but it's been a while since I've actually seen a game, so I'd forgotten most of the rules. The Bluejays are the local Toronto team so they had a lot of home ground support, but there seemed to be plenty of Yankees supporters in the crowd too. We had great seats, right behind the home plate and next to the Yankees dugout. The view of the field was excellent and there was plenty of heckling going on from the crowd so it was pretty funny to be right there in the middle of it and soak up the atmosphere. I even got to have me one of them famous ball game hot dogs. :-)

In the end the Yankees lost the game by one run, and the Jays emerged victorious - a little late in the season to really make any difference to the overall results for the year, but it was nice that they won anyway.

Thanks to Darrell for coming with me, and also to Don for being so generous with the tickets.

Overachievers Anonymous


Seems there's never a dull moment in the Betcher family.

Back in Australia we always seemed to be rushing about getting involved in anything and everything. Meetings, sports, committees, music, work, etc... One of the nice things that we experienced during the first half of our exchange was that we were freed up from all these (over)committments. But it's now the second half of the year, and it seems that we really are all just compulsive "doers"...

Just thought I would share what we're all up to at the moment...

Since Donna is leading the pack in terms of conscientiousness, I'll start with her... She has officially taken another year off from her teaching job back in Australia, and is looking to try her hand at a career in real estate. To assist with that goal, she's just enrolled in a real estate certificate course at TAFE and is doing it by correspondence... She's halfway through her first assignment already. In addition to that, she has been picking up some part-time work, first at the local chicken emporium, Swiss Chalet, and then she moved to the local pub across the road, the Niblick, where she's waitressing three nights a week until quite late. Of course, to continue with that job she is also has to complete a five hour online SafeServe course in responsible service of alcohol. On the days where she's not working at the Niblick she still does the occasional bit of casual teaching at Kings School, just in case she's not busy enough. Throw in a couple of days a month doing her volunteer work, which I can't publicly tell you about because of a non-disclosure arrangement to protect the privacy of the place she's working for. And that's just the work stuff. She's also in training for a half marathon to raise funds for charity, and in her spare time she manages to run the household. Bet you never knew I was married to Superwoman. Measured against the Dons, the rest of us pale into insignificance a bit.

I'm back at school now and teaching three different classes, which means three lots of preparation. Not really a big deal I guess, but more work than I needed to do last semester. I've also enrolled in a novel writing course every Wednesday night for 3 hours, and there's actually a lot of reading and writing I need to do for that. I've also joined a gym and I try to get there at least every second day. I've also started a couple of other blogs to try and expand my writing a bit, and I've also just started planning a major ongoing podcast project with a group of Australian and Canadian teachers. So, not as busy as the Dons, and perhaps a more self-indulgent kind of busy, but still busy enough.

Kate and Alex are also back at school now too. Kate is all excited because she got accepted into the extension program at school, and she also starts back at Girl Guides this week. Alex just started high school and is also getting involved in local Venturers group (the teenage version of the Scouts) and spent tonight at a planning meeting for a camp in a few weekends time.

It seems we just can't help ourselves.

Housesitting at Chez Smith


With the Smiths and Kate away for the weekend, we took up Kim and Sean's invitation to housesit their place on Saturday night. The house didn't really need sitting but with the impending replacement of their ageing waterbed next week, we invited ourselves to stay over to farewell the old bag of water.

Donna had never slept in a waterbed before and was interested to try one before it gets replaced with their fancy new kingsize bed. She quite liked the waterbed on the whole, but I shan't go into the lurid details. ;-)

Mind you, she didn't get home until nearly 3:00am, so I think she would have slept well on a park bench.

Feed the Man Meat


With Kate being such a social butterfly and going away for the weekend with her friend Laura, and Donna now becoming firmly entrenched in the 3:00am waitressing highlife, there have been a few occasions of late where Alex and I have had to catch dinner for ourselves. With my limited culinary skills and Alex's disinclination to eat anything that wasn't recently roaming around a paddock, we have been dining on take-out a little more than usual.

So last night, on Alex's urging, we went to Burger King to sample their much-advertised new Quad Stacker range of burgers... Hmmm, would you like heart disease with that?

While the food was average at best, the sign over the entrance door made us both laugh... it gives a whole new meaning to "fast food".



Marcus, one of my mates back in Australia, wrote to me to ask what the reaction to Steve Irwin's death has been like here in Canada. To be honest, it's been quite remarkable. I'm amazed that Steve's death back home has been felt so strongly here in North America.

When you consider that we hear very little news from Australia in the daily media here, I'm stunned at just how strong the response has been. Australia rarely gets mentioned in news reports... Even during the Commonwealth Games, of which Canada is a member, there was comparatively little mention of it in the local news. Thank goodness for the Internet news services like Aunty ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald or we wouldn't have a clue what was going on back there.

