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Memories of my father

My father left on January 18, 1982.  He told my mom the day before my brother was born.  He had found someone else and was gone soon after that.  I was in grade two and the explanation never played that well for me and our relationship kind of ended on that day.  If it had been up to me, I would never have seen him again.

Of course under Alberta law, it wasn’t up to me and according the Court of Queen’s Bench, I had to spend a week at Christmas, Easter and the month of August with him.  Now he didn’t want me there for the entire month of August but the judge thought this was the way to go.  How crappy was our lawyer that my father got visitation that he never even wanted?

So the August of 1986 I found myself in this trailer court outside of Edson, Alberta with my dad who just went to work every day and his wife who did not want us there.  You can imagine how much fun it was.  The trip started out poorly when my dad asked if we loved him.  Dumb question.  Of course I answered honestly and said, “no”.  Well you would have thought I said, I didn’t love him or something.  Oh right.  That’s what I said.  Well he wasn’t pleased and both tried to guilt us and get angry to make us love him.  I think we had already established that parenting wasn’t something he did well.

He freaked out and got mad (that helped a lot) and his girlfriend is upset and yelling at how ungrateful we are and I am thinking that this is going to be a bad summer.  A couple of days later I called him to mom and told her how stupid it was.  She tells her lawyer and then the next thing I know, he writes to my dad’s lawyer and I am now in even more trouble (seriously, how hard is it to get a good lawyer in the 80s? There was so many legal drams on television that you would have thought they would have learned something.)  I didn’t care that much but then they said that they were planning to take us to Expo ’86 but I am too ungrateful and horrible of a son and blah blah blah.  The Expo ’86 comment was the wrong thing to say to me.  Here we were living so far below the poverty line in Saskatoon that the LICO looked like prosperity and I can’t go to Expo ’86 because I am honest?  That didn’t make me happier.

About day three of them being mad, they were losing energy with their rage and brought home some rocky road ice cream.  Now who doesn’t love rocky road ice cream.  My dad sure did.  For some reason there was a box of Ex-lax on the counter and I realized, Ex-lax + rocky road ice cream could make this month a lot more tolerable.  

Ex Lax Stimulant Laxative Regular Strength Chocolate 300670005481

For the first time since my father left, I called him “Dad” as in “Dad, you want some rocky road ice cream?” and you could see that the thought this whole relationship was turning around. 

I did what any twelve year kid would do.  I positioned myself between the counter and my father and I took the entire Ex-lax bar, broke it up and mixed into the large bowl of Rocky Road ice cream.  I gave it to him and then waited.  

Nothing happened.  He ate the entire bowl and not a thing happened.  Being twelve, I was easily distracted and all of sudden someone ran by and went to the washroom.  I looked around and it was my father.  I had never seen anyone run that past before.  Looking back it was almost as if he was some form of drug.  Oh right.  The Ex-lax.

Apparently an entire bar of Exlax takes some time to work.  Who knew?

Exlax sign

Then I was faced with a decision, my father was just about dying in the washroom and if I took responsibility for it, I would be dead.  Of course it wasn’t as if we had a good relationship to begin with and the summer of 1986 was the worse it ever got so I ‘fessed up pretty quickly.

Plus it was kind of enjoyable to tell him that I was the one that had done this.  It wasn’t as if he could do anything about it being permanently attached to the toilet and everything.

So I got yelled at and grounded and everything else but it’s not like I cared that much.  What does a grounding mean when you are stuck in a trailer park in Edson, Alberta?  If I had any regrets, I wish I could have given the same meal to a couple of lawyers in Calgary and Saskatoon.

The only thing that really bothers me about this story, is that is really my only good father/son time with him.  Well it was a good time for me.  He may still be mad about it.

The Grey Owl’s Expedition Gear Guide

Since we are still planning to do a hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin, we have been picking up some gear for the trip.  A lot of people have been asking us what we are taking so here is the quick list of gear that is going.

Backpacks: To carry the gear, we have some frameless backpacks with hip straps.  You can spend a lot of money on these and after reading around, we think we found the right balance between comfort, durability, and price.

NORTH 49® CYCLONE BACKPACKS

If I was walking the Appalachian Trail, I would definitely have purchased a more expensive backpack but it’s only a day and we are only taking so much stuff.  I bought our bags on clearance for $30.  They are 40 litres and have the external straps I want.  They should do the job. 

Tents: Wendy and I are staying in a three man tent we bought for $16 from Wal-mart.  They had a loss leader going this winter and we got it then.  It’s light and just big enough for the two of us.   The tent opens up and hopefully we will be able to sleep under the skies rather than under the fly.  If it does look like it could rain, we’ll be fine underneath it.

Ozark Trail Tent

If I was going camping rather than backcountry hiking, we would have gotten something larger and higher quality.  Weight and size are a factor.  Also the price was insanely cheap ($16 on sale).  If it doesn’t last, no harm done but the reviews online were pretty solid.  It’s no where near as durable as a tent from the North Face but then again, it won’t be asked to do much more than keep the mosquitoes or drizzle off of us.

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Mark is staying in a one person tent from Eagle’s Camp.  It is small but it will be only him and his bag.  I don’t know how long it will last him but once he gets to big for it, it can be used by Oliver at the cabin.  Either way it is really light and since Mark will be carrying it in and out, he will appreciate the weight.  We bought some ropes to add as guy wires which opens it up a bit.  It’s small but it is light.

We did waterproof and seal the seams and upgraded the tent pegs to something lighter and more likely to stay in the ground.  If the weather is miserable, we should be okay.

Sleeping bags: Mark had a sleeping bag but Wendy and I wanted new 1.5 pound sleeping bags.  We picked up two at XS Cargo for $10 each.  We will have sleeping foams as well.   Walmart is charging $20 for their sleeping pads but we bought ours at a liquidation place for $3.  We also bought some compression straps so the sleeping bags take up as little as room as possible.

For lighting, Wendy bought me a new headlamp for my birthday and both Mark and Wendy have headlamps and lanterns  We also have a flashlight and Nite Ize LED zipper tags on our backpacks so if we wonder out in the dark, we can be seen.

For the kitchen, we have a Primus Classic Trail Stove and Primus fuel canisters.  Stoves have their own fanboy culture which I understand but for the price, it can’t be beaten.  I know this isn’t the stove to use when it’s winter but since we are doing the hike in July, we should be okay.   It also has a five star review on Amazon.com so it seems to be doing the job.

