Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Parent Engagement: Creating a Shared World; excerpts from research paper by Debbie Pushor

When we think of the word "protectorate" I would imagine that a picture of a school would not be the first thing that pops into your mind. However the typically historical way school has been done and in some places continues to be lived out makes this an interesting parallel.  Basically the concept goes like this in a colonialist structure, those with strength (the colonizers) take charge on order to protect the weak (the colonized). Extending this concept to apply to education is one where the holders of knowledge of teaching enter into a community, claim the ground labeled school and design and enact policies, programs and schedules for the children of the community on behalf of the parents.  Often this is done in isolation from parents and community using their professional knowledge and experience as a rationale for this claimed position as sole decision-maker.  To be honest, this position is claimed with the best of intentions - to enhance student achievement, have safe and caring schools and to prepare students for their roles as citizens in a global society.
To be completely honest this historically scripted role has been perpetuated by both educators and parents.  By accepting their positions both parties have reinforced  it and are constrained and shaped by the self-imposed constraints that accompany it.  It is time for both parties to realize that both the complexities and challenges of student outcomes are too large for one party to claim.  Things are changing as educators seek to find ways to bring parents into the picture and parents, who have been marginalized by the historical boundaries of the school landscape, seek to establish their voice and establish themselves.
This brings me to the difference between parental involvement and parental engagement.  There is a distinct difference in both meaning and implications for both educator and parents.  Often the terms of involvement and engagement are used interchangeably and at times are used in general terms to describe all activities that involve parents in some way.  This only serves to muddy the process of parental engagement.
Parental involvement is a means of rolling into an existing system.  So the question remains; Does this move parents from the "protected" role?  Typically parents who are involved serve the school's agenda by doing things that are either asked or expected from them.  They serve mostly in roles of audience, spectator, fund-raiser or organizer, while leaving the knowledge and decision-making with the educators. The role of protectorate does not change as the school decides the role that the parent will play leaving the hierarchical structure firmly in place.  Parental involvement is can the parent do for the school, rather than what can we do do together to help students and parents realize their full potential and family dreams.
Parental engagement by comparison means to mush together and make a moral pledge to work together.  When a person is engaged they are an integral part of the process brought there because of both care and  commitment.  That the structure has been flattened out and parents can take their place along side educators by sharing their knowledge of children. By engaging parents you bring with this the relationships from the community, the knowledge that they have in children, the skills and expertise from the companies the either run or employed with and the intelligence that they possess.This is a world where parent knowledge is respected with mutual determination to have the best outcomes for children, families, community and school thereby benefiting all.
The body of literature has been growing at a rapid pace. There are more links , books, journal articles and initiatives that one person can possibly cover.  All point to the positive links made between parent engagement and standardized student achievement, higher grades, higher enrollment, higher successful completion rates and credits earned, lower drop-out rates and the greater likelihood of movement into post-secondary education. (Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2001; Fan & Chen, 1999; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Hoover-Dempsey etall, 2005; Jeynes, 2005; Redding et al, 2004; Sui-Chu & Willms, 1996). In a land as diverse as Canada this is a telling note.  It says that engaging families in schools has the potential to serve as one means of reducing achievement gap in student population. We need to move beyond mere lip-service and understand that authentic partnership has its centre trust and communication.
While Jeynes(2005) found that particular parent actions such as attending school functions, establishing household rules, and checking on the student's homework yields significant effects in relation to student achievement, it was things which create an attitude  or atmosphere which is formed for a sense of standards and support that yield the strongest results.  This is done by engaging parents in the core work of teaching and learning rather than involvement activities of fundraising and bulletin board decorating.  What children achieve academically is the result of more than they learn in school, but a wide variety of factors including home, community and economic conditions both within and outside the boundaries of the school grounds.  the provision of opportunities for parental voice in  personal practical knowledge and strengthening students and parents sense of personal power and autonomy has a much greater promise for educational achievement..

To create this counter-story of hospitality and welcoming environment one may indeed reverse the general assumption.  Instead of teachers and administration needing to invite people over to their place, that they are guests in the community.  That as good hosts they receive their community guests with everything that that entails....relationships, culture and history that were there long before they arrived and will continue when their guests leave the school.  Hospitality and invitation will remain empty gestures until they are made with genuine intention.  Trust is made through consistent and intentional efforts to build quality relationships over time and context.  It cannot be legislated into existence.
So what might this look like?
  • parents invited to professional development days
  • review of the district and school budget with parents
  • sharing and discussions around standardized test  and the results of said tests
  • parental input on the annual education results
  • asking parents how they would like to be engaged in their child's education
  • providing opportunities to share knowledge
  • involving parents in the creation of policy
  • creation of both school councils and district school councils( e.g. COSC) as outlined in the school act.
  • inviting businesses into the schools to engage students, parents and staff
To strengthen parents' engagement within your community there needs to be a sense of contextually to it.  While in some communities it may be more about supporting parents to develop cultural or political capital or to develop a connect between families and educators, in other communities that had people living busy lives and parents that spend extended time away from their home, it can take on opening the school for community meetings at unusual times or providing technology so parents can attend events or meetings via Skype or video streaming directly into their homes, place of work or whatever hotel that home might be for the evening.

There are challenges as well.
  • Very little in the way of preservice teacher education in regards to the development of knowledge, skills or attitudes around engaging parents.
  • Allocation of time and money.  Parent engagement will not happen in a school, district or province unless it becomes the focus of a concerted effort.
  • Literature is predominantly American.  More Canadian, provincial and local research is needed to bridge the gap and reflect the community of those jurisdictions more closely.
  • Research continues to be through the eyes of the educators, rather than through the eyes of parents.  It gives the educators point of view on how parents are to fit into the school landscape.  Basically, it is research "on" parents, rather than research "with" parents.
  • While there is an extensive body of work on teacher knowledge, there is no corresponding body of literature on parent knowledge.  When we understand and create research around parent knowledge, how parents use that knowledge and what it is then new possibilities will emerge.
After all of this only one question remains.... Do you want involved parents or engaged parents?

