Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Application Accepted

It's been a few days now since I received the email but I have to admit my head is still swimming.  Graduate school was an idea I had toyed with off and on over the last ten years and I finally found myself giving it some serious thought last spring.  Having been out of academia now for almost 15 years (where has the time gone?) the idea of going back for a masters degree was, I admit, rather daunting at times.  Ten years of living throughout the North also added a host of other historical interests on top of the 50 other things I find interesting within the discipline.  Thankfully, however, I don't have to decide on a research area tomorrow or the next day and I've managed to narrow things down (a little bit).

I began the whole process over a year ago and spent much of my free time in March and April figuring out research ideas and possible schools.  I didn't realize at the time just how long a process this would be but by last September I had the actual application underway.  I spent a couple weeks on this though the actual section where you have to detail your specific areas of interest for research took perhaps a month. I had never written a research proposal before so of course I wanted to take my time and craft a good one.  I'm pretty sure I sweated less when I wrote 30-page papers during my undergrad.  Never has a measly 250-word blurb caused so much angst.  The most time-consuming part was locating references, which, after a 15-year hiatus, was interesting to say the least.  Not without its challenges but obviously possible.  I managed to get in touch with a former professor of mine, now teaching in the US but currently on sabbatical in Germany as well as an acquaintance (and former MLA)  in Nunavut.  I'm pretty sure there aren't too many applications that have had references from such far-flung and radically different parts of the world.  I was hopeful that that in itself would spark some interest among the selection committee.

I should mention too that I was initially planning to apply to 3 schools and Windsor actually wasn't very high on the list.  But since I had done my undergraduate degrees there and lived there more or less continuously for 7 years, I decided to include it on my short list based on the familiarity factor alone.  As an added bonus, some of my favourite wineries are only a short drive away.  Gradually my list of 3 became 2 as I decided the one school would involve too far of a move and it would be nice to be a bit closer to family.  Then, as I was having issues with the one school over writing samples I needed for my application, I took the decisive step back in March of going for broke and focusing all my energies on Windsor.

In the end it all paid off as I've been accepted into the Master of Arts program for History at the University of Windsor.  I will have to take a couple of senior undergraduate courses prior to starting the program just to bring my writing and research skills up to speed but I'll take it as it will make the transition back to academia a little less jarring.  At the risk of getting too far ahead of myself, pursuing a Ph.D has been flitting around my head the last 6 months.  Time will tell.  In the meantime its nice to finally get the ball rolling.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Family Re-united and a Stereotype Smashed.

Let's be honest.  Teenagers probably have to be the most stereotyped group out there.  They're lazy.  They're ignorant.  They bitch and complain.  They vandalize.  They think they know everything.  I spent the better part of a decade working with young people in various roles so I think I've heard and seen a lot.  I won't say everything because there are always surprises.  How many times have you passed a group of teens on the street and just thought "ya, up to no good."?  I'll raise my hand.  I admit I've done that myself.

Which is why I found the story of a group of Quebec teens who took it upon themselves to take action and rescue a days-old infant from a would-be kidnapper so refreshing.  Rather than simply seeing a photo on social media and thinking "oh, how sad", they took action.  It's great to see these kids busting stereotypes, although really that should be on us as adults to do that.  How quickly we can be to judge.

At any rate....Sharelle, Marc-Andre, Charlene and Melizanne, YOU GUYS ARE FREAKING AWESOME!  And seriously, if I'm ever in Quebec, the meal's on me!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fort McMurray-Athabasca By-election

If the paucity of election signs up around my little neck of Fort McMurray is any indication, the campaign for the June 30 by-election is off to a slow start.  On my way over to Timberlea to run some errands, I only recall seeing 4 signs, and three of them were from the same candidate.  Not that I was especially looking for them but they didn't exactly scream out at me either.  I'm sure things will pick up as time goes on.

I'm not one to read too much into by-elections but it is nice to a little more media exposure on our region, its challenges and needs.  I like to think of a by-election as being an interim report card of sorts and a wise government should always pay attention.  The by-election was precipitated of course, when our previous MP, Brian Jean, resigned.  Even before moving here I knew Jean's name, and not just because of the riding he represented.  I recall getting flyers in my mailbox when I lived in Nunavut about how Party X was going to cut this or that program or scale back funds for this or that but his Party would make sure it didn't happen.  Of course, none of the flyers were in Inuktitut which no doubt upset and confused many unilingual Inuktitut speakers.  Heck, even though it was in English I didn't have a clue what he was talking about half the time.  Part of me can't help but think that perhaps he should have spent more time focused on his own riding and indeed I've heard stories of him mailing out quirky cross-word puzzles about himself.  Just weird.

