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The Grey Owl’s Expedition Gear Guide

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

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

NORTH 49® CYCLONE BACKPACKS

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

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

Ozark Trail Tent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Years

Oliver turning five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oliver Scott CooperOliver Scott Cooper

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

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

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

Today he woke up and excitedly opened his presents:

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

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

How to grill up the perfect steak

Over at the cabin blog, I put together a guide to grilling up the perfect steak.

Cuts of steak

I am ashamed to admit it but until an intervention at Le Beefteque in Toronto I used to order and cook my steaks until they were well done.  No marinade, no prep.  We just slapped them on the barbecue and overcooked them.  That meant that I wasn’t really a big steak fan as who likes to eat overcooked beef.  

A couple of years ago I finally got serious about how to prepare and cook a steak.  It starts with the right marinade, a Jaccard meat tenderizer, cooking it perfectly, letting it rest and so on and so on.  

This year I finally got my act together wrote it all up in one post.  Let me know in the comments if I have missed anything or have anything wrong.

The long commute home

The Long Commute Home

Sunset over Last Mountain Lake

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What’s next

So for those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I resigned from my job at The Lighthouse Supported Living Inc. this week.  Of course being me, I did this without another job to go to but that happens sometimes.  Yes it is a terrifying move as working in shelters is not a profession that is bank account friendly.

It means that I am now in search of a job.  Financially we are okay because Wendy has worked at Safeway for 15 years and is still under their old collective bargaining tier which means that she makes a decent salary.  This gives me some flexibility in knowing that we can get by on minimum wage if needed although I really don’t want to do that.

Since 2005 I have been working with the homeless and hard to house and while I love it, there has been some really hard days along the way as well.  If I have an opportunity to go back into it, i will but I am always ready for a new challenge that doesn’t involve dirty needles, death threats, and the pain and suffering that I have seen day in and out over the last 8 years.

If you want to hire me, check out my LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/in/jordoncooper.  I am proud of the work that I have done and I think that I have a lot to give but it will be somewhere else now.

If there is one thing I like about me, it’s that I have enjoyed my jobs.  I have worked retail and loved the interactions.  I have worked in very difficult situations and loved the challenges.  Not a lot of people know this but I started mopping floors at The Salvation Army and I liked that as well.   I think I am also lucky in that I am not defined by my job which makes it easier to step back.  That being said, I have a lot of experience doing what I do so there is a nice comfort zone there.

If you are hiring (we would consider moving) or know of a job, let me know at jordoncooper@gmail.com.

A better way to say goodbye

I was 12 when I first attended my first funeral.  We had a friend at a nursing home and Mr. Crawford lived next door.  We would go and visit our family friend and see him each time where he was quite nice to all of us, often giving me some money for candy and to get a coffee for my mom.

When he died, we went to the funeral chapel where his family went on at length about how horrible of human being he was and what a bad father he had been.  We just listened but I was shocked when the minister started his eulogy with, “He was a very bad man”.  

When I became a pastor, I did a lot of funerals.  Some of them were celebrations of life, others were horrible to perform and yes, I buried some really bad men over the years.  Each time I tried my best to respect the person and life that I was burying while keeping some sense of reality of the life they lived.

In the work I do now, our clients die very young.  The drugs, violence, lifestyle and alcohol takes it toll on your body.  Toss in HIV/Aids/Hep-C or cancer from the smoking and you have a really low life expectancy.  I have helped more than one mother clean out a locker in a shelter where the only thing she has left of her son was a pair of jeans, a jacket, and really nothing else.  I have always found myself hoping that there be something of value in there, a watch or a something of value for the parent to hold on to but there never is.  Many tears have been shed by family members during those times. 

In most situations I find myself boxing stuff up and realizing that for the most part, no one was going to come get it.  Months later my janitor asks me what I want him to do with the sealed box.  No one has come to get it.

