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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.

Christmas Gift Guide: Gift Ideas for the Outdoorsman | 2009 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 Christmas gift ideas category if you are looking for other Christmas Gift Guides.

Straight from the Leftorium, the MEC Left Handed SlingpackWendy has had a slingpack 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 of joy.

Topeak Alien III Mini Folding Bicycle Tool :: 25 function folding tool with bag will keep you biking all day long, even if your body won’t want you to.

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.  They are pretty much indestructible which means that of all of the things you have to worry about, this isn’t one of them.

While this cycling computer/GPS by Garmin may be out of your price range, the Cateye Wireless Bicycle Computer displays speed, max speed, average speed, trip distance, 2nd trip distance, total distance, elapsed time, and a clock for a very affordable price with a big screen for easy viewing.

Leatherman Wave Multitool with Leather Sheath :: The most popular full-size Leatherman tool has been upgraded with larger knives, stronger pliers, longer wire cutters and all-locking blades. The pliers have been redesigned to withstand more than double the previous squeezing load.  For about $20, you can get a Leatherman Kick.

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.  In case you have never made coffee with a coffee press, check out the definitive guide to making good coffee by Derek Powazek.  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.

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.

Coleman Aluminum Cookset :: It’s a four piece cookset for under $9 on Amazon.com.  They weigh almost nothing and have some good reviews.  While they won’t replace your cookware at home.  Coleman has a non-stick set as well.  If you want something stainless steel, Texsport makes a set for under $14.

I already mentioned this Pathfinder watch from Casio.  Is there anything this watch can’t do?  It includes a digital compass, altimeter, barometer and thermometer.  It’s altitude measurement up to 10,000 meters in the air and 100 meters under water.  Another great watch by Casio is quite a bit less expensive is the Casio Men’s Digital Compass Twin Sensor Sport Watch which goes for $50 and has a compass and thermometer.    I am still a fan of Timex Atlantis 100 watches which you can give with the stainless steel or the more traditional polyurethane strap.   For those of you who are Timex Ironman fans, don’t overlook their latest reincarnation.

All three seasons of Survivorman on DVD.  You can order them from the Les Stroud Productions storeSeason 1 | Season 2 | Season 3.  We have all three DVDs and they are a lot of fun to watch.  You can also order them from Amazon as well.  Season 1 | Season 2 | Season 3.  In case you just want to see how Les Stroud survives in the American wilderness, you can order this DVD as well.

Not only is Mark a big fan of the show but Wendy has become quite a fan as well which around here is the entire television viewing family.

In case you want to take some photos while you are out in the wild, you will want a Camera Pod.  I recently ordered one and have come to love it.  Despite being made in Canada, Amazon.com won’t ship them here and so you can order them from Les Stroud Productions or get them from The Pod.ca.  If you are in the United States, you can get them from Amazon.com.  You may also be interested in this Pedco Lightweight Camera Tripod.

While we are talking about Les Stroud and Survivorman, you may want to consider his book, Survive!. While it isn’t on Amazon.com, there is another edition with full color photographs and the ultimate edition comes with a DVD as well but the paperback can be picked up at Amazon.com.

Bushnell BackTrack GPS :: The Bushnell Backtrack- Never Get Lost Again with the easiest to use personal location finder for around $50. Just mark the location and BackTrack will help you get back. Use it at the mall and stadium parking lots, at the festival, the park, for travel or your next outdoor adventure.  Wired has a quick real world review and it looks like Cabela’s is one of the few places you can get it in Canada.

The Jetboil Personal Cooking System :: Everything you need is stacked and stored inside the 1.0 liter cooking cup. The system lights with the click of a button and within two minutes provides two cups of boiling water for cocoa, coffee, instant soup or a gourmet freeze-dried meal. The newly designed burner secures the igniter, protecting it from bumps along the road. Flash is designed to be one of the safest cooking solutions out there. The cooking cup clips onto the burner, preventing accidental spills, and the fuel canister tripod ensures overall stability. The insulating cozy has a color-changing heat indicator that signals when contents are hot.

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.

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

Christmas Gift Guide: My Wishlist (Christmas ideas for a father of two great kids) | 2009 Edition

Update: 2010 Christmas Gift Ideas for All of the Men in Your Life by Wendy is now online.

I do most of the Christmas shopping in our house which leaves Wendy to get my gift.  I generally update my Amazon.com wishlist and use their universal wish list button to create on central wish list for her and Mark.  Our goal is to be done Christmas shopping by December 1st every year and we finished everything up last week so we are good.  Since I started posting the Christmas Gift Guides, people have asked me how many things I was asking for Christmas and the answer is I don’t want that many things but here is a short list of things I asked Wendy, Mark, Oliver and Maggi to get me for Christmas.  Since they are done their shopping by now, I feel fine in posting this.

