Cellulitis and Me

I have been brought low by bacteria again. This time it's a little pathogen genus called staphylococcus. It erupted from a little cut in my ear. I woke up suddenly at 2:30 AM to striking pain on my right ear and neck. Because of where the infection set in, it is called cellulitis. Don't google images of cellulitis.

Foolishly, I went into school that morning (it's always easier to go in than call a sub). I was then sent home at noon as I was green, had the chills, was nauseous, and the right side of my head was bright red. I saw a doctor who prescribed some strong antibiotics (Cephalexin 500 mg) to take 4 times daily. I stayed home for the next two days.

When I went for my return visit to a doctor 48 hours later, she noted that things had not improved, so I was abruptly sent to emergency.

The infection had spread to a greater portion of my face and my ear became more chimplike and stiff, stiff, stiff. In the night I would completely drench my sheets and clothes with sweat. During the day, I was weak. I couldn't chew because of the pain in my jaw and I could only open my mouth about 1.5 cm.

At the hospital, I was given an IV (my first ever!) of the same antibiotic and referred to a clinic at the hospital which deals specifically in infectious diseases. I visited the clinic the next morning and was given a second IV, assessed and told that my improvement was imminent if I continued with the oral pills I was originally given.


Movie Season: Winter 2014-15

My favourite time of the year for films is the winter beginning just before Christmas and ending in March. Most of the Oscar hopefuls are released and I typically have time and Cineplex gift cards to go see them. So, with the big awards night coming on tonight, I had better comment on some films before the moment passes. Plus, my movie blog has stagnated.

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE): Easily the most enjoyable and unique film I've seen in a very long time. Cinematically. The unyielding dialogue. The twitchy acting. The incessant rhythm of the soundtrack. The tremendous grand theme of being loved vs. receiving recognition.

SELMA: The risk with portraying historical events is romanticizing one side and demonizing the other and I'm not sure this film accomplishes that, but I think it is very difficult to do in this case. Dr. & Mrs. King, President Johnson, and the marchers all demonstrated hesitancy to varying degrees. The murderers, police wielding batons and releasing dogs are not the focus. What we get is a powerful display of the Gospel.

WHIPLASH: Character twists and turns and invigorating music simply clothe the majesty of this essentially 2 person play. Brilliant performances by both leads. You can't help leaving the film saturated with multisyllabic beats and questions about genius.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: Wes Anderson delivers another raucous cacophony of characters and milieus for a look at legacy, friendship, and eccentricity. I had no choice but to enjoy this.

WILD: Based on the book by the main character played by Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon drives the entire film with her both her strength and fragility. While it's not very plot driven, it does provide time into understanding the ache of loss and the Search.

FOXCATCHER: This is one of the most uncomfortable films I've watched in recent years. It is so rich in pathos and cringe factor. Steve Carrell plays a magnificent tyrant.

BOYHOOD: Yes, I appreciate that the film was shot over 12 years, but it would have been a great film if Richard Linklater had actually crafted a plot, dialogue, and more complex character development into his project. Amber and I were quite bored through most of the 2h45m film and did not find it inspiring, enlightening, or challenging.

GONE GIRL: I don't watch many movies of this genre anymore. The 90s were shock full of thrillers and I saw my fill back then. This one is original because it is very self-aware. David Fincher leaves the end open-ended enough to cause perpetual tension for the viewer.

IMITATION GAME: The heartbreaking and harrowing story of a mathematical genius. Much of the film - especially the role of Alan Turing - I loved, but some seemed forced and poorly written. Some lines we hear too many times to take seriously.

INTERSTELLAR: It's a fun ride and spectacular visually. The plot holes are huge and would take far too much energy to articulate, but they are irrelevant since the film is really there for entertainment.

Yet to be seen: Why I plan on seeing it?

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT: This is directed by the brothers who made L'enfant which won the Cannes prize 10 years ago. I think L'enfant is one of the greatest films I've seen, so I'm very keen to see what the are able to do with Marion Cotillard in focus.

MR. TURNER: Directed by on of my favourite directors: Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky, Secrets & Lies).

INHERENT VICE: Directed by on of my favourite directors: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood,  The Master, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love).

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: It's nominated for a lot so I should probably take a look.

Also quite keen to see:
FORCE MAJEURE, UNBROKENBIG EYES, TIMBUKTU, & LEVIATHAN. And all the documentary features which I never get to see before the Oscars.

I'm not really interested in seeing the last of the best picture nominees, American Sniper. Just seems like a flag waver and since its done so well at the box office, I'm even less inclined judging by who is likely going to see it. Plus, Clint Eastwood dropped several notches in my estimation when he did his little interview with Obama. I'll probably see it eventually.

