Tag Archives: Starbucks

Heading back to Ogema

By the time this publishes, I will be driving a 2016 Ford Focus (not the one below, this one is white) south to Regina where I meeting up with adventurer and author Robin Esrock.  He is a Ford Canada brand ambassador.  After meeting up (and I assume getting coffee at the Starbucks), we are heading south to Ogema, Saskatchewan (a place where I explored last year with Ford), testing out some food, riding the Southern Prairie Railway, taking in a museum, and then heading back to Regina.

In Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan with a 2015 Ford Focus

Wendy and the boys are coming along for the trip.  Instead of heading south with us, they are going to explore Regina and in particular, Wascana Lake and the Saskatchewan Legislature.  I’ll post some photos from the trip to the blog tonight.  I assume they will as well.

If you don’t want to read my account of the day, check out Elan Morgan’s blog.  It’s always a good read.

There is a book signing with Robin Esrock in Regina at 7:00p.m.  at the Chapters.  If you come on out, I’ll be there.  I won’t sign your book but we could totally do a selfie or something over coffee. 

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It is my birthday today.  I was awoken to the sounds of my kids and Wendy coming into my room with presents.  I had plans to open the gift but Oliver made me very aware of what they were.  Wendy gave me a Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens.  Mark gave me an old book about the City of Saskatoon’s street car system.  Believe it or not, we once had an amazing transit system in this city.   Oliver gave me a pair of hiking pants, sunglasses, and a new Starbucks Coffee mug.  Life is good.

The highlight of my day was getting my eyes checked at Prairie Optometry.  After failing my eye exam, it was off to order some new glasses.  

As I had mentioned on Twitter, I found a dog at the Saskatoon SPCA’s website.  I filled out an online application one night and they called me the next morning to pick up the dog.  Today we picked up an 8 month old black labrador mix that had been at the SPCA for a couple of months.  She had come in with her mother and siblings and was the last one left.  After visiting with her for a while, we adopted her and took her home.

Our new dog Marley

So far here is a list of things Marley has chewed on.

  • Wendy’s glasses
  • Wendy’s skull
  • My hand
  • My forearm
  • Wendy’s hand
  • Hutch (the other dog)
  • Slippers
  • Oliver’s boot
  • lip balm
  • Hutch (again)
  • My shin.

We haven’t had a puppy in my life since 1985.  I forgot how much fun they are.  When I say fun, I mean chaos.

Anyways, a word about the SPCA.  I know there are some excellent dog rescue’s out there but the SPCA was really pleasant to deal with.  We have gotten Elway, Maggi, and now Marley there and we couldn’t be happier.  

I have wanted a dog this size since we adopted Elway.  Not that there was anything wrong with Elway or Maggi, they were just bigger than I had wanted when we went in. 

Christmas Day

Hey, it’s Christmas Day this morning.

Like we normally do, we spent Christmas Eve with Lee, Brittany, and Camdyn.  We often spend Christmas Day with the Reimers but with them in Hawaii and having celebrated with them already, we woke up and opened gifts today at home. 

Here is what everyone got.

Mark

Wendy and i gave Mark a new Asus MeMo Android tablet with a bluetooth keyboard and a tablet case.  

Asus MeMo Android Tablet

He wasn’t really expecting anything like that so he was pretty blown away.  Mark had amazing parent teacher interviews and then stopped working so his first report card was brutal.  He then has worked really hard since then but deep down I think he was expecting a lump of coal.  Since he is grounded from all television and media until his marks improve, he will appreciate this reprieve.  I am hoping this helps him the new year.  If not, at least he can use it to play Angry Birds Transformers.  

Wendy gave him a VIA Rail shoulder bag with a drafting book inside.  It’s a murse!

The dogs got him the same kind of photography gloves that Wendy also got.

Maggi and Hutch gave him and Oliver PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale so you can imagine them beating each other up playing that.  

Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale

Santa Claus gave Mark a tactical flashlight and an old but amazing Pentax manual 200mm f4 prime lens.

Pentax manual 200mm f4 prime lens

I also gave him a and a brand new Pentax 35mm f2.4 lens which shocked him all over again because that is how I roll.  He had been saving up for the lens for a bit and was pretty shocked that we got it for him.

Oliver

As for Oliver, Wendy gave him a giant X-Wing fighter.  It is huge and he was thrilled.  Attack runs on the Death Star have already commenced. 

T65 X-Wing Fighter from Star Wars

I gave him a toy AH-64 Apache attack helicopter  

AH-64 Apache attack helicopter

Mark got him a Lego Star Wars Snow Speeder.  I just realized I now how to help him assemble this thing.  It comes with two lego characters.  Luke Skywalker and that guy that was crushed by the AT-AT.  So yeah, that’s great.  

Lego Star Wars Snowspeeder

Wendy and I also gave him a Nikon S31 waterproof digital camera.  It was an old one of mine that I didn’t use once in 2014.  Maggi and Hutch got him a Calgary Flames camera case that is styled like a mini backpack to carry his camera in.

Wendy also gave him a giant 200 piece art set.  He’ll love it.

He asked Santa Claus for some grown up binoculars and old St. Nick came through for him and got him a pair and a tactical flashlight. Santa also surprised him with a remote controlled Ford F-250 truck.

Bushmaster binoculars

You can imagine how excited he is about all of that.  You can also imagine how many times all of us have been blinded by his flashlight this morning.

Wendy

I gave Wendy a Sigma 19mm f2.8 Art Lens for Christmas.

Sigma 19mm Art f2 4 DN Lens

It is her first real prime lens (her other ones are toy lenses) and she is pretty excited about it.