In case none of these gifts strike a chord with you, check out my Christmas Gift Guide for the Emotionally Distant Father.

A new Swiss Army knife :: I bought one for my groomsmen and myself from MEC 12 years ago and it is showing it’s age and needs to be replaced.  This year might be a good year to do it.  While I really like my multi-tool, a lot of days, I just want a pocket knife in my front pocket.  I still have the worn out pocket knife that my grandfather had and a pocket knife in my pocket not only is handy but reminds me of him.

I couldn’t help but notice this Pathfinder watch from Casio.  Is there anything this watch can’t do?  It includes a digital compass, altimeter, barometer and thermometer.  It’s altitude measurement up to 10,000 meters in the air and 100 meters under water.   For a lot less money, this version from Casio has a thermometer and digital compass in it.

I am still a fan of Timex Atlantis 100 watches which you can give with the stainless steel or the more traditional polyurethane strap.  Timex also has put out these really nice looking NHL team watches.  Not that I am biased but I think this one looks the best.

This is more for the cabin but I thought these dynamite fire starting sticks from Cabelas were a lot of fun. Though the contents of this sturdy wood crate will not move mountains, they will start your fireplace. One look at the realistic “dynamite” crate will have family and friends looking twice. Each cedar wood crate contains 20 fire-starter sticks. They are made of paraffin and sawdust for a long, hot burn. Each stick will burn approximately 30 minutes setting ablaze even the most stubborn wood.   Plus, Cabelas sent me a $20 gift certificate a months ago because I responded to a question on Twitter for them and I need to spend it on something.

Snowshoes and Solitude :: We are a big fan of the show Survivorman around the house but one of the questions I always have is how we he do if his isolation lasted longer than 7 days.  According to some friends who have seen the DVD, Snowshoes and Solitude goes a long way in answering that question and I am told it is worth watching and owning.

Survive! by Les Stroud :: This is a huge best seller in Canada and is by the creator of Survivorman.  It’s a gift not only for me but will be fun for years to come as I hike with Oliver and Mark.

The Pod :: I have a camera and about four tripods.  This is a great addition to the list because it is what happens when you combine a camera mount with a bean bag and it’s a lot easier to pack along on hikes.

Saskatchewan Roughriders: Welcome Sign :: If I get this, I plan to hang it in the cabin but it would also look good at home.  I also am hoping for a Saskatchewan Roughriders water bottle and a Saskatchewan Roughriders magnet.  The water bottle is for our house.  The magnet is for the Reimer’s front door which they painted Rider Green while at the same time still being Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans.

Harmonica :: While I still can play the alto saxophone (or as I and Homer Simpson prefer to call it, the Saxomaphone, I really don’t have the desire to get the rust off and I never learned to play by ear.  The other night I suggested to Wendy, “I want to play the harmonica.” which threw her for a loop.  After waiting for the punch line, she asked me why I would want to.  At least it’s not the bagpipes.

The SAS Survival Handbook :: Mark and I are planning to do some hiking this summer and I think it would be fun to teach him some of the stuff found in this book and Les Stroud’s book Survive!.  Mark loves watching Survivorman and I think we will have a blast learning this stuff together.  Plus, Mark has already said he was going to eat a grasshopper kabob after watching this episode of Survivorman and wants to learn how to make a fire to cook them on.

NCAA 2010 for the PSP :: While I love the NFL, there is something about college offences and the ability to run a triple option attack is fun.  Plus, I now know that Notre Dame can’t stop it.  That being said, Madden 10 would be pretty cool and I can see if I can do more with JaMarcus Russell than Tom Cable can.

LittleBigPlanet for PSP :: I was over at my brother Lee’s place and he has it for the PS3.  Mark was enthralled, Wendy had fun and even Lee was enjoying it.  It looks fun, Mark will borrow the game, and I can see Wendy killing some time with it.  Good enough for me.

I couldn’t help but notice these great customizable Denver Broncos shirts from NFL Shop.com.

I am not a big Bocce ball kind of guy but I know we would have a lot of fun playing this as a family at the cabin.  It may in the end be a better Father’s Day kind of gift because of the weather in Saskatchewan, if you live in a warmer climate, it may be a fun gift for your father.

There you go, it’s not a big list but it doesn’t really matter what I get for Christmas but I thought I would post it to give some ideas in case you know of someone who is as insane as I am.

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

Done

Well Mark brought home his report card and when I joked that he was going to be in grade three again, he wept (and I felt horrible).  So I quickly assured him not only did he pass but he did well.  The truth is that despite having a horrible year at school, his marks were really quite good and I am extremely proud of him.  On top of doing well in school this year, he got his yellow belt in karate last week.  He spent weeks working on his technique and form and I was glad for him that he got it before the summer.  I don’t know if I feel any safer as the father of a yellow belt but the coffee table trembles when he walks by.

