Wednesday, 28 January 2015

every step you take

Imagine your life's journey as a path. With every step you take, you put a stone on that path. In the rolling prairie and on the snow-covered hills, you put down a stone. Wherever you go-exploring new territory, visiting foreign lands,hurrying down city streets, trudging through the desert, or wandering aimlessly along a beach-for each step you take, you lay down a stone. Through driving snow and blinding sun and spring rains. Through the good times and the bad times. When you know where you're going, and when you are lost and without direction. Sometimes that path is exciting and new while other times it is grindingly monotonous and dull. Some days you walk with friends and some days a loved one holds your hand. On other days you are alone. Sometimes your path is easy and you bound ahead, filled with a sense of adventure: at other times you don't know if you have the strength to take another step.

Now imagine yourself at the end of your life's journey. Look back at the stones on your life's path. Look at those stones you laid down, on the mountains and in the valleys and along the river side. In the sun and the wind and the rain. Your path through life. 

And on each one of those stones there now stands a person.  A person who was able to take his or her own journey because you set the path. A path made easier because you laid down that stone. Every step you took helped someone else get where they needed to go. 

The path you take is yours and yours alone. No one else can walk it for you. But with every step you take, you leave a part of yourself behind. Just as others left a path for you, you make a path for those who come behind. And while you may be so focused on your own journey that you do not see the trail you have forged, it is there just the same. 

Your path through life. 

Walk well my friends.

Some Aboriginal wisdom for all who wonder what they will leave behind.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Northern Child

Next month my middle child will graduate from university. 

She left home for university a few years ago, full of hopes and dreams. I prayed her journey would be easy and her burdens would be light. But I knew that as a northern child she would face many challenges on the path to her degree. Those of you who have northern children will understand what I mean.

Because your child is a northern child, she is statistically far less likely to have parents with a high school education and even less likely to have parents with a post-secondary degree. Because she is a northern child, she has had less access to health care and is far more likely to experience chronic illness. Because she is a northern child she has had next to no access to mental health services and statistically has a lower life expectancy. Because she is a northern child, she has had fewer options in her K-12 education and fewer opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities, including opportunities in the arts.

Because your child is a northern child, her challenges continue on the first day of college. On that first day, when the children of your urban friends come home to a hot dinner and folded laundry and someone who cares, your child will come home to fast food or a hastily cooked meal she will make herself. Your child will come home to laundry that needed to be done; laundry may never be folded again. Your child will come home to a dorm of kids she doesn't know or an empty apartment.

Because your child is a northern child, she will use her hard earned summer cash to pay the rent and buy food while the children of your urban friends make car payments and buy concert tickets and take spring break in Mexico. She will wrack up debt while others save money.

Because your child is a northern child, she will experience discrimination. People will tell her, in ways subtle and not so subtle, that she is a hick because she grew up in a small town. At times she may doubt her abilities when she realizes that didn't go to the right high school where she didn't have a chance to take calculus or computer programming or belong to the right club or a competitive sports team.

Because your child is a northern child, she may experience terrible loneliness. Your child may struggle. At times, she will feel she doesn't belong and she doesn't fit in and she may not know what to do or where to go. And your child will do all of that all on her own. And while she may give in to feelings of despair and frustration, she will not give up. Because your child is a northern child.

Your child is resourceful. She grew up knowing that if she wanted something to happen, she had to make it happen. Your child is resilient. She has suffered through fires and floods and brutally cold winters and by doing that she learned that she is more than capable of overcoming any hardship that lies ahead. Your child is tenacious. She will not quit until she gets where she needs to go.  

And because your child is a northern child, when she completes her education she will know she worked far harder than her urban counterparts to get her degree. Because she obtained more than an academic education. She learned how to be her own person on her own terms in her own way. When she was sick, she found a doctor. When the rent was due, she paid it. When her friends stayed behind, she made new ones. Your northern child took responsibility for her own life.

And whether your child spends weeks or years in her studies; whether she chooses to return to the north, or travels even further afield, no matter where she goes or what she does, your child has the strength of the north in her bones. Your child has northern ingenuity in her blood. Your child has the pioneer spirit of her ancestors in her heart. She will bloom wherever she plants herself.

Because your child is a northern child.

Your child is the very best child there is.
My northern children.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

It's 3:30 AM

It's 3:30 am when the town fire siren starts its relentless wail. My roomate Liz and I leap into clothes and start running towards the fire hall. I's colder than -20 and we know it will be faster to run than to start the car.  My lungs are seizing up as we run the three blocks, the clunky plastic case housing the Fire Department camera and lenses banging against my leg. 

We enter the hall where the other guys are donning their gear. "Holy shit," says Liz. I think she is just talking about the cold. It's not until we're hanging off the back of the truck racing to our destination that I think to ask, "Where's the fire?"  "The arena," the guys say, "That's what was on the blackboard." Holy shit indeed. Suddenly the adrenalin rush is accompanied by a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The massive arena is the heart of the community.

