You know you have cats when…

You know you have cats when…

 

  1. You find cat hairs in your glasses, mugs, plates, and bowls
  2. People say they can tell you have cats by the smell of your clothes
  3. It really bugs you when your cats use the litter boxes just after you cleaned them!
  4. You are telling stories about your cats to anyone who will listen, particularly other cat people
  5. You have cat-related merchandise
  6. You have way more pictures of your cats than you do of your family and friends
  7. You treat your cat as if a member of your family
  8. You find sheaths of your cat’s claws in random and unexpected places.
  9. You maneuver carefully if a cat is lying down in your bed and you want to lie down too with them
  10. You buy more toys and treats for your cat than you do for yourself
  11. You know your cat’s birthdays better than your human friends
  12. You have pictures of your cats in frames around the house
  13. You have pictures of your cats in your cellphone
  14. The main screen of your phone is a picture of your cat(s)
  15. You buy or borrow books about cats, fiction and non fiction
  16. You can tell what your cat wants or is feeling by the way they meow or purr
  17. You have seen a cat do a “silent meow”
  18. You’ve learned your cat’s tastes in music
  19. You think anyone who hates cats has something wrong with them
  20. You’ve seen the musical Cats, and not for the music, the artists, or the composer
  21. You plan your cat’s meals more carefully than your own
  22. Your cat’s food and water dishes are fancier than the ones you use for the humans in the home
  23. You have an album of music that’s cat-themed, or one of the artists has “Cat” in their name
  24. You sometimes look for art or prints of art with cats in them
  25. You have come close to nearly tripping over your cats many times, but you never actually have fallen because of a cat getting in your way!

Meri’s Guide to Travelling in and around Toronto when you visit this city

Food:

There are MANY cheap food places here (if you know exactly where to look, eg: the street dogs (hot dog/sausage stands, mostly downtown but some in the inner suburbs like East York and North York)

The Metro grocery store chain’s Monday-Friday 11 am-2 pm $2 pizza slice and drink special, per person, usually the slices are still rather to very fresh, though occasionally that’s not the case, but if you go when the school kids are on their lunch break or just a short time after, they’ll be very fresh. And that INCLUDES a drink for that price. Otherwise it’s $3.49, still a great price though for a slice of pizza and a pop. (most places it’s around 6-7 bucks) They have veggie slices too.

There’s a few really good shwarma places too, 2 shwarmas and 2 bottle drinks (includes fancy healthier juices) for just over 7 bucks at a place near Pape station, Sultan King, which also is near a really cheap fruit and veggie place that the quality is really good.

For groceries (especially if you stay in a hotel that you get at least a mini fridge, coffee maker, and microwave), try to get a place that is either near a Metro (which has a lot of the special dietary foods like gluten free and kosher, unlike their lower end store line, Food Basics) or Loblaws (includes No Frills, Valu-mart, and Great Canadian Superstore) which has quite a bit of ethnic foods.

Internet:

Don’t bother to bring a laptop unless you are on a business trip, there’s lots of library branches which have express and drop in terminals you can use for free, you don’t even need a library card. (express is 15 min and drop in is 30 min), and there’s printing at them for 15 cents a page. Hours vary by branch (about 100 branches), check the Toronto Public Library’s website (www.torontopubliclibrary.ca for details on your nearest branches and hours)

Your hotel or motel, or if you’re staying with a friend who lives here, may have free or low-cost internet access, either WIFI or a terminal or two you can use.

If the libraries are closed or the internet connection is not working there (it happens rarely, however), you may have the option of Internet cafes, which generally run between 1-3 bucks an hour, most are around 3 bucks an hour; however, there are not as many of these as there were 5 years ago due to WIFI becoming common in many eating establishments, especially major chains.

Kinkos/FedEx places have internet access, but it’s really expensive, runs to about $10 an hour.

Or you can borrow a friend’s laptop if you have friends who live here and use the WIFI on one of the places that have WIFI connections.

