Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year It's Been

I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions but I do like to take a look back and evaluate things as I move forward.  December 31, as it has been rather arbitrarily chosen to end the year seems to be just as good of a time to take a look back as any other day, so here goes...

The price of oil falling quite substantially has obviously been a big story this year, affecting not only our economy but my community.  It's certainly given me a few moments of angst and I find myself checking the price of oil on an almost daily basis once I get home from work.  I count myself among the fortunate and while I don't mind things being a little less frenetic here, particularly compared to how it was when I first moved here, I certainly don't want to see things flat-line completely.  It will be interesting to see what 2016 has in store for us.

On a much more positive note, I finished paying off a lot of debt this year, particularly timely as it turns out given the down turn.  I can head in to the new year breathing a sign of relief with a little less stress and not having to fret so much about the lack of overtime.  In short, I can enjoy life a bit more, which, while I haven't exactly blogged about it a great deal, is something I've come to understand as something I need to focus more on as I get older.  On the plus side,  I've proven to myself that I can take on adversity and that I'm much tougher than I sometimes give myself credit for.

It was a great year for birding, as I mentioned in my previous post.  I had hoped for a modest 40 sightings this year and I managed to do that, thanks in part to a couple of timely visits to British Columbia.  With luck I'll be able to squeeze in a couple more outings in the new year and with a little luck, hit 50 sightings.

I've also figured out a nice way to see some concerts, although the ACTUALLY SEEING THEM part won't start happening for another couple of weeks yet.  I'm eagerly awaiting my first ticket to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra to arrive and hope they did get too caught up in the Christmas mailing rush.   I have a feeling I"m really going to enjoy a few concerts over  the coming months.  Rather than just thinking about going I decided to get down to business and come up with a plan to get down to see some good music.

And while surviving potential layoffs, expanding bird lists and seeing great music are wonderful things, they still pale beside the best news of all this year....namely, that my mother can count herself as a cancer survivor.  A year ago, things looked rather bleak and up in the air.  Being three provinces away while Mom did her chemo and made countless trips in to Toronto and having to rely on phone calls and social media for updates did have its stresses at times.  Mom's cancer was inoperable and aggressive.  Asking the dreaded question about what would happen should the chemotherapy fail is not easy since you know what the answer is going to be.  Skipping along merrily through life and then all of a sudden being faced with the potential loss of a very close family member has a way of forcing you to re-evaluate your priorities and not sweat the minutiae of every day life.   The only drawback to the chemo was that while it killed the cancer, it also wreaked havoc on her salivary glands which makes eating more a challenge but given the alternative...

In short, 2015 was a roller-coaster of a year.  Plenty of ups and downs to be sure but given some of the personal challenges I've faced in the past few years, fortunately nothing I can't handle.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Bird List

2015 was quite a roller coaster of a year it seemed but in terms of birding, I have little to complain about.  Keeping a list of the birds I see in a year is a fairly new thing for me as I think I'm up to a grand total of 3 annual lists.  It was a great year in terms of number of species seen and the number of sightings of species I had never seen before as well as species I hadn't seen in a long time.  While I got off to a slow start, a couple of trips this past summer to BC as well as some luck around the house helped to push my birding list for the year up to a grand total of 46 species....small but respectable.  And of course I look forward to 2016 to top that number.

Barring any last-minute additions (which are looking extremely doubtful at this point) here is my species list for 2015, more or less in chronological order..........

1.  Pine Grosbeak - 1 Jan.
2.  Hairy Woodpecker - 1 Jan.
3.  Bohemian Waxwing - 3 Jan.
4.  Common Raven - 4 Jan.
5.  Blue Jay - 4 Jan.
6.  Black-billed Magpie - 8 Jan.
7.  Chickadee - 14 Jan.
8.  House Sparrow - 14 Jan.
9.  Evening Grosbeak - 15 Jan.
10. Herring Gull - 7 Apr.
11. Hoary Redpoll - 9 Apr.
12. Canada Goose - 9 Apr.
13. Slate-coloured Junco - 19 Apr.
14. Common Grackle - 22 Apr.
15. Mallard - 24 Apr.
16. American Robin - 1 May
17. Tree Swallow - 8 May
18. Chipping Sparrow - 9 May
19. Red-winged Blackbird - 12 May
20. Barn Swallow - 9 Jun.
21. Pileated Woodpecker - 13 Jun.
22. Northern Flicker - 13 Jun.
23. Rufous Hummingbird - 13 Jun.
24. Bank Swallow - 13 Jun.
25. Marsh Wren - 14 Jun.
26. American Coot - 14 Jun.
27. Blue-winged Teal - 14 Jun.
28. Cinnamon Teal - 14 Jun.
29. Yellow-headed Blackbird - 14 Jun.
30. Ruddy Duck - 14 Jun.
31. White-winged Scoter - 14 Jun.
32. Cedar Waxwing - 14 Jun.
33. Yellow-Rumped Warbler - 14 Jun.
34. Rose-breasted Grosbeak - 14 Jun.
35. Rock Dove - 15 Jun.
36. White-crowned Sparrow - 23 Jun.
37. European Starling - 11 Jul.
38. Great Blue Heron - 11 Jul.
39. Bonaparte's Gull - 11 Jul.
40. Western Tanager - 11 Jul.
41. Yellow-Breasted Chat - 11 Jul.
42. Red-tailed Hawk - 12 Jul.
43. Ring-billed Gull - 13 Jul.
44. Yellow Warbler - 18 Jul.
45. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - 23 Jul.
46. Common Redpoll - 6 Dec.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A "Concerted" Effort

It's not quite the new year yet but I'm committed to making an effort to expand my horizons and take in some more live music.  It's been over six years since I've actually attended a symphony of any sort and while I tend to listen to smaller ensembles rather than full-fledged orchestral works, I decided to take the plunge and not let a concert season pass by without seeing anything, especially when we have two fine orchestras in the form of the Edmonton Symphony and the Calgary Philharmonic.  Once I got digging around looking at concert schedules I was amazed at just how many great works were being performed on my days off and getting down to see them wasn't going to be as much of a logistic nightmare than I thought.

