Wednesday, January 29, 2014

eating our veggies

Celebrating Chinese New Year has a particularly special meaning to me.  Even if it's just a day of celebration, eating traditional Chinese foods while my kids listen to their grandparent's stories of how they celebrated when they were children, and all the different foods from the sweet to the bitter that they worked hard to purchase for this special time of year.  It's a window into a culture that greatly influenced my views of family, the world, and my own interaction with both.

There are two habits that have been ingrained in me by my parents and upbringing.  These are not necessarily derived from a specific Chinese heritage per se, but a general sentiment by immigrants as a whole, who had to learn a new way of life in this country:  discipline and perseverance.

I recently watched a documentary on the "lost, jobless" generation...twenty and thirty-somethings that are over educated and underemployed.  I watched while young people were drinking wine and having sushi while discussing how underemployed they were, and how the markets have shifted so those lucky few who do have any work, whether it's in their desired field or not, resent not being promoted quicker into the more "ideal" positions that they were "trained" for.  Positions that their predecessors hold.  

As I watched this documentary, I thought about the generation (or two) that will follow them in the future.  My kids.  And what we are doing as parents now that will affect how they approach their future.  What kind of opportunities will they have?  Although so much emphasis is on education and it's reform in schools right now, gone are the days when getting a degree meant an almost guaranteed job position, so sometimes I ask what else can we provide besides a strong curriculum.

I heard a comment made by Robert Herjavec (of Dragon's Den/Shark Tank fame) to a nineteen year old student who was seeking business advice, that really struck me.  She was trying to start a cupcake business and he said she was on the right track, because nowadays kids can no longer expect to be hired for a job once they graduate, and the people who will succeed are the ones that create their OWN job, instead of waiting for one.

When he said this, it reminded me of my family, and generations before them.  It also made me think of my new neighbours...immigrants who have come to a new country filled with promise, and had to start from scratch in an unknown land.  Like my parents, foreign students not only struggle to put food on their family's table, but are often also looking for opportunities for free English classes or extra work to pay for school. They didn't have the opportunities like "Generation F" , drinking fancy lattes on their way to their parent-paid ivy league classes.  These foreign students have the discipline to work efficiently, balancing work, school and social activities, and the perseverance to move forward, despite the disadvantages, like not being fluent in English or having very little to eat.  Because sitting around drinking wine while complaining is NOT an option.  

This Friday is Chinese New Year...the Year of the Horse.  An animal that represents wisdom and hard work.  As my kids listen to stories of culture and tradition from my parents, hopefully they'll also learn some lessons on hardship.  I hope they understand the difference between being spoiled and being privileged.  Although it's a privilege to have many educational and life opportunities in front of them,  they'll also need the discipline and perseverance, like eating our veggies, to have the understanding to know what is good for us and to keep pushing forward, no matter how it tastes.

Happy Chinese New Year !!!

Garlic Bok Choy Fettuccine
(serves 4-6 people)
This isn't a traditional Chinese dish, however, my kids have recently started to really enjoy eating bok choy, a Chinese cabbage.  I've made this dish without the pasta (i.e. sauteed the vegetables with olive oil and garlic), which is similar to the way it is cooked in Chinese restaurants.  I added the pasta with other vegetables to make this a complete meal.
  • 3-6 tbsp. minced garlic (to taste)
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil 
  • ¼ cup of butter
  • 1 pound of bok choy
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 orange pepper
  • Parsley, basil, thyme to taste
  • 1 box of linguine or fettucine pasta (approx. 450g)
  • Cook the pasta as per directions on the box.
  • Heat the olive oil in a saucepan on medium-high heat.
  • Add the garlic and herbs and saute until garlic is softened.
  • Add butter and the bok choy and various peppers.   
  • Cook until bok choy is softened, then remove from heat.
  • Toss the pasta into the vegetable mixture.

Serve and Enjoy!

start learning chinese

When I was a preteen, I remember going to "Chinese school"  to learn the language.  At the time, there were no innovative methods to teach or learn, and many Saturday afternoons were spent with friends reading "Tween" magazines, drooling over the latest rock star (Duran Duran was the choice of the day) in the back of the class while a teacher speaking very little English hoped we were going to learn the Chinese language by osmosis.  I'm not sure if there was much value in those classes.

Education in general, has made some revolutionary changes, from iPads in elementary school classrooms to Mooc's (Massive Online Open Courses) that teach university level subjects.  Now more than ever, learning things like a new language or how to cook bok choy is available at your fingertips.