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Coleman also has a propane stove which uses their fuel.  The big advantage was that you can get the propane at almost any store while you need to get fuel for the Primus at a specialty store like Cabela’s, MEC, REI.  The disadvantage of the Coleman stove is the weight of the larger canister and the stove itself.  in the end it made more sense to go with the Primus stove which is small enough to be tucked into our cooking gear.  Of all of the things we have purchased for this hike, the Primus Classic Trail Stove is my favorite.

For backup we have a Magic Heat Stove and canisters.  I picked them up because they were cheap, good for winter travel, and lightweight.  I don’t expect to have to use them but we will take them depending on the weather forecast.  If it is going to be nice, we will leave them but if there is a chance of rain and the idea of fighting with wet wood doesn’t appeal, then we will take the backup stoves.

As for the camp kit, years ago Lee gave Wendy a great camp set.  We picked up three sparks and we are set to go.

As for water, I have talked to a lot of people who had drank right out of Kingsmere Lake with no side affects.  There are giardia warnings about the water so we will have some water filters.  It’s way cheaper using purification tablets but I am told they are disgusting.  Since we are walking along side the lake, we will be using collapsible water bottles to keep weight and volume down.

Food: Basically MRE’s.  We have been to Cabela’s weekly testing out one or two of them each time.  We will eat some snacks on the way in, have a nice dinner (well away from the campground to keep the bears away) and then a big breakfast in the morning on our way out.  Hopefully we get going in time to be back in Waskesiu for a late lunch before heading back to Saskatoon.

Clothes: I went out and invested in some decent hiking shorts and shirts this summer.  As a friend of mine told me that chafing is not something that you will want to do while on the trail.  We also went to Cabela’s and got tested by the Dr. Shoal’s machine for the kind of insoles we all need.  While the custom Dr. Shoals insoles are right there, a row over are competitor insoles designed the same way for a fraction of the cost.  They make hiking boots feel a lot more comfortable and will hopefully make the trip more pleasant.

Technology: We won’t be taking much technology along although we will have a GPS, binoculars, and some cameras.  The idea is to keep the weight down as much as possible but at the some time we want to have some photographs and video.  I don’t expect to have cell coverage on the hike but it won’t matter as our phones will be turned off.  We will have our multi-tools and a hatchet with us but I don’t know if that is considered technology or not.  In case we do get some rain, we have some gadget bags which are essentially waterproof zip lock bags for gear.  It says that you can submerse them but I’d rather not.  What they do a good job of doing is if a tent or bag does leak, your stuff will still be safe.

We bought everything local.  While MEC had a good price on some stuff, by the time we calculated shipping, it was less expensive to get something at Cabela’s and Wholesale Sports.

The problem hasn’t been getting the gear that we want, it’s the issue of realizing that everything we do take is going to have to be hauled in and hauled back out.  Let me know if you have some suggestions in the comments below.

Five Years

Oliver turning five

Oliver turned 5 today which his a fairly remarkable achievement considering his life so far.  Five years and a day ago, Wendy had been hospitalized a couple of weeks after struggling with pre-eclampsia for most of the pregnancy.  The hospital trip was a roller coaster as every day her condition was changing.  She went from being in the hospital to being in intensive care to being on the verge of being let out and sent home.  I had every expectation of bringing her home the next day.

Instead at 5:00 a.m., I got a tearful phone call from her saying that they were going to do an emergency c-section and I needed to get to the hospital right away. The nurse told me that I had a little time so I grabbed a quick shower and raced through the city to Royal University Hospital where the parking lot was closed.  I parked at metered parking with this kind of funny realization that I bet Oliver was going to be born at the time I needed to plug the meter again.

As I went up to the room, there was chaos in Wendy’s room with doctors and nurses in an out taking her vital signs.  A doctor grabbed me and said that Wendy was in better shape than another mother and child and they didn’t think they would survive if Wendy went first.  It wasn’t as if I had any say in it but I kind of said, “yeah, no problem”.  Sadly their child didn’t make it.

I sat with Wendy, called Lee, and just waited.  Wendy was unconscious for most of it and had no idea how serious her condition was.  A doctor came in and told me how bad it was for Wendy and said, “there is a good chance she is going to have a heart attack or stroke during the caesarean”.  There wasn’t much for me to say.  He asked what I did for a living and I told him.  He looked relieved and said, “I don’t think you will freak out in there but if you do, I am going to toss you out of the delivery room.”  I replied, “I seem to the only one who isn’t losing it this morning.  I’ll be fine”.  At this time it was 6:00 a.m. and I offered to do a coffee run for the nurses that had spent the night with Wendy.

The Starbucks was packed and my heart kind of stopped when a nurse came running up to me but she just had some money and was going to help me with the coffees.

We sat for hours as I just kind of sat there and held Wendy’s hand.  Her vital signs were getting worse and her blood pressure was getting higher.  Finally another doctor came in and was yelling at someone else that “this baby should have been taken days ago and the mother is going to die.”  I remember thinking, “Really? This is what medicare cuts have gotten us.  Doctor’s who don’t even realize they are in the room with the father.”  As they left, the nurse came over and said, “Fucking idiots”, told me to ignore them and then realized that it was going to be impossible.  She was mad at them for having that conversation in front of me and offered me another coffee.  I took her up on her offer.

Finally Wendy and I were taken into the delivery room.  A resuscitation team was there as was a team to take Oliver to the NICU. Everyone was just looking at me like, “What the heck is the father doing here” and the doctor would just say, “He works at the Salvation Army, he’s cool” and that seemed to satisfy people.

The caesarean section was over quick and more than Oliver, everyone was looking at Wendy’s vital signs.  The radio was playing the song that was on when Oliver came out was YMCA by the Village People.  There was a massive screen up between Wendy and I and the baby.  As Oliver came out, a nurse and doctor raced over the other side of the screen and kind of yelled, “The baby is fine!” while everyone was looking at Wendy’s blood pressure.  As the tensions left the room, one of the doctors came up to me and said, “I’d be okay with my kid being born to the YMCA.  If it was a Bette Middler tune, his life may have been meaningless”.

