Places I’ve Traveled In the Past 5 Years

I love traveling, I won’t deny it. I was bitten with the travel bug early on and my parents took my sister and I traveling regularly as we were growing up. I remember that there were periods of our lives where we were going overseas every 2-3 years and taking car trips in between. It wasn’t until I went to university that I was grounded for 4 years … it sucked and I hated it.

Over the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve been grateful for being able to afford travel, since being fully employed. Here are the other places I’ve been to in the past 5 years:


  • Portland, Oregon
  • Hawai’i, HI


  • Turkey
  • Mumbai and Rajasthan, India
  • London, England (layover)


  • Chicago, IL


  • Disneyworld, FL
  • Albany and New York City, NY
  • Jordan
  • Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Israel
  • Palestinian Territories

Checking out one of the tombs in Petra, Jordan

Having said that, I know next year might be different. I might not be going oversea and due to the current political situation, going to the United States doesn’t even seem like such a good idea anymore (although that won’t stop me).

I’ve been happy that I can do trips without budgeting much (really, I don’t budget at all), but if I am going to save for a house, I will have to tighten the belt a bit more and figure out how to be a better budget traveler.

Yes, I might be downgrading a little, but I love my freedom and I love being able to see people, spend time with them and learn about the world. I’ll never give that up!


Considerations for Leaving the North

Lately, I’d been considering whether I should leave the north or not. I’ve had a few students ask me if I am staying on for next year and have told them that it wouldn’t be likely.

While I know I am seeking new challenges and know that one will never truly be ready for change, there are many aspects of the north that I know I will miss.

  • Cheap rent: I pay about $1000 a year as my housing is mainly subsidized.
  • Minimal commute time: It takes me less than 5 minutes to drive to work and only about 12 minutes to walk. It’s easy for me to pop in on the weekends or the evenings if I’ve forgotten something or would like to catch up.
  • Lots of free time: Related to having a minimal commute time. If J. is running late, I could still walk home or just head to the gym by myself.
  • Accessible and affordable gym: The gym is literally the building next to my school. For my membership, I pay approximately $120 for the entire year. And mind you, I drop a lot more dollars on Cody app fitness plans, but those have always been an investment in my health and knowledge. The other thing is that I’ll never have again is a fairly unused squat rack where there are no line-ups.
  • Being able to sleep in: Again, related to the short commute, I can sleep in pretty late.
  • Having time with J.: Since we currently work in the same building and have the same start times, we travel to and back together. We are able to have lunch together and eat dinner at the same time.
  • Being able to save money: There is no place to spend it. If you spend money online and order items, you have to put some thought into it. There is no place to buy alcohol, so going out for a cinq-à-sept after work instead of the gym isn’t something that happens.
  • Having a big, fat classroom budget: I am currently able to spend $2200 a year for my classroom. That’ll never happen again in a public school “down south”… sigh.

Ultimately, I have to finalize a decision by the end of February. I have to sign a piece of paper and give it to my principal to declare whether I am staying or not. I’m trying to screw up the courage to do it, but at the same time, map out my future with J. It’s tricky and am just trying to figure out how we are going about things.

So just to support myself emotionally and mentally, I’m reminding myself that people quit their jobs and do new stuff all the time. Even awesome and inpsiring ladies like Jessica Moorhouse is able to take the leap and quit her job to try something new and that sometimes you just have to put yourself out there.

I’ve also been re-listening to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I’d read it a few years ago, but since my friend V. got me listening to the Dear Sugar podcast, I decided to revisit her book. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a woman who decides, during a very difficult period of her life, to do a solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Reading about all the hardships of hiking in the wilderness alone – not stepping on rattlesnakes, running out of water, losing a hiking book off the edge of a cliff – helps me put into perspective my own hardships (which there are very few of).

Anyway, it’s still Thursday. I have a spare first period, so it was nice to find this time to blog, but I need to keep my feet on the ground and head out for work soon!


The Questioner

I’ve been podcasting a lot the past few months. One of my all-time favourite podcasts is Note to Self, from WYNC.