Book Review: Her Gates Will Never Be Shut (Brad Jersak)

I shall add this book to the small list of books* that has powerfully shaken my grip on my perceived reality only to give me a far greater appreciation for the love of God and His holding together all things.

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell and the New Jerusalem by Bradley Jersak is an exhaustive study into the origins of the western doctrine of hell, the biblical understandings of hell, careful analysis of punishment vs. judgement, and finally an inspiring contemplative work on what the New Earth will look like.

Jersak does not only approach the topic of hell theologically. In the opening chapters of the book, he exhausts the historical understandings and uses of the Gehenna (Valley of Hinnom) by comparing Jesus and Jeremiah's prophetic use of the valley laying outside Jerusalem's walls to the presence of Gehenna in the writings in the Book of Enoch - an inter-testamental book of prophecy and history that is not included in either the Jewish or Christian canon. Bringing such light on a word that is often understood as referring to hell where the damned will suffer for eternity is vital - and in fact redeeming to the gospel.

There is also a great element of pastoral concern for Christians. Jersak writes as an evangelical to evangelicals knowing that any challenge to a deeply rooted doctrine concerning the character of God is going to raise some ire. What is remarkable is Jersak's gentleness and caution when drawing conclusions. From my perspective, with God's love in your heart and the call of Jesus to "love your enemies," it would be near impossible to reject the hopefulness, beauty, and life spring that is proclaimed in the final chapters of this book. It is also reckless to not heed the warnings associated with hating your brother or sister as the gaze of Christ is inevitable.

*The other four books are:
  • A New Kind of Christian (Brian McLaren)
  • Walking with the Poor (Bryant Myers)
  • Surprised by Hope (NT Wright)
  • The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Mark Noll)


Brew 6: Bock & Witbier

As a beer aficionado so far I have tended towards the British, Belgian and American ales (india pale ales, abbey ales, stouts, browns, etc.). The only German exceptions to this has really been the hefeweizen which is very pleasant in the summer and the bock (or doppelbock) which I rarely buy, but always enjoy.

So, in order to expand my skills and taste, I attempt the witbier - a lighter, more floral ale and my first lager style - a traditional bock. Lagers are trickier because they require 4 weeks and a 10ºC atmosphere to ferment. Fortunately, I have such an atmosphere to place this in: an empty, unused fridge in the laundry/furnace/brewing room. Alex has lent me his temperature controller:

I decided that since I plan to brew semi-regularly for the next few years, it is probably time I gathered my own equipment. There is something responsible about sharing equipment, but it's quite a hassle to drive across the city and borrow gear when Alex isn't using it. Amber and I went out one night last week and we picked up a 28.5L turkey fryer at Canadian Tire, copper tubing at RONA, and a 45L cooler at Target (which is liquidating their inventory - first time I ever went in there actually!). I picked up some incidental parts at RONA as I assembled things.

As a result I have a mash tun made of a cooler with a 1/2" hole cut at the base of one end where a copper pipe manifold fits into it from the outside and where a plastic hose fits on the outside. I couldn't manage to find the proper fittings for a valve, so I just use gravity to ensure I don't spill my wort. It barely leaks. ;)

My new turkey fryer serves as the kettle where I boil the sweet wort collected from my mash tun. I use a copper pipe coil as my wort chiller at the end of the boil to bring the temperature down quickly. One end connects to the garden hose tap outside and the other end drains into a bucket.

My chiller is pretty wimpy, but it still cools at a rate of 4-5ºC/min which is way better than filling the bathtub with ice and cold water and waiting 2-3 hours. Beyond that, I already had 1 primary fermenter, 2 carboys, and all the tubing, manual pump, bottling gear, stoppers, and airlocks.

Wyeast provides a great out for last minute / lazy brewers like me. I don't have time or spare wort to get a little yeast culture going the night before a brew.

My recipes came from Brewing Classic Styles: 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew. Each brew session (I did one Sunday afternoon and another on Monday morning) takes about 4 hours, the most intensive parts are the cleaning before and after.

I wake up in the night after brewing and I just have to check to see if it has begun fermenting. My one primary fermenter holds my witbier which has a strong citrus aroma. I have an airlock (tube running to a bottle with water so the CO2 can escape without letting unsavory elements in) on my bock, so I have no idea how it smells. But it's doing the bloop bloop thing very nicely in the refrigerator.

I should be able to sample these in about 6 weeks - unlike my previous November brew which will not be ready until May.