Wendy was taken to the recovery room while I wandered out.  I don’t know how but Lee and Mark were in the waiting room and they poked their head into the recovery room and said hi to Wendy who was too tired to know what was going on.  Wendy’s blood pressure hit dangerous levels off and on for the next week.

As I left with Mark to go to Alexander’s for lunch, of course I got a parking ticket.  I wanted to fight it on the basis that I had no other options but I just paid it.

I was able to go up and see Oliver the next day in NICU.  Mark was too young to see him but they made several exceptions for him and Lee.  Because Wendy was too weak to walk, she wasn’t able to see him for the first week which went over poorly.  A combination of fatigue and the medication had her believing that this was a conspiracy but we got over that.

Oliver Scott CooperOliver Scott Cooper

Oliver spent 23 days at RUH and we finally took him home on July 2, 2008.  Before we got home, we actually took him to the Salvation Army Community Services and then to Reimers so it was a late day before he experienced his new home.

Despite the stress of his entry into this world, there was one more obstacle and that was Maggi.  Maggi is like a bull in the China shop and I was nervous that a dog that physically assertive would not do well with a child who was two months premature.  We took him home, set him down in his car chair and a very gentle Maggi slowly approached Oliver and gave him a gentle lick.  It wasn’t until he walking and the height of a wagging tail that her protectiveness and gentleness diminished.

So now he is five.  Time flies when you repress some of those memories.

Today he woke up and excitedly opened his presents:

  • Spiderman water bottle
  • Kick scooter
  • Green Army men
  • An NFL football (from Mark of course)
  • Ninjago book (his two favourite things, Ninjas and Lego)
  • Some new shirts
  • An Angry Bird hat

He is off at A.H. Browne Park with Mark on his new kick scooter wearing a brand new shirt.  He is off to take over the world.

Worst Father of the Year nominations are now open

Of course there had to be some negative feedback for allowing Mark to review the 2013 Ford Explorer.  It basically revolved around the idea that somehow a brand was going to ruin Mark’s life and I think take his virginity.  Before we nominate me (again) for the worst father of the year award, let’s get the facts straight.

Ford, through a public relations firm, gives me cars to review with no strings attached.  Well there are some strings.  I am pretty sure I am not allowed to enter them into a demolition derby or street race though Saskatoon.  I get them for a week or two and then pass them on to another reviewer.  If there is a string attached, I am often asked to arrange the transfer with the other reviewer which lately has been Jeff Jackson.  I sometimes pick up the car from Chris Enns.  We occasionally have lunch or coffee while trying to figure out how to keep the vehicles longer (it never works)  Once in a while there are tears like when I gave back the Ford Escape.

Of course Ford wants favourable reviews.  All companies do.  No one wants to hear that the product is a piece of crap.  If Ford gave me a vehicle that was a piece of garbage, I would say that.  I have no problem with that.  I wasn’t overly fond of the Lincoln I tested and I said it.  I loved the Ford Escape more than anything I have ever driven, I wrote that too. 

When Mark came to me and said, “I want to review the Ford Explorer.”  I pointed out that he can’t drive but he wanted to anyway.  We talked about what a review was and the need for him to be really honest, even if Ford didn’t like it.  We talked about integrity.  We also talked about being a jerk because it played well on the internet and how he probably shouldn’t be that guy.

Like anything he posts online, he has to write it out because his handwriting stinks and he is in grade seven.  Handwriting matters.  He then typed up the review in Libre Office.  That was harder than handwriting it because children aren’t taught typing until grade nine.  When it started typing the review, it was a 2008 Ford Explorer he was reviewing, it was a 2013 when he finished up.  Then I finally finally edited it.  Like any young writer he struggles with sarcasm and often can sound mean, especially when talking about his little brother.  It’s why I often say, “don’t tweet that”.  With a perverse pleasure, I watched him struggle with a couple of paragraphs that “didn’t sound right”.  Welcome to my world.

We then went outside (with his camera) and took some photos.  Oliver at that point had to get into the shot and with Mark’s permission, I took some photos of Oliver in the Explorer with him.  We then put the post together with Windows Live Writer and uploaded the post.  It took Mark a long time but he had a really clear idea of how he wanted the post to look.  I was glad he took the time even if I think some of it was stalling to stay up later than his bed time.

Mark’s blog automatically posted the review to Twitter.  Mark had mentioned that he planned to review the Explorer the day before and some of Ford’s social media people asked him to tweet them the review.  One of the best parts of reviewing the Ford’s are their social media team and they were great to Mark.  While the response from Ford to the review was great, what was good about the experience was that Mark learned a lot about research, writing, and the importance of integrity in your writing (it also helped to have Mike Duffy as a comparison during this time).  He also learned through Ford’s social media team that big companies can have a human voice.

I am not really that interested in protecting Mark from this work than I am helping him navigate it.  Sometimes what I do freak people out (it bothers some of our neighbours that Mark is allowed to walk the two blocks to Safeway to visit Wendy by himself and others are unnerved that he was allowed to walk down to Riversdale or downtown to see me after school).  Now some others are unnerved that he wrote something for a (gasp) brand.  He figured out how to navigate the westside.  He is now figuring out how to talk about products.  I think he will be okay.

Mark’s review of the 2013 Ford Explorer

Mark reviews the 2013 Ford Explorer.  Well he reviews the Explorer from his perspective in the back seat and manages to take a couple of shots at me at the same time.

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Good luck ever getting into a car with me again.

This isn’t going to end well

Standing on the dock in the marina (wasting time)

Despite Wendy and I being right there the entire time, Oliver still got wet and no one knows what happened (the dog isn’t talking).

Thirteen

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Mark turned 13 on Sunday while we were at the cabin.  He is now old enough to walk into an A&W and legally order a Teen Burger.  It was a big day for him.  For his birthday we chilled out at the lake but we did give him a new basketball, InFAMOUS 2, and a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet.   We also picked Oliver up a battery powered Super Soaker so he could shoot Mark (who was thrilled with that).

To the cabin

Mark, Oliver, and I went to the cabin today.  Wendy was working so we got up and drove on out there.  We brought out the electric oil heater, some clean sheets, the first load of non-perishable foods, and our deck box packed in the back seat.

