63 Hours with the Fishers

I don't watch much TV. When I get the chance, I'll watch Jeopardy or the news. I'm more of a movie guy. When we got back from Guatemala, we lived with my mom. She has the first season of Six Feet Under, an HBO series that ran from 2001-2005. Amber and I started watching it, along with Amber's sister April. Then my friend Kurt told me on the phone that I should try and watch all 5 seasons of the show. 

I was hooked from the get go. The Fisher family runs a funeral home. Faced with death on a daily basis doesn't prepare them for the death of the patriarch, nor with dealing with life. The five seasons span an in depth narrative on life, death, addictions, love, sex, marriage, family, parenthood, art, politics, culture, and religion. The interchange between characters is earthy and familiar generating a seriously sweet pathos.

I highly recommend the series. Rated R.

We finished the final episode on the evening of Amber's birthday last Friday.


Le Gouvernement

I haven't blogged in ages. This, I can't pass up.

I studied political science and government a bit in university when I got my B.A. in history. I understand the Canadian political system and how it works. Because of this, it is so painful for me to listen to Steven Harper
speak about the his government's defeat because he is appealing to people's basest and most ignorant fears: "the country will fall apart! the separatists will cause Canada to split! a coalition government is not democratic! members of the opposition parties do not have a right to lead the country! run for your lives!!!" All the political scientists are saying that a coalition is fair and legal, but the PM doesn't think so.

In fact, P.M. Harper is absolutely wrong on all of these counts. Many other parliamentary governments all over the world operate successfully with coalition governments. It's really the first leader who presents a viable majority to the head of state (in our case it's the governor general) who gets to be P.M. Take this information from
Countries which often operate with coalition cabinets include: the Nordic countries [Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark], the Benelux [Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg] countries, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Turkey, Israel, Pakistan and India. Switzerland has been ruled by a loose coalition of the four strongest parties in parliament since 1959, called the "Magic Formula".
Jeepers! Those countries must be falling apart!!! We just don't get it. We don't operate the same as our neighbours to the south.

The Bloc Québecois knows that they do not have enough support even within their own province to separate from Canada, so the separation fear is illegitimate.

Too many Canadians are simply not informed and they don't care when it matters (59% voter turnout). We are not a republic. We don't elect a president, we elect local representatives and it's their job to decide who gets to lead, not ours. We didn't elect Kim Campbell to be Prime Minister, she was chosen by party officials to take over for Mulroney when he stepped down (the same way Paul Martin got in after Chretien). So, was it "undemocratic" for Campbell to have been named the first woman Prime Minister without getting a mandate from the people to be the P.M? Nope. It's just how the system works. We either accept it or change it.

By the way, I don't like the current system. I'm pro-proportional representation. It forces parties to work together (cooperation has never been in the vocabulary of Parliamentarians) and gives a much more accurate representation of voters. Check out this snazzy *table I put together:

*I went with a slate of electors by province, not by the whole country as that might compromise local parties like the BQ and local representation. I also had to compensate for the two independent MPs as you can't have a slate of independent electors (you must either join or form a party in order to run).

As you can see, it represents the country much more accurately based on popular vote. Hey, and look! The Greens have 20 seats! The BQ has 20 fewer seats and the "coalition" together with the Greens (assuming they would join the coalition) have enough seats (161) to form a majority - without the support of the Bloc (for those afraid of those scary separatists).

Parties are forced to cooperate with other parties and it would be quite rare to pull off a majority government. Remember 1993? Conservatives got 16% of the popular vote, but only got 2 seats (should have been closer to 48) whereas the Bloc Québequois got 13.5% of the vote and got 54 seats. The Liberals got a huge majority government with only 41% of the vote. This system doesn't fairly represent the people, nor does it encourage parties to work together on policy.

A word on public funding of political parties. I like it. It's $1 per Canadian per election. It ensures that parties that are supported by poorer people are not left in the dust by parties supported by richer people or corporations. Plus, if people realize that they are paying for the election and that their dollar will go to one of the parties, they might as well go out and vote and send your money to the party of your choice!

Finally, a word on Dr. Stéphane Dion, leader of the proposed coalition. Those who do not like him, mock him. They mock his English accent (even though it's better than Harper's French one). They mock his athletic ineptitude. They call him schoolyard names whenever possible. I think this is extremely undemocratic. He is an elected member of Parliament in his riding. Dion was nominated to be the leader of the Liberal party by his peers. There is a reason for the tradition of titling the leaders of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition "Honourable." He represents a large portion of Canadians. So, please, let's ease up on the mocking. You may disagree with him, but he has earned the right to lead according to the rules and according to those who elected him.

