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Christmas Gift Guide for the Outdoorsman (and women) | 2014 Edition

In case you are shopping for the great outdoorsman, here are a list of suggestions for those who often prefer to outdoors rather than inside. Check out the other Christmas gift ideas that have been posted this season.

Left and Right Handed Slingpacks from MEC

MEC Slingpack

All three of us have sling packs from MEC and they work as great daypacks.  They each have a water bottle, flashlight, notebook and pens in them all of the time.  When it is time to go, we toss in our phones, iPods, headphones, snacks and a compact camera and we are ready to go.  They are big enough to carry what you need yet small enough to bring along with you anywhere.  We really like them.

Pelican 1050 waterproof case

Pelican 1050 waterproof case

These are great camera/GPS/iPod cases. They are water proof, padded, floatable, and strong enough to take a lot of abuse in the back of your trunk or any backpack. While you may not use it when you head to the park, you will use them when you are packing for a trip and don’t want your iPod, camera, or phone to be crushed. They are pretty much indestructible which means that of all of the things you have to worry about, this isn’t one of them.

Vibram FiveFingers Komodo Sport Shoes

Vibram FiveFingers Komodo Sports Shoes

The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised. The Vibram Five Fingers shoes are designed to simulate walking barefoot while protecting your feet like shoes do. If you have any questions, check out the reviews on Amazon.

Leatherman Skeletool CX

Leatherman Skeletool

Now you’re ready to lighten your load and boost your survival skills — with Leatherman’s Skeletool. At a mere 5 ounces the new, full-sized multitool keeps weight and volume to a minimum without sacrificing quality and true functionality, and that’s what the Skeletool is all about. Many multitools have multiple options, but they’re often heavier — and they’re loaded with more features than most people actually need on a regular basis. Conversely, pocket knives are light and streamlined, but they render themselves useless when the task calls for a more versatile tool. Enter the new Skeletool platform, offering minimal weight, compact size and endless capabilities. And with the Skeletool’s integrated, removable pocket clip, you can easily clip this tool onto a belt, a pack, or a vest — with no sheath or tote required.

Cammenga Lensatic Compass

Cammenga Lensatic Compass

This is the Rolls Royce of compasses. It has been used by U.S. troops, foreign militaries, law enforcement, and special forces for years. A total of seven Tritium light sources provide readability in total darkness for 10 years without external power or the need to “recharge” using a flashlight.

Sony HDR-AS100VR POV Action Video Camera with Live View Remote

If you are a cyclist, you want this.

Use the built-in GPS with the free PlayMemories Home software to track your speed and performance. Location, trail and speed information add more layers to your ability to analyze your performance that can be captured and displayed on your video.  Take a look.

GPS overlay on your video

The camera itself is splash proof but it does come in a waterproof case.  Unlike the GoPro, the Sony HDR-AS100 is image stabilized which means smoother video no matter how rough of ride you are taking.

Sony HDR-AS100VR

Polaroid Cube
Huge, out-of-the-box fun. In little more than 1 cubic inch. – Standing at just 35mm, the Polaroid CUBE is here to prove that the best things do indeed come in small packages. This tiny action camera supports Micro SD cards up to 32 GB, and is ready to capture your most exciting moments in full HD video or highresolution images. So if you’re living a life that’s fit for film, make the CUBE your constant companion. It is weatherproof and shockproof, and more than capable of handling anything you throw at it.
Jetboil Flash Personal Cooking System
The Jetboil Flash cooking system utilizes the same efficient design as the now classic Personal Cooking System (PCS) but adds the additional convenience feature of an external temperature indicator. Designed to capture and focus heat more efficiently than traditional cooking systems, the Flash brings two cups of water to a boil in only two minutes. The lining also houses a color change window that alerts you to when the contents are hot. A sip-through lid further helps insulate the contents of the cooking cup and prohibits spills. The protective plastic bottom of the cup can be removed for use as a small bowl or measuring device.

MSR Pocket Rocket Stove

If the Jetboil Personal Cooking System isn’t what you are looking for, check out the MSR Pocket Rocket stove. The PocketRocket backpacking stove from MSR provides full cooking function in an incredibly efficient form. Barely noticeable in your pack, it delivers precision flame control from torch to simmer while the Wind Clip wind shield boosts efficiency in breezy conditions. The PocketRocket stove’s diminutive size is also the foundation of a solid emergency kit for home or trail.

Double Nest Hammock

Double Nest Hammock

The DoubleNest allows room for one, two, three, or however you decide to pack 400lbs. The DoubleNest seats more than one person comfortably and is essential for family adventures. The DoubleNest still packs down to the size of a grapefruit, so there is no excuse to be without your ENO hammock.

Outdoor Coffee Press

Outdoor Coffee Press

Now there is no reason to bring that horrible tasting Starbucks Via coffee with you when you go camping or hiking. Instead bring some fresh ground coffee or loose leaf tea with you and make some excellent coffee when ever you want with this outdoor coffee press. Of course you won’t bring a bean grinder with you on most trips but it gives you an idea of what it takes to make a good cup of coffee while on the road. Of course you need something to drink it from. You may want to check out some excellent stainless steel coffee mugs/beer mugs to drink from.

Zippo Hand Warmer

Zippo Hand Warmer

The Zippo Hand Warmer is a rugged, metal hand warmer with a sleek, thin design so it easily fits into your pocket. The hand warmer is virtually odorless (great for hunters) and stays warm for up to 12 hours. Plus, it’s reusable with Zippo lighter fluid and includes a convenient filler cup and warming bag. Whether you’re skiing, tailgating at the game, hunting, sledding, or enjoying any other cold-weather activity, keep a Zippo Hand Warmer in your pocket and keep your fingers toasty warm.

Garmin eTrex 20 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator

Garmin eTrex 20

Garmin’s eTrex GPS series offers reliable satellite navigation, making it a favorite of hikers, hunters, and geocachers. The eTrex 20 is equipped with a high-sensitivity GPS receiver, a 2.2-inch color display, and ships with a worldwide basemap with relief. Add a wide array of detailed topographic, marine, and road maps, and start mapping out your next adventure.