Every couple of months I hear that a client that I had worked with has died.  In each and every case I fire up my computer and Google their name.  I search The StarPhoenix’s obituary website and I scour the internet to find out if it is true.  I rarely find anything.  Over the next couple of days I generally run into a member of the Saskatoon Health Region or the Saskatoon City Police and ask them. In every case I get the same reply that they have died.

They often die alone.  There is no media coverage, no obituary, no will, no assets, and to be honest, almost no one cared.  Many colleagues just block it out like it doesn’t exist.  The file is closed and they are done. Death has never bothered me, neither does the grieving process but in these cases I find myself not sure what to do.  The idea that someone has lived their entire life and there is no trace of it left seems wrong to me.

I guess as a blogger and a writer, I find myself in a situation where I write to process.  After a sleepless night last night thinking of a couple of people that I had known well that had died, I came in early to work to write something, anything about their lives as I saw them.  Of course I never know what do next.  I tweeted this morning that I was struggling with his and it resonated with people but I don’t know what to do next.  

Is the best way to mark one’s life to have a service provider eulogize them?  My first encounter with one gentleman was when he assaulted Wendy with a bottle of Listerine she wouldn’t sell him in about 1998.  Of course the other part of that story is that he would beat her at cribbage all of the time when she helped out at a drop-in centre.  Do you tell the stories of abuse, residential schools, the people that they hurt.

One of the people that recently deceased was a women that I wrote about two years ago in The StarPhoenix.  She had AIDS at the time, was pimped out by her boyfriend and was high for every single interaction that I had with her over seven years.  At the same time I appreciated every single strung out conversation we ever had and I was saddened and sickened when I would see her beaten and bruised.  It’s weird but I miss her.

They had a legacy with me and we have a bunch of stories that shaped me that are too bizarre to write here (somethings are only funny if you know the person)

The world doesn’t stop for death.  When you die, people come together, tell some stories, each some sandwiches, sing some hymns, and drink some coffee.  I am not asking the world to stop, I just think they should have some form of legacy.

In Toronto, they have a homeless memorial.  In Saskatoon we have a walk to remember those lost in the sex trade but at the end of the day they were individuals that lived and died in our city, it would be great if they are remembered as such.  The question for me to figure out, what is the best way to do that.

Neuragen and Neuropathy

Every time I write about neuropathy and Neuragen here, I get a lot of emails about the substance and if it works.  Here is my attempt to explain it.

  • It costs around $45 from Shopper’s Drug Mart.  It isn’t covered by any drug plan but I find it to be worth it.  I keep several bottles around (cabin, two in the house, and one in my car) and they last around a year.
  • You don’t drink it, you just put a drop or two on the nerve that is in pain, rub it around and it works in about 5 seconds.  You seriously go from I’M IN EXCRUCIATING PAIN AND I WANT TO DIE to, I feel like getting a cookie in about 5 seconds.
  • It smells medicinal.  My great aunt lived in a senior’s home in Regina and the entire place smelled like ointment.  I’d fit right in.  It’s not a gross smell but distinctive.
  • You can get it in a spray bottle but I don’t find it works as a spray.  Several others have told me the same thing as well.  The concentrated drops work way better.
  • It isn’t addictive.
  • You can clean it off once you have applied it.  It works as soon as it has been absorbed.
  • Neuragen don’t work with all people.  Lot’s of people have gotten angry at me when it doesn’t work but often they want it to do something for a pain that it isn’t designed for. 

I also use Alpha Lipolic Acid.

I take the pills every morning and night.  They too can be bought at a grocery store (although not the Safeway closest to my house) and are pretty cheap.  They are an anti-toxicant and work to control neuropathic pain.  Outside of the fact that they are kind of gross when caught in the throat, they work well.  

While getting my eyes checked this summer, my eye doctor and I started talking diabetes and he got me on to cinnamon pills which regulate blood glucose levels.  Sadly cinnamon buns don’t work the same way.  The secret to taking these pills is to tell yourself that it is a cinnamon bun and you are living the high life.

