Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Favourites of 2011

     It's that time of year when people take a look back over their media intake for the past 12 months so I guess I'll take a shot at some of my favourites.
Concerts - Everything I attended this year was great but my favourites would have to be:
     Randy Stonehill performing in my living room
     The "Kicking at the Darkness" book launch - featuring Steve Bell, Glen Soderholm, Mike Janzen
     Phil Keaggy/Doyle Dykes/Frank Vignola
Books - I read over 60 books this year and many of them were very good so it's tough to narrow them down to a small list. Let's try a top 10 (but in no particular order):
     Doug Pagitt: A Christianity Worth Believing
     Ian Morgan Cron: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me
     Gary Schmidt: The Wednesday Wars & Okay For Now
     Jonathan Rogers: The Wilderking Trilogy
     Mark Hollingsworth: Embracing the Gray
     Wallace Stegner: Crossing to Safety
     Ken Follett: Fall of Giants
     Shane Claiborne: Irresistible Revolution
     Pete Peterson: Fiddler's Gun & Fiddler's Green
     Brian Walsh: Kicking at the Darkness
     I also finished reading through the Old Testament in The Message translation (usually over my morning cereal). Sad to say it took me over 10 years to accomplish this, although I have read through the Bible 4 or 5 times over the last few decades. I certainly found the last number of OT books (the prophets) to be difficult - so much judgement and negativity. I think reading it in this modern language version made it seem even darker. However I do find Peterson's introductions to each book to be quite wonderful.
Movies - I seem to go to movies as more of an escape so I certainly feel I didn't see much that helped shape or influence my worldview this year. I think the only one really worth putting on a best of list would be Tree of Life.
TV - The only shows I watch (and I do it on my computer) are Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory. Both make me laugh and that's basically why I watch them.
Music - I was often focussed on checking albums off of the comprehensive Music Listening List I created, so I feel I haven't listened to as much new music this year.
New releases that I gave some attention to were:
     Bruce Cockburn: Small Source of Comfort
     Ben Shive: Cymbal Crashing Clouds
     Jason Gray: A Way to See in the Dark
     Proto~Kaw: Forth
     Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What
     Steve Bell: Kindness
     Brooke Fraser: Flags & Albertine
     Bennett/Batstone/MacDougall - Jesus Music Again
     Burlap to Cashmere
  (P.S. I liked all of these - ie. no favourites)
New music I need to give more time to:
     Bill Mallonee: Power and Glory
     Sara Groves: Invisible Empires
     Gungor: Ghosts Upon the Earth
     Coldplay: Mylo Xyloto
     Leigh Nash: Hymns and Spiritual Songs
     Gillian Welch: The Harrow and the harvest
     Jill Phillips: In This Hour
     Randy Stonehill: Spirit Walk
     Josh Garrels: Love & War & the Sea in Between

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas

     A week ago Sunday Beth and I led some children's music for the program that is run downstairs at church. It had been a couple of months since we had done this and I realized afterwards how much I had missed doing it. It's one of those things that comes fairly easily, is fun, and seems to go very well (judging by the enthusiastic singing and big smiles on the kids' faces). Musically, I guess I have just the right ability (that is, not a lot, but enough to pick good songs and keys) and confidence to pull it off. There aren't an abundance of times when I think "God definitely made me for this", but when I do it sure feels great. I need to lead the kid's music more often.
     One other time though when I remember feeling this very strongly, was 21 years ago when Beth and I decided we should take the kids (at that time it was only David (3) and Josh who was about a year and a half) up to St. Mary's hospital on Christmas morning and sing to the patients on her floor. Afterwards I remember choking back tears while thinking "this is what Christmas is really about" and "maybe this is why I learned to play guitar." Mom and Dad joined us, and over the years my Grandma Bieman and Beth's dad Wes have been part of our mini-choir. One of the reasons this works so well is Beth's nurse's heart, along with her familiarity with the hospital and patients. We've done it every year since, and although we're no longer 'young and cute' it's still very well-received and is an important Christmas tradition for our family. This year a couple of the nurses even joined in for most of the rooms we visited.
     The rest of the week seemed pretty uneventful. After school finished on Friday Beth and I went to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie which I thought was well-acted, clever, and more enjoyable than Mission Impossible. On Saturday we went out for breakfast and then got the house ready for hosting Christmas Eve. After the Christmas Eve service at church we usually have friends and family over for a big spread of finger foods. I've made my own potato skins the last couple of years and they turned out well again it seemed. The last few years we've invited our daughter-in-law Rachel's family and our friends the Wisemans. And of course Mom and Dad join us. Rachel's sister Jesse had a baby in November and it was nice to hold Hayden and see that I can still get babies to stop crying (by holding them against my middle but facing out, and bouncing up and down).
     On Christmas Day, after singing at the hospital, we always head over to Mom and Dad's for turkey dinner. Afterwards we watched some family videos from the past which always results in some pretty big laughs. Dad had bought a camera early on so we have footage of most of the kid's birthdays growing up. Several years ago I transferred everything into a digital format and put it on portable hard drives for the kids. This year I set up my projector and screen so we got to view them in a large as life format. We also played dominoes and had a light supper. Alison's boyfriend Pete came over from Newmarket and was quite interested in seeing some video of her as a little girl so we watched a few more family movies.
     I read a few books this week: Pete Peterson's "Fiddler's Gun" & "Fiddler's Green" have been on my 'to read' shelf for a while and Beth highly recommended them after reading them last month. I'm really glad I finally got to them because they're great storytelling and have kinda restored my faith in good fiction writing. I also read Margot Starbuck's "The Girl in the Orange Dress" which is a nice memoir but dealing with the struggle of dealing with rejection by fathers.
     Music listening included some Christmas stuff of course. I also gave a couple of more intensive listens to Ben Shive's "The Cymbal Crashing Clouds", which includes a book (very Brian Wilsonish - and great!) and a first listen to Gungor's "Ghosts Upon the Earth"(I like it!). I've read a few Album of the Year lists online, which gives me more new music to consider but I'll write more about that later.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Movie Week?

     So I ended up going to 3 movies in 8 days, which is a lot for me I guess. Beth and I saw a sneak preview of "We Bought a Zoo" last Saturday which I thought was okay but Beth felt was poorly acted. They had some problems with the projection system it seemed, as the movie was delayed at least 15 minutes. It was a nice surprise when we exited the theatre afterwards they handed out free movie passes Then we went to see The Muppet Movie on Wednesday for free. It was fine but didn't live up to the hype. Then yesterday Josh and I went to see the new Mission Impossible movie - again it was well-made and entertaining but it's not gonna change the world or anything. Sometimes I get a bit jaded about Hollywood, thinking of the exorbitant amount of money spent on making movies, regretting my support of such an escapist mentality, and wondering about the state of modern society ('bread and circuses' - have we really changed that much?)
     Last Saturday I got a start (finished yesterday) at cleaning up and organizing my office/desk at home. Bills and stuff tend to pile up it seems. I'm a big believer in binders for keeping papers organized (as opposed to file folders) so needed to spend some time getting things put away into their proper places. It was encouraging to start a new binder for retirement materials (2.65 years to go, but who's counting;)).
     I woke up early that day and couldn't get back to sleep so I got up and gave a more careful listen to Jason Gray's "A Way to See in the Dark." I had ordered the special edition in the summer and got it in September but really didn't give it enough time, so I sat down with the lyrics and really appreciated it. He does a wonderful job weaving in themes of light and darkness. My favourite song is the acoustic version of "The Name of God is the Sound of Our Breathing"(you can check out a live version in the video here).
     On Sunday we had some of Beth's family to our house for lunch. This doesn't happen often enough so it's always good to get together. We had potluck finger foods instead of the whole turkey thing and that worked well - a lot less cleanup for sure! I enjoyed getting to interact/play with our great-niece Jenna who is almost 4 years old now.
     Monday we attended a membership class at church and Tuesday we went over for a visit with Mom & Dad. I worked on helping Dad restore his email on his computer but it took way longer than I thought it would. Wednesday we helped Alison get the last of her teacher's college applications filled in and sent out. It's a lot of work (and money) just going through the application process - hope it results in some offers (she applied 4 places).
     Friday we went to MCC with our small group to help assemble school kits for shipment (mostly overseas). We had about 25 people come and we actually made pretty short work of the task. We watched a couple of videos about the work of the MCC Thrift Shops which are actually pretty amazing. They raise millions of dollars each year for the work of the Mennonite Central Committee.
     I read through Brian Walsh's "Kicking at the Darkness" book. Here's a portion of the review I wrote for my reading database:
This has rekindled an appreciation for Bruce’s great music and makes me want to delve back into his lyrics. Walsh does a wonderful job weaving themes that reappear in Cockburn’s work - windows, night vs. light, wind) and uses his words/images/poetry to articulate a robust Christian worldview. Examines 4 basic questions - where are we, who are we, what’s wrong, and how do we fix it. This is not a light read but is very rewarding for long-time Cockburn fans (like me).
      I also read Susan Isaac's "Angry Conversations with God," which is a pretty entertaining and creative memoir (she's an actress/comedienne). Favourite Christmas music listening this week was "Come Let Us Adore Him" a compilation with input from The Choir guys.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

