Tuesday, September 29, 2009

fascinating folks on the left coast

Sitting on the ferry from Victoria back to Vancouver (I just saw a whale fin! I’m not kidding!)... thinking about all the fascinating folks I’ve had the chance to get to know during the last few days here in BC:

- Bruce Cockburn (actually, he spells it Cowburn, but pronounces it just like one of my musical heroes...sorry, I couldn’t resist...) of the United Church of Canada, who coordinated the “F-Word” (“faith-based fundraising”) stewardship conference together with folks from the Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran churches...

- Nathan Dungan, whose keynote addresses were riveting and inspiring - if you ever get a chance to hear him, or have him come and speak to your community, DO IT!

- Jane and Rick, who hosted me in their home and introduced me to the undeniable and extraordinary benefits of bopping to the “Momma Mia!” soundtrack as pre-concert and pre-worship vocal warm-ups...

- The LMF gang - Henry, the only pastor/strawberry farmer/soccer-coach-who’s-never-played-soccer that I know... Martin and company who recently broke the Guinness World Record for marathon board game sessions (they played Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights in the LMF library for 50 consecutive hours)... Brad and Esther who put on an incredible fondue meal spread that lasted 3 delectable hours... Ruth, who has written a book and CBC documentary film on letters from Mennonites in Stalinist Russia... Rick who strapped down my guitar and drove me to Vancouver in his Mazda Miata convertible...

- Hans, who learned to play the accordion at age 70 and is now a regular at various Vancouver churches and nursing homes...

- Corny and Agnes, who told me about watching his father being taken away to Siberia in the 30s (Corny), and served me grape juice, cherry tomatoes, and plum jelly all grown on their little Vancouver back yard (Agnes)...

- Ingrid, who pastors and intercultural church and speaks English, German, and Spanish and is now learning Farsi... and who spent her Monday morning lugging me to the train station to drop off a bag and then off to the ferry to Vancouver Island...

- Andrew and Monica and Isabella, whose house (with chickens in the back yard)and Italian bakery in Victoria have been a wonderful halfway-through-the-tour resting point... not to mention gourmet local foods and delightful conversation...

Now in Pacific Central Station and on VIA's wireless connection, so I can post this... grateful indeed for the generosity and hospitality of so many wonderful people.

Edmonton, here I come!


Friday, September 25, 2009

photos from the train

Yes, I had my camera handy while we rolled through northern Saskatchewan...

... Jasper (compare Mt. Robson to how it looked the last time I was here)...

... and into the Fraser Valley...

I even had a meal in the dining car this time, courtesy of Mom and Dad. Wild Mushroom Ravioli, with chocolate cheesecake for dessert... mmm good... Thank you!

Ahhh, the life of the poor musician, suffering for his art...


Thursday, September 24, 2009


While I was in Manitoba I got to visit two people who are huge inspirations for my life, musically and otherwise. They both happen to be named "Susie"... although I know them best as "grandma."

I remember as a child hearing Grandma Suderman - the most quiet and gentle and unassuming homemade-buns-and-noodle-soup-making grandma imaginable - telling what sounded to me like incredibly exotic stories about traveling to Mexico - Mexico! - as a girl. And talking about how she used to play the guitar. My grandma, playing the guitar? I never saw it, never heard it, but somehow the incongruity of that image fascinated me and fascinates me still.

Now she lives in Salem Home, receiving wonderful care, and because of her dementia she doesn't recognize people (didn't recognize me), and aside from initial bursts that are usually right on the money, she doesn't put words together in a way that makes sense to the rest of us. But she smiles and giggles and can still get off a zinger (like when I asked her if she likes to go for walks and she said "Sure" and then pointed at my dad and said "He doesn't!" and we all started laughing uncontrollably).

And my Grandma Goertzen (formerly Penner... nee Neufeld) is still going strong at age 87, puts her CDs on and listens to music first thing in the morning and got pretty darned frustrated when the cleaning person bumped some buttons and messed up the settings so she couldn't listen to music for THREE WHOLE DAYS! Grandma retired 5 years ago after playing the piano and organ for worship at the Winkler Bergthaler Church nearly every Sunday for 65 years... yes, you read that right... and conducting innumerable Ladies Choirs, German Choirs, Senior Choirs, Childrens Choirs, Christmas Choirs... and when she and grandpa used to go down to Arizona for the winters she'd organize choirs of "snowbirds" to conduct down there.

