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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Walk a Mile in My Boots - Poppy Barley

There are few things that make me as happy as coming home to find a parcel waiting outside my door and knowing it contains one of my favourite things: new shoes.

I suppose I have become known for my shoes, and I do own a wide variety of shoes from boots to heels and all points and heights in between. On occasion people will ask how many I own (and there are questions you just don’t ask a lady, like her age, dress size and how many shoes she owns) and what my favourites are. And so while I will not answer the first question I will respond to the second, because my favourite footwear must meet a few criteria.
My favourite footwear must be comfortable, unique and reflective of my personality. If possible I prefer to support local retailers as opposed to large chains. And if at all possible my favourite shoes have a story – which is why my favourite shoes come from an Edmonton-based start-up company called Poppy Barley.

I have been following Poppy Barley from the very beginning of their adventure, and watched with growing delight as they have skyrocketed to success. The concept of custom-designed boots was brilliant in and of itself as many women – including me – face challenges when trying to find boots that fit well. Couple this concept with fair trade, two ambitious women at the head of the company, an expansion into not only boots but flats and now men’s footwear, and you have an Albertan, and Canadian success story.
I now own four pairs of Poppy Barley boots, and a fifth pair is on its way to me. I am so impressed with the quality, the comfort and the story, because the best things in my life have a story. I had the pleasure of meeting Kendall Barber, one of the women who founded the company, some time ago and when she shared her vision for Poppy Barley I knew it would be a success simply because when someone couples vision with passion, drive and good business sense it is bound to do well.

My Poppy Barley boots are an investment in an Albertan company, some individuals I am proud to know and in good-quality footwear that will stand the test of time as well as reflect my personal aesthetic and personality.
To be honest they are my secret weapon. On days when I need to be on my feet all day, days when I need a boost in confidence, days when I want to feel unique, I choose my Poppy Barleys – which means I wear them more than all my other shoes combined, and my front doorway often looks a bit like a small Poppy Barley display.

The IJB doesn’t know it yet but I intend to get her a pair of Poppy Barley boots, too. She is at fifteen on the petite side and struggles to find boots that meet her style sense and fit her well. The boots will be a gift from me to her, much like the designer handbag I bought her in London a couple of years ago and which has become a legacy piece from a style-conscious mother to her equally style-conscious offspring. And so Poppy Barley has become a legacy in my family, too, an Albertan success story that brings me not only great satisfaction in the telling but in the wearing.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Take a Second Glance, Fort McMurray

Every once in awhile a video comes along that carries a powerful punch. While the written word can have tremendous impact we are as a species highly visual, and so photos and videos can affect us in deep and profound ways.

When I saw the video below I was touched to the point of tears, because it resonated deeply with me. In a world of first impressions we far too often fail to take that second glance and look deeper. We see only the surface, making snap judgments and quick assessments that are often quite utterly wrong.
Whether we know it or not most of us have at some point in our lives experienced one of the risk factors of homelessness:

·         Unexpected job loss

·         Physical illness or injury

·         Mental illness, including depression

·         Marital breakdown

·         Abusive domestic relationships

·         Substance abuse or addiction, including alcoholism

·         Unanticipated financial hardships and challenges

Look carefully at that list. See yourself or someone you love on it? Me too. In fact I would argue that almost everyone has at some point encountered one or more of the life challenges on that list, meaning that we have all, whether we realized it or not, experienced one of the risk factors of homelessness. Perhaps we were fortunate enough to have the financial resources to deal with the challenges, or perhaps we had family or friends who helped us through. Perhaps we were some of the lucky ones who found a job again quickly or who had good health insurance. But not everyone does.

Once upon a time I looked at homeless people and saw only the surface. An experience over two decades ago in Toronto, where I encountered many homeless individuals on a daily basis, taught me to look beyond the first impression – to take a second glance. I began to see the story behind the person, and to see homelessness as a condition of existence and not the defining quality of a person.

I began to see the person and not the label.

Watch the video. Take a second glance, and see behind the exterior. Remember that each person faces challenges which we may know nothing about, and every person has a story. Don’t see the label. See the person that the second glance reveals, and realize that the distance between you and them is far, far smaller than you ever imagined.

 This video was made in support of the Centre of Hope, Fort McMurray's daytime drop-in shelter for the homeless and at-risk-of-homeless in our community. Please visit their website to see how they serve our community - and how your second glance can help them to ensure the most vulnerable in our community have the assistance they need. My gratitude to them for the work they do every day, and to Doug Roxburgh for the inspiring video.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Highway of Denial

Photo credit to Huffington Post Alberta

I could engage in some ranting, I suppose, but I just don’t have the energy anymore. I have written about it, done interviews about it, discussed it, lost sleep over it and had it consume not just hours or days but weeks of my life. It seems no matter what I say – what anyone says – it keeps happening.

People keep dying on Highway 63.
In the past two weeks four individuals have lost their life on the stretch of highway that has become famous – or rather infamous – in our country. Less than a week ago I travelled the highway just after it reopened after yet another of these tragic, senseless deaths that rip apart families and tear at the fabric of our community.

There are those who blame the highway, and while twinning will almost certainly reduce the number of head-on collisions and the likelihood of resulting fatalities it will not address the other factor seen on this highway – and if we are honest we all will admit to having seen it, if not engaged in it.
Unsafe driving behaviour is rampant, and over my thirteen years driving that highway I have seen more close calls that I can recount. Speeding, driving too fast for conditions, unsafe passing, aggressive driving, inattention, fatigue and sadly even driving when under the influence of drugs or alcohol are far too commonplace. Just this week someone told me the tale of almost being struck by another vehicle, and watching the police apprehend a driver who was too intoxicated to even exit their vehicle in a dignified way, more "pouring out" of it than stepping out to rest their feet on that stretch of asphalt.

We can blame the highway if we want, decry the length of time it took to secure the commitment to twin it. Or we can acknowledge that while there may be some truth in that the real truth is that we are killing each other and ourselves on that highway. We can deny this all we want, but denial, as they say, isn’t just a river in Egypt. In this case denial is instead a river of tears cried over a small highway in northern Alberta where far too many fragile lives have been lost.
I read on social media how it is the highway to blame, how somehow that stretch of road has reached up to pull us down into it, ending our lives as if it is some living, breathing malevolent force. But it isn’t, of course. It is just a road, and while it may have some imperfections it is the imperfections of those who travel it that cause the majority of these collisions – and these deaths. If we are to be quite frank the twinning is necessary not because it is a bad road, but because we are far too often bad drivers who need to be protected from each other and ourselves.

