S.T.E.A.M. Build Challenge

First things first, the S.T.E.A.M. Build Challenge and then an update.

One way to keep busy while stuck indoors is a fun challenge. For the first time in a long time, I pulled out my LEGO bricks and had at it building something from my imagination.

After several tear-aparts and rebuilds the result was a steam locomotive. The images are below.

Your challenge? To build any form of transportation that you want using things from around the house. LEGO, toilet paper roles, shoe boxes, K’Nex! Anything is game.

Share your creations on our Facebook page or suggest ideas for the next build challenge that we’ll announce next Friday.

I must admit that I am used to working from home and the first week of social distancing and isolating wasn’t that abnormal. The only difference was that my girlfriend was at home with me creating digital lessons for her students.

Week two was spring break and we got to rebuilding the walls in our basement after some needed foundation work. As that week drew to a close, I began to feel a little stir crazy.

One down three to go. I was also on sweeping duty.

The stress of a weird world isolating itself was finally getting to me. My girlfriend had recently dressed up one of our camping cots with blankets and pillows so we could make use of our loft space. A place in the house that has seen little attention since we moved it. Other renos and projects took priority.

With a lovely place to lounge all set up, I went up and realized that it was in the loft that I had tucked my LEGO away. What better time to revisit your youth and play than when you’re feeling out of place?

I rebuilt the old harbour set my grandmother (Baka as we called her) had gotten me, only to find that I was missing several pieces. Thankfully, I was able to borrow from other sets and get most of it back up. I’ll have to scour my parent’s LEGO bin and hope my niece and nephew haven’t made off with the pats 🙂 (But that is a project for when things get back to normal.)

After having put the harbour back together, I had a bunch off pieces left over. As I kid, I was never that great at making my own creations from LEGO. Then ended up being more imagination rather than looking like something that resembled anything.

But with a needed distraction, I let myself wander down a path of creativity. The steam locomotive came in fits and spurts. It also required tear downs and rebuilds as I found better pieces to do one job, freeing up needed ones to go elsewhere.

After a few of days the final project came to completion, and I figured why not share it with friends and challenge them to make something as well.


We’re Currently Fighting World War Three and The Enemy is Complacency.

When I get the chance to visit my friend and his father on their family property, I always find myself whisked away to a different place or time. I’m not sure what it is about this former farmstead tucked away in the urban parts of Winnipeg, if it’s the Guffleworfs that stand watch along the driveway, the ability to feel like I’m in nature far outside of the city with an intrusive development of cookie cutter homes just behind the tree lines, or perhaps it is the tea and conversation that comes up with my friend’s father.

At 97 he is ever eager to listen and talk, to verbally parry and repost with his son in the same playful teasing way I grew up with in my family and he is always willing to talk about the war. He feels he must talk about it to make sure the sacrifices made are not forgotten and lost.

At the age of twenty and an only child, he left his widowed mother and the family farm to go to war. He could have stayed home, as the only child on a farm we would not have been obligated to go but go he did. He was part of the D-day landings, spent the war with his tank crew mostly ahead of the line, reporting back from their various observation posts. Then, he came back home, if only because, as he says, he dug more slip trenches than anyone else in the war.

The World Wars demanded great sacrifice and affected entire generations, but those individuals fought willingly for the freedoms, liberties and lifestyle we have today in hopes that we would never have to go to war again to preserve them. Yet, when we are faced with a climate crisis, as we knowingly continue to consume and put our livelihoods, liberties and freedoms at risk, we sit back and lose ourselves to the media-rich world we are a part of.

In the 1980s a small group of scientists came forward and warned us about a growing hole the ozone of Earth’s atmosphere. This small band was able to inspire, mobilize and change not only habits but laws. The world came together, and the growth of that hole stopped and has even reserved.

How is it then that when 97% of scientists agree on the human nature of climate change and that we need to act on it, we sit immobile – worse still we deny and refute. Are we that much farther in time from the Great Wars that their meaning, their importance, their sacrifice has been lost to us?

How can this be? I am only a generation removed from the war! My grandmother, God rest her soul, would be furious to see how we take all our liberties for granted, how we consume without forethought, how we squander and deny. As a spy for the resistance in Poland, she did not risk her life, suffer torture, and flee her homeland leaving family and all her possessions behind so that we should sit back and forget.

Although I know the real threats of climate change and know all too well it is happening right now, I am also guilty of my own complacencies. However, it is the memory of my grandmother, the look in the eye of my friend’s father, the Gretas, the Malalas, the students behind the Never Again movement that push me to step up and prepare myself to make sacrifices of my own, because we are already fighting World War Three for the future of our children’s lives, rights and liberties.

