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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Like A Good Neighbour, Edmonton is There

Yeah, so you can sing this title to the tune of a fairly well-known television jingle. And it's true, at least in my world, because I have lived in Fort McMurray for eleven years, and in that time I have become immensely fond of our neighbours - particularly the largest city closest to us, Edmonton.

I would in fact venture to say that if I were to choose to leave Fort McMurray some day Edmonton is one of the places I would consider settling down, because just as my community is magical I find Edmonton the same way. The Intrepid Junior Blogger and I have explored Edmonton pretty thoroughly, from Fort Edmonton to the Valley Zoo to South Edmonton Common to the West Edmonton Mall and many points in between. And we agree on one thing - we both love the city, and the community.

I feel at home in Edmonton, a fact made very clear to me during a recent visit. It is fun to explore new cities when visiting, of course, but there is something about returning on a regular basis to a city you know well, but not so well that there is nothing new to discover. Edmonton is the kind of place where I can still find new things, like the snowy day last year when I discovered The Remedy Cafe and whiled away my time writing, eating amazing food, and watching snow blanket the city. I have found places like the Union Bank Inn, and more shoe stores than I can name. On the most recent visit the IJB and I explored "the mall" as we call it, but on the next day we went down to Whyte Avenue, experiencing a different kind of area. We enjoyed every second of our trip, going to places familiar to us and finding new little spots, too - but Edmonton isn't just shopping or tourist attractions. Far from it, really, as Edmonton is people.

In the last couple of years while writing this blog I have had the honour and privilege to meet many Edmontonians, and those from the area around Edmonton. Some, like the effervescent Kikki Planet, have become dear friends, and some have become professional connections. Some, like Joey Hundert of Sustainival, spend time in our community and become honorary residents, bringing their skills and talent and ambition to enrich us even more. Some have become those I banter with on Twitter, or, on occasion, even argue. But what they are, in the end, is neighbours - and we could not have better neighbours than Edmonton.

Speaking of neighbours and neighbour relations, way back, almost two years ago, Kikki Planet asked me to write a piece on Fort McMurray to explain a bit about us to Edmontonians who may have never had the opportunity to visit us. It was a genuine pleasure to do this, because it came from a place of sincere affection for our neighbours to the south. I have been pleased to spend time in Edmonton as a guest of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, and through this blog I have intensified my connections in the city. So, why am I writing this blog post today, given that I normally blog about Fort McMurray and our community? Because we are neighbours, and because today Edmonton is engaged in something dubbed "CapRegionRocks", an effort to emphasize all that is great about their fine region. Our neighbours are having a little celebration, and this is my contribution to the day - because Edmonton, and the surrounding area, does rock. They have been, in my experience, the best of neighbours, and I appreciate their kindness whenever I am visiting their community. But more than that I appreciate the community in Edmonton, because I see in them so much of what I see right here in Fort McMurray - innovation, inspiration, bold ideas, potential, opportunity, and more. I see a reflection of our community, because our neighbour to the south is very much like us in almost every regard - and as they celebrate today I extend my best wishes, and my thanks - for being a great neighbour!

Got Twitter? Then check the hashtag
for more great stories
on our neighbours to the south!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Where Was My Midwife?

It's hard to believe the Intrepid Junior Blogger is now almost fourteen. I don't know where the years have gone, and at times I catch glimpses of the little girl she was, and even the baby I once held in my arms. I recall her infancy well, every moment of those very early days, and her birth. It was a remarkable time, but I have always had one regret. Because of where we lived - a remote town in northwestern Ontario - I did not have access to a midwife. My daughter was born in a hospital, surrounded by nurses and physicians, and there is nothing wrong with that, as she was born healthy and whole - but I sincerely wish I had some options back then. I know things now that I wish I had known then.

Women have been giving birth with the assistance of midwives since the beginning of time. Midwifery has come a long way, combining the art and science of childbirth with the natural history of our species.   It is an option that women have chosen for thousands and thousands of years, except that now midwifery isn't an option for many women, including those who live right here in Fort McMurray.

I will share a story about my own birth experience, because I think it is relevant. Shortly after my daughter was born I developed an issue with my eye. Initially misdiagnosed as an eye infection it turned out the problem was in fact a virus, and that the virus had damaged my cornea badly enough to leave significant scarring on the surface. It was puzzling to my doctors at the time as this virus, common in humans, doesn't normally surface first in the eye, and usually when it does people have experienced other occurrences of it elsewhere on their body. I had no such occurrences, no history with this virus - and that is when one of my ophthalmologists theorized that perhaps it was a hospital-borne infection, transmitted to me during my stay in hospital after giving birth. He postulated that my immune system might have been under a great deal of stress, and that this virus could have been transmitted to me unwittingly by another patient or even a staff member. That virus, and the subsequent problems it caused, led me on a journey through glaucoma, emergency eye surgery, damaged vision, and a need to see eye doctors on a very regular basis, with the possibility of losing my eyesight entirely in that eye always present.

Maybe that doesn't seem related to the practice of midwifery, but I think it is. You see if I had options back then perhaps I would have chosen to give birth at home, and not in a hospital. Or perhaps I could have gone to a birthing centre, where such viruses would be less likely to be found. Hospitals try very hard and do their best to control such things, but it is difficult to do when dozens of sick people are all in the same facility. And there's the rub - pregnancy isn't a sickness, and yet we give birth in hospitals as if it is. We are exposed to things we wouldn't necessarily encounter in other settings. And I suppose that experience has made me wonder over the years about putting healthy women and newborns into situations like that if there are other options.

Now, perhaps I would have still chosen to go to a hospital for a doctor-attended birth, or perhaps I would have chosen to give birth in a hospital with a midwife present, working in collaboration with my physician, but that's the point: it would have been my choice. The lack of choices, particularly at the most important moment of one's life, is beyond frustrating. I think it is, in a word, wrong.

This community has a birth rate that is phenomenal, and growing. We push out (pun intended) babies at an astonishing rate, and frankly these normal, healthy births are also a drain on our medical system. The costs for hospital stays, doctor attended births, and the rest, could be greatly addressed by creating a midwifery system in the province, and our community. Complicated births, and those with special needs, and those who choose it, would still have access to all the medical care they want and need - but others, who would prefer to pursue another option, could have that too. I am not sure who loses in this ideal scenario, but at the current time I think it is expectant women who lose because they have no choice, just as I had no choice. Would that choice have changed my experience, and saved me fourteen years of dealing with an eye disease that I will now have for the rest of my life? I don't know, and I never will - but I might have. All I know is that I never had the choice.