The highway has seen an incredible increase in traffic, that is true, and so the twinning makes sense for this reason as well. But as the increase in traffic has developed a corollary decrease in our patience seems to have happened, too.  Just at the time when we need to exercise the most caution and patience we seem to have lost it entirely, putting ourselves at even greater risk.
I too am anxious to see the highway twinning complete. I am not naive enough to believe it will end all collisions or fatalities on Highway 63, though, because I know that there are those who will continue their unsafe behaviours and continue to put us all at risk. I believe it will help to staunch the flow of tears – and blood – on that highway but it will not cause it to cease entirely.

I don’t have the ranting in me anymore, you see. All I have now is a deep sense of sadness every single time I hear the words “accident on 63” and a dread of the news that I fear will almost certainly follow. I wish I knew the solution. I don’t. All I know today is that it has happened again.
All I know is that today there is grief and sorrow and sadness, a feeling that has become all too familiar when hearing the words “Highway 63”. All I know is how sad and weary I am of it all.

I have come to think of Highway 63 not as the Highway of Tears or even the Highway of Death as external media often suggests. I see it as the Highway of Denial, where we deny we have any complicity in what happens there, preferring to blame anyone or anything but ourselves. How easy it is to blame a stretch of road - and how difficult it is to shoulder the blame ourselves and realize that our denial is slowly and inexorably killing others - and ourselves.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Will (not) Work for Free

This telephone conversation was starting to get interesting:

“Ms. Wells, we have been following your work for some time and we would like to offer you the opportunity to write a piece to appear in our next publication!”
Well, this sounds like an intriguing offer, I think. I am always cautious, though.

“What kind of piece are you looking for? What’s the deadline? How many words? And what are you paying per word?”
There is a pause at the other end of the line.

“Well, Ms. Wells, we don’t actually pay our contributors. This is a really a chance to increase your exposure...”
Aha, I think. There it is, the catch.

“You don’t pay ANY of your contributors?” I ask. “Do you charge for your publication?”
“Well, we pay some of them,” she replies. “The professional writers, or the known names who don’t need the exposure we can offer. And of course we do charge for our publication or we wouldn’t be able to operate financially.”

“Huh,” I say. “I AM a professional writer – I write all day and am paid to do so – and I would argue I am a known name in my community and maybe even my province. And I need to operate financially as well, because I have bills to pay, too. Does this mean I will get paid to create content for your publication?”
There is a very, very long pause, and the voice says, somewhat sharply: “I am guessing you do not wish to write for us, then.”

“Not for free,” I respond. “Let me know when you are interested in paying for the content I generate, and give me a call.”

I wish I could say that conversation is atypical, but it isn’t. I suspect anyone involved in a creative pursuit of any kind, whether writing, painting, music, photography or videography, has at one point been asked to create content for others for free. Now, to be clear I will often do free work – or ‘pro bono’ as I call it – for friends by helping them with their resumes, or for local social profit organizations that simply cannot afford the services of a professional writer and need assistance. I do that work, however, as a way to give back to my community and my family of friends. I also submit work at no charge to local publications like Northword and to websites like Huffington Post Alberta, but I do so of my own free will and not because they have asked me to provide content to them for free. And for over three years I have written this blog and not earned a penny. When I am writing for organizations or publications that generate revenue and that are asking me to provide content, however, I expect to be paid, and not unreasonably so.
The concept of “exposure” is often dangled as a carrot in front of us who generate creative content. This mythical “exposure” will supposedly lead to more work, hopefully some of it eventually paid, and allow us to actually derive an income from the work we do – and it is work. But the concept of exposure is absurd as what we do as creative individuals is fundamentally no different than what someone in the trades does.

Ever asked a plumber to do work to increase his or her “exposure”? A house painter, a drywaller, anyone who does a clearly defined task? No? So why do we think it is acceptable to do this to artists, writers, photographers and others who do creative work?
The sad part is that three years ago when I began writing I probably would have snatched at that dangled carrot. I would have willingly written for them for free, not even realizing the tremendous bargain they were getting and that they were taking advantage of someone who did not yet understand the value of the work they created. The reality is if someone wants your work then it has value, and if they are asking you to create it then they know it has value.

There is no doubt in my mind that we undervalue the arts and those who pursue them. We anticipate paying tradespeople for their services, but we balk at the concept of paying those who are involved in the creative arts as if there is some difference, and yet we are all trying to make a living doing what we do. I may not be able to fix a toilet, but I can write compelling content that will attract readers. My work is of no less value than what a plumber does – and yet nobody ever suggests plumbers should work for free.
So my work won’t be appearing in that publication, at least not until they are ready to cut a check. I will continue to offer to write for free for my friends and my family and for the social profit organizations I hold dear to my heart. I will continue to submit to Northword, which is where I often bare my soul through my written words, and to Huffington Post Alberta where I write for pure fun. And I will continue to author this blog for free, because it is what I have chosen to do.

But everyone else? Well, they can pay cash, because this writer is no longer wearing a “will work for free” sign. You see, there is no such thing as a free lunch - or, in this case, a free writer.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Part of My Journey of Life in Fort McMurray

I ran into a dear friend on the weekend, someone I had not seen in some time.

"Where have you been?', they asked. "I haven't seen you, and the blog has been pretty quiet lately..."

And so I suppose it has been quiet, although there have been posts here and there, hit and miss affairs for the most part, but my mind and heart and energy has been in other places.

When things happen in my life they seem to have a tendency to happen all at once. For the past few weeks both my personal and professional life went from the usual state of "busy" to "how can one person possibly do this stuff?!?" - and the answer is by sacrificing things like doing laundry, the dishes and writing blog posts.

But today I am back, feeling renewed and energized because while the last few weeks were challenging they were also amazing in so many ways. Life is a journey, but it is one where we don't always pick the road we will follow. Sometimes the road unrolls before us, and we just travel it, one foot after another, knowing where we are headed but uncertain as to what detours life may take us through.

The last few weeks has been a series of detours, some a bit scary and some exhilarating - but the road continues to unroll before me, and I just keep travelling it, because it is the most amazing journey.

