Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Hill

My oldest daughter has cultivated a new passion this summer: riding her bike.  As a bicycle commuter, I could not be a happier father to have my girl be as enthused about cycling as I am.  Every opportunity she has to ride, she'll take it.  I used to ride my bike with her, but found that I could keep up with her just as well by walking.

Earlier in the season, she did quite a bit of walking over riding because she had a paralyzing fear of hills.  Didn't matter if the hill was a steep grade or slight enough to barely get a marble rolling on its own, she had to walk down.  After a couple days of this, I went over braking with her and then encouraged her to try braking to slow her descent.  She still persisted in walking down hills.  Before I chided her disbelief in her own abilities, I remembered someone else who had trouble with hills: my sister.

Summer of '86 or so.  We were living in Petawawa, Ontario at the time and bikes were our vehicles of independence.  Wherever we wanted to go, we went.  One of the destinations of choice was Petawawa Beach, renamed Black Bear Beach.  For some odd reason, whenever we went there, there was never a lifeguard, which added an element of adventure, but the ride there was what made me think of my daughter.

Comparing my memory to Google Maps, the final turn to get to Petawawa - sorry, Black Bear - Beach went down a fairly steep hill.  The adventurous, and scary, part was close to the bottom of the hill where the road transitioned from paved to gravel.  My step brother and I had no problem getting down the hill.  We just alternated between coasting and braking, never letting our speed get much beyond a crawl.  My sister went much quicker, and not because she was a daredevil with a death wish, but simply because she was frightened and froze up.  In retrospect, I'm surprised she survived since this was the time before bicycle helmets were common and mandatory for youth.  As my sister put it when I asked her about the experience, she only remembered going down the hill and then waking up in the hospital.

My sister made a full recovery, and soon we were off to the beach again.  When we reached the hill, she was still shaken, but determined to try again.  I demonstrated the safe way to go down the hill, and told her what I was doing as I went down.  Coast, brake, coast, brake, coast, brake... WHOOSH!  She zoomed past me at the bottom of the hill and I realized her biggest mistake.  Closing her eyes when she got scared.  This led to another crash, but not quite as spectacular as the first.  

My memory may be faint, but I don't remember any other bicycle excursions to the beach.  I seem to recall we went with my parents every time afterwards.  

After this recollection of blood and dust, I figured it would be best to let my daughter take hills at her own pace, and not push her to ride down them regardless of the grade.

I am happy to report that my girl now delights in riding down small hills, but is still dismounts for steep ones.  And she has never been to the hospital for any of her crashes.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lest We Forget

No picture to go with this post, but I felt that a picture would have been inappropriate.

Today was Remembrance Day in Canada, and across the country there were moments of silence for those who fought and died for the freedoms that we enjoy today, and often take for granted.  There are usually large gatherings, such as the one at the University of Alberta, and last year we crossed the field by our apartment building to attend the ceremony in Beaumont.

This year I wanted to do something different and pay respects at a place I had only visited once, about ten years ago.  It was the Beechmount Cemetery in Edmonton.  I discovered it when my wife and I were delivering newspapers in the early days of our marriage.  Our route went up to the southern edge of the cemetery, and one day I took a moment to get a better look at what was there.  Why, I'm not sure.  But I distinctly remember seeing the uniform tombstones arranged in perfect lines.  Row upon row.  I went through one of the gate to get a better look.  I don't remember whose grave I was looking at, but I recall I reached out my hand to the stone, but stopped myself short.

Again, no sure at the time why I stopped myself, but I talked about it with Caitlin today, and she mentioned that tactile contact with anything makes things more real.  Perhaps that the reason for my hesitation.  I knew it was real, but I didn't want to be more real.  I was the only one in the cemetery at the time, and it was early morning.  The sun was shining, but only just above the horizon.  Seeing the gravemarkers row upon row was enough to send a shiver through me.  I didn't need anything else to cement this memory.

Now ten years later, I felt inspired to go there again.  Much like so many things associated with that cemetery, I'm not sure why.

This time, we had our two girls in tow.  It was not a spring day, but a cold winter embrace.  We drove up the residential road along 107 Street NW until we came to the Cross of Sacrifice at the west end.  I had not seen that when I initially found the cemetery as I had entered at 104 Street and the foliage had blocked my view.  We turned right and followed along the south the of the cemetery for a few blocks until we found a parking spot on the side of the road.  A small gate allowed us passage into the sacred ground, and there were tombstones as far as you could see either to the left or the right.  My family and I walked towards the Cross of Sacrifice, since we had seen some people gathering there when we turned east to find a parking space.  Then Erini pointed out something that both my wife and I had over looked.  Every stone had a poppy in front of it.  Some had been covered by the snow, but from what we observed, every stone had a small red poppy in front of it, carefully placed in the center.

