Telling the story of my life in my home - Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Walk a Mile in My Shoes of Prey



This post has very little to do with Fort McMurray. Well, it does, and it doesn't, as it is about one of my other passions, and it does relate to this blog, and it's MY blog, and I can write anything I want here. And a whole lot of people have asked me to write it, and so I have, because I like to listen to my audience, too. This blog post, in case you haven't guessed, is about shoes.

It's pretty well known I have a shoe obsession. Some would call it a shoe problem, and some use the "f" word to describe it although I avoid that one (in case you are thinking of another "f" word the actual word I mean is "fetish"). Recently at TEDx Fort McMurray I debuted a pair of shoes that was very unusual, because they are genuinely one of a kind. No one will likely ever have the same shoes as these. And why? Because I designed them myself, and I designed them to reflect this very blog.

You see I am a person who has been described as "having a sense of occasion". I like to mark events and occasions in special ways. I will fly Irish flags on my house on St. Patrick's day, for instance, or get up and eat scones and clotted cream and drink gallons of tea at 3 am to watch a royal wedding. I believe in celebrating life, and in enjoying and indulging your passions. One of my passions happens to be shoes, and so when I discovered a little website called Shoes of Prey I knew I was on to something very special.

Shoes of Prey is a company in Australia, but they ship around the world. But they don't ship just any shoes. They ship shoes you have selected AND designed yourself, choosing the style and colours and fabrics. You can let your imagination run free. And when I found them I thought they would be absurdly expensive, of course. And that's when I discovered the true beauty of the business.

You can design a pair of custom shoes for less than $200 - including all shipping, customs, taxes, and duties. They will send you your custom designed shoes in about 4-6 weeks. And if they do not fit, or you do not like them, or you are not happy with them for any other reason? You have one year - 365 days, people - to return them, and they will refund your money OR remake the shoes. That is one helluva guarantee that is rarely seen, and much higher priced items don't come backed with that kind of warranty.

The best thing about it is that designing shoes on the site is fun - and easy. You can play with styles and colours, and I have even gotten non-shoe-obsessed friends hooked on the site. And for those looking for a custom shoe, for a wedding dress or special event? Well, I cannot imagine a better option. For a small fee they will even send you fabric samples so you can be sure you are getting what you want.

As for me - as soon as I learned I had been selected for TEDx I began to design my shoes (and I mean as soon as, minutes later, because the timeline was tight and I wanted my shoes to be here for the special day). I had a design in mind, and once I finalized it I sent in my order and waited.




I was rewarded at the end of one long workday with a beautifully wrapped package, every detail lovingly attended to, including a letter and a photo of my new shoes. I opened it up and found my new shoes, in their (to me, anyhow) breathtaking beauty, and was delighted to see that the quality was excellent. I tried them on and they fit perfectly, and they were exactly what I wanted. They evoked what I do for a living and a passion - write - and they had the beautiful green of the northern lights that to me has become synonymous with this blog and my life here.


I have had more comments and compliments on these shoes than I can say. And when I took the stage at TEDx Fort McMurray I was pleased to later hear that someone in the audience overheard some women look down at my shoes and say "Oh, those shoes, look at those shoes!". It was the sense of celebration and occasion I wanted for that day, a way to commemorate it for me and to tie a very special day into one of my other passions and loves.



Maybe you don't have a thing for shoes, and maybe you don't have the faintest idea why I am sharing this in my blog today. I suppose it is because for me, just as I wrote recently in McMurray Girl Magazine, shoes are little celebrations of the soul of the person who wears them. They are an expression of personality. They are just one way we can say who we are, and what we care about, and what we do. And these little shoes of mine do just that for  me, and for this blog.


I have now designed and received another pair of shoes from Shoes of Prey. I will no doubt continue to buy shoes from other retailers, but Shoes of Prey has changed how I will buy shoes in the future. I am working on some new designs, too, ones for an upcoming gala, and ones for a little football event two years down the road (some green and gold shoes, to be exact). There is an element of fun in all of this, and joy, and celebration. There is something about the freedom of designing my own shoes, and about the joy in being able to share this with others, too. You see in this blog what I truly enjoy doing is sharing my passions - my passion for Fort McMurray, for the people who live here, for our community, for our events, for the things we do - and today I share with you my passion for shoes. I hope that even if you don't have a shoe obsession that you can see the joy I find in this passion - and if you DO have a shoe obsession? Go design some shoes. This little city in northern Alberta could quickly become the home of the most unique shoes on the planet. And that is yet another claim to fame I would love to see us hold!

Check out
and 
let your imagination run wild!

This Isn't a Garage Sale



It was fairly early, and certainly bright and warm, when I encountered them on my driveway. They had begun going through several boxes of items I had placed there, looking like they were out for a morning walk with their strollers in front of them. They each had something in their hands when I turned the corner of my house and said "Good morning! This isn't a garage sale!". They looked at each other in confusion, and then looked at me. All these items on my driveway, lining the sides in an obviously garage-sale way? Not a garage sale? That's when I said "This is a freecycle. Everything is free."