I get asked where I hear about these things but most pharmacies have free magazines on diabetes which is a good way to keep up to date on things to ask your doctor about.  He or she has hundreds of patients while I am responsible for my health.  I don’t want to have to rely on him or her to take care of me.  Some ideas they have encouraged, other ideas they have questioned but I am surprised at how many diabetics I know who just suffer from the diabetes without trying anything else.

It’s raining in my office

For the last several months, it’s been raining everywhere I went.  I have looked for leaks in my house, my office, at the mall, at friends places, and on sunny clear days.  No matter where I go, it feels like it is raining on my face, hands, and arms.

The most obvious explanation is that I am one of the Gruesome’s, Fred and Wilma’s neighbours from the Flintstones who had that cloud that went everywhere they went.   Sadly it isn’t that easy but it’s a side effect of my diabetes.  I have a rare nerve disease which means that thousands of my nerves are constantly misfiring.  As explained to me, the rain drops falling on my body is how my brain processes what is happening to me and it happens in hundreds of places all at the same time.

While that is the good news, the bad news is that there are 20 to 30 places that are in excruciating pain at the same time.  They are misfiring really badly and have for years.  Looking back at life, my mom suffered from sciatic nerve pain but I really wonder if she was struggling with this.  They have tried to treat it with Gabapentin which coats your brain receptors and therefore softens the blow of the pain.  That is a great idea in theory but in reality it gave me really bad phantom feelings and therefore pain that didn’t really exist.  That and I couldn’t walk that well with my phantom feet and I had trouble picking up my car keys with my phantom fingers.   The only way to describe walking was that my feet felt like they grew several sizes and the rocker of my skate was off.  I could walk but it wasn’t natural.

Another solution was Oxycontin which is a rather addictive opiate based pain killer.  Of course they never told me that when they gave it to me.   I tried that and I wish I could say I enjoyed it but it left my constipated and emotional and for that know me, know that I hate emotions, especially my own.  A non-stop upset stomach didn’t help me.  If there was pain relief or a high, I didn’t get it.  That being said I have a freakish non-response to some muscle relaxants so maybe I was just resistant to everything but the side effects.

I was on Gabapentin and Oxycontin at the same time and I remember laying on my couch in terrible pain trying to decide if I was going to kill myself or not when I just decided to toss the pills and face the pain.  My doctor was shocked I had no problem quitting the drug.  Maybe I did but without emotions or constipation to bug me, it was like I was on drugs.  To be honest it made very little difference in the amount of pain I was in but I wasn’t as foggy which I took as a win.

Also the process of accepting that it was never going to get better was a big step for me.  It let me accept and process the pain rather than try to escape it.  I am told that I have a high pain tolerance but you can start to learn to live with it.

Since I have been diagnosed with neuropathy, I have been shot full of electrodes to see how my nerves are doing and the truth is; not that good.   I remember the first time after I was diagnosed that they tried my reflexes in my knees.  Nothing happened.  I felt it but my leg didn’t respond.  As they tried it again and again, I realized that this was not a good thing.  My legs are particularly unresponsive while my hands are deteriorating as well.  The result has been that I drop more things but I am starting to fall more often.

My balance started to go while I was at The Salvation Army.  I fell off my front porch one summer morning and broke my ankle.  I fell once while walking in the hall and several times stumbled into a wall.  This winter I fell twice on ice while downtown; both times in front of prominent developers locations who should have shovelled but in the end, I gave myself two serious concussions.  Well maybe the concrete had a roll in all of that but still…

Some on council have bugged me for my strong stance on snow removal after they voted it down.  I’d like them to try to walk through Mayfair or Nutana with my balance.  Even 20th Street, downtown, or Broadway can all be bad.  Walkable streets and neighbourhoods need to be that way for all of us.  

