Downsizing by 51%

We are giving up hour 1200 square foot (plus 600 sq ft unfinished basement) townhouse. In fact we've already given it up in that we are renting it out. Our family of 4 is renting half of another house with another family of 4 who has the other half of the house - worthy of another post. Within the next 18 months (Lord willing), our family of 4 will move into a 762 square foot flat in the brand new Dragonfly Cohousing complex Crescent Heights, Calgary. We will also have access to 90 cubic feet of storage space (10 sq ft of floor space).

The new space is officially a two bedroom unit, but a 6' X12' storage room has a window and door, so it can serve beautifully as our son's bedroom. To create storage and study spaces, all of us will be sleeping in loft beds with our clothes hanging underneath them and shelves making up the raised bed frame. Amber and I will have our office space in our bedroom. Since Acadia will have the most space per capita in her bedroom, she will have to accommodate the most storage in her bedroom (probably in her closet).

But, since Amber and I have been amassing stuff since we were old enough to understand the concept of private property, we face the issue of ridding ourselves of stuff. Even with clever shelving (like a 7' high book shelf that sits above couches and the dining area) and innovative space saving, we would be in a tremendously cluttered space if we didn't eliminate as much useless stuff as possible.

So, we have already begun to trim the fat.

  1. We no longer have a guest bed (there will be some available in the common house). 
  2. We have 2 living room chairs for sale on kijiji as our couch, loveseat, and ottoman will be sufficient. 
  3. I brought my 500 CDs to the used CD shop where they gave me $450 of in-store credit (I turned down the $150 cash) for 150 CDs. I've already picked up 40 DVDs with the credit. The rest of the CDs went to Good Will.
  4. Before our move in July, I brought 2 boxes of books to a used book store (and then Good Will). After the move, I went through my library again and shed another 4 boxes. I think I'm down to 6 boxes of books now.
  5. Amber and I have 5 boxes combined of university stuff, newspaper clippings, cards, letters, and other personal effects that we plan to digitize over the next couple winters.
  6. Four boxes of photographs and photo albums are on the chopping block too - all to be digitized and then tossed.
  7. The kids have gotten rid of countless boxes of toys they no longer play with.
Here is a list of the following excuses I could use not to downsize:
  • I already have it, why
    • throw it away (landfill abuse)?
    • sell it (below cost)?
    • digitize it (hours I could spend volunteering)?
  • I already have the space, why pay more to have less space closer to downtown and in a community?
I guess that's it. The positive reasons to downsize:
  • We would be more focused on quality and purpose, not quantity when purchasing stuff.
  • More people in smaller space forces interaction.
  • Less space 
    • to clean
    • to heat
    • to light
    • to accumulate junk
  • Theoretically less driving, more transit use since we live downtown (true for everyone else in my family, not me).
  • Having less stuff will force us to depend on others (others who have downsized will depend on us) and share more resources


Crimson Lake: On Broken Trees and Galavanting Youth

In mid-July our family went camping at Crimson Lake Provincial Park. I invited Blaise to join me on a morning hike around the lake, a 10 km walk with zero elevation change. He was eager and I let him carry the compass and I carried the snacks, water, extra clothes, bug repellent, sun screen, and camera.

We did not know that a massive wind storm had passed over this region only 3 days previous knocking down hundreds of trees. It seems all the trees that were knocked over fell over the path causing major obstructions. Blaise and I ambled up and over and under and around the massive fresh log jams. The fir trees were the most difficult, but also the least frequent.

The obstacle course added a couple hours to our trek, but they also presented some of the most interesting features to our journey. The lake was lovely and brightly reflected the sky, when we were beside it (only 10% of the trip). Dragonflies and damselflies hummed across our path. The path was devoid of other travellers. A light breeze blew threw the new leaves above us.

But the most striking thing was the wine red colour of the exposed wood underneath the broken bark of the collapsed trees. It made the tree seem more human with its flesh exposed. Their smooth surface was still moist and the leaves on the branches were still living. The trees seemed to be begging to be straightened out, have splints fastened and salve applied to the wounds.

The other noteworthy part of the trip was Blaise, my son recently turned seven years old. The fact that he talked almost non-stop for five hours is not unremarkable. The fact that he walked the entire 10 kms without complaining impressed me - especially since we were delayed so much by the windfall.

When Blaise turns 13 (or 14 or 15, we'll see what works), I want to be hiking the Appalachian Trail with him: his rite of passage into manhood. I have little doubt that he will rise to the expectation and I am certain that at the end of the 6 month trail he will have achieved manhood.

My little man.


700 Posts

Blogging has slowed down a bit, but I'm still here. The last hundred posts were dominated by my tour of churches, my local church involvement, cohousing, marathon training, boardgaming, beer tastings, political musings, travel and of course my family.

Thanks for reading!!