Building relationships for student achievement; Views from Larry Lezotte

Larry Lezotte wrote about the first and second generation of effective schools research. The need to build relationships with all families has never been more critical to student achievement:
The First Generation: In the effective school parents understand and support the school's basic mission and are given the opportunity to play an important role in helping the school to achieve this mission.
The Second Generation: During the first generation, the role of parents in the education of their children was always somewhat unclear. Schools often gave “lip service” to having parents more actively involved in the schooling of their children. Unfortunately, when pressed, many educators were willing to admit that they really did not know how to deal effectively with increased levels of parent involvement in the schools.
In the second generation, the relationship between parents and the school must be an authentic partnership between the school and home. In the past when teachers said they wanted more parent involvement, more often than not they were looking for unqualified support from parents. Many teachers believed that parents, if they truly valued education, knew how to get their children to behave in the ways that the school desired. It is now clear to both teachers and parents that the parent involvement issue is not that simple. Parents are often as perplexed as the teachers about the best way to inspire students to learn what the school teaches. The best hope for effectively confronting the problem—and not each other—is to build enough trust and enough communication to realize that both teachers and parents have the same goal—an effective school and home for all children!
Lezotte, Lawrence W. Correlates of Effective Schools: The First and Second Generation. Effective Schools Products, Ltd., Okemos, MI, 1991.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santas Anonymous Delivery Day

On December 16th I had the best job of the Christmas season.  I got to help deliver Santas Anonymous hampers in the city.  I arrived early at Father Mercerdi High School for the 9 am Liturgy, so I had time for a cup of coffee and a chance to talk to people before it started.  There were students busy working on getting the out-of-town hampers all loaded up for the volunteers to take as far as Chip. Lake.  Even had a chance to talk to my favorite blogger before settling in for the morning's Liturgy and Assembly.
During the Liturgy Father talked about the importance of the work being done and the impact that these students will have on our community. I do believe that the students lives have been transformed by Santas Anonymous, just as much as they are changing someone else's.  I have talked to the students and some of the teachers who talk about students blossoming and growing in confidence through the work that they have been doing.  Year after year students run this worthwhile event.  And I know for a fact that each year students who have graduated come back to help with Santas Anonymous saying that it is not Christmas until they have helped out.  I almost made it through the Liturgy without crying.  It was when the students spoke and offered up their prayers that I lost it.  I think I covered pretty good and no one noticed as the lights were low. 
Photo by McMurray Musings

Photo by McMurray Musings

Soon it was time for delivering hampers.  I had brought my Matrix so with all the seats laying down flat, we piled the car full of hampers, toys, turkeys, oranges, milk, margarine and buns.  With list in hand and a little GPS fun we made it to each house to deliver some Christmas joy. There is nothing quite like spending a day delivering to houses across the city to make one appreciate what these students have achieved.  In retrospect, I should have listened to seasoned veteran and brought a box of Kleenex. On more than one occasion I had to tell myself... you will not cry...you will not cry.  It worked until I got home later that day and let my emotions and exhaustion overtake me.

Thank you to everyone who has made this 27th Santas Anonymous day happen.  Without the tireless dedication of students, parents, staff, donors and volunteers none of this could happen.  I thank you for letting me be a small part in this project and I am forever grateful.  You are amazing!

Check this video out -- COUNTRY 933 SANTAS ANONYMOUS WRAP UP.wmv by clicking on the link below;

Santas Anonymous Promotional Video 2011 from Father Mercredi School;

"Potiche": Taking trophies off the shelf and finding your voice.

On December 14th I attended a Toronto International Film Festival (tiff) Reel Performance in the Rectial Hall at Keyano Theatre. Potiche is a 2010 French-Belgian comedy film directed by François Ozon, based on the play of the same name by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy. It stars Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Judith Godrèche and Jérémie Renier. Set in 1977, the film tells the story "trophy wife" Suzanne Pujol  coming to grips with her own self-worth in this international comedy. When her husband is taken hostage by his striking employees, a trophy wife (Deneuve) takes the reins of the family business and proves to be a remarkably effective leader. Business and personal complications arrive in the form of her ex-lover (Depardieu), a former union leader.
In French, a "potiche" is a decorative vase, but also roughly means the same thing as "trophy wife".  This is a journey that one woman takes to break free of the supplied mold that society and her husband have trapped her in.  At first she is unsure if she can take on the challenges in front of her, but as she gains more self-confidence she realizes that she cannot go back.  In the end she not only becomes a strong woman, but enters the political ring as an independent to beat out her former lover for his MP job.

Here is the link to the movie's trailer.http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1380096537/

I had moments where I laughed out loud and giggled silently.  This was a film about a woman coming into her own.  A story that has been told many times over the years, but somehow remains in the shadows. I have over the years talked to many women who have for one reason or another doubted that they had it in themselves to stand up for themselves.  Everyone has moments of doubt and I myself am not immune to such insecurities.  The difference lies in whether a person believes the opinion of others in their heart and makes them who they are. I have had a colleague tell me that he basically will give me my opinion as I had no degree in the field  therefore making my opinion less valuable and wrong.  Let me tell you, that did not sit well.  I could believe that person or chalk it up to an eye-opening experience into today's chauvinism. Guess which one I chose?  I will always have an opinion and although I may be wrong on items so has the person with that degree on his wall. I am not saying that all men are wrong and all women are right, because women can tear each other down just as much as men.  Been on the receiving end of that too.  The point I am trying to get across is that although words can hurt and people can be forgiven..... the words stay.  It is up to each person....woman or man... to decide if that person's words define who you are.  When you place too much value on others opinions of you rather than believing you are good, strong and worthwhile, then you have given too much to others. The last thing one needs to do is set them a place at your dinner table.  When the person's words take up time with your family and friends you have given over too much time and energy on the subject. Take back your life.
I have spent a fair amount of time facilitating and writing manuals for self-esteem, anger management and stress management and let me tell you I have seen the damaging effects of words on grown individuals.  It is not just "trophy wives" that need to understand that they are more than sum of someone else's opinion, but children, women and yes..men.  Sometimes people seem bent on changing someones opinion because it did not match their own.  That somehow because it didn't match that the other person is wrong. That person then needs to overpower the other by undermining their intelligence, insulting them or maybe yelling loud enough to intimidate. One cannot talk their way out of a situation they have acted their way into. Not everyone is like this, nor is it my intention to apply a broad brush to paint a disparaging picture. The reality of life is that we meet all kinds of people in our life. And I have meet some wonderful people over the course of my life who are amazing conversationalists. Tackling an issue from all angles while holding two opposing ideas within the discussion. That is not an easy task. I do not have all the answers nor do I claim to.  I am just one person trying to find my way, messing up, apologizing, trying to stand strong,and trying to do the right things in life. Not unlike many people I know or really that unusual in any particular way.

I leave you with a story that has made many a grown woman and man weep.

Nails in the Fence

There once was a boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.  Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.    The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.  It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”

The little boy then understood how powerful his words were.  He looked up at his father and said “I hope you can forgive me father for the holes I put in you.”

“Of course I can,” said the father.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Show and Market

I don't know how I could have forgotten that Fort McMurray Tourism was having the first ever Christmas Show and Market at MacDonald Island, but I did.  Thank goodness I was reminded in the nick of time to go.  To miss such a perfect shopping event would be unthinkable. Reports say that 6500 people in Wood Buffalo walked through the doors of this 3 day event.

With over 110 exhibitors it was a good two hours that my friend and I spent wandering through the field house and main foyer.  She was visiting from Calgary and had agreed to stay an extra day in the city so I could show her around.  Well...the fact that I could take her on a tour of MacDonald Island and shop at the same time was a serious bonus.  I had a chance to scope it out the day before for twenty minutes between activities and events so I could let her know what was there.  It was great, because my all time favorite vendor was back....the Scottish Shoppe.  Kinda' ironic because my friend is from Calgary and she travelled to Fort McMurray to visit as it turns out the vendor is actually from Calgary. So needless to say, she now has a new shop to go to in Calgary.  I was asked many times during the course of the opening of Holy Trinity school in October and the grand opening of the theatre on December 2nd, where I got my jewelry.  In case you wanted to know or missed my explanation..It is the Scottish Shoppe.  I am sure he will be back for the spring trade show on April 27th if you didn't see what you were looking for or someone purchased it out from under you.  Talking to the owner he seemed perplexed at how fast the Holy Trinity jewelry had been selling... don't worry I filled him in and told him to bring more next time. 
This was another absolutely stellar trade show and everyone that I talked to was more than happy to do the bulk of their Christmas shopping at this market.  I really hope that this becomes an annual event.  And judging from all the happy faces I would bet Wood Buffalo would agree.

