Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fort McMurray Reads - Or Why I Wore Baseball Cleats In Public

You know, I get invited to do a lot of amazing things because of this blog. I get invited to attend events as media, I get to interview fascinating people, and every once in awhile I get a request to do something that is not only fun but has great personal meaning. This happened again when the Fort McMurray Public Library asked me to serve on the panel for the inaugural Fort McMurray Reads, a competition to find the book that the entire region should read this year.

I've written before that it took me some time to pick a book, but once I did I committed to my book with a passion. I love books, I love writing, and I love a good debate, so this was a combination of three things I am pretty passionate about. And when I discovered that I'd be debating friends like Toddske and Tito from YMM Podcast, Kyle Harrietha (local political pundit), Ken Chapmam (Oil Sands Developers Group), and writer Rebkah Benoit from Connect Weekly I got really excited. I love to debate but I love a debate where I know the participants (and just where to stick the knife) even better.

To prepare for the debate I re-read my book of choice, "Shoeless Joe" by Canadian author W.P. Kinsella. I first read this years ago, the book that was the basis for the movie "Field of Dreams", and had fallen in love with it. Re-reading it was liking finding true love all over again (especially when we all know how rare it is), and I fell in love with the characters, the story, and the themes once more.

I was ready to do battle, but since soldiers get uniforms I felt it only right to have one of my own - and that's how I showed up at MacDonald Island Park in a dress and nylons - and an Oil Giants baseball jersey, baseball cleats borrowed from my best friend's son, and carrying a baseball. I've never worn baseball cleats in my entire life, and it seems unlikely I ever will again - but to show solidarity with my book (which is supposedly about baseball but is really about so much more) I felt I needed to put my money (or shoes) where my mouth was.

The FMPL and Mac Island had set the room up so the panellists and our moderator (local writer and terrible punster Kevin Thornton) had some privacy before and during the debate. We met in the back and chatted, not about our books but rather about current news in our community. The only person I hadn't met previously was Rebekah, and when she arrived I discovered she is a lovely woman, warm and funny, and I knew it would be a wonderful evening with friends.

When the time came out we filed, to sit on the panel and be introduced - and then to argue for our books, with an introduction, discussion questions, and a closing statement. The audience was not huge, but it was attentive, and when the discussion questions began the time flew quickly.

There we were, all arguing for the books we chose. Me, a blogger and decided non-athlete, arguing for "Shoeless Joe", while Toddske and Tito promoted the graphic novel "Marvels". Kyle Harrietha argued the merits of "A Dance With Dragons" (a book series that is the basis for the series "Game of Thrones", and could double as a doorstop considering it's weight and size), while Ken Chapman argued for "Monsignor Quixote" (a revisiting of the classic tale of Quixote tilting at windmills). Rebekah Benoit championed "Mrs. Mike", a romantic story of life in the north, and Kevin Thornton tried to exercise control over all of us despite our occasional trash talk and dark mutterings.

It was a lively discussion, each of selling our book but also trying to tie it into life in Fort McMurray and this area. Each of us clearly had an attachment to our book, and each of us felt strongly about why it was the book for all of this region to read this year. Things were kept civil as I think we all recognized the merit of every book at the table, and as we all have significant respect for each other because of what we each do in our community. The "trash talk" was mild and humorous (although a few shots were taken at the potentially "delusional" nature of the main character of my book who hears voices and has visions, but being pretty much made of Teflon I deflected these easily).

We debated and answered questions, we summarized and we wove the narrative of our books in front of the audience, trying to share with them why these books had captured us. And, in the end, the audience picked up pens and pencils and voted, and Rebekah Benoit's choice of "Mrs. Mike" was voted 2012 Fort McMurray Reads Book of the Year.

I could say I was disappointed my book wasn't chosen, but that wouldn't really be true. I was just so damn pleased to participate that I couldn't help but feel that I had won, too. I was more than delighted when several people told me that they planned to read my choice as my words had inspired them to do so. I had effectively passed my love of the book on to them, infecting them with my enthusiasm for it. That was huge to me, because I think a good book can mean different things to different people, and resonate with them for different reasons.

As for me - well, I plan to read every book that was presented. I think I will start with the winner "Mrs. Mike", check out "Marvels", take "Monsignor Quixote" for a spin, and then, when the snows have settled in and I need a large book to keep me warm late at night, I will delve into "A Dance With Dragons".

When I came home from Fort McMurray Reads I put my copy of "Shoeless Joe" on my desk. It sits there still almost a week later, with the baseball jersey and the baseball. I think about this book and why it captured my heart when I first read it in the 1980's, and why it had new meaning for me all over again when I read it these last few weeks. You see, "Shoeless Joe" is about a journey of the heart - about following dreams and passions, about being unafraid to forge a new path. It is a book about knowing your own heart and knowing what will make it sing, about how even when a journey can seem crazy to others we may know it is the one we need to take. And that, people, is a story I understand very, very well, as I see it every day in this city - and I have seen it these last few months in my own life as I follow a new path, and travel my own journey. For most of that journey I have worn a skirt and heels, but that night at Fort McMurray Reads I wore a baseball jersey and baseball cleats, just as my heart told me to do. Sometimes you just need to follow your heart, people - it usually knows the right direction to go.