Recently I was introduced to an app called Learn With Miao Miao, that teaches preschoolers basic Chinese words and thought this would be a great opportunity for my kids to learn Chinese while having fun.

The app was easy to use since my daughter intuitively knew to tap on the Chinese characters (the written form of the words) and watch it come to life, becoming animated objects that look like the words they represented.  This, I thought, was really cool...and I finally saw the correlation between the pictures and words, and it actually helped ME to recognize Chinese characters!  Something I never learned in those classes.

“Some people don't realize how many Chinese characters are based on pictures, but it is actually an age-old way for Chinese children to learn to read,” says Leo Yu He, the producer for all the Miaomiao games and television programs.

Although   Learn with Miao Miao  isn't set up to teach complete fluency in Chinese (it's geared toward preschoolers), it is a great start for young children.  This app DID accomplish sparking an interest in my kids to learn more, and they were both eager and hopeful that a more challenging version for older kids would be available in the near future.  Anything that engages my kids to start a new language learning journey is worth a try to me (and has much more value than exchanging tween heartthrob pictures at the back of a classroom). 

Happy Chinese New Year!!!

Editors note:  This Chinese New Year (January 31st), a free update with a new writing component will be available. Kids can trace the characters by following a lady bug or Doh Doh the dog that shows them the correct stroke order.  You can find out more at or download the app here at the iTunes store.  

A great big thank you to Christine at Mark Animation for introducing us to this Learn with Miao Miao app.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

fishing for a compliment

When I worked in the corporate world, at the beginning of each fiscal year, employees and their managers would review some of the successes and challenges of the previous year as a guide to help determine their career objectives for the upcoming one.

Many of my coworkers really dreaded the employee review process.  For some, including myself, I already had intimate knowledge of my challenges, and with deadlines to meet, I didn't have time for compliments and another "pat on the back"!  However, many of my former employees only wanted to hear compliments...and were anxious about any scrutiny or criticism.

Earlier this month, mid-term exams for the older grades were held at my children's school.  My son asked why it was necessary to have exams.  I explained that exams serve to encapsulate the overall understanding of a subject, unlike tests that reflect specific points in time of the learning process. It was also to prepare the students for the process of high school, and this was just a way to help them grow towards that goal.

He thought about my answer for a while and was satisfied that there was nothing for him to worry about.  In our house, we have always emphasized that it's NOT just about the number score on the test that's important, but it's application of that learning.  In other words, what did that test tell us?  If everyone did poorly on the test, maybe it speaks not just about the difficulty of the subject matter, but the way the subject matter was taught. However, if only a handful of kids didn't do well on the test, then it speaks more about their study habits or that maybe their learning styles didn't match the teaching techniques.  For us, tests have always sparked the conversation to create solutions to improve study habits or finding different teaching methodologies.

I think I wouldn't have had this perspective at home if I didn't have it professionally.  I have always learned valuable lessons when I took a hard look at criticism; how it's presented and it's context within the work environment.  It also helped me evaluate not just my own abilities, but those that reported to me, and those that I reported to.  "Work to hear feedback as potentially valuable advice from a fresh perspective rather than as an indictment of how you’ve done things in the past." (source: Harvard Business Review's " Find the Coaching in Criticism")

Although logistically the process of reviews, tests and exams can sometimes take up a large block of time, the results are invaluable and should really be thought of as stepping stones towards gaining confidence of truly knowing yourself, and understanding that you can still progress towards your goals despite any perceived "weaknesses".   I hope my own children will continue to learn, explore and see value in these "tests"...and hope they seek understanding and guidance instead of fishing for compliments.

Food for thought.

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Hors d'oeuvres
(serves about 6 people)


  • 1 large english cucumber
  • 1 cup cream cheese (approximate)
  • Smoked salmon


  • Slice cucumber.
  • Spread 1 tsp. of cream cheese (or more, to taste...I've also used herbed cream cheese).
  • Slice the salmon in long strips.
  • Roll the salmon, and place on top of each cucumber slice.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

morning people

As a night owl, some of my best work is done when everyone is asleep.  The lights are out and I can write without distraction.  However, being a parent has forced me to be more of a morning function with razor precision so we can get the day moving forward.   Preparation is done at night so I don't have to really think too much during the morning rush.  Just do.

One of the most common habits that top business executives share, according to the Business Insider, is that they all wake up early.  Very early.  Even on weekends.  I've been reading a lot about the strategies that businesses today must employ to stay healthy, strong and long lasting, and I've thought a lot about the parallels of successful business people and how some of their philosophies could be applied to having a successful home life.