This weekend, on September 2nd, local advocates of midwifery and those who support it will rally together to ask for midwifery services in this region. You've probably seen the signs around town, just as I have. And yesterday I received a link to the video I share below, a video made by my lovely friend @ashcakesquiggle. I think this is an issue we need to talk about, think about, and consider in relation to our own birth experiences, or those we hope to have in the future. My final thought is this: choice is never bad. Options allow us to choose the things that are best for us, our families, and our futures. I don't know where my midwife was when I gave birth - but I hope for all women in the future their midwife, if they have chosen one, is just a phone call away.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Here We Go Again - Cameras, Journalists, and Celebrities in Fort McMurray

The talk is fast and furious these days. Once again it seems camera crews, journalists, and celebrities are circling and about to descend on Fort McMurray. Rumour has it some documentary film crews, a journalist or two, a former Hollywood star, and a Canadian music icon are headed our way. What are they all coming to film, write about, and discuss? Well, Fort McMurray and the oil sands, of course (or, as they likely term it, the tar sands). And my response? Big deal. They can get in line, because frankly this is nothing new, and they are quite unlikely to bring anything new to the discussion either – because this is old, old news.
When I first began writing this blog I suppose I had some sort of illusion about the nature of these visits from external media and celebrities. I thought they might really be coming here with an open mind, blank slates yearning to learn – but over the last couple of years I have been disabused of this notion as I have seen film-makers, journalists, and celebrities come and go. And this new batch, like all the others, will arrive and do their thing and then disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. Why do they come? To gain notoriety, perhaps. To make a point, maybe. To change the dialogue about the region and the industry? I think not, because they are not saying anything new or bringing new viewpoints. It’s all a rehash of what has been said before, and frankly I think it’s gotten pretty boring.

I am not terribly excited, or even concerned, about the news of the impending visits. In fact I don’t even really care all that much, because the story they are telling is tired and old, and unlikely to even make much impact because it’s become a bit of a cliché – go to Fort McMurray, film some oil sands sites, talk about all the social issues, and then get into a plane or car and head home.
And yes, there’s the rub. These folks aren’t bicycling here. They are coming in cars and on planes, using equipment created through the use of fossil fuels. The irony is not lost on anyone, including, one would hope, those who later view or read these efforts. The reality is we live in a world dependent on fossil fuels, and in a country where our remote rural areas require the use of fossil-fuelled vehicles for access. Our food supply, our homes, and our very lifestyles depend on the energy source in this region – so wouldn’t a better tactic be to muster their efforts around creating and developing alternative fuel sources? Wouldn’t decreasing the demand be far more effective than trying to shut down an industry the world currently depends on? And shouldn’t the true focus, if we acknowledge our reliance on oil, be on developing the resource in a responsible way?

There are many discussions to be had. As a friend pointed out one could discuss the inequity of the pay scale of celebrities versus that of those who run non-profit organizations. Actors and musicians earn millions of dollars for a craft that, while admirable, entertains as opposed to creating real change, while those who strive every single day to improve the lives of others struggle to meet their basic bills. One could discuss the irony of the film and music industry from which these celebrities derive their income – industries that rely too on fossil fuels to run their enormous trucks carrying equipment. And one could talk about the film crews and journalists, just as reliant on fossil fuels as the rest of us. But it’s all a game in the end, and we all know how it plays out – because in this region it has happened time and time again, and there are no surprise endings.
For those coming to visit my community – and it is a community, not just an industry – I offer the following advice:

1)      If you are going to write or talk about our social issues don’t purchase drugs for your recreational use while you are here. Yes, those stories will get around, and your support of the very activity you are decrying makes your reporting of such a little bit suspect.

2)      Treat the members of this community with the respect they deserve. Think about how you would want your friends and family treated if they should encounter a film crew, journalist, or celebrity – and then treat us the same way.

3)      Don’t lie to us about your angle. If you plan to write a scathing article or film a negative documentary be upfront about it. It isn’t fair to lie to us about how you want to tell a “balanced story” and then go ahead and tell whatever biased story you had planned all along. Be honest with us, and level the playing field. And don’t think we are dumb – we pretty much know what your intent likely is.

4)      Don’t expect us to be all excited to see you arrive. Don’t expect us to fight your arrival, either. Frankly we are pretty accustomed to this, and we are neither happy to see you arrive or glad to see you go. We just don’t care all that much, because life here will go on with or without you, just as it always has.

5)      Don’t pretend you are going to tell the “definitive” story of Fort McMurray. Is there one definitive story of your community? No? Then don’t assume there is one for us, either. We are a diverse community of thousands of different stories and experiences, and whatever story you tell – positive or negative – is just a very small slice of a very, very large pie.

6)      Do you really want to get a true picture of Fort McMurray? Then I’ll tell you a secret – go to the places others rarely go. Go to school playgrounds after hours and meet the families. Go to cultural celebrations. Go to recreation centres. Go talk to mommy groups. Go further, dig deeper, and cast your net wider than “the usual suspects”, either the boosters or detractors. Let’s be honest, though – if you don’t live here you can never get the full tenor of the place just as I can’t do on a brief visit to your community. And maybe if you are honest you can acknowledge that in the story you eventually tell, too.

So, there you have my thoughts on the next round of media and celebrity attention coming our way. I would say I am waiting with bated breath, but that would be an outright lie. What creates our community is not those who visit it to “tell our story” – what creates us, and sustains us, are the people who tell their stories every single day in Fort McMurray – just by living them.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Buddy, Can You Spare a Ward?

I think there was a time in the past when Fort McMurray was a small community, one where the same issues plagued each area of the city. And even today there are some issues common to all of us, like lack of infrastructure, traffic woes, and other problems we all share. However, as this city has grown something has become increasingly clear. Different areas face different challenges, and this was pretty stark earlier this summer.

Flooding of the Hangingstone River had a serious effect in downtown Fort McMurray, but my area wasn't impacted even slightly. What was a huge issue for one area of the community was barely a blip on the radar in others, although those from other neighbourhoods leapt to help in the effort to minimize the flood impact. What became clear to me, though, was that Fort McMurray has changed significantly, and as new neighbourhoods come online this community is about to go through even more changes. Different areas see different issues and problems. So, the question I have is: why don't we have more than one municipal ward in the urban area of Fort McMurray? Isn't it about time we went to a true city-style ward system with representatives elected to represent different neighbourhoods and areas as opposed to electing councillors to represent an entire community?

Look, I think our current councillors do a great job, and stay quite informed about the community they represent. I think, though, that those councillors who represent smaller areas, like those from our rural communities, have a much better chance to get to know the issues well and bring those concerns and issues to council. I think they are better able to represent their constituents because the concerns are similar based on area and types of issues, while those elected within the urban area of Fort McMurray deal with issues that range from the commercial to the residential, and all in between. They are expected to represent the needs of all constituents from across the urban area, and frankly I think it's expecting a bit much. And as we grow this is all just going to get worse.