Scaling Down

The media response following the XL Foods in Brooks, AB shutdown over the last couple months has been a dominated by concerns to make food safer: more regulation, more measures to safeguard the quality of the meat. What is remarkable is the silence regarding the state of food production in Canada and the alarming trend of centralized food processing. This trend is evident in nearly all types of food. I will use XL Foods as an example.

XL Foods was processing about one third of the beef in Canada. Beef from all over western Canada was being processed by workers who had no stake in the company owned by Nilsson Bros. which suggests the care they take in processing is probably directly proportional to the care which their employers take of them. It also means that if a rancher wants to sell their cattle, they have fewer and fewer options of buyers.

Of course the visible goals of centralized food processing is to offer lower prices to consumers and to present standardized quality to the marketplace. Below the surface however is the desire for economic dominance and a strong competitive arm in a global market. Over time, mammoth food producers have absorbed small producers. With the incredible volume of meat that one packaging plant can export, they can easily undercut any small time producer. This is basic capitalism. Who are we to argue with allowing one group to push out another group, especially if it will cost us less for that particular product?

The problem is that it is not a one-dimensional issue, the dimension being economic. The environmental impact of massive feedlots and waste from large scale processing can’t be easily ignored. Drive through Brooks on a hot summer day. What about turning the vast majority of a population into employees rather than small business owners? Is it a benefit economically to quell any possible incentive for someone to open a butcher shop and employ half a dozen local people who may or may not be shareholders in a small business?

In regards to food safety, the multinational corporate mantra has been “if we’re bigger, we can afford better safety standards.” This has brought a wave of standards that can only apply to large meat plants. A small operation would not be able to afford the types of equipment needed to implement the new regulations. This implies that a small butcher shop would carve up your roast with dirty knives in back alleys riddled with drug needles and rusting cans. However, small businesses have a far greater interest in safety standards for a number of reasons. They know their clientele. They simply wouldn’t want to be the cause of a serious illness like an e-coli infection. Another factor is economic. If a small processing plant gets a reputation for not being safe, it wouldn’t be able to survive. In addition, the regulators would shut you down anyway. What about the cost of the product? With a greater number of meat processors purchasing from ranchers and then selling to consumers, you have the natural laws of competition keeping prices fair for both producers and consumers. These motivations do not apply to the large corporate producer.

What about the food itself? When a kilogram of ground beef arrives at SuperStore or Safeway from XL Foods, it can contain meat from hundreds of different beasts. If one of them was sick or if the feces wasn’t washed off of it well enough, then any kilogram of ground beef with that particular animal’s contaminated meat is also contaminated. This multiplies the risk to highly unreasonable levels and spreads it across a vast and unnecessary geographical area. Let’s assume just one large piece of beef was contaminated in the e-coli outbreak that crippled XL Foods this fall, despite their unprecedented 21st century safety features. The meat from this one source of contamination caused illness from Newfoundland to British Columbia and could have also brought infection to the United States if their food inspectors had not stopped it. 1800 products were recalled. And by products, I do not mean items. This represents thousands upon thousands of items pulled from shelves, many of which were statistically safe, but had to be discarded anyway. This is a massive waste of food.

How does a local community move away from massive, unwieldy and crippling structures like the XL Foods Meat Processing Plant? Or the growing number of discount megastores? Or the governmental pressures to globalize local markets by opening up trade with international producers and consumers? Or culture’s taste for exotic foods and electronics? Or regulations making it difficult for smaller operations to function? Are we too far gone? Have we yielded completely to the comforts and convenience of for-profit banks, chain stores, and processed food?

My hope is that the symptoms of these monstrous systems surface sooner rather than later. People will awaken to reclaim their local economies, to revive the good of the local trades and skills, to diversify the local food production, and to remedy the broken relationships we have with our neighbours. In the mean time, I choose to gradually wean myself off of the comfortable and convenient and begin participating in my local economy.

If this resonates with you, pick up Wendell Berry’s collection of essays: Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community. It is a magnificent book.


I Can't Not Check

I swore off American politics when Bush won his second term in Nov, 2004. This distaste was compounded by my reading Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or SurvivalDespite my earnest efforts to ignore the Nov, 2008 election, I was drawn in by Barak Obama's charisma and the promise of a new era of U.S. foreign policy. Now, I'm stuck checking the polls on the Huff Post and watching Colbert Report and Daily Show to get my election fix.

I'm a political junkie. This is further evidenced by my willingness to listen to CBC Radio 1's program The House.


Banff - Lake Louise - Banff

It is remarkable how much I get out. Usually I am not the initiator for outings. My friends are great for inviting me to go out and enjoy things. This past weekend was terrific for that. One of my adventures was sparked by Shane who invited me to cycle in the mountains. I hadn't ridden my bike since early June, so I was a little reluctant, but I'm not in terrible shape.

