Friday, 20 November 2009

Confessions of a hardcore bookworm

 Michelle Minnoch

There's nothing better than a good book.

The other night, I finished John Irving's A Night in Twisted River and let out a huge sigh.

While I was excited to reach the end of the book, I didn't want the novel to end. I have been waiting for this, Irving's 12th novel, since he wrote Until I Found You in 2005 and one week after I had purchased it, the book found its place alongside his others on my bookshelf.

I have always been an avid reader and I have always been very selective in the types of book I choose to spend my time with.

My time is precious, and if I am going to become attached to characters and people that consume my thoughts between 9 and 10 p.m., then it had better be worth my while.

I got turned onto John Irving when my Grade 10 English teacher, who knew about my love of reading, suggested his favourite book, A Prayer for Owen Meany. That book, to this day, remains the book that has not only had the greatest impact on me, but is also the best I have ever read.

There are two other authors that can easily make me fall in love with words and characters: Wally Lamb and Khaled Hosseini. Lamb's powerful, overweight and overcompensating main character Dolores in his debut novel She's Come Undone made me respect Lamb that much more. How a man could write a woman so well astounded me. Hosseini's Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns are written candidly, beautifully and opens the reader up to a world that seems so far away: Kabul, Affghanistan.

This year I took a chance on AJ Jacobs, the editor-at-large for Esquire, who immerses himself in experiments and takes the reader for a ride. And what a ride it is!

Whether he was living as true to the Bible as he could in The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible or reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, I am looking forward to what he does next, knowing I will end each chapter with a smile on my face.

While I love a good novel, I have read quite a great number of biographies and, well, just plain interesting books. Whether it was Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis, Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, Why We Suck by Dennis Leary or The Well Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself by Hannah Holmes, I spent many nights surrounded by words jumping off the page, new thoughts entering my consciousness and having a few laughs.

I have about six books on my shelf ready to read, and have a long list of books on my Christmas list.

I never have less than two books on the shelf ready and waiting, and I only read one book at a time. I take reading seriously — if I am going to give my time to read someone else's words, they deserve my full attention.

I am currently in Washington with Robert Langdon in Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol and am caught up in the world of free masonry.

It's always a good thrill when Langdon is on the page, I am again glued to this world of words and cannot wait to see what happens next.

But I know once I am finished, I will have much to do.

For the next couple of months I will get into to the minds of Peter Mansbridge, Rick Hillier, Sarah Palin and Russell Brand (though not necessarily in that order). I will travel to Methland: The Life and Death of an American Small Town and read about The Clinton Tapes.

As the proverbial question asks: if you were stuck on an island what three books would you take?

That's a no brainer. To Kill a Mockingbird for my mind, A Prayer for Owen Meany for my soul, and What Would You Do With A Kangaroo? for the kid in me.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Be patient!

Residents of Leduc know very well that the Rep goes through a variety of staff changes. It seems you just get to know someone, and all of a sudden, they have moved on.
This week Laura Ring departed the Rep after being steady on the payroll for a year and a half. Laura was known to readers before she started here full time, as she spent one summer internship and two practicum's writing, attending events, and getting to know the players in the community.
I came to Leduc in September 2007 and have outlasted reporters Svetjlana, Bill, Chris, Nick, Sarah and Laura. Now Alexandra Pope, who started in December 2008, will be the one standing with me as we try and get the paper filled with as many community events as possible.
Even as stressful as this sounds, there is a little hope.
In January 2009, I took on the editor role at the Beaumont News and Devon Dispatch as well. The girls at those papers — Carole, Heather and Kate — have the same drive and standards Alex and I bring to the Rep, so that's a bonus. As Kate was the last hire in Beaumont, she will now be working at the Rep two days a week. Between myself and the four ladies, we will do the best we can in bringing our faithful readers the coverage they desire and deserve.
So be patient. We are trying to cover as much as we can with what we have. 
I started in Leduc working with some humorous fellas, and the daily chatter was about the NHL, NFL, NBA and what ever was on TV that required two opposing teams, equipment and trash talk. 
Now I am working with four awesome ladies who can talk a little Sex and the City, celebrity gossip and even a little hockey.
We're bringing you the news, trying to get to all the event requests and having a little fun in the process. 

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Laura's last day

Well, this is it — it's Laura's last day at the Rep.

She'll mostly be spending it cleaning out her desk and packing up her toys, so yesterday, we immortalized her final news assignment: photographing Mayor Greg Krischke getting pinned with the first memorial poppy of the season.

Afterward, Greg posed for a farewell pic. "We're going to miss you," he said. "You were always so smiley."

We are going to miss you, Laura — the Rep just won't be the same without ya.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A final goodbye to the Rep and Leduc

I am horrible at goodbyes. I am not that girl who starts bawling like a baby or the person who can just laugh it off and move on.

My goodbyes are usually awkward moments with long periods of silence as I try to figure out what to say next without sounding like a complete tool.

Seeing as my time in Leduc was filled with those awkward moments that have shaped my life in the past year and a half, I am just going to try to skip that with a final column to say one last adios before I leave the paper on Oct. 29. I learned a lot during my 18 months employment, one summer internship and two practicum’s at the Leduc Rep. But that is just the icing on the cake compared to the people I have met and interesting events I had the opportunity to take part in.

The first person I need to thank would have to be my editor Michelle. Not only did she teach me so much about journalism but she never hit me over the head with a stapler, even though I know for a fact that sometimes after a long day of working with me she had to have been tempted. It is also important for me to mention Neil, Anthony and Suzanne. These three people were the first ones to help me get my foot in the door and without them I probably would have never come to the Rep in the first place or stayed during the summer that I was the only reporter. 

During my time at the paper I have had the opportunity to work with some extremely talented reporters. 

From listening to the boys Bill, Chris and Nick talk about every professional sport from football to hot dog eating, to just Alex and I talking about our cute pets and interesting court cases, this newsroom has had every type of combination since I have started here.

One thing that never changed here was the fact that even at the slowest times my job stayed interesting and the days were never the same. I wish I had the time and the space to personally say thank you to everyone, but I don’t, so if you have ever helped me with a story, given me a good idea or posed for a picture I would like to say thanks. It was people like you who made my job easy. There are a few people I don’t think I could write this column without mentioning though.

