Three years ago tomorrow I sat down at a keyboard and typed out the first entry in the blog that would go on to change my life.
I had no idea back then that there was power and impact in what I was doing. I had no expectation of success, and no idea that in three years I would have written over 700 posts and attracted 500,000 page views. I didn't know where it would lead, the opportunities it would present, the challenges that lay ahead or the moments of joy.
All I knew was that somewhere deep inside me I knew I had to write it.
I needed to write my story of my life in Fort McMurray, a place often talked about, written about, filmed and yet rarely understood. I knew that there were so many stories here worth sharing, both ones belonging to me and ones belonging to others, and I knew that we had to start to share them somewhere. And so it began.
There have been some high points along the way, moments of excitement and joy. There have been times when I have been humbled by the sheer magnitude of the trust that others have placed in me, and when I have been stunned by things I have learned, both things of wonder and things of sorrow.
And there were moments I almost quit, too. The first venomous anonymous email, directed not at my opinion or my skill as a writer but at me as a human being. The first deep disagreement with a reader. The first of many challenges, but each and every one toughened my skin, made me dig deeper and harder and, frankly, refuse to give in, because my parents didn't raise any quitters.
I have learned so very much in three years - about myself, about Fort McMurray, about our region, and most of all about the people both in and outside of our community. I have had the chance to share my story with journalists, filmmakers and readers from all over the world - but it has always, in the end, been about the readers who call this place home, the ones who choose Fort McMurray to live, work and play.
I have been asked on occasion to describe what I "am". A community leader, an advocate, an agitator, a journalist?
I am a mom. I am a writer. I am a pet owner (correction, the cat owns me). I am a home owner. I am an employee. I am a friend. But most of all I am an average citizen and resident of a community that I happen to believe is the most fascinating, most complex, and most challenging place on the planet. It is a place of tremendous dichotomy, with wealth and poverty. It is no utopia, and it is no Mordor. It is, quite simply, my home.
I owe thanks to so many people for the last three years, far too many to name. They are the ones who have been my friends and supporters through this journey, the ones who asked me to write for them and about them, the ones who told me their stories, the ones who agreed with me and argued with me, the ones who invited me to events, the ones who helped me to learn and understand, the ones who took me under their wing and made sure I met the people I needed to meet...and the ones who read this blog, just as you are doing right now.
There were times when I thought the journey was coming to an end, but now, three years after it began, I know this journey is still just beginning. I write this blog today because tomorrow, on the third anniversary of my first blog post, I have the kind of day when I will likely not have time to catch my breath let alone sit down to write. But you see that is what my life is like in Fort McMurray now, full and rich and complicated and absurdly wonderful. And for all of that I have only one word:
Gratitude. Because the last three years, in all their complexity and opportunity and challenge, have been the best years of my life - and I am so very, very grateful to every one of you for being there to share the journey with me. It means more than the words on this page can say, so just know that my gratitude is deep and profound. And with that I will end this post with two simple words, heartfelt and extended to every one of you that has been a part of the last three years: