Mom's Gonna Snap

I bought this shirt for Wendy a couple of weeks ago after seeing it mentioned on Twitter.  Shipping was expensive ($15 to Canada) but she loves it.  According to the site, Super-soft organic cotton, relaxed fit tee with a slightly longer body than most t-shirts.  It had me at the double entendre.


Our Daily Bird 65: Stained Glass Sparrow

Image via Daily Mail

If you are looking for bird images in stained glass church windows, you will usually find a white dove bearing the weight of religious imagery from ancient stories. I like the bird in this stained glass - a white-crowned sparrow that finds itself memorialized in the window of a 13th century church in Norfolk, England. It drew a crowd when it landed in the vicar's garden having completed a 3,000 mile journey across the Atlantic to become only one of four white-crowned sparrows to ever be spotted in Great Britain.

The crowds took up a collection to have this memorial made and it inspires me more than many a dove. I like the idea of remembering something that pleasantly surprised you simply because it was out of place, hung around a while, and then flew away again. Here's to all those who get lost and decide to keep flying.



Good Morning Coffee

I only started drinking coffee a few years ago. I don't know why I made it  through college, living in Europe, and travelling through some great third wave coffee cities before succumbing to the power of the bean but there it is. After initial forays into over roasted, over logoed, and over priced espresso shots, I started to learn about kinds of beans and the importance of things like proper temperature, good water, and the appearance of a good shot.

A friend - yes a dear friend - gave me a Rancilio Silvia, one of the best home espresso machines available to all of mankind! I could be overstating it but the Silvia does invite devotion like this from its many followers:

Those were the caffeine-filled days in a busy little house on the prairie with lattes for all! It was fun having such a precise morning ritual filled with obsessive espresso shot judgements: "Oh I think that's a good one!" or "Oh no, not quite. We'll try again."

Times change. And with a move, less coffee and a busier life with fewer visitors, I gave the Rancilio back to the dear friend and moved to a minimalist set up. Rather than hunt and peck for a good coffee press amidst a sea of presses, I deferred to the Coffee Crew and ordered their recommendations from in Vancouver - an Espro stainless steel press with microfilter and a portable Hario hand grinder.




This combination works well and can be easily packed for trips. In fact, I first tried it in Tofino where it saved me from hotel-brown-grains-of-mysterious-origin-in-sealed-package. Now with some good beans from 2% Jazz, I'm all set for a paired down approach to morning coffee. I miss my Silvia operatic experience but simplicity is good too.





There are actors and actresses who do not need to speak a single word to convey meaning and emotion. As masters of their craft, a raised eyebrow, shifting of balance, or gesture of the hand speaks volumes and such is the animation of Sylvain Chomet.

Chomet first rose to prominence with his 2003 film, Les Triplettes De Belleville, a highly stylized, comic period piece acclaimed for it's eye-catching, traditionally styled animation, quirky characters, and lively musical score. The film contains almost no actual dialogue, and the genius of Chomet is that it is hardly even missed. Through the use of facial expressions and overblown gestures, Chomet creates a sort of animated mime that speaks far more than words ever could - a technique that serves him particularly well in his second full-length film, L'Illusionniste.

Based on a script by Jacques Tati, a French comic actor and director who himself began as a mime, L'Illusionniste tells the story of a travelling magician in the dying days of vaudeville-style theatre. The magician (based on Tati himself), carries about him an air of dignity and quiet resignation as he moves from town to town performing for dwindling crowds. A scene where he repeatedly goes through a complex series of preparations in anticipation of stepping on stage only to be rebuffed by a young rock band's repeated encores offers a quiet sense of pathos and the world moving on. After taking an engagement in a remote Scottish village, he meets a young girl who he delights with a few of his tricks. They form a connection which leads them to Edinburgh where they both attempt to build new lives as surrogate father and daughter.

The colours and style are more muted than the exuberance of Triplettes, as befits the more somber story, but Chomet's sense of wonder, conveyed through the exquisite detail of Edinburgh's streets, the Scottish countryside, and even the dingy theatre backstages, still shines through even as his playfulness is evidenced in characters like his three tumbling brothers, the magician's surly rabbit, and a cameo from Triplettes' buck-toothed, mouse-like mechanic. The sedate pace and subdued mood create an atmosphere where the merest of movements and smallest of gestures convey great meaning and a bowl of soup can stop a suicide and a gift of new pair of shoes begins the transformation of two lives.

