TEMS inc.

Supporting emerging voices.

Author: HalNewman

Exercise your emergency plan. Often.


For a good while it was my task to imagine, research, write and execute plausible worst-case scenarios for everything from natural disasters to pandemics to terror attacks.

My little outfit was called Apocalypse (noun) and we were the in-house bad-stuff-no-one-wants-to-consider creators for many executive-level exercises on this little globe of ours.

My colleagues and mentors would serve as reality checkers – ‘Let me see the science research on this one’ or ‘Did you actually check the ventilation system in the Governor’s offices?’

The answer to that last one was, “Yes.” I spent a great deal of time on the ground, researching the areas of interest and doing time-date-weather checks to ensure we had every detail down right.

Occasionally, the scenarios we crafted were so realistic they caused raised eyebrows among the most senior command staff who would be running through them as part of large-scale tabletop and/or functional exercises.

Sometimes they’d ask my handlers how we knew the exact details of what they thought were closely guarded secrets. “Research. And did we mention – Hal’s a foreign national?” was the reply they seemed to enjoy the most.

Many of our scenarios resulted in major changes to the emergency planning process – and more than a few times – were the basis for large-scale awareness/planning programs.

Colleagues who were part of the process would call and say, “Did you see the new DHS directives? Look familiar? Good job.”

Those immersive environments included high-def media produced by some of the most creative minds in the world. We were playing for keeps. And play we did.

Unfortunately, every now and again, a worst-case scenario would play out in real life with casualty counts measured in real lives altered forever.

I take solace in the fact we worked hard to try to get people to imagine what happened if all the ‘What ifs’ fell into place… and made the scenarios so real we captured their imaginations – forcing them to work through every aspect of their response in a controlled albeit extremely high stress environment.

No regrets. Only the occasional rattling reminder that real-life often is far worse than what we considered to be the worst-case scenario.

A Cockpit for Antoine

That amazing moment when an Air Canada pilot demonstrates how the 5 point harness works on Antoine’s new wheelchair – the one with a custom-made 777 pilot’s seat on it… Wow! A life-changing experience all around. ‪#‎smiledeep‬

With very special thanks to Steven Merling (Eventure) .. Elie Fenster (Sierra Hotel Aeronautics) .. Micheline Villeneuve (Air Canada Foundation) .. Frederick Belanger (Air Canada) .. Alec Van Zuiden .. Nic Van Zuiden .. Lisa Cadorette .. Eric Jacques (Zen Metal Technologies) .. Claude Fournier .. Gary Mckeown .. Tom Mckeown (AirBase Services) .. Arianne Paquette (Bell Helicopter) .. Jefferson Duplain-Laferriere (DND Canada Bagotville International Airshow 2017) .. Antoine Leger (Heli Drone Images) .. Wael Chanab (Imagine 360) .. Jason Rodi (Storycraft by Jason Rodi / Nomad Live) .. Drone Volt Canada .. KoptR Image .. CBC Radio and TV News (Montreal and Sherbrooke) .. Ici Radio-Canada and TV News (Montreal and Sherbrooke) .. Enterprise Truck Rental on Cote de Liesse in Montreal … and to my friend Victor LaPenna for accompanying me on long-distance roadtrips to fetch parts and deliver a very cool wheelchair to an extraordinary young man.

Antoine was given a medal for courage by the Air Canada Foundation and was appointed as an Honorary Pilot – complete with a custom-made captain’s hat – by Air Canada..

“Aujourd’hui ma famille a vécue un moment privilégié, notre fils Antoine a reçu une fauteuil qu ‘il pourra lui – même déplacer et qui lui donnera plus d’autonomie. Nous voulons remercier tous les gens qui ont travaillé de près et de loin à la réalisation de ce projet spécial…” – Annie Gaudreau (Antoine’s mom)

“An unlikely group of companies, including Air Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces and Bell Helicopter, have teamed up to build a customized wheelchair for a teenage drone enthusiast.

Fifteen-year-old Antoine Dupont, who has muscular dystrophy, has spent the past few years in a wheelchair.

But his limited mobility hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his love of aviation. He is an avid drone pilot, flying the small crafts and shooting videos with his father Stéphane…” http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/antoine-dupont-cockpit-air-canada-1.3629360

Stéphane Dupont said that when he heard about how many people wanted to get involved to help his son, he was “really surprised.”

He said that while he was excited that his son would get to spend his days in a real pilot’s seat, what really mattered to him was his comfort.

