Sunday, January 26, 2020

PAX South -- Featuring San Antonio, TX

Note to Nobody in Particular

Normally, my travel blogging is formatted with each day or two being a post. It has been a great way to help others follow along from home as if you were on the trip, but it can make for pretty punishing late nights. To make a long excuse short, I found myself watching The Witcher on Netflix at Brad's recommendation. So, this vacation is being collated as a single entry during my 6 1/2 hour layover in Minneapolis. 
Episode IV:

Cold Departure

I think I managed to get the timing for this trip nearly perfect. Temperatures in the days before I left had lows of -36C and windchill values hit -52C. Prospects of my trip kept me relatively upbeat for the worst temperatures of the winter... probably, anyway.

When the plane rises above the clouds, the added height makes the sunrise come much earlier. A symbol of hope for me.

When I landed in San Antonio, TX, it was +18C (woo-hoo!). I Waited for Brad's plane to arrive from Virginia (via Atlanta), we hailed an Uber and were off.

PAX south

PAX feel like a rock concert
Once called the Penny Arcade Expo, it is a 3-4 day gaming convention of staggering magnitude. After 8 years, the organizers stopped reporting attendance numbers in 2012 when they blew past 70,000 participants. So, not as big as the New York or San Diego comicons, for example, but not bad for an event arising from 2 weirdos who created a webcomic.
PAX is waiting, and waiting...
PAX was an overwhelming experience. If you don't like people, or hate line-ups, it could be a tough experience for you.
PAX is playing, and looking, and spending, and wishing...
While there, Brad and I completed a multi-day scavenger hunt, bought dice, played cards, discovered a new (to us) board game, ate shameful quantities of expensive junk food, watched live role playing (with Bards and without), adventured in an escape-room style "True Dungeon," and watched the finals of a $10K Fortnite tournament.

Regional Flora (and Fauna??) by scooter

We managed to get our eyeballs onto some non-urban San Antonio on both the 20th and 21st. On the first occasion we hopped a scooter and scat?!? for several "miles" as they call them here until we arrived at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. It was quite a large area centred on a placid pond whose function was to trick me into coating my iPhone 11 pro in duck weed. Mission accomplished.
Under Pond
Our scooters were still where we left them, so we scooter'd over to the local Japanese Tea Garden, which is tucked away behind the zoo. There was no admission price (thanks to the San Antonio Parks Foundation), so it was a lot more busy than the nearby botanical garden.
Over (different) Pond
a lot of cactus
inevitable outcomes
A second "wilderness" excursion found us exploring McAllister Park, which I will hereafter refer to as The Dead Forest. Don't get me wrong, there were definitely things that were alive there (cactus', trees, air plants, grass, and a few flowers. It's just that the biodiversity seemed to be... more like bio-not-so-diversity. If you know me, you understand a bit about my passion for insects. I looked hard in McAllister Park. In fact I was increasingly desperate. In the first 2 hours of our exploration, I only counted perhaps 4 insects!!! A spider so small, it was hard to tell if it was actually a spider, a postage stamp sized butterfly, a butterfly chrysalis (I was unable to confirm if it contained a viable inhabitant) and a sad housefly circling an unclaimed piece of doggie doo. Just before we left, I did manage to find a single ant colony full of very tiny life-forms.

San Antonio River Walk

River is a pretty flexible concept. The Amazon and the Nile are rivers. The Amazon rules many of our standard metrics. It has the most water moving through it, while the Nile is 91st by this metric. Looking at length, the Nile is the longest with the Amazon coming in a close 3rd (the Yangtze beats it by 18km). How much area do they drain? They finish 1st and 3rd in the world, though it isn't even close. The Amazon covers nearly twice territory.
Fresh guacamole "river"side
How about our beloved South Saskatchewan River? It is less than 1/3 the length of the Nile, carries about 1/10 of the Amazon's discharge rate, and its drainage basin is 2/100 of the Amazon.
"river" boat at night
Thinking of the San Antonio River in this company is not really fair. It is 1/4 the length, 1/12 the area,  and moves 1/20 the amount of water... of the S. Saskatchewan. In the River Walk area it has only been a river for 10 km and averages 1-3 metres deep. But, it is cute.
traffic calming measures for ducks?

