I’ve been Burned, and it feels Great!

This blog is now available as an RSS feed thanks to Feedburner. If you don’t want to come back to this blog day after day, just hoping against all hope that there’s a new post, you can click the little ‘subscribe’ chicklet on the right [over there —> ] and subscribe to the feed.

If you’re using a useful browser like Firefox, it’ll create a live bookmark which will show new post titles as they are published. If you use multiple computers, or just want to manage all your blog subscriptions, Google Reader or Bloglines will make blog reading easy.

It makes me giddy just thinking that one of my posts may one day show up on the same screen as Seth Godin or Doc Searls. OK, it’ll likely only be on my own reader, but I can dream, can’t I?

Am I Fiscally Conservative? Do I Want to Be?

In Left or Right? « Touamoto Sakimata-Smith my buddy Greg talked about being ‘fiscally conservative’ and it got my blood flowing a bit — brought back an earlier conversation I had with my city councilor.

I’ve had a problem with the term ‘fiscally conservative’ for a while now, because I see it as having mixed meanings.

I think I’m ‘fiscally conservative’ with my own money because I don’t do into debt for things (pay cash whenever I can, pay down the mortgage ASAP, do without if I don’t have the money.) I also don’t own any penny stocks or precious metal funds.

But insofar as public policy, I believe that we’re better off as a society if there is a strong ‘Common Good’. I believe that there is value in public services far beyond the cost of them. Because of that I’ve been a strong advocate for public libraries, public education and city services.

I don’t subscribe to the opinion that all taxes are evil by definition and that we should cut every public service possible in order to keep taxes down. I want to make sure my governments are managing our shared pool of money well, but I WANT to pay taxes and I WANT my taxes to go toward strong public services. So I’m much more concerned about getting the most common ‘bang’ for my tax buck than paying fewer tax bucks.

I also don’t have a problem paying more taxes than someone who lives in a smaller house or makes less money. If I have ‘more’, I don’t have trouble paying more.

Can I still call myself fiscally conservative? Has the term been co-opted to imply ‘I Hate Taxes’ or am I using the term incorrectly?

Hockey Round Table

Another fun weekend at the rink. Robyn got her first start in net on Saturday in Lumsden. She played well all game, but really got strong as the game went on. She had quite a bit of fun but I think she’s already thinking about playing forward again. It was a fun change of pace but I think the cachet of being a goalie has passed.

One highlight of the week was a practice in Sedley on Wednesday night. Robyn’s team was practicing but the coach invited Ben to come out so they would have two goalies. As Robyn was getting ready for her big start, that meant both kids were in goal gear at the same time. Quite a treat to see them practicing together. It’s especially neat to since they are two years apart but pretty much the same size. They had fun and I sure had fun watching.

In Pee Wee news, the Sharks practiced at 7AM this morning but that was about it. Our savvy manager scheduled picture day for this practice to make sure everyone showed up. Ben’s got tournaments the next two weekends so we’re ramping up for some serious action!

Inspiration in Dog Walking

I’ve been having trouble thinking of topics to write about this week. Well, ‘Personal Blog’ stuff anyway. I spent some time pulling together a quick ‘Business Blog‘ to show some colleagues at work. If there’s some interest I might get one started at work. But it’s been tough finding things worth writing about once I finally sit down at the computer.

That is, until I took Buddy for a walk tonight. I wasn’t three houses down the street before I started formulating several ideas in my head. Too bad I couldn’t write and walk at the same time.

I think this calls for a new routine — dog walking followed by a beeline to the blog site. Maybe I’ll put my laptop on the kitchen counter by the door…

Motivated to Innovate

I’ve been reading a lot of Seth Godin’s stuff these days. LOTS — books, e-books, blog posts and anything else I can find. He’s not only a breath of fresh air but he’s helped me look at the work I’ve been doing in a new way.

How’s that? Well, in Free Prize Inside he talks about how white collar workers have been living a lie for a while now. Our ability to innovate (i.e. our ideas and creativity) are the only reason we’re worth our salaries, especially considering all the people who would be willing to do our jobs for the same or less money. So do we innovate like crazy? Generally, no. Instead we want processes, rules, and detailed instructions about how to do our jobs — those things which make us closer to an assembly line worker (skilled, yes, but also easily replaceable.)

I never used to be one to use “the rules” as a crutch to protect the status quo, but lately I’ve slipped into the easy trap of “going with the flow.” It rings hollow inside.

Normally I’m not one for New Years resolutions, but this year I have one. I’m going to re-focus on creativity and innovation — in gaining new customers and building better business partnerships. I’m going champion my own ideas and those of my colleagues. I’m not going to stop the first time I get told ‘no’ or get told it’s ‘outside the policy.’

And I’m going to do it only because it’s fun and personally fulfilling. I know up front that, outside of leaving the company, I won’t get paid more, get a promotion or even get a better chair. What I will get is another fun, fulfilling project. Or fired. At this point, either result is better than status quo.