We unloaded the car and observed the carnage that is my bird houses.  Every spring when I go to the cabin, I have bird houses all over the lawn.  In the past it looked like the deer had eaten the twine that I had used and that is why they hit the ground.  This year I used some wire to hang the birdhouses and it was still on the ground.  As Mark and I were picking them up, I realized that the deer had eaten the branches they were hanging on.  Well played deer, well played.

Other than that, it looked good.  Last spring it looked like teeth marks on the cabin but this year it doesn’t look like any deer chewed on the cabin on at all.  I’ll call that a win.  

Of course taking Oliver to the cabin for only ten minutes was not my best move.  The entire time home I heard him grumbling about not going swimming, not being able to get to the horses, no beach, no ice cream, no badminton, and not seeing any snakes.  Apparently I am a horrible father.  It was looking better once we got to Pip’s Esso in Watrous and we got a Freezee but his displeasure in my parenting was made really clear.

We should be back for Mother’s Day.  I doubt the ice will be off the lake but we should be able to play some badminton.  Hopefully he’ll be happier that trip.

Mark Cooper’s new home

I haven’t tossed him out yet but he has a new website at www.markcooper.ca that I hadn’t pointed out yet. Since he has told me he babysit’s Oliver at below market level rates (it is the westside though), he wants a link.  He did post that he is on the move in the real world as well as he is leaving Caswell School for the Let’s Lead program at Westmount School.  Instead of doing a normal grade 8 year, he going to be hiking, camping, canoeing, and exploring a lot of Saskatchewan for about 30 days of the year.  Or as he sees it, original content for his blog.

Wendy knows the teacher who has sold her on the prospect on Mark freezing to death in northern Saskatchewan being trampled by buffalo in the south.  Either way Wendy is so desensitized to Mark and physical risk by the stunts we have pulled around here that she is okay with the decision.

A Darth Vader Piñata

A Darth Vader Piñata

I had planned to go to the cabin this weekend but last week Chris Powell came into my office and asked if he could borrow Mark this weekend.  A good parent would have gotten some details but I said, “Sure, what do you need him for?”  Chris said, “A human piñata”.  Sounds reasonable to me.

Later I asked, why Mark was going to be beaten with sticks and I found out he was planning to have a Star Wars themed birthday party for his six year old and he needed someone for them to hit with lightsabers and he thought Mark could take the punishment and be Darth Vader.

Now that is some fine birthday planning folks.  Not only is Chris putting on a good party but he has outsourced the pain to someone else.  Of course it isn’t all good.  We had a heated discussion at the office when we found out that Chris is not sending home party bags.  Chris’ weak argument is that parents and even kids hate bags full of toys that are designed to break in the car ride home.  If they do make it inside, parents just step on them and hurt themselves.

To that line of reasoning we say, “I want a guy with a parachute to throw down the stairs”.  That and Mark is now available to be rented out for beatings at your own kids party.

10 Things

As I move into 2013, I took some time to take stock of my life with a few short lists. 

10 Things I Am Content With

  1. Friends and family
  2. Earning sufficient money
  3. Loving being able to make a difference in my job
  4. Living in Saskatoon (and I think making it better for others)
  5. Writing my blog and writing for a larger audience in print
  6. Not having a clue what I will be working on three months from now
  7. I am still curious and am least interested in learning new things
  8. Owning a dog.  While Maggi is the worst dog that I have ever owned, she is still a great addition to the family.  Now if I can only get rid of Hutch.
  9. With some of the projects that we have on the table at work and at home.
  10. Planning the future with Mark, Wendy, and eventually Oliver.

10 Things I Am Not Content With

  1. Fitness
  2. Heath (the diabetes thing and this arm and shoulder that has been bothering me for a year)
  3. The lack of time I have to master new things and for study
  4. How I spend the leisure time in my life (what leisure time?)
  5. The disconnect between Wendy’s and mine work schedules (I tend to work days while she works a lot of evenings).  It’s good for Oliver (as it means less time at a sitter but it is something that neither one of us are happy with).
  6. The quality of my online writing and blogging
  7. Time I spend on things that have very little payoff to the projects that I care about
  8. The lack of time spent at the cabin
  9. The lack of frontline work I do with homeless men and women.  I miss the interactions and problem solving.
  10. Saskatoon has more homeless people now than they ever have, including at the height of the housing boom.  That keeps me motivated.

Here are 10 Small Things I Wish I Did More:

  1. Going to bed early
  2. Seeing the sun rise.
  3. Take more photographs.
  4. Working out more
  5. Travelling and exploring more
  6. Reading books
  7. Going to talks, lectures, events
  8. Spending more time working with front line staff
  9. Using more of my time to help out with some other social problems
  10. Exploring more of Saskatchewan

Here are 10 Things I Waste Time On:

  1. Meetings that could be replaced by a 20 minute phone call
  2. 20 minute phone calls that could be replaced by an email
  3. Social media
  4. Administration.  It’s part of the job and I need to get better at it for no other reason than I won’t have to spend as much time on it.
  5. Time wasted reading about sports that I don’t care about.  Seriously why am I watching curling?
  6. Being unfocused on Twitter and social media in general
  7. Making lists like this.  Seriously.
  8. Projects that don’t matter that I should never have agreed to
  9. Reading about American politics.  I know the U.S. President is the Leader of the Free World and all of that and they seem determined to destroy their own economy but enough is enough.  Hold on, Dick Cheney just tweeted something….
  10. Trying to change partisans’ opinions.  I upset people on the right and the left and to be honest, I give hardcore partisans too much time sometimes when they are never going to agree with me.  It’s time better spent on other things.

10 Things I Want to Do Better

  1. Shoot better video
  2. Learn how to fish (Mark gave Wendy and I fishing rods for Christmas)
  3. Write something better and less passively.
  4. Become a better photographer
  5. Play tennis at a higher level
  6. Spend some more time in the backcountry
  7. Finish some of the feature length posts I have been meaning to do on my blog.
  8. Spend time with friends
  9. Have more time for study
  10. Communicate the issues around homeless, mental health, and social issues more effectively.

The glaring question here is “why don’t I fix this?”  Of course much of 2012 is going to be spent fixing what I can.

When I write stuff down like this, I realize how stupid I am to be frittering away my life at the same time as wishing I had more time.  

Bedtime

Someone wasn’t happy being told it was bedtime.

