Thursday Tidbits

Posted on August 20, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Native Cree prophecy



I am into my third week back up north. I can’t believe the difference from when I arrived on a very cold, dark evening 10 months ago. Last November, I returned to teaching after a mere 40- year hiatus. I was woefully unprepared. Arriving in a community that has had its share of trauma, I was carrying some personal baggage of my own. Simply put, I was overwhelmed and to this day, I am not certain how I got through those first difficult months. Getting a handmade parka might have been the turning point as I was never cold after acquiring this beautiful coat.

Fast forward to August 1, 2020 when I arrived back in Kangiqsujuaq on a warm, breezy summer afternoon. I immediately quarantined for 14 days. One blessing was the ability to get out for daily walks on the tundra. At first, I found the landscape rather barren until I started to pay closer attention. I discovered that this is truly a beautiful part of the world in summer and in winter.

What makes it particularly beautiful is the people. I had been told by colleagues that returning teachers notice a difference. The community views you differently because you have chosen to come back. Many teachers do not return. There are many challenges living in the north. It is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Of course, Covid has profoundly affected all of us. In remote communities like mine, a positive case of Covid could potentially be devastating so the level of caution is heightened.

My first trip to the grocery store was revealing. I received a royal welcome from the staff. I immediately felt at ease and at home and I continue to feel this way with each passing day. I feel like I am part of a new family. Over the past days, I have met many of my students. I’m doing some volunteering at a summer camp doing music and reading. Their smiles tell me that they are genuinely happy to see me. Trust me, there is no better feeling.

Last year, I taught a split grade 5/6 class and this year, I will teach just the grade 6 class which means that I will have my last year’s grade 5s. I am extremely reluctant to suggest that this year will be easier than last. The pandemic will pose a whole different set of challenges but knowing my students and their families, understanding the community and having sorted out some personal issues, I feel confident heading into the school year.

Not only do I feel confident, but I also feel at peace. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it has much to do being among the Inuit. They are warm generous people. Walking on their land has an almost mystical feel to it. I am constantly struck at the solitude. Once you’re outside the village, the silence is deafening and wonderful. There is a sense of timelessness and wonder knowing that these lands have been occupied by our founding nations for thousands of years.

(I had every intention of giving you a lesson on inukshuks today, but I got carried away… as usual!)

We’re still a month away from the start of school. The school is undergoing a serious renovation and as mentioned in a previous post, teachers are being brought back into the community over a period of five weeks. Being one a small handful of teachers to arrive in the first wave, I am being kept busy running errands for those doing their self-isolation. I have been given unfettered access to one of the school trucks and have become a fixture in the two local grocery stores. They must think that I have an insatiable appetite! Frequent runs to the water plant for drinking water and trips to the airport to pick up boxes and personal belongings will also keep me out of mischief.

I have a good head of steam on my next book. The first 10,000 words have been written. I’m quite excited. A colleague of mine has put me in touch with an Inuit man who is going to help me with some of the historical information for my book. On my walk last evening, this idea popped into my head for a book title: “Their Home and Native Land”.

I do not take my good fortune for granted. I am lucky to have good health today. It could change tomorrow, but in the meantime, I plan to keep my foot on the gas.

I am alive. I am well. I am happy. I am grateful.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. Passings. I wish to announce the demise of the last bit of pancake batter. After eating it 7 days in a row, I simply couldn’t gag down one more pancake, regardless of the amount of maple syrup that I slathered on it. It was relegated to the garbage. The time of passing was Tuesday, August 18th at 8:30 a.m. for those of you who keep track of such things! Don’t have a clue what I’m talking about? Check out this past week’s Monday Morning Musings:




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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on August 17, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with no comments yet

Food, glorious food!


Can man survive on bread alone?

Can man survive for two weeks on banana pancakes and miniature carrots?

The first reference comes from the bible. The second comes from first- hand experience.

This biblical reference has popped into my head several times in recent days. Those of us who live alone understand the challenges of cooking for one person. It’s hard to prepare a meal that’s designed for one unless you opt to go to KFC for a “dinner for one”. Meal preparation results in the inevitable. You will be eating leftovers for a few days.

A few… and a few more.

Knowing that I would be in isolation for 14 days upon my return to the north, I placed an online grocery order in hopes that my food would arrive around the same time that I did. I was extremely grateful to a colleague who left a few food items at my apartment door, realizing that my groceries might not come and that I wouldn’t be able to go to either of our two grocery stores. This turned out to be a godsend. Included in this gesture of goodwill was a bag of baby carrots. My grocery order did arrive later that day.

Stay with me here.

