Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on December 21, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 4 comments


“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

A Tale of Two Cities- Charles Dickens

This is a two cup of coffee or large glass of red wine piece.

This pretty well sums up the last two months of my life. Returning to the north on very short notice was a shock to the system. I was a bit apprehensive about taking over as a classroom teacher, something that I vowed I wouldn’t do again at my age. As fate would have it, I lucked out and I ended up really enjoying this stint of teaching. I felt comfortable in the classroom and kept life very simple outside of school. I am tempted to write a song about my kitchenware: “One Fork, One Knife, One Spoon”.

Before coming to the north for the first time in 2019, my friend Maggie MacDonnell told me that it takes anywhere from 3-5 years for a Qallanaq (The Inuit word for white person) to learn how to teach in the north. In my case, this turned out to be prophetic. One could argue that this timeline could be attributed to any teacher in any location in the world. Teaching is really hard. Knowing what to teach is only one part of the equation. Knowing how to teach is the key to survival. This is especially true in the north where there are so many variables. So, in terms of teaching, these past two months have been the best of times.

If you have been reading my recent posts, you are aware of the worst of times. Early in the school year, a popular and well-liked student took her own life. That sent shock waves throughout the school and the community which were still reverberating when my colleague, Maureen, passed away suddenly in late October, prompting me to come to Kangiqsujuaq to take over her classroom. Then, a crisis arose with three more suicides in rapid succession, the last two coming only three days apart. It has been difficult for everyone to process all of this.

Now is the time to head home for Christmas and to recharge the batteries. By the time you read this, I hope (fingers crossed) that I will be winging my way to Montreal and then on to Halifax.

Amid all of the sadness lately, there were lighter moments too. Last week was more or less a write off. There wasn’t a whole lot of learning going on. Staff and students were mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted from the recent spate of deaths. Christmas activities started early and many teachers threw up their up their hands and “mailed it in”. We watched a lot of movies, played a lot of games, had some treats and simply tried to put some joy back into the school. Most teachers will tell you that a week without structured classes is a form of purgatory or hell. Herding students for the better part of a week is exhausting.

One of the activities was Bingo.

Having attended one actual, formalized Bingo game at the firehall in Pomquet decades ago, this made me a bit of an expert on the game. At that time, smoking was allowed in the hall. Even had I won the jackpot, the threat of lung cancer would have kept me from going back a second time.

Every student from K-12 was allowed to take part. Now the logistics of pulling off a Bingo game of this magnitude takes some planning. The organizers decided (from previous experience) to have all students remain in their home room rather than a mass gathering in the gym. Numbers were called over the intercom. Our school has two wings and a fairly large footprint. The intercom only works one way. Everyone could hear the Bingo caller but a winner couldn’t call in on the intercom while the caller was still calling numbers. Make sense? Taking a cue from Robert Browning’s classic poem “How They Brought the Good News From Ghent to Aix”, the planners organized a group of teachers and other auxiliary staff to stand at command posts on both wings and both levels of the school. When a student yelled ”Bingo”, “Bingo” was yelled to staff in the hallway, who yelled to the next staff person and so on until it reached the office.

  1. That was the easy part. Now let’s talk about the Bingo cards. Each student received 4 cards. The numbers were printed on sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 paper stapled together. So far, so good. Rather than use markers (can you visualize transporting a winning card up and down flights of stairs while running) and in the absence of ink boinkers (sorry, I’m not a Bingo fanatic and don’t know what they’re called), students merely used a pencil or a marker.

The game started 10 minutes late. Not good.  When Bingo players are amped up, starting on time is crucial. Like thoroughbred horses at the Kentucky Derby.  Restlessness sets in early. Those 10 minutes are my definition of eternity.

“O – 74”.

“Thank god. We’ve started,” I uttered to no one in particular. I happened to be standing beside a student’s desk. I glanced down at his card. Having played Bingo a few times, I knew where to look for the elusive 74. It’s in the O column, right? Nope. It was in the I column. Now a grade 12 calculus student could easily make an adjustment to her thinking and realize that something was amiss. Try explaining this anomaly to a 5-year-old. I quickly scanned the card and realized that all of the numbers were put in random columns. I quickly dispatched one of the staff “runners (from Ghent to Aix) to alert the Bingo caller that there was a problem with the cards. Several other savvy teachers (!) had the same idea and now the hallways were full of people running to the office. Good thing the students were in their classrooms because running in the hallways is verboten. Teachers breaking their own rules. Tut, tut.