I can’t say I’ve listened to a bad episode. The newest episode, The Four Tendencies: How to Feed Habits, was pretty interesting, especially if you are either interested in goal-setting or making New Year’s resolutions. This episode is an interview with a writer, Gretchen Rubin, who has a theory that there are four personality types when it comes to how we perceive internal and external expectations.

I took the online quiz and discovered that I was a Questioner, which I would say, is pretty accurate:


Typically, this is the way I like to think:

Questioner: “I do what I think is best, according to my judgment. If it doesn’t make sense, I won’t do it.”

Of course, according to Rubin, a Questioner can still have aspects of a Rebel or an Upholder. Obviously, I tend to lean towards the latter. As a public school teacher, I feel very strongly that I need to be a positive role-model.

But on a personal level, how is this information useful to me if I want to set new habits?

  • My drive is based on my inner expectations, so when I build a habit, I must make it specifically towards my needs.
  • I like justification. I need to know why and how I should take on a habit, so I will do research on the benefits and efficacy of the aforementioned habit.
  • I only take suggestions from people I respect, so I will look for sources of information that are reliable (i.e. published books, scientific evidence).
  • I will sometimes spend too much time on research, creating “analysis paralysis”. This has happened when I was deciding on a fitness goal. I would overthink, rather than simply taking action.

In teaching, we called this self-analysis metacognition. This could potentially be a fun exercise to do with my older, mature students. I’ll save this resource as a future project at work!

Do you know which of the four personalities you are? What goals are you setting for yourself for the new year?


The Downside of Being Offline: Using a Bullet Journal

I had a scare today; I thought I had lost my bullet journal, which is my personal organizer. I used it during a school meeting last night, but had no recollection of tossing it into my backpack. Thankfully, it had made its way home. I found it accidentally tucked under a vintage copy of A Clockwork Orange, which I had rescued from a pile of discarded books.

Since September, I’ve been using a #bujo planner*. I mainly use it to keep track of personal goals – weekly, monthly and annual. It’s become popular, partly because it’s therapeutic to doodle and draw, but also because it’s nice to just be offline. Yes, I still use my paid Toodledo account as digital notepad when I don’t have a pen, but pretty much everything** is in my bullet journal.

While I’ve used a variety of tools, including apps like (formally, to track my habits, I just felt that I needed a change when it came to writing monthly goals. I’d found that I would start fudging and editing the goals I had initially written down and delete ones I’d ignored, just to make myself feel better. It’s been working well so far and I can say that my bullet journal isn’t just a fad I’m picking up; it’s likely a tool I will be using for at least a couple of years. I enjoy drawing and laying out my new “weeklies” while listening to podcasting.

Some things will always remain online though, including net worth tracking via NetWorthIQ and fitness tracking on CodyApp.

Yet the ultimate issue with the bullet planner is that I have no back-up system. To be clear, I don’t intend logging everything on Toodledo so that I can check it off later. In my panicked state earlier this morning, I did consider how much I would be losing if I really could not find my planner.

My life wouldn’t be over. I’d likely be able to rewrite 50-70% of the active task lists that I had going on. Once monthly goals are complete, I published them on my blog. As for weekly habits, I really couldn’t care less.

And is there anything that would be so important that I’d actually forget entirely I’d have to do it?

Likely not.

So even as I did hug my planner with a sigh of relief when I uncovered it, I realized that I still don’t intend on backing it up. And that’s okay. It’d be like a piece of lost art. I would have enjoyed all the time that I’d put up with it, but I’d be willing to let it go.

*If you’re unfamiliar with bullet journals, check out this article from the Toronto Star, Bullet Journaling Will Get You Organized.

**For work, I keep a separate teacher’s lesson planner which I’d purchased (and expensed to the school board) from Staples. Keeping my work and personal life separate definitely gave me less stress; I found that I could appropriately put my energy to focus on work when I need to and have some space from it when I just want to enjoy my down time.

Finding Your Network

Life has been pretty good. Work is good. Health is good. Diet is good. Family is good. The car is good. The turtle is good. The internet is annoyingly slow, but still good. The first season of Narcos has been good too. My crocheting skills aren’t good yet, but I can live with that.

While I have been doing well, I am coming up to some hard questions in my life – where do I go next? What’s in store for me? Will this be my last year in the north? If so, what will I face next year? And if so, what do I want? And what will get me there?

