Monthly Archives: February 2008

Helping Cut Waste at Hotels

When I stayed at a hotel last week for the teaching conference, I really enjoyed my room. One of the first things I noticed was the card placed on the bed. It read that they change the bedding every second day in order to conserve energy. You could hang the card on the door if you wished to have your bedding changed everyday.

They had a similar card in the bathroom about towels. Towels on the floor meant that they were to be washed. Towels on the rack meant that you would still use them and they therefore did not need to be washed.

I thought about all the water and soap that is used in a hotel on a daily basis. They must use a huge amount of electricity as well. I wanted to do something to help the hotel conserve these resources. Here is what I did and some advice on how we can all help cut waste at hotels.

1)Hang up your “Do Not Disturb” sign when you leave the room for the day.

This way the hotel staff will not come into your room at all. I know that I don’t change my bed sheets every second day at home so they don’t need to do that for me at a hotel. I also did not need to have my towels washed daily either.

2) Talk to the cleaning staff

When I came out of my room and placed the sign on my door, a cleaning lady asked if I wanted my room done up at all. I said no, and she asked if she could go in anyway just to punch in a number on the phone so the management would know she still checked the room. Apparently, they get paid by room. I was glad to help her out this way. I just asked her to remove the garbage from the garbage can but to leave everything else be.

3)Keep your room clean yourself

I make up my own bed in the morning. I keep my room clean. I hang up my towels so I can reuse them, just like I would at home. There is no reason that we cannot look after our hotel rooms by ourselves.

4) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I reduced the amount of washing the hotel had to do by resuing my bed sheets and towels. I used the recycling can that was in my room to properly dispose of bottles, cans, and newspapers.

5) Every little bit helps

It feels like I did something to help mother earth in my short stay. I know that this is really just a small thing. The hotel still used tones of soap, water, and electricity but I wasn’t contributing to it as much. Every little thing we can do to help the environment helps. We can do a lot of good if we all do just a little.

Blame The Art

There was violence before
There was jewelry before it
hip-hop did nothing but report
the reality we saw everywhere so,
Blame the Art

You’re outside the culture
so point your finger
it’s the easiest thing to do
Blame the Art

It makes you feel good
it gives you a target
but you will never obliterate it.
You know it too,
that’s why you
Blame the Art

It makes it seem like you are doing something
but perhaps, you should fight a battle to change
the things you dislike.
That would be a start.
Do something significant
Don’t just
Blame the Art.

Sometimes when I am in a conference or seminar, I like to scribble down poems or thoughts. I wrote this poem while the speaker was saying his speech about the erosion of values I wrote about yesterday. I was infuriated about his choice of words.

I then wrote another one about how I was feeling about his words at the time. The strange thing was that I saw him that night before in the business centre at the hotel. He was talking to his assistant and he said that he might just use an old speech. This small comment made me think more of his words from the podium. It seemed to me like he wasn’t prepared at all and I needed to vent. Fortunately, I had my pen and paper to do just that. This is what I wrote,

Write a speech!
Don’t just go with the flow
or you say BS
or nothing consequential
So I tune out but still clap
write some poetry
based on your crap,
at least it fertilized an idea.

Need Something to Blame, Why Not Hip-hop?

A speaker at last week’s teaching conference blamed the erosion of values on “Chuck E. Cheese” and “hip-hop culture.” Those were his exact words. Now I know that he was trying to make a point and while I agree with him that values do seem to be falling by the wayside, I can’t concede these points to him.

This speaker was an Aboriginal who referred to himself as an Indian. He talked about the problems that Aboriginal students face. I heard his messages echoed throughout the conference from teachers who have taught on reserves. I know that their traditional ways of thinking and behaving are being slowly being eroded. Some of the Native languages are being lost.

People are influenced by everything. I know that there are some violent video games and messages in rap songs that aren’t really appropriate for children. But blaming the art is too easy a thing to do.

I know that my parents educated me to what music and images are all about. This is a parent’s job. I wasn’t allowed to watch restricted movies when I was a kid. My parents didn’t let me listen to music full of swear words. They closely examined the media I was consuming and made me question the images and presentation of movies and music. I am glad that they did. I can separate the fact from the fiction in music, video games, and television.