With it's recent Oscar nomination, L'Illusionniste has been seeing some wider distribution, and I highly recommend catching it on the big screen if you can. It's traditional, hand-drawn animation and quiet beauty are a refreshing respite from the flash-bang of 3D digital images and well worth the investment of your time.



Friday morning poem: Growing is forever


Our Daily Bird 64: Opus 23 by Dustin O'Halloran


Opus 23 by Dustin O'Halloran, animated by Marco Morandi. Thank you to Jett for sharing this on Twitter.


Our Daily Bird 63: Kiwi


Our Daily Bird 62: Julia Hepburn

Toronto artist Julia Hepburn:

In my work, I attempt to reclaim the innocence and curiosity of childhood.

Each compartmentalized piece displays a single scene with virtually no context. Viewers are encouraged to use their imaginations in order to develop a narrative explaining the scene.


I Wish I Was a Stallion


Death of Red Hen


He Was a Good Friend

More Julia Heburn here.


I'm not hungry (just a little self-absorbed)

Today the NFL and the NFL Players Union are fighting a media war over who is the greediest.  Like all professional sports labor disputes, it's billionaires fighting with multi-millionaires over who gets a bigger percentage of the billions. There are speeches, insults, unfair labour complaints and even banned commercials (don't click on any of those links, they bore even a hardcore football fan) and for some reason it dominates the media.  As does the Grammy's, Justin Bieber's $750 haircut, Charlie Sheen's porn family, and whatever it is the Kardashian's are doing in Manhattan

Around here, I have been reading about more of those evil birds that show up here daily, looking for some cool examples of micro architecture and what I am going to give Wendy for Valentines Day (a loose leaf tumbler - not sure how it works but Wendy seems to like it).

Meanwhile in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and even in Saskatoon, people are are struggling to find food.  In 2008 record high food prices started riots and unrest in over 30 countries. This year prices went higher and people hit the streets. While the media was attributing it to Wikileaks, a passion for democracy, or because of a dictator, we forgot that people all over the world can't afford to eat or if they can, they can't find food to buy.

I take food for granted. How can I not, I live in Saskatchewan. Wendy works for the same Safeway I worked at seven years ago. The shelter I work in has a fully stocked commercial kitchen. Our kitchen manager, Ryan, is a gourmet cook and you never know what masterpiece he will cook up. Several times I have made rushed phone calls to Wendy to tell her to come down just to taste the awesomeness that Ryan has created.  Wholesalers come by with samples and by virtue of harassing them when they come in and having my office next to Ryan, samples and trade show invites often make their way into my office. The cooks are friendly and while the occasional knife has been thrown at me after some wisecrack (one stuck in my arm) and a Big Mac was once beaten to death, they let me grab a snack whenever I can get away with it.

It's enough to make me forget that since food and fuel prices have surged in 2008, our meals served have grown from 40,000 meals served in 2007 to over 100,000 meals served in 2010. It's not just us. The Saskatoon Friendship Inn, a local soup kitchen has started a capital campaign to double the space they have to serve and prepare the food. A report card put out by Canadian food banks showed March 2010 had the highest usage ever with food banks in Canada seeing an increase of 20% since 2009.  At our shelter, each day we put out three large tubs of almost stale bread that is donated to us from a Co-Op and Safeway and each day when I go home it is gone. The bread walks out one or two loafs at a time carried by the countless streams of people who come in with the same question, "Can I please have a loaf of bread?".

As I consume media, food, and items that are considered luxury everywhere else in the world except for the west, it's easy to forget that over half of the world lives on under $2 a day. They aren't worried about which DSLR to purchase or if they should switch from PC to a Mac, they are worried about making it through today on less then $2 a day.

That includes 97 percent in Uganda, 80 percent in Nicaragua, 66 percent in Pakistan, and 47 percent in China, according to data from the World Bank. What makes this problem even more complex is that we are reaching the point where more people are raised out of poverty and more of the world strives after the standards of living that the west enjoys, the more resources they consume. What we are are slowly understanding is that there may not be enough resources to go around for all of us to live like this. Heck, there isn't even enough grain to keep the world fed right now.