Grand Opening Celebration of the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts

The night finally arrived after years of planning.  The Grand Opening of the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts at Holy Trinity Catholic High School. I was looking forward to the night for many reasons so when I arrived with my special guest for the night, Marilyn Sheptycki; President of Alberta School Councils' Association,  I couldn't help but smile.  The spotlights were flashing in the sky and red carpet was laid out before us as we made our way through the paparazzi and into the school.  I was greeted by another friend of mine who had been patiently waiting for me in the lobby. There was a half hour to comfortably visit before we were ushered by the principal, Lucy Moore, into the theatre for speeches and much anticipated musical entertainment from our homegrown talent.

We were not disappointed.  It was a magical evening wrapped in a celebration of
community partnerships and musical excellence. The pianist, Simon-Marc De Freitas started off the evening.  He almost didn't make it as his flight was turned around because of windy weather, but in true Fort McMurray form he jumped in his car and drove up to be there that evening causing parental concern from the Theatre Manager, Loraine Humphrey.  "Be careful on the road.  Don't text and drive, but let me know when you arrive safely."   Everything in it's place and all artists safely in the city, the audience was treated to world-class performances from Simon-Marc De Freitas, Sarah Neiman, Cara Brown, Alexandra Price, Peter Ellis, and Kimerica and Michael Parr.  I sat with my friends in the back of theatre to get the full acoustic experience and was thrilled to hear operatic pieces from Strauss and Offenbach.  At times I closed my eyes and  let the music flow over me. And at more than one point I had to wipe a tear from my eye especially during the operatic performances of Cara Brown.
Simon-Marc De Freitas, Sarah Neiman and Cara Brown
Then it was time for two big announcements. First up was TEDx. In case you are unaware, TEDx was created in the spirit of TED's mission, "ideas worth spreading." The program was designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. Mark you calendars because there will be the very first TEDx conference,  in Fort McMurray on March 22nd, 2012.

Now what could be better than TEDx coming to Fort McMurray you might ask yourself.  Well....that would be announcement two for the evening.....The MET is coming !  "Live from the Met", or live HD broadcasts of opera from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City will be coming to to Fort McMurray and will be at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts at Holy Trinity Catholic High School in the spring.  I am looking forward to attending every one of the events. 

I am thrilled to see the arts promoted through education.  Years of research show that it's closely linked to almost everything that we say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity. The researchers found that the visual arts classes do have broad benefits. “Students who study the arts seriously are taught to see better, to envision, to persist, to be playful and learn from mistakes, to make critical judgments and justify such judgments,” the authors conclude. When you think of education you are really thinking of three outcomes for the students. We are providing quality education for their future. We are preparing them to be citizens. And we are teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty.
I am thankful for all the people who helped make this project a reality for our community.  The partnerships between Suncor, Fort McMurray Catholic Board of Education and Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has done much to further  performing arts and enrich our cultural opportunities within the city. I look forward to attending many events in the newly opened Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts at Holy Trinity Catholic High School.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Community Leaders Holiday Reception & Keyano College Student Awards Night Celebration

On the night of November 30th I had two events to attend that night.  The first one was the Community Leaders Holiday Reception being hosted by Mayor Melissa Blake and the Regional Council.  I needed to be down to the Stonebridge right at 5 pm because I had to out of there by 6 pm. So with the car all warmed up on a chilly winter evening,  I made my way downtown for what promised to be an exciting evening.  Upon walking in the room, and much discussion about the private meeting coat rack, I made my way around talking to many people that I have come to call friends over the past years of making Fort McMurray home. I was pleased to see so  many people who work so hard to help our community having a chance to receive a thank you from the city.  So to those community leaders who attended and those who didn't let me say a heartfelt THANK YOU for all your hard work and dedication to making our community a better place for all of us who make Fort McMurray our home.
I have to admit I was keeping an eye on the coat rack, because I knew that when certain people who were attending this event put on their coats, it was my cue to leave for the next event.  We were all going to the same place......Keyano College for the 2011 Student Awards Night Celebration.  Before long I putting on my coat and heading off to the College.  I have to admit I was practically bouncing off the walls knowing that someone had received my bursary.  I couldn't wait to meet her.  A future teacher who was going to make a difference in the life of Alberta students for years to come.  Who was our future community leader.  There was no way that I was going to miss attending the Awards Night and I am looking forward to attending for years to come.  I was abit nervous though.  I had received an e-mail the afternoon before asking if I would give a 2 minute speech during the event.  Don't get me wrong, I am good giving speechs to large groups, but somehow this one was different....more personal.  For a person who blogs, facebooks and twitters, I am actually a pretty private person.  To talk about why I do what I do somehow seems self-serving.  So with much trepidation I agreed to address the students that evening. 
There was over 300 awards, bursaries and scholarships handed out to smiling students at the annual Student Awards.  With over $300,000 in awards, bursaries and scholarships, the whole evening went off without a hitch.  Russell Thomas made his way through a long list of names, some more challenging than others, in an efficient and humorous manner.  I was happy to see that there was students of all ages walking across the stage.  I believe that anyone can go back to school regardless of age to further their education and it is not always just a young person's game. I myself have gone back to Keyano College to take a course or two over the years when I have questions on a subject or just looking for something to fill up some down time and am curious on a subject.  What can I say... I love school.
At the end of the night it was time for me to give my short speech and meet the student who had won the Tracy McKinnon Education bursary.  I walked the red carpet to the podium and with Russell lowering the mike for me I delivered my speech;