La Panaderia

I was tipped off about this San Antonio shrine to bread by Scott T. I assume that he came across it during his lifetime of travels. I only had to have croissants and coffee there once to never bother going anywhere else. I've had coffee and breakfast bread in a lot of places by now. Short of Amy's Bread in New York City, I'm not sure I've ever had better.
A lot can also be said for making competent American coffee and providing refills with generosity. Add to that loads of sitting room and it is a perfect gem.

Other Stuff

The Alamo

The Alamo was... underwhelming. Wendy has dragged me to quite a few historic fortresses in 25 years. Kind of seems like few people were involved in the famed conflicts in this area and that the stakes were not really too high. Except for those who died, of course.
backdrop... fail
Brad and I couldn't ever really set up for a good photo. There are many tourists and almost as many hand rails and fences blocking your view.
Pinky-sized lizard. Not even on the brochure!

Old Churches

There are a bunch. Compared to Rome or Barcelona? Does not rate.

Night Life

As you might expect in a city of 1.5 million, there is quite a bit to do at night. I was hoping to get to see my first NBA game live, but it was not to be. I could have done it by sacrificing my first day of PAX and that wasn't happening.

We did get out to a really interesting place called The Cove. We listened to some mostly competent jazz. I was shushed by the mother of one of the band members for trying to hold a conversation at the bar. I decided not to ask her to step outside.

The most interesting thing about The Cove is the building, itself. It has a 4-bay car wash and laundromat on opposite sides. A central door opens into a small ice cream shop. Further in, around the corner, and through another door, you can find the bar and restaurant tables. Don't just sit down though. You have to head back to the ice cream shop to order your food. If you just want drinks, you can order from the bar.
How do I even get in?
Brad also talked me into going to a sports bar called The Yard. I have been trying to get over my fear of alcohol, so I shared some of Brad's "flight" of beer tasters. I actively liked one called Dragon's Milk and a local brew called Founders Underground Mountain (which is brewed with COFFEE).


For my birthday, Brad took me to iFly. Being floated on a column of air sounds like it is easy, but it is not. They suggested that we could be mastering flips and turns in a matter of weeks. Even without doing James Bond style tricks, it was very fun. Sadly, I need to add flying up-and-down-quickly-in-circles to the list of things that makes me feel nauseous. Go figure.
Flying is windier than I had imagined ;)


RIP to Chez Geek's "Slacker" and "Drummer"
We barely knew you...
Guns are: Louder, heavier, sharper, and scarier than I thought. The End.

All of my trip photos and video are in Google Photos, as usual

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Present is a Wall Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: A highly reflective look at 48 years of change

I turned 48 in early January. Usually, I am not capable of being reflective during the winter, but perhaps owing to the SSRI's and my subsequent ability to think more clearly, or maybe because Wendy suggested it and then initiated conversations on our daily walks three days in a row, I have for your perusal... 6 octals of Mikeness.

8 (10) — 1980

In my "Etch A Sketch" phase

1980 was a big year. I turned 8, after all. Also, I was in grades 2 and  3 (come September) at Prince Charles Community School in Prince Albert, SK.

My teacher in Grade 2 was Mrs. White. I recall her as having grey hair and so, had the legitimate possibility of being old—as opposed to just seeming old (which everyone did). Mrs. White came off as quite stern to me. I can remember little other than that she was not a fan of me driving Matchbox cars under the tables during class time. I lived in fear of seeing her shiny, black high heels turn on the tile floor and click towards where I was innocently trying to entertain myself. She must have had something on the ball as an educator, because in that year, spent a few weeks blasting through 2 or 3 years of spelling primers. I do not recall her being frustrated as I rushed back to her desk over and over so that she could mark each unit test before I would race onto the next. Now that I think of it, in the battle between me playing imaginative, off topic games or doing school work, she may have come out on top.

