June 22, 2018

Being ten years old

I remember my 10th birthday. I remember it like little else from when I was younger. I don’t precisely know why this is. it definitely stands out in my mind, from all other adolescent birthdays, from most memories of my youngest years in general. My memories from being a little kid are often fairly spotty. Even if I see myself in a photo from, say, my eighth birthday party, or a family camping trip when I was seven, there’s no memory that is jogged by it. I remember nothing—nothing—at all about kindergarten, other than the names of the three teachers I had that year.

But the 10th birthday sticks out for me. Maybe it was all the talk of ‘double digits’—that short period of time in our life when we have only one number to our years, now in the past. I remember both my mom and dad talking about what a milestone it was to be 10 years old; some coming-of-age time of life, even though it’s really not. I remember holding the birthday cards in my hands, colourful, with text loudly pronouncing ‘YOU’RE 10!’ I had a hot air balloon cake that year, with blue icing, shredded coconut, and licorice whips for the ropes between the balloon and the basket.

Like I say, I don’t know what this birthday sticks out in my mind. But today, my own son turns ten. And I’m sure it will stick out in my mind forevermore.

A decade is a long time.

It was a long time ago that this small little human was born, very suddenly, on our bathroom floor, three weeks ahead of his projected due date. Born on the summer solstice during a period of pleasantly warm weather, we took him to the beach when he was four days old, this 6 lb 7 oz baby, swaddled in close to his mother’s chest.

A decade is a long time.

And here, today, this same human with the same chestnut-coloured hair that he was born with, will scoot, walk or ride himself off to school, perhaps where he will be feted by his classmates. He’ll learn long division, do a unit in the computer lab, charge around at lunch playing soccer or basketball or just goof around with friends. Before all that, he’ll probably ask for an egg for breakfast, and then another, which he’ll hungrily slurp down along with fruit and bread and a glass of milk. And on the weekend, he’ll have his party where we’ll play laser tag and talk about hockey and soccer and have cake and sing happy birthday.

Maybe it will all stand out to him like it did for me when I was his age. Maybe there is some understanding that those single digit years are behind you, and the road to triple digits is long, and unachievable to most. A life of double digits, therefore, awaits. But that’s too big a thought for 10-year-old, isn’t it?

And now I pause and think again of that little baby boy. And I reflect on all the milestones in these first ten years, the uniqueness of the character that is growing up before my eyes, and I set my sights on what his next ten years will look like. But I don’t actually want to look ahead too soon. Because as I think about it now—about these last ten years—they actually happened really fast. 

In fact, I’m wondering, just now, where they went. 

How did we go from diapers and midnight feedings to hockey card collections, Saturday soccer games and skiing black diamond runs? How did it go from mushy peas and carrots, to a love of sushi, top 40 music and a mind for mathematics?

I guess, perhaps, it just boils down to this nice, round number. It’s easy to package up a decade in retrospect; so much cleaner than a seven-year review, or eight or nine. Ten. It has a certain ring to it, just like my parents told me it did.

That’s just about enough philosophizing on the importance of a 10th birthday. I’m glad for every day we’ve been given with him. He was the best thing to happen to 2008, and ten years later, we have a smart, funny, kind, interesting kid on our hands, and there’s nowhere to go but up. I don’t know if he’ll look back at his own 10th birthday, 30 years from now, and think ‘huh, that was something special’. But trust me, it IS special. HE is special, and THAT is what makes it special.
Happy 10th, buddy. Love you.




ps - perhaps he'll remember his LAZER TAG party! (watch it larger on YouTube: https://youtu.be/ljSko0-6k48) 









3,650 days ago. 


June 20, 2018

I just can't believe...

I can’t believe I live in a time where children are being taken away from their parents, to be held in separate detainment camps.


I can’t believe I live in a time where a sitting U.S. President said  that undocumented immigrants are not people; “they are animals.” And “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country.” Infest? People are bugs, now?

I can’t believe all this happens just a few thousand kilometers from my home, here in North America. The celebrated west. The free world.

Yet, I MUST believe. For the more I might try not to believe it, as much as I don’t want to believe it, its is far more dangerous to act like this is all propaganda and lies, and that it can be ignored. Ignorance and complacency are the best friends of those who would support this reprehensible behaviour.

