I was becoming increasingly agitated this morning, for no particular reason except that everything around me was agitating. Then I went to Walmart. Bad idea.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
I was becoming increasingly agitated this morning, for no particular reason except that everything around me was agitating. Then I went to Walmart. Bad idea.
Everyone seemed to me to be on a predetermined collision course, that if I moved down one aisle someone would emerge from out of nowhere and block my path. My agitated state was inviting, almost daring, the universe to agitate me more. It did, over and over again.
When I go to Walmart in the opposite state, one of sublime peace and acceptance, I enjoy a miraculous Teflon experience when nothing negative seems to stick, it just slides off as I wander about carefree in perfect harmony with the universe.
The energy you give is the energy you get. It's the whole Law of Attraction principle I suppose. I shared this realization around the lunch table with my family.
"I've been very agitated today," I started, sharing my observation about going to Walmart in the wrong frame of mind.
I was ready to bark, bite, chew and spit at everybody and anybody this morning. Now that I've spoken about my agitation and the reality that it always attracts more of the same, I feel better, like the negative energy has been spritzed away, thousands of molecules of angst being obliterated by the positive energy that surrounds us, just waiting to be called into service.
I kept thinking of the story I read in one of Barb's blog posts this morning, it was a collection of several hundred molecules of positive sitting there hovering in front of my face.
"Let me tell you a story," I began, retelling the tale about offering an old homeless man a meal at a hockey game. Scoop up a piece of positive and read it for yourself. This is Actions Speak Louder Than Words. Thank you Barb.
Photo by Philip Baron (http://www.philberon.com/photo.php?cat=1&id=201)
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
We received our first piece of mail post-Christmas, three flyers and one piece of business. As we sat around the lunch table enjoying a homemade batch of soup, using Alanna's ingenious method of simmering canned tomatoes in just a little bit of butter and an onion sliced in half, I leafed through the slim offerings while the boys slurped away.
As I starred at the Walmart flyer featuring the familiar logo and slogan I decided to test the penetration of the ubiquitous brand.
"Hey kids, here's a question for you," I started. "What is the Walmart slogan?" carefully covering the masthead of the flyer to ensure the integrity of the test.
Ben's eyes twisted as his wrinkled brow did its dance in contemplation of the question. Dylan's head tilted as the words hung on the tip of his tongue. Together in almost perfect unison they blurted out, "Save Money. Live Better."
I was as surprised as I was flabbergasted.
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"Well, we see it on TV all the time," said Ben, matter-of-factly and mildly amused with my reaction.
The fact is that you could have waved a million dollars in front of my face and there is no way I could have pulled that slogan out of my head. Zellers-where the lowest price is the law, is right there, pasted in my brain along with McDonald's I'm lovin' it. Walmart is nowhere to be found. Maybe its a generational thing. When I was young we had The Bay and K-Mart and I'm certain I could have recalled their slogans of the day on demand like my boys did earlier today. But Walmart just hasn't sunk in to this middle age mind.
What are the brands that are resonating with your children? Are you aware of them? It might be fun to do a little random quiz around the dinner table tonight.
I posted a question on Facebook about creating a cultural hall of fame in Wood Buffalo and who would or should be on the inductee list. It was my first post where Comments out numbered Likes ten to one; a lot of people had strong thoughts on the issue.
I've been ruminating for the better part of a year on how to move forward with the idea of establishing a physical and public archive of the people who have shaped artistic expression in Wood Buffalo. The Wood Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame established in 2007 in the Syncrude Sport & Wellness Centre at Keyano College has set the pace, creating a contemporary display, an inductee process, and an annual tradition. The stories of our sports heroes are being captured and shared in perpetuity; we need to do the same thing for our cultural icons.
The names were put forward without hesitation and in great numbers as one suggestion inspired another. Theatrical names included Dick Mells, George Cotton, Greg Martin, Karen Towsley, Phil Kersey, Yvonne Balletto and Alan Roberts. Musical luminaries suggested were Martin Kennedy, Anna Domanska, Karen Rees, Peter Ellis, Mike Eddy, Mike Allen, Brent Lawson, Ken Flaherty and Norma Jean Atkinson, among others. Visual artists like Garry Berteig, Rodney Konapaki, Carol Breen, Fred McDonald, Jane Ash Poitras, and Rudy Pongo were named. Several dance icons showed up in the collection of 45 comments: Joanne Taylor, Patrick O'Donnell, Kim Hurley and Julie Funk.
