Thursday Tidbits

Posted on January 30, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

According to some of my students, it was a warm day in Kangiqsujuaq


I caved.

I resisted the temptation as long as I could. It is a vice that I have struggled with for a long time. Sometimes it lifts my spirits, but it also depresses the hell out of me. It helps me pass the time when I feel lonely. I’ll admit that it’s a crutch for me and probably for many of you.
I bet some of you thought that I was referring to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs or sweets. Wrong.

It’s television.

I must admit that I have been finding the evenings long here in the north. When it’s dark at 3:00 p.m. you feel like you should be going to bed around 7:00. I manage to fill the hours reading, writing, watching Netflix and making puzzles. Of course, there are any number of ways to get updates on news and sports on my electronic devices.

Last Saturday, I hosted a jam session at my apartment. One of my colleagues happened to mention in passing that he had a television to give away. It’s not one of the fancy flat screen varieties with high definition. It’s an old RCA. With the Super Bowl on this weekend, I decided to take up his offer.

Besides satellite television, the only other service provider for cable T.V. is the local Co-op store so I meandered over there on Monday. School was closed due to furnace failure, so I had time to set up an account. Danny, the technician, came to my apartment in the afternoon and just like that, I was connected to the world. I had just made a batch of oatmeal cookies and gave a bag of them to Danny and his sidekick, Andy.

The best news in all of this is that once again, the circle has come full and I am now officially a member of the Kangiqsujuaq Co-op as a result of signing up for cable. I grew up in a community that has its roots deeply imbedded in the Co-op movement. I was a member of our local Co-op grocery store decades ago and my father was one of the first managers of a credit union in our hometown, another important cog in the cooperative movement.

It only took an hour before my well-known ineptness with electronic devices reared its ugly head. I wrote a piece about this several years ago. I feel the same now as I felt back then.

After watching endless interviews about the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, I made the fatal mistake of turning the television off. Danny had given me a new, fancy remote control. When I decided to watch some news, I hit the power button and all that I got was a screen full of snow. I tried every possible combination but couldn’t get the television to work.

I bundled up and headed across the field to the Co-op. Luckily Danny was still at work and he agreed to come over on his way home from work. It took him less than three seconds to get the T.V. to work. I discovered that you had to hit the “cable” button BEFORE hitting the power button. I always thought that turning on a television started with the power button.

I still long for a one channel universe along with a television with rabbit ears!

Many of you have messaged me wondering how I am getting along. As far as I can discern, the three keys to my survival are getting to school very early in the morning to plan my day; My sense of humor – there are times when I don’t find anything humorous, but in a weird way find it amusing; Music – Yes, I play and sing for the children quite regularly but during those early mornings before school starts, I often pull out the guitar and sing something at the top of my lungs.

I have established a routine for my students upon their arrival in class. They complete some paperwork which asks them some basic questions: “How are you feeling today?” “What time did you go to bed last night? “What is today’s weather?” If they are tired, sad, or happy, I know right away. It was with some bemusement that several students commented on the weather last week. Weather choices are cold, warm, hot, windy, rainy, cloudy and sunny. On this particular day, a handful circled “warm”. It was -25 at the time. I guess everything is relative to one’s own reality.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. I’m not big on hero worship, especially when it comes to celebrities and athletes. I watched the outpouring of grief for Kobe Bryant. No one can deny that he was a superlative athlete. But Kobe was far from perfect.

My heroes continue to be single mothers.

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on January 27, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

A splendid Saturday in Kangiqsujuaq


It seems like every week is eventful up in the north. No two weeks are remotely (!) similar except for consistently cold temperatures. There isn’t the fascination with weather here the way there is back home. Weather in not fodder for the media to spin every day. You never hear dire warnings about the “storm of the century” or weather bombs. It’s winter. Plain and simple. Cold, sunny days. So far, we haven’t had much snow. It looks like Mother Nature decided to give our share to St. John’s Newfoundland.

The focal point of last week was the visit of two accomplished athletes. Jordin Tootoo is the first Inuit to play hockey in the NHL. Clara Hughes is easily Canada’s greatest Olympian and the only athlete from any country to win multiple medals in both Summer (cycling) and Winter (speedskating) Olympic Games. There was a presentation (mainly by Jordin) at the school. Hundreds of people from the community came together with our students to hear about Jordin’s remarkable journey from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut to Nashville.

Jordin spoke at length about the challenges of growing up in the north – substance abuse (he is a recovering alcoholic) and suicide (his brother, Terrence committed suicide). He also spoke of resilience, something indigenous people are known to possess in abundance. He talked  about his strong attachment to the land, something that has helped him in his recovery.

Even though Jordin’s talk was quite heavy, there were moments of levity as well. He claims that he was the first Inuk to score a goal in an igloo. Actually, it was The Igloo, the former home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jordin scored a goal on none other than Marc- Andre Fleury.

I had a chance to have two brief chats with Clara Hughes, once at the presentation and the other at the opening of a new family wellness center later that day. She has been a strong voice for mental health in Canada. I asked her what she was up to these days. She spends a lot of time hiking in the mountains in Canmore, Alberta. She told me she hiked 6,000 kilometers last year. If my calculator is working properly, that’s an average of 16 kilometers a day… every day of the year. I guess if you’re one of the greatest Olympians of all time, pushing yourself is just normal.