My sincere thanks to
Fort McMurray Public Library
for organizing 
Fort McMurray Reads -
and for asking me to present a book.
I was so honoured.
My thanks as well to all
the audience members who gave up a 
Saturday night for a book debate.

My thanks to moderator
Kevin Thornton,
my fellow panelists
Kyle Harrietha,
Ken Chapman,
Toddske and Tito,
and congrats to winner
Rebekah Benoit!

If YOU want to hear the entire
Fort McMurray Reads 
debate you can check it out at
as they recorded and released it as a podcast :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Gone To The Dogs - SPCA Dog Jog

Occasionally in this blog I reveal little nuggets of information about myself that I may not have mentioned previously. Today is one of those occasions as the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I spent Saturday at an event that benefits a non-profit organization near and dear to my heart, and I feel the need to explain why it is so close to me. You see, we spent the day volunteering at the Fort McMurray SPCA Dog Jog, and animals are very important to both of us. We are both animal lovers, but for me it is a bit more, as I s pent ten years of my adult life working in veterinary clinics.

I never planned to work in vet clinics, it just sort of happened. One day I was working in a pediatrics office in Toronto and the opportunity to work in a vet clinic came up. At that age, my early twenties, a choice between working with children and animals seemed a very easy one, and I traded the howling of children for the howling of dogs (and quickly discovered that both do, in fact, bite). I spent ten years - an entire decade - working in vet clinics, and it was quite easily the best job I ever had. There were challenging moments - when beloved favourites died suddenly, developing fatal illnesses, or having gotten so ill that the kindest choice was euthanasia. There were animals injured in horrific ways, and the subsequent surgeries and treatments and healing. There were moments I'd rather forget, but there are moments I will always remember, like being the first person to touch a newborn kitten or puppy, or helping to bring a dying animal back from the brink and into the loving arms of their owner. It was job where I shed many tears, happy and sad, and on every single day a dog or cat or ferret was cuddled when the tears were too much to bear. It was, frankly, far and away the best job I have ever had, because it involved animals and the people who love them, and I happen to be very, very fond of both.

So, animals have always been a part of my life. I have had pet cats and pet dogs and pet ferrets. My current house is home to one crazy dog and two even crazier ferrets (belonging to the Intrepid Junior Blogger). We may have a houseful of creatures and yet we still find ourselves drawn to the SPCA, often going there to cuddle the kitties (due to allergies in our house we cannot have a cat). We visit the dogs, and we lament the plight of those waiting to find homes. And the Intrepid Junior Blogger, who has a heart much like her mother, loves them all.

When we heard the Dog Jog was looking for volunteers I asked the Junior Blogger who quickly agreed. A few days before the event we went to the SPCA for a round of cat cuddling, and it reminded us of why we agreed to volunteer for the SPCA - because the work they do is stellar, people. They take the animals that have been abandoned and abused, left for good and left for dead, and they love them. They don't just feed them and house them, you see. They love them, which is what all animals (including the big two-legged variety) need to thrive. And they even let people like the Junior Blogger and I come in and love them too.

The Dog Jog was scheduled for Saturday, and we had agreed to run the fish pond. The weather was a bit worrisome, but the event was planned rain or shine, so we headed to Howard Pew Park in Waterways, found our tent, and set up the fish pond. And then the dogs began to arrive, and I quickly discovered I'd be running the fish pond alone as the Intrepid Junior Blogger flung herself at the dogs with the kind of zeal dogs display when they fling themselves at a ball. She quite likely petted every dog there, from the retrievers to the basset hound, bloodhound to the Maltese. She was in dog heaven, surrounded by dogs of every colour and variety and breed and description. In her eyes I saw the same light I used to see in her grandfather's eyes, as he too loved animals and could not resist patting a soft coat and whispering some quiet soothing words into a furry ear.

The Dog Jog began with the dogs being trotted around the park, some with their owners and some dogs from the SPCA pairing up with willing and beaming volunteers. Those who had registered had raised money in pledges, and they happily jogged their dogs around. There was a BBQ and live entertainment, a silent auction and a guess-the-number-of-jellybeans jar. There were children and laughter and, unfortunately, some rain. There were, most of all, though, dogs of every kind, and after the rain some very wet dogs who brushed up against me leaving my jeans soaked and smelling a bit doggy (which is a smell I do not mind in the least). At the every end there was the golf ball drop, an amusing moment when golf balls were dropped from the cherry picker of a Shaw truck, and a moment when every dog in attendance seemed a bit stunned as dozens of golf balls danced on the grass, just out of the reach of their eager jaws.