Don't get me started on the whole economic meltdown...


Love in the Brisk November air

Amber and I got another date as working guests at our friend Shane's wedding. I filmed their nuptials. He and Chrystal were wed at Fort Edmonton Park (where she worked for the summer as one of those old fashioned characters who churns butter or shoes horses). We were outside for a good portion of the time filming them being photographed and our faces numbed as a result.

They were married in a lovely little Anglican church and the reception took place at the neighbouring Hotel Selkirk.

I squeezed into my own wedding suit for the event.

Got to visit with some old buddies too. 


On October 31, Amber and I got to go on a date. But my mom was there too. But she wasn't really with us, she was on the stage. 

We attended Ignition Theatre's production of Deathtrap on the Matchbox stage. The Red Deer Express had this to say of my mom's performance:
Debby Allan brings her comedic strengths to Deathtrap as Sidney's nosy, psychic neighbour Helga Ten Dorp. Allen, who like Falk and Newton are well-known to Central Alberta Theatre audiences, doesn't miss a beat showcasing her engaging and energetic talents in a fresh theatrical setting.
Congrats mom! We enjoyed the show, even though we may have soiled ourselves.


My Campaign

I did a survey about a year ago among 26 friends using the Political Compass. If I were to predict their choice of political party I would say that they would likely vote in the following manner:
10 Conservative
4 Liberal
5 NDP 
1 Bloc Québequois 
6 Green
BUT after taking the Political Compass quiz, they nearly all (23) placed left economically of the NDP and, though in wide array, much more socially liberal than the Conservatives, Liberals and Greens. Thus, my conclusion is that people essentially do not vote based on party platforms, but rather on their preference for a party leader (or dislike of the others) or based on how the people in their culture perceive the party's platforms to be.

My challenge to you all is to take the Political Compass quiz and then to vote for the political party that best represents your views in Parliament.

Another word on this election tomorrow. Our country would be so much more healthy if we had both proportional representation and a run-off for prime minister in a second election with the leaders of the top two parties in the election vying for the position. This is how it works in many countries. My guess is that the result would look something like this:
108 Conservative
80 Liberal
54 NDP
31 Bloc Québecois
27 Green
And the Prime Minister would likely be the Liberal leader as NDP supporters would throw their vote that way rather than towards the conservatives in the run-off. Bloc and Green supporters would probably be split between the Conservatives and Liberals.

Then again, if everyone voted based on their own views and according to party platforms, we'd probably have an NDP majority in the House of Commons.


Symphony Online

It took a couple months to work up my will to visit a garage again after getting gouged on my first visit after returning to Canada. My car stereo has a security code that is required if the power is disconnected (so stealing the stereo is pointless). As I bought the car as a recovered stolen vehicle, I didn't have the code. 

The aforementioned garage removed the stereo and got the serial number off of it to then get the code. The code they gave me was wrong. I wasn't keen on spending another $60 at an Audi dealership to get another code, so I didn't until today.

Walked in to Royal Oak Audi (just around the corner from where we live) and gave them the stereo serial number and VIN. They went into a back room. Came out and went to my car with the 4-digit code and voilá! I have tunes in my A4. I brought the invoice to the counter where she had me sign it. I asked how much because the invoice I signed said $0.00. She said since I had already done all the work she wouldn't charge me.

Amber and I listened to Johnny Cash and Coldplay on the way home. Cranked to 11.

A public thanks to Royal Oak Audi for their kindness today!


Go Grizzlies!

I coached a junior high volleyball team in Spruce Grove, AB in 2004. Though it was exhausting having to put in practice and game times in through the first two months of school when I was barely holding my classes together, it was rewarding all the same.

I managed to drift into the same position at my new school this year. I coach 12 seventh and eighth grade boys in volleyball. We've played 3 of our 8 games this week and won all three (due in tiny part to their illustrious coach). 

So, congratulations boys! You're making it worth the early mornings and late work days.

opening the stress valve

This past month is the first month I have ever carried an owing balance on my credit card. We've had a heap of expenses moving from Guatemala to Canada and then moving into our new house. I just kept telling myself that its just money and I'm already paying through my nose for my mortgage so it doesn't matter in the long run.

