"A Real Deal" or "R.I.P. Roger's Video"

The only store I would frequent the last 3 years is Roger's Video, actually a rental store, but I would pick through their previously viewed DVDs and bring them home by the half dozen every month or so. With their reward points system and regular sales, I'd get the usually mint condition movies for about $5.

My local franchise, the Country Hill Blvd location, closed its doors in August. I was sad. Since then, I've been meaning to head to the Silver Springs location, but I simply haven't thought of it enough.

Last night I remembered as I was driving out of Co-op and found a nearly empty business. 4 parallel shelves and a mostly empty wall held a few DVDs and 3 guys stood around the cash registers. Big signs hung in the windows: Buy 1, Get 3 Free. My lucky day!

I took a good 45 minutes preening through the alphabetical collection and carried a large stack of DVDs to the counter. I left my Roger's Star Rewards card and $110.15 (tax incl.) with the kindly soon-to-be-unemployed video store clerks and walked out 40 movies richer.


Non-Fiction Reading List

I'm a book collector. But I like reading my books too, albeit slowly and steadily. I finished three great non-fiction books this fall and if I did New Years Resolutions, I would determine to spend more time reading.

These are the books I plan to read in the coming months.

VIOLENCE by Slavoj Žižek
Popular philosopher Žižek engagingly discusses the roots of violence rather than surface issues. And by violence, he means even the passive violence and class struggles against sexism, poverty, and ideology.

This is required reading at work so we can coach our students to approach challenges with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Recommended by a psychologist who both attends my church and is working with our school.

Since receiving daily emails from the Bruderhof communities (Mennonite Communes) in 2005 and watching the Amish response to a slaughter of 5 school girls in 2007, I have been fascinated by the Anabaptist expression of Christianity. This should flesh it out for me. It carries endorsements from Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne.

I enjoyed Blink by Gladwell a couple years ago, so I plan on continuing to read his popular books. This one focuses on how certain people, usually ordinary, have greater influence on people than others do.

I first heard Dr. Rauser (philosophy prof) speak at our ACSI Teachers Conference when I started working in Calgary. I only ever attend his seminars now. Lately I have followed his blog with great interest as he duels with Atheists, Calvinists, and Fundamentalists.

I recently completed Archbishop Puhalo's The Soul, The Body, and Death and was impressed at his scholarship and how this ancient theology is so engaging and still so relevant. My friend Chris lent me these two books, so I had better read this one too. I've been watching Archbishop's regular YouTube videos too.

I found this on my father's bookshelf. The author was my philosophy professor in university and I quite liked him. His book questions why Christians believe the way they do.

I found this book on Tony Jones' blog and read the the first chapter online and was hooked. Got it for Christmas from my sis. It is a collection of essays on what he has found on the faith frontier in the USA. I think the title of the first chapter is pretty rockin' too.

I've mentioned how Anglican Bishop Wright has quite turned my head around after reading his Surprised by Hope a couple summers ago. I plan on reading more of his books (and collecting them) as time passes. Great faith grounding material.

This is assigned reading from the Process Team in our Cohousing Project. I have been recruited to be one of the groups six facilitators and now I must read this book. So far, I haven't had anything to complain about (ask me if I've started it).

Conspiracy or Inattention?

The kids got pyjamas for Christmas. An unnecessarily large tag had to be removed from the inside of the top so the kids could wear their new outfits comfortably. I don't normally pay much attention to tags, but as I tore these out, I noticed the instructions to wash in English, French, & Spanish:

wash warm

à l'eau chaude = in hot water

en agua fría = in cold water

All the other instructions were the same, just the water temperature varied - and varied greatly! So, is it that people of different languages wash clothes differently? Is it that Joe clothing brand hired some lazy translators? Is it that someone thought it would be funny or cruel? Is it that it really doesn't matter?

...for the slave is our brother

Our family attended our church's Christmas Eve candle lighting service. It was packed and glorious. We had sat in the second to last row so I could get back to the camera for a minor role I contributed to the tech team. By the start of the service, so many rows of chairs were added that we were in the centre.

Beside me sat/stood a man I had never before seen at church. He carried a medium sized backpack. Other than the big bushy chops on his cheeks and the baseball cap, he did not appear any more unkempt than I. What was noteworthy and distracting about this young man was that he clearly exhibited the effects of Tourette's syndrome: body spasms and tics and shouting out. While he was in my peripheral sight as I looked at the screen to my left, I did notice others glancing uncomfortably backwards at him.

During the songs in particular, he would rock unceremoniously and wave his unlit candle around. He would sing some of the time, but mostly smile and then shout. He lit his candle from mine twice as his went out because he was moving around so much.

As the band led us in O Holy Night, I sang this beside him:

Truly He taught us to love one another; 
His law is love and His Gospel is peace. 
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother 
And in His Name all oppression shall cease. 
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, 
Let all within us praise His holy Name!

He left the service, alone and quickly, before I could introduce myself. 

I left the service somberly. Did he have friends or family? Did he have a home? Did he receive love from the Body of Christ tonight?


700 Films Reviewed

Over on my Zaak Watches Movies by himself blog, I've reached the 700 movies milestone. I started the blog about four and a half years ago when I was living in Guatemala as a way to practice writing but also to write about the values I drew from film. The reviews were longer and far more reflective than they are now. Now, I'm too busy to get into long discourses. The reviews are typically only 5-7 sentences long now.

Based on my current milestone, I know that I watch three movies per week. I watch very little television (a couple shows a week) and I think this is far more edifying.

