Tag Archives: Mark Cooper

Family Day Weekend

Highway 11 :: Louis Riel TrailYesterday I told everyone to grab their go-bags and get in the car.  We washed the car at Classic Car Wash and then got to the intersection of 33rd Street and Idylwyld Drive.  I asked everyone if we should turn north or south.  The vote was south and we headed south down Highway 11 towards Regina.

As we pulled into Chamberlain, I called for another vote or Regina or Moose Jaw.  The vote was Moose Jaw.  We headed towards down Highway 2 to Moose Jaw and then went to Deja Vu Cafe for milkshakes and chicken wings.Interior of the Deja Vu Cafe in Moose Jaw

Of course we ordered too many wings, ate too much and staggered out of there fuller than full.  We grabbed our cameras and took some shots of an overcast downtown Moose Jaw.

The Walter Scott Building in downtown Moose JawThe Walter Scott Building in downtown Moose JawMark Cooper with his Pentax K-5 II DSLR cameraThe Alleys of Moose Jaw, SaskatchewanThe Alleys of Moose Jaw, SaskatchewanThe Alleys of Moose Jaw, SaskatchewanThe Alleys of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Moose Jaw is such a picturesque city and it is always fun to explore with a camera.  Parts of it looks like a movie set.

Purchasing a Drone

I have wanted a drone for a long time.  I was going to purchase a DJI Mavic Pro drone this spring.  If you have no idea what I am talking about, check out the video below.

Wendy (and Mark) were totally supportive of my decision to get one of these.   I get questions all of the time for how we afford the gear.  It’s a weird question because people who ask me often have expensive hobbies of their own.  Photography is our hobby and it is less expensive than ATVs.  That being said, Wendy and I will sit down and figure out what gear we want to buy in a year and then save towards it.  I have a “lens fund”.  Every time I get paid, I put some money in the “lens” account and that goes towards buying a couple of lenses each year for Wendy and I.  Mark does the same thing now that he is working.

With us going to Lake O’Hara this summer, I wanted an ultra-wide angle lens for this summer.  I haven’t decided if I want the Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM lens for my Pentax or if I want an Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0 – 5.6 for my Olympus OM-D E-M5 II.  Either way that was above and beyond what I wanted to spend for my drone.

Then while out and about this Christmas, I saw the Yuneec Breeze.  It is small and portable like the DJI Mavic making it easy to take places but less capable.  While it says it shoots 4K video, it really used that 4K video to shoot 1080p video that is stabilized.  That isn’t bad because I don’t generally shoot 4K UltraHD video anyways.  What I like about it is the price and the fact that Oliver could even use it.  The trade off is speed and altitude.

Initially I wasn’t that excited about it.  The initial real world tests sucked in part because no one was doing anything cool with it and didn’t know how to fly a drone.  It was nerds talking about a drone while struggling to fly it.

The other day I saw that DJI was still selling the DJI Phantom 3 Standard for about the same money as the Yuneec Breeze.

It is way more powerful the Yuneec Breeze which is both really cool but I realized Wendy and Oliver would never use it.  Wendy likes it but as she said last night, “I would not feel comfortable using it”.  It also isn’t nearly as portable.  Both the Breeze and Mavic fold down really small.  The Yuneec Breeze is compact enough to fit in a 10 inch by 10 inch case and has the sensors to fly and hold it’s position inside.

If you have any muddled thoughts or ideas, let me know in the comments.  I am not buying until March so I will probably change my mind and then change it again many times between now and then.  Also you don’t need to point out, “You can’t use these in any Parks Canada parks and you don’t know seem to be vacationing anywhere other than a National Park in 2017”  I know, that is a big issue for me right now too.

Buyers Guide to Pentax Lenses

A Pentax Lens Buyers Guide for Pentax DSLRs

Pentax is behind Canon and Nikon when it comes to market share.  One of the things that I keep hearing while the cameras are great it doesn’t have the lens option to allow you to put together a decent photography kit.

As Pentax user I have always denied that but I decided to put together a buyers guide for lenses here back in 2013 that I felt was pretty impressive.  When I started doing social media for Don’s Photo in 2015, I moved it over to their blog but every time I looked at it, I realized that I had forgot a few lenses.  I finally got around to updating it today and I am blown away at the options that Pentax users have to put together a solid set of lenses from Pentax, Sigma, Rokinon, and Tamron.

I got asked a while ago how I pick what products I choose.  Stock levels some times play a small factor.  If I know the store can’t get a product because it is backordered for months, I generally don’t write about it because what’s the point of getting someone fired up about something that they can’t get until 2023.  Basically I need to get fired up about it or a colleague is fired about it and that gets me excited about it. 

With Pentax being a brand of camera that both and I use and love, it’s probably a little more personal then other brands that Don’s Photo sells in that each of these lenses have been heavily debated and researched by Mark and I.