No list of cultural achievers in Wood Buffalo would be complete without a shout out to those who came from here and left to earn a measure of success on the national and international stage. Aaron Lines and Craig Moritz have both made tremendous strides in the world of Canadian country music. Natasha Henstridge, jumped from being a teenager in Fort McMurray to being a Paris fashion model before exploding to global fame in the feature film Species in 1995. Of course, we also brag about Tantoo Cardinal, born in Anzac, who has achieved success in a number of films including Academy Award winner Dances with Wolves (1990).
What's exciting to me about this Facebook conversation is the recognition that exists about the builders who make it all possible. There are so many people who plug away, day by day and year after year, molding, shaping, nurturing the talent that exists in Wood Buffalo. Still others focus on creating opportunities and venues for artistic expression.
One thing is certain: that as time marches on, memories begin to fade and slip away. It's critical to begin this process and give these cultural stories a place to live and be relived.
Friday, December 24, 2010
"Ben! You got a letter from Santa," I said, arriving home on Christmas Eve. The letter was sticking out of the mailbox just waiting to be hand-delivered to Mr. Benjamin.
He excitedly grabbed it from me and made quick work of ripping open the envelope and extracting the message, printed on Christmas theme paper with a hand-written postscript dangling at the bottom.
"Let me read it to you," he said, face beaming, expectant, excited.
"Dear Friend," he began, holding the letter carefully in his hands, reading slowly and carefully.
"I was so thrilled to receive your letter. As you can imagine, we are very, very busy here at the North Pole."
"The big news," he continued "is that we decided to make Santa's workshop larger. Last year the elves simply didn't have enough space to work and play. We finally decided that something had to be done when one elf accidentally bumped into another and dropped a huge bag of marbles on the floor. Just picture it...dozens of elves spinning their little arms around trying to keep from falling down. They looked like tiny dancing windmills! Now we have a fun new dance at the North Pole-the windmill dance."
"The reminds me," he read on. "I promised to visit the workshop and drop off some of Mrs. Claus' famous gummy polar bear cookies. They just came out of the oven and gosh they smell. good."
"Thanks so much for your wonderful letter. It really made my day. I hope that you write to me again next year."
"A very merry Christmas to you! Ho! Ho! Ho!"
"Your friend, Santa."
"He added a hand-written note Papa."
"Thank you very much for the card and drawings Ben. I will bring you something very special and leave it under the Christmas tree. I hope you have a merry Christmas and a very happy new year."
He smiled and sighed, cheeks red, eyes wide open.
Merry Christmas and many blessings to the wonderful volunteers at Canada Post for keeping the magic of the season alive with their selfless efforts on behalf of St. Nicholas. We are grateful for all you do.
There was a time, not that long ago, when Christmas Eve felt still and somewhat isolated as the world around us scattered throughout the province, country and world. Looking through Facebook and Twitter I can instantly picture clearly and with certainty, friends and colleagues in locations as far flung as Taiwan and as close as down the block. What is John Smith doing this Christmas? Wait a minute, let me go check and I'll tell you.
TIME named Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg Person of the Year, for good reason. He and his team have radically influenced the way we communicate. We share, post, tweet, retweet, like, unlike, connect and reconnect by the billions, engaging in an activity that was unfathomable just five years ago. So now, depending on the number of connections you have, you are able to post a holiday greeting that instantly scatters the globe and reaches a set of people who would have largely remained absent from your life in the "old days". Think about it. Go through your friend list and ask yourself how many miracle connections are there. How many of these people would I have likely never connected with in the days before social media?
I sent out our annual Holiday Hello electronically this year. I loaded the pdf of the newsletter to my website and sent the link far and wide. I posted and reposted on Facebook and sent the link via Twitter. With due apologies to Canada Post, I embraced the future and resisted the urge to hold on to the past. It was hard. In the end, I printed a few hard copies just to assuage my discomfort.