There is a funny thing about pet owners. It's a bit like a secret club in some ways. We all know something that non pet-owners don't. We know that the love of an animal is something that you cannot compare or replace. We know that the love of a dog who greets you every time you come home like you've been gone for decades (even if you just went to take the garbage out) or the love of a cat that steals onto your lap at every opportunity is a love unlike any other. We know that the bond between pet and owner is something rare and precious, and that it warms our hearts unlike any other kind of love. We know that the love of an animal is pure and simple, not contingent on our bank account or the car we drive or even the words we say. We know that a dog will love us even if we are the worst scoundrel on the planet, and that a cat will love us even if we fail geometry tests (I know this as my childhood cat saw me through many mathematics-related scandals). And that is why I love animals, and why the Junior Blogger loves animals just as her grandfather did, and why we both love the SPCA. It is the place that helps homeless animals forge a bond with new owners, the kind of bond that one might think has greatest benefit for the animals but that truly has the greatest benefit for the human who will experience a love they have never even imagined. The SPCA doesn't just feed and house animals - it is a matchmaking service of the best kind, matching owners and pets and helping them to forge the kind of love that lasts for many years. And I know this first hand as I have seen owners shed tears of grief when a beloved pet dies after many years, when they let go of their best friend. And I know it personally because it has happened to me more than once, when my own beloved pets died of old age and illness, when my love for them continued in my heart and head long after they were gone.

And that, people, is why we volunteered for the Dog Jog. It won't be the last time we volunteer, and the Junior Blogger has for some time been making plans to do a school fundraiser for the SPCA. We will be there often to cuddle cats, and visit the dogs. And we will take the time every single day to cuddle our own beloved four-footed friends, the furries who share our house and who occasionally drive us crazy but who make us laugh. Because the love between a human and an animal is a bond that cannot be described, but must be experienced. If you haven't then I suggest a visit to the SPCA for a cat cuddle or to walk a dog. Try that bond out for a bit, and see what happens. If you are anything like me, even the slightest bit, you will discover a bond that has sustained us since the beginning of time, when early men shared their campfire with wolves, and discovered a love that is quite completely unconditional - and extraordinary.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Taste of Fort McMurray (Or "Why I'm Not Eating Until Monday")

I'm a person of passion, I guess. I get passionate about writing, and about ideas. I get passionate about events and people. I get quite passionate about shoes. And I get pretty passionate about food, although that one I try to keep in check as it is a passion that can easily lead to increased gym time, increased waistline, and decreased interest in moving off the sofa. Last night, though, I gave in to that passion and attended the sold out, incredibly successful "A Taste of Fort McMurray", hosted by Volunteer Wood Buffalo.

In case you don't know VWB is a local organization that matches potential volunteers with groups and organizations in need. Want to walk dogs, entertain children, or otherwise make a difference in the community? Well, VWB can help you do so by connecting you with the organization that likely desperately needs someone just like you. And they do it with passion, too, as evidenced by Erika Hornsey, VWB Executive Director, and someone I know to be deeply committed to the concept of volunteering and the impact it has on the community. To attend the VWB foodie fundraiser known as "A Taste of Fort McMurray" was a delight simply to support a great community organization - the food was just one helluva extra bonus.

I bought tickets just days before, and was relieved that I had when the event sold out. I decided to take my family with me, including my British best friend/almost-brother that tends to hang out with us most of the time. And so last night we arrived at MacDonald Island Park just after 6, finding the event in full swing. We traded our tickets for green wristbands, got our little passport booklets, and entered the food hall, quickly finding ourselves enveloped in the most delicious smells.

We looked at our passports and I swear we had every intention of hitting every single booth. We started out strong, too, but decided on a mixed strategy of skipping some booths to return to them later. This plan had both strong and weak facets, though.

We began with Chartwell's, and then MacDonald Island Park. We had pizza from Pizza Experts, and sushi from Yoshi. We sampled curry and tandoori from The Curry Pot, and we tried items from the new menu at the upcoming Prime Social Kitchen. We tried the delicacies from the Sawridge, and we stopped for water from Culligan. By the time I reached Real Taste of Pakistani I knew I was in trouble, but having a longing for genuine cultural cuisine I asked them to load me up a plate. And then, even though I knew it was pushing it, I had two samples of Yogen Fruz and a chocolate dessert from Chocolates and Candlelight. And that's when it hit me, when I realized I hadn't even gotten any Greek food from Hoodoos yet. I love Greek food. I adore Greek food. And so I ignored all the warning signs from my stomach and asked them to load me up a plate full of tzatziki and hummus and Greek salad. And then I ate it.

Well, people, that was it. Halfway through a samosa I said "I can't do this anymore", and I threw in the towel. I managed to hit a respectable 14 out of the available 17 food vendors. Had I tried to do the last three I would have likely either exploded or started crying publicly, which I already have a tendency to do but which would have been tough to explain (crying because I was too full and didn't know when enough was enough seemed unlikely to garner much sympathy).

