Monday, 25 February 2008

How To Win Friends And Influence People

To keep my "How To" theme fresh and add a little twist, various blogs will be named after famous (relevant) "How To" examples and I will tie in the actual example to the blog!

This particular week's title is named after the bestselling "first and best book to lead you to success", How To Win Friends & Influence People! Bear with me as I attempt to explain its link with my Canadian life so far.

For a start, the book itself has only become known to me in the last two months and so it can be argued that everything I know about it is relevant to my blog. Secondly, I struggle to think of a more important task over the last two months that I have undertaken than making new friends to settle in well. Without new bonds and attractions, I would be one lonely guy in the middle of an unknown city!

The book became known to me when I found it lying around in the Bowen's house. I had never heard of it but the front cover assured me that it was old ("updated FOR the 80's") and popular ("over 15 million sold" - before the 80s!). After a quick flick through I discovered it to be about personality traits and learning good social habits that appeared to be as important now as they would've been in 1936. Things like how to criticise without offending or what attributes a leader should have. After all, leaders have to influence people more often than anyone - or else they are lousy leaders.

This week I came across the book again whilst online (wasting time) on Facebook. Having recently taken up reading again, with an ever growing list of recommended classics and bestsellers that I "have to read!", I decided to add a book application so that I could display my reads (past, present & future reads) and rate them out of 10 for direct comparison.

Among the "classics" listed was "How To Win Friends and Influence People" so I became intrigued again and decided that I'd read it when I had finished reading "Brave New World" and "Life of Pi", and listening to "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and "The Audacity of Hope". After that I plan to read "The Kite Runner", "Catcher in the Rye" and "Lord of the Flies".

If anyone wants to rate, read or recommend me more books then I'd be glad to hear from you. Whilst working I do have an awful lot of time on breaks and in the truck that would otherwise be filled with Sal-chat.

Sal-chat (for anyone who hasn't met Sally, my boss) includes any one of her various Sal-isms or phrases. Examples include "A word to the wise" (which is used whenever she says ANYTHING!), Holy Toledo(!!) and "literally" even when the thing she has just said is clearly metaphoric!

For a while, in moderation, Sal-chat is hilarious. She can brighten my day with various certain expressions repeated until kingdom come occasionally, anytime! However, I fear that one more "you'll be so surprised, you'll jump outta your skin...literally" may cause my "Grammar Nazi" brain to overheat and I may well collapse/explode.

Wanting a better grasp on grammar, spelling and vocabulary is another cited reason for my decision to read/listen to books; favouring learning (possibly a new language soon too!) over music over and over and over again!

For those of you hoping to learn something valuable from this blog (since I did promise a learning experience from these blogs when I began them), I have included some useful proverbial tips for you (including one from Dale Carnegie's book!) that can be used in your everyday lives:

  • Never remove a fly from a friends forehead with a hatchet!
  • -Indian Proverb
  • Talk about your own mistakes when critising other people
  • -Dale Carnegie
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • -Stephen Covey

    Or in plain English:

  • Don't overreact,

  • Use humility when you criticise,

  • Listen before you talk.

  • Make the kind of friends who don't mind photos like this being taken of them!

    I hope that these guidelines fare you well. For more information I recommend both "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens" (simplified version of "...Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey's son) and "How to Win Friends and Influence People", depending on your age. Both give useful tips towards leadership and positive outlooks.

    Wednesday, 20 February 2008

    How To Make Pizza

    One of my new tasks as trainee chef is to take the raw ingredients for each of the 6 flavours of pizza served by the Flying Beaver, and create them each day so that they are fresh and the restaurant doesn't run out.

    I decided to take some more photos of my work environments over the last few days and will upload them soon but for now - since this blog was supposed to be educational as well as informative - I have a step-by-step guide to making pizza:

    Step 1: Get dough and flour-ise the work surface

    Step 2: Roll dough into a flat as-roughly-circular-as-you-can shape

    Step 3: Spin the dough and throw it from hand to hand to shake off the flour

    Step 4: Place dough on pizza pan and bring the overhanging dough onto the plate with quick finger motions that drag the dough bit by bit inwards until the whole dough is on the pan and the edges look smooth.

    Step 5: Add ingredients to taste. Usually begin with Tomato Purée and end with grated cheese. A variety of meat and vegetables usually tastes good and pineapple makes a dry pizza a bit juicier!

    I hope that this is useful and inspires you all to try yourselves. Dough (if not obtainable from the fridge on a tray in neat rows) can be made using simple ingredients and it's recipe should be available in most cookbooks and online!