Today I want to share with you part of that journey. I have written about it often before, long before I knew how close it would eventually be to me both personally and professionally. Today though instead of words I want to share a video that was created by my talented and dear friend and colleague Layla Underwood.

I won't deny that I choked up the first time I saw it - and when I saw it this weekend on a large screen I broke into very real tears, because this is part of my life journey that I will not only never forget but that is continuing even as I write. I share this because this is one of the reasons I have been a bit quiet recently, as I have been immersed in an experience that has changed my life and that will allow me as a storyteller to tell entirely new and exciting narratives. It is a part of my journey of life in Fort McMurray.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Because We Are Canadian

As I sit and watch it unfold on Twitter I cannot help but be reminded of the looming anniversary of a similar event. It is a date I have thought about a great deal recently, as soon it will mark 25 years since the day that remains seared in my memory.

Yesterday a gunman tried to change our nation when he murdered a young Corporal standing guard at our War Memorial in Ottawa. Were it not for the quick thinking and quick-to-react  Sergeant-at-Arms there would have likely been more injuries and perhaps even fatalities when the gunman continued his journey of terror. Shots rang out in the marble halls of Parliament, a place many of us, including me, have visited and the home of democracy in our nation. It was a sobering day, one that shook many of us to our core and one that took me back a very long time ago.
25 years ago there was no easy access to cell phones, no chattering social media. I recall being mesmerized instead by a flickering television screen, watching the news roll in about a young man who pointed his weapon at young female engineering students and shot them point blank for no other reason than they were women and had the audacity to pursue a career in engineering. I was not much older than them in 1989, and I was struck by how easily it could have been me. In recent months as the Intrepid Junior Blogger has expressed her desire to be an engineer I have thought instead about easily it could be her, targeted simply because of her gender and her ambition.

I don’t know if we called it terrorism in 1989, although we should have of course. Whether these acts are tied to larger groups and militant causes matters little in deeming them terrorist acts, as they are inherently meant to cause terror. Whenever someone brandishes a weapon and shoots others it becomes an act of terror, an act designed to create panic and fear and to terrorize innocent people. And if we let them terrorize us – cause us to change our path or to alter our destiny – they have won.
Yesterday a young Corporal died while performing what most would see as a largely safe and ceremonial role. One can only hope his death does not deter others from following his path, because his loss is tragic and sad but he died serving his country and all of us. He is a Canadian hero, as is the Sergeant-at-Arms who did not hesitate to stop a threat.

As I think about a shooting 25 years ago I think about how this tragic event could have altered my thoughts enough to make me want to discourage the IJB from her chosen path, but it has done no such thing. In fact I think perhaps it has made me more steadfast in my resolve to see her achieve her dream, because there may be no better way to honour the memory of fourteen women than to reach the goal they had torn from them by an act of terror.
Yesterday as I watched events unfold I could not help but think how it would – or could – change our country. And yes, it may change some things, but it will not and can never change the fundamentals. It cannot change that we are Canadians, a nation that expresses its patriotism perhaps quietly but in a deep, fervent and profound way. It cannot change that we will continue to pursue our goals and dreams, whatever they may be and wherever we may find them. It cannot change our role on the world stage, which is strong and respected.

And it will never change our hearts. This was not the first act of terror in our country, and it will not be the last, I am afraid. But we will stand firm in our beliefs, in our hearts and in our nation as we mourn and grieve and then go on, just as we did in on a dark, dark day in 1989.
October 22, 2014 will join December 6, 1989 as a tragic day in Canadian history. But it will not mark the day that Canada changed, because we will not be changed by terrorists, no matter their intent or target.

Because in the end we are Canadian, and that will never, ever change.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


“Why?” she asks.

Her face is curious and genuinely puzzled. “Why,” she repeats, “am I being nominated for an award?”
The Intrepid Junior Blogger has just learned she has been nominated for an award through the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce. The award, dubbed the “X-ceptional Kidz” award is meant for youth who are exceptional in some regard. I have always thought the IJB to be exceptional, but then again I likely have exceptional bias when it comes to her, too.

The IJB is in many ways an average kid. She goes to school, she visits the orthodontist for adjustments on her shiny new braces, she plays video games and she cuddles her cats. But in some ways perhaps she is exceptional, although I have become so accustomed to it maybe I don’t even see it anymore. I am uncertain how many teenaged kids receive alerts on their cell phone on breaking news stories that involve politics. I’m not sure how many have worked on election campaigns (including taking a stab at writing press releases along with delivering campaign materials). I’m not sure how many have argued with their former local MP on Twitter over his grammar (she’s a stickler for grammar, this one). I’m not sure how many can succinctly explain the robocall scandal, discuss the concept of food security, talk about radio demographics, expound on the crisis faced by animal welfare organizations like the SPCA, argue about Schrodinger’s cat with their mother, intelligently dissect marketing campaigns, interview the leader of a national political party and write an article for publication based on that interview AND still giggle like the average teen girl when confronted with a fat cat who wants his belly rubbed. I am sure of this: the IJB is someone who I believe has the capacity to one day change the world, just as so many of our youth do.
Last night the IJB, along with Mitch Murphy, another remarkable youth in our community, was recognized at the Chamber of Commerce awards banquet as an X-ceptional Kid in our region. She was her usual quiet self at our table, only really becoming animated when discussing her science fair project. She tends to be shy with those she does not know, and I often think they must wonder what she is really thinking (and how little they know that at times I have to ask her to simply remain silent for five minutes as she can fill the air with so many ideas and thoughts and questions that they swirl around in my head and make me dizzy). She had asked if she could bring her Physics homework to the banquet, as her main concern right now is keeping on top of her classes, including her Advanced Placement courses in Science and Language Arts. She was perturbed when I said no, but I think all was forgiven when she enjoyed the fabulous food at the Sawridge Inn and enjoyed the company of those at our table.

When the IJB asked why she had been nominated she commented that has done nothing of significant note. She has not gone to space, cured cancer or climbed Everest. She has not changed the world (well, except for mine). What I told her, though, is that being exceptional isn’t always about what  you do but about how you do what you do. It isn’t about going to space or curing cancer or climbing Everest. It is about always doing your best whatever it is you do – going to school, or volunteering, or contributing to your community, or working for social justice, or simply observing the world and noting what you could do to make it a better place. In the end being exceptional is truly nothing more than that – which means everyone can be exceptional.
Now, in my eyes the IJB is, of course, exceptionally exceptional. She is in my view a remarkable young woman who amazes me every day, whether it is her grade average or her thoughts on the most recent world crisis. She is a thoughtful individual who is changing and growing and learning every single day, and every day she inspires me to strive to make the world a better place, because it is her world and she deserves it.

