Thursday Tidbits

Posted on October 29, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

Giving a few pointers


Small victories. Simple pleasures. Part 2.

Teaching up north presents unique challenges, not the least of which is the climate. Winters are long and cold. You need to look for small rays of sunlight and appreciate them when they appear.

I was having a lovely chat with a friend on Tuesday evening. She is in Mexico studying Spanish, soaking up culture along with a few rays. She commented on my most recent post. I told her that this was an easy one to write as I was merely summarizing two presentations I had attended about Inuit culture. I like these kinds of posts because they are educational and I don’t have to think too much, which is a blessing! I then wondered aloud what I would write about today. At that moment I didn’t have the slightest clue.

So, dear readers, my fallback position when I am stumped for a topic, is to talk about the trivial and the mundane but let’s face it, most of daily living falls into these categories.

I will start with the most important one first. A few days ago, a colleague was traveling south for a medical appointment. She signed off an early morning note by wishing me a good day. I responded that it had gotten off to a good start. I was able to put my feet on the floor. I NEVER take this simple pleasure for granted.

In no particular order, here are a few of the things that made me smile in recent days.

Thanks to my daughter, Ellie, I believe I have perfected butter cream icing. The trick is to beat the crap out of the icing for at least five minutes. It actually fluffs up a bit and becomes super creamy and easy to spread. I also learned what a crumb coat was. Very often when I ice a cake, my icing is flecked with crumbs. Ellie told me to put a light coat of icing on the cake and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes and then apply the final coating. Works like a charm. Of course, all you experts out there knew this already.

I made my first caribou roast on Monday. The local man who gave me the roast suggested that I cut a few slits in the top of the roast and insert cloves of garlic into the cavities. After doing this, I chopped up an onion finely and sprinkled this on top of the meat and covered it with tin foil, cooking it at a low heat for a few hours. The roast produced exceptionally tasty gravy. At least that’s what my dinner guests said. Surely they wouldn’t lie to a colleague!

The last two Fridays, I have played a card game at Chad and Emma’s after school. It’s called Phase 10. It appears to be the perfect card game after a mentally exhausting week at school. It doesn’t require superpowers of concentration. Having said this, I still am craving a game of bridge.

We had parent night at the school on Tuesday. I have been doing a lot of one on one reading with my students. English is their second language and they need a lot of remedial work. One father told me that for the first time ever, his daughter presented him with a book and asked him to read to her. He told me that this made his heart feel good. Made mine feel pretty good too.

The highlight of my week? That’s easy. My teaching duties include three classes of English instruction a week for grade 3 students. This is one of their first introductions to the English language. I hauled out an old classic song which I thought they might like. Most of you are old enough to remember the children’s entertainers, Sharon, Lois and Bram. Yup. I played Skinamarrink from a Youtube video. While they couldn’t learn all the words first time around, they caught on to the gestures. It just so happened that 20 minutes later, the principal arrived at my class to drop something off. I grabbed my guitar and asked the children to stand. Not only had they perfected the gestures in record time, they were able to sing many of the words. They were incredibly cute. The principal said it was the highlight of her week. Mine too.

It stands to reason that the longer I’m at the school, the more children get to know me. I can’t go far in the hallways, the playground or the grocery store without hearing, “Hi Len.” I feel like I belong.

Small victories and simple pleasures.

And Skinamarrink!

Have a great weekend.

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on October 26, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

Mary Arngak tending to the qulliq


It seems to be a global phenomenon. More and more people are working their butts off trying to preserve their culture and heritage. Family trees have become all the rage. Until Covid made its unwanted appearance, we could attend music festivals, food fairs, visit museums and art galleries and experience the wonders of other countries.

In my hometown of Antigonish, Nova Scotia our very own Antigonish Highland Society has been in existence for over 150 years promoting Scottish heritage. I guess preserving heritage is not all that new, come to think of it. It is more likely because I have become more interested in culture. God knows I could use some!

I came to the north to teach but truth be told, I really came up here to learn. Most Canadians will never have the opportunity to see the north. I hope you are enjoying the experience vicariously.

This past week, I was given the opportunity to learn more about Inuit culture on two occasions. On Tuesday, a group of teachers went to the museum to listen to Maali give a presentation on the various plants found on the tundra. I won’t list them all here. There were 47 in total with pictures and descriptions. Amalinaaq; Imugaq(She loves me; she loves me not. You can remove the petals);Kakillanaqutik (used to protect the pads of dog’s feet); Kimminaqutik (for snow blindness); Mamaittuqutik (Labrador tea), Maniq, a moss for lighting fires; Pujurtuq (Like a puff ball) -if stepped on then it will rain within a few days; Suputik . It is similar to dandelions- when they are fully ripened and turning to puff balls, it is a signal to start hunting caribou. The plant is also applied to the belly buttons of newborns and it is also a source of fuel; Uivvaujait (used in tea and a form of tobacco).

My personal favourite? Silliit. Actually, silliit is not a plant but a rock with healing powers. It is found near the Bay. You can warm them up and apply them to painful areas of the body. It is an older version of a “magic bag”. I plan to try this out on my arthritic knee.

We had a wonderful evening and were served tea, bannock and a variety of jams and preserves made from local berries. Thanks so much to Maali.