What's really cool though is that in the past 30 days, thousands of dollars have been deposited into my account in the form of payment for our car in Guatemala, back payments of child tax credit and child care for my daughter, GST cheque, and funds from Impact Ministries (they agreed to give us a 3 month cushion when we moved back to Canada). Plus I get paid tomorrow for my job. Amber has picked up a few days of substitute teaching this month too which wouldn't have been possible without having my sister-in-law living with us to care for Blaise and Acadia.

All the stress could come back when I go to buy winter tires and a block heater for our car in the next month. Maybe I should start buying lottery tickets.


How to drink water

I have a cold. I need fluids. Last night I decided do take a dose of cayenne pepper in a glass of water. I added some lemon juice to make it a little more palatable. After downing the fire water, I quickly had to drink four more tall glasses of water to quench the burning.

I had to get up at 11:30 pm to pee. I peed longer than a thawing Austin Powers.


Raffi Cavoukian gets it

Amber borrowed a Raffi Concert DVD for our kids from the local library. She grew up listening to his songs like Baby Beluga and Little Toy Trains - I didn't. I have to admit, his gentleness, meaningful (though sometimes silly) songs, and the way he has promoted his music really impresses me.

Born in Egypt to Armenian parents who then moved to Ontario, a middle aged Raffi quickly became a child entertainment sensation. He has been very conscious of the environment and children's rights. It's never been about the money for Raffi. He's turned down several lucrative opportunities because the business plans for the projects went against his principles. He has lobbied to eliminate the commercial exploitation of children (advertising geared towards children) and his company hasn't advertised to children.

So, Raffi the Global Troubador, thanks for making music in a way that doesn't put 5 minutes of commercials at the beginning of it (Disney) and that is wholesome and kind. My kids are going to listen to lots of you. Thanks a lot.


Don't Fear the Reaper

Come on baby...don't fear the reaper
Baby take my hand...don't fear the reaper
We'll be able to fly...don't fear the reaper
Baby I'm your man...
I had heard this song before, but never paid much attention to it. I borrowed my friend's truck a couple weeks ago and he had the oldies station on and "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult came on. I started singing along. Last night I played Rock Band for the first time on a Wii (what a blast!!) and sang lead on "Don't Fear the Reaper." Today, I couldn't get the stinking song out of my head. 

The kicker was tonight as Amber and I watched episode 8 of season 2 of Six Feet Under, "Don't Fear the Reaper" features prominently in the episode.

It's amazing how coincidences occur. I hope it's not some not-so-subtle message from beyond that I'm going to die soon. 


Uncle Zaak

I became an uncle twice over in the past three weeks thanks to each of my two dear sisters.

My niece Abigail was born to Saison and Dean at the end of July.

My nephew Kai was born to Salomé and Brad last night.

I just realized that these little ones are going to cost me money. I better start appealing to my sisters (2) and sister-in-laws (4) to limit the number of their offspring or I'll be broke with birthday and Christmas gifts down the road. On the positive side, I'll get to corrupt (in a good way) some children that aren't my own.

So, congrats to the new parents. I look forward to watching them grow into admiring neice and nephew.


10 Positive Things About Living In Calgary

As penance for having complained to my wife for the past few weeks about having to live in the world's largest horizontal apartment building (NW Calgary) and about the high cost of living, I've decided to force myself to come up with a list of positive things about living in Calgary, AB.

1. Calgary is in Canada

2. I'm working at a great school

3. 80 minutes to the town of Banff

4. Got some good friends there

5. Relatively close to Red Deer and Edmonton where I have family

6. Some of the cheapest gas prices in Canada

7. Apparently there are some great biking and walking trails

8. The Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton Eskimos visit on occasion

9. Some terrific amenities (Shaw phone and internet, cinemas, libraries, restaurants, Apple retailers, Audi dealership, ...)

10. My house should appreciate in value

Zaak like Barack

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Late last night I ended up watching the interview that Rick Warren hosted with Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (watch it here). I was deeply impressed. When I was in Guatemala I didn't have much of an opportunity to see video of Obama and I was limited to distilled sound bytes in news articles. After hearing this guy give frank and heartfelt answers to questions on leadership, morality, America and government, I'm sold. The man has principles! I didn't watch the interview with McCain for two reasons, it was 2 AM and I'm sure I would have disagreed with him (especially on the war issue).

What was most striking to me is that nothing he said caused me to disagree with him - which leads me to think I must have thought out these issues as much as him - which leads me to think that perhaps I should get into politics.

