January 20, 2018

New York City, babyyyyy!

It’s always been a dream to visit the Big Apple, and last week, it happened! 

It was a surprise Christmas present from my wife, and it was SO unexpected! Just a few days away from the kids; stay with a friend and take in all we could in a few short days.

It’s hard to say what I liked best (all of it) and it’s hard to say why we chose to see the things we did, as selecting one place to sightsee meant having to cross another off the list. There is just too much to see and do and eat and watch.

That being said, here’s a few of the highlights. Trevor Noah, the freshly minted host of The Daily Show, was performing his first-ever stand up comedy gigs at the storied Radio City Music Hall, and we got to take in his first night! An astounding mix of stories and laughs, mixed into a routine of perfect cultural relevance for what is going on these days socio-politically in the US.

The Frick Collection is an inexpensive way to find yourself inside one of New York City’s Fine Old Homes. Henry Clay Frick built his home at the corner of Lexington and 71st avenue, right across the street from Central Park, in the early 1900’s. As a business man, he was obviously ruthless, building his empire off the backs of Pittsburgh steelworkers, an existence that eventually got him hated in that city, and precipitated his move to New York. And yet, he was a collector of fine art and collected it with a view that, after his death, his home would become a publicly accessible museum, that others may see these amazing works of art. For me, to stand in such a grand home, and to see this private collection of Vermeers, Rembrandts, Van Eycks and more, so up close and in the quiet of a house… so wonderful. Sorry, no photography allowed, so you'll have to go for yourself! 

New York and its metropolitan surroundings are home to more than 23 million people, and a lot of those people use the subways and cabs—which are as iconic as anything else—to get around. So it was fun to be in the mix with these things for a few days, navigating the bizarre schedules of some of the subway lines, shoulder to shoulder with the locals who couldn’t figure it out either!

hidden delights like the Bethesda terrace underpass await you in Central Park

some big statue in the the harbour. 
Radio City Music Hall

The weather was warm but wet with socked-in clouds on our first full day in NYC, so we didn’t get a sense of the towering buildings until the next day. Once the sun came out, it was pretty awesome to see the huge buildings. Catching the skyline view from the Staten Island ferry was a great thing to do, with the added bonus of gliding by the Statue of Liberty… with the added, added bonus of the ferry being free of charge : )
Grand Central Terminal

Traipsing through Grand Central Station, reading the embossed quotes in the pavement of great authors on the leadup to the New York Public Library, wandering stretches of Central Park, ducking into a few shops in SoHo, taking in some of the exhibits at The Met, encountering some delicious food and drink… the list goes on.

In summary: I would go back in a heartbeat.

It was especially nice for us to stay with a friend who has lived in NYC for years, and really gave us a good sense of what’s what in New York City. An insider’s guide made for easy planning, and we were spoiled in that sense.

I’ve always been drawn to big cities. I find great allure in buildings that touch the sky, in busy sidewalks and the melting pot of cultures that are so often found in those places. I’ll admit, the incessant honking in NYC, that got old, fast… get a grip people, it won’t make the traffic snarl go away so maybe just flip on the radio and chill for a bit?

Brunch in Brooklyn
If you go (errr, in winter):
Prospect Park in Brooklyn is a beautiful spot
      Pack for all weather! The temps swung 20 degrees in one day, from muggy with warm breezes to below freezing with frigid winds dropping the temperatures even more.
·         DO find a show to take in. So much variety, and some reasonable ticket prices to be found.
·         DO take the subway, just to experience the system, but
·         DON’T be surprised when your train magically changes routes /gets discontinued. Just get off at the next station, consult a map, and try again. Better yet, go street side at that point and
Brooklyn's quirky and fun Superhero Supply Co.
·         DO spend time walking the neighbourhoods just for the sake of seeing what you can see.
·         DO include the Staten Island ferry in your plans. It’s free, and offers such a great view of the famed Manhattan skyline.
·         DON’T be afraid to leave Manhattan! For example, we stayed in Brooklyn and spent some time over there. Lots to see: parks, museums, wonderful restaurants, historical sites, great walking.

