So you want to be a Calgary Band Parent?

by Mark Zaugg 18. June 2016 22:01

Well, chances are, you may or may not want to be an actual "band parent" but maybe your child is interested.  There are a number of routes to getting here.  If you've played in a marching band while you were growing up, you'll probably already know much of what I'm talking about and this is probably not meant for you.  But if your child comes home clutching an application to join the band and you don't really know what you're in for, I want to share some of my experience over the past three years to encourage you to say, "Yes, absolutely you can join!"

A little background: I've always been musical, but I've never played in a marching band myself, so almost everything I came across was new.  Everyone who knows the Calgary Stampede knows of the Calgary Stampede Showband, but I wasn't sure of the relationship of the two or how Calgary Round Up Band or Stetson Showband fit into the mix.  I knew they were in the parade each year, and they popped up all over the place during Stampede.  I also know that musically, they're pretty good performers and you have to be talented to play with them.  Beyond that, I filled in a lot of the detail with supposition.

Going to the parent orientation meeting helped me and if you have a child remotely interested in band, attend one if you can.  A couple meetings have just wrapped up, but ask the bands if you're interested, there will probably be more over the summer.  You're going to hear glorious stories about how wonderful of an experience it is for the students, you might not hear how great it feels to be a Band Parent, too.

On commitment

Participating with a marching band is not (and should not) be for everyone.  It takes a lot of time and effort from your child and if they lose their desire to be part of it, it's completely fine to say, "That's okay, let's find something else that is for you."  As a parent, please understand you'll probably see the most apprehension over the first three months.  If it's totally not for them, you'll both recognize it quickly.  However, by the time you get to about Christmas the butterflies start settling out, you all start understanding the rhythm and flow around you, and it becomes more enjoyable and the waffling tends to go away.  In our case, I knew my son loved it once he started talking about what it would take to audition for Showband.  There has been no looking back, and I'm grateful he stuck through the early apprehension.

Practising at home

Part of commitment is the desire to become good at what you play.  My musical career ended when practice became unenjoyable rather than just playing what I loved.  I never have to tell my son to practise.  Usually I'll hum along and he'll correct me when I get a part wrong.  Or he'll stick a melody in my head and catch me whistling one of his songs while I'm washing dishes.  Playing his instrument is fun - it is play!  The people who go are interested in bands will find it within themselves to practise.  The rest of the band rallies to help everyone around them get better.  Let that encouragement come from the band, all you need as a band parent is a little patience and willingness to let them play the songs in their heart.  The squawks and screeches you loathe vanish quickly when they love what they're playing.

Flutes are pretty easy on the ears played at home.  The brass instruments can use mutes to keep it bearable in the house.  I feel a little for drumline parents who don't like constant drumming.  Personally, when I rode the bus with the drumline, I slipped into the groove and bopped along all the way home.  It can be comforting having a steady rhythm tapped out around you.  Find enjoyment in your son or daughter's practise.  Which leads to:

Instrument choice

In my case, my son had to carry his instrument up a steep hill every day so he chose something light.  Smart kid.  There is an instrument and role for every child - leave it up to them as much as possible to choose what they like.  It leads to better commitment and makes the practising easier.  Choosing an instrument might happen in school, long before you have any input.  That's a good thing!  Let your kid find something that works for them.

Rent your instrument through the school program, at least to start with.  Give your child the flexibility (and the safety) to change instruments as their interests change -- or even grows!  Multi-instrumentalists are fantastic musicians, but there's no way you can afford to buy everything up front.  When they settle on a favourite, buy one if you can.  There are some great beginner's instruments available.  Don't settle on the cheapest either, they're going to have to sound good out there.  In our case, we got a beginner's flute and we're currently saving for an upgraded model.  It's been a bargain for the amount of time he's got on it.

And most importantly, I've heard of a band member deciding to stop playing an instrument and join the Colour Guard.  You do not need to be a musician to be part of a marching band, Colour Guard is an essential role, too.  The work put into choreographing the Guard got my attention early - they work every bit as hard as the musicians into honing their craft.  The visual effect during a parade or a field show makes the difference between a good band and a great one.  My stereotype was crushed early:  Colour Guard is not for girls in goofy outfits.  They carry replica guns for good reason!  Boys in Colour Guard can massively increase the range of things Colour Guard can do.  If your son is interested, encourage him to try it!