Needless to say, these questions and the discussion around these questions bring up a myriad of emotions. Some good, some bad. So while life has been good, I am bracing myself for some emotions that don’t necessarily feel so good.

This morning I felt like I was in a slump. It threw me for a loop and I headed into work a little later than usual to emotionally readjust. And I kept thinking, what is it that I so badly miss right now?

I miss my network.

However invisible they are in the day-to-day life, I miss my network IRL*. The people I WhatsApp when I am bored, the people whom I can have a laugh over internet memes with, the people that I chat with every week on Cody or Facebook (oddly, some I have never met in person). They are there and they hold me when I am in pieces. They lift me when I am sad. The affirm that I am of value and I mean something to them, to others, to the world. Their attention, in a gentle and caring way, give me strength. Their friendship and support give me love. Being far away means that sometimes I see them once every few months, or a couple of times a year or every three years. Yet invisible, they are still there.

And I can claim no success or be who I am right now without them. Likely, if you have been reading my blog for a while, you are one of them. And whether you know it or not, you keep me going and driven forward. As much as we all like to say, “I don’t care what others think of me,” we all need affirmation from others. We are social creatures and don’t do well alone. So while a lot of people are always in awe of the fact that I have been in the north, in a very isolated place, for the last 5 years, I could not have done it without my network. I could not have thrived and grown and matured and lived and loved without them.

I don’t really know how to end this post. I guess, on a morning where I am feeling alone, I just want to remind myself that I never really am.

*”In real life”

Getting the Green Light: OAME 2017

I’ve been going to the annual conference run by Ontario Association for Math Education (OAME) for several years now, even while working in the north. In 2014 and 2015, I participated in the eConference but managed to get myself to the one in Toronto last year in-person.

Two weeks ago, I received an email calling out for speaker proposals. OAME 2017 will be held in Kingston, Ontario and will feature the (usual) big names like Dan Meyer and Marion Small. I thought nothing of the email and forgot about it.

Then last week, a second call for speaker proposals was sent out. The email stated:

We are particularly interested to hear from people with expertise in the education of FNMI students both in remote communities or in urban/suburban venues.

I’ve done a couple of workshops now, one on #BYOD tools and one on growth mindset. Both were well-received and fun to create. I had hands-on activities and a high rate of participation. Lots of people left happy.

So I ran the possibility through my head; what if I did a presentation at a big conference in Ontario? I mulled it over, but what got me was the phrase “people with expertise in the education of FNMI students”.

I’m not an expert. I have never taken a course on Aboriginal studies. I’ve read a few papers, but I can’t say I’ve immerse myself in native culture. As a vegetarian, I don’t hunt nor am I interested in smoking Canada goose in a meeshwap. Friends and family have applauded me for working in the north for the past 5 years, but I say, “I’m just teaching kids and treating them the same way I’d treat anyone else.” I’m not up here to be a heroine. I’m up here because I enjoy my job as an educator and I like the financial perks of being in an isolated place.

Anyway, I let the idea go.

A few days after, I received an email from a friend and a colleague. He suggested that I put in a proposal and that I’d do quite well.

It’s funny. We live with doubt so much in our lives. Even when we say yes, we feel like imposters.

Fact of the matter is, it isn’t the first time someone suggested I put in a proposal. T., a professor whom I befriended in the past year, had also mentioned it. Having two people make that suggestion now, the excuses still ran through my head. Yet despite the negative thoughts, I wrote to the executive directors:

Hi ****,

I am an OCT-certified teacher originally from Toronto. I have been teaching on the East James Bay for the past 5 years and am starting my 4th year as a full-time high school teacher with the ******* Board.
I have attended OAME for the past few years but never worked as a speaker before.
I know that you are looking for speaker proposals. I have no background research and do not consider myself an expert educator in working with FNMI students. My
experience with native students has only been tied to this area. Would an anecdotal approach of my experiences still be fitting for a one-hour presentation? I have specifically been using growth mindset, BYOD and interactive notebooks in this community.
Anyway, I just don’t know what you’re looking for, but I wanted to inquire for more information, as I consider future possibilities. If you could give me some better ideas, perhaps I could find other math teachers who might be able to put out a good speaker proposal to enhance the upcoming conference.*

On Sunday morning, I got a very exciting email:

Good morning,

Short answer: YES!