Not only did Const. Jodi Heidinger help me almost weekly with work, but it was because I was scared she would see my name on file if I was arrested that I behaved so well when I was off the clock.

Jim, Darrell, Jason, Taylor, Rachel, and everyone else with the City of Leduc, I cannot count how many times you all went above and beyond while helping me with stories.

John Norton and the entire Boys and Girls Club’s staff and volunteers. Besides making me dance, you all are some of the kindest people I have ever met.

To Mr. Nosyk and all the other teachers and staff at the Comp, I am still a little disappointed I never won a car when I went to school there, but seeing as you always gave me stories I have forgiven you all for that (kind of).

From little kids raising money through shaving their heads or walking dogs to adults hosting major fundraisers, I have seen the best side of Leduc, proving to me that this really is a great community I am proud to be from.

From learning to shoot a gun, to meeting a few celebrities and having a buffalo suck on my hand, I will remember so many of my experiences here for the rest of my life. As people continuously ask me what’s next the only answer I can come up with is a quote from Lauren Conrad when asked what was next after her departure from The Hills last season: “For the first time in a long time, I really don’t know.”

All I know is my dog Zoey and I are moving back to Airdrie, to be closer to my family. I may go back to school, I may just find a new job. 

So thanks for the memories Leduc, goodbye for now.

Friday, 16 October 2009

A sojourn around the county

This afternoon, I went to New Sarepta and Thorsby to take photographs of "iconic" landmarks in each village for our upcoming 2010 calendar. Here are some of my snaps. What say you — are any of them calendar-worthy? Are they "iconic"? Click to enlarge.

New Sarepta — Yardley Jones Park

New Sarepta


Highway 39

(All photos Alexandra Pope/Sun Media)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Avert your eyes

Last week, my boyfriend took me to the movies.

This was remarkable for a few reasons, not least because we can rarely agree on what to see, assuming there’s anything we both think might be worth seeing.

We love watching movies, but lately there’s been a real dearth of things we feel like spending $25 to watch in the theatre, and the good folks at Blockbuster haven’t seen our faces for months.

I was optimistic about Jennifer’s Body, the Diablo Cody-penned horror comedy about a high school hottie-turned-flesh-eating demon who happens to have a taste for cute boys. I’m not usually a horror fan, but the reviews I read had led me to believe the “horror” would be more silly than scary; plus, my boyfriend likes Megan Fox. It was about the closest we get to perfect agreement on choice of film.

As it turned out, we did agree perfectly — that Jennifer’s Body was a pointless waste of cash.

We sat through the first hour and fifteen minutes in dumbfounded discomfort. I was ready to leave after watching Megan Fox vomit a voluminous stream of black ferromagnetic fluid; I can’t handle puke — even poorly computer-generated images of puke. But I stuck around to find out if the painfully drawn-out scenes of Fox’s one-dimensional victims walking into obvious and implausible traps might result in me feeling even slightly entertained.

As the fictional town’s token emo kid was being lured towards his gory death, my boyfriend leaned over and whispered the words that had been on the tip of my tongue for an hour: “We could always just leave.”

I nodded my agreement, but at first, we just sat there. Having never walked out of a movie before, we weren’t sure of the etiquette. Should we wait for a break in the action? Should we wait for the quiet dialogue to be over so we wouldn’t disturb our fellow moviegoers?

Finally, we stood to leave, crouching as low as possible as we moved between the seats.

There was no one else in our row to step over, but my boyfriend kicked a plastic bottle, which clattered noisily down the stairs.

For a moment, all eyes in the theatre were on us.

As we walked into the brightness of the lobby, we traded feeble jokes about how terrible the movie had been, as if trying to reassure each other that leaving had been the right decision. I felt awkward, almost guilty for not enjoying the movie.

A couple of days later, a friend who noticed my grumpy Facebook status about the flick asked if we had demanded a refund from the theatre. The truth was, it never even crossed our minds.

I’ve sent plates back at restaurants when the food was sub-par, and would never keep new clothes that didn’t fit properly, but I’d never considered my rights as a consumer of entertainment.

The problem is, as one celebrity blogger I enjoy puts it, paying admission at the movie theatre is like casting a vote for the type of films you want to see more of. All the times I stayed home while my boyfriend and his buddies went to see the latest high-octane action-thriller, I was quietly stating my preference for fewer explosions, more plot (not that my vote counts for much against the obvious appeal of watching sexy leather-clad actors blow stuff up in high definition for two hours).

Jennifer’s Body didn’t do well on its opening weekend and revenues have dropped steadily since, but it still made millions of dollars. Most people who go to movies and don’t enjoy them tell their friends to avoid them, but how many films have become moderate hits instead of major flops because those people shrugged and kissed their $25 goodbye?

There’s no accounting for some people’s taste in media — consider the television show The Hills, whose whiny, illiterate protagonists are preparing for a sixth season of fake catfights and breaking down in fake tears at their fake jobs. Perhaps if more of us tuned out, turned off and spoke up when presented with sub-par entertainment instead of sitting through it and laughing about it later, we’d be presented with less of it.

Money drives the entertainment business; I plan to be more discerning with mine in the future.

(Photo: Megan Fox in Jennifer's Body, from Flickr)

Friday, 25 September 2009

Make it so

I am in DE-NIAL. 
No, I am not talking about the longest river in Africa, I am talking about the slow death of summer. I say slow because after having 33+ weather on  Wednesday, only to have a high of 16 this weekend, I have thoughts of Mexico, fruity drinks and cabana boys (not necessarily in that order).

I love the summer. I love the sweltering heat. I love the feeling you get when you are driving in your car that has no A/C and you feel like you are melting in your seat. I love when I walk into my apartment, it's hotter on the third floor than it is outside. Above all, I love complaining about the heat (and everything else, but more on that another time).
I used to live in Ontario where the summer was unbearable, the smog was unbreathable and the sun was like a cruel beam coming from the Starship Enterprise (or for you Star Wars fans, the Millenium Falcon, which to my recollection, blew apart the Death Star).

Anyhoo, the fact of the matter is, I love the heat and I miss the sweat. 
Alberta summer's are nice, but they are much different than those in Ontario. Albeit as short as the summer season is here, I will take what I can get. This year, I got very little and I am not pleased. I feel ripped off.

