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.