Longer answer: We would love to see a proposal from you. Your first-hand experience carries a lot of weight in my books. Considering, too, it is with the Cree nation, whose geographical expanse covers half of Ontario, and that others who have come forward would be speaking with the experience of working with Ojibwe and Mohawk, we would have a good geographic balance.

Some of the audience will be other First Nations communities such as the one in which you work; however, some of the audience will be teachers in urban and other “southern” settings where First Nations students are mixed in with other cultures – hearing from you about cultural accommodations and learning styles will help them as well to better address their First Nations’ students’ needs.

OAME 2017

Guess I have to figure out a way to overcome the Imposter Syndrome. And guess I’ve got some writing to do.

*You see how imposter syndrome kicks in so easily? I devalue myself in this last paragraph.

Countdown to the Holidays!

Up north on the east James Bay, we do not have Spring Break. So while everyone has had the opportunity to have a refreshing break in March, we’ve still been holding out for ours! We have to slog through four months before we get our 2-week “Goose Hunting Break”. With such a long period, the amount of anxiety and stress among teachers, staff and students is palpable in the air.

And while attendance at the school has been lacking, I still chug on with the students that come. I want them to understand that school is important even if there are only 1 out of 5 students in class right now. I make them work. I still make them learn. They will have a benefit of having extra help that will carry them forward when we come back from our break.

This morning, we worked on climate change questions on and reviewed our vocabulary words on Quizlet. The few Grade 11s that showed up worked on functions and we practiced using slope-intercept forms on our portable whiteboards.

But tomorrow is the last day, so screw it … we are going to play board games and watch movies!!

Consolidating Apps: Switching from

One of my favourite goal-tracking apps is, formally known as  I’ve used this app for a couple of years now; the simplicity of the app and supportive online community are two features which have kept me on as a client. I’ve mainly used it to track – on a weekly and monthly basis – how often I’ve been lifting,doing barre work, taking my probiotics, calling my family* or reading a book.

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 1.55.45 PM
However, in an effort to minimize the number of productivity apps I’m using, I decided to switch over to Habits on Toodledo instead. Don’t get me wrong, I love and I’ve tried to encourage friends to use it, but it’s easy to get distracted when you are constantly switching from one app to the next. And since becoming a paying Toodledo customer last year**, why not simply consolidate my task list and weekly habit checklist?

Habits hasn’t been around for very long, it was only unveiled just over a year ago. It functions similarly to the interface, but you must assign which days of the week you complete your habit. The other motivator is to build “chains”***, long periods in which you successfully complete each habit. Unlike, there is a strong visual reminder when you’ve missed a day or have been slacking off on a particular behaviour.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 12.38.43 AMHere is a screenshot of the app interface. As you can see, it’s been a busy week and I didn’t manage to call my family during the weekdays:

You can access your habits by logging in through a browser as well. It’s simple and easy to read. I like that you can see it in a monthly calendar. There is also the option to mark if you have failed your task and it is highlighted conspicuously in bright red.

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 2.40.30 PM

While I’ve only been using Habits for 2 weeks, I’m happy that I’ve transition over. I like seeing the “chains” and also seeing what I need to work on. While I’ve been doing yoga fairly regularly – I took a break for about 3 months – I didn’t manage to get on my mat because I was helping out with some night shifts at the local book fair.

Looking forward to going back to the gym through the whole week. As well, I’ll be getting back into barre work and using my standing desk more often!

Do you use any goal-tracking apps? Have you ever used or Toodledo?

*As you can see, I’m not always good at calling my family. Of course, there’s no need to in the summer when I’m with them, or in December, when I’m home for the winter holidays.

**A Silver membership costs $15 USD/year.

***The only issue with this system is the inability to switch days. I normally go to the weight room Monday, Wednesday and Friday. However, if I switch over to another day, I can’t mark it on that specific calendar day without changing the settings and breaking my chain. The workaround is to just check off the habit on your last assigned day.