Oliver gave her a new knife set which she has wanted for a while.  He also gave her a J.A. Henckels’ Chef Knife that she has been wanting all winter.   So yeah, we have turned Wendy from a mild mannered person into a well armed killing machine.

J.A. Henckels' Chef Knife

Mark gave her a pair of Sennheisser HD 201 headphones.

Sennheisser 201HD Headphones

Mark also gave her a bamboo cutting board and four piece cheese knife set (I had no idea cheese knives were a thing until now).  Both of these will be used for a large charcuterie board tomorrow afternoon for lunch.

Walmart Cheese Knife Set

Mark also gave her a pair of Thinsulate photography gloves so she can get outside and use her camera more this winter.

Maggi and Hutch gave her some slippers that she later plans to chew up (it’s the circle of life). Considering Hutch and Maggi have no source of income, I am not sure how they did that.

Santa Claus gave Wendy a new LED tactical flashlight.  She wasn’t thrilled that it was bright pink or that it was called the “Maiden” but she does love that it is powerful enough to blind Oliver and Mark if shown in their eyes.  I just told her that Santa was trolling her.  Santa also got her the same pair of binoculars that he gave Oliver.

Police Security Maven Flashlight

I was spoiled for Christmas. 

Wendy gave me a Pentax Q 01 Prime Lens.  It is a fixed f1.9 lens that you should see more of in the coming months.  She also gave me a Kata MarvelX-40 camera bag for the lens and my Pentax Q  

Pentax 01 Standard Prime Lens for the Pentax Q

Mark gave me a video light kit which will be used for OurYXE. 

CowboyStudio Light Kit


Oliver game me a canvas duffle bag from L.L. Bean with a Police Security tactical flashlight, and a Bushnell monocular in it. The dog gave me an old school Stanley thermos.

Large duffle bag from L.L. Bean

Police Security Maven Flashlight

Thanks to everyone, I really appreciate the gifts.

Today we will take some cameras out for a walk and then I will be home debating with Oliver whether or not an AH-64 attack helicopter has a chance against a X-Wing fighter.

I hope your Christmas has been as enjoyable as ours wherever you are reading this from.

Resolutions

Wendy posted her New Year’s Resolutions so I thought I would post mine.

  1. Take the stairs to the top of The Lighthouse at least daily.  This seems like a really good idea now that building is only four stories but when the new tower is nine stories this summer, it could be a really bad idea.
  2. Carry less crap.  There are days when I go to work with my DSLR, a video camera, my notebook, a Moleskine, an iPod, and my cell phone.  Do I really need that much stuff?  Well considering that I have never used all of it in a single day, probably not.
  3. Ride my bike more.  Wendy has a Dave King inspired goal of riding 750 kms this year.  I think I will join her although none of those miles will be done at Ice Cycle which I still think is insane, no matter how many people enjoy cycling in –40 weather.
  4. books and more booksRead more books in 2012Darryl Dash has a post on how he wants his reading to more focused which I tend to go the other way.  I want to read and explore topics that I haven’t explored before, understand new things, and then figure out how they fit together later.  In the spirit of Thomas Homer-Dixon’s book The Ingenuity Gap, I want to be a deep generalist.  Part of it is the column I write but part of it is cultivating a spirit of curiosity.  It may be because I am at a point of life when I have a lot to learn and I don’t have the need to be a specialist.
  5. Contribute more to the matrix of agencies that I am a part of as a staff member at The Lighthouse.  Some of those actions are proprietary but I can’t handle agencies that don’t play that well with others.  It comes from an atmosphere of fear and competition that doesn’t need to exist.  Hopefully we can model a different way.
  6. Spend more money locallySaskatoon Farmer’s Market, Souleio, Broadway Roastery, The Two Twenty, Collective Coffee… you know businesses that are Saskatoon born and bred.  Less Starbucks, Tim Horton’s, and fast food joints.
  7. Attend more University of Saskatchewan Huskies and Saskatoon Hilltops games.  The Huskies may have the best game day experience of any football team in Canada and the Hilltops because of what they did for Mark’s understanding of football in 2011.  That and all they do is win national championships.
  8. Post more photos.  Despite having a decent camera phone camera, a DSLR, and a pretty good compact camera, I took far too photos in 2011.  That needs to change in 2012.
  9. Keep losing weight in 2012.  I lost 40 pounds since my heart event this summer and I want to lose another 120.  I should have it lost by next Christmas.
  10. Listen to more music.  I love music but I rarely take time to listen to it.  It’s always a background activity and never a foreground one.

Those are my resolutions.  Good luck with yours.

The Bank of Starbucks

I loved this entire article, from idea to even how he came up with the idea.

Starbucks is going to create a mechanism that will allow us citizens to do what the government and the banks won’t: lend money to small businesses. This mechanism is scheduled to be rolled out on Nov. 1. This time, Schultz is not tilting at windmills.

From the start, Schultz’s crusade has been focused on the need for jobs, or, as he likes to say, “the jobs emergency.” Should the government finance a sustained infrastructure program to create jobs? Of course. Should it give tax breaks to companies that hire the unemployed? Yes again. But with an election coming up, nothing of the sort is likely.

With the government a nonfactor, Schultz began mulling other ideas. He knew that small businesses created most new jobs, but that many small businesspeople couldn’t hire because they had lost access to credit after the financial crisis. He thought about Starbucks’s involvement in microlending programs in some of the countries where it bought coffee. He wondered if there was some way that that could be applied to small business lending in this country. Finally, he thought about the nearly 7,000 Starbucks stores in the United States, and its tens of millions of customers. Surely, he mused, there must be some way to take advantage of Starbucks’s sheer size.