The Intrepid Junior Blogger, who had given up some time before, was ready to leave, and so was the rest of my gang. In our opinion the event had been a smashing success, but our tummies had begun to protest that it was really, really time to leave - and so we did, leaving behind dozens of other people still feasting on all the delights. We had walked in quite comfortably but I think we all felt a bit like rolling out, blown up like Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. We had sampled everything from pizza to chowder, smoothies to frozen yogurt, sushi to butter chicken, tandoori to Greek salad, alligator to kangaroo.

And the kangaroo, courtesy of the Sawridge Inn, provided the best line of the night, too. When we lined up for our samples Hearthstone Grille chef (and my friend) Ken Bowie served the Intrepid Junior Blogger, saying he wouldn't tell her what the meat was. After she sampled it I asked if she liked it, and she said she found it a bit stringy (my carnivorous little thing likes her meat like butter, prime rib so soft it barely needs chewing), and that's when I told her what it was. As we were walking away she turned to me and said "I think I need a toothpick, Mom. There's kangaroo between my teeth." Indeed.

My sincere and genuine thanks to
Volunteer Wood Buffalo
for a wonderful and successful
"A Taste of Fort McMurray" -
and more importantly for
all the work you do in our community.

I would also like to thank
all the participating restaurants
and food caterers
for the amazing food.
I may not need to eat for days! :)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Political Flyers and the Wisdom of the Intrepid Junior Blogger

Look, I admit it. I am normally quite an easygoing person, but there is one thing that unhinges me a little bit. There is one thing that gets to me and makes me get a little bit bent out of shape. It's political flyers in my mailbox.

It happened again yesterday. I opened my mailbox and there it was. Not an unexpected bill, or a lurking cobra. No, just a harmless looking black and white flyer from our local Member of Parliament. No big deal to most people. To me, though, it was like finding another little quarterly bomb in my mailbox - because I think these things are an enormous waste of money. And that's my money, and yours, they are wasting.

I know that our representatives get some sort of allowance or budget to send these out, so it's considered legitimate. I know that there are people who see them as some sort of accountability reporting to the people (although I think they are non-campaign season campaigning cleverly disguised instead). Just because there is a budget to send these doesn't mean one has to. And if accountability is desired then something with some actual facts and figures might be nice as a flyer saying "we did this and did this and this" without any backing information seems pretty...unaccountable.

For years I have been taking these flyers, writing "please stop wasting my taxpayer money on these flyers" and sending them back. And for years they have just kept coming. Yesterday I took my marker and scrawled all over it again, knowing the futility but doing it anyhow because it felt like at least I was making a statement. And that's when the Intrepid Junior Blogger came into the room, finding me with marker in hand, and asked to read the flyer.

She looked at it and snorted. You see, there is a question on the flyer. It says "Who is on the right track to protect Canada's environment?" and then you can check one of four boxes (one for each political party) and send it back to our MP (where they will no doubt take careful note of the answers for a fine statistical survey which no one will ever see). She looked at me and asked how many of these get sent out. I replied that I imagined they go to every household in his constituency. Then she asked how exactly sending out a paper flyer that in the vast majority of cases will end up in the recycling bin (or even worse, the garbage) jived with that question. How was sending out a paper flyer destined for the trash or recycling considered the right track for the environment? What about the trees that went into the paper, the resources used for printing it? And that's when my jaw hit the ground because the kid is clearly a helluva lot smarter than me, as she had nailed it exactly.

These flyers aren't good for the environment, they are a waste of taxpayer money in my opinion, they prove absolutely nothing, provide no true sense of accountability, and are just off-season campaigning. So, I have some suggestions.

If our MP really wants to engage this community how about doing some local radio shows like McMurray Matters? How about coming here and having a little public dialogue with his constituents, maybe hanging out at Tim Horton's for few hours to do so? And, even better, how about going to five different neighbourhoods and knocking on twenty different doors and asking the question that was on the flyer? I know that might seem odd - door knocking when there isn't an election looming - but I think if one wants to truly connect with the public that's the way to do it. And I'm going to make an offer, too. If he chooses to do that, I'll drive. Hell, I'll pay for gas, accompany him to every single door, record the responses (including any door slams), put it all over Twitter that he's out there, and write about it in this blog. Because to me that's not only better for the environment than mailing a flyer to thousands of homes - it's better for the constituents, too. And somebody who does that? Well, they are quite likely to get my vote, too.

No trees were harmed during the writing of this blog ;)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fort McMurray Reads 2012 - And Why I Love the FMPL

I've written about the Fort McMurray Reads competition hosted by the Fort McMurray Public Library before. I have written about how pleased I was to be invited to attend as a panelist, and I have written about the book I intend to champion, "Shoeless Joe" by Canadian author W. P. Kinsella. What I haven't written about is how this competition caused me to go back and re-read one of my favourite books, and what a pleasure it was to do so, helping me to recapture the feelings that led me to choose this work in the first place. And I haven't written about what a treasure the Fort McMurray Public Library is, probably because I (and likely most of us) take it a bit for granted. That ends today, though, because I think it is time to show the FMPL some love.