The 147 best films of the 700 can be referenced here, and I've listed them below:

… And the Pursuit of Happiness
Darwin’s Nightmare
Deliver Us From Evil
Encounters at the End of the World
Fahrenheit 9/11
Grizzly Man
Hoop Dreams
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
Taxi to the Dark Side
To Be and To Have
Foreign Language Films
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
8 ½
As it is in Heaven
Che: Part One
Che: Part Two
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
I’ve Loved You So Long
It’s Not Me, I Swear!
Joyeux Noël
Lady Chatterley
Letters from Iwo Jima
Tell No One
The Child
The Class
The Counterfeiters
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Human Condition
The Lives of Others
The Motorcycle Diaries
The Necessities of Life
The Post
The Postman
The Reader
The Son’s Room
The Time of the Wolf
Wings of Desire
Yi yi
Animated Films
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Grave of the Fireflies
Spirited Away
The Man Who Planted Trees
The Secret of the Kells
Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Everything Else
127 Hours
500 Days of Summer
A Passage to India
A Serious Man
Alice in Wonderland
All the President’s Men
American Gangster
An Education
Barry Lyndon
Barton Fink
Black Swan
Blue Valentine
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Cast Away
Crazy Heart
Dancer in the Dark
District 9
Do the Right Thing
Dog Day Afternoon
Flags of our Fathers
Forrest Gump
Get Low
Gran Torino
Green Zone
Half Nelson
I’m Not There
Inglorious Basterds
Judgment at Nurenberg
Kill Bill: Vol. 2
Kramer vs. Kramer
Lars and the Real Girl
Little Children
Little Miss Sunshine
Michael Clayton
My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown
Mysterious Skin
No Country for Old Men
Punch-Drunk Love
Rachel Getting Married
Revolutionary Road
Shaun of the Dead
Shutter Island
Sling Blade
Slumdog Millionaire
Sunshine Cleaning
Synecdoche, New York
The Apostle
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Fall
The Fighter
The Godfather
The Godfather Part III
The Hurt Locker
The King’s Speech
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Machinist
The Prestige
The Road
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Social Network
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
The Taste of Others
The Tree of Life
The Visitor
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
The Wrestler
The Young Victoria
There Will Be Blood
Things We Lost in the Fire
True Grit
Up in the Air
Where the Wild Things Are
You Can Count on Me


"A Dingo Took My Baby!"

I heard this phrase twice yesterday with overdone Australian accents:
"A dingo took my baby!"
Both times, the comment was followed by laughter.

This bothers me for two reasons. First, it is a statement that is copied from pop culture in order to elicit laughter; a "TMI" or "Oh no you di'n't" kind of phrase that lacks any originality and is way too overdone in our culture. Secondly and for a far more important reason, the dingo joke is rooted in a dark and recent tragedy.

In the summer of 1980, an Australian family, the Chamberlains was camping at Uluru (Ayer's Rock) where their 2 month old daugher Azaria was taken by a dingo, a wild dog. Because such a thing had not happened before and because the family belonged to a fringe Christian church (Seventh-Day Adventist), the media and investigating police doubted the mother's story that she had seen a dingo bolt out of the tent as she approached. Mass hysteria broke out throughout Australia calling for Lindy Chamberlain to pay for  what most of the country believed to be a covered up murder of the baby. She was brought to trial in what became the most publicized trial in Australian history and deemed guilty based on dubious evidence (and likely popular pressure). Lindy was sentenced to life in prison.

After spending more than 3 years in jail and giving birth to another daughter to which she wasn't permitted to care for, new evidence surfaced proving her story of a dingo was true and that she was indeed innocent. The Chamberlain family suffered greatly as a result. You can watch a film based on their story: A Cry in the Dark (brilliant title with a double meaning).

Because "a dingo took my baby" became such a catchphrase and substitution for a lame excuse in Australia from 1980-1986, it persists even today.

What is remarkable to me is how someone who would not joke about a grave injustice or a baby being killed can handily refer to this tragic event as a way to get a laugh.


To iPhone or not to iPhone?

I expressed this carnal dilemma on facebook last night:
Zaak thinks an iPhone is terrific, found an ideal monthly plan, has his wife's permission to get one, but still can't list enough reasons why he "needs" one. He guesses he'll just keep his money.
Not surprisingly, I got 15 comments. I'll get to those in a minute.

What I didn't post was my full tech needs and resources. 
  • I currently have an iMac (on it's 4th year) on which I do most of my personal work (design, video, email, photo & music library, website, address book, calendar, Skype with family, etc.).
  • I have a school MacBook Pro (also on it's 4th year) on which I do all of my school work (making assignments/tests/lesson presentations, email, grading program, media class prep), cohousing work (email, proposals, committee work, Skype, etc.), and where I do most of my web browsing and blogging (I'm on it now). 
  • I have a first generation iPod Touch 8 GB (which my students think is totally retro) on which I listen to tunes at work during preps, play Angry Birds, use as a calculator, check my email / calendar / address book, look at maps before traveling to a new location in Calgary, and check the news/blogs on the rare occasion my laptop isn't around and I have wifi). I have tried reading books, the Bible, and blogging from my iPod, but it just isn't a very fulfilling experience.
  • I have an 80 GB iPod Classic which serves as our entire music library. It's hooked up to our receiver in the living room and it comes on long car trips. 
  • I share a Nokia mobile phone with my wife that we usually forget to bring with us or forget to charge. I use it to text for carpool rides (about 10-15 texts a month). When we do remember to bring it with us, we'll call home to ask if there is anything we can pick up on the way home (the answer is usually "no"). We've never exceeded the 50 free minutes on any given month.
  • We also have a brand new set of Panasonic wireless home phones. We spend about $30/mo total to have the home phones including all of our long distance.
So, what more could an iPhone (or an Android smart phone*) add to my life?
  • iPhones are a thing of beauty, not unlike a mountain vista or a glorious symphony. My life could be impacted just by the beauty (harmony, intention, power). 
  • The odd time I am a little lost in Calgary, I could use the G4 network and the maps app. 
  • Amber could have full ownership of the Nokia or we could cancel that $15/mo subscription. 
  • I could shoot video and take impromptu photos rather than having to drag my Canon miniDV camcorder or Flip Cam and my Nikon DSLR around everywhere. 
  • I could update my facebook status from almost anywhere. Something I barely do at home.
  • I could give my kids my iPod Touch to play with. 
  • I could adapt enjoy more apps that I have been unable to try/use because my iPod is so old (3.5 years!!). 
Other than that... I can't think of more options. All of these would be super cool. Being able to carry my Nokia, iPod, and Flip all in one is pretty cool - though I rarely have more than 1 of those in my pocket at a time.