276 years ago a certain François "le jeune" Robichaud (my 6th great grandfather or 8 generations back) marries Marie LeBorgne de Belleisle, a woman of noble French lineage, but also the great-grand-daughter of the Madokawondo, Chief of the Penobscot Tribe. François and Marie escaped the Great Dispersion of Acadians in 1755 with 5 young children. Their son settled on the east coast of New Brunswick where the Robichaud family remains today.

15 generations earlier, one of Marie's ancestors is Louis IX, a Capetian King of France who ruled France for half of the 13th century. Louis IX led the 7th and 8th Crusades. During the 7th, he was taken prisoner by the Egyptians but was ransomed for 1/3 of France's annual income. He died of dysentry in Carthage after landing their to begin the 8th Crusade. He's the St. Louis by the way.

7 generations of French Kings earlier, Robert "The Pious" II marries Constance of Arles (my 30th generation ancestor) in 1001, his third wife. Their marriage is stormy and Robert is urged by friends to repudiate her. Robert even tries to get a third divorce so he can go back to his second wife, a first cousin - this is refused by the pope. Constance continually encourages her 3 sons to challenge their father for more power which caused a lot of family strife. Eventually they challenged her and she yielded.

Constance's great-grand-father, Louis "The Blind" King of Provence and for a short time the Holy Roman Emperor (901-905) is betrothed to Anna, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI "The Wise." This is a diplomatic move made to consolidate power in southern Italy. It didn't work very well as Louis is blinded in a battle trying to maintain control over Italy who wasn't keen on serving him because he couldn't stem Magyar attacks.

Anna's mother is of noble Armenian descent. Leo VI, Anna's father, was the son of Eudokia Ingerina and either one of two different men: Michael III who had Eudokia as a mistress or Basil I who married her afterwards and had Michael killed. And thus ends this particular line due to the uncertain lineage. We do know that Eudokia's family was iconoclastic and therefore hated by Michael's mother. Her parents were Ingr, a Varangian guard, and Martiniake.


Tolkien on Screen

When Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings were released in theatre, I attended each installation multiple times. I knew I wouldn't regret seeing the retelling of Tolkien's magnificent myth of redemption, loss, heroism, immortality, reclamation and friendship on the big screen as many times as I could. When The Return of the King was released, Amber and I called in subs for the afternoon and watched the entire trilogy (extended editions for parts 1 and 2) in the theatre. Every attendee, hardcore fans each one, received a figurine complete with one film frame of each movie in it.

When The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was released last month, I attended the IMAX 3D trilogy of The Hobbit realizing about halfway through how fit one must be to endure a 9 hour film. No souvenir this time though.

The battles, dialogues, locations, and myriad of characters draw me in without fail. I become a child again each time I see the circle door at Bag End. I am smitten by the elven architecture at Rivendell. I'm terrified along with the hobbits at the Dark Riders and along with the Riders of Rohan as they face the oliphants. I'm heartbroken with Pippin as Denethor sends Faramir to sure death. I'm stirred by Theoden's speech to the Rohirrim before sending them into battle and Aragorn's final words at the Black Gate. I giggle at Gollum's jabs at Sam and Gimli's reaction to almost everything. I slow down in Lothlorien and Fangorn Forest. I get excited as the camera plunges into the mountain to find Gandalf facing off with the Balrog again in the opening scene of The Two Towers. I can barely hold it together when Sam laments on the side of Mount Doom "Rosie Cotton dancing. She had ribbons in her hair. If ever I were to marry someone, it would have been her. It would have been her." I could go on and on.

I am watching The Hobbit again this week, this time with the extended scenes. I am thoroughly enjoying everything that is added. There is far more context with the dwarves and their quest and even with the necromancer. I particularly enjoyed seeing a child Bilbo at a party of Old Took's meeting Gandalf for the first time and the added scenes with Beorn, the Goblin King, Bombur sleeping from the enchanted waters of Mirkwood, and the flashback of the burial of the witch king of Angmar are just gems! I found it fascinating how they completely left out the Dwarf rings in the theatrical version and included discussion of them in both extended editions.

I am still disappointed that they never included Gandalf tracking down Gollum and interviewing him. The absence of Old Man Willow and Tom Bombadil or the substitution of Arwen for Glorfindel didn't bother me very much as it would have compromised the film narrative, but having rangers catching Gollum and Gandalf prying info out of him would have been dramatic delight.

The complaints I've heard and what I've read in the poor reviews of The Hobbit do not ring true for me. It's an adaptation of a children's book and it's made for fans of The Lord of the Rings. I think of that lovely scene in Finding Neverland at the opening of the play Peter Pan and they have added children to the audience among all the adults. I think that you must have a child's heart to enjoy Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. The one recommendation I would have made would have been to make the fighting a little more believable. Bilbo knocking over a 7 foot, fully armoured Gundabad orc by throwing a rock... That said, I did enjoy all of Legolas's activities for the pure unbelievability of it.