I fall at home now.  Generally getting up but often while walking around the house.  Walking has become a very deliberate and intentional act for me.  It’s weird to lose something like that and to be honest really scary.  I am not going to pretend it hasn’t been related to a bad bout of depression that I have struggled with this winter.  Well either that or the concussions but who knows?  Ether way I am taking the steps of handles in the showers.  My face hit my toilet bowl at a high velocity this winter.  Neither were impressed with that.

According to tests, it’s getting worse which means two things.  I have a closing window on a life of mobility and at least I am not going crazy.

I am not giving up.  There isn’t really anything I can do to stop or reverse what is happening but I can work out more and take some steps to make things better. I started to wear those geeky Vibram FiveFinger Shoes to slow the muscle atrophy in my feet and am working my core more at the gym and at home to help with balance issues.  The falling hasn’t helped my shoulder heal at all but it is coming along as long as I can stay upright.  Physiotherapy is helping a bit as well.

Of course another thing that Wendy and I struggle with is should I quit my job and go take a high paying job while I can or keep working with the homeless.  Working with the homeless doesn’t pay well and I don’t have any benefits at work which complicates the decision.  If I go, I feel like I am giving up but if I stay, it’s a gamble that can hurt the family in the long run.  

I get asked what the pain is like.  It either feels like I am being burned badly (which actually generated blisters), an extended shot of electricity, or a slow drill moving through your body.  It can be treated quite effectively by a naturopathic medicine called Neuragen.  A drop or two can stop the pain completely at that point but in times like right now, there isn’t enough Neuragen to stop all of the pain.  Being woken up 25 times a night by nerve pain take a lot out of you as well.

Before I discovered Neuragen and when they were giving me Gabepentin and Oxycontin all of the time, the pain was incredible.  The doctors would tell me that by next week the medicine would work and I would be fine.  At the time the only thing that would work is that I could grab my iPod and go for long walks in the neighbourhood.  I remember a couple of the local cops would stop me from time to time to see why I was always walking.  Later on they would see how I was going but I always hated to stop because if I could keep walking, the pain would go away and I could actually walk home and maybe fall asleep before the pain came back.  It was the worst time of my life and many nights I remember going out for the walk and thinking, “I should just end this tonight”.  I was never serious and while I will always disagree with those that choose death to end suffering, I understand it.

Now the pain is as bad or worse but I cope with it.  I know it’s never going away and never going to get better.  It is always going to be there, the question is how bad it today going to be?  The good news is that once I gave up all hope of getting better, it just became another thing and it could be dealt with like all other things.

What has changed for me is that the neuropathy has kicked it up a notch and now I need to deal with the lack of balance by figuring this out.

The good news is that this isn’t a terminal condition (although I am about 30 minutes closer to dying than I was at the start of this post) but a chronic condition.  It is just a chronic condition that is progressing at a rate I am rather unhappy with. Now if I could only find out where that water is coming from…

Happy New Year

Apparently it’s my birthday.  Wendy has the lowdown.  With two concussions in the last two weeks, I am not aging well.  If I make it through this winter (hey downtown business owners, shovel your sidewalks) I will consider it a significant victory.

In case you get tired of reading my stuff

Our YXE Podcast

For those of you who are tired of reading what I have written; I have put together a new medium to grow tired of; a podcast.  Sean Shaw, DeeAnn Mercier and myself (along with some soon to be announced contributors) are going to talking city politics, urban planning, and other issues that affect us as a city at ouryxe.ca.  We have some great guests lined up and at times it can get rather testy but a great city needs a place to debate things and talk about new ideas.  This just happens to be one of them.  The RSS feed is live and we hope to hear back from iTunes in a couple of days and I can post that link.  The first episode can be found online here.  Expect to hear our episode with Councillor Zach Jeffries to go live as soon as our iTunes page goes live.

10 Things

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

10 Things I Am Content With

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

10 Things I Am Not Content With

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

Here are 10 Small Things I Wish I Did More:

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

Here are 10 Things I Waste Time On:

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

10 Things I Want to Do Better

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

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

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

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.