Anyhow, this post isn't tended to be a dump on the federal Conservatives.  The Liberals definitely have their work cut out for them.  I've read a couple other blogs about how the Liberals could make big gains  on June 30.  They would have to be pretty substantial in my mind, though. to put a dent in the Tory machine, given that a Liberal has never held this riding in its entire 46 year history.  Jean won with a pretty healthy 71% of the popular vote in 2011.  And while you may think the NDP are pretty much invisible here, they did capture more votes than the Liberals in the 2006 and 2011 elections.  Much as I dislike Trudeau though, I will give him credit for visiting our riding not once, but twice in recent weeks.

And if you're bored or disillusioned with the traditional parties, we do have a Libertarian candidate running.  Tim Moen is a pretty polished candidate and has an interesting relationship with Neil Young. His campaign slogan about allowing for "gay married couples to protect their marijuana plants with guns" adds some much-needed colour and conversation to what some may consider a pretty boring affair.

I'll save on any election predictions here.  I'm notoriously bad at them.  Plus, if the last provincial election here taught us anything, its that strange things can happen.  At any rate, I do hope to comment more on the campaign as time goes on and as I have the opportunity to do so.

Candidates for Fort McMurray-Athabasca

Conservative -  David Yurdiga
NDP - Lori McDaniel
Liberal - Kyle Harrietha
Libertarian - Tim Moen

edit - We also have a Green Party candidate running here as well, Brian Deheer.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Little Spring Bonanza

Prodded by milder temperatures and a touch of cabin fever, I grabbed the binoculars and headed out for a walk along a pretty familiar route I take. It takes me to a number of good birding areas....urban, boreal forest and some marsh lands....a good mix to see a variety of birds.  I wasn't disappointed.  It was a bit wet underfoot and the weather couldn't decide if it wanted to be sunny or rainy but I managed to set a new personal record for number of species spotted in a single outing, including 3 I hadn't see in some time and a first sighting.

Funny enough I did leave the house thinking to myself "Wouldn't it be great if I saw a Yellow-headed blackbird this afternoon?"  They are a pretty common bird here but oddly I had never seen one until today.  Initially, I even ignored it.  I assumed it was a Brewer's blackbird simply because I've seen quite a few of them so far this season.  They just seem to be everywhere.  Anyhow, I saw one perched atop a small tree but because it was so dark and overcast I only saw a dark shape until it left the tree and flew over an open area to land in a storm pond.  The yellow head stood out prominently against the muted colours of the reeds and surrounding brush.  I couldn't believe my good fortune.

A little further on, I took a rather mucky path behind some houses to get to a marsh that's always good for non-passerines.  Along the way I passed by a house that backed onto the trail and was treated to a nice mix of birds I hadn't seen in quite some time: Yellow-rumped Warbler, which I hadn't seen since the first year I moved here, a few Purple Finches and a White-Crowned sparrow, both of which I had last seen around the house here a couple years ago.  I actually passed the owner of the house who was out walking his dog and was returning through his back gate and admitted I was a bit jealous at the nice avian variety he was getting.

My ultimate destination was the two marshes pictured below.  By the time I reached the second one, it started to rain a bit and I wondered if I would see anything else.  The water was pretty calm and there didn't seem to be much around, although after several minutes and a little effort I was overflown by a number of mallards (not sure how I managed not to get a decent photo) and watched a mating pair of Buffleheads take a leisurely afternoon swim.

I was tempted to venture further closer in to the water here but didn't fancy wet feet.

All in all, not a bad day to spend an hour.  Last year's first big May outing netted me about 10 species for the year list.  This year I managed to top that number with 14, half of which were first sightings for the calendar year.   Here is my full list for the day's venture.....

1. Common Raven (shocking)
2.  Black-billed magpie
3.  Brewer's blackbird
4. Red-winged blackbird
5. Yellow-headed blackbird
6. American robin
7. Chipping sparrow
8. White-crowned sparrow
9. Junco
10. Chicadee
11. Yellow-rumped warbler
12. Purple finch
13. Bufflehead
14. Mallard