2016

This is what I didn’t like this year:

  • Brexit
  • Kellie Leitch
  • Donald Trump
  • Twitter
  • Global Warming
  • My right leg
  • Misogyny
  • Racism
  • Terrorism
  • Climate change deniers
  • The Ohio State University football team winning
  • Notre Dame’s football team losing
  • The way that Brian Towriss firing was handled
  • Huskies Athletics being handed over to a bunch of boosters
  • Token funding cuts to social service spending that is devastating to those that need it but really do nothing to cut the provincial deficit
  • The ongoing farce that the Global Transportation Hub and the government’s lack of transparency of what is going on.
  • Friends losing their jobs and leaving Saskatoon
  • Brad Trost’s leadership bid.
  • Facebook
  • Saskatchewan’s reaction to a carbon tax
  • The violence and crime in my neighborhood
  • Politics in general

This is a list of things I liked this year

  • Mark and Oliver 
  • Wendy
  • Meewasin Valley
  • Marley
  • Really all of the dogs at the dog park
  • Moraine Lake
  • Lunch specials at Spring Roll with Wendy and the boys
  • Mexican Coke
  • Spotify
  • Takakkaw Falls
  • Journalism
  • Twitter
  • Printing out photos, framing them and having them on my wall
  • Work
  • The rabbits that hang out in our yard all winter
  • Cold winter nights in the wave pool at the Lawson Civic Centre (having Mark and Oliver toss balls at my head)
  • Coffee at The Night Over and on the deck of City Perks.
  • Silverton Falls

Twas the night before Christmas

It’s late on Christmas Eve.  Wendy, Mark and I are just chilling out and having some night time tea.  Oliver has already gone to bed.  I doubt he is asleep but he is in bed.  I assume he is filing a formal protest as we speak.

It was a busy day today.  I had to go to work which wasn’t so bad and we closed up early.  It’s one of those things that you never think about but then Wendy shows up and the day is done early which is nice.  Lots of coffee made the day go by faster.

Wendy was off work today so she hung out with Mark and Oliver until Mark had to go to work.  Wendy and Oliver took Marley to the Pierre Radisson Dog Park a few times in an effort to tire her out.  After much running and playing, she still wanted to go back again as we all were ready to call it a night.  She is a dog with a strong internal clock. 

A can of Diet CokeSwan PizzaWhen it was time to leave work, Wendy picked me up and we had two pizzas from Swan Pizza ordered and set to arrive at 6:00 p.m.  While Mark and Oliver wanted to open presents right away, we ate first, poured some coffee and opened the gifts around 7:30 p.m. 

Once that was done, we opened out our Christmas stockings which had all of the usual fair of new socks, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste along with some candies and treats for everyone.

We exchanged gifts after that.

Mark

Wendy and I gave Mark a new Head snowboard and bindings.  That kind of blew him away but he was understandably thrilled and excited.

Head Snowboard

Oliver gave his brother some good snowboard boots so he is ready to hit the slopes.

Marley gave him some Ryder sunglasses and a thing to keep them on his face when he wipes out while snowboarding.  There were some good gloves in there as well.

Ryder Sunglasses

61fK-6 NL8L._SL1000_Hutch gave him a red GSI Outdoors Java commuter mug.  Making good coffee was a struggle last summer and with Wendy, Mark, and I all having one, this should make some adventures this summer start out much better.

Since Mark wants to do some adventure travel after he graduates high school, we gave him a copy of Alastair Humphreys book Grand Adventures.

Grand Adventures by Alastair Humphreys

To go along with the book, I got Mark a large duffle bag which is perfect for travel.


Oliver

Wendy and I have him a Acer Iconia 7 tablet.  He was pretty excited since all he wants to do is text Wendy, Mark and myself.  We set up Google Hangouts on our phones and he had a blast messaging us all night, even though we were in the same room.  Now that he has gone to bed, I am installing the apps that he will need and want.   We also got him a 16 gb MicroSD card for it.  To make it easier for him to annoy us, we gave him a Bluetooth speaker so he can rock out all night long.

Acer Iconia 7" Tablet

A friend of ours gave Oliver her old snowboard which meant that we just had to get him some boots.  A quick trip to Larry’s Skate Exchange and we found some great ones at a remarkably low price which were there under the tree.

Mark gave him a Huskies Athletics hoodie and a few games for his Nintendo 3DS.

Marley gave him a pair of snowboarding goggles and some warm gloves.

Wendy also gave him the new Jedi Academy book which I gave him his own website at olivercooper.org.  He’s happy to have a blog at last and I enjoy doing stuff like for him.  I am using Blogger to power it which means he can control it and post to it from both the web and the Blogger app.

Santa Claus brought him a Bluetooth speaker and some Wicked Raven headphones.  He can play Spotify loudly or quietly.  I hope he uses his headphones but I have my doubts.


Wendy

I gave Wendy a 10.1 inch RCA Android tablet with a keyboard.  She was looking for a netbook but in the end she felt a the Android tablet was a better option.  She had seen our friend Janice’s Microsoft Surface and loved the form factor.  After debating over her options, she decided that an  Android version is what she needed.

RCA Viking Pro Android Tablet

Mark was aware of what I was going to get her and get her a handcrafted leather case from India.

