My childhood dreams… included astronomer, archeologist and advice columnist, to name a few. Maybe that’s why I do so many different things in my job today.
The worst (and strangest!) student job I ever held was… entertaining 6-year-olds at a birthday party. I had to serve them “mocktails” and fancy appetizers while wearing a clown suit. But they wanted chips and pop, and weren’t into balloon tricks. After cleaning up a food fight, I tried to stop them from trashing the birthday boy’s home. It was the longest, most exhausting afternoon ever! Tutoring and consulting is easy in comparison.
My most embarrassing young adult moment… was when thieves broke into my first car yet left it otherwise untouched, yet both other cars belonging to my parents, had disappeared from our long driveway. We were quite puzzled, until I confessed that I’d stashed their spare car keys in my glove compartment for convenience (I had to move the cars around whenever I got home late at night). Their vehicles were both recovered badly damaged, and my parents (eventually) forgave me. Important life lesson learned…
The teacher who had the greatest positive impact on me was… my Kindergarten teacher Miss Swann, who taught some of us to read (it wasn’t common to teach reading before Grade 1 back then), while the other children had nap time. We read wonderful books together daily all year. I still love reading – though also like my naps.
If I could give my childhood and teen self some life advice, I’d tell myself to… never avoid doing something just because I don’t feel “good enough” at it yet. The fact that others can do it “better” shouldn’t stop the rest of us from enjoying ourselves too!
I always wanted to… ride horses. It never came to be in my childhood, teens or as a younger woman, whether through lack of time or opportunity. Until recently that is, when I finally got my chance. Now riding has become a passion!
I never learned to… play the piano. Although I had a successful, but brief stint playing the clarinet, I always wished it had been the piano instead.
I felt really proud when… I was able to effect important changes at my children’s school as Chair of the Parent Council.
One memorable vacation or trip I took was… the first time we took our then-young children to Florida. Our luggage didn’t arrive for two days. This didn’t matter as much as you would think, as it snowed (!) for the first three days of the trip so we had to shop for warm clothing anyway. What saved our lives was a brand new ‘toy’ we discovered and purchased to occupy the kids. It was called a “Nintendo” and was an immediate hit with all of us!
The most important “life lesson” I learned was… that things never stay the same. If things are going well, appreciate every minute. If things are going badly, don’t sweat it, because they will always get better.
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One way as a child I escaped from life’s everyday stresses was… by reading in my bedroom, the only place I could escape my large and often boisterous family. I was completely enthralled with the Nancy Drew series, and after lights out, I’d read under my sheets with a flashlight. My taste in books has improved, but my love for reading remains. My adult eyesight however, means reading by flashlight is no longer an option!
The teacher that I remember not so fondly was… my Grade 7 teacher Math teacher. Despite scoring well on all my tests, she gave me a ‘D’ in math on my report card. When my father asked her to explain, she tried to cover her mistake by saying I had scored poorly. My dad – not one to bail out any of us kids, me included – told her in no uncertain terms that I could teach her math… Well, the rest is history, as I went on to teach and tutor math plus many other subjects.
The strangest student job I held was… at a Canola Research Station. I was given many mundane tasks, but the oddest one was preparing ‘bee sticks’ to pollinate the canola plants. Thankfully the bees were freeze-dried! I was grateful for that (I’m not fond of close-ups with live bees!) and made a mental note to rule out a future career in Botany.
One bizarre trip I (almost) took was… heading off camping in upstate New York. To reach the campsite, I needed to detour off-road. My car was not fancy but it was mine, and I took pride in its appearance. My tires soon were stuck in mud accumulated after a heavy rainfall, and the car leaned into a clump of bristly trees (who knew mud moved?). Hoping to save the paint work, I wrapped towels and even my bathrobe around those trees posing the greatest threat to my vehicle. When the tow truck arrived, the driver just shook his head, muttering that he’d thought he’d seen it all, but apparently not! I never did reach the camp site, but still give myself points for creative problem solving in an unexpected situation!
I always wanted to be… an ambassador. I loved the idea of living in different countries and meeting people from all over the world. Becoming an international teacher was almost as good though, as I was able to live in and travel to so many places, and now have friendships and memories from around the globe.