The Black Diamond Orbit Lantern

Black Diamond Orbit Lantern

Designed for ounce-conscious backpackers and climbers, the Black Diamond Orbit lantern packs 45 lumens of bright, non-glaring light in an ultra-portable package. A DoublePower LED (1-watt) works with Black Diamond’s dual reflector system and frosted globe to illuminate everything from tent-bound reading to pre-dawn racking. A collapsible, double-hook hang loop attaches to tent ceilings and tree branches alike. Mark and I both have one and they are simply amazing. They are highly rated on REI, MEC, and Amazon.com and are loved by all that use them. Whether you are a camper, hiker, or even a family who needs a safety light in the car, these are a must have.

Filzer UFO Light

Filzer UFO light

Alert vehicles and help keep track of your dog at night. The UFO light is designed specifically for runners, hikers and dogs. The light easily attaches to 1″ webbing, dog collars, clothing, etc… with a small carabineer. Five red LEDs put out highly visible red light in three modes – steady, flash and rotate. Its waterproof design makes it ideal for any weather.

Hydro Flask

It’s hard to get excited about a water bottle but Outside Magazine did.  Here is what they said about it.
Standing out among the dozens of hydration products that pass through our doors every year is a challenge. Hydro Flask made an impression with a next-day shipment of its insulated stainless-steel bottles, which arrived with ice inside. In summer. That functionality—which works equally well keeping liquids piping hot—paired with simple, good-looking design won us over.

Christmas Present 21

You can also find all of the rest of the 2014 Christmas Gift Guides online here.  There is a lot of great ideas for all of the important people in your life.  Good luck with your shopping and have a great holiday season!  Oh yeah, if I missed anything or you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments.

Christmas & Holiday Gift Guide for Teenaged Boys | 2014 Edition

What do you get for the teenaged boy on your Christmas list.  The easy way out is cash and gift cards.  We aren’t going to take the easy route out.  We are doing this the hard way and come up with a list that any teenager would love.

Asus MeMo Pad 7

$150 for a cutting edge tablet?  I’m okay with that.  The Asus MeMo tablet runs a 1.33 GHz Quad-Core Intel Atom processor, Android 4.4 KitKat, more than enough RAM to run the latest applications and 16 gb of storage for videos, music, and homework.  It also has a .3 megapixel front facing camera and a 2 megapixel rear facing camera 

Asus MeMo Tablet

While you are at it, pick up a case, Bluetooth keyboard, Micro SD card and speaker.

Pentax K-50 DSLR

We gave Mark my old Pentax K-x to him for his birthday and he loves it.  The advantage of Pentax over other DSLR’s is build quality.  The K-50 has over 80 water seals in it.  This means that the teen you are shopping for can take it far more places and adventures than other DSLRs.  The other advantage is the amazing price.  At under $500 (with a 18-55mm lens) it is one of the least expensive DSLR’s out there right now.

Pentax K-50

The PENTAX K-50 is a mid-level DSLR with fast, advanced functionality, all wrapped up in bold colors. Featuring specifications of a top level DSLR, enjoy a 16 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, fast continuous shooting at six frames per second, high sensitivity shooting up to ISO 51200, 100% field of view, innovative in-body shake reduction, and an advanced auto focus module with four optional focusing screens, not to mention the PENTAX-original weather-sealing. Also enjoy full 1018p HD video capture, and eye-fi card compatibility for fast and easy image sharing. 

At the end of the day, you aren’t buying your teen a DSLR for them, you are buying it for the family time you will spend together shooting it.  This summer Mark, Oliver, Wendy, and I went for countless walks, hikes, and adventures together for no other reason than to shoot from photos and see what we could see…. together.

If you are wondering about available lens for Pentax, check out my guide to Pentax DSLR lens that I wrote this summer.

Ricoh WG-4
If you have a smaller budget, this Ricoh WG-4 is a great adventure proof camera.  It’s waterproof, crushproof, and has a built in GPS to record where you are when you take the photo.  It has a quick f2 lens, 16 megapixel CMOS sensor.  It is the perfect option to take into the backwoods, on a long road trip, or just attaching to your pack for a day out.  Like all WG series cameras, it comes with a wide series of mounts so it can attached to your bikecar, or helmet.  Not only are you getting a great camera but with the mounts you are getting many of the capabilities that a GoPro offers.

Sennheiser HD201 Headphones

There is a good choice that your teen has an iPod or phone that plays music already.  The music is great but one overlooked thing is what do you play it on.  Sennheisser headphones are a great bet.  The Sennheiser HD201 Stereo Headphones prove to be a low priced alternative to high-end studio headphones.With great clarity, the Sennheiser HD201 headphones are the ideal entry into the world of powerful stereo sound. These excellent headphones also boast great attenuation of ambient noise and outstanding comfort at an affordable price.

Sennheisser HD201

JVC Xtreme Xplosives Headphones
If you are on a budget (and who isn’t) this Christmas, here are some fabulous looking and sounding headphones by JVC at an affordable price.  They are for are for people who demand powerful, dynamic deep bass sound from their headphones which kind of describes every teenager I know.
The OontZ Angle
One of the most popular and wished for items on Amazon.com.  Brought to you by Cambridge Soundworks, this Angle is the latest in a line of amazing and affordable speaker systems.  The Oontz Angle comes in many color options and is 5.3 inches wide, 2.7 inches high, and 3 inches deep. It weighs 9 ounces, which makes it a lightweight unit.  For $40 it provides excellent size, portability and most importantly, it sounds good.

Turcom Graphic Drawing Tablet 8 X 6 Inches

Turcom Graphics Drawing Tablet

Tursion is making tablets affordable for use by anyone, not just artists. This high-quality Tursion drawing tablet is priced just right, so everyone can enjoy the benefits of a graphic tablet. It includes several software utilities, such as PenSigner and PenMail, which allows you to use handwritten signatures, adding a personal touch to what is usually thought of as an impersonal medium. Easy to install and to use,

We gave one to Mark last year for his birthday and he has loved it.  It works with almost any kind of Windows XP/Vista/7/8 software has allowed him expand is skills and talents as an artist. 