He also picked up some other things like a stainless steel Samsung USB drive, a micro SD card for extra storage, and Moleskine daytimer and a nice pen.

81lLpXNwiHL._SL1500_Oliver went in a different direction and got Wendy a new camping cookset.  Not only that be since he already got Wendy a GSI Outdoors Java Press for her birthday, she would need a nice tea kettle for camping, a new 2 litre pot, and a camping frying pan.


Me

Wendy bought me an Acer Iconia 7” Tablet as well.  I don’t use a tablet that much but I do use it for consuming information.  The size works for me and I think I’ll use it a fair amount.  Of course Oliver went nuts as it means that we have the same tablet as each other and Mark.  Oliver thought that was incredibly cool.

Mark got me some badass carbon fibre trekking poles.  He was with me when I saw them and he decided to pick them up for me.   He also gave me a Rode VideoMic Micro for my Olympus OM-D E-M5 II.

Oliver got me a new Swiss Gear backpack.  In it I found a pen, notebook, and a knife from Gerber.  I have written about our travel bags that are already backed and ready to go before, he just figured I needed an upgrade as my backpack was showing some age.

Santa Claus realized the household had transitioned from Apple OSX and iOS to Android/PC and so the old guy gave me a Google Chromecast to replace my Apple TV.

Marley gave me a Philips Multipurpose Grooming Kit.  Apparently it was a hint to keep the goatee a little tighter trimmed.  Fair enough.


After the gifts were open, Wendy served up Sex in a Pan for dessert.  The boys devoured all of that and now Oliver is off to bed and I am installing apps from the Google Play store for Oliver and Wendy.  I may need more  bandwidth.

Christmas Morning

Good morning.  It’s early on Christmas Day and the boys are still asleep around here.  I would have been sleeping but when Marley wakes up, she leaps between Wendy and I even if there is no space there and wakes us up, often by hitting us in the face with her paws and licking us.  There is nothing quite like being woken up in the morning than being licked on the face by your dog.

Mark and I will be taking Marley to the Pierre Radisson Dog Park as soon as the coffee is made.  The dog park near Mayfair Pool is closer but for whatever reason we prefer the park in Pierre Radisson.  Really the only thing that can go wrong at the dog park is if the other dogs don’t want to run around and act like idiots.  If the behave sensibly and just want to chill, Marley gets upset and sulks on her way home.

She also doesn’t understand that despite her internal clock going off early in the morning, the rest of the world (and their dogs) like to sleep in.  We may have to take her back down there after breakfast.

While we do that, Wendy is going to make breakfast.  It’s going to be scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and eggs benedict.  She does a wonderful job of these kinds of things.

After that is done, the plan is to head to Optimist Hill with two snowboards  and snowboarders in tow and let both Mark and Oliver hurt themselves while trying out their Christmas gifts that we gave them last night.  I expect at least one visit to Royal University Hospital this afternoon.  I wonder if I can book ahead.

Update:

The warnings I was given about the side affects from the medication kicked in this morning.  In killing the infection, the antibiotics killed much of the bacteria in my stomach needed to break down food which means my digestive track broke sometime after I posted this today.  Instead of a fun day of snowboarding, I laid in bed and contemplated going to the hospital.  I was in so much pain.

I wasn’t a horrible day.  Marley crawled up and cuddled with me.  I had some good talks with Oliver and Mark while getting some needed sleep.  We will take the kids to Optimist Hill tomorrow or Tuesday.

Some random Christmas Eve thoughts

Stockings hung with care on Christmas Eve

  • Yes I am at work.  So far this morning I managed to crash part of the work website (the blog) during a failed WordPress upgrade.  Apparently the upgrade to WordPress 4.7 isn’t an easy one and is crashing many servers.
  • Mark works until 6:00 p.m. tonight.  I never thought I would have to figure Mark’s work schedule into our Christmas plans but things change.
  • We are opening our Christmas presents tonight.  Growing up we used to wait until Christmas morning but while working at The Salvation Army, I used to either be working or head down to the shelter to give out gifts on Christmas morning to the guys who were there and to chat with staff.  We started opening up our gifts on Christmas Eve ever since.
  • Since Mark and Oliver are both reading this blog trying to figure out what they are getting (hint: a lump of coal), I won’t talk about our plans tomorrow.  I do however hope to find the time to grab a camera and take some shots of a very empty downtown Saskatoon.  I love the look of downtown cores on Christmas morning.  I think the total emptiness is quite cool. 
  • I bought a Sigma 19mm F2.8 DN | A  for my Olympus OM-D E-M5 II today.  It is primarily for video but it is a great lens for capturing the cityscape.  The plan is take it out with me tomorrow.
  • We will do a traditional Christmas dinner tomorrow but tonight we will order in from Swan Pizza before opening our presents.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a turkey dinner but over the years we have always been flexible enough that if it wasn’t possible, it wasn’t a big deal.  Last year we sacrificed tradition for going to Star Wars: A Force Awakens.  Instead we had a roast in a slow cooker and made French Dip Sandwiches from it.  My point here is that there are a bunch of great ways to celebrate Christmas.  I love tradition but I have heard people lose it if their favorite recipe isn’t made or their favorite movie isn’t on.  C’mon, just enjoy doing something fun with people you like.
  • Speaking of Swan Pizza, it has replaced Santa Lucia Pizza (which has replaced Family Pizza) as my favorite pizza joint in Saskatoon.
  • Everyone has been asking about my health.  Here is the deal.  The antibiotics stopped working, my system shut down, and the infection in my leg started to spread a few weeks ago.  They then upped the dosage of antibiotics which beat back the infection but left me really, really sick with some internal bleeding.  Apparently this was worth stopping the infection.  I am feeling better but still in a lot of pain and am sleeping horribly but it is getting better.  It is the third Christmas of being really sick and I am tired of it.  It isn’t all bad.  After almost two years of great pain existing in my shin because the infection was between my skin and the leg, that has gone.  I remember gusts of wind hurting my leg quite a bit.  It is nice to not have that to deal with.
  • Check out this series the best of Gothamist for 2016.  There is a lot of great local journalism here.   There is a business model for digital only, even if it only seems to work in large cities.