I’ll leave it there… we only spent two full days and two partial days, so I ain’t no expert, after all!

Here’s some videos for you if you want to take in the sights and sounds of NYC! Thanks again to my lovely wife for this amazing surprise getaway! 

NYC Vlog part 1: https://youtu.be/wj5iGZzcSyw

NYC Vlog part 2: https://youtu.be/MMzckbnDkxk

January 4, 2018

Lighting a candle

"Mom, what did you wish for?"
"That Aunty Dina wouldn't be so sick anymore"


"This is for all the other kids still fighting their cancer"


"Wish for 6/49!"


These quotes were just a few that I heard while volunteering on a shift at the VanDusen Botanical Gardens Festival of Lights on a foggy January night at the start of 2018. In my capacity as an employee at Make-A-Wish, I decided it was high time I put in some extra hours at the Festival of Lights. You see, Make-A-Wish BC & Yukon is the long-time charitable partner of the event. During the entire run of the annual holiday spectacle, we as an organization are invited into VanDusen. Until now, I've helped with giving speeches at the annual launch event, done promotion and social media for the event, collected volunteer photos and tracked media mentions. But that's been it.

As for what we do at the event: we sell little Glowstar necklaces by donation in the entrance atrium. As well, tucked back in an unassuming corner of the garden, adjacent to a small, still pond, we occupy the Scottish Barn, which was first built in the garden in 1975.

We fill this barn with light.

Guests are invited to make a donation of any amount, and in return, they light a small candle, which is then placed upon the rock wall of the barn. Before the candle is placed on the wall, we tell people to make a wish on the candle they've lit.

I was moved by the genuine intent people brought to their wishes. Sure, some people simply said 'no worries' and walked away, but so many others paused in that quiet space, closed their eyes, took a deep breath, and really thought about a wish. 

Some couples lit one candle together, and looked at each other intently with gentle, knowing smiles tugging at the corners of their mouths. Hoping for a baby? Marriage proposals? A second date? Only they know. Others wanted their own candle and their own moment. Another woman watched intently as her candle was carried to the wall, and then she stood there for a moment, hands together in silent prayer, before nodding, smiling, and walking off. Others wished for peace, for health.
It was lovely to see that, while their generous donations will go toward truly, truly granting a wish of a child battling a critical illness, our presence at the event also gave many people a moment of stillness and reflection for themselves.

And, as you can see from the photos, once all those wishes were made, it brought warm light to those cold stones. It felt like a nice way to kick off 2018, and a real responsibility to be the keeper of all those wishes for a night. Glad I did it, to gain a little deeper understanding of this major event for us, but also to watch people in their own moments of intent and focus. I lit a candle, too, quietly, and without much fuss, for a young friend of ours going through her own cancer battle.

"This is for Rachel, and her sister and mom and dad".

and yes, I made a donation :)


For a complete shift in gears, you're now invited to see what made 2017 a special year for me: enjoy my year in review video! Not so much quiet stillness as it is non-stop action :)

Cheers, and happy new year to you all!

December 21, 2017

The Year that was

What a year, what a year! Personally, it’s been a good one. Our household managed to avoid too many personal injuries or illnesses, the roof stayed over our heads, our jobs were good, the schools educated our kids, and food landed on the table every day like clockwork.

Truly, that is enough to make me realize how our lives are exploding with blessings. The fact that we get to live an average, everyday existence with very little fuss is an incredible privilege. We live in a world with famine in one place, and massive food waste in another. All-out war rages in many pockets of the world, with refugees scattering across the globe to hopefully find peace and stability. Our oceans have become our garbage dump, and various environments continue to be threatened due to our want of manufactured things that make our lives better and easier (?). 

It is easy to be discouraged.  