In one of my first posts upon arriving in Kangiqsujuaq I mentioned that school is only closed when the furnace breaks or when there’s a polar bear sighting. Last week, we had both within a 24- hour time span. Last Thursday afternoon, a polar bear was spotted on Wakem Bay which is quite close to the school. A local hunter went out and killed the bear as it posed a threat to the community. The meat was shared. Apparently, it is quite fatty but delicious. I suspect that if I was eaten by a polar bear, he would say the same thing!

On Friday afternoon, as I was preparing for my last class of the week, an announcement came over the PA system that the school was being closed immediately because the furnace had conked out. A year ago, in Montreal, 35 students and 8 adults were hospitalized due to a faulty heating system. I have never seen a school empty so quickly. I wondered if it was the threat of carbon monoxide or the fact that it was Friday afternoon. I suspect it was a little bit of both.

In truth, school has been cancelled a few times because of weather when there were blizzard conditions and extremely cold temperatures (near -50).

Last week, I was interviewed for a podcast. Mise, a young man from Montreal working for Y4Y Quebec, a voice for youth in the province, was in the village working with a young Inuk man, Nigel Adams. Nigel is quickly gaining a reputation across Canada’s north as a new voice for indigenous youth. His brother, Robert, was murdered a few years ago and he has seen northern villages suffer the scourges of substance abuse, family violence and suicide. These two young men are trying to arrange a youth forum in Kangiqsujuaq in March. They were interested in getting some perspectives from local people and from individuals from the south. Nigel has strongly held views on colonialism and residential schools which is not surprising. It was a fascinating exchange of ideas. I agreed to work with them on the forum suggesting I could offer a music component to the event. (I am currently teaching three of my students how to play guitar).

Have a great week.

P.S. Some of you oldtimers will remember Tommy Hunter. He used to sign off his television show with the following – “We’ll see you next week, the good Lord willin.” Well, the “good Lord willin”, I have decided to tackle a second year of teaching in Kangiqsujuaq. Our principal has asked us for our intentions for the next school year. There are still many days when I have serious doubts about whether I can do this work. The mental toughness of people like Jordin Tootoo, Clara Hughes and Nigel Adams inspires me.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on January 23, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet


When I was packing to come up north last November, my sister suggested that I take some puzzles. I must admit that I am not much of a puzzle maker. Christmas seems to be prime puzzle making time. While mostly a solitary venture, it can often turn into a team sport with anybody and everybody taking a turn finding a few pieces. There is great satisfaction when the final piece is set in place and you can admire the finished product. Then you tear it to pieces and start a new one.

When you think about it, life itself is one gigantic jigsaw puzzle. We’re constantly trying to make the pieces of our lives fit together in the hopes that one day we can say that the finished product is complete. Most of us end up with a few missing pieces.

Starting anything new is challenging. It could be the beginning of university, a new job, a new relationship, moving to a new town or city or even facing a health scare. Those of who have dealt with cancer have had to figure out the bewildering health care system and the various protocols required to get you back to good health.

Not only have I been making puzzles during the long, dark evenings up north, but I have been trying to fit the pieces of my new life together. It is a bit of a shock to the system to go back to work after four years of retirement. Trying to get the neurons firing again hasn’t been easy. Ask anybody who is hovering around the 70- year old mark. “The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be…” Returning to the classroom after a 40- year hiatus has been demanding.

But ever so slowly, like a 1000- piece puzzle, things are starting to come together. The truth of the matter though is that I am unlikely to ever fully complete the puzzle that is the north. Yes, I will become more comfortable with my teaching assignment especially if I return next year which is likely if I stay healthy. I will learn more about Inuit culture and history, but I will never see the full picture. It is a complicated place. “Inch by inch, row by row.”

Sometimes pieces of the puzzle fall on the floor. You need to pick them up and move on…just like in life.

I did a bit of baking on the weekend. One of my students had a birthday on Monday so I decided to surprise him with a cake. I took the easy way out. I hauled Betty Crocker off the grocery store shelves and whipped together a chocolate cake. I decided on a butter cream icing. Now some of you know that one of my daughters is a world class baker. I know. I was her bakery assistant many years ago when she made the best cupcakes on the planet. Her wedding cakes were spectacular. I called her to get her tips on making great icing.

It was Sunday evening and both grocery stores were closed when I headed into the kitchen. The cake turned out well. It’s pretty hard to screw up a cake mix. I followed the instructions and started to ice the cake. I was part way through when I discovered two things. First, the icing was not going on easily. I hadn’t added enough milk. Secondly, there didn’t appear to be enough icing to cover the cake completely.

I had no choice but to make more icing, but my supplies had run low and the consistency of the second batch was different form the first. Quite different. Because the first batch was too firm, bits of the cake had been torn apart. I tried to cover my mistakes by adding a layer of second grade icing. The results weren’t great. You know what a pile of dirty, slushy snow looks like, particularly in the spring during the melting season when all the crap lying dormant in the snow emerges? Well, it looked like someone had taken a handful of this slush and thrown it at the cake. I will have to perfect my technique considerably before entering a cake at the Exhibition.

The kids thought it was great. They ate it minutes before the end of the school day. The sugar high would not kick in until they got home. I’m not that stupid after all.

Staying with the baking theme, I took my class to the commercial kitchen in our school the other day where we made a batch of cookies. It is a great way to teach fractions and the concept of teamwork. We had a blast. Some of my students who struggle academically were superstars in the kitchen. We hope to turn this into a weekly event. Next week, they want to make homemade pizza.

February is lurking around the corner. It is a leap year. The days will get longer. Hope springs eternal.

Have a great weekend.


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