But in answer to Marcus's question, yes mate, the response here was huge. Steve Irwin's popularity - or at least his recognition factor as an Australian - is enormous. I don't think back in Australia we had any idea of just how well known and instantly recognisable he was overseas. News of his death made all the major news services here and consumed an surprising amount of news airtime. I was at the gym the other day with all the televisions showing different channels and there was a Steve story running on every one of them. The nightly chat shows also gave the story plenty of airtime, and it was constantly on the radio (strange considering the lack of news on radio generally). It was also front page news on several local papers.

The other thing that really drove home his level of recognition was the number of Canadians that offered their condolences to me as an Australian. "Sorry to hear about your mate" or "You've lost one of your own" or "I'll bet you're sad about Steve Irwin"... nearly everyone I know has mentioned it at some point. In contrast, nobody here has even heard of Peter Brock... I can't believe we lost two great Aussies like that in the same week.

The news that really stuns me is that some idiots back in Australia are taking out their grief by killing stingrays and amputating their tails. I never knew Stevo personally but I'm pretty sure that would not be what he wanted.

Yorkie Anyone?


Following on from my recent career change into waitressing, I have just completed the last of my training shifts at The Niblick Pub and am now just about ready to have a go at the real thing. With 17 beers on tap, along with a dozen more bottles, endless wines, spirits, coffees … the pub also has over 72 food choices available from the menu and a fairly sophisticated computer system known as The Squirrel to keep track of it all.

My training shifts allowed me to spend time in different areas, but the shift spent in the kitchen learning to expedite the food was very informative, albeit out of my comfort zone. Anybody who has been to my house for meal, EVER, will know that preparing and collating meals are not my strengths, but the Niblick is quite fussy about how food is served and so this is just all part of the learning process for me. I got to see dishes with unusual names like Boxties and Yorkies and Quesadillas being made while learning that blue cheese dressing goes with chicken wings while relish goes with burgers. I can now prepare any number of different salads and am learning to find my way around the very large freezer located in the rear of the kitchen.

Whilst the ‘the squirrel’ sends orders to the bar and the kitchen, it is not a till or cash register and so each server carries with them their own float, settling bills with the customers directly and keeping all monies and credit card slips tucked away in a cute little black apron. At the end of the shift, the squirrel prints out each persons' total sales, which are then given to the pub. Servers keep the excess, or tips, after first paying out 1% to both the bar and the kitchen staff. It seems like a good system and the other staff tell me that it’s the tips they work for, which on a busy night can be pretty good.

Whilst the training at the pub is now finished, it is mandatory in Ontario that anyone working in a position which involves the serving of alcohol must complete the 3 hour “Smart Serve” course within 90 days of being employed. This course deals with the responsible serving of alcohol and I’m wondering if I will inadvertently start transferring this new found knowledge to home as well; despite not being great in the food department, serving drinks is definitely my speciality when we have company.

Perhaps I will become a ‘responsible server of alcohol’ or perhaps people might just stop coming to our house.

Radio Ga-ga


You often hear about the importance of "ratings" for TV and radio, and how critical they are in allowing broadcasters to sell advertising space. Typically, there's only really somthing to watch on TV when you're in a ratings period, and outside of that you just get reruns of reruns. It's more or less the same for radio, only without so many reruns...

But I'd always wondered who actually gets to decide on these all-important ratings. I know that people supposedly get selected to be involved in the ratings process but it had never happened to me. Until a few weeks ago.

Funnily enough, I had just been lamenting to Donna about how crappy commercial radio is here in Canada. (Don't feel offended Canadians, I think commercial radio in Australia is generally crap as well) I think that one of the most annoying media genres I've ever come across is "morning radio"... it's always the usual inane banter back and forth between a male host and a female host, lame jokes, forced laughter, and an unhealthy obsession with celebrity gossip, all interspersed with "easy rock", or a "classic mix of the 70s, 80s, 90s and now." Blahh! It absolutely drives me mad. And as bad as it is in Australia, the quality of breakfast radio here in Toronto lowers the bar to a new standard.

The other option is to listen to AM news and talkback - normally a good way to stay informed on local issues - but the alleged "news" station around here has turned superficiality of daily events into an art form. Honestly, the news reports are so brief you just wonder "Is that all there is??" Of course if you want traffic, or weather, or more to the point "traffic and weather together", then you'll overdose on that stuff. Seriously, the traffic reports are probably 3 or 4 times longer than the actual news reports, and you seem to get them every few minutes. Real content or analysis of world news is nearly non-existent.

So when the local radio ratings mob rang me recently and asked me to participate in a ratings survey I was actually quite keen to have my say. As you might guess from the rant above, I was a bit blunt in the survey booklet, but hey...