We pull into the parking lot in front of the Sexsmith Arena. Flames are already licking through the roof.  We toss the hoses off the deck of the truck and start connecting them to the hydrant. Someone unlocks the front door and two guys enter, probably Keith and Dave. Flames leap up with the introduction of oxygen and the guys are out and running almost immediately.

Damage control
I stand around like an idiot, no doubt the least trained and most useless member of the volunteer department. Chief Pearcy, also the high school biology teacher, says to start taking pictures, so in my role as Communications Officer, I snap a bunch of pictures. Pearcy tells me later that the insurance company found them very useful.

Fully involved
It soon becomes apparent there will be no winning this battle. The standpipe on the nearby elementary school is either frozen or unable to supply adequate pressure so we run hoses all the way from the high school to the arena. The guys keep pouring water on the blaze and soon decide they need to protect the school so they dump water on it too. The school is safe but it's not long before the arena's roof collapses and there's nothing left to do but damage control.

These are my memories of the fire that destroyed the Sexsmith Arena. As it turns out, it was the school janitor who called in the blaze after spotting sparks coming out of the roof on his way home from work. I'm not sure they ever determined the cause of the fire, some say a cigarette butted out in a knothole in the dressing room after an oldtimer's game. The place was under-insured and it took years for a new facility to be built. 

I was reminded of my days on the Sexsmith Fire Department when I looked at photos of the Sexsmith grain elevator burning down a couple of days ago, captured by William Vavrek.  Despite the power of that fire, the firefighters were able to contain the blaze and prevent its spread to the neigbouring grain elevators, landmarks of the small prairie town.

Kudos to you, firefighters of Alberta!

Monday, 12 January 2015

A Piece of History

Here stands the sideboard that once graced my grandmother's living room and then the series of homes in which my parents lived in Dawson Creek and Tumbler Ridge and Victoria. 

An imposing piece, research indicates its design was inspired by British architect and writer Charles Eastlake whose book Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery, and Other Details led to a movement known as "American Gothic". 

Eastlake believed household items should be attractive and well made by people who took pride in their work. A close look at the sideboard shows this to be true. Furniture in the Eastlake style is known for low relief carvings, moldings, geometric ornamentation and flat surfaces that were easy to clean. My sideboard includes all of these features. A recent article in the Ottawa Citizen indicates that a similar sideboard was listed in the 1895 Eaton's catalogue for $15, back in the day when a large house could be rented for $6 a month.

At my grandmother's house
I do not know the origin of this particular piece. It has no markings that indicate when or where it was made. Did the sideboard come west with my great grandparents when they ventured into the Alberta wilderness from Paris Ontario, eventually arriving at their homestead over the Edson Trail in 1911? More likely my grandmother picked it up at one of the many auctions she attended as she and my grandfather moved from Lake Saskatoon, to Delia, to Monitor and finally Edmonton during the Great Depression. Perhaps it once belonged to a wealthy family down on their luck in the Dirty Thirties.

Aunty Peggy and Mom
I know the sideboard has been well loved over the 100 and some years of its life. It's been moved taken apart and put back together and polished and dusted thousands of times. A few times the carving on top has been removed so it will fit into a room with a low ceiling. It serves as a backdrop to many family photos. My mom told me that when she was a child, the dining room table faced the sideboard and for many years a piece of cardboard covered the mirror as my aunt Peggy could not resist making faces at herself during supper.

When I was young, we opened the sideboard at Christmas when we needed to find the special rooster shaped salt and pepper or the red glass dish for the hard sauce for Christmas pudding. For the rest of the year, the sideboard served as centre-piece to display family photos, fancy crystal bowls and other decorative items such as the ornate candy dish that stands there today which my kids believe still contains its original candy.
Family photo from the late 1980s.

One thing I know about the sideboard is that wherever it lives, it fits in. Despite its ornamentation,  it seems to suit its home, wherever it is planted. From the living room in my grandmother's renovated log home outside Beaverlodge, to my mother's custom-built Viceroy house in the mountains of Tumbler Ridge, to my own 70s style bungalow, the sideboard belongs. A few months after we moved it to our house, my daughter visited for the first time."What do you think of where I put Grandmother's sideboard?" I asked. "I didn't even notice it," she said. "It looks like it has always been there."

My home is filled with objects, like the Eastlake sideboard, each with their own story, evoking memories and emotions. When wildfires destroyed a good portion of my community in 2011, I felt deeply for those who lost irreplaceable pieces of their own past. The suggestion that these are just "things" infuriated me. Certainly,the loss of possessions cannot  be equated to the loss of life, but they are have meaning. They are worth more than their monetary value. 