We are now officially in the fall season and I am not happy about it. Yes, fall is pretty. The weather may even be tolerable. But following fall (say that three times fast) is Old Man Winter.

To me, OMW (Old Man Winter) sounds like a crotchety old man, probably not to handsome, lives alone, not dating anyone special and has no cable. OMW is an unhappy fellow who likes to spread his misery onto others. If I had a phaser, I would have no problem taking him out.
I do not ski, I cannot skate (think of Bambi on ice but worse) and I do not enjoy long walks on the beach in -20 weather. I hate boots, baggy coats, wet mittens and trying to start a car that, could it speak, would say, "You're kidding me, right?"

The Farmer's Almanac states for the winter of 2009/2010, it will be an "Ice Cold Sandwich Winter". Like Homer Simpson, I do enjoy a good sandwich, but not an ice cold one. This winter is supposed to be "colder and drier than normal" in the prairies and "bitterly cold and dry" in the Ontario region. Like the statement, looking toward the upcoming changing of the seasons is making me feel a little bitterly cold. But that's normal.

In the end, I have to suck it up.

Winter comes every year, and as Canadians, we should accept the fact that were our country located in the Southern Hemisphere, we would be better cricket players than hockey players. 
But we are in the north. We are the True North Strong and Free. We can take the cold, we can drive on snow covered roads, and in the end, we will mass produce better hockey players than anyone else on the planet. It comes with the territory.

If only the territory was located a teeny tiny bit to the south, I might not be so grumpy about it.

**This blog is dedicated to my only fan outside of my parents, Louise. We're glad you're home. Live long and prosper**

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Cemetery Vandalism

To some people a headstone at a cemetery may just be a large piece of cement; to others it is a memory of a sibling, parent, grandparent, significant other, friend or child.

They represent a final laying place for those who have passed away.

Last week seven headstones at a cemetery near Calmar were vandalized leaving thousands of dollars in damage for one family.

This is not the first time headstones have been damaged near Calmar, a few years ago Calmar Community Cemetery was vandalized leaving numerous families left to replace headstones, while flowers, wreaths and other items placed by graves in memory of someone were gone or ruined.

Among one of those headstones was one belonging to my cousin Rebecca, who was taken far too early and left behind a family who spent good money on a tombstone and flowers in memory of her.

When I talked to my Auntie about when her daughters headstone was vandalized all she had to say was how heart breaking it was.

“It is absolutely devastating to get that call from the grounds keeper to say ‘come down, daughters grave has been wrecked’.”

I will be the first to admit I have done some very, very stupid things growing up, sometimes hurting people who likely didn’t deserve it, even if I thought at the time they did.

One thing I knew even as a dumb, reckless, immature child was that death is never a joke, and the emotions that arise when a person loses a loved one is not something to mess around with.

If you are drunk, stoned or just stupid and want to break stuff, do everyone a favour, go home and ruin something that means the world to you.

 Photo above: One of the headstones damaged last week near Calmar. Photo taken by Carole Morris-Underhill


Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Air emergency

An Edmonton-area teen pretends to be a casualty of a mock plane crash staged at the Edmonton International Airport Tuesday morning. About 80 drama students from Leduc Composite High School and Bev Facey Community High School in Sherwood Park volunteered to act as victims in the scenario, which was designed as a training exercise for regional emergency services and airport personnel. (Alexandra Pope/Sun Media)

Friday, 11 September 2009

Where were you when ...?

This morning, I woke up at 7 as usual, laid in bed until 7:30, got up, ate a bowl of cereal, checked my email, poured my coffee into a thermos and headed out the door.

I drove my boyfriend to work, headed onto the Whitemud, sang along with the radio and started to plan my day in my head.

I thought about the interviews I had to do, the conference I would attend in the afternoon, and allowed myself a moment of excitement at the thought of tonight's party. It never occurred to me that there was anything remarkable about today, anything significant other than the fact that it's Friday.

And then, as I was turning off the highway at my usual exit, the radio station played a series of sound clips — a woman screaming, a news anchor saying "Smoke is pouring out of the Pentagon," a woman saying "And then he said, 'I just called to tell y'all I love you,'" a man yelling "Oh my God, there's another one" with screams audible in the background. A weight immediately settled across my shoulders. September 11. How could I have forgotten?

It's been eight years, but my reaction to the sound clips is still visceral. 9/11/01 was a day that changed the world — it changed lives, it changed policy, it set countless stories in motion. And, on a more personal level, it was the day I woke up out of my childhood and truly began to think about the world around me.

I was 15, in my second week of Grade 11 at my high school in Mississauga, Ontario. I was walking with my friends to our second-period music class. It was about 9:45 by then. We passed another kid in our grade who was leaning casually by the water fountain outside the gym. "Did you hear?" he said. "The World Trade Centre's been bombed by terrorists."

It's a sign of how deeply self-involved I was then that I couldn't even picture the World Trade Centre in my mind. I had never been to New York City and no one had ever sat me down in front of a picture of the skyline and pointed out the twin towers. Why would they?

We walked into our classroom and made a beeline for the teacher, who was sitting behind the piano.

"Jonathan said the World Trade Centre was bombed by terrorists," I said by way of greeting.

Our teacher didn't skip a beat. "I don't know anything about that," she said.

As more students trickled in, there was vague chatter about a terrorist attack, but the teacher launched straight into the lesson and there was no more time for talk.

The class ended shortly after 11. I was hungry and looking forward to my third-period lunch. The vague bombing talk had been forgotten. I was heading to the cafeteria when our principal's voice came over the PA system.

Calmly, without preamble, he informed the silent hallways what had happened. Planes had flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center earlier that morning. Both had collapsed. Another plane had crashed into the Pentagon; a fourth had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Thousands were believed to be dead. The situation was still developing. Students who wished to contact their parents and leave school early would be permitted to do so.

The principal ended his address by asking everyone to observe two minutes of silence immediately following the announcement.

I looked around. The hallways were jammed with people on their way to lunch or their next class. People were hugging, some were crying silently. Others leaned against the lockers with blank faces. It was a long, tense, suspended moment. I had to close my eyes.

