My Creative Frenzy: Why Alternative Projects Are the Best

This year, I was given the opportunity in one of my classes to pursue and “alternative project” in lieu of writing a paper.

I am such a big fan of the alternative project. It gets me in the biggest creative frenzy.

I had participated in the University of Ottawa’s Community Service Learning program a few times, so I knew what it was like to do something a little different for a class project.  I knew I liked it, too. With CSL, professors can offer students the opportunity to do course-related volunteer field work instead of writing a paper. In first year, I made teaching aids. In second year, I delivered an Aboriginal history presentation for some grade four classes.   And in both cases, I learned a whole lot more from those experiences than from “here today, gone tomorrow” essays.

This year, I took a Colonial American History course that allowed students to design an alternative media/internet project. My mind went more than a little crazy. I’m a History student, yes, but I’m also pursuing a Communications major. I pretty much lived in the Communications Technology room in high school.  I’m a new media diehard.  I used to make short films and write folk songs in lieu of writing papers in high school.  And, obviously, I blog.  Interactive/Media history? I had to get on that. THIS IS EXCITING.

It didn’t take long for me to decide what I wanted to do.  American musical history is fascinating to me. Really, the profound relationship between sound and society is fascinating to me, which I guess explains why I’m so excited to be interning for Smithsonian Folkways this winter.  It’s also why I decided to create an online resource exploring Colonial American music for my alternative project.

Check it out: http://soundsofthecolonies.wordpress.com/

A few notes from the experience:

  • This ended up feeling almost like an interactive, online version of liner notes…you know, like the booklets inside CDs?  How cool would it be if CDs came with programs like this to explore what was behind the music, kinda like a DVD menu? I assume this is already a thing that happens, but is should happen more–when it comes to music with strong historical/cultural significance, technology could be really valuable in bringing the learning to the next level.
  • The best way to make an interactive map? Skip the “interactive map” websites, and upload a jpeg to Thinglink.  You can add links, notes, and markers to images. Made for a really cool music map of New England on my end. (Teaching tool alert, educator friends!)
  • The constant battle: The more information you have, the harder it is to cut it into bite-sized pieces–especially when that information is circumstantial and you’re like “But…but..but…complexity…and…”. I have this issue with essays, too, but for some reason breaking it down for the internet required even more messing around with conflicting ideas to get to the core of what was going on. Filler was just less of an option.
  • Music matters. A lot. Probably more than I even suspected before starting this project. It’s such a big indicator of so many cultural and human elements.
  • I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN. It’s weird to do so much research, feel so flooded with questions, and then need to step up with some kind of concise thesis.  Bringing everything behind your questions together in order to project some sort of objective answer is tough. I have information, yes. But I can’t wait to gain more insight.
  • I’m excited for the future of history, ethnomusicology, and education in the new media environment.  Interactive maps and YouTube videos and downloadable liner notes and iTunes U?  So much fun to play with.

I don’t know how many other people chose to do an alternative project. Maybe the number wasn’t that big. But just the fact that we were given the opportunity to take our research to a different place was awesome (not to mention, it kept me from falling asleep on the job). It was awesome in high school when my Native Studies teacher let me write songs instead of make powerpoints. It was awesome when my grade 12 World History teacher made our seminar assignment so vague that I was able to do mine on an interview with my grandfather. Community Service Learning was, and is, awesome. And, of course, this alternative project was the coolest opportunity.  I even got to bounce this project off of the wonderful people and resources at Smithsonian Folkways.  How cool is that?

Very cool.

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Counting Down: CD Case Advent Calendar

IMG_0849 (2)

Alright, brace yourselves.  Here’s a confession for you.  Ready?

…I don’t really like chocolate.

Maaan, it feels so much better to just SAY it.

I don’t really like chocolate, but I do like tradition.  I like family.  And my childlike excitement in December is still ever-present, even if my sweet tooth is long gone.

After moving out, I tried to continue with the advent calendar thing. It didn’t really work.  Every year, I would buy a chocolate advent calendar at the grocery store. And every year, I would neglect this calendar. My roommates would end up taking it over after the first few days. Why?  Because I don’t really like chocolate, guys. It sucks.

This year, I decided to do something different. I decided to make an advent calendar.  The specifications were simple:

1) What went inside the advent calendar would have to reflect what was important to me about even having one: family, tradition, and just having something to smile about in the morning.
2) No spending money, especially not on 24 cutesy boxes. If the project was going to cost anything, it couldn’t cost more than the cheesy inexpensive chocolate calendars from the grocery store.
3) It would have to be awesome.

I looked around the apartment for inspiration. Do I have 24 of any sort of container? How can I make this work?  The answer, it seems was right outside my bedroom door:

And for my second confession of the day...yes, I own the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
And for my second confession of the day…yes, I own the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.

Oh right! Music! There’s something that I’m…well, marginally obsessed with, actually. This means that I have a ton of CDs–we’re talking boxes in the back room full, along with this sample.  I have a ton of CD cases, too. CD cases can hold notes. Notes can be awesome. Wheels are turning now.