Random Thursday Thoughts

I have hated this time of year for the last two years.  This weekend I am going to write and file two columns for The StarPhoenix.  Not a big deal but it wraps up my 2016.  Since I know what I am writing for my first column for 2017, I’ll probably write that as well.   I just wrote on Saskatchewan drunk driving problem and I am probably going to shoot a video talking about some of the issues that didn’t make it into the paper.  I’ll post the video and column here on Monday.

To go back two years ago, I told my editor that I would fire off some columns for him in the same way.  Then I got sick.  I didn’t know it at the time but it was the start of the infection in my leg spreading rapidly and my body was trying to fight it.  I was so sick that I couldn’t function at all or write the columns which was the first time it had ever happened.  I couldn’t get warm.  I’d be buried under ten blankets while wearing a toque and gloves to stop the pain in my hands.  I kept thinking I would go to bed and I would be fine but it never happened.  Finally on the 22nd, I went to the hospital and was loaded up with antibiotics.  As we know it didn’t work that well.  I was on all sorts of antibiotics.  I had picc lines going into my hands (You write a column for several weeks where every single key stroke in your left hand caused you to experience great pain).  I was injecting myself at the dinner table.  I was taking so many antibiotics at one point where the new pharmacist refused to fill the prescription.

Last year after being on antibiotics for months, I was declared cured and good to go about this time in December.  Within 72 hours I was as sick as I was the first time.  I can’t remember why but in the middle of the night I got up to get something and I passed out at the top of the stairs.  I remember laying at the bottom of the stairs and thinking that I have broken something when Wendy gasped and said, “Look at your leg”.  It was bright red enough I could see it brightly without the lights on and it was giving off an incredible amount of heat.  The infection was bad and had spread.  The next morning I was back at RUH being pumped full of antibiotics.  I remember the doctor saying, “Another couple of days you may not have made it.”

So again back to my column.  I had written my editor saying I wouldn’t file that week that I was too sick and needed some time off.  Anyways there was a miscommunication over whether it was that week or the next week and to make a long story short (I never did look back at my email but I assume the miscommunication was mine) I wrote my column in the bowels of RUH hooked up an IV drip in like 30 minutes.   I took some time off of work but came back just before Christmas but I was still wiped out from the infection and the treatment.  I slept through pizza on Christmas Eve and was too tired to hand out gifts that night so I had Mark do it.

Luckily by Christmas morning I felt better, the antibiotics had started to beat back the infection and for that time, the worst was over.

It is hard to believe that two years later the infection is still there.  It is shrinking though and seems to be getting better.  It’s been two years of antibiotics, side effects, IV’s, tests, and doctors appointments.  There has  been a lot of pain and more fevers than I care to think of.  I still am exhausted at the end of most days and the plan is for another year and a half of antibiotics but it is nothing like it was the last two Christmases.  That’s a good thing.

So as weird as it is, when I sit down with a cup of coffee and write 1200 or so words over an hour or so, it will feel like a huge step forward.  None of you will enjoy reading those columns as much as I will have had writing them.

Mark’s latest project

Last fall I saw that Mark was taking Yearbook as a class.  I kept telling him that there is no way he gets a credit for taking yearbook.  We had that conversation at home, on the walk to Bedford Road (to fix his computer generated schedule) and right into the guidance councilors office where I found out that yes, he gets a credit for it.

As part of doing this, he has been assigned to photograph the guys basketball team all season long.  You can find his shots from the game on his website.

Senior boys basketball action at Bedford Road Collegiate.  Photo by Mark Cooper

He took a lot of photos, only a few turned out and he realized he photographed the ball too much and not the players but he had fun and now has a season of both junior boys and senior boys basketball to photograph.  I guess that means I have a season of photos to help him critique. 