Attractions:

There are CityPass vouchers for Toronto which are good for 9 days from the first attraction you visit, 6 of them, and it’s already more than paid for even if you visit only 3 of them.

The CN Tower is DEFINITELY worth it, and if there’s only one attraction you visit in Toronto, and you can’t fit Canada’s Wonderland or it’s closed for the season, go here. Go early in the week, and almost as soon at it opens. Canadians who get Air Miles can also get passes to this place as a reward, which is normally over $30 for adults. It’s also included in the CityPass voucher.

If you have time, also visit the brand new Ripley’s Aquarium next door: reviewers and regular folk say it’s awesome! Each of these two can be done in less than a half day.

Canada’s Wonderland (late April/May-early October) is great for kids and adults, but go on an early day of the week (Monday to Wednesday and the lineups are short to non-existent on the rides, even the popular or new ones.) A great place if you have a fan of roller coasters, this is Canada’s Roller Coaster Capital. There are also two or three mini golf courses on the grounds, but they are really beautiful and well maintained.

Both the City Pass and Canada’s Wonderland have kids and adult prices (you save a bit by buying them online before you go http://www.citypass.com and Wonderland http://www.canadaswonderland.com

it’s something like $70 for the CityPass now for adults now but most of the attractions in Toronto’s CityPass included are between 20 and 30 bucks each (the Toronto Zoo’s one of them, and I think that’s over 30 for adults now), and there are senior’s prices for the zoo as well.

Wonderland is not included in that City Pass, but those tickets can be bought online and the savings is pretty significant, but it’s usually easy to find comparable prices if you or a friend that lives there can get coupons to save 10-15 bucks per person on admission, though the coupons are getting hard to find nowadays.

There are a few very cheap or free attractions in Toronto. If you were not able to pick up a CityPass which includes the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), you can go to the ROM for $5 a person on Fridays after 4 PM if you’re willing to go only to the permanent exhibit.

A hidden gem about 10 min south of Castle Frank subway station, get off at Winchester, then walk east about 10 min is a free farm that runs by donations called Riverdale Farm, usually open April to early November but may have expanded to year round in recent years. There’s a fabulous little ice cream place near there on Winchester mainly known only to people who live in that area (I had a piano teacher who still lives in that area) and an awesome but somewhat pricey sandwich place that has the best grilled cheese on rye sandwiches called St. Jamestown Deli on Parliament St.

Another secret of Toronto generally known by locals but rarely by visitors is a short walk from High Park subway station (in fact, just across the street from it) is a large urban park of the same name that includes an outdoor pool with a waterslide in the summer, a petting zoo, a pony farm, walking/cycling/hiking paths, and in August, Shakespere in the Park (weather permitting), all for free. You need multiple visits to discover even half its secrets, there’s even a story about being a source of a plant known as reed rush that reed players use to adjust their reeds to make them play better in that park. (sorry, I don’t know where it is or what it looks like)

Accomodations:

If you’re willing to travel to the suburb of Scarborough, often you can find rooms for $40-$60 a night for a motel for up to 4 people (most hotels are at least double or triple that) which have the amenities most people use in a hotel, most have WIFI too and satellite TV, many have a small kitchen too.

Particularly when travelling as a family or group, between late May and mid-August, check into college/university campus residences for a rental that’s affordable, all three of the University of Toronto campuses have student accomodations and York University’s Glendon Campus (Bayview/Lawrence) is about 25 min by transit from downtown. Ryerson University may have some places, and most community college campuses do too, the main ones are Centennial College, Humber College, and Seneca College. Centennial College has several campuses, however, not all of them have residences.

If you are really on a budget, see if you have a friend that would let you stay at their place, or if they know someone that might want to rent out their place for a short term stay.