And I have to say, I love these figurines from Weta Workshop. If I had lots of money... and lots of shelf space...


Doll Bed for a Little Mama

My daughter Acadia drew her cousin's name in the Christmas gift draw. We decided that we (I) would build her a little bed for a doll and we could paint it together. I bought and cut the wood necessary for two little cribs and kept one set for Acadia as a gift. We assembled the first one for my niece and immediately Acadia began using it with her doll, Emma. We found her one afternoon curled up next to her doll with just the lights from the Christmas tree.

Acadia chose pink to paint her cousin's bed and she did a great job painting it. We painted some purple stars on the head and foot boards.

Christmas morning, my niece put her doll right into the new bed. Acadia got 5 pieces of cut wood tied together with a bow. I could see she was glad to have her own now that she was giving up the one she used most of December.

Together we assembled, puttied, sanded, then painted hers pink too. Acadia chose a font for the word LOVE and requested a couple hearts for the footboard. I painted the words and hearts with a tiny paintbrush.

This project/gift reminded me of a Christmas gift my father made for me when I was 5 or 6. He made a couple wooden trucks. Sadly, these burned in a house fire a year or two later. They were really quite nice as he is a real craftsman.


Book Review: God and the Gay Christian (Vines)

This is the second book I've read on gay theology, along with countless blog posts and articles. The issue of homosexuality within the Christian sphere has been so hyper-politicized that it is difficult for anyone to have a thoughtful conversation on the topic when it challenges the most conservative prevailing view that homosexuality is explicitly condemned in the Bible and that being gay is a choice (and if it isn't a choice, then gays still don't have a choice as they must remain celibate). This book by Matthew Vines is meant to introduce Christians to alternate readings of Scripture and promote an affirming view of gay marriage and homosexuals in general within the Church.

Vines discusses the mandatory 6 biblical references to homosexuality (Genesis 19:5Leviticus 18:22Leviticus 20:13Romans 1:26-27I Corinthians 6:9I Timothy 1:10) and attempts to place each passage in its historical context - a highly patriarchal society where women had very legal recourse and where the Greeks thought of women as deformed men. Vines also focuses on the relevant issues of mandatory celibacy for gay Christians, how homosexuals have been treated within the Church (a demonstration of the fruit of the spirit?), homosexuals being made in the image of God, marriage as a covenant and grace.

All the statements are footnoted with sources and it is clear that Vines has done his research. What is disappointing is that he does not grant any points to his opposition. The issue from my perspective is very grey and both sides of the debate are able to defend their position either through a literal interpretation of the English Bible and church tradition or through a reinterpretation of the Bible through the lens of modern science, historical context, progressive revelation, and a desire to extend communion to a hurting community of believers.

From my perspective, the way Christians have dealt with homosexuals in their midst has been tragic and indefensible. A conversation is necessary and it must be framed with respect and love for the other - not fear and loathing.

Anger; Control; Pride; Humility; Peace.

Anger is an area of my life where I have always struggled and sensed the Holy Spirit continually with Her finger twisting in my side. As a child I would become enraged at my unfair sisters. As a teacher I have directed my anger at disrespectful students. As a commuter I have fumed at ungracious drivers. As a father I have unleashed my wrath towards my slothful children. As a husband I have been cross with my indifferent wife. As a professional I have expressed my outrage when my coworkers are unprofessional. Etc. . .