The bad part of the day was in talking to the parents of one of Mark’s friends.  They are moving him to Caswell School next year after he was badly beaten (it seemed to fall into the category of an asault) by yet another violent kid that was in Mark’s class.  His dad saw the attack but was too far away to stop it.  Their other children have experienced it as well this year.  I don’t blame them for doing it.  We spent most of the year walking Mark to and from school but then again, so did they and it still happened.

For Mark, he finished the day with his karate summer barbecue.  Everyone chows down quickly on some hot dogs and then they pull out Super Soakers and shoot each other until ocean levels have gone down significantly.  Lee left his ice core Super Soaker at the house when he moved out and so Mark froze it and took it over as a backup weapon.  I could hear them yelling and laughing from a block away tonight.  When he walked in he said, “I need dry gitch” which just about sums up his evening.

His summer is being spent with us at the lake and he is going to Beaver Creek Camp.  Their four day camp is about perfect for heading to camp for the first time, some of his friends are going, and it’s pretty close to the city if it doesn’t work out.  On top of that, I have gotten to know and appreciate the camp directors through work and they will take good care of him.

I have vacation booked for the last week of July which I think is my first full week off work since I went to the Bahamas in 2007.  My boss looked dazed and confused as she signed my vacation request.  We are heading to the lake and then to Mosaic Stadium to watch the Saskatchewan Roughriders beat the Edmonton Eskimos.  In light traffic we are only an hour away from Mosaic Stadium.

I am going to take a week off in August as well.  I imagine that will be spent out at the lake as well.  Wendy will be working so part of the plan is for me to take Mark and Oliver out to the lake and let her chill out while not working.  Between the three of us, we should manage okay without her but you never know.

Whatever happens, I hope it is a good summer for the family.  It’s been a while since we all unwound together.

Easter Weekend

Around here it is a four day long weekend which is nice.  Mark is off school for a week and I have had two additional shifts this week already so I am looking forward to some time off.

As is tradition about the house, we are taking in the Draggins Rod and Custom Car Show at Prairieland Park (previous year’s photos: 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005) and then heading up to the cabin to do some painting and tearing out three interior walls and to hang some blinds.   The weather up at the lake is supposed to be nice and with the new heater, we should be okay over the night.  The new wall-less cabin will be a lot more open and bright.  The old walls weren’t even close to being a sound barrier so it won’t make any difference for Mark and Oliver sleeping.  Mark likes the idea of it being more open and in a couple of years we will have a loft built into the cabin and Mark can sleep upstairs.

We’ll be back for Easter Sunday in the city and then I hope to come in on holiday Monday to work through some paperwork and enjoy some uninterrupted time at my desk while the rest of the Centre is closed.

I hope you have a great holiday weekend.

Mailbag

I haven’t done a mailbag post in a long time but there was over 50 e-mails from people about Mark being bullied and just over 93% and all of the comments were supportive of Mark and how Wendy and I handled it.

Most of you sent in your own stories of being bullied or stories of others being bullied and how horrible it was.  Some of you told me to pass on your stories to Mark if we wanted to and we forwarded them along to Mark’s e-mail account.

A bunch of you wanted to know how Mark being in karate influenced his decision and if it has been a good experience for him. Unlike the evil dojo in Karate Kid or the guy in Napolean Dynamite, Mark’s karate instructor does a good job of always emphasizing to the kids the importance of walking (or running) away from violence.  They are to defend themselves only as a last resort and even then it is to defend themselves so they can get away.

Mark takes that pretty seriously.  Instead of making violence worse, my gut feeling is that the more kids that take part in something like this, the less bullying there would be.  Of course the bigger issue is what is going on at home.
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There has been some feedback on what is happening with the contextless links.  There has been some plugins to make del.icio.us look prettier and I will use them as soon as I find some time.  I realized that they are being double posted in my RSS feed (thanks for letting me know) and that is stopping as well.   A better reading experience is coming soon.

Of course my other option is to keep all of the links in the sidebar and keep the main column just for new content.  In other words look for some different versions of content coming your way soon.
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I was asked how Wendy and I came to the $100 budget that we set for ourselves each Christmas.  It’s easy, we chose a number and we stick to it.  We buy for Mark, Oliver, Lee, and as you can see by the photos, for the Reimers and our friend Kristi.  We also give out some other gifts or cards to friends but that isn’t a significant outlay in cash.

