Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer breezes

I had no sense that I would spend some time with the Wood Buffalo Update this morning, but after having a few sips of coffee and shaking myself from my longer-than-normal slumber, something niggled at me that it was time.  Sure enough, it has been almost two months since I last checked in, mere days before the news conference that announced my significant professional shift.

I'm a little sleepy for two reasons: first, because it is a cooler morning with a lulling soft rain, and second, because I spent many hours on Christina Lake yesterday, sucking in fresh air and life.  By the time we got home I was pooped.  Out on a boat for about five hours, I caught 14 fish, several of which were nice sized walleye.  It was outstanding.

The move into the role of interim executive director of the Arts Council was announced on May 15th and happened just a few days later.  As my focus on the arts had begun almost a full year before that, it really wasn't a jarring change, outside of the technology adjustment from the Microsoft to Apple environment.  I'm still working out of the same office in the Arts Centre of the college, surrounded by familiar people and things.

Where we are heading is much clearer to me now after spending a full day with the Edmonton Arts Council and crafting a business plan for 2014.  Assuming our funding request goes through, we would quickly jump from a party of one to a bustling organization of four in year one, six in year two.  We would be managing the municipality's public art program, doling out arts grants, and advocating on behalf of the sector.

Based on my understanding of the relationship between the Arts Council and my political duties, my guess would be that I would be running for re-election in October.  I haven't made that final decision or announcement yet, but the last three years have been fantastic and the opportunity to serve for an additional four is one that I'd like to seize (we are moving from 3-year to 4-year terms in Alberta), if I can avoid conflict of interest.  The fact is that I might need to seek some legal counsel before making that final call.  In any event, I'm protected completely right now because I am on a secondment until the end of May in 2014 thanks to Keyano College.  They have "given me over" to the Arts Council, covering all of my wages, benefits, etc.

The day before my 46th birthday, I saw on Twitter that a flood watch had been issued for the Hangingstone River in Fort McMurray.  I immediately jumped into my car and went to the end of the street where this normally tranquil stream cuts through town, adjacent to Heritage Park.  Tranquil had turned terrifying as almost 100 mm of rain that had fallen in the watershed had filled the Hangingstone to historic levels.  As I was standing there, the edge of the water was already creeping up the sidewalk.  To my right, a group of school kids were on a tour of the park, oblivious to what was happening.

By early the following morning, I almost couldn't process the pictures I was seeing, particularly of the Sport & Wellness Centre at Keyano College, the main floor of which was covered in a foot or two of water.  Heritage Park was a lake and several neighbourhoods were put on alert to evacuate.  We declared a state of local emergency - the first of many to come in Alberta over the next few weeks - and put our EOC (Emergency Operations Centre) to its second highest level of activation, something that had never happened before.

I was preparing to go to a weekend conference in Banff when news of the flooding in southern Alberta began to hit the following week.  Organizers made the decision to move the gathering to downtown Calgary which proved to be its death knell as Cowtown ended up being in the path of the largest flow of water in the province's history.  By the next morning, the largest city in Alberta looked eerily like New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  High River to the south was an unmitigated disaster zone. Our flood seemed inconsequential as images of the devastation began to dominate the news.

Life carried on, and clean-up efforts and restoration are in full swing here in Fort McMurray and throughout the southern half of Alberta.  At the College, the new and improved Sport and Wellness Centre will reopen in early September in time for the start of the fall semester.  The Calgary Saddledome, flooded up to row 10 according to some reports, will take a little longer to restore, but it will come back, as will High River and other places ravaged by water.

The end of the school year heralded strong efforts by both Dylan and Ben.  It marked a watershed moment for their educational journeys as they will be in different schools for the first time this fall.  Dylan will be bussing to the other end of town to attend Holy Trinity High School.  Both had great report cards and Dylan was acknowledged with a Citizenship Award for the leadership role he played at Dr. Clark School.  We were very proud of both boys for their efforts.

Dylan is really finding his voice outside of school as well, enjoying strengthening connections made during the Hometown...The Musical! process.  He was recently invited to participate in a video podcast called Gamer Girls vs Gamer Guys.  His depth of knowledge about video gaming was evident in his first appearance on the show.

His adult co-host Ashley shared that "Dylan was incredible. Honestly, we were a bit worried about how having kids on front of a camera would go, but as soon as Dylan came in and started chatting with us we knew he would be perfect for it. And he nailed it!"

Ben spends his time making music and designing incredible things on Minecraft and wherever his travels take him.  He's excited to be going on a solo trip to Calgary later this month to spend a few days with his Uncle Michael, Auntie Kathryn and cousin Julia.  It's a bit of a challenge keeping him busy during these long summer days, but a complete re-design and re-painting of his bedroom should keep him occupied.

Heather is out the door early this morning, teaching a yoga class for 20 at the Higher Health studio.  She has earned a top reputation in Fort McMurray and is a lucrative catch for any studio that taps into her skills.  She continues exploring writing and has begun to share her creations and explorations on her blog site:

We have begun a daily practise that is proving to be healthy for our bodies and our relationship.  Each evening we go off for a 30-45 minute walk.  Rain and shine, it has been an excellent way to get our bodies moving and a great opportunity to talk.

Our summer holidays will find us traveling to Kamsack toward the end of July, then swinging south and west to Calgary for our annual reunion with the Wagners.  Home for a week, we then hop a plane to Ontario where we will spend a couple of weeks visiting in the Trenton and Guelph areas, finishing off at YMCA Geneva Park near Orillia for Mindcamp.

We hope you have a great summer!

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