Is that worth $60/month (plus the cost of the phone) for the next 3 years (about $2,650 total including tax, fees)? I would likely spend a couple more hundred dollars on apps etc. too.

Now for the facebook comments:
  • Dean, Isabel, Janis, Cate, Marta and Karry LOVE their iPhones and believe I would also. I agree.
  • Sara, Justin, Helen, and Landon suggest alternatives: Androids, something cheaper. Reservations? Yikes!
  • Mom, Petra, and Trish share my dilemma. Yup.
  • Lawrence and Jon discourage me from giving in to my wants. True, true.
So how would an iPhone impact my life? This should be my question.

Yes, I would have a marginally (?) richer tech life. 

Would I likely have my nose glued to it all day and all evening? Probably, knowing my experience with my iPod/MacBook/iMac. This likely means less facetime (irony?) with my family. 

The pocketbook** would suffer. 

As a whole, I will have become more materialistic, though I've already achieved gold status, so what harm could an iPhone do?

As a global citizen, would owning an iPhone be better for everyone? I believe that is a resounding no. The factories aren't exactly a place where I'd like my children to work, so why would I support the employment for the Chinese. The materials used are likely mined unethically and may even contribute to wars around the planet. But again, I'm already a global criminal by the amount of energy, food, and technology that I consume, what's one more gadget?

Finally, the tough question, and one I am reluctant to post here, but hey it might generate a good discussion. I should iterate: I am not judging those who own and love their iPhones. This is my struggle, but maybe it is yours too: Can I as a professing Christian own an iPhone based on the reasons I've posted? I'm not sure I can. And I type these words with sadness because I really, really want an iPhone.

  • My money could be spent more generously, in a more giving way.
  • My time could be spent in relationship, rather than entertainment.
  • I should consider the full, global impact of my spending as the ripple effect is great and terrible.
  • Can my purpose here on earth (to be used by God for the restoration, renewal, and redemption of the world) be better accomplished using an iPhone? (maybe?)
And this applies to far more than just an iPhone. It demands a re-evaluation of my entire life.

* I'm already fully integrated into the Apple Borg, so would an Android phone fully integrate itself with all of my Mac stuff? I was at a loss trying out my coworkers new Android tablet.
** by using this word, do I disqualify myself from even being able to buy an iPhone?


Eye Lid Twitch

Both of my upper eye lids have been twitching regularly for the last 2-3 weeks. According to a coworker, it's due to stress and lack of sleep. This is confirmed by internet research.

I find it remarkable how my body is telling me very clearly that I am being subjected to too much stress and yet I am still able to function uninhibited. Rather than putting me into a coma where I would be relieved of stress and given an opportunity to catch up on rest, I just get a persistent irritant.

Indeed I've been stressed - and it's not distress, just a lot on my plate. Plenty left to do... as long as it's only my eye lid twitching I should be fine.


Win/Lose [courtesy of the Grey Cup]

BC Lions QB Travis Lulay celebrates winning the Grey Cup yesterday.

Winnipeg Blue Bomber QB Buck Pierce does not celebrate losing the Grey Cup yesterday.

Edmonton Journal Interview

Co-housing requires consensus, patience and coloured cards
NOVEMBER 27, 2011

EDMONTON —When it comes to making group decisions, Zaak Robichaud faced the ultimate challenge — how to get more than a dozen families together to come up with house plans they all liked for a new co-housing project in Calgary.

It helps, says Robichaud, to use consensus cards. At monthly meetings, everyone gets red, green and yellow cards to signal their views. If someone drops a yellow card, that means they have reservations. The issue has be to talked through.

“You can’t just object and walk away, you are obliged to come and help work it out,” Robichaud says.
It works, he says. But you have to be patient.

After two years, the Dragonfly group recently bought a piece of land in central Calgary near Bridgeland, the architectural design is underway and construction will start next year, he says.

That puts them two years away from moving in, so people have to be patient to get into co-housing, says Robichaud.

In this ambitious, $12-million co-housing project with 36 units, the average cost of a condo is $340,000. That will vary with the size of the unit, from one to four bedrooms.

There is an element of risk in co-housing, given that it takes four to five years from start to finish. The longer you carry the land, the more expensive it can be.

On the other hand, acting as their own developer, the group avoids the cost of a middleman, he says. And the risk diminishes as more units are sold.

When half the 36 units were sold, the group had the money to buy land and get design underway.
Robichaud is confident the complex will sell out, since plenty of people are interested in this new model of housing that combines the autonomy of private ownership with some shared space for socializing.
The group decided it wanted a large common space — 5,000 square feet.

So far, families with a total of 15 kids under seven are signed up, along with some seniors, teachers, doctors and professional people.

The group decisions are endless — one big structure or four separate fourplexes? How many elevators, how big a common room, how much energy efficiency?

But all the work is worth it, says Robichaud, who lives with his wife and two children in Calgary’s northwest suburbs.

“Out here the only thing in walking distance is a 7-Eleven convenience store and an Esso gas station. With two small children, we really feel isolated.” Living in co-housing will change all that.

“In co-housing nobody every pays for babysitting,” he says. “We look after each other.”


So that...

Our cohousing design is aimed at building relationships
so that  I will know my neighbours
so that I cannot ignore their needs
so that I build my capacity for empathy and compassion
so that my life will not be lived selfishly
so that I can look myself and my maker in the eye.

From an exercise we did during a design programming workshop this past weekend. Tim and I went back and forth to create this purpose.


I ♥ Calgary

When I first moved to Calgary just over 3 years ago, I was pessimistic and quite negative about the city's maddening sprawl, crazy city parking rates (second highest in North America), lack of urban vibe, unprogressive transit system, and high prices. Since this time, even though I am still irked by all of these negative traits, I have come to appreciate my city.