Antoine would often complain of back pain after long days in his old chair. But as Bélanger noted, pilot chairs are designed for long hauls.

“I’ve been behind Antoine for the past eight years pushing him,” Dupont said. “Now, I’ll be beside him.”

Kids are, as always, free and welcome


We began hosting concerts in our home because we live in a small town (3,000 people) about two hours away from the closest large music venues (e.g., Montreal QC or Burlington VT) and we wanted our twin teenaged daughters to be able to experience top-quality live music in an audience-friendly acoustically-sound environment.

So we embarked on this adventure and applied to be one of the host houses for the Canadian Home Routes program. We were accepted – as one of only three homes in Quebec. Our original commitment included hosting six artists or groups of artists.

The original formula included the artists staying in our home after each show – however we re-invented that idea in favour of ‘spreading the wealth’ in our economically-rugged town. Artists who perform at our home stay in local inns where the owners have agreed to provide discounted rates in order to further promote the house concert project.

By leveraging the whole community we created an ecosystem to support/be supported by the Stanstead House Concerts Network – SHCN. We learned to leverage the heck out of social media in order to take advantage of multiple marketing ‘channels’ – and to ensure we found efficient means of getting information to people who would actually pay attention to our updates.

Shows start at 7:30 pm and consist of two sets. A typical concert winds up (for the audience) at 9:30 pm. We picked a starting time which suits the needs of our audience – many of whom travel more than 60 miles each way to attend these concerts. We want to ensure they can get home safely at a decent hour.

Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $10 for teens – and kids are, as always, free and welcome. And there are several solid reasons for making our concerts a kid-friendly experience:

  • We want to turn kids on to the power of music to broaden their horizons and fire their imaginations;
  • We know how tough it can be to find a sitter (did I mention we have twins?);
  • We know how underserved kids are as an audience for live events – kids want to be able to sit up front and be treated with respect;
  • Kids bring older people with them – parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts – and other adults;
  • Kids talk to kids via social media and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth; and
  • Kids will come back when they’re older kids and young adults and adults.

We’ve learned that people value live micro-venue musical experiences much more than in the recent past. Interestingly, so do the artists – who each reflect on the honesty injected into a performance space where each concert is a truly interactive experience. Artists talk to audience members – they become raconteurs. Audience members chat with artists and share their inspirations, their musical memories – and occasionally their sense of loss soothed through a specific melody.


When Christine Campbell & Blake Johnson (blues & roots singer/songwriters out of Nova Scotia) held court in our livingroom, a young member of the audience – wearing a Metallica t-shirt – shyly asked Christine if she could play Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ to lead off her second set. As it turns out, Christine Campbell grew up listening to Led Zep and her cover of The Immigrant Song was spell-blindingly beautiful. Goosebumps all around. Another favourite moment – a young man with a love of harmonica asked his mom to go home to get his harp so The Cumberland Brothers (bluegrass duo out of British Columbia) could autograph it – which they did while posing for pics together in the kitchen between sets.

We precede each concert with a dinner. These have been grand potluck gatherings and the addition of culinary chaos to the mix seems to appeal to the concept of engaging as many of the artists’ and audience members’ senses as possible. So it’s not only the music. It’s the show. It’s the kitchen. It’s the whole unlikely experience.

We have learned people are never too busy to go to a show they really want to see. And they want to experience these concerts.

Where kids, as always, are free & welcome.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


PS. You can listen to a CBC Radio feature story about our house concerts by clicking on this link.

Giving voice


When we moved out here to Stanstead, the century old house we moved into held the unlikely key to a treasure. It came in the form of a broken-down third-rate department-store guitar with five intact strings and a slightly warped neck.

Sophie, our eleven-year-old daughter, adopted the guitar as her own. A family friend added a sixth string and tuned it by ear.

And Sophie took her guitar to her bedroom and taught herself how to play. She used her iPod to download how-to videos from the internet.

Sophie loved the music of Taylor Swift. So she armed herself with chord charts and lyric sheets. And she practiced ceaselessly.

And slowly the sounds became songs.

She entered the town’s talent show with a friend and together they captured second prize after singing a beautiful version of ‘Our Song.’ They went back the next year and won first prize with ‘Mean.’

Almost two years after she first picked up that old guitar Sophie and I made our pilgrimage to Steve’s Music in Montreal where she chose a Big Baby Taylor.

And then she went back up to her room with her new guitar and practiced every evening. We must have heard ‘Love Story’ and ‘Red’ a hundred times. We became serious Taylor Swift fans.