Good Evening.
My name is Tracy McKinnon.  It is my pleasure to be here at the 2011 Keyano College Student Award Night Celebrations.  I have had the honour of watching some of the amazing students who are receiving the awards and bursaries this evening walk across this stage.  As this is my first year as a donor I am definitely looking forward to meeting many more students in the years to come. The awards and bursaries have been made possible through the generosities of various donors to the Keyano College Foundation. 
We are here this evening to celebrate the importance of pursuing further education by encouraging excellence.  I believe that we are helping shape our future through the encouragement of our leaders of tomorrow.  Each student receiving an award or bursary this evening needs to be congratulated for their hard work and achievements within their field. The recognition that we give this evening to these outstanding students serves as a community “thank you” for the investment of time, effort and heart of our most valuable resource….. each of you.
There are many reasons to become a donor, although my reason pretty much remains the same reason that I do most things in life….I believe that one person can make a difference.  I chose to create the Tracy McKinnon Education Bursary to help someone that I don’t know to become a teacher.  As an avid life-long learner, education has always been a constant thread throughout my life.  Through my years of involvement with schools, the provincial organization of Alberta School Councils’ Association and currently as a Trustee in The Catholic School District, I have witnessed the dedication within the teaching profession.  It was very important to me that the bursary was set up not on marks or financial need alone. I was very specific that the person who qualified for this bursary had community involvement.  You see… I am really doing this for my son.  The individuals who receive this bursary are the kind of teacher that I would want not only for him, but all the children who attend school. 
In closing, I would encourage more citizens of Wood Buffalo to come forward to help local students in achieving their dreams.  As we build the infrastructure of our lives, we can take the time to construct the bridges of community capacity to ensure Wood Buffalo remains a strong global competitor.  To the students in the room tonight, I hope that you realize that the horizon will lean forward for you, offering you a space to place the new footsteps of change.
Thank you for your time.
Then it was time to meet the person who I was there to meet, Lainey Shuttleworth.  I was absolutely thrilled to meet her.  Then the surprise part.  She is Hope Moffat's daughter!  Hope has taught me at Keyano College when I was there years ago taking a literacy course in early childhood studies.  It really is a small world.  Then I received the best present a person can get.... a handwritten thank you note from both Hope and Lainey.  That is something I will keep forever.
Meeting Lainey for the first time on stage.

 From Left to right; Ann Everatt, VP of Academics; myself; Lainey Shuttleworth, and on the right is John Wilson, chair of Keyano's Board of Governors
 After a wonderful evening and a having a chance to talk to Lainey I made my way home for the night.  It had been a great evening.  Then something happened the following evening that completely took me for a loop.  I was out with some friends and a young man came up to me to ask if I was the same person who had given the speech at Keyano College the night before.  To which I said yes.  He shook my hand and said that he and his girlfriend, who had was in the nursing program and received awards the previous night, had been in the audience.  He continued with I just wanted you to know that your words last night really touched us and I had to come say thank you. It was then that I could not find any words.  For those who know me, I am sure that this is hard to believe that I could only say an awkward thank you.  I left feeling absolutely uplifted and with a lesson in life.  Words count and individual people can make a difference. 
Thank you to all the people in this community that make a difference. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don Scott's Big Announcement

 Today at 2 pm I was at the big announcement regarding Don Scott.  He is a person that I have the utmost respect for and was thrilled when he publicly announced his intention to seek the PC nomination for the new riding of Fort McMurray-Conklin. Things are different this year.  We are gearing up to vote in two MLAs for our region. The city is practically all abuzz with excitement over the possibilities and opportunities.
Map of Alberta showing Provincial Electoral
Divisions 58 & 59

In the foyer at Sawridge, my friend, stepped up to the plate for Fort McMurray.  Addressing a standing room only crowd Don talked about his vision and direction for Fort McMurray/Conklin.  His belief in committed action, in education, in seniors, in health care and having a effective representative in government.  He talked of putting aside past grievances for a future that we can be proud of no matter where we are in this world.  I encourage you to drop into his website to learn more about Don Scott www.donscott.ca

Don Scott: Announcement @ Sawridge

Over the last year I have watched Don Scott stand up for our community.  I have had a chance to get to know him better as a person as we seem to travel in the same circles and attend quite a few of the same events as publicly elected figures. I guess that is not unusual as both of us have made Fort McMurray a place to raise our families and our homes are here in Wood Buffalo.  I have watched him as he stops to talk to everyone who has come up to him, making time to hear their concerns and move into action when called upon.  He is someone that I have the honour of calling friend.  He is funny, thoughtful,a family man, a volunteer and he loves this community as much as I do.  I firmly believe that he will be an outstanding representative for our region. Too bad he running for 58: Fort McMurray-Conklin...it is not my voting area, because he would have my vote hands down. 
Loved your cupcakes, Don!

Classically Brilliant Shakespearean Theatre; Macbeth

A couple of weeks ago I heard the tell-tale ping of an e-mail hitting the in box.  Upon opening it, I was more than delighted to see that it was from Keyano Theatre and I was being invited for a backstage tour of the up-coming play Macbeth.  I have to admit, I totally adore backstage tours at Keyano theatre.  Each time I have gone it has been before I have seen the play and it has made the play that much more interesting when I do see it performed.  I immediately contacted a friend of mine who is also of a curious nature to invite her, knowing that she would find the backstage tour as fascinating as I do.  November 27th came up fast on my calendar and soon I found myself waiting in Keyano lobby for the production manager, Nick Beach, in eager anticipation of the tour. 
Up until this point I have been avoiding reading any reviews, blogs or newspaper articles about the play.  I don't want anything to colour my perception of what I am to see both on the backstage tour and the play that I will see that evening. We walk into the theatre and I am immediately struck by the lack of a set.  I am intrigued. I know that the stage floor has been painted many, many times over the years for each production that has run at Keyano Theatre, but this time it seems to be different.  There are 16 squares where the entire play will be performed and the floor itself seems to absorb light. Nick quickly explains that the floor has been painted as close to matte as possible with highway paint to avoid light bouncing off of it.  I look around and soon realize that this set is a work in simplicity and lighting.  The lights are set up on the side as they would for a dance production, which I am informed has never been done before at the Theatre for a play. We move to the side of the stage where we look at the daggers used in the play.  They are not stage-prop ready knives that one usually sees in a production, which by the way break more often that the actors would like in a sword fight, but are made in an armoury in Britain and tour with the company.  I am thinking that customs might be a bit dodgy at times explaining what is in your traveling case for these guys.  I notice that there are black pieces of cloth on the floor.  These serve two purposes for the play, first as a costume for the witches and second to aid the actors in fading into the darkness....kinda' like a Theatre Snuggy.  Macbeth is a military play so I was not surprised to see that they were using flak vests as part of the costumes.  So simple, yet implying so much more.  When I left the backstage tour I was seriously looking forward to seeing Macbeth that evening armed with my new found backstage Intel.  Not only do I like Macbeth, but this is the ONLY stop in Canada that Aquila Theatre  Company (www.aquilatheatre.com)  is making. 
 I arrive that Sunday night for the closing night performance of  The Tragedy of Macbeth, which is a play about a regicide and its aftermath. It is about the darkness found in the souls of humankind and the tragedy of irresistible temptation. The plot of Macbeth is set in motion ostensibly by the prophecy of the three witches. The prophecy fans the flames of ambition within Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, serving as the primary impetus for the entire play. I can not help but wonder: Would Macbeth have committed such heinous crimes if not for the prophecy? What if he had ignored the witches’ statements? Is it not really about the choices that one makes in life that set us upon one path or another?  Macbeth’s tragic flaw is that he choose to commit murder even though he could simply discard the witches words.
Photo Credit to Aquila Theatre

Some of the most famous and poetic lines from Macbeth are expressions of remorse and guilt. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?” exclaims Macbeth after he stabs Duncan (II ii 58-59). Similarly, Lady Macbeth is plagued by a “spot” that she cannot remove from her hand: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say. . . What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” (V I 30-37).  These are the lines that I think everyone knows.  I can hear people around me as Lady MacBeth says her famous lines both uttering the words with the actor, and smiling(and yes you can hear a smile) in recognition. 
Photo Credit to Aquila Theatre
The performance by Aquila Theatre was classically brilliant Shakespearean Theatre. When Shakespearean Theatre is done correctly, which was done with this company of British actors it can transport the patron into a world of intrigue, and open questions to our human psyche.  Since seeing the play I have had time to read the reviews, blogs and entered into discussions on the impressions this play has left on many people in Wood Buffalo.  I must admit that I  thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this production and while some might not agree, the play held true to the art of Shakespearean theatre.  The thoughtful minimalistic use of  colour, and the inventive lighting techniques made this one of my favorite plays that I have had the opportunity to see.