Perhaps the current ward system made sense when Fort McMurray was a smaller community, but it has changed in just the eleven years I have been here. Each area and neighbourhood faces issues, some which are similar to each other but some of which are unique, too. I find myself wondering if the current ward system does more to harm than help us, and if it actually makes the job of representing the electorate more difficult than it needs to be. And I suppose I have some degree of urban-envy, because large cities don't have a ward system like ours. They recognize the unique character of different areas and neighbourhoods, and they have created systems where individuals elected as representatives can bring forward the concerns from those specific areas while working together to form a cohesive and functioning community. The current system, enacted in 1994, made sense then - but now, almost twenty years later, one has to wonder about the present impact of this system, and the future impact.

Now, it's too late to change this for our election looming this year - but now might be the time for us to start thinking about having these wards in place before the next election, four years from now. The next four years are likely to see exponential growth, and I would like to see due consideration given to this as we start to develop into an urban centre through city centre redevelopment. If we want to be a "big city" in the way we look and appear, and if we want to be considered a true urban centre, then we need to begin to have our municipal politics function in an urban way. Fort McMurray is on the grow again - and we need our civic politics to adapt to our brave new world as an urban centre.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Biosolid Kinda Day in Fort McMurray

On occasion something happens that is so unexpected that one doesn't know quite how to react. One day last week driving across the bridge from Thickwood I noted what appeared to be a large amount of mud in the right hand lane. It puzzled me a bit, but dirt and mud are nothing new in this region, and so I arrived at work relatively unaware of the events of the morning. It didn't take long, though, for me to notice a tweet commenting that someone had dumped "manure" on the road, leading to slick roads, a very bad smell, and a need for instant clean-up. I was puzzled, though, wondering where on earth the "manure" had come from, as we don't have a lot of livestock here. That confusion lasted right until I read that it was a "biosolid" spill from a municipal truck transporting the material from the wastewater facility to the dump for composting. Now, "biosolids" is of course a very polite and euphemistic way of saying "poop", in this case of the human variety, and as soon as this was revealed the jokes began.

There is something about "poop" jokes that bring out the five year old in every adult, and on "biosolid spill day" certain words, regardless of where you work or spend time, were likely to result in mad fits of giggles. It was the kind of situation where one couldn't do much but laugh, really, although the reality is that the "biosolids" created a hazard for drivers, as well as a potential biological hazard. The real hazard, though, was dying from laughter as the jokes flew fast and furious, people turning red as they giggled their way through a day that had started rather typically and quickly descended into biosolid mayhem.

I suppose we could have felt embarrassed, or even dismayed that such a thing could happen - but then again I think there is real value in maintaining our ability to laugh, especially in a region where on occasion we feel like there is a rather large target fixed on our backs. The worst part of the incident was likely the traffic jam, although as far as traffic woes go this was one of the more unusual. And, well, the smell was pretty atrocious, too.

In the end, though, the spill was cleaned up quickly and efficiently, and when I drove home I could not see or smell a thing. The jokes, of course, may linger a bit longer than the odour, as it will go down in history as the day the biosolids hit the fan in Fort McMurray. I am proud to say we responded well, and reacted with humour, flying in the face of a rather biosolidy kinda day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

This Space for Rent: A Very Rare Opportunity

It occurred to me last week that I am rapidly approaching my 25,000 tweet on Twitter. I have missed most of my Twitter milestones, as I have a tendency to not pay any attention to the numbers until I look up and realize I've just tweeted my 20,001 tweet and totally wasted the milestone tweet. Well, not this time. I have watched with interest as others have auctioned off their milestone tweets for charity, and now I intend to do the same with my 25,000 - but I am going to sweeten the deal a little. You can buy my 25,000 tweet - but as a bonus I am throwing in something I never, ever do. I am going to let you buy one blog post dedicated to a topic of your choice, and published on this blog.

Now, you can write the post yourself as a guest blogger, or you can have me write it for you, to your satisfaction and specification. You (or I) can write about your business, your organization, or your political campaign (hint hint, electoral candidates!). I will publish it and promote it via Twitter - and you will be the very, very rare person who has had direct input in this blog other than me. And the beneficiary of this auction?

I could not decide between two of my favourite local social profit organizations, and so the sale of my 25,000 tweet and this blog post space will benefit both the Fort McMurray SPCA and the Centre of Hope, with all profits being split evenly between the two. Both of these organizations do crucial work in our community, and both are very near and dear to me.

The usual rules of decorum will apply, of course. No profanity, no hate, and lots of opportunity to use this forum in whatever way you want to promote, campaign, or just have a platform to say something you have always wanted to say. This space, and my 25,000 tweet, is now up for sale. The proceeds go to benefit two wonderful organizations and support all the work they do, and I am offering you the very rare chance to use my blog for your voice. If you are interested you can contact me via Twitter:

or email me at

And so you have some sense of the value of this auction I currently have over 2300 followers on Twitter, and this blog has hundreds of views on a daily basis. This is a very, very rare chance as I relinquish space on this blog very carefully, and only for a very good cause - and so today I offer this for sale, and hope I find a buyer who sees the value and the joy in raising money for two local organizations. Now, who will start the bidding?

Friday, August 23, 2013

(Not So) Dear Anonymous: The Trouble With Anonymity

I almost always publish them, even when they are unkind to me. On occasion I respond to them, but not always. I often struggle with whether or not to publish the ones left as “anonymous”, although I always do in the end unless they are designed to wound me, or, even worse, others. “They” are the comments left on my blog posts, and to be honest I think about them more often that I probably should.

Recently when I blogged about the burning of the rainbow flag at the Pride event in Fort McMurray someone left these two comments, which both troubled me and saddened me:
Typical Fort McMurray. I for one am born and raised. Is anyone really surprised? If you are then you didn't grow up here. I grew up around some of the most homophobic people in Canada right in Fort McMurray.

Chances are my last comment won't be approved because people here continually try to promote Fort McMurray for being 'the best place to live' in Canada. Not the case. Probably one of the worst actually. The fact that people try and hide everything with rainbows and unicorns is very misleading and wrong. People should be able to speak their mind without other McMurrayites continously getting defensive. Makes me sick. This incident makes me sick. I'm totally ashamed of Fort McMurray.