You see, I am downsizing for a move into a smaller home. While I have been going through that process I have found many items that I no longer want or can no longer use, or items the IJB has outgrown in either size or interest. But these items were not really trash - they were just not things I need. I had recently found a Facebook page called "Too Good to Dump", and it is a great place, but there were so many items and I haven't the time (or patience) to take photos of each one. And that's when it came to me. Why not hold a garage un-sale? Why not just give these items away to those who can use them?

I have been to many garage sales, and worked a few that my parents held. I found them horrible affairs, long days which usually garnered enough actual cash to go for lunch. I didn't see the point, and honestly while money has value so does the joy that comes with giving things away.

I was incredibly pleased to watch my driveway gradually clear of items. Every single item gone was another item not destined for the dump. Every single item claimed was one more item that wouldn't take decades to rot in a landfill. And whenever I came out to chat with people (although I did that rarely, preferring to stay indoors and simply watch the scene unfold) I was on the receiving end of a lot of gratitude, which I think is undeserved. I am the one who is grateful, because every person who was part of my freecycle day was doing something to help preserve our world. They were saving items from the dump, too. And they were saving me the work of taking it there.

There is something beautiful in all of this. One of those early morning visitors, when told that everything was free, said "Wow, that's just not something you see every day." And perhaps that is true, but I have been on the receiving end of so many acts of kindness in this community. I have had so many opportunities given to me, so many possibilities, and I have been the recipient of so many wonderful stories, which may not be material possessions but which to me are perhaps more precious. And so just as I have had others freely give to me - their time, their thoughts, their ideas, their stories - I gave to others things like clothing and toys.

I loved my Freecycle Garage Un-Sale. In fact should I ever have large numbers of items to ever give away I will do it again, although downsizing has also taught me that I should also think about keeping my material possessions in check. I would never suggest that anyone else should do this instead of a garage sale - but for me the pure pleasure in seeing other people take the things I can no longer use and give them purpose? That is worth far more than cash. I hope my freecycling made a few people happy yesterday. I know it made me happy, and it saved a whole of stuff from the dump. And frankly I cannot think of a better way to spend a bright and sunny day than basking in the summer sunshine and the glow of seeing others smile.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Celebrate Success



It has been a crazy busy few weeks at work for me. We were organizing this little thing - you might have heard of it, this little CFL game to be played here in 2015, an exhibition game that will bring the Edmonton Eskimos to town to meet their rivals the Saskatchewan Roughriders - and yesterday seat reservations for the game went on sale. It has been, as I often say, a helluva ride - and there was a lot of hard work along the way (most of it admittedly done by other people as I watched in awe). I was honoured to be even a small cog in the wheel of all this, and last night while my team talked about the day we were reminded about something we often forget to do, both personally, professionally, and, I think, as a community - celebrate success.

You can get so very wrapped up in the work of making something happen that you forget to savour the end result. You forget to celebrate what you have accomplished. You become so enmeshed in the details, the "getting it done", and you invest your efforts so heavily that by the time you have reached the goal you are too exhausted to celebrate. But celebration is important. Celebration matters.

We have so much to celebrate in Fort McMurray. I think we become so bogged down in getting it done - and in all the challenges we meet, like traffic - that we forget to celebrate all the great things. This is a list of things I want to celebrate. Your list is very likely different than mine. I think, though, this Canada Day long weekend is a perfect time to celebrate all the things that make our community great. What do you celebrate this weekend? Leave a reply and tell me, because I would genuinely love to know what others think is worthy of celebration and gratitude.

Someone I know and admire has told me that every morning when she makes her bed she has a "gratitude minute". It is one minute when she does a menial task that requires little thought and she can instead devote her thoughts to whatever she is grateful for that day. This is my gratitude minute. And this is my encouragement - in fact my request - that you take one minute to celebrate success in this community, and be grateful for what we have. We are so very lucky here, so far north where the sun shines forever in the summer and the northern lights dance and the boreal forest surrounds us. Take a moment this weekend to celebrate us, okay? Because we deserve it!


Today I Celebrate...

- the SPCA and RMWB for reaching
a landmark animal control agreement
that will benefit our community

- a giving community that came
 together at a time of crisis
and showed our strength
and our big spirit
to the watching world

- my coworkers, who are an amazing team, 
and who I am honoured to work with every day

- all those small locally owned businesses
who struggle with high costs to 
bring us goods and services
but who keep their doors open every day
despite the challenges

-all our social profit organizations
for what they do every single day
just because they know it needs to be done
and smile while doing it

-our leadership, municipal and provincial,
for being strong and capable
when this province and community
needed them most

- organizations like Events Wood Buffalo,
TEDx Fort McMurray,
Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo,
and all the others
who bring events, conferences, and summits
of every kind to this region
simply for our education, entertainment, 
and enlightenment

- all those who volunteer their time 
and/or money to help others
and who do it because
they simply love to give

Finally I celebrate everyone who reads this blog,
retweets me on Twitter,
likes my Facebook page,
or reads the things I write for 
local magazines and newspapers.
If I am a "success" by any measure
it is solely because of you.
Am I grateful? 
Damn straight I am.
Thank you. 
Today I celebrate you.