The 6 Most Important Decisions You'll Ever Make
 
From Sean Covey, the author of the international bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, this bestselling follow-up book builds upon the legacy of the 7 Habits and shows teens how to make smart choices about the six most crucial choices they’ll face during these turbulent years.
 
The challenges teens face today are tougher than at any time in history: academic stress, parent communication, media bombardment, dating drama, abuse, bullying, addictions, depression, and peer pressure, just to name a few. And, like it or not, the choices teens make while navigating these challenges can make or break their futures. 

Royal & Langnickel 104-Piece All Media Easel Artist Set

 

Royal & Langnickel 104-Piece All Media Easel Artist Set

Royal & Langnickel Sketching and Drawing Easel Set is a comprehensive 104 piece collection of artist materials ideal for the beginner, student, or artist. This set features a wide assortment of pencils, pastels, and paints fitted into a convertible, two-drawer chest that opens to reveal a third tray of product. The storage chest converts into a sturdy table-top easel. An outstanding collection of tools for your studio or an ideal gift for an artist or serious art student.

Acer Aspire E-11 11.6-Inch Laptop 

There is always going to be a debate between Windows Netbooks and Google Chromebooks.  The Acer Aspire makes a compelling argument for the Windows Netbook.  Check out these specs.

  • 11.6″ HD Widescreen ComfyView™ LED-backlit Display: (1366 x 768) resolution; 16:9 aspect ratio
  • Intel® Celeron® N2840 Dual-Core Processor 2.16GHz with Intel® Burst Technology up to 2.58GHz
  • Windows 8.1 with Bing
  • Intel® HD Graphics
  • 2048MB DDR3L SDRAM Memory
  • 32GB internal storage
  • Digital Media Card Reader – Secure Digital™ (SD) Card
  • 802.11b/g/n Wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth® 4.0
  • Acer Crystal Eye HD Webcam
  • High Definition Audio Support
  • Two Built-in stereo speakers
  • 1- USB 2.0 Port
  • 1- USB 3.0 Port
  • 1- HDMI™ Port with HDCP Support
  • 3-cell Lithium-Ion Battery (2640mAh)
  • Up to 5-hours battery life
  • 2.84 lbs.

Acer Aspire E-11 Netbook

Another cool part of these Aspire E-11’s is that they don’t have fans so they are completely silent.

Tony Hawk Skateboard
 
Fender guitar and amp
If he wants to be a rock star, what better way to get him started than with a Squire guitar and amp by Fender?  It comes with an electric guitar, amp, bag, strap, cables, and picks.  Basically everything he will need to rock out in 2015.

Christma Wish Guides

You can also find all of the rest of the 2014 Christmas Gift Guides online here.  There is a lot of great ideas for all of the important people in your life.  Good luck with your shopping and have a great holiday season!  Oh yeah, if I missed anything or you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments.

Christmas & Holiday Gift Guide for your Wife, Girlfriend & other Important Women in Your Life | 2014 Edition

 

Each year I put together some holiday and Christmas gift guides for the people in your life.  Wendy wrote the first one and here is my first one; a holiday and Christmas guide for the women in your life.  

Wendy is hard to shop for.  She never makes a list until it’s too late and doesn’t really crave a whole bunch of things which makes Christmas (and birthday) shopping hard.  In case your wife is awesome like Wendy but hard to shop for, here are some Christmas gift ideas to consider.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Star K Heart Shape 8mm Love Pendant Star K Heart Shape 8mm Love Pendant

The alluring Original Star K Heart Shape 8mm Love Pendant, crafted in 925 Sterling Silver. This beautiful design is set with 1 Heart Shape stone prong set , 1 stone prong set colorless Round Cubic Zirconia. This product measures 8 mm wide, 18 mm long and is a great looking while affordable necklace and pendant.

Big Jambox

Wendy has always loved music and has always wanted a massive stereo system.  Since we have a small home, the dream has never come true.  Lucky for Wendy there are some excellent compact speaker systems as options. Here are a few of them.

I have traditionally recommended the Bose Wave home audio system.  It provides legendary sound, is $499 but has fallen behind the times.  It bugs me that even with the new version you have to add an optional and costly Bluetooth receiver to stream music wirelessly from your iPod.  Yet if the women you are shopping for still prefers CDs to iTunes, it is probably the best audio system you can get for her.

For the iPod/Android crowd, I am suggesting you get her a Big Jambox.

Jambox Big Jambox Speakers

The Big Jambox turns any mobile device (phone, tablet, media player, computer) into a portable, hi-fi sound system that wirelessly delivers amazingly clear, full audio at any volume.

Faux Mink Throw Blanket

Help keep her warm this winter with a faux fur blanket.  Perfect for outdoor, watching TV. Stay warm this winter and feel great with this faux fur throw. Unbelievably soft and plush. Dynamic decor piece to throw over a couch or chair, it serves as a fashionable, functional accent piece. Perfect blanket to cuddle up on a chilly evening without any of the guilt and cost of using real mink fur.

Olympus E-PL7 16MP Compact System Camera with 14-42mm Lens

Olympus PEN E-EL7 camera

I bought Wendy an Olympus PEN last year and she loved it.  Over the year we added a couple of lens (I recommend the Olympus 40-150mm, the Olympus 45mm f1.8 (Wendy’s favourite lens), the Sigma 19mm, 30mm and 60mm prime lens) a new ThinkTank sling bag, and some other gear.   The result was we took a couple of thousand photos over 2014 and had a great time together.

The advantage of a mirrorless camera system like Micro 4/3 system (which is used by Olympus and Panosonic) is the size of the cameras and the lenses.  It means in practical terms that you take this camera places you would not take a DSLR.  With 16 megapixel sensors, good (but not amazing) low light sensitivity (if you want great, you need a Sony A7s), you get amazing photos that you can enlarge to almost any size.

If you want something small but with a traditional DSLR form factor, take a look at the Olympus OMD E-M10 for $750.