This burning resentment towards one’s hometown, left as an anonymous comment on a blog post, revealed a great deal about someone who seems to have had an unpleasant experience growing up here, and that saddens me as no one should feel this way about their hometown. Did it make me want to rise up in defense of my community? Yes, but not because I feel I hold the “true story” of life here, as I acknowledge that the experiences of others will differ. I feel I must share my story of life here, though, one vastly different from the experience detailed above, and the story of the Intrepid Junior Blogger who says it does not reflect her experience so far, either. For the most part, though, the comments did two things: they made me sad for the author, and they made me wonder (and ask) what the author did or has done to change a community they thought so lacking. You see if you are part of a community, and you think there is something wrong with it, then you have a responsibility to try to change it. To note the inadequacies but do nothing to change them seems to me to be a failing as great as whatever inadequacy has been noted. This community is ours, and therefore it is ours to change, too – and make better for the future.
I found the comment about those defending and promoting Fort McMurray particularly intriguing, because it truly is reflective of one’s experience here. I promote and defend Fort McMurray because it has been good to me and for me, and has been a place of opportunity and potential. It has, in no small way, changed my life because of the people who call this place this home, and so their experiences have influenced mine and how I feel about this place. How hard it must be, though, to feel as the anonymous commenter does, and how hard it must be if they continue to live here (and I would suggest that anyone who does feel this way truly needs to find a place where they can be happy, because life is too short to be miserable and no amount of money would pay me enough to endure misery). It is hard, too, because the choice to post these comments anonymously ends any possibility of reaching out to them and trying to find some common ground about this community. There is a finality in that anonymity, a lack of name meaning a lack of trust on all sides of the equation. The door to dialogue is slammed firmly shut, with a distinct advantage to anonymous as they know where I am, but I have no idea which face hides such unhappiness and pain.

And I must be honest. I struggle with allowing such comments to be posted on the blog anonymously. I suppose it is because I believe we should stand behind the things we say, and accept whatever the consequences happen to be. I think this is especially true when comments are left that are unkind towards me or others, because it is far too easy to take potshots hidden behind a mask of anonymity with no repercussions. I always feel a bit like I am allowing them to get away with this kind of behaviour in allowing them to comment in an anonymous way on a blog I control, and yet I am deeply reluctant to censor the comments unless they are truly filled with hatred, or, worse, threats (and yes, this has happened). I continue to publish these comments, and in some way I suppose it is because I am also a big fan of shining bright lights in dark corners to see what comes skittering out, and I think maybe I need to publish some of them to reveal to others the depth of some people’s unkindness, practiced when they can hide and not fear any sort of recourse. In the past even the worst school yard bully had to show themselves, but today they can hide behind fake names and anonymous posts, which saddens me even further as it allows the darkest parts of our human nature to surface.
This blog contains the story of my life here. It may not be the life experienced by the anonymous commenter I mention above, but it is told with honesty and sincerity - and with my name and face attached. When I began this blog I did so simply to share my story of life here, and on occasion it takes on a life of its own as the dialogue it sparks causes others to reveal their own pain, or anger, or experience - or hatred. Those comments left on the blog always say far more about the person who left them than they do about me, whether they are words of kindness or hate, words of support or rejection, words of happiness or sorrow - or words without a name attached, left hanging in the air and abandoned by the one who left them. And perhaps that is exactly it - I wonder if perhaps the anonymous words are ones that should be disregarded, because they are left by those who don't seem to believe them enough to claim them.

I claim the words in this blog. They are mine. And I will accept the consequences, no matter what they are, because I believe in them. I will not be one of the anonymous.

Sliders, Cupcakes, and Chocolate - A Taste of Fort McMurray

When I called home and asked the Intrepid Junior Blogger if I should buy tickets to the event I knew the answer would likely be yes – but even I had not predicted her level of enthusiasm. She expressed great excitement, and insisted I get tickets as soon as possible. The event in question? Not a rock concert or festival – but rather the annual A Taste of Fort McMurray.
The IJB attended Taste of Fort McMurray last year, and I guess it made an impression on her. Maybe it was trying kangaroo, or simply all the cupcakes – but this year she not only wanted to go but insisted, and when I arrived home Wednesday night after work she was ready and anxious to tackle the food – and oh, what food it was!

We arrived at MacDonald Island Park, exchanging our tickets for passports that we immediately disregarded, explaining to the passport stampers that we were focused quite keenly on the food, and only the food. She and I never have been much for rules, and so we tackled the food stalls with gleeful abandon, mixing appetizers with desserts and entrees. We ate our way through every booth, sampling endless varieties of sliders and cupcakes, soups and scallops. We aimed for the restaurants she cannot enter, being a minor, and sampled the offerings from Wood Buffalo Brew and Original Joe’s. We ate and ate, stopping for an occasional drink, and then we ate some more. We ate enough to determine our favourites – and it was not an easy conclusion.
For the Intrepid Junior Blogger the favourite was the lamb from the Hearthstone Grille at the Sawridge Inn, followed closely by the ribs from Table 63 at the Quality Inn. I was quite partial to the pork belly from MacDonald Island Park, and we both found the chocolate cake in an ice cream cone from The Chef’s Table at Mitchell’s a delight. We did not, in fact, find any food we did not enjoy, and while some particularly caught our attention all the food was wonderful to experience.

And we ate cupcakes, of course, ones infused with Bailey’s and chai tea, and ones that tasted of cherries. In fact by the time we reached the Chocolates and Candlelights booth we were relieved that the chocolate was packaged to take home, because we couldn’t eat another bite.
I think the IJB was a little sad there was no kangaroo this year, but the event brought out her foodie side, as she is the true food lover in the family and she critiqued her way through the samples (should she ever write a food blog I think it would easily surpass this blog as she is both unflinchingly honest and accurate in her assessments, with a very fresh palate and a young adult perspective).

We both enjoyed the entire evening though, from the food to the live music to the helpful and friendly volunteers. In the end, though, just like last year we rolled out the door, feeling significantly heavier than when we arrived. We headed home, the IJB downstairs to the sofa and me upstairs to finish some chores.

Just before bedtime, though, I snuck into my purse and pulled out two small gift-wrapped packages. I opened one, and then took the other down to the IJB. And so we finished off a night of food and fun – and an evening spent together – with a chocolate covered pretzel, perhaps the perfect way to end the night.

The IJB and I would like to thank
Volunteer Wood Buffalo,
Leadership Wood Buffalo,
Non-Profit Sector Link,
all the volunteers,
and all the food vendors
for an amazing evening of food and fun!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Life, A Legacy, and a Family - Justin Slade Youth Foundation

There are occasions when you are humbled by a display of strength, and courage, and dignity. There are times you find yourself looking around you and seeing something that is a bit beyond words, and that you struggle to capture in words. That happened to me this past weekend when I had the honour of attending the Justin Slade Youth Foundation Golf Tournament banquet. For some it might sound like it is just another golf tournament to raise funds for a social profit organization – but for those who were there I think it was clear it was something far more. It was a memorial to a young man gone far too soon.

I have written about Justin before. He died on Highway 63 in 2004 at the age of 21, his life cut short on a highway that has taken too many lives. He left behind him a large family, and a family of the kind that does everything with intensity. They seem much like my own family, one that argues and teases and debates and loves each other with every fibre of their being. And, much like my own family, I think they suffer every loss deeply, but even more so when the loss is of someone so young, and so special.