Friday, June 28, 2013

Will the Real Fort McMurray Please Stand Up?

I think there is a disconnect. There is a distinct difference between the words others have written about us, and the reality of who we are. This has never been more stark for me than during the recent flooding, and the subsequent flood of community members who volunteered to sandbag and participate in the myriad efforts to help our community. This has continued as our community begins to recover from the flood, with volunteers helping in the restoration efforts at beloved community treasures like Heritage Park.

The idea for this blog post came to me late one night as I watched tweets rolling in about the sandbagging efforts taking place in the parking lot at the Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre. As I laid there that night I began to think about this disconnect, and the dichotomy of the images I was seeing and the words I had read about us - about MY community - over the years.

Fort McMurray is my chosen home. I chose to come here eleven years ago this summer, and recently during a challenging time in my life when I could have easily chosen to leave I chose to stay. I stay here because I know the answer to the question I now pose. The question is this:


Will the real Fort McMurray please stand up?


Fort McMurray
In Words
And Photos
__________________________________________________

While Fort McMurray's debauchery is most evident within a one-block radius in the downtown core, drawing conclusions is akin to observing nightly activities outside Calgary's Cecil Hotel and painting a picture of crime in that city. However, lawlessness -- particularly drug use -- is evident in all corners of this city of 60,000.
Sex, Drugs and Alcohol Stalk the Streets of Fort McMurray
Calgary Herald October 22, 2005
Deborah Tetley; With files by Paul Haavardsrud




Photo credit to KAOS 91.1

Unfortunately, just like the gold-rush towns of the 1800s, Fort McMurray - or Fort McMoney as it's now known - has become synonymous with crime, an explosion in prostitution and the tough, young, bored single men with too much money and too little to do who are fuelling the chaos. Fort McMurray is a town in the boom and on the brink.
No Country for Young Men
Alex Hannaford
British GQ



Photo credit to KAOS 91.1



Over the past few years, the headlines  have chronicled Fort McMurray's  descent into lawlessness. It’s a town built on work. Its definition of play has tended to include more drinking and more drugs than other places. Its downtown is, in places, uncomfortably seedy. Its trucks seem to outnumbers its pedestrians.
Fort McMurray: The heart of the oil patch seeks its soul
Nathan Vanderklippe 


Photo credit to KAOS 91.1
 

Crime is another problem. Many of the thousands of workers who live in barrack-like accommodation at nearby mines and construction sites come to town at weekends, to drink a beer or ten, brawl, and buy sex and drugs. “This town is awash in cocaine,” says one long-time resident. Marijuana, crack and crystal meth are also widely used.

Boomtown on a Bender
The Downside of Explosive Growth in Northern Alberta
Jun 28, 2007


Photo credit to KAOS 91.1

The sidewalks lining the streets of Fort Mac’s utilitarian downtown crumble and crack from neglect. The city’s core is designed for people to get their supplies before heading back to the comfortable family-friendly communities planted in the forested hills above. The downtown is like a ghost town. 
Fort McMurray, contradiction city
Oil city brands itself as community with ‘Big Spirit’
Published September 4, 2008  by
Trevor Scott Howell


Photo credit to YMM Magazine

 "These people are not committed to their community," says Dibbelt. "You don't see these people involved in things like soccer, you don't see those people sitting on committees or councils, or things like that."
Cocaine easier to buy than pizza
By The Edmonton Journal August 26, 2007

Photo credit to YMM Magazine

 Ask anyone why they're in Fort McMurray and - apart from the occasional person who says they were born here - the answer is the same. A quick rub of forefingers and thumb, a knowing look
Mud, sweat and tears
Aida Edemariam
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 October 2007


Photo credit to YMM Magazine

Crime is well above the provincial average and the city is facing a growing problem of pushers peddling crack and crystal meth. The city is home to 15 escort services.
Oilpatch braces for new arrivals
Dec 04, 2007 09:07 AM // Dean Bennett
The Canadian Press


____________________________________________________

I read the words, I look at the pictures, and then I get into my car and drive around this city - this community - of ours. We know who we are. We no longer need to apologize or defend. We no longer need to even read the words others say about us, because we know those words reflect them far more than they reflect us. The real Fort McMurray stood up many, many years ago, and just keeps standing up every time a non-profit organization needs help, a family loses everything in a fire, or a flood destroys homes. The real Fort McMurray has been standing for decades. 



The real Fort McMurray? It is us.
It is you and me and
all who love this community -
our hometown.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bigger on the Inside: ProjectX, TEDx Fort McMurray, and a Retrospective of TEDx 2012

TEDx Fort McMurray may have been a couple of weeks ago now but memories of that day are still fresh in my mind. Triggering those memories too are the videos filtering onto YouTube, ones that remind me of that day and the people who shared it.

One of the videos is actually one that was shown on that day. A special project from my friends at YMMPodcast it is a retrospective of TEDx Fort McMurray 2012. It is a great little video, depicting those who presented, attended, and organized the event last year, and it was shown just prior to my presentation this year. I watched this video from the wings on the day of TEDx while trying to calm the nervous butterflies fluttering about my stomach. While I didn't catch all of it then, too preoccupied with my own thoughts, I have watched it a couple of times since. I think it captures the excitement of TEDx 2012, and it was a perfect way to start Act Four for TEDx 2013.
 

