2014 End of Year Memes: Union Activist Achievement Unlocked, Spirit of the West Rediscovered, RV Camper Purchased

1. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?
I joined the bargaining committee for CUPE Local 1594 at my library. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was a really interesting experience – getting insight into how both the union and management approach various issues in the workplace as well as getting to speak directly to some issues that were most important to me. (For example, in this round of bargaining we got RPL’s first-ever Maternity/Paternity/Adoption Leave (MPAL) benefit which was something I’d seen the value of firsthand, having just been through Shea’s maternity leave.)

2. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Shea’s best friend and guardian to our kids, Janelle, had her third, a baby named Abby (“Jason will like the name.  We were inspired by Abbey Road!”). Another one of her co-workers had a baby with her Jamaican boyfriend and has now moved there to live. Shea’s cousin continued the international trend of baby births by having one in New Zealand.  Personally, lots of co-workers have had babies and tying to my last answer, our bargaining committee joked that there might be a huge spike in pregnancies at RPL in the coming year now that people can get a small (10% for six months) top-up of their wages!

3. Did anyone close to you die?
As sad as the death of Shea’s Uncle Darren was, it made me happy to see the funeral card she brought back to see that one of the hymns he had played at his service was “Baba O’Reilly” by The Who! 😉  A family friend and the mother of a couple boys who taught me some early hockey lessons, Audrey Smith, passed away earlier this year.  And I just got the sad news that one of dad’s cousins in Ontario died of a sudden stroke at the age of 81 right before Christmas.  We got a visit with Aunt Luella less than a year ago when she was passing through to Victoria…

Aunt Luella



4. What places did you visit?
Another year without any “major” holidays.  We spent our winter holiday in the warm environs of the West Edmonton Mall, the first week of July fishing in northern Saskatchewan.  After buying an RPod ultralight RV in August, we got out for a couple trips to Moose Jaw and Shea’s cousin’s wedding in Willow Bunch. We finished the year by visiting Minot during Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend but really, with the exchange rate, found that there was very little that we couldn’t find cheaper back home.

5. What would you like to have in the next year that you lacked this year?
For the last couple years, our winter vacations have consisted of the hot weather havens of Winnipeg and Edmonton.  So I’d love to have a tropical vacation this year if we can swing it!

6. What date from this year will remain etched upon your memory?
April 13 – Sasha’s First Birthday Party with a “Hungry Caterpillar” theme
December 12 – RPL tentative contract agreed to after four months of bargaining (compared to 2.5 years last time with job action and a near-strike.)

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Building a new fence to replace the old decrepit one in our backyard without managing to cut off any fingers or put a screw through my arm is a pretty major achievement for me! 😉  (Having two experienced neighbours – one who said he’s built a fence at every house he’s ever lived in and one who’s a carpenter helped!)

8. What was your biggest failure of the year?
I had (quietly) told myself that turning 40 would be a good time to get back in good shape/lose some weight.  Then I told myself that same thing (quietly) on New Year’s Day.  Then on my 41st birthday.  But I’m still floating somewhere halfway between my heaviest and lowest weights of the past few years.  Hard to do it when I *really* love food that tastes good and I really love craft beer as well as the various other things that impact your ability to live a healthier lifestyle (I’ll even blame the kids a bit!).  But who knows – maybe this year?

9. What was your biggest surprise?
The first manager I had after moving to Regent Place Branch Head announced he was leaving RPL but still wanted to conduct a six-month performance review.  I wasn’t sure what to expect since he insisted on it.  But it turned out to be an extremely complimentary review which really reinforced that a lot of what I was doing at the branch was being recognized – a pleasant surprise indeed.   

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Oh, the usual mix of sniffles and sore throats throughout the year including a bit of sickness that whipped through our house right before Christmas.  (Sasha’s nose is still a a double-barreled snot fountain!)  I also suffered my weirdest injury ever – reaching in the vegetable compartment of our fridge, my thumbnail sliced a butternut squash and a small sliver of it slid under the nail!  You always hear about bamboo shoots under the fingernails as a torture method – I never realised before but now know why that is so effective – incredibly painful!)

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Although it was still very low mileage (<100,000km), neither Shea and I are fans of having a vehicle off warranty as they can quickly turn into money pits.  So at the start of summer, we sold our 2006 Grand Caravan mini-van and upgraded to a fully loaded Town & Country mini-van.  Soon on the heels of that purchase (and inspired by friends in Calgary who are pulling one with an even smaller vehicle), we bought an ultralight RV, the R-Pod 182G.  We only got it out a couple times but are looking forward to much camping in the years to come!

