Part 9: Back to My Hometown
Three years later, although loving the big city of Toronto, I decided to move back to Lethbridge. Saying goodbye to all my friends there was the hardest part. However, seeing family and friends again in Lethbridge constantly was great.
My sister had also moved home from the Cayman Islands so that we could have Sunday dinners as a family again. Family outings to movies, bowling, or trips to Calgary or elsewhere became common. Spending time creating quality memories with my family and friends was nice.
I reconnected with my networks and gained employment at an independent internet and cellular phone dealership called Tom Harris Cellular Lethbridge. We had a great team and were known for taking the time to listen and educate our customers about their new devices and services. Being part of a team that genuinely wanted the best for everyone who came through our doors was nice. We developed a great relationship with our customers and eliminated our customer's hesitation to seek our help at any time. I continued strengthening my customer service skills, receiving an award for Top Sales Representative - Future Friendly Home from the Corporate Telus company and the designation of Apple Master for my store.
Since I was back living near my family, I was able to join in another family reunion out in Mossleigh at the Aspen Crossing Train Station. I even got to meet some family from Sweden who had come. One day I plan to go to Sweden to see where my family came from (a place called Älmeboda, Småland).
While working for Telus, I also earned a trip to Six Flags California for the day through a Samsung sales contest after selling the most Samsung devices at my store. Now when I say it was a day trip to California, I mean it was one day. We flew to Vancouver the day before, and once all the winners and managers were together, we all left early the next morning and arrived at LAX by 9 am. A stretch hummer limousine picked us up and drove us to the Six Flags Theme park by 11 am, and we received unlimited passes to the rides all day. My favorite rollercoaster was called Tatsu (pictured below), and you hang as though you are flying. We left the park around 5 pm and returned to the airport to fly back to Vancouver. Even the airport staff couldn't believe we had flown in for the day. It was a lot of fun, and I met some other outstanding Tom Harris representatives.
A few summers after leaving Toronto, three friends from Toronto decided to check out Alberta, and we reunited with a fourth who had taken a job at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. I met the three in Calgary and drove us to Lake Louise. It was a great trip; we did so much in the beautiful nature surrounding the fantastic hotel. We hiked, spelunked (explored the Rats Next cave in Canmore - highly recommended), and laughed the whole time. Even in the darkness of the caves and my somewhat fear of tight spaces, we made our way down the caves while talking about horror movies about caving and laughing. I took the group photo below with my Samsung S7 in total blackness, with only the last. One of my favorite pics and moments. I never thought I'd squeeze my body through small gaps in the rock meters underground in pitch blackness. #overcomingmyfears
On the way back to Calgary, we stopped at the Canada Olympic Park and rode the Winsport Olympic Park Luge. It was so much fun, and another recommendation for everyone. I then decided to take a ride in a bobsleigh. What a rush and scary as hell at the same time. Something I never thought that I would do either.
Here's a short video of part of the spelunking experience. A friend of mine had my ankle as I fought off the fear of getting stuck in this space...thus the noises I was making to keep myself calm (in my way).
Saying goodbye again to my friends, I returned to life in Lethbridge. Between work, I finally made it to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, AB. STORY ALERT: I attempted a trip with my sister, grandpa, and his wife back in August 1992. We set out for the dinosaur exhibit on August 21st with excellent summer weather, driving from Taber to Hannah and stopping at a petting zoo along the way. That was as far as we made it, though, as substantial black clouds moved in, and we received a blizzard—a BLIZZARD in August less than a week before enjoying 30°C+ weather. My dreams had been dashed, but I finally made it decades later. And it was well worth the wait to see the nearly perfectly preserved dinosaur found in the oil sands. So incredibly cool!
I was also able to participate in more family activities, such as making Norweigan dessert Lefse. My grandfather's sister passed her recipe down to my mother, who has made it for many years. Now my mom and sister hold a Lefse-making "party" each year where family members come to help make it, catch up, and take some of the spoils home with them to share. I have helped a few times, most recently for a few hours last year.
My family also tried deep frying our Thanksgiving turkey over the last few years. It's not too bad, as I crispy meat, and it takes a fraction of the time to cook. You have to follow the time and temperature precisely and avoid getting burned.
After three long years of being away, I returned to Toronto to visit with all my friends. We all got together one night, and then I had a few hangouts over the week with a few people. I also got to ride a boat around Toronto Island with other Mitch. Then, I spent a day at Canada's Wonderland and repeatedly rode my favorite rollercoaster "Leviathan." I made sure to dine at the Keg Mansion, one of my favorite places to eat due to its history and ambiance. Check it out if you're in Toronto. On my last night, some friends and I went to The Rec Room, an adult arcade with games, food, and drinks. They also had a walk-around VR Ghostbusters game that was a blast (and SPOILER ALERTish a blast of marshmallow in the air at the end). It was such a fun time.
Here's a fun video of me playing "Crazy Tower" for the most tickets of any machine at The Rec Room (750 tickets). You have to tap a button to stack blocks up to 50 floors. I have to say I have pretty good hand-eye coordination. This is my third attempt (first, made it to 2, second, made it to 1).