Still, it was interesting to take part in a ratings survey and to see the process take place. Of course, these days I've decided that podcasts are a much better way to listen to radio that actually interests me. I just subscribe to a bunch of feeds in iTunes, sync it to my iPod and listen whenever it suits me. Other than that I just stream Triple J over the web. Radio on my own terms.

We are all Connected


Wow, I can't believe I have left it for a few days without writing anything on this blog. Well, I'm not surprised that I haven't done it - we've been busy with all the mundane stuff like school and work, which, to be brutally honest, I wouldn't have thought was all that interesting to write about.

What did surprise me though is that I actually got a few emails from people saying "Hey it's been a few days and no updates... what's going on?" So here I am trying to think of something to write. ;-)

Speaking of connections with other people, I got a few other emails in the last few days, from some surprising places. One from Jenni, another Australian exchange teacher whom I met in Quebec and who happened to stumble across this blog. Another from Erin in Sydney, a teacher who is looking at doing an exchange to Toronto next year, and who also just found the site. And finally I got one from Melissa, and old friend I haven't seen in quite a few years, now living in London with her new hubby Neil, and who also stumbled across this blog. I'm endlessly amazed at the connections this medium can make.

But how's this for a coincidence...

When I was back in Australia researching for this exchange I sent an email to a real estate agent that I randomly picked from the Internet yellow pages. Prior to arriving in Oakville, I had no idea about the locality of the area, where it was in relation to other things, whether it was a good area, and so on. So I sent this random email to this random real estate agent who very nicely replied and gave me the information I was after. To be perfectly honest, this recommendation from a perfect stranger actually played a key role in us biting the bullet and ending up here in Oakville, despite the fact that she wasn't actually from Oakville, but a city about 30 minutes away.

So anyway, I started a night class tonight at Sheridan College. I figured I would like to do some study while I'm here so I enrolled in a 14 week course in - don't laugh - writing a novel. The course was great and I'm looking forward to the next few weeks. But here's the kicker... as I was walking out of the college tonight I was chatting with another lady doing the class, and mentioned that I was an exchange teacher, from Australia, yaddah, yaddah. When I asked her what she did for a living, she said she was a real estate agent. Can you guess the rest?

That's right. It was the same lady. In an urban area of over 4 million people, the person I randomly send an email to one year ago turns out to be in the same night class as me.

The odds against this sort of thing must be staggering. But it still happens.

Back to School


School started up again this week. It seems ages ago that we finished the Canadian school year and drove away from Oakville for a weekend at the Grace's cottage. We seem to have been pretty busy since then, having done a lot of travel and living fancy free. But this week it was back to reality.

Kate moves into Grade 6 at Holy Family, and Alex started at Trinity in Grade 9. It's all a bit mixed up for the kids... they finished a school year last December in Australia, then arrived in Canada to begin the second semester of their next school year in late January here in Canada, effectively skipping the first half of that year. Now they move up a grade, and will be here until mid December when they return to Australia. When school goes back in Australia in February they will restart the current grade they just started here. Confused? They'll be fine.

I also returned to school at Trinity this week. I've been given some different courses to teach too. I had a phone call from the principal in the last week of the holidays asking if I would like to teach a subject called Communications Technology - it comprises graphic design, audio and video production, photography and design. Obviously I thought about it for about 2 milliseconds before saying yes! I'm looking forward to this course, and am planning to try out a whole lot of new ideas with this group of kids. I keep hearing about how much potential there is for blogging, podcasting and other Web2.0 technologies in the classroom so I plan to explore some of that. I've already hooked all the kids up with a blog so we'll see what we end up with.

I'm also teaching two business computing classes, BTT and BTA, both basically aimed at the more conservative, business-like use of computers such as Microsoft Office. It's a lot like the old Computing Studies courses that used to run in Australia before the new IST courses came in a couple of years ago. Still, I'm enjoying these classes and I'm sure we'll find opportunities to explore the digital world and have a bit of fun.

It's actually quite nice to be back and to see all the friendly faces around the school again. Trinity is a good school to work in, and everybody I've met there have been really nice to me. Like every school, there will always be a few things that can be frustrating, but the whole working and living overseas thing is a great experience.

I'll say it again... if you ever get a chance to go on a teaching exchange, take it.

Camp Wyoka


A few weeks before the summer holidays finished, I did a very Canadian thing and went to summer camp for a whole week. It was actually a camp run by the Canadian Girl Guides, so we had lots of great guiding activities, game and songs.

The first thing we did on Sunday when we arrived was to determine which swimming group we would be in. Red being shallow, green being intermediate and blue was for the advanced swimmers. I got put into the blue group. One of the first activities we did was rock climbing, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We had to climb a tall cement silo covered in coloured handholds and try to touch the bell at the top. The tower was about 2 stories tall and I managed to touch the bell twice!