Excerpts from the 2006 Christmas Letter

After three years of disappointments, I finally wrote another Christmas letter. I think it topped out at 5 pages once Cindy increased the font to something viewable by the Bifocal Generation. That means it’s a little too long to simply copy in one post. Besides, by the time anyone I know finds this blog it’ll be spring and there will be many new posts. So here’s some highlights — at least descriptions of things that are worth preserving:

Regarding Ben:

While Ben does very well in school he’s hit the point where he’d much rather be at home doing his own thing. Ben’s a quiet kid so the mayhem of the classroom wears him out. Ben’s read pretty much every popular kids book that’s been written, to the point where Cindy’s pre-reading “young adult” books to make sure they are appropriate. Although that’s now gone by the wayside, since she wasn’t keeping up to his pace — Cindy still searches out books for Ben, but now he just lets her know which one she should read. The net result is I’ve now lost them both to the seductive power of Literature. Robyn and I are coping but our eating habits may not be the best when those two are binging on books!

Ben is “Snow Boy” and is a perfect complement to Summer Girl. In summer Ben’s favorite place is sitting on the patio with a stack of books, but after the first snowfall he’s outside for hours on end building snow forts, cutting trails or lying in a snowbank staring at the sky. It took the coming of winter for Ben to find a way to play with Buddy (our 11 month old golden retriever pup) so that Ben had fun and Buddy got tired. It helps Cindy and I too since once it gets cold we just want to hibernate!

Ben’s favorite pastime is still hockey. It’s the only thing that will get him out of bed at 7AM without complaint. Ben plays goalie for the Pee Wee Minor Sharks. It’s his fifth year in minor hockey and his third between the pipes full time. This has been a challenging season for the Sharks — 1 win so far this season and all the play is in the Sharks end of the ice. So Ben’s been busy. 60-80 shots per game is common and Ben’s been holding his own. It’s an odd situation when the Shark’s can lose 10-0 and Ben gets player of the game, but that’s the reality this year. What’s been great to see is that his self confidence and self esteem is remaining intact and is even growing as the season progresses. He loves the work and is getting stronger all the time. Now if he were only taller than the net…

Regarding Robyn

[Robyn] still amazes me with how much she is aware of what’s going on in the world around her. She’s growing into quite an outspoken leader, whether it’s at school, home or with her friends. Last fall our elementary school was threatened with closure and Robyn had letters written to the school administration and trustees within 48 hours. Her main concern was who would take care of some of her friends who needed help in their classes or on the playground. We’re extremely proud (and at times inspired) by her caring nature — even though it tires us out. Mom and Dad are expected to be on the front lines of The Cause, of course!

Robyn’s newest passion is hockey. She’s playing in her second year of minor hockey, this year with the Atom House Stingers. She’s the only girl on her team and is a hit with her teammates and coaches. She got her first goal of the season early but lately has been playing solid defense — she’s one of the bigger kids on the team and doesn’t lose many battles for the puck. She was quite upset last season when an opposing player swore at her in frustration; she felt better when we told her that meant she was doing her job very well! When she’s not playing hockey, Robyn can be found reading, listening to audiobooks on the iPod (the six Harry Potter books seem to be on a continuous loop), riding her bike or skateboard, or drawing pictures for her family and friends.

I call Robyn “Summer Girl” because outside of hockey she seems a little lost in the wintertime, but in the warmer months she’s outside all day, every day. She’s got the travel bug really bad after our trips to BC in 2004 and especially our big trip to Nova Scotia and PEI in 2005. During the Maritime adventure Robyn spent approximately 1,400 hours on the beach — that’s a lot of smiling! It didn’t matter that the water was cold enough to numb all your limbs. She’s helping us scrimp and save for a trip to Italy (maybe in 2008?) as she’s dying to see Venice in person (although we won’t let her swim in the canals!)

Regarding Cindy

Cindy is without a doubt the most active person in the family. One of our friends jokes that Cindy ‘runs southwest Regina’ and there are times when it feels like that’s the case. She’s been president of the Athabasca PTA for a couple terms over the past four years and is heavily involved in the fight for smaller schools, smaller class sizes and greater flexibility from the school administration. Through the community association, over the past three years she’s led a large park improvement project, adding new pre-school play equipment to a neighbourhood park. Cindy organizes an annual “Reading Week” at Athabasca, with author visits, storytellers, cartoon drawing workshops puppet shows, etc. – a highlight for kids, and Cin’s favorite project of the year. She’s also been a very strong supporter of our public libraries, pushing me to take action during the fight to save three branch libraries in 2003-2004 and then holding down the house every night while I was at a meeting or writing press releases.

Cindy’s latest project is our golden retriever, Buddy. We got him in April and he’s now a very large 11 month old ‘pup’. Buddy is a very calm, well mannered dog due in no small part to the amount of time Cindy’s put into working with him. He’s an active dog and needs at least two 45 minute walks every day so we’ve been outside quite a bit, but it’s been worth it. We don’t have any of the ‘horror stories’ you hear about dogs chewing things up, barking like crazy or biting people, etc.