The $100 for Wendy this year is broken down into $40 for a gift from me, $20 each from Mark and Oliver, and $20 from the dog.  (gift giving from the dog is a family tradition)  We can go over the $100 but not unless we both agree on it and there is cash to spend.  Our budget for Lee is similar although he tends to give big gifts back to us.

The rule of thumb in the house is that all Christmas shopping has to be done by November 30th for everyone else other than Wendy and I.   It stops the impulse buying.  Last night we ran into Wal-Mart looking for some gloves (I hate losing gloves when it is -30 out) and I saw a dozen things that Mark would have liked.  I love giving gifts but there is a time when you have to say no and for us, it is November 30th.
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A lot of IM’s about what we do at the Centre for Christmas.  First of all it is busy on Christmas as we find that guys who are couch surfing are often kicked out at the holidays.  Christmas shopping is done in the fall and we use a company called Bargain’s Group and we buy bulk from them.  They work with a lot of Salvation Army shelters and other agencies similar to us so their sales people are quite helpful.  Basically the process is that I start looking online for gifts, I show them around to the staff and get input and we do that until most of us go, “Cool!” and then we order that one.  Bargain’s Group staff calls me back and gives me some ideas of stuff that they know are coming in that are similar.  It takes a bit of time but I have to admit, it is a nice part of the job.

On Christmas Eve we have an early supper and some platters are brought in for the guys later that night.  On Christmas morning there is just food being prepared all day.  There is good coffee made fresh in the kitchen and lounges and we will have a variety of other drinks and sodas available.   We have two television sets going.  One will have Christmas movies and family comedies while the other television will have some actions movies.  Right now we are thinking of showing the Bourne Trilogy and the Die Hard series but that will have to be decided.  We also have had a broken bubble top hockey game donated which we fixed (thanks Costco!) and someone dropped off a broken fooseball table which is being fixed as well.  I am also ordering a soft tipped dart board for the dining room.  If we can figure out some prizes, we will have an inaugural Christmas Day dark tournament.

Around 10:00 a.m. the guys get their gifts.  From then on they can sleep, watch television or eat so much we have to roll them out of the dining hall.

The season we call Christmas

I have been in Christmas mode for a while.  At work we tend to start it on the day that the Christmas Kettles go out as we start accepting Christmas Hamper applications around the same day.  Wendy was in decorating the Residential Unit at the Centre (we decorate a couple of days later than everyone else because I think the second week in November is too early).  Once the Christmas season starts, it is full speed ahead until the 25th.

Today I got a Christmas wish answered in that a youth I have been working really closely with and his mom found an apartment and are moving in.  A considerable amount of time and resources have been spent keeping them from having to live on the streets and finding safe, affordable, and stable housing.  I have tracked down some nice furniture, household goods, and food for them.  Now all I have to do is move them over there which isn’t going to be a problem.  It takes a lot of emotional stress off of me.  I told Wendy that I wasn’t going to allow them to be in a shelter or on the street for Christmas and we had even talked of letting them stay at our place but in the end it worked out better for them and through the decency of a landlord, they found a good place to stay.

Tonight we feed 1000 people in one massive sitting as our annual Christmas dinner for the community.  We went through 1000 free tickets in no time this year and it will be interesting to see how many people are there.  I am taking some photos and providing security if anyone is too heavily intoxicated.  After that I am breaking out of there to pick up Christmas kettles with Mark.

Tomorrow is the annual Santa Shuffle.  I am coming in early to help with that and will be taking some photos and video as well.  I was asked by one Salvation Army officer if I was running in it and I joked, “Major Len, does it look like I run in a lot of Santa Shuffles?!” 

After I shuffle around the Centre in the morning, I am going to head over to the Reimer’s for our Christmas meal together.  Mark’s first words were said while over at the Reimer’s at Christmas.  He didn’t say “Mom” or “Dad” but rather his first word was “Tamara” yelled through a roll of wrapping paper.  I doubt Ollie will be saying much but you never know what will happen once the rolls of wrapping paper come out.

Sunday night, Wendy and I are taking over coffee house at the Centre.  We are bringing in a decent CD player and belting out the Christmas music.  Some Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra.  No Bony M but there is always next year.

Next Friday night is going to be the staff Christmas party.  We are going bowling this year and somehow I was talked into not only bowling ten pin (which I have never done) but also joining a bowling team with some co-workers in the New Year.  I am not sure how either one of those things happened but they did.  Mark is really looking forward to it.  As he said, “it’s almost as good as Christmas Day!”

Next Saturday is Wendy’s birthday.  I think we are planning to stay in and just enjoy the quiet evening.

On the 17th of December is a major funding announcement for the money we are getting for the Homelessness Partnering Strategy to purchase a women and family shelter in the city.  This date is just penciled in as it has changed 10 times already.  Apparently the Government of Canada has some sort of parliamentary crisis going on.

