Author Archives: Cassandra Chin

The Best DIY Holiday Gifts to Make Now

Decorations are out, houses are ablaze with holiday lights and stores are shelving extra merchandise. Christmas is definitely right around the corner.

Whether you’re on a budget or feeling crafty, do-it-yourself (DIY) gifts are an easy and heartfelt way to complete your Christmas list. Unless you’re capable of managing your time, it’s best to keep Christmas DIY gifts simple.

Ornaments

Handmade ornaments always add a touch of home to the Christmas tree. You can keep it simple with craft paper, dazzling it up with sprinkles and paint (a great craft to do with kids as well), or geekify the ornaments by painting them with a friend’s favorite comic/anime character.

If you decide to paint a clear glass ornament (find one at any crafts store), simple acrylic paint will work. But keep in mind that you’ll need to apply multiple layers. A neat trick is to take the hook off the top of the ornament and pour the base-layer paint inside the ornament. From there, make sure the paint evenly coats the entire ornament. Later, all you have to do is paint the exterior, add extra accessories and … ta-da!

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Pokemon ornaments made by yours truly.

 

Mugs

Personalized or Christmas-themed mugs are always a great stocking stuffer. Whether you choose to make them at home or at a store where you can paint your own design (these stores will usually glaze and fire the mug/plate/item for you once you’ve completed designing it), you can never get enough mugs.

Add an extra bit of warmth with a side gift of instant hot chocolate.

For more, visit BreakingModern here.

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The Reboot: Movies and TV revised

It’s the show you loved as a kid, the one with the catchy theme song you continue to watch when you need a warm and fuzzy pick-me-up. In fact, you can still remember all the names of the characters, all the crazy plot twists and the details a true fan would know.

At some point you hear about a reboot — a revival of your favorite show. Because 10 years have passed and — wait, has it really been that long? At first you’re excited by the news. But this initial giddiness is usually followed by worry and trepidation. Why are they doing a reboot? They’re going to ruin something that was amazing!

From television shows (animated or otherwise) to big Hollywood blockbusters, it often feels like filmmakers have run out of ideas and are simply banking on the popularity of the original. And, in most cases, that’s usually a correct assumption.

To Reboot, or Not to Reboot

Though filmmaker and director Ken Ogasawara is ambivalent about remakes and adaptations, he does believe there are times where a film or television show shouldn’t be remade or changed.

avatar the last airbender movie reboot

Commenting on The Last Airbender, a film from 2010, Ogasawara said:

“Basically when the original is so good that there’s no topping it (which I admit is a very subjective judgment call), don’t try to improve on perfection, especially if you’re going to fail so spectacularly.”

The film was a live-action adaptation of the popular animated TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender….

For more, visit Breaking Modern here.

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Road Tips for Racing on Unfamiliar Ground

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One of my races in Montreal, Qc – Defi Boreal Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue 5k

 

Hitting the road in unfamiliar territory is both daunting and exciting. On one hand it’s an excuse to visit a place you’ve never been before. On the other hand you can face a new climate or different elevation that takes some getting used to, especially when you’re there for a race.

I’m a novice runner, so let’s be clear that there are so many people who have more experience under their belts than me, but I want to provide general observations and lessons I learned in my races. What affects me might affect you, too. That said, these tips might not apply to everyone. Some people are awesome and can run under any condition and, if that’s the case, kudos (and curses) to you.

Choose a Destination

Pick a place, then look for a race. Or vice versa. My first destination race was a 5k in Montreal, which is roughly a six-hour drive from Toronto (longer depending on the weekend, what’s happening, and good ol’ traffic). Pick a place you’d like to visit for the weekend and see if there are any races that pique your interest. Likewise, if you hear about a fun race, plan a trip around the race….

For more, visit BreakingModern here.

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Fun indoor adventures when the rain washes you out

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Part of Sea Life’s walk-through tunnel.

There’s nothing worse when visiting a different country to discover the all-loving Mother Nature has decided to slot rain into your schedule. Activities, hikes, and all manners of outdoor trips have to be rescheduled and you find you suddenly have a whole day available for your leisure. As such, here are some fun, though not necessarily free, activities you can do by yourself or with friends and family. I’m one of those people who don’t find it weird to eat lunch or see a movie by myself, so let’s have at it!

