Archives for category: Edmonton

AKA: why mall trick-or-treating sucks

I’m a firm believer in having my kids trick-or-treat in the streets where we live. For me, Halloween night is more about being an active part of my neighbourhood than it is about candy. (Except Rockets – I love those!) For those of you still unsure where to spend the evening with your little princesses and superheroes, I offer up seven reasons why I think Halloween should be given the community building recognition it deserves.

1)   Meet your extended neighbours

Halloween is one of the only times in the year that it’s normal to knock on the door of an unknown person, have that person happily open the door, have a bit of a conversation and leave with everyone feeling good about it. Take advantage of Halloween to get to know the faces of the people who live nearby.

2)   Teach your kids that people are good

Kids have been taught “stranger danger,” but the truth is that most people are good people – they’re not child molestors who slip razors in Coffee Crisps. You might not know the person who lives two streets over, but that doesn’t mean they’re dangerous or bad or should be avoided. Halloween is the perfect time to make that point.

3)   Meet other parents

For parents of young children walking around the neighbourhood with their little trick-or-treaters, it’s a chance to meet other parents doing the same thing. It’s another chance to talk to your neighbours, share a laugh and help to turn a bunch of people who live in the same geographic location into a community.

4)   People like handing out candy

For lots of people, seeing kids come by in their costumes and handing out candy is the best part of Halloween. They carve their pumpkins and keep their houselights on hoping for a good turnout. It’s disappointing to go through all that effort if only a dozen kids show up. Keep not showing up and eventually people won’t make the effort, leading to dud neighbourhoods, leading to more kids going to the mall, and so on…

5)   Malls are not a community

Shopping centres host trick-or-treating events because it gets a prime demographic through the doors to spend a couple hours window-shopping. They’re billed as “safe” alternatives, giving the false impression that neighbourhood trick-or-treating somehow isn’t safe (see #2). But retail stores are not your neighbours and the people handing out candy are being paid to do so. Taking your kids to the mall instead of exploring your neighbourhood sends your kids the message that commercial entities are preferred (more trusted?) than people down your street.

6)   Better candy haul

Mall trick-or-treating is overcrowded, candy supplies run out early and to handle the mall crowds, stores often hand out single, small pieces of inexpensive candy. Lame. Neighbourhood trick-or-treating still offers the chance of the house that hands out FULL SIZE chocolate bars.

(off topic: The Switch Witch? Ew.)

 7)   Adjusting costumes for the weather is a Canadian tradition

The end of October is unpredictable. Sometimes the weather is positively lovely and poses no threat to costumes. But I do remember those bitterly cold Halloweens where costumes had to work around snowsuits and mittens. Some people claim that going to the mall means that kids get to show off their costumes they way they were intended. I’d argue that trick-or-treating in the cold is one of the iconic things about being Canadian and we should embrace it rather than hide from it.

Let me know what you think. Have I overlooked some reason why malls are a preferred choice over a neighbourhood? Does anyone have any fond, rosy childhood memories of that treat you got from your local Body Shop cashier? Or share your favourite neighbourhood trick-or-treating story.

See you in the streets!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Autism Speaks lately and why it rubs me the wrong way. There are a lot of logical reasons I don’t like the organization – questions around their finances, the lack of autistic individuals involved in the organization and how they eclipse fundraising efforts of local charities who provide much needed services to autistic individuals and their families in Edmonton and Alberta.

But ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I don’t like what Autism Speaks tells the world about my son and my family. And I don’t like what Autism Speaks tells my son about himself.

My son is autistic. He is high functioning, though language delays prevent an Asperger’s diagnosis. He’s come a long way from where he was at age three, where we couldn’t seem to connect with him and 90% of his day was made up of routines. For his vast improvement, we have the combined efforts of Alberta Health Services and the Edmonton Public School Board’s Early Education program to thank. Despite what you may think, these two huge organizations worked seamlessly together to provide my son with incredible OT, PT, SLP and child psychology/psychiatry services.

Thanks to all of this, he now attends a regular school with part time help from a TA, has made friends and is a welcome part of the school community.

To be honest, I have no concerns about my son’s academic abilities. What worries me are his social skills and how he’ll navigate the emotional minefield of adolescence.

Lacking a crystal ball, I’ve spent a lot time on-line reading about the challenges autistic teenagers face. And you know what? There’s a whole culture of self-described “auties” who like the fact that they’re autistic. Yes, they wish there were some aspects of their lives that were easier, but overall, they like being quirky and focus on their strengths and abilities – they have no desire to not be autistic. They like themselves, they value themselves and are just waiting for everyone else to catch up and realize how awesome they are too.

This is what I want for my son – I want him to be proud of the person he is – all of himself, which includes his autism.  I don’t want him to feel like he needs to be “cured” and I don’t want him to feel like he’s got a sickness or a disorder. He doesn’t “suffer from autism” and he doesn’t need anyone’s pity – maybe just some understanding.

