Now What?

So yesterday was the big day. Talk about Antique Antics!

Convocation. Cap ‘n gown. The ceremony. The walk. It was a day of pride and satisfaction, and reflection, and even as I was seated in the auditorium enjoying the speeches and the parade of talent crossing the dais, I was thinking about the journey. 

And what a journey! From orientation to classes, from research, methodology and the finer points of my assignments I cannot overstate the personal importance of this journey. My trip through the minefields of communications and culture has brought me to a far greater understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of modern technology. We all know what we like about it, but do we really understand the price that we pay for our freedoms? Anyway, that’s a subject for another time.

The ceremony went off without a hitch – I managed to get across the dais without tripping and falling flat on my face. It was nice. I was never nervous. I felt good in my cap and gown. I have to say that a strange sort of calm settled over me during the ceremony which I identify as pride, at being there, and getting it right. I missed distinction by a hair’s-breadth in my GPA, but that doesn’t really bother me. I still got it done, and with room to spare.

As I climbed up on the dais my favourite prof was there, giving students instructions. She smiled wide when she saw me, said “hey, look who’s here!” and actually gave me a hug. Later she told me there were only two students she hugged – me and a PhD student she’s also rather fond of. She hunted me down after the ceremony too, and just about the first thing she told me – in the presence of my loving friends and family – was that she really thinks I should carry on with my Masters and a PhD.

Well, let me tell you: when I went out the door yesterday morning I was not thinking about further education. I was trying to figure out my work future – how to get a job with my eminent but quirky combination of degrees and experience. I was thinking about what I would need to do to either negotiate with the system and find employment, or blow right past it and create something for myself. 

But now the idea of a Masters is oddly intriguing to me. Hearing that I can do it from a distance (technology makes this possible) means my family’s plans to move don’t have to change. Understanding how willing my Prof is to supervise me makes me feel really, really appreciated – frankly, more so than I’ve felt in years. Believe me, it’s a recognition far beyond what I expected to enjoy yesterday, and it is causing me to revisit some of my other, less positive relationships.

We’re going to have coffee sometime soon to discuss it a little more. Meantime I’m researching the cost and the availability of grants, and even without them I’m trying to figure out how it would look for me, financially and logistically.

So maybe this blog isn’t winding down after all. Perhaps there’s a whole new process about to unfold. Having secured the Bachelor’s, maybe there’s something a little more in-depth coming. If I do it, it will be thesis-based and I’ll start sooner rather than later – I don’t want to forget everything I learned chasing down the Bachelor’s. But there’s information to gather and I need a lot of answers before I make that commitment. 

Here’s the Old Fart on Convocation Day. Not too bad for forty-nine. I’m twice as old as the students I graduated with, but my mind is still young. 

Thanks for joining me on this exhilarating journey. If we all hold our tongues just right, there might just be more.

 

Silence

 

Advertisements

And we’re back

A particularly furry little animal

This is week two of the new semester – my final semester – the final steps on the road to the educational grail. 

I’ve waited a couple of weeks before making an entry this time because I wanted to become familiar with my schedule first – you know, rooms, times and so on. It’s a very complicated schedule. First are my Monday classes, from noon to 245pm, and 4pm to 645pm. Then I go home.

I almost feel guilty with this schedule – underscore ‘almost‘. I’m finishing up a second degree but my schedule makes it feel like night school. I mean, I don’t have to get up early, I get a solid hour for lunch in between classes, and I get a six-day weekend every week.

This pseudo-guilt is quickly overcome, however, by memories of my first two semesters in this place when I had to go to campus early, six days a week for eight months. Oh, I know, compared to a five-day week in a full time job it sounds easy, but while work passes quickly because it’s constant, the school process is very irregular, and in my opinion harder because of it. The semester starts with a certain calmness, but then deadlines hit, reading, research, writing, presenting, citing, and all the while the quality must be high enough to make the professor happy. This is a herky-jerky process of compilation and rendition which can be quite taxing at times. The deadlines come in waves. The pressure can be likened to that of a thumb screw – it hurts, but you get used to it, it hurts more, then you get used to it again. 

Anyway, this one-day-a-week thing is easy in one respect, but it calls for more discipline than I’ve ever had to show before. I’ll get it done, I’ll pull my weight – with a lifetime of team play in the workplace behind me I know how to get and keep people moving. But the temptation to coast is definitely there because the pressure won’t ramp up quite as often as in the past and every week I’ll get the chance to decompress. Honestly? I am already guarding against relaxing too much.