And then there is this video, recently released, of Speaker's Corner. I knew that my friend Ashley had been working hard on Project X, a special addition to TEDx Fort McMurray this year. She had posted occasional teasing photos on Instagram, photos of cardboard and plastic pop bottles. I did not know what it would become, but it became a rather large cardboard box room with a Welcome sign hanging on the door knob. Fans of the British TV series "Doctor Who" will know what I mean when I say that this box was bigger on the inside, because inside that humble little cardboard building was a garden, and lights, and decor, and a chair, and a camera to record video - and an abundance of ideas and words, ones that spilled out of the TEDx attendees and onto video. These short video clips preserved forever the thoughts from that day, fresh and new. A new video has now appeared, one that weaves together those video clips,  and their thoughts about that day.
 


Those who went inside Speaker's Corner took a seat, pushed a button on the camera - and in solitude recorded their own shifts in thought. I love that on the videos you can hear the background buzz of dozens of voices, voices sharing ideas and thoughts and laughter. To me this was TEDx - ideas and shifts in thought that occurred against a backdrop of that larger buzz, the collective shifting of thought. It was a moment in which attendees experienced their own quiet shifts in thought played out amid the buzz around them.

Speaker's Corner was a unique experience. It was an opportunity to record what you wanted to say about the day, or about the presentations. It was the chance for everyone - presenters, organizers, volunteers, and attendees - to share what that day meant to them. It was both empowering and humbling to face that camera and record your voice, to add to the collective experience of the day.

When I went into that cardboard box I marveled first at all the work Ashley and Steve had done to create it - and then I pressed the button and recorded my thoughts. It seems some of the videos from that day did not record well, but in some sense I don't find that disappointing. I think for those who entered Speaker's Corner it was a chance to collect our own thoughts for a moment. It was a chance to reflect. It was a chance to focus on a day when it was very easy to be scattered, bombarded by so very many thoughts and ideas.

When these video clips appeared I was delighted. They are thoughts and ideas being shared in a "safe place", a lovely little cardboard box that was far more than a cardboard box, and bigger on the inside, just like Doctor Who's time and space traveling Tardis. It was brimming full with all the thoughts and ideas of the day.

I am eagerly waiting for the next videos, perhaps more from Speaker's Corner and, of course, those from the presenters that day. I am anxious to share those with you, whether you were there that day or not. And I suppose I must admit I am anxious to see my own video, as I recall so very little of the event, recalling just snippets of my time on the stage on that round red carpet.

TEDx Fort McMurray was a day I will never forget, and I suspect some attendees never will, either. I think there is something for everyone in the videos coming from that day, and I think they are worth watching. They are all, in the end, ideas worth spreading. They are shifts in thought, of every kind.  They are what TEDx Fort McMurray, Shift in Thought, was all about.


ProjectX
TEDx Fort McMurray
Speaker's Corner video clips

















 

 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Two Years Ago Today in Borealis Park

It is hard to believe it was two years ago now. I knew the date was coming, but I was truly reminded of it when I opened my email this morning and found a press release from the Wood Buffalo RCMP. Two years ago today two young men were murdered in Borealis Park. It is a tragic story, with every sad twist you can imagine - twin brothers, a mother's only children, and an unsolved crime. And even though it has been two years I remember the day the news broke quite clearly, because it was a dark moment in our community.

When I first started writing this blog over two years ago I wanted it to be a true reflection of my life here. Fortunately over these past two years I have written far more happy stories than sad, and shared more good news than bad. The reality, however, is that on occasion the sunny skies above us darken, and events occur that trouble us deeply. This is one of those events.

I don't know the facts of why James and William Beck died, and I won't conjecture about the reasons behind this horrendous crime. I know they left behind a devastated group of family and friends, and that those who loved them leave small mementoes at a tree in Borealis Park that has become a touchstone for their memories. I know that as a mother I cannot imagine the pain their mother has experienced in the past two years. I know that I find myself drawn to that tree in Borealis Park on occasion, which may seem inexplicable since I do not know their family or friends, and have never met their mother. And yet their deaths are something I will never forget, perhaps because it was the first tragedy I wrote about in this blog.

The Wood Buffalo RCMP continue to investigate this crime, and I hope some day they will find those responsible and bring them to justice. That won't bring the Beck brothers back, though, and it will never mend the rip that tore across the fabric of our community that dark day in June. It will never make up for two boys, boys of just seventeen, who died at the hands of others. Their deaths will now always be part of the history of this community. The loss suffered will never be regained.

I don't know if I will go to that tree in Borealis Park today, but it is likely that late tonight I will, as I often have over the last two years. I will probably sit in my car, or on the concrete barrier beside it. As always I will think about loss, and crime, and community, and how time moves on but how some things are never forgotten. I will think about how some stories will never be told, because those who could tell the stories are now gone. I will think about how there is so much good in this community. I will think about how there is so much light here, so much sunshine in these early days of summer - but how when darkness descends and day turns to night we examine the dark corners of our hearts, and of our community. I will think about how it is the dark that makes us appreciate the light, and how when night turns to dawn and the darkness lifts we find the strength to carry on, whatever challenges we have faced, and whatever sorrow we have encountered.

