Zaakistan 2013

Sick Day. Snow Day. Gaming weekend in Canmore. Concerts: Living with Lions, Whitehorse. Semester 1 ends: Math 10C, Math 20-2, Multi-Media
Dragonfly Cohousing Social Media Blitz. Man Scouts Beer Tasting. Demitor Visit in Edmonton. Peter turned 80 in High River. Semester 2 begins: Calculus, Math 30-2, Multi-Media. 
Mother-in-law visit. Turned 37. Fundraising Beer Tasting. Visit to South Africa: Waldrons, Seed of Hope, Game Reserve.
Visit to Malawi: World Renew, Kamanzi, Lake Malawi, Participatory Rural Apraisal. Morning stroll in Amsterdam. Daughter turned 6. Sister-in-law visit. Weekend in Radium with friends. Budget cuts at work.
Son learns to ride a bicycle. Dragonfly Cohousing Groundbreaking. Minhas Brewery Tour. Book Sale. Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Mumford and Sons. Graduation. 
Calgary is flooded/Exams cancelled. Dragonfly Cohousing grinds to a halt due to construction bids coming in way over budget. Ultimate Frisbee (go Vicious Circles). Allan Family Reunion in Canmore. Bladder Infection.
Despicable Me 2 with kids. Son turns 8. Camping and hiking in Banff with friends (sickness). Anniversary Ride to Rocky Mtn House with sister. Montreal: Sister/Brother-in-law, Shakespeare in the Park, Biodôme/Botanical Gardens/Insectarium/Planetarium, Microbrew visits, Alouettes, BBQ.
VIA Rail NB: Papa/Step-Mother, Memere, Fern/Gail, Beach, Pugwash Campmeeting, Canoeing, 13th Anniversary, Dieppe Kite Festival, Plovers, Building a Geodesic Dome, Visit to Sackville, Mémere turns 87. Camping at Little Bow with Friends. Visit to Vulcan. Meadery tour.
Semester 1 begins: Math 10C, Math 30-1, Math 30-2. Camping in Rocky Mtn House with family and friends. Tennis with friends. Dragonfly Cohousing hires a new project manager. FallCon 26. Peter's Memorial Service. Kids begin homeschool. Beer Tasting.
Corn Maze with Dragonfly. Re-Design Workshops. Mom's Birthday. Reflektor is Released. Family Visit to Red Deer. Beer Tasting. Cystoscopy. Nenshi Re-Elected. Teachers Conference.
Glenbow Museum. Sleeping Beauty Ballet. Banff Mtn Film Fest. Wife turns 35. First Batch of Beer. K-12 Unsolved Conference in Banff. Visit Demitors in Westlock. Old Fashioned Family Portrait. Grey Cup Party.
Son gets his Yellow Belt in karate. Re-Design Workshop. Hobbit 2 Premiere showing. Snow Day and a half. Power Out Day. Beer Tasting. Second Batch of Beer. Friend goes missing in Belize. Christmas in Calgary. Nutcracker. New Years Eve Fondue with Family in Red Deer.


10th Anniversary Ride

In July, my sister Saison and I celebrated the 10th anniversary of our cycling trip from coast to coast across Canada with a two day, 170 km trip on Highway 22 (the Cowboy Trail) from Cochrane to Rocky Mountain House, AB. While both of us have continued to cycle recreationally since our epic trip, neither had done over night trips in the last 10 years. Our families joined us and we camped half way in Sundre.

Our first day, we got dropped off in Cochrane, just west of Calgary by around 10 am. We cycled to Cremona where we lunched on the benches outside the Rotary Club. We also took a coffee break (and a bathroom break) at the little chinese restaurant there. I think every little Alberta town has a chinese restaurant. This day was cut 10 km short by some sudden and heavy (and very cold) rain which we rode 7 km through. We pulled into a gas station and called my brother-in-law to ask for a pick-up.

The second day was lovely and we covered more than 100 km and rejoined our kids and spouses at the Wilderness Village RV Park. Amber and I attempted to camp at the provincial campground, but the first night was awful (filthy site, noisy grounds) so we joined Dean and Saison at their site.

It was great to ride again and feel the wind, sun, rain, and leg burn.


I, Brewer.

I'm on the eve of creating my third and fourth batches of beer after successfully brewing batches one and two in November and December. I have a few buddies who brew beer and until I had access to a couple of carboys, I've been reluctant to move forward in brewing my own.

In November, Dwayne from Yellowknife visited and he's been making beer for years so I asked him if he would guide me through my first batches. He happily agreed. I picked up a little bit of equipment from Wine Kitz, just down the road from me, and 2 beer kits: Brew House India Pale Ale and Brew House Stout.