In late August, Schultz invited a handful of employees to his home. He told them that they were not there to discuss Starbucks business. “Let’s try to take a big swing at job creation that will be unprecedented and unorthodox,” he said. The meeting went well into the evening. Schultz served pizza.

Here’s the idea they came up with: Americans themselves would start lending to small businesses, with Starbucks serving as the middleman. Starbucks would find financial institutions willing to loan to small businesses. Starbucks customers would be able to donate money to the effort when they bought their coffee. Those who gave $5 or more would get a red-white-and-blue wristband, which Schultz labeled “Indivisible.” “We are hoping it will bring back pride in the American dream,” he says. The tag line will read: “Americans Helping Americans.”

via

Concentration of Poverty in Riversdale

This is the second post in a series on poverty in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon.  You can find the first post here.

A lot of you have asking why my blog series on Riversdale stopped.  The quick answer is that I found a question that I had no answer to.  Of course the long answer is that I started writing about an article that Dave Hutton wrote back in May.  As I started to write about it, I got to a point where i was going to talk about the concentration of poverty in Riversdale (and to a lesser degree, the other core neighbourhoods in Saskatoon).  As I was writing, I remembered hearing Leonard Sweet talk about growing up in poverty in West Virginia.  While I am sure all of us idealize parts of our childhood, he was describing both poverty and a strong sense of community that existed in his youth and even now while West Virginia ranks at the bottom of most indicators of economic strength and standard of living it also have very low crime rates, an issue that has defined Saskatoon’s inner city for a number of years.

So when Councilor Lorje and Randy Pshebylo comment on the concentration of poverty in Saskatoon, it isn’t just a lack of money that is the issue.

"The issue is not just poverty," she said. "It’s the concentration of poverty."

Lorje is backed on the issue by the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District. Randy Pshebylo says the burden of helping the homeless and drug-addicted needs to be shared by other neighbourhoods.

The concentration of any one thing — be it bars and pubs, pawn shops, retail stores, restaurants or social organizations — diminishes the strength of any neighbourhood, Pshebylo said.

Missions and soup kitchens are better suited for the avenues adjacent to 20th Street than the main business strip, he said.

"We just want an equitable neighbourhood," he said. "You don’t put your sink in your living room."

This interactive map below shows the main social service agencies in Saskatoon.  It isn’t totally accurate as it is building and not agency based (the Family Service Village in Kinsmen Park holds numerous agencies in one place and I chose to include just the YWCA and Crisis Intervention service on the map to give a wider perspective).

As I plotted out the graph, I didn’t include longer term housing like Saskatoon Housing Authority and Quint Development Corporation (which offers below market rent and I would argue don’t serve a homeless or transient population) or agencies that I knew about but when I Googled their name, I wasn’t easily able to determine the address (which is true of shelters catering to women and youth) which means that they aren’t publically known or want to keep a low profile.  I also left out low income suites targeted towards seniors.  In the end, while some of these agencies are spread over the city, others are in the city core so I think the ratio remains similar.

Here is the color guide.

  • Red: Emergency and transitional housing locations
  • Yellow: Support agencies that provide supports to people in the communities
  • Blue: Food security
  • Purple: Drop In Centres

A quick glance at the map makes it obvious that there is a concentration of lower income services in the Riversdale/Pleasant Hill area.  I was shown another map that showed all of the non-profits that are in Riversdale but that also included many of the local churches.  I am going to leave those out of the conversation because some of them have been there for a long time and not all of them are engaged in any ministry or services to the poor (which is a different post in itself).  No matter which way you look at it, there are a lot of sinks in the living room.  The question is why.

Now it does make sense that there would be a lot of services to the poor in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill as they are the two poorest neighbourhoods in the city and the neighbourhoods around on each side of them (Caswell Hill and King George) also have a concentration of poverty. 

Saskatoon realtor Norm Fisher’s website provides an excellent visual breakdown of the economics of Pleasant Hill and Riversdale. (charts used with permission)

Take a quick look at Riversdale’s income breakdown.

Riversdale's income breakdown

Of the 306 households making under $15,000/year, 140 households are making under $10,000 year.  See full neighbourhood profile here.

Head further west on 20th Street and check out Pleasant Hill’s income breakdown

Pleasant Hill's income breakdown

Of the 863 households trying to get by on under $15,000, 450 households are making less than $10,000 year.  See full neighborhood profile here.

South of Riversdale is King George.  One of Saskatoon’s oldest neighbourhoods.

King George's income breakdown

Of the 153 households making under $15,000 per year, 65 of those households are making under $10,000 per year.  You can see the neighbourhood profile here.

Heading even further west you have Meadowgreen.  While it doesn’t have the commercial connection to 20th Street that Pleasant Hill and Riversdale does, it does have a high concentration of poverty.

meadowgreen-income

Of the 407 households with an income of under $15,000, 125 of them are bringing in under $10,000.  Again, here is the full neighbourhood profile.

I was shocked a little by Caswell Hill’s income breakdown. 

Caswell Hill's income breakdown

I spend a lot of time walking through Caswell Hill and the amount of low income households caught me off guard.  Especially considering that there are 125 households making under $10,000 a year.  Even a neighbourhood with a high concentration of homes being renovated, fixed up, and improved, there is a significant concentration of poverty.

In the end you have 2133 households trying to love on under $15,000 a year and another 1662 households trying to get by under $30,000 a year in those four neighbourhoods.  Of those families, a staggering 905 of them are trying to get by on under $10,000 per year (140 households in Riversdale, 450 households in Pleasant Hill, 65 households in King George, 125 households in Caswell Hill). 

