Good-bye Clutter

It has been months since my last blog post because my life got busier than expected. I landed a short-term position for the summer which involved working shifts, long drives, and an agreement promising not to write anything about the job on any form of social media. Consequently, I decided to avoid blogging for the duration of the job to be on the safe side. In addition, at the end of August I signed an oath promising never to discuss the gig after the completion of the contract. There is nothing to say other than I am happy that it is finished.

In the spring, we bought a new house and spent the month of May slowly moving from the cabin to the house. It is a three bedroom bungalow with a full basement. It was gutted and completely rebuilt five years ago, so it only needed some cosmetic touch-ups like new paint, window screens and a few minor repairs, except for the kitchen cabinets which required a new updated look. We used Rust-Oleum cabinet coating system to redo the cabinets. I am pleased with the end result, but I would not recommend this to anyone who does not have tons of free time on their hands. The whole process, starting with cleaning and deglossing, applying two bond coats, adding a decorative glaze, and applying a protective top coat to protect against stains and scratches, is extremely time-consuming. Here is a before and after photo of one section of the cabinets.

The new house has a wood and oil furnace in the basement. I don’t plan on using oil because it is too expensive. Last March I met a man when I was skiing on his property in my quest to find chaga. We started chatting and he ended up giving me enough wood for the winter. It was already cut and scattered over his lot. My brother helped gather it up and brought it to my place with his truck and trailer. Then Florian and I split it and piled it up to dry.

As for the cabin, we still go there two or three times a week to feed the stray cat and look after the garden boxes. I have no idea what I am going to do with this place. Even after I moved, the garage is full of stuff.

For example, I have a beautiful antique organ and a new exercise twister, but I have absolutely no use for them. I tried to give them away on kijiji, but there were no takers. Actually, that is not true. Two or three people would take the organ if I would deliver it. The Ab-Doer twister has only been used two or three times and it  costs over $300 on Amazon, but I couldn’t give it away for free!

In the end, these items and most of the other junk will have to find a new home in the local landfill. Although I hate to throw away things I have decided if I have no use for something in the foreseeable future then I am eliminating it from my life.  Otherwise, the garage will never be free of clutter.  I am determined to declutter the garage before I start my next job in a couple of days, so that means I better get started now.

Frozen Pants

I have too much free time on my hands again. The temperatures this week dipped to minus 20º C and this put a damper on my quest to find a chaga source. Most days my cross-country ski outings lasted about 60 to 90 minutes before I scrambled back to the cabin to get warm in front of the fire.

However, I heard an interesting interview on the CBC Radio program As It Happens on Friday evening with a man from Minnesota, USA who suggested Canadians suffering from winter boredom, could get involved in a fun activity called “frozen pants”. The man believes that Canada, with its frigid temperatures, should be a mecca for “frozen pants”.

Now, I am not sure that there is any point to this silly activity, but I have no pressing chores or anything else on the agenda this weekend, so why not take a stab at “frozen pants”.

It is easy – just take a pair of pants, soak them in water, put them outside, watch them freeze, and then put them on display for your neighbors to enjoy. Since it was too cold for me to go skiing this morning I sent my jeans skiing instead. Here they are enjoying the winter in Canada.

Frozen Pants out skiing.

Frozen Pants out skiing.

Frozen Pants

Frozen Pants

 

 

Trash City – Nizwa

In spite of government campaigns and media focus on issues related to waste disposal there seems to be unwillingness on the part of ordinary citizens in Nizwa to keep the city clean. Although Nizwa is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains it is also home to heaps of garbage thrown from car windows, left to rot after family picnics in the wadi, improperly disposed of at garbage pick-up sites, or scattered around dumpsters.

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It is not unusual to encounter industrial trash randomly dumped behind trees or cement barriers in an attempt to hide it from public view, or to see large pieces of debris left behind in the wadi after a rain.

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Do citizens have a responsibility to keep their city clean or is this the domain of city officials or government? Some mornings I see an expatriate worker gathering up garbage along the streets in my neighborhood, but his efforts are useless because no matter how much trash he picks up it is quickly replaced with more rubbish. This city moves at a leisurely pace.  I am baffled as to why the people do not take the time to dispose of waste properly. After all, very little time and energy is required to put your garbage in the trash bin. This makes me believe that many residents are lazy, inconsiderate, and have no pride in their community.

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Additionally, a lot of the garbage on the streets such as pop cans, paper, and plastic bottles can be recycled, but if people do not care enough to keep the streets, wadis and parks clean how can they be expected to separate trash and respect the environment?

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In order to keep Nizwa attractive and dirt-free a greater effort is necessary from both residents and city officials. People need to change their attitude and behavior. I assume that many of the people who litter have neat and tidy homes. They would not live in a messy home, so why do they accept living in a dirty city? Community leaders should encourage residents to recycle by providing special bins for cans, plastic, paper and other recyclable materials. There are none in my neighborhood, so I take my paper to work to recycle it and I save my cans for a young Bangladeshi who collects them to earn extra money. This is too much effort for many people.  Consequently, most of this stuff ends up in the regular trash instead of being recycled.

