the middle

action backboard ball basketball

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Spent the weekend doing a thing we’ve spent lots of weekends doing in the past few months: watching basketball.

Much to the frustration of at least one high school coach I didn’t grow up a ‘basketball guy.’   I’m tallish and athleticish but I never could figure out the sport.  It seemed no matter what all I could do was foul.  I crash into someone, foul on Jon.  Someone crashed into me, foul on Jon.  Never could figure it out.

But my kids, it seems, are bound to follow their own paths and my Ben has fallen in love with basketball.  Our relationship has become one of Ben starting sentences with a name I have never heard of before and then a pause to clarify “he plays for the (insert the team he plays for)” and me having to make the jump that we’re talking basketball because there are lots of teams and while I’m learning I’m pretty sure I don’t know them all yet.  These conversations wander around and my little gerbil brain has to step up its pace on the gerbil wheel to make sense of them and I sort of do… sometimes.  Ben credits me for all sorts of wisdom I don’t have when it comes to basketball and asks me questions I have no business answering like “Dad, do you think Wilt Chamberlain would have won more than four MVP awards if he played in today’s NBA?” and I’m all like ‘Well son, Chamberlain did average (madly googling) 30.1 points per game over a (madly googling) 14 year career but then again (something about a three point line being introduced at some point… I googled it).   I don’t think he’s onto me yet

So Ben loves basketball and he practices every day since I built a hoop for him in the Jackpine and he’s lifting weights mostly so he is harder to move around in the key and he recently topped 6’3” and all of this is the long way of saying I love Ben and so I am learning to love basketball.

This weekend saw us at another tournament in another small town gym in another small town school watching sweaty teenage boys bump each other around and trying to get a large brown ball to fall through a hoop.

I love Ben’s High School team.  He’s a grade 10 on a Varsity team so he doesn’t start, but he plays some and the boys are good to him and to each other and his coaches are great… knowledgeable and challenging.  They’re also pretty good and that makes it fun to watch.

The last game of the tournament was against a small town just down the road that we have had some pretty competitive and passionate games against in recent years.  The wins have gone both ways, making today’s game kind of a tie breaker.  I happen to have coached some of the boys on the other team in soccer and Nik happens to have taught some of them when they were in elementary and we both know some parents on the other side of the bleachers.  It so happens that I end up in the middle.  Other teams’ fans to my left, Ben’s teams’ fans to my right.

It is uncomfortable and fascinating.

It strikes me that basketball is a game in which the refs have a lot of influence over the tenor and course of play.  The game happens very fast and has a lot of rules and refs call it as best they can and for the most part I think they get it right.  It gets uncomfortable and fascinating when they don’t, or at least when we perceive that they don’t.  I am struck by how many times the hundred or so sets of eyes watch the same play develop and end up with two radically different narratives of what just happened.  Suddenly a hundred people who know and mostly like each other are rent into two factions.  Both factions know, in their very souls, that they are on the right side of history and that they have just born witness to a great injustice by bumbling officials or a that they were present to a great moment where a great wrong was righted by gallant and noble refs… depending which team your child happens to play for.  And we yell and we groan and it’s all sort of embarrassing when you observe it from that awkward spot in the middle.

Don’t get me wrong, I yell and groan with the best of them and have felt the indignation of great unfairness and the pure joy of wrongs righted.  I deserve no credit for good behavior.  I just happened to catch a glimpse of the absurdity of it all from my seat in the middle.

And this, I think, is a fitting analogy for a lot of what is leading our news outlets to make endless news loops over polls about whether or not Canada is broken and if so who broke it.  I have yelled and groaned with the best of them here too, bellyaching about perceived injustices or celebrating wrongs righted.  I’ve been the keyboard warrior slicing through misinformation with sharp and clear keystrokes. All any of this has gotten me is strained relationships and people stacking proverbial sandbags in preparation for my arrival.

So I’ve slowly been shifting.  It’s hard to shift, what with all the sandbags I’ve stacked and the trenches I’ve dug, but one degree at a time I think I might be managing it.  Beyond the sandbags is no man’s land and it’s scary and exposed puts a person in a spot to be taking shots from both sides but the perspective is uncomfortable and fascinating.

From the middle, both sides look a bit ridiculous.

If you think Canada is broken, you underrate this great country.  If you think you know who broke it, you overrate the power of your perceived opponents.

We are passionate about our players… our sons and daughters on the basketball courts and the MLAs and MPs that wear our favourite logo.  Our allegiances get in the way of seeing the good work done by the other side.  When the other team makes a good play, I sit quiet, looking to the refs for a call or rationalizing away that they ‘got lucky’ or how this is anything other than a win for the other guys.  If I can shift it just a bit, it gets easier.  If I can know and humanize the other, it gets easier.  I know that the player who just hit that three hasn’t played much this season and those points will be so good for him.  I know that the temper on the other point guard comes with a kind heart and a great sense of humour.  It also lets me see that my team, yes even my own boy, have things to work on.  Basketball is zero sum.  My team gets a point and your team trails… my up is your down, but the rest of the world isn’t.  It’s non-zero. If a policy that I thought was a bad one works, the other guys win but so do I.  If a policy I believe in fails, I lose but so does everyone else.  What if we can support our team and seek the positive in the other team AT THE SAME TIME.  If your goal is to make a better province/country/world then that might just be the only way to do it.  At least that’s what it looks like from the middle.