My childhood friends… are mostly those I met as a little girl when living in New Zealand. I am still in touch with many of them despite the distance. Of course, this is much easier now with Skype and email. When I moved to Canada in Grade 5, it took time adjust to the new social rules as well as the changes in curriculum. As an adult, staying social and connected is still important to me, though I appreciate my quiet time alone too. I treat my neighbourhood as my community, and make a point of talking to at least one new person each time I go out.
My childhood heroes were… those who fought for social justices issues. As a child, I remember being fascinated by Harriet Tubman and Benjamin Franklin. Later, as a teenager, I admired Naomi Wolf and Susan Faludi. I had strong opinions as a young person in part inspired by these heroes, and was fortunate that my teachers and parents nurtured my interests and took my ideas and views seriously.
One of the best jobs I ever held… was in my early 20’s, working at a ski resort. My job in the boot room wasn’t glamorous but it came with great benefits: a few hours of snowboarding that I could fit into most of my days. Going to work on a mountain was an exhilarating experience, hitting the slopes daily often fresh with new snow a real rush, and my co-workers and customers always seemed happy.
The most important “life lesson” I have learned… is actually one that I’m still learning: how to be true to myself and not worry about what others think. It’s a gradual process that takes time and confidence. The life choices I’ve made have defined my unique path, but many experiences that were the most difficult have also resulted in the greatest personal growth for me. I expect (and rather hope) that I’ll continue “learning this lesson” for many years to come.
The teacher that I remember most clearly was… my Grade Eight teacher, Mr. Levendakis. He called me his ‘little genius’ and told me I could be anything I wanted, which I really liked! That year, I won the Academic Award for my grade, and felt extremely proud. Even better, the award included a $200 gift card to Coles Bookstore. The very next day, I bought myself more than 40 books (books were much cheaper back then!), then read all summer long before starting high school.
The worst job that I ever held… was convincing shoppers to apply for an Eaton's department store credit card. I was paid $5 commission for each completed application, but there was no hourly wage. Initially, I made little or no money. I remember running around the newly built Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, approaching hundreds of people daily. I needed to earn $2,000 that summer, which meant a lot of completed applications. Although many people were quite rude, I persisted, trying out different voice tones and approaches. By summer’s end, I had earned $3,000 and my manager congratulated me with a further bonus. I was even offered $5.50 per complete application to continue, but politely declined. Once was enough!
If I could give my childhood and teen self some life advice… I think I’d quote famous automobile maverick Henry Ford's words: "Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you are right." In other words, a person can do anything if they want to achieve it badly enough, but if they are negative or down on themselves, that will come true instead.
As a teenager, I was always known for… finding and repeating famous quotes. I would record these in a notebook titled "Catherine's Famous Quotes". (I was not known for my creative titles!) Two of the first and still my favourite quotes are: "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen" by Ralph Waldo Emmerson and "The direction in which education starts a man, will determine his future life" by Plato. I instantly forgave Plato for the male language in his quote given the times in which he lived.
I always wanted to be… a teacher, a lawyer or… a dermatologist. As I teenager, I loved reading mystery novels by Agatha Christie. I found it intriguing to be searching for clues and solving cases. But when I was not reading, I was inventing natural skin products. I was shocked but delighted when my homemade natural skin scrub (oatmeal, lavender, coconut oil, honey and my secret ingredient, brown sugar) became a huge success at my high school. I spent a lot of time filling orders for classmates and even teachers.
My childhood dream was… to become a professional Engineer. I was motivated by the famous TV serial MacGyver which I watched regularly as a child. I was in awe of how MacGyver used his scientific knowledge along with everyday items just like those I had in my own family’s home, to escape from complex and risky situations. I tried to act just like him and for a while, my nickname was ‘MacGyver’.
As a child, I was known for… amusing others with my many (some might say too many?) creative ideas. Ultimately this paid off though, as my family and friends took notice, and strongly encouraged me to develop my interest in applied science.