These are my favourite things about my new home:
  1. New Hope Church: I have become quite involved and attached to this small church. It meets in a community centre which means it is not an empty building for most of the week. The pastors are enigmatic, caring, and thinking. It has a great core of volunteers that set-up, run tech, and children's programs. It has a great focus on reading the Creational Text alongside the Bible. The worship music is stupendous because of the great skill of the musicians and because of the great song choices. It is also a socially conscious church that has a community development partnership in Malawi, a fundraising group for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, involvement with Inn from the Cold, etc.
  2. The Calgary Zoo: Our family has had year memberships for nearly three years now because it is such an enjoyable outing for our whole family - kids love it and Amber and I do too. The animal population of the zoo is so vast and diverse that each visit can be unique. It is spread out enough that it involves a good walk and leaves you satisfyingly invigorated afterwards. My favourite residents are the tigers, giant anteaters, red pandas, and the andean condor. The new plant conservatory is also especially refreshing in the winter.
  3. Dragonfly Cohousing: I know, I blog about cohousing a bit much, but it is indeed one of the most important features of Calgary that I am involved in. The only other completed cohousing projects in Canada are the dozen or so in BC, one in Ontario and Prairie Sky in Calgary. It feels great to be a part of such a good force in this city: raising density, building energy efficiently, inter-generational community.
  4. Mayor Nenshi: We have enjoyed the leadership and vision of Mayor Naheed Nenshi for just over a year now. He is an academic with a great sense of what Calgary can become and it has been a pleasure having him at the helm of City Hall.
  5. City Parks: We don't get out to the parks nearly enough, but we have explored Nose Hill, Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, Baker Park, Edworthy Park, Bowness Park, and Prince's Island during the last three years. Calgary has the two largest city parks in Canada: Nose Hill and Fish Creek which rank 44th and 38th in the world respectively.
  6. Concerts: Since Calgary is the largest Canadian city between Vancouver and Toronto, we rarely get skipped over by concert tours (though U2 played Edmonton rather than Calgary back in June). The musical drought I experienced in Guatemala ended when we moved here: Sam Roberts, Leonard Cohen, The New Pornographers, Arcade Fire, Switchfoot, Wilco, Calexico, Mountain Goats, Owen Pallett, etc.
  7. Rocky Mountains: Everytime I get in my car and either drive west or south I see the peaks on the Rocky Mountain Range (that is if the sky is clear, which in sunny Alberta it usually is). The mountains never cease to inspire awe.
  8. City Skyline: I remember passing through downtown Calgary on the bus just days after coming back to Canada and having my jaw drop. You can not not be impressed by the downtown outline driving down Sarcee South or along John Laurie. The oil industry has fed a great highrise race downtown.
  9. CO-OP Liquor Stores: Such fantastic beer selections. They deserve special mention in this list.
  10. Specialty Shops: I don't get to shop much, nor do I have much spending money, but I do enjoy the odd outing to Mountain Equipment Co-op, Memory Express (tech supplies), and Fair's Fair (used books). Glad they are there!
  11. Friends: We aren't lonely. Ever. Thanks y'all!


Beer Tasting

I was able to host a beer tasting last Thursday night as a prize I offered for our Ubuntu fundraiser. The winners joined me and I invited another friend to help us drink the beer. I had to do a bit of research for the event as I know there is a particular order which is best to drink. I thought it should be lightest to darkest, but according to most experts we should drink the beer in order of increasing flavour and alcohol strength.

We didn't own any small drinking glasses, so I picked a few up. I was quite happy with how they worked. I also did a bit of research on Beer Advocate and printed an information sheet on the beers so we'd learn a bit too.

I printed these little scoring cards on the back of blank recipe cards to make the event a bit more official - or at least to make us feel a bit more pro. I scored the first beer too high not leaving enough room for improvement. Next time, I'll have to score the first beer at about 50% as a baseline.

This is my selection in order of tasting:
  1. Harviestoun's Bitter and Twisted (4.2% IPA from Scotland)
  2. Weihenstephaner's Hefe Weissbier (5.4% wheat beer from Germany)
  3. Warsteiner's Premium Dunkel (4.9% dark lager from Germany)
  4. Brouwerij Verhaeghe's Duchess de Bourgogne (6.2% Flanders red ale from Belgium)
  5. Raasted's Hindbaer Trippel (8.5% raspberry beer from Denmark)
  6. Fuller's London Porter (5.4% English porter from England)
  7. Young's Double Chocolate Stout (5.2% milk stout from England)
  8. Pike's Monk's Uncle Tripel (9.0% strong pale ale from USA)
  9. Hebrew's Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A. (10.0% double IPA from USA)
The clear winner was the incredibly tasty Double Chocolate Stout, followed by the Bittersweet, then the London Porter. I really enjoyed all the beers. We lined our stomachs with some of Amber's homemade bread with melted cheese and sprinkled cumin. It was a lovely evening.

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." - Benjamin Franklin 
"Water is drank by the four legged beast; man prefers it with hops, malts, and yeast." - German Toast


Man Scouts: Cornholing Tournament

I'm a Man Scout. No, I'm not looking for a man. I'm developing man skills with other men. It's a new group at church for dudes who just want to get out and be men for a few hours since many of us work office jobs. It's also a great way to get to know each other.

Our first Man Scout Meeting was in the far South East of Calgary where we hung out in a garage drinking Co-op Gold, eating smokies and competing in a cornholing tournament.

Cornholing is basically a beanbag tossing game with goals not unlike playing horseshoes. Each player gets 2 bags and tries to either land the bag on a plywood platform for 1 point or better, land the bag through the hole for 3 points. We formed five teams of 2 and competed in a round robin in games up to 11. My partner was Ira and thanks to his graceful skill, we went undefeated in the round robin. That is not to say that I did not make vital contributions, but he got us the vast majority of the points.
We entered the playoff round playing the fourth place team. We defeated them handily by pushing a bag of theirs through the hole which pushed them over 11 and thus back to 6 points where we then took over.