The likely last tournament of the year is next weekend with our boys going to the zone championships.  I say likely as the top two teams advance to provincials but the competition is stiff and our boys have a big hill to climb to get there.  No matter what though, I’ll be there cheering and groaning.  I’ll try to do it with perspective.  I might not be clapping when the other boys drop three or drive right through our defense, but maybe I can nod a bit of appreciation and mutter something nice.  I’ll do my best… hope you do to.

dirtbags

Fernie 1

Heavy legs and that cotton headed feeling this morning as I nurse a bit of a mountain hangover… the inevitable consequences of a few days of playing hard outside.  Took advantage of Family day and some 2 for 1 passes collected from the Fernie Ski and Board Film Festival we attended by happenstance in November and made it a boys trip.  Me and my three sons mind, not quite ‘da boys’ but a boys trip none the less. It was fun.  Kind of a throwback to the old-school dirtbag trips of my youth only with a reliable car and a hotel room instead of a bunk in a hostel or a sleeping bag in a backseat.

Monday morning found us steaming south by the gleam of headlights.  Down down down past the big black diamond and on into that big wide valley that stretches on for over an hour of cows and ranches and trees and hills and the occasional fox darting across the road and a mule deer or two stotting off into the trees.  Far enough south for the fields of turbines whirling their dance in praise of the west wind to rise up into view.   Just far enough to watch the houses crouch down and take cover in the leeward slopes in a land where the west wind is sometimes a remover of roofs and flattener of old barns.

Now west and up, past the Burmis Tree with it’s ever evolving subtle scaffolding to keep it upright.  Past the sudden and devastating remains of the town of Frank. “Are there still bodies in there dad?” comes a voice from the backseat.  I don’t have an answer but google later confirms there are.  Probably about 70, but nobody knows for sure.  Past Coleman and Blairmore that (as the location of the last adventure race of my career) live in my mind only as a place I was wet and cold and very, very tired.  Past the frozen lakes of the pass and then down.  Down past the coal mines and the mountains being ground away to power our amazing lives.  Past Sparwood and the sign for the worlds largest truck and wouldn’t you know it there is indeed a pretty big truck right there by the side of the highway.  Then down into Fernie and up onto the hill.

Into gear and the usual ‘Does everyone have a mask or a buff?’ and the ‘Have you put on sunscreen?’s and ‘Have you had a drink of water?’s.  Then up the hill.

Skiing is a sport of balance and for me with three boys ages 12 and 12 and 16 it is also a balance of demands.  Demands for more and steeper and demands for less and mellower.  Demands for rest breaks and demands for one more run.  We balance the demands as best we can and my comment that ‘You know, skiing is a lot cheaper and I’m just as happy when I go by myself.’ is usually enough to quell the major complaints.  It’s not entirely true.  I do like skiing by myself, but watching these boys grow and challenge themselves is a thing of beauty.  Sam with confident parallel turns in chunky snow in steep terrain now and Jonah starting to throw some style as he skis and the resort getting flat for Ben as he confidently cruises anything and everything up to and including a limited exposure of double diamonds that I’ve set in front of him.

We eat backpacker meals and ramen noodles that we cook with a kettle in the hotel room and splash in the pool and dine on complimentary breakfast.  We get a great parking spot and eat lunch out of the back of the car and soak up the sunshine while people walk by and give us little grins of what I’m sure is jealousy.  Short of an old school bus and few crappy lawn chairs we are classic dirtbags.

I hold the reigns for two full days of skiing… reigning hard at times ‘No, I don’t think we’re ready for the Polar Peak doubles with the unmarked cliff bands.’ and sometimes whispering encouragement to discouraged skiers and sometimes tough loving them a bit. Someone is always on the upset side of the balance, but we grind along together and find a way.  The highlight comes on day two when the resort opens a hike in section at the top of Lizard bowl.  The weekend’s storm leaves acres of untouched powder and for the cost of 15 minutes of hiking we throw turns in beautiful perfect snow under beautiful bluebird skies.  We get through it twice before it is chewed up and reduced to the same choppy powder we can reach from the lifts.

fernie 2And then home again home again with a quiet car full of sleeping boys and then some time spent wondering about this or that and reliving highlights from the day and then we’re back.

Nik ducked out of this one as skiing is not her number one and she is, for the first time, almost disappointed when we get back.  She enjoyed her days of quiet and I’m proud of her for it.  She is wired for people and so often when we have been away she has been unsure of what to do with herself.  She used her time well this week, resting and enjoying her own company as she recharges before going back into the classroom.

She rolls her eyes audibly at my suggestion that we park a camper in the parking lot at Fernie so maybe we aren’t ready to go full dirtbag, or maybe I just need to find the right school bus.

Here’s hoping you spent your family day with family or a serviceable equivalent.fernie 3

shampoo

brass colored faucet

Photo by C. Cagnin on Pexels.com

Writing on this little blog again after a few years idle reminds me of Jake.  Jake died just so many years ago that I can’t pinpoint the year anymore and yet not so long ago that I’ve forgotten him.  I suppose that’s the truth of most of those that leave us before we are ready for them too, but it’s certainly true about Jake.

Jake was a man of considerable thought and he read my stuff and wrote eloquent and thoughtful responses.  I thought about Jake as I wrote those pieces and wondered what he would think and what he would say.  He became my inner voice and a built-in filter… now what would Jake say if you wrote that?  If you go through the backlog you’ll see some of the responses he gifted me and you’ll see what I mean.  He was a good man.  Jake once gave me some shampoo.  It took me quite some time to live down the story of the shampoo.