Canon T5i with 18-135mm lens

If she is looking for more traditional DSLR, then look at the Canon Rebel T5i with the 18-135 lens.  She will be impressed at how simple it is to create breathtaking photos with ease. The incredible image quality and performance starts with an 18.0 Megapixel sensor and Canon’s DIGIC 5 Image Processor. A continuous shooting speed of up to 5.0 fps allows for fast action capture. 9 cross-type AF focus points help ensure crisp focus throughout the frame, and the Hybrid CMOS AF system enables speedy and accurate autofocus when shooting in Live View mode. In addition, the camera is compatible with Canon STM lenses for smooth, quiet AF performance.

You get full HD video, the ability to plug in a shotgun or lavaliere microphone, and access to the enormous Canon EF-S lens family.  You can get a kit with a 18-55mm lens but for the extra $200, the extra range of the 18-135mm lensis worth it.

Teardrop Terrarium
This is a fun gift.  It is an Air Plant with clear glass hanging terrarium wide with glass bottom. Kit includes pebbles, moss, glass globe and air plant.  The kit is a great addition to any room at any price.
 
Speaking of gardening… 
 

The Gardener's Garden

The ultimate garden book – both a collection of gardens from around the world and a resource for those seeking inspiration on garden design and planting. Featuring over 250 permanent gardens by leading garden designers, horticulturalists and landscape architects, from the 14th century to the present day, and covering all key types and styles of garden, this well‐illustrated compendium combines images, text, key information and captions for each of the featured gardens, appealing to both amateur and professional gardeners, as well as garden designers.

Samsung Chromebook 

Samsung Chromebook

Samsung’s Chromebook laptop has been deemed by many to be a success. Lightweight, inexpensive and practical as everything operates off your Google Drive, the Chromebook is great for any career woman on the move.

Chromebooks are great if you are comfortable with using Google Apps but if she is the type that wants to do more with a computer, check out the Acer Aspire E-11 Netbook.

Acer-Aspire-E-11-Netbook.jpg

It runs Windows 8.1, has 2gb of RAM, and is totally silent as it is cooled passively.  No fans means no noise.  It’s only $200, runs iTunes, some games, Microsoft Office (or Open Office).  An amazing netbook for the money.

Jean Dubost Laguiole 3-Piece Cheese Knife Set

Jean Dubost Laguiole 3-Piece Cheese Knife Set is a great holiday gift for anyone who loves hosting a great dinner party and doing so in style.

This set of cheese service knives includes a spreader for soft cheeses like Montrachet a serving knife for Gruyere and Gouda and a cleaver for hard cheeses such as Parmigiano. Sparkling stainless steel handles carry the signature logo of the Laguiole ‘Bee’. A wooden gift and storage box completes this gourmet set.

 
Gold Pendent
Initial jewelry is all the rage. The 14k Gold Circle Disk Letter “A” Pendant showcases a simple yellow-gold design. Resting from an 18-inch cable chain is a gentle yellow gold disk. A capital letter is engraved in the middle of the disk, to personalize the pendant. The simple design is a jewelry box must-have for accessorizing a day-to-day look. A wonderful gift for the holidays.
 
Fast and convenient, the AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker makes one of the best cups of coffee you’ll ever taste. This innovative uses the ideal water temperature and gentle air pressure brewing to produce coffee and espresso that has rich flavor with lower acidity and without bitterness. It makes 1 to 4 cups of coffee or espresso (enough for 1 or 2 mugs), features a micro filtered for grit free coffee, and takes just 1 minute to make coffee (actual press time takes only 20 seconds).  It’s the number one selling coffee press on Amazon for a reason.
 
Aeropress Coffee

Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Wendy works full time and then has to come home to a household of two sons and me.  In other words she puts up with days that make mine seem like a meditation retreat.  Give your wife a break from the chaos with these noise cancelling headphones.  If you are on a budget, check out the Sony MDR-NC7 Noise Cancelling headphones for about $40 or JVC HANC250 Noise Cancelling Headphones for about $120.
 
Sennheiser HD202 Headphones
I leant Wendy my noise cancelling headphones for a flight to Winnipeg.  She never gave them back.  She will love a pair of great sounding headphones.
 
I’m a Mom…
 

I'm a Mom

She’ll love this mug.
 
The R H Forschner by Victorinox Chef’s Knife features an 8-inch blade that is 2-inches wide at the handle. High carbon, stainless steel blade is hand finished at Victorinox in Switzerland by skilled craftsmen. A special tempering process is used to produce an edge that can be resharpened over and over again, so the knife can keep its original sharpness throughout the entire life of the blade.
 

Victorinox 8-inch Chef's Knife

If you are looking for an entire knife block set, check out the Zwilling J.A. Henckels 7-pc Knife Block Set for $120 which is almost $150 off.  The set includes an 8-inch chef’s knife, a 5-inch serrated utility knife, a 4-inch paring knife, and a 2-1/2-inch peeling knife, as well as a sharpening steel and a pair of shears. All components fit within an 11-slot hardwood block, which offers four extra slots for future knife acquisitions.  She’ll love it. You’ll love it.  You’ll pass them on to your kids.
 
 
It brews the perfect cup of tea every time.  It is the most efficient, simple and clean way to steep tea. Simply add tea and water at the correct temperature, then put the tea maker on your favorite mug to drain.
 
Teavana Tea Steeper
 
 
WKRP in Cincinnati
 
Like most people with a sense of humour, Wendy is a huge WKRP in Cincinnati fan.  Join everyone’s favorite radio DJs—the rockin’ Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and the soulful Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid)—as they weave through the inner-office antics of the crazy WKRP staff; including the station’s program director Andy (Gary Sandy), indecisive manager Arthur (Gordon Jump), advertising executive Herb (Frank Bonner) and, of course, the station’s lovely receptionist, Jennifer (Loni Anderson). So sit back and enjoy the sound of uproarious laughter as you watch all episodes of this iconic series.
 