The finals were against the second place team - the team we had the most trouble beating in the round robin: Miguel and Dave. We tied at 11 twice forcing us both to restart at 6 again. We ultimately won as the undefeated team.

We were awarded the Cup of Destiny in a grand ceremony. Ira and I each got to sip Gold from the cup.

To further bring the group together, they pit Ira and I against each other to see who would win the better of two Gerber tools. By this time, we were tossing bean bags in the dark. We advanced together towards the goal, but Ira won out 11-9.

It was a great time with some terrific men. I look forward to the second Man Scout meet where we will change oil.

Passports a Plenty

As I was gathering my things this morning from my desk I noticed three passports sitting together; none of them are legal. I'm not a spy or an international criminal, so why all the passports?

Parks Canada currently offers a passport with the purchase of a year pass to the National and Historic Parks. You can get a stamp at each of the parks you visit and check them off on the last page.

My friend Dallas picked up a Passeport Acadien at Fort Beauséjour this summer and gave it to me as I'm a proud Acadian. The passport is symbolic of course and includes emblems and historical accounts relevant to Acadia.

Last spring I got a Beers of the World Co-op passport when I got some international beer. With every new kind of international beer, you get a stamp and you can redeem the stamps for a gift after every 12 stamps.


Blanket Exercise

Yesterday at church, guests from the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue and the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee facilitated the Blanket Exercise with our congregation. The purpose as outlined by the CRCPD is to:

"seek reconciliation and renewed relationships with our Aboriginal neighbours. One step along this journey of reconciliation is to understand our shared history."
Our chairs were arranged in a circle and blankets were spread like a patchwork quilt in the centre. Everyone removed their shoes and began walking around on the blankets representing the First Nations people in Canada prior to its 'discovery' by the Europeans. Our guests then narrated the history of the interactions and negotiations between the First Nations and the colonizers. People were designated as dead as disease raged across the country. Others were isolated in relocation programs. More were shunned by their people because of their attendance of residential schools. The land was carved up.

While none of the history was new to me, it is not a history that I particularly like to dwell upon as it implicates my current prosperous circumstances as the result of genocide, disenfranchisement, racism, and many other atrocities. It was healthy to experience the history as a community though because we could collectively acknowledge the injustice and also express a desire to work towards restoration.

On the way home from church, Blaise wanted to know what we did for the service as he saw we had brought a blanket. Explaining the history of the Aboriginal Canadians was difficult as we had to continually face the question "why?" I could barely voice the account of children being forcibly removed from their homes and placed in residential schools.

My belief is that if the first step towards reconciliation is to "understand our shared history," then the second step is to accept responsibility and acknowledge the injustice as real. A third and vital step is the formation of personal and authentic reciprocal relationships between First Nations people and people of European descent.

Another Brick in the EcoSan Latrine Wall

The latest fundraiser I was a part of was the Pink Floyd themed "Another Brick in the EcoSan Latrine Wall." We sold cardboard bricks for $10 and entered people's names in for door prizes that church members donated (wine or beer tastings, multi-course home cooked meals, jewelry making class, etc.). Then a couple Sundays ago at our annual Chili fest potluck, we used everyone's bricks to build a life sized (well, maybe a bit smaller) EcoSan Latrine.

I have to say that ever since having joined Ubuntu about two years ago, I have been impressed at how intentional the group has been in:
  • honouring the people of Kamenzi
  • maintaining the relationships formed in 2009 when we sent a small delegation to Malawi
  • allowing the community in Malawi to manage the development
  • communicate the needs of the Kamenzi communities to our church
  • raising funds for the projects
The Ecosan Latrine provides a two-fold benefit to a household in Malawi. First, it improves sanitation by reducing risk of air and waterborn disease as it properly disposes of waste matter. Second, the latrine processes the waste in 6 month intervals (alternating between two holding tanks) into nutrient rich fertilizer which eliminates the need for purchasing increasingly more expensive potash based fertilizer.


Visit from Malawi

My church was graced with the presence of three directors of community development projects in the Kamenzi area of Malawi for 11 days at the end of September. I have been a member of a community development partnership team from my church called Ubuntu for the past couple years. Since we sent a small group from Calgary to their community in 2009, we thought it would be beneficial to bring a group from Malawi to Calgary so they could meet our community and so that our whole community could meet some people from the community we are working with.

Jane, Bornface, and Christina arrived in Calgary in mid-autumn. The first time the last two left Malawi was this trip (also the first time they boarded a plane). They went from the small capital city of Lilongwe to a couple layovers in Addis Ababa and London and then to chilly Alberta. They seemed a little overwhelmed to begin with, but some winter coats and many warm handshakes brought out smiles and eased them into a very busy and relationship building week and half.

Amber and I were privileged to host Jane and Christina for their four final nights and all three of them for a supper. It was a pleasure to hear of their work first hand. Jane oversees several development projects in conjunction with the CRWRC (Christian Reformed World Relief Committee). Bornface and Christina are the chair and vice-chair of the committee implementing the four projects in Kamenzi we are cooperating with them on. As committee members, neither of them are permitted to benefit from the projects - a sacrifice they are willing to make in order to maintain integrity among their villagers and in order to see the projects through. The repeatedly expressed their desire to see conditions improve among their people.

The trio visited my school to speak (and sing!) at the secondary chapel service. I interviewed them and gave them a tour of our facilities. We outlined the projects we were involved in and shared a bit on how our mutually beneficial relationship functioned - something I am very proud Ubuntu emphasizes.

Their last Sunday in Calgary, they were able to share with our whole church on how the seed loans, goat program, eco-san latrines, and orphan breakfasts were transforming their community. But they were also able to give us their impressions of we as Canadians live:

  • Our wealth is good. We have done things well.
  • Men treat their wives very well, helping with child care, housework, and cooking - an inspiration for Bornface and a shock to Jane and Christina.
  • We are generous and have been a blessing to their community.
  • They want to see many of the ways we do things, taught to them.
  • We are very friendly. We don't use hand sanitizer after shaking their hands (as they had feared we might based on previous experience with North Americans) (how absolutely heartbreaking is that?).
We received a report from our contact in Malawi concerning their debrief. It essentially communicated how much they all enjoyed the trip, but most impacting thing for me was this:
Christina said she was going to miss the bed!!
If Christina's bed is anything like the beds so many Guatemalans use it is nothing more than boards or the ground with a blanket. Christina had shared with us that a typical day for her is to wake at 4 AM, work in the field until 2 PM, prepare a meal for herself and her family of 6 (a couple of her children have grown up already), then volunteer teach adult literacy in the late afternoon.