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
The Calgary Flames began the year expected to finish at or near the bottom of the NHL standings as they’re still in the early years of a re-build.  But with the season nearly half over and coming off an 8-game losing streak, they’re still only 2 points out of a playoff spot, playing *way* above what you’d expect on paper and finding ways to win (they have more come-from-behind third period wins this year than their northern rivals have total wins!)  Speaking of the Edmonton Oilers, they’re basically the anti-Flames this year – their three first-overall draft picks have less points than two fourth-round Flames picks, they find ways to lose every close game, they went on an 11-game losing streak, a goalie for the Arizona Coyotes have more wins in the Edmonton Oilers arena in all of December than the Oilers do.  Really, the “how bad are the Oilers this year” stats just go on and on!  No one purposely tanks to get a generational talent but with Connor McDavid projected to be the next Sidney Crosby-level talent in this year’s draft, the Oilers sure aren’t trying as hard to win as they could either (their management’s various headscratching moves reinforces this perception – another fun stat – Oilers GM Craig McTavish has had more press conferences in December (2) to address the issues with the team then the team has wins (1).)    

13. Whose behaviour left you underwhelmed or disappointed?
I was going to write about the Oilers being the anti-Flames as a companion answer to my last one.  But since I already covered that in my last answer, instead, I’ll instead mention anyone who’s done or said something this year that’s showing a distinct lack of empathy or kindness for their fellow travelers on the planet.  This includes things like people making Dickensian comments about Christmas to others who give a rather heartless response to the circumstances of a cancer survivor.

14. Where did most of your money go?
I keep a running log of potential answers for these questions that I add point form notes to throughout the year.  So I have to snicker that I thought earlier this year that “new washer & dryer” was going to be the big ticket item of the year!  Nope! As already mentioned, not only did we buy a new vehicle (well, used but still pricey enough!) but then we topped that off with an RV as well!  Of course, it could always be worse – we also went and looked at a couple houses.  We’re not super-serious about buying a new place but if the right place came along that had a few things our current house lacks, we’d definitely consider it.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
It got a huge backlash but I thought the release of the new U2 album to all iTunes account holders for free as part of the new iPhone 6 press conference was a watershed moment in music distribution history.  On that note, the new iPhone 6 is pretty cool too (of course) and it’ll be interesting to see how the iWatch fares when it’s released. We also bought a Chromecast for ourselves for Christmas and I’m enjoying that too as we inch ever closer to cutting the cable cord completely.

16. What song/album will always remind you of this year?
As mentioned in the last entry, the new U2 album will probably define this year for me. Also, anything by Spirit of the West who I got back into quite heavily this year after their lead singer announced he has early onset dementia.  “Seasons (Waiting on You)” by Future Islands was probably my single of the year.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
A) Happier or sadder?  Happier.  So far, my forties feel like great balance of having good health, good income to do/buy stuff we want to do.  And watching a baby turn into a toddler is about the most amazing thing you can experience so Sasha makes me incredibly happy every day.
B) Thinner or fatter?  As mentioned, I’m about the same as I was this time last year.  But on this topic, have to give BIG kudos to Shea who lost 40+ lbs of post-baby weight and has done an amazing job of keeping it off.
Richer or poorer?  Poorer because of the added debt from our new van and RV as well as Shea taking an extended, unpaid maternity leave (18 months instead of 12) but as with everything in life, you’re balancing the long-term with the short-term and overall, I think we’re doing okay.  

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
We only got out in our new R-Pod a couple times since we bought it so late in the season so I’m hoping we get to do a lot more this coming year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’ve given myself permission to not finish every book I start.  If it doesn’t grab me, I’ll close it after 10 or 25 or 50 pages rather than push through.  At the same time, I’ve also quit on a lot of books this year that I’d normally have really enjoyed.  But either I lose interest or get distracted by a new book and then never even finish the books that other years, I think I would have.  To put it another way, I read about half the number of books I normally do this year.  If I finished all the books I started, I’d probably be right at my normal pace.

20. How did you spend  Christmas?
This was the third year that we hosted Christmas at our house which is just so much easier with kids – no traveling, no having to hide Santa presents in the vehicle for the trip, kids get to sleep in their own beds, etc.  The difference is this the first time in a long time that I took the whole week off – other years I might take a day before or after Christmas but it’s been a long time since I had a full week off – a few days before and a few after Christmas so I can really focus on enjoying the season.  Very enjoyable and relaxing!

21. Who did you spend the most time communicating with?
Once I joined the RPL bargaining committee, I’d say my fellow committee members as well as the ~20 full days we spent in bargaining with RPL management over a four month period meant those were the people I was communicating with as much as anyone else this year.

22. What was your favourite TV program?
Shea and I have been knocking off a lot of today’s “Must Watch” TV shows: True Detective.  House of Cards.  Orange is the New Black.  Game of Thrones.  The Wire.  As mentioned earlier, once I figure out a way to reliably get the local news and Rider games online, we’ll likely cut our cable and put the $1000/year we pay back into our pocket!