She sang ‘Teardrops On My Guitar’ in her first appearance at her high school followed by ‘Last Christmas’ and ‘Santa Baby’ at the holiday show.

Sophie sang ‘Love Story’ at her grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration in a restaurant at Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont. It was an amazing few minutes and when she was done even the folks at other tables applauded loudly.

We were primed for the release of ‘1989’ long before the latest Taylor Swift album was released. Almost immediately, Sophie was working her way through the new songs – capturing their essence while singing and playing guitar.

And now, almost five years since we moved into this old house, sixteen-year-old Sophie is practicing ‘Style’ on a regular basis and I count myself among the legion of loyal Taylor Swift fans.

In my case, I give thanks for her ability to help Sophie find her voice – and for providing continual inspiration to keep making sweet sounds with her guitar.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


PS: Big Medicine is my nod of respect to a First Nations expression that, roughly translated, means the right people working together at the right time will be Big Medicine. I’ve been saying ‘Be well. Practice big medicine’ for as long as I can remember. It is my own very personal version of ‘Sawu Bona’, the Zulu greeting which means ‘I see you’… I see all of you, I see your good works, I see the difference you are making in the world.

Vital signs

SignsBack in October, I dropped the Bad’Baru off for an oil change and a couple of NASCAR-style body patches at the Garage Generale Stanstead.

I loved the place. It was like Cheers! with grease.

Everyone really did know your name. There were always folks sitting in the office. Some of them were actually clients. Most were just visiting – sharing a story, sipping a coffee. Kim and his family played the roles of barista, chief mechanic and concierge.

When I came back in the afternoon to fetch the Baru, I noticed it was parked out on the apron minus the requested patchwork.

Inside the second bay there was a middle-aged Honda Accord with Maryland plates and its guts spilled out onto two rolling tables brought up close to the engine compartment. Kim and his crew were elbow-deep working in-tight to replace the water pump.

“Did the oil on the Subaru, Hal. We’ll have to do the patches next week. These folks broke down on 55 just outside of town and they’re a long way from home. Gonna try and get them on the road southbound before sunset.”

Standing in the other bay were two older gentlemen. One looked familiar.

“Zack stopped to see if they needed help. Tow truck driver wanted to haul the car up to a dealer in Magog. Zack told him to bring it over here. Good thing. Looks like the last dealer they visited didn’t put the engine back together with all the required parts.”

I asked the other man what part of Maryland was home. He started to describe the state as a map until I gently interrupted with “I used to live in Cockeysville.”

He smiled. “We’re from Bowie. My name is George. My wife and I have been coming up to Canada every year since we honeymooned at Expo 67 in Montreal. We’ve been married 46 years.”

“When we broke down on the highway, I didn’t know what to think. We were a long way from home. Then Zack stopped and we came here. He took us out for a tour of the town. We went for coffee. We visited the Haskell Library, the granite quarry, and that road where the houses on one side of the street are in Quebec and just across the road they’re in Vermont.”

“Canusa Avenue.”

“Yes. Canusa Avenue. In all the years we’ve crossed this border we’ve never stopped in this little town. And here we are – brought here by fate and the kindness of strangers.”

“Well, George, you’re in good hands. I best be getting home to continue working in the garden as promised. It was a pleasure meeting you. Safe travels for the rest of your journey.”

“It was good meeting you, Hal. We’ll see you again the next time we’re up this way. I’ll ask Zack to drop you a line to let you know we got home safe. Seems like the kind of place where folks worry about such things.”

Indeed, George, indeed.

In the months since then, Kim closed the garage to focus on spending time with his family. The garage office irregulars of the office stay in touch with nods, waves, and social media – but it’s just not the same. Almost as if the heart of our little town skipped a beat.

Thanks for your consideration.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


Put your soul into it

img036It’s late on a Friday just at the time when afternoon slips out of its workclothes and pulls on something a bit more comfortable for evening. We’re walking down College Street in Bethany, West Virginia. We walk past the church and down the road until we turn onto Richardson Street. There’s Jim and Marjorie Carty out on their front porch having a quiet drink and watching the world go by. We smile, wave and keep on walking.

And that’s when it hits us. This incredible smell. It smells of politics, culture, of fabulously challenging conversations, and of warmth on a cool autumn day. It smells like Montreal or Brooklyn or wherever you call home. Something wondrous is cooking. We climb the stairs into the Beckers’ home knowing Saundra has poured her soul into a pot with the rest of the ingredients and whatever is served on the table will be equal parts love and delicious.