See I work in a field where I am seen as… how do I say this politely… very, very old.  I was on a call with camp directors from across Canada last week and we were asked to talk about how we came to work at camp and how long we had been there.  It rattled out that I had been in my job longer than most everybody else has been in the industry and I came to my job with 10 years of experience in camp work.  A wonderful young man working as the Program Director at the camp where I cut my teeth did me the wonderful service of pointing out that I had been the Program Director during his first summer as a camper… when he was 7.  I had been a camp staffer for 6 years by then.

I once sat at a table of camp staffers and listened with a smirk as one of the Director types said something along the lines of “Yeah, I’m thinking about moving on.  26 is pretty old for camp work.”  I was 36 then.  That was more than a few years ago and yet here I am, still more or less loving my work and getting older every year as my staff stay the same age.  I work with 16-22 year old staffers.  It makes me feel like a dinosaur and keeps me young all at the same time but I love being the token old guy.  My staff graciously let me tag along on the great adventure of camp each summer and only make fun of me just a little.

I’m also profoundly bald.  I’ve actually been profoundly bald since my twenties, but this of course is one of the things I get made fun of just a little.  As my friend Rudy puts it “God gave some people beautiful heads, others he covered in hair.”  This is important for the story… don’t go making fun.

So with the context of being 140 or so in camp years and shiny bald, you get the story of a bottle of shampoo.

Jake was doing the cancer dance at the time and had a hairline similar to mine after a few turns on the chemo dance floor.  He finished his treatment and in the process of recovering got a hold of a bottle of shampoo to help regrow his hair.  Jake being a thoughtful and caring gent, brought me a bottle.  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  I long ago decided the only thing more pathetic than bald guy was a bald guy doing everything he could not to be bald.  I figured maybe God needed my hair more than I did or maybe it is a lesson in humility but you know my mom says I’m handsome bald so there’s that.

Anyway, I’ll try just about anything once so I lugged it home and put it in the shower.  The next time I sudsed up, I followed the directions and put a line on each forefinger and then smeared it on my shiny dome.  I waited the requisite minutes and noticed a growing sensation of… something.  It started as a mild tingle that progressed to an uncomfortable tingle that progressed to a mild burning that progressed to an uncomfortable burning that progressed to frantic rinsing and some… expressions.  When I came out of the shower I had red welts across the top of my head in the pattern of my two forefingers.  Well, I thought, that sucked.  I put the shampoo on the shelf and did not think about it again.  The welts faded and so did my dreams of thickening hair.

I didn’t think about it again until later that year when my summer staff began to act strangely.  One of them seemed fascinated with my pate.  I caught him inspecting my head and he was evasive when questioned about it.

This went on for a while until, as is the way of time and tight communities, he eventually admitted he had found some special shampoo in my bathroom on a bit of a snoop when we had him over for supper and he was starting to thin up top a bit himself and he was wondering, was it working?  I’d like to pretend I played it off all cool, but alas I haven’t always been as smooth as I am today.  This of course is the joke of the post… there is not a lot of smooth in Olfert blood.  I stuttered and stammered and likely turned red and tried to explain.  It was a running joke at camp for a few seasons.  Thanks Jake!

I can’t remember if I told Jake that story.  I hope I did, but I honestly can’t recall.  I drove down to attend his funeral the following spring.  Maybe he’ll read it here.  Maybe he’ll leave a great comment.

Miss you Jake.

cold water

20200204_150651A wonderful kind of a week celebrating my good wife’s 41st birthday… or perhaps her 8th time around at 33 we joke but to be honest we both agree there isn’t an age we’d go back to.  We’ve had some good ages and some rough ages but neither of us can imagine moving backwards when there is so much great moving forward left to do.

Nik and I teamed up pretty early on in this trek and made it legal before most would consider it advisable… “We were babies!” she insists.

And that’s about the truth, but thankfully we were babies that grew up together and raised some babies of our own together and have more or less walked side by side through more or less a good life.

So we celebrate.

We celebrated with an escape room and sushi and a hockey game (go oilers!) and good friends.  We celebrated with cake and family.  And we celebrated with a trip to the spa with each other because that is what forty somethings do I guess.  It was some fine celebrating.

Happy Birthday Nik.  You deserve more than you get from me most of the time and all that you get from me some of the time and fingers crossed this was an example of the latter.

 

It was the spa that left me thinking.  It’s one of those Nordic deals and it’s out in the mountains and it’s pretty swanky, complete with fuzzy robes and slippers and every kind of thing you could think to rub on or rinse off of your body.  There are hot pools and warm pools and dry saunas and steam saunas and saunas shaped like barrels and saunas that are dry but with a bit of steam.  There is also a cold pool.  Needless to say that with all the hot and warm and dry and steam there is always room for one more in the cold pool.

I learned to appreciate plunge pools (typically kept between 5-10C or 41-50F if you’re Celsius illiterate) a few years ago at a similar Nordic style arrangement.  Apparently the Nordics (that’s a thing right?) follow a strict Hot-Warm-Cold-Rest-Repeat cycle and that’s why they live so long and are so smart and have such great socialized health care.  We Canadians don’t do so well with the cold part of the cycle though; I witnessed a lot of folks who skipped back and forth from hot to warm to rest and never dipped more than a toe into the cold and I’ll admit it’s hard to blame them.