Let’s put this another way.

  $ income/year % less than $15,000/year
City of Saskatoon 65,487 5.9%
Core neighbourhoods 35,003 13.3%
Caswell Hill 41,454 11.2%
King George 36,805 8.8%
Pleasant Hill 25,776 18.3%
Riversdale 29,441 14.3%
Westmount 34,654 11.4%

Not only is there a concentration of poverty in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon, the underlying causes are hard to overcome.  The vast majority of residents in the five listed neighbourhoods do not have a high school diploma or GED.  Those that are employed are working in retail jobs which often do not feature stable hours and/or a liveable wage.   For those who are not working, they are trying to get by on one of the two main Social Services programs, (through either SAP or TEA). 

Rental vs. Ownership
  % Rental % Owned
City of Saskatoon 38 62
Core Neighbourhoods 49 51
Caswell 42 58
King George 33 67
Pleasant Hill 75 25
Riversdale 58 42
Westmount 38 62

If you have a highly educated and mobile workforce, high rental rates can be quite useful, especially in a changing economy (you can move to where the jobs are).  The problem is that the high rental numbers in the core neighbourhoods are combined with a population with a very poor education.

City of Saskatoon 6.0
Core Neighbourhoods 13.2
Caswell 4.6
King George 9.2
Pleasant Hill 18.4
Riversdale 21.0
Westmount 13.0

Take a look at the data… you have low income, low education, low rate of home ownership all in the same neighbourhoods.  Along with it you will see higher rates of violence and crime, despite increased police efforts at curbing it.

Of course does the concentration of services in Riversdale help or hurt the neighbourhood?  You need to separate the business of 20th Street from the equation first.  Does having a business district in the middle of the second poorest neighbourhood hurt things. Toss in the fact that in 2007 StatsCan found that 1/2 of all of the violent crime in Saskatoon (which was Canada’s second most violent city in 2009) was in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill, it explains why one study in Saskatoon found people felt safer on Broadway Avenue at night than they did on 20th Street during the day.  This is shocking.  Riverdale and Pleasant Hill had 300 crime reports per 1000 residents (second only to the neighbourhoods around Confederation Park)

2007 crime rate in Saskatoon

Freakonomics A quick look at the map would show a link between poverty and crime but for those of you who want to study it further, Harvard economics professor Steven Levitt (and co-author of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics) wrote on the changing link between poverty and crime back in 1999 for the New York Federal Reserve Bank.  As he summarizes his findings of previous research.

In summary, much but not all of the existing empirical evidence is consistent with the conclusion that poverty and income inequality are associated with higher crime rates.

This would coincide with what we see in Saskatoon.  The main point of Levitt’s research is that as income gaps widened, the poor went from robbing those wealthier to those who are also poor.  In other words, the rich in Saskatoon are more likely to be able to afford SaskTel SecurTek (with credit checks being demanded by SecurTek and others, it actually makes it very difficult for low income residents to get the same protection as their wealthier neighbours.  We may not have two tier healthcare, we do have two tier Crown Corporations).  This happens for a lot of reasons that can be linked to the rise of crack cocaine and Reagan’s tough on crime policies (Traditional petty criminals were locked up for longer sentences giving drug dealer a new national distribution network).  Once people realized the money that they could make selling drugs to the masses, it spread across the continent.  Drugs like cocaine used to be for the rich, now with crack out there, drugs became a vice of the poor.  The amount of times I see a dial-a-dope run while at work late shows the depth of the problem.

This matters why?  Lower incomes criminals used to head across the river to the east side to rob people (higher income criminals went to work for Wall Street).  Which more or less spread crime over an urban area.  A combination of technology and wealthy families moving further and further away from the city core turned places like Riversdale, Pleasant Hill and 20th Street into high crime areas.  Wendy and I have experienced this in Mayfair.  We have just seen a lot of property crime on our block… everything from three steering columns being destroyed as people tried to steal our cars to the accompanying smashed windows, to our low voltage landscape lights and Christmas lights being stolen.  Now damage to my car or Christmas lights is one thing.  That is frustrating, annoying, and with a $800 bill even maddening.  Yet it’s nothing compared to how one would feel if someone close to you was violently hurt.

Here is a four month snapshot of assaults in Saskatoon.  These just aren’t minor assaults either but assaults causing bodily harm, aggravated assaults, and assaults with a weapon.

Map of 2010 assaults in Saskatoon

According to police it isn’t that bad.

“If people are suggesting that crime is spiralling out of control over the last five years, the numbers don’t support that,” said Det. Staff Sgt. Jean-Marc Voisard, who heads the personal violence section.

But after 31 years with the Saskatoon police, Voisard has noticed that assaults have become more vicious. Injuries are more serious and knives are more common now, he said.

“When I started, there were stabbings, but not to the extent we see today,” Voisard said.

“Society has become more violent. People are quicker to resort to violence to settle a dispute, and that applies to bar fights just as much as a family fighting in the living room.”

The concentration of crime in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill confirms what Stats Canada is saying and makes it even harder for businesses in Riversdale.  This matters because the perception of crime is more important then the crime rate itself.  Back in the early 80s my friends and I used to as ten year olds take the nearest C-Train station downtown to check out the Glenbow Museum on any given Saturday.  I used to catch a bus by myself that would take kids to Pask-a-poo each Saturday and ski all day supervised.  Now when Mark walks the two short blocks to Safeway from our place, even during the early evening, Wendy’s co-workers show incredible concern that he walked two short blocks.  It doesn’t matter that statistically it was more dangerous growing up in Calgary, the perception is that is more dangerous for us now.  Fear is a powerful motivator.