I really think the tempest of fear that is creeping up against him because his father was a Muslim and his mother an Atheist is ridiculous. For one, the fearful are Christians who believe in the transforming power of Jesus blood - unless of course your parents weren't Christian... Hmmm.


Just Wages

This is something that has been weighing on my heart for some time now. After witnessing the unjust wages in Guatemala and in Canada, I thought I would share some thoughts.

I collected a few example salaries and made some calculations for daily wages* for different professions in both Canada and Guatemala:
Doctor in Calgary: $724
Top Accounting Executive in Calgary: $479
Lawyer in Calgary: $448
Realtor in Calgary: $354
Teacher in Calgary: $257
Mechanic in Calgary: $214
Sales Clerk in Calgary: $135
Doctor in Guatemala**: $36
Policeman in Guatemala: $23
Teacher in Guatemala: $15
Bank Clerk in Guatemala: $9
Agricultural worker in Guatemala: $3.50
Housekeeper in Guatemala: $2.50
First of all, I accept that there is a very clear difference in cost of living: A doctor in Guatemala is only going to pay $5/hour for work on his car and $15 to have a housekeeper. Guatemalans have no need to heat their homes or build insulated houses. Everyone in Guatemala can travel a fair distance on public transportation with $5, whereas that amount will get you in and out of downtown Calgary on the LRT. But, other costs are quite similar: electricity, petrol, food (slightly less), electronics (slightly more), medication and seeing a doctor cost quite a bit more as to receive adequate services a patient must pursue the private health sector whereas Canadians have universal healthcare and most jobs provide some kind of pharmaceutical benefit. And sure, Calgarians are going to pay a fair bit in tax for many of the services they receive.

Now for an instant, toss out all the figures I've just shared and receive these questions: What is the value of any person's 8 hours of work? Is there a minimum amount that we can say this labour should provide, no matter the skill or education or risk involved? Clean water? Daily food? Health services? Possibility of education for children? Ability to save 5% of wages? Ownership of a home? Opportunity for travel, recreation and creative pursuits?

If we decide that all working persons*** should have these basic needs met, then we ought to consider what the minimum amount each person in the world should be paid for their time and labour. We follow this amount with the adjustment of what multinational corporations end up having to pay for raw materials, foreign production of goods and services that are brought into the first world. If this became a reality, I believe that we in that first world would not be able to afford something as simple as bananas if the banana crop workers were paid to such a standard, let alone coffee, clothing, and electronics. That is unless the wholesale, transport, and retail profit margins were reduced to reasonable levels.

We could also decide that we in the west enjoy far too many excesses that are causing the injustice in poorer nations. Should anyone in the world be making more than $200**** a day? Should any 1 person in the world enjoy luxury when there are 9 lacking most basic necessities?

Tony Campolo makes this distinction (loosely summarized):
Democracy: People are free to pursue the careers they choose to and society benefits when all people enjoy the basic necessities of life. The government's responsibility is to its people. Workplace justice can be a focus.

Capitalism: Reaping maximum profits is the focus. China is the world's best expression of capitalism.
I think we should begin to make that distinction as well and begin to thwart the capitalism in our culture and in our world rather than automatically coupling it with democracy.

*Meaning that their wages are calculated only for those days worked - a teacher works 40 weeks each year, so his salary would be divided accordingly. Most Canadian jobs were given 3 weeks vacation, the Guatemalan ones weren't given any vacation time.
**Many doctors work at public hospitals during the day and then operate private clinics in the evenings and weekends to compensate for the poor daily wages. If they didn't, they would earn about the same as policemen.
***Provisions for non-working persons is another discussion that I won't begin here at this time.
****This is an arbitrary number.

Olympic Commentary

I haven't been too taken in by these Olympic games. I always enjoy watching different events and this is what I want to comment on. Where I'm staying, there are three channels that offer coverage of the games: CBC, Radio Canada, and NBC. I've noted that neither NBC nor CBC so far doesn't stick to any event to show a good portion of the competition, but rather offers highlights of their own country's competitors only. They both have way too much interview commentary as opposed to raw competition footage. Radio Canada (a francophone channel) on the other hand sticks to an event and shows a full competition even if the competitors aren't from Canada. I like that more.


Logpile Lodge

On August 6, 2000 Amber and I were married in Smithers, BC. Our first night together as husband and wife was spent at the magnificent Logpile Lodge just a few minutes drive out of town.