As an adult, my favourite leisure activities include… keeping on top of new developments in electronics and computer programming. These fields move so quickly that it is always a challenge to stay current – but one I enjoy! I also play recreational cricket. Before arriving in Canada, I played a lot of cricket, and was delighted to discover it was played here too. (I had originally expected I’d need to take up hockey to stay active!) Besides cricket matches, I also play soccer and work out to keep fit.
The strangest job I held was… as a scorekeeper in a golf match. While I’m great with numbers, I was completely unfamiliar with the game of golf at that time, and knew nothing about the scoring process! Luckily, unlike cricket, golf scoring is a relatively simple process so I was able to follow along using the written instructions provided. Besides learning how golf worked, this proved a good lesson in the value of clear and complete directions.
The teacher I remember most clearly was… my high school Philosophy teacher Mr. Hilton, who was encouraging, patient, and taught us to use critical thinking and analytical skills, not simply regurgitate information as other teachers seemed to prefer. These skills have carried over into adulthood, helping me achieve both academic and professional success. Thanks, Mr. H!
In elementary school, I was known for… being different. It wasn't something deliberate or done for attention. It wasn’t something that I picked up from adults either. It was just who I was. For instance, I always wore my clothes, hair, etc. differently than other kids, and my teachers would describe me as “vocal” about my ideas, or marching to the beat of my own drum. Most of the time, this was a compliment (I think!).
One memorable vacation or trip was… my many trips to Germany – every single one!!! Whether getting lost on a train trip, walking into a random magic show street-side, or watching the almost 3-hour long New Year’s Eve fireworks display (they REALLY love their fireworks in Berlin), every trip has been an adventure! Although I’ve travelled many other places, Germany remains my most reliable “best” vacation no matter which time of year that I visit.
My most important life lesson… came from my grandfather who remains one of my biggest inspirations. He was an extensive world traveler (a habit which I inherited from him), and he taught me calm, diplomacy, responsibility, gratitude and how to live and learn by the golden rule: treat others the way you wish to be treated yourself.
As a child, I often felt… left out and lonely. I grew up in a small town in New Brunswick and my school-mates were told they could not play with me because I was a different religion than them. This left me without friends at school, and always by myself. But even from this bad experience, I actually learned something positive: to be very independent and rely on myself first and foremost. This has served me well in life through other difficulties.
One way I escaped from life's stresses… was to listen to classical music. As a child we had only one record player, placed in the living room for us to share. At night I would put on my favourite records, then lay down on the couch and just fall asleep. Even today when I listen to classical music, somehow all stressors just leave my body.
The teacher I remember most clearly was… my high school Latin teacher. He had faith in me and encouraged me to run for school president. Not only did my regional high school have 1500 students, but my main opponent was the principal’s daughter! I worked so hard on my campaign, and was thrilled to win, becoming the first female student school president. It was that teacher’s constant encouragement to excel in all areas of my work that made the difference – and something I use regularly as an adult when working with students.
What I would tell my teenage self… follow my dreams and not let obstacles stand in the way. My dream was to become a doctor. I was a Pre-Med major at university, but then got anxious thinking the courses were too difficult for me, especially since there were very few women in my classes. (I didn’t realize they were difficult for everyone, male or female!) As a result, I did not keep up the commitment or continue. To this day, I regret not following my dream.
My dream for my future… was to play shortstop for the New York Yankees. But by Grade 9, I wrote that my plans for the future were either to become a social worker focused on teens or a Junior High School History teacher, and that I also hoped to travel… a lot. Looking back, that was indeed the blueprint for my future.
My ultimate personal goal… is to be able to feel that I have made a positive difference in the lives of others.
Ways I have escaped from life’s stresses… have included reading novels, listening to music, trading CDs with people all over the world, attending theatrical and musical performances and enjoying my family and friends.
The teacher/s who had the most positive influence on me… included my Grade 5 teacher who helped me to (finally!) learn my multiplication tables – no easy task – and who later invited our entire class to her wedding; my Grade 7 teacher who praised my writing style and encouraged me to see myself as a writer; a High School teacher who encouraged us to think for ourselves and develop our own beliefs; and a University professor who taught me (the hard way) why “good enough was not good enough” until I learned to put forward my best efforts and to be proud of my work.