There are dogs snurfling around at our feet and comfortable chairs and a rotating cast of eclectic characters who are the Friday night irregulars at the Becker house. And there’s the kitchen. It’s an insane, impossibly small exercise in creative chaos. There’s a table in there somewhere but it’s buried in pots, pans, bottles, bags and other essential gear. And in the midst of it all, there’s Saundra. She’s got flour on her shirt and she’s talking loudly. She gives us a hug as a welcome and then, quick as a potato latke sliding from fry pan to plate, launches into a totally politically incorrect and sexually explicit critique of political opposition to proper funding for special needs education.

Stan is rolling with it. He’s sitting at the head of the table and he’s keeping the conversation going while ensuring the other guests don’t follow their impulse to run screaming for the door. Saundra’s not taking any prisoners tonight. She’s fired up. She’s adding context to statistics while dishing out the best cholent this side of Jerusalem. Cholent is ‘a savory stew traditionally served for Saturday [Shabbat] lunch.’ Saundra’s cholent could have its own chapter in Zen & The Art of Jewish Cooking. She’s talking politics and telling us what’s for dessert in the same breath. That’s the thing with Friday night dinner at the Beckers. There’s sweetness, spice, and serious insight – it’s like being in the front row at a catered political leadership debate.

Saundra’s cooking bible is ‘Love and Knishes’ and she dips into it often. She also experiments with other recipes and creates dishes that are somehow always reminscent of a Jewish home while tasting more like they were served at an upscale Asian fusion restaurant – except, of course, none of those restos can offer the unique ambience of Friday night dinner at the Beckers. After noshing on frighteningly excellent chocolate chip cookies, we push back from the table and take our leave – begging off from after-dinner conversation because we’ve got an important project due on Monday and we’re miles behind. The door closes behind us as we walk down the stairs but the smell, that delicious smell, lingers on well into the cool night air.

Saundra is no longer with us.

I remember visiting with Stan and being overwhelmed by the sense of loss while standing in the kitchen-gone-quiet. It was still early days without Saundra and Stan was trying to find his way in the kitchen. I remember showing him how to craft a roots veggie stew – first you saute the garlic in oil, and then you add the sweet potato… and everything Saundra had taught me years before still made a bit of magic in that pot.

She put her soul into everything and memories of those meals and those conversations will live forever.

Update: February 2014 – We lost Stan a couple of weeks ago. A chapter closes.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


PostScript: As I put this piece together, I wrote back and forth to Jonathan Becker who now lives in Israel. I had told him I had wanted to write a piece about the first-ever Wisconsin-meets-West-Virginia-Deli that was the kitchen and diningroom in his family’s home.

You’re right about one thing- everything flowed from that kitchen, including my dad’s teaching, and my own explorations, and my sister’s, and every amazing conversation I was privy to in our living room.

“One thing I wanted to mention- in my later studies I learned about Cohen/Levi/yIsrael. Both my mom and my dad were Levites. The Levites in ancient times were like a “buffer” between yisrael (the common people) and the Cohanim (the priests, who offered up the peoples’ gifts to god). Now, the temple, where the Cohanim and Levites worked together, was, in many ways, a huge kitchen. It was barbecue and pancakes all day long. I know this is a simplistic way of looking at it, but I found it interesting that the holiest place in Judaism (the temple) was, in large part, just a huge kitchen, where everyone ate and was thankful.”

Mom used to make her own gefilte fish – from scratch, in a blender, etc. – and stuffed cabbage leaves, a Polish/Russian/Jewish delicacy. The thing about both of these things is – you don’t want to be in the house while they are being made. The stink is incredible. The final product, of course, was always extremely tasty. But Mom used to warn me: “I’m making gefilte fish today, maybe you want to go out on the Weimer Nature Trail for a few hours?” Which I was happy to do, with gratitude, and come home when it was done, with a bouquet of wild violets for her if the season was right.

“Point being – to be a truly great cook, you can’t be squeamish, and to be a truly righteous person, you must recognize that others might be. This strikes me as a powerful point, somehow.”

Me too, brother. Me, too.

NB: Big Medicine is my nod of respect to a First Nations expression that, roughly translated, means the right people working together at the right time will be Big Medicine. I’ve been saying ‘Be well. Practice big medicine’ for as long as I can remember. It is my own very personal version of ‘Sawu Bona’, the Zulu greeting which means ‘I see you’… I see all of you, I see your good works, I see the difference you are making in the world.


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