Kristy Dean

I attended the funeral of my friend Kristy Dean today.  I got to know her through Jerry and Gloria Reimer and we like many others became her friend.  As Gloria said today, she crashed there for a night but stayed there for 10 years.  With Jerry and Gloria being godparents to Mark and Oliver and the closest thing Wendy and I have to parents, Kristy was close to us as well.

Today her sister and Gloria gave stirring eulogies.  I came home and went looking through some photos and found some favorites.  I thought I would post some here and tell some stories.

Kristy, Gloria and Wendy

We spent most Christmas Day’s with Reimers and even if they were travelling, we always celebrated Christmas, even if it was early.  We also spent a lot of other holidays together.  Later on I hired her at the Salvation Army and The Lighthouse where she worked the front desk which if you know anything about shelters, is the most demanding part of the job.

Hiring a friend is always challenging but Kristy was great and found that balance between giving me absolutely no respect as her boss and getting the job done.  I appreciate that in any front desk staff.

She had changed a lot by the time she worked with me.  She was strong willed, loud, and could be defiant, all skills someone needs working with a challenging population.  She also took those strengths and used them to advocate for people.  Many time she would call me with a course of action she wanted me to take on Monday for someone who needed help. 

Kristy was a quick thinker and good problem solver.  She understood the big picture and the system we were in well.  That made her a great employee but also someone I could talk with about the job because she understood the inherent frustrations in the system. 

Kristy and Jacqueline Kroeker

She was a passionate Edmonton Oilers fan and I am wearing a Calgary Flames watch while typing this so our friendship was based on either making fun of each other or just prolonged times of sadness when both Calgary and Edmonton sucked at the same time.  We went over the Reimers one time and Kristy just said, “I have nothing to bug you about.  It’s just pathetic how both of them are playing.”

We did set that aside momentarily on Christmas Day and we would often exchange Edmonton Oiler and Calgary Flames merchandise on Christmas.  Just as we were both enjoying our gifts, the other would say something like, “I found it in the trash at Walmart.  They tried giving them away but no one wanted it.  I got you one.”  Those truces never lasted long.

Kristy Dean and her Nikon

I like to think I won the exchange at least once.  Kristy was a photographer and used a Nikon camera.  I bought her a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens mug.  The box hides the fact that it is a mug really well and Kristy thought I had bought her a $2000 lens.  I was like, “Umm, we aren’t that close of friends”. 

So she then realized it was a mug and while laughing about it was still really happy.  The weird thing about this mug is that the top seals totally, there is no hole in the top which makes it really annoying.  She told me a couple of months later that it drove her crazy every single time she tried to take a drink from it.  She cursed my name every time and knew I would be pleased with that.  I was.

Kristy Dean playing charades

Kristy Dean playing charades

The above photos of Kristy is my favorite of her.  It was Christmas Day 2013 and for some reason after Christmas meal at the Reimers, Jerry and Gloria had somehow talked us into playing charades.  The look on Kristy’s face is of her disgust with her losing team mates.   If I remember correctly, her disgust was appropriate.  Her team was horrible.

Someone asked me today if Kristy was close to the boys.  She was close enough that when we brought Oliver home from the hospital, we stopped by Jerry, Gloria, and Kristy’s place before we stopped home.  She tormented Mark for a decade and he loved every minute of it.

The day before she passed away, I was looking for something to get her for Christmas.  I was going to give her an Edmonton Oilers Goalie Mask because I thought it was cool and I knew she would love one.

Edmonton Oilers Goalie Mask

I decided to day that I am going to pick one up anyways. None of us are quite ready to leave her memory behind yet.

Proudly Independent

Over the last few years I haven’t paid as much attention to this site as I should have.  I have been busy doing other things and to be honest, being sick sucks.  I still go home too often and just fall asleep at the end of the day at work

Yet for some reason, more and more of you every day stop by.  At time when blog traffic is in decline, traffic here has grown and I have no idea why.  What I am told is that it has more traffic many days that some media properties.  I find that both incredulous but also a reflection of how poorly run some of the news sites are in Saskatoon.

I know blogs aren’t as cool as they used to be.  We have all moved on to other things like Twitter and Facebook.  Well you have moved on to Facebook, I still hate it and won’t acknowledge any messages sent to me on it.  No I won’t follow you either.

Last week, Twitter announced they’re shutting down Vine. Twitter, itself, may be acquired and changed in some terrible way. It’s not hard to imagine Yahoo selling off Tumblr. There’s no guarantee any of these platforms will be around in their current state in a year, let alone ten years from now.  Heck the same could even be said for The StarPhoenix and Postmedia.

There are only four things in my life that have lasted longer than this blog.

  1. Breathing
  2. My brother Lee.
  3. Reading The StarPhoenix every day.
  4. My marriage to Wendy.

This week I was offered a somewhat lucrative offer to sell advertising on it and I turned it down.  I just couldn’t imagine running ads here or endorsing things I don’t believe in. 

Here, I control my words. Nobody can shut this site down, run annoying ads on it, or sell it to Verizon. Nobody can tell me what I can or can’t say, and I have complete control over the way it’s displayed.

