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Wendy Cooper

2014 Christmas Gift Guide for Cooks and Foodies

Wine aerator

Wendy wrote up a 2014 Christmas Gift Guide for Cooks and Foodies at The Cooking Blog.  The rest of the Christmas Gift Guides can be found here.

Launching something new

A couple of months ago I relaunched my photoblog at BridgeCity.ca.  My photos have always been popular on Flickr (more than a couple million views) but I wanted some place to pull out and highlight certain ones about Saskatoon.  When I saw www.bridgecity.ca was available, I bought it, found a template, and started to upload a photo or two a day to it.

This site averages 1000 visitors a day who view on average about 5 posts each time they stop by.  The site has a large archive and benefits from a decade of people linking to it.  I didn’t expect 1000 hits a day but I was really disappointed when I launched Bridge City and didn’t even get a single hit some days.  Now a couple of months later traffic is holding steady at about 175 hits a day and growing.  Here is what I learned during this.

  1. Use Google Webmaster Tools:  This isn’t going to get you any hits but does tell you if Google is indexing your site which is really all you can ask for.  It will also give you an idea of what people are searching for.  Also use Bing Webmaster Tools.  To be honest the amount of traffic I get from Bing is nothing compared to what I get from Google but some people still use it and Yahoo! Search so you might as well incorporate it into your site.
  2. Figure out how Google Image Search worked.  Google has no idea what those images I was posting to my site are.  They rely on the words in the attribute tag and the words I am using on the site to describe what I am posting.  I had images on Flickr that had gotten thousands of hits but only 1 hit on Bridge City.  The difference was that I described what the image was well on Flickr and had not on Bridge City.  When I changed that, Google figured out what the subject was and suddenly ignored content was found.
  3. I don’t rely on SEO very much but I do use a plugin in WordPress to see what Google thinks it is seeing and then I do my best to accurately describe what it should be seeing.  Huffington Post has perfected this but often uses misleading headlines and descriptions to drive traffic.  I want accurate titles and descriptions so that people can find what they are looking for.
  4. The hardest part has been tagging the photos.  Do I call that building office or commercial?  Did I call others like it a restaurant or a pub?  Is it a pub or a bar?
  5. Do I link to the business?  I try to.  It’s a site about what I think is cool and interesting about Saskatoon.  Since I am using business names in titles, I tend to put a link back to the business or organization.  That way if people are looking for something, with a click they can find it.  I have also learned that some businesses have websites that are hard to find.  If I can give it a good link, it helps them too.
  6. There are some boring neighbourhoods in this city.  You can see where I tend to spend my time by the categories and the tags at the bottom of each page but there are some parts of the city that really have nothing interesting to photograph (I am looking at you Westview, Montgomery, and Wildwood)  It speaks of some really poor neighbourhood design.
  7. Most of the shots are on foot.  Wendy and I will park the car somewhere and go for a neighbourhood stroll.  Since I take a lot of shots of schools, we generally go on the weekend so as to not freak out parents, teachers, police, RCMP, Interpol, the Department of Homeland Security… you know, those kinds of people.
  8. Some officers from the Saskatoon Police Service has taken a mild interest in what I have been doing.  One time Wendy and I were kind of trespassing near the tracks by the grain terminals and a couple of cops wandered down to see what we were up to.  When they saw we have cameras their concern wandered off an instead they questioned me on the lens I was using.  The same thing happened downtown when I was ask, “Is it actually focusing on things”.  I then explained aperture to the officers who actually took some notes.  I find that so far the cops have been far more interested in mine and Wendy’s difference in cameras than what we are doing.  They actually remind me of cops in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston who seemed to be drawn to the guy with the camera and had opinions on what to photograph than anything.
  9. Thank you to the City of Saskatoon for posting this neighbourhood map.  It the official arbiter of what neighbourhoods are called and where the boundaries are.  More than one time I have sent someone to it and heard back, “I could have sworn that X was part of Y neighbourhood”.  I’ve done it myself.
  10. A lot of buildings downtown are double and even triple attributed by reputable sources to the same architect.  I have brought this up to a couple of developers who all said, “I know”. It’s been fun looking back at contradictory archival data as well.  I don’t think we will ever know for sure.
  11. I don’t get this but architectural websites don’t always list their own works.  I have a feeling that there probably was some strong disagreements during design or construction and the architect more or less washes his or her hands of the project but it makes it hard to track down who created the project.  Winnipeg has a building database.  I wish we had one in Saskatoon.  If for no reason than to help celebrate some of the great architects in our cities history.  Hopefully a project like this will happen when Saskatoon finally gets a school of architecture.
  12. I wish the public and separate school boards would publish a list of architects of their schools.  These are tremendously important to our community and so little is known of them.  Either that or I am going to have to do it.