And Justin was special, at least from everything I have learned. He had a huge heart, caring deeply about his family and his friends. He cared especially about friends who were struggling in their young lives, often offering them a sofa to sleep on when times were rough, or when they just needed to be part of a loving family, and he knew his family would embrace them. I know this too, because just in the short time I have known Justin’s family I have felt that warm welcome and embrace. These are people who care about others, and it shows in all they do.
When I attended the golf tournament banquet I brought along the Intrepid Junior Blogger and her cousin. It has been a very long time since I have been at a gathering of my own extended family, as both my parents are gone now, and over the years we have lost many aunts and uncles. I have not felt like part of a family in that way in a very long time, but this past Saturday I did when the Slade and Barter families not only welcomed me, but embraced me into their family. I felt their closeness, and their attachment to each other. And that is how I know how hard it must have been for them when Justin died.

When a family is close in this way every member plays a crucial role. The loss of one member is felt keenly by all others. I looked around the banquet Saturday night and I saw laughter, and smiles, and joy. And I thought about how different it must have been in 2004, just after Justin was taken from them. I thought about their sorrow, and grief, and pain. I thought about how that feeling can paralyze you, and you move in a fog of agony. I thought about what strength and courage is – because the family of Justin Slade displayed that just shortly after he died, when they founded the Justin Slade Youth Foundation.
The JSYF is dedicated to youth in this community. It is all about giving local youth, particularly youth at risk, the opportunity to explore their potential. It is about helping them make good choices, and find their place – their niche – in this community. It is about helping them find a place where it is safe to be themselves, to express themselves, and supporting them in times of need. It is like the sofa Justin once offered his friends for the night, but far more. It is Justin’s kindness and love and concern for his friends spread far and wide, welcoming all young people, and giving them a family of sorts to get through the rough times – and a place to help others get through theirs. It is an extension of the love Justin’s family gave to him and all his friends. It is a legacy, and a memorial, and a tribute of the finest kind. The Justin Slade Youth Foundation changes lives.

Justin Slade is gone now, almost ten years ago, and yet his name, and his memory, lives on. He will never be forgotten by those who loved him, but now he will be remembered even by those who never had the opportunity to know him. He will be remembered as a young man who offered his sofa and his compassion to those in need, and while he will also be remembered for leaving this world far too soon his true legacy is in the hundreds of young adults who will remember his name as being part of the place where they found a community, and a family. I cannot imagine a greater pain than losing a son, a nephew, a cousin, a grandson, a friend – and I cannot imagine a greater joy than changing the life of young person who is struggling and in need. The family of Justin Slade, the people I had the honour and privilege of spending time with on Saturday night, experienced the greatest pain a family can feel – and now they are the creators and founders of some of the greatest hope and joy. They have honoured Justin’s memory in a way that defies words and explanation – and that touches my heart every time I think about a young man gone far too soon, leaving behind him a world forever changed for those who loved him – and for those who are now changing the lives of others who will never know him.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Blue Hair, Don't Care

My daughter has blue hair.

It's true, you see. Recently the Intrepid Junior Blogger dyed her hair a rather astonishing shade of turquoise, after months of thought and discussion. The discussion wasn't about whether or not she could dye her hair, but rather about what colour she would most like to dye it. And, this past week, she decided on a shade that is decidedly unusual, and not normally seen in nature aside from peacocks. And it looks great.

I was a teen in the 1980's, and in that time my hair was every colour of the rainbow. I recall a family friend, seeing me for the first time with coloured hair, commenting that I looked like an exotic bird. I also recall the many comments I got about my hair colour choices, many of them negative, and often coming from adults. I recall how my parents, farming folks by history, struggled a bit with it, and then got over it, realizing the coloured hair hadn't changed a single thing about me. I rather thought that in the intervening years the practice of unusual hair colours had become rather commonplace, and certainly less prone to provoke comments - but I may have miscalculated.

I took the IJB and her cousin to the mall this week. I noticed the occasional stares, but it was the comments of two women, likely close in age to me, that caught my attention. Behind us in the mall concourse they said, loudly enough so I would be sure to hear it, that they "could not believe her mother would allow her to dye her hair THAT colour."

I wish I had whipped around to reply to them, but I was caught by surprise, and so I didn't. But if I had, this is likely what I would have said:

I didn't allow my daughter to colour her hair blue. I encouraged it. I took her to my hair stylist to get it bleached in preparation. I bought the blue dye. I was there when she and her cousin did it - and when it fades and the time comes to dye it again? I will do it for her myself, any shade she wants. Why? Because I don't own my kid.

Yes, you heard right. My kid is an independent creature with her own thoughts and ideas, and her own way of doing things. We agree on most things, and part ways on others. At almost fourteen I respect her autonomy in certain things - including the choice to colour her hair. In fact when she was in Grade Three and wanted permanent pink streaks dyed into her hair? I made sure she got them, because it is hair, and it is hers, and it makes her happy, and who the hell am I to tell her she can't do it? In the world of "pick your battles carefully" this isn't even a tiny dust-up.

Last night we went to an event and I was beyond pleased that the IJB was surrounded by adults who told her how much they love her hair. They are the kind of adults I want in her life, the ones who see past blue hair (and crazy clothes, and, if some day she chooses, tattoos and anything else) and see her for who she is, blue hair and all. These are the adults who are the role models I want her to embrace, and who she will remember.

So, if you see a kid with blue hair around town (and wearing heels) then it is likely mine. And if you don't like her blue hair maybe you should think about why it matters to you, and why you think others should live to your standards of behaviour. Recently I had an encounter on this blog with a commenter who chose to remain anonymous (no surprise there, the cowardly ones who like to leave nasty hurtful words always do) and who tried to "shame" me into conforming to the behaviour standard to which they subscribe - but who are they to tell me what is the proper way to behave, exactly? Who are they to dictate how I should spend my time, run my life, or colour my hair? Do they have to live my life? The answer, of course, is no, and I spent some time discussing this with the IJB. It would seem she has learned this lesson well over the years - as the IJB now has blue hair. And for the record we don't care what you think of it, either.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Spreading the Pie-Love in Fort McMurray

There is nothing as comforting as pie. If you disagree with this statement you should probably quit reading now as clearly this post is all about pie, and non-pie-lovers might not be keen on the pie love. I, however, was raised on pie as the daughter of a German woman who loved to cook and made a helluva pie. Pie, when in my house, was an all day food, often becoming breakfast, and lunch, and dinner, and elevensies. I would sneak slices of pie, and on one occasion smuggled an entire apple pie out of the house to share with friends (leaving my mother very puzzled about the pie disappearance until I confessed). And for the record store bought pie just isn't the same, as the mass production of pie means it loses some of the flavour and appeal - which is why the recent arrival in Fort McMurray of Meadow Creek Farms, and all their goods - including pies made by the Athabasca Hutterite colony - was such a big deal to me.