December - and the Busyness Begins

     It took 3 nights to Verathane the baseboards but it helped that they dried so quickly so I ended up putting all 3 coats onto a set of 3 or 4 boards each night. Then Dan came over last Saturday to begin cutting and attaching them to the walls. It took a fair bit of work just to clear the rooms out and cover stuff with plastic. I usually put furniture and things in the dining room but we needed access to those walls as well. Dan is quite amazing in his ability to work with wood. He did a fantastic job and the finished baseboards look wonderful. We worked for 13 hours on Saturday but that still wasn't enough time so he had to come back Sunday afternoon for a few more hours. I was basically just the helper/lifter/holder/getter of stuff, but Dan's real easy to work with. Beth and I couldn't be more pleased. There's still some work to do - staining & verathaning some cut ends that show, painting the front hallway as these baseboards don't come up as high as the originals.
     Sunday morning was our annual pilgrimage back to St. Stephen's Lutheran Church, the church I (and Beth too) basically grew up in. We attend on the first Sunday in December in remembrance of my sister Kelly who died 33 years ago at the age of 16. This was of course the biggest tragedy to affect our family. I was driving Kelly and I to a rollerskating event at Bingeman Park called "Jesus-skate" which was run by a good friend of ours. At that time (1978) the entrance crossed a railway track which didn't have a signal and we were struck (on the passenger, ie. Kelly's side) by a train. Kelly suffered brian injuries that led to her passing that night. I spent a few days in the hospital but my injuries were pretty minor really. Obviously this changed our lives in many significant ways. One of the major shifts was in our Christmas celebrations. Needless to say our Christmas in 1978 was very different - we certainly didn't feel we wanted to have all the traditional gift-giving and stuff so it ended up being very focussed on Christ and the deep meaning of the incarnation. I can remember saying (after the Christmas Eve service at the church in Hanover) that while it was definitely the hardest Christmas ever it also was the most meaningful. So ever since that time I really tried to avoid things that I think detract from celebrating Christ's coming (like gift exchanges). It's been an adventure over the years, especially when the kids came along (for most of their growing up years we laid on their gifts at birthdays, and gave presents to Jesus on his birthday), and my conviction has changed somewhat over time, but I'm glad to have tried to act counterculturally in this area.
     Sunday night Beth and I went over to Emmanuel Bible College to hear Sean & Aimee Dayton. He's a musician from North Bay that Jay Calder recommended to me a number of years ago now, and he has just released a new Christmas cd. The concert wasn't very well attended but the music was great. Helped us to get into the Christmas spirit - except we didn't really appreciate his encouragement to look to movies for holiday inspiration - c'mon!
     On Monday, December 4th we headed down to Hugh's Room in Toronto for the book launch of "Kicking at the Darkness" by Brian Walsh. He's been a Bruce Cockburn fan and a university professor for many years and has finally put a lot of his thoughts about Bruce and Christian art into a book that looks great. There were fantastic versions of many of Bruce's songs throughout the night by 3 groups: The Wine Before Breakfast band (from U of T), Glen Soderholm (and band, including the phenomenal jazz pianist Mike Janzen), and Steve Bell (accompanied by Mike). Plus Brian read from the book. It was a really wonderful night for someone who has appreciated Bruce's music for decades now.
      Tuesday Beth and I headed to York Nursery to pick up a (pre-cut) Christmas tree. We took the Cavalier from Alison and had no problem fitting the tree into the back (with the seat down of course).
     Thursday our small group went over to the Operation Christmas Child warehouse in Cambridge to help sort the donated boxes for shipment around the world. It's a great thing to be part of - we worked for 2 hours straight,  in a group of 5 and I was in charge of taping each box closed before sending it down the assembly line to be placed in larger containers.
     On Friday we scrambled to get everything cleaned and in place to host our Friday night small group. It was nice to have the living room filled and I lead some singing for the first time with this group.
     I got back to the gym a couple of times but then got busy again with the wood and other stuff so it's been over a week since I was there. Not feeling real great about that. I began listening to some Christmas music  - some of my favourites are Sixpence None the Richer's "The Dawn of Grace", Don Ross's "Wintertide", Bob Bennett's "Christmastide", and Kevin Ramessar's instrumental guitar cd. I've been reading Jonathan Foer's "Everything is Illuminated" which is creative and interesting but too vulgar at times.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Week of Wood, Work & Worship

     It feels like not that much happened this past week. One major task is the continuing adventure with our baseboards. I tried a couple of times this week to get the 14' boards to our place from Dan's but it took until Friday, when I finally just rented a U-Haul van for $20 and was able to get them here with Dan's help. Then Saturday I cleared a space in the living room, which is really the only room large enough to accommodate all that wood, and laid down some blankets and plastic. I put on one coat of stain on Saturday and then a second coat on Sunday afternoon. We think that may be enough to match the rest of the wood on the main floor. My legs are really sore after all of that up and down to apply the stain, I guess (plus the fact that I haven't gone to the gym in 3 weeks!).
     Devon had a great message last week (which actually was his last message at Westheights as we are not able to renew his assistant pastor contract for the new year) that focussed on the kingdom of God. It lined up well with a lot of what I've been reading lately, and it reminded me of Bruxy Cavey's teaching that Jesus didn't just come to make a way for us to go to heaven after we die. He came to 1. shut down religion, 2. save us from sin, and 3. set up his kingdom. As well it made me think that I should give Devon Brian MacLaren's book "The Secret Message of Jesus" because it really focusses on many of these ideas as well. Then I decided maybe I should reread the book before I give it to him so that's been a project for this past week. Once again I realize how little I retain of books I have read before.
     Beth and I went to see the movie "The Descendants" on Saturday afternoon. We were surprised by the large number of people that would be there for a 4:30 show. It is a powerful drama and I'm sure George Clooney will be nominated for an Oscar (not that I care much about those awards). He plays a father of 2 girls who's wife is in a coma for the whole movie. It does a great job of examining love, pain, forgiveness and grief.
     We went to both small groups/house churches this week and had good discussions and time for connecting. On Friday night we met Alison and her friend Pete at Boston Pizza for a quick visit and meal before heading off for the meeting.
     It was anniversary Sunday at Westheights this past week so the service had some special elements in it that made it very meaningful. Then we went out to lunch at Milton's with Mom & Dad, David & Rachel before Dad and Beth went over to Aurora to pick up Alison, who needed a way back from Pete's place. I stained and then started to get caught up on a pile of marking. There was a worship night at church as well so we took that in. The youth did an excellent mime called 'King of Hearts' that was quite moving. Afterwards it was back to marking before heading off to bed.
     I've been focussing my music listening on page one of my list so have enjoyed some Adam Again, Andrew Smith (lots of great songs - reminded me of the concert I hosted with him back in 2009), Andrew Peterson, Amy Grant and Barry McGuire.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Working with Wood

