Archive for December, 2006

Excerpts from the 2006 Christmas Letter

December 27, 2006

After three years of disappointments, I finally wrote another Christmas letter. I think it topped out at 5 pages once Cindy increased the font to something viewable by the Bifocal Generation. That means it’s a little too long to simply copy in one post. Besides, by the time anyone I know finds this blog it’ll be spring and there will be many new posts. So here’s some highlights — at least descriptions of things that are worth preserving:

Regarding Ben:

While Ben does very well in school he’s hit the point where he’d much rather be at home doing his own thing. Ben’s a quiet kid so the mayhem of the classroom wears him out. Ben’s read pretty much every popular kids book that’s been written, to the point where Cindy’s pre-reading “young adult” books to make sure they are appropriate. Although that’s now gone by the wayside, since she wasn’t keeping up to his pace — Cindy still searches out books for Ben, but now he just lets her know which one she should read. The net result is I’ve now lost them both to the seductive power of Literature. Robyn and I are coping but our eating habits may not be the best when those two are binging on books!

Ben is “Snow Boy” and is a perfect complement to Summer Girl. In summer Ben’s favorite place is sitting on the patio with a stack of books, but after the first snowfall he’s outside for hours on end building snow forts, cutting trails or lying in a snowbank staring at the sky. It took the coming of winter for Ben to find a way to play with Buddy (our 11 month old golden retriever pup) so that Ben had fun and Buddy got tired. It helps Cindy and I too since once it gets cold we just want to hibernate!

Ben’s favorite pastime is still hockey. It’s the only thing that will get him out of bed at 7AM without complaint. Ben plays goalie for the Pee Wee Minor Sharks. It’s his fifth year in minor hockey and his third between the pipes full time. This has been a challenging season for the Sharks — 1 win so far this season and all the play is in the Sharks end of the ice. So Ben’s been busy. 60-80 shots per game is common and Ben’s been holding his own. It’s an odd situation when the Shark’s can lose 10-0 and Ben gets player of the game, but that’s the reality this year. What’s been great to see is that his self confidence and self esteem is remaining intact and is even growing as the season progresses. He loves the work and is getting stronger all the time. Now if he were only taller than the net…

Regarding Robyn

[Robyn] still amazes me with how much she is aware of what’s going on in the world around her. She’s growing into quite an outspoken leader, whether it’s at school, home or with her friends. Last fall our elementary school was threatened with closure and Robyn had letters written to the school administration and trustees within 48 hours. Her main concern was who would take care of some of her friends who needed help in their classes or on the playground. We’re extremely proud (and at times inspired) by her caring nature — even though it tires us out. Mom and Dad are expected to be on the front lines of The Cause, of course!

Robyn’s newest passion is hockey. She’s playing in her second year of minor hockey, this year with the Atom House Stingers. She’s the only girl on her team and is a hit with her teammates and coaches. She got her first goal of the season early but lately has been playing solid defense — she’s one of the bigger kids on the team and doesn’t lose many battles for the puck. She was quite upset last season when an opposing player swore at her in frustration; she felt better when we told her that meant she was doing her job very well! When she’s not playing hockey, Robyn can be found reading, listening to audiobooks on the iPod (the six Harry Potter books seem to be on a continuous loop), riding her bike or skateboard, or drawing pictures for her family and friends.

I call Robyn “Summer Girl” because outside of hockey she seems a little lost in the wintertime, but in the warmer months she’s outside all day, every day. She’s got the travel bug really bad after our trips to BC in 2004 and especially our big trip to Nova Scotia and PEI in 2005. During the Maritime adventure Robyn spent approximately 1,400 hours on the beach — that’s a lot of smiling! It didn’t matter that the water was cold enough to numb all your limbs. She’s helping us scrimp and save for a trip to Italy (maybe in 2008?) as she’s dying to see Venice in person (although we won’t let her swim in the canals!)

Regarding Cindy

Cindy is without a doubt the most active person in the family. One of our friends jokes that Cindy ‘runs southwest Regina’ and there are times when it feels like that’s the case. She’s been president of the Athabasca PTA for a couple terms over the past four years and is heavily involved in the fight for smaller schools, smaller class sizes and greater flexibility from the school administration. Through the community association, over the past three years she’s led a large park improvement project, adding new pre-school play equipment to a neighbourhood park. Cindy organizes an annual “Reading Week” at Athabasca, with author visits, storytellers, cartoon drawing workshops puppet shows, etc. – a highlight for kids, and Cin’s favorite project of the year. She’s also been a very strong supporter of our public libraries, pushing me to take action during the fight to save three branch libraries in 2003-2004 and then holding down the house every night while I was at a meeting or writing press releases.