I took my lunch outside and sat on the front steps of the school. It was a beautiful, sunny day, not a cloud in the sky. Some of my older, more knowledgeable friends talked over my head about the attacks. Unfamiliar words — "Syria," "Osama bin Laden," "jihad," "Saddam Hussein" — drifted down to my ears, meaningless without context.

I stayed at school for the rest of the day, watching CNN. My English teacher tried to encourage us to talk about our reactions to what we were seeing but conversation was thin on the ground. For probably the first time in my life, I had nothing to contribute. I didn't understand any of what I was seeing and hearing. Everything around me — the classroom walls, the desks, the novels and plays stacked on the shelves, the bowed heads of my classmates — seemed improbably normal. After such a momentous and tragic event, shouldn't the laws of gravity have been overturned? Shouldn't the sun have just set at 10 in the morning and refused to come up ever again? How could it not signify the imminent end of the world?

I still experience a moment like that every September 11. It feels wrong somehow to treat it as just another day. The date should be retired from the calendar, like the jersey number of a beloved hockey player. We should skip straight from Sept. 10 to Sept. 12 the same way high-rise apartments omit the thirteenth floor.

I've told my personal 9/11 story countless times. It's not particularly dramatic or moving; I was still a kid with a kid's bewildered, self-interested awareness of world events. But it still feels constructive to remember, to consider the world we inherited that day upon the spectacular death of innocence. It imbued me with an energy to know, to learn, to understand, to combat ignorance, especially my own.

We were all there that day, in one way or another. What did it mean to you?

Weekly Roundup — Sept. 11

Here's what's making news in Leduc and area this week:

• Leduc and district RCMP welcomed a new regional commander, Insp. Chuck Jackson, to the force Aug. 10.

• Local MPs are preparing for a possible fall federal election.

• Leduc County council will borrow $3.5 million from the province on behalf of the Leduc Foundation to finance their three-year affordable housing plan.

• The Leduc Public Library is offering an outreach service to the housebound.

• The City of Leduc is gathering feedback on changes to Leduc Assisted Transportation Services, including a possible fare reduction.

• A trial date has been set for an Edmonton man accused of stabbing a Co-op taxi driver in Nisku last month.

• Second Glance clothing has made a financial contribution to the upcoming Visualeyes Youth Conference, which aims to motivate local students and teach them about good decision making.

• In sports, the Chinese national curling teams have chosen Leduc as their training ground in the leadup to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver; the Red Deer Rebels and Edmonton Oil Kings played an exhibition game in Leduc last week; and a local track star placed fifth in his event at the recent Canada Games.

• Goofy Alberta musical comedy duo Lewis & Royal will play a free show in Leduc Sept. 19.

• Calmar is considering changing its water utilities bylaw to protect landlords whose tenants renege on their payments.

• A longtime employee of ATB Financial celebrated his retirement last week.

All this and more in the Sept. 11 issue of the Rep!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Weekly Roundup — Sept. 4

Here's what's making news in Leduc and area this week:

• Local school boards are waiting to find out how an $80 million cut to Alberta Education's budget announced last week will affect their operations this year.

• RCMP will be stepping up their presence in school zones this week to give drivers a refresher on speed limits.

• Laura profiles local punk band California Lane Change, who won the Battle of the Bands at Leduc's first Rock the Rails youth event Aug. 27. Also, check out our photo gallery with tons of pics from the event.

• Leduc County council has provided staff with guidelines for the county's 2010 budget, including a $250,000 contingency fund for Capital Region Board projects.

• Are you prepared to take up the Terry Fox challenge?

• Local school boards are updating their pandemic plans in advance of the fall flu season and are expected to include some guidelines for dealing with the H1N1 flu virus.

• Alex has a feature about Leduc County's Bridges mentorship program, which provides support and guidance for women living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

• City of Leduc council turned down a request by the owners of the Prairie Professional building — partially destroyed by a June 12 fire — for more than $10,000 in tax relief.

• Leduc County and the Town of Beaumont are embarking on a joint sustainable growth study.

Construction is underway on a new elementary school in Thorsby.

• In sports, the Atlanta Thrashers have their eye on Leduc minor hockey alum Travis Toomey, who is heading to a scouting tournament this week.

• We have updates on the Bobcats', Wildcats and Ti-Cats' weekend football games; and despite not making the finals, the E2 Crude/West women's rugby team dominated in the B-division playoffs last week.

• And in your weekly crime and punishment update, a Leduc man racked up more than $3,000 in fines for playing his stereo too loud.

All this and more in the Sept. 4 Rep!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

California Lane Change

Last week I attended the first ever Rock the Rails hosted by the City of Leduc. I didn't expect the turnout to be that great, and I was very wrong.
Not only were there some pretty great bands, the Skatepark was packed and there were several other activities.
Nine bands took part in a Battle of the Bands. The winner was a local group, California Lane Change.
They won over the crowd with two covers, Check Yes Juliet and The Middle, and with an original Stars and Swing Sets.
The had energy, stage presence and a huge crowd of girls screaming.
I met with them Monday night, and what I thought would be a quick 20 minute interview turned into a hour and a half.
These five guys are more than just a band, they are best friends.
With all the Will Ferrell movie quotes, different food combination explanations and debates about One Tree Hill and the OC, the time I spent with them didn't feel like an interview at all.
They all love music, sure they all love different types of music, but that's what makes a great band, different backgrounds.
These guys aren't in it for the fame or the fortune. They like music, hanging out with each other and having a good time, and that is what makes some of the best bands.
Joe, Kyle, Matt, Tyler and Kevin are talented guys who I expect to see a lot more of in the future.
Check out their Facebook group California Lane Change and become a fan to stay up to date with upcoming shows.

Back to books

Bells were ringing all over Leduc this morning as students headed back to school for another year. The Rep was out bright and early to capture some of the excitement.

Amber Mayer, Madison Pittman and Courtney Beierbach, all 11, are pleased to be at the top of the food chain as they enter Grade 5, their last year at East Elementary School.

Jayden Bayrack, 7, and younger brother Graysen, 4, couldn't wait to get back to East Elementary School. Graysen had been looking forward all summer to wearing his new Team Canada sweater.