Christmas

Christmas for us started on the 23rd as we joined our good friends Gloria, Jerry, and Kristy for our traditional Christmas together.  It was a bit different this year because of Gloria’s cancer but it was a fun night of exchanging gifts and hanging out.  We gave some books (as is our tradition) but I gave Gloria a Sound Spa which should help her sleep while the boys gave her a plush blanket.

Because I like to make fun of Kristy, we gave her an Edmonton Oilers Snuggie.  Because most of Kristy’s life is dedicated to a) staying warm and b) the Edmonton Oilers, she liked it.

Christmas Eve had Wendy working all day.  This is the worst schedule she has ever had over a Christmas season and it hasn’t been a lot of fun for us as a family but that is the life of people working retail.  I worked part of the day and then headed home to spend the rest of the day with the boys.  We gave the boys two early gifts of some NHLPA hockey sticks so they could play some road hockey during the day. Of course it was freezing outside so instead of playing hockey, we just taped them up.  While she worked, we packed up the Mazda and headed out to Warman where we spent the evening at  Lee and Brittany’s place for a traditional Christmas supper of lasagna and fighting over who got the lasagna leftovers before opening gifts.

Lee is known to master such phrases as “less talking, more chewing” on Christmas Eve.  While he loves lasagna, he loves presents more.  In the past when Wendy was working, he would spend most of the day badmouthing Wendy and trying to convince Mark to open Christmas presents without his mom.  He takes this whole Christmas gift opening seriously.

Of the delay in eating turned costly when Oliver was playing with Tika (Lee and Brittany’s dog) and fell nose first into the edge of the carpet.  There was crying, rug burn, and blood all over the place.  While Oliver’s new shirt paid a steep cost, all was okay.  It wasn’t as if I didn’t expect blood, I just expected it over the lasagna.

Mark

Santa gave Mark a new HTC Desire C Android Smart phonewhile I got him a Fuji AV150 camera (and tripod).  I had created a Instagram, Foursquare, and upgraded his Flickr to a pro account on Sunday.  We made sure we had batteries, SD (and Micro SD) cards all ready to go.  Now we have to download some apps which will mean some quality time on Google Play today.  I gave him a 1932 Chevrolet Truck scale model to build, Oliver gave him some adventure and Star Wars blueprint books (and some Daytona 500 cologne).  He also got a graphic novel story of Canadians in WWII as well as a book on how to create his own graphic novel

In his stocking he found a new watch, a big bottle of the worst cologne known to man, Brut 33 (Wendy wept tears of pain when I showed her the bottle)  Mark also got some high quality headphones; both on the ear and in ear ones.  The less I have to listen to 90s rock, the better. 

Lee and Brittany gave him a Denver Broncos jersey with his name and number on it.  Thank goodness Tim Tebow was traded before the season started.  He was pretty excited with that.  Almost as excited as Tim Tebow gets about everything.

He also got a Starbucks travel mug and gift card from myself.  It’s a bit self-serving as he wanders down to The Lighthouse and takes me out for coffee.  To keep all of his special memories safe, we gave him a small chest to keep some of life’s momentos.

Oliver

All Oliver wanted was a pogo stick and I found him one from Santa on Amazon.com.  I gave him a toy F-22 Raptor jet.  I would have gotten his a F-35 toy but the price kept increasing until Stephen Harper told me not to get it for him.  Mark gave him a rescue play set, a puzzle from the dogs, an Obi-Wan Kenobi lightsaber, and an Optimus Prime Transformer that talks.  He is getting into hockey to I got him some mini hockey sticks and nets.

Lee and Brittany gave him a tricked out big wheel for Christmas.  I immediately thought of this.

Stewie Griffin's tricked out

What’s scary is that I think Oliver would think that was a good idea.

His favourite gift by far was a Power Ranger that transforms into something else.  He was quite jacked about it.  

Wendy

With the new iPod I gave Wendy for her birthday, I gave her a set of iHome speakers and some perfume.  We got her an electric griddle and skillet (she asked for them), a new popcorn maker (which she was really excited about).  Mark gave her a pink Zepco fishing rod which she was horrified of.  Lucky for Wendy, the fishing is horrible in our part of Last Mountain Lake.  We also got her some high quality over the ear and in-ear headphones.  If nothing else she will be able to tune us out for Christmas.  The dogs gave her some new knives and a kitchen scale.  Not sure where they got the money to get those.

Lee and Brittany gave her a gift card for Dutch Growers which made her day.  She’s out right now waiting for spring to hit.

Lee

I bought Lee a Leatherman Skeletool multitool and case.  Mark got him Red Dead Redemption for the PS3, while Oliver got him a George Reed collector’s edition figurine.  Lee and Mark got into an argument a couple of weeks ago where Mark called his uncle, “Uncle Glitter” which has kind of stuck.  Mark got him some glitter stickers for his new iPhone 5.    “Uncle Glitter” didn’t seem to appreciate his nephew’s gift that much.  

He tried to pull his knife on the Skeletool on Mark for bugging him but he couldn’t get it open.  Once he got it open, he cut himself.  

Wendy put together a great beer can chicken gift set of a roasting pan, rubs from Cabela’s, and a grilling recipe book.  I expect some good beer can chicken this summer.

Because Lee was so insistent on lasagna for supper, we gave him a MRE lasagna and a spork as well.  He can now have lasagna while camping.  I think that was his favourite gift.

Brittany

Brittany was given a nice fountain pen, two journals (one lined and one unlined), and an Indigo gift card.  Because both Lee and Brittany are getting new iPhones, we tossed in some iTunes cards as well.  Holding her Indigo gift card was Cooper the Bear which apparently has been a Sears mascot for years (a fact that I did not know).  It just seemed to work well for us.  Brittany is an english teacher and I just think an English teacher with a fountain pen is more intimidating.  It was either that or do what the NRA is suggesting and that is to give her a firearm.

Wendy gave Brittany a soapstone statue of a couple from Ten Thousand Villages which I really liked.  As much fun as it is to bug Lee, him and Brittany are a wonderful couple.