When I first arrived in this city a decade ago one of my first stops was the library. I have been a library patron since I was old enough to hold a book, you see. Reading has always been a favourite activity in my family, and when I was growing up I visited my local library in Saskatoon weekly. I was the kid with the book bag overflowing with books, taking out as many as I was allowed, and always wishing I could take out more. As I grew into my teenage years I served on library youth advisory committees, and as I became an adult libraries became even more important to me. I remember when I first moved to Toronto, a prairie girl in the Big Smoke, and how I was so pleased to find a branch library just blocks from my little studio apartment. As long as I knew where the library was I felt like I was home. The library was always my anchor, because it held the books I so loved. It was like finding a treasure, winning a lottery, to find a treasure trove of books free to borrow. I read through good times and bad, through struggles and success. I was never alone if I had a book with me, you see.

The Intrepid Junior Blogger has been a library fan since early on, too. When she was much smaller we would visit the library when it was still on Franklin Avenue, just to get out of the house for a bit. She would find books and play on the computer and we would sit and read books together. We would walk out with stacks of books for each of us, enough to keep us going for another week. The library has always been fairly central to our lives.

Libraries have had to change as time has gone on. They have had to embrace the concept of websites and ebooks, lending movies and music, and finding ways to engage the community. And in my opinion no one has done this better than our own library right here in Fort McMurray.

I've gone to many events hosted by our library from Frosty Frolics to Team Trivia. I've always been delighted with how they reach out to the community, a community that warmly embraces them. I think they have been incredibly successful at becoming an integral part of this community. They have become the treasure trove a library should be. They have become an anchor for the community. And that is why I am so deeply proud to have been asked to participate in Fort McMurray Reads. It is a small chance to be a part of the library community that I have loved since I was a very small child, barely able to turn a page. It is a chance to share my love of a good book, of the written word and the places it can take you. It is my chance to celebrate an anchor of our community.

So, people, Saturday night from 6-9 pm I will be at MacDonald Island Park with some other community representatives and we will each champion our book. I have some good competition, too, with people like my buddies at the YMMPodcast on board, and others from this city that I respect and admire. I have started a little Twitter trash talk, too, but all in good fun as I think every single one of us is simply delighted to participate in this event. And people - you are invited too. I would be thrilled if you came out to join us, to see us share our love of books - and libraries - with you. Win or lose it's bound to be a helluva good time - although one should keep in mind I play to win, and if I do win I plan to celebrate by buying new shoes, so I have a clear incentive (that's a warning to my competitors, in case you missed it). Win or lose, though, new shoes or not - I'll be there with a grin because it's all about books and words and authors and libraries, and those are the things that make my heart sing.

WHAT: Fort McMurray Reads
WHEN: Saturday, August 25 from 6:00 to 9:00pm
WHERE: Miskinaw South at Suncor Community Leisure Centre on MacDonald Island
AUDIENCE: Teens and adults
COST: Free to attend
HOST: Fort McMurray Public Library

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Community, Country Fairs, and Cancellation

The note on the Wood Buffalo Country Fair website is short, but succinct:

August 17, 2012
It is with a heavy heart that we have to announce that the 2012 Wood Buffalo Country Fair has beenCANCELLED.
Due to the ongoing issues between some of the residents in the area, Dunvegan Gardens and the Municipality, we have become an unfortunate casualty and were told we could not hold the event there. This saddened us as Dunvegan Gardens and the Wood Buffalo Country Fair were so looking forward to partnering, and to have the perfect location to have the showcase of all the talent in Fort McMurray – in the country.
Our hope is that a resolution can be found and that we can have our event out there next year, but time will tell, and so will this Website. Please keep in touch with us and as soon as we have information on the 2013 event we will let you all know.
Keep making your treasures, and have them ready to go next year.
A very sad Wood Buffalo Country Fair Committee
PS: Please lend your continued support to Dunvegan Gardens by attending their Corn Maze which will have its grand opening on September 1st between 11am and 4 pm.

I think the note betrays the sorrow felt by the organizing committee of the country fair, and I suspect it captures the disappointment felt by those who try to attend the country fair, too. People like me, and the Intrepid Junior Blogger.

Country fairs are events that date back hundreds of years, to a time when country folk would take a break from their busy lives tending their stock and crops and meet for a few days of camaraderie and competition. There is something very nostalgic about country fairs, about competitions that involve things like quilt making and baking, vegetable growing and knitting. There is something in the country fair that hearkens back to a time when things were simple and pure, and when the good things in life were formed in the loving hands of members of your community, and not a factory in China. And this is why I have always loved the country fair right here in our region, but this year there is no fair. This year it has been cancelled due to an ongoing dispute between local greenhouse Dunvegan Gardens, some residents on Draper Road, and the RMWB.

I've written about the dispute on Draper Road before, you see. And in the past I understood the point of view of the residents when they expressed concerns over the increase in industrial activity in the area, about large trucks and large loads affecting their quality of life. From what I understand complaints about the Country Fair being held at Dunvegan Gardens are the reason the RMWB stepped in and reviewed the zoning. When that review was complete they decided that the Fair requires a development permit, a permit Dunvegan does not have, and so the fair could not be held there. Given such short notice the Country Fair organizers had little choice but to cancel, likely breaking their own hearts in the process.