    In other, less lecture-styled news, I saw the lunar eclipse last night with my new Wednesday youth group of 12(ish) year olds, and passed the time by explaining what was happening to the children as well as showing them some constellations and telling them stories as we sat in a circle in the car park.

    I also got to see my Canadian grandparents last weekend which was nice and I hung with them and was able to show them all of my Borneo photos, the Borneo DVD and my USA/Canada photos without them getting bored or falling asleep! It was also nice to see some of the things again after so long since I last got the chance to sit down and look through it all!

    Virginia left us all for Austria and will be gone for 5 months for study abroad. She had to learn German but seemed pretty excited for the opportunity (and has already added some pretty cool photos to Facebook!) despite being sad to leave. (I know how she felt!)

    I also received 2 pieces of mail on Monday; one an Easter package from my family which was really sweet and I enjoyed immensely (including the chocolates which I have nearly finished and the teddy-duck-pen-topper!), the other a letter from Eve, a friend met through Liam at University!

    Friday, 15 February 2008

    How To Work With Kids

    For my Duke of Edinburgh awards I had to do various services and skills as well as an expedition and a project. For my service, because of my history in the Scouting movement, I chose Beavers as a weekly group that I would help out with. In the end, as with all aspects of the award, it benefited me more in the long run than it did for the award.

    In secondary school I did a week of work experience at the local primary school to see if I would enjoy teaching as a career. Since the other option at the time was animation; and I couldn't get in to Aardman (creators of "Wallace & Gromit" etc) because of the ridiculously high demand, I had to presume that I would have liked that better and I pretty much wrote off teaching despite a fairly fun week!

    My Beavers work continued right up until my 18th Birthday before I had travel and University in the way. I was sad to see the commitment go but knew that one day it may all come in useful. As early as Borneo, I found myself using some of the skills!

    Having been given 10 minutes to "plan" an hour long lesson for fifteen Malaysian 8 year olds, I was thrown into the fray alone and immediately had to try and make a good impression on the children who were to become my first ever students.

    Inspired by "North, East, South, West" (a Beaver game) and some Maths games from school also involving direction; I proceeded to teach the children about the compass points. With balloons as the prizes I'd soon captured the attentions of the entire class and began to have fun as the children took turns playing a directional instruction game before I got them all playing "N, E, S, W".

    This positive experience, coupled with the time spent with the Beavers, were key points in my reasoning for summer camp. Eventually I ended up at a camp in Pennsylvania and had an awesome time. The point that stands out for me as a leader figure (in my mind) was on a rainy day where all of the children at the adventure course (around twelve 10 year old boys) had been ushered into the A-Frame (Adventure Course equipment store) and were running wild.

    Despite being the youngest international staff member in the room I figured that I should at least try to keep the peace if no one else wanted to and began telling the kids about a game called "Frogs". After a minute I had the kids lined up and jumping "into the pond", "onto the bank" and trying to stand still when I said "on the pond" or "in the bank"! The next half an hour flew by as Helen and I ran them through various games which ended with "Sleeping Lions" to give us all a break!

    Along with my failing Computer Programming career, I was again thrust into the "what do I want from life" state whereby I had to weigh up a load of options to see what I thought I would enjoy. Canada became an option after being offered Landscaping; as far away from the office-type indoors as can be.

    This week I joined two youth groups! One is called "FUEL", meets on a Monday and is for high school age kids, the other is called "Kids Club", meets on a Wednesday and is for elementary age kids. Having realised that teaching may still be an option; I was inspired to get experience in all areas of working with kids so the chance to join two different groups is great.

    Tombert and I looking suave in our suits

    For FUEL we had a formal Valentines meal and I went dressed in a James Bond style suit and bowtie! Coupled with the accent and dashing good looks, I probably made more than a few people take a second glance to make sure that I wasn’t actually James Bond! I did manage to refrain asking for my drink “shaken not stirred” because it was a coke and I didn’t envision that scenario ending well for me!

    Working with Thea at Kids Club, I hope to learn a few things indirectly from her teaching degree that will help me as I gear up for a career in that direction. Apparently I have made a good start though (a group of girls still obsessing over my lame snowman “do you smell carrots?” joke; almost like the fan club I had a summer camp calling me “Carrot” and wanting to speak to me every time I went past!) and I look forward to continuing both clubs in my busy schedule.