While doing some background on The Tragedy of MacbethMacbeth by name while inside a theatre, and sometimes refer to it indirectly, for example as "the Scottish play" or "MacBee", or when referring to the character and not the play, "Mr. and Mrs. M", or "The Scottish King". This is because Shakespeare is said to have used the spells of real witches in his text, purportedly angering the witches and causing them to curse the play. Thus, to say the name of the play inside a theatre is believed to doom the production to failure, and perhaps cause physical injury or death to cast members.  One particular incident that lent itself to the superstition was the Astor Place Riot. The Astor Place Riot occurred on May 10, 1849 at the now-demolished  Astor Opera House in Manhattan, New York City and left at least 25 dead and more than 120 injured. Because the cause of these riots was based on a conflict over two performances of Macbeth, this is often thought of as having been caused by the curse. Several methods exist to dispel the curse, depending on the actor. One, attributed to Michael York is to immediately leave the building the stage is in with the person who uttered the name, walk around it three times, spit over their left shoulders, say an obscenity then wait to be invited back into the building. A related practice is to spin around three times as fast as possible on the spot, sometimes accompanied by spitting over their shoulder, and uttering an obscenity. Another popular "ritual" is to leave the room, knock three times, be invited in, and then quote a line from  Hamlet. Yet another is to recite lines from  The Merchant of Venice, thought to be a lucky play.
As far as I am concerned we are very lucky intend to have had the Canadian debut from Aquila Theatre company in the production of Macbeth here in Fort McMurray. Thank you to all that made this possible and thank you Nick for an enlightening backstage tour. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Santas Anonymous; The Quest for Christmas Love

Over the last 26 years there have been over 50,161 people which have been helped  - majority of which have been children - by Father Mercerdi High School Santas Anonymous Program.  The community has entrusted the school with the noble calling of supplying citizens of Wood Buffalo with a week's supply of food, including a traditional Christmas dinner and gifts for each child in the house. Last year the number of hampers requested was the highest ever,  topping out at 650 families in need of help. 
It is no wonder that I found myself driving to Father Mercredi High School on November 27th for the Christmas Market in support of Santas Anonymous.  As I walked into the transformed foyer at Father Mercredi I was welcomed by three of Santa's happy Elves.  It was quickly apparent that the students thoroughly enjoyed helping out with this cause.

As I made my way through the market I stopped to talk to people I knew, and vendors that peaked my interest... and there were quite a few. I was immediately interested in Tocara jewelry (www.tocaraplus.com).  Anyone who knows me at all would attest that I am one to stop for good jewelry and conversation which was both found in abundance as I talked to Lesley Abbott.  I totally adore homemade cards, but lack the patience and more importantly the time to make them myself, so I was extremely happy to to run across P-Ink Creations (p-inkcreations@hotmail.com). They had a great assortment of products and to top it all off they will make custom made cards if I need them.  Definitely keeping that on my list of things to remember, although cat's out of the bag now it would seem.  So if you get a homemade card from me, know two things.  First, I didn't make it and  two it is the thought that counts.  I also missed Festival of Trees this year, as I have unfortunately done for the past two years because it falls on the same weekend as two very important general meetings in Edmonton, so it was wonderful to see Blissful Occasions (www.blissfuloccasions.webs.com) there.  They had those clay snowmen that I have purchased every year since my son was born for the Christmas tree. Most happy circumstance indeed.
Tocara - Lesley Abbott

P-Ink Creations - Pamela Clark
With a good start on my Christmas shopping completed I made my way back to my car.  Even though I was done I could see people still driving into the full parking lot searching for a parking spot to support this worthy cause.  You see.....the people who live in Wood Buffalo will come out to support a good cause. 
There are many more opportunities for you to get involved if you missed the Teddy Bear Toss at the Oil Baron Game or the Market.  To get the latest up-dates you can go on the Father Mercredi Santas Anonymous website http://fmsantas.com
December 6, 2011
- Father Mercredi Musical Christmas – 7:30pm to 9:30pm at Father Mercredi Cafeteria – Come listen to our student bands and choirs perform Christmas performances to get you in the Christmas spirit. Donations will be accepted for Santa's Anonymous. I can't wait to go.  It is already in my calendar.
December 8, 2011
- Pancake Breakfast – Father Mercredi High School – 7am – 8:30am where I will be serving breakfast from 7:30 until 8 am
December 9 and 10, 2011
- Miracle Marathon – Continuous Radio Coverage supported by Safeway Canada and 93.3 Country and Rock 97.9
- We will be accepting new toys, non-perishable food items and monetary donations. This is a great time for local businesses to donate and challenge other local businesses to do the same.
December 16, 2011
Packing Day – Hampers will be packed and delivered. Call 780-799-5725 if you are interested in delivering hampers.

If you know of a family that is in need and could use some Christmas love please have the referral form http://fmsantas.com/santas-anonymous-referral-form  submitted to Father Mercerdi Santas Anonymous by December 9th, 2011.  I have both packed these hampers and delivered around Fort McMurray and I have seen the joy on people's faces as we drop off toys, and food with nothing more than a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in exchange.  If you have time to spare the return for your time is more than worth it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An Act of Remembrance

This was the first year that the Remembrance Day service was held in the field house at MacDonald Island.  It has been traditionally held in the Keyano theatre. With it being down at MacDonald Island the attendance of the service effectively doubled with people coming together to celebrate, honour and remember.  I think it may have been more than that as I looked up to see people on the second level of the facility.  This year was chalk full of interesting numbers as it turns out.  You have heard of the eleventh hour and the courage that people find there, and this year on November 11th of 2011 over 1300 people found the fortitude to come to a service as a reminder of the foundation of courage on which Canada rests. The passing of time can make "remembrance" increasingly difficult as we fill our lives with the act of living. However coming together in an event such as this we can pause to pay homage to the achievements and sacrifices made by those that served and continue to serve Canada in times of war, peace, armed conflict and to promote an understanding of the significance of these efforts.