Exactly eight years later, Amber and I spent our anniversary at the same lodge. April watched our kids for the night. This time we were much more rested and we enjoyed the complimentary drink upon arrival and the fabulous view from the balcony. In the morning, as I was reading my Bible, a hummingbird buzzed above my head. I thought it was a dragonfly. Breakfast was amazing and incredibly filling - juice, coffee, muslix/yoghurt/fruit, fresh bread toast and jam, bacon, eggs, and roasted vegetables. I also ate half of Amber's waffles.

So Amber, it's been a pleasure being your husband these last eight years. You're a trooper!


Dispatches from the Greyhound

I've travelled over 28 hours on the bus in the past 2 weeks. Pretty glad I didn't go to Winnipeg last Tuesday night. I wasn't worried as I boarded the Greyhound in Edmonton late last night because a teenager rooted through my dirty laundry (and everyone else's). And the murderer is police custody.

I had to retrieve my car in Chase, B.C. a couple weeks ago so I hopped on the bus in Red Deer in the evening and arrived the next morning. I enjoyed the view of the mountains as we approached Calgary at dusk.

Bus depots are certainly an intriguing place. People from every walk of life are laying on the floor, drinking bad coffee from vending machines and anxiously waiting with their luggage at vague boarding gates. Everyone tends to keep to themselves as there aren't a lot of children to break the ice.

In Calgary a woman interrupted my Tetris game to tell me that she was on a trip to see her mother on her deathbed. Her fear was that she would get there after her mom had slipped into a coma. We visited until it was time to line up and then again hours later at our layover in Salmon Arm.

The bus driver thought somehow that not everyone would fit onto the bus bound for Vancouver from Calgary, but I ended up with two seats to myself. The buses aren't built for comfort. I managed a couple hours sleep switching between fetal and sprawled out positions. The greatest discomfort however came from our bus driver who would leave the lights on for our 10 minute stops (every 45 minutes or so).

I remember hearing my sister-in-law, April, talking about her cross-country bus trip. She did a fabulous imitation of the drivers as they announced each stop and the rules of conduct on board the bus. Each fragmented phrase was held together with raspy breathing into the microphone. Our driver often told us that if we missed reboarding (I never disembarked for the courtesy smoke time) the bus that we shouldn't worry, another bus would be on its way in 14 hours.

Dreary and dehydrated at dawn, I sat in the Greyhound station in Salmon Arm, BC. I leafed through a free seniors newspaper then asked the desk worker if she knew of a free internet hotspot nearby. A warehouse worker shouted out that the Best Western next door did. I guess I could have tested the frequencies myself because sure enough, I had a free connection on my iPod Touch and was able to check my email and send a message to my wife.

My second trip was substantially longer, but far more direct with just a 50 minute layover in Prince George. After buying my last minute ticket, I sat playing Tetris. A hooded, overweight and sweaty young man plunked down beside me and told me the security was freaking him out. I asked him why. He exasperatingly recounted some incoherent story about the guard smoking up on his off time. Then he turned and looked at me. "You're not the guy I was talking to before, are you?" Nope. He quickly got up and left.

Everyone on the bus had their own pair of velvet seats for the night ride through the Rockies. I had stayed up very late the two previous nights so I had a hard time drifting off, especially with an overweight teen snoring behind me. I listened to some tunes I hadn't listened to in a long time on my iPod and slept between Hinton and Jasper.

Arriving in Smithers a few minutes late in the mid-afternoon, I was greeted by a payphone that was torn to shreds (bears?). Amber eventually came to get me. I was whisked off to Tyhee Lake where I chased my children in the grass.


Car Four

Some of my worst memories involve my cars. So after running into some hitches with my latest car I started reminiscing about my past cars. Stop. Reminisce means to "indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events." That's not what I'm doing. I'm recalling.

I got my first vehicle on the road when I was 23. It was a 1981 BMW 320i and I was thrilled. I had to get it inspected before I could register it and after a couple problems I was driving it back to Lacombe from Red Deer. I thought I would stop and fill up before leaving the city. That's when I discovered the leak at the top of my gas tank. Then it was the fuel pump. Then it was a short on my battery connection. Then it was my starter. Then I smashed it into an oncoming tractor trailer. RIP.

My second car was purchased with my new fiancée, Amber, just before we wed. It was a 1997 Toyota Tercel. Insurance was insanely high because of the ice I skidded that wrecked my first car. We near Edmonton Centre and then in Montreal, but when we moved to tiny Spruce Grove a thief broke into the car and wrecked the lock in our driver door.