What I do not understand is why anyone would complain about a Country Fair. Yes, there will be some increased traffic (although with new developments coming on line Draper Road is going to see much more traffic in the future, so this is not going to be unusual). And yes, it might get noisy - with the sound of laughter and talking as people enjoy a country fair atmosphere in our own little slice of country in this region. Perhaps it's just me but I think the sound of laughter and happy chatter is a delightful noise. I think we could use more if it, not less. But with the death of this year's country fair those happy voices are quieted this year - to the detriment of us all.

I fear what this could mean for things like the Corn Maze built and operated by Dunvegan Gardens, and Chateau Boo, the hugely popular fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club (held there as well, and an event that regularly makes me cry as I frighten fairly easily), and the annual Easter Egg Hunt. Will complaints about those events lead to their cancellation? Will complaints about events that are happy and that contribute to our quality of life in this community end up cancelled this year like the country fair? I hope not - but I fear that those who would complain about a country fair will not stop there.

In respect to the Draper Road residents - I fully understand and share their concerns about industrial development in area where there are residences and an expectation of a country residential style neighbourhood. In respect to the RMWB - I fully understand that they had no choice but to adhere to the zoning, although I suspect without a complaint they would have never looked into the matter at all. In the end what I do not understand is how anyone can complain about a country fair being held in the country at a greenhouse, in what seems the most natural setting for an event of that nature. I do not understand how a dispute over industrial activity has now become a dispute over lovely little events like a country fair (except to say that disputes between neighbours often take such turns, becoming less and less about the issues and more and more about the individuals). I do not understand how anyone can think the cancellation of a country fair is good for anyone, or how anyone can think a complaint leading to such a cancellation is anything but a hollow victory. All that has happened is that the happy voices of members of our community have been silenced this year, unable to partake in a tradition that is as old as  time. All that has happened is a loss. And while the organizers of the country fair are sorry, I am sorry too - because this is a loss to our community, and I fear that more loss may come.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Running on Fumes, Funk, and Java - Day Three of interPLAY 2012

I fully admit it. When Sunday morning dawned last weekend and my alarm went off I hoped it would explode in flames. When it refused to cooperate I eyed it evilly from beneath my covers, reluctant to get up as I was pretty much past exhausted and into zombie. I was quite afraid that my dead-eyed stare might get me mistaken for a zombie, too, but I rolled out of bed and rolled into my car, off to Keyano College for the final day of interPLAY 2012.

I arrived at my tent to find it still well secured, and the winds had died down. It looked like it would be a beautiful day, and I was eager to welcome some new performing artists to the Transalta Mainstage. I set up my little tent, putting drinks on ice and making sure there were enough mini-chocolate bars for everyone (although discovering to my dismay that one of the artists from the day before had apparently eaten all the Crunchie bars from the mixed bowl, leaving me sad as I love those little bars with a passion almost equivalent to my feelings for coffee).

Sunday would be a shorter day, with no late performances, but the artists were no less exciting. Johndough was returning for another day, and local performer Barry Duke would make an appearance. I was also excited to be welcoming Edmonton group Red Power Squad, and especially Vancouver band Five Alarm Funk.

I was a bit subdued Sunday, no doubt. I hope I welcomed the artists with the same enthusiasm as the previous two days, but must admit that they were probably vaguely frightened by the slightly squirrel- like nature of my behaviour due to pure caffeine overdose. I hope that my eyes weren't really spinning in their sockets (as it felt like at some points) but I'm pretty sure anyone could see that coffee had stopped being my friend and become instead my nemesis, a necessary evil to survive. Once again kind friends kept me supplied throughout the day, although my favourite of the entire weekend was an iced coffee delivered by a very sweet young man named Kingston and who handed it to me proudly, beaming a gap-toothed little grin the entire time (he made my day, frankly).

 It started off sensible but....

...the triple delivery  is where I decided sh*t just got real... 

...and I thought the Diet Coke would be more sensible than coffee.
I was wrong. 

An iced coffee from Kingston! :)

I had a chance to speak to Johndough, and found a quiet and pleasant young man who I believe is on the cusp of some significant success. The fact that I went away that day with the chorus "who's Johndough" ringing in my mind is testament to the fact that this young man has some talent. As for who Johndough is - well, he is a young man from Fort McMurray who will quite likely shine very brightly in the musical world, and who will represent us well, I think. Local Barry Duke was friendly and talented, and I was pleased to entertain two local artists in the tent again.

When the members of Red Power Squad arrived I was pleased to see they enjoyed the food and cold drinks, and I was further pleased by their energetic performance - and their sweet natures, all of them thanking me when they left the tent for the day.