I was deeply moved by all of this. It brought so much clarity to the inequity on the planet, but more importantly how a relationship can forge a desire to do something about it.

I am hoping to join the crew that Ubuntu sends to Malawi in 2013 and with that, I hope to spend quality time continuing my relationship with all three of these Christians.


We have a Site for our Cohousing Project!


The cohousing group I've been a part of since November, 2009 is now moving at cruising speed. We celebrated 1 year as Dragonfly Cohousing last weekend. We hired a project manager, Chris ScottHanson in May of this year and ever since we have been passing milestones: incorporation and shareholders agreement, preliminary budgets, financial feasibility, site search and purchase negotiation, and currently design programming.

This is our land. We are putting in our first non-refundable deposit in the coming weeks. We already have a refundable deposit in indicating our intention to purchase and giving us an opportunity for due diligence.

It is located in the southeast corner of the northeast community of Crescent Heights (north of Memorial Drive, west of Edmonton Trail). It has tremendous access to the lovely Rotary Park, the Bow River, great shops and restaurants in Bridgeland, a 2 minute bus ride downtown (or as I like to think of it - where movie theatres, the CPO, and playhouses are), the Calgary Zoo, 10 minute drive to church (as opposed to the 20 minutes now), and Highways 1 and 2.

One of the remarkable features of this site, besides the great location, is that it forms part of a hillside, quite a steep hillside in fact. This landscape provides some unique challenges and opportunities. The biggest challenge is accessibility, but our potential architects assure us that there are manageable ways to address mobility issues. Another challenge will be the winter roads on 1 Ave... The opportunities include great vistas for many of the units, a lot of southern and eastern exposure, and not as much excavation for the underground parking.

The selection process was truly amazing. According to all of the information we had available, our group would be facing a major split when it came to site selection. We anticipated losing up to 25% of our membership because of the varied preferences in location and site qualities. We spent a fair bit of time prior to searching for a site discussing how to mitigate the fallout of such a split and were therefore going into the process of narrowing the search from 9 sites to 1. A difficult process for a group that bases all decisions on 100% consensus.

At one of our September 25 general meeting, we had already narrowed our focus to two sites and we had architectural presentations on both. We discussed the pros and cons of both sites including cost, opportunity, feasibility, etc. at great length ultimately narrowing it down to this site in Crescent Heights. All of us endorsed the decision to pursue the purchase of this land and we lost no members in the process: A joyous victory for our determined small and growing group.

Currently we have 12 of the 36 units sold with another 8 associate members, some of whom are waiting for the moratorium on sales to be lifted (mid-November) in order to put in their money.

Very exciting and time consuming times are ahead. Our common house design workshop is a full weekend with cohousing experts Kraus Fitch Architecture from Massachusetts guiding us through the process in a couple weeks. Then another day of design programming our personal units in December. My role on the Membership and Marketing Team is to continue to drum up interest in cohousing and facilitate information sessions where potential members can come and learn of our project.

We plan to break ground next fall and move in some time in 2013!


Intimate Encounter with a Microscopic Kind

A horrid bug is rampaging through my house of nine. My two sisters are visiting us from out of town with my two nieces and one nephew. I am victim #4.

My niece, Abigail threw up repeatedly on Saturday night. Monday afternoon saw two victims: my sister and my daughter. I became violently ill in the evening and my nephew started hurling in the night.

I am gulping ginger ale as I thumb this out on my iPod. I have become quite dehydrated. It is 3:11 AM and I have slept only 2 hours since laying down at 9:30.

It started with nausea and gastric pains at around 5 PM. I could not partake in supper (which I was looking forward to eating all day: slow cooked drumsticks in a great sauce). I started watching a documentary as all could do was sit. I was referred by a blog I follow to this free viewing of Hell House (it didn't help to have images from the film invading my dreams later on).

Then the squirts. And seconds later, the hurling. I had no idea that there was so much available liquid in me! The ladies in the house had a good laugh as there was quite a decent audio component to the episode. Aside from the cold sweat on the top of my head and the complete loss of colour in my face, I felt OK. Then it all happened again at midnight.


Soundtrack of Archived Life

I'm on the cusp of finishing Home Movies Vol. 19 and one of the components I always include is a music montage. I like to use a tune we listened to during that time but that also works (is positive, energetic, etc.).

These are my past selections:
  • 2003 Spring in Edmonton: Life is Beautiful (Amy Correia)
  • 2003 Fall in Montreal: No Sleep (Sam Roberts)
  • 2003 Christmas in Cormier Village: Heaven's Got a Baby (O.C. Supertones)
  • 2004 Spring in Montreal: Let Go (Frou Frou)
  • 2004 Summer across North America: July (The Innocence Mission)
  • 2004 Fall in Spruce Grove: New Slang (The Shins)
  • 2005 Spring in Spruce Grove: Falling at Your Feet (Daniel Lanois)
  • 2005 Summer across North America: 'Til Kingdom Come (Coldplay)
  • 2005 Fall in Tactic: Hard Bargain (Ron Sexsmith)
  • 2006 Spring/Summer in Tactic/Montreal/NB: Amassakoul ‘N’ Tenere (Tinariwen)
  • 2006-7 Winter in Tactic/AB/BC: A Lot Can Happen in a Year (Riley Armstrong)
  • 2007 Summer in Tactic: Your Rocky Spine (The Great Lake Swimmers)
  • 2007-8 Winter in Tactic/Mexico: Mushaboom (Feist)
  • 2008 Spring in Guatemala: De Ushuahia a la Quiaca (Gustavo Santaolalla)
  • 2008 Summer/Fall in AB/BC: Love at the End of the World (Sam Roberts)
  • 2008 Christmas in Calgary: Maybe this Christmas (Ron Sexsmith)
  • 2009 Spring in Calgary: Between Sheets (Instrumental Version) (Imogen Heap)
  • 2009 Summer in BC/AB/NB: This Time Tomorrow (The Kinks)
  • 2009 Fall in Calgary: Get on Your Boots (U2)
  • 2010 Spring in Calgary: Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk (The New Pornographers)
First, I'm impressed at the high Canadian content there is (and world music too). Second, it is remarkable how permanently the images become related to the songs I've chosen to accompany them; I hear the first measure of any of these songs and I can recall which season and year the song plays against.