The five most popular posts are

  1. Affinity Campus
  2. 2nd Avenue Lofts
  3. Irene & Leslie Dube Centre for Mental Health
  4. John Deere Building
  5. Nuit Blanche

I am biased but there are my two favourites.

  1. Taking a selfie
  2. 2014 PotashCorp International Fringe Festival

17 years ago today

Wendy and I were married 17 years ago yesterday.  Next year our relationships will reach adulthood.

As anniversaries go it was really boring.  I have only had food poisoning a couple of times in my life and both times it has happened on our anniversary so in this case, non-eventful is good.

This morning we got up and got Mark to Bedford Road so he could get ready to play in the Charity Bowl.  Then it was off to Gordie Howe Bowl to watch him play.

Mark has started all of his games at linebacker this season.  Five minutes before the game he was told he would be playing starting defensive half back and then as he went out he was told to play cornerback.  If you have played football, being told to go out and play a position which you have never even practiced for a second is a recipe for disaster but he performed well and had no passes completed against him and had a couple of tackle.  Bedford won in a blowout so it all worked out well.

This year he has played linebacker, cornerback and defensive line.  Again, the body types required to play defensive line and cornerback are generally exclusive to each position but he held his ground and did well so we are proud of him.  Most importantly, Bedford Road just had their parent-teacher interviews and he is doing well academically.  So far that make Grade 9 a success.

Of course the Charity Bowl is a great Saskatoon tradition and all of the money that was raised today goes to Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Saskatoon.

To keep with the football theme today, I gave Wendy a new Saskatchewan Roughrider jersey and got her a new Starbucks mug and some Pineapple tea.  I was nervous about giving her a big thing of pineapple tea since she hates ham and pineapple pizza but as long as she doesn’t pour it on her pizza, she should be okay.  She turned around and got me a Bluetune Bluetooth player which was great.

After meeting Janice Braden for coffee, we had a noisy supper at Alexander’s.  Not sure what was going on but we were the only couple not in suits and without speakers in our ears.  We had planned on going to The Oddcouple but neither of us felt that hungry after a big lunch.

Of course it was about then that my phone started to go off because council had decided to end the transit lockout.  So if I got this right, Saskatoon City Council took 28 days and a failed labour board ruling to get right back to where were a month ago politically after affecting the lives of thousands with no gain.  People lost their jobs, couldn’t get to appointments, businesses were hurt, and families disrupted for absolutely nothing.

Then I was able to watch councillors go on Twitter and say, “We made the right choice”.  Feel free to help me out with this but I can’t find a historical comparison to an elected body that his this clueless.  I want to talk about the Devine governments with Fair Share Saskatchewan and privatizing SaskEnergy but they had an opposition.  Saskatoon City Council did this all by themselves to themselves.  That almost seems like incompetence without precedent.

Winnipeg’s City Council often rivals ours for incompetence but I think Saskatoon has won this contest.  It’s so weird because at least 8 of the 11 of them do their work, show up at meetings, and read their books.  They can ask intelligent questions and for the most part show capable political instincts.  Yet something goes wrong when they go behind closed doors.  

Of course there are all sorts of interesting questions to be asked.  Mainly what is the administrations role in this and who is running the show at City Hall.  Is it the administration or the council.  I have heard several comments from admin and staff who seem to suggest that administration thinks it is running the show in the city and that council is just there to give some advice.  In fact, even the Mayor’s recent comments make me think he thinks that.  So if that is case, this could have happened in a vacuum of a lack of leadership from city council.  Either way, a lot of lives were affected for nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

Le Renaissance Apartments and the Radisson Hotel

Radisson Hotel

The Radisson Hotel in Saskatoon is the tower on the right. The hotel was completed in 1983 and at 24 stories is the ninth tallest building in the city and contains 291 rooms. The tower on the left is Le Renaissance Apartments and was also completed in 1983. At 24 stories is the tallest building in the city and contains 96 condominiums.

Wendy and I went for a walk early on Thanksgiving morning.  While dodging joggers and dog walkers along Saskatchewan Crescent, we were able to grab a few shots of downtown Saskatoon.

Photobomb

Mark photobombing Wendy

Mark photobombing Wendy as we are about to walk out the door to go to Nuit Blanche.