It was when Five Alarm Funk arrived that things got really interesting, though. As they began to pull out instruments from drums to saxophones I became intrigued. They are not a small band, but rather one with several members, and they rapidly filled the backstage area with equipment and large personalities, friendly and engaging. I eagerly anticipated when they would take the stage, a performance that would close out the mainstage performances, and one I expected would be good. But it wasn't good, people. It was bloody spectacular.

I don't know how to describe them so I will post a video. To say they were lively is like saying I was a little high on caffeine. They were frenetic almost, a performance worthy of ending three great days of music. They were stellar in every single way, and they closed out the mainstage with a performance that made those watching, including me, dance.

And then Five Alarm Funk played the final song, and the crowd that had gathered to watch drifted away. The band packed up their gear and left (with a little road care package from me, some food and drinks left over in the tent and enough to get them a good start on their long drive home). The stage crew, terrific guys I had worked with over the last three days, began tearing down their equipment. And I began to tidy up my tent, folding up tables and chairs, and rolling up the white Christmas lights that had given it the glow I so loved every night.

It didn't take long for the tent to be cleaned out and empty. I looked around it, and saw an empty white tent, nothing more and nothing special. And yet it was special to me. For three days I had welcomed performers, talked with them about their communities, and shared stories about mine. I had met local artists I know I will see again. And I had worked with the team from Events Wood Buffalo, a group that has become very close to my heart over the last year.

I'm going to close this post with some remarks about interPLAY 2012. I have heard some criticism about it, and I understand the criticism. What I want understood, though, is that I know and have worked with every person on the EWB team. I know first hand that they poured blood, sweat, and tears into this festival, and that they faced tremendous challenges (all new personnel, the prospect of mounting three events back-to-back, and a shortage of volunteers). I know that while I was tired that they were past tired and well into exhausted, each of them working much harder than I and on much less sleep. They have my enduring respect, and I would suggest that those who choose to critique interPLAY may want to consider volunteering next year, as that act alone would alleviate some of the pressure felt by those who bring us these events. It's very easy to criticize from the outside looking in - but if you want to help then volunteer your time and skills, and be a part of the event. Not only will that help to improve the event itself it will enable you to see what it takes to stage a festival like this. I know - because I have seen it.

During Sunday afternoon the EWB team, various performers, and volunteers took the stage to thank everyone who contributed to interPLAY 2012. It was a moment to express gratitude to those who attended, volunteered, performed, and worked. It was a moment in the sun on the Transalta Mainstage, and I dragged myself up there, weary but proud in my interPLAY 2012 t-shirt. And I am proud, people. For three days I was a part of the Events Wood Buffalo team, bringing my community an annual event I have grown to love over the last decade. I was proud to have represented my community to the performers who came from other places, and to have befriended those who also call this community home. I was proud to be from Fort McMurray, and deeply grateful to call it home.

I looked around my tent one final time late Sunday, took a final swig of coffee, and tossed the emptied cup into the trash. Then I got into my car and drove home, leaving behind a little white tent devoid of things and full of memories instead.

My deep and sincere thanks to
all the performers who came through my tent.
You were a joy to entertain and host.

My thanks to
all those in Fort McMurray who
came out to enjoy interPLAY -
your attendance is what really makes a festival!

And finally my deepest thanks and gratitude to
Events Wood Buffalo
for allowing me to be part of their team
I was proud and honoured to be one of you,
even for just three days,
and I am grateful for the opportunity.
Thank you for what you have given me -
and this community.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Aerosmith Rocks, Hot Nuts & Popcorn, and a Windy Day - interPLAY Day Two

Well, people, I admit it. When I woke up to greet day two of interPLAY I was pretty whipped. I'd been up until 2 am, having spent the entire day and evening backstage in my little white tent playing hospitality host to all the performers on the Transalta mainstage. I'm not really used to late nights, a combination of age and having a child that (thankfully) is old enough to sleep through the night or generally attend to her own needs if she does awaken. Despite my tiredness I pulled my things together Saturday morning, hopped in my car, and headed down to the interPLAY site in front of Keyano College.

When I arrived I was a little disturbed to find that the tent door I had secured the night before was wide open and flapping. I was worried someone had gotten into the tent overnight (although they would have only found mini-chocolate bars and some pop, and likely been very disappointed). All in the tent was fine, though, except that everything had blown over - chairs, and even a table, as the wind had picked up considerably overnight. It appeared it would be a blustery day, so I secured the tent as best I could, picked up all the fallen items, and then headed to another site meeting with the team from EWB.

Now, Day Two at an event is typically much easier than Day One. On Day One all the problems usually surface and you are able to address them, and you feel much better about Day Two. And this event was no different, as Day Two promised to be smooth sailing, except some concern about the weather, both dark clouds and that incessant wind.

I was a little concerned about something else, too. The day before David Whitelock, EWB Executive Director, had asked me for a "favour". Just the tone of the question made me nervous, and when he explained that two comedians from Calgary were looking for a local victim - er, guest - for their Saturday night variety show I knew my nervousness was not misplaced. He had agreed to do the show Friday night, and he hoped I would agree to do the one on Saturday. Ignoring my trepidation I agreed, and Saturday morning found me already growing a bit tense at the prospect. I've grown a bit more accustomed to radio and television, but being on stage still makes me a bit shaky. I wasn't sure I was ready to be skewered by two comedians, but as they say "the show must go on" and since I had agreed I would do it despite my last-minute misgivings.