Photo by Matt Youens

Phase 1 of the Remembrance Day service was complete with O'Canada, March of Colours, and messages from the various stage guests.  As I sat in the audience listening to words of our leaders from both community and government I was struck by a reoccurring theme.  To honour what these women and men have fought for we need to be aware that it is more than the act itself and understand the reason why there was action in the first place. As a Country.....As a Province....  As a Municipality... As a Community... we have prospered because we have citizens who are willing to stand up and answer the call to serve in hours of need in ways both large and small. We see it in the soldier that has laid down their life in the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and way of life.  We see it in the Canadian citizen who has enlisted in a life of service to our Province to find a better way of life for all Albertans.  We see it in a woman I have the utmost respect for, who through her dedicated service and compassion for the citizens of Wood Buffalo has helped make this community a place that all residents are proud to call home. We see it in the loving eyes of  a parent as they look upon their child hoping for the best possible future, wrapping them in the protection of love and dedicating their life to improving the community for the benefit of their entire family. All actions based in a belief that we have a duty to others and stand accountable for our actions for lives more than our own.

After a break we begin Phase II, the cenotaph service.  This is the part of the service where I have the honour  to lay a wreath on behalf of Kinette Club of Fort McMurray.  The Pipers Lament and Reveille set the mood for what we as a community are about to do. It begins with the stage guests laying their wreaths followed by all those who have purchased wreaths coming forward to honour our women and men who have and continue to serve our Country in their unyielding dedication and sacrifice. Canadian soldiers are our sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.  They come in every possible type, as varied a group as any Canadian city or town.Some families wait and worry in silence for the safe return of their loved one from their misson, while other families have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our Country. It is for this reason we have come together to lay wreaths in our community's act of Remembrance.This is the reason we wear a poppy.  This is the reason we cannot forget.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Parent Teacher Interview Season

It is that time once again...parent teacher interview season.  Last night my son and I went to Father Mercerdi School for this most important piece of the school year.  It started at 6 pm so after I impart a quick lesson in gentlemanly manners, we walk through the front doors at 6:03 pm.  We quickly make our way to the  back of the school to his classrooms...we have five teachers to talk to this evening and he is my guide.  I am a firm believer that whatever can be said to me about his school ethics and performance can be said in front of my child.  We are all in this together....school, student and parents....for his academic success.  We need to support each other. 
The historically scripted story of how parents and school are to interact has changed over the years as we enter into a shared world within the educational fields.   A child’s primary education starts long before they enter the front doors of the school and I believe that it is through continuing active engagement and open communication that children’s educational success is secured. I believe that when school and home reach out to each other with genuine interest and support they can build a relationship fostered in mutual respect. Educational success does not happen on its own. It is only through continued engagement that we can move forward. By linking together we can help bring the wraparound services needed to help each individual student achieve their personal success.
I am there not because my son's marks are low or that he is struggling in any way that I can see.  He is a smart, capable young man.  I am there to connect to his teachers.....that they can put a face to Connor's mom....that I can let them know that I think they are doing a good job....give them my contact information in case things change so we can get to it early.....to offer my help if they ever need anything.... to be engaged in his education.  It bothered me more profoundly than I realized to hear in the hallway a parent talking to their child; " If you would only do better I could have stayed home tonight."  There is so much more happening this night. I believe it is important to have the home and school connection not only when the student is struggling, but when they are succeeding.
There is another side to parent teacher interviews that happens as well.....socializing.  As parents cool their heels in the hallways waiting to talk to their child's teacher we can catch up on things that are happening in each other's lives.  Granted it helps that there are cookies and water provided.  I talk to people that I have not had the chance to see in quite some time, chitty chat with parents that I have just met in the line-up, my son's friends and with random school staff.  Two hours after we walked through the front doors we head back home.  Even my son agrees that this has been time well-spent. On the way home I let him know how proud I am of him, how I liked seeing the photos he had a chance to show me from his option class, offered areas for improvement in LA..liked his story though about Zombies, and how important math is for his career choices later in life.  He smiles and says, "Thanx for coming to my school.  I liked that."  For a teenage boy, that's the most totally awesome statement ever.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Remembrance Day Liturgy at Holy Trinity School

I was recently blessed to get an invitation from the Holy Trinity principal, Lucy Moore, to attend the Remembrance Day Liturgy.  As I drove over to the newest member of the Catholic School Family, Holy Trinity, this morning I must admit I was seriously looking forward to it.  I walked into the front doors and headed into the office to find out where exactly the Liturgy would be taking place.  I am greeted by the Theatre/Business Manager, Ms. Loraine Humphrey, who both welcomed me and reminded me to get  my poppy...which are conveniently placed on the counter in the school's office, to which I promptly in put my loonies and take a poppy...then guided me to the gym.

As I walk into the gym I immediately know that things are going to be a bit different than the usual Remembrance Day Liturgy as I spot the school band set up at the front of the gym.  I am escorted to my seat by vice-principal/ city councilor, Sheldon Germain.  As I wait for it to begin, Lucy comes up to let me know that we have a guest of honour that is also seated up front; a World War 2 Veteran.  Immediately I go over to talk to him.  I introduce myself and let him know how honoured I am that he has come to the school's Liturgy.  We talk for a short time and then I find myself squeaking out a choked up Thank You as I begin to thank him for the sacrifices made for us.  I can't finish much more than that so I  retreat back to my seat to compose myself.  The Liturgy hasn't even started yet and I am already in tears.  Resigned to fact that I am going to cry at some point I fish into the bottom of my purse to find some Kleenex and sit down.
The children start to fill the gym and I hear "Hello, Ms. McKinnon." I look around and I see a child that was at my son's old school walking by.  I smile and say hello back, to which I see her hit the other student she is walking with on the arm and say with knowledgeable authority....That's Ms. McKinnon. As I look around the room and notice many students that I know from my years of volunteering in the school district.  It is nice to see them again. They have all grown and matured so much over the summer. They are turning into amazing young adults.
We all turn to the front of the gym as the Liturgy began with the mournful sound of the horn. Soon the Holy Trinity band sets the tone of the Liturgy by playing Amazing Grace.  The sound of bagpipes at the back of the gym announced to all of those present that the Honour Guard, Flag Bearer, cadets, Gospel Bearer, and our guest of honour are making their way to the front of the gym. The Liturgy is a moving ceremony that is the perfect blend of Catholicity, Fine Arts and Respectful Remembrance.  There is an interpretative dance by a group of students, the powerful voice of a student accompanied by a pianist and the drama students that materialized from the stands to enact the tragedy of loss, prayers offered up to God in Remembrance, a PowerPoint presentation that has students voices fading in about the importance of the sacrifices made, and a dramatic presentation of the Flanders's Field poem. At more than one point throughout the one hour Liturgy I struggled to get my emotions under control and the Kleenex that I had earlier retrieved was put to good use. When I turned to leave the gym I noticed that I was not alone.  Many of the parents, staff and students in attendance today were wiping tears from their eyes.  This was by far the most thought provoking, emotional and beautiful Remembrance Day ceremony I have ever had the honour to attend. 
On my way out I stopped to talk to our honoured guest from the Liturgy.  We talked about the Liturgy and how wonderful it was.  He was very impressed with the quiet respect of entire the student body, and how artful the Liturgy had been.  Then he said something that brought back the stark reality of Remembrance Day and why we had gathered that day in the gym; " I fought in the war so these children would not have to.  I was in the war to end all wars, and still today we fight and send our young people to die.  Why can't we learn?" 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Enjoying a Gala through new eyes.