Number three was our little 2001 Kia Rio in Guatemala. We drove it for nearly three years and had zero problems with it. The only real time it gave me stress was on a 2-day trip to El Salvador where I got my first flat tire abroad which meant figuring out where to repair it (it turned out that it was just around the block and cost me US$1). And then as we were leaving El Salvador, an insane man attacked our right rear fender with his foot, efficiently denting it.

Our latest wheels are imported from BC and Germany before that. It's a 2000 Audi A4 that we got for a good price. Sadly the troubles began early on as the mandatory out of province inspection declared that it needs about $3000 worth of work. Good times.

Reliving Days 5-9

A couple days ago I had to pick up our vehicle in BC and drive it to Red Deer. The trip took me on much much of the road that I cycled five years ago when I crossed Canada. It was the first time back on this section and the memories just flooded back. I was amazed at how nothing on the road was unfamiliar; there was a preternatural knowledge of every hill and twist.

We had already finished the first four days of our journey, having conquered our doubts about traveling on the highway and then beating the Coquihala. On day 5 it was a sunny day and we rode from Kamloops to a look out (photo above) about 8 kms west of Sycamous. We fed on corn and rode the furthest any of us had ever ridden in one day. Will and Saison had their famous collision and Judy spilled apple sauce throughout the common area of the camper.

The next day was also beautiful. I rode with Eric, an Australian who was dating my cousin. We talked most of the morning. When Jess (my cousin) got back on her bike in the afternoon after giving her bad knee a rest all morning, he rode with her. I never did get a chance to ride alone with Jess - the only one from the whole group. 

We passed through Revelstoke where some of us had hoped to eat at a restaurant someone in Edmonton had recommended, but it was closed. Judy had severe sinus pain and spent some time addressing that. 

We set up camp in another pullout hoping to repeat what we had done the night before. Moments after setting up our tents and having just sat down to eat supper, a ranger came by and told us we must move to the campground some 18 kms up the road. We took the motorhome and backtracked the next morning. Most of us watched About Schmidt that night. I don't think they liked it. I did though.

On day 7 we climbed the Rogers Pass in the rain - one of our only rainy days. It was cold too. Will and I had a spat after I waited for him upon departure as we didn't want anyone riding alone at the tail and then he left me after 10 km. Our spat lasted until the Saskatchewan border and Saison took the brunt of it as she began riding almost exclusively with Will from that day on and she is my sister.

We proved ourselves again after reaching Golden, we climbed up to Yoho Nat'l Park on some incredibly steep road. 

Bernd and Kurt weren't able to meet up with the motorhome for lunch and so they arrived in Golden ahead of everyone else and were exhausted. Kurt thought Bernd had died.

We spent the night at a wonderful campground with a hot tub. Will and Landon went down to the river to do some mischief and Bernd gave them a shout pretending he was a ranger. They thought it was a ranger and bolted back to the campsite via an alternative route. We told them weeks later that it was only Bernd but they didn't believe us.

The next day we crossed the Alberta border and spent the night in Banff. The road was up and down, but nothing too severe and with the excitement of finishing B.C., everyone had a great ride. When we arrived in Banff, the feeling was electric - Landon and Kurt couldn't stop giggling. A man we met invited us to camp on his lawn (and livingroom). Some of our group thought he was strange, but I thought he was quite generous.

It took us nine days to reach Calgary. The last day was the most exhausting yet, not because of any major hills (there were some very long foothills), but because of the headwind, something we hadn't experienced yet. We were also exhausted from not having had a rest day yet - the first was in Calgary.

Amber hit the wall on this leg of the trip. I waited with her for quite a while under an overpass and while she struggled with her will to go on, I just stared at the mountains and couldn't believe we had gotten this far. 

It would be another 33 days of riding before we reached the Atlantic Ocean.


The Day that Sucked

I woke up with the plan to have my car inspected, insured, registered and on the road to take my wife to a movie.

Instead... the inspection (required for all out-of-province vehicles) yielded several minor problems that will require fixing. Cost and time are still to be determined. Then the fire alarm went off in the theatre 4/5 of the way into the movie.


Back in Spandex

August 13, 2003, last day of my ride across Canada.

It has been three years since I last rode my road bike (not a motorbike). This morning my mom said she was going to ride her bicycle to work and I thought "hey! I should get my gear out and go with her." 

It took a while to get everything together, especially my clip-less shoes which were in a box behind boxes under the stairs. I oiled my chain. I pumped up the tires. I slipped into my sleek spandex shorts. And off we were.