We cleaned the equipment by sterilizing in boiling water, mixed the malty water with more water for a total of 19 L (supposed to be 23, but we wanted to make stronger beer) and then yeast. Easy!

To make the beer a little more personal, I added a bit of ingredients. The IPA was already hopped, but I boiled a 1/2 oz of cascade hops and added the water to the beer. I also added the peels of one small orange thinking it wouldn't make much of an impact, but maybe a little complex note. A week later I added a little mesh bag of another 1/2 oz of hops to add aroma (this is called dry hopping).

To the stout I added a bunch of spice: 1/8 cup of allspice, 1/8 cup of cardamom, 1/16 coup of cloves.

We set up the airlock by running the tubes from the stoppers into a bucket 1/4 full of water. For the next week a steady stream of bubbles and foam poured through the tubes - what a racket and mess. Fortunately, it wasn't too loud and no one complained about it being in our crowded little kitchen, though Lukas dropped a stuffed animal in the soup and Amber dropped toast into it. The mess was contained too.

When the main fermentation was done - about a week - I moved the 2 carboys into our cooler storage area and put little airlocks into the stoppers and cleaned out the stinky bucket. 2 more weeks of slow secondary fermentation and the beer was ready to bottle.

Though we collected bottles for 2 months, we still didn't have enough, so I had to spring for a dozen self corking bottles to make sure we had enough. Wine Kitz even lent me their bench capper for the night. I spent the evening putting 35 litres of beer into bottles and spent the next 5 days cleaning up as much as I could after work.

My assessment? Well, I'm certainly just starting, so I never expected to make an award winning brew.

The stout is too spicy, but I am enjoying it. I find it is mellowing out day by day, so in a couple weeks it will probably be as mellow as it's going to get. Great dark colour though.

I really like the IPA. It could be hoppier, but the orange peel adds another kind of bitterness which I like too. I have plenty to last me a long while. The best part is the pride I can take in producing it myself.

"Zaakistan Peel IPA"

"Riches Spiced Stout"

K-12 Unsolved Math Conference

In November, I attended a math conference with another 24 people at the Banff International Research Station for a weekend. The conference was organized by my friend Dr. Gordon Hamilton of MathPickle.com fame (visit his site for more info on the conference). It was meant to discuss and identify 13 unsolvable math problems that could be introduced at each grade level from kindergarten to grade 12 as puzzles or games that have curricular connections. Among the attendees were math educators, education consultants, puzzle pros, and mathematicians, each bringing expertise to the table.

First of all, I was blown away by the Banff Centre where BIRS is just one of the many buildings used to promote scientific research, artistic residencies, and host internationally acclaimed cultural events. The facilities are state of the art and staff are wonderful (I took the Greyhound to and from Banff for the event. When I was checking out, the door man asked where I had parked my car and when he discovered I was walking to the bus station (2 km away), he locked up the storage room and shuttled me to the station, insisting this was necessary and that me walking there would be absolutely tragic.). The food is also stellar and I must thank my school for covering the food costs.

The weekend was full and we spent a lot of time debating the merits of various problems, how they should be presented, their relevance, and especially how we could go about promoting the concept of teachers using unsolved problems in their classrooms (no easy task in this age). One of the ideas we tossed around for a long time was the offering of a $1 Million award for anyone who solved one of the problems. The trick here isn't so much the money, which insurance could cover, but the vetting of the solutions - who would do it?

In the evenings we played games and talked math. One of the lead guys attending was James Tanton, currently the visiting scholar of the Mathematical Association of America. He had some really innovative ideas that I can't pretend to explain here. Check out his website for some mini courses - especially the one on disappearing dots.

My hunch though is that Gord did all of this so that we could find a way to introduce every living student to Pick's Theorem - which I have to say, is pretty cool, and fun to play with.


Noteworthy Apps

Since having my life greatly altered with an iPhone 18 months ago, I have come to appreciate the impact certain apps have had in my daily life. A few noteworthy ones:

DAY ONE: This is a journaling app that allows you to make entries that get backed up to DropBox, include photos, automatically notes the weather, location, etc. As one of my life goals is to keep a daily journal for 5 years, this one has proved invaluable because it is so fun to use and review with photos. I make a point of taking a unique photo each day to keep it fresh and so far I have journaled for 161 straight days. I love that I can publish the entire thing as a PDF in the end too. It's existence is also the main reason I have neglected my blog the last 6 months.

FOG OF WORLD: This is madness for a map fan like me. I love turning on the app when I travel new places to clear the fog from the map.