Of course the reason why it was so long of wait to be released was the hassle in obtaining the rights for the original music.  This set has 90% of the music in the set.  The missing music is the music industry being, well the music industry.
Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker
Forget the fast food drive-through. With the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker, you can enjoy a hot, homemade breakfast sandwich in under 5 minutes. Simply place the ingredients inside, build the base of your sandwich in the bottom layer, place the egg on the cooking plate and close the lid. Slide the cooking plate out and your sandwich assembles itself. Open the lid and your hot breakfast sandwich is ready to eat. The included recipe book provides a variety of breakfast sandwich options, from the traditional egg, ham and cheese to the unique cheddar, apple, bacon and egg croissant sandwich.
 
 
I have a Nike+ Fueband and when I use it, it works great.  It has been supplanted in both men and women’s minds by the FitBit Flex activity tracker.  It tracks steps, distance, and calories burned and shows you how you’re stacking up against your daily goals. At night, it tracks your sleep cycle, helps you learn how to sleep better, and wakes you silently in the morning. Access your stats anytime on your computer, tablet or from leading smartphones – both iPhone and Android.
 
In the age of tablets, Kindles often get relegated in our minds.  If you are buying for a serious reader, there really is only one option and that is a Kindle.  Wired gave it’s predecessor the Kindle Paperwhite a score of 9/10 which is the highest score they have ever given.  Then they come out this year and say the Kindle Voyage is even better.
 
Kindle Voyage
Here is what you want to know: Yes, the Kindle Voyage is better than the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s thinner, faster, brighter, lighter, newer, has a better screen, has more memory (4GB vs last year’s Paperwhite’s 2GB) commands more magical elf armies, owns a Ferrari, and is nicer to your grandmother.

iRobot Roomba 880 Vacuum Cleaning Robot For Pets and Allergies

iRobot Roomba vacuum

The iRobot Roomba 880 is the ultimate high performance robotic vacuum cleaner. Featuring the revolutionary new AeroForce Performance Cleaning System and AeroForce Extractors, it’s proven to remove up to 50% more dirt, dust, hair, debris and harmful allergens from all floor types and is virtually maintenance free.

Of course the best part of this gift is that it saves you and her time, time that you can spend together.

If you are looking for cooking, baking, or ideas for the foodie, check out Wendy’s Christmas & Holiday Gift Guide for the Cook which she posted over at The Cooking Blog.

The JordonCooper.com Christmas Gift Guides

So there you go.  I assume I have forgotten, many, many ideas so let me know what I have forgotten the comments below.  You can check out the other Christmas and holiday gift guides while you are at it.

The weekend that was

On Friday evening we headed to the cabin for what we expected was going to be a wet and miserable weekend.  It was but we had a good time.

Oliver was quite sick on Friday morning which meant that Wendy took the day off.  His daycare has a thing about vomitting kids…  They picked me up at work and we were off to the lake and got in there in decent time.

I am nursing an incredibly sore hip so I hobbled in and went to bed.  The boys took Maggi for a long walk and swim in the lake and I was awoken by a wet dog looking to warm up with someone.  Saturday I picked up Oliver’s flu and felt horrible.  Wendy delegated the job of packing Oliver’s stuff to Mark and he didn’t pack any socks and underwear for Oliver so off to Regina we went.  18km of really soft and sloppy roads were not a lot of fun to drive but we made it to the highway.

The rain kept falling the entire time we were in Regina and the road was a slippery and muddy mess by the time we got back to Cymric.  It was a long slow drive back to the cabin where I managed to lose control once.  Not only that but we realized it was going to rain all night and into Sunday. 

I woke up on Sunday morning to a gift of a photography book by Tom Ang, A Walkable City by Jeff Speck, a Black Rapid camera strap, and an podcast attachment for my iPhone.

Here is Speck speaking to TED.

So yeah the drive home was brutal.  The car was covered in mud and it was hard to keep it on the road.  For those who feel that Saskatchewan should be converting more highways into gravel, I respectfully disagree.  The sand base of that road makes more slippery then ice when wet.  So yeah, let’s pave the entire province. 

Happy Birthday Oliver

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to Oliver who turns six today.  Wendy has the highlights on her blog but it’s been an exciting day for him so far.

Christmas Eve

After a long day of work, we spent Christmas Eve at Lee and Brittany’s place in Warman.  They had come by the house earlier and picked up the boys and the presents so all we had to do was go home and then drive out to their place.  We had a nice non-traditional Christmas dinner (some of that tomorrow) and then opened up presents.  The key to Christmas Eve is to eat quickly and no small talk (Lee famously said to Mark one year, “Less talking, more chewing”) so we can get to the presents quicker.  The tradition of the last couple of years has been to even put off dessert post Christmas present opening.

Wendy

  • I gave Wendy a Fujifilm Finepix JX600 compact digital camera.  She has been looking for a new once since her Fujifilm Finepix J10 camera needed a desperate upgrade.  This one will let Wendy take better photos, HD video, and yet still be small enough to take with her wherever she goes.  It also features 3D shooting options which means I will be asking to play with it.  I also lucked out in that it has the same battery that I just got Wendy for her old camera for our anniversary.  A nice bonus for her.
Fujifilm Finepix JX600
  •  Times Ladies Ironman Triathalon WatchMark gave Wendy a ladies Timex Ironman Triathlon watch.  Wendy rarely remembers to put a watch on and is always taking it off.  The hope is that if we got her a watch she would love, she would actually wear it.  So far so good but it is early yet.
  • Oliver gave Wendy some earrings and a lightweight tripod so she can do some night photography.  Personally I think he just wants to stay up later and is using the tripod as an excuse to hang out with mom.  He also gave her a print of him and Mark out for a walk.
  • Santa Claus surprised her with an Olympus PEN ELP-2 interchangeable lens camera.  it was used but barely used.  Wendy has been looking at a Nikon J1, some Sony NEX series cameras and a Fuji X series camera but apparently Santa found her one with a 14-42mm lens.  I was a little nervous supporting a second lens family (yeah I know how funny that sounds) but there are some really affordable Micro Four Thirds lens that we can add that she will love.
  • The dogs partnered up with Santa and got her a 16gb memory card, a Crumpler One Million Dollar House camera bag, and a 37mm lens filter.  I think she liked the camera bag more than the cameras.  Story of my life.