………………………..

I grew up reading about the terrible behaviour we allowed our own Canadian society to engage in and accept.  You need look no further than the stories of internment of 22,000 Japanese Canadians right here in British Columbia, during war time, in the name of “national security”, are but one example.

Residential schools are another national shame. 

These "schools" were the final resting places of thousands of indigenous children who were ripped from their families for the sake of some skewed sense of need for assimilation, ironically perpetrated on First Nations people by the very people who were, themselves, the foreigners to North American soil. Residential schools were a final resting place for many, and the beginning of a lifetime of ills for many of those who survived.

We are not so far removed from these atrocities. This is only a generation ago. In the case of the Residential schools, not even a generation has actually gone by since the last doors were shuttered. 

We have friends and neighbours, even extended family, who know firsthand the effects of these internment camp“policies” and Residential school schemes—they are the survivors and living reminders of how unbelievably cruel we can be to one another, even here on such “civilized” soil as we have here in North America.
………………………….

Yet here we are, in this day and age, where we have all this history to educate us—simply from examples here in North America, let alone any number of lessons we can learn from terrible histories in other parts of the world—and a government is being allowed to take infants and toddlers away from their parents; separate them from their flesh, blood, and hope, and call it sound policy. (sadly, not to detract from the bigger issue to the south, it does happen on occasion here in Canada, too.) 

Undocumented migrant families, many of whom are approaching the US Southern borders to legally declare themselves—people who are trying to do the right thing—are being instantly punished for their hopes and dreams of a better life.

Put yourselves in the shoes of these unfortunate souls. 

Can you imagine, as a Canadian, approaching the US border to head into, say, Washington state,  and having your children taken from you right then and there? With no understanding of why, or of where your children are being taken?

My children are eight and 10 years old. The emotional punishment that children their age, half their age, and younger and older, are being forced to endure right now, here, in North America, breaks my heart. In the USA. The land of the free. Believe it.

The issue of unaccompanied minors being detained is in of itself not a new issue. It first hit the news in 2014, with stories of children trying to cross the border without parents, and being detained once they hit the US border. Don't confuse that with the current, fast pace of families being split apart, being held away from each other with little to no awareness of where their family members are being sent, or why. 

There are ways to help. And if you’ve made it this far, and feel moved to do so, then by all means, don’t let your Canadian citizenship hold you back from trying to affect change in the U.S.

Money is one way, and there are various options. 
  • You can donate to the Immigrant Defense Project, which is concentrating on the current hotpoint issue of family separations through detentions, but they also tackle a wide spectrum of other problems facing immigrants in the US as well. 
  • More directly related to the detention issue, A legal defence fund is established to help migrants sort out their cases. You can donate, here. They have a goal of $15 million US dollars. Help them smash that goal.
If you can do more: 
  • If you are one, or know of lawyers, law students, and paralegals with Spanish language skills, you could be of use!  Volunteering your time for week-long assignments in Texas, to assist families held in ICE detention centers, is a tangible way to show how unimpressed you are with this current state of affairs.  (Volunteer by emailing lcemails@acslaw.org). Presumably this can only apply to those who understand US law and are licensed to practice in the States, but what do I know? 

And, of course, educate yourself. 
  • Know what’s going on and be vocal about it. Knowledge (not propaganda!) is power. The American Civil Liberties Union have a great primer up on their page right now.

In the last six weeks, 2,000 children have been separated from their parents. This is a human rights disaster. In a world full of human rights disasters, this one is happening in what should be one of the most respected, civilized societies on the planet. Believe that it is true. Take some time to think about it, talk about it, hopefully find a way to help, and try to ensure this process is reversed.

Because if history is any guide, it proves that things can indeed get worse. Do we want ‘even worse’ on our conscience? Check your history text books. 

We do not, should not, want to be part of a new chapter, that a future generation will look back and read and say ‘I just can’t believe they let it all happen.’ 

June 8, 2018

This Plastic Life

It was a bit early in the year to be this warm, but we were taking advantage of it. My work team and I headed to the patio for lunch. Sitting in the late-April sun, the topic turned—as it often does in Vancouver—to environmentalism. I mentioned that in my house, we were about to launch into a plastic-free challenge for the month of May.

