Hurricanes and Cyclones

Over the past six months I've been sampling and even obsessing over a couple recent albums. Last year I listened to Jon Foreman, The Weepies, and Kings of Leon nearly exclusively. Over the summer I could only listen to Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Recently, we've been listening to a fair bit of Regina Spektor since our pastor preached on one of her songs (Laughing With).

But the really amazing albums are a couple new releases from this fall:

Switchfoot's Hello Hurricane features some electric grinding tunes (Mess of Me, The Sound (John M. Perkins' Blues) and the title track) along with their signature introspective ballads (Yet, Sing it Out). Jon Foreman delivers song writing to the same caliber he did on his seasons EPs and the band keeps the same Switchfoot sound they've built a following on. Gorgeous music!

Neko Case, my music crush for the summer, released Middle Cyclone last winter, but I had to digest Fox Confessor before moving forward in her albums. While her older stuff has a quite a bit of country influence, her new stuff is more alt-folk. Some great new anthems from this diva.


Cold Crank

We planned to leave my sister's house west of Edmonton at 11:00 am on Dec 13 in order to make it to a birthday party in Calgary. Instead, our car wouldn't start.

By brother-in-law gave it a boost with his truck. Nothing.

We tried charging the battery. Nothing.

Canadian Tire tried charging it. Nothing.

So, I have a new battery now. The -36°C temperature was a little hard on my poor little old import vehicle.

- - - - - - - - UPDATE - - - - - - - -

It wasn't -36°C, it was closer to -46°C (and with windchill, it was as cold as -58°C) and it was the second coldest place on the planet at the time.

Bright Enormous Moon

Dec 2, 2009 over Calgary.

That was a big moon.

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary

On Amber's birthday, between a tasty brunch put on by Alanna and an evening of delightful food at a Greek restaurant, we spent part of the afternoon at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary with our friends from Whiskey Jack Cohousing. I wasn't too keen on the whole thing since it was chilly and I've seen birds before and they usually aren't around much in the winter.

But the sanctuary showed me! Right in the middle of the city! This gorgeous park on the Bow River with a great path! A full moon shone in the late afternoon clear, deep blue sky. The snow crunched under our feet. And we even saw some birds: lots of ducks and geese heading south, plenty of chickadees and a great horned owl.

And I got to fool around with my camera too. Always fun.

Vinyl Cafe

CBC's Vinyl Cafe presented by Stuart McLean came to Calgary on December 4th. I went with Amber, Mom and Alanna. It was splendid! Mr. Stuart McLean really did well to connect with his eager audience. He gave us three vinyl cafe stories (spiked punch, bicycle, and Stephanie's books), a story exchange story, and a story about his first Christmas away from home. He also presented a couple stunning musical guests: Jill Barber and Matt Andersen (check this New Brunswicker out!). It was a treat! Especially since we had to drive through a blizzard to get there.

I've been listening to McLean's musings, stories, and music selections and guests for about 6 years. My mom has been a fan and introduced us by lending us one of his CDs.

I remember listening to stories about Dave and Morley on the CD in our old Tercel driving from Red Deer to Edmonton.

I remember listening to the VC on the radio while laying on the living room floor with a newborn and rather jaundice Blaise laying beside me under the sun's rays.

I remember listening to the weekly podcasts on my iPod while I tended and milked my goats in Guatemala.

I listen to Stuart McLean on my way home from church now and then continue as I help Amber get a quick lunch ready for the kids.

It is a rare program that I don't find my eyes welling with tears.

Shades of White

Today we had fluffy cottonwood snow fall down.

I enjoy how the snow outlines everything, brings out the geometry and patterns that exist everywhere.

Details of my Daily Commute

8.3 Km One Way
Five Sets of Lights
One Stop Sign
Four Left Turns
Four Right Turns
Five Different Speed Zones
I Pass: 7-11. WalMart. Remand Centre. Youth Detention Centre.

. . . and . . .