As an aside, this post is very much inspired watching the Stampede Showband's Colour Guard come off the field beaming triumphantly after a performance, then I saw them go through 30 seconds of recovery realizing they spent every ounce of energy they had, then forming up and proudly leading the band to their muster area.  I will never think of Colour Guard as anything but gifted, graceful, talented, and elite endurance athletes.  Which leads me to:


I have always believed that everyone needs to do one sport passionately throughout their entire life.  Sometimes the sport will change, sometimes you'll do more than one or play sports seasonally, but one's physical and mental well-being requires a sport.  If you're concerned about raising a console crazed couch potato because they're not interested in sports - encourage them to join a band.  To paraphrase Matt Dunigan, "Nothing goes together better than marching bands and football!"

Marching band fully qualifies as a life sport.  Those kids are working hard, not only exercising chest and lungs but also stepping in time, sliding to one side or walking backwards - all at the same time!  They don't just walk a parade, they are walking a parade blowing full tilt into a tuba!  When's the last time you walked a couple miles?  How about doing it at a set pace, carrying something heavy, while modulating your breathing and embouchure?  (Your embouchure is basically using your face muscles to provide a good sound.)  They are all athletes.

Personal development

I touched on it a bit when I talked about practice, but much of what I've observed is the band improving by supporting other band members and a growth of the people within it.  If I told you that in just three years your 12 year old kid will turn from awkward and apprehensive to a solid, upright person who is proud of who they are and confident in their skills would you be shocked and amazed or clamouring to sign up?  All adolescents are going to grow leaps and bounds over those years, but kids in Round Up are light years ahead of the average kid.  Having been around Round Up these past three years makes me proud of each and every one of them.  They are well behaved, polite and decent people - it is my honour to know those people.

The practical

Okay, you're child's interested, you're convinced it's a good idea to give it a shot.  What are the practical things to know?

Calgary Round Up is for students Grades 7 through 9 and Stetson Showband takes students Grade 10 through 12.  Both bands will accept any student, and you can (and should!) join even if your child missed the first year of eligibility.  Stampede Showband requires auditions, and I see a lot of interest in wanting to eventually play with them.  Round Up and Stetsons each have great pages on joining the band and I'll send you there to answer your questions.  The instructors are mostly people who have been through the program and are professional and top rank musicians.  This is a Grade A, top class organization from instructors to support staff to parent volunteers.  In my experience, the board is always thinking about what's best for the band families.

Fees this year are $850 for both bands.  On top of that you'll be paying for tour and some incidentals like show tickets.  Tour varies each and every year - my recollection is Round Up tours have cost $1200 - $1500 depending on the year.  They have optional fundraisers to help defer tour costs, they have been high quality fundraisers and I usually buy plenty of burgers, Spolumbo's sausage and steaks to help me get through performance season.  The fundraisers helped me out on several levels.

Call it around $2500 that I spent last year on band.  I'm not wealthy by any stretch, so that's a significant cost to me, however the outright value behind that has been immeasurable.  Not only has it been a weekly (and towards Stampede, daily!) activity, but it's been a fantastic way to plug kids into events in and around Calgary.  Parent's don't go on tour as a rule, but the kids have gone to fantastic summer adventures where they become better musicians and fantastic people.  I think most band parents will tell you they get extraordinary value for what band costs.

Time-wise you'll have to get back and forth to practice every week.  Thursday for Round Up, Wednesdays for Stetsons.  The bands try to keep it as central as possible for parents across the city and you will learn the venues very quickly.  Most months they will hold a band camp over a weekend.  Band camps are often centrally located, but treat them all as special, weekend-long events you could potentially chaperone (more on that soon!)  You will also need to set aside time to work 7-10 Bingo's, possibly a casino, and one day during Stampede to help with Kinsmen lotteries.  If you have a flexible schedule, it's easier to pick up Bingo's on short notice.  I try to book about half my bingos early on, and half later in the year on weekends or evenings (if possible).  It has always worked out, so far.  Extended family helps a lot (and I thank them for the help!), but if you're like me, you'll find all of the Round Up community becomes an extended family in it's own right.

The performances are incredible.  Yes, there's the Calgary Stampede, but there are also parades in several towns around Calgary that are also fun and fabulous.  There is an annual Christmas concert at the Jubilee.  There are several "Field Show" competitions in and around Calgary where the bands put on a themed performance.  They're a joy, and bands compete against each other - usually as a way to test their own progression.  You'll regularly see six or seven really great bands playing one after another.  You're going to want to attend as many as you can to watch the band play.