“It’s hard to do—so hard,” exclaimed one of my team members. But not just any team member. My weekend-warrior-cleaning-up-the-shoreline-save-our-parks-pipeline-protesting team member. If they, with all their environmentally aware activity, was saying that, what chance was I going to have with my consumerist family of four?

None the less, we don’t shy away from a challenge that easily. As a family, we’ve done a few things in past to try and break ourselves from our normal routines. We did a 100-mile diet challenge a ways back. It forever changed the way we approached what food we bought. We more recently did a veganism challenge, too, and I, for one, completely broke any need or want for eating beef. As a family we 've reduced ourselves to having chicken or turkey meat once a week, and we've drastically cut the amount of cheese we eat (eggs are back on the menu, FYI). 

Our cupboards are full of glass now. 
A plastic-free challenge. What was it going to look like? What rules were we going to play by? It was both unrealistic and holier-than-though to say we were instantaneously going to cease use of any and every plastic product. That would mean turfing everything from our fleece jackets to the extra plastic bags we have in our kitchen drawer. We would generate more waste than we’d save playing by that rule. SO what were our rules?
  1. Back to basics with the plastic we encountered: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. 
  2. No new plastic, with exception of the lids that come into our house as caps on our son’s almond milk (dairy intolerance!). 
  3. If you didn’t bring something to put it in, you can’t buy it.

The kids had fun sewing up some
cloth produce bags

Those three simple rules pretty much dictated all of our purchasing of food and goods in the month of May.  If we were going to a grocery store, we’d need to bring our own containers and/or bags. As a family, we had a sewing session where we cut up an old sheet and turned it into a pile of cloth bags to take to the store for produce. The kids had fun with it, and learned a new skill at the same time. Win-win!

We started buying more in bulk, using containers or Ziploc/plastic bags already in our possession in which to put the bulk items. Places like Bulk Barn and Super Store are like aisles of bulk food heaven!  Our greatest challenge seemed to be getting cheese. You can either go to a place in Vancouver called the Soap Dispensary (Main st. & 21st Ave-ish) and pay an absolute fortune for a hunk of cheese that is food enough for one, but not four people, or you can go to the deli counter of your local store and ask if they will cut a hunk of cheese for you.  We had a few wins and a few losses in this column. A couple of places would take our container, tare the weight of the container, then disappear into the back to cut a hunk of cheddar off a big block for us. Other times, they would stare at us blankly. “No, you can’t do that”. One other time, when I didn’t have a container, I asked if the clerk could just wrap it in deli paper. She said “Sure! Happily!”. She came out from the back with a block of cheese wrapped in a thin plastic sheet of “paper”, sealed in a Ziploc bag. “There you go!” she said merrily as she handed it to me.

Eh? Is the dependence on plastic to the point where deli counters now refer to the little plastic sheets they use to drop the meat onto as ‘paper’?

Bulk products for dayyyyys
When it comes to produce, we're now fully committed to something we knew all along: it is so easy to gather without a single-use plastic bag, and we’re never going back. Half of it really doesn’t need a bag at all, of course. A stalk of celery holds its own ribs in place. Zucchini and cucumber can easily go without bags. Mushrooms can be put in paper bags. Tomatoes can be bought on a vine, and the list goes on. It’s only for our own basic convenience that we ever put them in bags at all, right? As for cloth bags, no, you can’t see the produce inside, but they refrigerate just fine, and they are easily thrown in the wash.

We did miss out on some things we like. The kids go through grapes like locusts on a summer crop field, and we largely cut those off the shopping list since they almost always come in plastic bags, unless we could find them in paperboard punnets (which we did a couple of times).
We all love tofu in our house, and we use it regularly. Happily, we were able to find this one at the Soap Dispensary, and unlike the cheese, it’s dirt cheap to buy in blocks. So we have a glass container in our fridge now that houses our tofu.