The speaker at the conference obviously wasn’t well prepared for his speech. I think he invented examples and made up statistics. I, for one, know that Chuck E. Cheese does not have violent video games. I have taken children there several times and it is a very family friendly atmosphere.

And of course, the irony of him talking about Aboriginal culture and blaming “hip-hop culture” wasn’t lost on me. If he had said certain songs on the radio give children the wrong idea, I would wholeheartedly agree, but he said “hip-hop culture.” He was trying to get us to understand his culture and situation but he dissed my culture.

He probably didn’t know that some teachers are part of the hip-hop culture he was disrespecting. He probably doesn’t even understand that hip-hop is a culture. He showed his ignorance.

Fortunately, I had a chance to rebuff this at the next workshop. The presenter there opened up the floor by asking us what we wanted to remember about the morning’s seminars. I spoke up. I know that she didn’t understand me either. She said, “You want to remember that?” I stressed the use of his word “culture.” To my surprise, she added my point to the list on the chart paper. She wrote, “Respect all cultures.” Good advice and something to keep in mind.

Album Spotlight # 5

Coast II Coast by Tha Alkaholiks

I’ve known alcoholics and it is not a cool thing. That’s why when this rap group first came out I shunned them. I didn’t want to hear a group that just talked about getting drunk all the time.

Their first album 21 and Over got a lot of play on radio shows and Much Music. It started to grow on me but I was determined not to support them on principle. About a year after their initial success, I saw their first album in a cheap bin at a downtown record store. I thought about it, “Hmmm, can’t really go wrong for six bucks,” so I bought it. The record was slamming and it made me a fan.

I bought this second album on cassette and made sure to put it in my pocket with a permanent marker when they came into town in 1996. They played at the small but legendary X-club in Hamilton. The best thing about this venue was that the artists usually came off the front of the stage and hung out in the crowd afterwards.

I had the tape in my pocket just in case. Sure enough, I got every member of the group to sign my tape. The album isn’t the best album I’ve ever heard but the concert was definitely off the hook. They had so much energy on stage and it transferred to the entire crowd.

They even surprised everyone in attendance when Xzibit came out to perform his brand new hit, Paparazzi. No one was expecting this. The crowd went nuts when this song came on. I have never seen that much energy from a small club audience before and I don’t think I will again.

That is why this album is special to me. It will forever be tied to this concert in my memory and I have the autographs on the cassette insert to prove it.

The Third World is Right Here!

There are forgotten people and towns in Canada that are forced to live in Third World conditions. I never would of thought anything like this could happen in the rich and abundant country we live in, but it does.

My eyes were opened to this fact when I when to a teaching conference last week. I met a lot of teachers from all over the province and they had quite a few interesting stories to tell. The most interesting stories came from teachers who went up north to teach in First Nation Reserves. Most of these communities are isolated from the rest of the province. Many of them are only accessible by air, as they have no roads that go into the community.

These communities seem to have a lot of problems. One teacher told me that they missed a lot of school this year because their school had no heat and it was just too cold to stay in the school. Other teachers told me of water problems in their communities. The water wouldn’t always flow from the taps. Many houses don’t even have running water. They have water tanks in the basement that need to be filled up weekly by a delivery truck. When the water is available, it is yellow or brown in colour. The water needs to be filtered and boiled before it is safe to consume.

There were much more stories of heartbreak in our Northern Aboriginal communities. I can’t believe that people in this country have to live in such conditions. One of the keynote speakers touched on some of these issues. Some of these schools don’t have books or computers. They don’t have libraries, doctors, or barbers. The speaker said that a professional haircut might not mean much to us, but to a kid up there it can mean everything.

This speaker was from the United States of America and he talked about how the government and organizations are raising money for schools in Africa but totally ignoring people right here in North America that are basically living and going to school in the same conditions.

It’s sad. I wish there was something I could do about it. Most people probably don’t even think about the problems that Aboriginal people are facing on the land that they currently occupy. Kids need a safe place to live and go to school. They need resources to grow and develop to their full potential. Why aren’t we providing these things for all kids in our country?