Not only do you have the fear of crime in the city core, there are several well known links between poverty and mental health.  As the Ontario Mental Health Association puts it.

People with serious mental illness face many barriers over their lifetime, including stigma and discrimination, which may prevent them from securing adequate education and employment. Experiencing a mental illness can seriously interrupt a person’s education or career path and result in diminished opportunities for employment. A lack of secure employment, in turn, affects one’s ability to earn an adequate income. As a result, people may eventually drift into poverty.

Moreover, individuals with serious mental illness are frequently unable to access community services and supports due to stigma, gaps in service and/or challenges in system navigation. Lack of sufficient primary health care and community mental health services, shortages of affordable housing, and inadequate income support further alienate them from life in the community. Exclusion from these social and economic supports results in social isolation, significantly increasing their risk of chronic poverty.

Individuals with work-limiting disabilities are nearly three times as likely to be poor and four times as likely to be in receipt of social assistance as individuals without a disability.

The stigma of people with mental disabilities is incredible.  Many well meaning people have asked me, “How do you work with those people?”  While listening to the radio a couple of weeks ago I listened to one radio host complain about people who were homeless and had mental people out on the same Saskatoon streets as he was.  The suggestion was that they stay inside.  Many people with mental health and addiction issues are living downtown are in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill and that stigma follows them and of course impacts shop owners on 20th.  This is at the core of the creation of suburbia and bedroom communities (although in Saskatchewan I think it has a lot to do with people wanting to connect to rural roots).

If you are a shop owner on Riversdale, you have big time problem.  You are surrounded by some of poorest neighbourhoods in Canada which means that your ability to make money off of local consumers is limited.  You are in one of the highest crime areas of Canada which means that you have to rely heavily on attracting customers to come down and spend money on 20th Street and those consumers don’t feel safe. Even the Little Chief Police Station that was intended to make Riversdale safer is a quiet reminder that by it’s very presence, Riversdale isn’t always a safe place to be. 

In response to the poverty, mental health and addiction issues and crime, it makes sense that several NGO’s moved into Riversdale to help people cope with the poverty.  High end retailers go to where the money is and like it or not, many community based organizations go where societal issues are.  Many of them do very good work but by our very presence in the neighbourhood, we make it harder for businesses to operate here.  Long time readers know that I used to work the 4-12 shift at the Salvation Army’s front desk.  We are right across from what I thought was the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world, The Golden Dragon.  All of the time we would have drunks stumble in to our place and then over to The Golden Dragon causing all sorts of problems for the owners and it’s customers.  That takes a toll on your business and no wonder I have to walk downtown to get a Starbucks.  In the last year or so the Salvation Army has followed the lead of other shelters and has worked hard at keeping the residents and users of our services off the front sidewalk and to the side of the building where we purchased two heavy duty (and quite nice) picnic tables and umbrellas.   Our janitors work hard at sweeping up cigarette butts and garbage but every morning that I come to work there are some guys loitering out front (it is a public sidewalk).  The same can be said about the front of the Saskatoon Food Bank, the Friendship Inn, the Lighthouse, the Bridge on 20th and a variety of other social organizations on 20th Street.  Despite that Wendy has twice been accosted while waiting for me to get off work by guys looking for money and sadly we still get complaints made by people who have had to endure comments by our clients as they walked by.

I don’t know how much it changes the neighbourhood.  What would be the difference between 20th Street if there was no community based organizations there?  Would it be a thriving business district or without the social structures and emergency services that organizations provide would it be worse off.  Is there an alternative way to deliver services?

To answer that, I first want to take a look at what life is life for those that are living under $10,000 / year because without that, we don’t even know what is really needed.  I’ll post more tomorrow.

Review of the renovated Credit Union Centre

Credit Union Centre - Saskatoon

2010 World Junior Hockey Championships Logo I was in (the then Saskatchewan Place) for it’s first game in 1988.  It was a horseshoe configuration with the one end open on top and bottom while the other end was open in the upper bowl only.  Over the years the top bowl was completed on one end and for the World Junior Hockey Championships, the arena was totally filled in bringing capacity from it’s original 7,800 to 14,705.

Over the years I was there for the first hockey game (Saskatoon Blades beat the Brandon Wheat Kings), the 1989 Memorial Cup, the 1991 World Junior Hockey Championships, a Billy Graham Crusade, curling, lots of concerts, an uncountable amount of Saskatoon Blades games (most of them they lost) some Olympic hockey exhibitions, lots of tradeshows, and even played a couple of games there over the years.

Now that it is finally done (it only took us 21 years), here is my review.

The Good

  • Upgraded the video screen and added some automated cameras.  They were done really well.
  • 14,705 of us can fit in there now.  That’s almost NHL type capacity and double what many American franchises draw to their games.  Realistically we could move Atlanta, Nashville, and Phoenix to Saskatoon and still have room for the Saskatoon Blades.
  • They still offer free parking.  You have no idea how nice it is to go out there and not have to pay for parking. 
  • The seats are a lot closer to the action then other NHL stadiums and has a similar feel to Rexall Place in Edmonton (which I think had the same architect).  The result is that an already noisy stadium is even noisier.
  • We finally have luxury boxes.  From what I have seen they are pretty standard but I am hoping as time goes on they develop their own character.  Of course that depends on the lease but it’s a nice upgrade from the old temporary boxes.