This space has given me exposure, a place to share my projects and ideas. It’s created new opportunities for me, directly or indirectly responsible for every major project I’ve gotten involved in. It’s a place to play and experiment with ideas, some of which led to big breakthroughs and passions. And it connected me to people who cared about the things I did, many of whom became lifelong friends.

Not only are you awesome to me, you have made the web this awesome place for Mark and Oliver.  Instead of seeing the web as someplace scary, it is a place they can talk with cool adults.

So I am putting a renewed emphasis on this place.  The first thing you will see in 2017 is a daily vlog.  I’ll be using YouTube to host it but they will be embedded here.  (I know that undermines my previous points about services going away).

The boys are a huge fan of Casey Neistat and really want to do their own blog and somehow Wendy and I got sucked into it.

So Bridge City has sucked majorly this year in part because I got sick (the infection destroying my leg is two years old this week) and I stopped taking photos which dried up some of the content.  The traffic on that isn’t bad so I will keep it going.  That being said, the site crashed in early October and I just realized it had last night.

What you don’t see is that this blog is falling apart.  Bots are using up a tremendous amount of system resources and I am fighting them, my database wasn’t optimized, and I have an issue with chron jobs which sounds dirty but really isn’t.   I may or may not have to upgrade my hosting plan or leave Dreamhost over it.  It is just hard to find a host that can handle this much content for what I am paying Dreamhost for.

Finally, we are recording the first episode of The Saskatonian this week.  It is kind of a reboot of OurYXE but this time it is going to be less formal, longer and recorded in a bar over nachos.  If I am motivated enough to remember the power cord, it may even become a video.

This is a cool idea

Mark’s photography teacher did something pretty cool.  She made her class design and publish personal websites for their photography.  Mark already has one that he uses for the class (which she seemed happy with) but she accomplished two cool things.  One she is getting her students to post to the open web which is public and often less horrible than Facebook is for kids.  Two she is creating an online presence that is thoughtful and attractive to future employers if the kids choose to keep them.

Mark told me that most of his friends used Wix which is cool. It is an all semester long project so the final mark is at the end of the year.  While Mark tends to his blog off and on, already the assignment has him posting more and more to it.  Hopefully his classmates are inspired to do the same thing.

This is why I am voting for Darren Hill in Ward 1

Wendy and I live in a tough neighborhood in Saskatoon.  Some of our neighbors struggle and Wendy and I hear about those struggles.  For whatever reason they have problems with City Hall and they talk to Wendy about it.  The first answer is to have them talk to Darren HIll.  The story is always the same.  Darren helps them.  There is a phrase that you can’t fight City Hall.  Well sometimes you don’t have to.

Darren Hill campaigning for a tigers votes in 2012

That stuff matters to me.  Knowing that people who have had a rough time struggle can get help.  They can with Darren.  One of Wendy’s co-workers had no luck with her councilor and Wendy mistakenly told her to talk to Darren (thinking about where she worked rather than where she lived).  Darren helped her resolve her issue in minutes.

The other reason I endorse him is that a lot of people online think I hate Darren and always want me to run against him.  We joke around online and he torments Wendy (It’s a hilarious story and Mark and I are firmly on Darren’s side on this) in person and online but I agree with many of his stands and have no reason to run against him.  There were some votes that made me question what he was thinking but overall he does a good job representing the diverse Ward 1 and his constituents and deserves another term on Saskatoon City Council.

Here is funny story to pass along. I can’t remember the reason but someone called The StarPhoenix wanting to talk to me about something.  In that situation The StarPhoenix doesn’t give out my cell but I get the message and a return number emailed to me.  So I call a women up and somehow it came out of nowhere that she hates Darren so much, she can’t even stand to see his name is writing.  Later that day I was talking to him and he knew who I was talking about without me giving him the persons name.  He can’t resolve all of the issues but I know he has made an effort on so many of them.  For the record, I think that hating an elected official so much you hate to see their name in print in next level. 

About that photo, I grabbed it from Flickr account and at first glance, the photo’s thumbnail looked like he was dropping a baby.  Instead he is campaigning for white tigers votes at the Saskatoon Zoo.  You just know that sometime during this photo op there was some bloodshed as the tiger tried to attack him. 

Escaping the City (with a 2016 Ford Escape)

Well this weekend was interesting.  Of course it started with Mark getting hurt at football on Friday night.  Hard blow to the lower back and really hurt his kidney.  Mark made a tackle and someone came in a fraction of a second late and hit him.  Weird thing with this is that it can way worse so the doctor gave us a list of what to watch out for.

So instead of getting up insanely early and heading north to Prince Albert National Park, we let him get more sleep while we loaded up the Focus.

Loading up the 2016 Ford Focus

He stumbled out of the house, into the Ford Escape, turned on the heat on the front seat, grabbed a blanket and went back to sleep.  He was in a lot of pain.  The good news is the heated seats made a lot of difference.