On Christmas Day we will try our first video chat with Heather's brother and his family. I know Skype technology has been around for a number of years, but I'm trying it for the first time. In many ways we take it for granted, but if you told me when I was a young adult that we'd be able to make free video calls to anywhere in the world, I would have laughed in your face. Stuff of science fiction has become the norm.
My 7 year old son Ben just woke up. He always comes in my study, wrapped in his fuzzy green blanket, to get his morning hug before he goes off to run his virtual restaurant on his iTouch. When I was 7 years old I would definitely wrap myself up, but I'd be huddled up against the furnace vent starring at the Christmas tree, the black and white television sitting silent across the living room in 1974. My father at the same age would have been wrapped up too, stoking the fire in the stove that would have blown out in the middle of the night, electricity and forced-air heating the stuff of dreams out on the farm in 1942.
Look where we are; imagine where we'll be. Technology changes but the sentiment of Christmas remains the same, that you and yours enjoy time together free of the cares and concerns that envelop us throughout the year. Thanks for reading; I'm glad you do.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
I don't know what possessed me to start the Holiday Hello tradition, but for five years now it's been an essential element of getting ready for Christmas. A collection of words and images, the editions of our Christmas newsletter capture the passing of the years in an incredible way.
In 2006, when I started this caper, Heather had just begun her healing journey and we had spent a luxurious ten days in Italy. Ben was a little boy and Dylan was already growing into a little man.
In 2007, Rhema joined our family from Taiwan, our Nanny for two years, and still a dear friend. This was the year of the Doré family reunion in Vernon and our house boating adventures in the Shuswap. I moved into the permanent role of Director of Marketing & Communications while Heather began to grow her yoga practice.
The Holiday Hello in 2008 told the story of our wonderful trip to Ontario and Dylan's first surgery adventure. Based on the pictures, this was the year I fell in love with fishing! I also appear to be rather paunch around the middle in the picture taken in front of the garage holding a nice walleye. I probably should have started the Middle Age Bulge blog around this time.
By 2009, baby Julia had entered our lives and Heather's Ananda Center for Balance had opened in our basement. I won the Best Actor award that year when Kenny and I performed The Zoo Story down at the provincials in Medicine Hat. Dylan became a huge fan of wrestling in this edition while Ben began his fascination with Club Penguin, Disney's virtual world for kids.
The 2010 edition of our Holiday Hello attempts to share bits and pieces of what has been an incredible year. An exciting election, Dylan's second surgery adventure, Heather's growing cadre of clients and students, Ben's emerging artistic talents all pepper into this year's story. There are also some striking photographic memories from our summer trips to Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
As the months and years flow past the high water mark, it's amazing how much we forget. Moments and memories are fleeting, at best. This brief synopsis of our lives, camouflaged as a Christmas greeting, helps us remember and allows us to share the many blessings we've been given with friends and family near and far.
Merry Christmas and all the very best wishes for a fantastic 2011!
Saturday, December 18, 2010
When you're heading south from Fort McMurray to anywhere, you often get a two word response when you share the news: "Drive safe!" The sincerity with which it is said, and the meaning and the history behind it is unsettling. It's a dangerous stretch of road, I would argue one of the most feared in the province, as it has gobbled up lives, destroyed families and provided more frights than your favourite Friday night horror flick.
I have a good relationship with Highway 63, but I treat her with respect. I stick to the speed limit and when conditions warrant, I knock back 5 or 10 clicks slower just to be safe. In truth, I'm probably one of those drivers that others curse for being too conservative, more often than not opting to follow at a safe distance rather than passing.
For the second time in a month, I did a round trip to Edmonton in one day, leaving at 5:30 am and returning by 8:30 pm - 10 hours behind the wheel with several hours in the city to spring Dylan from the Glenrose Hospital and bring him home for good after three months of recovery from leg surgery. Carrying the most precious cargo of my wife and children, I was more alert and cautious than ever.