Two years ago today. The heartbeat of this community goes on, but two years ago two hearts stopped, decades before their time. That loss is now part of our history, and it is, too, part of mine. I will not forget, and today I dedicate this post to two twin boys who were lost two years ago today.

 
In Memory of
James and William Beck
June 26, 2011

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Where the Arts Come Alive - Thickwood Heights Public School


I first met Kevin Bergen when he was the vice-principal at Ecole McTavish, the junior high school the Intrepid Junior Blogger attends. I was the secretary of parent council then, and Kevin would attend those council meetings. I got a chance to know him, although at those meetings he had this habit of talking about equipment in the Industrial Arts lab at the school (something we called "shop" back in my school days), and when he opined about the beauty of spindle sanders he would pretty much lose me entirely as I couldn't tell a spindle sander from a spinning wheel. What I recognized in Kevin then, though, was someone who is passionate about students and education, and when he moved on to another position - as principal at Thickwood Heights Public School - I was genuinely sorry to see him go because I knew he was an asset to any school where he worked.


Last week, though, I had a chance to go and visit Kevin at his new school, and do a little tour there. I also got the opportunity to hear about the new direction the school is taking, and why - and about the smart phone app the school now has, an app that could have saved me a lot of chagrin - but I will get to that bit later.

As for the new direction of the school - well, Thickwood Heights School will next year become the first elementary school in Fort McMurray with an emphasis on the arts. There will be an increase in educational time spent on subjects like music, and art, and a new plan to incorporate the arts into the core curriculum. Why this direction? Because, as Kevin says, arts aren't just a facet of education - they actually help to enhance the educational experience, even in core subjects that seem unrelated.


There is a great deal of evidence showing that artistic pursuits have a positive impact on education. Music has been shown to link to mathematics, with children who do musical training often performing better in mathematics. Visual art has been shown to help students better retain facts and figures, as it allows them to incorporate rather dry bits of information in novel ways. And performing arts build confidence and skill, allowing students to explore and expand their range of abilities.


The reality is that the arts matter. Yes, they enhance our lives, and yes, they are often our hobbies and our leisure pursuits - but the reality is that visual and performing arts have been part of our history as humans. Since the dawn of time we have expressed ourselves through song, and dance, and painting. We find some intrinsic value in the arts, and I truly believe we are, as a species, hardwired to pursue the arts and enjoy them. I think they are a fundamental part of our existence, and it makes sense to me that music and math are linked in our brains. It makes sense to me to use arts to enhance and expand our education. And it makes sense to do it early, as the earlier we introduce children to the arts the more impact it is likely this enhancement will have.


I took a brief tour of the school, and I was delighted with what I found. I think every school has an energy, and one can usually capture it by walking through the halls. The energy at Thickwood School is very strong, vibrant and energetic - and there is clearly already a strong arts presence. A long history of performing art, a strong music program, and a visual art program have already created an environment that is positive and enthusiastic, and one which can only grow with a new arts focus.


Now, about that smartphone application. Well, there is an incident I must share. Once, years ago just after Easter Break ended, I woke the IJB up early and got her ready for school. She was in Grade Six, and we lived a short walk from the school. Off she went, bright and early, while I curled up in my pyjamas to watch early morning television. And that's when I decided to check the paper school calendar - and discovered that there was no school that day. I flew out the front door, running down the street in my pyjamas, to find the IJB running up the street on her way home, she having discovered an empty parking lot and locked school. We cried, we laughed, and we went home - and that has gone down in history as one of my less than stellar parenting moments (and took me right out of the running for "mom of the year", too). Well, it could have been different, you see, had I had a smartphone app that would have merged with my calendar and told me there was no school that day. I could have been rescued from that particular parenting fail, and I would have not had to face what will likely be decades of the IJB beginning conversations with "remember that day when there was no school and you sent me to school?". I hate that conversation, people.

So, this smartphone app? You can use it to report absences, and to merge calendars, and to contact teachers and staff, and all the other things that are so incredibly handy. Frankly it would have changed my life when the IJB was in elementary school, and I am slightly bitter that I had to go through the experience without it. The other cool thing, though, is that Thickwood Heights School is the only school in Fort McMurray to be using such an app - but that isn't a surprise given that Thickwood is embracing technology as well as arts, through a program that will see an iPad in the hands of every student next year.

I guess I see what is happening at Thickwood Heights School as a renaissance. It is a community school with a long and rich history, and it isn't really changing but rather growing. It is embracing a new direction - the arts - and incorporating technology - through smartphone apps and iPads - in a way that will keep it a vibrant, energetic, and active school. With older schools there is always a risk of stagnancy, and, on occasion, that is accompanied by lower attendance rates, and, sadly, even school closures. By choosing a direction that increases relevancy and builds skills Thickwood Heights School will remain a corner stone of the community, and contribute new global citizens to our world, with a solid foundation in their core curriculum, as well as an enhanced appreciation and understanding of the arts. And the school is doing so with the strong support of a dedicated and committed education team, teachers and support staff who will foster the development of those students as they progress from the very early grades and transition into junior high. Under the leadership of principal Kevin Bergen they embark on a new education adventure, one I expect that will lead to great success - and to students who will excel, not only in elementary school but throughout their lives.