The cold pool is really uncomfortable.  Like gasping for breath making my legs ache need to breath through it type of uncomfortable.  It sucks to be in the cold pool.  If you power through you do eventually reach a stage of sort of tolerance.  Tolerance isn’t fun mind you and I keep needing to remind my body to relax and giving my head little wiggles to push back the tension creeping up my neck.  You see I hate cold water.  Like with a deep and burning kind of passion.

I’m not really a water person to begin with if I’m honest.  I don’t mind paddling a nice canoe or casting a line, but water isn’t my element.  I seem to be denser than most (We all knew that! Says everyone) and without conscious propulsion will find myself at the bottom of most bodies of water.  The ‘star float’ isn’t a thing for me. Once many years ago I swam in Manitou Lake, a mineral lake in Saskatchewan and while others around me floated effortlessly in the mineral laden water (think dead sea only not so much) I was able to float with the water at my chin line as long as I didn’t let my breath out too much.  I don’t float in the pool.  I don’t float in the ocean.  I sort of float in Manitou Lake.  I might float in the dead sea though I cannot confirm at this point.  So the water? Not my element.  And cold water?  Less so.  Water that is outside where I live is cold all the time.  Hypothermia kills people every month of the year in my province and to be wet is to be in trouble on most of my adventures so there is your backstory because every good story requires one.

So the cold pool sucks and I highly recommend it.  Why?  Because it makes the warm pool glorious.

Bob around for 5 minutes or so in 5C water and a plunge into 35C water leaves you with these glorious prickles that race around your body.  You’ll know what it is to be alive when you leave the cold pool and have the winter wind savage you for 10 or 12 steps and then step into 35C.

And this, I think, is the lesson.  Sometimes we do things that suck.  Sometimes we have to step into the suck on purpose, knowing how much it’s going to hurt.  The discomfort is where growth happens.

My boy lifts weights now and I pretend to.  Lifting weight sucks. It’s hard and it hurts sometimes.  I have to wake up early to do it.  But I’m stronger.  Not so you’d notice to look at me or anything, but the weights feel lighter sometimes.  To get stronger physically we need the discomfort of muscular stress.  We need to push to the edge of what we can do and spend a bit of time there.

Growing in other areas requires discomfort too.  A few years ago I joined the volunteer fire department.  There is nothing like starting in an area you know nothing at all to make you uncomfortable.  I learned like crazy and became modestly competent.  Interestingly enough that is when it started to get hard to grow.  I came to a place where I was expected to be competent and I started to dodge discomfort.  When you’re starting out, you are expected to suck.    When you are expected to be competent, it starts to be really embarrassing to admit you aren’t.  That darn ego kept getting in the way and I caught myself faking it.  Trying to hide the holes in my game.  I had to force myself out from behind that façade and start to step into my discomfort.  I had to admit I didn’t know how to do a thing and ask someone to show me.  And I started to grow again.

To grow we need to get uncomfortable.  This can be really hard because so much of what we strive for is about getting more comfortable.  I just bought the worlds thickest camping mattress because I slept on the worlds second thickest camping mattress at Christmas and my back hurt and I don’t regret it at all.  See comfort is important too.

Discomfort only helps you grow if you have the comfort to heal from it.  Stay in the cold water too long and you die from hypothermia.  Lift heavy weights every day and you don’t get the gainz you’re looking for.  If you spend all your time learning how to do the things you’re bad at you just might be a bad firefighter that’s not good at anything… or maybe that’s just my ego again…

To grow we need stress and rest.  Weight days and rest days.  Discomfort and comfort.  Cold pools and Saunas.

There.  See how I brought that full circle? So what is your discomfort?  How does it help you grow?  How do you recover?

Me? I go to the spa.

Messy

pexels-photo-1148998.jpeg

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

A rusty Tuesday morning here in our little house in the woods.  It starts like most Tuesdays, with a groan and a stretch and fishing around for clothes to put on.  This morning it’s shorts, not because the weather is so nice out, though it is much improved from the previous week with temperatures climbing a staggering 30 degrees C to reach a balmy -6, but because I’m headed to the basement.  The basement is where the weights are.  See my almost 16 year old has been collecting weights and the knowledge of what to do with them.  I’ve been collecting weight too, mine just isn’t as easy to put down so I leech his motivation to work on my strength.

I’m surprised to find him there racking weights.  He asked me last night to wake him up and if I’m honest it’s the only reason I’m up (I lie in bed thinking about lifting weights almost as many mornings as I actually get up and do it) and I’ll admit I expected my knock on his door to go unanswered.  But no, there he is in the lexicon of the culture, ‘getting after it.’  Proud of that kid.  Can’t hold a candle to him in the brains and motivation department.  Not sure where he’s headed, but I dream of big things.

He would also like me to point out that he’s taller than me… or at least he points it out to me every chance he gets.

Then coffee then out the door to the bus as our steep and snowy driveway isn’t conducive to bussing we meet our lovely bus driver just up the road.  I wish the boys good day and remind them I love them and they mumble something back at me and climb on the big yellow bus.  I click on the stereo in the car and link to my phone and think ‘Let’s see what it pulls up.’ And then a song.

Trusty and True by Damien Rice

By the time I get home I am wiping tears from the corners of my eyes.  ‘This’ I think ‘is a hymn.’