Squeezing homemade nutmilk through a cheesecloth.
Good for hand strength training, with tasty results. 
Any meat that we did buy, we either got sliced into a container that we brought to a deli counter (lunch meat for sandwiches), or we went to a butcher (a little pricier, but local, and they wrap it in paper or seem happy to put it right into our provided containers).

If we were out and about and wanted a cup of coffee, our rule was: didn’t bring a travel mug? Don’t buy the coffee, unless you don’t get a lid (but we’re even feeling guilty about single-use paper cups now, so we just stopped buying coffees to-go altogether unless we had our mugs!). Also asking for no straws on the few occasions we went to restaurants was a new habit that we fully intend to keep going on (good timing, since Vancouver intends to ban single-use plastic straws).

Outside of the grocery shopping, we also tried to keep any other new plastic from coming into the house, so we cut down on the number of material goods this past month as well.

All in all, it has been a good experiment, and in many—if not most—areas, we will continue our newly adopted habits. Kate said she felt weird when a piece of cheese came into the house with plastic. Me too. The kids as well (our daughter refused to eat cheese strings that were in the fridge, for the whole month, because they had plastic around them), seem on board with the plan. 

There are other positive spin-off effects where we were trying to cut out the plastic, but still wanted a product normally swaddled in a bag. SO much bread in the store is wrapped in plastic. But making a loaf at home takes almost no effort and only costs a few cents to produce a loaf. So guess what? Homemade bread, all day every day. It’s FREAKIN’ DELICIOUS.

We also tried making homemade Almond milk, which has a very simple recipe of:  Nuts +water + cheesecloth + blender = expensive, but delicious, and plastic-free.

HI! I'm homemade bread! I'm cheap, fast, and tasty.
Click this caption for a no-knead bread recipe! 
The biggest impact became obvious in our trash can and recycling bin. We only needed to take out the garbage every few weeks, and even then, almost none of it was plastic. Our recycling “blue box” is almost empty now when I take it to the curb each week.

EMPTY IS THE NEW FULL: a tin can, a plastic drink lid 
from off the sidewalk, and a few milk containers. Just a month 

ago, our blue bin looked just like our neighbour's 
(note: not trying to make our neighbours look bad!) 

Listen, I get it. This is the impact of one family of four. And it’s predicted that by 2050, if things don’t change on a much larger scale, then there will be more plastic in our oceans than there are fish. Nevermind the fact that we’re already reaping what we sow anyway, with microplastics hiding in our water and food supplies and we’re eating it all the time. Just Google ‘how much microplastic do we consume’, and be horrified at how much potentially goes into your system every day.

So how much impact will the change in our one household make? Almost none.

We already drive a hybrid, bike most places (including to get all the groceries in these pictures!), hang out the laundry instead of using a dryer, etc. And we're glad we are able to do these things, but we know there's more we can do, and without others doing it too, not much is going to change. 

Part of the challenge: remembering to
take containers with you for every trip! 


Will you make some changes yourself, then, and join in? Because, as it turns out, it’s not actually all that hard.


June 8th is World Oceans Day. and the focus of this year's event is plastic pollution. Read more about what you can do to help! 




Lots of food. hardly any plastic.
Not that hard.




March 8, 2018

Forever Young

In May of 1997, during my grade 12 year of high school, on a lazy afternoon study hall session in the east corner of the high school cafeteria, Edyn Rothenburger agreed to be my date for graduation. It was perfect for both of us. There were a group of us sitting around, discussing plans for the upcoming grand finale of our grade school careers. I had a girlfriend, but she lived in Vancouver and wasn’t going to be coming to Kamloops for my grad. Edyn wasn’t attached to anyone at that point and didn’t have anyone particular in mind that she might like to go with.

Happily, she settled on me.

She and I thought it was the perfect fit. We had been in school together since we were in kindergarten, having grown up in the stable-and-farm area Southeast of town, Barnhartvale. I, like many of us who had came from that area, grew up together, year after year, attending Robert L. Clemitson elementary first, then Valleyview Junior High School, and finally Kamloops Secondary for our  Grade 11 and 12 years.  So, what a way it would be to end those years, to go along to grad with someone who’d been a friend and classmate for so long. I think at the time, Edyn’s mom, who was one of my all-time favourite writing teachers at that same high school, thought the arrangement was just as poetic as we did.