Ceanna Brunes, 5, discovered the perfect cure for the first-day-of-kindergarten jitters: a hug from pal Emma Bianic, 6.

Monday, 31 August 2009

How many Rep reporters does it take to decipher hockey stats?

This is the dilemma we're facing as we say farewell to our summer intern, Bobby Roy, who is off to undoubtedly bigger and better things.

He is leaving behind three women who know next to nothing about sports, reporting on sports, interpreting sports stats or even what sports are in season right now.

Hence, the crash course:

Laura — the new, unofficial sports reporter — is pretty sure she's got a handle on things. But we're going to miss you, Bobby. Stay off that leg.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Weekly Roundup — August 28

Here's what's making news in Leduc and area this week:

• A 55-year-old Edmonton woman remains in hospital after sustaining serious but non-life threatening injuries when her car jumped the barrier on the Highway 2 overpass and landed in the middle of 50 Avenue in Leduc Monday afternoon.

• Time is running out for Canadian boaters to get their pleasure craft operator card.

• The 16th annual TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is coming to a body of water near you next month.

• Canadian Blood Services are looking for at least 115 donations at their next clinic in Nisku.

• The City of Leduc is giving residents the chance to sneak a peek at the LRC next Wednesday.

Protect your "grown-up toys" this winter.

• Laura has an inside look at the daily life of a STARS air ambulance pilot.

• Leduc County council aired some fears about the Capital Region Board's land-use plan at their Aug. 25 meeting.

• ACI-NA says EIA is tops in PR.

• Leduc and District Victim Services is looking for volunteers.

• You know that inner door connecting your garage to your house? Always lock it.

Feel sorry for Laura.

All this and more in the Aug. 28 Rep!

The story I wish was on our front page

“Next goal wins, boys. Next goal wins.”

Hockey for Hubbs organizer Jim Garrick spoke those words through a microphone to the 40 players at the rink next to Ecole Bellevue School as well as the crowd gathered to watch at 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 23.

Two minutes later, with Tanner Hubbs watching from the bench, the Braves scored, winning the game for the white jerseys despite the two hundred (or so) goal lead the black-clad Chiefs had.

At the end of it all, 109 hours and 32 minutes after Tanner Hubbs dropped the ball on Aug. 19, 40 young men (ranging in age from 15 to 29) had set a world record for the Longest Marathon Street Hockey Game and had also helped raise more than $50,000 for Hubbs and his family ...
More from the Beaumont News

(Photo: Rick Hubbs, father of spinal cord injury victim Tanner Hubbs, embraces one of the 40 young ball hockey players who rallied the Town of Beaumont around Tanner's cause last week. Photo by Alex Pope)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Party central

Broken glass found on the banks of Conjuring Creek, just west of Calmar. The creek is one of hundreds of waterways across Canada that will benefit from a litter sweep during the TD Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup from Sept. 19-27. According to Bob McKerracher, who registered Conjuring Creek as a cleanup site, the creek is a popular party spot for local teens and needs a lot of work. McKerracher and others on Calmar's recreation board hope to eventually turn the site into a park. See the Aug. 28 Rep for more. (Photo by Alex Pope)

Friday, 21 August 2009

Weekly Roundup — August 21

Here's what's making news in Leduc and area this week:

• The Kinsmen Alexandra Outdoor Pool is celebrating 40 years this week.

• Calmar's town manager is retiring after 21 years of dedicated service.

• Laura spoke to MLA George Rogers about his take on distracted drivers and whether the province will initiate legislation this fall to cut down on cell phone use and other distractions while driving.

• The first ever Santa's Big Biker Ride for Santa's Helpers Leduc, which was to take place Sept. 12, has been cancelled.

• A pedestrian who was struck and killed on Highway 2 last week may have been waiting for a ride back to Leduc after his friends left him, according to his family.

• Leduc County is offering free spraying to control weeds on certain types of county properties this fall.

• The Leduc Recreation Centre has received a generous funding boost from the federal government.

• It was a hot August night indeed last week at Castrol Raceway.

• A local used clothing store is working with ROMPS to get their new play space up and running by September.

• A Devon man who fled police and was subsequently bitten twice by a police dog received little sympathy from a provincial court judge last week.

• In sports, the Edmonton Oil Kings will play an exhibition game at the LRC on Sept. 5.

See this week's Rep for more!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Tearing up the quarter mile

I've never been much of a gearhead, but I have to admit, Castrol Raceway's 15th annual Hot August Night was pretty darn cool.

Hot August Night is the largest jet car drag racing event in Canada, this year bringing together 150 racers and 9,000 fans for an evening of smoke, fire and fast cars.

I felt a little apprehensive when operations manager Denny Miller took me over to the staging area and pointed out some areas where I could shoot but left me with a word of caution: "Some people don't like getting that close to the cars, so you might want to shoot from the stands." After the first race, I understood why — I was standing on the barrier without earplugs in, and the sonic boom gave me a pretty accurate insight into what it feels and sounds like to be hit by a train.

Once I got used to the sensation and realized my bones weren't going to turn to dust every time a jet car went by, I really started to enjoy myself and at one point even found myself screaming with delight at a jet car's smoke show:

I spoke to several of the drivers, including Chuck Haynes, the North American record holder for fastest speed on the quarter mile — 313 miles per hour — which he set at last year's Hot August Night:

I also met Brad and Heather Janishewski from Drayton Valley, the only married couple in the world who race jet cars against each other. According to Brad, Heather usually wins:

It was also interesting to see the statements some of the racers liked to make with their cars ... or should I say, tanks:

All in all, I left feeling pretty enthused about drag racing — enough to spend about half an hour designing the perfect page to showcase the photos during layout today. I created this hot graphic in Photoshop:

Just don't ask me how — I think my brains are still rattled.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Not ready to say goodbye to my cell phone

I don’t know what I would do with out my BlackBerry.

I use it to talk, text, BBM (BlackBerry messenger), check my e-mails, check facebook, waste my time playing brick breaker and it’s my alarm clock.

Since the day I got it I was in love.

I can’t deny that I occasionally use my BlackBerry while I driving to talk to people or text or use BBM.

Last week it was announced that the provincial government is going to address the problem of distracted drivers this fall.

