Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on November 30, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with one comment

Hot out of the oven.


“Man shall not live by bread alone.”

Old Testament – Book of Deuteronomy

One of the vagaries of living in a remote, fly-in community is that, from time to time, there are food shortages in the grocery store. Because we are totally reliant on air cargo in the winter months, when you get several days of poor weather back to back, the result is empty shelves at the grocery store. Like a good boy scout or girl guide, one always has to “be prepared” for these eventualities. Last week, there was a shortage of cash in the village for a number of days, which is in interesting story in itself for another day. The good boy scout in me took enough cash with me from Nova Scotia a few months ago to last me until Christmas. Truth be told, it wasn’t that much cash because I don’t need cash very often.

I digress.

Two events collided a few weeks ago which left the grocery store shelves bereft of many items, including bread. First was the weather. No flights arrived or left the village for four consecutive days. The local Co-op store periodically holds a “30% off everything in the store” sale. This event coincided with the bad weather and all of a sudden there was not a scrap of bread to be found in the village. Our second grocery store, The Northern, which also houses the post office and a couple of ATM machines, quickly ran out of many staples as well, including bread.

Now, I want to make it clear, that having no bread does not constitute a crisis. After all, most of us keep a supply of bread “heels” in our refrigerator freezer and once every 10 years, when the power goes out, we are forced to clean our freezers. This is when we throw out freezer burned, ice coated crusts of bread. It is a good idea not to check the “best before” date on these ancient loaves. Shaming is such an “in” things these days.

I have a very loyal following and from time to time, they take pity on me. In a recent post, I mentioned the paucity of bread. I quite like the word paucity because it kind of describes many things about my life in the north this time around. In that same post, I mentioned that when I came to the north on very short notice, I took the clothes on my back, a bit of bedding and enough ground coffee to fill Wakeham Bay. I eschewed all of the other necessities of life including most items that one might find in the kitchen of a pauper. Through some well- timed groveling, I was able to scrounge up just enough kitchen ware so as not to humiliate myself. Yes, I learned to eat with my hands in India and that was always an option, but for esthetics, I procured one knife, one fork and one spoon. It is obvious that I didn’t plan to do a whole lot of entertaining. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”? No one!

My lamentations about the bread crisis were not a cry for help. It was a cry for carbs. Several thousands of kilometers away, a friend heard this cry and decided to take matters into her own hands.

At the end of last week, I fell ill and spent two days at home, with most of the time spent not far from the bathroom. We all know that the only thing worse than a “man cold” is a full blown “man sickness”. As I lay writhing and moaning on my couch, watching Sons of Anarchy, there was a gentle knock on my door. Because it was recess at the school, I reckoned that it was a student coming to check on me. Hauling my sorry ass off the chesterfield, I made it to the front door (men do heroic things even in the face of life-threatening gastro sickness) and there stood my colleague, Catherine, cradling a small parcel.

Do you remember the first time you left home, when your mom would send you a care package with homemade chocolate chip cookies, a $5.00 bill and maybe some clean underwear? Sure you do. There’s nothing quite as thrilling as mail from home… even when you’re 71. Especially when you’re 71. Just being 71 is thrilling.

Despite my fragile state (you know that I’m having a bit of fun with my malady), I was able to unwrap the heavily taped box to reveal the following items: one set of bright red measuring cups, parchment paper, a very small baking sheet, a bag of premixed biscuit ingredients, baking instructions, a bag of homemade granola (man’s best friend next to a dog), and a small box filled with individually wrapped balls of chocolate.

Despite the continuous roiling in my intestines, I was able to force down a few pieces of chocolate and immediately felt better – at least psychologically.

I was far too slack (cue some pathetic music) to make the biscuits and actually, in order to complete the task, I needed to purchase exactly one ingredient: heavy cream (whipping cream). Now whipping cream sightings in the north can be as rare as sightings of the Loch Ness monster in Scotland. In previous stints in the north, I had all of my baking supplies with me and very often made cream pies. Finding whipping cream required stealth and intel. I would often ask the manager of the Co-op when he expected a new shipment of dairy products.

Last Saturday morning, I was feeling much better. The chocolates had worked their magic. I decided that I would make the biscuits. There was a blizzard howling outside but when there’s baking to be done, nothing will stop a person from getting the necessary ingredients. The bad news was that my quest that morning was made much more difficult as the bigger of the two grocery stores, the Co-op, was doing inventory and was closed for the day. My only option was The Northern Store, and their dairy section is very limited in space and scope. I was shocked, delighted, flabbergasted (insert your own descriptive word) to find one, 473 ml carton of whipping cream sitting forlornly on the shelf. My immediate reaction was to call the Vatican and report a miracle. I verily skipped through the snowdrifts knowing that hot biscuits were just a few steps away.

Before I could start preparing the recipe, I looked at the instructions. Under the headings “Things you will need”, I saw that a mixing bowl might be useful. You astute observers would know that among my prized kitchen ware, I did not have a mixing bowl. On my scavenger hunt when I arrived, I had managed to secure a small pot for boiling water for my coffee and a larger pot for everything else. I looked at the contents of the biscuit mix and quickly applied the laws of physics and realized that the small pot was not an option unless I planned to spend the rest of the weekend making biscuits one at a time. “Warm the whipping cream to body temperature and add to the mixture’. With no thermometer in sight to take my temperature, I simply gently warmed the whipping cream.