Antique furniture is worth next to nothing on the market today. Unlike in the days of Charles Eastlake, people now seem to prefer furniture that is poorly made, cheaply manufactured and easily discarded. Perhaps we no longer believe in celebrating our history or recognizing our collective memory. In these times of disposable everything, our past is also easily thrown away. We tend to forget that history shapes us. Where do we belong when we let go of our roots and the forces that have made us who we are? 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

United We Fail

Jan 5

Nicola Ramsey   
Slave Lake, Alberta Canada    
My family of 5 experienced delays at the hands of United Airlines. Mechanical problems led to flight cancellations resulting in personal losses and financial hardship when United 1033 Panama City-Houston was cancelled December 30 2014. Due to the delays/rerouting arranged by United staff, it took us three full days to arrive at our destination. I believe United Airlines is liable for our costs and ask to be compensated for expenses which total $550 USD. A further baggage claim will be made if our luggage does not arrive.  
United 1033 was to depart 3:30 pm Dec 30. It was delayed and eventually cancelled for maintenance.  United staff told passengers that if they made their own arrangements they would not be reimbursed. No contact information or alternatives were provided.  
We were sent to a hotel and told the plane would depart the next day at which time onward travel would be arranged. The hotel front desk was to be our communications point. About 10 pm we arrived at the hotel where 100 people were in line. We could not receive meal vouchers until we checked in. We had not eaten since 2 pm so we bought food before we checked in.  
All morning I checked with the desk personnel who knew nothing. My husband finally phoned United and booked a flight at 8 pm to arrive in Edmonton at 6 pm Jan 1. Front desk said the bus to the airport would likely leave at 5 pm. My husband called United and a confirmation email was received. We went to the desk at 4:20. The bus was gone. We paid for a taxi to the airport for $65. At 5:30 pm the flight was cancelled again and we were routed via San Jose Costa Rica to arrive in Edmonton at 1 am January 2.   
We flew to Costa Rica. At 4:30 am we were taken to the San Jose Airport where we paid a departure tax of $150 USD although we had been there for just 8 hours.   
We arrived in Newark to find the US Airways flight was via Phoenix-a 6 hour flight took 12 hours. We had no meal vouchers and purchased meals. We cleared customs in Edmonton at 1:30 am, too late for us to drive home. We stayed in Edmonton arriving home noon January 2. Two pieces of luggage are lost.  
I ask that we be compensated for our expenses including the taxi to the airport, the hotel we booked in Phoenix, the departure tax from Costa Rica, and meals while in transit.  I have attached receipts. A further claim for luggage will be made if it does not arrive. Further compensation might encourage us to use your airline again. to me                                                                          
Jan 6

Mrs. Ramsey:

Thank you for communicating the challenges of returning to Edmonton due to the cancellation of Flight 1033, December 30.  I sincerely apologize to you and to your traveling family members for the negative impressions created; the accompanying frustration is certainly understandable.

I will review your request for reimbursement of expenses after I carefully examine the attached receipts...within the next 24 hours, for sure, you will hear from me.  The telephone number listed in your reservation is XXXX.

Meanwhile, a special team within our corporate office has set up a website where you can go to choose from compensation choices offered to all passengers booked on Flight 1033, December a goodwill gesture.

United, like other major air carriers, does not cover pre-paid expenses and offers goodwill compensation in travel vouchers for future travel or miles for members of our MileagePlus loyalty program such as you.

Your business with United Airlines, Mrs. Ramsey, is most appreciated. We look forward to serving you in a more satisfactory manner onboard future flights.  


David Risinger
Corporate Customer Care
Case 8545522   

me to                                                                            
Jan 6

I am sorry, but the link you sent to the compensation package does not work. If you could send it again I would greatly appreciate it.

Nicola Ramsey

Case 8545522 to me                                                                            
Jan 6

I regret reading that you are having problems accessing our appreciation website...
Once there, you will enter the date and flight number and then go from there.  


David Risinger
Corporate Customer Care

me to                                                                            
Jan 8
In your email dated January 6 you stated I would receive a reply from you regarding my request for the reimbursement of expenses incurred due to United Airline's cancellation of flight UA1033 on December 20 2014. You stated I would definitely receive a reply in 24 hours.

I would appreciate the courtesy of a reply at your earliest convenience. I can be reached via email, cell XXX or landland XXXX
Thank you.