Getting around:

Unless you are travelling outside of Toronto proper, and are by yourself or with only one other person, consider forgoing the car and using the public transit system. Toronto’s main transit system, the TTC, or Toronto Transit Commission, stretches for approximately 66 KM from its easternmost to westernmost point, the trains generally run every 3-5 min, and the major bus routes run at least every 10-12 min, more frequently during rush hours, though some limited-run routes run only every 30 minutes, and sometimes not on weekends or holidays.

If you are planning to stay in Toronto for at least a week, and are alone or with only one other person,

try to arrive on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday to take advantage of the special weekend day pass deal and one person weekly passes, which are a significant savings over cash fares or tokens. There are senior and high school student prices on weekly transit passes as well. (and monthly too)

For families with children and teens travelling to Toronto, on weekends, statutory holidays, Christmas Holidays, and often the main Canadian March Break (varies each year), Day passes are good for 6 people, maximum 2 adults, and the rest have to be kids or teens 19 and under, and weekly passes are useful if you are staying for at least 5 days starting on a Sunday (when you arrive) which you buy the weekly pass that starts Monday and is valid until midnight the next Sunday.

If you do rent a car, find out how far the destinations that you are heading to by car are from your accomodations from Toronto, and don’t forget to account for a two way trip, and get the next higher mileage amount, unless it’s within 20 KM, and then get the mileage allotment 2 higher from the one you think you’ll need. Use transit whenever possible as well to cut your mileage use on the car.

Another reason to have a friend who lives here if you are travelling from outside Canada: at least two car rental places take the Canadian Air Miles program, you can have the car rental and they can have the miles from your car rental.

If you’re driving around in the downtown core and short distances away from them (which I like to discourage), watch out for the one way streets, there are a LOT of them in Toronto, so get a mapbook for Toronto and area and perhaps a friend who knows the areas you are travelling to watch for them. One way streets are rare to non-existent in North York and Scarborough, and generally non-existent in the Greater Toronto area outside of the city proper. (Obviously this is not a problem if you forgo the car) I don’t think the online maps indicate one-way streets, but I could be wrong.

Shopping:

Despite what other guides to Toronto might tell you, SKIP The Eaton Centre, especially if you are on a budget.

However, if you love music and movies, head to Canada’s largest HMV store about 1/2 block north of Dundas/Yonge which is near the Eaton Centre. Huge selection, including many hard to find items. Large classical selection, which is extremely rare in Toronto or most shops that sell CDs and DVDs. 

If you play from written music, or have kids who study musical instruments, especially piano, make a trip to Remenyi House of Music (210 Bloor St West), which is one of Canada’s biggest sheet music stores, a great selection of music reference and story books for all ages, a great selection of music toys and games, and has a good selection of a range of high quality string instruments, mostly violins, violas, and guitars from student to professional grade.

Across the street from Remenyis is the Royal Conservatory of Music, which was the original site of McMaster University, which is now in Hamilton. (the university that is) The old section of it is also one of the oldest buildings in Canada, you can tour it yourself for free. And next door to that is…the ROM, mentioned in an earlier section.

Canada’s oldest single location department store is closing soon in 2015 or 2016, Honest Ed’s, but there are still some great bargains at this place just south of Bathurst subway station. It looks cool at night too, almost like Las Vegas in Toronto.

For super cheap souvenirs and inexpensive snack food and drinks, head to the Dollarama chain (lots of locations, new ones pop up several times a year), which most items are 69 cents-$3, nothing more than $3 an item, and some items are 2 or 3 for $1. Warning: it’s easy to spend $40-$50 in one shot there. Cash and debit only. Many brand name items at much better prices than grocery and department stores. You can often find Canada or even Toronto shirts for kids and adults for 2 to 3 bucks in Dollarama that you would pay 15-25 dollars for in the touristy areas! Dollarama also has a lot of useful travel items if you’ve forgotten or lost something, and the seasonal selection for most holidays is very good, especially at some of the larger locations.