Bright pink sunrises that stretch 180° from north to south. Rolling hills covered in wild shrubs and grass that meet at gullies and creeks. Moose. Deer. Coyotes. Owls. Hawks. Crows. Gophers. Geese flying in formation.

Uncle Wolf (1937-2009)

So, I should say from the get go that Uncle Wolf wasn't related to me. Everyone just adopted Wolfram as their uncle.

I had the privilege of knowing Uncle Wolf while working at Foothills Summer Camp for four summers during my university years. He and his wife Bonnie were the caretakers at the camp and lived there for years.

My first memory of Uncle Wolf is as a young Pathfinder at a camporee where hundreds of upper elementary students camped out at Foothills. My counsellors had miscommunicated and our unit was left without any direct supervision for the three days. The six of us pitched our tents and cooked for ourselves (I remember making the french toast). We received a stern lecture from this older man with a thick German accent about not having doused our campfire with enough water. This was in 1988.

From 1996-1999, I spent nine weeks every summer working alongside Uncle Wolf. I was inspired by this man. He offered nature nuggets at the morning programs for the adventurer kids and junior kids and shared his talks with such passion. He always had something to show them whether it was a bird's nest or something taxidermic.

His garage/workshop was pristine. Every tool had its place and you could barely find a speck of sawdust or any kind of dust for that matter on his counters. He kept his BMW motorcycle under a sheet there and I only saw him ride it a couple times, though I know he went for long rides during the off seasons. He also kept a team of gorgeous Belgian horses that he would harness to a wagon - a magnificent sight that no campers could dismiss, not even the blind ones.

Uncle Wolf worked hard too. From dawn until dusk and even after, Wolf was cutting grass, mending fences, fixing plumbing, replacing window screens, monitoring the pool's chemicals, securing ropes down at Sherwood Forest, and doing anything we asked him to. I remember him making a grand set piece for a weekly play I produced: a three sided rotating backdrop on wheels.

He had his flaws, certainly. Anyone who worked with him knew how stubborn he was and how angry he could get. But these incongruent characteristics didn't outshine his passion for God, life, nature, kids, and his wife.

The last time I saw Wolf, I was at a wedding of two former camp counsellors. He and Bonnie sat across from me and we had some good laughs. That was over nine years ago. I was thinking this past summer how I should track Uncle Wolf and Auntie Bonnie down and pay them a visit, but time rolled by too quickly.

Wolfram Hackenberg passed away rather quickly after succumbing to an infection in mid-November. I attended his memorial service at Foothills Camp and sat among former camp staff as we heard details of a man we loved who was born in Germany just prior to the Second World War, who only really knew his father when he returned from the war, who escaped with his family from East Germany through Check Point Charlie to the West, who immigrated to Canada as a young man and worked in the trades all across the continent, who dedicated his life to God and service to Him.

I raise my glass to you my dear friend. Until we meet again.


Koujibouguac National Park

Located on the northern end of the Northumberland Strait, Koujibouguac is a gorgeous collection of dunes, beaches, and coastal forest. I hadn't visited the park since childhood before returning in 2001, probably almost 20 years later, but I could still remember the boardwalks and dunes.

This past summer I took my family there (Amber, my papa, and my two kids). It was fantastic! Because at this point of the New Brunswick coast, P.E.I. doesn't form a barrier to the ocean, the waves crash harder than where we normally go to the beach (in Cap-Pelé).

Blaise and Acadia had fun in the waves (Papa and I did too). Amber enjoyed the sun under 20 mL of sunscreen. We all enjoyed a beautiful time at a preserved and protected beach.


"In Your Hands" - Charlie Winston

I got into my car this morning and CBC Radio 2 lit up ". . . this is the most requested song on Radio 2 right now . . ." and the best song I've heard in ages faded into huge sound. This is Charlie Winston (sign up for the newsletter and get a free download of this song):

The song recalls migrant workers - those who would leave their families to work in foreign lands. In Guatemala, I saw the damage this does to families as some parents worked in other parts of the country, in Mexico on plantations or as truck drivers or as illegal workers in the United States. I've also heard countless tales of fathers leaving their families in Georgia (in Asia) to work in Russia or from North Africa to work in Europe.

