Sunday, October 9, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Heather and Ben have a bet going as to when the first snowfall will happen in Fort McMurray.  It appears that they both have lost as the ground is white this morning, several weeks before either of their guesses.

The Farmer's Almanac did say we were in for a doozy of a winter, colder than normal.  It makes sense; this year has been anything but normal.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow with Corinne, Chris and Jonathan - our first family Thanksgiving gathering in Fort McMurray - we will be feeling a lot of gratitude.  Both of our homes were completely spared in the devastating wildfire that happened in May, and our neighbourhoods are unscathed.  Of course, that is not the same for a lot of people we know who lived in areas that were decimated.

Five months after the fire hit, homes are already starting to pop back up; some may be occupied by year's end.  For those that didn't get their foundations in before October, they will be into construction mode starting next May.  There will be a major building boom in 2017, unlike anything we've seen before.

I haven't stopped much since May 3rd.  As soon as the flames were at my back I was doing my communication work.  When we settled in Calgary during evacuation, I returned to painting after a few days of thinking I might never paint again.  The communication work and the painting continued in earnest through the evacuation, re-entry, summer and autumn.  I'm grateful that I've had lots to do.

There is so much gratitude to express for the kindnesses that we offered during our time of displacement.  Most importantly, Mike and Kathryn opened up their home and made us feel welcome.  You can imagine how your family routine would get upended if another family showed up out of the blue to stay for a month.  Mike, Kathryn, Julie and Simon were very patient with the discombobulation we caused and supported us through a very difficult time.  We will never forget their kindness.

Many of you helped in other ways.  Messages of concern, phone calls, donations to the United Way and Red Cross, and social media posts sustained us through that period of uncertainty.

Life for us has returned to normal.  We are all embracing routine in a way that is very different than before.  There is a new appreciation our home life, as we - and thousands of others - came so close to losing it.

Heather has stayed very active with teaching, doing cranial sacral work, and learning  She has had the opportunity to fly off to several different places to expand her knowledge.  Her next adventure will be a retreat that she is hosting in beautiful Sedona in February. You can find out more by clicking here. We spent a week in Sedona as a family a few years ago and absolutely loved it.

Dylan is in grade 12 -- eek!  How did that happen? -- and continuing to explore his love of theatre, performance and creation.  Right now, he's working on a professional touring show called Holmes and Watson Save the Empire happening at Keyano Theatre.  He's operating the follow spot.  In the New Year, he is hoping to direct his first one act play.

Ben is in grade 8 at Composite High School.  He made the big switch from Dr. Clark Elementary seamlessly.  Like Dylan, Ben is interested in performance and personal expression.  He is a very self-directed soul and will spend hours and days building virtual architectural creations on the computer, playing guitar or making films.  You can check out his videos by subscribing to his Youtube channel: The EpicEnder Team.

I would never have guessed, in a million years, that I would be doing what I am doing at the age of 49.  The United Way part of my life makes sense, building on almost three decades of communication work.  But the painting part of my life has been a complete and delightful surprise.  A total of 400 paintings have been created and scattered across North America since I began this crazy ride in June of 2014.  About 60 of those piece will be featured in my first solo exhibition that will run from November 10 to January 28 at the MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery.

The painting has branched into a number of different opportunities.  I've done between 15 - 20 live painting demonstrations at large events in Fort McMurray, Edmonton and Calgary.  Several hundred people have participated in my portrait painting workshops held in a variety of locations.  I was even able to field test a powerful team-building painting workshop at Mindcamp this summer.  I have three of those coming up in the next month.

Interest in my work is insane; there is no other word for it.  I get multiple enquiries every day and from farther and farther afield.  One commission in the pile is from a fan in Germany.  In early 2017, I will travel to Calgary to paint Gordie Howe and his two sons at a big fundraiser.  The two sons will be there to sign the finished work to increase its value and benefit to the charity. I feel a deep sense of wonder about what has happened and what lies ahead.  I've fallen into something that is deeply fulfilling on so many levels.

We have survived one of Canada's great natural disasters.  We have a warm home and the love of family.  We have financial security and an abundance of opportunities.  We are in the position to give back to our community and help others.  There is so much to be thankful for this year.  Heather and I will also celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary in a couple of days (October 12th).  It seems like yesterday that we said "I do" on that crisp and sunny autumn afternoon at Candle Lake.