The teachers that move into these communities for the school year and do their best under the circumstances need to be recognized for a valiant effort. But maybe they need to band together and call attention to these issues so that the general public will take notice and the government will be forced to take action.

Everyone should have heat, water, and electricity in their home and school. Everyone should have access to doctors, dentists, libraries, barbers, and other resources that we take for granted. There should be no one living in third world conditions in this beautifully rich and abundant country.

A Brief History of Hip-Hop – Part 6 A Piece

Read The Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5

Graffiti rose in popularity in the 1960s and 1970s in New York. It went from simply writing a name on the wall or subway car, to painting larger, more complicated designs. This new form of graffiti art was called a piece, short for masterpiece.

Writers now showed even more artistic talent in their pieces. Lettering was given a third dimension and depth. Logos and pictures also became part of the art. The pieces were large and colourful. It was an exciting time to be a writer.

The art even received some legitimate attention in 1973 when The New York Magazine Newspaper ran a competition to find the best piece. In 1982 the art form was the subject of a motion picture, Wild Style. The film introduced a lot more people to the art and only widened the popularity.

In the 1980s, this style of art started to appear in other parts of the world. Europe, Spain, and Canada all have writers. Australia is a hot spot for graffiti even today and one of the best places to see fresh art.

It is clear that graffiti art is not going anywhere. Some cities have actually tried to give artists a place to create where they don’t need to fear prosecution. Hamilton used to have a yearly event called Concrete Canvas. It was a weekend long event where the true culture of hip-hop was celebrated. Artist created pieces on large wooden planks right before the spectators’ eyes. Rappers, DJs, and break dancers entertained the crowd from the stage. It was always a great event.

Next up

Part 7 – Break Dancing

A Brief History of Hip-Hop – Part 5 Graffiti Art

Read The Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

To most people, graffiti has a negative connotation. It is often associated with vandalism and crime to those outside of hip-hop culture. It is probably the most misunderstood of the four elements. It is an element that often gets overlooked. It shouldn’t. It is significant and plays an important part in the history of hip-hop.

People have been writing on walls and surfaces since man first walked upright and used a stick to draw in the dirt. We have some great records of the way Ancient civilizations used and created art. Graffiti as we know it was created in New York in the 1960s.

I think that as soon as someone saw a permanent marker, they had a desire to write their name on the walls. It’s almost primal, the need to create art on the surfaces available. Sure, we can get slabs of rock, paper, canvas, and other surfaces to write on other than walls in the city. Unfortunately, those that can’t afford such art materials are shut out of creating art.

It is simple and cost effective to grab a marker and write your name on the wall. This is what is known as tagging. Writers, as they are known, would tag their nicknames on the walls wherever they could. Writers tried to outdo themselves by the style of the lettering that they would use. The tags moved from marker to spray paints. This allowed writers to blend colours, bend the letters, and just be creative with the whole process.

A good tag is a work of art. It is not simple a two-second scribble. I don’t have any use for that style of tagging. Writing “Melissa was here,” or carving your initials into a tree is not art.

Writers became famous, much like the DJs who were running block parties at the time. Their signature was not just a name but a style. Writers had unique styles of lettering, colouring, and shading.

After a while, it was hard to find a clear wall or place to paint. The Metropolitan Transit Authority didn’t appreciate the art on their trains and subways. They spent considerable time and money removing graffiti.

The artists would not be deterred. They all tried to outdo each other. Tags became more complicated and stylized. They became larger and more colourful. Tags now became only one part of graffiti art.

Next Up

Part 6 – A Piece

Be Happy With The Little Things

Sometimes it takes something small to make you appreciate all of the things you have.

For instance, I was housesitting again last week. I like to help my friend out by doing this for him. It gives me a chance to get some privacy and to enjoy all the toys that they have. I like the flat screen television with surround sound that they have. I really enjoy listening to their satellite radio too. I can usually get quite a bit of writing done while I am there because I can just put on the radio and write. I don’t have to worry about switching CDs or anything else. I just let the radio play and write, write, write.

So, when I got to their place that first night last week, I immediately turned on the satellite radio. For some reason though, I could only get three channels in; one was a sports channel, one was news, and one was a preview channel. I tried everything I could to get this thing to work, but it didn’t.