New Numbers: Squats and Deadlifts

Since I’ve started squatting with gym buddies, I have to say that my Friday afternoons always end awesome! It was a bonus that my hips were feeling open and that a pair of knee sleeves* came in the mail from

I filmed my back squats from a different angle and noticed a itty-bitty amount of “butt wink”. This is when – at the bottom of a squat – your butt looks like it’s tucking under. In another words, it looks like you’re tucking your tailbone:

I was upset to see this on the video feedback, but after according to Alan Thrall, it might just be hypermobility in my lumbar spine and that I’m not actually tucking my pelvis under. Anywhoooo, it won’t hurt to include some hamstring work in the warm-up. Will keep an eye out in future sets.

And my favourite – DEADLIFTS! Conventional deadlifts were fairly solid and I hit a new PR at 110 lbs, although I should run the barbell closer to the thighs. Pulling the barbell taunt***, which tricks the whole body into engaging, has definitely stopped me from putting the weight into my low back.

I have to say it’s been interesting since I started lifting regularly from November 2015. It’s become a regular part of my weekly routine and I realize I wouldn’t be this committed if it weren’t for my two gym partners, H. and K.


However, I’ve been conservative with increasing the weights, ever since the minor setbacks I’d had in February**. I thought I’d have hit my bodyweight by now, but I’m not having any self pity. While I didn’t move up in numbers as fast as I hoped, I know it’s better to err on the side of caution. I’ve already seen one colleague go from working out three or four times at the gym to suddenly dropping out, all because he was moving too much weight, too fast and exacerbated pre-existing conditions, as well as injuring his back.

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 7.34.46 AM
My own minor injuries I had forced me to really dissect my squats, develop better cues and improve my overall form. And it’s a reminder that you can’t actually move up in weight if your form is full of kinks. So I am thankful that being forced to take a step back is an opportunity to help us move forward more purposefully and more safely, and helps us reevaluate what success really means.

*I stupidly lost the first set at the gym after I used them … once.

**Tight hips and a sensitive knee 

***Another tip I got from Alan Thrall

Deepening My Language Learning

I started using the Pimsleur method over two years ago.I’ve dabbled with Korean, Turkish, Hindi and Spanish; the bulk of my focus has been spent studying Mandarin, which has eluded me most of my life. Even though I speak Cantonese, I struggled to pick up or understand Mandarin. This was frustrating to my identity as a Chinese person; many of my relatives have picked it up informally or studied it in school.

So it wasn’t until 2013, when I started using the Pimsleur method, that the words finally started sinking in. The program primarily focuses listening and speaking short phrases and much more on grammar rather than vocabulary.

Last month, I finally finished unit 25 in phase 1. Mind you, completing this much in 30 or so months this doesn’t seem particularly fast. I wasn’t working particularly aggressively or fast through the units, since my focus was on other languages (i.e. acquiring Turkish when I visited Turkey and Hindi when I went to India with my sister). I took my time, slowly sipping in Mandarin here and there, sometimes taking a hiatus for several months. The other reason I wasn’t pushing as fast was that it’s simply not effective to work on more than one language at a time.

This morning, I started Phase 2 and did the first unit!

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 6.23.55 PM

I also decided to deepen my method of learning by practicing visual recognition of the Chinese characters**. I created a set of Quizlet flash cards to review vocabulary that I struggle to remember. I can have the app read the words aloud and it also solves the inconvenient problem of scrubbing* through the files in the Audible app.

Here’s the view of my words through the browser; you can access your card sets either through the app or from the main website:

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Ideally, I’d like to move faster through the second phase***, since I’m not learning any other languages at the moment. Maybe I’ll finish the next phase in half the time – in a year and a half? I feel that the app will increase my motivation to revisit lessons or terms more consistently, rather than having large gaps of time – weeks or months – in which I’m not practicing at all.

Either way, if I can get through at least one unit a month, I’ll be happy!

*As an alternative, Audible just realized Clips, a method of saving and sharing 45-second clips. I haven’t tried it out yet.

**I know about 70% of the characters already, but often recall the Cantonese pronunciation first. I’d like to be able to recall both Cantonese and Mandarin readily and this will strengthen visual recognition, something that I struggle with. I can read bits and pieces of a children’s book, but a newspaper is way too hard for me!

***Each phase has approximately 25 units, which are approximately 30 minutes long.