As a student, I always knew… that I was smart - yet I did not necessarily put forward my best efforts in school. My mother was regularly told by teachers that I “was not living up to potential”. I grew to hate the word “potential”! As this is something I have in common with a number of my students, it allows me to relate to their situations without enabling them.
As a teacher, I have known… that it’s often harder for some students to succeed than others due to outside factors. Just like my own most influential teachers did for me, I attempt to deal with these students as individuals to help them to succeed at a higher level.
The most important “life lessons” I have learned include… “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”, “Good enough is not good enough”; “Pay attention to what is going on around you”, “Think for yourself”, “Believe in yourself” and “Be yourself!”. My goal for my students is to have them think like The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can! I think I can!” and to help them develop their own genuine self-confidence.
The teacher with the greatest positive impact on me… was my Grade IV teacher, Mr. Melville. He spoke to us about the life and death of Julius Caesar, and assigned speeches either in praise of Caesar or in support of his assassination. “Mellie” recited Shakespeare with such dramatic flair that even the class “rowdies” instantly quieted. Cleverly, he had us deliver our orations to the raucous mobs (really, our classmates) while standing on our desks – a thrilling treat! Combining History, English Literature and Drama, his lessons made Shakespeare ”real” even in later grades, and inspired many including myself, to enroll in Latin.
Much later, I realized that Mellie is also to thank for my participation in the 1991 International Shakespeare Conference in Tokyo, Japan. His classes made all the difference to me then and in my future.
Something that has always been very important to me… is the support of my friends. They tell me the truth about myself, even if it isn't always palatable – even if it is sometimes irritating! They are the sounding board that helps guide me and I value them as people, and the years we have known one another. Our lives are forever intertwined.
My most memorable vacation… was a fishing expedition into the wilds with my father, far from civilization. This was a time of bonding for me and my busy father, which helped me realize his love and caring for me. It was also a time of self-fulfillment as I caught a small shark “all on my own” (or perhaps not!).
If I could go back in time and give my younger self some life advice… "Lighten up and look at what is important. Stand up for Justice. Don't be distracted by unimportant issues that won't matter tomorrow or next week." This remains the real test for myself even today, as it isn’t always easy or comfortable to support persecuted people or unpopular causes. Most importantly, I would try to say this without sounding morally superior, so as not to turn off my younger self.
As a young child I always wondered… why winter arrives. Whereas my father tried to make a scientist out of my six-year-old self and told me about the Earth's axial tilt and elliptical orbit in great detail, my mother smiled and simply observed that winter came to us because we couldn't afford a Caribbean vacation!
I never learned… French, despite attending French classes all through high school. In retrospect, I think it was probably poorly taught and did not engage me. Yet I’ve done well at other languages. I arrived in Canada speaking Russian and Hebrew, and learned English quickly. Recently I have been working on improving my Mandarin to better converse with my wife’s family.
The strangest job I ever had… was as a windows and doors salesman at local call centre. It was boring and frustrating work asking if they “needed windows” only to be blown off. So to keep myself entertained, I would offer them our company's services to remove the windows they said that they “didn't need” – and install some they could “better appreciate”. Needless to say, I got yelled at (a lot) by annoyed prospective customers and quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for sales!
In school, my favorite hobby was… writing short stories. Unfortunately, I often did my best writing during other subject classes, which allowed me to escape academia in favor of my fantasy world. Sometimes my most villainous characters were those who assigned homework, which was rather fun!
If I could go back in time to give my teenage self some advice… I would tell him to stop writing stories in class and actually listen up and study because, as Benjamin Franklin once said, "an investment in knowledge pays the best interest". I’m hoping that my chill and persuasive adult presence would convince my teenage self to listen – though I’m not still 100% sure of that!
I was known for… doing great character impressions, especially in middle school where my prowess with characters from the Austin Powers films attracted my peers’ admiration. As I imitated accents well, I entertained and they would then ‘pay’ me (usually just coins!) for encores. I still do pretty decent impressions.