There is a level of desperation that is beautifully captured by this great song.


U2 360º Tour, Vancouver, BC

All photos courtesy of Chris and Christie, our companions to the show!

A couple weeks ago, Amber and I splurged (actually, we splurged back in July when we bought our flights, reserved our hotel, and got tickets off our friend Chris) and flew to Vancouver to see one of our all-time favorite bands perform the final concert of their 2009 tour. I must say, U2 puts on a killer show.

As we had general admission tickets, our friends got in line about an hour before we arrived at BC Place. We joined them and got numbers 822 and 823 written on our hands in black marker meaning we would be admitted 822nd and 823rd to the building.

U2's stage is circular and has a larger catwalk ring around it. This means that some fans get into the inner ring and others are on the outside. Our line waiting paid off and we wound up about 5 people back from the stage. There were two bridges that swung between the mainstage and the catwalk so the band moved around a fair bit.

We were really close. In fact, when Bono reached over the railing and sang "I reached out for the one I tried to destroy" from Until the End of the World, he was reaching right for us. We almost had his sweat drip on us (gross). And no Aimee, he didn't hold our hand.

Larry doing his thing on the catwalk (we were pretty much on a first name basis).

The Edge and Bono jamming just to the left of us.

This is what a lot of people's view would have been up in the bleachers. We were inside that outer ring.

I was really proud of myself for not having looked at the set list from previous concerts on the tour. So every song was a surprise for me - and a delight. This is what the 2 hours of sound, light and emotion looked like on paper:
Breathe (2009)
Get on Your Boots (2009)
Magnificent (2009)
Mysterious Ways (1991)
Beautiful Day (2001)
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (1987)
Stuck In A Moment (2001)
No Line on the Horizon (2009)
Elevation (2001)
In A Little While (2001)
Unknown Caller (2009)
Until The End of the World (1991)
Unforgettable Fire (1984)
City of Blinding Lights (2004)
Vertigo (2004)
I'll Go Crazy - Remix (2009)
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1983)
MLK (1984)
Walk On (2001)

One (1991)
Where The Streets Have No Name (1987)

Ultraviolet (1991)
With or Without You (1987)
Moment of Surrender (2009)
A few things struck me during the concert. First, everyone at a U2 concert would probably be really cool to visit with. The people in line with us, the people around us in the pit, they were all really cool people with great political ideas, experiences and an appreciation for the spiritual. There was a camaraderie as Bono held out the microphone and let the audience sing the entire first verse of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and as he closed One with Amazing Grace, everyone joined in.

Secondly, the songs carried so much more meaning live than they do on the albums. I could see the expression on Bono's face and the energy in the musician's performance that added so much to each song. They had big smiles on their faces and just had a great time letting the audience participate in these offerings they had for us (and God).

Third, as I was going into the concert and I marveled at the stage structure for 90 minutes before the opening act came on. I had read and heard a lot of criticism about U2's carbon footprint because of the tour. They have three of these stages that take dozens of transport trucks to carry around to every third venue, often for just one show. The band has several planes (we saw one parked at the airport) to transport them. The show itself is a massive energy user with all the sound and light and even mechanical features. Add to that all of the extra travel by fans (we met some from Edmonton and the States, we and a dozen people we know came from Calgary, and Chris and Christy came from Regina). My buddy Chris told me that the tour was ultimately carbon neutral and that's good, but even if it wasn't - this is an amazing thing to spend energy on: unifying people to rejoice and lament and experience a rare occasion of excellent spectacle.

I have tickets for their recently announced Edmonton show in June, 2010. Should be awesome in the outdoor venue. Can't wait!