A weekend or two ago we hosted our annual Snowcamp here at Valaqua.  Youth from across Alberta joined us for a few frigid days of fun.  Our input person for the weekend was Donna Dinsmore, an intentional interim Pastor working at Foothills Mennonite Church.  On Sunday morning she led us in a “Messy Church” service.  Messy Church is exactly as it sounds, messy.  Polish isn’t the point.  It’s worship with awkward pauses and screwups and questions with tough or sometimes unsatisfactory answers.

I’ve been mulling over messy church ever since and thinking about how it applies to the work I do.  I wonder if maybe I only like it because I’m not good at the polish or if the unvarnished worship we do at camp has some value associated to its lack of shine.  Is it more authentic?  Does that devalue the beautiful and seamless services delivered in so many places of worship?  There we go with the unsatisfactory answers again.

I spend more time than most thinking about the modern church and yet feel distinctly unqualified to comment.  When my peer group of pastors talk about it I always feel like I should be in the remedial classes.  They use elegant words and refer to basic assumptions that are new to me.  I sit on my hands and look at my shoes and absorb and learn but Messy Church… this makes sense.

Then comes Damien’s beautiful song.

Damien Rice is the master of a song that builds and plays beautiful guitar, but the significant merits of the music itself aside the song holds a message that rings in me like a gong.

We wanted to be good and wholesome but we kept messing up.  We can’t fix that, so let’s get on with the getting on and do our best.  If you’re not happy with who you are, come.  Come however you are, just come.

It is a message about my faults and failings and possibility.  OUR faults and failings and possibility.

It is the acceptance of the messiness of our humanity and an invitation to join in it.

It is messy church.

And this, I think, is why I do what I do.  Camp is messy.  When you register for camp it’s right there on the what to bring list: don’t bring nice clothes to camp… we will wreck them.  It’s physically messy, but it’s emotionally messy too.  We get in each other’s space.  We see each other at our best and worst.  We laugh and cry in front of each other.  We get snot on our sleeves and mud on our knees and some things are awesome and some things are terrible but we do all of those things together.  We do our best to hold each other up but we screw up and fail each other and then try again.  In all of this, the biggest thing is the invitation.  Come alone, come with friends, come with me and let go.  Come however you are, just come.

I hope you’ll read this as an invitation.  Not an invitation to church or to camp necessarily, but an invitation to messiness.  This is an invitation to being humans together.  I’m not sure exactly what that means yet, but I’m trying to figure it out.

Have a listen and tell me what you hear.

A Close Shave

straight razor kit

Photo by Josh Sorenson on Pexels.com

Super silky smooth.  That’s my face right now.  Super silky smooth, and a little tender.

Coming out the other end of another Christmas season.  It was another great year in the OlfertWiens house.  A year full of landmarks and learning on the kiddo front but then it seems they all are if you are paying attention.  When you’re a dad of 15 and 12 and 12 year old boys you see growth all over.  Some of the growth was vertical with ben lapping me last year and topping out at 6’3” (at least for now) and Sam and Jonah stretching like weeds and all of them with that improbable look of kids who have done a lot of growing up and not a lot of growing out just yet.  Some of the growth was otherwise with challenging school relationships forcing considerations of what friends are and what they look like.  Being 15 and 12 and 12 is tough stuff.

Jonah and Sam took on Volleyball this year and played with enthusiasm.  I coached the team and watching those boys seeming to improve by the minute was a thing of beauty.  Our team went from not winning a single match all year to taking gold in the year end tournament and I took a deep breath of relief… seems I wasn’t lying to them when I kept insisting that if they kept playing like they were the wins would come.  And come they did in just the thinnest nicks of time.

Ben is in the heart of basketball season, a game he dedicates a formidable portion of his formidable brain to understanding and a formidable portion of his formidable skill to mastering.  Basketball is a rollercoaster this year as he is leaned on more by his team and the (not often taller but often substantially thicker) defenders that he posts up against.  He scores points and plays every game as one of the youngest players on his team and I am so proud of his dedication and hard work and probably the teensiest bit prouder of his stepping into the friction and contact found in dressing rooms and on courts… not a nothing thing for a introverted and thoughtful kid.

Nik continues to impact lives in amazing ways in her classroom.  Her grade 1 students love her passionately and she them.  Teaching is a tough job made tougher by some governmentally generated uncertainty here in Albertaland, but she does it and does it so well.  I am so proud of her and her work.  She continues to love taking our goofy dogs for walks and adding her sparks of joy and love to our little house in the woods.

And me?  To answer the openers: Still doing the camp thing.  15 years.  No plans to leave.  Camp still manages to give me more than I feel I can possibly return.  I was asked recently if I saw this a job I could retire from and the honest answer is I don’t know.  I had a low energy moment after staff training last July where I was honestly assessing if I was too old for this game but then a few short weeks later I sat smugly in my office after a long day and thought to myself: I’m finally getting good at this.

Maybe that last part is true… hopefully.  But I’m mostly happy and mostly content and as I set up for another summer I do so with a degree of enthusiasm that is higher then some years and lower then others but enthusiasm none-the-less.

There, that’s the update.  If that’s what you came for then you’re welcome.  If not, you’re out of luck!

I write this while I sit warm and snug in a library in Cochrane and wait for the tire shop to call and tell me my car is ready.  They called once but only to insist on an alignment and so here I am with hours to fill on a cold winter day and wouldn’t you know it, I have a gift card.

Nik bought me a gift card for a hot shave.  A thing I’ve contemplated but would likely never have spent money on for myself.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly good at spending money, I just tend to spend it on outdoor gear, coffee, and… other things I guess?  I seem to be good at spending it anyway, but I would never have dropped the coin on a shave but for my lovely wife.

