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!





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.


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…

How to live well on 40K a year

My husband and I make 40-50K a year most years, and some years have been under 30K, though one year we made 150K about 6 years ago. But, in my opinion, we actually live pretty well, and even go out to visit the so-called tourist spots or a nice meal out once or twice a month. We go out of town 3-4 times a year, and try to take a long distance trip once every 4-5 years, at least for one of us.

How do we do it?

No debt, especially no credit card debt. The only credit cards we use are the prepaid ones, which you have to put funds on it to use it, meaning you’re spending money you DO have.

NOT owning a home, especially with the crazy real estate prices in Toronto. This makes it easy to move if we ever need to, plus according to a recent article in a magazine, the neighbourhood we are in was one of the top 10 out of 140. Plus most apartment buildings have far more space than condos for the same rental or mortgage payment, plus with condo apartments, the maitenance fees can be almost another mortgage payment. Not only that, but a rental is more likely to be close to malls, libraries, and grocery stores compared to a typical house You also have to buy stuff to fill your home, especially if you own a large home.

Not owning a car, meaning no insurance, parking, gas, among other expenses–public transit and the occasional taxi are much cheaper, we get around by buying one pass and sharing it, and if we both need to travel together or at the same time, get some tokens for the month.

Living in an affordable but safe area for about half the average rent in Toronto.

Having no internet at home or prepaid internet.

Using prepaid phones with no contract. Even if you lost the phone, you wouldn’t be stuck with the monthly bills. And it’s easy to control your costs of calling and texting by knowing how much you have to spend on your phone in advance. And some carriers really overcharge on monthly plans.

Not having cable or satellite TV, especially not with one of the big carriers, known for ripping people off.

Signing up for a couple of large-scale loyalty programs which you don’t need a credit card for which we would use the rewards at least 3-4 times a year, for free groceries for example.

Using the library to borrow books and videos, often to try before you buy, and often we’ve found we were glad we didn’t buy the book or movie!

Not buying the latest technology, and using our computers until either the computer dies, or the games or other programs we use or things we create can’t run on our computers. Sometimes when our hard drive runs out of space. Heck, we don’t own any tablet computers, and don’t plan on buying one, and we didn’t even get a new TV until a few months ago after my husband’s 30 year old TV died! And we didn’t buy a very large or expensive TV, but one that was reasonably priced but well-rated.

Buying high end items at thrift shops. Especially high end clothes and sometimes furniture, almost two years ago my husband and I got a La-z-boy couch that is normally about $1200 for $90 INCLUDING delivery!

Stocking up on important non-perishable grocery items ONLY when they are on a significant discount from the regular price.

Using dollar/discount stores to purchase basic home decor, kitchen, and cleaning stuff. Otherwise, you pay 3-10x more in a department or specialty store, plus often you’ll find the name brand stuff at the dollar stores, especially the large chains. They are also good for stocking up on snacks when you go on a trip.

Don’t judge a book by its cover…because some of the best people in their trade have disabilities

Thanks to the modern obsession of what people do, how they look, what they say, or how they say it, many people judge a person based on their appearance and the appearance of their home. However, as a person who suffers from a few health issues and disabilities, my husband also suffering from disabilities, and working with both seemingly normal people and people who clearly have some sort of disability in their occupation, I have found that many of the ones who live with various conditions are among the very best in their trade.

I and my husband worked with a therapist early in our relationship to deal with our seperate personal problems and to make sure our relationship stayed intact, and worked with him for 5 years. He was a big help to us, and probably the best of three different therapists we tried. He gave us plenty of time, as much as an hour, usually up to 45 min, though we were typically done within 20 min, which most therapists rarely give more than 30 min, and usually 15. But, the amazing thing about this therapist was–he was a paraplegic and it was hard to understand him at times. He was a much bigger help than the other therapists we had, before we left him for unrelated reasons, mainly distance to travel and the problems on public transit in that part of the city. He does not have a lot of clients, but he makes time for you, listens to you, he’s flexible with you as you are with him.

Another excellent person with disabilities is a clarinet maker, performer, and repairer with a worldwide reputation for outstanding work, especially for the last. I have gone to other instrument repairers, who don’t do anywhere near as good a job as he does. He has a couple of obvious disabilities, which would make it difficult for him to work in a music store. But, he has been so successful that he’s had a house outright for several years and has travelled to several places around the world. Although his back yard is practically a small meadow and parts of his home are a bit untidy, when you talk with him you realize you are dealing with someone at the top of their craft. Again, he does not have a lot of clients relative to other instrument repairers, but he is only one of two Canadian ones for clarinets who are known around the world.

My husband, though suffering from degenerative disc disease in his back from a car accident many years ago is reputed to be one of the best organists and piano accompanists in Toronto, and is a specialist in teaching upper intermediate and advanced piano students. He is capable of sight reading almost anything, especially stuff that many other pianists won’t play even with practice. Again, he does not have a lot of clients, but the clients he does have often hire him over and over again, and try to refer him people whenever possible.

Finally, I suffer from a few medical conditions that make it just about impossible to work at a conventional job and only teach on a limited basis. Some potential clients have rejected me because of something I may have said or the look of my home or the way I look, but those who have worked with me know that I have an incredible track record for 15 years of teaching privately, several students in the 90% range on exams, both clarinet and piano students earning those kinds of marks, including a 93% on a LEVEL 6 exam by one student, the highest level of piano student I ever taught (my husband I refer the ones past this level, and I usually send them to him after Level 4 or 5), students who study music in university, who got large scholarships by several schools, two clarinet students in the last 7 seasons of Toronto’s top youth orchestra had studied with me during their beginning to intermediate years (when you consider that 50-60 clarinet players audition for 3-4 spots), students getting into arts high schools. Considering I have perhaps taught about 120 students total, less than 20 of those clarinet ones, that is definitely way above the average. I know people who’ve taught for 40+ years who don’t have a single student who earned at least an 85%–for my studio, below 80% I consider mediocre, when many teachers think 70s are good on these exams.

Observations about the Domestic Cat, November 1st, 2013

Cats that are paper chewers are usually male.

Cats with signs of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) seem to more likely be female.

Cats and kittens that sleep near human privates, especially human female privates, are usually male.

Gray kittens can occur with either two black cats passing on both the mother’s and father’s copy of a dilute black gene which produces gray tabbies as well as from two gray cats.

Cats that seem to be all black can have a few random white hairs on their body, a white whisker or two, white eyelids, or white lips.

Medium-long haired kittens can occur from shorter haired parents, if two copies of a recessive gene for longer fur are passed on.

Cats have a rudimentary sense of number, as female cats typically know how many kittens are in their litters, and most cats seem to know how many humans normally live with them, particularly when one or more of them is away for more than a couple of days.

While gray cats usually have salmon pink or gray noses and lips, some actually have black lips and noses. The latter indicates that the parents were black in colour.

 Many cats respond to music, especially if there are instruments around, particularly pianos, though some have little interest in it.

Kittens do NOT stick to a particular teat on the mother cat, as is commonly believed; they can even change teats during a feeding if they or the mother desires.

A few female cats enjoy having their teats touched lightly when they are pregnant.



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