Phone call from David Risinger to me                                                                    
Jan 8

Mr Risinger apologized for the lateness of his reply as he was swamped at work. He then went on to say the airline would provide me with a $300 travel voucher. I explained that was not acceptable, I expected to be reimbursed in cash for my out of pocket expenses. He went on to say United did not cover prepaid expenses such as the hotel in Houston which I had paid for but was unable to use. He went on to say they did not cover the cost of taxis. I stated that it was not our choice to be in Panama for two extra days and that we were there because the flight had been cancelled, not by our choice. I then asked about the departure tax. "Mrs. Ramsey, I am not going to re-imburse you for  the departure tax. It was your choice to go to Costa Rica." I stated it was not in any way my choice to go to Costa Rica. I had originally booked Houston-Edmonton and when that flight was cancelled, re-booked via Newark as that was the only option given. When the second flight was cancelled, United Airlines staff told us our only option was to go via Costa Rica. At this point Mr Risinger said "No one forced you to go to Costa Rica. Did someone physically carry you onto the plane and tell you that you had to go to Costa Rica?"  At this point I said I would never choose to go to Costa Rica for seven hours. All we wanted to do was get home and this was the only option provided by United Airlines.  I reminded him that we had been told that if we did not take that flight, the next available flight to Houston was on January 6. At this point he told me the scan of the departure tax was unreadable and I agreed to send him a higher resolution version. He said he would analyze it and get back to me.

me to                                                                     
Jan 8
I have attached a higher resolution version of the airport departure tax receipts.
As I explained to you on the phone, our family did not "choose" to go to Costa Rica.
Thank you to me                                                                    
Jan 8 

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me this morning.  As I explained several days ago, you can go to to claim compensation for the cancellation of your Flight 1033 to Houston on December 30.  I once again apologize for the delay in returning home.

I look forward to receiving readable departure tax receipts to review for reimbursement.


David Risinger
Corporate Customer Care
Case 8545522

Jan 8

Thank you for taking the time to call me this morning.

·         We booked a flight from Panama City to Houston to Edmonton that was scheduled to depart on Dec 30.
·         After the cancellation of UA 1033 on December 30, we re-booked a flight to Panama City to Newark to Edmonton on Dec 31. 
·         At that time we were told by United Airlines that if we did not take that flight, the next available flight to Houston was January 6.
·         On Dec 31 we were told by United Airlines that the only way we could get back to Edmonton was to fly to Costa Rica, stay there 8 hours, and from there fly to Newark and then Edmonton. 
At no point did we have any interest in visiting Costa Rica.
 I expect to be reimbursed AT MINIMUM by cheque or money order-not travel voucher- for my taxi and the airport departure tax. Both of these expenses were directly caused by United Airline's failure to get my family home in a reasonable time frame. 

Furthermore, I feel I have been very polite in my dealings with United Airlines to this point. I believe I am legally entitled under the Montreal Convention to be re-reimbursed in cash for actual expenses incurred by my family directly caused by the two cancellations of flights from Panama City. to me
Jan 9

Mrs. Ramsey:

I will put through the departure taxes for repayment as requested.  It should take about 7-10 business days to process and mail a draft to your home address.


David Risinger

Corporate Customer Care

me to customercare@united .com       
Feb 2

Hi David

Just a note that I have not yet received the repayment for departure taxes as promised.


Nicola Ramsey

Phone conversation between David Risinger and me
Feb 2

Risinger: I have taken your claim to my supervisors and because the airport departure tax was not paid to United Airlines, United Airlines will not refund you the $29 dollars per person.
Me: But the only reason I had to pay the airport departure tax was because United Airlines cancelled my flight twice. I never at any point had any interest in visiting Costa Rica for 6 hours. I am already out of pocket for a number of other expenses that United Airlines will not re-imburse.Is there someone above you I can complain to?
Risinger: I can certainly take your complaints up at a higher level.
Me: Could you please give me an email address or phone number of someone above you? 
Risinger: I assure you that I will take this complaint up with our corporate office
Me: So are you refusing to give me the contact information of your superior?
Risinger: Well, it wouldn't do any good. As the customer care representative tasked with your case, there would be no point in taking this up with anyone else. It is United Airlines policy that we do not reimburse money that was not paid to us and you did not pay United Airlines the departure tax.
Me: Of course I didn't pay United Airlines, United Airlines does not collect departure tax. And I would like the contact information of your superior. That is just ridiculous
Risinger: Well, how about this, I am prepared to offer you a travel voucher of $100.
Me: On top of the $150 travel voucher that was already offered to me on your customer appreciation website?

Risinger: Oh. Right. Well, let me talk to somebody and I will see what I can do. I will get back to you within the hour.

Cell Phone conversation between David Risinger and me

Feb 11

Risinger: Mrs. Ramsey? It's David Risinger here from United Airlines, replying to your email of February 2 regarding the departure tax from Costa Rica. Once again, on behalf of United Airlines I apologize for the inconvenience your family experienced but United Airlines, like most other companies, does not refund money that wasn't paid to them in the first place to its customers. I can however, provide a travel voucher to each member of your family.
Me: I'm not interested in any kind of travel voucher. I will take this to small claims court. Don't bother phoning me again.