Spruce Meadows

Spruce Meadows is the premiere equestrian sport venue in Canada and it is just 30 minutes from where I live. If you saw Ian Miller compete on Big Ben in the 80s and 90s on TV, it was probably at Spruce Meadows. When Amber told me I had the morning to myself during my first week off these summer holidays because she was taking the kids to Spruce Meadows, I offered to take the kids because I've wanted to visit there for a long time. She gladly took the time to herself.

I don't know who we are watching or what competitions are on, it is just really neat. The riders look super spiffy. From the vantage point of being just on the other side of the fence from the horse jumping, I can tell there is a great deal of athleticism involved in taking the horse around the course and jumping with them over the barriers. Of course the horse does most of the work...

The grounds at Spruce Meadows are beautiful. I do not feel like I belong since it looks like most of the people there probably own jumping horses (there are not a lot of people there, in fact the place is rather desolate) and likely have cars and vacation homes to reflect this kind of wealth. It is not my culture, but I like the well kept gardens and the elaborate jumping courses.

We visit three venues. My kids lose interest in the horse jumping pretty quickly as it doesn't really change from competitor to competitor except for the odd bar being knocked down. All of the announcers have British accents (like in soccer) and one of them butchers nearly every rider and horse name - so that is pretty fun. All the riders are from Canada, USA, and Mexico.

We grab an ice cream and walk around a little. My kids play on the playground while I snap pictures. Oh, and except for the ice cream, the whole thing is free of charge. I even ask where I am supposed to pay the advertised $5 and no one can tell me.

A lovely way to spend a quiet day.


Brew Three: Grapefruit Double IPA

Easily my best beer so far. I combined a couple Brew House IPA kits with a hop-hacked little 1 gallon grain Grapefruit IPA kit from Brooklyn BrewShop. I used 6 oz of cascade, columbus, and falconers flight hops at various stages of the boil of the wort (and kept a little for dry hopping). I also added the peels of two grapefruits during the final 10 minutes of the boil.

A Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale kept me company.

I added 500g of pale spraymalt to the boil too to add a bit more, um, sugar. Note that this is a double batch. I used Danstar BRY-97 yeast, a standard westcoast IPA yeast. In the end the specific gravity (which measures sugar) came in at 1.068 which is quite high. Worried that it was too high for the yeast, I went to a discussion board and quickly got a response:

1.068 is perfect for a hoppy IPA! 18C is a perfect fermentation temperature for BRY97.
You can see it had no problem fermenting.

3 weeks later, Blaise helped me bottle the 36.3 litres of delicious 8.3% ABV very strong grapefruit india pale ale. Unfortunately, about half of the bottles are over-carbonated, but they taste lovely: very crisp, firm citrus hoppiness, and pleasing aftertaste.

Brew Two: Apple Ginger Bitter, Muntons Hopped Pale Ale

My second foray into brewing happened back in December. I wanted to try the syrup kit rather than the slightly concentrated kits I tried the first time. I picked up 2 kits of Muntons: Bitter and Pale Ale (they were out of IPA). I picked up some amarillo, chinook, and cascade hops to add to the Pale Ale.

I simply boiled some of the hops and added the hopped water to the pale ale. A week later, I dry hopped the pale ale and added some cane sugar in hopes to add a bit of dimension and a bit more alcohol to what is normally a pretty bland beer. The results weren't too impressive. The beer is drinkable, just not memorable.

I added some apple slices and ginger water to the bitter fermentation. Some mild ginger aftertaste and a bit of apple sweetness. This darker beer tasted better the longer I let it stay in bottle, not too malty, quite refreshing.


Man Scouts: Shooting Sporting Clays

June 20, eight Man Scouts from New Hope Church drove out to Silver Willow Sporting Club near Carstairs for an evening of shooting sporting clays with shotguns. Few things can compare to the sheer manliness of shooting a shotgun - maybe growing a beard? Anyway, we split into a couple teams and ran through the beginner/intermediate shooting course which is 10 stations with 2 different clay launches at each station where each shooter gets to shoot 5 clays (50 clays in total).

It's been a few years since I shot a shotgun in BC with uncle Terry, but I get the hang of it again pretty quickly. We alternate who goes first at each station since the first clay is sometimes difficult to spot as it flies from different spots in different directions and at different speeds. The challenge is to shoot it early if it is flying away from you and lead your sights ahead of where it will be. The launches are under little wooden shelters and fire clays in a great variety of settings: swamps, clearings, woods, bushes. A few clays come flying from up over your head and you have to spot them as they go flying away from you.

The entire process is very high tech. Your purchase of clay discs is loaded onto a card which is then placed onto a controller. The controller has two options, A and B, which launch the two different clays. The shooter loads their shotgun in a wooden frame and cries "pull" which is signal to the other who is managing the controller. Our group let the first shooter decide what the 5th shot would be: A or B. One of the unique shots was one that was shot along the ground and bounced around like a running rabbit (I didn't hit that one).