If you absoutely must head to a large mall, try Scarborough Town Centre, which is right on the Scarborough RT line on the TTC. If you need a small mall that’s pretty good that can be done in two hours, try the East York Town Centre, 50 Overlea Blvd, about 15 min north of Pape station on either the 25 Don Mills or 81 Thorncliffe Park buses. One of the first Target stores that opened in Canada is in that mall, and generally I’ve found that location to be a very good one. Avoid late Friday afternoons and weekends at this mall, it’s usually PACKED with the local residents of the area on those days, particularly close to holidays, because it’s in and near the highest density neighbourhoods of Toronto, Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park, which is almost completely low and high rise buildings, and very few single family homes or townhouses.

If you or someone you’re travelling with get a minor cold or other bug here and it’s the middle of the night when everything else is closed, know that there are some Shopper’s Drug Mart stores that are open 24/7/365, yes, even on Christmas Day or any other holiday. If you get a major food craving and there’s little or no food, there are 24/7 stores of the Metro chain and I think one or two others have them, though they are usually closed on statutory holidays. Shopper’s Drug Mart also has a good variety of food items, though very little to none in the produce and no deli except prepackaged stuff.

 

The myths and truths of volunteering (especially too much)

Some people say you should volunteer as much as you can, because it will often lead to paid work.

The fact is, unless a volunteer job is related to your planned career before finishing high school or a school club or activity, or you are so passionate about it and it doesn’t take an excessive amount of time, and it’s not run or sponsored by major corporations, you should limit or avoid volunterring, especially if you are just intending to fill a requirement or to pad your resume with something that has little or no relation to what you’d like to do with your life.

Not only that, volunteer work, especially for extended periods and more than 4 or 5 hours a week, is often a drain on one’s own energy, plus is often menial. And if you notice the income segment that volunteers their time, it’s usually lower middle and lower income people who do most of the volunteering, rarely those in the top 10-20% of income earners—and many of those top income earners are making huge profits on the backs of those slaving away for free, when those slaving away should really be paid for their time.

Now, I do volunteer—but only once in a while, in a limited capacity for 4 hours a day per day for 4 days at a small church music camp. But this is NOT at all corporate sponsored, and it’s one of the very few volunteer activities that has led to paying opportunities, with paid performance gigs, one or two students most years, and getting paid at other music camps for other organizations. Otherwise, after high school, and especially after university, I focussed on earning income in the ways I knew how, and only volunteered for something I knew I would be really passionate about and didn’t take a lot of time, which is mainly classical music. I DO sort of volunteer to help my husband with his church jobs and other music jobs, but he pays me a small share of his salary for doing so, and even gets me paid opportunities to perform. And in high school, I mostly did activities that were part of my first love and developed me as a musician, such as most of the school music ensembles, honours bands and orchestras, and the all-city band and orchestra. Since I was also aiming to do music therapy at the time and had an interest in working with autism for my music therapy career, I volunteered at an autism center one Saturday a month for 3 hours for a program for non autistic siblings who had at least one sibling who was. I made the mistake of volunteering for a couple activities that I had some interest but were not part of what I planned to do with my life after graduating, when I probably should have focussed on paid work or school work.

In addition, certain types of volunteering, especially academic tutoring and teaching free (or almost free) music lessons, takes away opportunities for those who really need to be paid for doing such work, and with music lessons, especially on certain instruments, there is limited demand for instruction on that instrument. While the people who run those programs are often getting a decent or even a high salary themselves on the backs of those slaving away for hours.

Just some food for thought.

 

You say you can’t afford to take lessons from a quality private music teacher, but…