As a tween, I could usually be found… practicing choreographed hip-hop dance routines at the neighbourhood community centre, sometimes way past my curfew. I’m sure my mom was thrilled about this… (not!).
My childhood hero was… and remains, my mother. She made single-parenting look easy (I now see it most certainly is not), and made many sacrifices for our happiness to give us every enriching experience possible. She was also hilarious, light-hearted, intelligent, well-travelled and generous – with an impressive ability to connect with anyone, regardless of circumstance. I miss her tremendously but her spirit lives on in my brother and me.
My childhood dream… was to become an educator, community leader or actor. By age 9, I knew I would be at least one of these. Today, I am all three, though that means I wear several different hats on any given day.
The strangest job I ever had… was “facilitator” at children’s birthday parties in Little Neck, Queens, New York. I helped stuff and decorate toy bears – and since they named their bears as well, I also had to write up and issue official “birth certificates”! Tips were great… parents were appreciative… but rambunctious children with sugar-rushes, not so much. By the time I left that job, I didn’t want to ever stuff or register a single Bert or Beatrice Bear again. But I still have a soft spot for teddy bears.
If I could go back in time, I’d tell my 20-something self… to take any fears I was struggling with, sit with them for a bit, and then resolve to put them aside. That way, I could surround myself with more positivity and creativity, and more easily accomplish all that I strived to do.
As a child, I was known for… speaking French well. It helped that I attended and enjoyed French Immersion starting in Kindergarten. The neighbourhood kids would always ask me to “say something in French”. They found it funny to hear fluent French coming from such a young child! Another benefit: In Grade 3, I helped translate during our family trip to France. I was the one who pointed out that my parents should not keep the stove running in our rented camper while starting up the ignition. (Good thing I could translate those instructions, or we may never have made it home to Canada!)
In my final year of high school, I felt really proud when… I received the school music award. I’d always loved music, and by then, I had played in the school concert band, stage band, city youth orchestra and The Ontario Youth Concert Band. So after putting so much time and effort into my music, I was honoured and pleased to receive this recognition.
In my teenage years, my friends… and I spent many hours listening to records. (This was long before downloadable music or iTunes!) I spent a big chunk of my allowance, plus money from part-time jobs, on new albums, bus fare into Toronto, and tickets to see my favourite bands live. To this day I enjoy the sound of vinyl recordings, and still listen to my teenage record collection plus many new additions, all carefully stored in my basement!
Throughout my childhood and teen years, I could usually be found… by the water. As a young child, I spent time at my grandparents’ cottage and was an avid swimmer from a very young age. Attending summer camp from ages 8 to 15, I learned to sail, canoe, and much more. As a result, as a teen and young adult, I worked as a swim instructor and lifeguard for many summers, where I met my spouse. In short, I’ve always been a real fish!
The most important “life lesson” I learned in high school… when I misread a key instruction on a history mid-term exam. As a result, I answered only one, rather than the two required essay questions. But my teacher’s response was what made the experience a life lesson: while sympathetic, he did not allow me to re-do the exam nor make up lost marks. Instead, he suggested I consider writing the final exam, even though I was exempt from it. (At that time, Ontario high schools had mandatory mid-terms, but rewarded those students with good final grades by exempting them from the dreaded “finals”. What a wonderful feeling to be on holidays while others were still studying!) But I followed his advice, and extended my study time to prep for the History final. My very high exam grade bumped my final course mark back up to a level where I was happy. Most importantly, I have never misread a direction on a test or exam since!
Something that has always been very important to me… is my friends and family. In my completely unbiased opinion, they are absolutely the best! It’s hard to make time to see them all regularly – but whenever I do, it’s always worth it.
As a youngster, I could usually be found… playing ball hockey or football on a side street, most weekends after dinner. We would yell “CAR!!!” whenever one approached, interrupting the game and moving aside reluctantly (I remember at least one great breakaway spoiled that way.) As we got older, our call changed to “1967 Ford Galaxy 500…!!!” or whatever make and model approached. Such fun times!