     I was pretty thrilled to wake up last Saturday morning (the 12th) and feel normal once again. I still went to the doctor's on Tuesday and got bloodwork done on Friday to make sure my kidneys are functioning properly. Beth and I made a quick trip up to the market on Saturday and the wood (10 pieces of 14' red oak) for our baseboards got delivered that day.
     After church on Sunday I headed over to my friend Dan's to work on planing down the wood. It took a lot of passes through the planer before it was even, and then we needed to cut it to the proper width (and then plane those edges too!). Dan's amazingly handy with this kind of stuff, like my friends Frank and Steve too (I'm often in awe of these guys and their abilities). The defining moment with Dan was when his skill saw stopped working. Without missing a beat he climbed into the storage space above his garage and pulled out a box containing a brand new saw ("I bought this on sale a few years ago, just in case I needed it sometime.") We finished putting a 'profile' (the shape at the top of the baseboard) on the wood, along with sanding each piece, this past Saturday. Then Beth and I took Dan & Ellen out for supper to thank him for all of his help (plus it was their 25th anniversary this week).
     Last Monday we celebrated Mom's birthday at our house and it was great to have everyone together in one place, since it so rarely seems to happen now. Everyone seemed to have a good time and it was a nice, relaxed visit.
     On Tuesday Beth and I went to see the movie "In Time" which was just okay but was still a good escape. Wednesday night we headed to the library to hear speaker/author Anna Rains, who I had read about in the paper. She's from the Ottawa area and has written a book about her older sister's experiences with tuberculosis and spending many years at the sanitorium as she was growing up. She made an excellent presentation and we bought the book, but it was unfortunate that only 5 people were there to hear her.
     Thursday was busy with after school/evening interviews and then small group. Beth went with Alison, Tina and Ashton to see the K-W production of 'The Sound of Music' at the Centre in the Square.
     On Friday we served at Ray of Hope with our Thursday night small group. I took care of getting the potatoes cooked and worked as a runner to make sure the servers didn't run out of food. Beth was in charge of overseeing the kitchen. It's always a busy job but is such a worthwhile thing to do.
     I read a thought-provoking article by Tony Jones this past week. We've heard him speak at Cornerstone and the Wild Goose Festival and I really liked his book "The New Christians". Plus I visit his blog pretty much every day. He's been involved in the whole 'emerging' church movement from the beginning and he explained it in a way that makes a lot of sense to me. Things really began when youth who were experiencing dynamic, relational youth ministry wanted to see that kind of thing replicated in 'big people's church'. It made me think of youth meetings and retreats, and how special they are - why can't church be more like that? It seems to me that the format of services has really changed very little over the last 60 or more years (the music has been contemporized in many, of course). Tony is part of Doug Pagit's (I wrote about him previously here and here) church, which really seems to try to think differently about how we 'do church' (See the picture? Looks more like a youth room don't you think? It sounds like Sunday morning sermons are more discussions than preaching). I really like how these guys think about the church and culture.
     I finished reading Dinesh D'Souza's "What's So Great About Christianity" and found it had some great ideas in it. I also read a book called "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" which was a unique story about an autistic boy who lost his father during the 9/11 attacks. It comes out as a movie at Christmas.
     I've been listening through Randy Stonehill's discography lately and am really enjoying his songs. I wish I'd had time to do that before he played here in October - I would have had many more requests to make as he's written some great tunes over the years. Sometimes I wonder why I buy new music since I've got so much wonderful old stuff to listen to.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Kidney Stones

     This is the longest I've had between posts here and I'll definitely blame it on kidney stones. I woke up last Thursday with a pain building in my back that I quickly recognized as kidney stones (I've been through it about 3 times in the past 6 years I think). I took some Tylenol 3's (that's 60 mg of codiene) and figured I'd tough it out. When I got to school though I realized there was no way I'd be able to function so I came back home. With applying heat (hot baths, heating pad) and T3's every 4 hours I wasn't in terrible pain though and actually felt well enough to attend our Thursday night small group. However when I woke up Friday morning I had a few waves of nausea. Stupidly, I thought once again that I could handle going to school, but within 20 minutes of being there I threw up (which I haven't ever experienced with kidney stones, though it is apparently quite common). I called the doctor and he recommended I get some gravol into me so that I could keep down the T3 pills (I'll leave it to your imagination how I had to take the gravol). Amazingly I was able to go to our Friday night house church as well.
     Saturday I was continuing to deal with the pain, and this had now gone on longer than my previous kidney stone experiences. Usually it's only been a day or so of pain and then I may or may not notice the passing of a stone in the next week. I tried to wean off of the T3's a bit but we had plans to go to Exeter for an anniversary dinner out with Beth's siblings so I still needed something for the pain. I had a great meal (I think it was called green apple chicken, but it was delicious) but it was the most I had eaten in 2 days so I got full pretty quickly.
     Sunday I made it to church but when people decided to go out for lunch I had to opt out. But I was really trying not to take pain medicine, especially as it wreaks havoc with your bowels as well and who needs that complication? By the evening I decided I wouldn't try to go to school on Monday (but of course had to go in Sunday to prepare for the day). I was pretty much pain free on Monday but my body was obviously still recovering - slight fever, some sweats, very tired. I think I probably passed a stone at some point but 5 days later I know things still aren't completely back to normal. I called the doctor and will go see him next Tuesday - I hope he orders some blood work (creatnine levels measure kidney function) and/or an ultrasound.
     My one accomplishment from this past week has been completing the listening of one full page in the personal listening guide which I created earlier this year. One page represents about 70 albums (yeah, I said albums, I am 54 years old y'know) so it's a fair bit of listening. The other main music I've been listening to is Bob Bennett's "Jesus Music Again". Bob had sent me a prerelease version but the final production is really fun and beautiful. He and his friends take some classic old songs (all of which I have in original versions) and rework them in his own creative style. I'm lovin' it!
     I heard 2 amazing speakers this week. On Tuesday night I watched the message from The Meeting House where Tony Campolo spoke. I've been reading and listening to Tony for decades now and he's always been a favourite, but seeing him make such a powerful presentation at his age (he's now 76) really blew me away. I'd highly recommend checking out the video podcast - the guy is just amazing! This past Thursday we went down to Toronto to hear Rob Bell speak. He's a much younger author/pastor/speaker who I've appreciated for a few years now. Beth and I heard him at the Festival of Faith and Writing back in 2008 and were really impressed. His talk at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on the CNE grounds was excellent - it was like a 2.3 hour concert but without a band, just story after story with lesson after lesson. A special treat for us was seeing our old friend Tom Doherty there and getting to connect with him. Tom was my first guitar teacher, sang at our wedding and at my sister Kelly's funeral. We shared heart surgery scars as he was operated on just last Christmas. He also recommended some more authors for me to check out that write on what he called 'progressive Christianity'.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hooray for Weekends Away

     This week seemed a little lower key. I spent a couple of evenings at school keeping up with marking/organizing/preparing to write reports. I finished 2 books this week - one on Prohibition in the U.S. (which lasted from 1920-32) called 'Last Call' which was kind of interesting, and 'The Empire of Illusion' which seems pretty insightful and prophetic about where society is going (prophetic because it seems to do quite a good job predicting the kind of unrest we're seeing with the Occupy Wall Street protests). I've continued to try to listen through page 2 of my mp3 list - lots of Bob Dylan in there (I think 'Saved' is my favourite).
     This past weekend Beth and I went up to the Cranberry Resort in Collingwood on one of their promotional package deals. We got a call during the summer, offering us a cheap stay as long as we agreed to attend their 2 hour presentation on becoming a member of their time share group. It was a nice getaway and included $50 in coupons for their restaurants (and the food wasn't half bad) and 2 free movie passes (we went to see 'Footloose' on Saturday at the local theatre - it was at least mildly entertaining). The time share session wasn't too painful and only included about 10 minutes of pressuring us to sign up. They try to make it sound reasonable but $15 000 to sign up and maintenance fees of $50/month for 50 (yes 50!) years (= $30 000) for a total of $45 000 seemed like a lot of money to us.