There were a few people at the monument, one elderly gentleman in full uniform, and another man dressed in regular street attire.  I approached the uniformed man and asked him if there would be a ceremony, to which he replied the would in a few minutes.  We had arrived a few minutes before eleven o'clock.  I then inquired if he knew anything about the poppies that were laid at the grave sides.  I was pleasantly surprised to know that this was work of a program instituted by the City of Edmonton called No Stone Left Alone.

At eleven o'clock, a larger crowd had formed, but no more than a couple dozen people.  In hindsight, there was a much larger display on Friday 8 November, when the children had been distributing the poppies.  The uniformed gentleman announced that he wasn't sure how loud his recording would be, but the iPod he had was sufficiently loud to play the simple recording of Taps.

We all shared a moment of silence, and my girls were surprisingly quiet as well.  Bronwyn started to wonder what was going on when the uniformed gentleman searched for the second recording that he played after the moment of silence, but that was about all.

After the very brief ceremony, a lady approached the Cross of Sacrifice and laid her poppy on the monument.  A young officer in full uniform stepped away from his family for a moment and approached the monument alone.  He brought himself to attention and gave a very sharp salute.  All against a back drop of the Canadian flag at half mast.  It brought both Caitlin and I to tears.

Walking back to the van, Caitlin suggested that we come back again in the spring when the snow was gone.  I'm very sure that it would look much different than we saw that day, but it will likely have the same sentiment.

One other thing I noticed on the grave stones was that the death dates were not all in the forties.  In fact, I didn't see any from the forties.  There were some from the fifties, but they also noted their age at time of death, and most of them were in their sixties or older.  One stone close to the monument was of a gentleman who died in 2000 at the age of ninety-three.  Doing some math, I realized that most all of these soldiers were not men who died in military service, but had served nonetheless and were given a burial in the Field of Honour.  These were men that came home, but had left their homes and served their country while they were in their mature years.

I had always heard about young soldiers who left behind family and sweethearts, but these were men that likely served in The Great War as well as World War II.  These were men that lived full lives and got to live out their days in the free land they fought for.  All deserving of our respect.

Lest we forget.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Memories 2012

While Christmas traditions tend to keep on throughout the years, somethings do change from year to year.

For instance, we didn't have any cookies to set out for Santa, so we decided to leave out some of the snack sized candy bars I won at the traditional Christmas Eve Rumoli game.

I also helped Rini write out the letter to Santa explaining the circumstance regarding his snack. Most of the letter she wrote herself, but close to the end, she got tired and asked me to finish. I think she just wanted to go to bed, and not because she was excited for Christmas. Turns out, you can get tired enough to sleep on Christmas Eve.

Today, we also did something that would be called folly by some. We walked from Grandma's house to ours and back again. Normally that wouldn't be so bad, but it's not normally -25C in the middle of the day! It wasn't very windy though, and we put on extra pants when we arrived at home.

I have to say that I was surprised with Rini's reaction to getting a Wii. She was more enamored with her Royal Wedding castle than the video game machine. That being said, Grandma and Grandpa have had one for over a year now. More than two years actually.

Guess we finally caught up with the times.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Parenting Experiences

As of late, I've been posting Facebook statuses prefaced with "Parenting Experience #[arbitrary number]" to add a bit of whimsy to some frustrating and embarrassing events.  Some of these events include fixing a VCR after something that was not a cassette tape was placed in the tape slot, and taking care of a lost tooth in a public place.

Tonight was another one of those moments, but it was one that is difficult to describe and discuss.

Caitlin was going through her Facebook and came across the following picture:

To say this was a difficult to read would be an understatement.  I was in tears after my wife read this letter to me. Yet how was this a parenting moment?  My eldest daughter was still awake when Caitlin read it.

She then asked why a boy would ask for something like that.  The conversation that followed was filled with tears, warnings, and comforting words.  She told us she was scared, and while I'm sure that's true, I'm not sure if she could think of any other words to explain how she felt.  

