Thursday, December 31, 2015

First Triathlon Win!

[Aug 15 2015]

This summer we planned a family trip to Placid Lake in Montana with all R's family. We went down a few days early and met up with my brother and my parents. I noticed that there was a triathlon going on at the lake nearby, so I mentioned it to my brother. He said that he and his kids were already registered, even before he heard we were coming. but he had a health incident with his heart and would not be able to participate. I signed up my kids and arranged to race in the place of my brother. There were two races for adults, one with 600 yard swim and one with a 300 yard swim (but both had a 10 mile bike and a 3 mile run). I raced in the short swim version, because that is what they had already signed up for, but inside I was thrilled because I am a terrible swimmer. I bought myself a sweet triathlon outfit on sale for this event, which meant that I would only need to put on socks and shoes to do my transition, and I was ready.

7:55 for 300 yards was 15 overall.

1:42 was 8 overall

30:08 for 16 km was 1 overall
(I passed everyone but the leader in the first half of the bike. Saw him coming out of the turnaround but never caught him.)

0:36 was 12 overall
(would have been faster but I forgot to take my helmet off and had to throw it to a bystander.)

23:30 for 5.4 km was 3 overall
(I caught the leader in the first half and held off the challenger in the last half. Kaitlin beat my run time by 19 seconds.)

Although the morning was hazy and cool, the water was deliciously warm like a bathtub. It was a wonderful start. Plus, it was so shallow that in the kids race Scott walked most of his swim and I was able to walk next to Katie and make sure she was okay. I stayed with her for the whole time, including a very challenging 5km bike course that went through the woods for most of it. The path was narrow and the ground uneven, so bent over from behind Katie to grab her handle bars and help her stay on the path. Even if I hadn't just run my own triathlon this would have been exhausting. Finally we pulled back onto the road for the final stretch back to the transition. Katie was one of the very youngest competitors in the whole race and nearly everyone was finished by the time we returned, so her cousins all did the run with her, being kind enough to let her beat them to the finish line.

Finish Line Video

Kaitlin at the finish line

Becca at the finish line

Krissy at the finish line

Katie transition to bike

Dad chasing after Katie

Connor winning the Kids Race

Bailey, Scott, Afton & Cannon at the finish line

Katie at the finish line

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Books I Read in 2015

Extreme: Why Some People Thrive at the Limits - Emma Barrett and Paul Martin (Audio Book)
My reading list always has some bizarre titles on it. I this one was a recommended book on Audible, which is my service for audio books. The author's British accent is delicious and worth the price of admission, smoothly recounting harrowing accounts of explorers freezing to death at the poles or dying at crushing depths. The conclusions are fascinating, although it seems like the analysis is mainly based on anecdotal evidence, rather than clinical trials. Each story seems more like a plausible launching point for more research, rather than the basis for conclusions, but hey, I am no expert here. I think I still haven't quite finished it off, but there is no over-arching narrative here, so I don't think that I missed a surprise ending or anything.

The Rent Collector - Camron Wright
This is the second book I have read about a family that experienced great hardship in Cambodia (the other book was To Destroy You is No Loss about the Khmer Rouge's seizure of Phnom Penh). This book didn't have a harsh Marxist Dictator oppressing everyone, but life in the dump seemed pretty harsh on its own, and it was fascinating to think about how a family could adapt to this situation and have deep and meaningful relationships, despite the backdrop. Good book.

1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed - Eric H. Cline
This book discusses the causes of the end of the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean, which is a topic I previously knew nothing about. The book is perhaps more scholarly at times than I really required, but it was fascinating to learn how a sophisticated and very interconnected world like that could suddenly collapse in the face of a series of disruptive challenges, including drought, mass migration, and interrupted trade routes. The lesson is that nothing lasts forever, and because there really isn't one factor that causes this sort of collapse, it is hard to say what it might take to have another one.