And finally, yours truly

I’m ‘in between’ projects lately as I’m trying to get our bakery business off the ground. I’m now past-president of the Lakeview Community Association after spending seven years as treasurer and then chairman. I’m no longer involved in Friends of Regina Public Library after spending a year leading the communications team in the fight to prevent closures and another year working with the library board on public consultations (although I’m supposed to have the first draft of my chapter of a book on the fight done by January.) I’m not on our church board as we’ve decided to take a step back and re-evaluate what we’re looking for in a faith community. I stayed on the sidelines during the latest civic election and I’m trying to stay behind the scenes on the next round of public school consultations (although it’s turning into such a complete and utter sham that I might get sucked into the fray.) So this winter I’m happy to say that I’m ‘only’ Robyn’s hockey team co-manager (with Cindy) and leave it at that!

This past year or two has also been spent coming to terms with the reality that my parent’s health is declining. My mom has been battling cancer for over 15 years now and the past two years have been especially difficult. She went through 18 months of chemotherapy in 2004-2005 and is now on regular chemo pills to control the spread of cancer. It’s had a bad effect on her blood so she needs regular IV supplements. It’s been hard for me to understand that the new normal state for mom is to be tired all the time and to spend all her time either at home or the hospital. My dad is still able to take care of things so that they can stay living at the farm, but he had a scare this summer when doctors found cancer in his right lung. He had surgery to remove part of his lung in August and it looks like the surgery was successful — no more cancer and no treatments required. But the lack of lung capacity shows as dad is more out of breath than usual and he’s still quite sore from the major surgery. Through all of this I’ve been dependent on and extremely thankful for my sister Wanda, who has helped translate all the doctor-speak and ensure that mom and dad are getting the best possible home care. I don’t know how families can deal with the health care system without having some background in the field — I know I’d be completely lost.


There’s lots more, and I can send it out if you like 🙂

But I Want To Follow Directions!!

I was reviewing recent posts at the brick oven list and there was a post from a fellow just starting his oven building journey. He’s going to be building a 5’x7′ oven based on Alan Scott’s plans and was frustrated that the number and type of blocks the plans called for is a little off.

My first reaction was ‘join the club’ as I found many inconsistencies with my oven plans too. In the end my oven build required the knowledge within the plans, Alan himself, the brick oven list, my own experience, knowledge from product suppliers (minimal) and the opinions of a half dozen friends and family members.

Does this mean the plans are no good? I don’t think so. Maybe they are just mis-named. People have an expectation that ‘plans’, especially plans which cost up to 10% of the price of materials, should be very clear step by step instructions. Clear pictures, no inconsistencies and on Right Way to put the thing together. Alan Scott’s oven plans are not that type of ‘plan.’ I see them as more the compiled wisdom and best practices of a man who has built over 100 of these ovens and has been around long enough to see them in action for many years. Ideas change over time and Alan’s views on oven construction have changed over time as well.

Dealing with inconsistencies in the plans were a pain in the butt, no doubt. But in the end it was an advantage too. I now know the purpose of every component of the oven because I had to make a conscious decision of how to build each piece.

Now could the plans due with a new revision? You bet. But I suspect Alan is more interested in building ovens and learning from the build experience than going through the work of revising the plans. When I read his book on oven building I got the sense that Dan Wing was the catalyst for getting all Alan’s thoughts into a format where a book could actually be created. Perhaps “Brick Oven Plans 2.0” is an opportunity for enterprising copy editor with a passion for bread…

The Dog Whisperer

I was extra-tired at Robyn’s practice because Cindy and I were up late watching old episodes of “The Dog Whisperer” They are hosted by Cesar Millan whose shtick Dog Psychology. He’s absolutely hilarious! My favorite line to dog owners: “They’re not less than human; they’re just not human”

The main theme of the show is that dogs are most comfortable when they are in a pack and are around the dominant pack leader. So be that leader! The mindset you want the dog to be in is “calm-submissive.”

The one tip that I think will work wonders with buddy is that, in dogs, there is a big difference between ‘excited’ and ‘happy’. To Cesar, ‘excited’ is just as bad as ‘agitated’. The dog is ‘happy’ when he is ‘calm-submissive’

I think that for Cesar’s advice to work owners need to get over any negative connotations about the word ‘submissive’. Submissive is perceived by most to be a strongly negative human term but it’s a strongly positive dog behaviour.

Mixer Woes

Hobart Mixer

The dough hook for my 20QT Hobart Mixer arrived this week so I’ve got the itch to do some large scale baking. I spent most of Friday giving the mixer a good clean. When I bought it it looked pretty clean already but once I got started I realized it was actually quite grimy.

I think I’m in a bit of trouble because the bowl lift is all gummed up. I think the previous owners were using the mixer for icing because the whole bowl lift mechanism is plugged up with syrup. I finally decided to take the bowl lift apart but the 6 screws that hold it all together are seized up too. I tried heat, cold, water and penetrating lube but I can’t get them to budge at all. Hopefully Canadian Tire has some miracle product that will release the screws.