My wife and I told her that we know those children are with Heavenly Father and are safe now.  We also told her that those children won't be having Christmas with their families.  Explaining why someone would kill children was especially difficult, and I'm not sure if it was adequate.  We were very direct in telling her that if something scary happens to tell mommy or daddy.  When at school, look to your teacher.  If necessary, hide.  

Would something like this happen at her school?  I certainly hope not.  Does the possibility exist?  Indeed it does.  Will the conversation we had tonight be enough to prepare her if an emergency situation like this occurs?  I doubt it, but I hope so.  

Confusion clouds my mind when I hear about events such as the Sandy Hook shooting.  Questions about gun control and mental health run on top of each other.  Their cacophony eventually ceases and then turns to a dull throb of concern that can be somewhat ignored until something similar happens again.  

A fresh coat of hatred and fear has been painted over society.  Yet these powerful forces, directed properly, can bring about change that will be to the betterment of everyone.  Sadly, I believe they will be weaponized to create a retaliation.  Mental health issues will be guarded with a stone wall of indifference and spite.  Gun control will be debated until tax funds are exhausted.  Nothing will be done.  

Nothing will change.

After reading an article about a mother living with a mentally ill son, the words of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" came to mind.  When Scrooge was asked to make a donation for the poor and needy, his reply was simply, "Are there no prisons?  Are there no workhouses?"  After being told there were plenty but some would rather die than live there, he retorted, "Then they had better do it and decrease the surplus population."  

Later, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge two children, Ignorance and Want.  The Ghost delivers this warning regarding the twins: "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

I am not sure if the book contains the following, but I recall in the Citadel production, Scrooge asks if there is not someone else to care for these children.  To which the Ghost bellows, "ARE THERE NO PRISONS?  ARE THERE NO WORKHOUSES?"  

Ignorance is truly the path of doom.  Hence, I educate my children the best I can.  I try to place hope in the place of fear, and love in the place of hate.  It is not an easy thing to do, but if I can do it, my children will learn to do it.  My hope is that they will teach their children the same.

Merry Christmas to all, and God bless us, every one.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Movie Adventure - Curious George (2006) & Madagascar 3:Europe's Most Wanted

I'll address the first quest that's going through your mind once you read the title.  Aside from the animals in the main characters, how are those two movies related?  An interesting story, that's how.

For the past few weeks, I've been taking my daughters to the Family Favourites screenings at South Edmonton Common.  It's quite the bargain for a classic movie on a Saturday morning.  In August they will be getting into the more modern movies, but it was still a thrill to watch Hook with my girls on the big screen.  They thought otherwise of course, but I've come to accept that.  However, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie was a huge hit!  They might have been a little tired from the previous evening when we went to the outdoor neighbourhood screening of Thor put on by the town, but I'm just saying that because my youngest slept through most of the movie.

In any case, Curious George (2006) was today's Family Favourite and right off the bat, both my girls were having a great time.  The opening scene with George playing, painting, and making a monkey's amount of mischief was a lot of fun to watch.  Then the scene changed to the museum where we meet Ted, played by Will Ferrel.  At this point, a huge problem is brought to light, or rather, to the ear.  You could barely hear the dialogue.  Previously, there was a song playing over all the action, and George doesn't talk anyway, so no one really noticed.  A few people got up and address the problem to the staff who tried to fix the problem.  After forty-five minutes, the screen went black and house lights came up.  At the front of the crowd was the head theatre manager who explained there was a problem with the amplifier and they would have to shut down and reset the whole system.  The entire process would take about an hour.  In compensation, they gave us complementary passes to a full priced movie for each ticket we bought.  

Making the most of this we went and got some lunch at Chuck E. Cheese (BLAARRGGH!) and then returned for the 12:35 screening of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted.  My oldest had been bothering me for some time to see it, and now that the opportunity had presented itself, I would have to consider myself a fool not to take advantage of it.

And what a movie it was!  While it was not of the same caliber of humour as compared to Curious George, it held up of the style and pacing set in the two previous Madagascar movies.  I have also set my expectations for Dreamworks movies rather low, and therefore I am usually pleased with the results.

The key to enjoying any kind of movie is have the right kind of mindset and audience.  In the case of Dreamworks movies, they are best enjoyed with the mindset of going in for a silly and fun time while enjoying some time with kids.  Or kids at heart.  Madagascar 3 has a couple scary parts - one joke that is funnier if you enjoy scary movies - but in all it's quite the fun(ny) romp with the Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria.  

Oh, and my oldest wants to buy them both.