As for Kevin Bergen - well, I never will understand the appeal of spindle sanders, but passion I get, and his passion to make Thickwood Heights School the place where arts come alive? That is one passion I can get behind - and requires no understanding of spindle sanders, either.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers


On occasion I feel compelled to share a personal story with all of you. This one is a bit personal, and I am thankful that the Intrepid Junior Blogger has agreed to allow me to tell it, because it involves her, a bus driver, and two kind strangers.

On Friday the IJB was getting ready to go to school to write her final exam of Grade 8. She texted me from her bathroom downstairs (if you have teenagers you understand that texting while in the same house is not nearly as bizarre as it might sound). She asked me to come down, as she had just vomited. I went down and cleaned up, and she said she felt better. I asked her if she was sure she wanted to go and write her exam, as I was certain we could make other arrangements if she was ill, but she insisted she was fine and would go (stubborn little thing, no idea where she gets that quality, really...).

I dropped her at the school and while she indicated she was tired she said she felt okay, and she went inside while I went off to work. It was just about 10:30 when she texted me, saying she was at the bus stop outside Extra Foods in Timberlea, and had begun vomiting again. I flew out of my office (with apologies to my office mates, who kindly picked up the slack I left behind in my rush to get to my kid) and I went to pick her up at the bus stop.

When I arrived she was sitting in a small miserable huddle, feeling very unwell. She told me how she had written her exam and then gotten on the bus, and while on the bus and just as they arrived at Extra Foods she began to feel sick again, vomiting a bit and then rushing off the bus to vomit on the ground. I felt so badly for her, alone while she was ill, and then she told me she wasn't alone.

She told me how the bus driver, a young man, had followed her off the bus with paper towels and asked if she was okay. She told me how two women, an older woman and her adult daughter, had given her wet wipes to clean up and watched over her until she seemed a bit better. She told me how she had sat there long enough for the bus driver to leave and return, and how when he returned and still saw her there he had gotten off his bus to ensure she was okay. And maybe those small acts of kindness mean nothing to you, and little to them, but to this momma bear they are enormous. These kind strangers looked out for my child in her time of need, and frankly they renewed my faith in this community.

You see even I can get jaded and worn down by the challenges. Even I can wonder if we truly are in this together, or if we get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to care for each other. Even I can think that perhaps we are so self-immersed that we neglect to look out for those who are in need, strangers who may need no more than paper towels and wet wipes and a kind word. I had my faith in people, and this community, restored by a RMWB municipal bus driver and two random ladies who stopped to take care of the most precious thing in the world to me - my child.

I am grateful, as is the IJB, but I am more than that, too. I am proud to be part of this community, a place where three people see a small sick young adult and come forward to help her. There is true hope for a community where this happens, where we watch out for each other and where compassion and caring still exist.

I wish I knew who these people were so I can thank them by name. I have sent a message to the RMWB to let them know my gratitude to the bus driver, and so I may well be able to send him my personal thanks. I am unlikely to find the two kind women, but my hope is maybe they read this blog and will recognize themselves. I am so very grateful to all of them, because while the IJB was not deathly ill (she is already feeling much better, although it was a rough day on Friday) she needed the kindness of strangers at a time when I could not be there as quickly as I wanted to be. To those three people I say thank you - thank you for being part of the village raising my child. Thank you for being part of a community where we exhibit such concern and compassion. Thank you for not ignoring her, or just looking away. You have the gratitude of this woman, writer, and foremost, mom.

There is a greater lesson here, I think. This community is on occasion painted in a very negative light, in ways that seem to indicate that we have no compassion or caring or soul. We are portrayed in ways that seem to indicate we are not people who would stop to comfort a small sick young adult  - but on Friday three people defied that portrayal when they came to the aid of my child. And what warms my heart is knowing they are but three of tens of thousands in this community who would do the same, because we are a community that shows caring and compassion and concern on a daily basis. That is perhaps the greater lesson in all this. This community knows how to care - and on Friday, at a small bus stop in Timberlea, my daughter was on the receiving end of that compassion. I will remain forever grateful.



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Simple Plan for Canada Day 2013 in Fort McMurray

I have so many photos of it from over the years. On most years she has a tiny little red maple leaf temporary tattoo on her face, right on her cheekbone. She is usually sitting in a chair, or on the sidewalk, with a small Canadian flag in her hand, waving it excitedly. It is Canada Day in Fort McMurray, and she is waiting for the parade.