The enemy may not be a clear and present danger that we can name like in the past two Great Wars because it is sly, silent and ingrained. It is our own complacency, our own blurred views of what is a right and what is a privilege, our lapses in memory that privileges have responsibilities.

Freedom of movement is a right. Owning a car (or three) is a privilege.

Access to food and water is a right. Having tropical fruits and water in plastic bottles is a privilege.

We have to make changes and we are past the point of asking for them, we must take a stand and demand them! Demand reconciliation for our Indigenous populations so they can be heard!

Demand that public transit is accessible to help the impoverished and get the redundant use of personal cars off the road.

Demand for better active transportation so we can use healthy alternative means of getting around.

Demand that companies move to profit sharing so that the people who actually do the work can afford to live.

Demand that our packaging be 100% recyclable.

Demand that our governments enforce that producers and consumers take responsibility for the end use of their products.

Demand green energy sectors.

Demand, demand, demand and demand again!

How? Simple, like those who went to war before us, stand up and make sacrifices. Unlike during the Great Wars, these sacrifices are merely inconvenient at worst – they won’t kill you or those you love.

Are your vegetables wrapped in plastic? Don’t buy them and speak to the manager on the way out saying you won’t buy until they stop importing food items in plastic.

Do you drive to work alone in a car that can fit five? Carpool, take transit, walk, bike, commute!

Tempted to buy that new phone? Don’t. Use yours until it stops working and make sure it is recycled at the end.

Grow a garden, mow your lawn by hand, write to your politicians, have friends over for dinner, talk, discuss …

We have sat in our trenches of complacency too long and guess what? The sergeant is coming, and we all know what they will say, “Move soldier! Over the top! This climate war won’t win itself!”


The Joy of Discovery

There is great pleasure in discovering new things. Be it a new restaurant or café, a new author, a friend, learning something new or, as in my case, an old newspaper.

My girlfriend and I are currently in the seemingly endless process of house upkeep and maintenance. This Sisyphusian process often leads to all kinds of discoveries that are more often financially … how best to describe it? stressing.

The first discovery was that the house’s weeping tiles are non-existent. This is going to be a costly repair, thankfully my girlfriend and I see our roles as caretakers of the house rather than homeowners. It’s a mindset that really helps when living in a century home (that and the fact that the bank still owns more of the house than we do) and the ever-growing list of things to get done.

As one might imagine, after learning of the weeping tiles we made a few more discoveries: mice, pipes freeze in the winter, bricks need re-mortaring, and toilets constantly keep running.

Over the winter and the last few months, we have been slowly saving for the big fixes but have also been tackling some of them ourselves. We re-mortared the foundation outside and then came inside the basement to re-mortar from the inside as well.

We first had to take down the drywall and pull out the insulation and a good thing we did. The insulation was mildew covered and the drywall not far behind. Once all that was tossed, we discovered just how beautiful the basement looks with the exposed foundation. We are still not sure if we will put drywall back up, the idea of using the basement as a cold storage for wine, canning and preserves is rather tempting too both of us. Plus, the drywall would hide some of the amazing historical features of the house that are still visible.

The old coal shoot is still in place, along with the small furnace for heating. Hard to imagine that it is what kept the house warm at some point in history.

As we were finishing up and checking the bricks between the floor joists, I found a cavity and pulled out loose rubble and fill when something odd caught my eye: a lump of crumpled paper. At first, I thought it was likely homework that a former resident had hidden away to get out of doing it. Once I had it out and in my hands, I saw that it was an old newspaper.

Cautiously my girlfriend and I opened the paper. It revealed mouse chewed holes, but also some lovely looking ads and articles of the day. Once it was all laid out, we had a few pages of a 1924 Winnipeg Free Press! only ten years younger than the house itself. It’s a mystery how it ended up between the foundation walls, however, one ad in the paper that was still in okay condition made us smile.

The lithograph of a boy and father with paint brushes sat above an ad for paint. The wording emphasises the importance of upkeeping a house for maintaining its economic value and that regular painting is part of that maintenance. It goes on to wonder if the father will teach his son the importance of upkeep on the house and if the son too will buy paint when he is of age and has a house of his own.

We plan to frame the advert if we can. Not only does it represent the legacy of this century home (along with the coal shoot and old furnace), but it also embodies our idea of being caretakers. This house will outlive the both of us and there is a certain joy in knowing that we will also leave our mark on it and maybe leave a few mysteries to be found a hundred years from now.