Did you see that? I’m trying hard not to be relaxed

Oh, what an odd and furry little animal is post-secondary education.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

History

I just finished my history paper. It was only ten pages in length, but I think it was the most difficult paper I’ve ever had to write. Why is this, you ask? Let me tell you, I answer.

They scare the bejeebers out of you about plagiarism. I’ve never plagiarized or cheated in my life, and the thought wouldn’t even occur to me, but the literature basically says you have to reference every idea that is not your own, or face the wrath of the judiciary! Well, kick me and call me a cowboy, but is there any such thing as a unique idea in a history paper? Surely everything we learn came from someone else!

Sigh. 

Not. Allowed. To. Use. The. Textbooks. 

For some reason the $60 text books are not good enough to be used as sources for this paper. I have no objection to doing research, but the text book should at least be a starting point. The reason given is that they are not peer-reviewed and footnoted, but does that make them inaccurate?

Sigh. 

I had a really hard time organizing my thoughts on this one, and not repeating myself. This is a big deal. Usually I can set paragraphs and talk up a storm, but this time it was hard to organize. Even as I’m writing this I’m trying to figure out why this is and I think because it’s history, and the salient points are relevant in all different directions. Something like this… ‘The decree of 1832 was an influencing factor in the dictum of 1874, and caused Sir Bolt to react as a total loonie against the Foofar tribe of Borneo whose primary modus operandum was the feeding of their families and the pursuit of the Decree of 1832.” You get the picture – it works in all different directions and my poor brain had a hard time, this time, compartmentalizing it. Believe me, I can’t wait for the next paper – it’s a simple, supported opinion piece. 

Sigh.

Chicago style citations. Citations in general drive me crazy, although I do understand their purpose, but most of my degree program has required APA style, so to suddenly throw Chicago at me now I consider a definite hardship. I don’t mind using footnotes – in fact I think they’re pretty cool – but the other stuff is just meshuga. 

Sigh.

Oh, and I had a nasty cold.

Speaking of the next papers – there are two of them due next Tuesday. Each has its challenges, but I’m sure that neither one will vex me like the history paper did. 

It occurred to me today that it’s November the 13th. That means that as of tomorrow there are precisely three weeks left in this semester. Man, how the time flies!

Here’s a picture. Sorry, I couldn’t afford a proper frame. I’m just a struggling student. 

Quiet Study Area

 

 

River Café Reflection

It’s not every day that the halls of learning move into the fields of life, but this is precisely what happened on October 30th, with our field trip to Calgary’s River Cafe. This is the kind of establishment I manage to visit only infrequently. It walks deftly the line between elitism and accessibility, making clever use of an outdoor motif to forge a dining experience that is at one and the same time familiar and rare.

“This is special,” I said to myself as I sat down at the plain wooden table near the fireplace. Blowing the cold off my hands I reflected on my journey there – my walk from the nearby Eau Claire Market, five minutes across the frigid Bow River and along the path to the restaurant’s welcoming sign.

From an economic point of view the River Café is strangely situated because it’s off the proverbial beaten path. It’s one of those places which would probably escape notice altogether if you didn’t know it was there, and you might never know it was there if it weren’t for its good reputation. It thrives despite its location – or perhaps because of it. Restaurant manager, Shelley Smith, explained that the location was chosen to allow patrons time to dedicate themselves to the upcoming experience; walking across the river and along the path under the canopy of huge trees allows the patron time to focus his mind.

As soon as I took my seat I started looking around. First impressions count for a lot, and in no small part because this was a school assignment, I was determined to be hyper-observant. From my space at the plain, wooden table I noted the large picture windows and the amount of light they allowed in. I marveled at the warmth of the room – not only as it emanated from the roaring fireplace, but as it grew naturally from the ambience – from the host of trinkets, ornaments, baubles and knickknacks carefully chosen to inspire sincerity. The ruggedness of the outdoor motif included all manner of boats, mounted fish, and fishing implements, all of which said “Canadian” in all respects. This modified shelving unit by the front door, for example, spoke volumes positioned with the open-concept kitchen in the background. And the breads on display there perhaps foreshadowed the gloriously fresh bread which the restaurant makes on site, every day. I saw no pretense, no gaudiness, and no ‘force’ in the way the room was laid out. Even the music – Acker Bilk, Natalie Cole, Ella Fitzgerald – said ‘relax, and embrace the moment’.