Before school started in September, I went over to the museum to visit with Mary Arngak. She is the Pingualuit National Park Director and she runs the museum. She is held in high regard as she is involved  in many aspects of community life here in Kangiqsujuaq. I went there to talk about the wonderful archives stored at the museum including many stories gathered from the elders in the community. I hope to spend some times looking at archival material for my next book.

As we were talking, Mary offered to come and spend time with my students to share her knowledge and wisdom. Last Thursday she came to the school along with Lydia, a colleague and well- known teacher of throat singing.

For nearly an hour and a half, these two wonderful women kept my students enthralled. Nobody was paying as close attention as I was. Mary started off by showing us a qulliq. (Pronounced hoo lick). A qulliq is carved from soapstone and is used as a source of heat, a lamp, a dryer, and as a telephone and television! More on that later. The qulliqs come in different sizes. Hunters carried small ones with them on the land and larger ones were used to keep people warm inside igloos. Different mosses are used as fuel and they are mixed with oil. In previous times, the source of the oil was beluga fat but these days, it has been replaced by any one of the commercial cooking oils. The moss is lit and carefully moved around the edges of the qulliq as the fire spreads very slowly. Each of my students took a turn tending the fire. As mentioned, the qulliq is used mainly as a source of heat and as a dryer. The stick used to tend the fire is called a tarqutik. It is also a communication device. If a family wanted to invite friends for a meal, someone would take the tarqutik and tap on the qulliq with the sequence of 2,1,2,1,2,2,2,1 taps. This was the precursor to the telephone! And as far as television goes, what is better than gazing at a fire. There are entire television channels dedicated to fire gazing.

Lydia, wearing a stunning Amautik, the parka with the pouch for carrying a baby, gave us a demonstration of throat singing. I was mesmerized with the variety of sounds that she was able to make using just her throat. She told us that the sounds were used to mimic the sounds of nature, rivers, animals and insects. I was amazed when two of my students joined her. They have been taking lessons in throat singing from Lydia. Watching them trade sounds back and forth was quite thrilling. Seeing my students in their own element was very moving and inspirational. The teacher, once again, learning from his students.

Lydia also played a traditional drum during some of the songs that were sung after the presentation. Mary had compiled a number of songs written in Inuktitut and translated into words that I could read. Mary is a wonderful musician and has recorded a CD of songs. She asked me to accompany her and I was happy to oblige. I surprised her when I sang Taanisi, a song with lyrics in Inuktitut and English.

I want to thank Mary and Lydia for sharing so freely of their time, knowledge and talent. It is one of the highlights of my time in the north.

There can be no higher calling than to preserve and protect one’s culture and heritage.

Have a great week.


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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on October 22, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

I love Inuit art


The second time around.

Small victories.

Of course, we would all like to win the lottery.

We’d like to hit the game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the championship.

We would like to create an award- winning quilt.

We would like to be recognized as the greatest talent in our field of endeavor.

We’d like to get a 29 hand in bridge.

Sadly, or maybe not when it comes to lottery winners, these things are rare and usually occur mostly in our imagination.

Most of life’s victories are small, almost imperceptible but taken over a lifetime, add up to a life filled with satisfaction and gratitude.

So, what constitutes a small victory? Maybe it’s perfecting a recipe that you’ve struggled with after many tries. It could be learning a new skill like carpentry or cross stitch. Can there be greater joy than planting your first garden and seeing one fragile green shoot poke through the dark soil? A child’s first step could hardly be described as earth shattering or monumental unless you are a new parent. There are thousands if not millions of small victories.

And why, pray tell, I am waxing eloquent on such a seemingly benign subject? Good question. I’m never quite sure where these ideas come from but this one was easy.

I believe a big part of being a good teacher is the ability to observe. Of course, I don’t have much cred in this department (being a good teacher) as I still consider myself a rookie. I might be one of the oldest rookies on the planet. Remind me to check out the Guiness World Book of records or better still maybe I should just check out a Guiness! I do think though that my writing has taught me to pay attention to my surroundings. While I am flailing away every day trying to match wits with a classroom full of 11-year olds, I am also a spectator. What I am witnessing is magical.

I will admit that the word magical never entered my mind at any point in the first year I was up north in regards to the classroom. Plain and simple, it was hard. Most of us would concur that most things in life are easier the second time around.

I won a small lottery when I was given the opportunity to teach the same students again this year. You see, last year, I had a split grade 5/6 class and this year I have last year’s grade 5s. I know the students. They know me. The gamesmanship has ended, and we are now a team.

Two weeks ago, I witnessed magic in the classroom for the first time. A student who had struggled mightily last year shocked me when he answered a math question. Last year he wouldn’t have dared blurting out an answer, such was his lack of confidence. He even had the courage to come up to the Smart Board and demonstrate how he got the solution to the problem. I have also found myself grinning as I watch one student help another learn to read. These are what I call small victories but truly they are monumental. Learning basic skills is far more important than hitting one out of the park. Come to think of it, learning how to read and write IS hitting it out of the park.

The second time around.

And speaking of non-sequiturs for which I am famous….

Those of you who know me well understand that there’s always a song rattling around this old brain, so it seems only appropriate that I conclude this piece with a refrain from old blue eyes himself. It doesn’t fit particularly well with the theme of this piece but who cares!

“Love is lovelier the second time around,

Just as wonderful with both feet on the ground,

It’s that second time you hear your love song sung,

Makes you think that perhaps, that love, like youth is wasted on the young.”

The Second Time Around- Frank Sinatra

Have a great weekend.

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