  1. You eat out with your family at a mid priced restaurant once a week at $75-$100/week?
  2. You buy a video game system that costs $200-$400?
  3. You buy a big screen TV costing $2000-$5000 or more?
  4. You drive a fancy car with payments that are $300-$500/month?
  5. You go to an expensive vacation spot at a 5 star resort costing $5000 or more for a family of four once a year?
  6. You drive a car and live in an area with good public transit, and don’t really need one?
  7. You subscribe to Internet service that costs $80-$100/month? (which you can get for under half that, if you sacrifice wireless internet)
  8. You are on a cellphone plan that costs at least $80/month? (I have a plan on a non-smartphone that costs me only $35/month, with almost everything except long distance and weekday minutes unlimited, yes, even international text, on a prepaid phone!)
  9. You buy a fancy $500 phone for your cell every 12-18 months?
  10. You subscribe to expensive TV service costing as much as $100/month?
  11. You buy a fancy pet (especially a dog) that costs $800-$1500 on initial purchase, not to mention ongoing costs for vet care and training when you cannot afford it?
  12. You buy fancy furniture that costs several thousand dollars every 3-5 years?
  13. You spend money on expensive hobbies for yourself or your kids that have no clear benefit, such as horse riding lessons?
  14. You send your kids to play expensive sports, such as hockey and football?
  15. You buy a house which you are overextending yourself in paying the mortgage payments?
  16. You buy a tablet computer that costs $300-$600 for yourself and sometimes even for each member of the family?
  17. You spend as much as $500 on one day at an amusement park for a family of four?
  18. You spend 10-20K on a kitchen renovation or home theatre system that you really don’t need?
  19. You spend $150 for one night at the movie theatre for a family of four between tickets, food, and the arcade?
  20. You spend $500-$1000 on a pair of tickets for a teenager and their friend to see a major pop sensation which the pop star is already making millions of dollars?
  21. You spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on season tickets for the home games of your favourite sports team?
  22. You buy a car for a teenager that has learned to drive?
  23. You spend a small fortune on a gym membership that you hardly ever use?

Private music teachers often make do with few to none of these luxuries!

 

IT IS ALL ABOUT PRIORITIES. MAKE SACRIFICES TO PAY FOR QUALITY MUSIC LESSONS!

 

 

Meri’s Travel Tip: February 12, 2014

Minimize/eliminate cellphone roaming charges by turning off your phone once you are about to leave for your destination, and use payphones, or the phone of someone in your travel location you know. On a smartphone, the roaming charges for data can be huge as well as the per-minute charges.

 

Meri’s Money Tips: February 12, 2014

NEVER pay your bills automatically through your bank account, especially credit card, cellphone, water and hydro bills in case you need to dispute the bill, as it can be very difficult to get your money back. (I never have, but I’ve heard stories of people who do, and it ends up costing them way too much!)

 

Meri’s Household Tips: February 12, 2014

 Keep at least 5 pairs of scissors, and 3 in the kitchen: one for cutting veggies (especially useful for lettuce and asparagus), one for cutting packages of meat or the meat itself, and one for cutting cheese. One of the remaining pairs is your crafting scissors, also used for opening packages, and the last is a backup if you ever lose any of your other pairs.

 