A quick glance at the menu told me I was in for a treat. Our four-course repast would not be outlandish by any means, but it promised some exciting taste experiences. The first of the four courses was the soup. Forno Roasted Carrot Soup – ‘forno’, of course, being Italian for ‘oven’ or ‘fire’. At the right time I noticed the wait staff marshalling quietly by the pick-up area, waiting for all dishes for a particular table to be ready before making their move. This ‘military service’, as Shelley Smith later called it, was deliberately instituted, and its precision was something I had not seen before.

After a most delicious soup course (“can I lick the bowl, or what?”) with the Lemon Preserved Yogurt still dancing on the tip of my tongue, I took a few minutes to watch the kitchen staff. I observed the uniforms – whites with a black cap. I noted the washing staff floating silently around the preparation area. I observed no rancour in the kitchen, no notable stress, although a sudden order for 35 meals plus the regular lunch crowd might be cause for stress in some kitchens. As a matter of fact, at one point I actually saw two of the kitchen staff dancing alongside each other to some imaginary tune. I identified the chef – a larger man, clearly in charge and most knowledgeable – and I decided that the tall young man was the sous-chef. There were also a number of other stations at work which just seemed to be part of a well-oiled machine. Clearly, I thought, this is a house in order. There was no back-room Bourdainian rough-stuff on display here.

The wait staff wore blue jeans and a dark blue shirt as their uniform. They were attentive, deliberate, but not intrusive. There was no ‘tunnel vision’ – that most annoying and mysterious of maladies which affects wait-staff at so many other establishments. There was no deflection of responsibility (‘I’ll send your waiter over’) either – and when I tested this with a request for a replacement beverage, the response was all but instantaneous.

The salad course, also militarily served, was a delightful fusion of unusual, if not unique, ingredients: Noble Farm Duck Prosciutto (aged three weeks on site) with Asian Pear, assorted greens, hazelnut, a sumptuous Burrata cheese (mozzarella stuffed with a locally-made ricotta and cream mix), and the Yukon Birch Syrup as a dressing. Apart from one suspect Arugula leaf I found this eminently satisfying. Everything disappeared anyway, including the slightly suspect leaf, perhaps in deference to if not in celebration of the ruggedness of the surroundings.

The main course was an absolute treat. Frankly, this kind of thing – the Bite Ranch Flat Iron Steak with smoked potato, Brussels Sprouts, Apple, and Chanterelle – mark for me the departure from food and the arrival at cuisine. Such intensity of flavour, not so much plated as artistically presented, makes me want to exclaim passionately. The jus, which is not described in the menu, but which forms a significant part of the flavour experience, was likely a reduction of balsamic vinegar with house flavourings – it was certainly intrinsic to the steak experience, memorable as only an excellent accoutrement can be.

With the smoked puréed potatoes and reduction still working gleefully on my palate, the dessert course was delivered. All I can say is that as a life-long pumpkin critic, I now consider my horizons well and truly broadened. The Sugar Pumpkin Panna Cotta, (once again made in-house), topped with candied pumpkin seeds and a huckleberry compote – a sinfully sweet coulis – was a surprising and memorable conclusion to a most excellent meal. The smooth, cool texture of the pumpkin pudding had me – most literally – closing my eyes to savour the sensations crossing my tongue.

There was for me an almost spiritual connection to the food at River Café, and the service, far from getting in the way, was an enhancement to this.

River Café has most definitely been added to my list of preferred dining locations.

Crank it up

I’m doing everything that the young whippersnappers do to get ready for school.

Last week, for example, I went to campus to renew my student ID card – it’s important to make sure you have everything in order. The security office is in Mac Hall, and last Friday, when I went to take care of this, the line-up was not too bad – there were only about sixty people in front of me.

So I stood in line and watched the juniors and their mommies wait for the line to shrink.

Juniors. It threw me back to this time last year when I was just getting ready for orientation week, and I started to think. I looked at the long line-up and it occurred to me: surely second year and third year students wouldn’t be here with their Mommies. This was a line up full of first-timers!

I was still last in line at this point so I stepped away and got on the phone. I called the security office 100 feet ahead of me and asked: “Do I have to renew the card every year?” “Certainly not,” the nice lady said. “It’s good for five years.”

I stepped even further away from the line up.

You see? Classes haven’t even started yet and already I’m getting smarter!

J.

20120904-083004.jpg