Canada Reads 2018

Since 2002, CBC has been hosting an annual battle of the books called Canada Reads. Five books are chosen, around a particular theme. Each book is championed by a noteworthy Canadian and, over the course of a week, four of the books are voted off the island, leaving one book that all Canadians should read.

Over the last few years, we have been buying all five of the books on the shortlist, reading most of them, and then enjoying the debates. This year’s theme is “One Book to Open Your Eyes” with the debates beginning on March 26th.

Just days after the shortlist came out, we this year we headed down to Books and Company In Picton, (a really awesome independent bookstore) and were able to get all five of the books. I love books and this little pile just seemed to make me feel a little richer. It was also cool to think that all over the country, people were picking up these same books and curling up to read.

20726950._UY475_SS475_I began with Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto and have to admit, I was disappointed and hoped fervently that this offering was not indicative of the entire group. The story is a good story blending the true-life stories of the horrors of World War Two, and prisoner of war camps in the Pacific with the injustice, and racism endured by Japanese Canadians in the story of two families that are eventually joined together through the marriage of their children. There is lots here, lots of strong themes, lots that we should know about, but, for me anyway, the punch of the book was lost in what I would call a lack of good editing. The book has spelling errors and sometimes wanders off into the minute pieces of life that really didn’t add to the story, but were written in a notebook somewhere and just had to be used.

9780771024290My fears about the quality of the entire offering were quickly allayed as I got into the Boat People by Sharon Bala. A number of the same themes that came through in Forgiveness appear here as well, beautifully interwoven into the story of Tamil boat people arriving in Vancouver. References to the Japanese internment and the response of both the government and the public to the boat people suggest that the racism and injustice of the past is not really a thing of the past at all. This work of fiction, based on real events, is gripping and revealing.

I somehow managed to read the books in sets. Forgiveness and the Boat People share themes, localities, and even history. The next two books I picked up did as well, but they are very different than the first two in that both of them are apocalyptic in nature, science fiction written in a time somewhere in the future.

35436476The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is the only book of the set written by an indigenous author.   It’s a young adult novel based in a time when, because of environmental degradation, people have lost the ability to dream. This ability continues in the native community and they are being tracked down and their bone marrow harvested so that the ability can be reclaimed by the colonizers. The Marrow Thieves is a story of colonization beyond land, a story of abuse of power, and a story of the struggle of a community to survive. Its a story of the battle against entitlement, and the strength that is found in bamding together against evil.

9780771009402American War by Omar El Akkad is also a dystopian, apocalyptic novel. I’m not sure why this book is part of the Canada Reads offering. While it does touch on huge themes: climate change, war, the plight of refugees, the influence of foreign powers, the polarization of society, it is not strictly a Canadian book and doesn’t deal with issues that are uniquely Canadian. I suppose the big issues it does cover are all of our issues, international issues, but the book is set and plays itself out in an American context, imagining the result of current American political and societal trajectories. That said, American War is a great read, thought provoking, and just a little bit more than frightening.

precious-cargoCraig Davidson’s Precious Cargo was the last book on my pile. If I hadn’t been sick for a week, I’m not sure I would have gotten this far. After the dystopian novels, Precious Cargo was a breath of fresh air. Its the true-life account of Craig’s year as a school bus driver, driving his precious cargo of special needs teenagers. Interspersed with the story is an “unpublished” novel that puts the characters on the bus in a futuristic setting where they are integral to saving the world. Craig writes about his year as a bus driver, with humour and compassion, helping us to really see the kids on the bus for the people they are rather than for their disabilities.

So, that’s all five. They are an interesting mix of the past, the present, and the future. I’m glad I read all of them, rather than just the one that is crowned the book we should all read in a couple of weeks. In my opinion, the celebrity panel, with its voting process, often gets that book wrong.


2017: A Year of Construction

2017 is coming to a close. The end of a year provides a good marker to stop for a few minutes to reflect and record what has happened over the past twelve months.

The last month of  2016 was really the first chapter of 2017. It set us on a course that we would follow for the year. Set the theme really.

text99858_4In early December I received a call to serve as the part-time interim pastor of the Fruitland Christian Reformed Church. That job began on the first of February and has been a good experience. The congregation is a faithful one that is really trying hard to figure out who they are as they move into the future. It’s been good to be with them, to get to know them, and the serve them as their pastor.

Just a week after receiving the call from Fruitland we moved from Huron County to Prince Edward County. If you went back to my year-end post for 2015, there would be no hint that a move across the province would be in our plans, because it wasn’t. But sometimes life changes and direction changes as well. The move to “The County” was part of 2016’s story, as was the purchase of a condo in Stoney Creek as our second home. This year’s story is the making of this new place our own.

To say we have been under construction for most of this year would not be an understatement. The home we bought in the county is a beautiful one, on a wonderfully treed lot, close enough to the town of Picton to be convenient, yet far enough outside to be rural. We’ve made friends here and actually meet people we know in the grocery store quite regularly. We are happy with our move…..can you hear the “but” coming….the house we bought was less finished than we had anticipated.