THIS AMERICAN LIFE: I got hooked on this NPR program this past spring and so the app has been a mainstay on morning and afternoon commutes (and long distance drives with the family). Since the only way to listen to archives is online through a flash based program, I had to buy the $2 app and it's worth it being able to access the 500 episodes. I'm working my way back, so I'm on episode 438 (2011).

GUITUNE: $1. Cheapest and most convenient guitar tuner I have ever bought.

BEER BUDDY: A perfect way to track the brews you've tasted. It can scan beer barcodes, access the ratebeer.com database for ratings and reviews, allows you to add your own ratings, etc.


Allan Family Reunion 2013

Mid-June saw the first full reunion for my mother's siblings, their mother, their spouses, most of the cousins, and all the grandkids. Altogether there were 24 of us on Friday evening. It was the first time I had seen any of my maternal extended family since 1999/2000. In fact it was the first time I met one of my uncles. We gathered in Canmore for a weekend.

Pink: Women
Blue: Men
Grey: Absent

The only people missing were my grandfather (he and my grandmother divorced in the 1970s), my father (he and my mom divorced in the 1990s), my sister's partner, and two adult cousins (one of whom I have never met).

We hung out in Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise. Hanging out is a weak way of saying we strolled through shops, climbed Sulfur Mountain, walked along Lake Louise, skipped rocks on Lake Minnewanka, played games, ate food, and caught up a lot. It was a great visit and made it clear that we have to stay in touch better and make greater efforts to visit one another.

Here are our four generations:
Woodford > Allan > Robichaud > Robichaud/Demitor/Toijanen


Playlist: Summer 2013

Some new. Some not. I could listen to each of these on Repeat One for an hour. Probably longer, but I don't want to wreck my favourites.

  • Sufjan Stevens: The Transfiguration
  • The New Pornographers: Adventures in Solitude
  • The National: Pink Rabbits
  • Feist: A Commotion
  • Atoms for Peace: Ingenue
  • Band of Horses: Dumpster World
  • Calexico: Writer's Minor Holiday
  • City and Colour: The Grand Optimist
  • Mumford & Sons: Hopeless Wanderer
  • Wilco: The Art of Almost

Reflections: Seed of Hope in South Africa

My first week in Africa was spent with the wonderful Waldon family who have been in the Amanzimtoti / Bhekulwandle area of South Africa for the last six years. I knew them in Saint Albert when I was working my first job out of university at their church. Amber and I have been supporting their work which is running The Seed of Hope.

I was able to spend 4 days at the centre where I think I got a good sense of what the community is like, what the needs are, and how Seed of Hope is seeking to bring new life to the area. I should add that school was on holidays, so things probably weren't running exactly the same as they usually are.

First, the staff. Carl shared lots of stories with me about the staff who I saw working in their various areas. Most of those with hands on work were either from Bhekulwandle or nearby. They grew up in poverty and didn't have the same opportunities for education and employment (unemployment in the area is around 80%). I listened to them sing and share during staff devotions. They are both grateful for the opportunity to work and to serve God and their people. They are passionate about their work and they are not above having disputes among themselves - though they are willing to resolve matters too.

Those in positions of leadership or in volunteer positions come from the wealthier areas or from other countries. Equally passionate and seeking restoration in this very depressed area, these folks drive vehicles, generate funding, plan events, connect with the media, and help manage the centre.

In speaking to Carl Waldron, the CEO, I learned that Seed of Hope has had numerous short term mission teams visit. Some of those visiting have told him that they have seen far worse poverty and that the efforts here would probably be better used elsewhere in the world. While it's true that there are more destitute regions in the world (South Sudan or Haiti come to mind immediately), what is truly unique is the level of brokenness in the community. In Bhekulwandle there are certainly deficits in nutrition, work, educational opportunities, access to healthcare, etc. but not to the some of levels I saw in Guatemala or Malawi. What is different is the staggering level of violence against women and girls and the incredibly high incidence of HIV (this South African province alone has 13% of the world's HIV infected). On top of all this, while South Africa has emerged as a leader on the continent economically, this is one of the very forgotten regions so there is little by way of local government support.

While I was there I heard stories that still haunt me today. I won't share them online, but I have no qualms expressing that this part of the world is one of the darkest, most needing of our and God's love.

So, what are they doing to reach out to the people in Bhekulwandle? Three different spheres of influence, all of which are applied with a deeply personal touch which builds relationships:

  • skills training for adults (sewing and gardening mainly)
  • teaching life skills to children (after school programs, tutoring, counseling, leadership)
  • HIV/AIDS outreach (testing, counseling, support groups, home visits)

This is all done with a very healthy view of sustainable development: take it slow, empower the population, and build on the strengths of people you work with.

Overall, I was very impressed with Seed of Hope. I encourage you to support the organization, you can give to Hope Shares or RESCU International.