It all takes volunteer time and effort to put the whole thing together.  You can offer as much of your time as a volunteer or chaperone as you wish.  I really enjoy being around the band and love being a parent chaperone on weekend band camps and as many performances as I can hit.  "Hell Week" occurs just before the band puts together their final performances, and the kids work incredibly hard to polish their show and make it as wonderful as possible.  The final opportunity of the year is to chaperone on tour.  I haven't made it yet, but I know a bit about how much work and fun those tours are by the photos and the stories.  Show your kid how proud you are, go volunteer and make it possible for them to be part of a magnificent band.

My son is moving up from Round Up to Stetsons this year.  Ultimately, this is a thank you letter to everyone involved with the Calgary Round Up Band for the incredible program they've put together.  I sincerely hope that I can encourage other parents to let their kids enroll and be part of something historic in Calgary, current in song and style, and one of the best things imaginable for your child's future.

Let them try it.  It'll be magically for them and you.

Join the band.

People with problems with Alberta MEP

by Mark Zaugg 24. July 2012 22:35

I received a wonderful email today from a contributor to the conversation here at my blog.


"I have started a website page and facebook page looking for stories from others who have problems dealing with Alberta MEP. The website is and the facebook page is issues with albertamep. Would appreciate these being posted on your website. It would be very greatly appreciated. Thanks so much in advance.


It has only just begun, but I have joined tonight and intend to be an active, contributing member.  Please, if you have experienced problems with the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program and would like to see the entire program improved to be a respectful, effective organization go join and let's start the discussion on how to make things better for all of us.

Finding love in Costa Rica.

by Mark Zaugg 10. April 2012 23:48

There were several "Bests" of Costa Rica.

Best joke flying down:  "I don't think we're in Kansas any more."
Best befuddled moment: Meeting Juan Jose for the first time and getting our orientation.
Best bus driver ever: Juan Carlos
Best place to stay: Tortuguera
Best ocean: Both of them.  Honestly.
Best boat pilot:  Primo.
Best guy to make sure I get a good photo: Primo.
Best kindred spirit: Primo.
Best surprise of the trip:  This tweet.
Best volcano: Arenal.  Poas was fabulous, but Arenal was so impressive.
Best rainy day: Arenal Hanging Bridges.  Rain in the rain forest?  YES!
Best day of the trip:  Surfing at Tamarindo Beach.
Best shared moment:  Surfing at Tamarindo Beach.
Best person to travel with: My daughter.

There is one thing I've spoken about a little to close friends and confidants, but I feel the need to express myself in explicit terms here.

I fell in love in Costa Rica.  Honest to ghod, live long, true blue love forever more and never ending.  It was not the sort of thing I was expecting to have happen, but love, like so many of the best things in life, sneak up on you from behind and bash you over the head when you least expect it.

Perhaps it was the weather.  Perhaps it was the sunsets.  Perhaps it was the endless numbers of beautiful women.  Perhaps it was the moment of being away from my troubles and cares for just long enough that I could release my inhibitions.  Romance blooms in unexpected places and unimaginable ways.

Sure, I heard some of the snickers, a few of the jokes, but all that matters to me is I have found happiness.

Gallo pinto, where have you been all my life?

The first meal we had gallo pinto and I was hooked.  Upon breakfast we had gallo pinto and I thought to myself, "This is so different from what we had last night."  For lunch, we had gallo pinto and I thought it was extraordinary.  I think we had gallo pinto in some form for every meal.  If we didn't, I would have been most upset.

Soothing.  Filling.  Complimentary.  Delicious ever time.  I've been longing for gallo pinto ever since we came back.  The real thing.  Oh, sure, I've had rice and beans and sometimes I've made beans and rice, but it's just not the same.

This weekend, when the kids are here, I'm going to try some of the recipes I downloaded and try to make it properly.  I'm drooling already.  That's true love, the way it ought to be.

The call of the birder

by Mark Zaugg 7. April 2012 10:29

Mom loved travel.  She loved meeting people in her travels.  I'm much more shy than her, she'd be openly stepping forward, saying hello, talking about shared interests and being her gregarious self.

I really liked Costa Rica and the people I travelled with were all incredible.  I feel a little strange since my daughter and I tended to sit by ourselves more than I would have chosen in retrospect.