The Bad

  • The LED ribbon board.  A ribbon board is supposed to go around the entire stadium.  Ours goes around each end and doesn’t connect.  It kind of reminds of Circle Drive (which isn’t a circle).  It looks wrong and like we decided to cut corners and save costs.  I wish they had never done it.  The other thing is that graphically, it looks really weak.  I don’t know if that is a limitation of the technology, how it was used or the IIHF’s use of it.  Either way it looked bad and cheesy.  Then again, maybe they have a 21 year plan to complete it.
  • 14,705 of us can fit in there now.  You thought that Credit Union Centre felt empty when the Blades only drew 1,800 people before, now imagine how it feels.
  • The concourses are really crowded and seem to be poorly laid out.  The northwest corner ground foot traffic to a halt during many games while the temporary concessions stands seemed really rushed and hurried.  There is more room in the west end of the stadium which was reserved for a place for Saskatoon visitors to get questions answered.  In a more balanced situation I am hoping they used in a better way.
  • The Team Store which hasn’t really changed that much.  I wish it would have been made a little bigger.  It’s too small for Blades games and you couldn’t even move in there during any of the World Junior Hockey Championship games which was unfortunate.  It took Mark and I ten minutes to get from one side of it to the till and it wasn’t much bigger then 20 feet across.  That was before the game started, it was inaccessible during the game.

What I Would Like To See

  • A restaurant or grill in the building.  There are times when I have been there when I really want something else other than a cheeseburger, pizza, or fries.  Well maybe I would like those things but I don’t want them from a concession stand.  In other words I really want a good cheeseburger and there isn’t one out there.  I would even be open to a VIP lounge that is accessible with a more expensive ticket (well, then again maybe not).
  • A standard design for outside concessions stands.  I think it would give some personality to the place, even for events like this and clean up the cluttered look that was seen during this tournament.
  • A Tim Hortons or Starbucks concession :: Not all of us drink beer at the game and the coffee was mediocre.
  • While the Blades have their banners hanging in the rafters I would love to see some more evidence that this is the home of the Saskatoon Blades.  When you go to Rexall Place, you know you are entering into the home of the Edmonton Oilers but I never get that feeling that I am entering into Credit Union Centre.

Phoenix Coyotes logo from 1996 In the end, despite all of the improvements, it’s still an obsolete arena by NHL standards but that’s moot as Saskatoon will never get a NHL team.  I know there is a plan to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Saskatoon for five or six games this year but I think that’s a reflection at how bad the team draws in Phoenix rather than how great Credit Union Centre is.

It is too big for a WHL team but I can’t figure out why no one has moved a AHL team to Saskatoon.  A team for one of the Canadian teams would draw well, be close enough to get players easily and would solidify a fan base for the parent team.  Maybe some day. 

Team Canada

Hockey Canada Logo For those of you who are American and don’t appreciate how big the World Junior’s are in Canada, the only thing I can compare it to is the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament.  The difference is that the entire country is cheering for the same team and all wearing the Hockey Canada Jersey.   Like the tourney though, we are deeply appreciative of good hockey and there are games where the fans cheer for both teams.  Well as Canadians we don’t so much cheer but rather “ooh and ahh” a lot at close goals and good saves but you get the point.

Christmas Gift Guide for the Homeless

This one is pretty close to my heart.  At work I get to buy the Christmas gifts for the guys at the Salvation Army Community Centre and I have a lot of fun doing it.

Last year I got them nice duffle bags and a watch/wallet gift set.  We also got a big donation of men’s boxer shorts from Wal-Mart and we let the guys sort those out.  It was hilarious because there was Simpson’s boxers, Montreal Expos boxers, and other funny boxers. We laid them out in the chapel on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning there was underwear soaring through the air like fish at Pike’s Market as guys figured out sizes and preferences.  I think they got a bigger kick out of the Saskatoon Gotch Market than anything that day.  Some of the guys had never owned a watch and were in tears.

In the past, we have given out fleece jackets, electric razors, Christmas stockings full of loot, and other bits of clothing.

This year we are going to give out some hoodies (Christmas brought to you by Bill Bilichick but we won’t cut off their sleeves) and a shaving kit full of shaving supplies, toiletries that we don’t keep in stock at the Centre and for the guys who are just passing through, winter survival kits. We are also giving out some leather bound NLT Bibles. (that’s the plan so far but all plans are subject to change)

We get a lot of requests over the holidays about what to get people in the shelter.  It’s a tough time for many guys who stay in shelters.  Being homeless is a tough experience anytime of the season but even harder at Christmas. I thought I would post a Christmas Gift Guide for those that are homeless and living in a shelter.

Take a look and see what you can help with and make Christmas a little nicer for those that live in a shelter.