Wendy’s perspective of Nuit Blanche

Wendy's shots from Nuit Blanche

Wendy has a great post of photos that she took at Nuit Blanche.  They are some of her best shots in a fairly challenging low light setting.

What Saskatoon Council is Spending Your Money On (no you won’t believe it)

You aren’t going to believe what Saskatoon City Council is spending your money on now and with the incompetence they are doing it with.

Back when the city moved to their new governance model (the one they say is like all other cities but really isn’t), they created new committees as a part of that.  Committee memberships are done in one of two ways.  They are voted on or they are decided by seniority.  There are many examples of both but when I hear seniority, I tend to think of the U.S. Senate and Congressional committees which are decided exclusively by seniority (the longer you are around, the wiser you become, or at least that is the hope).  

You always hear Saskatoon politicians speak of the “made in Saskatoon” solution.  Our solution was to draw names from a hat for one of City Council’s committees.  It was done in executive committee so it was supposed to be confidential but instead of deciding on a committee by seniority or by merit (as decided by colleagues), names were put into a hat and drawn out.  I first heard some rumours from other media and city sources soon after executive was done who didn’t think it was normal (it wasn’t).  After confirming the rumour with some people from council (who were less then impressed that I knew), I tweeted it.

That upset some on council who were frustrated that council went down that course of action and others found out about it.  As I said to more then one, “If you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns”.  From that the city solicitor was asked to draw up a memo/report to remind council that they were not supposed to be leaking confidential executive committee stuff.  I assume that the term, “acting like a bunch of clowns” was not used in the report.

A couple of weeks later, I was to appear on the regular Saskatoon Afternoon with David Kirton roundtable with David and Bronwyn Eyre.  Show topics are emailed to us by the producer Brittany Higgins.  I like Brittany as she does a good job of politely refusing topics that I suggest that would take David, Bronwyn, myself and a panel of foreign affairs experts a week to talk about and instead sticks to her 5 minute topics which are way better radio.  That day she sent us a link to Charles Hamilton’s article about the Mayor again mentioning that we should have a Twitter Wall in City Council.

I don’t know why the Mayor is always asking for a Twitter wall in City Council chambers.  First of all Twitter is public already.  All of the interesting posts can be found at #yxecc and can be read by anyone at anytime.  Thirdly and I mean no offense to the Councillors that tweet, it’s pretty boring stuff.  You will get the occasional link posted to a report or something but other than that, they may be reading comments but they aren’t making that many comments in council.  Whatever it is that the Mayor wants, is already there, all they need to do is turn on a projector and go to the #yxecc link.  I doubt very much I’ll get credit for this in Council Chambers.

So Bronwyn and I start talking about the Twitter wall and it wasn’t our best segment.  On a good segment there is a sense of flow and cadence and it wasn’t there.  I also called out some on the school board for tweeting during meetings which wasn’t expected and in the end I walked out of the CKOM studio and tweeted something like, “I wish the mayor would stop talking about this stupid Twitter wall”.  If there is a topic that I never want to talk about again, it is the Twitter wall.

(This is a media roundtable gone wrong.  You really haven’t had a fight on air until this or this happens)

Apparently at that exact time, the Mayor was in executive committee and was talking about the Twitter wall.  So the conclusion was made by our wise political leadership that someone had to be leaking to me the contents of executive meetings to me.   It never occurred to anyone to listen to David Kirton’s show or to read the mornings StarPhoenix or just ask me, “what’s up with that tweet?”

A simple subscription to Google News Alerts would have told city council the truth but they decided they needed a leak investigation to find out the source of the leaks.  Or they could have asked me who told me.  While my sources are confidential, I would have no problem telling them that the source for the Twitter wall leak was CHARLES HAMILTON, you know since we talked about it on air and it him that published the Mayor’s on the record comments made during an interview to The StarPhoenix.

Well council couldn’t let this stand and decided to hire a private investigator to investigate the leak.  After rejecting some local retired cops, they rejected this guy for having too high of travel costs.

They rejected these guys because they couldn’t tell them apart.

They also wanted this guy but an agreement couldn’t be worked out with STARS over helicopter parking.

They really wanted this group of guys but they couldn’t find them.