I want to thank the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce for hosting awards that recognize not only local business but local individuals who make a difference in our community. I want to thank Servus Credit Union, the sponsor of the awards banquet last night, and Nexen Energy, who sponsored the X-ceptional Kidz Award (and who I think are tremendous community partners in their recognition of youth in our community, who truly form the backbone of our future). I want to thank those who nominated the IJB and supported her nomination, who have come to know her and view her as exceptional, too.
But most of all I guess I want to thank the IJB. I don’t directly address her often in this blog, but today I will make an exception, as it seems to be an exceptional day:

Dearest Sam,
Congratulations on your award. I was proud of you last night, but to be honest I am proud of you every day and always will be, because I am your mom, your supporter and your biggest fan. A couple of years ago you made me cry when you were asked to write an essay about your hero and you named me. Today I am in tears because you are my hero, and watching you grow and change and develop is a gift for which I can never express enough gratitude. Thank you, Sam, for being you and for not even realizing how exceptional you are. You are the reason I do everything I do, and I am so very, very proud to be your mom.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

A New Narrative in Fort McMurray

There are times in your life when you are humbled to realize you are part of something much bigger than yourself. In recent months I have realized this as I have become part of something so close to me I cannot even quite put it into words, which is why there are several photos in this post instead.

A few years ago, long before taking on the professional role I now hold, I was part of a community engagement process about a proposal for a new development in our community. It was a proposed expansion at MacDonald Island, a bold new vision for an addition to our community and region that seemed tremendously exciting - and ambitious.

I was one of the people who attended the in-person engagement sessions. I filled out the online surveys. And I wrote passionately in this blog about the development and about what I thought it could mean for our community.

I was there when the ground was broken. I was there when the name of the new development - Shell Place - was announced. I was there when the first piece of steel was laid in the field house. I was there when the name of the new football and performance stadium - SMS Equipment Stadium - was announced. I was there when the incredible stage, covered by the most innovative canopy I have ever seen, was named Nexen Energy Stage. In fact for the last three of those I was part of the planning process of the events where these things happened, suddenly on the inside of a development where I had before only been an observer.

Even then I don't think I fully understood the impact on our community, and my world. Someone asked a few months ago what Shell Place would mean to me personally and I said this: "It is a chance to change the narrative about our community. As a writer it is so exciting to have new stories, and this will be a place that is filled with stories, from sports and recreation to events to art and culture to social profit groups through the new shared space anchored by primary tenant the United Way. It will change the narrative of Fort McMurray."

Everything I do is done through a lens of how it will impact the Intrepid Junior Blogger. Will what I am doing make her community a better place? Will it increase her pride in the place she will one day claim as the place she grew up? Is it improving her life?

Two nights ago we were driving home from a late evening errand. Driving towards Thickwood she looked out the window and asked: "What's that?", and there, shimmering away, were the lights on the canopy at Nexen Energy Stage, glowing in the boreal forest blackness, flickering in different shades and undulating in that inexplicable way the northern lights do, a way we all recognize but struggle to explain.

"What is that?" she repeated.

"It's Shell Place, honey," I said, amazed myself and trying not to crash the car as I suddenly find myself a bit tearful and overcome with emotion as it is the first time I have seen the lights, too.

"Really, mom?" she says, her face full of wonder. At fifteen the IJB does not impress easily or often, and she has already been making the noises youth make about how she wants to move to a more exciting place with more to do and more things to see (just as I did at her age in another city and just as all youth do and should do as they grow and their world expands). "Really?" she says.

And then: "Well done, Fort McMurray".

And she smiles at me and in her face I see the pride I know is reflected in my own and in the faces of every person I know who has been part of this experience. I see the future of our community and I see that this, something I am so honoured to be a small part of, has already changed her narrative. She has a new story to tell when she one day leaves this place to venture out into the world, a new narrative of the place she grew up - and deep down I feel more satisfied and more fulfilled than I have in a very, very long time.

Well done, Fort McMurray. Well done, indeed.

Photo courtesy of Toddske-
canopy lighting testing

Photos courtesy of 
Layla Underwood
Regional Recreation Corporation
of Wood Buffalo

Photo courtesy of Phoenix Heli-Flight

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Triple-M Zoo, Minus One

"Mommy", said the voice from on the other side of my closed bedroom door. "Mommy," she said, her voice quivering in a way I've rarely heard it do. "I just went to feed the ferrets." A long pause and then: "Abu is dead."

And so he was, our eldest ferret and the first of the ferret trio who have been part of our zoo for some time now. Abu, who came to us through a previous owner who just wanted him to have love and attention and a home with time to care for him, was gone.

Abu was a sweet if quirky animal, as they all are really. When he first arrived we learned he would nip adults, those sharp little carnivorous teeth leaving a mark, but he never nipped the Intrepid Junior Blogger. He was a funny sort, and when we brought the first of the two ferrets who would eventually join us home he was deeply reluctant at first. He viewed the new ferret with alarm, a bouncy little thing who wanted to tussle and play, but over time they became fast friends, and when the third ferret joined them they became quite the little trio.

While we were a bit sketchy on his age we knew him to be in the older range for a ferret, and for some time I had suspected he had a tumour as ferrets often do (and the cause of death for all three ferrets I owned when I was a young adult). We knew at his age that surgery would be too much and so we decided to keep him comfortable and as long as he was eating and playing allow him to live out his remaining time happily, as he did right up until passing away in his favourite bed in the cage the trio shared. It was in many ways the best possible ending, avoiding the decision making process of putting him to sleep, the call to the vet and that final drive, a time I remember far too well from other beloved pets.

When I was young my father advised me to never trust a man who didn't like children or animals. For many years, in fact, I held people who seemed to not have the "animal gene" in disdain, but over time I found myself pitying them instead. I realized that the bond you develop with an animal is something you either get or you don't, and the love is something you either feel or you won't. Those who don't or won't have my sympathy instead of my disdain now, because it is something that escapes the description of mere words. The trouble, of course, is the breaking of that bond when an animal dies, as happens far too often as their life spans are often so much shorter than our own.