I called my parents and the siblings who still live at home, Mike and Adam, to ask if they were up for the creative task.  I told them the notes could be anything, as long as they could fit in a CD case and were folded/enveloped.  My friend Caitlin jumped in and put together the first few, just in case my family contributions didn’t show up in the mail by December 1st. And, of course, I sent out a request to my two favourite little artists.

The notes could be anything, really:

  • Recipes
  • Doodles, drawings
  • Comics
  • Photographs
  • Articles cut out of magazines/newspapers
  • Warm fuzzies
  • Quotes
  • Project ideas/inspiration
  • Challenges or reminders (random act of kindness, call me, etc)
  • Memories
  • Little haikus or poems

That took care of the inside of the advent calendar. Now, I just had to get my CD cases in seasonal shape to make for a cute display.

Using seasonal paper to ready the CD cases!
Using seasonal paper to ready the CD cases!
You can use old cards, wrapping paper, or decorative seasonal paper for the covers.
You can use old cards, wrapping paper, or decorative seasonal paper for the covers.
All about the music!
All about the music!
The CD cases, ready to be stuffed with notes!
The CD cases, ready to be stuffed with notes!
Searching for the right number every day is part of the fun, so  I mixed the numbers up a bit,
Searching for the right number every day is part of the fun, so I mixed them up a bit.

There you have it! I will definitely keep you updated on how the notes turn out. Knowing how my crazy brothers greet these challenges, I’m sure they will be anything but boring.

Let’s do this thing, December.

7 New Ways To Wear a Scarf

Did any of you see these ads for this ridiculous “multi-way scarf” over the summer?


Okay. Sorry but…come on.  Every scarf is a multi-way scarf, you guys. Quite frankly, I’d imagine that the buttons would kinda get in the way of your options.

To prove this, I present to you MY multi-way scarf. This one has SEVEN ways to wear it (and that’s not including as a skirt, because it’s too cold outside for that one).  Take that, marketing gimmick!  We can rock these $5 bought-at-the-market scarves juuuust fine.

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Chalking It Up, Part 1: The Blackboard Wall

I want my home to be fun.

What a crowd-pleaser statement, I know. Of course I want my home to be fun. Of course you want your home to be fun. I also want my home to be cosy  and open and bright and quirky and welcoming and [insert unarguable “home” attribute here], but that’s besides the point.

“Fun” was front and centre in my mind when I reorganized the apartment this summer.  I was set on having a specified area in the open concept living space that was fun–specifically, fun in a music-y way.  Music has always been important to me, and I knew my roommate-to-be was no different, so the apartment had to encourage tunes.  I wanted the keyboard to get played. I wanted our CD collections to get played. Basically, I wanted a space where we could “play,” period.  That space, naturally, needed to be as open to creativity as possible.

The blackboard wall was inspired by a suggestion from good ol’ Josh, and solidified thanks to some fond childhood memories (growing up, our playroom in the basement had featured some cute little blackboards…these were mainly used to to torture my younger brothers with endless games of “school”; I know I had a good time).

All it took was two coats of blackboard paint, purchased at the local Canadian Tire, to turn my previously-dull keyboard corner into a canvas.  I have never seen anything so effective in making a home more fun.

Here’s a picture from the “cloffice” post last week. You’ll see the blackboard wall in the background:

Disclaimer: If you venture to read the wall, I would like to note that Jesus/Jagger/Gambino may not have used those EXACT words. Paraphrasing.

It’s super helpful for making notes to self/one another, as well as for writing down ideas, encouragement, Pokemon doodles…the usual. I would like to note, however, that the wall was visited last weekend by two monumental artists.  This was a gamechanger.

Pictured above: The game being changed.

I rest my case. Actually, I should probably rest my case with a picture of the wall in its current state. If this isn’t fun, I don’t know what is!

I personally love the “surf borad” which defies all laws of physics, courtesy of my two favourite artistic geniuses.

Since the wall has become such a hit, I decided it would be worth it to take this chalk action to the next level in a couple subtle/clever ways around the apartment.  It’s happening. It’s happening as you read this, in fact.  Lloyd’s response earlier today as I set to work on this latest project: “You said you were going to do it, and now you’re doing it. I don’t know why I’m still surprised anymore.”

Translation: Autumn apartment part two and Chalking it up part two are very ready to make their relationship official. Can’t wait for what next Friday has in store!

Home-slices…and some other slices, too

Student life is pretty crazy.  Ideally, we can make it equal parts “pretty” and “crazy.” At least, that’s what I’m trying to do.

Currently, I am surrounded by Chatelaines and scissors, but also by books and brainwaves. My goal? To inject a little bit of beauty and a whole lot of crazy into everything around me. “Everything around me” also happens to be awesome, since I’m living in Ottawa.

I’m kind of obsessed with this city. Also with my home. Also with life.

So let’s chat about those things, shall we?

Every Friday, I will be posting something in the “Homestyle” category.  The weird look I got from my roommate yesterday when I told him it was time for “Autumn Apartment Phase 1” says it all, my friends.

Every Tuesday, I will be posting something in the “Lifestyle & Brainwaves” category. This will mostly be about student living in Ottawa because, well, that’s kinda what I’m doing!

Cheers!