I have had many occasions to reflect on this emotion and I have come to several conclusions:
When I was in Guatemala I led the distribution of efficient wood cooking stoves that were donated by some Canadians. These stoves reduced the amount of wood you would need and remove the smoke from homes where people were cooking over open fires. The first distribution was to about 30 families and these families were selected by another member of our team, a Guatemalan. I ensured that the recipients attended the training, I helped with the installation, I collected the money the families contributed to the stoves, and finally I sent thank you notes and photos to the donors. Through out this process I was struck by the fact that half of the recipients were close friends of the person selecting the families and that many of these families were not going to be using the stoves as their primary stove, but rather as an outdoor bbq - in other words, they were families with enough means to have gas stoves in their homes. I was incensed that we were dishonouring the donors and preventing people who really needed a stove from getting one. Unfortunately, once my dismay was expressed, I was told that I was being insubordinate. I wonder if I would have been labelled that if I had been able to contain my anger.
I remember becoming quite enraged at a couple grade 8 boys during my first year teaching. It was one of the last days of class and I was showing a fun movie during a multi-media options class. These boys weren't interested in the movie so they were talking to each other quite loudly making it difficult for their classmates to even hear the film. I asked the nicely several times to stop talking and finally yelled at them and kicked them out of the class... prompting a meeting with their parents where I was the one apologizing.
My children are wonderful, patient, kindhearted and sometimes absentminded kids. When they are sent to bed, they know what to do: brush their teeth, go to the bathroom, get their PJs on and then they are tucked in with a prayer. My daughter has a really hard time focusing on getting her PJs on sometimes. She will go to her room and just sit on her bed for five minutes. This can cast a cloud of ire over me and I have a very hard time asking her pick up the pace, especially when she denies that she isn't going at a fair pace. 
I get angry when I don't have control over a situation or over people. The problem is that in many instances, I don't really have the right to have control over those people. One of my favourite sermons is one by my current pastor on the very subject of anger. He related a story from the previous week where he became very impatient with his wife while he was writing his sermon on anger. Of course he was immediately convicted by the arrogance the he was demonstrating towards his wife - what right did he have to cast judgement on the actions of his wife? This stuck with me.

When I consider how Christ has dealt with our ineptitudes through humility, patience and sacrifice, I am convicted at how slow I am to be humble, patient and inconvenienced by others ineptitudes.

Oh, and my principal's name is Mr. Anger. An ever present reminder of possibility.


30 Months of Co-Living

We are into the middle of our third year at the RobiRoost where we share a 5 bedroom house with another family of 4 (their last name also begins with Robi...). It was meant to be a single year of co-living in transition between our former homes and the anticipated cohousing project we were all a part of. When the project was delayed and then abandoned, both our families were left in a bit of a quandary and so we moved to a different house and continued our home sharing.

Our families live remarkably well together. We share essential tastes in food, drink, activities, movies, beliefs, and lifestyle. There is a mutual care and respect for each other. We trust each other. We play together. Look after each other's children for date nights. We built and then enjoyed a beer advent calendar (more on this soon). This arrangement has given us some relief from the disappointment of losing our cohousing dream as we have built in community.

My children will certainly have a defined memory of these surrogate siblings and parents. They get tucked in once a week by either Jasen or Heather. They play Lego and superhero and house and watch morning cartoons on the weekend with their housemates.

We decided to celebrate our big family Christmas by going out for some food and then walking around Commonwealth Park to see the holiday lights. It was nice to relax together in this way. For me it demonstrated that getting together is not as special as it used to be. We've crossed a familiarity barrier that few people cross beyond the nuclear family. It's uncharted territory. I joke with my work colleagues about having a sister-wife and brother husband because I haven't found an easier way to explain who they are.

This fine family has inspired, encouraged, nourished, shared, commiserated with, challenged and blessed ours. I hope we have been able to do the same for them as they have become very special to us.

Cheers to 30 months together!


Historical Tour of Romance

I asked Amber out just over 17 years ago. She accepted my invitation to go for a hot drink at Kavaccinos in Lacombe and our relationship sprouted, budded and blossomed from that night in September. We decided to take the kids to this coffee shop and share some memories.

I was super nervous to ask her out. So nervous that I had to go to Lakeview Hall twice in the attempt - the first time she was in the lobby with a group of people which completely unnerved me. the second time I phoned the wrong Amber from the dorm lobby (I didn't know her last name) first and then finally got her on the phone. I borrowed my sister's car and took her out. I had no idea then what kind of joy would come from this euphoric date.

The coffee and food were better than I remember. Spending time with Amber gets sweeter everyday though.

We met at CUC which is changing its name from Canadian University College to Burman University (a move I fully endorse). I was on the welcoming team of upperclassmen when Amber arrived as a freshman. She caught my eye when she joined my jellybean group where we played a dumb name game. I emerged from Freshmen Orientation completely smitten. I had to ask her out just to put my mind at ease so I could continue with my studies.

After our initial date, we went on walks around the lakes at CUC. We took the kids down the hill behind the dorm to the path beside Lake Barnett.

Our first kiss was on one of these walks. I ended up kissing Amber's teeth because she was smiling so big. We've managed to improve on that one since.

One of the moments when I have sensed God's presence most profoundly was in the week or two following the beginning of our relationship. I was on my way to early morning classes walking up College Avenue when I was overwhelmed with how God had blessed me with this remarkable companion.

Whitemud Park

Went for a walk in Edmonton's Whitemud Park in mid-December with some good old friends. Lots of up and down on some rather slick hills, but the views were sights were stellar. The low winter sun and low lying fog on Whitemud Creek provided some wonderful visuals.