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holidays

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.

Thanksgiving weekend

Wendy writes about our Thanksgiving weekend over on her blog.

David Pogue’s Tech Gift Guide for the Holidays

Thanksgiving

Wendy posted a fair bit about our Thanksgiving weekend on her blog.  No need to add more here.

March 11

As is the tradition around here, I generally liveblog the day to save it for posterity.  (2009| 2008 | 2007| 2006 | 2005 | 2003).  I didn’t feel like doing that today so instead I am going to play around with my Kodak Zi8 camera and shoot some video of my day.  I have a video project at the Centre and I need to figure out some lighting issues anyways so why not kill two birds with one stone.

Before I was really awake today, Wendy, Mark, and Oliver woke me up and gave me a couple of birthday gifts.

Thanks everyone.  The IMAX DVD collection has Fires of Kuwait which was narrated by Rip Torn.  I realized this morning that I had vowed to name one of my kids Rip Torn and now that chance is gone.  Well I don’t know if the chance is gone but I asked Wendy if we could have another kid for the sole reason of naming it Rip Torn and it wasn’t a warm look I got back.

9:04 a.m.

1:20 p.m.

Wendy came by later and gave me The Gamble by Thomas Ricks.  I read his book Fiasco and found it to be one of the best books I had read in years.  It will be interesting to see if The Gamble is as good as it’s predecessor.  She also gave me two Moleskine notebooks, one large and one small.

Around coffee time my colleague Micheala was holding Oliver.  Now for those of you who remember, Wendy and I have babysat Micheala’s daughter and her and Mark get along like brother and sister.  Micheala has also managed to spend a couple of Christmas’s with us.  She is also Mark’s arch nemesis at Guitar Hero.  Oliver’s loyalties obviously lie with Mark as he head butted Micheala pretty hard as the video shows.

Good job Ollie.

After work we joined some friends at the Konga Cafe.   While others had some curried goat, I had the excellent spicy peanut shrimp.  If you have never eaten at the Konga Cafe, it is amazing.  It was spectacular up until Wendy had them sing me happy birthday.  I don’t blush often but I did tonight.

We retired to home and fired up the DVD player and watched Mark Twain’s America.  First of all, Mark mispronounced Twain as Twan so we have been calling him Mark Twan all night to his chagrin, secondly, that is one horrible IMAX movie we just watched.  I am glad that wasn’t the only one that came in the box set.

Vacation 2010

Wendy and I have been talking about vacation plans in 2010.  We are starting now because 2009 was a vacation debacle.  Three of the four extended times away I had to come into work.  It wasn’t so much works fault but staff were sick or injured and we didn’t have enough staff at the time to make things work.

This year I have some structural changes that I am initiating that should make our structure look less like a deck of cards and I can get away without being under stress or putting people under stress (or at least compensating them to be under stress).

The only firm dates we have booked at for the 50th Anniversary of Arlington Beach (and the 100th Anniversary of the Arlington Beach House) which should be interesting.  I’ll be honest, the best part about Arlington Beach is the amazing quiet.  I am told that we are in the quietest part of Arlington Beach but it doesn’t get much louder wherever you are.  It should be a little noiser that week in July but on the flipside, we get to see a lot of friends.

The other place I really want to go is to Johnston Canyon with Wendy and the boys this summer.  We have been talking about this for a while and we are thinking of stopping in Drumheller so Mark can check out the Royal Tyrrell Museum and I want to check out an abandoned coal mine outside of Drumheller.

Then the idea is to push through Calgary, see some friends and then head to Banff for a day of hiking and exploring before tackling Johnston Canyon the next day.  I am tempted to tempt fate and try doing this in September when the weather is still nice (hopefully) and the crowds are a lot less.

Mark has never seen the mountains before so this would be a great time to teach him that hills are not mountains and he should never call Mount Blackstrap, “Mount Blackstrap” and keep a straight face while doing it.

I am trying to convince Wendy that we need to go Victoria this spring but we’ll see how that goes.