It is a pain other animal lovers know well. It is deep and sad and aching, full of memories and wistfulness for a return of days gone by. It is an understanding of a form of unconditional love that is rarely found between humans but is perhaps the hallmark of our relationship with animals.

The Intrepid Junior Blogger puts on a brave show indeed. As we wrapped Abu's tiny body in a towel and I explained that I would call the veterinary clinic about the body she shook slightly but did not cry. It was only later that evening that I found her cuddling the other two ferrets, her eyes brimming with tears. We talked then about the hard part of loving animals and about a little sable ferret who bounced into our lives several years ago and who yesterday departed very quietly, deeply loved to the end.

The Triple-M Zoo is minus one today, at least in actual numbers. But the memories will stay with us forever and we will hold the other pets just a little closer as we know that some day we will have only memories of them, too.

Rest in peace, little ferret, and thank you for being the true beginning of the zoo. You will be missed.


Monday, October 13, 2014

GOlden Buffalo in Fort McMurray

You probably read the title of this post and thought I made a typographical error. After all, it appears I inadvertently capitalized the first two letters of "golden", but I assure you it was quite intentional. You see when it comes to the proposed Golden Buffalo high-rise complex now seeking permit development approval in downtown Fort McMurray I think there are two operative letters of most importance - and they are the G and the O, or GO.

The Golden Buffalo project is undoubtedly remarkably ambitious, a complex that will tower over our downtown. I am hearing rumblings of concern about that ambition, particularly the height of the development and thoughts that it will somehow be out of place or mar our skyline. I am not one of those who thinks this, you see.

Do you know the Eiffel Tower was almost never built? It was deemed far too ambitious, far too big, far too much for the Paris skyline. It was only built through steadfast belief and perseverance, despite the belief of many Parisians that it was an enormous white elephant that would mar their city forever. And I suspect in many cities the first skyscraper was controversial, with some thinking it would stick out like a sore thumb...right until the next skyscraper was built, and the next, and the next, until the skyline had changed to the ones we now associate with cities like Edmonton and Calgary, where you can see the downtown core long before you are in it, marked by towers that shine in the sun.

I don't know if you have looked at our downtown core lately, but "shining" isn't a word that springs to mind. We have a downtown pockmarked with vacant and abandoned buildings, scarred with graffiti and far too dispirited-looking to reflect the true nature of this community. The catalyst projects once planned for the city centre redevelopment have fallen off the radar for various reasons (and we can argue those reasons but there is no point, as the reality is that they have become part of a faded dream that may one day be resurrected but that for now gathers dust as blueprints on a shelf). The Golden Buffalo complex now may well represent our best hope for a revitalized downtown, a catalyst project for which the taxpayer will carry no burden and an investment from others in our community. We just have to say one small word.


I admit I have been skeptical of the Golden Buffalo proposal in the past because it is not the first large towering complex proposed for the downtown core by private investors. Those other proposals have never come to fruition, but those experiences do not mean we should reject an opportunity to see an amazing complex built in our downtown that may well serve as the catalyst we need to change our skyline - and our downtown core - forever. Perhaps we do not need a taxpayer-funded and municipally-led drive to revitalize the downtown. Perhaps we just need to grant permission to those developers who are willing to take on the cost and risk to do so.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris was built for the Paris Exposition in 1889. Alexandre Gustave Eiffel faced a tremendous challenge when it became apparent that the Exposition committee would only fund 1/4 of the construction costs, leaving Eiffel to find funding for the remainder. It was a daunting task, particularly given the skepticism of the civic leaders and general populace of the value of this structure, one that some even deemed an "abomination". To say that they were wrong would perhaps be the largest understatement in French history, as the Eiffel Tower has of course become the most visited site in France and one of the most iconic structures in the world - and it was almost never built as there were those who wanted to say "no" rather than "go".

I am under no illusion that the Golden Buffalo is some sort of Eiffel Tower of the north - but that it could well be iconic, catalytic and game-changing for our region seems clear. That it could be the very change we seek and the very first step in not only revitalizing but reclaiming our downtown core seems abundantly clear to me. I suppose in this I choose to side with Eiffel, a man who forged on despite the cynicism of others and eventually proved his detractors quite wrong, as well as changing the face of Paris, France and even the world forever. Ideas lacking in boldness are not ones that provoke change. Only bold ideas, ones that may seem unusual or far too outside the box, are the ones that change skylines - and cities.

All we need to do is one small thing - say "go".

Sunday, October 12, 2014

International Day of the Girl

Yesterday marked one of those days we set aside to celebrate and acknowledge a group of individuals. It seems appropriate to me that International Day of the Girl falls just before Thanksgiving in our country, as I know I am personally deeply thankful for the girl - or rather the young woman - in my own life. I think too thought we need to be thankful for the young women and girls around our world who have the potential to change it.

We are truly fortunate in this country. We enjoy a level of equity for women that does not exist in all parts of this world. The Intrepid Junior Blogger has goals and aspirations that are unhindered by her gender, and she sees no reason that being a girl will be an impediment to reaching them. We still struggle on occasion though to ensure all young women in this country understand that all career paths are open to them, and we find ourselves still trying to find ways to encourage them to enter careers that may be considered non-traditional for women, but at least here we have the option of doing so.

It would be remiss of us to forget that this is not the case for girls and young women in every country. In some countries young women continue to be repressed in their desire for education and equality and to achieve the basic freedoms we hold so dear. Young women like my IJB would not only struggle to achieve their dreams but see them as impossible to achieve, not goals but fantasies. This is so deeply sad as there are so many young women out there with tremendous potential to change the world if only given the opportunity and the equality to make it happen.

We are so fortunate to have organizations like Girls Inc of Northern Alberta, which encourages young women to be smart, bold and strong. Earlier this year I was honoured to be selected as one of their Women of Inspiration for this year, as if I can have any role in inspiring young women to achieve their dreams then I believe I have accomplished a great deal in my life. Organizations like Girls Inc. provide opportunities for young women to explore the possibilities in this world, and I am so thankful to have them in our community.

I am grateful too for organizations like the Justin Slade Youth Foundation which encourages young women and men to connect with our world and their community, and that provides them with a safe, secure and welcoming place to develop into contributing members of our society.