We cycled the return trip Banff-Lake Louise which is 100 km total. We took it easy and took plenty of breaks - there are majestic views around every corner so it was nice to take it slow.

We rode the Bow Valley Parkway heading west which was great because most of the road is smooth blacktop and the traffic is sparse and slow (60 km/h). The last 20 km to Lake Louise Village is mostly uphill, so we were pretty beat at our halfway point and we though we had perhaps bitten off more than we could chew.

But we took the advice of another cyclist took HWY 1 back to the Castle Mountain exit (to get back to the Parkway) and it was amazing - all downhill averaging 30-35 km/h.

As we crossed the bridge to the Parkway, a falcon was perched on a huge nest above the bridge. As it flew away, we noticed it had a big fish clutched in its talon.

We completed our journey under bright blue skies and with warm (not hot) temperatures and cheerfully. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Reading the Bible to my Class

This morning, actually, about 5 minutes ago, I read the last half of Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 which concludes with his martyrdom. I teared up reading
Then they put their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their shouts, they rushed at him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. The official witnesses took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
A couple years ago I was reading to a grade 7 class the account of Abraham and young Isaac climbing the mountain where Abraham intends to sacrifice his son.
So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
And I couldn't get through it. I had to ask a student to finish the story.

These accounts can still make me ache.


Adobe Premiere: Things I Like

As I updated my operating system on my iMac from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion, I was led to believe that my old copy of Final Cut Pro would not work as it was designed for PowerPC and not the new Intel processors (as it turns out, FCP still works). So, I had to decide to either buy the major let down of Final Cut Pro X or the Adobe Creative Suite 6 which includes Premiere (very similar to the older version of Final Cut). I opted for Adobe which I get cheap as I'm a teacher (and there was even a $50 off sale!).

This is my initial positive response to working with Premiere:

  • Drag video or audio only onto the timeline
  • Nice titling options
  • Seamless work with other CS6 apps (Audition (audio editing), Encore (DVD authoring), AfterEffects, Photoshop)
  • Media Browser access to all my files
  • It works with all kinds of video
  • Marker Window with visual view of all markers
  • It looks and works so much like Final Cut Pro

Dragonfly Cohousing: We have a Development Permit from the City of Calgary

Dragonfly Cohousing: We have a Development Permit from the City of Calg...: Our Permit request was granted today after several months of deliberations with City Hall and redesigns by NORR Architects. This marks a landmark in our process to build Alberta's second cohousing development.

Regrets & Pride

I was challenged a couple months ago to consider my regrets. Rather quickly several major regrets came to mind.  Reflecting on my greatest regrettable actions I encounter a disturbing revelation: I have really regretted doing things that primarily made me look bad. Sadly, even when those regrets have involved hurting another person, the reason I regret it is because it tarnishes my reputation, not because of the harm I caused others.

I'll offer a couple examples:
On a band tour back in grade 10, we were passing through Perth Andover, NB where one of our band members lived (I attended a boarding school) and we were to pick him up. A vehicle took the exit off the highway while the other 3 vehicles waited on the shoulder. After some time, I heard our driver lament that this was taking a long time. I perked up and suggested we go to his house; I knew where he lived and it was just a couple kms up the road. Our entire caravan of vans then followed my directions and drove down the road. Very quickly, the vehicle with the Perth resident inside it passed us going the other way. Unfortunately, there were no good places to turn around for at least a km and even then it took quite a while to get everything turned around. In the end we ended up losing 10-15 minutes extending our already delayed trip unnecessarily. Our band conductor had some stern words for me. I was, and still am, embarrassed by that decision, which in hindsight still suggests the best of intentions and really didn't cause much disruption. My embarrassment remains.
In 2002 I was assigned to grade 8 and 9 language arts. There were several difficult students (and parents) and to multiply my frustration it was my first year teaching and I was teaching outside of my subject area. On the last day of regular classes, I showed my options class a movie - Back to the Future. Most of the class watched with enjoyment, but two of my students loudly mocked the film and essentially ruined it for everyone. I ended up speaking to them quite harshly and held one of them against the wall because of his outright defiance (I didn't harm him). I had to eat humble pie by apologizing to him and his father a couple days later along with a talk from my vice-principal. This event haunts me as perhaps the one thing that would really attack my character if I ever became a public figure in politics or otherwise. Note that I have little concern as to how this might have affected the student - which is terrible as I was in a position of authority and should never have treated him this way.
So I think an important step moving forward is to acknowledge this rather disconcerting emphasis on my own self-importance and hold others in high esteem.

