Family


It was the winter of 2006 when we were last together as a family. Together? Only in thought . Our son was in Albany, his wife Nicole any day expecting their first child. Pam’s dear mother, recently passed, was not yet interred. We had already signed on with Taylor’s College in Malaysia, and although we had sold our renovated hovel on Upper Ave, we had not yet moved into the condo we had bought on Wharncliffe as a hedge against what we were sure would be an escalation of real estate during our sojourn in Southeast Asia. The family gathered for a funeral, which was the closest to a family Christmas we had that year. It was to be the last gathering for us for many years, and our last Christmas in Canada until this year.

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Much has happened in the intervening ten years. We are much older, more educated, much more travelled, and perhaps wiser, though time will be the best judge of such an assessment. However, for all our adventures – and there have been many as any random sample of this weblog will attest – there has been a sadly missing dimension of this last decade: we have been miserable grandparents, at least in our own estimation. Following that sad interment of Pam’s Mom those many years ago, we returned to our home on Upper Ave to a voice mail from our son that said their first child had been born. With scarcely a pause to pack, we set out for Albany to welcome baby Benjamin into the world; a blessing of joy hard upon a season of sorrow.

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From that time until this season we have not been home for Christmas. Though Taylor’s College was good enough to send us home at company expense, it was only once a year. A meager salary – by North American standards, at least – meant that this was all we could afford while we were there. Though Malaysia was clearly the Lord’s will for us, and was productive in ministry for eight years, it warred against our hearts to be so far away from our children’s five children as they were born and began to grow.  It was for this reason that we began to pray as long as four years ago, that the Lord would see fit to relocate us to the Western hemisphere so we could be closer to our family.

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This year was the culmination of that prayer as we were able to travel not only to Toronto and London to see our siblings and their families, but also to Cleveland, Ohio to see Benjamin, now 10, and his two younger sisters in their new home. Words are insufficient – to see our son and his wife, and our grandchildren in their own home at Christmas; to play Santa in the distribution of presents; to sit around the table at a meal; to build Star Wars Lego with Ben; to dance with Abi and Eli to Wii, to watch The Wizard of Oz with our three grandchildren while their parents celebrated New Year’s in downtown Cleveland – these are gifts beyond measure, beyond price. These are treasures to hold in our memories for all time.

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Words fail. You read this and look at the prose and the content. These mean so little. How can words express the holes in our hearts over these long years without our family at this most holy time? For this Christ came. For this He died. To show to us the importance of a love that is willing to endure whatever it costs to show that love to others. How so very grateful we are to the love that has been shown to us by all our family; to my dear sister-in-law and her two lovely daughters who put up with us/put us up in Toronto; to Pam’s most gracious brother and sister-in-law in London who did the same in London; and to our son and loving daughter-in-law, who shared their home and children with us in Ohio.

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We are closer now than we were in Malaysia. It is but a four hour direct from Toronto on either Air Canada or Westjet. And we promise, as long as the Lord allows us to remain in Cayman, that we will never again go through a Christmas without our family, either in Cayman or in Canada. We cannot replace those ten years, but neither will we ever add to them again.

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Elizabeth Epp, Director of Health and Wellness

For thirty-three years we have been over-joyed as we watched our daughter Elizabeth grow into such a competent and caring woman. Despite a string of not so bright (or kind!) English teachers in her high school years, she still chose to get her degree in English and Communications, slogging long hours at Tim Horton’s to make ends meet. Her career path since then has been somewhat eclectic, from cleaning horse stalls to grooming dogs, from retail management to executive assistant in oil companies.

For the past three years we have been in awe of her strength, grace and compassion as she became a Mom to Russ, dealt with the unthinkable loss of their darling baby Raylan and their twins they never got to meet. We are so grateful for Greg, the young man that has been her supportive husband for the past six years. Their beautiful little Layla brought great joy and a measure of healing to their little family. Her first year of life was overshadowed by the illness and passing of Greg’s Dad, two days before her first birthday.