Another thing about those self-loving autistics? They HATE Autism Speaks. They hate that the organization portrays them as broken and suffering – that who they are is a tragedy. They hate that Autism Speaks blames them for their parents’ marital problems or for being a financial burden. They hate that Autism Speaks spends so much of its resources trying to find a cure for what they find unique and valuable about themselves.

I don’t know if my son will end up with that level of self-awareness about his autism. But I hope he does and I hope that he ends up liking the person he is and being proud of what he contributes to the world. Isn’t that what every parent hopes for their child?

Because of that wish, I choose to not support an organization that I believe fundamentally works against it. I’m siding with the kind of autistic people I hope my son will be.

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Disclaimer: I understand that every autistic person is different and other parents of autistic children may have a different opinion than mine. For many parents, Autism Speaks does indeed speak for them and they want to support their message and research by participating in the charity walk.

However, I would also encourage those families and their supporters to keep their autism charity dollars in their community and donate to local organizations as well. It’s these organizations that help families get needed treatment and services for their children and help improve the lives of autistic people and their families in the here and now.

Two local Edmonton organizations to consider:

Autism Society of Edmonton Area

Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton

When you have a bad customer experience, how many chances do you give?

For me, it depends partially on demand and price. I drink a lot of Starbucks lattes, and the Terwillegar location closest to my house has notoriously bad service, but I keep HOPING it will get better, so I occasionally give it another chance to prove to me why I shouldn’t drive further to Century Park to get stellar service. The price is low enough, the location convenient enough and I buy them often enough to give a few chances.

But what about a higher ticket item that you purchase less frequently? If you need to buy a good quality suit or a killer pair of shoes and come across a bad salesperson at a store, what would it take you to go back? Would it depend on the store’s selection? A great sale? Would it take a few years? What about a recommendation from a friend to give it another try?

Finally, what about those significant purchases that happen a few times in your life? If you get initial bad service, there’s almost no reason to ever go back, right?

At the beginning of the year, I started looking for a quality dining room table that would last multiple decades. After much fruitless searching, I had a good experience with a saleslady at Urbane by Cottswood. She then came to my house to take measurements and see the space… and then I never heard from her again.

That’s bad service – I should write her and the store off, right? Well I didn’t. I thought Cottswood should be given a second chance despite leaving me hanging for months.

So I called back to find out that the saleslady (and her files) was no longer part of the organization. The staff seemed embarrassed by my poor experience, were apologetic and the manager herself came back out to my house to re-measure and re-discuss what I was looking for. A few days later she sent a proposed table and layout, and because it all looked good, I asked for a price.

She sent me the price and noted that it was on sale.

Now dear readers, does it seem unreasonable that after several months of my files being lost that they may have perhaps offered me a few percentage points off? All I expected was a gesture – something to acknowledge that my customer experience had not been up to snuff.

I wrote back and basically said as much – but the response came back with no gesture – I would get the same price as someone who came off the street who hadn’t given the company a second chance after receiving poor service.

So tell me, am I out of line here? Would you expect a company who’s mission is to “exceed customer’s [sic] expectations thereby cultivating long term relationships” to give a little when their acknowledged internal issues caused bad customer service?

I would. And so I’m starting my search for a dining room table over again.

June has been proclaimed “Next Gen Month” in Edmonton. As I look at the various organizations under that umbrella, I often find myself asking “where are the women?” or more specifically “where are the women like me?”

From my (probably biased) perspective, those who are most involved fall into three categories:

  • single men
  • single women
  • married men with supportive wives (with or without children)

It got me thinking – where are all the women with young families? If the ultimate goal of those organizations is to make Edmonton a more vibrant, livable city for my generation and the next, where are the voices of the women working to make the city better while trying to balance challenging careers and kids.  Certainly I’m not the only one who’s TOTALLY FINE with drive-through banks as part of a denser city?

As a marketer, I understand the power of mothers – we make most of the consumer decisions in the household and therefore hold a lot of power. Many many many organizations want to hear what moms have to say. But does anyone care what those same women have to say outside of their roles as moms and household managers?

Am I splitting hairs here? Perhaps.

But I know there are women like me out there. I work with them, I work for them, and they’re in my book club and my twitter feed. A while ago, one of them whom I greatly admire told me (in her kind and supportive, yet no nonsense way) that if I wanted that voice heard, perhaps I should stop bitching and start talking (I paraphrase).

It took me a while, but I finally took her advice, and I’ve decided to run for a position on the Board of Directors of a local industry organization.

I’m hoping to find plenty of women with young families (and super supportive husbands) who are already out there, being part of the conversation. I know that since I’ve been thinking about this issue, I’ve found more and more of them and it makes me happy. I hope I’m joining a chorus.