As I unpacked my suitcases, I popped a frozen lasgana into the oven. I would become well acquainted with this Italian delicacy over the next five days. I ate egg salad sandwiches for endless days. I didn’t take me quite two weeks to polish off 32 homemade oatmeal and coconut cookies.

I initially thought that I would have plenty of food to do me during self-isolation. In fact, I did, but the variety left something to be desired. For a few days, I watched a bunch of bananas wither and die. I used a few of them to make a fruit salad. I had a choice of either making a banana bread or pancakes with the rest of them. I chose the pancakes.

When I placed my grocery order in the south, I asked for a large bag of carrots. I should have been more specific and asked for a bag of large carrots. I received the biggest bag of baby carrots that I had ever laid eyes on. Combined with the bag I had received from my friend, I had enough small carrots to possibly last a lifetime.

Well into week 2 of quarantine, my fridge was virtually bare except for a large steel bowl of banana pancake batter and a million miniature carrots. A recipe for a single batch of pancakes would have sufficed but rather than toss out some bananas, I decided to double the recipe. The result was impressive. However, there was enough batter for a pancake breakfast for a big family reunion or a church hall pancake supper.

Here’s a question for you foodies out there. Are baby carrots real? These runt sized, perfectly symmetrical vegetables, taste something like the cross between recycled cardboard and uncooked, dry lentils. I have come to believe that their real purpose is to staunch the flow of blood during a nosebleed by inserting one of them in your nostril. Alternatively, they would be an adequate substitute for ear plugs. The other thing I noticed about these small, bullet shaped root vegetables is that they have the life span of a mayfly once you open the bag. In case you’re wondering, mayflies live on average, 24 hours. Man, if you’re a mayfly you definitely need to make hay while the sun shines. Carpe diem takes on a whole new meaning.I have noticed that exposed to fresh air, seeing that they’ve probably been a vacuum sealed bag for months if not years, baby carrots turn slimy. Ok. Enough. You get my drift.

Because my quarantine ended on the weekend, I was able to restock my fridge. Oh yes. When I placed my second grocery order from down south, I used very descriptive language to indicate the size of carrots I wanted.


The Inuit people are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Despite being in self isolation, I have been able to go for daily walks on the tundra and the back roads leading into the countryside. I get stopped routinely by local people welcoming me back. Their smiles could light the night sky.

I have become intimately acquainted with two truck drivers. They have been hauling truck loads of huge rocks to town from a nearby quarry for the foundation for a new warehouse. On my long walks out to the landfill, they pass me numerous times. The road on which I’m walking is a dirt road and at this time of the year is quite dusty. When they see me coming off in the distance, they immediately gear down to avoid me getting choked with dust. They always give me a big wave and a smile.

One day last week as I walked this road, I could hear the distinct sound of an eagle overhead. It swooped and soared, passing over me with some regularity. Around this time, one of the trucks approached me. The driver slowed down as he usually does but this time he came to a complete stop. From his cab high above the road, he pointed to the sky and the mountains nearby. “Eagles nest,” was all he said as he headed into town. All the squawking made sense now.

The other day, I was walking to the water plant to refill my water container. To get there and stay off the main street, I walked across the tundra which, among other things, is home to a five- hole golf course. Running adjacent to the course are burial grounds, the pipeline which carries oil from the tankers to the oil terminal and a pack of sled dogs. It is without doubt, the most unique location for a golf course. There was a man on one of the synthetic putting greens practicing. He waved and asked me if I wanted to play a bit of golf. Some of you know that I was a pretty keen golfer for a long time. I was sorely tempted to join him but wanted to adhere to the strict protocol of my self- isolation. I took a rain check!

We did, however have a splendid, socially distance chat. We first talked golf and he told me that he was a 9- time local champion. Watching his putting stroke, I wasn’t surprised. We moved on to other subjects. He told me that he was a hunter and a fisher. He told me about his ever-growing family. He had a lovely spirit about him. He told me that Kangiqsujuaq was the most beautiful place in the world. I paused and reflected on this last statement. I certainly haven’t seen a lot of the world, but I have seen some. I agreed with him.

As it turned out, the water plant outdoor spigot wasn’t working on this day. I headed back home but not before stopping by the putting green again. My new friend pointed at a nearby mountain about one kilometer away. He said that there was a spot at the base of the mountain to get the purest water on earth.

I walked over the tundra, past the dog sled team and around one of the burial grounds. I filled my jug with cold, pristine water. Passing by the graveyard again, I stopped and removed my hat. I stood there in silence looking at the rows of simple white crosses.