One of my best social moments of the trip was when we were riding up the escalator in Houston about to go through screening and some of the kids from our tour spotted us and waved goodbye furiously.  I'm sure I was waving back with an equally huge grin on my face.  What a great way to end the trip, eh?

I find that one of the best things about meeting new people is they teach me so much about old friends.

I view my relationships in the light of new details.  I discover more interesting aspects about people I may have glossed over.  In the process I learn things about myself and who I am as a person.  Meeting new friends, being open to new experiences makes one capable of personal growth.  For a shy guy, that's a remarkable discovery.

So one of the things Mom picked up on after one of her trips - upon reflection it's quite likely to have been her trip to Costa Rica - was a newly discovered love of bird watching.  We were driving to the mountains for a picnic with my kids when she was excitedly pointing out a couple of birds on fence posts beside the road.

"Yeah, it's a couple of hawks."

"That one's a Red Tailed Hawk, and the other is a Swainsons Hawk.  Look, they're side by side!"

To this day I have no idea if that's a big deal or not.

For the life of me, I don't know if she actually knew which of the birds soaring way above us were Golden Eagles and which were Bald Eagles, but she was sure excited to point out the Bald Eagles to me.

Maybe it's too much taxonomy in school and never really being good at identifying species.  Maybe it's just a general hatred of being pigeon holed.  But I'm happy enough to see the bird, I don't feel like I have to know it's name, rank and serial number.

Those people that go chasing around the world to find a rare species of bird and add it to their catalog of birds spotted -- well, I suppose there are worse hobbies to have.  But I don't get it, it's not really for me.  I remember hearing a story where they were called "twitchers," just being close to a bird they've never seen before sends them into apoplectic fits to log the find.  I giggle every time I picture it in my mind's eye.

Until we were taking the boat to Tortuguero.  By luck, one of the birding enthusiasts sat behind my daughter and I.  "See over there?  That's an egret.  But just to the right, that's an immature blue heron."

Damn her.  She just activated the scientific part of my mind.  Immature blue herons appear white, they get their characteristic blue colour from eating shellfish, don't they?  Or am I mixing that up with something else?  Well, that's part of the reason I have the binoculars and the camera, so let's start figuring this out and learning something while I'm down here.

The next day we were taking boat tours up and down the river looking for wildlife.  I saw Phyllis in the middle boat and whispered to my daughter to get into that one.  A few minutes later Sarah came up and asked if she could get in too.  Awesome, you two are one of the reasons I chose that boat.  It was great to be out looking for wildlife, it was doubly good to be with the guys that brought us up the river in the first place, it was glorious to be with the 'serious birders'.  I knew we were going to spot a lot along the way and I just knew that I'd be actually learning while we went, not just a "hey look at that one over there."

The next two days were my favourite of the trip.  Spotting the wildlife was fantastic.  If you look through my pictures you'll realize that I tried really hard to capture what I could.  I was so excited to see what was there.  There are a few things I'll need to point out for you to spot.

First, if you look carefully at what I took photos of, you'll be able to notice that I got more and more selective in my shots.  Early in the trip I shot a bunch of birds side by side.  Wide shots with multiple birds became unacceptable very quickly.  I needed close ups of one bird early on.  That was for two reasons - usually so I could look it up and identify it later and so I could remember the story of when I took that photo.  Just about all of the photos have a story behind them - if they didn't I tend not to open the shutter!

The next thing about my photos you'll notice is that I took less replicative photos as the trip went on.  For instance, I took an awful lot of photos of anhingas early on, and then less so as the tour went on.  Part of that is getting better with recognizing species of birds and remembering that I'd already seen one of those, I didn't need another photo.


Third, when I did take another photo of an Anhinga later, it was to show something amazing.  I took that photo because I saw a a female atop a branch or a male drying his feathers.  This was from learning about the birds, from feeling more comfortable with taking shots, and from feeling more trust that I was going to be able to learn from Sarah and Phyllis about what I was seeing and they'd point out great moments I could shoot.

While we were staying in Fortuna near the Arenal Volcano, I woke up early just before sunrise.  I went out on the balcony - partially to not wake my daughter and partially to enjoy the lovely weather - and heard bird calls.  I snuck back into the room, grabbed my binoculars, and slipped through the sliding door again, peering through the dim light to spot what I could see.  Minutes later I snuck back into the room, pulled my camera out of my bag, and snuck back to the balcony to start taking photos of the dozens of birds that I was seeing.