The ride was just 11 kms each way, but it gave me a chance to ride by some gorgeous canola fields and test my tolerance for the tiny seat.

I'm planning to do the Tour de l'Alberta next weekend. Should be grueling (162 kms). I'm also planning to cycle to work whenever possible (gotta do all my grading and planning at the school though for that to happen) this coming school year.



Upon my return to Canada, I find myself marveling at how easily I am able to adjust to my new life (mind you, I'm not working yet).
The traffic is regulated by laws.
The internet is lightning fast.
The electricity doesn't blink off.
It is dead quiet at night (and mostly during the day too).
I can use my credit card everywhere - so no cash in my pockets.
DVDs can now be purchased as low as $3 in bargain bins.
I can drink beer and wine (in moderation of course).
There are no bugs in my bed.
There is hot water in the taps.
I can flush toilet paper down the toilet.
The public library offers thousands of books and hundreds of movies on loan for free.
I can check out groceries by myself at Save-On Foods.
Not having to have my guard up against theft.
The sky is huge.
There is a dishwasher in our house.
My shower has pressure.
The post office has regular and frequent hours of operation.
The radio stations offer a wide array of music and news items.
My family can call me on their first try dialing.
The local movie theatre has films in English.
We have grass on our front lawn.
The fresh fruit can be bought easily without bruises and rot.
Everything has price tags.
Now, having said that, there are a few things that I really miss about Guatemala (aside from really missing my friends).
The opportunity to build a relationship with almost everyone you buy from (from the gas jockey to the chafa salesman).
Bargaining prices down if I felt so inclined.
Not being conscious or fearful of ever getting a speeding ticket.
Cheap and tasty street food.
The gorgeous mountains and greenery.
Being able to practice my Spanish and the challenge to learn on a daily basis.
The friendliness of everyone I met.

Behold the iMac [once again]

This is my fourth Apple computer. I bought the iMac G4 (the one with the swivel screen on top of the half globe) way back in 2002. I sold it and replaced it with an iMac G5 in 2005. In 2003, I also purchased a 12" PowerBook to use at work and for travel.

Now, I have the newest iMac and wow! does it rock.
2.8 GHz Dual Core Intel Processor
2 GB of RAM
500 GB Hard Drive
Dual Layer DVD Burner
Wireless Card
24" Screen
Built in iSight camera & decent speakers
Remote control
Sleek new keyboard and mighty mouse
I could probably have made due with my G5, but with the bonus of a free iPod and printer and the incredible ease that video editing now becomes plus the fact that I can get another 3 years of Apple Care, I think it's well worth forking out the extra $1000 after selling the old one.


Blogging from my iPod

I got a new iMac after selling my old one to a friend. Because I am a teacher, Apple gave me a $100 discount, $100 towards a printer, and a new iPod Touch (same as the iPhone, but not a phone). At first I wasn't drawn to this model because it only has 8 GB, but the thing is amazing! I can surf the web, check my email, listen to music, watch videos, browse photos, check the weather, and heaps more.

So here I am blogging from the thing!

More on the iMac later.


Home; Away From Home

My final week in Tactic involved attending 6 meals at people's homes, a farewell service after church, 3 days of medical clinic where we served over 400 people, many errands and sales, and my first soccer game. Far too many feelings and occurrences to record here.

We flew in to Edmonton on Friday night with over 460 lbs of luggage. We flew over bright yellow canola fields and around thunderstorms before landing and meeting my sister and bro-in-law. As we pulled out onto the highway, bright rainbows had settled onto Leduc and Nisku.

My son turned 3 today. We left Canada when he was 2 1/2 months old.


Mr. Miguel is talking to you

Every other night I get a phone call from the owner of the greenhouses next to our house. I have this guy's number in my phone so I know before I pick up that it's him. The conversation is the same every single time:

Zaak: Good evening Miguel.
Miguel: Mr. Miguel is talking to you.
Zaak: Hi Miguel. I can lock the gate tonight.
Miguel: Can you lock the gate for me tonight?
Zaak: Yes, I can.
Miguel: Would you do me the favour?
Zaak: Certainly. Yes.
Miguel: Well, thank you.
Zaak: No problem. Good night.
Miguel: Same to you.

The funniest thing isn't only that it takes forever for this conversation to happen. It's that he talks so slow! "Le haaaaaa-bla Donnnnnnn Mi-guelllll."