Edyn: All the sass that's fit to print
Grad was great fun, as high school grads should be. Edyn was a knockout. I mean, look at this girl. Edyn and I joked that when we were “old”… you know, like 30… if we were still single and finding our way, we’d find each other and extend the graduation arrangement into something more permanent.

********************
A few years went by and I left town with no real intentions of coming back. A few more years went by and I married that girl that couldn’t come to my high school grad. Edyn, save a year away for school, stayed in Kamloops, had a son named Mykel. I saw Mykel, and Edyn, and Edyn’s mom here and there over the years on various return trips to Kamloops—nothing planned, just occasional run-ins, at church, in town, at the park. Connections were made again once Facebook rolled around. We messaged back and forth here and there. Not much new to say, really, largely reminiscent chatter about days gone by. “How are the kids”, “how’s life”, and that sort of thing.

Edyn’s life wasn’t perfect (no such thing, after all). There were mental struggles early on, and pressures to fit in.  Edyn’s personality was fire. Sometimes it was bright, a light you could see in her shining eyes, with a million watt smile to match. At other times, you knew she was going through something and the embers were cool. Relationships weren’t perfect, and there are some burned bridges there. I won’t sugar coat or bury that fact here. It’s who she was and the life she lived. But I always kept a soft spot in my heart for this girl.



She did good, hard, important work, lending her talents as a resource coordinator at the YM/YWCA Women's Emergency Shelter.

*****************
In March of 2017, an event occurred that would shake Edyn to her very core. Her teenage son, Mykel, going through his own struggles, ended his own life. 

I will stop here for a moment to reflect on what this would do to me if I were in Edyn’s shoes. As a parent, I love my kids beyond anything measurable. For the moments I am infuriated by their random actions, for the days I feel impatient with their obnoxious behaviour that crops up… I pause, and just think for a second what would happen to my heart and my mind and my soul if I ever lost one of my kids to tragedy.

Edyn lived every second of every day of almost this whole past year in just that reality. Her Facebook feed has been an open, unedited source of raw emotional response to the loss of her son. She has posted videos of herself weeping openly, written notes trying to describe what her agony feels like. Posted picture after picture of her son.

There is no ‘like’ button for what she was feeling, no comment or offer of prayer that could match what it must be like for a parent to lose their child so young.

******************

Edyn and I messaged back and forth early in the summer of 2017. Our high school’s 20th reunion was fast upon us, and, if it worked out with my own schedule to be in Kamloops, I hoped she would come, that, even in the wake of the loss of Mykel, she might entertain reliving the glory days of our grad.

"I often talk of having the best grad date!", Edyn said in a message.  "I am quite nervous about attending the 20th especially in light of Mykel's passing." 

I know there were other broken friendships she also likely didn`t want to have to face, and that wouldn`t have been a whole lot of fun. As it was, my schedule wasn't going to work out, so we didn`t connect over the grad reunion.

Edyn`s facebook posts about her unimaginable pain continued to roll on. More heart emojis. More thoughts and prayers. But not enough real healing.

Almost a year later since the passing of her son, Edyn`s pain has overwhelmed her, and she has left us to join Mykel. 

*******************

I believe in a God that welcomes his children home. And never mind the alternative spelling of her name; my God is especially fond of the children named Edyn.

I remarked to my wife a number of times over the last year that I was worried this might break Edyn completely.
I am sorry today to see I was right.
I am sorry we didn`t get to relive that graduation dance, Edyn.
I am sorry for what you have suffered through and that there was no help for you, no words kind enough, hugs warm enough, visits or thoughts and prayers strong or effective enough to keep you earthbound. I'm sorry the counselling, psychology, psychiatry and medications didn't help.

My deep, deep condolences to your family and friends. I am happy to count myself among the latter.


Edyn, I hope today you and Mykel are reunited. You are loved, and you will be missed. 



January 20, 2018

New York City, babyyyyy!

It’s always been a dream to visit the Big Apple, and last week, it happened! 

It was a surprise Christmas present from my wife, and it was SO unexpected! Just a few days away from the kids; stay with a friend and take in all we could in a few short days.