Surrounded by mountains and the bay, I was quite moved by the experience.

Have a great week.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on August 13, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

With gratitude and thanks for the birthday greetings



A tale of two birthdays.

After writing and publishing 1,132 posts on my website, I often struggle to come up with a new story idea. Yes, I realize that as long as there are seven billion people in the world, one shouldn’t ever fear of running out of material from which to draw. My readers have come to expect me to deliver a fresh story every Monday and Thursday, something I have managed to do without fail for close to nine years now.

Every now and then a story falls into your lap. It’s like a baseball pitcher throwing a lob ball to a home run hitter. These are the ones that I dream of because they are either compelling or ridiculous. When this happens, I can scarcely wait to get at my computer. The words come easily. I’m usually shaking my head or laughing while I write these pieces, often both at the same time.

Bear with me as I try and articulate the first day of my 69th year on the planet earth.

“It was the best of birthdays. It was the worst of birthdays. It was the morning of light and mirth. It was the afternoon of darkness and despair. It was the epoch of calm. It was the age of chaos.” With serious apologies to Chuck Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities).

On what could have been one of the loneliest and most depressing birthdays of my life, I was overcome with a sense of joy and gratitude. Like most people my age, birthdays no longer mean a whole lot other than the fact that we realize that we are hurtling towards eternity at an alarming rate. It’s still fun to get together with family and friends to share some food, a glass of vino, and some well-aimed barbs. Presence is much more meaningful than presents.

In the lead up to my birthday this past Monday, I realized that I would be spending it utterly alone for the first time ever. This did not distress me in the least. I have learned how to tolerate myself over the years and especially during the pandemic when many of us have been forced to spend extended periods of time alone. Because I had agreed to return to the north for a second year of teaching, I knew that I would have to do another 14- day self-isolation stint as part of the re-entry plan into my community. I also realized that this would coincide with my birthday. Other than a chance encounter with a caribou on the tundra (we were given permission to go for solitary walks on the land), I knew I would be singing “Happy Birthday To Me.” By the way, there was only one reader who took note of my P.S. on Monday’s post where I wrote the initials HBTM. Congrats I.C. She deciphered the secret code… hardly the stuff of Bletchley Park in WW11.

Part 1 – The Morning

I am blessed with a large group of friends. This happens organically if you live long enough. Even if you’re a curmudgeon, you will accidentally inherit a few friends! I have also acquired a number of new friends through travel and my writing.

I know many people don’t put much stock in social media and are leery about reading too much into what gets posted on these platforms. On Monday, while I was writing Chapter 2 of my next book (isolation has some benefits), I was watching the birthday greetings coming in. Please don’t misinterpret this as egotistical but I was flabbergasted as hundreds and hundreds, and hundreds …and hundreds more messages came pouring in. Yeah, yeah, I know that this only takes people a few clicks and maybe 10 seconds on their phone or laptop but as they say, it’s the thought that counts. I also received a few phone calls from family and friends. Not actual phone calls as you will see later in this piece. N.B. You might want to put the kettle on. This is going to be a long one.

The brain is quite amazing when you stop and think about it. This small mass, residing under your skull, (mine is particularly small) is primarily composed of neurons, glial cells (you know damn well I’m Googling this part), neural stem cells, and blood vessels. As the names of well-wishers came pouring in, my brain was able to process in a nanosecond, an image of your face and some encounter we might have had over the years, some of them dating back 50 years. It’s quite staggering what the brain remembers.

I know some of you very well. There are many whom I know but don’t know well and there are a handful of you who really don’t know me at all. You have stumbled across my website and become regular readers. Those in the latter group might consider themselves fortunate. I don’t know you well enough to poke fun at you.  If you ever write anything critical about me or take a cheap shot or say something sassy, be forewarned. I’m always looking for fresh meat!

In short, the morning was memorable. I was alone but I certainly didn’t feel lonely. I simply couldn’t respond to every message, but I can tell you honestly, that I really appreciated every single one of them.

  1. I know what you really want to hear about is the afternoon. Enough of this sentimentality crap.

Part 2 – The Afternoon (Subtitled A Shit Show)

Those of you who have been following my stories recently know that my apartment building, a fourplex, has been undergoing extensive renovations. This forms the backdrop of what follows. Most of the construction workers are from “the south”. The crew working on my building are from Quebec City. I have gotten to know them…intimately. They show up religiously at 7:00 a.m and most days don’t leave until at least 8:00 p.m. One night they were here until 9:30. I can’t and won’t say anything untoward about these people. They were brought up here to do a job. They are ferocious workers. They seemed surprised when they found out that one of the tenants was living in the building. Me. Not as surprised as I was.