Things have changed over the years since we moved here. She was about to turn three when we arrived, my Intrepid Junior Blogger, and most of our years here we have attended the local Canada celebrations. She has been to the parades and the other events, but this year is a first. This year she will be taking in CanadaROCKS, which she did not attend last year as when I volunteered to work at it she chose to go white water rafting instead. But this year, when I explained the concert line-up to her, she wanted to go. Why? Well, these guys:

 Mother Mother



And this guy: 

Dan Mangan


And mostly these guys:



You see, she's a teenager now. Once, years ago, she would have wanted to attend the teddy bear picnic and the other events at Canada Day but now...well, now she is all about the music. She is rapidly approaching the age when I will begin taking her to several-days-long music festivals, and these outdoor concerts are our gateway into those. And for these we don't need to load up the car and travel down the 63 - we can just hop into the car (or better yet grab municipal transit) and head down to the park behind the Clearwater Public Education Centre. We are quite familiar with that park (having slept there overnight recently as part of a homelessness awareness initiative), but we won't be sleeping this time. That park, normally home to a few dog walkers and soccer players, will for one weekend become the site of the Events Wood Buffalo CanadaROCKS event - and the music, and community spirit, will be flowing.

I am quite excited to see Mother Mother, having heard very positive things about them from friends in Vancouver. And I am excited to see Dan Mangan, as I have heard his music and been astonished. For the IJB, though, I think it is all about the Simple Plan boys. She has been to several concerts now - Hedley, Down With Webster, Billy Talent - and with each one I see her embracing concerts and music more and more. I am genuinely grateful that we can indulge this interest of hers without having to travel to another place. I am profoundly grateful we bring these kinds of acts right here, to Fort McMurray.

And as the night grows dark, and the music begins to fade away, the booming of fireworks will be heard, heralding the arrival of another Canada Day celebration. We will join the crowd as they all ooh and aah, and, when the last sparks disappear, we will fade into the night too, most likely laughing as we go (and stopping at McDonald's as we always do post-concert).

You see I suppose it isn't even about the music for me. It's about the experience, and sharing it with the IJB. It's about seeing her go from teddy bears to rock musicians, from Canada Day parades to evenings spent right in front of a stage, her hand not clutching a flag but instead reaching towards a musician she idolizes. It is about how far we have come, her and I, and how celebrations just like Canada Day have been a part of that journey.

This Canada Day 2013 will find us at CanadaROCKS, right down by the Snye. We will, as on most other Canada Day celebrations, be together, and she may well still have a temporary maple leaf flag tattoo on her cheek. And I will no doubt be reminded of all those past years - and look forward to all the years to come, because who knows what CanadaROCKS 2014, and 2015, and so on, could be?

The YMM Canada Day celebrations
are June 30 and July 1 at
Clearwater Public Education Centre fields
on Hardin Street.
Wanna see the bands?
Click here!
See ya there,
fellow Canadians! :)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Heritage Park, Fort McMurray: A Flood of Historic Proportions

In my basement there is an old wooden chest. It is not that old, really, only about thirty-five years or so, but it was lovingly made by my father for my mother. It is a cedar chest of the old style, lined with pale red rosewood, infusing the blankets stored there with a fresh clean scent that always reminds me of my parents. When my mother died it was the only thing of hers I asked to keep, and it was trucked here in the back of a pickup all the way from Saskatoon. It is one of my most precious possessions, and while it is perhaps not vintage now some day it will be, as I will pass it on to my daughter, and on it will go. It is a little piece of my family history, a small reminder of a past when my parents were alive. It is of value to me because it preserves some of that history, and I will always treasure it for that reason alone.

You see history matters. History is what helps us make sense of the present, and prepares us for the future. History is not some dry and dusty thing, only relevant to historians and social science teachers. It matters to all of us because it is the narrative of who we have been, and is crucial in understanding who we have become. I suppose that is why I have always been drawn to Heritage Park, the small museum in downtown Fort McMurray where the history of our region lives.

When the Hangingstone River began to overflow its banks I knew the park was threatened. When I saw Lion's Park disappear under the water I knew Heritage Park was next. And when I saw the photos of the flooding I was heartsick, because I love Heritage Park. A very close friend was married in the small white church there, a wedding I attended. One of the last photos I ever took of my mother was inside the old brown church, a church she said reminded her of growing up on the Saskatchewan prairies in the 1930's. And last August I hired a professional photographer to take some photos of me so I could remember my time as "McMurray Musings", and I wanted to take them in place that was, to me, iconic Fort McMurray - and so one bright Saturday morning we wandered through the park, him taking photos and me just loving the history in the park that keeps our memories safe.

Yesterday, on a bright sunny afternoon, I toured the park again, but this was a very different tour. I went to see the damage the flood left behind, now that the water has receded. I want to make very clear that the people who work at Heritage Park and those who work to preserve our history are a resilient bunch, and they will bounce back from this - but the damage is extensive and they are going to need help. In particular they will need financial assistance, as many of the artifacts, being museum-quality pieces, will require professional restoration and cannot simply be given to volunteers to clean. There will be a need for volunteers too, to help with cleaning the yard, and removing all the debris that washed up against the fences. I imagine as time goes on they may even need carpenters to help replace the boardwalks that simply lifted up and floated around the park, and those with other skills for other tasks. Right now they also need us all to have some patience as they assess the extent of the damage and devise a plan of attack to address it - but I ask you this, Fort McMurray: Please be ready to help. They will need the community to help them to restore the park to it's normal state. Because of the flood many of the events they normally host will likely need to be cancelled, having a negative effect on their ability to generate revenue. This, coupled with the increased financial demand of restoration work, will be an immense burden on those who run the park, and I ask that we all be ready to help them in whatever way they ask and need.