Note: I haven’t quite managed to figure out how to transfer my photos from my camera to my tablet quite yet without going through various stages of transferring more than once (especially since I left my card reader back home), so pictures to come!

Sea Life Sydney Aquarium:
Located near Darling Harbor, the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium offers a variety of sea creatures that will appeal to young and old. Broken down into themed sections, from streams and billabongs to rocky shores, to the shark walk and valley, the multiple displays offer educational and interesting facts through signage and interactive screens.

One of my favourite portions of the aquarium was walking through the shark tunnel, which is essential a huge glass tunnel that allows you to see the underbelly of sharks and other aquatic life. The glass floor was also fun, if not slighty disturbing when young children decide to jump all at once in the same spot. Shark feed, here we come!

For those less keen on crowds, I’d advise against going to the aquarium on the weekends as there are many families and tourists equalling interested in keeping dry. There were some points where I felt rushed and was merely following the tides of the crowds rather than appreciating the smaller aquatic displays. It would have been nice to read the corresponding information and take in the underwater wonders that was offered.

Australian Museum:
There is currently a Tyrannosaurs exhibit (inner kid: wohoo!) occurring at the Australian Museum, which I found as amazing as any five-year-old kid. The exhibit is filled with Tyrannosaurs species that take a look at all related types, from big to small, including Tyrannosaurus Rex himself. Along with interactive and digital displays, one of the more interesting displays was a test to see how strong your hand grip is in comparison to that of T-Rex. The only downside was that it had to cycle through a long loop where it compared your strength to other creatures in the world as well, which caused quite a long line-up as we couldn’t skip the information. For the curious, the average human grip is 85 kg, where as a T-Rex was around 3,000 kg. There are, of course, other dinosaurs available to be viewed.

There are various sections as with any museum dedicated to birds and insects, rocks and minerals, as well as mammals and critters; those displays in itself are quite a sight to see (though I can sincerely do without the spiders and creepy crawlies). Parents with little children can also enjoy the Kid Zone, which has educational toys and games to keep them entertained.

Paddy’s Market:
Found in the heart of Chinatown, Paddy’s Market is a great place to find cheap souvenirs for friends and family. Though there is a lot of repetition of similar products and stalls, keep your eyes open for the best deals and interesting finds. The market place also sells fresh produce and delicious Chinese snacks at a decent price. Another place to visit (if you’re a morning person) is the Sydney Flower Market for super cheap deals for fresh flowers to keep your room smelling sweet. There is a wonderful selection of cut and potted flowers for any occasion.

 

For art lovers, there are quite a few free art exhibits located around Sydney, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Arthouse Hotel. I have yet had a chance to go to either, but there is still rain in the forecast for me so it may just happen. Another place of interest on my list is the Sydney Observatory, which offers a spectacular view of our solar system’s planets (pending time of year and date) and neighbouring stars. Keep in mind, a clear night is ideal for a visit to observatory. There is also the PowerHouse Museum for those keen on the sciences and things that move. 

As mentioned before, the Sydney Opera House is also excellent for a night a frivolity and laughs.

I’m still on the hunt for other places to visit on a rainy day, but that’s my list for now.

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Hiking in Brisbane: Up, up, up to Mount Coot-tha

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An open view of Brisbane atop of Mount Coot-tha’s lookout.

A trip to any city almost demands a visit to the highest point to see a birds-eye panorama of the city. Brisbane is no different.

Difficulty: Medium
Time: 1 to 2 hours
Distance: 4 kilometres, return
Conditions: Some shade

A visit to Brisbane’s Mount Coot-tha Lookout offers a view of the city’s sprawling downtown core, greenery and winding rivers. On a clear day, you can see Moreton Bay and Stradbroke Islands from the lookout.

I always find it interesting to see how a city develops and expands outwards, from the pocketed areas of parks and protected natural woodlands, to the suburban development as families continue to grow. It’s a reminder of how small you actually are in the grand scheme of life and in the world.