My favourite part of the campsite was along the lakefront where we spent most of our days. We swam, played on the water trampoline, built things in the sand and went canoeing. One day we went on a canoe lunch where we canoed to the other side of the lake and had a picnic. The water was very clear, and even though the lake was mostly quite shallow, you could see the bottom even in the very deepest sections.

The tents we stayed in had a raised wooden platform for a floor. It was designed to keep the bugs out, but the bugs still got in! The mornings and night got very cold – down to 0 degrees – but the days were quite warm, around 25C.

On the final night we had a beach sleep, where we slept on the beach by the lake. It was surprisingly warm that night, with some people sleeping only in a T-shirt. The next day we packed our bags and caught the bus home to Mississauga where mum and dad picked me up.

There are a few more photos here.

You want fries with that?


I’ve always enjoyed – rather, loved - the 21 years I have spent in the classroom, and can honestly say I have, for the most part, felt I have made a difference in the lives of the kids that I have taught. Recently though, I have been getting itching feet, curious to try something outside of education. Having now decided on a path to take upon my return to Australia, I have been busy making inquiries and enrolling in courses which might lead me towards that goal.

But in the here and now of Canada I feel an almost flippant approach to just have a go at completely different things, which is in many ways so out of character for me. Being partially driven by reality though, I was looking for something that will pay reasonably well and waitressing came to mind as a possibility… although the hourly rate is very low, tips here in Canada are around 15% of the sale, so it’s possible to make reasonable money doing it.

After dropping off a couple of resumes, I was offered a position with a restaurant chain called Swiss Chalet. Selling mainly chicken and rib dinners, the Swiss Chalet offers the complete dining experience for those who want to eat in or a very busy ‘take-out’ service for those who don’t. Unfortunately, there are no tips to be made in take-out, and as I worked there each shift alongside the 16 year old students who would help pack and hand out the orders, I soon realised maybe this wasn’t quite what I was after.

I completed my last shift with the Swiss Chalet tonight after only 2 weeks, but feel all the better for it. Any opportunity which allows me an insight into Canadian life is what I believe this exchange program is all about. I start a new position in an English style pub on Thursday, and am very excited and grateful to have a newly found (although temporary) sense of freedom to try new stuff.

Fun and Games


We were excited to be invited to a street party last night to help our nearby neighbours, Dave and Linda, celebrate their significant birthdays. The plan was to have a big street party, complete with an official street closure, live band, and plenty of dancing and partying. However, thanks to Hurricane Ernesto and its influence on the weather patterns around Toronto this week, the party had to be scaled back to be an indoor gig. Bummer for Dave and Linda!

It was still a great party though! We arrived a little late as Donna didn't get off work till 9:00pm (which reminds me, she ought to blog about her new career path). The party was in full swing by the time we arrived with lots of food and drink, plenty of laughter and lots of fun. It was great to catch up with everyone, especially ones that we hadn't seen much over the last few months, since so many people go away for the summer break. It was also great that Heidi could be there too, as she just happened to be in town this week.

There's really no need to go into further detail here - mainly to protect the innocent - but it was a pretty wild night. ;-) I particularly like the party games that Dave dreamed up... One involved an ever diminishing paper bag - I've played Pass the Parcel before, but never Eat the Parcel. And as for the variation of the game which involved a carrot, a very flexible body and large amounts of alcohol... don't even go there.

Thanks Dave and Linda for a fun night, we had a ball. And happy birthday!

The Importance of being Ernesto


It was kind of strange watching the weather report on TV last night. They showed Hurricane Ernesto as it moved up the US east coast, showed it centered just off the coast of New York and then explained the areas which would be affected by the rain and wind conditions. The weather guy waved his hand up into southern Ontario and told how the effects of Ernesto would be felt there... and suddenly I thought, "Hey, that's where we are!"

Even after being here for 6 months, I still seem surprised sometimes when I see a map of the US and Canada and realise that's where we are. Weird huh?

Anyway, sure enough, the bad weather has rolled in and we are experiencing lots of rain and gusty conditions right now. It's the labour day weekend here in Canada (It marks the end of the summer break. Yep, back to school next week!) and it's amazing how predictably the weather changes back to the cooler conditions. It was like that back at the end of last winter too... Spring started on a certain date and it was like someone had just flipped a switch to start warming up. Now we get to the end of the summer break and it's like the switch has been flipped again and the cooler weather returns. It all seems very predictable.

But then, I come from Australia, where the term "weather pattern" is somewhat of an oxymoron. Weather down there changes when and if it feels like it... there's often not that much of a pattern to it, so the predictability of the Canadian weather is really quite a novelty.

Mind you, ask me again in mid-January how novel the weather is. I may have a diferent answer for you when it's -30C.

Skype: betchaboy

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