I intend to shoot only 25 clays with my buddy, but my buddy doesn't show up so I fire 50 shells and end up with a decent bruise on my shoulder. And yes, I held the gun tight against my shoulder and my face tight too. I end up with a rather modest score of 21 hits out of 50. The best shots are John and Kenton with 35. I admit (or provide excuse for my poor showing) that I got lazy and tired during the last 4 stations. I enjoyed taking pictures and watching others shoot. It was a long week leading up to this night.

My Mother, the Canadian

Yesterday I was able to assist the swearing in of 84 new Canadians under the supervision of Judge Lei here in Calgary. It was my first of such ceremonies, though I have heard from various people and radio stories that they are dramatic and moving, so I was prepared.

Most notable however was the reason I left my messy, half-packed up classroom for the afternoon. My mother who has been living in Canada for exactly 39 years and 8 months was among the new 84 subjects of Queen Elizabeth II. I was lucky enough to be free to attend and was the only friend/family to be there for the event.

There were many people from some 30 countries along with their close ones in the small, heavily Canadian themed courtroom. I found a seat and then mom found me. She recounted in great detail how her morning had passed with all the waiting, the interview, and meeting other citizenship candidates. She also had some pretty swag gear like a big poster of all the provinces and their info.

The ceremony began with the clerk giving us a run down of the event and Judge Lei being ushered in by an RCMP officer. I was very impressed with the judge's remarks on the rights and responsibilities that accompany Canadian citizenship and her reflections on the struggles many of the day's candidates would have experienced to reach this milestone. Her speech heavily accented "Canada" and "Canadian" when they came up. She led in the oath taking in both official languages and we all stood repeating after her raising our right hands:

Je jure (ou j’affirme solennellement) Que je serai fidèle Et porterai sincère allégeance à Sa Majesté la Reine Elizabeth Deux Reine du Canada À ses héritiers et successeurs Que j’observerai fidèlement les lois du Canada Et que je remplirai loyalement mes obligations de citoyen canadien.
I swear (or affirm) That I will be faithful And bear true allegiance To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second Queen of Canada Her Heirs and Successors And that I will faithfully observe The laws of Canada And fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.
She presented certificates to each one [pictured]. It was pretty relaxed and she took a couple moments to meet each person and welcome them to citizenship. She led in singing O Canada and invited all the children in the audience to join her up front - this was actually the most emotional for me as it created a picture of Canada with great promise and innocence.

Mom and I walked through downtown and enjoyed a beer before heading back to my place where she enjoyed her first delicious meal as a Canadienne. Amber even made some cool cupcakes with red wine (mom's favorite) in them and little Canadian flags sticking out of them.

Mom left her home in Massachusetts on her 18th birthday early in her senior year of high school to join my father in New Brunswick.  She began her family with my birth almost 2 years later, followed by my sisters. She lived in NB, BC, and AB, settling finally in Alberta these past 20 years.

So, welcome to the confederation!

If you want to know more about my mom, check out her brand new blog about being short and cooking healthy food: Life on the Short Side.


Marathon: The Second

Ever since having finished my first marathon in May 2012, I have been longing to replicate the experience. It was one of the most exhilarating times of my life. So, in early February I casually mentioned to Heather, one of my housemates, that I should run the Calgary marathon on June 1st. She said if I would run the marathon, she would run the half. I said sure. Then she registered.

Training again was the true struggle. I was forever faced with time challenges as my work and home responsibilities made it difficult to carve out hours to run. In the end I ran 450 kms in training over the 16 weeks prior to the marathon, with a couple 32 km runs in there and a host of intervals and hills (oh, Home Road!!).

I was so busy leading up to the marathon that I hadn't really had much time to fret. The day before, I went for a 15 minute run early in the morning with Heather to get the muscles ready, then collected all my gear together for the early departure to the race the next day:

running shirt, running shorts, light socks, hydration belt with 4 bottles, bandana, headband, bib, running shoes, cash for after, lip balm, face sunscreen, sunglasses, train tickets for transport to and from the race, fruit gummy snacks, ibuprofen, nipple bandages, GPS tracker, energy gel, bag for bag check with morning sweater / deodorant / after flip flops / Nalgene with frozen protein shake for after
I ended up making a last minute call and leaving the hydration belt and bottles behind in favour of a lighter fun and relying completely on the water/gatorade tables every couple kms.

The gate I was supposed to begin the race with was inaccessible when I arrived and so the run began at a much slower pace than I had hoped. I weaved between people trying to get ahead of the masses for the first 4 or 5 kms through Inglewood, Bridgeland, and East Village. The runners eventually thinned out and I haphazardly ran into my old friend Tom from university. He was running his 7th marathon - his first was the same as my first. We hadn't seen each other since college, back in 1996 maybe. We loped along together for a couple kms and then I left him behind as we approached Mount Royal University.

We wound back into downtown and over the 14th street bridge into Kensington where I ran into my beer tasting buddy Gordon. He was there taking pictures for another friend, so he snapped a pics of me too. I ran west and then turned around 3 kms later and ran along Memorial Dr all the way to Centre St when I crossed back into the south for the final 4 kms (which were brutal!). Jesse, a coworker, came down to the river to cheer me on and for the final 7 kms he rode his bike parallel to the track to encourage me. He snapped a few great shots too.