Simple Luxuries

  • A couple of years ago someone donated some Old Spice Body Wash.  The tagline on it said, If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist. which brought a lot of laughs for the guys that we gave it to.  From places like Dollarama you can get imitation brands of stuff for $1 and it smells pretty good.  Guys love it.  If you are so inclined, get them a body scrub puff as well.
  • We give out free razors at the Centre.  The general rule is that when guys say thanks to us for them, we jokingly tell them not to.  They are that bad.  I have used them once and the screams could be heard for miles.  A great luxury is a decent razor.  Walmart and most pharmacies have their Gillette Sensor clones with inexpensive replacement blades.  Disposable packages of Gillette or Schick razors are awesome as well.  If you can toss in some travel packages of shaving cream, all the better.
  • Towels: No one ever has a towel and we always need more of them to give out.  I tend to agree with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban that a nice new towel is a wonderful luxury.  It’s a big source of frustration with me as some guys tend to demand towels and a towel service but others love them and take care of them.  All I know is we can always use more of them.  New towels, used towels, you name it.
  • A nice insulated travel mug with a secure leak proof lid :: One of thing that most people don’t understand is that most of our guys are working and some of them are working in really tough, hard, jobs in the bitter Saskatchewan cold.  An insulated travel mug is a prized possession for a lot of guys and something like this Starbucks tumbler would be great.  I am not saying that you need to get one of these, I am just saying a mug that won’t spill is a big deal.  Dollarama has some stainless steel mugs for $1 but their lids come off pretty quickly but they often have thermoses that would serve the same purpose.
  • McDonalds or Tim Hortons gift cards.  You have no idea how much guys appreciate a Tim Horton’s gift card around the shelter.  Gary Smalley could write a book about Tim Hortons as a love language and it is a comfort food for guys.  Now I know a lot of you who read this are in the U.S. but all you have to do is find out what the closest coffee chain is to the shelter.  Tim Hortons, Starbucks, or Dunkin’ Donuts… you get the idea.
  • Long Distance Phone Cards :: Some of the guys at the Centre have no family while others desperately miss theirs over the holidays.  This gives them a chance to reconnect.  We gave out $5 ones a couple of years ago but they can burn through them pretty quickly.
  •  I saw this hand crank radio the other day while in XS Cargo and I thought it was a great idea for the guys.  You crank it up for 30 seconds and it will run for 20 minutes.  It also includes some headphones to go along with it so they don’t drive guys around them crazy. While they run on batteries, they don’t need them.
  • Chocolate/Candy :: I am torn over this one as so many of our clients have diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed).  Then again I am going to have some candy and chocolate over Christmas so why not?  Basically if you like it, someone down at the shelter will like it.

Stuff for Work

  • In Saskatchewan, you have no idea what a difference that winter work gloves, winter jackets, fleece jackets (dress in layers), and winter coveralls can make.  It allows guys who may not have resumes or that extensive of work experience to go down to the day labour places and get some work.  Work brings in money but it also allows the guys to prove themselves.  Many of the guys in the shelter go out to a day labour place for a couple of days and get hired on by the company who brought them in.  A couple of years ago a donation came of winter work clothes, the stuff was given out and two guys found work the next day.  Within a short time they were out of the shelter and haven’t looked back since.  It’s a big deal.  You can toss in travel mugs and thermoses into this category as well.  They make working in the cold a lot easier to do.

Necessities of Life

  • The Centre has soap, shampoo, conditioner, and razors to give away for free.  We also have a clothes cave where we can give away clothes that are donated.  What we need is underwear (let’s be honest, no one donates underwear for good reason) and socks (who keeps old socks?).  We could always use new underwear and socks.  In addition, we could always use winter jackets.  During my time at the Centre, I have seen so many hitchhikers be brought in totally frozen by the RCMP or city police and the guy is in a jean jacket an that’s it.  What is frustrating is that the guys are like, I’ll just warm up and keep going in -40 weather while wearing just a jean jacket.  Generally we take them to our Clothes Cave and get some warm stuff.  Also, you have no idea how many cold kids we see who need something warm in extreme weather.  If it warms you up, we will put it to good use.

Reading Material

  • An easy to read translation of the Bible.  Over 50% of our guys at anytime in the Centre are functionally illiterate which makes the KJV translations that the Gideons give out pretty much useless.  Guys love the NLT, Message and CEV bibles when they come in and we can give them out.  Pocket versions are best as they don’t take up that much space is a pack.
  • Magazines :: Sports Illustrated, Men’s Health, National Geographic ¦ you get the point.

Don’t Give These Items

  • Personally I think a multi tool would be great for 97% of our guys and they would really appreciate them but for one or two guys, the damage they would create would be immense and shelters really don’t want knives in them because of the risk they pose.
  • Computer driven electronics. I know that you can get 1 gig MP3 players for under $10 now but where are they going to get charged up, where are the guys going to get the music. Like us, many shelters really don’t want USB devices plugged into their system because virus concerns and also a lot of guys use them to carry porn along with them. It’s not that I care that much what guys are carrying on their USB devices but I do care when I have a computer full of porn and viruses to deal with.

If you have any questions or doubts, contact your local shelter and see what they can use.

Christmas Gift Guides: Gift Ideas for the Accountant Across the Hallway (2009 Edition)

Well this is my most difficult Christmas gift guide yet.  My “friend” Jackie works across the hallway from me and she has been criticizing my Christmas Gift Guides all year long.  Monday she asked me to come up with a list of things she wants for Christmas which is a) getting as lazy as it gets b) acting kind of like Wendy and my brother Lee who rely on my Amazon wish list to get me some gifts.  Well here goes nothing…