The Martian - Andy Weir
I hadn't even heard of this book or the Hollywood movie that was based on it until a friend at work mentioned that he had just read it and really enjoyed it. I devoured the book in the course of just a few days and then watched the movie about a week later. My personal preference would be to have less cussing, but I have nothing but good things to say about this story. The bulk of the book, especially at the beginning, is just the protagonist's log entries of his effort to survive, and that is the best stuff. On a literary level, those parts read like a good friend of yours sending you a really long email, but that doesn't mean you can't love it. I wish more of my friends would send me gripping emails like this from Mars.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie - Jordan Sonnenblick
My sister Allyson and I share a Kindle account and this popped up from her side of the library. It looked like something targeted at her teenager kids, but I am not above such things. I really enjoyed it. I think the author tried a bit too hard to have a teenager's voice, and I think the resultant word choices were sometimes distracting, but overall the story about being an awkward teenage boy coping with the family strain of a sick younger brother was compelling and heart-wrenching. I learned later that the author is a school teacher and the story is inspired by the experience of one of his students. I recommend it.

The Watch That Ends the Night - Hugh MacLennan
I had ordered a used copy of this book off Amazon and it sat in my bedroom for about a year or more, until I couldn't remember why I had decided to order it. It was published in 1959 and I had an old hardcover library copy that had been signed out only twice. I read the whole thing on our anniversary trip to Mexico and it is the best book I have read in a long time. I particularly appreciated the historical setting in English Montreal during the 1930s - 1950s, which happens to cover the short period when my grandparents lived in Montreal and my mom was born. There are a lot of symbols and parallels and I can't say that I quite grasped the significance of each one but the author spends some time wrapping it up for you at the end. Individual people, married couples, nations and civilizations all show the ability to have growing pains, crises of faith and ultimately a spiritual rebirth, but all this take place within an accessible narrative that was pretty engrossing. No wonder this book was twice honoured: 1) Canadian Governor General's Award for literature in 1959; and 2) A Tragically Hip Song in 1992 called Courage (for Hugh MacLennan). I am pretty sure that I was sparked to buy this book by reading about the lyrics of the Tragically Hip song, which paraphrases this passage: “But that night as I drove back from Montreal, I at least discovered this: that there is no simple explanation for anything important any of us do, and that the human tragedy, or the human irony, consists in the necessity of living with the consequences of actions performed under the pressure of compulsions so obscure we do not and cannot understand them.” This book is not even considered MacLennan's finest. There is more reading here for me to do.

Tunnel in the Sky - Robert A. Heinlein
In the Q&A at the end of The Martian, author Andy Weir said that his favourite book growing up was Tunnel in the Sky (published in 1955). I had never heard of it, but I figured that was a good enough reason to give it a try. Fantastic book. The futuristic setting is explained quickly but with enough detail that the rest story can stand alone without the reader constantly questioning the framework. The beginning reminds me a little bit of reading the book Hatchet when I was a kid, except in a much more menacing environment, with a Lord of The Flies dynamic going on. I learned later that this book was published just one year after Lord of the Flies. Really good. Highly recommend for young readers.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Tri-Smore 2015

[June 20, 2015]

Little Spectators

Alli Swimming

Scott & Hayden Swimming

Boys Onto Bikes

Katie Outside

Alli Running

Boys Running


D and Troy in the Pool

Fans Waiting for Dads

D Off Of Bike

Troy From Bike Transition

D to the Finish

Gareth to the Finish

Girls Getting Ready

Girls into the Pool

Katie from Pool to Bike

Adalia On Bike

Katie on Bike

Katie Running

Adalia Starting Run

Adalia to the Finish

She Makes Friends Easily

I got a call from Katie again yesterday. She said, "Hi Dad. I am near your building right now. I am on the bus with Mom." R was a parent-chaperone for a school outing to see the play "Legend Has It" at the Epcor Performing Arts Centre downtown, just a few blocks from my office. Katie told me that she had her lunch in a backpack and they were going to eat their lunch and then go watch the play.