As a child I was always fascinated by the fact that she played the piano and accordion with the pinky finger on one hand cut off at the second knuckle... a childhood injury that never slowed her down. I'm proud to say I still have her accordion (bought for her by her dad, K.H. Neufeld, at a used music store in Winnipeg sometime in the 40s)... and as you can hear on the zydeco tune "How Do You Know?" on the new CD, it's still getting used (although I want to play it more).

Grandma Goertzen came to my concert in Altona... the first time she's seen me "do my thing" now that this is "what I do"... and that was a special and emotional moment for me...

Thank you, grandmas. I want to be like you.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

concerted efforts

It had been a long time since my parents had been to one of my concerts... and last weekend they went to all three. Thankfully, when you’re doing concerts for “small and tall” together, every night is an adventure and no two events are the same.

Friday night in Winnipeg there were LOTS of children, including lots of very young children. This makes for lots of energy... and a particular kind of energy... and means that the concert can go in many different directions, but there are definitely a bunch of directions that it can’t go. Lose a crowd like that, and it can be very tough to get them back... so it definitely keeps you on your toes.

Saturday night in Altona was a considerably smaller group, with few children, and the children that were there were somewhat older. This group also happened to be remarkably quiet, and sang along gently, rather than boisterously, even during some of the more rowdy stuff. So that concert went in some quite different, more “reflective” directions.

And Sunday night in Steinbach was a mixed age group that participated and sang boisterously and enthusiastically, but most of the children were school-aged and were also able and interested to listening to some story-telling and reflective songs as well as the more active and funny ones.

Different again was the “Sunday School singing” with the grades 4-6 children at Douglas Mennonite Church, and leading congregational singing during worship (including the first few rows of very young children who aren’t usually there during that worship hour)... I hadn’t been back to Douglas for a Sunday morning since for over 6 years, when we moved to Ontario and I transitioned from the youth ministry I was doing there to pursuing this music ministry full time. Wonderful to be back.

Every place, every group, every event, every day is different, and there are plenty of songs to sing. What could be better?


Monday, September 21, 2009

vancouver bound

Packing up and off to the train in an hour for the next leg of the journey... hopefully on the train I'll be able to do some more writing about this past weekends' experiences (there have been plenty!), and then I'll post them when I get to BC.


Friday, September 18, 2009

safe and sound in winnipeg-land

Although I boarded the train Tuesday night, this trip began on Sunday with a Sunday School concert with the good folks at Heise Hill and then back to Stouffville in time for my home church to "commission" me. They sent me out by singing the words of my own "Sending Song" back to me...

"As you go out from here, may the Lord go with you
The face of God shine on you every day
We are sent by God wherever we are living
Salt and light as people of the Way."

A wonderful way to start the trip.

The GO bus was late enough to make me nervous I'd miss the train, so J and M drove me in to Union Station in Toronto. The train ride from TO to Winnipeg was the smoothest and most on-time that I've ever seen on that route... met some interesting traveling companions, like Mauricio from Venezuela, Andrew from London, England, and a composer - why do I keep finding composers on the trains? - from Holland.

Today I've been enjoying my parents' company, and Mom's bean soup and vereniki with Winkler farmer sausage, and a walk to Sargent Sundaes for ice cream.

New strings on the guitar... tomorrow it's singing time!


Monday, September 14, 2009

9000 km 24 hours earlier than expected

I know the title for this post is incomprehensible, but it does sound kind of dramatic, don't you think? The underlying facts being:

1) I will soon embark on another long-distance riding-the-rails-to-sing-my-songs odyssey, this time from Toronto to Vancouver and back (back-of-envelope calculations with the numbers on the VIA railroad map yield the 9000 km figure... just over 9000 km, actually). Articles like this and this have begun popping regarding said trip...

2) Julie astutely pointed out that Sept. 15, the date on my train ticket for my departure from Union Station, is not in fact Wednesday (which is what I've been telling everyone for some time), but Tuesday.

Needless to say I've got a few things to do before then... so my next post will likely be from Winnipeg (you can see my almost-up-to-date itinerary here)...


Thursday, September 10, 2009

stubborn, principled, or just plain dumb?

Let's say, just for argument's sake, that you went downtown and obediently paid for two hours of parking, had a great lunch/meeting with a friend/colleague, returned to your car an hour and 53 minutes later, and found a parking ticket on your windshield, time-stamped 25 minutes earlier, stating that you have committed a parking infraction and are hereby fined $30.

And let's say that the three options you are given are to 1) pay the fine, 2) a second option of which I don't recall the details but which also involved paying the fine, or 3) dispute the charge, which means requesting a court date. No other options.