One of the interesting things to note is that this all could have been much worse if it were not for a man named Torchy Peden. Torchy, seeing the waters of the Hangingstone begin to rise, told the Heritage Park staff that they needed to move items to higher ground, as flooding was imminent. Now, Torchy knew this because he has, in his time here, seen this land flood twice before, and so his knowledge of history quite likely saved the park from total devastation. And perhaps that is why such history is so important, you see. Torchy's knowledge of history was quite relevant to the present day, and of tremendous value. He was able to advise the park staff to start removing items, and so they did, even as the waters were rushing in. They were able to save many pieces, and they were able to do so because someone knew the history of the area. There is a lesson in that little piece of information, I think.



 




 

 
 


 

 

 

One of the hardest parts of this is just as with most home insurance Heritage Park has an insurance policy that does not cover damage from flooding. Even though I expected that to be the case I was still deeply saddened to hear it, because it means that likely the worst catastrophe to ever befall the home of our history is a financial burden that Heritage Park will need to bear.

Heritage Park has a Facebook page where you can stay informed about their progress, and a website. There is a heartfelt note on  that website, so beautiful and honest because these folks don't just work at a historical park, you see. They love this place, they love the history, and seeing the place they love like this hurts them in a deep and profound way, I think. I am reposting the message here, and included in it is an email address. If you are able to help - donating money, time, volunteer manpower - please contact them, but do not fret if they do not reply immediately. They are a bit overwhelmed right now, but they will regain their footing. 

_____________________________________________________


FLOOD
Sadly our beautiful Heritage Park is in ruins.

Because of amazing and caring people, today we were able to remove more of the artifacts, archives, our office files and computers from the buildings. The historical buildings have flooded and we will be assessing the damages as soon as we are able to safely do so. As of this evening, Heritage Park Gift Shop and the main building remain safe and dry. ...

Although we are not out of danger yet, we are encouraged and very thankful for the support we continue to receive from E Construction management & staff, Brad & Dunvegan staff, Wilson Industries, Smitty's, ATCO Power, RCMP, Peace Officers & Sheriffs, Forestry staff, Mrs.Jean and the RMWB.
I am extremely graceful to Torchy Peden, because of his knowledge and insight on the rising waters of the rivers, early Monday morning we began to move our archives and artifacts to higher grounds and many of our assets have placed in storage units. 

Many,many thanks to Brad & Carmen Ramstead (our Society President), Tammy Plowman (my daughter) and Torchy Peden who continue to keep watch and give directions at the park. 

Thank you to our Heritage Park's staff Tammy, Elisa, Emma, Nastassia, Susan, Nick, Eva, Tyler, Kailey, Heather and all our summer students for their hard work during these times. 

Words can not express how appreciative I am to all the incredible volunteers who have been showing up to help in so many ways.

Though these are difficult and trying times, with the support of our community, Heritage Park will once again be a beautiful, beautiful place!

We are seeking assistance both financially and in volunteers/manpower. 
Unfortunately, we have never been granted flood insurance as Heritage Park is located on a flood plain. There is a tremendous amount of clean up needed to the landscaping, the buildings and the artifacts. If you or your company is willing to assist us, it would be greatly appreciated!
As our Executive Director, Roseann Davidson says "Our Heritage Park is in ruins." This is a very difficult and devastating time for us as we have worked hard over the years to get the park to where it was.
If you are able & willing to assist us, please emailprograms@fortmcmurrayhistory.com 
Be sure to include your full name, email address & phone number(s), what you are interested in helping with and when. Please be patient, we are working remotely as our office is still closed and without power. It may take us some time to contact you but we will. 
The community support has been overwhelming and amazing! Thank you for your willingness to assist us at this difficult time!
_________________________________________________

 
One of my favourite pieces in Heritage Park is an old red fire truck, the kind of fire-engine red that gets my heart racing. Yesterday it looked like this:


This is perhaps my favourite photo from that photography session last summer. 



That's me, on the firetruck above, sitting in the sunshine surrounded by lush green grass, beauty, and history. Yesterday Heritage Park looked considerably different than in this photo, but I believe it will look this way one day again, when all the mud has been cleared away. the grass once again green, and the present - and past - back to normal. We are a resilient community, and a giving one. We value our community, our residents - and our roots, and so I believe we will ensure that the place where history lives in our community will be returned to its former glory, and be the place where we go find our past, understand our present, and plan for our future. It will need us, though. It will need us all to recognize the value of preserving history, and work towards it. For myself all I need to do is open that rosewood cedar chest in the basement, pull out a blanket, and bury my nose in it. The scent reminds me of the true importance of preserving our history, because that past is what has brought us to the present. Our history? Well, that is who we are.


Please contact
for further information
and to offer assistance.