    Currently I am the “local celebrity” that comes with being English in Canada and though everyone looks at me when I am talking, they do tend to finish off by giggling loudly because I’ll pronounce a word differently or something! Having met a girl called Heather who did the exact opposite to me (born in UK, grew up in Canada), I was surprised at how strong her English accent (which she can now turn on and off at will) was when she used it and inspired to learn the second accent and the ability to switch at any point.

    After all, it is great to have the attention that being English brings!

    Sunday, 10 February 2008

    How To Cook Like A Chef

    Dressed in my chef attire; complete with "Flying Beaver Bar & Grill" hat

    After a third consecutive "snow day" off of work a few weeks ago; bored of sitting around, I casually mentioned to Cory (who works as a waiter) that I could get a second (weekend/evening) job. Mere hours (and a phone call from Cory) later I arrive at the "Flying Beaver Bar & Grill" for an interview! Apparently I had been recommended to fill the trainee chef position and they were eager to meet me since they prefer to hire employees’ friends than unknowns.

    Last Friday I started work as a trainee chef; a week after the “interview” (and coming straight from landscaping!). The "interview" was technically more of a casual chat about Canada, the Flying Beaver, Cory, landscaping and cooking. Despite my complete lack of experience, my "willing to try" attitude (coupled with my nationality) was enough to get me employment at one of the nicest bars in Richmond!

    The Greater Vancouver area is the 4th most densely populated city in North America (behind NY, SF & Mexico City) and is built on the delta of the Fraser River (longest river in BC). Richmond itself is one of the various islands in the area, due south of the island with Vancouver International Airport on.

    Between the two is one of the branches of the Fraser delta and along the North shore (across from North West Richmond) lies the Flying Beaver. The Bowen house is along the West shore of Richmond; protected from the water by a dike.

    The Fraser River is the longest river in BC; starting high up in the Rocky Mountains and flowing via the delta that the Greater Vancouver area is built upon, into the Pacific Ocean. On the North shore of the stretch of water that divides Richmond from the Airport, looking over the river, is the Flying Beaver.

    Prior to the interview, I had visited the Flying Beaver on two occasions. The first was during my first visit to Vancouver in 2005 when Uncle Ron suggested it as his favourite restaurant, probably due to the view of the river and the close proximity to the float planes (known as "Flying Beavers") taking off and landing on the water outside the window.

    The second visit was only a short visit, more recently, to see Cory when he was working (something fun to do...) and we stayed for about an hour. The night we went was very quiet and we sat and chatted with one of Jesse’s friends from a trucking company and watched the NBA. The bar gets much more busy on Hockey nights and also on Wednesday when it hosts it's famous "Wing Night". Wing Night is when all wings go on sale for 35 cents each and people flock in from far and wide across the Greater Vancouver area, as well as pilots from the airport, to eat loads of cheap, tasty (6 or so flavours) chicken wings!

    The fact that I was hired was a little bit bewildering to me because I can probably count the number of times I have cooked, without using a microwave, on my fingers! Besides cookery class at Marlwood School, I’ve managed to cook pasta, pizza, loaded potato skins (which were delicious and easily my favourite!) and a barbecue (indoors!!); all during University and stir fry whilst back at my Dad’s shortly before I left for Canada!

    I enjoy cooking; it just always seems too much hassle, so the chance to be trained (from scratch) was an awesome one, even though it takes my weekly hours to around 60! Since my spare time (which with football, two youth clubs and two jobs is limited nowadays) is just wasted on Facebook or TV, I would rather be out learning new skills and earning more money. It also means that I have a challenge for this next week (and longer) to learn to cook well.

    Currently I am stationed on the appetisers and pizzas. This means that I deep fry calamari, haddock and various other sea foods, fries, beef, potato skins and chicken wings! Once they are cooked through (usually shown by their floating-to-the-top) I add sauces and prepare them to be sent out to the customers. Pizzas are created fresh daily from scratch and involve finding the various ingredients and slamming them artistically onto your newly rolled pizza base! Both are straightforward jobs but enough for me to need some time to pick it all up. For example when a large order comes in, knowing what to do first so that it can all go out together is important.

    My shift usually starts at about 4pm and will go on until around 1am, after the kitchen has been tidied and closed. I only work 2 days a week; a combination of two of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sunday is therefore the only night before an early (5.30am) start so I shouldn’t be too exhausted come the end of the month!

    It is interesting to note that I had been planning the “Flying Beaver” as somewhere to show people for a long time before I arrived in Canada (for when loads of people come and visit…) because of the great food, the fun atmosphere and the views of the water with the planes. Now it is even more likely because I get cheaper plane flights with the affiliated sea-airline so could take any visitors there before we flew to Vancouver Island.