On behalf of Heather, Dylan and Ben, our love to you and yours.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year

The year has has turned.  The house is quiet, still, ready to walk with us down the miraculous path that lies ahead.

We were up late on New Year's Eve, though not quite to midnight, playing an improvised version of Balderdash.  Driving back to Fort McMurray from Kamsack, we listened to a similar word definition game on CBC Radio.  In our case, we found a website that generated random words from the English language.  All five of us (brother-n-law Chris is living with us at the moment - explanation to follow) took turns picking a word from the website.  Each person made up a possible definition for the word.  They were then read aloud, along with the real definition, and we had to guess which one was real.

It was a lot of fun as we had to use our imagination and language skills.  On the final turn, we all wrote definitions before finding out the word.  That was an absolute hoot!

Backing up to why our household population has grown by one.  At the beginning of December, Chris started a new job as Assistant Deputy Emergency Management with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.  He retired from the Canadian Forces, last based in Ottawa, after securing the position here.  Corinne will eventually follow as will at least some or all of the boys.  We ended 2015 very thankful that we have added some family to our community.

I have been rather negligent in maintaining my Wood Buffalo Update correspondences.  I apologize.  What began as a bi-weekly endeavour has changed to monthly, bi-monthly and now bi-annual.  During a recent visit with my cousin Guy Dore in Kamsack, he wondered if it was still being sent, as he hadn't seen one in awhile.

Frankly, my spare time has been absorbed by many hours spent in Birdsong Studio, the adopted name of our workshop in the backyard that has gone from being a motorcycle repair space and songwriting enclave with the previous owner to being an extra bedroom, carpentry shop and now art space with us.  It also become an art space for others, as I have had a number of guests join me in recent months including Taylor, a young fellow who works in oil sands who wanted to reignite his artistic passions.
Our family in the north has had a great year marked by various travelling and learning adventures.  Heather has pursued various dimensions of her practice, spending time in both California and West Virginia.  I made my annual pilgrimage to Mindcamp in Ontario while Dylan returned to his beloved Artstrek in Red Deer.  Ben travelled into the mountains for an amazing ski trip.

As a family we convened in the beautiful environs of the Kootenays in southern British Columbia in August with the Wagners, and returned to Saskatchewan to spend time with the Thomases in Kamsack at Christmas.  Both trips were memorable and heart-filling.

Heather has integrated drawing and colouring into her daily practice
Heather's first painting in many years - a stunning portrait of Nina Simone
Heather is doing remarkably well.  She is healthy, vibrant, beautiful, motivated and inspired. Yesterday she posted a lovely blog that I would encourage you to read by clicking here.  It contains some great ideas about how to approach the new year and, in fact, every single day.

Dylan on location during the filming of The Good Survivor
Dylan is coming off a super busy fall of performing, gaming and learning.  He is now is Grade 11.  I have to give my head a shake every time I say it.  Where did the time go?  He performed in a play at Westwood High School and was one of the feature performers in a short film project called The Good Survivor.  Watch a brief preview below.  We are all looking forward to watching the finished project when it gets completed in February.

Ben is in Grade 7, and like Dylan balances his time between gaming, learning and creating.  He focuses more on visual creations like drawing and filmmaking.  As we were driving back to Kamsack for Christmas, Ben spent hours sketching portraits in the back seat that were pretty remarkable.  He continues to be interested in skiing.

Ben is enjoying his skiing adventures
The two of us enjoyed a great day at Vista Ridge over the holidays; it was my first time skiing in about a decade.  He was expecting that I would be like a rickety granny and was rather surprise when I gave him a run for his money on a couple of races down the hill.

For me, 2015 was one of the best years of my life; I'd be lying if I said otherwise.  I love my work with the United Way, the various contracts that I took on with Birdsong Connections, and my painting.  I spent some time creating a graphic of all the paintings that happened in 2015.  Here it is:

Pretty crazy, huh?  Like everyone else, I am getting older.  Seeing things at a distance and up close are both challenges for me now.  As such, I'll be getting my first pair of glasses in just a matter of days.  So, the next time you see me, there were be something different.

I was negligent in putting together our annual Christmas newsletter, full of pictures and memories.  Too many clients were waiting for paintings, which meant that every spare minute was spent at the easel.  Hopefully this Wood Buffalo Update will suffice.

Lots of love, hugs and hope from all of us to all of you.  Happy New Year!