On the 22nd is Christmas hamper handout day which means that a couple thousand Christmas hampers get handed out to the people of Saskatoon.  This is an really nice day.  Last year I was asked to drive people home as it is too much food to take home on the bus or by walking.  It was insanely cold but people were crying as I was bringing in the boxes to their homes.  I heard some heartbreaking stories and heartwarming thanks that day.  Wendy is coming down this year to volunteer and so do a bunch of staff which makes it a fun day as well.

By that time one would think it was over but after the 22nd, about 100 people call in because they didn’t realize that Christmas was the 25th (that is what they say to us) and need hampers.  We plan for that and give them out.  For the 23rd and part of the 24th, I carry a lot of turkeys and hams to the front of the building.

The morning of the 24th, I am planning our coffee time.  I would normally get Starbucks coffee for this type of situation but everyone at work prefers (no demands) that we get Tim Horton’s coffee.  Even I am starting to prefer Tim Horton’s some days.  The plan is that we will all just relax and unwind and already we are looking forward to it.

The night of the 24th, Lee is coming over and we are having our Christmas that night.  It will be the first time we have ever had Christmas on the 24th.  The Cooper side of the family has historically done it that way but we always waited until Christmas morning.  The reason we are opening is that I am working from 8-4 on the 25th at the Centre. 

I generally only work the desk is someone is sick but the regular day person wanted the day off and so I agreed to work it.  There is non-stop food, movies, and some nice presents for the guys.  Mark is looking forward to working as well and since we are not open to the public, I agreed he could come in for a while.  Since I am only working until 4:00 p.m., we are having some friends over and chilling out that evening.  The next week is what I am looking forward to.  I am on vacation until the new year and you can’t believe how nice that sounds.

I hope your Christmas season is a good one as well.

Turkey, turkey, and more turkey

It’s Thanksgiving around here and to celebrate it we had planned to spend it at the lake.  That didn’t work out so well as Lee got sick and needed a day to sleep it off and so we planned to go south today to the lake but then we heard of a massive snowfall warning.  So we ditched Lee and we went to the cabin yesterday and spent a couple hours there and closed it up.  Wendy blogged about the trip here and the highlight of the day was making some plans for next year with her.  (Wendy also posted some of the cabins we used for inspiration for the deck)  We may head up again in about 10 days when I have some vacation days but if it doesn’t happen, we don’t need to return to close up the cabin this winter.

Today Lee is feeling better and is coming over as we eat turkey together and give thanks that we are not snowed in at the lake.  When the eating is done, we can warm up the guitar and the PlayStation and see who is the Guitar Hero in the house.  Tomorrow I will do some more serious writing and posting here.

The Long Weekend

After working this last long weekend and then seeing too many doctors, we got away to the cabin for a couple of days of nothingness on Monday afternoon.  Wendy packed the car while I got a couple of hours of sleep.  We got away a little later than normal and I had thought that we were coming back Thursday (more about that later). 

Our gazebo at the lake We arrived at the lake and unpacked some stuff.  While Wendy was arranging things and taking care of Oliver, Mark and I went outside and put up our new gazebo.  I hadn’t thought we needed a gazebo but we got one at the Centre to provide some shelter out back.  The one we got was a heavy duty one and quite nice.  By the time I realized we could set one up at the lake, Superstore was out of them.  We later saw some temporary ones at Jysk but decided that $119 was too much to pay for something that was wobbly even in the store.  After talking about it, we just decided to wait until next spring and get one as it wasn’t that high of a priority.  While getting something from Wal-Mart the other day, they were blowing out the same kind of gazebo for $40.  After thinking about it, we decided to try it out and if it only last the summer, we would only be out $40.  After seeing it had some guy wires, we also decided to pick up some heavy duty plastic tent pegs so the total cost was about $45.  It does give  Wendy and I some shade to have a coffee in the morning and relax a bit at night.  It also gives us about 90 more square feet to live in.

Mark and I had it up in about 10 minutes.  Wendy joined us for some of it but I think one person could get it together pretty easily.  It said in large letters that it needed to be taken down in extreme weather conditions but what is extreme weather?  A good gust of wind or a typhoon?  I am still not sure what the answer is but the next day when a blustery thunderstorm blew and rained quite a bit on it, it held fine although I think part of it was because those tent pegs were not going anywhere.