While there are some signs that this was a one off thing (Ten million acres of Saskatchewan crops lost to flooding last spring and is likely to lose a lot of acres this upcoming year) while China's food imports are surging:

China’s wheat harvest may drop by 4 million tons this year, Alex Bos, a London-based analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd., said last week. Output may have fallen to 114.5 million tons at the last harvest, from 115.1 million tons a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Demand also may be boosting prices. Egypt agreed to buy 170,000 tons of Australian, U.S. and Canadian soft wheat in a tender, General Authority for Supply Commodities Vice Chairman Nomani Nomani said Feb. 11.

It doesn't look like a short term trend.

China is on the brink of a "new era" of corn importing which will see its intake surge from, effectively, zero to 15m tonnes within five years, a leading analyst has said.

The world's second-ranked consumer of the grain, whose return to imports in the spring sent Chicago prices soaring, has "gotten to the turning point" where it will regularly buy abroad, Hanver Li, the chairman and chief executive of Shanghai JC Intelligence, said.

Imports will grow from 1.7m tonnes this year to 5.8m tonnes next year, and to 15m tonnes in 2014-15.

It's an incredibly complex problem that involves economics, politics, unethical agricultural and foreign aid policies, and a culture of corruption in many countries who desperatly need honest brokers. Whenever I get frustrated I loan out some money via Kiva. Is that making a difference or does it help someone consume even more, making the problems worse for their neighbors? I am trying to consume less and use locally grown food and goods but the One Tonne Challenge taught Canadians one things, personal virtue may be a good thing but it's hard to bring about real change.

Whatever the solution is going to be, the events of the last month have made me re-evaluate many things in my life that I have never thought that much about.




Because robots are people too...(and Our Daily Bird: 62)

Raven by Ann P. Smith

I was amused to click through @girlinthehedge's tweet this morning:

Robots are getting their own internet. Because hey, robots are people too.

It turns out that European scientists are working on a system to allow robots to communicate with each other and share knowledge they gain from interacting with the world. The BBC News reports:

RoboEarth will be a communication system and a database, [researcher Dr Markus Waibel] said.

In the database will be maps of places that robots work, descriptions of objects they encounter and instructions for how to complete distinct actions.

The human equivalent would be Wikipedia, said Dr Waibel.

"Wikipedia is something that humans use to share knowledge, that everyone can edit, contribute knowledge to and access," he said. "Something like that does not exist for robots."


Shameless Idealists: "Get out of my way."

Our little gathering of the Hedge Society is meant to provide some hope to each other in our working and creating lives. It is also meant to pass on some of that hope, meagre and confused as it is from time to time, to our readers.

We often think of idealists as people whose eyes are so blinded by the silver flashing in all the linings that they have no concept of any realities. But as you look to those working on the everyday and the ordinary of bringing hope to dark places, you often see lives inspired by not just the recognition but the embrace of the suffering that comes their way.

Shameless Idealists is a 7 part television series hosted by Craig Kielburger, the founder of Free the Children. Throughout the series, interviewees are asked about giving up, about facing fear, and about being intimidated. Often their answer starts with "I could have..." and ends with "I just decided...". Listen for hope as a decision.

One of my favorite interviews is with Betty Williams. She and I may be far apart in background and approach but it doesn't matter. I love the strength. I love the sense of humor (which seems to be a common chararacteristic of many activists). I love the "up yours" to apathy.

Craig Kielburger: "You took on one of the most intractable conflicts in human history. People must have looked on and said, 'Your actions are futile. You can never bring peace to the Middle East.'What did you say to them?"

Betty Williams: "Get out of my way."


Spotted in a Book

To whoever owned that red pen and took it to this new library book, Julia Cameron's Faith and Will, thank you for the good giggle and for offering such a perfect demonstration of the point of that paragraph.