This potential law could prevent drivers from using handheld phones, texting and other tasks that could distract a driver.

I am looking forward to this fall to see how it all goes down. What I am most looking forward to is to find out what they classify as a distraction.

Cell phones and IPods will likely be grouped as a distraction, but what about everything else?

What about the radio, or the directions you have written out on a piece of paper or the passengers you are having a conversation with, or the cigarette people light up while driving?

I understand that many people in this world cannot text and drive at the same time, and it can make a bad driver.

But I also understand that many people in this world just suck at driving. Distractions will always be a factor in driving.

Instead of trying to remove them, maybe the government should focus on trying to improve the drivers on the road.

People will still text and talk, but if a law like this is passed they will know to put the phone down once they spot a police officer.

Yes, cell phones can make the road dangerous. But so does a cigarette, a baby crying in the back seat, a barking dog, a gossip-queen passenger, changing the radio stations, picking a new CD, or rocking out to Britney Spears latest single.

If no one talked on the phone or sent text messages while driving the number of accidents would almost certainly decrease. But just because it’s the law doesn’t mean people will follow it.


Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Just livin'

Jim McConnell lines up his shot during a game of snooker at Telford House on August 7.

By Bobby Roy

This past week I headed to Telford House, right beside Telford Lake, to grab some pics and interviews for a story about the Telford Day Program.

I was not too sure of what to expect from the small program that was created to provide seniors, who suffer from a lack of mobility and other health concerns, with a structured recreation in a community setting.

I had never been inside Telford House and I had never seen what goes on in a seniors day program.

The only reason I initially wanted to do a story on the Telford Day Program was because a few weeks earlier I had done one on the Beaumont seniors day program and Anne Johnson, the activity coordinator for the program said there was a waiting list for the Leduc one so I thought there could be a story.

When I talked to Wendy Brown, the administrator for the program, she notified me that there was no waiting list and she took the extra six people who wanted to get into the program. I was a little skeptical that there may not even be a story at all, but as I talked to the volunteers and workers at the Telford Day Program there was definitely something there.

Watching the workers interact with the seniors and give them a little bit of joy goes unnoticed by most people and I'm sure that's how the workers like it. A couple of the workers are volunteers who take time out of their day to help make the senior's days more enjoyable.

I could not imagine myself doing a job like that, because I do not have the patience for it.

Not many people do.

That is why these people deserve the recognition that they rarely ever get. It is never an easy job taking care of someone especially when you do not get paid. It is great to see that the world still has people who are very caring and will do anything for their fellow human being, no matter who they are.

Without a day program like this these seniors will likely spend the day sitting in their home alone watching television. The program gives these seniors a chance to interact with each other, get some well needed exercise and for the most part have fun.

Without fun what the heck is the point of living? No matter how old having any sort of fun will make life worth living even if it is just for a little while.

The program runs on Mondays and Fridays at Telford House and the program is currently supporting 16 seniors. The program was meant for 10, but Brown decided it was best to take them all in.

“When people have a stroke or something similar like that they lose the motivation, so we try to provide something in which people who experience problems like that can come out and have fun,” said Brown.

The seniors get to play shuffleboard, pool, lift weights and interact with each other. It's good to see them out and about rather than shut-in at their homes.

People tend to forget about our seniors and how they deserve to have just as much fun as the younger generation.

It's always good to have eye openers once in a while.

Monday, 10 August 2009

A wish come true

As reporters, we spend a fair amount of time writing about sad or difficult subjects, so when we get the chance to cover something positive, it's a real joy and makes our job so much more fun.

Last Friday, I had just such an opportunity: covering the fulfillment of 8-year-old Kaelyn Halyk's wish for a hot tub.

Kaelyn is one of 55 children with life-threatening medical conditions who will have their wish granted this year by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A local volunteer made the day very special for Kaelyn by mobilizing members of the RCMP, Leduc Fire Services and a team of volunteers to march Kaelyn's hot tub to her house in a parade.

The parade assembled around the corner from Kaelyn's house and set out in a procession:

Cst. Jodi Heidinger turned the police cruiser's lights and sirens on, which was pretty exciting for Kaelyn:

Once everyone was in the backyard, Kendra presented Kaelyn with some other gifts, including a crown and wand and a Hannah Montana beach towel to dry off with after using her new hot tub. Courage the Fire Dog also gave her a special stuffed dalmatian puppy:

Even Leduc Mayor Greg Krischke showed up to congratulate Kaelyn on her wish fulfillment with a certificate commemorating the occasion:

While all this was going on, the staff of Beachcomber Hot Tubs installed Kaelyn's new tub:

The fire department members stuck around afterwards to fill the hot tub using the fire hose.

It was all very special and touching and I hope Kaelyn gets a lot of enjoyment from her new hot tub!

(Photos by Alex Pope)

Friday, 7 August 2009

Lost in transit

If you had asked me one week ago who I thought had the most difficult, important job in the world, I probably would have said a surgeon or a paramedic — someone for whom quick thinking and action is literally a matter of life and death.

However, a recent experience has caused me to revise my opinion and add to that list people who work in airports.

I’m only being slightly facetious. They may not have to perform delicate operations or feats of incredible bravery and strength in a race against the clock on a daily basis, but ticket agents, security personnel, ground crews and flight crews often see people at their most vulnerable, and the smallest gesture can mean the difference between a difficult-but-tolerable situation and a waking nightmare.

I have the worst travel karma of anyone I know. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced a real emergency, but minor setbacks such as flight delays, cancellations, bad weather, lost baggage and general organizational screw-ups tend to compound for me into epic detours. In 2006, I missed my own university graduation ceremony because of a one-hour delay on the first leg of my trip.

Last week, I arrived at the airport in Venice, refreshed after a weeklong vacation and ready to go home. I had a sinking premonition the moment the word “delayed” flashed on the screen beside my flight number that what should have been a straightforward journey home would be anything but. I was right.

The first leg of my trip took me to Rome. We were an hour late, leaving me with less than 45 minutes to make my connecting flight to Toronto. I ran through the maze-like terminal, growing more panicked with every passing minute. My gate was, of course, at the complete opposite end of the airport. I heard the final boarding announcement as I raced up the escalator to the Air Canada connections desk. Gasping for breath, I flung my passport at the agent.