So they hired a retired RCMP officer with the ability to question councillors and examine phone, computer and email records to see if they have been the ones that have leaked The StarPhoenix to me. If they were serious (and I don’t think they are), they would have a conversation about the FOI requests that were filed in the lead up to the 2012 elections.  Those FOI’s filed by The StarPhoenix and other media outlets covered @saskatoon.ca emails and there was a lot of embarrassing things said in those emails.  Since then councillors rarely use @saskatoon.ca email for non constituent communications.  Therefore they fall out of scope of the investigation.  Also since there are some precedents of government provided phones being able to be FOI’d, some councillors use two phones or don’t have the city pay for their own phone.  Thirdly, there is a thing called a manilla envelope and it works really well.  Some are just left in my mailbox late at night or mailed to me with no return address.

I have heard the questions that have been asked, the good cop, bad cop routine, and even the follow up questions.  I recently found out that I wasn’t supposed to find out about the investigation because that would compromise it (doh!) but that was after councillors phoned up to ask me if they had sent me anything they might have forgotten about.  Quite the investigation.  The ones that are calling for the investigation then go out and immediately undermine it.

Saskatoon City Council can’t even do a leak investigation properly (someone needs to do a Tumblr for things Saskatoon City Council can’t do properly).

Why is council doing this when most already know the truth?  Here are the answers I have gotten so far.

  • I need to be put in my place.  I am unsure how investigating each other is putting me in my place.  I have been accused (along with other media of making city councillors life more difficult before and apparently them attacking each other is supposed to change that.  While I am disappointed that they are wasting time doing this, I am unsure how this is putting me in my place.  I learn stuff and I write about it.  I am not sure how that changes.
  • This allows for frank discussions in Executive committee.  This is close to the truth.  Saskatoon City Council is the most secretive city council and city hall in Western Canada.  No one else comes close.  Executive Committee’s in camera proceedings are often used to hash out issues away from the public eye to avoid political backlash.  With confidentiality clauses, no one can voice the opposing decisions.  It’s also why media and people pack City Hall chambers from time to time to see a big issues passed without discussion.  John Gormley used to talk about the Gang of Five, now there is a Gang of Eleven.  By comparison, take a look at the Manning Foundation’s Council Tracker which looks at a much criticized Calgary City Council’s actions.  Saskatoon City Council is so secretive we can’t even track how secretive they are.
  • To weaken other councillors.  I have heard from a few councillors, “I know who your source is and they will pay”.  Umm, again… the source is the Mayor as told to Charles Hamilton?  Is this a power play against His Worship, Hamilton, Brittany Higgins, maybe even David Kirton.  I can’t keep track anymore.  In other words it is an investigation using taxpayer dollars for political games.  The truth js that some think that either Darren Hill, Zach Jeffries, or Pat Lorje are my sources.  If they are right (and they are not), then those councillors are weakened going up for re-election.  Pretty amazing work environment that they have going there. 
  • The weirdest explanation is that this will keep Darren Hill from running for the federal Liberals in Saskatoon West.  Apparently he had so muh fun running under Ignatieff and getting 11% he wants to do it again (I could be wrong but I think I was being flippant there).  Even with a 15% Liberal bump from Trudeau and the seat stays Conservative.

My favourite is the accusation that I am sort of a shadowy behind the scenes operative because I am never seen at political events.  This one makes me angry but I can understand it.  When you are a hammer, everything you see is a nail.  When you are a politician, everything is political.

First of all, I am non partisan.  I get attacked by liberals and conservatives (often at the same time).  I have a bias toward a lot of policies but the politics of council make me bored and sad for the city.  One of my most dearly held theological beliefs is best articulated by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon in their book, Resident Aliens

When politics is brought to the attention of Jesus (Luke 20:20-26), the whole discussion is portrayed with such jocularity as to suggest that we are to take none of this with seriousness. When wanting to trap Jesus and hand him over to the police (Luke 20:20), they ask Jesus, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Note that was our question, not Jesus’.)

Jesus answers (Luke 20:24), “Who’s got a quarter?”

(Note that Jesus’ pockets are empty.)

When a coin is produced, Jesus asks, “Whose picture is on it?”

We answer, “George Washington.”

“Well, if he needs the stuff so badly as to put his picture on it, then give it to him, ” says Jesus. “But you be careful and don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God.”

Okay. We give up. Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?

From this we learn that a primary biblical way or treating politics is as a joke. Certainly, politicians can make much mischief, but it would be a liturgical and ethical mistake to take them too seriously. Idolatry is as big a problem for democracies as for non-democracies.

If you ask me what I think about politics, I don’t take it very seriously.  If someone, even a politician wants some advice, I give it to them.   I guess it’s why I enjoy commenting on it.   I love policy but the politics side is nothing more of a joke.  I also like most people and I hate the partisan process.  I like going out with people and sharing ideas.  It’s gets brutal when partisan lines are drawn and it interferes with friendships.