Mercifully, the recipe didn’t require a hand mixer, but I did need something to stir in the body- temperature- warmed whipping cream. I possessed exactly one spoon which made my decision somewhat academic. I cranked up Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy and merrily mixed the batter.

I carefully laid out the parchment paper on my teeny, tiny perfect baking sheet, and started scooping out the batter in 1/3 cup allotments. The recipe had suggested that I use Pam cooking spray in the measuring cup (one of 5 red beauties included in my care package). When I was at The Northern, I spotted a can of Pam and, with the discount, paid $11.39 for a 110 gram can. I reckoned polar bear spray was cheaper, but I wasn’t going to be a cheapskate.

Everything went swimmingly and I ended up with a lovely batch of warm biscuits. They were quite large so I decided that my lunch would be a biscuit and cheese… and a few chocolate balls.

How would I possibly manage the cleanup? After all, I had used one pot, one spoon and one measuring cup but a chef never leaves his kitchen dirty. I reckon the cleanup took all of three minutes with two of those minutes to fill the sink with warm, soapy water. I use exactly the same dishes every single day so doing dishes in the evening before going to bed is my own version of Groundhog Day.

Based on the raging success of my biscuit making, I wondered if I might become the next Mary Janet MacDonald, host of the very popular online cooking show in Nova Scotia called “Tunes and Wooden Spoons”.

I think not.

Maybe if I’m a good boy, Santa will bring me an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas.

Have a great weekend.


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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on November 23, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 2 comments

A Ray of hope


Who is the teacher and who is the student?

I ask myself this question frequently, especially when I am living in the north.

Like many of you in my age group, lifelong learning is very important to us. Even though our runway is shorter now, we still have a thirst for knowledge. We would like to believe that if we can keep our minds sharp, that we may postpone and maybe even avoid memory loss, the scourge of so many older people. There are not many days that I don’t discover something new in the north.

Living a life with purpose is also very important, especially after retirement.

This past week provided an abundance of riches. My students had the opportunity to learn from several distinguished educators and motivators. So did I!

A few years ago, a small group of teachers and students from our school went on a class trip to New Zealand. From all accounts it was an amazing trip and the students met other indigenous people, the Maori, who have a rich history, but not without many struggles including racism. I think racism is one of the ugliest words in any language. They met Ray, a Maori, who was one of their guides. It turns out that Ray is a pretty amazing guy. He travels all over the world speaking with indigenous groups who have suffered trauma, oppression, family violence among other topics. He is a soft spoken, but his words are powerful and filled with passion. Last week, Ray spent a whole week in the village talking with students, elders, and community leaders. He is also very musical, and it didn’t take long for Ray and I to connect. Last Thursday after school, we had a little jam session at the Family House. He played some songs from New Zealand. His songs are often about hope and resilience. Thanks to The Beatles and John Denver we were able to sing a few songs together… in two-part harmony.

When Ray came to speak to the students, he was joined by my good friend Mary Arngak. She did a presentation on grief. Sadly, grief is far too common in the north. Before the school year even got started, a high school student took her own life and as many of you know, the reason that I’m back in the north is because a dear friend and mentor, Maureen, died suddenly a month ago. Most of Mary’s talk was in Inuktitut but she also translated as she went along. She started by lighting the Quilliq (pronounced hoo lick). The qulliq is a vessel often carved from soapstone which the Inuit have used for centuries. It was used as a source of light and heat in their igloos. It was used to cook food and to dry wet clothing. Mary often says that the qulliq was the first television when people would sit in the igloo and watch the flames! The fire in the qulliq is fueled by moss. In past times, beluga blubber was used as the oil to light the fire. The moss was gathered in the summer months. From time to time, when moss or beluga ran out, the Inuit had no way to stay warm and many people perished in the brutal cold of winter. Often, the men went out for weeks and even months in search of food and sometimes never returned.

Lighting a qulliq takes time as the moss and flames are slowly moved around the perimeter. Over the course of her presentation, Mary had the qulliq nearly completely lit and then gradually and slowly, she extinguished the flame until there was just a flicker. The flicker represented hope and as long as there’s a flame, there is hope.

I continue to marvel at the Inuit and their resilience.

Late in the week, my class had a chance to meet with a retired educator who has lived in the north for 40 years. He married an Inuk woman long ago and they are both inspirational figures in the village. He also happens to have a Ph.D. in Geography. Even though he isn’t a teacher anymore, make no mistake, Pierre is still an educator. He is the president of a Board who is looking at alternate energy sources for Nunavik. I asked Pierre to come to my class because we have been doing a unit of renewable energy in social studies. Interestingly, his Board is comprised of 4 Inuit and 4 Qallanaq (He has the deciding vote in a tie. Luckily, he is a consensus builder and has never been put in that position). He told the students that plans are in the work for wind power and solar power in many of the 14 communities that comprise Nunavik (Not to be confused with Nunavut). There are even a few villages that have rivers with enough flow to generate hydroelectric energy. This is pretty heady stuff for 12-13 year olds, but my students seem very interested in the topic.