“You might as well take a seat, Miss Pope,” she said. “The flight is full.”


“But I have a ticket,” I said.

“You’re in transit, and you’re late,” she said.

I explained about the delay in Venice.

“It’s Alitalia’s mistake, not ours. You’ll have to talk to them.”

Three hours, five different desks and one epic lineup later, I had a hotel voucher and a new ticket for the following morning. At the hotel, I peeled off my sweat-soaked clothes and tried to relax and not worry about my luggage.

The next morning, all seemed well; I checked in early, got a coffee and went to my gate … where I noticed with dismay that the flight had inexplicably been delayed an hour.

No problem, I thought. I still have two hours to make my connection in Toronto. It will be fine.

I hadn’t counted on Aug. 4 being the day a line of severe thunderstorms rolled through Toronto, causing utter chaos at the airport. Upon landing, the problems stacked up: there was no available gate because all planes were grounded; the ground crews were not allowed out to fetch the baggage or even bring stairs to get us off the aircraft; there was no one to unlock the gate to let us into the customs area.

As I sat on the floor beside the baggage carousel, waiting for a suitcase that turned out to be languishing in a lost and found in Rome, I told myself it could be worse — much worse.

Despite my attempts at reasoning, more than anything I wanted a magic portal that would transport me home to a hot shower and my own bed. The thought of my bed, still a four-hour flight away, sent tears of exhaustion and pent-up anxiety rolling down my face. I was not the only passenger on the brink of a nervous collapse.

For most people — myself included — air travel is a stressful enough experience without setbacks. When setbacks do occur, it’s enough to send even the most rational person into an emotional tailspin.

Airport staff bear the brunt of this outpouring of frustration. They’re working in the dead zone between home and away, a place no person wants to be any longer than they absolutely have to. They have to deal with rude remarks, belligerent passengers and bureaucratic backlogs.

I don’t blame the ones who end up snapping at the hundredth person who asks them when the planes will be allowed to fly again, or who take one look at the ticket lineup stretching around the corner and decide now would be a perfect time to take their 15-minute break. But I thank, from the bottom of my heart, the ones who make an extra effort to humanize the process of being lost in transit.

There was the supervisor who made announcements every five minutes updating people on the status of their bags and who had bottled water brought in for the families with young children. There was the gate assistant who prevented a passenger mutiny by keeping her tone light and sympathetic every time she announced another sliding delay. And there were the booking agents who worked overtime to get people out of lineups and onto flights or into hotels.

When I finally landed in Edmonton that night, I was so happy I wanted to kiss the tarmac (I didn’t).

I could swear never to fly a certain airline again, or write angry letters to every authority who conspired to keep me from my bed for 48 hours, but after a century of flight, this is simply the reality of air travel. We pay a steep price for the privilege of experiencing life in other countries in this jaded age of terrorism and economic turmoil.

Ultimately, the thing to remember is that, in this case at least, the destination is more important than the journey.

Weekly Roundup — August 7

Here's what's making news in Leduc and area this week:

• An appeal by residents to block the construction of a wind turbine west of Leduc has been struck down by Leduc County.

• Bobby sat down with MP James Rajotte and David Swann, leader of the Alberta Liberals, to discuss the economy, visas and a potential fall federal election.

• The third annual Commitment to Life fundraiser for STARS is coming up.

• Leduc will be hosting its first-ever youth event, Rock the Rails, at the skatepark Aug. 27. City staff are also looking for youth to post their own YouTube videos promoting the event. Below, "Cason and Jam's" introductory video:

• Just a few months after receiving a large federal grant to renovate their building, the Thorsby Senior Citizens Club has discovered irreparable faults in the building's foundations.

• Shear Sensation salon is challenging their sisters in hairstyling to come together to participate in this year's Terry Fox Run.

• The Maclab Centre for the Performing Arts has announced the lineup for their 2009-2010 performance season.

• In sports, the Leduc Riggers are gearing up for tryouts in less than a month, while the Milleteers are gunning for the title of Powerline Baseball League champs.

• Looking to take up a hobby or try a new sport this fall? The city is holding their Community Registration Day Sept. 12.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The nicest buffalo I have ever met

Today I woke up for work I wanted to go right back to bed. Some of my friends were spending the day at the beach while I would be stuck in the office being bored, at least that is what I thought.
Then Michelle called me into her office to tell me about a picture I needed to go get. I didn't know what to expect then I googled Bailey D. Buffalo, the animal I was about to meet.
Now I don't know much about wild animals, but I do know a few things like pigs don't fly, cows don't jump over the moon and Buffalo don't hang out in houses and ride in cars.
But was I ever wrong, at least about the buffalo.
Bailey D. Buffalo Jr. was not some wild creature, he was actually a friendly pet that kind of reminded me of my dog.
Bailey Jr. is the second buffalo Jim and Linda Sautner have raised as a pet, and has already become the next buffalo to be making headlines across the world.
After talking to Kim for about 40 minutes I almost forgot that the gentle, innocent animal he had been describing was a animal that weighed nearly 1,000 pounds.
We went out to see Bailey one last time before I left, because to be honest, I just wanted to see him again.
Bailey and Jim's dog, Charlie Brown, were hanging out together, and both got excited to see Jim approaching them.
When Jim went to give some attention to his pet buffalo, Bailey went for his hand, and I thought it was all over. I could see the headlines: "Reporter witnesses man loose hand to pet buffalo" "Buffalo gets taste of human then goes right for journalist."
To my surprise Bailey just stood there and sucked on Jim's hand. Like a baby and a bottle.
As I stood there amazed Jim asked me a question I thought I would never hear, "Want to put you hand in my buffalos mouth?"
Immediately I said no. Why would I ever want to do something like that? I was certain that is my hand went into that mouth it would never come back. 
Then Jim reminded me I would likely never get a chance to do this again and I pulled up my sleeve and tried to hide my fear, even though Bailey could probably smell it from a mile away.
My hand went in, stayed attached to my arm, and I calmed down.
It felt like his mouth was made of sandpaper and I knew he could rip off my hand in a second, but it was interesting, to say the least, and kind of reminded me of when my dog sucks on my pinky. 
It took lots of soap and scrubbing to get all the slobber off my hand, but it was worth it.
Once again I got to do something I would never have dreamed about doing all thanks to my job.