One of the most amazing things of it all was that all this time, behind the scenes, Liz was studying part-time to follow a dream to become a Recreational Therapist and work with Senior citizens. At one point, in the midst of loss, she was out of school too long and was forced to repeat a number of courses. She was able to use the last two months of her maternity leave to finish her final internship and before that internship was even finished she landed a dream job at a brand new luxury retirement community just a few minutes away from their home. Her new title is Director of Health and Wellness.

This is not a role that we saw in her future of our daughter when we were raising her, although we certainly saw her helping and compassionate spirit. We are both so delighted to see our darling daughter take this next step in her life, and of course we wish her all the best. But more than that. Our prayer is that she will grow to become the person in her career that she is in her dear heart.

 

We are very proud of our son Jonathan but readily admit that we can’t even begin to understand what it is he does. Best just to let him tell it.

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The last big company I worked for afforded me a number of different roles. At the start of my career, I worked for about 10 years as a software developer — a job I was passionate about and reasonably proficient at. After about a decade of that, though, I got a little tired of constantly learning how to solve the same problems again but with yet another new technology, but also afraid of turning into the guy in the cubicle next to me who was still doing the same job on 20 year old technology.

Fortunately, God moved my career toward more commercial roles, and I realized that my sweet spot would be somewhere between technology and business. It turns out there are a lot of different options for careers for people like me. I tried my hand at evangelism, business development, and finally product management. And that last stop, at Amazon, felt like home. As a product owner, you get to create the theories of market impact, define the vision, and once in execution mode, you can go as deep as you want with the engineering team on how to solve the problems that get you there. There aren’t many jobs where you can be in an executive board room one minute, and checking in code for the nightly build the next.

About 15 months ago, when I started my current job, our leadership had put out a dual challenge: do something in a space called “analytics”, and go fast. Analytics is just information software, which I wrote for years. And going fast is something we did really well at Amazon. It was a good fit. My new boss and I spent many hours reviewing analyst and market data, talking to customers and potential partners, and (for me) learning about what technology we had available to us in-house. Old friends and colleagues provided input and guidance, and a plan formed. We went back to the leadership and proposed assembling a small, cross-functional team with engineering, design, quality, business and product skills all reporting to the same leader (an “A-Team” if you like…) My boss would be that leader, and I would lead the product and technical effort. We set a goal of building a product in one calendar year, from sketch on a whiteboard to box on shelves — an unheard of target at this company, but one we thought we could pull off by combining new code with some existing bits pulled together to express something new.

In January of this year, after a few false starts and final approvals, we had the core of the team: 3 software developers, 1 part time designer, me as a product owner, and my boss as manager and business owner. Within a couple weeks we had added a test automation developer, a part time researcher and a front-end contract developer, and we were off to the races. Although we had those pre-existing bits, our computers, and a few cardboard boxes of tech that one of the developers brought with them, we were otherwise starting from scratch. The team built our test environment, simulating an industrial operation, our build system, pulling together and compiling the code from each participant, and our process, a combination of Scrum and Kanban with a lean Agile philosophy.

We work in 2 week sprints, automate our testing to ensure quality within a small team, and demo our work regularly to the leadership and potential customers. By August we had prepared a “preview release” that we invited 5 customers to run in their labs to validate our approach and ideas. And in less than 2 weeks, we’ll officially announce our product to the world at our annual conference. We lost a developer to retirement this summer, which impacted our velocity, but our contract developer moved to full time, as a great hire for the company, and we’ll soon have the empty seat filled for the final stretch of this race.

My job is a lot of things I love — and just a few I don’t. I do get into the code, a little more than I expected, but it helps take some of the pressure of the team’s deliverables. I present a lot, and throughout the year, as our product has evolved, those get more fun. Customers have never seen anything quite this cool coming from this space. We’re leveraging some consumer technology and ideas to make our product more approachable and interactive, with a focus on making sure customers can start using what we’re building within minutes (as opposed to weeks or months for most information software in industrial automation.) Because we’re in a big company, I also have to do a lot of paperwork — a necessary step for audit-ability and customer confidence — but thanks to some of the pre-work by other smart people in the company, we’re able to do a “light version” of the process, on the understanding that our product will be able to be updated and improved continuously after launch.