Olympis PEN EPL-2

Mark

  • I gave Mark a Vivitar Action Camera.  He probably wanted a GoPro but I was on a budget and he is thrilled with it.  It comes with a headband, helmet mount, and bike mount.  Expect to see him doing things that will hurt himself soon on his YouTube account.  That’s quality parenting right there folks.
Vivitar Action Camera
  • Santa Claus stopped by and gave him a Sony Xperia J cellphone.   Mark has had two other smart phones, the Samsung Galaxy 550 and then last year we gave him a HTC Desire C and he has taken very good care of them.  He loves the Desire C but it is seriously underpowered and really slow running Android and would not run some apps he really likes.  The Xperia J should speed up his life a little bit. 
  • Wendy gave him some 100 watt 2.1 computer speakers while Oliver gave him some portable X-Mini speakers.
  • The dogs gave him a pen and notebook set.
  • Lee and Brittany gave him a set of Huskie Athletics sweats and hoodie.  He’ll never take them off.
  • Wendy and I gave him a Canon 28-135mm DSLR lens mug.  It’s the closest thing he is coming to a DLSR camera this Christmas.
  • Since he is doing some winter camping at school, we gave him a couple of pairs of wool socks.  He is going to need them.

Oliver

  • I gave Oliver a set of walkie talkies and some 4×30 compact binoculars.  He was thrilled because Mark has a pair of binoculars and I gave a pair to Lee as well.  As for the walkie talkies, what kid doesn’t love walkie talkies.  Oddly enough Wendy is thrilled with them because they do Morse code.  I hear beeping in my future.
  • Wendy gave Oliver, Little Big Planet 2 which has less puzzles to solve then the first one which means he won’t be bugging Mark about helping him solve them.  Of course we also got a great family game as we got him Little Big Planet Karting.  It should be fun.
  • Mark gave him Lego Batman 2 for his Nintendo DS.  Oliver loves Batman and insists that Mark is Robin.  Mark isn’t so crazy about that.  We also got Oliver a Batman bobble head.  Something to inspire him with.
  • Santa Claus dropped off a boom box for his room along with some CDs.  Apparently Santa knows that Oliver loves chilling to music with Mark.
Memorex CD Player
  • Hutch got him an art set
  • Maggi got him a compact camcorder.  It’s only standard definition but if it was good enough to shoot Knight Rider in, it will be fine for Oliver.  He loves to make adventure movies with Mark so I can’t wait to see what he shoots.  The camcorder was being blown out at $10 and I tossed a 2 GB SD card in it.  At only 640×480 resolution, he should be able to record himself doing a “slow punch to the face” for days.  I guess I need to get him set up on YouTube (where he could be Mark’s second camera operator).
A $10 Vibe Camcorder

Lee

  • I gave Lee a full sized set of binoculars that should last him for decades.  Very similar to the ones that I have and similar to the ones my grandfather gave me.  The only thing that makes me sad is that they don’t come with leather hard cases like they used to (long before I was born).
  • The boys gave him a framed print of themselves being idiots while out on a walk.  It seems to sum both of them up so well.
Mark and Oliver Cooper at Arlington Beach in 2013
  • We also got Lee, Bobby Orr’s autobiography.

Brittany

  • Wendy gave Brittany a small cast iron pan with ingredients to make up brownies
  • Since Wendy loved the griddle I got her last year, she gave one to Brittany as well.

Me

Pentax f1.7

Canon 17-135 lens travel mug

I also got a Lowepro Classified 160 AW camera bag

LowePro Classified 160 AW camera bag

Well that’s enough from me tonight.  We are sleeping in tomorrow (as if) and then heading over to our friend’s Jerry and Gloria Reimer where we are enjoying Christmas dinner.  Then it is back to work on Boxing Day for Wendy and I.

Column: Making Winters Work

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

A well-travelled friend once told me that Saskatoon and northern Saskatchewan were the greatest places on Earth to be in the summer and the world’s worst places to live in the winter.

How much I agree with him depends on the wind chill.

Winters here are long and dreary, and they last from October until May some years. Not only does the snow linger, for many of us, the winter mindset dominates our thinking on all sorts of policies and decisions even during the heat of summer.

We argue about new ideas for the city all of the time. “We can’t have bike lanes because it snows half the year.” “The winter is too long to waste money on a pedestrian bridge.” “Money on parks is wasted because they never get used in the winter.”

There is much we don’t do because of this white stuff – even when we are complaining about the heat in the summer.

Other cities aren’t held captive to winter in the same way.

Many Nordic cities with far worse winters than ours have excellent bike infrastructure and keep the trails cleared year-round.

Edmonton struck a committee last year to help manage winters better.

I am not sure if I agree with the approach that Winnipeg and Calgary have taken with elevated walkways, but I was able to walk all over Winnipeg in -40 C temperatures with only a light jacket.

A report prepared for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region mentioned that nine of the 10 happiest American states are ones that feature cold winters, and listed examples of cities that do winter really well.

In Germany, Austria, and France, people look forward to outdoor holiday markets where they can find a festive atmosphere along with holiday decorations, seasonal gifts, and warm food and drink.

New York City has imported the idea and has set up massive outdoor markets across Manhattan. Before you scoff at the idea, look at the large crowds that come out in any weather to Wintershines. People will come if you give them reason to do so.

December is easy, but we have to make February tolerable. Winnipeg is doing an excellent job. The city pays a lot more for winter snow and not only can you drive around, the sidewalks are cleared. Imagine being able to drive and get around on foot. It can happen.

Winnipeg has also installed heated bus shelters at a growing number of stops. Even in -40 C with a brutal wind, I was able to take off my tuque, gloves, and unzip my jacket while waiting for a bus.

The city has slowly added winter warming shacks as attractions along its rivers. It started as a local idea, and now gets international attention from architects and designers. Those shacks get you out of the wind and give you an excuse to brave the elements.

No matter the weather, thousands of people are having fun all winter long.

Adding a few warming huts each year would make a cold and windy Saskatoon riverfront a lot more tolerable. It would also help connect the different business districts which are spread out because of our river.

Holiday seasonal markets would also be perfect in the Saskatoon Farmers Market. Who knows? It could even one day expand into something other than a weekend destination.