By the time we got up, the Park Cafe had a line of people outside the door.  After a quick vote, we went to Humpty’s and ordered some Splash Omelettes for Wendy, Mark and myself and a M&M pancake for Oliver.  They made the mistake of ordering pierogis as a side and regretted it, you always order the pan fries.  You know that means they all took some of my pan fries.

M&M pancake at Humpty's

The plan was to head up Highway 42 to Alveena and then cut across to the Battle of Fish Creek (and the cool looking Fish Creek Church) and then 28 kms up to Batoche.

Two days of constant rain had turned our roads to slop.  I decided to take the Fish Creek road and see what it was like.  I went a kilometer and even with the AWD of the Ford Escape, I turned back to the highway.  We went into Alveena and realized the same thing.  The top couple of inches of road was waterlogged and moving.  If I had to get through, I could have but it wasn’t worth risking it.

So we drove to the Watrous intersection backtracked and went to Batoche.  It was closed.  For fall, it closes on the weekends which makes no sense to me at all.  That would useful to have on the front of your website but it’s the Government of Canada, I should have known better.

So we crossed the river, headed north on Highway 11 and got into Prince Albert and then Waskesiu.

We had booked a lodge  at Waskesiu but then a week later they called back and said, “oh, we were overbooked”.  In other words they got a longer booking and we got bounced.  There is a big fun run up there this weekend and we quickly found out all of the other accommodations were booked.  We booked an oTENTik which kind of a hybrid tent and cabin.  At first the cost seemed way to high for what I was getting but when we got there, it was nicer than what we would have had at the hotel.

A muddy 2016 Ford Escape

Let’s chat about the oTENTiks for a second.

Mark and Oliver in front of a oTENTik at Prince Albert National ParkWendy, Mark and Oliver with an oTENTik at Prince Albert National ParkMark Cooper and an oTENTik at Prince Albert National Park

The first thing is that you need to stay in one.  They can sleep 6 really comfortably.  You bring your own sleeping bags and pillows and inside they had a platform with four single mattresses along the bottom and a double mattress up top.

There is a table with four chairs and a small bench to toss your bags.  Parks Canada also gives you a LED lantern for a light when you check in.  It looks cool but kicks out almost no light.  We had head lamps and are glad we had them.

The structure is half tent and half cabin.  The floor is raised, has laminate flooring, but the roof is a plastic canvas tarp.  You can also lock the door.  We didn’t need it but there was a propane heater.

There is also a metal bear cache out front for your food.  I’ll be honest, it was the only thing I didn’t like but maybe I am a little over sensitive after the wolf incident this summer.  I wish it and the barbecue was further way from the oTENTik.  It seemed to close but then again, I am probably over thinking this after what happened in Banff.

Finally there is a picnic table that is screened in alongside a fire pit.  It is a great setup and I’d rather stay in one of these then some of the cabin’s that are in Waskesiu.  It’s really nice.

I don’t know what it is like in the summer.  The widows open up but I am not sure how hot it would be but for the fall when crisp autumn weather is the norm, it is an amazing place to stay in and I would pick it over a cottage or lodge any night.

After unpacking, we drove from Beaver Glen campground to downtown Waskesiu.  On the way there, we saw a large herd of these guys just chilling out while the male acted aggressive (the rut has begun) and was walking around looking for a fight.

Elk patrolling the trailer campground at Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park

These were taken with Wendy’s Olympus OM-D E-M10 II and her 75-300mm lens (which is a equivalent of a 150-600mm lens).  We were a long ways away as I am not sure how Ford Escapes handle being rammed by giant elk.

Elk in Prince Albert National Park

For those of you who have never been around an elk or a moose in a rut, they are gathering up all of the females to breed with and are constantly on the look out for any other elk or people that could be a threat.  They are more or less insane and quite dangerous.  I wasn’t being flippant when I said they would ram the Escape because they would.

From there we did some shopping in downtown Waskesiu.  Oliver was choked the entire time.  He knew Mark was hurt so he was constantly challenging Mark to races which he was sure he could win.  While he was right, Mark was too hurt to even walk easily so there were no races.

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We did go into a high end boutique that was blowing everything out from 50-80% off and Mark did find an Oakley hat that he liked.  I found a great looking shirt that was still $200 on sale.  So I passed.

From there, we went to Pete’s Terrace and ordered the Volcano Pizza to share.  You can order it in terms of heat from 1-5.  We had a two which was hot enough.  They did bring us a side of #5 and my mouth still burns.  Actually it hit all of us except Oliver who just said, “I don’t do spicy”.  Wise kid.

Here is the thing about Pete’s Terrace.  The pizza is good and affordable which means in the summer, EVERYONE IN WASKESIU and NORTHERN SASKATCHEWAN eats there which means long waits because the restaurant is packed, the deck is packed, the non-licensed sidewalk area is packed.  In the fall, it’s just kind of normally busy and the services is really fast.  So the summer of last night was great pizza, great service and I still shouldn’t have tried the #5 hot sauce.