Vancouver, 21st Century City

As you can read in the post above this one, Amber and I travelled sans children (big thanks to Alanna and Kyle) to Vancouver to see U2 perform on October 28. I've been to Vancouver a handful of times, most recently this summer when we spent a few hours at the Aquarium. I even lived in Maple Ridge for a season when I was 2. I hardly expected to be impacted by the city in the 20 hours that we spent there.

Upon landing at YVR Airport, we went up an elevator and boarded the SkyTrain. For just $3.75 each, we were comfortably shuttled to downtown Vancouver in just over 20 minutes. Compare this to Edmonton where a shuttle costs $15/person and a taxi would run $48. In Calgary, a shuttle costs the same and a cab would cost about $35 (because the airport is within city limits). We used the SkyTrain to return to the airport from downtown too.

Then there was the vibrant downtown. There were people everywhere and cool shops too.

The water really makes the city though and waiting in line outside BC Place on the edge of English Bay, it really felt like this city was on the right track.

Too bad housing prices are prohibitively expensive (even more than Calgary!).


Spring Brook Farm

This past summer in New Brunswick, I again had the privilege of visiting my childhood friend's farm. Jean-Pierre and I were little buddies when we were pre-schoolers because our parents were good friends. Along with my grandmother, he and his family represent for me my origins and a sense of home as they are geographically static and constants in my whirlwind upbringing and life.

At Spring Brook Farm pigs and chickens are raised with great care. The products are sold mainly at the Dieppe Farmer's Market that was established in large part due to the efforts of Jean-Pierre's father. I had a couple opportunities this summer of tasting the meats and indeed they are exceptional.

The farm is very intentional and passionate about spreading the ideals of eating well (not that I disagree with them at all). In this world, they are almost voices crying out in the wilderness.

An example of their great practices is this chicken coop. Every day or two, they drag the building ahead with a tractor giving the chickens fresh grass to eat and leaving behind droppings to fertilize the soil. It takes just about a week to see the soil return to a rich green state after having heaps of free range chickens claw up the ground.

I'm envious of their lifestyle as I'd love to raise my kids on a farm as opposed to suburbia.


My Watch Stopped

This morning, at about 5:40 am, my watch of 11 years stopped for the second time.

Amber bought me this Lorus Sports watch for my birthday back in '98, our first year dating. I've had it ever since. Before this watch I had a series of Casio digital watches that would last about 2 or 3 years and then conk out - and it was cheaper (and more fun) to buy a new watch than to replace the battery.

Six years later, when we lived in Montreal, the battery died and I went to a jewelry store and ten bucks later, it was ticking again. Five and a half years later and it has happened again, almost like clockwork.

In Guatemala, I dropped my watch and the glass cracked pretty badly. I bought a couple cheap Casio ripoffs in the market (why wouldn't they make pretend watches of a better brand?), but they would only last a couple days. So, I took my watch to a local jeweler and for Q50 ($7) he replaced the glass and seal and it was like new (except that it would let in some moisture when it rained (which was all the time)). I dropped it about a month later and had to do it all over again.

So, here's to keeping a good watch for as long as possible. Cheers!


My latest film project (which was begun while another current one is still under construction) is a collection of interviews of people speaking about my pépère (grandfather), Uldège Robichaud.

This summer I conducted eight interviews and I hope to do another eight to ten before next summer is over (if I can get to New Brunswick again). My father helped me out quite a bit, so I'll add him as a producer or something in the credits.

It's a project that I'm enjoying a lot. I'm discovering that pépère was a remarkable, hilarious and extraordinarily generous man, much more than I had expected.

3800 Kilometres

Drove 3800 km this summer: Calgary to Kispiox to Squamish to Calgary with stops in Prince George, Smithers, Hazelton (Two Mile), Vancouver, Abbotsford, and Revelstoke).

I managed to sneak listening to Neko Case's "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" about five times in the car - it wasn't Amber's favorite, but I couldn't get enough.

The kids were absolutely awesome - except Acadia throwing up a couple times, that wasn't so awesome for anyone.