So I dropped into our local “Mancave” style barber that is spreading across our country and put myself on the list.  I have to admit that post shave my face is probably the smoothest it has been since I was 14.  As is my wont when there is nothing to do but think… like when your face is covered in lovely smelling hot towels… I spent time considering my surroundings.

Here I am, a fortysomething in a shop that seems to have been made just for the stereotypical version of little old CIS gendered hetero me.  Whatever you want to drink, sports and cooking shows on the many tvs, and beautiful young women here to take care of me.  This makes me mildly uncomfortable, but it gets me thinking.

This place is busy.  On a Thursday morning.  Not lined-up-out-the-door busy, but busy enough that I wait 20 minutes to be assigned someone to look after me and when I am it is indeed a beautiful young woman.  Young enough and beautiful enough to make me acutely aware of what is and what is not appropriate in our interactions.  Those that know me well know that I have never been accused of being a flirt.  This stems, I think, not so much from not knowing what to say but more from a pathological need for people to not be creeped out by me leaving me civil and oh-so-careful with my interactions with anyone my little brain fears might misinterpret my attention.  That probably makes me come across as creepy from time to time… ah irony, you are beautiful and terrible master.

Anyway, I have been assigned and I am being civil.

I notice the music.  Music from my high school days.  Everclear and Smashmouth.  I smile.  Oh man, I think, I wonder if these guys realize they are being so overtly manipulated and then start tapping my foot because I love this song.

I am hot towelled and my face is massaged.  I am oh-so-carefully shaved.  She fusses over redness on my neck and applies more lotion and cream.  She leans in close as she works and smiles and makes small talk.  This is likely more effort put into one shave than all the shaves I have given myself in the last 10 years.  I am pampered.  I am cared for.

Part way through the experience I noted that the guys who came in after me were greeted by name at the door.  They are regulars.  I consider this.

I am reminded of my mom’s salon in Pennsylvania.  I am reminded of the women who come in once a week to have their hair done.  “They do it for human contact.” My mom told me.

The shave is a by-product.  This might be important.

I consider the lonely and isolated and desperate men I have interacted with.  I think how good it feels to be fussed over.

Human contact is so desperately important.  This is a thing we forget or deny but it is still a thing.  We need it to thrive.  This man-cave place might be helping these men thrive.  This might be important.

Or maybe it’s just the closest shave I’ve had in years. Maybe.

for Grandma – kitchen tables

A week behind on posting this… it’s me talking to you from the past!

20180306_141856Last week was a different kind of week for our little clan here in the great white North. My last little Grandmother and veteran of 93 trips around this pale yellow sun had a stroke a little over a month ago and a week ago last Friday she breathed her last.  She died surrounded by family and after a long life well lived… we should all be so lucky.

 

This of course meant family and a funeral.  My parents were here for her death and my brother Nate flew in from Ottawa with his family and we hit the pause button on life for a bit and focussed on each other and saying goodbye.  Hitting the pause button on life seems harder these days and suspending and postponing and cancelling sets up an interesting next week, but that is a tomorrow me problem.

 

Take that tomorrow me.

 

Today me is focussed on Grandma and the family she helped build and it has been my habit to wax eulogetic (is that a word?  It is now.) on this little blog and Grandma Brown has certainly earned that honour.
During the funeral each one of Grandma’s kid’s families presented a bit of a tribute and it fell to me to go last and I found myself summing up my Grandma with the image of a kitchen table.  One of my last visits with Grandma was after her stroke and it was kind of a tough visit.  The stroke left her half paralyzed and I couldn’t understand what she was saying and so I took it upon myself to tell stories.  I talked about the farm and her huge garden and eating peas out of the shell.  I talked about the fruit trees in her little orchard and crab apples and the old dog Ginger herding the turkeys and her Indian Runner Ducks.  I talked about her kitchen and fresh baked buns at which point she interrupted me clear as day:

“And pies!”

And pies. My Grandma did make delicious pies.  It is the memory of that kitchen that lingers with me.  My Grandmother’s kitchen always had something yummy cooling on the counter or in progress.  In my memory there was always sun streaming in the window and a warm hug and sweet treats.  It was always so important that we be cared for with food; that we be made to feel welcome around her table.  This importance carried on with the move to town and a smaller kitchen there and then to Aspen ridge where grandma would make coffee and serve cookies in her little kitchenette and in the later years it was an insistence that we go down to the café in the lobby for something wrapped in cellophane from the counter.

Grandma cared for us by inviting us to her table and in that way she was the center of our family.  When we drew together it was around her and it was usually around a table for a meal.  Now I fear we won’t be invited to that dinner anymore.  My Uncles and Aunts and Cousins on the Brown side are diverse and far flung… without a kitchen table to draw around will we draw together?  I worry and I wonder.

Except that I don’t worry too much.  I look around this family and I see kitchen tables everywhere.  My family lives this legacy of welcome and care in all of our stories.  My cousin Karen made Grandma’s famous jam jams for the funeral, my cousin Trish made portzelky (new year’s cookies) for the viewing, and me?  Maybe it’s time to bake some pies and then invite someone over to eat them.

My Grandmother’s kitchen table is not gone.  It is in my kitchen now and kitchens across this country as the generations of those who bore witness to that welcome and care carry it forward.

We miss you Grandma.  Thank you for teaching me about the importance of pie.