So I guess what I’m trying to do, is to turn the lens back on my own life more often and be appreciative for all that I do have. I’m not trying to ignore the world, by any stretch, and it’s so important to key in on the issues that matter to you, and work for change where you think it’s needed. But when you’re exhausted from all that work, don’t forget to count your blessings.

In our own house, Kate completed a long-drawn-out certification to enhance the therapy she delivers to kids—two years of evenings/late nights and weekends of study and testing finally came to a close. Kate also continued to serve on various boards and committees related to her work. To pass the time outside of her work, she bought herself a road bike! She managed to ruin her back shortly after purchase, thereby sidelining herself for a few months from the bike, but she happily recovered (Hey, I said we avoided ‘too many’ personal injuries, not ALL). It should also be noted that she has an electric bike, and to better cut down our carbon footprint, she bikes all over town to her client visits! 

I, too, sidelined myself for a while with a broken rib that came with the cost of missing some early-season canoe and kayak racing, but I recovered well enough to be strongly competitive by the end of the summer. I had a fantastic time at the national championships, and I’m really stoked to be part of a rapidly growing and competitive club here in Vancouver! I kept up various board positions through this year, too, also related to paddling! Looking forward to more of the same in 2018.

As for the kids, I continue to be in awe of their intelligence and ever-developing maturity. They’re both little geniuses as far as I’m concerned, and really a lot of fun to hang around with these days. They both have their “things”… S is a walking encyclopedia for anything related to the NHL and loves hockey. He’s playing on a community soccer team and is thoroughly enjoying that experience. H is wildly artistic and creative and is often found with markers and a stack of paper nearby. She’s also been enjoying a weekly gymnastics class and has a new-found love for cartwheeling through the living room!

Hopefully, the holidays bring you some free time with family or friends, and all the best to you and yours for the coming year. Whatever brings you joy, here’s to hoping you find lots of it in 2018! As you know, I take lots of video, so A) please enjoy this short and sweet video Christmas card, and stay tuned in 2018 for my 2017 highlights reel! 

October 23, 2017

I love my job

For as much as I talk about my work, I don’t actually talk much about my work. I mean, from the perspective of the impact it really has on me.

For example, I spent basically the last work week crying. Why? Well, for all the right reasons, really.
I, along with several colleagues, attended the Make-A-Wish annual conference. This was my first time attending this gathering, and holy moly, what an experience. The important stuff is all there. Real, tangible career-changing learning. But the really, really important stuff is there, too. Throughout the three days of the conference, there were various opportunities to connect with the mission of our organization: transforming lives, one wish at a time. From hearing the stories of--and meeting in person--the parents, volunteers, doctors and kids involved in some very powerful wishes, you’d basically have to be made of stone not to have cried. Tears of joy, mostly, seeing how lives have been so changed through a wish. 

I met Zayden, who had his wish to go to Saturn come true. 

I met Linkin, who wished to meet Bigfoot (did you know the secret is in luring Bigfoot out of the woods with marshmallows?). 
Yes, I know this looks like Chewbacca. Just let it slide, alright? 
We heard from medical doctors like Anup Patel, who focuses on epilepsy. He says his job is 97 percent failure. The only successes in the epilepsy world, he says, are those cases where a condition is managed, or seizures stop altogether, and that only happens in one to three percent of cases. But he said he always gets to deliver hope to his patients when he tells them they will qualify for a wish, and he’s seen inexplicable results in patients of his, like Dae’shaun. It was Dae’shaun’s heartfelt wish to meet his favorite NBA basketball player, Chris Paul, a point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers. Medically, it didn’t look like Dae’shaun’s seizures were ever going to stop. But after the wish experience, they did. Three years later, with no medical interventions to account for it, Dae’shaun still hasn’t had another seizure.

I, along with the 500 other people in the room, cried about that. And so did Dr. Patel, as he shared his stories.