Grade 3 started in the fall. I was in a split class of grade 3 and 4. I remember learning my multiplication tables quickly and eagerly and then helping several of the grade 4 students with some of the math they struggled with. 

December was a big month. Our principal, Mr. Markowski, pulled me out of class one day. Not being used to going to “the office,” I was understandably nervous. He opened a green plastic garbage bag and pulled out a matted and tattered handful of fur and asked me to try it on. I thought it was sort of disgusting and it smelled funny. However, once I learned it was the costume of The Grinch and I was to steal Christmas in the school play, I got over my apprehension very quickly and threw myself into my very first headlining role. And what a meaty role it was. For starters, there was actual acting. I had to be very convincing of how rotten I was and then in a rapid twist ending, show just how good and loving I had become. I don’t recall doing any background research on The Grinch, but I certainly must have.

During this first Octal, my task as a human was simply expanding my world and learning some of the basics of what it means to be a human on this planet.

16 (20) — 1988

This year finishes grade 10 and starts 11. I learn how to drive, make the Senior Volleyball team and become very interested in theatre. I fall in love constantly: with Shakespeare as I study Macbeth, with Bradbury when I read Fahrenheit 451, and with a different girl every other month. 

The things that I come to think of as my “talents” are putting increasing distance between me and others, but so are the things that I think of as my weaknesses. I don’t know the words for it, but I have a “closed mindset” and I begin to develop a really strong fear of failure. I don’t notice for a long time because my self analysis skills are weak and I am gifted in enough areas that it is easy to paper over the structural weaknesses in myself. 

At 16, I still don’t truly recognize the humanity of the people  around me and I don’t think well about my own thinking (metacognition). I will continue to be reminded of both these points for the next 8 years, which incidentally contain all of my high school and all of my university experience.

24(30) — 1996

At the beginning of ’96, I have known Wendy for 2 years and we have been married for 6 months. We are living in Rosetown during her first teaching contract. I work as a cook at a failing hotel restaurant called The Blue Baron. I worry that I am under-qualified for the job. If you asked me (after 18 years of formal education), I wouldn’t be able to tell you what I WAS qualified to do. 

By the end of 96’ we will have moved to Meadow Lake. I will work at Ed’s Wholesale Groceries. I’m learning to grind hamburger, drive a fork-lift, and stock shelves. I think I am lucky to have the job. My boss, Eddie, can’t understand why someone with a university degree wants to work for him. I don’t think I am qualified to do anything else.

It has been an awakening to meet a person who is as strong, confident, and capable as Wendy. I am at the beginning of a long journey. I have trouble seeing value in myself, but Wendy obviously does. 

I spend this octal solidifying what it took too long to learn: everyone thinks and bleeds and feels. They all are entitled to the same things as me… nothing. I am shedding myself of the belief that patience and play will get me through life in a way that makes me happy.

32(40) — 2004

We recently moved back to Saskatoon after 7 years in Meadow Lake. Leora and Anwyn have been born. They will turn 6 and 4 this year. Being a parent has changed me dramatically. The parts of me that felt that everything was about me have been beaten into submission by the realities of keeping other humans alive. I have made this family my purpose.

An Enduring Favourite Family Photo. Forever thanks to Brad Stover for the photo and helping my interest in photography.

It is strange to me that coinciding with true empathy for others has helped me to see my own value. By no means am I all the way there, but It’s a good start.

I am learning to break large tasks and goals into parts in order to accomplish them in more doable steps. To that end, I have travelled to Italy, have run a marathon, and have been running my own daycare for 5 years.

40(50) — 2012

I’ve been climbing mountains, both physical and emotional. I’ve learned to scuba dive and visited Copan in Honduras. 