That night I finished James Howard Kunstler’s novel, World Made By Hand.  I don’t know if I would recommend it or not.  It was supposed to incorporate the ideas from The Long Emergency and depict a life after the oil had run out.  It kind of does that but it also shows life after nuclear bombs have been detonated in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. (after a war in Israel) and a couple of coup’s have happened in the U.S.  In the end it is a kind of post apocalyptic novel that describes small town life after a nuclear war, after a series of epidemics, and the oil having run out.  While the book was interesting, it reminded me a lot of Pierre Burton’s book, The Great Depression which may be a more accurate look at what life would look like in a devastated economy.  While I agree with Kunstler that our belief in technology may be naive, I think he underestimates regional ingenuity to deal with some of the problems that we are facing.   You can find more about the book on it’s website or check out the trailer for the book here.

The next morning the Pederson’s all came out for a day of exploring, eating, swimming, and chilling out at the lake. 

Wendy, Oliver and Krista

The boys at the water slide

The boys at the water slide

Of course Mark also showed of his incredible fashion sense while at the beach.

Mark Cooper looking like he is ready for the GQ

Of course even after I showed him this photo, he still thought he looked pretty cool.

That night we managed to use our washer drum barrel fire pit.  After burning some holes in our lawn, I realized that if I put it on a cinder block, the grass does better and Smokey the Bear can calm down and get off his stress medication.

The back of the cabin

While we were up there, we installed a replacement to the antique cabinet that was hanging on the wall in the kitchen. 

Our kitchen shelving

Our kitchen shelving

The shelves weren’t that hard to install but I did have to do a bit of painting to replace the brown void where the cabinet used to be.  With the shelves and the storage containers under the table, Wendy feels as if she has enough space now to work and maneuver.  I needed to pick up some more screws but the next time we go up I plan to add a couple of book shelves but the interior is coming along.  The big thing now is to keep painting an interior wall or two every time we go up.

Mark cooking dinnerBefore we left, I made Mark help me barbecue some hamburgers.  This was kind of life changing for him as last week he wanted to be some sort of eXtreme sports star, now he wants to be a chef.  Tonight he offered up all sorts of commentary on Wendy’s cooking while trying to figure out how to make salad like his mom.

We got back in the city on Wednesday night.  I had thought we were staying until Thursday but Wendy only packed enough stuff for two nights.  The end result was we came home and got up this morning ready to go to the Saskatoon Exhibition.  I generally end up enjoying the Ex when we go but in July when I think of the carney’s, the crowds, pickpockets, and the heat, I think that there is a better way to spend a day.  It is a big deal to Mark so I promise Mark that we can go every year and we have a good time.  This year was no exception.

This was the first year Mark was tall enough to ride on the adult rides.  He was DEVASTATED last year when he wasn’t tall enough to go on the bumper cars and had to suffer the indignity of riding with his mom.  Him and I scouted out the rides and all he wanted to go on was the bumper cars.  After I assured him that no matter what happened, I would get him more tickets to go on the bumper cars, he went on the Tilt-a-Whirl with Wendy. 

Mark and Wendy on the Tilt-a-Whirl

Mark and Wendy

Then it was off to the bumper cars because the rides either scared him a bit or he heard stories of kids tossing their cookies on them and he didn’t want to risk not going on the bumper cars.

Mark driving a bumper car 

After a couple of times of him trying out the bumper cars, I realized that he will never ever drive a vehicle I own.  He gets too much joy out of hitting other drivers.  We then made our way to the food area where all sorts of really unhealthy and tasty things were being offered up.

The Ex was a lot of fun but the acclaimed Canadian Pavilion was a little odd.  RCMP and military recruiting plus a big display on how the borders are being patrolled.  I couldn’t figure out if this was Canada or a police state.  What happened to celebrating multiculturalism, diversity, and making fun of ourselves?   We did get a big map of Canada and a 1-800-O-Canada ruler out of it though.

The Long Weekend

We are enjoying the long weekend around the Cooper household by doing a bunch of yard work.  We still have an abandoned lot behind us which means that I have a yard full of dandelions.   While I do my best to stay eco friendly, I went out yesterday and bought a bunch of weed and feed and put herbicide all over my lawn without much remorse.  Last year I spent over $200 fighting weeds and I felt like I made no progress.

Wendy and I did find some time to sit in the shade on our Adirondack chairs yesterday and listen to the silence that long weekends bring to our neighborhood.  I know many neighborhoods are quiet on long weekends but in Mayfair, the silence lasts forever.  Even our new neighbors have mentioned it.  I am not sure why but I assume it has to do with it being a working class blue collar neighborhood and people escape the city on holiday weekends.

Today we are taking Mark out for his birthday supper at Fudduckers.  He has been begging for Surf’s Up on DVD for months and we picked that up to watch as a family tonight.  Tomorrow his eight birthday is happening and we are taking him go-carting at Karttrak Go-Karts.  We were watching NASCAR last night and as someone went into the wall he said casually, “That’s going to be you on Monday”.