As we're driving along, part of my brain is thinking about the animals that could suddenly pop out from the dark recesses of the snow-filled ditches, part is focused on long lines of approaching vehicles watching for someone being caught out in my lane trying to pass. Memories from the last trip were hanging out in the shadows of my mind, of just missing getting hit head-on by an errant passer and of slowing down to a crawl to pass someone who had his hazards on only to drive over the recently deceased deer lying bleeding in the middle of the lane, impossible to see in the frosty dark of early evening.
They (the people to spout off statistics) say that Highway 63 doesn't inflict pain because of extraordinary volume problems, that if you go by the numbers, it's not a stretch of road that deserved to be twinned. But everyone will tell you that it is 2.5 hours of steering-wheel-gripping driving fun that serves up more tanker trailers, semi-trucks and gargantuan over-sized loads that pierce right into the first third of the opposite lane to which they are traveling than anywhere else in the province. It is the volume of the big stuff that seemingly necessitates the "go for it" passing that often makes the head spin....and the metal explode.
In the seventies, after a long trip, in a car full of kids (we had 6), as we turned the corner on to Second Street, Mom would always say "Thank you God for getting us home safely." It embarrassed me then, I fully understand it now.
The other thing that is said about Highway 63 is that she is not to blame for the carnage that has happened over the past decade; human beings are to blame. Impatience, stupidity, ambivalence, imperviousness and a serious distortion of priorities all combine to make the trip from the outskirts of Fort McMurray to Grassland the crap shoot that it has become.
Our journey was incident-free yesterday, only shuddering through one moment of surprise as I swerved to miss a mangled mass of uncooked venison. Heading home on a Friday night, we were largely driving against the flow of traffic, as long chains of headlights swept past, clumped together as a caravan, before fading off into the horizon in my rear view mirror leaving us in the dark, alone, safe and sound, in one piece, one step closer to home.
December 18, 2010 - 204 pounds, 30.2% body fat
Friday, December 10, 2010
"Did you know that this is the 42nd annual Christmas Concert at Dr. Clark School," said Mrs. Demers, in between one of the sing-along numbers last night.
When she said it, an image suddenly flashed in my mind of generations of kids and families who wandered through these halls in those years. That time-lapse video would would show clearly and distinctly the important role that the school plays in the life of a community.
Last night, the gym at Dr. Clark was filled to the brim. And by the time all the students returned for the grand finale, every available space was taken up. Were there 1,000 people there? There might have been.
Every school in every neighborhood, in every town, has their story. Ben is in Grade 2 now and his large group sang "I'm Getting Nuttin' for Christmas". When I was in Grade 2, my group sang"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and was maybe a third of the size. We went to the Junior High School for our Christmas concert; it had the larger gym and could accommodate both students and parents.
Ben wore a white dress shirt (collar up) and a black clip-on tie with a vest. I wore a plaid shirt with some kind of paper collar around my neck and held a flashlight at my chest shining up giving my face a mystical (and quite possibly, eerie) glow. Ben belted out his song, his mouth opening wide with the words; I sang sheepishly, frightened to be in front of an audience.
Today parents capture golden moments like Christmas concert performances with all kinds of state-of-the-art cameras, video recorders and iPhones. Back then parents had small old-school cameras that required you to send off the film to the big city to get processed. My mom had the Kodak Instamatic 100 for decades.
Dr. Clark's first concert would have been in 1968, the same year our house was built here on Demers Drive, a lifetime ago. Walking through its halls you wouldn't guess that it has a history that dips that far back in the past. Thanks to renovations and constant investment, Dr. Clark is a modern facility that will likely be around for decades to come. My elementary school suffered a different fate, now sitting derelict, windows broken and boarded up, home to mice and memories.
The Christmas Concert is important. It comes around every year and is as Canadian as maple syrup and poutine! It is a tradition that stretches back, in the case of Dr. Clark to the 1960's, in the case of my son's great grandfather, to the one room Doyle School on the southwest corner of section 7-28-32 in east central Saskatchewan near Rhein. I wouldn't give up this tradition for anything!