I have started working at the Saskatoon Public Library. I am challenging myself this year by taking Drawing lessons from Jim and I am about to take my first storytelling workshop. The introduction to traditional storytelling and puppetry are changing my life. I have found a calling (outside of parenting) where I am not just capable, I am excellent AND I love it.

48(60) — 2020

Leora and Anwyn are both done school. Wendy and I have started working through what it means to be “empty nesters.”

A lot of the patterns of behaviour that have seen us through 25 years together have begun to break down. Previously, I was content to give (if not force) much of my ability to choose to Wendy. Increasingly I resent it. I resent it, but I don’t know how to do anything else. This is a recipe for a crisis of relationship and we both know it.

6 months ago, I went to a councillor for the first time in my life. Wendy insisted. I made what seems like the most ridiculous realization of my life since I discovered that other people were human. Are you ready? Planning is really important. Yup. I call it my JENGA realization. 

Okay, let’s be fair. I knew that planning was important, but I didn’t realize that it mattered that I bother to do it myself. So I outsourced my planning. As Wendy and I divided up “jobs” and responsibilities in our marriage, I accepted cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming as my jobs (just for example). In return I didn’t want to have to bother with the planning. I was pretty terrible at it, anyway. What I failed to grasp was this: planning is the beautiful dance of your life. And, I had left Wendy to dance alone. As it happens, planning your life is NOT equivalent to any amount of house chores. 

I have come to think of all the things I have control over in my life as Jenga pieces. Wendy and I have stacked our pieces together into a nice tower. Over the years we have added pieces to the tower as our children were added to the tower. But remember, I have given Wendy control over most of my pieces without even knowing it. Even though this game is played with Jenga blocks, it is far more involved. There are 3 main goals: a stable tower, a tower with a pleasing shape (think both about positive and negative space), and a tower that has the ability to be moved from one environment to another. 

Jenga stability means that your tower doesn’t fall. Things are static in your relationship. You don’t want things to change in your life (good or bad) and—barring a disaster—they won’t.

Jenga shape describes what can fit in the negative space around your pieces. Exotic shapes can allow for more and various things within your life. Maybe that is travel, work, children, adventure—anything that takes planning or resources to achieve.

Jenga Movement is the ability to change the biggest things in your life. The things that reside at the bottom of the stack. They are hard to move and when they do, they affect a lot of other pieces. I think of these as the biggest changes: starting a new family, exploring changes to your gender identity or expression, switching careers, loosing a child/spouse…

So my 7th octal will hopefully see me become a planner. I want to stack and arrange the pieces of my life with Wendy into a beautiful and crazy tower. I want it to have a lot of space in and around it. I want cantilevers and strange angles. And, I want to be able to move it to places that I haven’t even thought of yet

Monday, September 23, 2019

JAU - Just another update

One of my “update” style posts. We are going to get into a hodge-podge of activities.


Hmmm... I think that bear may be putting on a layer of winter fat :(

 A few months back, I was contacted to do some shadow puppetry for the Remai Modern art gallery. I try and choose to involve the library whenever possible, so I arranged to do it via SPL. I get paid less for the gig this way, but I also get paid for the development and preparation time, so it more than balances. Also, it raises the profile of the library, which I love.

 I decided to do a show that we had previously developed which we call “The Hat Trilogy.” It is a mixed puppetry version of three of Jon Klassen’s books: I Want My Hat Back, This is Not My Hat, and We Found a Hat. They are excellent and entertaining children’s picture books. It was originally Claire’s idea and she directed the original showing of it at the library. So, it’s general form is pretty much thanks to her (and, of course, Klassen). I developed some nice shadow puppets for it, and Jim built most of the physical puppets.

It was a fine performance at the Remai, though the lighting was poor. I never expected to get a social media response (much less a positive one) from my current favourite picture-book author. My manager, Katie, posted a video on twitter  (FYI, not nearly as good as being there) and to all of our surprise, he responded (that doesn’t normally happen). Anyway, he was very positive and my spirits rode pretty high for a week or so.