     We got up early on Sunday morning (before 6:00) to drive down to Zurich for the Lutheran church's special 150th anniversary service. It felt different driving these roads (some familiar, some new to us) in the dark but it was a great sunrise, and it was very cool when we came across a major wind turbine area near Mount Forest - one turbine was right beside the road and the red lights on the masts flashed on and off as the propellors rotated. The trip ended up taking a lot less time than we anticipated so we took time to do a bit of a walking tour of Zurich. Beth was a great guide as so many of the houses hold special memories - "that's where Sharon and Elaine were both born," "that's where I went to Girl Guides," "that's where I worked on a school project with a friend," and as a car drove by: "and that was my grade 1 teacher at school" (no kidding!).
     The service was packed and we had the treat of sitting beside Beth's 94 year old amazing Aunt Alice (she still drives and is as sharp as a tack!). It was nice to be there and we enjoyed the meal afterwards as well, with a chance to visit with Gary & Cathy and Sharon & Ted. There was a neat display downstairs of a number of historical artifacts from the area. St. Peter's Lutheran Church has been a significant part of Beth's (and her family's) life (and I guess even mine too now as there have been important events I've attended there as well) and it was wonderful to celebrate with them and remember. We both found the line about 'the mystic sweet communion' we share 'with those whose rest is won' from 'The Church's One Foundation' quite moving, as we thought of loved ones who have gone on before us.
     Sunday evening was our fourth session in The Alpha Marriage Course at church. We're finding it to be a good stimulus to discussing important things in our relationship - this week's emphasis on forgiveness was especially helpful.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Heart

     This past week was the 6th anniversary of my open heart surgery and I also had my annual checkup with my cardiologist, Dr. Kim. I first met him in the spring of 2005 when I ended up in the hospital with a heart infection. At that time I had known about the mitral valve prolapse (which means the valve doesn't close properly and blood regurgitates back into the previous chamber) in my heart for about 9 years and had been going down to London for my checkups for about 5. But I experienced extreme fever and chills at the end of April and was in the hospital (St. Mary's, of course, especially with their new cardiac centre) for several days after they determined it was a heart infection. I had to take some pretty powerful IV antibiotics and in fact had a PICC line inserted which stayed in for 6 weeks - it entered my upper arm and then travelled down an artery right to the heart. We rigged up an IV pole and I had to "hang a bag" twice a day to administer the vancomycin. It got kind of interesting when I pulled it out at a staff meeting or when cheering on the youth during volleyball at the Pitch & Praise camping event that year. I missed a fair bit of school during that time as well, which is pretty rare for me (and there was a lot more of that to come!).
     As a result of the infection, and the desire of Kitchener cardiologists to intervene more quickly, I saw a surgeon that summer, Dr. Ashe, who suggested we look at repairing the valve in the Fall. Here's an excerpt from the email I sent out the week before my surgery:

We set the surgery for mid-November but it was complicated by another possible heart infection a few weeks ago, when I ended up in the hospital again for 5 days. I'm now giving myself IV antibiotics (again) 3 times a day to fight that. The surgeon also feels it's better to get in to fix the valve more quickly and so now the surgery is set for the morning of Thursday, October 20th.

Beth and I have been very impressed with Dr. Ashe. From what we understand he would be recognized as one of the top heart surgeons for this kind of procedure in Canada. Plus, he is a very down-to-earth person to talk to, giving us lots of his time to answer questions and explain what he will be doing. As well, because St. Mary's Cardiac Centre is one of the newest around, it is equipped with the latest and greatest technology to ensure success. We feel very fortunate to have these people and this facility about 100 steps from our house.

Through reading of material, and at the pre-surgery clinic yesterday we know that recovery from heart surgery does take some time (for example it says I can't drive for a month!) and work. I certainly feel up to the challenge but am realistic enough to know it will be no "piece of cake". My last day of teaching will be this Friday, Oct. 14 (I've been working mostly 1/2 days the last couple of weeks). 

Finally, I've been very aware, over the last few weeks especially, of people's care and concern for me. Many have asked questions and wonder how I'm doing. Fortunately, at this point I feel pretty normal, health-wise and am in no pain (this of course will change after the surgery;)). I know that many are praying for me and I can't properly express how much this means to me. I certainly believe in the power of prayer and have seen a lot of evidence in the past months of how God's hand has been on this situation I find myself in. I so much appreciate the support everyone has shown to me. Please continue to remember my family (Beth and the children, my mom and dad). It's been said that it's often more difficult in these circumstances to have to stand by and watch a loved one go through it.

     I wish I had saved the updates I sent out after the surgery but the things I remember most are:
  • driving up north the weekend before the surgery, listening to a new Sara Groves CD when the song "It's Going to Be All Right" came on and I started weeping, as it spoke so clearly to me and my situation 
  • waking up after the surgery and having such a deep sense of thankfulness (which I apparently expressed over and over and over!)  
  • a terrible day (the 6th) in the hospital, where I got sick in the morning and then felt my body was in some sort of shock as every tiny noise was very jarring
  • Pastor Stan coordinating and working on building a new roof over our family room as I was in the hospital recovering 
  • the lovely taste of a homemade grilled cheese sandwich when I got home from the hospital
  • standing at our back window in the middle of the night experiencing an intense sort of euphoria (possibly drug related) and appreciation for life 
  • the love and support of so many people, especially my family 
  • the accomplishment of walking up our stairs for the first time, or walking a bit in front of our house
     Obviously this kind of event changes your life in significant ways and gives a new perspective on many things. My scars (chest one not very noticeable but they took an artery from my left arm to do a single bypass while they were in there) are a vivid reminder of how much I have to be thankful for. Oh, and my appointment with Dr. Kim went fine, though I did wear a Holtor monitor for 48 hours to make sure my heart is not in atrial fibrillation (in which case I'd need to go back on the blood thinner I took for many years pre-surgery).

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thankful

    Last Saturday Beth and I visited the Waterloo (St. Jacob's) Market and ordered our winter supply of fantastic sweet rolls (25 dozen, which we'll freeze) from Martin's Baked Goods. We also picked up a few fruits and vegetables. This kind of shopping sure fits nicely with the book I read this week called 'Colossians Remixed'. The authors did a great job showing how the global economy and hope through technology are tools of the empire, but that we are called to live in a new kingdom of love and grace (and subversion). It was pretty heavy philosophical reading at times but some of the chapters were quite creative and practical (who would have thought that our faith can even impact what we do about diapers?). I really liked their line about how there really is no 'away' - that is, we don't throw things 'away' we just move them to a different place (where they can continue to have an environmental impact). It kind of reminded me of a great Earth Day thought I read about years ago - don't you think the Enter and Exit signs at malls and stores should really be reversed (think about it). After the market Beth wanted to go to Crossroads Family Restaurant in Elmira for their breakfast buffet. I'm not a big fan but it was still pretty good.
     We got together with some friends this week to discuss about a possible March break trip to a resort and the Dominican Republic seems to be the best possibility so far. We'll have to see if everyone wants to go and make a decision soon. I find that it's always nice to have something to look forward to but Beth is struggling with the higher prices of flying during March break.
     I led music at church this past week and ended up breaking a guitar string during the second song. It didn't affect the songs very much at all but it did kind of throw me off and so I forgot one part of the service in my rush to replace the string (which never worked anyway and just added to my stress level).
     I went to see the movie "50/50" in the afternoon for a bit of an escape but it ended up being a powerful story about dealing with cancer, which brought back lots of memories of Beth's battles with this disease.
     I spent about 2.5 hours at school Monday morning and it felt good to get some things caught up or in place. In the afternoon most of the family went to Rockwood for a hike. It was a beautiful fall day and the scenery there is quite spectacular. Then we headed back for Thanksgiving dinner at David & Rachel's. It was nice that they wanted to have everyone over and it was great that we could all be together for a delicious meal.
     On Tuesday I had an echocardiogram as part of my regular followup to the heart surgery I had back in 2005. I got called the next day by my cardiologist's secretary to set up an appointment for next week - I'm going to assume it's just a routine checkup, not that he saw anything abnormal in the echo (no sense in worrying).
     Friday evening I attended a presentation at church on The Bible at the British Museum. It was led by Paul Kiss who has been living in London the last few years. He included a lot of excellent information showing how historically accurate the Bible is. He also talked about the confidence we can have in the transmission of the New Testament documents. I have read about this in the past but it was good to have this important information reviewed. I really liked the fact he shared about how we can reconstruct all of the NT (except for 11 minor verses) based on quotations by the early church fathers (first 200 years after Christ).
     I've been listening to page 2 (lots of B's) in my music tracking list, trying to complete a full page - Billy Crockett (his live release 'In These Days' is fantastic, really highlights his amazing guitar talent), Bob Bennett (wonderful songs and guitar and voice - reminds me of his visits in '05 & '06 when we got to hang out) and Bill Mallonee.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Moving On