Christmas 2007

So Christmas 2007 has come and gone. It was an odd one for me. I enjoyed it and Wendy blogged about it here (and she blogged about Boxing Day here). This is Mark’s seventh Christmas and he was the same age I was when my dad walked out a couple weeks after Christmas. I remember a lot about that Christmas, including what an ass he was that holiday and thinking how much better life would be without him. Those thoughts came to haunt me within a couple of weeks and he was gone and life was changed. I may not be the perfect dad but I made it this far. It’s an odd milestone to celebrate but it feels pretty good. As a friend of mine said, “You have to experienced it to really understand what this feels like.” I think the rest of you will think I am going crazy but that is okay too.

51ps69qlbHL._AA280_ Christmas was a simple affair as it often is around here. I woke up early, went down to the Centre with Maggi to haul some televisions out for the guys and wish a Merry Christmas to the staff that was working. I was home by around 8:15 a.m. and everyone was just getting out of bed to open gifts. The big gift of the day was for Mark. A couple of months ago Lee said he wanted to get Mark a Nintendo Wii for Christmas. We phoned and phoned and no one had one (well done Nintendo. I wonder how many PS3’s were sold by people who could not get a Wii?). Somewhere along the way, Mark started to say that he wanted a Sony Playstation 2 like his Uncle Lee. We realized a) you could find them b) it was cheaper c) there were a lot of games to play for it. So Lee got him a PS2 and Wendy and I bought him the Guitar Hero I & II combo and the guitar controller. One thing we learned while opening the gifts is that Sony’s marketing hasn’t gotten to Mark. As he was opening the gift he said, “I see a P and part of a S. I wonder what this is?”

We played The Simpsons game for a bit before we took out the guitar and then the competition started. For the last two days Guitar Hero has been played by at least one of us and a lot of smack has been talked around here. I hate to admit it but both Wendy and Lee are better than I am and Lee is the reigning Guitar Hero of the household.

From the family, Wendy gave me Warren Kinsella‘s book, The War Room. Mark gave me Steven Johnson‘s The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. Mark and I have been watching Poker After Dark on Sportsnet and I am fascinated by it although I am embarrassed to say that I have no idea what is happening during the show. To help remedy that, he gave me No Limit Texas Hold’em Tournament Edition 2006 (with some help from Wendy). Maggi gave me Kanye West‘s CD, Graduation while Santa Claus dropped off Shadow by Bob Woodward and The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. Lee gave me one of the new Star Wars themed PSP’s. Until I was playing around with it, I had no idea it also had a RSS reader in it. Expect to see a PSP feed reader checking out your feed stats in the near future. Until I get a memory stick for it this week, I will have to remain content with fighting the Empire.

After we established I was horrible at Guitar Hero, we stopped in and saw the Pederson clan and then was off to the Reimers were we had a great supper with a large group of friends. Today was more Guitar Hero (Wendy and Lee were battling it out) and we managed to take Mark to the park to test out a used GT Sno Racer I got for him just before Christmas and his snowboard.

The only bad part of the holiday season is I have had a fever, chills and cold for most of it. Thursday I am back at work and hopefully this gets better than worse.

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Happy Holidays

Well as I post this I am ready for Christmas.  Every fall I start a spreadsheet and over the following months it gets refined and items picked up.  We were done the bulk of the shopping well before the craziness of Christmas shopping hits and I actually made two trips to the 24 hour Wal-Mart to do some shopping.  Last night Wendy and I set our alarm for 3:00 a.m. and went to the Stonegate Wal-Mart and wandered around a bit.  It is amazing how the shopping experience gets better when there are only 20 other shoppers in the largest Wal-Mart in western Canada.  The really odd thing is that on both trips to Wal-Mart I saw someone shopping in what was clearly pajamas.  If I could be dressed to shop, surely they could be as well.   Wendy and I only had a couple of things to look at but the problem with shopping at 3:00 a.m. is that you can’t really call anyone up and casually ask, “So do you have a deep fryer?”.  I guess you could but Wendy wouldn’t let me.

Wendy struggled a bit with her shopping for me and blogged a bit about it.  Her depression, self-imposed pressure, and firm deadlines don’t always go together.  After reminding her that the perfect Christmas generally isn’t purchased, a lot of stress went away and the four of us are relaxing while listening to some Christmas tunes.  Well actually Lee and Mark are having a Karate duel right now, Maggi is barking, and Wendy is officiating.  It isn’t looking good for Mark or Lee while Maggi is holding her own.

