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Jul 29, 2014

Lessons Learned from a Summer Vacation

Here we are in the dog days of summer, and the treadmill keeps running.

Sure the weather is better, but otherwise things have stayed a lot the same. I’ve been working, Murray’s been working.  We’re still shuttling the kids to day camps and daycare.  Weekends have been spent running errands.

But we’ve also had Stampede and played “Say Yes to the Dress” with my mom and sisters.  We bought a new car – ahem – minivan. I know. I joined the dark side, and so far I love it.

Judge me. Whatever.  I’m a suburb-living, minivan-driving soccer mom.

We managed to kick off the summer by getting away for an extra-long weekend to the mountains. It’s going to be our only “just us” family vacation this summer, so I’m glad it was so much fun.

The kids are pretending to roar...obviously.

It didn’t start out that way.

I did my share of internet research before finding what I thought was a super-sweet deal at Panorama Mountain Resort, just outside of Invermere, BC, about a three and a half hour drive away. I had hoped to leave early enough in the day so that we could still enjoy the evening at the resort, but that was not to be.

By the time we got there it was close to 10:30pm. We checked into our room at The Pine Inn and it was…not nice. I don’t know if it was the hole in the wall or the stains on the carpet. No. It was the black stains on the quilt. Yes. It was those black stains on the quilt. When I saw those - that was when I knew that we couldn’t stay in that room.

See, black stains. So gross.
But then I wasn’t sure what to do. I mean, I am a lawyer and I am very good at advocating for things I believe in, but I’ve never been good at negotiating for myself (at least not in that way). I’ve never asked for an upgrade for anything.  If I get a meal at a restaurant that maybe isn’t up to par, I won’t send it back. I give pretty much everybody the benefit of the doubt, but this was a bit too much.

 So at 11:30 at night I went back to the front desk and explained – VERY NICELY – that we could not stay in the room they had given us. I told the girl who was on the night shift – Laura from Petawawa – that I understood that it wasn’t her fault but could she please find us somewhere else to go. At first, she said that she could probably find a room but that it would cost me more and then I – VERY NICELY – explained that seeing as I wasn’t getting near what I was paying for that I certainly wasn’t going to pay any more than that.

These pools were right outside of our new room.

Laura found a room but couldn’t approve the upgrade herself because it was quite a substantial step up from the room I’d booked. She called her supervisor, and then her supervisor’s boss – AT MIDNIGHT!! – and got them to approve the upgrade.

I love Laura.

I went back to the room and we packed up and settled down in our new room.  We all slept very well that night and as you can see from the pictures below, we had a fantastic weekend hiking and swimming and playing mini golf. They had a campfire with s’mores on the Saturday night for the kids. The room that first night was the only thing I could really complain about (which I did - VERY NICELY).

I learned a few lessons that weekend.

First, don’t let a bad first impression spoil the entire time. If we’d let that first night colour our entire weekend we would have missed a great time together as a family.  

Second, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.  I’ll admit there was a very strong part of me that wanted to just suck it up and stick with the room I’d booked. But I knew it wasn’t right, so I went and asked for what I’d paid for. This leads to the final lesson:

Third, you are more likely to get what you deserve if you ask VERY NICELY. I wasn’t rude. I didn’t swear. I didn’t raise my voice. And in return, Laura was very helpful. She wasn’t combative or defensive. 
You really do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

If only all vacations were this successful. 

I guess there’s time to find out…the summer is only half over. 

(This probably goes without saying, but Panorama did not pay me to write this review. Just thought I'd clear that up.)

Jul 15, 2014

Everyday Superheroes (For Nathan)

Yesterday, our city - the entire country really - got the news no one wanted to hear.

Two weeks ago, on another sunny, Monday morning, Jennifer O'Brien went to pick up her 5-year-old son Nathan from her parents' home where he had spent the night. As we all know by now, neither Nathan nor his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, were anywhere to be found. The police issued an Amber Alert for all three and an immense investigation ensued.

The police have spent the past fourteen days searching landfills and a rural property just north of Calgary for clues. More than 900 tips poured in. Little Nathan's smiling face was everywhere. Though it diminished as the days passed, everyone had hope that all or one would be found alive.

Then yesterday, our stoic and compassionate Chief of Police Rick Hanson stood in front of the television cameras and announced that the Amber Alert had been discontinued. The evidence they had compiled was enough that they, along with the Crown Prosecutor's Office, had determined that the three were dead and charges of first-degree and second-degree murder were pending against an individual they had arrested earlier that morning.

And he admitted that in doing so, they had taken that hope away from the family. Away from all of us.

(To his credit, and for the benefit of those of you who are not fortunate enough to know Chief Hanson, I do not believe that giving that news to the family was an easy decision for him to make.)

There are many heavy hearts in our city, and many tears have been shed. We may not have known them, but we grieve. We all want to wrap the family in as much love as we can. That a little boy should have found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time is tragic enough, but that this "wrong place" was a home where he felt safe, where he spent so much time with people he loved and who loved him back is difficult for us regular folks to understand.

When stuff like this happens, the most difficult task is often how to explain it to the youngest among us in a way that doesn't fill them with fear. For many of us no explaining is necessary; because Nathan wasn't part of their life we can withhold the information, wrap them in security blankets both literal and figurative, and go about our daily business.

Unfortunately, there are many young people in our community whose parents won't have that luxury. I am talking about Nathan's brothers, the children he went to Kindergarten with, and what I imagine are many, many friends. The person who allegedly took the life of Nathan and his grandparents has also taken their innocence. They now know that evil exists in their world, and that makes me very, very sad.

But this means the rest of us have a job to do. It is a difficult job but it is important.