     So last Saturday Alison moved to the apartment she'll be sharing with her friend Julie. It's not too far away and is quite spacious (it even has a nice little sunroom area). It should be pretty quiet too as most of the residents are seniors. It's a little heart-wrenching to have our 'little' girl leave but we also support her decision to spread her wings a bit. Still, I'm something of a worrier so think of her lots. This great saying: "Why pray when you can worry?" helps me keep a better perspective, knowing what to do with my concerns. The move went pretty smoothly - we just loaded up the 3 vehicles and made it in one trip, then we made a couple of trips to David's house to pick up some items he and Rachel were giving her.
     That night we had a nice visit with our old friends [the friendship is old, none of us are;)] Marg and Frank. They were babysitting their first grandchild nearby in Petersburg at their son's house/mansion. Marg is pretty excited about her new grandmother role.
     On Sunday night we decided to check out the Alpha Marriage Course that is being offered at church. It mainly consists of viewing video segments about various aspects of the marriage relationship and then interspersing it with short discussion times for the couple to interact (just the two of us, not in a whole group). Some of the talking on screen can seem a little long, but there are good ideas shared and Beth & I sure enjoyed the chance to talk together. One of the ideas that came out of that time was that I saw the need to be of 'more practical help' so I tried to be more conscious of that this week (and of course I always had to mention how I was being 'a practical help').
     We found out last week that Mom has developed pneumonia for the first time in her life. She did get onto an antibiotic pretty quickly and is feeling better now. But she did need to stay cooped up for quite a few days.
     It's been interesting to see reactions to Steve Jobs' death on Wednesday this past week. I haven't read or heard a lot but most things I did see usually resonated at some level. I, of course, had to say something on my Facebook status as a long time user/fan of Apple products (Josh reminded me our first computer was an Apple LC 475 - probably around 1992). And I found myself surprised, along with one writer, at the level of sadness I felt at this loss of a man I certainly didn't know very well at all. I guess I am thankful though for the many advances he brought in technology. He certainly was a world-changer and I've recognized and promoted his innovative spirit for years. He often seemed to anticipate or initiate new ideas. I remember how crazy it seemed when the new iMacs came out with no floppy drives (remember those? - now definitely ancient history relics). One of my favourite stories was finding out years ago that one of the flagship PC graphics magazines admitted to being published using Mac computers! It seemed over and over again that Apple would release a new product and within 6 months the rest of the tech industry would create some less expensive (and lower quality) clone of that idea. And of course the iPod has definitely revolutionized how the world (including me) listens to music.
     Christianity Today rereleased an interesting article about Jobs from earlier this year that ties in well with the book I'm currently reading, 'Colossians Remixed'. Both show how our culture today puts so much hope in technology to save us. I know that Steve Jobs embraced Buddhism later in life, but I found it interesting that he had been confirmed as a Lutheran (like me!).
      Friday, after school, Beth and I went over to Alison's to put up some pictures and stuff for her and Julie. It was nice to be able to help out and it all went pretty smoothly too (for a guy who is somewhat handyman-challenged). I was also glad to be able to attend both of our small group gatherings this week.
     I finished listening to the audioversion of Rob Bell's controversial 'Love Wins', which is ostensibly a book about hell (and heaven). I found it thought-provoking and would like to download it to read it in print, highlighting and studying his ideas more closely. I also completed reading Doug Pagitt's 'A Christianity Worth Believing', which I think did a better job explaining some of the concepts Brian McLaren is promoting through his 'A New Kind of Christianity'. Doug's book is great (he gave it out for free at his session at the Wild Goose Festival back in June) and if it doesn't come out in an audiobook format I may have to record it myself (to share with others). The reading I've been doing in the last month or more is really making me look at my beliefs and opening me up to some new ways of thinking about faith. It was nice to get together with our friends Carla and Dave this past Tuesday to talk about some of this stuff as Dave has read many of the same books.
     I've enjoyed listening to some of the CBC Laugh Out Loud Podcasts the last couple of weeks. Many of the comedians featured are indeed pretty funny. I have to be careful though when listening to this stuff while working out at the gym as my laughter sometimes affects my ability to lift weights.
     I've also been listening through Bruce Cockburn's discography (at least the 25 or so albums I have on my iPod) many mornings at school, along with Randy Stonehill's "Spirit Walk", the Keaggy/Stonehill collaboration "Mystery Highway", and a free Bill Mallonee download "Last Days, Early Mars" which ended up being a compilation of many songs I already know (still excellent though).

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Week of Joy and Laughter

     Last Thursday Josh, Joel and I went to the Centre in the Square to see "Whose Live Anyway?" (David & Rachel were also there with friends). It was kind of expensive but definitely hilarious. These 4 guys are great improv artists and it was pretty much non-stop laughing. We had great seats too, except we couldn't see the pianist.
     On Friday I left for the Westheights Men's Retreat which was held at Camp Edgewood (in Eden Mills, just west of Guelph), a place I've been to quite a few times in my life (youth events in the 80's, Evangel retreats in the 2000's). It was a wonderful weekend - 15 guys in one cabin meant lots of fun, and we had some great discussions as well. The weather was supposed to be wet but (as is often the case) the reports were way off and we had sunshine and warmth - what a blessing! Ten of us even played some touch football on Saturday afternoon. I led a bit of singing - I tuned my guitar down a half-step and pitched most songs lower than usual - it's kind of powerful to hear only men's voices raised in worship. It was great to get to know a number of the men of the church better, and there were a couple guys that I didn't know very well at all. They're a great group and we hope we can build on what began on the weekend. Tom, our youth pastor, based some of our discussions on the movie "We Are Marshall," which is a moving true story of a small U.S. community who lost their entire college football team in a plane crash in the 70's. I thought it was a very interesting study of grief, coming to grips with loss, and moving on in life - topics which are near and dear to me because of what I've experienced myself. Tom also quoted from a Don Miller book - an author I realized really should have been on the list I made last week, as I have read everything he's written. We had a couple of campfires, and my friend Matt led some excellent group-building activities, including a reading of the classic kids book "Everything Poops"! The weekend was also just a really nice relaxing break - had time for some reading ("The Next Christians"), listened to Jason Gray's new release, played some games (Wizard, Cribbage, Monopoly Deal - the Hong Kong version!). However I did go to school for over 2 hours when I got back on Sunday, to catch up on some marking.
     And then on Tuesday I saw an update on musician Randy Stonehill's Facebook page that he was hanging out in Toronto wondering if there might be any opportunities to play before a tour begins later in the week. I decided to see if he was open to do a house concert and when he responded that it was a possibility I emailed as many people I know (and have listed on my hotmail account) to see if there would be enough interest. Within 24 hours there were over 20 people who said they'd come for the next night (Thursday), so we moved the furniture around in the living room, added some chairs and found that we could comfortably seat 30 people in there.
     I rushed home on Thursday to help Beth put the finishing touches on setting up and helped my friend Dan to get the sound system ready to go. Around 6:00 Randy showed up with his wife Leslie and their friend/driver Steve Burchell, who I recognized right away as he has done lots of concert promotion over the last 30 years. They got settled in and folks started arriving shortly thereafter. In all, I think there were about 29 people in our living room and it was neat that I pretty much knew everybody (just a few people I met for the first time). Randy was a wonderful performer - honest, funny, and musically gifted (great guitar work, awesome voice, excellent songwriting). I just sat right up front and soaked it in. And of course it was a special treat just to get to hang out a bit with him and get to know him as a person. Everyone I talked to afterwards (Beth had baked cookies and offered drinks so it was a great time of visiting) was so positive and thankful for the chance to participate in an intimate setting for such a great concert. Our friend Mimi wrote an amazing review for our church blog (check it out at: Stonehill Review). I think I was still in some sort of shock by the time it was all over - all I could do was keep repeating how awesome and fun and amazing it was to see this come off so well in just 48 hours. I've been listening to Randy's records/cassettes/CDs since 1978(!!) and he's created a lot of fantastic music over the years. To have him play in my living room was certainly a special treat. And now that I realize how many people we can hold, who knows, maybe we might try it again sometime.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Top 12 Authors