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
We went to go see Keyano Theatre Company's production of Noel Coward's Private Lives on Saturday. A play that peels back the fourth wall and allows us to get a very personal (and hysterical) look into the lives of star-crossed lovers, ex-lovers, and lovers reconnected. It was Dylan's first evening out in quite some time as he was on weekend leave from his rehabilitation at the Glenrose Hospital in Edmonton. He roared with laughter at the physical comedy of lead actor Misha Albert playing the part of Elyot, and the Kate Hepburnesque performance of our dear friend Tiffany Bishop in the role of Amanda. The two younger thespians playing Sybil and Victor offered exceptionally strong performances as did the young Spanish maid whose short several minutes on the stage were unforgettable. In my mind, it was one of the best comedies on the Keyano stage in the past 15 years. I'd have to go back to It Runs in the Family (written by Ray Cooney) in 1996 to recall an evening of theatre as delightful, although the musical Nunsense came close about eight years ago.
Dylan has gone back to the Glenrose while Tiffany and Claude have departed for a much-deserved holiday down south. Christmas is rapidly approaching, a fact affirmed by one holiday reception after another, occasions that began peppering the calendar even in the dying days of November. As public officials, we get invited to more than a handful of these as Jolly Old Nick warms up his reindeer and prepares for his around the world excursion of fun on Christmas Eve.
One of the questions I've been asked most often in recent weeks in relation to my new role on Council is whether or not I'm having any fun. It's a fair query, one that I'm happy to respond to with an "Absolutely, yes!" I knew I would enjoy the learning aspects of this journey, but the truth is that I never would have guessed that I'd be enjoying it this much.
The term "Dream Team" has been bandied about in the media and elsewhere about the make-up of this Council. And while I understand that in acknowledging this assessment of our potential, it sets the bar perilously high for what the public expects us to achieve; I'm comfortable with the optimistic approach. This is a strong team, there is no question about it.
I'm particularly enjoying learning about public process, municipal governance and how to work effectively as a group. Tuesdays tend to be really good days as we gather for Council meetings and administrative briefs. We also see each other on several other occassions each week as we attend various public functions or committee meetings; two months in and Mayor and Council feel like my extended family.
On Boxing Day, the Middle Age Bulge blog will be one year old. In that time, I've written 240 posts, lost 20 pounds, and added 10 back on as I landed in what they call the rubber chicken circuit after the election victory. My daily workouts at the Sport and Wellness Centre at Keyano have dwindled down to be rare occurrences as I find multiple excuses to avoid the gym. I'm hoping to refocus my physical health efforts after I finish that litre of eggnog sitting on the top shelf in my fridge and other delectable treats that promise to adorn the holiday season. So, maybe on Boxing Day I'll dust off my workout gear and get back on the treadmill and reignite the battle of the bulge.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
There had been some snow that morning and the ceiling was a little low for the small planes to safely fly so we were delayed for a few hours. A group of us from Fort McMurray were traveling to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta's oldest settlement (established in 1788), for the opening of Canada's largest synthetic ice surface that had been installed in the Archie Simpson Arena. This was the final piece on what has turned out to be a tremendous recreational addition to this remote northern community on the southern shores of Lake Athabasca. The previous structure collapsed under the weight of too much snow in the winter of 2005.
We took off from the Fort McMurray Airport (YMM), banked left and came back over the airport, Saprae Creek, and then ascended above the clouds as the Saline Creek area faded off below us. Not much to see except an endless horizon of fluffy grey cloud and too noisy to hold a conversation with any of the nine passengers, I propped my head against the cushioned edge of the Cessna charter run by McMurray Aviation, closed my eyes and drifted off into a strangely contented sleep, the drone of the engine providing a soundtrack for a most delicious slumber.
In an instant we were breaking through the lower reaches of a cloudy day just above the Athabasca Delta and the marshland and river crossings that mark the final stage of the driving trip to Chip.
Landing at the busy airport (YPY) we were greeted by Councillor Sonny Flett, Flossie Cyprien, Troy Nice and Ernest Thacker who piloted a series of trucks and vans that took us into town, a short ten minute drive. Among us were several members of the media, Mayor Blake and several municipal staffers.