Lake Malawi

The third largest lake in Africa, Lake Malawi forms an aquatic political divide between Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. It is also one of the deepest lakes in the world. In the middle of our 11 day stay in Malawi, we spent 2 nights in Cape MacLear which lies in the UNESCO protected Lake Malawi National Park. To get there, we had to cross the Dedza-Salima Forest Reserve which straddles a pretty decent mountain range. We descended the very windy road to a glorious view of the lake.

I'll start with the worst part as it wasn't too bad. The dozens of guys hawking trinkets on the beach were almost intolerable. I stepped out of our resort gate onto the beach and within five seconds I had 10 guys around me. I guess I stink of money.

One of the first guys to approach me though was Flamingo. He ran a little lake tour boat (albeit expensive) that takes people to West Thumbi Island to see the fish and birds. He hired him to take us just after lunch.

Lake Malawi is home to the largest variety of cichlids, one of the most popular fresh water aquarium fish. There isn't an exact figure for the number of genus in the world, but Lake Malawi holds somewhere in the vicinity of 900 to 1000 of these little colourful fish.

Ken and I snorkelled for about an hour amont the rocky shore of West Thumbi Island. It was great to be in the water again - I hadn't done serious snorkelling since '95-96 when I was in the Marshall Islands. Wendy lent me her underwater camera.

The second half of the trip took us to the east side of the Thumbi where Flamingo let out a few long whistles, flung a fish high into the air and told us to have our camera's ready. Seven or eight times we watched as large fish eagles circled above us then careened over the water snatching the floating fish  of the surface of the water just a few meters away from our launch.

Later in our stay in Malawi I enjoyed some of the lake's fish: chambo (a variety of tilapia). It was decent, but I think mine was too small.

Our last morning, Ken and I took out a rough looking double kayak with very short paddles. We got pretty wet, but it was good to stretch our arms and get out onto the quiet lake. We headed along the cape towards Domwe Island, but ran out of steam about 3/4 of the way there. Plus we were hungry for breakfast.

The sunset over the lake provided a great opportunity for silhouette shots of the locals finishing up their work day.


Man Scouts: The Beer Tasting

On February 4, almost 20 man scouts converged on Rob's house and we sampled 17 very diverse beers, ales, porters, lagers, stouts, wits and bocks. Some of the guys were completely blown away by the strong bitter tastes of the IPAs. Others were impressed with the strong flavours of porter and stout. Most were pleased with drink that didn't threaten their manhood.

I helped organize the event. I brought the gear - mini beer mugs, a tray, score cards and golf pencils. A couple different guys helped pour, but I kept the evening moving by pouring and delivering the brews all night.

  • Cerveza Cristal (lager, Cerveceria Bucanero, Cuba)
  • Sapporo Original Draft Beer (rice lager, Sapporo Breweries, Japan)
  • Grolsch Premium Lager (lager, Golsch Bierbrouwerij, Netherlands)
  • Morimoto Soba Ale (soba beer*, Rogue Ales, OR) fifth place
  • La Messagère (pale ale*, Microbrasserie Nouvelle-France, QC) seventh place
  • Mongozo Premium Pilsener (pilsener, Mongozo, Netherlands)
  • Village Wit (witbier, Village Brewery, AB) seventh place
  • Rickard's Red (red lager, Molson Coors, ON) seventh place
  • Black Tusk Ale (dark mild ale, Whistler Brewing Co., BC) second place
  • Ayinger Weizenbock (weizenbock, Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer/Brauerei Aying, Germany) seventh place
  • Scarborough Fair IPA (india pale ale*, Wold Top Brewery, United Kingdom)
  • Blacksmith India Black Ale (american black ale, Village Brewery, AB)
  • Devil's Elbow IPA (india pale ale, Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Co., BC)
  • Amnesiac Double IPA (imperial IPA, Phillips Brewing Co., BC) sixth place
  • Village Monk Chai Winter Porter (porter, Village Brewery, AB) second place
  • Salty Scot (scotch ale, Parallel 49 Brewing Co., BC) first place
  • Megadestroyer Imperial Licorice Stout (imperial stout, Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Co., BC) fourth place

*denotes a gluten free beer

My personal favourites were the Phillips Amnesiac, both Howe Sound (Devil's Elbow and Megadestroyer), and the Ayinger. Of note too were all three Village Brewery contributions - too bad they are generally sold in growlers. The best of the gluten free beers was the Morimoto Soba Ale (Rogue), in fact I'd consider buying it to drink myself.

I had a great time introducing the guys to new beer. I hadn't tried about half of them, so many were new to me too! Thanks for the fun scouts!