Now, let's imagine for a moment that you're kind of ticked at receiving a parking ticket that is so obviously inaccurate, and you really don't want to pay it. But at the same time, going through the hassle of disputing it will take more time and energy, as well as gasoline, to get down to the "parking tag operations" office to dispute the claim in person. Surely that time and effort is worth more than $30.

And yet... the "conspiracy theory" part of your brain starts kicking into gear... isn't this just a great scam? A bit too convenient? Write obviously erroneous parking tickets, calculate how many people will pay up just because that's the quickest and most convenient option, and - presto - new income for the City of Toronto! Can (should) they really get away with that?

With such thoughts rolling through my head, I drive down to the "Parking Tag Operations" office (yes, it's true, as you've astutely guessed... this situation is not as hypothetical as I've made it sound) and look for a parking spot. A very popular and busy building, it seems, with - you guessed it - only paid parking. So I'll need to pay for parking to go to an office to dispute ANOTHER parking ticket, which was so obviously and comically erroneous that I'm beginning to seriously suspect that the minute I park (and pay) someone is going to write me ANOTHER spurious ticket, just to add to the fun.

Forget it. I'm not paying for parking to dispute my parking ticket. So I drive around the neighbourhood, looking for a street where I can park for free and walk a few blocks. After a few circles and (illegal?) U-turns, I find a spot. I think. It's not clearly marked.

Great. If I park here to dispute my parking ticket, I might get an even bigger ticket... or get towed away...

Too late for debate. I'm committed now. Hold your breath, park the car, walk briskly down the street and into the building.

Into a room, steaming with humanity and signs instructing me to take a number and wait in line. Another opportunity to do the calculation of whether this is all worthwhile... and then a tired-and-irritated looking man (actually, we all look tired-and-irritated) said "parking ticket?"


"You don't want to be here. Go down the hall and turn left."

"Oh... thanks," and, hope restored, I walk down the hallway.

Only to enter another room, with another, slightly less dense, steaming mass of humanity waiting in line. All - every single one - to dispute a parking ticket.

OK. This is getting sillier by the moment. It's 30 bucks, after all. Cut your losses and get out of there.

But no, I'm in too deep now. I've got to see this thing through.

So I stand, and wait, and wait... And wait. I notice a stack of "Notice of Intent To Appear" forms, which everyone else has. So I grab one and fill it out, and begin lending out my pen to various other folks to do the same. Surveying the room, I can identify various folks visibly farther down the road to "blowing a gasket" than me... including some who start muttering and uttering rude and insulting remarks, speaking threateningly of "linejumpers," playing to the crowd with comments about "stupidity" and "incompetence"... Others wait quietly and long-sufferingly...

My self-righteous-and-principled indignation begins to dissipate as I read the various signs alerting me that intimidating behaviour, shouting, profanity, etc. is not to be tolerated and may result in not being attended. And I start to look at the folks on the other side of the glass entirely differently, thinking how much I would HATE to have their job... how depressing this must be, to come to work and deal with masses of tired-and-irritated people like me, all day, every day.

As the sounds of people arguing about the inanity of this-and-that roll on, and the man in front of me explains to me why he's disputing his $450 ticket, I'm feeling more foolish by the minute. I compare my $30 ticket to the struggles and dangers of people dealing with real injustices at the hands of official-dom all around the world... I resolve not to cause any problems or delays - just hand the lady my form, get my receipt-or-whatever-it-is, and go. After all, this is already taking WAY longer than I expected, I'm hoping my car won't get towed, and I don't know how I'm going to get the day's stuff done before I have to get back and make supper.

As I'm jogging back down the street toward (hopefully) my parked car, I realize that I forgot to ask my question: "The times on this parking ticket, and on my receipt, clearly show that I did not in fact, commit a parking infraction. Do I really have to go to court to dispute this? Can't I show it to someone, and they'll dismiss it, and we'll save the whole system a big hassle?"

Can't believe I forgot to ask that. How stupid of me. As stupid as... as... as a traffic cop having a bad day and misreading the time-stamp on the parking receipt on somebody's dashboard...?

The car was still there, with no ticket flapping under the windshield wiper.

And then I discover, 4 days later, as I write this blog post and check a website or two, that "You may discuss your concern regarding the issuance of the ticket with a counter staff member, who has the authority to... (among other things)... withdraw the charge under certain circumstances."

Boy, do I feel dumb now.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

new cd has arrived!

It's here! Hooray! Have a look...