The city has a responsibility to ensure a clean and pleasant environment for residents by providing recycling bins and speedy garbage collection. However, if people will not do their part to keep the city spotless then government officials should enforce tough anti-littering laws and heavy fines for disposing of waste incorrectly. If everyone works together it is possible for Nizwa to be both a beautiful and clean city.

Daily Prompt: We Can Be Taught

Here is my take on yesterday’s daily prompt from the Daily Post.

What makes a teacher great? Almost everyone you ask will have a different answer for this question. It is difficult to pin point the exact characteristics that make a  teacher great. If people could agree on this then there would be more great teachers. Teaching is a demanding profession that requires dedication, hard work, passion and a commitment to students. Many people can become good teachers but it is much more difficult to move into the category of a great teacher. However, there are five characteristics that are found in good teachers.

Communication – It is essential to communicate your ideas clearly and explain the tasks so that students understand. This requires thinking about what you want your students to do and the means to do it. And it also requires that you listen to your students and understand the difference between what they say and what they mean. If you can relate your vision to your students then everyone will be working towards the same goal.

Patience – It is necessary to deal with misfortune, difficulty, and annoyances without complaining, losing one’s temper or showing irritation. Good teachers are understanding and patient with their students. No matter how many mistakes students make or how many times they need to explain the same thing they do it with enthusiasm. The great thing about teaching in Oman is I get to practice this every single day.

Empathy – Good teachers recognize the value, importance and ability of each student. To have empathy you have to understand your students and their perspective. All students learn differently and in order to completely empathize with them you need to put yourself in their seats. I teach EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in Oman. English grammar and spelling rules that seem simple and straightforward to me offer many challenges for Arab speakers. They thrive in an oral culture; they love to chat, but many students struggle with the written language. In fact, many of them dislike writing. So, when I select writing topics for my class I ask myself one question. Can I do this in German? This has helped me to select more appropriate topics for my students because if I can’t do it in a second language then I shouldn’t expect them to do it.

Positive Attitude – Good teachers maintain a positive attitude even on tough days. Teachers have to be flexible and ready for schedule changes, discipline issues, challenging material, unmotivated students, demanding supervisors or complaining colleagues. There are days when everything goes wrong and teachers who can perform on these days are the ones who can make a positive impact on learners.

Teach by doing – It is not enough to explain new ideas or concepts. Good teachers demonstrate by bringing examples into the classroom. They draw pictures or diagrams and find other creative ways to share knowledge and facilitate learning. They encourage their students to take risks, accept mistakes and push them to overcome setbacks.

Lastly, I would like to be a good teacher and I constantly strive to improve and learn from my colleagues, supervisors and most importantly from my students. However, in all honesty, teaching is a job and not a passion for me. Thus, I will never be a great teacher.

Support Canada by Hiring Canadians

hirecanadiansA labor shortage should be positive news for young people entering the work force and older workers with experience. Wages should increase and finding a suitable job should be easier. However, this is not the case in Canada because the Conservative government, under the guidance of Stephen Harper, has allowed businesses to employ Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), making it extremely difficult for new graduates, youth, and older Canadians to obtain entry-level positions or jobs in the construction and service industry.

Recently, after the CBC Go Public Blog reported on widespread abuses and informed Canadians of the negative impact on domestic workers, the government implemented a moratorium on the hiring of TFWs in the fast-food industry. Unfortunately, this lasted only a few weeks before being reinstated. During this time, the government introduced a few more restrictions, increased fees to hire TFWs but did little to address the impact of the TFW program on Canadians seeking employment.

The Conservative government has not been able to come up with a strategy to deal with high unemployment in many parts of the country and the imaginary labor shortage in other parts of the country. Instead the Harper government continues to ignore the real motivation behind the TFW program which is to keep wages artificially low by flooding the market with an endless supply of low-skilled workers from abroad.

Canada does not benefit from an increase in low-paid, unskilled temporary workers. Instead allowing large numbers of low-skilled foreigners to work in construction, retail, restaurants and fast food establishments makes it more challenging for Canadians to find work.

To solve high unemployment in the eastern part of the country and fill any labor shortages in the western provinces the government needs to set up a program that increases the mobility of unemployed workers towards job opportunities. Providing internal migration incentives or assistance would ease labor market shortages in areas with not enough available workers. The growth of the TFW program has impeded labor market adjustment and reduced opportunities for Canadians to move to areas of low unemployment in search of a better future. As long as it is cheaper to pay airfare and medical coverage, provide accommodation, cover visa and other fees for TFWs than relocation costs of Canadian citizens then large corporations will not be willing to hire and train Canadians. Additionally, if there is a mismatch between available jobs and the qualifications of domestic laborers then companies must be encouraged to invest in training Canadians before opening the gates to foreign workers.

Given the present state of high unemployment across the country, it is extremely hard to understand why the Harper government continues to subsidize big business by allowing them easy access to the TFW program instead of forcing these companies to invest in hiring and training our own citizens.

Why is corporate Canada so cheap?

Canada1Why do Canadian companies hire TFWs (temporary foreign workers), use unpaid interns, and refuse to improve wages and benefits? The answer is quite simple. Corporate Canada is cheap and greedy.