An all-green parrot-like bird, yellow rings around its eyes, a red protrusion on it's beak.  Yellow and black birds, almost a skull cap over it's head.  My second and third hummingbirds spotted!  Soon it was mayhem, trying to see new birds, new things, hopefully get them on camera.

Oh.  My.  Ghod.

I have fallen.  I have become...  A birder.

I think Sarah and Phyllis were sitting together, talking with each other at breakfast.  I felt too embarrassed to interrupt with my horrible realization.

Right then I suddenly understood something significant.  Quite possibly one of the most important lessons of the trip.  I finally understood just why Mom had seemingly become a birder overnight after she had been on a trip.  It's addictive, it's interesting.  The birds are so showy, it's so exciting to see something that's new.  Even when you see a species you've seen before, you begin looking for behaviours and actions that help you understand why it lives the way it does.  I understood a little more about the world around me.

I understood a little more about my Mom.

For the remainder of the trip, I imagined my Mom wedging herself in with the "serious birders" and having endless conversations.  I imagined her talking about when she saw a Quetzal, giving tips on how to see them, learning from Sarah how to be a better spotter.  I can say without hesitation that Sarah and Phyllis would have been great friends with Mom.  They were great friends to me.  Through them I learned a little bit more about who my mother was.

Mom would have been ecstatic to have taken the picture of the butterfly on Clara's arm.  So was I.  Mom would have loved to chat with the guys looking over the ox carts.  She would have adored spending time talking with the families, feeling energized from the kids, interested in the parents, share tales with the grandparents.  She would have loved telling stories of Winnipeg with Giselle and JP.

The trip was about loving Costa Rica.  But also about loving the people we shared it with.  This is my thanks to all of you.  You taught me much about Mom and me, about my daughter and me, about Mom and my daughter.

Oh, and yesterday I spotted a couple of magpies playing in the snow, and a swarm of chickadees, and a V of Canada geese...

Sentimental Journey

by Mark Zaugg 4. April 2012 20:00

Goona take a sentimental journey
Goona set my heart at ease.
Goona make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories.

Doris Day, eh?  I honestly didn't know that.  I actually hear my mom singing it in my mind.

In some respects, Mom and I are very opposite people.  She loved travel, I'd much rather stay at home.  I love science and technology, she tolerated as little as was required to get what she wanted done.  Put me near a beach and I head straight for the water while she stuck to the sand.

She directly gave me many of the passions I have in my life.  An endless love of music.  A rock solid sense of justice.  Acceptance and welcoming of neighbours as friends.

The trip to Costa Rica was a gift for my daughter.  I think we all wish that the two of them went together, but it didn't work out that way.  What I'm finding so difficult upon our return is how emotionally charged the trip is now that it's over.  Prior to the trip, it was easy to say that I was taking her in Mom's stead.  Now it's really tough.  As of today, officially, we went, had a great time, and that's the extent of it.  Im not going to add any further explanation.

Earlier I mentioned the opportunity to see Southerly skies as my treat.  I also talked a bit about being outside the hotel in San Jose, looking up, and not recognizing a single damned thing above me.  That was pretty odd.  But if you're reading this, you know me well enough to know I wasn't going to settle with a little stargazing befuddlement.

Near the end of the trip, at the JW Marriot along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, I was able to find me a relatively dark corner just south of the hotel.  It was far enough away from the trees I could get a view above me, far enough from the lights I got a fairly good view above me, not far enough from the road that someone spotted me and wondered what some idiot was doing with camera and binoculars pointed up in an obscure corner of the grounds.

I get the astronomy bug honestly from my dad.  One of the very first things he taught me was the impact upon him when he was in Australia and he saw the Southern Cross. 

I saw it myself.  This genuinely was a life's ambition fulfilled.

One trip.  So many generational ties.  No wonder I get emotional.



This is the photo I took at 2:02 am on March 29, 2012.  In celebration of that moment I release this image to the public domain.  A copy of the full size of this image may be found here.

Stars above San Jose

by Mark Zaugg 3. April 2012 01:50

I have a whole lot of blog entries to write.  Some of them are funny.  Some of them are thoughtful.  Some of them are written.  Some have yet to be formed into meaningful sentences.  Many are political.  Some are astronomical.  I will try hard to use proper hashtags so you know what to expect in advance.

This one is about astronomy on a different spot on the globe.  It was originally written March 24 in San Jose, Costa Rica.


Exactly how crazy is that?