My Haul

I wasn’t expecting too much but Wendy and the boys did a lot of planning and looking for good deals.  Wendy gave me a trail GPS and a George Reed limited edition action figure, Oliver gave me a Toronto Blue Jays hat, Mark gave me Assasin’s Creed II and Red Dead Redemption.  I also got a Leatherman Skeletool.  To balance out my Tim Tebow action figure from last year, Wendy gave me a Peyton Manning action figure.  Lee and Brittany gave me a remote control helicopter.  It flies and crashes quite well around the house.    Also because I don’t smell enough like David Beckham, I was given some of his cologne.  Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.  To replace my old barbecue tools (that are showing some age), Wendy also got me a simple set of three barbecue tools which is all we really use.

The advantage to only periodically playing PS3 games is that I never own the new ones which means that Wendy can find me games for $10-$15 at Wal-Mart and it doesn’t matter since I haven’t played them.  

Perhaps the purchase the surprised me the most is that the boys gave me Neptune’s Inferno which is a book about the naval battles at Guadalcanal

I really had no more success than Lee in using my Leatherman today although no blood was spilled.

The photos can all be found here.

Today is being spent around the house setting up things, doing some reading, and then having a more traditional Christmas dinner.  I had hoped to get get down to work but for the second day in a row, someone has swiped our power cords to the car which is frozen solid in this cold.  We had planned to take a long walk downtown today with Mark’s new camera but as the song says, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.  Hopefully your Christmas is a good one and you are enjoying the time with family and friends as well.

Calgary/Banff 2012

It’s been so busy the last week and I have been so incredibly sick that I never posted this last week.  Since a bunch of you have asked how our mini-vacation went, here is the summary… just really late.

On Thursday morning we got up early, checked out the highway conditions and headed out to Calgary for the weekend.

It was Oliver’s first long road trip and we packed pretty well.  In his backpack he had his VTech tablet and some kid’s volume controlled headphones as well as a cheap set of binoculars.  Mark had his PSP and a National Geographic History magazine.  The end result is that we stopped in Kindersley (for a 5 Hour Energy Drink for me), Hanna (for windshield washer fluid), Drumheller (to take Oliver for a walk up the giant dinosaur) and the boys were remarkably good.

Drumheller's Dinosaur

The trip took up around 6 1/2 hours which is pretty good but like I said, our stops were quick.  The stop at Drumheller took the longest and Oliver wasn’t that thilled with the idea of running up the “butt of a dinosaur” and I carried him most of the 100 steps to it’s mouth.  

In the mouth of the dinosaur

After heading back down, we were off to Calgary and checked into our hotel at around 2:30 p.m. Calgary time. 

The hotel was the Best Western Plus Calgary Centre Inn and was quite nice.  Our room was massive and the photos on their site don’t do justice to how nice the pool area is.  They have a normal pool, a hot tub but also a small pool that is only 2 feet deep for kids.  Oliver loved, “his pool” and spent all of his time in it.  They also have a free continental breakfast that was varied enough that we didn’t get sick of it.  Of course it’s central location meant that it was out of the way of everywhere we wanted to go but not so far out of the way we didn’t go.

All day on Twitter, Mayor Nenshi was warning of the snowfall which we didn’t really notice until we hit Chestermere and the highway was closed because of a rollover.  I am not sure what happened as we didn’t find the highways that slippery.  There was some black ice but nothing that bad; then again I am used to driving in it.

We were two long blocks away from the 39th Street LRT station and took it downtown where we went for a long walk.  We had plans to head up the Calgary Tower but visibility was really poor so we just took in downtown Calgary.  The snow was really coming down but all over downtown were snow removal crews sweeping sidewalks and streets even as the snow fell which is quite a bit different than Saskatoon which puts the onus on store owners who may or may not shovel out downtown.  It’s almost as Calgary’s downtown is a place of commerce.

Stephen Avenue in Calgary

Snow clearing in Calgary

That night we headed back, checked out the pool and ordered in from Mother’s Pizza, something that I have done since I was old enough to know what pizza was.

Friday morning the roads in Calgary were reported to be in bad shape but in reality were quite good.  Thanks to Saskatoon for lowering my expectations for snow removal.  Mark spent the summer and fall saving up for a new iPod Nano and despite being $4 short that I kicked in for him, we went to the Apple Store in Chinook Centre where a clerk named Jazz managed to help him pick out the one he wanted.

Wendy and Oliver in the Apple Store

While Mark and Jazz finished the deal, Wendy pulled out her Samsung Galaxy and started to text something.  She was lucky she wasn’t tossed out.  As we were leaving, Wendy had a minor fit as she saw a Lego store and insisted that we had to purchase some Lego for Oliver for Christmas.  Long story short, Wendy always wanted Lego as a kid and never had any.  She had more fun than any of us in there.

As soon as we hit Highway #1, roads were perfect until we hit the Banff National Park gates and they never got the snow the rest of us got so it was a fun trip up with lots of stories and sight seeing along the way.  We went straight to Sulphur Mountain and took the gondola to the top of it.  Excited does not describe the reaction of Oliver and Mark who loved every second of the nine minute trip to the summit.  Once at the summit I was tempted to hike to the science station but it was blowing and cold up there so we ordered a bite to eat and chilled out at the top.

DSCF9052

Panorama from Sulphur Mountain

Once back down we did some shopping and Banff didn’t disappoint.  Every single shop had the exact same touristy junk.  As I told Wendy, I spent most of my life trying to buy something nice in Banff and failed.   Wendy found some earrings and found some Christmas gifts.  Mark managed to get some more money out of me and bought some magnetic rocks and a Gondola souvenir.  The highlight of the shopping was a large male elk meandering through main street and within inches of the car.

An Elk

I personally love Banff in the off season and hate it during the peak season.  The lack of tourists and crowds are nice, even if the weather is not.  What I loved about Banff is that there was absolutely no trace of snow along their main street.  Every flake was removed… again, it’s a place of commerce.

Finally we took the boys to Bow Falls where a combination of the cold, wind and humidity almost froze Wendy, Mark and I to death while taking some photos.  Oliver just said, “I want to wait in the car”

DSCF9081

Panorama of Bow Falls

As we were leaving, we went to Walsh’s Candy Store where I bought Mark and Oliver two massive jawbreakers and challenged them to finish them by the time we got to Calgary.  It’s an impossible task (knowing first hand) but neither one of them talked all the way back to Calgary.  I love it when a plan comes together.

For supper that night, we went to Five Guys Hamburgers for the first time.  We need one of those in Saskatoon in the worst possible way.  We ordered burgers and fries and couldn’t even start the fries as the burgers were so filling.