We have to make sure that these kids know that there is more good in the world than evil. We need to do our best to teach them that while there may be dark days, good will ultimately triumph. They will have plenty of time to get cynical and anxious and fearful when they're older. Right now they need to feel safe and be reminded of all the good. All of us need to become those "helpers" that Mr. Rogers speaks of.

A few days after her parents and son had gone missing, Jennifer O'Brien stood in front of the television cameras and told us how Nathan loved dressing up as a Superhero. She said that they had stopped buying him clothes because all he wanted to do was wear Superhero costumes. I'm not saying you have to wear a costume (though you definitely can if you want to), but we have the power to bring light to people who are experiencing a dark time right now.

When everyone is asking, "What can I do?" we can do this. We can remind them that they are not alone; we might not save the day, but we can make the day's load easier to bear.

We can be everyday superheroes. For Nathan. For his family. For all of us. 


Jun 25, 2014

Spreading the Sunshine

A few weeks ago we had a bit of a traumatic experience. I came home one Sunday afternoon, expecting our dog, Bohdi, to greet me like is his routine. When he didn't come right away I checked the backyard. He wasn't there either. I searched the entire house but Bohdi was nowhere to be found.

Somehow he'd escaped.

I felt sick. We usually leave his collar off when he's around the house because it makes him uncomfortable and I saw it hanging in the front closet. So he was out there alone, with no collar to let anyone who might find him know where he belonged.

I immediately called our neighbour to see if she had seen Bohdi. When he runs out of our house, hers is the first place he goes. I knew she'd been busy with a birthday party for her sons that afternoon, but thought I'd ask anyway. She hadn't seen him, but within two minutes she had come to retrieve the kids and take them back to her place so that Murray and I could look for him.

We have very good neighbours.

Because I work for The City, the first thing I did was call 311. I don't think that's what most people do, but it's how I've been conditioned. Anyway, I called to report a lost dog and while I was on the phone I received an email from another neighbour saying that her husband had seen a dog that may or may not have been Bohdi in the front seat of a police car at the top of our hill. So I asked the 311 operator what happens when the police pick up a dog and she said they take them to a specific veterinary clinic not too far away. The dog would stay there until Animal Services came to pick them up.

I immediately called the veterinary clinic and they said that they had picked up a small "grey and white" Bichon Shih Tzu in our neighbourhood that afternoon. I would say Bohdi is more "black and white" but whatever. I got in the car and set off for the clinic, hoping to find Bohdi there.

What a sweet looking dog, hey?
In the meantime, Murray went to the houses at the top of our hill to see if any of them had maybe, hopefully, found Bohdi. As I was driving to the clinic I got a text from him that said that one of the houses he'd been to had picked him up! The daughter had taken a picture of the dog that her brother had brought home and it was him for sure. We didn't know if he was the one I was going to see, but at least we knew that he had been handed over to the police and was safe.

What a relief. I mean, I was nearly in tears knowing that he hadn't been eaten by coyotes. Seriously. We live near the edge of the city and coyotes are not uncommon. He was safe and I was so, so grateful.

As it turned out, the dog waiting for me at the clinic was Bohdi. I brought him home, safe and sound, just a few hours after he'd gone on his adventure.

That was not something I ever want to experience again. That morning Murray had been working the backyard, the kids were playing and everyone was in and out of the house. Before we'd left to go out for the day, Murray asked if any of us had seen Bohdi inside the house. I had convinced myself that I'd seen him in his usual spot, upstairs in the bonus room watching the world go by out the window. Gavin said that he'd seen him upstairs too. So we left, not bothering to double-check. Obviously that wasn't the case. We'll never know how he got out of the yard.

Anyway, we wanted to thank the family that found him, so I took a cue from some of my friends and put together a Sunshine Basket - basically a small white plastic bin (with a flower pattern) with a bunch of yellow things like food stuffs (Butterfingers and Haribo Gold Gummi Bears), kitchen items (yellow mugs and tea towels) and other miscellaneous things (Wet Wipes in a yellow package, yellow Method hand soap). The kids made a card that said "Thank you for finding our dog." I sent a small note card to "The Family at 169" expressing our gratitude.

Then, because this is me we're talking about, the basket sat by our front door for at least a week before we had a chance to actually deliver it. Mia and I walked it up one Friday while Gavin was in school, but they weren't home so we walked back down the hill with our basket.

The kids were so excited to thank our neighbours. They asked every night if they could take the basket. So a few nights later, it was after supper and wasn't raining so I suggested we try again.The whole family - including Bohdi - walked up the hill, but once again they weren't home. So back down we went.

Which brings us to tonight. We were driving home from soccer and noticed a car parked in their driveway. "They're home!" we thought. We parked in the driveway, went inside to get the basket and - once again - started walking up the hill. We were just a few houses away when their garage door opened and a boy walked out to go across the street to play with friends.

As we walked up to the door, Murray made a comment about hoping that this was the right house.


I mean, he was the one who was actually there. I had scrolled through his texts to confirm the address. Still, the doubt.

We were too far gone though. I mean, the boy had seen us walk toward his home. We were committed.

So we walked up to the front door, hoping that we were at the right house because otherwise - embarrassing, right?

It turned out Murray shouldn't have doubted. The woman who answered the door confirmed that we were at the right house and was genuinely surprised at our gesture. It's been about a month or so since they took Bohdi in (my bad), so I can see why she thought that we'd forgotten about it. Maybe they'd even forgotten about it. I don't know.

In any event, it was a great way to teach our kids about how to show gratitude. About how to be kind. About how to be generous.They liked being part of it (Mia had helped me choose items for the basket), and it reminded me how easy it is to overlook repaying a kindness, but how necessary it is to acknowledge the same and to pay it forward.

I think I'm going to give more sunshine baskets. The look on the family's face was totally worth it.