I want our city, province, and country to be a better place but at the end of the day, I’ll give that advice to their opponent or anyone who reads this blog, my columns, listens to me on air or a podcast.    Saskatoon is a weird place in that not only are we largely ignorant of best practices of other cities (even winter cities), when we find out about them, we reject them in favour of a “made in Saskatoon” solution.  In other words most of what I suggest is ignored which is fine, even if it does seem to cost us more money as a city.  The only piece of legislation I have ever tried to change was a flawed piece of affordable housing policy that myself and other housing providers opposed.  That’s it.  A public email sent to 10 councillors and the mayor.  10 of the replied.  The mayor did not but the motion failed.  That is what is important.

Provincially I once wrote a letter Premier Brad Wall about the problems of mental health and homeless.  One of his hacks replied with a letter about about hip replacements waiting lists.  I learned two things, writing the government is a HUGE waste of time and my lobbying powers aren’t exactly immense.  I have some sway with Cam Broten.  When I say “sway”, he doesn’t reply back with letters about hip replacement waiting lists.  My big piece of advice to him is that is to never by a Rider jersey without a number because they look stupid.  I also suggest going with a classic number like Ron Lancaster, George Reed, or Ray Elgaard so if the player you choose gets in trouble with the law, you don’t look like an idiot.  There you go.  That is my expertise in provincial politics.  I hate blank Rider jerseys.  That is my shadowy behind the scenes maneuvering.  Rider jerseys and homeless issues.

As for why I am never seen, this is a bit more personal.  Wendy has long struggled with depression and it is getting worse.  She wrote about it here and this has been by far the most difficult year we have ever had as a family.  Not only is her depression worse but it affects Mark in more significant ways as he grows older.  There are many times that we have plans and either Wendy can’t go out in public or Mark has asked if I wanted to hang out with him and Oliver.  The are other times when I come home after just cleaning the house and it is a disaster again.  When there is chaos in Wendy’s mind, there is chaos in my world and it hard to keep up.  So yeah, it means that I don’t go out a lot because I am trying to keep the family together. (why do you think I write about mental health issues as much as I do.  It is largely over how hard it has been to get Wendy good help). It is this and Hauerwas’ writings (which is actually rooted in John Howard Yoder’s writings) that I will never run for political office.  That and Mike Duffy has killed many options for fat bald guys from the media.  (Full disclosure, I was a long time member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan  growing up and ran in 1995 for the Tories in Saskatoon.  I was 21.  My views, hairline, pant size, and opinions on politics have changed since then).

So after I help Wendy deal with her day, help the kids with their world, I sit down on a chair and I read, write, and research.  No shadowy meetings.  No late night phone calls.  Nothing.  Most of it is spent trying to figure out who we get through tomorrow and hoping it isn’t as bad as today was. I don’t drink.  Urban planning, systems theory, and photography are my escape.  The photography gets me out of the house and the books and looking at things through a different lens and experiencing the city in a whole new way.

Considering that I have said in many columns that politicians are psychopaths, plotting world takeovers with them isn’t really high on my to-do list.  

Yes, politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths. I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this… That a small minority of human beings literally have no conscience was and is a bitter pill for our society to swallow — but it does explain a great many things, shamelessly deceitful political behavior being one.

As an aside, if any world dominating villain offers me the Denver Broncos, I will accept them with more grace than Homer Simpson did. 

I care about homeless issues, affordable housing, and challenging growing inequality in cities.  The stuff I write about is what I care about.   I don’t care if someone from the right or the left carries that stuff out, as long as it is done.

Maybe that is why I am so disgusted about this freaking leak investigation that isn’t a leak.  It’s cheap political games that are a pain to deal with, cost us as the City of Saskatoon citizens, and is a sham right from the start.  Plus by the fact that I know about it and councillors are actively undermining it, a city solicitor who doesn’t know realize this a game, and an investigator who doesn’t realize how the game is played, it is a massive waste of time and money at a time when the city has much more pressing concerns than finding out that I read The StarPhoenix (and apparently they don’t read Saskatoon’s paper of record).  As I have written and said before, I don’t think we are hiring (or electing) the best and brightest at City Hall.  Amateur hour shows it.

Leaks happen all of the time in Saskatoon, Regina, and Ottawa.  By the time I have heard something, I know The StarPhoenix has heard it, Rawlco has heard it, and CBC has heard it.  Even the television stations with constantly changing reporters hear the gossip because it goes right from counsellors to reporters.  It always has, it always will.  To stop all of us from finding out about what Council is up to, they have decided to do leak investigation.