Saturday morning we met our good friend Dave King at Nellie’s where we had a good talk about politics, urban planning, cycling and photography all over a fantastic breakfast.  It was cold out that day so instead of going to the Calgary Zoo, we went back downtown and checked out Mountain Equipment Co-op (twice), the Calgary Tower, Glenbow Museum, and snagged some milkshakes at Peter’s Drive-Thru.

While at Mountain Equipment Co-Op, we did some Christmas shopping and Wendy agonized over which bag to purchase (which she always does).  She finally got one of these and seems at peace with the world.  Meanwhile I got a sleeve for the MacBook, a left handed sling pack, some gloves, bike lock (as well as one for Mark) and a lantern. Mark also bought a sling pack which means that we kind of match which is awkward.  At least his is right handed.

The Calgary Tower is always amazing and we spent a lot of time up there.  The glass floor was fun as people were absolutely terrified to walk out on it while kids seemed to not even notice.  Both Wendy and I took a bunch of photos with other people’s cameras while they stood out on the glass.  We went back downstairs and across the street to the Glenbow Museum where Mark really had a good time.  Wendy enjoyed the section on the National Energy Program and on Peter Lougheed.  It was weird to see a display honouring Preston Manning and not Joe Clark or Ralph Klein.  I know Manning has significance but so does Clark and Klein.

Oliver at the top of the Calgary Tower

The Bow as seen from the Calgary Tower

Saturday night against my better wishes, we went to Swiss Chalet.  Wendy and the boys had never gone but the meal was what you expect of Swiss Chalet.  Personally I am still bitter that St. Hubert is not in Calgary.  Sadly everyone in the family like the meal which means that I am going to have to fight not to go back.

Sunday we drove back home after some more running around.  The trip was quick as I had two boys chilling out to their iPods and sucking on jawbreakers.  The only excitement was when we were back in Saskatoon city limits when we found out again that snow removal baffles our fair city.

All of the photos from the trip can be found on either Wendy’s or my photo set.

Christmas Gift Guide: Gift Ideas for your Husband / Father / Boyfriend (all of the men in your life) | 2012 Edition

It’s Wendy again and I am pretty lucky as Jordon does all of the Christmas shopping in our family and over the years he has created some incredible Christmas gift guides for his website which have generated a loyal following.  I traditionally write the Gift Guide husbands/boyfriends/fathers and here it is.  Hopefully I don’t disappoint and as always if you have good ideas, leave them in the comments below.  For the entire list of Christmas gift guides, click here.

Tablets

I bought Jordon an iPad last Christmas and has has loved it.  Now he is an Apple person (iPod, iPad, iPhone, and a MacBook) but not everyone is.  The good news is that there are some amazing tablets on the market for both Android, Apple, and even Blackberry users.

When you are looking for a tablet, make sure you understand how the person is going to use it.  I bought Jordon a 16gb iPad because Jordon is going to use it for some writing (using Pages, the occasional Keynote presentation) and surf the web.  He had no intention on putting his music on his iPad because he uses his iPod for that task.  If he was going to use it as a all-in-one machine, I would have gone out and got him a 64gb version.

Also, some have bought them with the idea that they will replace their laptop or computer.  They really don’t for most of our friends (although as I was typing this, Jordon points out that he has never seen Saskatoon City Councillor Charlie Clark use anything but his iPad and his Logitech keyboard/case).

Whatever your preference,  I have listed tablets from all operating systems below.

Google Nexus 10Android | Nexus 10 ($409) and Nexus 7 ($209) from Google.  Both offer world class speed and design and in a lot of ways are designed and produced to set the standard for Android devices running on tablets in the same way Google designed the Nexus phone to do for smartphones.

Android | Kindle Fire 8.9 ($299) and Kindle Fire HD($199)  Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire to mediocre reviews last year but has stepped up their game with the Kindle Fire 8.9 inch tablet and the Kindle Fire HD which offers retina level display on an Android device.  If you surf the web a lot, the Kindle Fire has the fastest wifi of any tablet out there.

kindle-fire-hd-89

iPad MiniApple | iPad ($499)) and iPad Mini ($329) | While more expensive then the Kindle Fire HD, it has the advantage of the most spectacular collection of apps out there.  Also it offers fantastic integration between your iPhone and Mac.  Like I said  before, Jordon has an iPad 2 and loves it.

Blackberry PlaybookBlackberry Playbook ($194 for a 32gb model) | I include this here because I know there is still a passionate community of Blackberry users out there.  It’s a good value for the price but it doesn’t have a lot of apps for it.  It’s one of those things that I would get for a guy who knew what he was getting and still really wanted.  When I asked Jordon, he said there are those out that that still live and die on Blackberry Messenger and it has that… kind of.  Maybe you should just get any Blackberry lovers on your list, a new phone.

Music

iPod Classic ($249) | iPod Nano ($149) | iPod Touch($299)

iPod ClassiciPod TouchiPod Nano

Depending on the person you are shopping for, they are going to have different demands on what they want out of a iPod or MP3 player.  Some people want all of their music at their fingertips all of the time, some want something to work out with, and some want to be connected to all of their apps while they are listening to their music.  Whatever kind of person you are shopping for, there is an iPod for them.

Sony WalkmanIf the person you are shopping for isn’t an Apple fan, look at a Sony Walkman ($110).  While the design and features look amazing, I am a little surprised it only comes in a 8 gb version, of which 1.25 gb is used by the software.  So if you are looking for a 6.75 gb MP3 player in a great design package and a good price, here it is.  It is slightly smaller than the Apple iPod Nano but has a lot of the same features.  While MP3 quality is lacking, with Sony you know you are getting something that is quality made and designed.

41mxVSz7SkLWhatever MP3 player you get, you will want to upgrade the headphones.  JVC’s Xplosive Xtreme ($17) headphones are much loved at an affordable price.  The series feature a bass port for outstanding bass reproduction, a durable rubber protector for impact protection and to help withstand heavy use, and a gold-plated 3.5mm stereo plug.  The Xplosive Xtreme also comes with a handy carrying case. 2.6mm-thick and robust 1.2m pure copper cable (Y-type) Special hard carrying case included S/M/L silicone ear-pieces included Gold-plated 3.5mm stereo straight plug iPod, iphone and iPad compatible.