     It's been a busy week but only with routine things like work (Beth and her 12 hour shifts - blech!), church, and visiting - no real special events or anything, though Beth did have laser surgery on varicose veins on her right leg on Tuesday. It went smoothly and now she has some extra days off as part of the recovery process. We had some friends over for Wizard last Friday - interestingly Beth and I both tied for first place in the 2 games we played. Sunday was an exhausting (but good) day, with leading music, a barbecue & meeting after church, dropping in on a neighbourhood get-together, then deciding to walk downtown to a movie ("Our Idiot Brother" - yeah, whatever).
     I've had my iPad for about 1 year now and really like it. I don't use it to anyway near it's full capabilities - I bought it (with last year's birthday money) mainly as an ebook reader because I really have no more space to put books/bookshelves in my house and felt this would be a way to continue to purchase new books when I wanted, without the need for a physical copy. That's worked out well, and I've read about 17 books on it so far. It's also pretty convenient for checking email or Facebook, and I did purchase the Glo Bible application last week (it was on sale and has lots of extra study-type material available). Otherwise my Macbook Pro really is more useful for the photo, music, word processing, etc. kinds of things I need.
     I've read a lot of books over the years and as I lay awake one night this week I thought I should try to determine my personal favourite 12 authors (kind of like counting sheep I guess). These would be writers that have written a number of books of which I've read a significant percentage:

  1. Wendell Berry - only his fiction so far, his series focussing on the rural community of Port William is really some of the best writing ever, I think.
  2. Walter Wangerin Jr. - beautiful, sensitive, poetic writer/pastor. Have read pretty much everything he's written. Often his writing is so moving it makes me weep.
  3. Frederick Buechner - wonderful fiction (especially love "Son of Laughter") and nonfiction - memoir or spiritual reflections
  4. Philip Yancey - lots of thoughtful, honest spiritual writing. Best book of his: "Soul Survivor"
  5. Thomas Lynch - laugh out loud funny and yet amazing insights into life and death (he also works as an undertaker). His "The Undertaking" is one of my most favourite books.
  6. C.S. Lewis - one of the best minds of the 20th century. Some of his stuff is too scholarly for me ("Pilgrim's Regress") but lots is just right (like "Mere Christianity" and his science fiction trilogy) and I find the Narnia chronicles delightful (and deep).
  7. Stephen Lawhead - prolific scifi/fantasy writer (often with some sort of spiritual/christian take). Light but usually well-written. Think I've read everything he's come up with.
  8. Brian McLaren - a challenging yet gentle voice trying to bring Christian thinking into the postmodern age. Always thought-provoking with some very valid points.
  9. Oliver Sacks - I don't agree with all of his science but his real-life neurological case studies are fascinating. Top pick: "An Anthropologist on Mars".
  10. Bret Lott - mostly beautiful fiction stories ("Jewel", "I Knew You By Heart") but I liked his memoir a lot too.
  11. Edward Rutherfurd - captivating, intricate (and long!) historical fiction. Want to reread his "London".
  12. Tolkien - he just barely makes the list because he didn't write loads. But it is great stuff after all!


    Music listening this week: The Choir (just love this band!) - Flap Your Wings, Wide-Eyed Wonder, Chase the Kangaroo, O How the Mighty Have Fallen (can't listen to this without thinking of my hospital stay after heart surgery in '06 - it was something of a soundtrack for that time); Bruce Cockburn - Salt, Sun & Time, Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws, The Charity of Night; Randy Stonehill - Can't Buy a Miracle, David Edwards - Dreams Tales & Lullabies

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September Blues?

     It was interesting to see the various reactions online to the 10th anniversary celebrations of the 9-11 attacks. They sure run the gamut - some, like Ezra Levant, were upset that political correctness stopped leaders from speaking truthfully about Islamic terrorism; others lamented the lack of spiritual/religious participation (yet Barak Obama recited Psalm 46); people like Tony Jones felt the observances were just given way too much importance; militants want to "never forget" and some Christian leaders remind us of the message of forgiveness (that last one sure doesn't go over well I'm sure). I put a bit of a pointed message on my Facebook page bringing up the (greater) tragedy of 30 000 (actually I think it's closer to 25 000) children who die each day of preventable diseases. It was really a reaction to the U.S.-centric media and how they put so much emphasis/coverage on this kind of thing. I think of the much greater loss of life in things like the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed over 200,000 or the Haiti earthquake where more than 300,000 died - yet they received minimal coverage after the first few weeks. People talk about where they were when the planes hit - I happened to be at church practising for the funeral service for Pastor Ed Winker who had died tragically in a motorcycle accident the weekend before. So 9-11 really didn't impact me as much as some people it seems, as I was already deep into grieving for someone quite close to me. We had an interesting discussion about some of this stuff last night at supper, and Josh made the important point that most Muslim people have nothing to do with this kind of terrorism. Then later I saw a good article by Jim Wallis (10 years after 9-11) about how many have used the 9/11 remembrance day to help build bridges with Isamic communities.
     Last weekend we attended the Westheights BIC Corn Roast at a small farm near St. Clements. It was a great event and we got to know some people from church who we hadn't had a chance to meet yet. Beth even found someone who grew up in Zurich (Ontario) as well.
     This week Beth had to had some medical tests (scope of the digestive tract, top to bottom, if you know what I mean). The preparation ended up being more stressful than the test itself - 24 hours of only fluids and 3 doses of medicine to clear the digestive system. It was kind of a drastic way to lose weight but Beth was pretty amazed when she got on the scale;)
     The first week of school has been typical - busy, tiring and good. It definitely takes some time for students to get used to classroom routines and expectations, along with patience and consistency needed on my part. I appreciate getting back into a routine as well - more regular workouts at Good Life, meditation times. I finished re-reading Philip Yancey's "Disappointment with God" which is an excellent and honest look at some tough questions dealing with God's seeming silence/absence.
     Saw a couple of movies in September: "Captain America" was entertaining comic fare, but "Contagion" was pretty disappointing - it's being promoted as a 'thriller' so I thought Beth shouldn't attend, but it was pretty slow moving with next to no real tension (someone compared it to 'Jaws' but there was never that huge sense of dread they played up so well in that old movie).
     Over the last couple of weeks I've mainly been listening to new music from Sara Groves - "Invisible Empires", Proto~Kaw (Kerry Livgren) "Forth", Ben Shive "The Crashing Cymbal Clouds", The Hawk in Paris (with Dan Hasseltine from Jars of Clay) "His + Hers". However I still have fit in some older stuff (to check off my listening list) like The Choir - Kisses and Killers, Circle Slide, Free Flying Soul and The Police - Synchronicity.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Two Special Trips

     Last Tuesday Beth and I travelled up to Hanover and I got to revisit some of the areas that were important to me when I was growing up. I was born there and like to call it my hometown even though we moved to Kitchener when I was 4 or so. However because both sets of grandparents lived there, we visited many weekends - it seems to me it was about every other weekend but Mom says it wouldn't have been that much. At any rate Hanover has a special place in my heart and memory since there's nothing like the unconditional acceptance of grandparents to make you feel loved. Plus on my Mom's side I was the first grandchild so I was probably spoiled from early on (at least that's what Aunt Marilyn claims about my Grandpa Bieman's relationship with me). Sometimes when I can't sleep at night I'll try visualizing their houses and find a peaceful, happy place.
     We visited the cemetery on the edge of town and when we got into Hanover we parked at the church which is across the street from Grandma & Grandpa Bieman's house (I remember going there often, including Sunday School). We walked from their house to Grandma & Grandpa Kreutzkamp's house which is a few blocks away, and it was a stretch of road I can remember walking along many times as a boy. Then we doubled back down the Main Street which still has a few famous landmarks (Norm's Restaurant, the movie theatre) but has also seen lots of changes - brought back many memories. Of course we had to visit Shultz's bakery and pick up a coffee cake (my mom used to work there many years ago). Then we met up with Mom & Dad and mom's two sisters and the brothers-in-law who were in town for a mini-reunion. We had a nice time with them for lunch at Cravings Restaurant, a favourite place of Grandma Bieman's in her later years.
     This past Labour Day weekend was our 3rd annual canoeing trip into the Frost Lake area with my sons and friends. We paddle for under 2 hours, with only 1 portage, so it's not an arduous trip by any means, and then we camp for the weekend on an island. First, on Friday night we headed for the Wiseman cottage outside of Huntsville and I was surprised with a nice ice cream cake and 14 people singing Happy Birthday to me (along with over 30 Facebook birthday greetings I felt very blessed). After a Tim Horton's stop Saturday morning, we put in at Raven Lake. It was a beautiful, sunny, and hot day, and somehow David and I ended up well in front of the other canoeists so when we arrived at the site we quickly jumped in the water to refresh and greet the rest of the travellers. On the portage in I have set myself the challenge (as the oldest guy on the trip) the last couple of years to carry our (heavy) Coleman canoe by myself, and I was happy that I was able to (barely) accomplish it. We had a super weekend together - it was great that my 3 boys could make it, along with my good friends Bruce and Steve (Daryl couldn't swing it this year) and sons Adam, Ben and Jesse.
     We had wonderful weather on Saturday but about 4:30 Sunday morning a terrific thunderstorm passed through (as in it seemed to pass right through our campsite). Steve said he timed it as lasting only 10 minutes but it sure felt longer - the lightning was almost relentless and the thunder was shaking the ground. Fortunately there wasn't much rain left by the time we got up in the morning, but we did put up 2 large tarps just in case. Each family took care of a meal so we (as in David) made steaks over the fire for supper on Sunday. It was pretty cold getting up Monday morning so I got the stove going with hot water for oatmeal and hot chocolate and started up the campfire for warmth (and burning the last of our garbage). We were packed up and away from the site before 10 o'clock and arrived back in Kitchener by four. Then we headed over to Mom & Dad's for a meal to celebrate my birthday, Alison's birthday and our 30th anniversary. My family got me a new digital camera which I really need as my last one is having a few issues. When we got back to our house I snuck over to the school for a bit to make final preparations for the first day of classes. So it was a pretty full, but obviously wonderful, weekend!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Panda-monium!

