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!

Barrier Lake

Before the summer expired, but just into the school year, one of my coworkers invited Blaise and I out for a day of canoeing on Barrier Lake. Richard is one of the elementary teachers at my school so I don't really see him much, but we have some shared passions (music, canoeing, our sons, etc.) so it was good to spend the day unhindered by supervision schedules.

Barrier Lake is a man made lake in Kananaskis Provincial Park. A controlled dam at the lake's outlet allows for manicured kayaking courses on the river too. Surrounding the lake are the Canadian Rocky Mountains - just 60 minutes away from my house.

Richard's new canoe is great - a fibreglass Clipper. I still have all my MacKenzie River gear, so I donned my river shoes, packed my drybags, and we slipped along the lake's edge. Blaise paddled the first hour or so with the emergency paddle. I was impressed that he lasted so long.

We also rescued a dragonfly, bringing him out of the water into the canoe where he dried off and flew away.

After lunch on a little island in the south end of the lake, we paddled clockwise around the lake to complete the circumference. Blaise set aside his paddle for a Spy Kids book and quietly read the rest of the trip. I soaked up the sun, chatted with Richard, and enjoyed flexing my pecs, delts, and traps.


R.E.M. is O.V.E.R.

One of my faves since '92, R.E.M. has broken up. Their 80s material was always their best, but I have to say, I really enjoyed all of their albums right to the end.

Cheers to great music for over 3 decades!

"During our last tour, and while making Collapse Into Now and putting together this greatest hits retrospective, we started asking ourselves, 'what next'? Working through our music and memories from over three decades was a hell of a journey. We realized that these songs seemed to draw a natural line under the last 31 years of our working together.
"We have always been a band in the truest sense of the word. Brothers who truly love, and respect, each other. We feel kind of like pioneers in this--there's no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring-off. We've made this decision together, amicably and with each other's best interests at heart. The time just feels right."
"A wise man once said--'the skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave.' We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we're going to walk away from it.

"I hope our fans realize this wasn't an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way.

"We have to thank all the people who helped us be R.E.M. for these 31 years; our deepest gratitude to those who allowed us to do this. It's been amazing."
"One of the things that was always so great about being in R.E.M. was the fact that the records and the songs we wrote meant as much to our fans as they did to us. It was, and still is, important to us to do right by you. Being a part of your lives has been an unbelievable gift. Thank you.

"Mike, Michael, Bill, Bertis, and I walk away as great friends. I know I will be seeing them in the future, just as I know I will be seeing everyone who has followed us and supported us through the years. Even if it's only in the vinyl aisle of your local record store, or standing at the back of the club: watching a group of 19 year olds trying to change the world."


Jack Layton (1950-2011)

(image from ctv.ca)

Some thoughts swirling in my head regarding the recent passing of NDP leader and leader of the Loyal Opposition Jack Layton that I wish to comment here.

It's no secret to zaakistan.com followers that I tend to the left on both the economic spectrum and the libertarian spectrum, therefore I listened carefully to what this socialist Canadian voice had to say. In general, I liked Jack Layton's ideas, but even more, his passion and commitment to engaging people with these ideas is what made him a more interesting political figure. Note that he didn't hit people over the head with the ideas, he simply wanted people to understand what the proposed ideas were so they could make informed decisions. He drew direct lines between policy and actual life. I liked that. I'll miss him.

Layton's political career did not start in the private sector where he amassed a fortune or business cred (like Paul Martin or Stephen Harper). He began in academia, then moved into urban improvement policy on the Toronto city council, then as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and finally into the federal government. He rode his bicycle to work (which is what most impressed Amber). He loved cities and wanted to see Canadian cities become great, but not at the expense of those most vulnerable (homeless, low income earners, the environment, families, etc.). Music was a big part of his identity and how he connected with people. He was a regular man struggling with the political juggernaut.

I was in Montreal when the news came through the airwaves that Jack Layton had passed away. It had been almost a month since he was last seen in the media announcing his temporary absence from Parliament because he was facing cancer once again and wished time to focus on recovery. It was apparent to most people watching that press conference that Jack wasn't coming back - he looked like a spectre.

That evening, I went to a pub with a good friend to catch up. Monday nights at Ye Olde Orchard patrons enjoy Larissa's Pub Quiz. Larissa was particularly affected by the passing of Mr. Layton and so she themed the quiz around Jack Layton and the NDP (categories like Orange, Jacks, Jack Layton, etc.). Before the quiz began the waiters took up a collection for the food bank (a couple hundred dollars) and we all raised our glasses to Jack - a politician who regularly raised a glass in pubs.