Picture Above: Me with Jim and Bailey D. Buffalo Jr. Yes, he is in the car.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

First memory of the Boys and Girls Club

I have no idea how many stories I have written about the Leduc Boys and Girls Club, and I probably couldn't count how many pictures I have taken of members of the club.
Not only have I learned more about the club and everything they do for the community, but I have also had the opportunity to meet the people who make it the great place it is today.
My first memories of the club are from a long, long time ago when I was still in elementary school. 
It was probably when I was in Grade 4 or 5, when I was still a shy little girl that hated attention (I know what you're thinking - Laura, hating attention? No way. But it's true!)
My class went on a field trip to the club to learn about safety. We were in the middle of being taught what to do if a stranger approached us, when they decided to pick us kids to come up and show what we would do.
Even though I did everything in my power not to make eye contact with the speaker I still was the chosen one.
I remember the person pretending to be in a car, and I was pretending to be riding my bike. 
He Pulled up and started talking to me, I said something along the lines of "Sorry I cant talk right now my mom is waiting for me at home" and pretended to speed away. 
Knowing myself, I was probably certain I was wrong, my face was likely burning red and I could have cried I was so embarrassed to speak in in front of my entire class.
The staff at the club went on about how great I did and I was on top of the world.
This was about the time I stopped being so shy.
I went home that night and taught my little brother and sister what to do if a stranger ever approached them, and felt like a genius.
I never was a member of the club, but would always go on buddy days and on school trips.
In those few times I thought it was one of the coolest places for kids to hang out. 
My work with the club only confirms all my thoughts.
The staff know how to be friends with all the kids, while being great role-models.
The Boys and Girls Club takes kids off the street and away from their precious TV and computer screens. It keep them active and even teaches them with games and day trips.
The club is more than just a place to drop off your kids while you are at work, its a fun friendly environment that is probably a second home to several of the young members.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Ghost stories

It's amazing how a train of thought can completely jump the track.

I did not intend to write about ghosts today. I didn't even plan on thinking about ghosts today. But a hilarious news item on CTV, scoped in a moment of boredom, has taken me on a 45-minute journey deep into the shadowy territory of the paranormal.

The news item in question was about two men who have been charged with trespassing after firefighters had to rescue them from the roof of the Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton. While exploring the long-abandoned building with their friends, they somehow thought it would be fun to try to scale down the outside of it, and wound up getting stuck.

Apparent fun-ness of rappelling down the outside of a building without equipment notwithstanding, my first reaction to this story was: "exploring the Charles Camsell Hospital in the middle of the night WHAT?!"

As I mentioned to Laura, this building is creepy as all get-out. When we first moved to Edmonton, my boyfriend and I stayed with a friend of his who lived just down the street from the hospital. It was late when we arrived, so I wasn't able to see much of the city during the drive from the airport, but I did see the hospital — a yellow-brick monolith plopped in the middle of quiet suburbia, surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and signs warning would-be urban explorers of guard dogs that like to snack on trespassers. Not one of the building's hundreds of square windows has its glass intact.

Even in the light of day, I felt the urge to quicken my step when walking past the hospital. That had more to do with being warned that it was a popular hangout for crackheads and gangs than any suspicions of paranormal activity, but the decrepit appearance of the building, which has been defunct since '96, didn't make me feel any more comfy.

Laura's response to all this was "I bet it's haunted."

A quick Google search produced satisfying results: this guy says it's haunted, this guy implies it's haunted and has photos of the interior that certainly make it look like an appropriate setting for an Amityville-style paranormal throwdown.

The hospital reportedly has a checkered past. It housed a psychiatric ward, and a secondary structure, which no longer exists, served as a quarantine for tuberculosis patients in the mid-20th century. Darker stories suggest that Mengele-esque experiments were carried out on Aboriginal children there.

A place with such sad and morbid connotations as a hospital — especially a decrepit, abandoned one — is a perfect breeding ground for ghost stories.

Someone allegedly recorded a woman's scream on the fourth floor of the building, and if you click the second link I posted above, you can read through the debate around a photograph that purports to show a masked figure peering around the corner in the basement of the hospital. (I could totally see it, but darkness and the suggestive power of fear can tend to morph something as innocuous as peeling paint into a ghoulish apparition.)

I don't know if I believe in ghosts, but I do believe that a place can seem to exude a palpable atmosphere of sadness and fear when it is known to be the site of a distressing event.

So far, my only encounter with a "ghost" was quite a joyful one. In the summer of 2003, I worked at Restoule Provincial Park in northern Ontario, a place that really lent itself to ghost stories because of its rich history. The remains of a root cellar in the midst of a thick grove of pine trees stood testament to the first family to homestead in the area, and an archeologist had discovered evidence of an Iroquois fishing village on the banks of the Restoule River.

The more experienced park employees told of a spirit who wanders the forest by night, swinging a lantern, looking for his hunting party. A few people claimed to have seen the ghost of a small boy wandering the fire tower trail at dusk; some said they could hear the frightened sobs of a lost child.

I wrote these stories off as good campfire fodder, but then, one night, I had a strange encounter.

In August, I had come down with a bad cold, and, not wanting to bother my roommate with my constant coughing in the night, I decided to set up a tent in the staff campground and sleep there until I was better. This worked well, and so on the night in question, I set out from the staff house with my little table lantern and headed down the dirt road to the campground. I soon found I didn't need the lantern; the moon was so full and bright it cast shadows.

As I walked down the hill towards the group campground, I saw a silhouette a short distance in front of me, walking in the same direction. My first thought was that it was another camper, but the silhouette, although human, seemed insubstantial somehow, more shadow than solid flesh.

I turned on my lantern. There was nobody else on the path.

I didn't feel afraid or intimidated, just oddly exhilarated. I feared nothing that summer but the toe-eating muskies of Stormy Lake — but that's another story.

And that's where this train of thought disembarks. Ghosts — are they real? Do we want them to be? Are they gentle? Scary? Both? What say you? Is Leduc haunted? (Apparently New Sarepta is). Leave your comments.

(Photo: Casper! Via)