     Last weekend we had friends over to play our new favourite card game (Wizard) and then on Saturday I went to the Waterloo Air Show with dad. It was a nice day and the highlight was getting to hear David do the announcing for the demonstration by the T33 Mako Shark that he has been involved with through volunteering at the Jet Aircraft Museum. He did a great job!
     Monday night we had a canoeing meeting for the guys who are going on our Labour Day interior camping trip into the Frost Centre region (east of Huntsville). This will include a bunch of friends and David, Josh and Joel are all able to be there. We're looking forward to a great time - hopefully the weather is a lot better than last year, which was very cold and rainy.
     Wednesday afternoon I went golfing with the Vanwyck boys and Josh at Beaverdale golf course. In preparation for that I finally broke down and bought a set of golf clubs, which I've been thinking about for a few years now. It will be good to have a decent set around for the boys to borrow too, whenever they need them (as long as I'm not using them, that is). However, I began to doubt the wisdom of investing in the clubs after losing about 8 or 9 balls while playing on Wednesday. Kind of frustrating, although I was actually able to par one hole!
     A fair bit of time this week (at least a few hours each evening anyway) was spent helping out at Westheight's Kid's Camp program. I worked as a small group leader (with 4 children) and Beth was in charge of the snack time. We were both very impressed with the high quality of all aspects of this event. Many people invested a lot of time and energy in reaching out to our community - there were about 80 volunteers and 120 children had registered. We were reminded again that there are many great people at our church and I was glad to get to know, and become friends with, my assistant leader Jared.
     Our nephew Ashton came out to the kid's camp for most of the week and ended up staying at our place a couple of nights. It was neat to have a 7 year old in the house - he has a great sense of humour and can entertain himself very well. Ashton came over to help me at the school for a bit (I got over there a few times this week) but didn't last very long at the job I gave him. He and I had fun swimming together on Thursday at Harry Class pool, where Alison works.
     This week I downloaded (from Chapters) and read Mark Steyn's new book "After America". He has an interesting take on how our social/political world works and is a very creative writer. However his vision of the future sure is pretty bleak. I also read through Brennan Manning's "The Ragamuffin Gospel" which I thought might be on my list of 20 books I should read every year but now I've decided it just doesn't rate (repeating 'live by grace' over and over just doesn't cut it, even though it's great advice).
     Music listening: Lost Dogs - Old Angel (awesome!), Kerosene Halo, Kerry Livgren - Collector's Sedition, Prime Mover (bears relistening with lyric sheet); Bill Mallonee (one of the most prolific songwriters) - WPA Renderings, Cabin Songs, Dear Life, Dear Outtakes EP, Fetal Position, The Who - Tommy (Movie) Soundtrack
     Went to see Conan 3D, desperate for some entertainment/escape I guess, because I don't really like going to 3D movies. Beth and I went to see The Help with Ali on Thursday - now that's a great movie! I used Josh's Netflix account to watch the original Planet of the Apes and District B13.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Up with People!

     We've had a very full week, spending time with lots of folks up North. I ended up being able to visit all of my cousins from my mom's side of the family, except for Martha who lives in Texas (and who we saw in March). Beth had another week of holidays that ended up being extended because of her switch over to shift work (13 days off altogether!). Before we left though we did spend a couple of days cleaning and organizing around the house, focussing on the shed in the backyard and the fruit cellar storage area downstairs.
     On Wednesday we headed up to North Bay to my Aunt Marilyn and Uncle Don's where they arranged and hosted a great supper with my cousins Grant (and his wife Cathy) and Mary (and her husband Peter). Later in the evening a number of us (including Grant and Cathy's children Graham and Courtnery [and her husband Cody]) went over to the Northgate Mall to help Uncle Gordie Love take down his sauna display - that was a 3 hour job!
     Thursday we drove up (with Don & Marilyn) to the Cobalt area for a visit with my cousin Pam and her family at the house they've recently had built on a lake outside of town. We love this area of Ontario, especially as I spent many summers up here as a teenager at the Love cottage on Fairy Lake (15 minutes outside of New Liskeard). Pam & Dave have a beautiful new home (all wood inside) and we enjoyed chatting with them (interesting discussions about world finances). On the trip up I was surprised to see that the old Hiway Book Shop had closed - this was a place we often stopped at on our trips north. On the way home we stopped in Temagami for awesome ice cream cones. In the evening we played a couple of games of Aggravation - that's a game we played lots of in Hanover growing up, and Beth and I played many games of it with my grandparents when we'd visit them back in the '80's.
     Friday we went exercising at the Y with Don & Marilyn, enjoyed a pizza lunch and then drove back down to Huntsville to hang out with our friends Steve and Rachel at the Harp Lake cottage. Steve cooked chicken over the fire and we played some rousing games of Wizard and Dutch Blitz in the evening.
     On Saturday we headed over to the nearby cottage of my cousin Pattisu (and David) for a visit with them, which included a couple of saunas and swims (well, the guys did that, not Beth). Then we picked up Swiss Chalet for a quick supper with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Gordie before driving to the MBC camp for a concert by Michael Card. I've been listening to his music for decades now and have seen him perform a number of times. He's really a bible scholar who uses music to teach in a very creative, deep manner. Michael has a wonderful stage presence but he plays a right-handed guitar left-handed (meaning the guitar is upside down!) making it nearly impossible to emulate his playing (though I have learned a few of his songs [right side up!] over the years).
     Sunday we went to church with Gordie and Shirley and then had lunch at the Wendy's in Huntsville before travelling 30 minutes up the road to Camp Kahquah, near Magnetawan. We'd been encouraged to check out this church camp run by our denomination (BIC = Brethren in Christ) by some folks in our Friday night small group who have come up to the family camp time for many years. And we're glad we took their advice because we had a wonderful time! We decided to keep it simple by staying in a room in the lodge for 3 nights and getting the meal plan provided by the camp kitchen. It was a great opportunity to get to spend more time getting to know families from our church (there were actually 4 Westheights families there, but we spent more time with the Cobers and Wiens from our small group). We even got invited out for supper a couple of times! We contributed fresh baked pies from the nearby Cornball General Store. One day Karl rented the pontoon boat which we took to a small island for a swim and into Magnetawan for ice cream cones. Another day Kevin took us around the lake in his powerful fishing boat and Beth even went water skiing behind it! I enjoyed leading some songs around the campfire each night, we had quite a few fun games of Wizard, and we got to connect with a number of other campers, especially at meal times. Kitchener MP Harold Albrecht is a regular camper at Kahquah and he baptized his niece in the lake one morning. We introduced ourselves to him, as Mom & Dad are big supporters of his work and we had a really nice conversation with him (he's lost his wife suddenly this year so we ended up sharing about excellent books on grief). We also got to know and appreciate the worship leader, Andrew Thompson and his family who were from the Welland area. I recorded a couple of the sessions on my computer so I can learn a few of the excellent songs he introduced. He also showed me how he uses his iPad as a song stand, which is pretty cool. A young lifeguard at the camp played an electric cello during the music and it was an awesome addition (probably my favourite instrument).
     I finally finished the huge science fiction book Anathem, which took me almost 2 weeks to complete. The sad part is that it really wasn't that enjoyable! Way too much philosophical discussion and invented vocabulary to try to keep track of, and the story actually moved so slowly that it didn't get really interesting until about page 750.
     Lots of travelling music as we drove around this week: Jars of Clay, Lamb III, Mark Heard - Eye of the Storm, Victims of the Age, Dry Bones Dance, Second Hand; Michael Card - Present Reality, Hymns; Switchfoot - The Beautiful Letdown, Undercover - God Rules, Boys and Girls; Supertramp - Crime of the Century, Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stalling?