Meadow Creek Farms is a family run operation that raises their animals in a holistic, organic way. The animals in their care are free range, and free too from the antibiotics, hormones and growth additives so frequently used in raising livestock. And while I was raised in the city my parents were farmers originally, and most of my extended family continued to farm, and so I was raised on a diet of fresh beef and pork, family raised in the traditional way.

Meadow Creek Farms comes to Fort McMurray on a regular basis, bringing a truck loaded with meats, sausage, and jerky from their own farm, as well as fresh produce from local producers around them, fresh fruit from BC - and baking from the Hutterites in their area. I am familiar too with Hutterites, as growing up in Saskatoon they often attended the Farmer's Market there, and my father, who grew up speaking German, would converse with them in their native tongue and they would give him potatoes and produce in appreciation of his respect for their culture.

Meadow Creek Farms was to set up their market stall at Heritage Park this summer, but due to the recent flooding the park of course had to close to undergo restoration, and so Meadow Creek needed a new home - which is how they ended up at MacDonald Island Park, and just steps from my office. When I first learned they were coming I requested they hold two pies for me - and what started as two pies has become a full-fledged love affair with everything they bring.

So far the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I have eaten our way through Hutterite-baked pies (apple, saskatoonberry, and strawberry-rhubarb), as well as banana bread. We have had the Meadow Creek raised ham and garlic sausage (in a word, delicious), and the day I brought home 1/4 pound of beef jerky may live in carnivorous infamy in my house as my kid, niece, myself, and the family dog snarfed down the jerky in record time and with not a scrap left (and a demand from the IJB to bring home more, and in larger quantities). The pie, however, took on a life of its own when one of the local radio hosts, Marshall from KAOS, and I got into a pie discussion on Twitter.

Ever since Marshall and I did the food hamper challenge from the Wood Buffalo Food Bank our conversations seem to centre on food. When I commented on Twitter one day that I was having pie for breakfast Marshall and I began to banter back and forth about pie, which is how two weeks ago I ended up delivering pie to the station, and setting in motion a chain of events that led me to delivering pie to every radio station yesterday. You see you can't just deliver pie to one radio station, as if you do (as I discovered) you get messages and texts asking you why you are picking pie favourites and only giving pie to some media outlets and not just handing out pies to everyone.

And my partner in delivering the pie love? The incredible Mandy from Meadow Creek Farms, who insisted on giving me the pies for free to deliver (no doubt realizing pie is like a gateway drug, leading those who eat it to want more pie, and then banana bread, and likely right into beef jerky and sausage, too). There is no denying the joy of home-made pie, and the flavour of all the produce and meats coming from family producers like Meadow Creek Farms. These items are the kinds of things I have craved, and now, thanks to entrepreneurs like Mandy (and others who are now recognizing the demand for these goods here) I can get them.

So, about that pie. It is best summarized in one word. Nom. Okay, not really a word, but the most descriptive one anyhow. So far this summer I have fed my co-workers pie, delivered pie to all the radio stations, and consumed more pie than is likely good for me, and yet you know what? I want more pie. Which is why if you want pie you may want to contact Meadow Creek Farms and place your pre-order, because I am quietly stocking my freezer for this winter, and I can't be held responsible if you are left pie-less in Fort McMurray.

My sincere thanks to
Mandy of Meadow Creek Farms
and all the other small Albertan food producers
who take food
and turn it into joy -
like having pie for breakfast! :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Down With Protests, Up With Geography Lessons!

It isn't all that often you hear about protests in Fort McMurray, and normally when you do they are directed towards the oil sands industry. I was intrigued this week though when reports of informal protests began to appear on my social media, and the protests seemed to be focused on one of the new retailers in the Peter Pond Mall.

Peter Pond Mall, as you might know, has opened up several new retailers in the space left behind when Zellers vacated. It has been delightful to see these new stores open up, including The Children's Place, David's Tea, Ardene, and Spencer's - but it is the last store that seems to be the target of these protests.

Spencer's is a chain store, and if you have been in one before (in the West Edmonton Mall, for instance) you have likely wandered around enough to discover that deep in the back of the store is an adult section. This adult section, which is really just a part of a much larger store devoted to gag gifts and t-shirts and backpacks, seems to be the focus of the protests.

I wonder if perhaps those protesting were not here when the local triple-X store had a storefront on the main floor of the mall, with most of their wares in full view of all who walked by. Lingerie featured prominently in the window displays, but the clear glass offered anyone wandering by a pretty good idea of what the store contained. I questioned the wisdom of that store, but even back then, with my 3-year old in tow, I did not think to "protest" it - I just didn't go into it.

And that is truly the beauty of all this. As consumers we have a very powerful way of determining what stores do and do not appear in our malls and on our streets - our money. We vote with our wallets, and if we do not want a store in our community then the surest way to get rid of them is to withhold our cash - and not through protests.

Here's the thing, though. I wandered through Spencer's the other day. I noted the funny coffee mugs, and the backpacks. I looked at wallets, and belts, and then I slipped to the back of the store and while it is definitely adult in nature I did not see anything that offended me in any way. I suppose I would be startled if I ended up back there with a young child and found myself trying to explain some of the items, but to be quite honest a simple "it's an adult thing, let's go get some ice cream", is usually enough to distract even the most persistent child.

And since we can vote with our wallets I walked around the store, found two t-shirts the Intrepid Junior Blogger would love (Doctor Who and Big Bang Theory), and took them, and my wallet, to the counter, where I happily paid and wandered off to make my kid smile. I voted with my wallet, and my vote is that Spencer's should stay, adult section and all.

My only real concern about this entire scenario? That one of the protesters, when told that Spencer's is a chain that exists in Ontario, apparently shouted in reply: "This isn't Ontario, this is Newfoundland" - and that response is to me far more worrisome than an adult section, as while our schools seem to be doing okay in sex ed apparently we need a lot more work in geography. That seems more worthy of concern - and protest.

Disclaimer - this map is meant to be funny.
You know, haha?
No getting offended, it ruins all the haha.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Doing the Due Diligence in Fort McMurray

The term “due diligence” is one that gets tossed around a lot, particularly in certain businesses and industries. Often I suspect people think it is a term reserved for those aspects of life, and yet I think the concept of due diligence has a far wider value. I think we, as citizens, have a responsibility to exercise due diligence when it comes to the stewardship of our community.
I had a conversation with someone recently and found myself explaining why I get involved in so many issues impacting this community, and why I ask all the questions I do. And as I explained I found myself using the phrase “due diligence”, as it best describes what I do: research, analyze, and consider consequences. It is perhaps an informal sort of due diligence, and not the extensive kind done by business, but it is still what I do when I approach any issue. And it is, I think, part of our job as citizens to do exactly this with every level of government – municipal, provincial, federal – because the decisions made impact us all.