I second her opinion.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Movie Project - Day 46: Willow

Moving into something a bit more adventurous, the other night we watched the 1988 classic, Willow. This movie is truly remarkable and quite the mishmash of actors, producers, and directors that works very well. I'm sure if this movie was made today they would try to make two or three sequels, but this was back in the day when people would make a movie, be happy with it, then move onto something else.

There are times I miss those days.

The movie's plot is common enough: Evil Overlord looking to take over the land and quell the one person that has been prophesied to destroy her. Common man takes the task that has been more or less forced upon him, and encounters willy and wacky folk to add to his party as he journeys to fulfill his quest.

So if the story's been heard before, why is it something worth hearing again? Perhaps it's because of the lavish atmosphere of the world created. Or it could be the balance of character development and comedy. The practical uses of magic and prominent use of melee weaponry. Maybe because I have some very strong memories of watching this movie with my step-brother, whom I have not seen nor talked to in years. In the end, I believe it's because the story hits the right points with the right intensity.

The biggest draw for this movie is the fact the heroes aren't people that are born and bred for greatness. Willow, the main protagonist, is a simple farmer and loving father just trying to keep his household in order. He makes mistakes, he has fears, and he has dreams. While not everyone would aspire to be a magician, it's still admirable that he never gives up, even when his best trick goes awry during a performance.

On a side note, the actor who played Willow, Warwick Davis, has become more well know for his role as Professor Flitwick in the Harry Potter series. Just goes to show just how far Willow Ufgood went in his career as a sorcerer!

An evil overlord taking over the world and those that are trying to stop this from happening make up the bulk of the story, but the movie also touches on the lives of the ordinary people that wouldn't know much about what was going on, and are happy to be that way. They live their lives, drink their ale, do their jobs, but in large don't react very strongly to what's going on.

Of all the action packed parts of this movie, one element and one event stood out for my daughter.  First and foremost, she loved the horses.  There were horses in pretty much every part of the movie.  Ponies, stallions, mares, cart horses, almost any kind of horse you can imagine.  Well, they never perform the RCMP Musical Ride.  And they don't have the Lipizaner Stallions featured either.  They still have a lot of horses!

Then her most favourite part of the movie was, without a doubt, the sledding.  At one point, Willow escapes from an mountain enemy camp by sledding down the mountain side on a shield.  I'm still amazed how they were able to shoot that scene.  Then Mad Mardigan, played by Val Kilmer, falls off the shield/sled, tumbles down the mountain, and winds up rolled into a massive pile of snow.  It's quite funny watching this pile of snow, with a pair of feet sticking out, come rolling down the hill.

For its time, it was quite the landmark in filmmaking, and it was produced by George Lucas.  While this is not Star Wars, it certainly has enough to stand on its own.  A modern classic and a lot of fun, but be warned, there are some scary parts that might scare little ones.  Of course, I've also shown my daughter Toy Story 3, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Coraline.  I think she's used to scary by now.

Either that, or I better start saving now for the therapy bills.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Beginning of a Beautiful Relationship

Over the holidays, my wife got the idea to go the Telus World of Science Edmonton since I had the time available.  We also got the idea to get an annual family pass, since we do enjoy going there.  We don't go very often though, and I wondered if it would be a wise investment to purchase the pass.  After some calculations, I concluded that we would only have to attend three times withing the year and the pass would have paid for itself. I further concluded that the reason we don't go very often is because of the expense, and we only go when we can spend the entire day there in order to get the best value for our dollar.

Even with that information in hand, I was nervous and second guessing myself as we were standing in line at the Box Office to purchase the passes.  While the passes would cover our admission for the day we were there, we were spending three times what we usually would!  After the initial shock of the amount of money I had just spent, we went on to enjoy the Science Center.

We went through most everything like we usually do, and the new kids Discovery area was quite the treat!  

At the end of it all, Rini of course didn't want to leave.  But with the passes in hand, we reassured her that we would be able to return again soon.

In a bit of unusual turn of events, I stayed true to my word, and we went again this past Saturday, even though we were only there for an hour.

Unlike our previous visit, we only went to two of the four galleries, and didn't set foot in the Discovery area, let alone the second floor.  We did catch the tail end of the fire demonstration, for which Rini went and sat front row.  I was quite taken in by the isoproponol/lightsaber demonstration!  

Although we were only there for an hour, I found it to be very fulfilling, and I'm thinking that we could do these outings every week!  I am eagerly looking forward to the next time we go.

And it will definitely be before the Star Wars exhibit comes.