After three years at Tom Harris Cellular, I decided I needed to challenge myself further. I moved into the casual pool at the City of Lethbridge and took on a temporary position in the Community Social Development (CSD) department. Our scope of work included Housing, Homelessness, and the Opioid Crisis. With such a wide range of problems to solve, we learned to manage many priorities at once. The work was so rewarding but often incredibly taxing on our small team of six and our manager. We did our best as a team and as a department.
During this time, I became a pet owner for the first time since my family dog, Sasha (mentioned in my first post). His name is Bentley, and he's a Pug/Chihuahua cross, or as I call him, a Pughuahua. Since day one, we bonded, and he's been at my side ever since. With every day that passes, I can't imagine my life without him in it. He turned six this summer, and I look forward to 20 more years with him. We are constantly on new adventures together. If you haven't already, I hope you meet him one day, too.
After several changes within the CSD department, I moved back into the casual pool, and shortly after, I joined the Tax & Assessment department. The work environment was refreshing, and the staff and management were so welcoming. I was able to revamp documents with an eye of an outsider to the tax world. I attempted to simplify the language with the idea that new homeowners would likely have as much knowledge as I did. If I could understand the tax & assessment information, the critical payment dates, and the language used in the mailed letters and notices, then it was likely that others would have a firm grasp as well.
After learning as much as possible about the ins and outs of homeownership in Lethbridge and Alberta, I created a Tax & Assessment learning activity called “Dealing with Taxes,” a deck of 108 cards to help inform the community about property taxes and home ownership. Unfortunately, the emergence of COVID-19 put the launch and use of the activity on hold, but I'm sure it will be shared with the community in future City open houses. It helps to highlight how small positive and negative events (moving right and left on a board) can affect the ability to pay property taxes while educating homeowners in a fun and comprehensive way. It also incorporates some available services that homeowners can benefit from, including the TIPP & TAPP programs available through the City of Lethbridge. I even created a box to hold all the cards.
Before I joined the department, the Tax & Assessment team had begun a program that offered homeowners in Lethbridge options to help avoid losing their homes. It went entirely against the stereotype of the traditional tax collector, and I loved it. It put the heart back in the department and, unironically, was called the "Tax & Assessment with Heart" program. I supported the team in two applications for awards in 2020; the first through the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) and the second through the Minister's Awards for Municipalities. Both applications were successful, and the Lethbridge Tax & Assessment department was honored provincially and internationally for its first-of-its-kind program. If you or someone you know is struggling with property taxes in Lethbridge, don't hesitate to reach out to the Tax & Assessment department at 311 or 403-320-3111 or to one of their community partner outreach teams (listed below).
To add to the community support that the department was already prioritizing, I was able to utilize my knowledge and community contacts acquired from my time in the Community Social Development department to draft and finalize a Community Resource sheet that could be given out to all homeowners, listing a wide variety of resources that homeowners could rely on, if ever needed. It is still used today.
If you live in Lethbridge, please don't hesitate to contact the Tax & Assessment department; you will likely learn something from this dedicated team. I am proud to have worked alongside these fantastic people. They care about our community and can help with any questions or concerns that you may have. Find out more information about the Tax & Assessment department on the City of Lethbridge website: https://www.lethbridge.ca/living-here/My-Taxes/.
As great as this position was, it all came tumbling down with COVID-19 as funding was reallocated, and I was unfortunately returned to the casual pool again. I wished my former team all the best and was happy that I could add so much to their department during my short time. I was left unemployed and was back to the drawing board, looking for my next path.
During this time, I was also able to digitize the remainder of my family's photographs and videotapes, collecting more memories from my father and other family members that I hadn't ever seen before. I had initially backed up all my photos and videos on several external hard drives. However, I worried about them potentially crashing one day. I also needed to find out which device had the most up-to-date content. I was also becoming a bit neurotic about losing family memories. Finally, I realized that if I was willing to pay $10 each month for a streaming service, I should be willing to pay $3 a month to back up my family's precious memories.
I was already using Google Drive and Google Photos, so I paid for more storage space on my Google account and backed up my entire photo library there. Now I have access to every family memory at my fingertips and can share them with anyone, anytime, anywhere in the world. I also feel so much less stressed about losing my digital memories. Google was only one of many services I could have chosen, and the decision is entirely up to how you and your family use and access your own devices. As a former Apple Master, iCloud Photos would have been just as good an option. Amazon has also released its photo storage called Amazon Photos.
Digitizing and uploading my memories became one of the inspirations for wanting to help other families to preserve their photographs. I felt so much relief and comfort not having to worry anymore.
Back to square one regarding my employment, I successfully applied as an Administrative Assistant/Executive Assistant at the local YWCA. I worked hard to help draft new plans and align tasks with desired outcomes. I constantly asked for the reasons behind why tasks, events, and procedures were undertaken (both historically and, in the case of new plans, preemptively). I believe that having a solid “Why” is paramount to the success of an organization, its staff, and its management. During the height of the pandemic, I worked from home, but Bentley loved the extra time with me.
I added my positive attitude and strong work ethic to another organization supporting some of our community's most vulnerable people. That is until my position ended due to unforeseen circumstances during one of the peaks of a COVID-19 wave.
In a short time frame, I lost three positions and needed to find a plan of action. Did I want to jump back into another job or challenge myself differently? I decided to take the challenge.
Check out my last blog post - Part 10: Beginnings of Shoebox Scanning.