A Hermitage in the Woods

My son Mark has an independent streak and he likes his own space.  When my two year old was born, Mark offered to move out and in with his uncle if we needed some more space.  While he loves spending time with us, he dreams of having his own pad.  A couple of years ago I was surfing the web with him and he saw this hermitage and he fell in love.  He even offered to share the space with his younger brother.

This hermitage is a tiny retreat in a 64 sq ft footprint.  It has a twin bed, a desk area, a storage closet, a basic kitchen area and 32 sq ft of covered deck space.While I love the concept, something looked wrong to me.  It was the roof, I realized I would slope the roof towards the back of the cabin rather than the front.  Luckily the plans are simple enough that it wouldn't be a big job to change things around.   For only $17.00 you can purchase an ebook that not only includes the blueprints but also shows you how to construct your own little hermitage.

While not as refined at the famous Hermit's Cabin by Arvesund Living AB, it did let me know that a project like this is within reach and pretty affordable.  Once insulated, the body heat from two boys, a dog, and a small space heater should be enough to keep it comfortable in anything but the most severe Saskatchewan winter night.


Domestic Landscapes: Bert Teunissen

I recently came across the work of Dutch photographer Bert Teunissen and his project Domestic Landscapes. I have been tiring lately of Martha Stewart-esque domestic photos, perfectly lit showing teal mugs of coffee composed next to a piece of toast and a pot of jam that just so happens to come from the perfectly matching complimentary side of the color wheel. Teunissen's photographs have been a welcome antidote. The images come from across Europe and Japan. I needed time with these photos - they provided an opportunity to think about many of the thing Teunissen mentions on his web site: 

For the last thirteen years I have been working on a photography project called Domestic Landscapes. This project is about light - natural daylight. The photos show how daylight illuminates the domestic interior, and how it dictated the way the interior was build, used and decorated. This specific light and the atmosphere it creates have their origins in the architecture of the pre-electricity era, when daylight was the main source of light. This kind of light started to disappear from European homes after World War II when the old way of building was abandoned. At this moment few of these homes remain.

Domestic Landscapes is also about identity and diversity. Every country, every region has its own distinctive culture that can be recognized in its homes, customs, cuisine and traditions.

The inhabitants of the houses where I take photographs still know how something ought to taste and how it should be made; they understand the importance of time and ripening, and the value of daily and seasonal repetition. I found that when local traditions disappear, most of their visible aspects are also lost. When a small farmer stops slaughtering, the open fireplace becomes redundant. Sausages and hams will be dried artificially and smoked in a factory losing their original flavour and appearance. And when a small farmer stops farming, the stables are converted into storage or living spaces, the stable doors are replaced by windows, the cement floor by parquet, the hayloft is altered into bedrooms, the kitchen is moved to the former parlour, and slowly all rooms and spaces will have lost their original meaning and significance.





Bosnia i Hercegovina

Many more images at Bert Teunissen's website.





Our Daily Bird 61: David Wierzbicki

David and Goliath, by David Wierzbicki.

It's no secret that we have a soft spot for calendars here at the Hedge Society. One of my all-time favourites was illustrated by David Wierzbicki for Wycliffe Canada several years ago; it was quirky and thoughtful and exactly the kind of calendar you don't mind hanging out with for an entire year. David and I bumped into each other on Twitter and I knew I'd have to share his work with you.

 I asked David to write a little something about himself:

As for us; me and my family (wife Amy and daughter Sophia) just moved to Entwistle, Alberta to help pastor at a church and I am hoping to see my experience as an artist and co-curator define my role as a pastor. I want to create space for expression and artistry in our worship and our community life.

You can see more of his work here, and follow him on Twitter here.


Our Daily Bird 60: The Great Grey Shrike

Hallõgija / The Great Grey Shrike from Chintis Lundgren on Vimeo.

From Estonia: spend 6 minutes or so with the great grey shrike, some sparrows, the common cuckoo and a few other weird little birds.



The Julie Project

Art is powerful when it imitates life - or stands witness to it, like documentary photographer Darcy Padilla does with her art/life projects.