Sedona!

Sedona

Well it’s time for the semi-annual travel somewhere interesting with the Olfert-Wienses again.  Seems we won another set of tickets to fly off somewhere (darn our luck) and that combined with a few travel points and a longing for all things hippie (mostly Nik, but you know…) and a hankering for somewhere new brings us to Sedona AZ.  A destination highly recommended by all the hippies out there and Kevin’s brother.  He is probably a hippie too… I mean, he likes Sedona so much.

 

And so we blasted off Phoenix bound on Tuesday and picked up our faithful rented minivan.  I don’t know if it makes me less of a man (as disgraced former and now once again pastor Mark Driscoll was fond of saying “If you drive a minivan, you’re a miniman.”) but when offered the upgrade to a land-yacht sized SUV I stuck to the minivan.  But then I’m probably just compensating for my enormous… ego.  So we rolled on north for the almost-two-hour drive into the wee hours to arrive at our condo in Oak Creek, just up the road from Sedona.

 

Wednesday was a groggy type of morning with kids unusually out of sorts.  We decided that getting our bearings was the ticket and rolled into town to explore.  We found a town full of public art and art galleries and eventually landed at ChocolaTree, a vegan-hippie-healtheearth-freehugs kind of a place full of the smell of amazing chocolate and earnest looking young staff.  We got a bit of an introduction to the concept, ordered some food and the most expensive coffee I have ever consumed in my life ($14. USD. I’m not making this up) and enjoyed every damn minute of it.  When the coffee came I thought to myself “This better be the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life.”  -takes a sip-  “You’re lucky.”  This all happened in my head of course because I’m far too Canadian to say anything like that out loud.

 

So the coffee was good and I’m told the beans are grown in a co-op in South America somewhere by a group of women and blessed by an elder or something and washed in unicorn tears and dried in the heart of a volcano using vortex rays.

 

I made some of that up but not as much as you’d think.

 

But the food really was exceptional and earnest and I think my spirit feels healthier now.  Or at least full.

 

IMG_6238Our next order of business was Vortex the first.  See Sedona talks about vortexes and brags about having four of them.  Apparently they have something to do with electromagnetics and will change your life or something.  The first one on the list was Bell Rock.  We meandered over that way and after a few false starts and turn arounds, we found the place.  The approach hike is about a mile and then you can hang out around the base of this very cool, very red pile of rock.  IMG_6242The boys and I had a great time climbing up on it and Nik did some metastating (as then 2-year-old Sam called it) and maybe I felt something?  Sure is pretty though.  All red light and rock.  But seriously… beautiful

 

So Sedona is pretty all right and the hippies are here so we’ll see what we can see.  It’s a travel blog again!  At least for five short days.

 

The details:

We are staying at The Ridge by Diamond Resorts and $178USD/night (average) gets us a one bedroom and a bachelor condo with adjoining doors.  The price is not too bad and the destination is superb (pool, hottub, fitness centre)… but they keep trying to sell us a timeshare and that is getting sort of annoying.  Anyway.

ChocolaTree (chocolatree.com) really does make exceptional vegan organic gluten free food.  You pay for it though… all that love doesn’t come cheap.  The coffee, for the record, ended up being a large press of it and poured more coffee than I wanted plus coffee for Nik and the kids with some still left over.  The chocolate treats are also exceptional.  We spent $140 USD on lunch for five, but that included drinks and dessert.

busted

busted

Oh man, spring snuck up on me this year.

Now I’ve got no problems with spring in a theoretical sense… transition to summer and all and trees budding out and baby animals and on and on but I happen to be a fan of winter.

Just don’t tell anyone.

Being a fan of winter in this Northern climate makes me… unusual.  When people complain about snow and cold I nod along and smile but don’t add too much to the conversation.  I like it cold and I love snow.  Whenever I express this out loud people say “But you must be tired of winter by now right?” with disbelief evident in raised eyebrows and exasperated tone of voice.

“Oh sure.”  I mutter because nobody wants to be the weird friend.

I suppose complaining about winter is a national pastime in the great white north; right up there with hockey and putting on shorts on the first sunny day warmer than +5 but I can’t buy in.  I love winter and I love snow and I suppose that stems from summer being my season of labour workwise and a keenly honed love of winter sports, particularly skiing.

I’ve got the boys hooked too.  Ben in particularly lists skiing as his #1 with piano and then soccer trailing in that order.  Basketball may make the list soon too as the boy played this year and loved it though I can’t for the life of me figure out why.  Sam and Jonah participate eagerly with Sammy whooping and dancing down every hill in a solid snowplow and Jonah looking for every little jump he can on the side of the run.

Side story about Jonah:  A few seasons ago he decided he wanted to throw a 180.  Now I had spent all season working up to one.

Side-side story: I’m not what you would call a trick skier.  A few years before this I had gone to Rabbit Hill, a small local hill in Edmonton and after getting bored on the run ventured into the park.  I found some young grommet (as my British friend Greg (Hi Greg!) would call him.  I believe this roughly translates as “punk”) and recruited his coaching.  “Teach me a trick.” I asked.  “Ok, slide up on that box, turn sideways, then straighten out and slide off.”  Sounds easy enough so up I slid and as soon as I topped the box panic alarms go off in my brain and I freeze right solid and slide off the other side.  Over and over.  To the continued hilarity of said grommet.