If you aren’t sure the person you are shopping for would appreciate a MP3 player, why not pick up a Polaroid 8 gb MP3 player ($40)?  It may not have the features of the iPod or Walkman but it does offer a really good value and is expandable with a SDHC card.

iHome Rechargeable Mini Speakers ($45) | These are incredible speakers that provide a rich sound.  They have a carrying case which means that they get taken with us everywhere, just like our iPods.

iHome Rechargable Mini Speakers

They work great with our iPods, netbooks, and our portable DVD player.

Tivoli Model One ($149) | Old school AM/FM in a timelessly sleek design. I bought Jordon one a couple of years ago and he loves it.  We actually went and bought a second one for the cabin.  It gets great reception in the middle of nowhere and on a hot summer day when the Saskatchewan Roughriders are playing, it’s a great way to listen on the deck with all of your friends.  The Tivoli Model One has a rich, full sound thanks to sound pioneer Henry Kloss, and the radio has come to be a modern design must-have. This gift is perfect for a desk, in the kitchen- anywhere he can listen to the baseball game, CBC Radio One, or the oldies station.  Another tabletop option worth considering is the classic Sangean WR-11 radio.  Different design but same classic look.

Office

Cross Bailey Fountain Pen ($38)

Cross Bailey Fountain Pen

Every guy needs a nice pen and this fountain pen is both affordable enough to give a nice gift but if high enough quality to last for decades.  If you aren’t sure the person on your list would appreciate a fountain pen, you won’t go wrong with a Parker IM rollerball pen($19).

Parker IM Rollerball Pen

Tabletop fountain ($49) | It depends on the office environment that your husband works in.  At The Lighthouse, Jordon’s office was both too hot and too dry.  A tabletop fountain added some humidity into the air and cooled it down a bit.  Just make sure you get him a plug in version, not one that runs on batteries.  It’s one of those things that once the batteries run out, it never gets used again.

Wrapped leather journalOf course he will need something to write down his profound thoughts in so why not give him a leather wrapped journal for Christmas?  Chapters/Indigo has an amazing one for $45.  While you are at it, check out this $15 5 inch globe.

Video and Camera

71cqBTpP-3L._AA1500_GoPro HD Hero 2 ($199) | Born from a passion to capture your love of life from your perspective, this camera is a feat of engineering. Wearable and gear mountable, waterproof to 197′ (60M) and boasting an immersive 170° wide-angle lens, the HD HERO2 has ushered in a new era of image capture. Professional quality 30 fps 1080p and 60 fps 720p video, combined with 11 megapixel still photo capture that has landed magazine covers.  It’s a great camera and a lot of fun for the entire family.    With this grab bag of mounts, you can hook it up to almost anything.

Sony Bloggie ($69) | Jordon has a Kodak Zi8 for years and has loved it.  We gave Lee a Flip camera a year ago and even Mark has one.  While you cell phone can record HD video, it doesn’t have the same kind of quality than a dedicated video camera gives you and it is a lot easier to deal with a SD card than trying to get a video off your iPhone.  If the guy you are shopping for is one that loves to take video, make sure you check this camera out.

Fuji Fine Pix XP50 ($150) | For years we have been fans of Fuji point and shoot cameras and the XP50 is no exception.   It’s waterproof to a depth of 5m and can capture both movies and still images underwater. The camera’s casing will withstand shocks or drops from a height of 1.5m, while cold environments are also no problem for this rough and ready device. The FinePix XP50 can withstand temperatures down to -10°C and dust is never a problem, with all the camera’s access points specially sealed for ultimate protection.

If the guy you are shopping for loves audio or is a podcaster, consider getting him a Blue Snowball ($60)or Yeti USB ($109) microphone.  Both provide amazing clear sound and are a significant upgrade over the internal microphone in a laptop.

Home

31531_lBlack and Decker Thermal Carafe Coffee Maker ($48) | Jordon is a coffee connoisseur and while the ultimate way to make a cup of coffee is with a French Press or a Aeropress coffee maker ($25), he doesn’t always have time.  For times when he needs 8 cups of coffee relatively quick and wants it to stay fresh for a while, there is this thermal coffee maker from Black and Decker.  With a stylish design and durable stainless steel carafe, this 8-cup coffeemaker is perfect for home, office or practically anywhere you want hot, fresh coffee at the touch of a button. All this, plus an easy-clean control panel and dishwasher-safe removable parts for effortless clean up.  The advantage of the carafe is that you won’t be stuck with hot burnt coffee in case you don’t get it off the maker in time.  The coffee will be as hot and fresh later as it is right now.

Atari Flashback ($50)| Over 75 Atari 2600 games all in one console.  Jordon laments the exclusion of Pac-Man but you can get Missile Command, Asteroids, and Combat all on console.  Let him relive his childhood at the same time making him a subject of mockery of any child in the family.

PlayStation 3 ($269) | Yes it’s a game console but it’s also a Blu-Ray and DVD player, a Netflix player (which works way better than the Wii), and allows the family to play online.  We use it all of the time to watch Netflix, movies, and also we still play a fair amount of games.  While it’s not something that we would ever consider essential to our family life, it’s hard to imagine doing without.

Leatherman Skelatool ($42) or the Gerber Suspension Multitool ($26) | Both are amazing multi-tools and life is just better for men when they know they have a great multi-tool within reach.  If the guy you are shopping for needs something even smaller, then check out the Cabela’s multi-tool.  A great tool in a small package.

While the guys I know aren’t big on jewellery, they do appreciate a nice watch.  If the guy you are shopping for loves a nice watch, check out the Timex Expedition Rugged Field Watch ($46), the Timex Expedition Digital/Analog watch ($44.96) or the rather classic Timex Atlantis 100 ($31).

Parrot AR Drone 2.0

Finally don’t forget probably the most wanted gift of the season, the Parrot AR Drone 2.0 ($300) The Parrot AR.Drone is the first quadricopter that can be controlled by a smartphone or tablet. By tilting your device, you control the direction of your AR.Drone, and by releasing it, the AR.Drone is instantly stabilized. Thanks to the AR.Drone’s autopilot feature, anyone can be an expert as the AR.Drone allows for an easy take-off and landing.  It’s about as amazing and as much found as it sounds.

Christmas Gift Ideas and Gift GuidesIf I missed anything or if my suggestion made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.