I drove most of the way, but Amber did take the wheel at some crucial points like between McBride and PG - that stretch can break a man.

And of course it was great to see everyone in BC from Amber's family to my sister and her family to my cousin and her new family and Tey and his family. It was pretty stress free, even the wedding! Right, congrats April and Gabriel! And thanks for inviting us to your party nephew Kai!


Pugwash after 15 Years

I worked with six of these fine people years ago.

This past summer, I visited the summer camp that I spent summers '89, '90, '91, '92, and '94 at. The last three of those, I was a staff member where I counseled junior, teen and blind campers, taught silk screening, rang the bell, washed dishes (the only guy among several girls), snuck out at nights, learned video editing (thanks to Frank Spangler), played taps and reveille on the trumpet (when Peter would let me) made sand sculptures, canoed and kayaked, played guitar at campfires, participated in skits, led in water follies activities, taught computers (on really, really old Macs), cleaned cabins and bathrooms, and most profoundly made some great friendships.

The Seventh-Day Adventist Camp at Pugwash was a great place to grow up. I actually went on my first date there when I was a camper. A girl asked me out to the banquet. When I was a camper, my mom volunteered so I and my sisters got to hang out at the camp for 5 weeks.

It had been 15 years since I drove away from Pugwash in 1994 and moved to Alberta. It's remarkable how little the place has changed - I noticed there were fewer people, a few new buildings, and the rose bushes by frisbee golf hole 6 have been cut down, but other than that it hasn't changed a bit.

My son even found a girl to drag him around.


This is a post long overdue . . .

While in New Brunswick, we were treated to my fathers berry patches, bushes, and trees. We picked blueberries, raspberries, currants, strawberries, cherries, and some things I don't even know what they were called. Berries are almost all primary colors when they are ripe and they look so good against the green backdrop. How could their Creator not have meant for them to stand out against their backdrop only once they are ripe.



I stumbled upon wordle.net today and it ended up consuming about two hours of my afternoon. It essentially is constructs word art by associating the size of the word with the number of occurrences it has within a particular text. What you see above is a compilation of the first 472 entries of this blog.

Click on the images for larger versions.

The Lord of the Rings text.

All U2 lyrics.

The Early Christians book.

The Cleanse

Last night, I took my final two capsules a month long, natural colon cleanse and organ detoxification regimen from Renew Life. It involved taking two tablets in the mornings thirty minutes before breakfast and two other capsules three hours after supper. There were some other recommendations like drink more water, eliminate dairy, wheat, and sugar while adding some strange grains, exercising, etc., but I wasn't about to give up eating cheese.

Over all, I think it went quite smoothly. I recommend it - it won't hurt at the very least as it is quite gentle. I didn't feel hypervitalized, but I did feel better knowing toxins were leaving my body more efficiently. Can't beat the price either - only $35.

First Snow

My feelings exactly.

We had a few wisps of snow on roofs yesterday morning and nothing on the ground, but this morning, the snow continued to fall and the sky stayed grey and the temperatures didn't cool and the furnace stayed on and I stayed inside.

I'll wait 2 weeks before putting snow tires on in a feeble attempt at extending autumn.


The Whole Night Sky*

Tonight I stole my son to go star gazing with some junior high students from my school. My colleague, Mr. Schneider, managed to gather a few astronomers with their impressive telescopes in our back field at the school. He gave a short talk and presented about 10 minutes of a video about God and the majesty of the celestial bodies.

The sky managed to stay clear enough despite a drifting haze from the burnings of pine (because of pine beetle infestation) in Canmore. What I saw in the heavens was absolutely astounding. The four main features are pictured above:
If Blaise didn't get cold and tired, I would have stayed out for hours staring at the sky. Truly glorious.

*So, the title comes from a song from Bruce Cockburn's The Charity of Night album, but the blog really shares nothing with the song aside from the moniker. Plus it's cool to put a star next to the title. I should note too that I didn't take these pictures. Maybe one day.

I took this photo in New Brunswick and was pretty proud of it.