It’s hard to say what I liked best (all of it) and it’s hard to say why we chose to see the things we did, as selecting one place to sightsee meant having to cross another off the list. There is just too much to see and do and eat and watch.

That being said, here’s a few of the highlights. Trevor Noah, the freshly minted host of The Daily Show, was performing his first-ever stand up comedy gigs at the storied Radio City Music Hall, and we got to take in his first night! An astounding mix of stories and laughs, mixed into a routine of perfect cultural relevance for what is going on these days socio-politically in the US.

The Frick Collection is an inexpensive way to find yourself inside one of New York City’s Fine Old Homes. Henry Clay Frick built his home at the corner of Lexington and 71st avenue, right across the street from Central Park, in the early 1900’s. As a business man, he was obviously ruthless, building his empire off the backs of Pittsburgh steelworkers, an existence that eventually got him hated in that city, and precipitated his move to New York. And yet, he was a collector of fine art and collected it with a view that, after his death, his home would become a publicly accessible museum, that others may see these amazing works of art. For me, to stand in such a grand home, and to see this private collection of Vermeers, Rembrandts, Van Eycks and more, so up close and in the quiet of a house… so wonderful. Sorry, no photography allowed, so you'll have to go for yourself! 


New York and its metropolitan surroundings are home to more than 23 million people, and a lot of those people use the subways and cabs—which are as iconic as anything else—to get around. So it was fun to be in the mix with these things for a few days, navigating the bizarre schedules of some of the subway lines, shoulder to shoulder with the locals who couldn’t figure it out either!








hidden delights like the Bethesda terrace underpass await you in Central Park

some big statue in the the harbour. 
Radio City Music Hall


The weather was warm but wet with socked-in clouds on our first full day in NYC, so we didn’t get a sense of the towering buildings until the next day. Once the sun came out, it was pretty awesome to see the huge buildings. Catching the skyline view from the Staten Island ferry was a great thing to do, with the added bonus of gliding by the Statue of Liberty… with the added, added bonus of the ferry being free of charge : )
Grand Central Terminal

Traipsing through Grand Central Station, reading the embossed quotes in the pavement of great authors on the leadup to the New York Public Library, wandering stretches of Central Park, ducking into a few shops in SoHo, taking in some of the exhibits at The Met, encountering some delicious food and drink… the list goes on.

In summary: I would go back in a heartbeat.

It was especially nice for us to stay with a friend who has lived in NYC for years, and really gave us a good sense of what’s what in New York City. An insider’s guide made for easy planning, and we were spoiled in that sense.

I’ve always been drawn to big cities. I find great allure in buildings that touch the sky, in busy sidewalks and the melting pot of cultures that are so often found in those places. I’ll admit, the incessant honking in NYC, that got old, fast… get a grip people, it won’t make the traffic snarl go away so maybe just flip on the radio and chill for a bit?

Brunch in Brooklyn
If you go (errr, in winter):
Prospect Park in Brooklyn is a beautiful spot
      Pack for all weather! The temps swung 20 degrees in one day, from muggy with warm breezes to below freezing with frigid winds dropping the temperatures even more.
·         DO find a show to take in. So much variety, and some reasonable ticket prices to be found.
·         DO take the subway, just to experience the system, but
·         DON’T be surprised when your train magically changes routes /gets discontinued. Just get off at the next station, consult a map, and try again. Better yet, go street side at that point and
Brooklyn's quirky and fun Superhero Supply Co.
·         DO spend time walking the neighbourhoods just for the sake of seeing what you can see.
·         DO include the Staten Island ferry in your plans. It’s free, and offers such a great view of the famed Manhattan skyline.
·         DON’T be afraid to leave Manhattan! For example, we stayed in Brooklyn and spent some time over there. Lots to see: parks, museums, wonderful restaurants, historical sites, great walking.

I’ll leave it there… we only spent two full days and two partial days, so I ain’t no expert, after all!







Here’s some videos for you if you want to take in the sights and sounds of NYC! Thanks again to my lovely wife for this amazing surprise getaway! 

NYC Vlog part 1: https://youtu.be/wj5iGZzcSyw

NYC Vlog part 2: https://youtu.be/MMzckbnDkxk