    Now I just need to have some people come and visit me...

    Tuesday, 5 February 2008

    How To Survive Snow

    When you think of Canada, especially if the thoughts are of winter, you undoubtedly think of snow. From photographs I have created a few “false memories” from my time in Canada between ‘88 and ’91. The main one that springs to mind was created from seeing photos of my Mum battling through 4ft deep snow in Lethbridge! My first actual memories from Canada are from when we (Dad & kids) visited Calgary for Christmas in 1998. Both of these examples involve plenty of snow!

    In 2010, Vancouver is set to host Canada’s second Winter Olympic Games, having hosted their first in 1988 in my city of birth; Calgary. As things stand, I could well be here for the next Winter Olympics. As well as the two Canadian Winter Olympic events, I was also skiing in Italy, near Turin, when they hosted their Winter Olympics in 2006.

    As well as deciphering that I seem to have an entirely coincidental bond with the Winter Olympics, you can probably also work out that (since snow is important to the Winter Olympic Games) Vancouver receives a fair amount of snow.

    Richmond however, despite being very near to Vancouver, receives much less snow than the surrounding areas. Like Severn Beach, Richmond is a “below sea level” location on the waterfront. The slightly higher temperatures cause most of the snow to fall as rain over Richmond.

    Fortunately, unlike Severn Beach, (as well as having culture and scenery) Richmond does occasionally see snow. The average snowfall is around 30cm a year, which eclipses most of the UK but is nothing when compared to the areas of Canada further from the coast or much higher up in the Rocky Mountains.

    If I had been trying to avoid the snow for a few more weeks, my flight would have been perfect. Richmond had just had a long period of rain, washing away the snow from the New Year, and the UK began to see snow a few days after I had left! For the first few weeks I was devastated that I would be missing out on snow for the year, despite hopes of seeing some since November.

    My trip to Whistler was graced by snow late on the first day and we saw 18cm fall overnight! Suddenly I realised the extent to which I had missed out on snow in the UK. I used to be ridiculed by friends when stating that the slushy sleet falling in Bristol wasn’t anything like “real” snow! I was so right! After snowboarding through the falling flakes for the second half of the day, we visited the village of Whistler in the evening and walked about the winter wonderland. Never before had a creamy hot chocolate seemed so desirable and appropriate!

    To my amazement however, many of the people on the trip were not only not excited by the snow, but some positively loathed it! Whines of “it is so annoying” and “I hate snow” were common from certain members of the group and I was shocked. Granted, these particular “Scrooges” ("Bah Humbug!") were teens who probably think that everything “sucks” but it still got me thinking.

    Do Vancouverites, and Canadians in general, come to loathe snow in the same way that we view rain? I mean from time to time it can be exciting and fun but the norm is to complain about it. Is this because we have had plenty of rain throughout our lives so have “seen enough” or are there other reasons? Is it also possible to hate seeing the sun after too long growing up around it and look forward to rain? Would we sooner change our viewpoints if the opposite extremities were to occur?

    My argument to try and explain why I was still excited by snow aged 19 (“grow up”) was that I had seen hardly any throughout my life and the equivalent point in their lives for snowfall was early childhood so they had been able to throw snowballs, build snow families and make snow angels. Furthermore I added that global warming could well bring an end to snow and so the group members should make the most of it while they can. Who knows how long we have left of snow in this world?

    The number of times that I have seen a decent amount of snowfall in my lifetime could be counted on my fingers! Fortunately I am not easily dissuaded from activities via peer pressure and I continued on with my “snowboard angels” and general excitement.

    Shovelling snow from the Bowen's drive

    Two days after the trip, the snow (travelling south) hit Richmond. Enough snow fell in one night to get me off work for 3 days (can’t rake leaves in snow...) and so I was able to rest up (since my weekend had been just as busy as my week!) and play in the snow some more. I spent one morning with Virginia shovelling the driveway, watching movies and taking Rosie for a walk through the 5-inch-deep snow along the dike.

    The strange thing is that I was one of a very small minority to get the day (or a few days) off of work because of snow. An inch falls in Bristol and schools are panic closed! Here, the town continued to function normally as if nothing had happened. I imagine this also happens to a greater degree in the areas where even more snow falls each year!

    My challenge for this week (and the rest of my life) is to never take snow for granted. This shouldn’t be too hard when you consider that moments where driving conditions worsen and front doors block shut are easily forgotten whenever snow capped mountain forests come in to view, either whizzing down a ski slope; walking through the winter snow under blue skies on a crisp, cool day; or curling up in a fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate as the snow flutters past the log cabin window.