At first this was a terrible inconvenience. I wanted to write and listen to some of my favourite music and I couldn’t. Instead, I had to listen to regular radio. I don’t normally listen to regular radio. I listen to Internet radio, mix show podcasts, or CDs. Since I didn’t have any of these things over there, I had to make do that first night.

This small problem of mine seemed stupid and inconsequential to me when I thought about why I was there. My friend was in the hospital because he is battling cancer and is going through some tough times financially because of it. He probably can’t afford the monthly fee for it anymore. How could I be upset over not having satellite radio under these circumstances?

He has been battling this for some time now. He hasn’t been able to work and has actually had to sell a few of the things in his house. His wife is still working but they have basically lost half of their income. It must be hard.

It makes me appreciate everything all the more now. I have everything I need in life, and I have my health. There are things that I don’t have and would like to have but I shouldn’t focus on that. It is important to realize all the things that we do have and to be happy with all the little things we can take for granted.

Album Spotlight # 4

Big Red Letter Day by Buffalo Tom

The year is 1993 and I am glued to my television set every Thursday at 8:00 p.m. Claire Danes fills up the screen as a 15 year-old teenager in the critically acclaimed My So-Called Life. I am captivated by her character and this little show and tune in faithfully ever week.

The show often featured music from alternative bands and tried to stay true to the type of music that teenagers were listening to at the time. One episode had the characters going to a Buffalo Tom concert. At this point in my life, I had never heard of this band. I liked the episode and enjoyed the music but didn’t think much about it until I saw the soundtrack in a music store. Being such a huge fan of the show, I scooped up the CD like it was a newly discovered treasure.

I really liked the Buffalo Tom song on the soundtrack and set out to hear more of their music. Big Red Letter Day was the latest release from Buffalo Tom so I quickly scooped this one up a few days after getting the soundtrack. This album is amazing. It’s just a great album. I can’t really describe their sound on a blog and give them justice. It is power-pop rock that always seems to fit my mood.

I have been a fan of Buffalo Tom ever since. The one thing that really impresses me about this group is that they have a very distinct and constant sound. All of their albums have this same sound. They don’t feel that they have to change their sound every album like some artists. Their sound never gets old for me. It works and I’m glad that they continue to stick with it. I blogged about their latest album 3 Easy Pieces last summer.

Buffalo Tom is a three-piece group that I always have in heavy rotation. I can play any of their albums no matter what my mood. I always go back to them and listen to them several times ever year. They are an excellent group and I would place them in my top 5 groups of all time period.

Everything You Want out of Life

You can get everything you want out of life by helping others get what they want. At first glance, this saying doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Conventional wisdom tells us that if you want something that you have to work hard for it. While I believe that this is true, I think that the definition of work needs to be expanded.

Think of it this way, if you want a garden to produce vegetables you need to do a lot of things in order to make this happen. You need to prepare the land. You need to specifically arrange how you plant each seed. You need to care for each plant as it starts to grow. You need to water the plants and make sure they have enough sunlight. Putting up a fence so that neighbourhood critters don’t get into it is also a good idea.

Come to think of it, a garden is a lot of work. The work pays off in dividends though if you are patient. There is just something unparalleled about tasting the fruits of your labour, as it were. Homegrown crops always taste much better than store bought ones. Maybe it is because we can taste the effort and hard work we put into our gardens.

I sometimes think that life works much the same way as a garden. People are like plants in a lot of ways. They need just as much care, loving, and time that a plant does. Think of all the ways you could work to improve your relationships. Think of ways that you could help people in your daily life. Think of ways you can help a stranger.

Doing little things everyday can sure add up to a productive garden. A compliment here and there, a favour with no expectations of it being returned, a kind act for no other reason than it is the right thing to do; all these things can go a really long way.

If life is like a garden and we treat everyone with caring and respect, than our efforts will come back to us. I like to think that what you give, or put into your life, is what you get out of it. Therefore, helping others ultimately helps yourself in the long run. You might not see the benefits of it right away and you shouldn’t look for them either. They will come your way if you help other people get what they want out of life.