The week after, I did a workshop for the Remai, teaching adults to build their own shadow puppets. I had very few participants, but he people I had were really keen and all surpassed my expectations.



Currently, I am still working on a couple of new bits with Jim and Crispi for school programs this winter. I think it is going to be really pretty.


New Shoes

Picked these up yesterday at TRAXX. Super fun. Thanks to a great morning walk on the Meewasin, fabulous autumn light, and a challenge issued from Wendy, I engaged in a little morning photo session starring my new sneakers
 Not sure where these shoes have been all my life. Not only are they really comfy, they look fun and edgy. Usually, that equals uncomfortable.
  Saskatoon Stork?

 Hanging in there...

Passing the ‘Spin’ test

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Summer 2019 - a.k.a. Catch Up for Kent

Okay, so you know about my New Zealand trip and my ongoing coffee obsession, but now that I am off G+ and Facebook, has my daily life stopped? Nope.


The most straight forward part of my life is work. At least I feel that it has the fewest subheadings ;)

I continue to work part-time at the library. Mostly, I am based out of the JS Wood Branch, but I find myself doing story times or special projects all around Saskatoon’s nine public branches. Much of my time is spent doing preparation and training for some of our newer programming staff and the rest is working with the public as a facilitator for paint nights, story times, robotics interactions, etc...

I am currently working on a couple of special shows. One for the Remai Modern. I am doing a puppet show for them in September and the following week I am doing a workshop on shadow puppetry for teens. Another is for the Festival of Trees. The library will provide feature storytelling and puppetry at the end of the Boom Town Main Street. Lastly, I am working on a show to take place between Christmas and New Years. It will take place at three different branches over two days.

I still have some frustration with the slowness of getting things going during the libraries lengthy transition process, but it feels like things are starting to take off, so to speak.



Beware. The video below is about 12-13 minutes. Make sure you have something to relax with while it plays, if you decide that you really want to see Wendy’s entire garden as of early June.
If you don’t want to watch the video, I understand and am providing a few photos below:


We aren’t quite done, but here is what has happened in our kitchen.

So, Wendy has hated the oak since we moved in 17 years ago and much of the hardware (hinges in particular) were broken or failing. A few weeks back, we decided that it couldn’t wait one day more. 
 Wendy chose a “chalk paint” which adheres to old finishes nicely and still allows some of the grain to show through, although you can’t really see in these photos. We changed to black handles and hinges to help my espresso machine and grinder fit into the overall look better.
 It looks way cleaner and brighter now. We still may add some tile and we have to paint the window frame.
Not sure how I convinced her, but to add some whimsy to the kitchen, I am adding a series of inner and outer chalk surfaces that we are customizing with chalk pens. Let the fun begin!


Both of our kids are here working full time over the summer for SEDA. They are very lucky to have flexible hours and working locations. Nothing like my summer jobs selling burgers for MacDonalds. Not a lot of time for us to do things together. It’s an adjustment for sure as they enter adult life. A bit of arguing about what it means to be adults and just who gets to decide on the definitions. A work in progress.

Wendy is thriving at her new job at The Gwenna Moss Institute at the U of S. She is “killing it,” as they say.



Wendy had a conference in Vancouver. I drove us there, tagged along and took photos! In addition to attending my first Apple Today event (where I leaned about a video technique called “jump cuts”)...
 I saw a great big slug...
 Climbed on the worlds biggest truck...
 Visited Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump (highly recommended)...
And swam in a lake in my clothes.

Namekus Lake

Most recently, we went on a camping trip into P.A. National park.
 I put my phone in the water—a lot...
 Ate amazing campfire food...
 Took pictures of very small things (not with my phone)...
 Enjoyed amazing sunsets (at nearby Sandy Lake)...
 Went canoeing with my stunning wife...
And was just continually amazed at how different and beautiful nature is every single day!