The first step is not warming huts or outdoor markets, however – it is to convince council to get serious about residential snow removal. And our business improvement districts must get serious about keeping sidewalks clear.

Then it relies on everyone figuring out ways to make winters more enjoyable.

Maybe it’s a restaurant opening its deck on milder days, or community associations holding outdoor parties in the winter, like they do in the summer.

It requires the city looking at ways of making our parks winter-friendly, perhaps with more fire pits, or ensuring bike lanes are cleared all season long.

It’s bus shelters that actually do keep us warm. Once we figure out how to shed the shackles of a cold winter and enjoy it, we will find out that even our summer months can get better.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Father’s Day

Sadly I didn’t get one of these for Father’s Day.  I never quite get what I want :-)

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Wendy and the boys did get some nice stuff and my awesome wife blogs about the day here.  The day would have been perfect but the garbage hound I have for a dog got into a bag and spread it all over the house.  I had no idea Maggi had been bred with a racoon.

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.

0765159 1

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.

Happy Boxing Day

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.

Making a difference this Christmas

Every Christmas individual, organizations, and businesses ask shelters what they can do to help those that are homeless.  It’s part of the holiday season.  Long before people fought the crowds looking for Boxing Day sales, it used to be the day where people used to box up their food scraps and give them to the poor.  While food scraps aren’t needed these days, there are many in Saskatoon with real needs this Christmas.  Here are some ideas on how you can help.

In putting together a list of things that people want, you need to realize that many people have lost everything except for the clothes on their back when they end up in the shelters and often have been in this state for a long time.  On top of that, many shelters are busier over the holidays as people come inside over the holidays or find that they can’t bear to stay where they are over.  Toss in things like season affective disorder (the depression that many have over the holidays), separation from families and frustration over their state of housing, it’s a busy and difficult time for shelter providers and any help that people can provide is appreciated.  

For many being in a shelter allows them get a hot shower and cleaned up.  Because of the numbers of people needing the services, shelters tend to buy in bulk and in individual packages for ease of distribution.  Some simple luxuries like a bottle of body wash, shampoo, or conditioner have always been warmly appreciated as we have given them out.  People tend to feel better about themselves when they feel and smell clean. 

In shelters, the razors that are given out are of such low quality that I refuse to accept thanks when I give them out.  Single blade, double blade, it doesn’t matter as they are all horrible.  Most men and women have to get two of them just to shave.  There are good disposable razors on the market but what I suggest are the store brands sold by the department stores and pharmacies.  They are higher quality and the replacement blades a lot cheaper.   If you are inclined, toss in some shaving cream.  It builds self-esteem and is another thing that help them as they take the steps towards finding employment, an apartment or just reintegrating back into society.

When the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban bought the team, he went out and bought the best towels that money could buy as he felt that a nice towel was a wonderful luxury.  Visiting NBA players agreed as they took the towels from the Mavericks locker room and kept them despite their salaries.  For most of the men and women that I work with in the shelters, none of them have a towel which means that on top of it being a constant need, it gives them something that they will need both in the shelter and when they move out on their own.

Many of the men that are in shelters are trying to work to get back out on their own. Which in the winter means a lot of work outside.  While many don’t have a lot of job skills, they head down to an temporary labour place which means a lot of jobs which are out of the cold. Work brings in money but also allows a lot of them to prove themselves.  Things like winter gloves, toques, warm socks, insoles, hard warmers, or a fleece to layer are critical in working that first winter job and keeps them going until they get that first paycheck.  I am always surprised to look back and see for many men, their pathway to housing started with a donation of winter work gear at Christmas.

Along side of the winter work gear, I include an insulated travel mug and a thermos.  It’s hard to spend a day working in Saskatchewan winters and when men have been given these in the past, they talk about what a difference it makes on the job site. 

You also have the essentials which are often underwear and socks.  While Saskatoon is generous with it’s donations to shelters with clothes, few donate underwear and socks because we tend to wear them out and toss them out. For 90% of the people that come into the facility I work at, they need socks or underwear, especially in winter.

Being homeless is hard anytime of the year but even harder over the holidays.  In all of your giving this year, consider those that have nothing.  It could be the start of something big.  Just remember that before you go out and buy, call the shelter you want to give to, they will give you more refined list of ways you can help.

Christmas Gift Guide for the Outdoorsman | 2012 Edition

In case you are shopping for the great outdoorsman, here are a list of suggestions for those who often prefer to outdoors rather than inside. Check out the other Christmas gift ideas that have been posted this season. More coming soon.

FujiFilm XP50

Fujifilm FinePix XP50 $128 | The FinePix XP50 is outstandingly durable. 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.

Straight from Ned Flander’s Leftorium, the MEC Left Handed Slingpack $21 | Wendy has had a sling pack for years and just about jumped for joy when I told her that there was a left handed version available. She may have actually wept a tear or two. 

Pelican 1050 waterproof case $18.68 | These are great camera/GPS/iPod cases. They are water proof, padded, floatable, and strong enough to take a lot of abuse in the back of your trunk or any backpack. While you may not use it when you head to the park, you will use them when you are packing for a trip and don’t want your iPod, camera, or phone to be crushed. They are pretty much indestructible which means that of all of the things you have to worry about, this isn’t one of them.

Vibram FiveFingers Komodo Sport Shoes $70 – $130 | The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised. The Vibram Five Fingers shoes are designed to simulate walking barefoot while protecting your feet like shoes do. If you have any questions, check out the reviews on Amazon.

Leatherman Skeletool CX $80 |  Now you’re ready to lighten your load and boost your survival skills — with Leatherman’s Skeletool. At a mere 5 ounces the new, full-sized multitool keeps weight and volume to a minimum without sacrificing quality and true functionality, and that’s what the Skeletool is all about. Many multitools have multiple options, but they’re often heavier — and they’re loaded with more features than most people actually need on a regular basis. Conversely, pocket knives are light and streamlined, but they render themselves useless when the task calls for a more versatile tool. Enter the new Skeletool platform, offering minimal weight, compact size and endless capabilities. And with the Skeletool’s integrated, removable pocket clip, you can easily clip this tool onto a belt, a pack, or a vest — with no sheath or tote required.