     Last Monday was Josh's 23rd birthday but Beth had to work a 12 hour day shift. She's back doing bedside nursing after 2.5 years of being resource nurse at the desk - it's a shared position now so she'll rotate with another nurse every 3 months. But it also means she's back to shift work - 2 twelve hour days, then 2 twelve hour nights, then 4 days off. So for Josh's birthday I arranged a golf day at Rockway - Dad, myself, Josh and his friend Adam made it a foursome. We went out for brunch first at Cora's then headed to the course for our 12:08 tee-off. The young guys opted for an electric cart. We all had fun but everyone except Dad shot pretty inconsistently, though we improved over the 18 holes. It was pretty sweltering hot on the front nine but seemed more temperate as the afternoon wore on. Five (!) hours later we headed home for a quick freshening up and then Josh and I met Mom & Dad at Swiss Chalet for supper. Later I went to the club for my regular workout but it was super challenging as my body was exhausted!
     It ended up being a pretty unproductive week - couldn't seem to find the motivation to get much accomplished. I did get into the school one day but not much done around the house. The continuing oppressive heat also is a factor I think. Did do lots of walking and exercising though (but the scale is being somewhat stubborn about moving down). Feeling a bit guilty that I somehow managed to fit in 4 movies this week - Crazy Stupid Love (lots of great twists in this, and fine acting), Cowboys and Aliens (kinda dragged at times - too many scenes of just riding horses through the wilderness), Bridesmaids (wasn't as offended as I thought I might be), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (interesting story, neat how it sets up the other, much older, series).
     On Wednesday Beth and I went to have our wills updated as things have changed since we did them originally 18 years ago. It seemed expensive but we're glad to have that taken care of.
     I read through an older book (actually 3 books in one) by P.G. Wodehouse. He wrote these classic British stories about a rich guy named Wooster and his brilliant butler Jeeves who helps him solve problems that arise in his aristocratic life. They're pretty funny but I don't think I'll read the whole series.
     Saturday was a Hugill (Beth's maiden name) family gathering in Grand Bend. Everyone was able to make it (except for her nephew Scott and family who live in Calgary, and our son Joel who had to work), including her niece Kim and family who were visiting from Edmonton. It's great to reconnect with folks we sometimes don't get to see very often. Sharon provided a nice lunch and some of us headed to the beach in the afternoon. We had lots of fun watching the kids (ages ranging from 3 to 25) interact and play [in the attached photo our great-niece Jenna is crying because Josh tipped her off of the air mattress]. We treated the kids to Denny's (a popular local hamburger joint) at supper and then Beth & I walked downtown Grand Bend, picking up a sweater and shirt (for Beth) along the way.
     On Sunday we celebrated Josh's birthday with family and friends (only 6 days late, which often happens with birthdays in our family [especially those around long weekends - which includes everyone's birthday except Joel's] as we try to coordinate schedules with everyone). In the evening Beth and I went over to Mom & Dad's to try to help him with computer issues and to play a game of Hand & Foot.
     Another week with lots of music (listening while walking or driving): Klaatu, Noel Paul Stookey - Something New and Fresh, The Statler Brothers (I loved listening to these guys when I was about 13 years old) - Oh Happy Day, Old Testament, Greatest Hits; John Mehler - Bow & Arrow, Fireworks - Sightseeing at Night, Burlap to Cashmere, Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken - TN EP, Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What, Glenn Kaiser - Cardboard Box, Various Artists - Making God Smile (Brian Wilson Tribute), Surfonic Water Revival (these last 2 are our favourite beach music CDs - they're great tunes!), Josh Garrels - Love and War and the Sea In Between, Kerry Livgren/A.D. - Time Line

Monday, August 1, 2011

Staycation #1?

     Beth and I went to see "Horrible Bosses" last Sunday, which was definitely hilarious in many parts but also obscenely vulgar in others - why do film-makers seems so willing to lower the bar? I keep saying that I'm really not a prude, but flicks like this do make me feel that maybe I am, as I find some of it pretty offensive.
     Beth was off this week and she helped "inspire" me to get a few more jobs done: repairing & repainting Josie's gate in the kitchen. fixing a doorknob, cleaning up & organizing my workroom (bought a cool label maker for nail/screw/etc. drawers & shelves), and washing the kitchen floor.
     On Tuesday we travelled to Oakville for Beth's appointment with the surgeon who will fix up the veins in her leg in September. In talking to him she discovered that he trained/worked with the doctor who did my heart surgery back in 2005 (Dr. Ashe - he's still at St. Mary's, we thought he was wonderful, and I think he's considered one of the top heart surgeons in Canada). We met Josh for lunch at Turtle Jack's as he works nearby. We were really hungry so ordered some garlic bread as an appetizer, but because things weren't explained clearly we ended up with 12 pieces!
     Wednesday afternoon we visited our friends Daryl and Sue at a cottage they were staying at near St. Josephs, on Lake Huron. This is very close to Beth's home town of Zurich, so we stopped at the cemetery there and also at the bakery where Beth's mom used to work. Multiculturalism seems to have finally hit this village as the bakery has been taken over by a Chinese lady - but they still bake traditional Bismarck donuts. After a rousing game of Up and Down the River with our friends (which Beth won, she would like to note) we headed over to Grand Bend for a nice visit with some of Beth's family (her sister Sharon, and Ted - who live in Grand Bend, and her brother Gary, and Cathy - who are nearby in Exeter)
     On Friday we served a meal again at Ray of Hope in downtown Kitchener. We barbecued sausages and served these on a bun, along with a variety of salads and cake. It turned out very well, though we were told to prepare for 190 people but only about 95 showed up, so there was lots of food left (which they simply use in the next day or 2). I had a good conversation with a young man who comes to the Centre pretty regularly - he seems to be managing quite well on his disability cheque by wisely using many of the support services that are available in the city.
     On Saturday we were thrilled to get an invitation to friends from our Friday night study group, Suzanne and Frank, to come for dinner and games at their place. We had a great meal and a wonderful time - the ladies won in Sequence and then we played a very entertaining game of Wizard (where you just weren't sure what would happen in a round).
     Remember that 20 pounds I said I lost earlier this year (20 Pounds)? Well I found it again! And I've even kept up my regular exercise routine at the club 3 times a week. So in the last couple of weeks I've gotten a bit more serious about watching what I eat, especially cutting down on the snacks. The scale is starting to slowly move back down again - I've added in trying to take a walk on days I don't go to the club and a short ab workout DVD I stole from Alison.
     I read a very interesting book this week called "The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction" by Alan Jacobs. I had read his excellent biography of C.S. Lewis ("The Narnian") a few years ago and heard him speak at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing in 2008. His lecture at the festival was wonderful - it made me think it may have been something like hearing Lewis speak to one of his classes many years ago. Anyway, Jacobs' new book got me doing some thinking about the reading I do. I average about 50 books a year but sometimes I think I might read too fast or can't recall enough of the book after I'm finished. Jacobs got me to consider doing more rereading of good books I own - there are probably a number of great/important books that I should reread on a regular basis and I'm going to try to  compile a list and add them into my annual reading regimen.
     Lots of listening this week as I worked, walked or drove: Sweet Comfort Band - Hearts on Fire & Perfect Timing, Be Bop Deluxe - Modern Music, Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away & Historical Conquests, Petra - Washes Whiter Than, Phil Keaggy - Emerging (I'd forgotten what great rock guitar he plays on this) & Play Thru Me, Imperials - Very Best of, Prodigal - Electric Eye & Just Like Real Life, Allies, Bruce Cockburn - Life Short Call Now, Janny - He Made Me Worthy & Think on These Things (her stuff sounds pretty dated)