It's funny how we can all be "morning people" during the holidays or quiet weekends.  On a school morning, it takes every effort to drag and pull the kids out of bed to get to school, but as soon as it's a Saturday morning, they are up before the sun rises.  

I think that is the key.  An early start to plan and look forward to a successful day.  To a corporate executive that may mean clearing their emails and preparing for their meetings.  To a child, their definition of success is an early start to the cartoons and playtime before they have chores and homework.  In a nutshell:  Starting the day with successful ME time.

I'm starting to wonder if I should change my perspective, and view early mornings as a clean slate, rather than an obstacle or chore to get through.  Although the stillness of the night can inspire some of my most creative ideas, my most clear thoughts to think and plan (or dream!) for the day ahead occur when I make it down the stairs for my morning coffee, even if it's for just ten minutes earlier, before anyone else is awake.  So much solved in those little ten minutes.   Listening to the house with not a creature stirring.  The sound of clarity.

Funnily enough, when I'm more organized on Friday nights, with a bit of preparation, I can get up earlier than the kids on those early Saturday mornings, ready with a full hearty breakfast to fuel our day and get an early start walking the dog or a family skate at the nearby rink.  We can focus on the priority of the day, which is taking full advantage of the time spent together.

If those quiet and reflective early mornings help business leaders identify their priorities for that particular day or to even think clearly for the long term, then maybe it would work at home, for me as a parent.

Food for thought.

Make Ahead Cinnamon Waffles
(makes about ten 4"x4" waffles)

This batter can be made ahead of time and kept in a lidded container in the fridge for up to 5 days.  (You would need to re-whisk it prior to using.)  You could also make the waffles and then freeze them...just pop them in the toaster for future mornings.

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce (you can use vegetable oil)
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 tsp of brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon 
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
  • Preheat waffle iron (for about 10 minutes, closed)
  • Beat eggs in large bowl until fluffy. 
  • Whisk in apple sauce, milk, sugar, baking powder, salt and vanilla, just until smooth.
  • Spray preheated waffle iron with oil (I used my Misto olive oil can use any cooking spray). You'll need to re-spray every 3 waffles.
  • Pour mix onto hot waffle iron (I use approximately 3/4 of a cup...amount will vary depending on the size of your waffle maker)
  • Cook until golden brown. (approximately 3-4 minutes)
  • Serve hot.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

a healthy start

When returning to school and work this week after a wonderful holiday break, like many families the start of the new year was a little...rough.  Icy snowy weather made driving conditions just a little slower, and the process was slowed down even further as children sleepily resisted returning back to a regular morning routine in arctic cold temperatures.

Before the polar vortex arrived yesterday, earlier this week I realized that our son had ripped his gloves during our ski excursion over the holidays, and I was on the search for a new pair.  After visits to eight various stores, shelves that were filled just last week with warm, waterproof winter gloves are now replaced with little bathing suits, like little hints to remind us why we should buy the yoga outfits and workout gear, just a few shelves away.  

With New Year's resolutions abound, a fresh start and a renewed way to look at our daily lives invoking us to begin things like new workout routines and eating healthier, I thought about those store shelves promoting those exercise items.  

I wondered if what seemingly appears to promote physical health actually creates rush us through to the next season, finding goals to achieve so we can enjoy later (like fitting into that bathing suit), instead of loving where we stand now.  To live in the moment and indulge in the opportunities presented to us today, instead of trying to buy the next thing to eventually do in the future.  

It's like looking for those winter gloves.  How can we embrace the winter season now, and enjoy those physical activities that are available to us today, if the only thing available are bathing suits and yoga outfits?

Well, luckily I eventually did find a pair of warm gloves, and we are ready to embrace the cold weather.  It's a healthy start to a bright day and beautiful we can enjoy, today.

Easy Banana Granola
This recipe is easily adaptable...varying the spices and add-on ingredients can change the taste drastically (think of adding exotic dried fruit, or even chocolate chips for the sweet tooth!).  The granola can be made in an hour and stored in a sealed container for up to 5 days.  Double the recipe and you might have enough for a family of four to eat before work or school.  A great and healthy breakfast to start the day and new year.

  • 1 Banana
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. hot water
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • 3 cups quick cooking oats
  • Dried fruit, sliced almonds, to taste. (optional)
  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  • Mash the banana, then add the sugar, water, vanilla and spices.  
  • Toss with oats until well coated (about 5 minutes of mixing well).
  • Toss fruit and almonds (I sometimes leave this out for those with nut allergies.  This can be added after baking)
  • Spread onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Bake for approximately 1 hour to 1 ½ hours until toasted.
  • Serve on top of yogurt and fruit.