One of the important facets of doing due diligence is that while one may have a certain mindset going in it is crucial to remain open to changing that mindset should one discover they are wrong, or misguided. That can be the hard part, because we are creatures who don’t like that sort of internal conflict, and yet some of the most enlightening moments can occur when we realize we have been wrong about something. And the other hard part can be making sure that as we do our due diligence we don’t slide into “complaint” mode instead, as complaints are not questions, and tend to do little to further our understanding of an issue. When one has done some due diligence – done their homework, discovered the facts, and grasped a better understanding – they can then ask questions or, even better than lodging complaints, raise issues and suggest potential solutions.

I understand it is impossible to do full due diligence on many issues and topics because we may not have all the facts available to us, but I think it is of tremendous importance and value to search for as much information as we can, and to ask those who may have the information if they can share it. And even if we cannot do full due diligence I think we can usually do enough to be informed and active citizens, which leads to....
True citizen engagement. Engagement is another word we talk about a lot, and there are a variety of different definitions. Engagement shouldn’t just be showing up at engagement sessions and reading the news, though. Engagement is even more than showing up at the ballot box every few years. Engagement is a process, not a destination, and it should be a commitment and interest in this community and the way it is developing, and one that extends further than the superficial in recognition of the fact that this is....

Our home. Yes, this is our home. Would you allow anyone to perform work on your home without doing your due diligence? To rewire it, change the plumbing, install new fixtures, or anything else without having done some homework and research on them and what they propose to do? Would you allow them to touch what is likely your greatest financial investment? No? Then doesn’t your community, likely the greatest investment you will make over the course of your life through taxes and residency, deserve the same attention and care? Isn’t stewardship of this community the responsibility of all residents, not just the elected officials? Isn’t it our job to ask questions, propose ideas and solutions, and question if we feel the direction we are heading in needs adjustment? And we can do this because...
This is a democracy. Part of the joy of democracy is the ability to freely ask questions and suggest solutions. We can do so publicly and privately, with humour or with seriousness, and as individuals or groups. We can direct these questions to our government and to those we have elected to represent us, and we can reasonably expect these questions to be answered, although we need to keep in mind that in the end...

Our due diligence may not change the outcome. Perhaps we feel a decision is wrong, or misguided. Perhaps we feel things are headed the wrong way. And perhaps we are unhappy, but if we have done our due diligence then we have at least one thing. We have...
The comfort of knowing we have asked the questions, suggested the solutions, and acted as involved, engaged, and caring citizens of our community. We have been part of the process, and we have performed our responsibility and done our due diligence as residents, citizens, and community partners and members. And regardless of the outcome there is a great deal of pride, and citizenry, in that alone. That is why when I think of my home I think of many things, and one of them is due diligence – because I owe it to this community, the future, and my home, to do my own due diligence, and try to make this better place every single day. Why?

The Intrepid Junior Blogger
Proud citizen of Fort McMurray

Because of her. That’s why.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When the Best Laid Plans Go Astray - and You Go a New Way

I had such impressive plans, too. The day was to begin with coffee with two residents new to our community, followed by a leisurely drive out to Anzac to check out the Northern Warrior Race benefitting my beloved Centre of Hope. Then I would aim my car for home and head to interPLAY, to take in some plays and a burlesque show and enjoy some live music. And then the next day I would get up and head down to interPLAY again for more plays and to wrap it all up with one final fix of mini-donuts.
It started well, the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I down at interPLAY on Friday evening munching on Chipstix and poutine, watching the Aerial Angels perform (a perennial favourite for her), and me picking up all my tickets for the rest of the weekend. I wish I had savoured the evening a bit more, though, as what I didn’t expect was the headache that would roll in like summer storm clouds and make the thought of facing sun and crowds and noise impossible. I didn’t expect it would be my only time spent at my favourite street festival, but sadly it was.

Saturday morning dawned and I found myself facing a throbbing headache, and one I knew would worsen if I continued with my plans. And so I settled into bed, watching the events of interPLAY and the Northern Warrior Race unfold vicariously via social media. I read the tweets and Facebook posts when my head allowed it, and I loved all the photos coming out of both events, warriors covered in purple paint looking oddly like the abstract version of the face-painted children at interPLAY. I was sad to miss both events, but in a way it was intriguing to watch them play out as I did, just beyond my grasp but close enough that I could get a sense of what was happening mere kilometres away from me.

It is a pleasure to note that both events were tremendously successful this year. Both had many, many participants who expressed their joy at being involved, from volunteers to organizers to attendees. The Northern Warrior Race looked to be a stunningly good time, participants hot and sweaty and purple by the end, and those at interPLAY looked no less hot and sweaty but more red from the sun than purple. What I noticed most in the photos, however, were the smiles of pure joy that appeared, and the sense that those at these events were having the time of their lives. And despite my headache and wishing I could be there I smiled too, simply knowing what a great weekend it was in my community.
Late one night this weekend my headache cleared enough for me to venture out of the house on a small drive. I was keen to see the Perseid meteor shower, a yearly astronomical occurrence that I had never really taken the time to observe but that this year I was determined to enjoy. As it was cool and dark and quiet I expected my headache could manage it, and so I found myself driving on Highway 63 until I reached the turnoff for Maqua Lake. I stopped there and observed the meteors for some time, marvelling at the brief streaks of light across the sky, and then I headed home.

The following night I returned to this spot, anxious to see the meteors once again. This time, though, I turned and stopped on the road, but as it was still light I drove further in, realizing I had never visited this spot, and never even heard much about it. I drove past the cell phone towers, and what appeared to be a fire spotting tower (something I thought was more legend than reality in 2013). I stopped at the gate for the Maqua Lake entrance, a gate indicating the park was open for day use from dawn to dusk, and that one must walk in.
I hesitated, but there was enough light to count as daylight, and so dusk had not yet begun (and dusk is a rather subjective term anyhow). I ventured down the road, not sure how far I would have to walk, wondering if this was an unwise idea given the night creatures present in our forests.

It was a short walk, though, and when I approached what appeared to be a sandy beach I stopped in utter surprise – as Maqua Lake is astonishingly beautiful.
The sun was just setting, and the moon peeking through. The sky was a vibrant shade as the day’s light faded away, and the water of the lake was smooth as glass, broken on occasion by the fish I imagine lurk underneath. It was a picture of stunning beauty, and as I stood there in solitude I thought about how there are so many places like this, places that even after a decade here I have not discovered or seen. I stood in wonder for a few moments, listening to the absolute silence, and then, before true dusk descended and I found myself in violation of a curfew I snuck back into my car and drove away.