Cindy’s latest project is our golden retriever, Buddy. We got him in April and he’s now a very large 11 month old ‘pup’. Buddy is a very calm, well mannered dog due in no small part to the amount of time Cindy’s put into working with him. He’s an active dog and needs at least two 45 minute walks every day so we’ve been outside quite a bit, but it’s been worth it. We don’t have any of the ‘horror stories’ you hear about dogs chewing things up, barking like crazy or biting people, etc.

And finally, yours truly

I’m ‘in between’ projects lately as I’m trying to get our bakery business off the ground. I’m now past-president of the Lakeview Community Association after spending seven years as treasurer and then chairman. I’m no longer involved in Friends of Regina Public Library after spending a year leading the communications team in the fight to prevent closures and another year working with the library board on public consultations (although I’m supposed to have the first draft of my chapter of a book on the fight done by January.) I’m not on our church board as we’ve decided to take a step back and re-evaluate what we’re looking for in a faith community. I stayed on the sidelines during the latest civic election and I’m trying to stay behind the scenes on the next round of public school consultations (although it’s turning into such a complete and utter sham that I might get sucked into the fray.) So this winter I’m happy to say that I’m ‘only’ Robyn’s hockey team co-manager (with Cindy) and leave it at that!

This past year or two has also been spent coming to terms with the reality that my parent’s health is declining. My mom has been battling cancer for over 15 years now and the past two years have been especially difficult. She went through 18 months of chemotherapy in 2004-2005 and is now on regular chemo pills to control the spread of cancer. It’s had a bad effect on her blood so she needs regular IV supplements. It’s been hard for me to understand that the new normal state for mom is to be tired all the time and to spend all her time either at home or the hospital. My dad is still able to take care of things so that they can stay living at the farm, but he had a scare this summer when doctors found cancer in his right lung. He had surgery to remove part of his lung in August and it looks like the surgery was successful — no more cancer and no treatments required. But the lack of lung capacity shows as dad is more out of breath than usual and he’s still quite sore from the major surgery. Through all of this I’ve been dependent on and extremely thankful for my sister Wanda, who has helped translate all the doctor-speak and ensure that mom and dad are getting the best possible home care. I don’t know how families can deal with the health care system without having some background in the field — I know I’d be completely lost.

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There’s lots more, and I can send it out if you like 🙂

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But I Want To Follow Directions!!

December 9, 2006

I was reviewing recent posts at the brick oven list and there was a post from a fellow just starting his oven building journey. He’s going to be building a 5’x7′ oven based on Alan Scott’s plans and was frustrated that the number and type of blocks the plans called for is a little off.

My first reaction was ‘join the club’ as I found many inconsistencies with my oven plans too. In the end my oven build required the knowledge within the plans, Alan himself, the brick oven list, my own experience, knowledge from product suppliers (minimal) and the opinions of a half dozen friends and family members.

Does this mean the plans are no good? I don’t think so. Maybe they are just mis-named. People have an expectation that ‘plans’, especially plans which cost up to 10% of the price of materials, should be very clear step by step instructions. Clear pictures, no inconsistencies and on Right Way to put the thing together. Alan Scott’s oven plans are not that type of ‘plan.’ I see them as more the compiled wisdom and best practices of a man who has built over 100 of these ovens and has been around long enough to see them in action for many years. Ideas change over time and Alan’s views on oven construction have changed over time as well.

Dealing with inconsistencies in the plans were a pain in the butt, no doubt. But in the end it was an advantage too. I now know the purpose of every component of the oven because I had to make a conscious decision of how to build each piece.

Now could the plans due with a new revision? You bet. But I suspect Alan is more interested in building ovens and learning from the build experience than going through the work of revising the plans. When I read his book on oven building I got the sense that Dan Wing was the catalyst for getting all Alan’s thoughts into a format where a book could actually be created. Perhaps “Brick Oven Plans 2.0” is an opportunity for enterprising copy editor with a passion for bread…

The Dog Whisperer

December 9, 2006

I was extra-tired at Robyn’s practice because Cindy and I were up late watching old episodes of “The Dog Whisperer” They are hosted by Cesar Millan whose shtick Dog Psychology. He’s absolutely hilarious! My favorite line to dog owners: “They’re not less than human; they’re just not human”

The main theme of the show is that dogs are most comfortable when they are in a pack and are around the dominant pack leader. So be that leader! The mindset you want the dog to be in is “calm-submissive.”