I also met Canadian wish kid Sarina, who wished to perform an original song, which she did recently at a Shawn Mendes concert. She played that same song for us. And yeah, I cried again. here's a short snippet of the song she wrote, called 'Distracted'. You won't get "all the feels" from this like we did in the room that day, but hey, it's a lovely song.

And so it went all week. I’ve come out of the conference not only feeling like I have some renewed direction in my work, but I feel more like a human, too. It’s pretty amazing to spend a whole week with emotionally intelligent people who just want to do good, and do it well, and do it for kids who need a boost in their lives. Never mind their race, gender, orientation, political stripe, religion, socio-economic status, or any of that. Just help a kid who is going through a tough time. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now, with conviction: I love my job.

Oh, and the conference was in Arizona. Sunshine and warm weather. Yeah, I spent most of that time indoors, working away, but there were a few minutes for some playtime. You can see a bit of that, here, in the latest StuLand Vlog! 

Until next time, I'll just be over here, helping to make wishes come true :D

August 29, 2017

More than Metal: the rewards of Sprint Canoe & Kayak

I've just come back from the Canadian Canoe Association National Sprint Championships (CCAs), and the Canadian Masters Championships (CANMAS). In the case of the former, CCAs is a "thing" I've done before—first, as a teen, decades ago, and then again last year for the first time as an adult. In the case of the latter, I have now experienced CANMAS twice, being "of age" to do so. 

Recap video at bottom, if you want to watch rather than read.

Last year, I raved on this blog about taking home a single medal, and what that meant to me. It sparked something in me at the time, and that feeling lasted all year. It was more than enough to keep me motivated for an entire year--a year that was filled with broken ribs, ruined backs, missed regattas, cancelled regattas, disappointing para news (for a future post, OK?) ... the list goes on.

I could have said "let's skip it this year."

Instead, more sparks. It isn't just medals that make me love this sport.

I brought home gold and bronze CCA medals, and one gold and two bronze CANMAS awards this year, results beyond my wildest expectations, but I have taken joy from this years' event from more than just great results. I tried to live the event through the eyes of a few of the people I stayed at nationals, and have trained  and raced with this year.

Andrew is a 35 year-old kayaker. He and his family moved from Indonesia back in 2000. He's been a dragon boater, and through that sport, has seen many corners of the world. But until the CCAs and CANMAS gave him a reason to do so, in his 17 years in Canada, he'd never been east of the Rockies. So, sprint canoe & kayak has helped open up our nation to him. 

Andrew is my K2 partner this year. Together, as masters category paddlers racing against 20-year-old Juniors at CCAs, we experienced what it was like to get absolutely obliterated in the standings, yet feel full of pride for pushing hard and having the most solid races that we could. The CCAs were a spectacle beyond Andrew's expectations: having only done local B.C. racing circuit regattas for a few years now, he's never been to a competition that is 1,000 + competitors strong; never seen the sea of canoes and kayaks and the throngs of spectators crowding the finish line to watch The storied John W. Black race, or see the senior K4s blow through a 200 metre, or watch as nine C15 boats gasp for air as they heave across the finish line. 

During his week, Andrew took all that in for the first time. He also spent much of his time finding old and new national team members and Olympians to talk to, take pictures with, and feel inspiration from their stories and advice. Andrew's enthusiasm for the whole experience was infectious, and reminded me of why I loved coming to CCA's past and present. 

Thanks for that, Andrew.

Ydris is a 16-year-old canoer. He's new to the sport of flatwater sprint in the last few years. I first met him several years ago on the beach at Whonnock Lake in Maple Ridge on a regatta weekend; one of his first-ever competitions. He stood looking at every single boat on the water and commenting "OH! He's so fast!" Or "Look at how fast she is!"… or even looking at me, just standing there, exclaiming "duuuude you look so faaaast!" 
This year, Ydris is the fast one.