Back to original side story: So anyway I spend the year skiing backwards, getting comfortable and all and working up my nerve.  Jonah, on the other hand, declares “Dad, I’m going to do a 180 today.”  And then he did.  Just like that.  I did one too that day and though mine may have been smoother and more technically sound (I worked up to it remember) it didn’t hold a candle in the guts and instinct department.

So anyway, we like to ski and this is the super long way of explaining why two Mondays ago we were at Sunshine, the boys having been sprung from school and me not at work enjoying some great snow.

Then we got busted.

Or rather Ben did.  It was kind of a nothing thing really.  An off balance fall on what Ben insists with indignation is “the EASIEST run” (For the record it’s a black diamond, but to his credit it’s not a crazy steep one.) and I slow up to make sure he gets up ok and then he doesn’t.  He rolls over and lets out a scream to raise the dead and I think (and I kid you not, this is exactly what went through my head)

“Uh oh.”

I know, eloquent right?  And it hurts and it’s not getting better and so I get all first respondery (make the scene safe, do the assessment, activate needed resources) and when the patrollers get there and I update on what I know I get “So you’re a medic?”  Nope, just a dad.  Well and a firefighter but no big deal right?

And we get him down and then drag him up (with a snowmobile) and then assess him and hm… could be a dislocated shoulder… so Canmore and x-rays and no drugs yet because maybe surgery and then it’s a broken humerus but no surgery and here’s some drugs and a sling and go home and rest.

And well that all kind of sucked.  It sucked less because my friend Justin was with us and he skied with Sam and Jonah while Ben was assessed.  It sucked less because my brother-in-law showed up with coffee for me and took Sammy and Jo to his place while we waited out the hospital emerg.  It sucked less because Sunshine has a stellar patrol team and Canmore has great doctors and nurses.  It sucked way less because we live in freaking Canada and health care is Universal.

Thanks Justin, Stephan, and Erica… call that favour in any old time.

It was a super tough first week with lots of pain and difficulty sleeping for my Ben as he had to sleep sitting up and be in a sling all the time (no casting a humerus) and only Tylenol and Advil to take the edge off, but he’s mending.  Today we saw the specialist in Calgary and another blow with at least 4 and more likely 6 weeks to go and spring soccer off the table and no band trip and no running yet but piano is back in play and he can lie down to sleep now.

And so you carry on.  Ben is still not real happy with the situation but age has given me the understanding that this will shortly be a less than pleasant memory and maybe even a good story.  You get to decide on that last one.

On Tuesday I’m going skiing.  No kids this time just a brother in law (it’s his birthday!) and some buddies.  I think I’ll take a few dozen donuts to the patrol shack and hand them over with the blanket we took with us from our last visit.

Spring?  Spring can wait one more day.

millions and millions and millions

I was spending more time than is advisable (that is any time at all really) on social media today and stumbled upon a story about American immigrants illegally crossing the border to Canada.  I was immediately proud of the professionalism and compassion displayed by the RCMP officers in the article and considered posting the “Yay us!” response so I scrolled a little.

 

And the comments… oh my heavens the comments.  Yeah.

 

There was of course some “Yay us!” but there was also some constructed false dichotomy “We need to help our own instead!”, some general disillusionment “They’re just going to get sent back anyway…”, and then the classic “But where do you draw the line?”

 

And when I thought about this for a moment I decided I wanted to tell a story.  The comments section not being a particularly effective place for story telling I decided to write it here.  I leave this here with no grand illusions.  I won’t change your mind, I don’t expect you to even like it really but here are two stories that jumped immediately into my mind when I reflected on the “There are millions and millions and millions of people who need help around the world. Where do you draw the line?”  So read on if you wish; your mileage may vary.

 

There once was a boy on a beach littered with starfish drying in the sun (“Oh no.” groan my kids, “Not that one again”).  The starfish had been left behind by the retreating tide and were slowly drying and dying.  Amid the beautiful dying stars, the boy stood, gently picking up each one and tossing it back into the water.  A man came along and observed the boy.  After some thought, he asked:

 

“Boy, why do you bother?  Don’t you see there are millions and millions and millions (added for powerful symmetry to original comment… I’m smart like that) of starfish on this beach?  You can’t hope to make a difference.

 

The boy looked down, shrugged, picked up another fallen star, plopped it into the water and replied:

 

Made a difference to that one.

 

Story number two takes place at Tim Hortons with still-in-University Jon.  I had a job at Timmies in Calgary.  It was not too bad really.  All the donuts a guy could eat and flexible shifts.  Anyway, on Fridays, my boss would send me downtown to help at another store he owned there.  Fridays at a downtown Tim Hortons are madness with every office jobber stopping in to grab a dozen donuts for the office.  The lineup would literally stretch out of the store, down the block, and around at least one (sometimes two) corners.  The first Friday I jumped to with a passion, working at a frenetic pace to serve customers as quickly (or more quickly) than humanly possible.  After several hours of this I was exhausted and the line unabated.  I slowed.  I worked.  Eventually we converted the back of the line to the front of the line and I went on my merry way.

 

The next week I started steady.  I made eye contact.  I smiled.  I helped who I could as I could and didn’t stop until the line went away.  Moral of the story?  You decide.  I know what it means to me.

 

So, kindly Police officers working with frightened immigrants, know what you do/we do/Canada does makes a difference.  It is Canada to its core to treat people with dignity and respect.  It is Canada to its core to keep working until the back of the line becomes the front.

 

Can we help everyone?  Of course not.  Should we quite trying?  No