To reach the Mount Coot-tha Lookout, visitors can either drive, bus, bike or hike up to the top.

For hikers, the trail begins at the J.C. Slaughter Falls car park and picnic area which connects to the Summit Track. The track itself is moderately graded and suitable for many levels of fitness. It takes around an hour and a half going up, and 30 minutes back down again, making it roughly 4 km there and back. What makes the hike difficult is usually the blazing sun during the summer season.

Though dogs are allowed on the track, they must be on a leash. Horses and bikes are also permitted on designated tracks that are clearly labelled. Toilets can be found near the picnic area and at the top of the lookout, and there are water fountains interspersed along the tracks.

Lookout aside, you have the option to make it a day trip by swinging by the Brisbane Botanical Garden and adjacent Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium located near by.

The Brisbane Botanical Garden, not to be mistaken for the city’s downtown garden, is a host to many subtropical flora found in Australia. Separated into different areas, from the fossil and primitive plants to exotic rainforest, the pathways connect each section across 52 hectares. Other areas include the bamboo walk, open eucalypt forest and bunya forest.

There are optional free mini guided and bus tours, gardening workshops, children’s story time, and more.

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Urgh, spiders. One of nature’s beautiful yet creepy creatures.

Be warned, for all the lovely plants and flowers that can be found at the botanical garden, there are as many (not-so-)lovely spiders weaving their webs across paths. It’s not surprisingly to walk through a few webs, especially in the early morning after a night of furious activity. As someone who is cautious of spiders (due to multiple run-ins and close calls with venomous spiders in the last few years – brown recluses, black widows, and white-tailed spiders to name a few – urgh), the size some of the spiders can become is quite alarming. I admit even dandy long-legs, though harmless, unnerve me now.

That said, the botanical gardens is a beautiful area to relax, have lunch or even take a nap on its many sprawling lawns. Wear comfortable shoes because even though it is a garden, there is quite a fair distance to cover.

Connected to the Brisbane Botanical Gardens is the planetarium. Though small, it offers educational panels, models and informative programs for children and adults. The planetarium winds in a circle with smaller rooms leading to other sections, including the Cosmic Skydome, Display Zone, Mini Theatre, Observatory, and the Galaxy Gift shop (with fun toys!).

There are many presentations hosted throughout the week, some free and some at a cost. There are also package deals if you plan on having a longer visit and want to view more than one presentation. Some regular shows are: Cosmic Collisions, Dynamic Earth, the Secret of the Cardboard Rocket (for children) and Tycho to the Moon (another children’s show). Depending on the time of year and what’s happening in the galaxy, shows can be changed or added.

 

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Hiking in Sydney: Scenic World Blue Mountains

 

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The Three Sisters at Blue Mountain in New South Wales, Australia.

The trails range from easy to hard, but the views are spectacular at Blue Mountain’s Scenic World.

Difficulty: Range from easy to hard
Time: The shortest trail is around an hour, the longest six. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take all day covering all the trails
Length: 10 minutes to a full day
Conditions: Some paved/wooden paths, others using nature’s rocks

Sydney’s Blue Mountains Scenic World is a tad out of a way but it’s definitely worth the trip up north in New South Wales. There’s a trail for every level from easy to hard, but make sure you keep a map with you or know where you’re going, or you may end up taking a harder trail then expected. The Furber Steps, for example, is much easier going down than it is going up – much, much easier. As friendly as the trails are, some sections of the walkway aren’t wheelchair accessible and it’s recommended to speak to staff before hitting the trails.

There are various starting points that all interconnect with one another, but once you are at the bottom you can either hike your way back up or go take either the railway, skyway, or cableway back up to the top…

For more, visit BreakingMordern here.

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Hiking in Sydney: Manly to Spit Bridge

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One of many lizards along the Spit to Manly Trail.

It’s a mix between bush and trail that connects well-used beaches, but it’s the view and proximity to nature that I particularly enjoyed during the hike from Manly to Spit Bridge.