When it comes time for CEO bonuses, large payouts, and retirement packages for top management then there is no shortage of money. According to The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, CEO bonuses have increased by 73% between 1998 and 2012 while the average Canadian full-time worker’s annual salary has only improved by 6%. Yet, the mention of an increase in wages terrifies most industry leaders because their only interest is their bottom line – more money in their pockets. It doesn’t matter that their employees struggle to put food on the table, pay the rent or mortgage, pay bills, and are given few benefits.

Many companies claim they have difficulty finding Canadians willing to work and that they are forced to spend large sums of money recruiting and hiring overseas workers. Another argument used is that there is a “skills” shortage – not enough skilled workers to fill available jobs. This is a ridiculous claim because the vast majority of unemployed workers are capable of flipping burgers, cleaning work areas, serving customers, operating cash registers and so on. What they fail to realize that if they provide a livable wage, decent benefits and opportunities for training and advancement Canadians would gladly work in the retail and fast food industry.

It is clear that industry is unwilling to share their massive cash reserves by increasing wages, offering incentives for workers, or training for Canadians. Why is the Canadian government, under the leadership of Stephen Harper, reducing corporate taxes and allowing companies to amass enormous cash stashes while the growing numbers of working poor in this country are left to battle with cheap foreign labor for low-wage jobs? The current situation requires urgent and strong leadership on the part of political leaders at all levels of government as well as more pressure from ordinary citizens to force the federal government to put an end to Harper’s economic development plan which is based on keeping wages low.

The time has come to address low wages, high unemployment, youth and aboriginal employment, reduction in social programs and the general inequality that is spreading rampantly from coast to coast. This is not the scenario of fairness and equal opportunity that our ancestors worked hard to achieve but one that the present government has allowed to spiral out of control by working for business and not for the people.

Letter to Jason Kenney (Employment Minister – Canada)

Dear Mr. Kenney,

Please end the TFW (temporary foreign worker) program in fast food, retail, factories, and all industries that do not require extensive training and expertise. There is no worker shortage in Canada. Thousands of Canadians are unemployed; large numbers receive social assistance, students are unable to secure part-time jobs and seniors are standing in line at food banks.

As a Canadian willing to accept any job, anywhere in Canada, I have applied for hundreds of entry-level positions to no avail. Thus, I am convinced, given the recent reports on the CBC, that I have not landed a job due to industry preference of TFWs. There is an obvious reluctance on the part of large corporations such as McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s, Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart and Subway, to name a few, to hire and pay Canadians decent wages and benefits.

Mr. Kenney, under your watch the TFW program has spiraled out of control to the detriment of both TFWs and the working poor in Canada. Foreigners are being exploited and Canadians are struggling to find and keep a job. Guest workers are living in deplorable conditions, threatened with deportation, and forced to work overtime without compensation. Companies are charging foreigners money so they can become TFWs in Canada, only to end up on welfare. Reliable and dedicated Canadian workers are being replaced by TFWs. Job applications from Canadians are being tossed in the trash bin and Canadian high school students no longer have an opportunity to gain valuable work experience. How can you possibly support this unjust program?

Please remember the Liberal government started this program to support the agricultural industry and to help companies that required skilled labor, not to put Canadians out of work. However, your Conservative government has expanded the program by catering to businesses and ignoring the working poor in Canada. Your government lengthened TFW permits from 1 to 2 years in 2007, extended them from 2 to 4 years in 2011, reduced the pay rate by 15% of the prevailing wage for TFWs, slashed the time for LMO (Labor Market Opinion) approval from 5 months to 5 days, and lowered the percentage of TFWs requiring a LMO to less than 40%. Mr. Kenney, why did you and your government make it easier for TFWs to be hired and more difficult for Canadians to find work?

It is clear the TFW program is being used as a tool to import cheap labor and put downward pressure on wages and benefits in Canada. If companies cannot afford to train and hire Canadians then please allow market forces to take care of these companies. In other words, if a company is only profitable, thanks to government incentives or cheap labor from abroad, then this company should fail.

As a result of your continued support, large corporations, small and medium business owners insist that Canadian youth and students are lazy, the unemployed have poor work ethics, and that Canadians won’t move to where the jobs are, and so on. Do you really believe this? Could it be possible that these companies want to take the easy route and employ foreigners? How is it possible that TFWs have access to full-time jobs while Canadians are given part-time ones? Why are companies paying airfare, settling in allowances, helping with accommodation for TFWs but not providing similar services to Canadians willing to relocate for a job?

As long as there is massive unemployment in Canada this program serves business, drives down wages and discriminates against hard-working Canadians. Mr. Kenney, you and your government were unable to fix or reform the TFW program during eight years in office. Please stand up and accept responsibility for the TFW program  fiasco instead of blaming previous governments. Then, do the right thing by phasing out the program, and forcing the companies which brought the TFWs here to compensate them and send these workers home.

Mr. Kenney, if you would like to be re-elected  end the TFW program and replace it with a new program for Canadians.

Sincerely Yours,

Unemployed Canadian