I have had the tickets to go to the Keyano 2011 Diamond Gala from the Thursday they first went on sale. I am looking forward to going but not because of the fabulous food, amazing auction items, or  the black tie attire. All of which I know will be there, and are extremely valid reasons for going. In all honesty,  I am looking forward to going to bring my good friend to experience a gala.  She has been a solid rock in my family's life since our kids first meet in Grade 0, or as everyone calls it .... kindergarten.
From the moment I ask her to come with me I know that it will be a good night for her. I listen as she begins to plan....I have put it on the calendar...I am so excited to go....I hear it is unbelievable...and the list goes from there.  As it comes closer and closer she tells me of shopping for the perfect dress, and of hair appointments and shoes.  I can tell she is excited.  As for me...well....I am looking to the back of the closet for a dress I have not been seen in lately, and a half hour before I walk out the door I am breaking out the straightener to try to fix my hair so it is good enough.
I am driving for the night so I let her know that I will pick her up at 6:30 pm. When I arrive and open the door, the excitement of the night is contagious. She looks marvelous in a blue gown and her kids are taking her picture as she poses for the camera.  I am smiling already. 
When we arrive it is clear that they have outdone themselves again at this year's gala.  It is stunning.  Walking around with my freind, we stop and talk to people I know and people that she knows.  It is clear that she is having a wonderful time.  It brings me back to the first time I went to a gala.  It was all so wonderful and new. For me the whole goal this night is to make sure that she has a memorable evening at this event.  I explain how things will happen during the night, scope out a place to sit, bring appetizers for her to try, make runs to the bar for drinks, and spend the night in comfortable conversation with a good friend. 

Although I had considered not going this night, watching her expereience this black tie event has made me realize how lucky I am. I have a blessed life.  I know people say that all the time, but this was the reminder that I needed to snap me out a blue funk I had started to spiral into.  God has an interesting way of sneaking in through the back door to remind you of things when the front door is busy. Now this may not be the typical experience that people walk away with from an black tie gala, but as I have come to realize...I am not normal..thank goodness. 
A lesson in friendship has been reinforced this night.  What it means to work through personal issues to be there for a person you respect and has been there for you.  Not to take for granted what we have been given in life.  Make sure you give back when you are able.  And smile when someone comes into your life to remind you of this whether they know it or not.
Best quote of the night: " Every one should know what it is like to go to a Gala at least once in their life."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ladies Night at Home Hardware

I was out for lunch with a good friend of mine when she said that she was heading out to Ladies Night @ Home Hardware the next night.  When I asked her what it entailed her response was...no idea, but she was going.  Being an adventurous type I decided to see what it was all about.  Leaving lunch I head to Home Hardware to pay my $5.00 to register.

The next night I pick up my friend and we head out.  Immediately I know that this is going to be a different kind of evening as a group of men walk by heading back to their vehicles after they have been turned away at the doors ...."Sorry, guys. It is ladies only this evening." I am intrigued.  We walk up, give our names and are promptly given a bag and a door prize ticket. My friend hits my shoulder and says. " Look! Does that man has a glue gun? "  As we sipped our drinks we watched in curious awe as this man did a demonstration on how to make 3D Christmas cards with nothing more than a stencil, paper and a golf tee! Then topped it off by making an envelope out of another glittery designed paper to put the card in.  Beside him is a lady painting a table to demonstrate the differences between rollers and brushes.  Then we make our way to the other side of the room where the appetizers are being served.  I follow along behind my friends when I hear an excited; "They are serving on real plates!"  I have to tell you this is turning out to be quite a fun experience.  We look through the store to see if there are more demonstrations.  Sure enough, they are all through the store.  There are people on hand to answer every question you might have about home renovations.  In the back of the store is the strategically placed desert table where another group of employees are demonstrating some of the products for sale...there is one lady making sliders on the tiniest grill I have ever seen, and another making cupcake from a cupcake machine. I leave my friends behind at the desert table to explore the store.  I ran into alot of people I knew there happily doing some Christmas shopping and reconnecting. Over and over I heard the same responses..."Isn't this great!?"....." Now this is the way to shop."....."I am definitely coming back next year."   It took some time to work my way through the throngs of customers, but I finally found who I was looking for.... the organizers of this event.  Apparently this is the 6th year this event has been running.  There was over 220 women in the store that night and next year the event is going to be bigger yet because Home Hardware is expanding.  And to top it off, Home Hardware is donating the money raised that night to the Food Bank.  
I am impressed. I know that they are making money that night on sale, and I firmly believe in free enterprise.  There is also something more than that happening this night.  This local business is doing their bit to give back to the community.  I am pretty much sure that my five bucks did not cover the expense of the food, wine and prizes that were walking out the door that night.  Even I won a door prize that night.... a Stainless Steel Meat Slicer.  I texted my husband about the prize to which I got the response, " Nice." No idea what I am going to do with it, but Ken seems pretty happy with the door prize. Probably because I used the words stainless steel in the description.

This is just one reason why I love this city. It is not for the fabulous door prizes that they gave away, but because we are a community of givers.  We live to expand our mandates to include others.  We do it better than anywhere else I have lived.  This is why I am proud to call Wood Buffalo my home and have such fierce pride in my community. Thank you to all the businesses who do their part to give back and people who get involved.  We are a better community in the middle of the woods because if it.  And yes.....I really do like my new pink screwdriver.  Thanx.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

KAOS at Family Skate

As many of you already know I use to be an on-air host...apparently you can't say deejay anymore...politically correctness and the like......for KAOS 91.1 for about a year and a half.  I volunteered for this. And who wouldn't?  Great station.  Positive message.  Doing good things for the community.  Right up my alley. I had my own mid-day show from 10 until 3 pm Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.  I loved doing it.  Anyone who knows me knows that the saying. "just give me a mike, a room and a crowd of people and I am all good" applies to me.  Unfortunately I had to give it up in May of 2011.  I hung on as long as I could,  but my time commitment with my Board lives made it impossible.  The station holds a soft spot in my heart and always will.  They are a good group of people. 
One of the things that I loved doing , believe it or not, was hanging out handing out hot chocolate and coffee on the Family Skate days.  KAOS 91.1, in conjunction with local sponsors provides a free family skate on Sundays down at MacDonald Island from 2:30 until 4:30 pm.  I have had more than a few jobs during the family skates, but my favorite has always been handing out those delicious beverages to people. For me it is about giving back to a community that has given so much to our family.  It is about reconnecting with people I have not seen since the last Family Skate.  It is about more than hot chocolate.  It is about community.
If you have not had a chance yet to partake in this event with your family I would strongly suggest that you do.  I was there on October 30th for the Heroes and Heroines Costume Skate. There were children and adults all dressed up in Halloween costumes hitting the ice....some literally.  There were smiling faces and the incredulous statement. " It's free?!  Really?!"  My answer is, "Absolutely.  I hope you enjoy yourself today and have fun.  Don't forget to come out again and bring your friends." People have a hard time understanding that concept of free..no strings attached idea.  When they realize that you mean it, their face breaks into a uncontrolled smile.  For me ...that's it....that's what I came for.
You can find out more about the Station and how they are giving back to the community in many ways by going to their website. www.kaos911.com

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What my day looked like when Premier Alison Redford came to my hometown.