Rio Dulce; Three Days

Along with these friends we took a 3-day road trip to the east. Our initial plan was to take a 6-hour gravel road, but a bridge washed out in the middle of it, so we took the 4 1/2 hour paved one.


On our way to Rio Dulce we stopped at the ruins in Quirigua. One of the stone carvings is portrayed on the 10 cent coin. The park is quite beautiful with a large field with massive stelas rising from the earth.

The ruins date back about 1200 years on average and they include a ball court and several ceiba (the national tree).

There is a jade museum at the entrance and this little idol reminded me of Donnie Darko's rabbit.

The ruins are just 6 km off the highway through a Dole banana plantation.

Our family stayed at the Tortugal marina and hotel right on the Rio Dulce which connects Lago Izabal and the Caribbean. It's a very inexpensive place to stay with a great restaurant. The only access is by boat taxi or on foot from town. We stayed in an isolated bungalow where the kids could run around naked.

The water is incredibly warm and there is some terrific swimming at the hotel, just not shallow water for the kids.

The Tortugal has a large library. This book was in our room (the title had me laughing all weekend) (the title has something to do with pupate state, but the book was on government). I stuck to 2006 issue of The New Yorker. Read a great article on Deep Springs College in California - very independent of thought where half the learning is on the ranch and the other half in the classroom (at the ranch).


We headed out to Puerto Barrios, one of the three major ports in Guatemala and the only one on the Atlantic side. We hired a boat (after some severe bargaining) to take us to Livingston and Punta de Palma.

Amber and I had been to Livingston before and there wasn't much desire to return; it's just tourist shops, drug pushers, and hair braiders. We had lunch there and hung out until the rest of our crew was ready to go to the beach.

Punta de Palma is just 10 minutes away by boat from Puerto Barrios (a gross port city), but it's a gorgeous beach with calm, warm, shallow water. The kids loved it and so did I. A real change from cold Tactic.

Day 3

The Castillo de San Felipe was built in the 1500's to protect Spanish trading posts in Lago Izabal from English and Dutch pirates. We could see the castle from our hotel. We spent our last morning of the holiday walking around the site and then hanging out on the shore of the Lake. Along the walk to the castle, we passed a cinnamon tree and an allspice tree. The leaves smelled delicious. It is a beautiful place!


Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Points for the
Person who
Pegs what is in this


On Monday morning, dudes from my church gathered together on the new church property wielding machetes. We tore through the back part of the land that descends on a creek and a spring. We had to make a path for surveyers who are coming next week to do up plans for new construction.

We killed a lot of plants. A lot. There were another dozen guys that climbed the hill before I took this photo. We cut around coffee plants and larger trees. We ran into some wild rhubarb too. The guys said it took away thirst.

Someone behind me even killed a water pipe. I got all wet in the process.

The guys kept asking me if I was tired after an hour. I wasn't tired, but my hand was sore. They would say, "it's probably your machete that 's tired," and then they would lend me their file. Despite my best efforts (which didn't include wearing gloves, because no one else was wearing gloves), I got a hand full of blisters and scratches.


from Chitzujay to Cuyquel

I've installed my last stove. The owners asked me in December to hold delivery until their new house was built (I delivered my second to last stove in May for the same reason). Their house is in Chitzujay, Cobán - up over the mountain to the north for 30 minutes of back roads.

The drive was pretty insane. I had Impact Ministries' Toyota van with the stove, Blaise, and 5 people from the family in the back. Switchbacks with washed out cement tracks on the steep parts were freakier than the cliffs.

Blaise was a real trooper. The kids loved him and he played with them really well. They gave him a green short and fat banana and some sugar cane. I got a cola.

I worked with the father to set up the stove. We had to build a 6-inch dirt platform for the stove because the stove pipe wasn't long enough to reach the high ceiling. The family is Q'eqchí and the mom doesn't speak a lick of Spanish so it took a while to explain how to care for and use the stove.

On the drive back to Tactic we could see the landmark church in Chi-Ixim to the south of us. The church towers high above our town.

Later the same day, I took Amber with me to get a photo I needed to send to a donor. From Cuyquel, we could see the same church in Chi-Ixim to the west of us.

It was nice for Amber and I to get away - thanks to Jess for looking after our napping babies. After a terribly bumpy drive that Amber had to weigh the back of the van down just to get up some climbs, we had a 20 minute walk down and up and down a street and some corn fields. The recipient family wasn't home, but I got a picture of their house construction.