You see I am deeply sad I missed interPLAY this year, and the Northern Warrior Race. If it wasn’t for that persistent headache, though, I never would have ventured out into the cool dark night to seek a place far from crowds and lights to see a meteor shower. I never would have stood beside Maqua Lake in the growing darkness and thought about how beautiful it is here, and our incredibly good fortune to live in this place of wonder and beauty. I never would have connected with this place that will now live forever in my memory, and I would have missed an opportunity to explore a place I have never before seen but that is moments from my community. I will always be sad I missed the big events this past weekend – but in the end I will be grateful for a nagging headache that led me in a different direction, and to a place of amazing beauty.


Monday, August 12, 2013

A Few Minutes on a Friday Afternoon

It just seemed like another endless traffic jam. The Intrepid Junior Blogger and I were on our way down to interPLAY, anxious to find some mini-donuts and check out the set-up for the festivities this year. It didn’t take long as we travelled down Thickwood Boulevard to find ourselves snarled in traffic, and the hold up seemed to be around the bridge, as usual. We don’t bother much with impatience, and so we passed our time chatting and joking – right until we reached the source of the traffic jam, and saw the reason for the delay.
A semi-truck, the load it was carrying turned on its side. I glimpsed a second truck, and while I could not make out all the details the IJB said it looked like part of the second truck had been crushed. I had glanced over at the scene as we drove by, and I saw the construction workers standing still, looking pensive. I saw one worker with a walkie-talkie, and she was running. And I saw many, many emergency vehicles, fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances. I turned to the IJB and told her I had a terribly bad feeling about it all.

I was deeply saddened when it was confirmed that one man had been killed in this incident. I don’t know the details, and it is still under investigation. I do know that when I drove by a day later the work site was quiet, all work halted as the investigation continued and fellow workers no doubt contemplated a Friday on the job that ended in tragedy. And I thought about the impact these incidents have on this community.
It appears the deceased man was a resident of this community, and no doubt he has family and friends here. He has co-workers, too, ones who witnessed a tragedy unfold and who will now live forever with those memories. It is horribly sad, and I extend my deepest sympathies to all who are impacted by his loss.

I will not forget driving by that scene on Friday evening, and how even in my excited rush to get to interPLAY I felt a cold wave of dread when I saw it, and how I sensed the serious nature of the situation. The IJB and I discussed it yesterday, and she commented on how when some complain about traffic and being late for things they may not even realize that the incident that has caused them some minor delay and consternation has cost someone else far, far more. I wonder if those who grow angry at these delays ever feel shame or regret on learning that what has delayed them has been a loss of life.
It was a sobering start to the weekend, and I anticipate the investigation will reveal the causes. Regardless of the cause, though, the end result is the loss of a precious life, and the impact that will have on all those who knew him. Today I think about that individual, and those he has left behind, and I send them my sincere condolences and thoughts as they face a future forever changed by a few tragic moments on a Friday afternoon.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Post in Which I Use the D-Word For Bad Parking in Fort McMurray

It’s become so endemic that I don’t even bother taking photos anymore, because it’s the norm and not the exception. I encounter it in every single parking lot and on every single street, and it seems to be getting worse, not better. Even the Intrepid Junior Blogger comments on it now, her observant eye often spotting them before I do. The epidemic? Well, as the IJB would term it, “parking douchebags”.
I don’t think I have to explain the term to you, but for quick reference it’s just people who cannot seem to grasp the concept of parking between the lines, not parking on the sidewalk, not blocking driveways, and not parking like jerks. I mean it’s quite the impressive feat when someone can stretch their mid-size car across three parking spots (I’m glad I don’t share a bed with these jackasses, can you imagine how often you’d end up on the floor as they spread across the entire king size trying to claim as much territory as possible?), but it’s more offensive than commendable.

For awhile I was taking photos of them all, but honestly I was finding my photos app on my phone filled with lousy parking pictures, which was getting a bit depressing. And, well, there was that day when someone busted me in the grocery store lot taking a photo of his truck and didn’t respond well when I informed him I was taking pictures of vehicles parked like they’d been abandoned in a tornado (well, and I might have made some reference to the intelligence of those who park this way, which might have been pushing my luck just a wee bit).
The question becomes: why do people feel it is their right to park in ways that infringe on others? My friend Nolan Haukeness refers to them as “Fort McMurray royalty”, and there is a whiff of entitlement going on with those who choose to park like this. More than that, though, I think there is a plain lack of thought and consideration going on, with people not thinking about – or caring – what impact this has on others.

And what is the impact of bad parking, you say? Perhaps you think there is none, and you are one of the ones who parks this way. I will share with you a story from a few months ago.
One day I was in a large parking lot, and when I found my car I realized that the person next to me had wedged their vehicle in so tightly and so close to mine that I could not get in my driver side door. And believe me I tried, opening it and trying to slither in, but there was no way, which left me climbing in through the passenger side door. I won’t go into details about how I was wearing a dress and how climbing over my gear shift was an incredibly unpleasant experience, and how the subsequent bruises lasted for days – but when I finally found myself seated in the driver’s seat I was seething with rage. I felt so impotent, right until I spotted the bag of garbage on the floor of the passenger side. It was a few days old, coffee cups and banana peels and such, a bit ripe-smelling and certainly overdue to be tossed. I looked at it, and I looked at the truck beside me...and then I quietly rolled down my window and tied the bag of garbage to the truck’s passenger side door handle. I felt much better almost instantly, my message – garbage attracts garbage – abundantly clear I thought. I drove away (after extricating myself carefully from the parking spot) smirking over how this individual would likely drive off not even realizing they had garbage tied to their door handle, discovering it later and puzzling over how it got there. So, if that was you and you are reading this – that was me, and I don’t apologize.

So, as the IJB says – don’t be a douche. Stop parking like you own the lots and the streets, and start acting like you share these areas with others, because you do. A long time ago your parents taught you to share with others and colour between the lines, so smarten up and give it a try – or risk finding garbage tied to your door handle, too. Or maybe one of these cards, which I am thinking of printing up and providing to friends – because frankly I am far from the only one tired of this. So, the next time you are in a parking lot and thinking about parking like a jerk – or aren’t thinking at all – remember this post and ask yourself “Am I being a douche?” – and if the answer is yes then ask yourself if that’s how you want others to see you, too. Because trust me - we do.

** Disclaimer – I am not a big fan of the word “douche” or “douchebag”, but as the IJB has explained to me on numerous occasions this is perhaps one of the most descriptive words for behaviour that defies explanation or logic. I defer to her wisdom on this point.