Difficulty: Medium
Time: 2 to 4 hours
Distance: 10 kilometres, one way
Conditions: Some shade

After a few stormy nights, a nice walk is always welcome. The Spit Bridge to Manly walk is one of many trails enjoyed by local residents and tourists alike for its views and access to local beaches. The trail is open both ways (obviously) but most people begin at Spit Bridge and head towards Manly as there is more to do once you arrive at Manly, as opposed to Spit where there are many wharfs and boats. There is, however, a chance to hire (rent) a kayak/canoe for a period of time.

From Spit, the trail begins at the northern end of Spit Bridge and heads east to Fisher Bay and around Clontarf Reserve…

For more, visit BreakingModern here.

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Hiking in Sydney: Bondi to Coogee, along the east coast shoreline

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Bondi Icebergs at Sydney’s Bondi Beach. An open concept pool connected to the ocean.

The best way to enjoy a part of Sydney’s gorgeous coastline is to walk along the coast – one such trail begins at Bondi Beach with its well-known white sands and clear water. Though it is known to be a tourist trap for many, if you’re looking for a nice easy walk for a lazy day, this is for you.

Difficulty: Easy
Time: 2 to 3 hours, pending walking speed
Distance: 8 kilometres one way
Conditions: Exposed

Most begin this trip at the southern tip of Bondi Beach near the Baths and Bondi Icebergs, a concept in which a swimming pool in essence borders with the ocean and allows swimmers to enjoy nature’s waters without the elements and undercurrents of Mother Nature. It’s also something I’m in awe of, along with the deliciousness of Tim Tams, of which I’ve eaten far, far, far too many.

The easy trail winds its way from Bondi towards past Mackenies Bay towards Bronte. During portions of the year, there are usually art displays that line the pathway…

For more, visit BreakingModern here.

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Kill Shakespeare comic a must read

Kill Shakespeare

“Kill Shakespeare’s” fun and interactive website.

 

“A man can die but once.”

If only these words of the memorable character Feeble, from Henry IV Part 2, rang true.

Kill Shakespeare brings beloved (and hated) characters together in a mash-up world where the Bard’s greatest heroes and darkest villains are pitted against each other in efforts to find the mysterious wizard, William Shakespeare. Pretty cool premise, huh?

If you’ve never heard of the series, Kill Shakespeare is like what Fables did to fairy tales and Unwritten did for young wizards and the world of Harry Potter. Created by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, and illustrated by Andy Balanger, Kill Shakespeare brings to life an alternate universe where the Shakespearian cast of characters meet up. All the action, adventure, murder, tragedy, romance and comedic humour that defined modern literature thrives once again.

Kill Shakespeare’s Premise Explained

The comic opens with false starts and shaky beginnings. Half the world believes everything that has gone wrong in society (all tragedy, death and grief) is committed by the wizard William Shakespeare, while the other half believes he is actually the all-powerful creator, and if they wait long enough for him to show up, all the drama will be resolved…

For more, read the rest of my review here.

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‘The Kingkiller Chronicles’ is the next big thing

“My name is Kvothe. I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”
– Kvothe, The Kingkiller’s Chronicles

It’s an epic trilogy of woven words in equal parts sorrow, adventure, laughter and wit. It’s a coming of age tale narrated by the protagonist of how one incident, one trigger, can turn a young man into a legend.

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The first in the Kingkiller Chronicles, ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss is an engaging adventure.

In my eyes, it’s the next A Song of Fire and Ice or Lord of the Rings – it’s a saga that will leave its mark in the literary world.

Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles begins with The Name of the Wind, the first of three novels in which each novel takes place over a day.  The trilogy has Kote (the protagonist) narrate his own tale about how as a streetwise young man formerly known as Kvothe, his foremost goal was hunting down a mysterious group involved in the death of his family, to how he became a legend.

In brief, the captivating story begins in the rural town of Newarre where Kote the innkeeper and his assistant Bast are introduced. Here, it is revealed that Kote is also the hero of legends, Kvothe: an unequaled swordfighter, phenomenal magician, and genius musician with a silken voice. On a brief journey out of town, Kote saves a travelling scribe called Chronicler from a spider-like creature called a Scrael. When the Chronicler is brought back to Kote’s inn, he asks to record Kote’s story of which he is told will take three days.

For more, visit BreakingModern here.

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