In The Julie Project, Padilla followed her subject, Julie, off and on from 1993 (when Julie was 18) to Julie’s death in 2010 from AIDS. Padilla says,

I first met Julie on February 28, 1993. Julie, 18, stood
in the lobby of the Ambassador Hotel, barefoot, pants
unzipped, and an 8 day-old infant in her arms. She lived
in San Francisco’s SRO district, a neighborhood of soup
kitchens and cheap rooms. Her room was piled with clothes,
overfull ashtrays and trash. She lived with Jack, father
of her first baby Rachael, and who had given her AIDS.
She left him months later to stop using drugs.

For the last 18 years I have photographed Julie Baird’s
complex story of multiple homes, AIDS, drug abuse,
abusive relationships, poverty, births, deaths, loss
and reunion. Following Julie from the backstreets of
San Francisco to the backwoods of Alaska.

When you look at the photos of someone’s life and death over 18 years, it’s compelling and powerful and voyeuristic all at once - in this case, like watching a train wreck and being deeply disturbed and finding yourself unable to look away. Is it exploitative? Do I think it’s exploitative because it’s disturbing, and disturbing things in life should be kept private? Why did Julie say yes to being photographed in the first place?

Julie at the age of 18, in 1993: (photo by Darcy Padilla)

Julie at 18 years old, 1993, photo by Darcy Padilla

Julie, nearing the end of her life at the age of 36, in 2010 - the photos get a lot worse shortly after: (photo by Darcy Padilla)

In the end, The Julie Project is art that stays with you and challenges you, which is the old version of what art was supposed to do. At the same time, talking about Julie’s life and death as an art project also feels wrong somehow, like this person who lived a tragic life of poverty, drugs, abuse, and AIDS has been reduced to something we can put up on the wall (or the web) and point at. And I did it too.

And yet, if we didn’t capture it and know about it, it would be easier for us to take comfort in the idea that that kind of life doesn’t exist. I’m not sure what to think.

UPDATE: The Julie Project is sparking lots of thoughts - here's what over 80 people had to say about it on Metafilter.


My Oasis: more small living

I have lived in Saskatoon since I was ten years old.  While we always had enough food on the table and a roof over our heads, there was never enough money for vacations and outside of a yearly day trip to Waskesiu in Prince Albert National Park, we never vacationed. Instead there was a small second hand book store that would sell a 2 cubic foot box full of books for $1 and a couple of times a summer I would go over with my mom and get one. While that made the summers bearable, it wasn’t a vacation.

My mom had a dream of owning a Boler trailer. I am not sure how the four of us would have fit inside one but it never happened. Later in life, I became a bi-vocational pastor in Spiritwood, Saskatchewan while living in Saskatoon. I drove for two hours back and forth from Spiritwood each weekend and made several other trips up and back each month. On top of that,  I had a full time job in Saskatoon, our first child and Wendy who worked opposite hours from me all of the time. I spent a lot of time wanting to get away as a family and not knowing how to do it.

A couple of years ago I found myself working as the Residential Coordinator of the Salvation Army Community Services in Saskatoon. The Salvation Army has been great to work for but the job involves being on 24/7 call and can be stressful. I was at a point in my life when I could start looking around for property on the off-chance we could find a place to get away to.  I saw this cabin by the founders of Hive Modular made out of two shipping containers in Minnesota and was inspired to go looking for a place of my own.


My brother and I started to look around. We found a garden shed sized cabin at Waskesiu for $400,000.  I doubt it was 250 square feet. We found some land by Mout Nebo for $100,000.  I wasn't sure if I could afford the taxes, plus I wasn't sure if it was a lake rather than a glorified slough.  I had kind of given up on the idea until one day a friend who is the Executive Director at a camp and conference center emailed and said he had what he called a rustic cabin really cheap.  I bought it on the spot.  Then I asked him to send me some pictures.  I realized that I hadn’t told Wendy about it yet and so I called her on Skype and said, “Guess what? I bought a cabin and no I don’t know what it looks like yet”.  There was silence on the other end of the call.  Then she said, “I would appreciate it if you would not purchase property without letting me know you were thinking about it.”  Some friends at the same lake owned this cottage and I said, if it’s the same size or bigger than Dennis and Wilda’s cabin, we can make this work. 

Wendy didn’t sound convinced but I was on a roll.