He picked up a medal in one of his races at CCAs this year; in his first-ever outing to a national championship, and made finals in four other races. Earlier in the summer, I was training with these kids down on False Creek in Vancouver. We were working on starts and short sprints that day. I remember going home after practice that evening, and telling my wife "Man, we have a canoer who is just blowing me away. He's taking all of us off the start line; canoes and kayaks alike." 

It was Ydris.

The same kid who spent that regatta in Ridge a few years ago marveling at "how fast" everyone seemed to be is now the guy at whom others marvel. What's more, based on his results at CCAs, he earned a spot on the Canadian 'Olympic Hopes' team travelling later this Fall to the Czech Republic, to test his mettle against some of the world's finest young paddlers.

In three years, he's gone from a wide-eyed bean pole to a determined, strong, passionate paddler. This is what canoe kayak can do, and has done, for many.  Thanks for the reminders, Ydris, of those days I was a wide-eyed bean pole, marvelling at all the speedy boats.

Anna is a 17-year-old Canoer. Since I first met Anna when she was a 14-year-old, she has impressed me. She was engaging from the start. Rather than staring at a cell phone in between races or chatting exclusively with paddlers her age, she approached kids and adults alike. Actually talked to us. Asked questions about who we are and what we do in this world. Actually got to know the people around her. Of all the kids on our team, she probably knows more about others than others do about her. She maintains a subdued energy, but a determination within it. She identifies as an introvert and is clearly not into crowd scenes, but one-on-one, you will find a charming, intelligent friend in Anna.

Last year was her first year at CCAs. She took her quiet, focused energy to the start line and boasted an impressive 7th place finish in her 6000 metre C1 race—she came back to CCAs this year to better that position by pulling in 6th place. This is no mean feat when you consider the hundreds of kids across the country who wanted to qualify for this race, and the 30 kids actually fast enough to be able to mass together on the start line at CCAs. To say that you are 6th in Canada in a 6000 metre event is nothing short of amazing.  To boot, she made two other finals in her singles races--she is a force!

Anna isn't sure where she will be in a year; she's entering grade 12, and as a high school senior, she has some decisions to make in the coming year about where she wants to do post-secondary, and how much paddling can or will play into that plan.

The future aside, here's what I know: Anna is a young woman who paves—and pays—her own way. You don't do that if you don't feel like this sport isn't in some way a part of you—it is expensive at times, and most definitely time consuming. I feel like I was in similar shoes when I was a teen (minus the introversion and quiet!).

Whatever choices I made then, I'm here, 27 years after I first picked up a paddle, still seeking that connection with water, with a boat, and with other people who want the same.  Thanks, Anna, for reminding me a little bit that where there's a will, there's a way.

The only real common thread between these three brief profiles: these people, "young" and "old", are all teammates of mine. Some people look at me funny when I tell them that most of my teammates are half my age, or younger. Whether you're a 16-year-old Ydris, a 35-year-old Andrew, a 17-year-old Anna or a 37-year-old partial amputee... there's an annual event (if you qualify!) where a thousand of us get together and remind one another that, no matter our core motivation, our age, our gender, sexual orientation, race or religion (and the list goes on), that this is an awesome sport full of amazing people, and it's worth hanging on to, for reasons that go far, far beyond those little pieces of metal. The CanoeKayak Canada motto is Per aqua ad fraternitatem (through the waters to friendship). 

How absolutely true it has been for me.

I said in my post-CCA blog last year that sprint canoe/kayak has always been one of my churches. This remains, in the denouement of another championships come and gone, as true today as ever, and I'll continue to pray at the pew of the paddle that, as I age, even if I don't have the chance to go to something like the CCA's every year (which, as life dictates, I most certainly will not), that I will continue to keep my eyes open to the new possibilities of motivation, like those that I found this year through the experiences of my teammates, young and old.

Thanks, friends (those named here, and many others), for your inspirations.
Much appreciated.
I'll see you on the water. 

Click this link for a full screen, https://youtu.be/T2wPO_4Dw90
or the thumb below, for a recap video! more photos below!