    Maybe with time I can come to appreciate the rain more too...

    Saturday, 2 February 2008

    How To Snowboard

    I finished work early on Friday and was dropped off at Fraserview church. Earlier in the week I had withdrawn $225 to pay for their snowboarding trip. The money included two days of lessons at Whistler-Blackcomb, transportation to and from the mountains, accommodation in a ski lodge, food for the entire weekend, board hire and the chance to have a great time with a lot of people my age.

    Fraserview church is the church that the Reed family, the Bowen family and the McPherson family all attend weekly. The three families have all known each other for about 20 years and chose Fraserview as their most recent church because of its emphasis on youth. As well as the church having many sports/recreational facilities, two youth clubs and a rock band during the Sunday service, it also runs a variety of trips throughout the year to various destinations including Mexico, California, Whistler and Tofino (Vancouver Island), all at bargain rates, for anyone aged between 15 and 25.

    The journey was about 2 hours long, with a stop at one of Squamish’s various roadside fast food outlets. Most people filled up on Wendy’s “Baconators” but I decided to save my money, having just eaten beef jerky and dried apricots (provided by my workmate, Sally, for the trip) and snacked on various goodies provided by Barb!

    We finally arrived at the lodge at about 7pm and unpacked all of the snowboards, food and bags from the trailer. As we got more and more aggressive with our passes, as all guys do, a tub of salsa became the only fatality, after it was launched at a wall by Tombert!

    We then set up our areas and headed upstairs for snacks and games. I was introduced as the English guy and instantly became a celebrity! From then on I was totally unable to escape the introductory games and jokes. The first one, which admittedly I fell for (literally!), involved approaching two girls on a couch, spouting some cheesy chat up lines, showing off some moves and then sitting between them. The trick was that the “couch” was actually two chairs with a sheet on top, so that the middle section was just air – something that I would have noticed better under less anxiety!

    Nevertheless, my attempts were awarded 10/10 (probably for being English!) after a sweet spin and some flexes, with a sudden burst of confidence that remained thereafter! I even managed to redeem myself in a second game by not shouting out “KNICKERS” at the top of my lungs, as the rest of the room (instead of joining in) looked on and laughed! Ironically, I wouldn’t even have been embarrassed by this; having spent lunchtime in a packed restaurant playing “Bogies” with my group!

    Top of the slope; posing with the board

    Time on the slopes worked out at about 5 hours each day, with half an hour for lunch. Our instructor for the first day was a guy called Sebastian (or “Sea Bass”) and he taught us the basics of staying upright, stopping and basic turning. He was pretty cool and the group did well, with the know-it-alls taking many more tumbles, much to my amusement!

    Despite living in Canada all of her life, Virginia had also never been snowboarding so we were in the same group and both did very well. The other members did well too, despite the two guys (Stewart and Derek) constantly proving that "slow and steady” wins the race, especially if there are bonus points for remaining upright throughout! Despite this, they both insisted that we were going to be doing jumps, tricks and rails on our second day!

    In the evening we visited Whistler and went swimming. The shops were filled with British, Australian and New Zealander gap year students and I chatted with many of them. I also had a white chocolate flavoured hot chocolate which was delicious! The shops were mainly adventurous activity clothing shops and I plan to come back one day and buy some stuff for my various outdoor pursuits.

    The second day of snowboarding focused on turning the snowboard and travelling more sideways than forwards, the first day really only being a pendulum motion of side to side across the slope. After a morning of many shaky turns I was able to complete the turns quiet well and it was only on one particular run that I actually fell over! Unfortunately it was the last run before we tried something harder and it made me a little shakier again as I fell a couple more times before reaching the bottom.

    The harder route involved taking a second chair lift from the top of the first one (that we had been using for the last two days) and took us much higher. As we ascended the mountain, our view was of the steep ski run. This was not great for our nerves until we were told that we would not be going by that route and were able to relax again!

    The actual route turned out to be gorgeous as we whizzed along the mountainside, between pine forests, all the time with a beautiful view of the village of Whistler, and the valley beyond. The weather was beautiful and we could see a vast and breathtaking view of the mountains, including a glacial lake about 10 miles away!

    After our second day finished, we were picked up by the vans and headed home. In all it had been awesome and I was not only inspired to snowboard more, but also to try for a job there in the winter for a free lift pass and the opportunity to meet many more gap year travellers!