My answer is the same as it always has been, if you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns. We deserve more from our City Council than a bunch of silly political games but this is what passes for leadership in Saskatoon.

So in summary

  • I follow a confirmed a leak about Saskatoon City Council behaving ridiculously and that embarrassed them.
  • Saskatoon City Council is full of a bunch of gossips.
  • I read The StarPhoenix and discuss it on the air.  
  • Sometimes Bronwyn Eyre wins those debates (okay many times) and I tweet about it.
  • In summary, it would be cheaper for councillors to sign up for Google News Alerts then hiring private investigators.  It would also be helpful to somewhat aware of what you say to reporters of The StarPhoenix.
  • If council is going to authorize a sham investigation, telling me about it immediately undermines it.

Oh yeah, I emailed Mark Rhogstad at the City of Saskatoon to ask how much the leak investigation was costing us.  He didn’t return my email.

Oliver & Wendy

Oliver and Wendy

This just cracked my 50 most interesting photos of all time on Flickr.  Oliver loved the Fringe but was overcome by a touch of the flu.  He was so sick that he actually turned down ice cream (his loss, my gain).  It was part of a larger group of photos I took at the 2014 Fringe Theatre Festival.

When a cop approaches you in Saskatoon

I managed to tear my left quadricep while hiking in Drumheller (more on that later) last weekend.  It hurts worse than it sounds and I can barely walk.  Steps are almost impossible and even a slight incline is horrible to navigate.   I was walking downtown to my car and I was limping and wobbly when I was approached by two Saskatoon Police officers who thought I was intoxicated.  As they approached, I knew they thought I was drunk and two thoughts came to my mind.  

The first was the worst thing that will happen is they will make me take a breathalyzer.  I don’t drink so that isn’t a problem.  Then I realized the worst thing anyone could do would was to poke my leg but I wasn’t really at risk of that happening.  Still my second thought was, “DON’T TOUCH MY LEG”.

The officers got close, realized that I wasn’t drunk and I explained that I had torn my quad which got an immediate response and discussion about that.  Some jokes were made about the smell of A535 and then one asked how hard it was to walk.  I mentioned that it really screws up your balance but I was fine.  A final joke was made about being “wobbly is not a crime” and I hobbled to my car. 

I kept thinking about that non-incident compared to the craziness going on in Ferguson.  Even if the Saskatoon Police Officers were going to be jerks (and they weren’t) my biggest concern was a 2 minute delay.  Instead it was almost a five minute chat about stupid injuries, Louis CK, and getting old.  Wendy and I have been stopped by SPS offers while out taking some photographs.  While people are being ordered and arrested for taking photos in Ferguson, the officers we dealt with had some camera questions and just made small talk about photography.  

Not all Saskatoon Police officers have been like that (over the years) and I have talked to some friends who have never been on the wrong side of the law who are terrified of Saskatoon Police (I am not sure why) but when I am out and I see a beat cop approach, I have never been concerned to worried about anything.  I am old enough to remember when you WANTED a cop to approach you because they used to be your sole source of Saskatoon Blades hockey cards (that was a great idea in the day)

Sadly there are places in the United States who have legitimate reason to worry even if they have never committed a crime and that is an incredibly depressing thing to think about.

Happy 14th Birthday Mark!

While the rest of the world celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday this weekend, we are celebrating Mark turning 14 at the cabin.

He has been saving up for a DLSR camera for months.  When I upgraded my Pentax K-x, he thought I traded it in for a new camera.  Instead I took it upstairs and have been saving it to give him for his birthday.

Pentax Kx DSLR camera

After having the camera’s sensor cleaned, I bought him a new 16 GB memory card and cleaned all of the lens up perfectly (if you don’t have a Lens Pen, you are doing it all wrong).  

Wendy and I had bought him a a new Roots sling camera bag and placed the camera in along with some of my older lenses.  Along with the camera, I gave him this 18-55mm lens that came with the camera, a really sharp manual 50mm lens, a Pentax 100-300 lens, and a Takumar-F 28-80mm manual lens (that to be honest, really sucks) but it will give him a macro to play with.  I have an older Sigma 70-210 lens that I may give him as well but I am awaiting a replacement for it.  Until then he can borrow it.