20 Dwarves (coming 2012)

Behold Thorin, Ori, Dori, Nori, Bombur, Bifur, Bofur, Oin, Gloin, Dwalin, Balin, Fili and Kili.

I've been doing my best not to spend too much time checking out Peter Jackson's latest project - the prequel to The Lord of the Rings: The Hobbit. But I have wandered over to check out some of the updates and peruse production stills. This picture of the 13 dwarves is one of my favourite images so far (this is the other one I like).

Behold Napoleon, Grimm, Wolf, Butcher, Half-Pint, Grub, and Chuckles:

Then last night some friends of ours returned The Fall, a great film that didn't cash in at the box office. They told us that director Tarsem Singh is working on a Snow White film so I checked that out - another 7 dwarves in goofy outfits (which I like).



This last weekend was spent playing board games with other board game enthusiasts at FallCon, here in Calgary. FallCon is an annual convention where multiple tournaments are held, used (and new) games are auctioned off, the Canadian Game Design award is presented, and attendees can borrow from a library of hundreds of games to play with each other. This has been happening for 24 years now.

This was my first time attending. As such I wanted to learn as many games as possible so I signed up for each of the five tournaments so I could be taught the new games. This worked well as the newbies were usually lumped together at one table (typically 4 concurrent games would be played and the 4 winners would play in the final). I was also able to contribute to the conference by doing the 12-page layout for the program (got to reacquaint myself with InDesign).

Friday night I played a recently released stock game called Airlines of Europe. It wasn't too difficult to learn and gameplay went smoothly, especially with a facilitator on hand to answer rule or procedure questions. I lost, but I enjoyed the game and I'll likely play again since the lead organizer for FallCon is my friend and he owns (or houses) most of the games.

Following the tournament I played a familiar game with 5 other some available gamers called 7 Wonders. Since I was the only one to have played before, I taught everyone and promptly lost. I then joined a guy named Justin and we played 3 rounds of Lost Cities before entering an hour long amicable political discussion (he's a candidate for the new provincial Wild Rose party).

Saturday morning came early as I only got to bed at 1 a.m. and had to get to Jasen's house by 7:20 a.m. in order to catch a ride and drop our car off for Amber. I familiarized myself with my morning tourny's game: Dominion, a fantastic deck building game. I got the hang of it after a couple games and then won a couple casual games of it afterwards - a definite confidence booster. Following this I ate some tasty concession food while watching a friend finish his game. The Following tournament was another recent board game called Pantheon - a convoluted game with so many components, I didn't enjoy it as much. It took a while to finish as we were all new at the table.

With a little time before the auction and game design award, I learned to play a fun little card game called Jaipur with Marc, a cohousing friend also attending.

After the award presentation, FallCon organizers set to auctioning off 500 games in an amazingly efficient way. I think the top selling item fetched nearly $200. Other games went for as little as $1. I picked up Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers for a decent price, though I was hoping to get Dominion - but those copies went for $40+.

I began to develop a mean headache through the auction and by the end I was nauseous and developing a fever. I tried to wait it out, but ultimately Amber had to come pick me up. I groaned all the way home and threw up on arrival. Plus side: I fell asleep and was fully rejuvenated in the morning. Minus side: I missed the opportunity to learn Troyes.

Sunday, I learned another new game: Merchants and Marauders. Our group played for nearly four hours when typically a game can be played in 90 minutes, but again, we were just learning.

These board games are far more sophisticated than Monopoly, Candyland and Risk. The variety of strategies, defence vs. offensive tactics, and depth of content are astounding. Another terrific aspect of such games (and game conferences) is how it teaches us about how to live in community and what it teaches us about ourselves. Competition is one of several components to enjoying a board game and one best competes when there are others to play with - thus one must strike a balance between self and community.

I had a great time! I'll better prepare myself for next year's con.


The Eastern Orthodox Way

For much of my life, Christianity was defined by my church tradition: Seventh-Day Adventism. It took just over two decades to begin to recognize and even appreciate other protestant denominations. I attended conferences, seminars, and worship services put on by Baptist, Vineyard, and non-denominational groups ultimately leading us to work with Impact Ministries in Guatemala. Amber and I embraced non-denominationalism as we were not able to find a single denomination that suited our belief system to that point. Our move to Calgary led us to attend a Christian Reformed Church where we continue to enjoy the Reformed Tradition.

During all these years I have taken a Protestant position towards Roman Catholicism, though more mildly than other protestants to be sure! I'm not Northern Irish Protestant. My objections to RC were doctrinal, structural and practical so I had little interest in exploring for gems. I should note that I have enjoyed many relationships with Catholics and I have no doubt that I have much to learn of God from Catholic theologians and much to learn of piety from Catholics.

My attitudes, right or wrong, towards Roman Catholicism extended to the Eastern Orthodox Church because for some reason I equated the two, the Orthodox just didn't follow the Pope. Because of this, my knowledge and experience with Eastern Orthodoxy was extremely limited:

  • Characters in Crime and Punishment by Russian Orthodox author Fyodor Dostoevsky were either practicing Orthodox or practicing vogue atheism.
  • My visit to Ukraine in 1993 took us on a small tour of Orthodox churches in a little village in Kiev.
  • I visited a tiny Russian Orthodox Church in Nice, France because it was on the city tourism brochure in 1997.