There are many more, too, so many organizations dedicated to young women (and men) and I am so grateful to all of them because our youth are not just part of our world - they are our future. It is in their hands - my daughter's precious hands - that our collective future lies. I am so grateful today to acknowledge girls from across the world, and boys, too as in those young minds and hearts resides our every hope for the future, and our very existence on a planet where life can at time be tenuous and fragile.

This Thanksgiving I have so much for which to be thankful, but today I am thankful for the children across the world. Yesterday we celebrated International Day of the Girl but in my mind every day is International Day of the Child, or at least it should be, because we have no more precious gift - or opportunity - than each and every one of them.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Why It Is Okay to Not Be Okay

It is a very human tendency, I think. Someone asks if we are okay and almost without thinking we answer: “Oh yeah, I’m fine!” even when we are not fine and when we are not okay. It is almost like a little white lie we tell ourselves and others, a social nicety and a bluff we carry on in order to not admit that maybe – just maybe – we are not fine.

Recently I ran into someone I admire so tremendously and they shared with me some of their recent struggles. It all began with the simple question of “Are you okay?” and ended with hugs, because they were not okay and they acknowledged it, which perhaps takes far more courage than ever claiming to be okay would do. My admiration for them simply rose, as I know quite well how hard it can be to admit you are not okay.
The last few weeks as I have worked my way through an extremely difficult manifestation of my recurrent eye disease I have been far, far from okay. And while I am fairly well known for stoicism and a refusal to admit to not being okay I have adopted a new strategy with this one, because I have realized that it is okay to not be okay – and even to admit it.

It has been a difficult time, but a learning journey, too. I have found that when people ask if you are okay and you respond: “Do you want truth or social nicety?” there are those who will opt for social nicety to avoid the awkwardness of acknowledging that someone else is not okay. For those people I spin the usual tale, of how it is tough but yes I am absolutely fine! (accompanied with a smile, of course) For those who want honesty, though, I share that I am not okay and that this is a trying period in my life, a life lesson in patience I think as my recovery is painfully slow and literally quite painful, and I am someone profoundly lacking in the virtue known as patience. The reactions are remarkable.
When you share that you are not okay it seems to encourage others to share with you, too. Maybe they are totally okay or mostly okay or not okay at all, but by being frank and honest with them you allow them to be frank and honest, too. You allow them to be vulnerable, if just for a moment, and perhaps that is why it is so hard, because we avoid showing vulnerability at all costs.

It is something I know well. My own Intrepid Junior Blogger has an aversion to asking for help or acknowledging she is not okay because it is, in her mind, admitting vulnerability – or weakness, as she calls it. I suppose it is because of her that I am now exposing my own vulnerability because it is up to me to show her that vulnerability is not something we can or should avoid – it is simply something we all experience.
I have in the past often shown some degree of vulnerability in this blog, but so too I guard myself a bit because I know the risk in doing so. I know there are those who take advantage of vulnerability to attack others, and those who do view it as a sign of weakness and not as a simple state of our human condition. But I think we might just need a vulnerability movement in this world, as lying to each other – and ourselves – about being okay doesn’t decrease our vulnerability. I think, in fact, it makes it far, far worse in the end.

Fort McMurray, it is okay to not be okay. And it is okay to acknowledge it, because there is some degree of relief in saying “no, I am not okay” because the reality is you will likely be okay – just maybe not today. And so today I take space in this blog to share not a story of Fort McMurray but a page and time in my life where I am not okay, but where I have sincere faith I will be okay over time and with the dreaded “patience”. I make myself vulnerable simply to say it is okay to not be okay – and on the brink of Thanksgiving I am grateful to have the ability to open myself enough to simply say it and lay myself open, vulnerability and all.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fort McMurray: The Five Year Plan

One of the very first pieces I ever wrote for publication was on the myth of the “Fort McMurray Five Year Plan”. It was all about how people may come to the community with an “end date” in mind, a “best before” kind of expiry date at which point they will pack up their bags and head outta Dodge – but how those plans often evolved into long-term residents who would still be here seven, ten and even twenty years later. It has actually been some time since I met a new arrival to our community who indicated they were here with a timeline in mind, a five-year plan and their departure date set. We too have evolved, becoming a place where people arrive without that end date in mind, thinking instead they will see how it goes, and for many when they find their place in the community they end up staying far, far longer than they ever thought they would.

I suppose I am an example of this. At thirteen years of residency this is now on the verge of being the longest I have ever lived anywhere, including where I grew up (Saskatoon). I lived in Saskatoon from the ages of 6-20, and those fourteen years mark my longest period of uninterrupted residency – but now I am on the brink of breaking that record right here in Fort McMurray.
The demise of the five year plan is no loss to me. This community desperately needs those who plan to come and stay for the long haul, through thick and thin, good times and bad. It needs those who are going to claim this as home, not a stopping place, because that investment in our community, both financial and emotional, is how we will build a strong community for all of us. But this week the five year plan showed itself again, and in a way I did not anticipate.

A couple of years ago I connected with a business person from another community who was looking at setting up shop in our region. They were quite excited about the prospect, looking for property, gauging the market, thinking about moving staff into the region to provide the manpower they would need – it was all very positive. I realized this week I had not heard from them in some time and so I picked up the phone and called them to see how the plans were coming along, and when we could anticipate their arrival.
I was stunned to learn they are no longer planning to come to Fort McMurray.

They shared their concerns with me, concerns about stalled developments, instability in the oil industry as evidenced by delayed projects, the uncertainty of pipelines...but most of all they indicated that they felt the mood of the region had changed. They said they no longer felt the motivation and drive they had two years ago, the desire to expand and build and develop. They had no doubt that initially their business venture would be a success, but it was not the initial success that worried them. It was the longterm success, the overall viability and the future of the people they planned to move into the community.
What was the five year plan for Fort McMurray, they asked?

My nemesis had once again raised its ugly head. The five year plan was back, but this time it was not one put into place by those coming to our community with a departure date penciled onto their calendars. This time it was potential investors in our region, those who had shown interest in becoming part of this community, dubious about our plans for the future.
I spent quite some time trying to convince them. I told them about all the great things coming, all the wonderful things happenings and sharing all the amazing positives about our community. And while they agreed that Fort McMurray is a terrific place with a great deal of potential they felt it was just not the right time for them to invest their time or money or people...and so they were looking instead at other communities and other places, where perhaps the initial success might not be quite as strong but where they felt confident in the five, ten and twenty year plan for the community.