I received a excited phone call prior to the Premier coming to Wood Buffalo.  She had agreed to have lunch with the Health Advisory Council (HAC) and would I come?  Are you serious?  Of course I am coming. So I cancel out going to the Chamber of Commerce luncheon where our Mayor Melissa Blake is giving her State of the Region Address.  Have to admit I was disappointed to miss that.  I always like to listen to our Mayor talk.  She has such passion for this community.  I also knew she would understand.  So I begin to plan for the discussions surrounding health in our region that I would like to discuss with the Premier.  I look over the agenda and find that I have much to say about all the items on that list.  Imagine that.....I have an opinion!?  I have opinions about most things as I am sure that anyone who knows me can attest to. I am most impressed as our Premier walks into the room.  She comes in without airs, walks with relaxed purpose and ready smile.  She has won me over long before she walked into that room, but it was nice to see that my beliefs are well-founded. I love how she starts the conversation...`` In three short weeks a lot has been accomplished.  The doors of the legislature have been blown off and now it is time to get to work.``  Straight shooter if there ever has been one. We had a great discussion with honest straight forward questions and answers.  No one seemed shy and were willing talk honestly and sincerely with the Premier and Minister of Health about Wood Buffalo.  I will say that your HAC team did Wood Buffalo proud that day.
I also had the great honour of helping out on the executive planning team for the Premier`s Dinner that happened that same night. As many of you who work events know there is alot of behind the scenes planning that takes place.  You only need to ask my son, who had to sing O`Canada numerous times while I worked out the timing on the PowerPoint. I would edit out pictures as he sat beside me telling me which ones he thought were the coolest ones of the bunch and I needed to keep.  Then I would cue it back up and say, ``OK.  Once again from the top.``  He is an amazing young man.  I arrived at the assigned time to work the registration desk...4 pm.  The busy workers from the PC party had already done all the work and the name tags were there in alphabetical order.  I quickly find mine, put it my pocket for later use, and find that there is more than  enough volunteers for the registration table and I am reassigned to the Edge Students who have come to open doors and work the coat check for the evening.  I know I will be missing quite alot of the event in the beginning but I am good with that.  I talk to the students who have come and explain what I expect them to do with the doors, check and see who has jackets on ( only kids with jackets on can work the doors that lead outside...the Mom in me has kicked in...it is cold out there and I don`t want them to catch colds).  To my surprise the two students who are working the coat check are both named Tyler.  I explain how to hang coats, which part of the ticket to give the patron, when things should quiet down for them, when I will be getting them supper, how to find me if they need anything and that I will be back to check on them periodically.  One of the times I check on them I notice that there is one more student in there who is older so I ask his name.  Tyler he says.  I am blown away.  Three Tyler`s in one room....all in the Edge program....and none of them knew each other before that night.  Too funny. 
Now that things are rolling along with the students I can focus on the room for the first time. There are wall to wall people.  There are MLAs, the movers and shakers of Wood Buffalo, and of course the Premier.  I personally belong to three different Ministries...Health, Education and Child and Family Services Authority.  I have already had a chance to talk to the Health Minister so I move out into the room to see if I can find the other two.  It did not take long.....they were standing side by side talking.  It is interesting because my new old Minister of Human Services was my Minister of Education not that long ago.  It is great to talk to both of them. I like both of them and know they will be good in their new portfolios. In a room like that everyone knows it is a matter of time before someone else is crowding behind you to get there chance to speak to them so it is not a long conversation but still a good chance to connect again.  Satisfied that I have covered all three of my Ministries I look for my friends in the room.  I know they are there...I have seen them earlier, however being vertically challenged in a crowded room has some serious disadvantages.  It takes me more than 15 minutes to find the person that I am looking for  in a room that takes normally takes one minute to walk across  as I am constantly stopping to talk to people I know in the room and various Ministers I have come to know over the years. It is nice to see so many MLAs in the room that have come out to support our Premier and Wood Buffalo. I finally find the person I am looking for and we look for a quieter less crowded place to take a breather.  I have been on the go since early that morning and I need to regroup.  Thank goodness for friends.  They help keep your head screwed on right. 
Soon it is time for everyone to go in for dinner. As we try to move 400 people into the next room....a saying pops into my mind that a colleague of mine says in situations like this.... It is like herding cats.  Eventually everyone is in the dining room, except me.  It is time for me to get supper for the amazing Tylers of the coat check. They are excited that they may get a glimpse of the Premier so I wait with them in case they need a picture, but alas she is going a different way to enter the room.  I give them the menu and tell them they can have any sandwich or burger they want and I will deliver it to them. Bless their hearts, they ask if I am missing dinner.  I tell them in my world kids come first...always.  So armed with the order and my wallet off I go to get these boys some much needed food. 
Once delivered I let them know where I am sitting and  walk into the room.  The Premier has already started and I have missed the opening, but I am there for the meat and potatoes of the speech. As it would be most rude to walk through the room to find my seat I wait quietly standing in the back of the room.  Our Premier talks about health, education, infrastructure, twinning of the highway, and the future of our community as she sees it.  She makes no grandiose promises, but is solid in her words.  From where I am standing I can see the whole room.  I begin to watch the crowd while listening to see the reaction in the faces and body language around the room.  People are leaning in towards her, nodding their heads in agreement and at times smiling. You can almost physically feel the change that is reverberating in the air as people begin to believe again. The Premier is the genuine article. I have hope for Albertans and I believe she will deliver on her word.  From the reaction in the room so do the people who attended the dinner that night.
After she is finished I quickly check on my coat check experts and run into one of the Premier`s security detail.  I have had a chance to see him more than once during the course of the day.  I explain to him that the boys were disappointed not to have seen the Premier and if he could possibly bring her to meet them it would be great.  He smiles and says no worries and he is off.  I once again check on them and move back into the dinner.  I am hungry. Even though I said I had lunch with the Premier I never did eat much  and totally missed breakfast.  It is moving on past 7 pm and I am on empty.
I get to my table after salad has been served and notice we are without an MLA.  We didn`t have enough to go around and it would seem my table has been one of those.  I quip to my colleague sitting beside me that it looks like we are missing an MLA to which he responses... don`t need one...we have you!  I giggle and we tie into the food and great conversation. It is time to unwind and relax.  Things are almost done for the night.
I did check back one more time with the students at the coat check and am very happy that both the Premier and Mayor have stopped by to talk to these young men.  It speaks volumes for me that both of these outstanding and powerful women have taken time out of their schedules to enter into a conversation with them.  The boys tell me all about how the Premier knew what they had for dinner and could name it!  They were excited about that for some reason. I get it though as I have boy...it is all about the food.  It was an amazing night all round for everyone it would seem.