The one tip that I think will work wonders with buddy is that, in dogs, there is a big difference between ‘excited’ and ‘happy’. To Cesar, ‘excited’ is just as bad as ‘agitated’. The dog is ‘happy’ when he is ‘calm-submissive’

I think that for Cesar’s advice to work owners need to get over any negative connotations about the word ‘submissive’. Submissive is perceived by most to be a strongly negative human term but it’s a strongly positive dog behaviour.

Mixer Woes

December 9, 2006

Hobart Mixer

The dough hook for my 20QT Hobart Mixer arrived this week so I’ve got the itch to do some large scale baking. I spent most of Friday giving the mixer a good clean. When I bought it it looked pretty clean already but once I got started I realized it was actually quite grimy.

I think I’m in a bit of trouble because the bowl lift is all gummed up. I think the previous owners were using the mixer for icing because the whole bowl lift mechanism is plugged up with syrup. I finally decided to take the bowl lift apart but the 6 screws that hold it all together are seized up too. I tried heat, cold, water and penetrating lube but I can’t get them to budge at all. Hopefully Canadian Tire has some miracle product that will release the screws.

Hockey Morning in Canada

December 9, 2006

Up at 6:15AM for Robyn’s 7:30 practice in White City. There weren’t many kids out and even fewer parents. I usually like the early morning stuff because I have the whole day in front of me after hockey. Although right now I’m pretty darn tired.

Robyn got to practice in goal and did really well for her first time in pads this year. She hasn’t mentioned goal much this year but now that she’s had a practice she’s eager to play in a game. My thoughts? Officially they don’t matter and it’s good for her to try all the positions, but I sure wouldn’t mind having one child play out, purely from the spectators point of view.

We all went out for breakfast after the practice. Went to McDonald’s which wasn’t my or Robyn’s first choice but it actually wasn’t that bad. Perhaps the McDioxins are merging with my cell structure, or maybe because they have Hockey Cards!

It was a good chance to talk with more of the parents. More and more of the kids are involved in Basketball these days; half the team had games or practices at 10. The fees seem reasonable (100-150 per year) but wow that’s a big time commitment if you’re also playing hockey. I can’t see how our kids would survive playing two sports at the same time when each sport is twice a week.

Boy in the Snow

December 9, 2006

While the oven may be snowbound and Van may be iced up, this week’s cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls has brought one of my favourite people back to life. Ben, aka Snow Boy, has once again magically transformed from moody bookworm to icy adventurer. Within 24 hours, there was a 4 foot igloo in the front yard. By Day Two, the igloo had three exits. Work on the side rooms is progressing nicely.

Snow Boy’s autumn nemesis, Buddy Dog, is now his faithful companion, spending hour after finger numbing hour in the back yard fetching hunks of snow and ice. Boy and Dog seem to embrace the frozen white stuff as their native habitat.

Van in the Snow

December 9, 2006

Back in 1993 we decided that our new minivan was going to last us a long time. We didn’t want to be strapped with perpetual payments (no matter how “easy” and “monthly” and the decision was consistent with our frugal values.

At the time, we didn’t know what a ‘long time’ looked like. Some vague time past 10 years for sure, but we were foggy about the details. We’re now a couple months away from Van’s 14th birthday and it might be getting close to end of life.

Van hasn’t been blowing heat (in the winter anyway) for a few years now and a couple years ago started the annoying habit of throwing off the serpentine belt whenever it goes through more than four inches of snow. This week the temperatures dropped below -30C and it snowed a lot. Instant icy insides and the belts come off twice already.

Van’s now at the repair shop. We’ll learn tomorrow if it will be pulled off life support.

Oven in the Snow

December 9, 2006

It’s snowing for about the fifth day in a row now and as I look out the dining room window at the brick oven I can help but wonder what effect all that snow has on the brickwork. I didn’t get a chimney cap installed (or designed) in time so there’s about 4 inches of snow on top of the chimney and inside too. My wood pile is buried too so the wood certainly isn’t seasoning the way I’d like. I think the best approach is to split it as small as I can manage and store it under the oven till spring. At least it’ll stay dry that way.

First Post

December 9, 2006

Well Hi,

So here’s my first post on my WordPress blog. I’ve been “firmly persuaded” to write more and I wanted to do that in a way that I could share it, add photos, video, etc. and WordPress looks like a good place to do just that.

I’m not completely sure what to write about, or at least how to organize it. Lots of interests, you might say. But one of the things I’m tired of is waiting to get everything figured out before I take a step and that bad habit stops right here and now.

That is, it stops with the next post.