For the first few days, the work was on the exterior of the building. I’m not sure exactly what they were doing but I swear to god that, in addition to the hammering and screeching electric saws, I was convinced they were using jackhammers. Much of this work was going on a few feet from my bedroom wall. I recognized early hints of tinnitus. (ringing in the ears). Several days ago, they moved inside, and they are now replacing all the floors in the other three apartments. I will get to know these guys even more intimately when they come to do my apartment. They are tearing the place apart, literally bringing the floors down to the studs. In recent days, they have had a crew working in the apartment directly above me and another crew across the hall. I have two speakers on my desk and when angled properly I get this Dolby sound effect. I think they call it “surround sound”. I want you imagine what this is like while self-isolating. “Len. You must be losing your mind. “Sorry. That train left a long time ago.”

I decided that I would use the afternoon to check off a few things on my “to do” list. The most important of these was to get a landline telephone. Most people don’t have a landline and our children would be amused to know that such an archaic thing still exists. Bell is the primary carrier in this part of the world. Because I didn’t have a landline (!), I couldn’t call and speak to a customer service representative (CSR), still my preferred choice as an aging senior citizen. My internet service is spotty and questionable, and this is on good days. I decided to do a Live Chat. If you’ve done a Live Chat before, you know that the name of the CSR appears on the screen with the usual cheery opener “How may I help you?” My suspicions were immediately raised when I saw the name of my problem solver: EZ52678. I was half expecting to see Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 to appear next.

“I want to get a landline.” Agent EZ. “ Please enter your address and postal code.” For the next 20 minutes we did a slow dance as the CSR tried to pinpoint my location in Northern Quebec. And then something funny happened although I didn’t seem funny at the time. The conversation ended abruptly. My first instinct, as always, is that I had hit a button and screwed things up. When you have four thumbs this is a common occurrence. Bell’s system had crashed. A message came across my screen, the very same message that appeared when I first started the Live Chat. “All of our agents are busy. Please stay on the line and the next …blah, blah, blah…”. I waited patiently (?) in the queue and I was reconnected to my new best friend. I will not mention his name for fear of reprisals from his family. “How may I help you?” “I want to get a landline.” ” Please enter your address and postal code.” Remember my previous comments about the power of the human brain? I could see the face of Bill Murray as clearly as if he was sitting in my living room. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch Groundhog Day. Hint: Every day that Murry wakes up, it is an exact replica of the previous day.

Is there something slower than a slow dance? It became abundantly clear that my northern location was an impediment. My new CSR spent the next 40 minutes trying to find exactly where I lived. We reached a stalemate. We agreed that any further clicks of the mouse would be futile. My only saving grace during this wasted hour of my life, was that I was able to have a Messenger call with my brother on my cell phone while I was waiting to find out where I lived. You have probably already deduced this. There is no cell service in my village. There’s nothing quite like having your Bell rung.


I then moved on to the next item on my to do list. When I first accepted a contract to teach up north, I had to apply for a Quebec Teachers License. That made sense. Miraculously, after a 40 -year hiatus, my Nova Scotia license was still valid. “Old teachers never die. They just lose their class!” I started the paperwork last November. I realize that these things take time but lord god, my life expectancy is only 82. The months passed. Progress was slow. I’m being charitable. I have this visual of a worm trying to climb a mountain. I digress. I expected the worst as Covid descended upon the bureaucracy like fog over my village. As spring turned into summer, a glimmer of hope appeared. My contact person at the Ministry responsible for issuing licenses, e-mailed me with the good news that my documents were in order and that the coveted license would be issue within a few months. A few months? Even factoring in Covid and summer vacations, I didn’t think it would take that long to get the documents into the hands of my School Board. I thought wrong.

I decided to send my friend an e-mail requesting an update. In a heartbeat, I received an autoreply. My friend indicated that she was on vacation and would not be returning until the end of the first week in September. In what can only be construed as pure irony (or treachery) she suggested that I call her work colleague. Hmm. If I had a landline, I would do just that. There was no e-mail address for her workmate. I put a carry forward to request an update on September 9th. If I die before the license arrives, will somebody notify my executor and go looking for back pay?

The din above me and beside me continued unabated which added to my ever increasing, shall we say, angst. I don’t think that’s the correct word. It is far too genteel. At one point I screamed “f..k off!” Not at anyone in particular. It just needed to be said.  What a complete waste of oxygen that was. No one besides a lip reader could have heard what I uttered. But, dammit, it sure felt good.