I had classified the Church as a cultural vestige of eastern Europe that had just about been decimated by communism.

Then my sister-in-law dated then married a Greek Orthodox man. I have to admit that I revealed a pronounced Evangelical/Protestant/North American bias in my half dozen dialogues on Christianity with Gabriel.

Then a couple summers ago, my new friend Chris from Regina passed me a book: The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos Markides. Sociology professor Markides returns to his native Cyprus to dialogue with a high ranking monk who spent years on Mount Athos, a haven of Orthodox monks for many centuries. It was an informative and fascinating introduction to this Christian faith, if not a little challenging.

Then this past year, Chris sends me a link for a YouTube video of this retired monk named Lazar Puhalo who broadcasts talks on pop culture, ancient Christianity, and dialogues with an Anglican scholar. His voice is refreshing and gives clarity to the differences between western and eastern Christianity. I frequent his videos through the winter.

Then in July, I spent a couple weeks at a summer camp in Saskatchewan where Chris and his friend Marc from Ottawa bring me to an Orthodox church in Regina. The liturgy is in English (as opposed to my two previous light encounters). The priest is jovial. I pick up some "hey, you should become Orthodox" brochures in their lobby and read through them quickly because so much of it is new and old at the same time.
Discussions with Marc and Chris bring more clarity to some of the foggy patches and I drop my guard toward this unfamiliar, yet affirming faith. I ask Chris to send me links to the podcasts he keeps telling me about: Our Life in Christ by two Protestant ministers turned Orthodox priests and Speaking the Truth in Love by scholar and priest Thomas Hopko. Chris left me three books to read too while he's away in Kuwait for the next couple years.

I have learned that Eastern Orthodoxy and I share many of the same issues with western protestant Christianity. Some of these include protestantism's low view of the physical world and body (dualism), a lack of respect for authority in the church, a weak emphasis on the incarnation and resurrection, a literal/inerrant view of the Bible, an independent spirit of interpreting the Bible, an unhealthy view of the church's relationship with the state, a trifling method of manipulating science to support "biblical" views, an ignoring of Christian history prior to the reformation, the purpose and cause of Christ's death, eschatological emphases on end times, and the purpose of man.

I've listened to dozens of podcasts now and my appreciation for Eastern Orthodoxy has only grown. I still have many questions and reservations, but the depth of tradition and the ways of interpreting Holy Scripture are unsurpassed in the Protestant world. It is a generous and yet bold expression of faith.

Introduction to Muay Thai

A couple weeks back a friend, Miguel, invited me to some muay thai fights. If your not familiar with muay thai, it's basically a kickboxing martial art from, you guessed it, Thailand. Miguel used to work out and work with some of the fighters at the Mike Miles Club here in Calgary, so he got us some complimentary tickets.

We got a couple burgers at Boogies Burgers then Miguel took us to the casino in his new Volvo C30 (such a sweet car, had to mention it!). We got there a bit early and scored some tremendous 2nd row seats.

Each fighter wore ceremonial muay thai headgear and then demonstrated their particular ritual around the ring and greeted the judges and opponent. Most of the athletes were from Mike Mile's gym, the others came from other clubs in Calgary, Florida, and Thailand. Miles organized the fights and his fighters won most of the bouts.

There were 8 fights. The early ones were mostly one sided as the fighters were just starting out and their level was still being established. Most of the later fights were tight. The big hits were elbows and knees so it was much more than punching. I was expecting much more jumping and kicking, but this method seems much more defensive, much more focused on power hits than flamboyant ones.

Miguel knew heaps of people, including one spectator on his bachelor party. We sat with his entourage ringside as they liquored him up (poor guy was barely coherent at the end). I met a couple of my former students behind them.

The final bout was between a celebrated Calgary fighter named Peter Arbeau. A couple of the previous fights saw one fighter far more defensive than the other; not as engaging. Thai fighter Sakonchai Wan Charoenrit was giving it as much as Arbeau was and so we were stoked to see these two go 5 rounds. Arbeau managed to land a devastating kick to the head and knocked Charoenrit cold in the second round. Great fight, too bad it didn't last longer. The crowd went nuts though.

It's great to have friends; friends with connections, passions, and time for their friends are a life giving force.


Radio Shoutout

I got mentioned on the radio this morning. The CBC Radio 1 morning show, The Calgary Eye Opener, put out a request for listeners to send them photos of them listening to the program so they could see what some of their listeners looked like as they listened.

Amber took a shot of me eating my english muffin as I listened and I emailed it before leaving for work. On our way to work, we continued listening to the program and heard the announcers talk about my picture: eating an english muffin and corn bran  - so he must be a "regular" listener...

Har har!


Collecting Stamps

My father initiated my stamp collection when I was in grade 1 or 2. It was modest to be sure, until we met Dr. Pierce in Alberta. Dr. Pierce was a tremendous collector with lots and lots of doubles to which he gave us full access. Our collection grew quickly and broadly during my grades 4-7. It was later fostered by a friend of ours who works in a Swiss bank as the mail guy. Christian would send us envelopes full of stamps for the collection. As my interest waned in philately and was redirected to hockey cards, girls, and girls, my collection lay in boxes as it moved across the country from house to house.

My son, Blaise, is in grade 1 now. This spring I started tearing out the odd stamp from letters received (many fewer than when I was growing up!) and Blaise and I began to collect. The process involves soaking the stamps in warm water to separate them from the envelope paper, drying them, pressing them, sorting them, and finally mounting them in albums.

During our trip to New Brunswick, I rediscovered my collection as it sits at my father's house. I found some of Christian's envelopes full of stamps, ready to collect and brought them back to Alberta.

Blaise is learning a lot about countries, how to handle and soak stamps, how to discern good and fair quality stamps. He's also very patient as we haven't actually mounted any stamps as we're only about half way through soaking and sorting through them.

So, the call is out - if you have any stamps you don't want... Blaise could use them for his collection!