Having lived in either Alberta or Guatemala during Jack Layton's leadership of the NDP, I was not aware of his popularity as it existed in central and eastern Canada until the week following his death. I was genuinely surprised at the outpouring of admiration and sorrow presented each day on the news and later at his funeral.

From his letter to Canadians, written days before his death:
And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton


"KMs in a Summer" or "My 60 Day Carbon Footprint"

BY CAR 5728 kms: Calgary to Regina to Fort Qu'Appelle to Regina to Fort Qu'Appelle to Regina to Fort Qu'Appelle to Regina Fort Qu'Appelle to Calgary to Prince George to Smithers to Hazelton to Smithers to Prince George to Edmonton to Calgary ... [:Moncton to Cormier Village to Cap-Pelé to St. Louis de Kent to Bouctouche to Aulac:]... Calgary to Rocky Mountain House to Calgary
= 1.24 metric tons of CO2

BY AIR PLANE 7101 kms: Calgary to Toronto to Moncton ... Montréal to Toronto to Calgary
= 0.67 metric tons of CO2

BY RAIL 1067 kms: Moncton to Montréal
= 0.02 metric tons of CO2

TOTALS: 13,896 kms
=1.93 metric tons of CO2

I could offset my carbon footprint for anywhere from $22.26 to $63.60 by investing in reforestation, renewable energy, or emission reduction technology.

One Day in Montreal

My first full day in Montreal since leaving the city behind on our last visit in 2006 was spent mostly on my own since Amber and April wanted to bring the kids to splash park and take it easy. I had ambitious plans. My time in the best city in North America was limited and I wanted to make it count.

I struck out by walking Ste Catherine's, Maisonneuve, and Sherbrooke until the Musée des Beaux Arts opened at 10 AM. With free entry to the standard collection, I had to check it out as I had never done so before. Three main collections exist: European Etchings, Modern Art, and Napoleon I.

This etching shows people skating and playing what looks like hockey 300 years ago!!

When death is friendly (there's an unfriendly one too).

Peter defending Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.

This is a giant grenade chest of drawers - perhaps a domestication of violence?

This was simply the most affecting exhibit. It was called Old Enemies or Old Foes. It was so realistic and horrifying - class warfare?

One of Emperor Napoléon I's chapeaux.

A bust of Napoléon with his symbol, the eagle.

After a relaxed tour of the Musée, I hopped on a bus and found Schartz's Charcuterie Hebraique so I could have a legendary smoked meat sandwich. I was startled by the line up, but it was for the restaurant. I slipped into the much shorter line for take out and left with a stacked smoked meat sandwich and a plastic wrapped pickle wrapped. I ate my greasy and oh-so-delicious food at the next bus stop.

My bus took me within 4 blocks of the Parc Kent where I met up with Amber, April and the kids. They had water - which I was in desperate need of, it was blistering day. I forgot my cap on the bus, so April lent me hers.

After refreshing myself some, I parted ways with my kin south on Côte-des-Neiges so I could visit the Oratoire St. Joseph - and were there ever a lot of St. Josephs.

Brother André, the man who got the large oratory complex built with his fundraising, is venerated as a saint in the RCC, so he's everywhere too, literally. His body is entombed within (just behind this image of Joseph) and his heart is a few floors up in a glass case.

The style of the place is a mixture of classical and 1960's architecture which makes it quite unique. I particularly enjoyed the organists practicing in the basilica and the chapel.

I slipped in 2 minutes late at the AMC Pepsi Forum for a matinée showing of The Future, the latest film by Miranda July. It wasn't that great. Kind of disappointing really.

I met up with the gang at 5:45 only to return to the old Forum for ice cream. Once the kids were in bed, Amber and I strolled down Rue Ste Catherine and hung out at our old haunt, the 3-storeyed Chapters.

A full day, rich with urban beat, contemplation, savour, colour, opportunity and love.

VIA Rail: Moncton to Montréal [with children]

Our family of four departed from Moncton, NB at 5 pm Atlantic Time after spending 3 lovely weeks with my father, grandmother and my father's girlfriend. Leaving the Maritimes is a bitter time, but leaving it slowly takes the shock out of it. Via Rail offers transport at about 100 km/hr heading north, then west, then south to Montréal making it a gentler departure.

We've chosen time over money in our profession, so with lots of time and little money, we rode coach (or Economy) for the 17 hour journey through Miramichi, Bathurst, Campbellton, Mont-Joli, Rivière-du-Loup, Charny, Drummondville, St-Hyacinthe, and finally Montréal rather than the 12-hr drive or the 2-hr flight (or the 17-hour train in a sleeper compartment).