I cannot orient myself with regards to the sky.  This doesn't make sense at all.  I want to point up with my hand this high and my arm at that angle and just know with certainty that I have pointed at Ursa Major -- the Big Dipper.  Cassiopeia is kinda up and Draco kinda between them and scootched over a bit and it's just obvious where the sky falls into place from there.

Right now Orion has already set; I spotted my oldest friend when we came to the hotel our first night in Costa Rica.  His presence above me has been the last thing of certainty I've seen so far.  

Granted, I have some disadvantages at the moment.  We're still in San Jose, and while there are fewer lights in the city than in Calgary, there is still light pollution.  Also I was looking from the darkest place I could find that was within the hotel area -- in this case by the pool.  That meant fully half my sky was blocked by the building  itself and by bright lights illuminating the pathway.  Of the half of the sky that I could see, it had wispy clouds floating by obscuring many of the dimmer stars that were visible. Not enough to be an impediment at home, far too much to give me a clear orientation under unfamiliar skies.

Zenith, of course, is easy to find.  Point straight up and you're there. But at zenith right now there's really nothing particularly bright.  Alkaid is somewhat close right now, which should lead me immediately to Ursa Major.  But finding what's directly above you is even more difficult when you twist and turn and don't spot anything familiar.

Ursa Major!  C'mon, that's one of my staple constellations. Or more precisely my staple asterisms because i really am only looking for the seven stars in the dipper.  But that is normally so familiar to me i barely have to look to see it.  I'm looking directly above me and cannot see one of the most familiar things in my sky?  Have I gone loco?

Tonight I have re-learned a bit of humility.  I have forgotten what it's like to look up and just see stars.  Ungrouped masses of light.  The constellations are one of humanity's oldest ways of describing locations in the sky.  They hold no mysterious power.  They do not define your life. They are not eternal entities which will be unchanged for all time, although it might seem to be the case for our own ephemeral life spans.  They are maps to describe what we see above us.

When I talk of the Square of Pegasus, I am not referring to a boxy horse soaring above me on wings.  I am referring to a location in the sky which is usually easily recognizable because of a cluster of bright stars.  The stories of a wondrous horse with wings exists to help us remember the map and to remember our tales and legends.  We remember the beautiful Pegasus in part because the legend has been tied to the stars.  If there was ever a marvellous creature in legend half cow and half fish that plunged through the oceans, it has been lost to us, in part because it was not tied to the legendary stories told in our astronomy.

Go, look up tonight. Whether you see constellations or not, find what stars you can.  Enjoy the moment under your own sky, become friends with its legends, create new stories of your own.  Tonight, understand that the stars you see have names and locations and whether you know them or not, they are beautiful and will return tomorrow night offering comfort and direction.  Once the stars have become your friends, you will share the collective stories and pass your own stories to others.

I can see that....

by Mark Zaugg 10. March 2012 21:31

Okay, it's time for the exciting part.

We've talked about the packing, the shots, the odds and sods along the way.  Now I get to show off the cool stuff.

Every once in a while I get asked about which telescope I'd recommend for a budding astronomer.  Generally people know that I love looking at the sky, I'm a geek, and therefore I have a lot of knowledge of the tools of the trade.

The truth is that I haven't owned my own telescope for many, many years.  When I last had a telescope, it was much less capable than modern telescopes and wouldn't hold a candle to what's commonly available today.

When people ask what to get for a telescope, the first question is always, "What do you want to do with it?"  A little backyard stargazing when the weather's nice?  Learning the stars in the sky and the constellations and asterisms you can find?  Collecting Messier objects through a single night of the year?  Long exposure photographs of easily observable nebula?  High definition photographs of the most distant galaxies we can observe in the universe?

Okay, for that last one, you'll want to buy the Hubble Space Telescope.  It'll cost you a pretty penny, and you may be interested in picking up a space shuttle to go with it for servicing missions.  The HST was launched on Endeavour, and subsequently serviced by Discovery, Columbia and Atlantis, so pretty much any shuttle will do.  If you do purchase the HST and a shuttle to go with it, I'm calling shotgun right now.

Okay, so given a limited budget and being firmly grounded to locations with a breathable atmosphere contained within our solar system you're probably going to be looking at a more modest scope.  I have my eyes on a nice Dobsonian telescope down the road with a camera mount when I have time to play with a little astrophotography for fun.  I'm not in a rush, things are getting better each and every year and I want to be able to do it right when I can.