23. Do you hate anything that you didn’t hate at this time last year?
Every year, I struggle with this question.  I changed it from “hate anyone” to “hate anything” but still, that word “hate” is so strong.  But maybe Stephen Harper and what he’s done to Canada fits the descriptor?  Easily the worst Prime Minister of my lifetime.

24. What was the best book(s) you read?
Just as I picked “Under Pressure: Rescuing People From a Culture of Hyper-Parenting” by Carl Honore when Pace was a toddler, I’m going to go with another parenting book as my choice for the “Hammy” award as the best book I read this year.  “Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle – A Journey Through Infancy” was a really great look at various aspects of a toddler’s development and the way our understanding of this development has changed over time.  It’s also interesting to note a couple of the trends in my reading – for example, I went through a phase of reading books about North Korea as well as a phase of reading “hard science’ (or hard sci-fi) books such as “The Martian” and the book “What If?” by the author of the web comic, XKCD.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Re-discovery.  Spirit of the West by a long shot.  

26. What did you want and get?
A funny answer but Shea’s surprised me with a new toaster for Christmas and sometimes it’s the little things! 😉

27. What did you want and not get?
I was really hoping that an NHL player on the LA Kings whose family owns a cottage near ours would bring the Stanley Cup to the lake for his “Day with the Cup” and then let me have a sip from it! 😉

28. What were your favourite films of this year?
Shea and I probably spent more time watching episodic television shows than movies this year but I’d say that “Boyhood” would easily top my list for the year. (Or in terms of movies loaded with freedom of expression symbolism if not quality filmmaking, how about “The Interview”?)

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
How embarrassing is it that I have absolutely no memory of my birthday this year?!?

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Do I answer “winning the lottery” for this question every year? 😉

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept this year?
I decided to follow the lead of NHL players who grow scraggly playoff beards by growing my own “Negotiations Beard”. Luckily, negotiations lasted only four months (only a bit longer than the hockey playoffs) instead of 2.5 years like last time as I think Shea would’ve been calling the Labour Minister to force us to resolve our contract!

My Beard


32. What kept you sane?
Not sure if I’ve written it other years or in other blog posts but I love the philosophy of “Everything you do matters; nothing you do matters.”  What that means is that yes, everything you do on a day-to-day basis – helping someone find the book they need or whatever – is important and useful.  But at the same time, in the long term, those things you do that seem so important in the moment, rarely resonate a year or five years or ten years later.

33. What political issue stirred you the most?
Being non-political.  Before Sasha was born, I decided to pull back on all volunteer activities – political and otherwise.  With the notable exception of going on the board of a regional literary publisher who did a lot for me when I was starting out in my career, I’ve held to that.  I love how a colleague on the Ryan Meili campaign corrected me when I said I was going to be selfish with my time after Sasha was born.  “That’s not selfish, that’s self-first.  There’s a difference!”

34. Who did you miss?
There are things I miss about it and things I don’t but since I moved away from our Central library, one of the main things I miss is being around so many different people who work for the library (roughly 1/3 of our entire workforce works at Central compared to only 1/20th of the library’s employees who work at my current branch.)

35.  Who was the best new person you met?
As mentioned earlier, getting to know everybody on the Coteau Books board, some of whom I knew as acquaintances and some of whom are new to me completely, has been great.  I also love that I get to keep one foot in the publishing/author world and one foot in libraryland – areas that are often complimentary but just as often, contradictory.

36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned this year.
I’m not sure I learned it this year but I continually had the idea of trusting my own values and being true to myself reinforced in a variety of ways.

37.  Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?
I’m not a poverty-stricken mother in 1932 but Maria Dunn’s song about the ongoing struggles of people for equality and fairness resonates…

Now I’ve read it in the paper, this supposed “Hunger March”
Was the scheme of Reds, they said, our hunger was a farce
Well I don’t care what they say, for me it did ring true
An ordinary mother in 1932.
We Were Good People” – Maria Dunn

38. Link to a photo that sums up your year
A family photo during our first “real” excursion with our new rPod.  We took it to Shea’s cousin’s wedding in Willow Bunch Saskatchewan along with both her parents and my parents and their campers.  Great holiday, great party, great memories!

Western Wedding Family Photo

39. Best App of the Year
I’ve got a late contender with the new social media site, Plague, which is sort of like Reddit distilled to its bare bones – vote content up or down, repeat.  Very addictive.

I’ve also really enjoyed a math game called Threes and an app for a popular Saskatchewan card game, Kaiser.

40. What single moment defined your year?
Not sure if this is defined my year but our CUPE national rep did later tell me, “Well, that’s a first.  I’ve never heard someone say “I’m an atheist and I celebrate Christmas!” at the bargaining table before!” 😉

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