Cue the music: “They’re coming to take me away ha, ha, they’re coming to take me away ho ho , he he, ha, ha, to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time…”

I mentioned tinnitus earlier in this piece. I didn’t notice something the first few days that I was back in my old stomping grounds. Stomping grounds indeed. The other thing I’ve noticed when carpenters work on the floor above you is that you hear every footstep. During a 14- hour shift, that’s a lot of steps. I’m threatening to purchase a Fitbit and give it to one of the workers just to quantify. Hey. Who’s counting? Actually, I could turn this into a game during quarantine. I could lie on the couch (or alternatively curl up in a ball in a corner sucking my thumb) and count the number of footsteps in an hour. I could practice my math skills and extrapolate the number of steps in a 14- hour shift. Who in the hell needs a Fitbit!

(I will let you hit pause and go for a bathroom break. I’m actually going to get my third cup of coffee to keep me going for the next 1000 words)

It took me a while to realize that I actually didn’t have tinnitus. What I did realize while lying in bed one night that there was another noise in my apartment. During the day, I didn’t notice it (I wonder why?) but in the still of the night, I detected a sound coming from behind the wall in my bedroom, the wall at the head of my bed. It was a low, rumbling sound. The wall was actually vibrating. The room next to my bedroom houses the water tank for my building. This water is used for the toilet, shower, dishes, laundry and is drinkable too. The water is delivered by a tanker truck every few days. Of course, a pump is required to move the water through the pipes.

I made a few calls on this joyous birthday afternoon (Not on a landline. Jeez, Len, will you get over this landline thing. It might turn into a landmine) and our affable maintenance man from school dropped by and confirmed my suspicions. The pump was in need of repair. He hoped that this would be done the next day. You know when your stress level is pushing you into dangerous and cynical territory. “What exactly do you mean by next day?” was on the tip of my tongue. I decided to bite my tongue.

I realized that if I didn’t get out of the house for a walk, I might not live to be 69+ one day.

I walked through the tundra and went to the water plant to refill my water jug. The water at the plant is potable and there is a spigot on the exterior of the building where you can go to get very good drinking water. It becomes a dangerous place in the winter when the temperature dip into the -40s and -50s. The water tends to splash when filling water containers. The excess water ends up on the ground. It gets very icy underfoot.

I returned to my apartment to drop off the water. The carpenters next door were doing some very serious steel cutting. I’m not sure exactly what they were cutting or why. NOMB. All I know is that it was piercingly loud, and the work was generating a faint smell of smoke. I decided that my walk to the water plant was insufficient exercise and under the present circumstances, a walk was not only desirable but necessary.

I was feeling infinitely better as I made my way across the tundra towards home. Even though I was still a kilometer away, I thought I detected the sound of an alarm of some kind. When you’re on the tundra, sound carries a long way. As I neared home, I narrowed down the possibilities. My school is literally 50 feet from my apartment. There is a major renovation going on there too. I suspected that the alarm was coming from the school. Wrong again.

The fire alarm for my apartment complex is located on an exterior wall of the building about 4 feet from my living room. Can I put it nicely? The sound is quite shrill. I put two and two together (Remember, I’m pretty good at counting steps) and deduced that the alarm was not at the school but in my building. I entered and found a few of the workers trying to turn off the alarm. You guessed it. Steel cutting indoors creates smoke and smoke is one of those things that triggers a fire alarm. This was a minor distraction. The workers on the floor above were moving furniture around. I could hear them quite clearly. I took several deep breaths. Earlier this summer, I had taken an online course on Trauma Informed Mindfulness. Little did I know that I would begin this newly found practice on the afternoon of my birthday. After 30 minutes of unrelenting, mind-numbing siren wailing, I called my principal. No. I messaged her. Our trusty maintenance man came by and disabled the system. I felt like hugging him but that is a no no in Covid world.

It was now 6:00 p.m. I thought the fire alarm episode might dampen their enthusiasm and curtail the construction work for the day. Len, how can you be so stupid? Of course, they had no intention of stopping their quest to drive me mad. The last two hours consisted of drilling and grinding.

At precisely 8:01, they ceased operations and departed. I stretched out on the couch and reveled in the silence. No. I wasn’t stretched out at all. I was in the fetal position.

Just before going to bed, I received a lovely call from a friend. Her voice was soothing and comforting.

If Bill Murray shows up today, he might just get attacked by a maniacal Maritimer wielding walking sticks.

It turned out to be one of the most memorable birthdays ever, a case of “the good, the bad and the ugly”.

It’s not every day you get to celebrate your birthday with dear friends and a gaggle of carpenters!

Have a great weekend.




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