IMG-0362We knew we would be finishing the two-thirds of the basement that had been left unfinished, we knew we were going to build a garage to house J’s shop, the trailer, and my woodworking. We did not expect to have to rewire the master bathroom, rehang doors that were upside down, repaint the entire house, replace trim and doors, rebuild stairs, reroute heating ducts, rebuild bathroom vanities, replace the entire kitchen. The house is new and showed quite well, but once we moved in we started to notice the shortcuts that had been taken and the overuse of the Sawzall as a primary tool.

Right now there are piles of paving bricks outside our kitchen window, covered with snow, which is part of a project the landscapers tried to squeeze in at the end of the season. We’re not quite finished, but most of the projects left on the list are ones that aren’t so much about inadequacies as they are about making the house our own.

Property-18799338-LargePhoto-13Fortunately, our Stoney Creek place didn’t take as much time in construction. It did get a full coat of paint in early February when we moved in (the colours are the same as our house) and we did have some furniture store visits to get it furnished. The condo gives us a comfortable if small, space to live and work out of about half of our time.

IMG_0200  Besides construction, we have travelled again this year. In September we packed up our bike and spent three weeks riding in Tuscany followed by a short visit to Rome. The biking was challenging with lots of hills to climb, but the scenery, the people, the medieval towns made it all worthwhile. But J refuses to go back, at least on a bicycle.

We’ve also travelled this year to see our kids. In June, our grandson N was baptized in Victoria. We were glad to be there. We visited Victoria again in November on a trip that also took us to Oakland to visit our newest grandson R. Of course, we get to visit with our Belleville grandchildren a lot more. For part of this year, they were here every week as we provided part of a patchwork of childcare so our daughter J could take a job at the local library.

We’ve been making it a habit to return from Stoney Creek to Picton on Wednesday evenings so that we can have as much time here as possible. I build sermons on the kitchen table on Thursdays. J has used that time to paint, to work on dying wool, making pottery, and making new friends through the local newcomer’s group. Our car is racking up kilometres. The trip from Picton to Stoney Creek takes just about three hours on a good day with the uncertainty of Toronto in the centre.

The last couple of weeks of the year, all of my spare time was spent in a corner of J’s heated pottery shop doing another sort of construction. I built a dollhouse for granddaughter I. It was a cool next step after birdhouses and a little library.

We’re thankful for another year of health, another year of challenge, and another year of blessings.



Our move to “The County” didn’t get us away from the snow. We bought a snowblower, but I sure am missing my tractor with a cab.


2017 Cycling Summary

Its the 22nd of December and pretty blustery outside, so I think our 2017 cycling season has come to an end. For the past few years, I’ve been using this space to keep track of annual biking distances.

2017 was a different sort of year for us. 2015 and 2016 both had long bike tours in them as we crossed the country. In 2017 we did take the tandem to Italy for a couple of weeks of riding, and even though we did a lot of climbing, the distances weren’t that great.

At the end of 2016 we moved to Prince Edward County, and then in early 2017, we set up a second home in Stoney Creek. We had sold our Opus Touring bikes last year, one of which went across the country on the Sea to Sea fundraising ride, so we had to buy some more bikes. For Stoney Creek, I got a good deal on a used Opus Orpheo that I regularly ride to work. I replaced the touring bike with a Brody Dynamo, a hybrid bike with great components for rides to town in the county.

unnamedOur transient lifestyle, living in two places at once, hasn’t really done great things for the amount of riding that has happened this year. Too much time is spent every week commuting, so some of the bikes really haven’t had the use they should have.

Here’s the summary

Santana Tandem: 1325 km

Opus Orpheo: 985 km

Cannondale R6 Road: 75 km

Brody Dynamo: 70 km

Total: 2455 km

Italy, Tuscany, Thoughts

We’re home again. Got back to “The County”just before nine last night, feeling a little more than tired because it was nearly three o’clock Rome time. The trip to the airport was traumatic (a whole separate story), the flight was long (three movies and most of a season of “Big Bang Theroy”), and then the drive home at the tail end of rush hour. We woke up at four, sleeping done.

This was a cycling holiday. We’ve done a lot of cycle touring and feel pretty good at it.   Our tandem has well over thirteen thousand kilometers on it. J and I make a pretty good team and I’d have to say that the distances we had put in front of us for this trip seemed pretty tame with the longest day just around eighty kilometers.

What we had not imagined, before getting to Tuscany, were the hills. The first day we hit the base of he hill to the town of San Gimigmano totally unprepared for what was ahead. The day was hot, the sun was beating down, our water bottles were nearing empty,  the bike was not shifting into first gear, and even though we had only come forty five kilometers from Sienna, we were not mentally prepared for what was ahead. We made it though. Three kilometers of hill at eight kilometers per hour (at best).

Views and vistas were spectacular under sunny skies every day.

After that day, we got better every day. The bike was set up on the morning of day three giving us back the low gear and after day six we stopped carrying our luggage. Most important, though, was knowing a little better what was ahead, being mentally prepared to put our heads down and pedal.