Donations for the Christmas in my office

Lee is off work as Case New Holland shuts down for a week over the holidays.  While I am sure he has some skills working on the paint line, he just brought up some presents that look like they were wrapped by a man.  Wendy is working at Safeway on Christmas Eve but for only the second time since we have been married gets Boxing Day off of work.  The big question on Christmas Eve is how many married men will come in at 4:00 p.m. or later and ask Wendy where Safeway keeps the jewelry.  They look so worried when she says they don’t sell it.  I am putting in a half day at the Centre tomorrow and then am out of there at noon.  I am spending the morning sorting out the stuff that we are giving to the guys on Christmas morning.  Some churches have made gift bags for the guys as well as a lot of individual donations to be sorted.  The photo to the right is just some of the stuff taking up every single square inch in my office.  On top of that I have stuff stored all over the Centre.  Last week I actually created a spreadsheet to keep track of it all.  We are renting some DVDs and offering up a lot of food as well, it should be a pretty nice day.  If the weather improves Mark and I will take his GT Sno Racer out for a run.  I had one as a kid and some of the most painful things I have ever endured came as a result of that thing so it should be fun.  I just hope his injuries don’t affect his Christmas.

On Christmas morning, I am getting up early and helping set up things down at the shelter.  Once shift change happens, I am heading back home to open gifts with the family.  Sometime tomorrow we are heading to the Reimer’s to eat and argue.  Today Gloria and I had a conversation where we both decided that we would rather just talk about the faith rather than live it out so all we have to do is argue :-)

I have a growing photo set on Flickr of Christmas 2007 photographs.  I am sure more will be uploaded over the next couple of days but don’t expect anything here until I head back to work on the 27th. 

Enjoy Christmas!

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So how does one make a difference?

I was reading some comments, IM, and e-mail in response to my last post.  Instead of editing my post, I am going to offer up some further thoughts.

I grew up in the church and therefore Christmas productions.  It was a lot of rehearsals and time that I could have been playing road hockey and in the end I was glad when it was over but I also admit it was kind of fun.  It taught me some great truths, mostly about how important it was to learn my lines and sing in a choir (yes, I sang in a choir off and on into my teen years).  It also taught me that it was okay for people to yell at one another and cry if they were musical.  The community came, drank apple cider, and engaged for that season with our community.  For the most part it was people connected to the performers (either kids or adults) or people looking for a nostalgic Christmas experience or other Christians looking to soak up as much Christmas as possible over the holidays (Christmas-holics?)  I am sure there is some value in it and I am sure many people love it but come January, whatever changes in church attendance went back down to previous levels.  Even if you are part of a church where a bunch of people come twice a year (Christmas and Easter), whatever is being done at Christmas isn’t bringing them back very soon.

n5048876131_2834 Now what could be done with a couple thousand volunteer hours in the community?  Servant Evangelism has a plethora of ideas to do over the holidays locally.  Every day at work we have people asking for warm winter gear (thanks to all those who have donated).  Globally there is the Advent Conspiracy where churches have come together to raise money for fresh drinking water in Africa or as they put it, “Advent Conspiracy is an international movement restoring the scandal of Christmas by worshipping Jesus through compassion, not consumption”.   Other churches like Ginghamsburg have committed to confront with the crisis in Sudan.  As a worship event, instead of the big event, how about stealing an idea from Grace and give people a “time out” during Advent.

I am trashing Christmas traditions and maybe there is some value in dusting off the Maranatha Christmas books but if the aim is to be a missional community, I think there may be some better options.

christmas_ad1I had a couple of IM conversations with friends who commented on the past as saying that part of the problem is that in the suburbs, you don’t see that much need… especially in communities where the homeless problem is invisible and as one friend said, “People in my church don’t have very many friends who are not Christians.”  I wonder if this the result of the church doing what Dallas Willard talks about when we take people out of the regular communities and keep them in church communities.  Not only does the church deprive a community of ones redemptive potential but at the same time we lose touch of the community we live in. 

It got me thinking of the Christmas ads the Salvation Army runs.  Click on the ad for a full sized version.  Partly because I can see a crack house while typing this blog entry out and where I work, the need is pretty obvious for me.  Guys need warm winter clothes, many single parents who were on a losing strike at the University have very little for Christmas, there are even those who are trying to sleep outside in this weather (which makes the graphic there a little haunting to me).  Today in a meeting arose the need for more programs for people with full blown AIDS and of course low income housing is a big issue with occupancy rates as low as 1% in the city.

There are a lot of materialistic choices to be made this winter (I have even linked to some for you) but as I said before, there are a lot of things we can do that can make a big difference for others this winter.  Maybe my definition of “making a difference” is different than yours but I still think the church can do better than a Christmas cantata.

Staff Christmas Party

Wendy and I went to the staff Christmas party the other night at The Barn Playhouse and she has a rather nice blog post about it.

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