We also tossed in one of those Eneloop battery chargers and some amazing Eneloop XX batteries (best recyclable batteries on the planet) and a National Geographic magazine

Mark and his Pentax K-x

To celebrate his birthday we are heading north from the cabin for a long nature walk along the shores of Last Mountain Lake where we will hopefully get some shots of some birds and someone can test out his new camera.  I expect you will see some photos of the day as soon as we get back into the city.

Mark blogs about his birthday here.

Wendy at Galaxyland

Wendy at Galaxyland

Turning 40

Today mark’s my 40th trip around the sun without being tossed off.  I guess it also means that I am middle aged.  That being said, Time Magazine once said that 50 is the new 30 so I guess that makes me 25 or so.  Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

To celebrate my birthday, we have spent the last couple of days where it all began; in Edmonton.  Yes I was born in Edmonton.  I don’t like to talk about it because it wasn’t my choice and it is Edmonton after all.

We got up at Sunday at 5:00 a.m., left Saskatoon at 6:00 a.m., were in Lloydminister for breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and in Elk Island National Park by 11 a.m.  After talking some photos of some bison, it was off to Edmonton.  Wendy used some Airmiles to book a decent hotel, the boys have spent the last couple of days enjoying West Edmonton Mall and I got out in the warmer weather and took some photos around the city.  I’ll post them online when I get back to Saskatoon.

I don’t really think of Edmonton as home.  I was born there and only lived there a year before moving to Rainbow Lake and then settling in Calgary for a decade.  Growing up as a Calgary Flames hockey fan, I used to despise Edmonton in the same way someone from Springfield thinks of Shelbyville.  Since things have changed (and both Calgary and Edmonton can’t play hockey),it is nice to be back, even if it does mean wandering up and down a mall.

Invicta Watch

For my birthday, the boys gave me a Pentax WG-10 rugged compact camera while Wendy gave me a GoPro 3+ Silver Edition and a really nice Invicta dive watch.  Maggi gave me a Denver Broncos sign that I will hang at the cabin.  Two of the four gifts say, “get outside more often” and after this winter, I can’t agree more.

The plan is to have dinner with the boys tonight at a local restaurant and then head down to Winston’s for a Diet Coke with some friends.

My brother gave me a DeWalt cordless drill and a bit set.  We are planning to build the deck on the cabin this summer and he included his ideas as well.  A 10×10 deck out back and a 8×8 deck in the front yard.  We should have it built in a day.

Wendy’s new website

Wendy has had a blog for over a decade and has been trying to decide what to do with it.  She also publishes The Cooking Blog.  Since she doesn’t have the time or motivation to write for both of them and wanted to do something else with the site.  

Several people have asked me what they should do with their domain name and I always tell them to check out Hemant Naidu’s website.  I found it a while ago while searching for something local and found it.  It’s hosted by Flavors.me.  Depending on your options, it can be either free or $20 a year. 

It’s a one page template and does everything that Wendy wants it to do.  I set this up for her in 20 minutes.  Most of that time was Wendy stressing out over the font and the photo.

Wendy Cooper.org

About.me does something really similar but costs about twice as much.  If you are looking at parking a domain name, it is the easiest way to do it.

Christmas Eve

After a long day of work, we spent Christmas Eve at Lee and Brittany’s place in Warman.  They had come by the house earlier and picked up the boys and the presents so all we had to do was go home and then drive out to their place.  We had a nice non-traditional Christmas dinner (some of that tomorrow) and then opened up presents.  The key to Christmas Eve is to eat quickly and no small talk (Lee famously said to Mark one year, “Less talking, more chewing”) so we can get to the presents quicker.  The tradition of the last couple of years has been to even put off dessert post Christmas present opening.

Wendy

  • I gave Wendy a Fujifilm Finepix JX600 compact digital camera.  She has been looking for a new once since her Fujifilm Finepix J10 camera needed a desperate upgrade.  This one will let Wendy take better photos, HD video, and yet still be small enough to take with her wherever she goes.  It also features 3D shooting options which means I will be asking to play with it.  I also lucked out in that it has the same battery that I just got Wendy for her old camera for our anniversary.  A nice bonus for her.
Fujifilm Finepix JX600
  •  Times Ladies Ironman Triathalon WatchMark gave Wendy a ladies Timex Ironman Triathlon watch.  Wendy rarely remembers to put a watch on and is always taking it off.  The hope is that if we got her a watch she would love, she would actually wear it.  So far so good but it is early yet.
  • Oliver gave Wendy some earrings and a lightweight tripod so she can do some night photography.  Personally I think he just wants to stay up later and is using the tripod as an excuse to hang out with mom.  He also gave her a print of him and Mark out for a walk.
  • Santa Claus surprised her with an Olympus PEN ELP-2 interchangeable lens camera.  it was used but barely used.  Wendy has been looking at a Nikon J1, some Sony NEX series cameras and a Fuji X series camera but apparently Santa found her one with a 14-42mm lens.  I was a little nervous supporting a second lens family (yeah I know how funny that sounds) but there are some really affordable Micro Four Thirds lens that we can add that she will love.
  • The dogs partnered up with Santa and got her a 16gb memory card, a Crumpler One Million Dollar House camera bag, and a 37mm lens filter.  I think she liked the camera bag more than the cameras.  Story of my life.