I can identify four major "aha!" moments for me recognizing the value of the other:
1996: Working as a student missionary in the Marshall Islands and being asked by an uncle of a toddler to be her primary care giver. This broke my heart.
2000: Working as a youth pastor and discovering that a youth is more important than the lesson I was trying to teach to them.
2005: Receiving an email the morning my son was born which included the Hasidic saying:  "When a child walks down the road, a company of angels goes before him proclaiming, 'Make way for the image of the Holy One.'"
2009: Listening to a sermon on Anger where my pastor explained that he had no right to be angry with another person. It was an issue of pride raising him above another to demean them.
 It's a journey and I'm still on it. While most issues of faith have been cerebral, I am slowly realizing their applications in my life.


Power Thought Debunked

"I am perfect just the way I am."

I read this in a little book called Power Thoughts by Louise L. Hay. Hay is an inspirational writer specializing in little quotes to help people deal with life.

I think she's dead wrong. I think she's filling people's heads with total nonsense. Why? Because we aren't perfect just the way we are. We aren't deserving of love or riches or self-affirming platitudes. I don't believe we need to repeat "I suck!" as we gaze into our mirrors each morning, but we sort of do.

We should daily acknowledge what is good about us (we are loved by God and people, we have talents and gifts to use to contribute to the world around us and to praise God with, we are alive), but we absolutely must acknowledge that we do selfish things everyday. We let people down. We make excuses.

Take for example Luka Rocco Magnotta. A few weeks ago he filmed himself killing and dismembering a Chinese student in Montreal. Louise L. Hay is telling Magnotta to remind himself that he is perfect just the way he is. Does Hay believe this? Why should Magnotta tell himself this? Is this the path to recovery for this monster? Is it just that he didn't remember how perfect he was when he murdered Mr. Lin? I don't think Magnotta is beyond redemption, but affirming who he is is not the road to recovery.

Today's Daily Affirmation from Hay's website is "Today I don't have to fit into anyone else's emotional atmosphere." Gosh! I don't want any of her disciples crossing my path today - they can be as grumpy as they want to be.


Move #8 in 12 Yrs

Last night we moved into a rental home in the community of Varsity in Calgary. It's probably the easiest move I've done - lots of time to pack and load the truck, great help, and plenty of time to unpack.

We are on a path to downsizing/simplifying - I'll be blogging about that soon.

Since being married:

Baywood Park (Edmonton)
to Chester Ave (Montreal)
to King St (Spruce Grove)
to Metcalf Ave (Red Deer)
to Tactic (Guatemala)
to Barrio El Arco (Tactic, Guatemala)
to Citadel Pointe (Calgary)
to Vandoos Rd (Calgary)

That's 8 homes in 12 years. I need to find something that has accompanied me on all of these moves and ensure it makes it in all of our subsequent moves.


Visible Christianity

Yesterday I found myself contemplating how Christians, myself included, do not look particularly different from anyone else in society, except perhaps Sikhs, orthodox Jews, orthodox Muslims, and, well, some Christians.

I was on the edge of a river watching for white water rafts in Kananaskis with my family. Another family was hanging out there, clearly from a Mennonite tribe. We spoke briefly about the rafts, they bore no accents in particular. The children and father were in traditional modern garb, but the mother wore a long, modest, patterned dress and a covering for her hair. Her dress alone marked the family as one of Christian faith. I thought it remarkable that they had no idea that I also profess faith in Jesus Christ unless I told them (I didn't).

A couple passages from the Bible came to mind immediately:
Ye are the children of the Lord your God: ye shall not cut yourselves nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto Himself above all the nations that are upon the earth. Deuteronomy 12:1-2
By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples: if ye have love one for another. John 13:35
So, how visible should Christ's followers be in their dress? Or, and I like this question far more, how radical should our love for one another be that we be immediately recognized as Christians?


The Poses

For some reason, anytime my daughter knows she's being photographed, she has to strike a pose. These poses come in two flavours, but both use a dramatic arm motif.

This first one (the first two photos), Acadia raises her left arm to her side and has a flat palm (like a traffic cop, but cooler).

This next one invokes a perpetual ballerina with her arms in the high fifth position.

Sorting Video Files (with help from Automator)

Something I really appreciated about the old Canon miniDV camcorders was that the timestamps they recorded onto each clip was visible and useful in sorting footage in the old iMovie. More recently, as I edit home movies in an old Final Cut Pro suite and as I mix and match footage from my Canon ZR950, Nikon D90, Flip, iPhone 4S, and from videos I scam from friends, the footage is more difficult to sort on a timeline.

Enter Automator! I've used it before for renaming files, but I had no idea I could retrieve the timestamp and have it included in the file name.

So, here's how I do it:

  1. open Automator (you need a Mac to do this)
  2. choose Workflow
  3. drag all the video files you want renamed into the right hand part of the screen (something like "get specified movies" becomes an action), you can keep dragging items into this action
  4. drag "Copy Finder Items" action from the middle column below the list of files, pick where you want to copy the renamed files to, don't choose replacing existing files
  5. drag "Rename Finds Items" - this changes its name automatically to "Add Date or Time to Finder Item Names"
  6. pick your renaming options - I choose Add Date or Time/ Created/ Year Month Day/ Before Name/ Dash/ Space/ Use Leading Zeros
  7. click Run (top right)
  8. be delighted

Then, you can put videos in the correct sequence, use the correct date in a title, etc.