As I mentioned, the last kms were gruelling. I accidentally dropped my last cup of water 3 kms from the end and I was so thirsty! Also, at about km 32, I put a powergel in my pocket and it burst there. Tangerine flavour goop ran all the way down my leg and stuck between my sock and the top of my foot. It was very uncomfortable - and I needed that energy. The only injury I suffered was my sock tearing at my skin where the gel was.

The end was glorious. I was disappointed that my time wasn't better, but I did beat my 2012 time by 4 minutes. Amber, the kids and my friend Stephanie (who ran the 21.1 km) were at the finish line to cheer me in. I got my massive belt buckle and water and bit of snacks before grabbing my checked bag with the protein shake. It was still cold. The kids had their medals from their 1.2 km run which capped off a total of 42.2 kms that they ran in the months previous, so they ran marathons too.

My family went home before I did as there were things they needed to tend to and I still had my massage. My massage was great, mostly due to the fact that I wasn't moving and I was laying flat. I then took transit home and walked the 1 km home.


Math 30-1 Diploma Exam

In January, my grade 12 math students wrote their diploma exam, a provincial requirement and a university placement helper. They did superbly! I have to brag a little since I had a class of 24 with wide ranging skills and because of a schoolwide scheduling change 15% less instructional time to deliver the course than what was previously allotted (and recommended, and possibly required...).

The course is very demanding with nine pre-calculus units:

  • Functions  and  Relations   
  • Transformations on Functions 
  • Exponential  and  Logarithmic  Functions
  • Applications   of   Exponential   and   Logarithmic  Functions
  • Polynomial  Functions  and  Equations
  • Permutations  and  Combinations
  • Analyzing  Radical  and  Rational  Functions
  • Trigonometry  –  Functions  and  Graphs
  • Trigonometry  –  Equations  and  Identities
My students scored on average 10% higher than the province (which had a 24% failure rate). We also had a tight standard deviation of 15.5 whereas the province had a spread of 20.1.

So! Congratulations to my stellar students!

Thoughts on Community Development

It's been 1 year since I boarded a plane to visit two African countries and a community development organization in each one. Since that time, I've really let the ideas and realities of what is happening in these successful enterprises percolate. Here are the thoughts that have persisted.

My first stop was Bhekulwandle, Malagazi*, South Africa. I blogged about Seed of Hope when I returned from Africa and the things they are focusing on and the leadership they have in Carl Waldron - a very good friend of mine. What remains with me is slow going. I think of the hospice like service they have in providing supportive care for those dying of AIDS and those coping with HIV. Much of their clientele in this field is not in a position to respond and begin doing in the place of those that do in the present - not exactly a sustainable program - necessary and life giving, but not self-sustaining.

But, let's discuss something that does have the possibility of self-sustainability: Equipping Young Leaders. Seed of Hope has several programs targeting kids of all ages with support in areas of health, spiritual growth, educational tutoring, sports programs, and community building. Let's imagine that 50% of these kids who are equipped remain in the community long term. Then, let's imagine that half of those actually use the skills and support they have received for the betterment of their community. This is probably optimistic, but it is simply to underscore two points:
  • The harvest of this investment is largely expected to emerge 10-20 years from now (of course there are immediate results, but they will likely pale in comparison with future results). So, all of the resources spent today are done with a view for a couple decades down the road. 
  • The other point is the relational aspect of the initiative. With the long view in mind, less is made of current results than is made of strengthening relationships between the staff and the young people coming by Seed of Hope. I think this is a clear indicator of success.

Kamanzi, Malawi was my second stop. My church has been in partnership with the communities in Kamanzi, a rural collection of 5 dominant villages. World Renew has been applying principals of community development on our behalf for the past 4 years and just over a year ago, Peter Timmerman took the helm. I was really struck by Peter's dissatisfaction. From the perspective of me and my fellow church member, some real progress had been made through seed loans, ecosan latrines and goat/pig husbandry. But Peter could see the relatively low economic and probably low espousing of real change by the greater community of some of the principals. His questions: Will what we are doing have a lasting and real impact on food security in these communities? Do the dollars (or kwacha in this case) and sweat equity in these projects really pay off?

His dissatisfaction helped me see the value of the big picture view, the years of experience and training he brought to the organization. In many ways, I'm stuck in the camp of "if I can take a picture of a result, be it great or small, we have succeeded!" [I shudder as I write this, but I'm being honest.] The admission that we can do better is probably the most humble thing we can do and ultimately better for working with a community who already has a hard time dreaming of a bright, less hungry future.

Shortly after we left, Peter blogged about the second thing that has stuck with me: This is a slow, slow process. And that is a good thing. Africans understand this. Sadly, westerners have a difficult time learning the value of slowing down. Ultimately, the slower, the better long term and the more buy in from the community.

*Just realized that this community is in a different province than neighbouring Amanzimtoti and Durban which are in KwaZulu-Natal. You can see the difference on either side of the road running between the two communities.