I got motion sickness right away, so I sipped ginger ale for the first hour and gazed out the window at the passing trees. I felt fine afterwards and enjoyed some egg salad sandwiches (a whole other story - third time I had eggs that day...)

So, the real point of this blog post is how amazing my children were. Despite the fact that I didn't sleep the whole time, Blaise and Acadia were exceptional in their behaviour, cooperation and excitement. Acadia played with stickers, coloured and amused herself. Blaise played Angry Birds and read.

Just before bedtime, I thought it would be fun to bring the kids to see the last car of the train (the bubble car). Not my best idea. The train threw the kids into the walls of the narrow corridors on several occasions, the kids fought over who could lead our trio, and I was told sternly at the second to last car that we weren't supposed to be back there as it was reserved for the luxury travellers. The attendant did let us visit the last car, though I felt sheepish walking my kids up the stairs and holding them up to see through the glass ceiling in front of the wealthy guests. The walk back through 30 odd cars was just as stressful as the first half.

The night didn't go as planned. I anticipated a late night, maybe 11, and all of us being able to fit on the 4 full sized recliner seats. Ultimately, Blaise couldn't sleep and so from 10:30 pm to 1 am he read his Geronimo Stilton book. Acadia was out like a light when we put her to bed. Amber slept off an on. I did not sleep. I listened to podcasts, played Angry Birds and read.

Despite my low energy level, I was pleased to watch the Montréal skyline come into view on time. Via Rail did a fine job of getting us there, but our reception at the station was marred by having to wait nearly 90 minutes for our luggage.


Game Shows

While visiting my grandmother (mémère in French) in New Brunswick I had the pleasure of watching TV with her. Because her mobility is limited, she spends all day watching TV, reading, feeding her pets, and sleeping. Aside from some classic sitcoms, most of what is playing on the tube is game shows.
  • Family Feud (way too much clapping, the questions are more risque than they used to be, and the prize money is not that much considering they have to share it between 5 people - and they only win the grand prize less than half the time).
  • Let's Make a Deal (definitely the funniest of all these game shows with Whose Line is it Anyway alumni Wayne Brady, the contestants are all in costumes and Brady regularly sings songs, the chances of winning are completely random as half the prizes are Zonks and the others are similar to Price is Right prizes)
  • Millionaire (The spinoff of Who Wants to be a Millionaire hosted by Meredith, really quite the frustrating game since the questions range from elementary to really obscure pop culture, I was impressed that most players played safe compared to the nuts in Let's Make a Deal)
  • The Price is Right (Drew Carey brings a certain non-chalence to this show now that Bob Barker is gone, it's like he doesn't really want to be there, but that grin is hilarious, the games need updating too)
  • Wheel of Fortune (It still bugs me that people can walk away from Wheel of Fortune with more money than the Jeopardy! winners, but hey, Vanna White right?)
  • Jeopardy! (Most fun to play along with by far!)
  • Atomes Crochus (This is a word association/language game from Québec so there isn't much money at stake, Mémère and I would laugh the entire show because we didn't really understand a lot of what was going on)

Christian Tour Part 8: Pentecostal

The eighth visit this summer was to my friend Danny's church in Greenfield Park near Montreal. He attends the South Shore Community Church which is a member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC). I was hoping he was still attending this church as it would really round out my tour of churches this summer and I was going to be in Montreal in late August (plus, Danny is a reader of this blog).

Blaise came along with me, Danny and his son. We were on time.

As with most of the summer services I've attended, the place wasn't packed. People milled around the sanctuary before the service. It started off with 3 or 4 worship songs which were not as rambunctious as I had hoped the charismatics would be, good though. There was a prayer time for the children before sending them to their class and a nice story about their summer kids ministry. Offering was brought by the members to the front of the sanctuary and a special song was shared by a member.

At this point I took note that no one had been slain by the Spirit, no one was rolling in the aisles, and nobody was speaking in tongues. There were a lot of "yesssss Jesssuussssss" and plenty of clapping, but nothing too caricatured.

The sermon was shared by a former member of the church who was visiting from China where he and his wife work. It was an interesting message and all very informal.

Following the message, there was an invitation to come for prayer and a team of ministry people received them at the front of the church. It didn't extend the service as it was afterwards and those who weren't participating were free to leave.

Blaise enjoyed his kids class and driving over the bridges back to Montreal and then Laval in the rain.

I'm Behind

While I enjoy blogging, it's the desire to be thorough and engaging that requires a bit more work than I tend to have time for. I am behind 49 movie posts in my Zaak Watches Movies blog (the picture above is a screen shot of the unpublished draft posts). I have 10 draft entries waiting on this blog too.

Winter, that's when I'll do it. Yeah, winter.