Watch "For What it's Worth, Milk a Goat" Online

After months of research, my first inkling proved to be my conclusion. I should have paid more attention to Blink when I read it.

So, here it is!

I wanted to make the 72 minute documentary available online after the festival circuit was exhausted (it proved to be a very, very small circuit). But most online hosts didn't allow such lengthy projects. I also wanted to allow for the opportunity for people to support the project financially if they wished. A lot of the online distributors are very expensive up front. So, I ended up with a Vimeo Plus account and a link to my PayPal account.


Educational Measurement

The top number is the class average of the course work (assignments/quizzes/tests) of my calculus class. The bottom number is the class average of the final exam.

As a teacher, besides ensuring that my students are receiving the best instruction I can provide, the thing I worry about most is whether I am assessing their knowledge properly. It is quite reassuring when these two marks are within 5%. It is extremely reassuring when they are within 0.1% of each other.


iPhone 4S

I own one now. Pretty fancy machine I must say. I added something to my calendar with a voice command. I downloaded a couple hundred songs through iCloud. I set up my banking.

So what was the straw that pushed me over the edge? There were a few things.

- my little Nokia was not useful enough to carry around so I never used it
- as I plan to update the OS on both my laptop and iMac, the ability to synch calendars, email, address books, photos, music, etc is so handy with the iPhone
- using our iPad has shown me how handy a pocket version would be
- since we're moving, we can move away from a home line and both go mobile (Amber got an iPhone too)


I can't slack off and not label stuff!

Fact One: We are selling our home and moving so I am packing.

Fact Two: I am an archivist. I think it is important to maintain records of our past - letters, recordings, photos, videos, a few mementos . . .

Fact Three: We have twelve labelled cassette tapes of either Amber or I speaking sweet messages to each other when we were long distance dating or music recordings - me playing guitar back in junior high and my high school jazz band recorded for a CBC program).

Fact Four: I also have 8 cassettes that have nothing written on them.

Fact Five: We no longer have a cassette tape player.

What am I to do?


Preparing the House for Sale

Perhaps the biggest drag to getting into Dragonfly Cohousing is the sequence of housing that precedes living in the project. When construction is completed - sometime next year - everyone involved needs to purchase their unit within a week of the finish. We won't know that date exactly until perhaps a couple days prior. So, we have to sell our current homes well in advance to this.

Three families in our cohousing community have already sold their homes. Ours is for sale now and once it sells, we will move into a rental home with some friends. Yes, we will share a 5-bedroom home with another family of four. This way we can give notice to our landlord a month in advance to the completion of our cohousing project and close on our new property when it is required.

But in order to sell our current home, some minor renos had to happen. I had to remove my DVD shelves (which held 800 DVDs on display in our livingroom) and all the pictures on the wall. I then went around and puttied all the holes in the house and painted.

Then I replaced our carpet with laminate flooring. This proved to be a large job and it was only possible with the help of my good friend Tamer. He lent me all of his tools including laminate installation specific tools, a skill saw and a miter saw.

Tamer also gave me hand tearing out the carpet and giving me very helpful tips on putting the laminate in. The actual laminate was free as our friends (the ones who we will move in with) had their basement laminate replaced because it was slightly damaged in one area (insurance had the whole floor replaced because that type of laminate isn't available anymore). So I picked up 700 sq ft of perfectly laminate flooring. I even sold the last 92 sq ft on kijiji!

Now the house is ready to go. We are selling with Comfree.com - which stands for commission free, so we will only pay the buyer realtor a flat fee that we agree upon, saving us up to $10,000. It only cost us $300 to have our house listed on the comfree website, have photos taken, 4 signs, a discount on a lawyer, have the selling process explained and have our home listed on realtor.ca (MLS). Pretty sweet deal!


Zaakistan Radio Programming (Episode 001 - Childhood Songs)

[if I were to have my own, self-produced radio show... ]

Good afternoon, this is Radio Zaakistan. I'm your host, Zaak Robichaud. To open this series I'm going to steer you through my early childhood in music and if you listen long enough you'll hear how Joni Mitchell got me bit by a guard dog and why I decided to play the French Horn. As the father of two young children, I marvel at their fascination with music and in particular I wonder what songs they will associate with their childhood when they are adults. As babies, they each had their own goodnight song, but they have all but outgrown those. My son identifies my favourite bands, Arcade Fire and U2, as his favourite bands too. And then he tells us he likes electronic dance music like Katy Perry or LMFAO when it comes on the radio. I'm a little alarmed.