When I got home for dinner I heard more details about the day. While waiting to leave on the theatre trip, R had seen Scott go past on his way to the library. Today Scott played the piano at school in a talent show of sorts. He had played the piano in this same event last year, but this time around he was a bit freaked out and kept saying he wanted out. In the end, R helped him figure out what he was most nervous about (standing and introducing his songs to the group) and made a plan to have the teacher introduce the songs for him. He played the Star Wars Theme and Rudolph. Everyone started singing along for Rudolph, which both surprised him and pleased him. Also, when the time came his teacher offered to introduce the songs for him but he was okay to do it himeslf. At home he told us that sometimes he doesn't want to do something but then he does it and he is glad that he did.

I learned more details about the theatre trip too. Katie said she made a new friend on the trip. A boy. Katie couldn't quite remember his name, but R said that they were walking and holding hands by the end. Katie told me that recently she'd had another new friend that was a boy for a few days, but not so much anymore.

The way things are going, this girl may need a chaperone to come with her to school every day.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Friendly Bagel Man

Yesterday I left the house very early to get to work. It was about 4:30am and stars showed brightly with no hint of dawn. A few blocks from home I turned a corner and saw the shadow of a figure running towards my vehicle, waving a hand to get my attention. Confused, I stopped, and rolled my window down a few inches. A young man came to the window out of breath and told me "Hey, I just hitchhiked all the way here from BC and I stashed my backpack over there and I haven't had anything to eat. Do you know where I could get something to eat?" In one instant my mind quickly evaluated a number of options that included him and I driving around in the dark looking for food, then I realized I was already chewing on a bagel, so I offered it to him. I had split the bagel in half and I still had one half sitting on the passenger seat so I handed it to him through the gap in the window and said, "I don't think anything around here is open, but does this help?" He said he had been starving and that this was perfect and amazing. I felt pretty good about it as I drove away, even later, when I was a little bit hungry. I told the story to a friend and he gave me a rice krispie square. People helping people get snacks.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Deck the Halls and Other Sad Songs

After Scott's rousing basketball victory at midday (where he scored his season-high 8 points), we spent the rest of Saturday decking the halls. First, Scott and I took the stepladder out to hang lights around the edge of the garage door, which is mainly a process of Scott climbing up and down the ladder and fastening zip ties to various hooks that I put in place in a previous year. There were no incidents, as he is a pretty careful ladder-climber and I hovered at his elbow at all times. He retreated to the house, citing the chills. I think it was because he was wearing thin warm-up pants over his basketball shorts and the pants are about 1 year too short for him now.

Katie came bouncing out the door with a big smile and her jacket unzipped to pick up where Scott left off. Katie was a wonderful assistant and we made rapid pace along the front gutter to the front door where Scott slid the window open a crack to play Christmas carols on the piano for our entertainment. All was well through very polished renditions of Jingle Bells and Rudolph, where Katie and I managed to wrap the lights around the railing and one of the trees out front, but then we hit a snag at Deck the Halls. Scott was struggling with the song and eventually R must have tried to give him a hint about the note that he was missing and he broke down in tears.

Later on it was my turn to break down, as we discovered that the new white lights that I had purchased at Canadian Tire for the Christmas tree were actually the wrong colour of white. I had purchased "cool white", while the pine & holly garland that we got for the railing had "warm white" lights in it -- even though both of lights were made by the same company and you would never guess they were different until you lit them up at home like we did. We had to strip the tree of its cool white lights and replace them with our old multi-coloured lights, since the stores had all closed for the evening and no one really wanted to put off the rest of the hall-decking, especially hanging up all the cool ornaments that the kids receive every year from the Dustan Family out in Ottawa.

Fa-la-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Kids on Bikes, Dad on Foot Downtown

[Sep 26 2015]

Fall has been absolutely beautiful this year. The weather has been reasonably warm and we haven't had one of those big windstorms yet that pulls all the leaves off the trees so the colours have lingered longer than usual. We tried to take advantage of the weather to ride bikes downtown. It was an interesting adventure.