I set up my little tent again and began welcoming our performers for the day. Back for a second day was the lovely Gypsy Butterfly, local band Surface Below, and the talented Steven Bowers. It was a very busy day for new arrivals, though, and I anxiously awaited as bands and performers began to filter in for sound checks.

I was amused when I spotted the band members from Aerosmith Rocks immediately, the similarity of the lead singer to Steven Tyler being both uncanny and definitely noticeable from across the parking lot, which is where I first saw them. Hailing from Victoria I was delighted to chat with them about Fort McMurray and this region, and was pleased to discover they not only knew a bit about us but had played here once before, too. The arrivals of Edmonton bands The Flash Jam and Vermin in Vinyl was a hustle of beer tickets and equipment and the general chaos of trying to welcome several band members all at once. Local rapper Johndough, a Holy Trinity high school grad, arrived with his little entourage (including a bear mascot, which tended to give the backstage area a real festival feel). It was the arrival of ReignWolf I was really looking forward to though, as I'd checked out his music on YouTube the night before and been astonished by the talent of what appeared to be a very young man with a very bright future. When Jordan Cook, aka ReignWolf arrived, I was not disappointed as in addition to talent I discovered a humble, friendly, sweet, and handsome young man accompanied by his crew, and I eagerly anticipated hearing him play.

The day once again passed in a blur of ice and beer tickets and bands taking the stage for their time in the sun, as the clouds gradually gave way to bright sunshine. The wind continued to blow, though, and one unforgettable moment was when a table, freshly loaded with platters of fruit and vegetables and cheese, blew right over in my tent scattering everything on the ground. I was stricken, of course, but delighted when I realized that Aerosmith Rocks were not only great musicians but terrific guys as they helped me to clean up dirty grapes and cheddar cheese cubes and carrot sticks. They laughed, I laughed, and the world was good again despite the minor catastrophe. Part of the blur of the day was arrivals of coffee at regular intervals, thanks to kind friends who suspected I was functioning purely on caffeine and commitment.

I must admit I didn't get to see every musical act. You see, I had another commitment, which is how I ended up in Keyano Theatre doing the "Hot Nuts and Popcorn Variety Show", a David Letterman-style show where the two hosts interview their guests in front of an audience. Prior to the show I found myself in the green room with the other guests, all of them performers from interPLAY, and I listened as they spoke about our little festival. I chatted a bit about our city, and then, quite quickly it seemed, the show had begun and I was on.

I've never been on the stage at Keyano before. I didn't realize that the bright lights prevent you from seeing the audience, so as I walked out I had no idea how many were there, or who was in the crowd. I was ready for the questions, though, and I fielded them as best I could (including one about syphilis, which they probably shouldn't have warned me about in the green room as I googled it quickly on my phone and had statistics ready putting that "epidemic" in some perspective). I was a bit startled when someone texted the hosts to say they should ask me how many shoes I own, but I deftly avoided a numerical answer (on the grounds it would almost certainly incriminate me). I couldn't see the audience so I have no idea who asked - but clearly someone knew me well. It was only 5 minutes or so but it seemed a lot longer under the bright lights and with a microphone in my hand. I was relieved when my segment ended and I could hand back the microphone and escape the bright lights, back to my little tent where I plugged in the string of Christmas lights and set it aglow once again.

The performances Saturday evening were stellar, people. Aerosmith Rocks truly owned the stage (slightly cheesy wigs aside, other than the lead singer who has very real Tyler-style hair). They played a brilliant set, and the crowd danced and sang along, including me, who sidled up right in front of the stage to snag photos and the experience. When they left the stage ReignWolf went on, and to say this young man has talent is an insult. He has more than talent - he has a gift that is rare and precious, and I was honoured to hear him perform. Knowing that he is a kind and gentle young man simply made it that much better.

When all the performances were over I found myself backstage with one band member, sharing photos of our kids and talking about our lives. We laughed and joked under the night time summer sky, the little white tent glowing behind us. The band members still on site packed up their gear, and then, quietly, they all drifted away into the night, leaving me alone in my white tent again. It was close to 1 am, and I was exhausted. It had been a busy day, with dozens of performers and a variety show performance, too. It had been another day of talking about my community while taking care of the performers, and it had been another night filled with music and stars and a little white tent glowing softly in the darkness. I tidied my tent, secured the tent flap even more tightly this time, climbed into my car, and headed home once again to rest before the final day of interPLAY 2012.

My deep and sincere thanks to
Gypsy Butterfly,
Surface Below,
Steven Bowers,
John Dough,
Vermin in Vinyl, 
The Flash Jam,
Aerosmith Rocks,
for being a genuine pleasure to meet and host :)