So for the short term, I'm keeping strictly within my budget and following my own advice.  Don't start with a telescope at all!  Begin with a good set of binoculars.

Looking at Jupiter through binoculars.

Jupiter on the left, Venus to the right.

Now, budget being the operative word, I haven't been able to go buy the binoculars I really want.  They get costly in a hurry, I could have spent $700 to $1000 just for the binoculars and I really don't want to spend that much on a binoculars I'm taking on vacation for their very first outing.  I'd hate to have them broken or stolen on their first trip out.  On the other hand, I don't want something severely underpowered so I won't want to use them again at home.

My choice was the Nikon Action Zoon 10-22x50 CF binoculars.  They'll work well for looking at wildlife on vacation and for light gathering at night while I'm in the tropics.  It's amazing how much better I can see stars looking through them.  I'm hoping they'll help me view the Large Magellanic Cloud while I'm down there.  The zoom feature is nice to help orient myself in the sky and then zoom in for a better look at specific features.

It's a small thing, but something I'm very much looking forward to both in the short term and in the future at home.  Given more cash and less concern about travelling with them, I would have preferred to hold out for a set of high quality binoculars designed specifically for astronomy, but we have to balance life after all.

I'm starting to feel excited about spending time with my daughter and making the most of a lousy situation.

Renewal in another place.

by Mark Zaugg 2. March 2012 21:46

I'm really burnt out.

I can feel the restlessness.  The lack of clarity and concentration.  The short temper and intolerance for other people's stupidity.

I'm really, really burnt out.

Yeah, you've sent me an email lately and I haven't responded.  I've got somewhere around 600 emails piled up right now, about half of which I actually WANT to read and maybe a third I want to scan through.  Of the half I want to read, I've probably got about a third of those I want to reply to.  Don't hold your breath if you've been waiting.

I have absolutely no desire to go to another meeting.  I've been to so many unproductive meetings over the past couple months I'm sick of 'em all.  I dread March 13th -- I have three meetings scheduled for that night, one starting at 6:30 pm and the other two starting at 7:00 pm.  Here's a surprise: I'm not going to two of them.  I think I've mostly settled on which one I'm going to attend.  I'm sure my choice is going to disappoint some people - well, I simply can't do everything.

I want to sit down and read and teach myself new things and my focus is...

I procrastinate on things I really want to get accomplished and off my plate.  On the other hand, I have managed to get a lot of little things done as I go.

I don't even have my usual spewage of nonsensical attempts at humour I normally tweet to my adoring public (and the other 1220 or so of you who clicked "follow" entirely by accident).

What is it normal people do right about now?  That thing that happens when cabin fever sets in so bad you start looking for any excuse to escape those four padded walls around you?  That time when the curling playoffs have ended and the hockey playoffs have yet to begin?

Today, the day has come where it is time for me to swing my mind forward and begin thinking about -- a vacation.

Not one of those "stay-at-home-and-file-paperwork" vacations.  Not one of those "go-camping-for-a-week-and-try-to-smell-like-the-forest" vacations.  An honest to ghod, get thine self out from the ordinary and do something different vacation.  I have never been on an actual vacation like this.  Maybe a family vacation when I was younger.  Certainly nothing remotely like this as an adult.

My mom planned a special trip to take my daughter to Costa Rica.  I don't really have a desire to travel the world, but the responsibility fell on me to take my daughter down there in my mom's absence.  My job is to make sure that she has a good time.

My joy, however, is going to be something quite different.

Tonight I opened up Stellarium and did something I have never done before.  I set my location to San Jose, Costa Rica.  I let time progress beginning at sunset and proceeding through the night.  My dear friend and protector Orion did not stroll just above the horizon but rose high into the sky - practically at zenith given how much trouble I had moving the mouse without having the sky spin around the pointer.  Constellations I only barely remember as names that skim along the very edge of the horizon instead popped glaringly into view.  Fornax, Columba, Pyxis, Antlia.  They're just names to me.  I don't really know any of their stories or details.

I discovered new names I did not recognize at all.  I'm sure I've seen them before in star maps, but they have no meaning to me.  Horologium, Reticulum, Pictor, Carina.  The Southern Pleiades?  How fascinating!