We had some friends out there and they checked the place out for rot and structural issues and later that day I got the photos.  The cabin was 14x18 feet with a a 8x12 add on that was divided into a master bedroom and a storage closet.   348 square feet.  2 adults.  2 kids.  1.5 dogs.  That Boler was looking spacious.  The first time I showed Mark the cabin, he wept (to his credit, he thought we were moving out to it).

I have always loved microarchitecture and here was our chance to see if it would work for a family and a dog that is like a bull in a china shop. Three years and some renovations later, it’s been an adjustment.  We took out a wall and two 7x7 rooms in favour of a big common room, we painted, we tossed out most of the old appliances and made do with a convection toaster oven and microwave.  We added on a $100 gazebo that gave us an additional 100 square feet of space and a quiet space to drink coffee in the evening. 

Our fire pit was the inside of a washer machine surrounded by stones that we pulled out of the lake. Our washroom/showers are a half-block away in one of three different locations that are shared by a bunch of camera owners and campers.  It’s not great at 2:00 a.m. but it works.

The great part of living in a small space is the cost. The appraised value of our cabin is $6000 and $4000 of that is the land. The bad part is that we have around 1/3 the room as our house (891 sq. feet over 1 1/2 stories). It is not a quiet weekend getaway  as our boys at ten and two years of age, have yet to embrace the contemplative lifestyle. 

Along the way we put together a weblog to track progress of the renovations and the changes to the cabin. We discovered a community of people who were seeing how they could live or at least get away with less. Not only that but there are architects who are designing smaller and more cost effective places all over North America.

Finding them has been a lot of fun and while it won't replace Our Daily (evil) Bird, I'll take some time to post some fun examples of micro architecture over the next couple of months.  Hopefully you can find some inspiration for your own oasis.


PhDs and time-wasting.

The Economist posted an article the other day about why PhDs are often a waste of time:

Whining PhD students are nothing new, but there seem to be genuine problems with the system that produces research doctorates (the practical “professional doctorates” in fields such as law, business and medicine have a more obvious value). There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.

To that I’d like to add that as someone who spent 5 years in a business PhD program and then left to do something I found more interesting (research and writing for a broader, non-specialist audience, not to mention gardening and renovating), I think the problem exists for “professional doctorates” too.

If you’re at a top research school, the “practical value” that your degree has isn’t so practical. At my school, for example, people were socialized away from being interested in something like human resources, mostly through criticism and public humiliation, and socialized toward theory that never seemed to have much practical utility at all.

Let me say too that theory CAN be incredibly practical - theory drives practice in many ways. But some theoretical conversations, even in business, are extreme examples of navel-gazing - of interest to a handful of specialists who cite each other’s work and keep each other’s careers buoyant, and of not much interest or use to anyone else.

I started the Phd program because I was incredibly interested in following a particular idea to its natural end. I thought academia was the place to do that, the place to pursue ideas, and research and writing. I was mostly wrong.

The changes that have been ongoing in academia since the 1970s - changes that have to do with the rise of the economic story in higher education - mean universities aren’t what they used to be.

Ideas don’t get the same play that they once did. There’s an academic underclass forming, fewer jobs all the time, and yet my old school still posts on its webpage that their students who graduate go on to great positions and six-figure salaries. When classmates a couple of years ahead of me had a hard time getting jobs, eventually getting hired on different continents that they never wanted to go to, for not as much money as they had hope for, faculty seemed genuinely puzzled. I still don’t know if they were just willfully ignorant about the changes in the system or believed, as many of them do, that if you’re having problems, it must be your own fault somehow - not the system’s.

In my experience, PhD-land ended up being more about careerism and doing work that would get you graduated and then get you tenure at a school that would push your alma mater up in the rankings, regardless of what your true interests were.

When I finally figured that out, I decided to follow my own interests anyway. In my case, the research and writing that I did ended up in the book MONOCULTURE instead of in a PhD dissertation.

And I’m OK with that. The learning that I did at school was absolutely not a waste of time, but it was almost 100% self-directed and I had to fight for it, though because I had external funding (from national science councils instead of from my department), I had much more latitude to pursue my own interests while I was there.

But I found that where I was, the degree process itself, sad to say, was no longer about the learning. And that truly makes a PhD a colossal waste of time.