We talked through the many reasons for their concerns. The one that bothered me most perhaps was their sense of the mood changing, of how their conversations with stakeholders that once left them brimming with confidence now left them feeling a bit shaky instead. And while this one business venture will not be the rise or fall of Fort McMurray I fear they may not be alone in their reluctance to invest in us, to contribute to building our community with their business, their resources and their people.
In the classic understated words of some astronauts who identified an issue: "Houston, we have a problem.”

Our ability to attract developers, investors and new business is crucial to our ability to succeed as a community. If we want to meet our tremendous potential we need to find a way to bolster their confidence in us, to see that we do have a plan for our community and our future. We cannot rest on the laurels of what we have accomplished and we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent, because in terms of communities complacency is deadly. I won’t pretend to have all the answers or to know the right path to address this – I simply know that someone who once was excited about investing in Fort McMurray is no longer interested, and this concerns me deeply because I fear they are not alone. I fear our current state, which sees abandoned and vacant buildings left to rot, new projects stalled out due to squabbles between different levels of government, some instability in our industry (however transient it may be) and our struggle to come to some sort of resolution on things like the development of our city centre as being sharply detrimental to our continued success as a community.
I have always hated the concept of the Fort McMurray Five Year Plan, at least in terms of a plan to leave our community after a short period of residency. This week, though, I realized that there are those who doubt we have a five year plan for our continued success and growth, and that it was hindering their ability to see their potential role in our future.

I believe in Fort McMurray, our future and our ability to develop a strong plan for it, and I know other residents of this community believe in it, too. Now we just need to find a way to make everyone believe just as we do – and to invest in Fort McMurray, far beyond a five-year plan.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Thoughts on Teachers, Fires and Education as Equality

It seems every day of the year is a day to acknowledge someone, some organization or some role. From Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, International Day of Women to all points in between, there is a day to celebrate and recognize someone. On Sunday another one of these special days occurred, but I took particular note of this one simply because of the esteem in which I hold the profession it honours: teachers.

Sunday marked World Teacher’s Day, a day to celebrate and acknowledge the educators in our world. I’ve always had tremendous respect for teachers, but perhaps at no point more than now as the Intrepid Junior Blogger winds her way through her final years of education in Fort McMurray before departing for education in parts unknown. Ever since she was a very young child she knew she would attend university (in fact I recall her being shocked at one time to discover that not everyone actually attends university). After a trip to England and Ireland she determined her plans to study overseas one day, and in the last year she finally settled on what she believes is her true calling: engineering, with a probable focus on physics. Now, never mind that my own mathematical skills and understanding of physics rank pretty low, because I knew what would really matter in her world were the educators – the teachers – who could continue to help her develop this ambition and reach it.
The Intrepid Junior Blogger has attended the Fort McMurray Public School District for her entire educational career. She has now had many, many teachers and I have been so pleased with each and every one, as they have provided her with the skills she needed – but they have done more, too. They have encouraged her development, helped her to follow her dream and challenged her. As she embarks on her final three years at Westwood in the AP program (or Advanced Placement for those kids with a passion and talent for certain areas of study and an intent to pursue them in the post-secondary world) I see her blossoming even more.

A couple of weeks ago a remarkable local program started by some Ecole McTavish Junior High School students challenged me, too. Project Cambodia is a student-driven project to support and build a school in Cambodia so students there can enjoy the educational opportunities we have in this country. As part of this initiative they have started a challenge called “Education is Equality”, asking people to talk about the educator/teacher who made a difference in their life – and for me there can only be one answer.
I have written about her before in this blog, a woman I called ‘The Tank’ during my high school days for her solid appearance and short, steel grey hair. She was my high school English teacher, a woman who tolerated no fools and who had very high expectations, at least when she thought you could meet them. I thought her marking scale, where she graded me with a far more critical eye than others, deeply unfair at the time but over the years I came to realize that she simply believed I could do more. I recall more than one essay handed back with “Try harder” scrawled on it, meaning I got to rewrite it all but far, far better. To be honest she drove me crazy with her expectations and demands, but I also know one very important fact: I am the writer I am today because of her. Her expectations, her demands and her belief in me developed a talent that may have been there all along but that needed to be exercised. It may have taken me a very long time to really use that talent, but Mrs Van den Beuken – The Tank – saw it before anyone else ever did, and to say I am grateful to her is to minimize how I feel about her role in my life.

There are many people who have an impact in our lives, but I would suggest that second to close family none have more impact than our teachers. As children and young adults we spend hours every day with them, and their influence on our lives cannot really be measured. Their ability to teach, share their passion and foster the development of our youth is something we should never underestimate – or fail to celebrate.

I end this post with the video I made for the Education is Equality challenge and my tribute to Mrs. Van den Beuken. I encourage you to visit the Project Cambodia Facebook page and learn more about this incredible student-driven initiative to make the world a better place through education. I recently heard a lovely quote about education that I will share here today, because I believe it to be absolutely true. The teacher who changed my life didn’t fill my pail – she lit a fire, one that burns brightly even today and has, quite truly, shaped my world – and I owe it all to The Tank.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Using Your Gift for Good

One of the things that always amazes me is the nature of the social profit organizations in this community. They are tireless as they seek to serve this community, exploring innovative ideas and meeting new challenges along the way. This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Wood Buffalo Food Bank Annual General Meeting, an occasion that was enlightening in so many ways.

One of the realities is that as this region grows so too does the need for organizations like the Food Bank. Last year they saw a sharp jump in demand for their services, but this increase in demand is not always matched with an increase in donations. Unanticipated growth in demand can mean empty shelves and new challenges, ones that social profits like the Food Bank must rise to meet again and again.
The Wood Buffalo Food Bank is undoubtedly one of the social profits closest to the heart of the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I. We have both spent time volunteering for them (her more than I, truth be told) and we are always so impressed by the dedication of the staff, board members and volunteers as they work to meet their mandate. In our time at the Food Bank she and I have come to understand the “hand up, not hand out” nature of the Food Bank, a vision to assist those in need until they can provide for themselves and perhaps even one day provide that hand up for others.