Not unlike my children, I first heard the music my parents listened to. There are two songs that I associate with my earliest preschool years deep in the woods of New Brunswick. From Seals and Crofts in 1975, this is 
Wayland the Rabbit
I had to phone my mother to get that title as it wasn't as clear in my mind as the next song I'm going to play for you. Loggins and Messina's song about Winnie the Pooh and his friends got heavy cassette play in our log house. From the 1972 album "Sittin' In," this is 
House at Pooh Corner
When I hear "... back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh," I'm transported back to the pines around my house, back to being a carefree 5-year-old.

Like a lot of people in the 1970s, my parents were hippies. There was a lot of leftist politics, drugs, talk about spirituality and religion and it carried over into popular music. One of the musicians that got a lot of play as my parents newly explored Christianity was Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn. I remember asking my father what a star field was after hearing this song and listening to his explanation. This is 
Lord of the Starfields
When my father picked up his guitar, or any guitar really, the first thing he would play was a Neil Young bass riff. He would gaze intently at the listener, expecting them to enter the groove. That groove was 
Hey hey, My my (Into the Black)
It's funny what you remember. I think he still plays that riff when he picks up a guitar.

Being rather isolated, not just in the woods, but in our faith, our location in the province, in our political views, I was often shocked that we had anything in common with the outside world. As a six-year-old, I went on an errand with my father one late afternoon to Richibucto to look for a used car part at Vautour's Auto Used Parts. My father asked me if I wanted to come in, I declined in favour of listening to the radio. After 15 minutes a song came on that I recognized. Amazed, I wanted to tell papa that a song we knew was on the radio so I left the car and tried to enter the business the way my father had. It was locked. I decided to walk around the building as I knew that all the car carcasses were back there. As I approached the rear of the building I saw two men look up as they released a german shepherd guard dog on a line. The german shepherd saw me too and immediately ran towards me. Unknowingly, as I ran away, I was following the line the dog was tied to and so I was an easy target. He nipped my but and mangled my elbow pretty decently by the time the mechanics got to me to pull the dog off of me. It could have been a lot worse and I still think of it every time I hear Joni Mitchell sing
Big Yellow Taxi
One of the biggest changes in my childhood was the move from New Brunswick to Alberta when I was nine years old. We played this Gordon Lightfoot song in our used station wagon in Northern Ontario as we journeyed west. This is 
Alberta Bound
Much of the music in our family's collection was on dubbed cassettes that were copied from our friends' collections. This meant that as a tape was put into the player I often didn't know who the band was or what the name of the song was, let along have access to the lyrics. I did know that I loved this one instrumental from French traditional band Malicorne. The use of medieval instruments had me intrigued as to how it could be played by me and my elementary friends. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to play the different parts and I even shared it with my grade 5 social studies class at some point thinking it was traditional French Canadian music (it isn't).
Branle de la haie
I spent grades 4-6 on a small Christian college campus as my father studied to become a pastor. My family usually didn't miss the monthly musical guests at the Sunday at Seven and Date at Eight series each year. The musical guests were often small chamber groups or classical or folk soloists. It was unique formative part of my life as I learned to appreciate music outside of my parents preferred genres. One of the bands that had a particularly profound effect on me was Danny Greenspoon's band The Romaniac Brothers. They delivered a comedic performance as the four musicians took on fictional characters which were Romanian brothers separated at birth. They all had exotic names (Zoltan Flamingo Romaniac for instance). Some of their songs were original (ie. Let's all go to Moose Jaw), but most were adaptations to classics like the film theme from Amarcord or The Rolling Stones' Paint it Black. I was so entertained that I was moved to spend my paper route earnings on their cassette album Ethno-fusion. I recently checked in with Danny Greenspoon and learned that the album is no longer available since the original tracks are lost and it was never digitized. So, from my cassette player, this is 
The Ecstasy of the Martyr
I regularly visited the Lacombe Public Library with my family. The image of the stacks of vinyl records remains with me today and I remember browsing through them and taking so many of them home. Keeping with family tradition, I would dub many of them onto cassette using our Emerson record and cassette player. One album got heavy play in my bedroom. It was Brass in Berlin with the Canadian Brass playing baroque classics with a brass quintet from Berlin. I was learning to play the french horn in grade 6 hearing some of these songs for the first time brought tears to my eyes. Half of the album comes from J.S. Bach and I was in love. I ultimately bought the album on CD once it was released when I was in high school. The opening track on the album with soaring horns is
Pachelbel's Canon in D
With money in my pocket as a 12-year old, I was now ready to start buying my own music. I found my first tape at a Kresge's in Red Deer, Alberta. I must have paid close to $12 for The Beatles 20 Greatest Hits back in 1988. Side B was far more interesting to me with tracks like Come Together, Hello Goodbye, and Penny Lane, but my favourite track was this stand alone single. I had entered the world of Rock 'n Roll, a few decades late, but I had arrived and I wasn't going to leave. 
Paperback Writer
That concludes today's program. Thank you for listening to what I was listening to from 1978-1988 and what formed my earliest musical tastes. I'll be back again with other playlists.