It was worth it! The vistas from the tops of the hills and from the medieval walls were amazing with their patchwork of fields and forests. The narrow streets of these walled towns with their eight hundred year old churches were the stuff of novels and history books. It was particularly cool to be a little bit off of the path of the regular tourists in these smaller old towns.

Rome, at the end of the trip, provided a real contrast in terms of people and tourists. It’s really not hard to imagine Martin Luther’s disenchantment with the church and its hierarchy. I’m sure Wittenberg in Germany wasn’t all that different from some of the hill towns we visited. The contrast between them and Rome, with its over the top glitz and glamour would be enough to really impact any devout monk.

We saw the  Colosseum, the Vatican, St Peter’s, and the Sistine Chapel because it would just seem wrong to leave Rome with having stopped at these highlights, but the long lines and the crush of people made enjoying these spectacles tough. These places will not be the things we talk about first. They seemed more like obligatory stops along the way.

To St Peter’s. Lots of people. In the distance is the line waiting to get inside.

On the way home we talked about the next adventure….not sure yet.

Sansepolcro to Arezzo 36.8 km Total….The End of the Italian Ride

Our ride today was a short one with one big hill and a smaller one (by Italian standards) in the middle. After 10 days of hills,we can tell that we are better at them, better at continually grinding upwards, better at working the gears to maximize our speed while minimizing the pain. Getting the bike set up  again at the bike shop back on day three, really helped too. Having granny gear on this trip has been important. Luggage transfer for the last part of the trip has made things easier as well.


One of the Sansepolcro gates as we left the town

Today’s ride was again through trees, whole hills of them. I didn’t expect Italy to have as much wild country as we have ridden through. There are lots of “beware or deer” signs, and signs to warn about slippery roads in snow, and the need for tire chains. Signs about mushroom picking.

Since today was Saturday, it seemed like there were a lot more motorcycles out, racing up and down the curvy roads, knees almost touching the pavement as they accelerate through the corners. A few days ago we were passed by a group of Harley’s, the riders all wearing “Iron Italy” vests. We caught up to them in the next medeival village. They made a lot of noise when they left and seemed to be an unusual sight for the locals.

The ride has come to an end. We’ve found the luggage we sent away back in Siena and have broken the bike down and packed her away. We have a few more clothes now, and shoes too. Now it’s off to Rome for a couple of days of being tourists before heading back home on Wednesday.


Greeted by a well worn tandem in Arezzo


Cortana to Sansepolcro 70.9 km…479.2km so far

Our day began with an up and a down. For ten kilometers we pedalled steadily up from Cortana, which was already part way up the hill. Then we went downhill. For 13 km we virtually never turned the pedals. Road conditions weren’t good enough to just let the bike go, so the brakes, and my hands, got a pretty serious workout. The pavement today was quite broken and rough. The bike, and various pieces of us, got a pretty good shaking as we bounced and banged over the road. 

We just kept climbing. The castle tower in the middle of the picture was a long way above us when we started out.

The last part of today’s ride was in a valley. At first, the flat valley floor was only about 100 meters wide. We had seen some tobacco growing yesterday but it was nothing compared to this piece of the ride. The area is virtually monoculture tobacco with a few fields of sunflowers and a little bit of vegetables thrown in to break the monotony. Tractors pulling trailers, loaded with leaves came from all directions heading to the big kilns nearer the villages. We actually saw our first John Deere tractors today. They seem pretty scarce here, taking a spot way behind the New Hollands. 

Suddenly, tobacco fields. At this point, the field is the whole width of the valley floor.

Tonight we are inside the wall of old Sanseprolco. It is a medieval city, originating with a monastery before the year 1000. It’s not on a hill like the others we have seen and, for some reason, doesn’t seem to have the tourist draw the others have had either. The narrow streets here seem to be mostly travelled by local with very few tour buses around. It a nice change.

Montepolciano to Cortana 47.4 km 408.3 km so far

Yesterday, after a tough day of hills and gravel we gave the bike a rest and explored the town of Montepolciano, another medieval hill town. We met a number of other cyclists, shared stories of the road and compared notes on equipment and tour operators. We feel like we are sort of part of a community.

A Montepolciano street view.

Today we set off again. Our day was shorter and more moderate with a big downhill at the beginning and most of the climbing right at the end as we made our way into yet another historic walled city on a hill. 

Tobacco harvester dumping its load. It’s amazing how this machine can cut the bottom leaves of the plant and not damage the rest of it.

Most of our day was spent in the relatively flat valley. While a lot of the fields were in wheat or sunflowers, which were already harvested, we did stop and watch a machine stripping the bottom leaves off of tobacco plants, and got to see a farmer plowing. The plowed fields here look really messy, with clods of dirt bigger than my head all over the place. The farmer we saw today was pulling a two furrow, rollover, plow with a 100hp+ tractor, putting the plow down nearly 18 inches. The soil is deep here and we are not seeing a lot of stones coming up, but the soil is really clumpy. 

The view from the Montepolciano wall just down the street from our hotel.

We’re getting close to the end of the ride. Just two days left.