The ceremony, which had been rescheduled twice already, had been pushed back to 2 pm to accommodate the second plane of dignitaries which had been further delayed back at YMM. This gave Councillor Flett an opportunity to take me on a guided tour of the Archie Simpson Arena and the community.
Our first stop was to inspect the progress of Keyano College's Fort Chipewyan Campus. The last time I was in the community it was to participate in discussions about the college's strategic plan. It was right around that time that serious discussion began about acquiring land to build a permanent campus. Up to now, Keyano has leased space in the MultiPlex to provide post-secondary learning opportunities in Fort Chipewyan. The new building, nearing completion and designed in the shape of the Keyano icon, will get turned over to the staff early in 2011 to begin the process of moving everything over and beginning a new era of education delivery in the community. I get the sense that everyone is looking forward to that day.
We took a right on McDermot then a left on McDonald and another left on to Mellor to look at the RCMP barracks, a fixture of the community and reminiscent of a similar facility that we visited down in Coleman a number of years earlier. Sonny lives right beside the barracks on one of the community's largest lots in a comfortable home nestled in the trees. A large boat is flipped over and up on blocks, poised to wait out the winter in hopes of getting back out on the water next year.
"I feel pretty safe," said Sonny chuckling. "I picked some great neighbors!"
We swung south along MacKenzie, passed the Post Office and several stores that sustain the community of just over a thousand souls, then right on to Robert then left onto Daniel. Sonny was eager to show me the community's new raw water reservoir and water treatment plant.
"Here you're looking at $6.5 million," he said, looking out over bubbling reservoir. Councillor Flett is visibly proud of the work that has been done to improve the lives of his constituents as we turn back on to McDonald Street to return to the Archie Simpson Arena.
While we waited for the second plane to arrive we walked over to the bright blue community hall adjacent to the arena for a quick lunch of homemade chicken soup and sandwiches. Councillor David Blair and his lovely wife Blue Eyes joined us.
Blue Eyes has spent her entire life in Fort Chipewyan.
"Did you know Alice Tourangeau?" I asked.
"Sure I knew Auntie Alice," she said. I can't remember what she said about how the two families connect, as conversations about genealogy often leave me confused, so I won't even attempt to take a guess.
"Oh my goodness," I said. "Alice is my oldest son's great grandmother!"
Alice was one of the great souls in my life who left us over a decade ago, a longtime resident of Fort Chipewyan who raised a large family, the eldest son being Dylan's Grandpa Joe. It's indeed a small world.
As residents and community leaders began gathering in the gym for the opening ceremony, the adjacent youth centre rec room was buzzing with activity. I took the camera and captured some of the fun and many of the smiles.
The ceremony was nice, complete with speeches, a ribbon cutting and ceremonial skate, but it was the conversations with the kids and the parents that made this trip so special. I appreciated the chat with Mrs. Marcel who shared her perspective on life in the northern town. I appreciated watching my Councillor colleagues, Sonny and David, filled with pride as this was such a great day for their community, and a profound pay-off for their efforts.
Of course, the reason we had flown north for the day was to officially open the synthetic ice surface. Here is an excerpt from the RMWB's news release: The Archie Simpson Arena synthetic ice is the largest surface of its kind in Canada and the largest in the world that has hockey lines and goalie creases. The total cost of the project was $559,000 and the installed product was Global Synthetic Ice's Super-Glide surface. The ice surface has garnered plenty of international attention, with ESPN Magazine and the New York Times inquiring about the installation of the ice in Fort Chipewyan.
From the urban centre where state-of-the-art facilities are somewhat taken for granted, it's hard to fully grasp what this day meant for the residents of Fort Chipewyan. It's hard to imagine the view from this elder's eyes as he looks on, watching his community adapt to changing times.
I got the sense from Councillors Blair and Flett that they didn't want us to leave. They feel so strongly about their home and were eager for us to take it all in, as much as we could. It was an honour to be there, and personally, I can't wait to return. I'm especially looking forward to hopping on Sonny's boat and dipping my fishing rod into Lake Athabasca; an over-sized lake trout is swimming under the ice calling my name.