Cultural Norms that are different outside of North America

  1. In Germany, asking for a tour of someone’s home is considered offensive
  2. In certain predominantly Muslim countries, eating in public during Ramadan is subject to jail time and/or hefty fines
  3. In Mexico, the North American hand gesture for “Okay” means “You’re worth zero”
  4. In Korea, blades of any kind (including scissors) are a no-no as a gfit as they signify the end of a relationship
  5. Chewing gum is banned in China, and carries heavy fines
  6.  Avoid wearing yellow in certain Asian countries and in the state of Hawaii, as it signifies a loved one or even royalty has died.
  7. While children urinating in public is acceptable in China, especially with boys, in the US, it carries heavy fines if anyone is caught doing it.
  8. (North) American cultural norms that are faux-pas in other countries
  9. In many European countries, money as a gift is considered as an unwelcome gift.
  10. To people of the Jewish faith, if you do give money as a gift, the amount should be a multiple of 18.
  11. In China, you must give an even number of bills and/or coins when giving money as a gift.
  12. Carrying even a small bottle of narcotics (such as certain types of pain pills) is illegal in many countries, and can be consfiscated.
  13. Cursing in public is illegal in Macedonia, and a few other countries as well.
  14. Complimenting a new baby and sometimes older children is not considered good manners in China, Japan, and some African countries.
  15. While black is the colour of the passing of a family member or close friend, in China, that colour is white.
  16. Wearing certain types of clothing, especially dresses and skirts that are shorter than covering the knees, are illegal in several predominately Muslim countries, and in China as well.
  17. In France, don’t bring a bottle of wine as a gift, unless you are a professional wine maker.
  18. The safest colours to wrap gifts in any country are red (especially in China), green, and orange. Besides the common forbidden colours of black and white in several countries, yellow is a common faux-pas colour as it signifies mourning in several countries, especially in central and South America.
  19. Only a very few countries allow wearing in public of the home country’s flag on clothing, mainly Canada, US, and Australia.
  20. Giving money to panhandlers in many countries is not only allowed in most countries, it is actually encouraged.
  21. Giving food to wild animals and sometimes even zoo animals is allowed and encouraged in most countries.
  22. Bringing food to social gatherings is generally considered poor taste outside of North America.
  23. Men are not permitted to dress like women in Aruba.
  24. In some countries, such as the US and The Bahamas, littering is a criminal offence.
  25. In Austria, Germany, Greece and some other countries, not flushing a public toilet is a criminal offence.i
  26. In Belarus, females are not allowed to wear trousers in public.
  27. In Afghanistan, spitting in public is a criminal offence.
  28. In Bangladesh, kissing in public is a criminal offence
  29. In India and some other countries, mostly in Asia, jaywalking is a criminal offence.
  30. In Burma, females are not allowed to wear bikini-style bathing suits for that number sounds similar to the word for death.
  31. Don’t ask for an alcoholic drink in predominately Muslim countries, as it is prohibited by Islamic laws.
  32. It is considered unclean to use the left hand for eating or presenting a gift in most Asian countries, as it is thought of as the toileting hand. (left-handers, be careful of this one!)
  33. Giving anything with dogs as a gift is considered offensive in South Korea and Japan.
  34. Don’t expect long shopping hours in many countries, most places close at 6 pm on weekdays outside of Canada and the US; and in Pakistan you only have one hour to shop on Saturdays, between 9:30 am and 10:30 am.

Sources:

Dresser, Norine. (1999). Multicultural Celebrations. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Nwanna, Gladson I. (1998). Do’s and Don’ts Around the World. [6 volumes]. Baltimore: World Travel Institute.

Turkington, Carol. (1999). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cultural Etiquette. Indianopolis: Alpha Books, MacMillan USA Inc.

10 Things Meri Keeps in her laptop case (and why)

Besides my laptop, over the years I have found that certain items are good to have and carry in your laptop case. Here are my top choices:

  1. Extra blank CDs, at least two or three, for uploading pictures and short videos, as well as burning music Cds.
  2. Extra Blank DVDs, for burning videos that can be viewed on a regular DVD player.
  3. A multi-card reader, one that plugs into your USB port, especially if your laptop does not have a built in one. Useful for transfering photos from regular and mini SD cards in particular.
  4. Your portable USB stick for important data files you use regularly.
  5. A quality portable speaker, since the speakers on most laptops are not that great, especially if you play music or games.
  6.  A quality set of headphones without a microphone, for quiet gameplay without disturbing anything or listening to music, especially if you can hear very low notes well. (lower quality headphones the lowest notes are not heard at all)
  7. Somewhat optional, but necessary if you chat over Skype and similar services, a headset with microphone.
  8. Pen and paper with notepad, because sometimes you just need to write something down from an important email or take notes.
  9. A portable mouse with mousepad, can get either miniature or standard size, or both depending on your needs to plug into a USB port when you need more control than a tracking pad on laptops offer.
  10. A USB port expander, which lets you add additional ports you may need, such as playing certain types of games or graphics programs.

Something's wrong with this picture

Those of you who can read music even at a fairly basic level should be able to figure out what’s wrong with this musically themed gift tag which was on one of Meri’s Christmas gifts in 2013…

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