The Food Bank is fortunate to have an incredible Executive Director in Arianna Johnson, a terrific team of staff members and a dynamic board that supports the staff and organization as they work to meet the growing needs of this community. It was truly a pleasure to attend their AGM and hear the updates on their new initiatives as well as begin to understand the new challenges they are facing.
It was also a deep surprise for me during their meeting to be recognized as one of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank’s Promoters of the Year. During their AGM they recognized some key supporters and partners, and I cannot quite explain how it felt to be recognized as someone who has promoted and supported the Food Bank and their mandate over the last year – but I also felt deeply unworthy of the recognition, too.

I know there are those who will think it is some sort of false modesty, but while I am proud of what I do (and I would suggest that anyone who is not proud of what they do, whatever it happens to be, should consider stopping doing it) I also know that what I do is easy. All I do is sit at a keyboard and tap out a few words, maybe attend an event or two and record my observations. It is what others do – the staff, the hundreds of volunteers, the board of directors – that truly matters and makes the difference. They are the ones deserving of all the recognition and praise, and yet far too often they are in the shadows, behind the scenes doing all the work while people like me simply write about it all.
When I was a child my father once told me that if you have a gift you have a duty to use it to make the world a better place. My father, a self-taught musician, used his gift to bring joy to other people, playing for friends and neighbours and colleagues. My mother, an excellent cook, used her gift to bring people joy through food, cooking for anyone she felt needed the comfort of a home-cooked meal (which in her world was everyone, really, and no heart-healthy stuff for this German woman – it was butter and cream and filling, rich comfort food to the core). After my parents died I heard from old friends I had not heard from in decades, recalling my father and his accordion, and my mother and her midnight “snacks” for my friends that were really full meals of cheeseburgers. They used their gifts to make the world a better place, and I believe they succeeded in every way that matters.

It has taken me some time to understand it and acknowledge it, but it seems my gift is this ability to write. When I began writing I thought about my gift and about how it could be used – as a sword, perhaps, to inflict harm to others, or as a mechanism to lodge a million complaints about the inadequacies I see. And while on occasion my words are a sword (although, as someone once pointed out, a blunted sword meant as more of a prod than a scythe) far more often I choose to use my words as a tool for education, a way to encourage change and a method for telling the stories of those who have stories that need to be told. My father has been gone for many years, but I like to think he would be proud of the way I have chosen to use my gift, just as I have such deep pride in the way my parents used theirs.
Today I encourage my readers to learn more about the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, and in fact about all the social profit organizations in our community. There is something special about the social profit sector, because while it can be a complicated world it is also very simple, based in the pure desire to help others in some regard. Every single person can contribute to the social profit sector, whether it is through donation of goods, money or volunteer time. We each have a gift in this world – and it is up to us to choose how we use it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

You May Say I'm a Dreamer

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I dream of the day when the walls of the Penhorwood condo complex fall, taking with them the bitter sting of a painful part of our history. That pain will always exist of course for those caught most directly in that debacle, but at last the daily reminder, the abandoned and derelict buildings, would be gone and crumbled into dust.

When it was recently announced that the buildings had been ordered demolished due to safety concerns I was delighted. Here, I thought, was progress - but sadly I am rather naive at times and a friend who is far wiser than I said this was likely no final blow that would bring the buildings down, but perhaps just another moving of the chess pieces in a giant game where the condo owners have proven to be the pawns. Someone, one of the others involved in the legal wrangling, would protest the demolition order, they said, counter it and say the buildings should stand until the final bitter litigation is finished. I hope they are wrong, but I fear they are right.

The Penhorwood condos are a sad testament to the issues that have plagued our community. Regardless of where one lays blame - and there is plenty to share - the reality is that it impacted people in our community in ways that left them reeling, and some still are today. This ongoing travesty has likely had immeasurable impacts in terms of stress and health effects, let alone the measurable financial effects.

I have written about Penhorwood many times, from shortly after the evacuation order that gave dozens of people, including families with children, only minutes to leave their homes. I have written about the subsequent decay of the buildings as they fell prey to graffiti and vandalism, and as their appearance began to betray the dark history they contained. I have written about the ongoing struggles of those who lived in these buildings, those who invested not only their money but their belief in this community when they bought homes in those condos.

For the last few years we have sat patiently in this community waiting for one set of buildings to fall while waiting for another empty plot of land at Willow Square to be filled with an aging in place facility. Are these two connected in any solid or tangible way? No, not really, but I think in the heart and emotional mind of this community they are, as we see one set of buildings that contains nothing but sad memories and broken dreams continue to stand while another building remains the stuff of dreams and hopes for the future. In a place where so much has been accomplished through the realization of dreams, both individual and collective, it feels like these dreams - of an end to Penhorwood and the beginning of the real future of Willow Square and a home for those who need it in our community - may go unrealized. The two may not be connected anywhere but in our hearts and in our ability to continue to believe in the future of this community, but that connection still exists, I think, at least for me.

There seems to be some progress, tenuous perhaps. The demolition order for Penhorwood seems a good step, and the recent announcement that the securing of the Willow Square property appears to be going ahead seems another. The steps have been so small, though, so tiny, that for years it seems we have been standing still as we watch one set of buildings decay while another piece of land sits empty, and our faith in both ever being resolved diminishes.

This post is not intended to be an indictment or a fault finding mission. It is perhaps most an expression of frustration from someone who loves this place, who chose this place over all others as home when the opportunity to leave arose and who believes in it and our people. Recently I was asked - during two separate interviews - why I chose to stay in Fort McMurray when my marriage ended and I could have easily left, and the answer was easy: because I love it here and because I believe in it and in the other people who have chosen it as their home, too. I believe in us, and I believe that one day Penhorwood will fall into dust and a sad reminder will disappear and that those who were most injured will be justly compensated for all they have lost, and I believe that one day the fence around Willow Square will come down and construction will begin, providing a home for those in this community who love and believe in it - and who built it - too.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope you will join me and continue to not only dream but to believe, because this community needs not only dreamers but believers and most of all doers who are willing to do what it takes to make it the place others will some day choose as their home. I cannot tear Penhorwood down with my hands and I cannot build Willow Square with them - but I can continue to watch and write and advocate and ask and dream and, yes, believe. I can believe that one day I will be there when one set of walls come tumbling down and another set of walls begin to rise - because this is my home, this is my community, this is my Fort McMurray, and I believe in it - and in us.