Last night we took a slow drive just past dusk and when I say slow, I mean 30 kph slow.  Explaining to Ford why there is an elk lodged in the front seat is not a conversation that  I wanted to have (okay, it would an hilarious conversation to have but you know what I mean)

This is what we saw.  Elk sleeping on the shoulder and in the middle of the highway.  Right in the middle of the highway.   Is it because of the heat or because they are in rut (we never saw it but you could hear elk in rut challenging each other in the distance while out walking).  It was really weird to be driving (we were going about 30 kph) and seeing them and not moving.  Not that I would ever do this but from their non-reaction, it looked like you could have picked one up and brought it home as a (giant, destructive) pet.

I did discover something last night, the Escape’s headlights go from high beam to low beam automatically which is a feature I have waited for my entire life.  It really makes driving at night a lot more pleasant and safer.  We didn’t drive that long with them on but from what I can tell, they aren’t confused by yard lights in the distance which is also pretty interesting.  They only dim for car lights coming at you.  Great technology.

Late Saturday night Mark was even in worse shape.  We were going to go to Mud Creek Flat to see if we could find some black bears but that was cancelled, also the road still sucked.  We talked to locals about Highway #263 and they are about to impeach the Minister of Highways over how long it has been under construction.  Also they said, “don’t take it after this rain.”

We had planned to hike to LaColle Falls Hydroelectric Dam today but as well but looking at Mark, he needed to head home so we grabbed some food and got him back to Saskatoon.

In talking with Mark, the heated front seat of the Escape made the trip for him.  Yes he was on painkillers but he said he felt uncomfortable as soon as the heated seat turned off and felt better as soon as the seat kicked back in.  On the way up, you would see it turn off and then a moment later Mark would take up, hit the button and go back to sleep.

180 South Movie PosterIn the end, it wasn’t the trip I had planed (we are blaming Mark for that).  If you have ever seen the excellent documentary 180 South, there is a great line in it where the main character goes, “It isn’t an adventure until something goes wrong.”  It was relaxing and it was nice to check out the Ford Escape on a trip like this.  It just didn’t go as planned. 

Here are some thoughts on driving the Ford Escape.

  • We took 4.5 three season sleeping backs, a medium sized cooler, three camera bags, three tripods, four pillows and some extra blankets.  There were also four backpacks in there and we had lots of room in the back.  The Escape holds a lot of stuff for weekend trips like this.
  • It’s powerful.  When I had to pass, the engine didn’t even work up a sweat.  It never kicked into a passing gear despite firing us forward.  It may be the form of a SUV but it’s soul is a sports car.   The EcoBoost engine is one part of the equation but so is the really smooth and always ready to go 6 speed transmission.
  • I like the addition spot for your phone/fob on the console.  I think it’s new for 2017 and it’s a nice touch.
  • For the first time ever, I actually plugged my iPod Nano into the sound system and played music rather than just ESPN Radio.  The sound system is amazing.  Rich highs and lows.  Ford did a great job with this.
  • Fuel efficiency was good.  On the trip it was 8.7 litres per 100 km.  The highways were quiet and not a lot of passing but still, it was good mileage.
  • This the first time I have never noticed this but the GPS was a couple hundred meters off from the map at times.  Not a big deal when driving through Duck Lake but for those that rely on it, it may be unnerving.  That being noted, my Bushnell and Wendy’s Magellen GPS both have done this while hiking so I assume it is a GPS satellite thing.  Also it could have happened before but I just noticed it a few times on this trip.  Also to be fair, there was a heavy cloud cover and the GPS could have had a hard time acquiring a good fix.
  • I’ll be honest.  I didn’t do a fair test on the Escape.  I only drove it in drive, not in sport mode and kept it to within safe speed limits.  Hey it’s how I drive (despite getting two tickets this summer). Even when you aren’t in sport mode, it feels like a sports car.
  • I don’t know how to compare it’s AWD capabilities.  I was only a km down the Fish Creek Road but the entire top of the road was moving which is more about the soft sand and gravel of that road than it is about the Ford.  I know it has traction control but this was a sloppy mess.  It didn’t feel horrible but it was such as short ride that it didn’t seem worthwhile.

I get grief every single time that I say that the Ford Escape is my favorite car out there.  We are a family of four.  We live for weekend trips like this or heading out to the mountains to hike in the summer.  We have a dog that is rowdy.  This vehicle works so well for us because when Mark was sick, it was big enough for Mark to ride up front and Wendy to be comfortable in the back.  It is big enough to hold our gear without thinking too much about it (although if I owned one, I would have a carrying rack up top for camping).  I could tow an ultra light tent trailer behind it.  Most of all, I really enjoy driving it.

I have been in love with the Ford Escape for years and in 2017 Ford made it better.

Oh yeah, Mark will be fine.  They did a CT Scan at Royal University Hospital and he lacerated a kidney.  We technically the kid that hit him lacerated his kidney.  He will miss practice this week and the game and start practicing next Monday.  He’s just sore right now and doesn’t want to aggravate the injury.   It’s football.  It could have been worse but he will be fine.