And last but surely not least, there is Andy. She is a woman of Mexican descent. She is a recent university graduate, and her specialty is film making. She is part of a program called Youth Fusion. She will spend the school year with the students of Arsaniq school, sharing her talents. The Inuit are very artistic, and this is a form of art that many of the children find fascinating.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Buddha.

There are worse things than being a lifelong student!

Have a great weekend.


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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on November 9, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 2 comments


Canadian Indigenous Veteran’s commemorative pin


My first two weeks back in the north are in the rear-view mirror. Psychologically, it took some time to come to grips that I had left unseasonably warm weather back home to arrive in Kangiqsujuaq in cold winter weather. Even as recently as a few days ago, temperatures in the Maritimes were in the low 20s. It hasn’t gotten really cold up here yet. That will come after Christmas when it will likely get up into the -50s.

As this will definitely be my last stint in the north (famous last words!), I have decided to keep things very simple. I haven’t signed up for internet, cable, or a landline. Things that we take for granted in the south can be a source of frustration in the north where outages and poor reception are common. I live literally 50 paces form the school and go there for my internet fix. Actually, early in the morning, when internet usage is at its lowest, I am able to get a faint internet connection at my apartment.

The previous times (2019, 2020, 2021) that I had come to the north, I arrived with half of the contents of my apartment back home including bedding, pots and pans, baking ingredients etc. Because my decision to come north was so sudden, I decided to take only what was absolutely necessary – mostly clothing and some bulk food items from Costco like rolled oats (for oatmeal) coffee and coffee pods. Coffee is very expensive to purchase in the north. Before arriving, I sent out a message to my colleagues on a group chat asking for a few basic items for the kitchen and a bit of bedding. (I took my own sheets). My kitchen is embarrassingly spartan. I have one knife, one fork, one spoon, two dinner plates, two dessert plates, two bowls, one coffee cup, two pots and a frying pan, a spatula, a can opener, one good chef’s knife, a wooden spoon and two measuring cups for making my oatmeal. And that, my friends, is it. What I have discovered that if you are not doing a lot of entertaining, this is all a person really needs. Doing the dishes in the evening is like a scene out of Groundhog Day.

I have invited my colleagues over for a potluck lunch on Remembrance Day. I have instructed them to bring their own knife, fork, and plate, or else they will be eating lunch…with their hands… off a napkin!

It’s all still a bit of a blur. For several days, I kept shaking my head, realizing that I was actually back in the north but after two weeks, I feel more settled. If there is such a thing as a moment when you know for sure that you’re back in the north, it happened last Friday. It was at the end of a Professional Development Day when word spread that the beluga whales were in the harbour. They come twice a year, and this is a very exciting time in the village as beluga is a prized food source for the Inuit. I walked down to the pier on Wakeham Bay. Most of the excitement was over for the day but I did notice the head of a beluga sitting on the shoreline. A young lad was slicing off pieces of the skin, called muktuk. In previous years I had eaten beluga raw, frozen and in many other ways but not muktuk. He offered me a slice and, of course, I accepted. After eating the brain of a Canada Goose and the eyeballs of a ptarmagin (a bird) in previous stints in the north, I was not going to be deterred by a small piece of beluga flesh. It is supposed to be a great source of nutrition. It was a bit chewy and didn’t have a distinctive taste, but it was not at all unpleasant. I asked the young boy if muktuk might make my hair grow back as I removed my toque! He gave me a big smile.

I wondered how I would pass the long winter evenings without television or internet. YouTube solved part of my problem. I purchased their premium package for $15 a month (I won’t tell you what internet, cable, and a landline cost) and am able to download movies, television shows and music. Even without an internet connection, I can entertain myself at home. Of course, I love to read so I’m not terribly worried that boredom will set in.

I plan to be home for Christmas and I’m trying to set up a book launch somewhere on December 23rd. My 7th book goes into print next week.

Here’s a little history lesson for you on the eve of Remembrance Day.

Many people are unaware of the contribution indigenous people made during the two World Wars and other global conflicts. Over 12,000 Indigenous soldiers volunteered to fight on the front lines in every major battle Canada has ever been involved in. Yes. Volunteered. You see, they weren’t conscripted like other Canadians because they were not recognized as Canadian citizens and did not have the right to vote. Many volunteered to fight despite the challenges they faced including racism. They fought with courage and distinction. It took decades before Canada officially recognized the efforts of Indigenous veterans and we now celebrate National Indigenous Veteran’s Day. (It was yesterday, November 8th.)

The commemorative pin that you see in the photo above was commissioned by the Royal Canadian Legion. The pin presents the Legion poppy on the centre of a dreamcatcher, acknowledging the efforts and sacrifices of veterans from all Indigenous communities.

On Friday, when you pause to remember our fallen soldiers and relatives, please remember the contribution that our Indigenous people made to keep our country free.

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.” Laurence Binyon

Lest we forget.

Have a great weekend.

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