Constituency Meeting with Member of Parliament Diane Ablonczy

On February 22 I attended my Member of Parliament's constituency meeting. My MP is Diane Ablonczy. She also serves in the Prime Minister's cabinet as the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas & Consular Affairs). The meeting took place in a small community centre on a Wednesday evening. Even though I had 4 other evening events that week, I thought it my civic duty to attend as likely one of few non-Conservatives in the Calgary-Nosehill riding.

I collected papers on the proposed changes to CPP and other upcoming legislation which was going to be passed without much opposition since the Conservatives now have their majority, then I sat in the middle of the 5th row next to an elderly couple. The demographics of the meeting were fascinating to me: old white people and younger non-white immigrants (and me). Ms Ablonczy arrived a little late, but after a lengthy introduction and a collective singing of O Canada, she immediately began to address the crowd of between 80-150 people.

Her somewhat informal 30 minute talk was guided by a powerpoint with piles of information. She talked about the trips she made over the past year as Minister of State and about how blessed we are as Canadians. She talked about Canadian business interests in the Americas and how she works to ensure their stability. We heard about the changes to the CPP, long gun registry, and environment.

We were then instructed to write any questions we had onto pieces of paper during a break with Tim Horton's donuts and coffee. The questions were then pre-read and placed in a box and then drawn randomly by one of Ms Ablonczy's assistants and read (rather awkwardly I found). My favourite question was one relating to the changes to the Canadian Pension Plan. The question was clear and direct: "What will the age of retirement be once the new plan is implemented?" The answer was incredibly vague as she spoke of the origins of the CPP back in the 1950s when life expectancy was a lot lower and how things need to change. She did not answer the question at all, neither did she state why she would not or could not answer it.

My question was more open-ended, but I got an even worse answer. My question was on policy:
What is the government currently doing to ensure economic stability so that it does not adversely affect the most vulnerable sectors of society (the poor, the elderly, the environment, small businesses, etc.)?
The answer I got was this:
What I love about our country is that we can all have different views.
She said this and so decided to avoid actual engagement with the question. She decided against expressing the Conservative platform of free-market capitalism and unregulated economic growth.

I was rather disappointed with her response, so a few weeks ago I sent MP Ablonczy an email with the same question. This is the response I got from her assistant a week later:
Dear Mr. Robichaud, 
Thank you for your recent e-mail to the Hon. Diane Ablonczy, regarding your feedback on her February 2012 public meeting. Please be assured that I will bring your message to the attention of Ms. Ablonczy for her information. Ms. Ablonczy does appreciate hearing the concerns and opinions that are important to you. Ms. Ablonczy welcomes feedback from her constituents on how to better serve the public. Your opinions are always taken into account when making decisions on legislation and policy. 
Again, thank you for taking the time to write and express your thoughts and concerns with this situation.
So this leaves me with one of the following conclusions:

  1. She doesn't know what the government's policies are nor the consequences of these policies.
  2. She doesn't care to engage her constituents because she is not concerned with re-election (she's a Conservative MP in Alberta...)


Red-winged Blackbird

I spent some time with some red-winged blackbirds this morning at Bower Ponds in Red Deer. Their song was as lovely as their plumage.


My First Marathon

I am invited to run the marathon by my sisters who run the half-marathon. I fly into Vancouver on May 4th and pick up our racing packages at the convention centre and then spend a couple days in Squamish with both my sisters and their lovely families.

Even though I take a couple melatonin tablets the night before, I awake at 2:30 am and can not get to sleep again. Salomé and I get up at 4:30 to cook a pile of oats and get our gear together. We are joined by Salomé's neighbour, Pauline, at 5 and drive to collect Saison. We head to Vancouver. We park downtown just 2 blocks from the finish line and take a crowded skytrain to King Edward and walk en masse to Queen Elizabeth Park. The three half-marathon runners start their race a little after 7 am and leave me waiting for another hour as marathoners began to arrive on site.

In the hours previous, I knock back an Advil, chasing it with 3 bananas, a granola bar and a big bowl of oats (that I couldn't finish). A little ibuprofen helps the joints keep from inflaming. I apply some lip balm. Attach my bib #3427 (I know right? 23 x 149). Bundle up my sweater and pants and check them for pick up at the end of the race. Tie and retie my runners. Attach band-aids to my nipples. Put my handkerchief and headband on my head. Go to the toilet again. Put my belt of drinks and energy gels on and put the two gummy fruit packets into my pockets. Wander the crowds hoping to glimpse some old college mates that I know have arrived to race. I never see them. Get into my group.