I had a realization tonight.  In about three weeks I'll be fulfilling a dream.  A little after sunset, I'll be looking straight to the south and trying to find the constellation Dorado.  Just beneath it, if the skies are dark and the weather cooperates, I'll look for a little puffy cloud.  A galaxy, a companion to our own, a member of our cluster.  The Large Magellanic Cloud.  I won't be able to see the Small Magellanic Cloud, it will have set before the sun. 

Some time around midnight I'll look to the south and see Crux - the Southern Cross.  My father talked about seeing Crux when he lived in Australia.  I never believed I'd see it with my own eyes.  It's almost a certainty that I'll see it at some point.

My daughter's gift is a trip to a foreign land.  My gift is a trip to foreign skies.  May they be cloudless and dark.

Bow River Flow to Go

by Mark Zaugg 20. August 2011 20:15

I need a wee little tweak on my rear derailleur.  It's just enough off that upshifting takes a moment or two to catch.  I think about it every time I ride home and I forget about it every time I stash my bike in the basement and head upstairs to start dinner.  The next morning I grumble to myself as I shift my gears and wonder why I didn't fix it.

I could jump off my bike and twist the adjustment screw during my commute, but it's really not bad enough to bother stopping to bother with.  I'll fix it when I get to work, or when I get home.  And the cycle repeats itself.

So what does this have to do with Bow River Flow?

The Bow River Flow changed my attitude and eventually changed my preferred method of commuting through Calgary.  Fuel costs me considerably less than it used to, my fitness has considerably improved, I feel better when I arrive at my destination than I do when I've been driving.  I can do my own maintenance, and when I'm over my head or short on time we've got fantastic shops locally who will help me out.

I'm saving time.  I'm saving money.  I'm happier.  How can a once-a-year event have made such a positive influence on my life?

Two years ago the Bow River Flow changed my idea of what a festival could be in Calgary.  It's different, it's fun, it's my style of festival.  I went with my kids and it was an amazingly good day together.

One year ago the Bow River Flow changed my idea of what government could be  in Calgary.  I started demanding a more cooperative, more productive, more open and communicative, less confrontational and more pragmatic government.  I think we have made some progress, but we have more to go.  The thing with last year was I went with my kids and it turned out to be an amazingly good day together.  What was different was that I started meeting some of the friends I'm proud to know and work alongside today.

Tomorrow I'll be back down there with my kids riding my blue Trek, looking suitably unfashionable and more than likely having a marvellous time.  I genuinely hope to see you down there.  Feel free to stop me and ask how my derailleur is doing.  

It will be my third Bow River Flow - I can't wait to find out which idea of mine will be affected this year!

Balance in time for the weekend

by Mark Zaugg 26. June 2011 01:16

I strive hard for balance in all things.  It matters a lot to me in general, it matters more when I realize I'm going manic depressive.  I work pretty hard to keep an even keel when I notice things going out of whack.


The week started wonderfully.  A continuation of the last few weeks where everything I touched turned golden.  Then Thursday happened.  Then Friday followed Thursday and was a complete kick in the teeth.


It's really hard when I've had a crappy Friday and then go pick up the kids.  I'm short tempered (never a good thing), I'm impatient (never a good thing) and I just don't have the reserves to deal with anything annoying.  Never a good thing.  When you've got two kids that you're dying to see, you just don't have time to ease yourself down to level ground.


Honesty is always a good thing.  "I had a really crappy couple of days and I'm in a foul mood.  I'll try to be calm, please give me a little extra space."  Dinners tend to be slapdash as I put less effort into everything.  I try to be more mindful of my over-reactions to the kids, knowing full well that it's almost impossible when I don't have a handle on my over-reactions to my own self.


So, regardless of the myriad reasons why my week went off the rails, this is the strategy for keeping my precious family time on track.


Take a deep breath.

Stick to routine.

Cook a great meal.  Extra effort to make something we love.

Take a deep breath.

Play a game.  All work and no play...

Sleep in.

Take a deep breath.

Go do something fun.

Go do something for someone else.


I may not be out of the woods yet, but I'm feeling better than last night.  With a little luck I'll get through this yet.  You may remind me of this one next time I act like an ass.


Change is the only constant.

Welcome to the semi-exciting new look, same crappy blogger.

All comments are still moderated, I'll approve everything that isn't spam or offensive.  Agreement with His Dorkasaurus is not necessary.

What has changed is that I don't have 1000 junk accounts clogging up the system that I have to go through one by one.  Yes, you too can set up an account and no longer need to wait for me to notice you posted.  Completely optional.

As always:  Have fun, be respectful.


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