As it turns out, there are more concerts by the CPO that fall on my days off than Edmonton Symphony ones.  If all goes according to plan, I should at least be able to attend a couple ESO performances and indeed I already have a ticket for a concert there in a little over three weeks' time.  Edmonton works well as I can head down the day of the concert, spend the night and return the following day which works wonderfully for my work schedule.  Plus, they have a performance later in the spring of Beethoven's Piano Concerto #4, which I don't think I've ever heard live, so of course I can't really pass that up.

As for Calgary, it's a mere 12-hour bus ride away so I'm planning on spending a couple of over-nights  so I can actually enjoy the concert without fitting too much travel into too short of a time span.  I'm actually very excited for my Calgary performances as they include some big works I've known about going back several years, even as far back as childhood.  There are a couple of concerts where I won't be able to avoid booking a couple days off work but seeing they happen to be Beethoven's 9th Symphony and Bach's B Minor Mass, I'd pretty much WALK to Calgary to see them if I had to.

These concerts aren't until later in the spring so I have plenty of time to finalize travel arrangements.  If all goes according to plan, my first concert attendance at the Calgary Philharmonic will be a performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg but I won't list everything I'm hoping to see.  But if I do manage to see just the pieces I've mentioned here I know I'll be more than happy.  As an interesting side note, I actually know the choir director and the artistic director of the Calgary Philharmonic as they are both University of Windsor alumni.  Small world indeed.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Enough is Enough

I'll admit I can be quite passionate about politics.  I don't mind voicing my opinion or being blunt and telling a politician when I think they are wrong, and I'm pretty sure I've been struck off the Christmas gift list of more than a few government MP's or MLA's since moving here.  But intimidation and threats just go way over the line in my books.  It's great to have an opinion and to express it but when all you can do is to resort to such base actions you cheapen political discourse, turn people off, and frankly, make yourself look like a bloody idiot.  I've certainly had my share of invective hurled at me between my two blogs and I know I don't have time for cowards who hide behind the anonymity of their computer screen.  Except, perhaps not quite so anonymous since the Mensa geniuses who do this via Facebook certainly put themselves at a greater risk of being "outed".  While I was part of one anti-government social media group that I've seen mentioned in media as a source for earlier threats to the Premier, I ended up leaving the group after seeing the sheer amount of vitriolic, crass and simply illogical reasoning on it and becoming a bit of a target myself after some vain attempts at trying to restore some sanity.

To be sure, I've called a former education minister a bigot (because given his stance on the bullying of gay students in schools what else can I call him?), I've even been harsh on our local MP and I think our current provincial environment minister is a self-absorbed drama queen but threatening them because you disagree with their politics is beyond ridiculous.  We had a democratically-held election last spring.  You may not have gotten the result you wanted (I didn't) but there are better ways to express your disappointment and displeasure than this.  Come on Alberta.  We are better than this.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Candid Thoughts on Being an Oil Patch Worker and Owning a Home in Fort McMurray Part III

At the start of the year I wrote a couple posts about living and working here in a time where the price of oil has cooled considerably and I thought I'd give a little update, if only to show that my lack of blogging hasn't meant that I've fallen off the planet. The one thing that I find myself doing on an almost daily basis is checking the price of oil.  I was hoping it would level off a few months ago after taking its big dive and stabilize in the $40-$50/barrel range but no.  With oil currently sitting at a little over $35/barrel I'm reminded at just how volatile things still are.

I count myself as rather fortunate that my work continues to be pretty steady.  It actually was quite busy this past fall as we had a large maintenance event and I've heard that we can expect more of these in the coming months.  I've been working 12-hour days for well over a year now and have become quite used to the routine of it and while I do occasionally complain, certainly working 12 hours a day is much better than working zero hours per day.  My employer's contract with Suncor doesn't expire until January 2017, so barring a complete disaster, I don't dwell things too much.

While I was accepted in to a Masters program at my old alma mater I decided for a number of reasons to forgo that for now.  I'm sure I'll apply again and take my MA but that just won't be right. now and I'm perfectly fine with that.  Given the economy, this isn't exactly the best time to sell a house and while I could have enlisted the services of a property manager while away studying, the idea of being an absentee landlord just doesn't sit well with me.  But hey, my mom beat cancer this year so it was a good reminder that there are more important things in life.

In the meantime, I've been able to get involved in a little volunteer work shovelling snow for an elderly couple just down the street from me and it feels nice to be able to do something to give back to my community even if just in a small way.  I've also found myself doing an insane amount of reading on my days off having discovered the wonders of  I'm getting into a few areas of history I avoided like the plague in university because they didn't appeal to me and I didn't think they would be all that interesting only to find that they are rather interesting after all and really do help to broaden my understanding.  I really do need a decent book shelf as the unit I have at the moment is proving to be grossly inadequate.

And while I did have a politically-oriented post of sorts in mind, I find myself retreating from politics at the moment, if only to give my brain a rest.  There are many things I've thought about commenting on from our government here to the Syrian refugee crisis but I'd rather not turn my blog into a political blog, and anyway, there are many talking heads out there as it is and I'd rather not muddy the waters even more than they already seem to be.

One good thing about things being a bit slower is that the city has really calmed down and doesn't seem to be as "go go go faster" as it was when I initially moved here.  The pace of life is a bit more manageable so for the short term, I don't mind it all that much.  At any rate, these are just a few random thoughts as I head in to another work shift.