The codename for the product is Shelby — and as it started fetching information for us, Shelby took on a dog personality. Its software and hardware, married together as a single-purpose, near zero-configuration appliance. On start-up, it needs to know what language you speak, what time it is, and how it will get an IP address — and that’s about it. Shelby configures itself from there by exploring the operation its been connected to, identifying the parts, and building an information model about what it sees. Once that’s done, it starts analyzing the data and looking for problems in the operation, and producing information about what’s going wrong (or potentially, about to go wrong.) In the customer sites and labs we’ve been in, Shelby’s record so far is 121 devices and 23 problems — all discovered in less than 3 minutes. To be clear, this could be done before Shelby — but it would take weeks of custom system and tool configuration. Shelby makes turning data into information an instant and repeatable solution, that customers can buy as a (relatively) inexpensive product and service.

We’ve had highs and lows, support from outside has come and gone and come back again, but my little team has never failed to wow people with what we’ve accomplished in the short amount of time we’ve been working together. I couldn’t be more proud of my crew, and of our little product. Its industrial analytics for everyone; its a little bit of magic in a box, and its almost here.

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Really are these the same kids that finished the 2015-16 school year just two months ago?

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This has been a long summer of travel but it is always so good to be back in Ontario and have the chance to hang out with family and friends. Steve’s time was pretty limited as he needed to get back to school but I stayed on for an extra couple of weeks to look after business. We are so grateful for Randy and Sylvia  who always make us feel so welcome and at home in their granny suite; a place where family can always drop by for a visit. Time was tight but we did get in some nice meals and even a few games of Rook before Randy and Sylvia headed out west, leaving Max and I to house sit.

Not all of your “family” are necessarily blood relatives. Some are friends who we  are proud to know, people we admire, love and respect; people who make our lives better simply by being in it. Al and Shelley hosted a completely lovely BBQ Sunday afternoon and we thoroughly enjoyed catching up with them as well as Kevin and Colleen and Dave and Catherine and their families. It even morphed into a little bit of Canadiana because we were invited to join coach Dave and the entire Marchand family to watch Lana compete at the Rio Olympics.

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By heading out early in the morning, we managed to have a wonderful breakfast with other very special friends in “The Glen”.

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We got all the stuff done that needs to be looked at each year in terms of finances, back to school shopping and the condo and even applied for my OAS. I had a day to talk projects with the TWR team and some opportunities for good conversations with WLA friends and long time friends. Great summer all around but seven weeks is a long time to live out of suitcases and I was happy to be heading back to our little island.

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It is a wonderful thing to be back on the same side of the world as our kids and grandkids but even then we can’t always be everywhere we would love to be. Jon and Nic and the kids took a trip out west to meet Layla for the first time and as much as we would have loved to be there too, it brings us great joy  to see our children together and enjoying each others’ company.

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With all we had to do this summer and all that Jon and Nic and the kids had on their plates, it looked like we would not get to see them at all on this visit. However, as we were about to board our flight from LA to Toronto we recieved a text message from Jon saying that they were enroute to Calgary and had a three hour stop over in the Toronto airport. God is so good and as it turned out our flights landed about ten minutes apart and we were able to meet up for about a half hour and get in some hugs.

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Every summer, Nicole’s parents host a Fish Fry for the extended family and that happened to fall while I was in Ontario so I had another little stolen visit with the kids around Pat and Wendy’s pool.

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We began the summer 2016 marathon with a couple of glorious weeks hanging out in Calgary with Liz and Greg and Russ and Layla and even got in a few visits with Dave. The weather was beautiful so Steve got the deck painted and a few other odd jobs done around house. Liz is still off on maternity leave so we did some local excursions to the kids favourite spots. We even took in The Calgary Stampede for the very first time as it was senior’s day so we got in free; probably the only reason we would visit the stampede.

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We had to leave a few days before Russ’s 3rd birthday but we did a little celebration, with a Spiderman cupcake that I had promised him early in the visit, and Grandpa put together his trampoline.

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