We loaded the bikes on the car and headed downtown, planning to ride for a bit before grabbing dinner and having a grand time at Dad's office. As we unloading the car, I realized that Katie's helmet was still lying on the floor near the garage door at our house, protecting no heads. I faced a moment of indecision. To return home would be nearly an hour round trip, effectively using up our allocated riding time. However, I had already learned my lesson years ago about putting Katie on bikes without a helmet. I considered whether there was a bike shop close enough to buy one. As my mind raced from one idea to the next, Scott stood nearby making his own observations:

"You can't let a kid ride without a helmet. That is against the law."

That's right. Kids under 18 have to ride with a helmet, but adults have the option of riding without a helmet. Wait, that is the solution! My helmet has an internal head-band type adjustment that I cranked all the way down to Katie-size, and then adjusted the straps to fit. It wasn't perfect, but it was a helmet, and we were back in business.

After just a few minutes of riding, I realized I had a flat tire on my bike. we came back to the car where I filled it again. A moment later it was flat again, and the valve seemed to be broken. So I took the wheel off the bike and jammed in the back of the car and I ran behind the kids as they rode. Man, at the beginning of the summer, that was an easy task, but both of these kids have gotten a lot faster this year! It was all I could do to keep up, trying to shout directions to them as I gasped for air.

After riding by the drop-in center and the old Cecil Hotel, we loaded up the bikes again and drove to the nearest McDonald's for some happy meals. However this McDonald's is half-way down the block on the pedestrian avenue and doesn't have a drive through, so we had to walk in. Since my fairly expensive bike was dangling on the back of the car, I decided to bring it with us into the restaurant. We navigated between various tables and [ahem] less refined characters to a spot by the corner window where the kids could hold onto my bike and still see any incidents that might happen along the avenue. I have been in the McDonald's a few times late at night and I have witnessed some interesting things, including the time that a man had to shoo away someone who was trying to pick through his meal while it was still sitting on the order counter. No incidents to report this time, but we did end up having a discussion about what responsibility we have to help less fortunate people to get back on their feet and find meaningful employment in the world.

After that we went back to the office to get some work done. Then I remembered that they were planning to shut the power off in the building in just a few minutes, so if we didn't get out soon, we would be taking the stairs down 38 floors in the dark. We high-tailed it out of there.

Things are never dull with Dad.

Basketball in the Big Gym

[Sep 3 2015]

To be sorted into a team in the appropriate division, Scott had two evaluation sessions, including one at the University of Calgary massive main gym. He had to write #99 on his leg and do a lot of drills. You know, aside from the parking lot of an LDS chapel or a screening of Napoleon Dynamite, basketball evaluations is one of the most likely places to encounter LDS people. I saw pretty much everyone I know there.

The second evaluation session was held at an elementary school. Kids were told what time slot to show up for, with the understanding that they might be asked to stick around for subsequent sessions. Scott was kept there for several sessions, which turned out to be quite a long time, so we hit Menchie's on the way home for a frozen treat.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Letter from Gramma W

I got this great letter from my Gramma Gloy and I wanted to post it here so that I don't lose it. She is such a wonderful lady and so funny. I love the line at the end: "Forgive all mistakes. I am old and feeble."

Harvest Half Marathon 2015

[Oct 3 2015]

When Troy and Gareth said they were going to run this half marathon I HAD to be a part of it. Even though we got soaked in a slushy rain the whole time. I didn't train that much this year, so I didn't have any misguided hopes about a personal best, but I beat Troy and that's all that really matters. Official time was 1 hour 37 minutes, which was good enough for 24th place out of 730 people and my 2nd best time to date.

Trick Riding in Bowness Park

[Oct 2 2015]

We met up with the Jones and Staples at Bowness Park for a picnic dinner. We knew that the forecast called for rain that evening, so we tried to hurry. Things were pretty good at first, and the kids had fun roasting hotdogs and doing bike tricks for while, until suddenly a wall of black clouds rolled in and blew every leaf off the trees, sending us all scrambling for cover. When we got home we had a thick layer of leaves in the bottom of our cooler, and several stuck in our clothing. Summer is officially over, people.