Cammenga Lensatic Compass $88 | This is the Rolls Royce of compasses.  It has been used by U.S. troops, foreign militaries, law enforcement, and special forces for years. A total of seven Tritium light sources provide readability in total darkness for 10 years without external power or the need to “recharge” using a flashlight.

Garmin Edge 500 Cycling GPS

Garmin Edge 500 Cycling GPS $249 |  Sharpen your cycling performance with Edge 500, a lightweight GPS-based cycling computer for performance-driven cyclists. Loaded with data, Edge 500 tracks your distance, speed, location and elevation with high sensitivity GPS. Add an ANT+ compatible heart rate monitor, speed/cadence sensor or compatible power meter for a finely-tuned analysis of your ride.

Jetboil Flash Personal Cooking System $99 | The Jetboil Flash cooking system utilizes the same efficient design as the now classic Personal Cooking System (PCS) but adds the additional convenience feature of an external temperature indicator. Designed to capture and focus heat more efficiently than traditional cooking systems, the Flash brings two cups of water to a boil in only two minutes. The lining also houses a color change window that alerts you to when the contents are hot. A sip-through lid further helps insulate the contents of the cooking cup and prohibits spills. The protective plastic bottom of the cup can be removed for use as a small bowl or measuring device.   

If the Jetboil Personal Cooking System isn’t what you are looking for, check out the MSR Pocket Rocket stove $39 | The PocketRocket backpacking stove from MSR provides full cooking function in an incredibly efficient form. Barely noticeable in your pack, it delivers precision flame control from torch to simmer while the Wind Clip wind shield boosts efficiency in breezy conditions. The PocketRocket stove’s diminutive size is also the foundation of a solid emergency kit for home or trail.

Cabin: Two Brothers, Five Acres and a Dream in Maine by Lou Ureneck $17 |  Confronted with the disappointments and knockdowns that can come in middle age-job loss, the death of his mother, a health scare, a divorce, Lou Ureneck needed a project that would engage the better part of him and put him back in life’s good graces. City-bound for a decade, Lou decided he needed to build a simple post-and-beam cabin in the woods. He bought five acres in the hills of western Maine and asked his younger brother, Paul, to help him.

Double Nest Hammock $65 | The DoubleNest allows room for one, two, three, or however you decide to pack 400lbs. The DoubleNest seats more than one person comfortably and is essential for family adventures. The DoubleNest still packs down to the size of a grapefruit, so there is no excuse to be without your ENO hammock.

Outdoor Coffee Press $40 |  Now there is no reason to bring that horrible tasting Starbucks Via coffee with you when you go camping or hiking.  Instead bring some fresh ground coffee or loose leaf tea with you and make some excellent coffee when ever you want with this outdoor coffee press.  Of course you won’t bring a bean grinder with you on most trips but it gives you an idea of what it takes to make a good cup of coffee while on the road.  Of course you need something to drink it from.  You may want to check out some excellent stainless steel coffee mugs/beer mugs to drink from.

Zippo Hand Warmer $20 | The Zippo Hand Warmer is a rugged, metal hand warmer with a high-polish finish and a sleek, thin design so it easily fits into your pocket. The hand warmer is virtually odorless (great for hunters) and stays warm for up to 12 hours. Plus, it’s reusable with Zippo lighter fluid and includes a convenient filler cup and warming bag. Whether you’re skiing, tailgating at the game, hunting, sledding, or enjoying any other cold-weather activity, keep a Zippo Hand Warmer in your pocket and keep your fingers toasty warm.

Garmin GPS

Garmin eTrex 20 Worldwide Handheld GPS Navigator $168 | Garmin’s eTrex GPS series offers reliable satellite navigation, making it a favorite of hikers, hunters, and geocachers. The eTrex 20 is equipped with a high-sensitivity GPS receiver, a 2.2-inch color display, and ships with a worldwide basemap with relief. Add a wide array of detailed topographic, marine, and road maps, and start mapping out your next adventure.

Hennessy Hammock Expedition A-sym $143 | Next generation of Hennessy Hammock’s most popular model with all the key features including full velcro entrance seal, mesh pocket on ridgeline and webbing straps to protect the bark of trees.  The rain-fly is polyurethane coated polyester ripstop or silicone impregnated nylon and may be tilted to any angle, rolled up above, removed or used separately. The No-See-Um mesh and hammocks fabric will deflect wind to provide a calm space inside. Large area of No-See-Um netting to provide ventilation and keep insects outside the hammock. When properly sealed, the entrance design also makes sure no bugs get into your hammock.  All of this means that you can sleep almost anywhere.

The Black Diamond Orbit Lantern $25 | Designed for ounce-conscious backpackers and climbers, the Black Diamond Orbit lantern packs 45 lumens of bright, non-glaring light in an ultra-portable package. A DoublePower LED (1-watt) works with Black Diamond’s dual reflector system and frosted globe to illuminate everything from tent-bound reading to pre-dawn racking. A collapsible, double-hook hang loop attaches to tent ceilings and tree branches alike.  Mark and I both have one and they are simply amazing.  They are highly rated on REI, MEC, and Amazon.com and are loved by all that use them.  Whether you are a camper, hiker, or even a family who needs a safety light in the car, these are a must have.

Filzer UFO Light $8 | Alert vehicles and help keep track of your dog at night. The UFO light is designed specifically for runners, hikers and dogs. The light easily attaches to 1″ webbing, dog collars, clothing, etc… with a small carabineer. Five red LEDs put out highly visible red light in three modes – steady, flash and rotate. Its waterproof design makes it ideal for any weather.

Christmas Gift Guides and Ideas

If 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.

Christmas Gift Guide for the Cook (and Foodie) in Your Life

Wendy put together a Christmas gift guide for the cook (or foodie) in your life at The Cooking Blog.  If you are shopping for someone that loves to cook or bake, make sure you check it out.  All of the holiday season’s Christmas gift guides are being posted here so if you are shopping online or are just looking for some gift ideas, the site can help.