Olympis PEN EPL-2

Mark

  • I gave Mark a Vivitar Action Camera.  He probably wanted a GoPro but I was on a budget and he is thrilled with it.  It comes with a headband, helmet mount, and bike mount.  Expect to see him doing things that will hurt himself soon on his YouTube account.  That’s quality parenting right there folks.
Vivitar Action Camera
  • Santa Claus stopped by and gave him a Sony Xperia J cellphone.   Mark has had two other smart phones, the Samsung Galaxy 550 and then last year we gave him a HTC Desire C and he has taken very good care of them.  He loves the Desire C but it is seriously underpowered and really slow running Android and would not run some apps he really likes.  The Xperia J should speed up his life a little bit. 
  • Wendy gave him some 100 watt 2.1 computer speakers while Oliver gave him some portable X-Mini speakers.
  • The dogs gave him a pen and notebook set.
  • Lee and Brittany gave him a set of Huskie Athletics sweats and hoodie.  He’ll never take them off.
  • Wendy and I gave him a Canon 28-135mm DSLR lens mug.  It’s the closest thing he is coming to a DLSR camera this Christmas.
  • Since he is doing some winter camping at school, we gave him a couple of pairs of wool socks.  He is going to need them.

Oliver

  • I gave Oliver a set of walkie talkies and some 4×30 compact binoculars.  He was thrilled because Mark has a pair of binoculars and I gave a pair to Lee as well.  As for the walkie talkies, what kid doesn’t love walkie talkies.  Oddly enough Wendy is thrilled with them because they do Morse code.  I hear beeping in my future.
  • Wendy gave Oliver, Little Big Planet 2 which has less puzzles to solve then the first one which means he won’t be bugging Mark about helping him solve them.  Of course we also got a great family game as we got him Little Big Planet Karting.  It should be fun.
  • Mark gave him Lego Batman 2 for his Nintendo DS.  Oliver loves Batman and insists that Mark is Robin.  Mark isn’t so crazy about that.  We also got Oliver a Batman bobble head.  Something to inspire him with.
  • Santa Claus dropped off a boom box for his room along with some CDs.  Apparently Santa knows that Oliver loves chilling to music with Mark.
Memorex CD Player
  • Hutch got him an art set
  • Maggi got him a compact camcorder.  It’s only standard definition but if it was good enough to shoot Knight Rider in, it will be fine for Oliver.  He loves to make adventure movies with Mark so I can’t wait to see what he shoots.  The camcorder was being blown out at $10 and I tossed a 2 GB SD card in it.  At only 640×480 resolution, he should be able to record himself doing a “slow punch to the face” for days.  I guess I need to get him set up on YouTube (where he could be Mark’s second camera operator).
A $10 Vibe Camcorder

Lee

  • I gave Lee a full sized set of binoculars that should last him for decades.  Very similar to the ones that I have and similar to the ones my grandfather gave me.  The only thing that makes me sad is that they don’t come with leather hard cases like they used to (long before I was born).
  • The boys gave him a framed print of themselves being idiots while out on a walk.  It seems to sum both of them up so well.
Mark and Oliver Cooper at Arlington Beach in 2013
  • We also got Lee, Bobby Orr’s autobiography.

Brittany

  • Wendy gave Brittany a small cast iron pan with ingredients to make up brownies
  • Since Wendy loved the griddle I got her last year, she gave one to Brittany as well.

Me

Pentax f1.7

Canon 17-135 lens travel mug

I also got a Lowepro Classified 160 AW camera bag

LowePro Classified 160 AW camera bag

Well that’s enough from me tonight.  We are sleeping in tomorrow (as if) and then heading over to our friend’s Jerry and Gloria Reimer where we are enjoying Christmas dinner.  Then it is back to work on Boxing Day for Wendy and I.

Anniversary and new site design

Wendy is blogging about my anniversary gift to her and her site features a new theme and feel.