The best and most unique job I ever had was… delivering pizza in St. Catharines, ON while attending Brock University. My most memorable moment was sliding off the snow-covered, long and very winding road leading up to Ridley College. The old VW Bug I drove had bald tires, and I skidded around three trees before regaining control and returning to the road. After all that, my customers, Ridley students, didn’t even give me a tip though they could well afford it! But I still loved that job.
One memorable trip I took… was after 9 months of volunteer work in Israel. My flight required a 4 AM airport arrival time, so I was exhausted even before checking in. After a stressful body scan (this wasn’t yet done elsewhere), a preoccupied airport staffer flicked her hand in a general direction, and muttered ‘Gate 4’. The Gate 4 stewardess tore off my ticket stub (long before scanners!), I climbed aboard and sank into my seat - that is until an Australian passenger tried to claim it. Our boarding passes had identical seat numbers, so the stewardess gave the passenger her own galley seat instead.
As the plane started to taxi, the chatter around me made me realize that oddly, the plane seemed full of Aussies. Only then did I determine I was actually on a connecting flight to Australia, via Teheran, not Toronto! (Israel and Iran were still on good terms then, with the Shah of Iran in power.) I frantically got the stewardess’ attention, the pilot had to stop to let me off and two guards with Uzis escorted me to my
The most important “life lesson” I have learned… can be summed up from the lyrics of a Billy Joel song “…the good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems…” Come to think of it, song lyrics have taught me many life lessons.
The teacher I remember the most… for positive reasons, was my high school chemistry teacher. In an after-class “chat”, he told me that I was very bright and should keep working, during a time that I doubted my abilities in this subject. This was in contrast to several of my other teachers who seemed rather uncaring or burnt out. I found a lesson in this to apply once I became a teacher. I always try to look for students' strengths, not weaknesses. True, the weaknesses will be there, but convincing students that they have ability and can learn from their mistakes is the more powerful tool. Plus, constructive criticism should be kept... constructive.
As a child, I was always known for… talking too much! My seventh grade teacher wrote me a note saying essentially: 'It's a good thing you're a fast learner, because you never stop talking long enough to listen to a full set of directions'. I still find joy in conversing with people about all sorts of topics, almost all the time. I believe much growth and many lessons is received from the wisdom of others, often through a simple chat - and why I still have this reputation at times!
One way I escaped from life’s everyday stresses as a teen… was to write in my journal. I felt that writing down my emotions, thoughts and feelings would bring clarity to any difficult situation – and it often did! Another favourite de-stressor of mine was and still is, running. Exercise brings a sense of peace to my body that my mind soon follows.
The most important “life lesson” I ever learned… is to always have confidence in yourself. It can be far too easy to doubt ourselves or our abilities, but we must become our own cheerleaders in life. When you believe that you can achieve something, you're halfway to your goal!
The teacher in school that I remember most clearly was… my high school science teacher. Somehow every year, I ended up in his class. He was the most sarcastic but truly funny teacher I ever had, and it was his support and guidance that helped me realized my love for science and Biology in particular.
If I could go back in time and give my teenage or 20-something self some life advice… I’d tell my younger self to take my time, observe and absorb in every situation. People get so caught up in this fast-paced world, that we lose sense of the meaning behind the true memories we make.
As a child, I always wondered… why I had no siblings. Was I that much of a handful that my parents didn’t want (or couldn’t handle) another child!? I missed not having brothers and sisters, even if my friends from bigger families said that I was lucky.
I am known for… collecting Coca Cola cans and Coke bottle products when I travel the world. I have approximately 175 cans and bottles so far. Did you know that Coke-product cans and bottles have very different designs depending on the countries where they are made and sold?
The worst job I ever had… was working at a Wave Pool during the summer months. Yes, the water was nice and cool when I did get to jump in, but the number of “accidents” and the resulting air quality, cancelled out any other positives.
If I could go back in time and give my teen self some life advice… I’d tell myself to keep working hard. Also not to give up even when the times seem beyond stressful and impossible, as it does get better especially when you persevere through.
These days, when not working, I can usually be found… binge-watching a TV series on Netflix with a lot of junk food. It’s super relaxing!