Of course, by the time the problem got resolved, about ten numbers had already been called so the caller had to repeat these numbers. She did it in world record time. Even a Bingo pro from Livingstone’s Cove back in Nova Scotia could not have scanned a convoluted card in that time. Another fleet of runners was dispatched and now the caller announced the numbers slowly. I wrote them on the board and being such a clever lad, used this strategy for future games.

Bingo was supposed to last an hour because the staff were then hosting a student brunch in the gym immediately after bingo. With the late start and with all of the confusion, the first game (two lines in any direction) took 45 minutes. This is possibly a Guinness record. I sure felt like having a Guinness or two when the game ended.

I think I’ll rename this kind of Bingo: Boing!

One other thing that made me smile this past week.

Because I opted not to get internet in my apartment this time around (if you read my new book you’ll understand why – a shameless plug), I routinely walked over to the school after supper to use theirs. There are two entrances and the one that I chose to use has a motion sensor light. During these very dark days in December, having a light at this sheltered entrance is a godsend, except when it’s not. I don’t know whether to blame faulty wiring, the weather or the Northern Lights but the sensor works exactly the opposite to the way it should. When darkness sets in (around 3:30 p.m.), the light at this entrance goes on automatically. Fair enough. On my daily treks to the school after supper, I noticed immediately (I am a quick study as you noticed with the Bingo game!) that as I approached the door, the light went off. In order for me to see the keyhole, I had to grab my cellphone and turn on the flashlight. This is not so bad when it’s only -20 but when it gets to -40 or -50, exposing your skin is downright dangerous. After checking my messages and e-mails, I head home. Part way across the parking lot, the motion sensor clicks in and, Presto!, the light goes back on.

Are you still reading? This is my deluxe Christmas special so if you have the stamina, along with a Bailey’s, stay with me for some groundbreaking news.

Len The Loser.

Can anyone hazard a guess as to how many words have been written about dieting? A billion? Trillion? Quadrillion?

At the end of the summer, I hopped on a scale and quickly hopped off. I was appalled, but not totally surprised, that after a summer of beer and barbeques, I had put on quite a bit of weight, so much so, that I had great difficulty getting into my kilt. After someone (you know who you are) suggested that I let out the seams in the kilt, I decided to take action.

So, let me add my few words of wisdom about weight loss. I am NOT bragging, just stating the facts. I replaced wine with water, my own version of the wedding at Cana in reverse. I replaced potato chips with almonds/pecans; cookies and pie with fresh fruit; lots of fresh vegetables; smaller portions on my plate (mostly veggies ); plenty of water and regular exercise. And yes, I bought the best shaming device in the world- a bathroom scale. I was a bit concerned about how I was going to pull this off in the north but it wasn’t a problem. The result was a loss of 23 pounds. I plan to enjoy Christmas to the fullest, but I’ve found something that is sustainable. I knew this already but as far as I can tell, 95% of weight loss is proper nutrition and 5% exercise. I haven’t been able to walk nearly as much in the north. Proof positive.

A brief comment on my man cold. Last week, I felt it coming on. I thought it might be another bout of Covid but my tests were negative. I mentioned my tragic condition to a friend back home. She wrote back. “Men don’t have babies because God saw the way they handle colds and knew the species would never survive.”

Christmas is coming and so is the end of this unwieldy piece.

One final weight loss suggestion. Rather than starve yourself, why not do something easier and try to make a living writing and selling books. While I would obviously like you to support this starving artist (!), please try and support local writers in your hometown. It is virtually impossible for the little guy to make any money publishing books but most of us don’t do this for fame or fortune. It’s mostly a hobby and a way to fill your closets with unsold books!!!

You can purchase my latest book about the North here on my website or you can e-mail me at If I make it home on time, Antigonishers can track me down for a last minute Christmas gift. All of my books are available at the Curious Cat Tea and Books and the 5 to $1.00 in Antigonish.

Unless I get terribly inspired or a bit tipsy on Bailey’s, this will likely be my final post for 2022.

Please stay well during the holiday season and best wishes in 2023.

Have a great day.

P.S. A very special thank you to my advertisers who generously support my webpage: Keltic Ford, Highland Hearing, A&W (Antigonish), Trimac Toyota and EMM Law (Port Hawkesbury and Antigonish).

Enjoy this? Visit the rest of my website to enjoy more of my work or buy my books!
Tri Mac Toyota!

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