  • Final Draft Version 8 :: Well one thing I know about Jackie is that she is well above being functionally literate, and one day after Andrew Morton has written the story of my life, someone who actually knows me will want to exploit working with me.  It may as well be Jackie and this is the software that will allow her to write the book, adapt the screenplay and produce the movie and a later mini-series. If I were her, I would get The Rock to play me and Halle Berry to play Wendy.
  • While Jackie is at it, she may as well get a computer that is perfect for writing the story of my life on a new netbook from Futureshop.
  • We all know that the movie of my life is going to be huge, possibly bigger than The Blind Side.  Before Jackie can start shooting, she will need to scout out some locations.  A Flip Video Camera is going to get the job done.  Also it will allow her to move from just taking embarrassing photos of her husband to taking videos.  Greg will be thrilled and possibly sue.
  • I know the commute would be horrible but a membership at Paragraph would be a lot of fun.
  • The Complete Collection of National Geographic :: Jackie, you know those awkward silences that you have when you are talking about stuff I no longer care about, a couple of well placed factoids from the National Geographic archives going back to 1888 would liven things up  Think how many times you will be able to drop a factoid about Mayan maize farming in the 1400s over coffee.  It will be great.
  • Starbucks Gold Card :: To be honest, I thought this was a good idea but the rumor is that Starbucks is coming out with a new reward program so it’s time has past.  Still, nothing says that I am a liberal elitist quite like a Starbucks Gold Card that really has no purpose than to say, “I’m more addicted to Starbucks than you are.”  There’s value in that.  Of course if you can’t get a superior Gold Card, there is always a superior Starbucks coffee mug.
  • Fantasy Football for Dummies :: This isn’t so much for Jackie as it is for me.  Our old accountant used to run a dozen fantasy football teams and being an accountant, he kept them on spreadsheets.  People thought we were working when we were trying to decide whether or not to play T.O. that week.  Good times.
  • Well staying indoors all day long adding up numbers can’t be good for you and since we live in Saskatchewan where one can watch their dog run away for four days, a snowboard would be the perfect winter activity.  While we don’t have a lot of hills around here and Blackstrap is closed, maybe you can get Greg to tow you behind the car.  If that happens, I’ll hold the video camera.
  • Ohto Tasche Fountain Pen :: The ingenious design of the Ohto Tasche allows one to carry it as a small compact pen when closed, but use it as a full sized fountain pen when open.  This slim fountain pen measures 10.2 cm long when closed, 10 cm long when used by itself, and 14.7 cm when used with the cap on. Writes in nice, fine lines perfect for your accounting journals (what? it’s all done on computer now? doh!)
  • Solid Wood Stapler :: Well you would know who took your stapler if it ever went missing.

Of course this list has only proven a couple of things a) the only thing that Jackie and I have in common is that we drink Starbucks coffee b) coming up for Christmas gifts for co-workers is really, really hard.

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

Seizure

Oliver and Wendy at Last Mountain Lake

Today’s events started innocently enough yesterday.  I was planning to stock up some office supplies at the Front Desk at the Centre and was going through the Staples/Corporate Express catalog.  I made my notes and realized that instead of making our Exec Assistant’s life miserable, I would just run to Office Depot and get them with the Centre’s card.  As I was leaving the house this morning, Wendy called and wanted to know if I needed our vehicle all day.  I said no and I told her that if she was  ready when I came by, she could grab it and drop me off at the office once I was done.

When we were over at Office Depot, she came over to Oliver and I realized immediately he was having a seizure.  I turned him on his side and we walked out of the store and the seizure continued for a couple more minutes.  He has choking, convulsing, and shaking violently with his eyes rolled back into his head.  I have seen a lot of seizures at the Centre but then again, this is the first one I have seen my son have.  While he was having it, I was thinking that it takes 15 minutes for an ambulance to get five blocks to the Centre (seriously, an EMT riding a slug could get there faster on many calls) and I realized we were only five minutes from Royal University Hospital.  So we drove over there and as Wendy took Oliver in, I tried to find a place to park (much of the RUH parking lot is out of commission).  By the time I got in, Wendy had been rushed past triage and was in the pediatric emergency room.  Oliver was pretty unresponsive and was really out of it.  He was acting strange and took over an hour to settle down while the entire time he seemed scared, disorientated, and confused.  Along the way he was seen by the resident, the pediatrician, and almost managed to escape the three nurses who had to hold him down while they took blood tests (I don’t think Oliver appreciated the rather cool Spider-Man band-aid they gave him either).  He eventually fell asleep and then when he woke up, was back to normal.   I know that a fever can cause kids (and adults) to have a seizure but Ollie’s temperature was totally normal.  All that is wrong with him is a bit of a cough and a runny nose.  After taking some more tests, they released him with instructions that if it happened again, we were to return.

He had another nap and woke up.   We had some errands to run and while Wendy has been passive aggressive about getting a cell phone for her, this convinced her that she needed to get one.  We went to Wal-Mart to take a look at some and while we were there, Oliver had another big and long seizure.  It was bad but not quite as bad as this morning but it still lasted for a couple of minutes.  We left Wal-Mart and it was back to RUH.  Triage took Wendy and Oliver right back to pediatric emergency room and while the same nurses were on, the resident was just finishing her shift.  She stayed behind and brought the evening pediatrician up to date which made the process smoother and I imagine a little quicker.  We weren’t there long and after a consultation with another specialist (a pediatric neurologist), we were sent home with a prescription for some medication to help stop the seizures, promises of an appointment with the pediatric neurologist, tests and instructions that if it happens again, we are to come back so he can be admitted.

I would have liked to walk out of there with a definite answer on what was happening to him but it wasn’t to be.  Oliver’s blood work came back normal and he didn’t have a fever.  The hope is that it is connected to a virus he has but I suppose that will come out in the tests.  The staff at RUH did everything they could and I didn’t really see the reason why Oliver could not go home.  It is rare that he would have a seizure at night (according to the doctor) and the medication that they gave him will help even more.  The doctor said it was “unlikely” he would have one tonight but I kind of work in the world of “unlikely” which makes me a little nervous but at the same time, it is pretty unlikely he will have one while sleeping.

Right now Oliver is both really cranky and groggy (from the medication) and is growling to himself upstairs as Wendy feeds him his medication.  She hid his medication in chocolate pudding which seems to be sending him a mixed message of “We don’t want you to have any more seizures but we may be bringing on diabetes at a young age…”

One story worth re-telling from the day.  While we were waiting this morning for tests to come back, I went upstairs to make a couple of phone calls and to get some Starbucks.  On my way down there were two doctors trying to get their swipe card to work on a locked door.  As I was walking past, the one doctor said to the other, “That’s your Starbucks card, you idiot”.  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud which rather embarrassed the guy fumbling for his access card.