Sunday Afternoon Cycling

[Sep 20, 2015]

Now that R has a new bike AND a new helmet, it was only fitting that we go for a few family rides. There is a new pathway along the north end of town. It isn't totally finished, so we had to go off-road for a short section, through a spot that looked like someone's informal campground in the bushes. We have raised Katie's seat to help her get more leverage on the hills, and it has helped her quite a bit (although she was a bit uncertain about not being able to plant both feet flat on the ground while mounted).

High School 20th Reunion

[Sep 12 2015]

R and I both went to the same high school, but somehow we had never made it a high school reunion. We both disappeared from Calgary for most of a decade after high school, and we had lost track of most people from high school. We weren't sure what to expect, but it seemed like we shouldn't miss this chance to see everyone again.

I rushed back from our overnight camping trip at Barrier Lake to meet R at a Wendy's near Bowness Park, so we could grab a picnic lunch and so I could try to wash the smell of campfire off of me and change clothes. It was fun to catch up again. Many people had no idea that the two of us had gotten married. One of our classmates said hi to me and tried to introduce herself to R, and then felt silly when she found out that R had also gone to our school. I don't think it's fair though -- I look essentially identical to high school, but R has gone to great lengths to disguise her identity. In school he had long, straight blond hair and no glasses, but now she has curly reddish hair and wears glasses. Sometimes I don't even recognize her.

R went to school all the way from kindergarten to grade 12 with a group of a few really close friends, and most of them were there at the park and again at the evening pub event. She was right at home with all her good friends. I realized that I hardly have any friends in the whole world, and I spent most of my time chatting with people that I may not have ever had a conversation with in high school.

Trail Hunting at Twilight

Scott and I hurried outside for a bike ride before the sun could go down. In anticipation of our bike camp this weekend, he wanted to find a trail where he could try his off-road skills a bit. We ended up going 8km in 46 minutes. We rode down a muddy trail into the ravine, pushed our bikes back up another muddy trail, tried a washed out gravel trail along the ridge, but his favourite part was coasting down the grassy hill near his school. There was some complaining, but Scott didn't let it bother him too much.

Harvesting Crabapples

[Sep 8 2015]

Our Crabapple tree is weird.

One year, it will nearly collapse under the weight of the fruit, and then next year it won't have any at all. Is there a crabapple cycle that I don't know about? Or was there some nasty frost last year that killed the buds? Who knows? One thing is clear: we had a bumper crop of crabapples this year.

I strapped the kids' school bags on backwards and we set up some ladders to pick the fruit. It took us two evenings to harvest it all, and we filled several large Amazon shipping boxes with the crop. Scott loved to climb the step ladder, but he laughed his head off when he stayed at ground level and I threw apples into his bag from the top of the ladder. As always, Katie was a good-natured little worker, telling everyone what a good job they were doing and how much fun she was having. She gets a bit sad sometimes when Scott gets first turn at the ladder, but she doesn't let that sour her apples for long.

We got an apple corer this year and we prepped the apples to be steamed in our big stock pot and then stuck the steamed fruit in the blender to make applesauce and kept the juice that dripped down into the bottom to try to make jelly. The jelly seemed more like syrup, so decided to just keep the juice on subsequent batches. Now I have a fridge full of various jars of juice that no one is particularly excited about drinking. The applesauce was really good, but we ate all that for Sunday dinner one night. Now we may have to wait until 2017 to have some more.

Singing for Grandma M

[Sep 6 2015]

R's Grandma M loves nothing in the world more than music. After Sunday dinner, the grandkids (and even some great grandkids) gathered around the piano to sing for her and Grandpa. They are 94 years old this year, and their health has been particularly delicate, so it was a great experience to share something that makes her so happy.