My corral is the 4:00-4:15 time and though I know that I have miscalculated my time, I decide to leave with them. The day, weeks really, before the race, I am filled with dread: I know I am going to suffer, the possibility of not completing the race or possibly injuring myself is real. The electric mood in the crowd of runners is infectious though and I think to myself, "if they aren't spooked, why should I be?"

I am impressed at how quickly the group thins as we take off. People are out cheering in the first couple kilometres - mostly family members. A wife and a couple kids hold a sign saying "Go Daddy" and parents raise a sign "Go kick some asphalt sweetie!" The first mile burns by and I cruise by the kind volunteers at that first table as they hold out dixie cups of water.

The air is cool during the first 90 minutes. The sky remains clear, but we run in the shade and it really doesn't heat up until the very end, and even then it isn't painfully hot.

The course leads us through residential streets to what is a side road beside a conservation area. It's a steady uphill climb. We get to run down the hill near the university and then run around the UBC campus to the beaches. Leaving the university at around km 15 I notice sharp pains in my left ankle. I had brief feelings like that during training, but never anything lasting, so I attempt to shake it out as I ran, rocking my foot front and back and consciously keeping my foot straight. It helps, but the pain returns a couple times each kilometre. As my mind drifts, my foot turns in to remind me. So I repeat my ritual through to the end of the run.

I come along side a man at km 17. Ron starts talking to me, saying we are running the same pace the last few kilometres - I am more recognizable than he is (the red bandana), so I take his word for it. Ron has run a couple marathons, but has only trained 4 weeks for this one. He is huffing and puffing and I am not. I chalk it up to the altitude training in Calgary. I leave him behind at km 21.

I sip my electrolyte mix dutifully and decide to risk some Gatorade after 10 kms. I never drink a whole cup, just tiny sips. I take water on occasion, two at some tables just to pour one on my head. I rely mostly on my own concoction.

As we run along the beaches toward the Burrard St. Bridge (km 29 I think), I begin to really enjoy the run. The sight of the ocean and the people out enjoying the day makes me realize how awesome it is to be there that very moment. Spectators start calling my name and telling me how great my pace is, how awesome I am doing and they are right. They are speaking the truth and I am able to hear it. Up ahead, a young boy, about Blaise's age, is holding out his hand trying to high five runners. He is on the left side of the track and I am on the right, so I veer over to where he is and give him a solid one and say "thanks dude." It is one of best high fives I've ever gotten. The run isn't a run anymore, it's a ride.

I slurp my first energy gel, a pinapple tangerine GU, at km 22. I take my second as I approach km 29 only to see that they are passing GUs out there. I take two and ingest them in the 30s. My stomach isn't affected negatively at all by any of the Gatorade or GUs for which I am very thankful. I don't feel weak or zoned out at any point during the run. Instead I rock to the music blasting from the half dozen bands along the course and I deeply breath the moist air.

Crossing the bridge brings us the closest to vehicles. Buses and trucks pass going the opposite direction just inches from my right elbow. It brings home how different I am as a runner among the millions of people in Vancouver that day. There is a thin counter-stream that I am caught up in and it feels enormously special.

We hang a left after the bridge and make our way along the sea wall around famous Stanley Park. It is at this point that I begin to see the fallen. Runners sit on benches, push against posts to stretch their calves, limp. It is sobering to realize that I have caught up to these people without injury (save my persistent ankle pain). Their faces speak pure disappointment.

A percussion group that includes steel drums hammer out a rhythm that drives me to sprint for a minute. I remember my ankle and slow to a jog.

At km 32, the 4:15 pace bunny passes me and I exclaimed "4:15 pace bunny! that's awesome!" He's an awkwardly tall runner and he sort of skips ahead of his pack. This group has set out 5 minutes after me, so if I stay with them I will finish at about 4:20 which is within range of my goal of under four and a half hours. I am delirious with anticipation.

I maintain my steady run and stay with the run 10 min walk 1min pace group for about 15 minutes, but their pace is not mine and they get ahead of me. I kept my pace knowing I won't finish more than 10 minutes behind them.

The km 38 sign appears much sooner than I anticipate. Burrard Inlet is on my left and the rock faces to my left periodically spout water which runs across my path. Four kilometres remain and I am no where near exhaustion and I haven't hit the inevitable "wall." My heart flutters.

The sky scrapers appear around a bend. The final 20 minutes lie ahead and I simply want to drink them in. They pass by too quickly. Everyone I pass knows that this is it and they cheer. I cheer back. As I am greeted by the massive steel structures, I note that I have the entire street to myself. Spectators are held back on the sidewalk with barriers and I am alone running in the city. My sisters are screaming my name. I see a banner and my name comes over the speaker. Medics keep eye contact with me. A silver and red medallion is strung around my neck. I am home.