Friday 27 April 2018

Kindergarten, selling the house and a strange dream...

Today I'm home. I let them know at the school that I wouldn't be coming in today - the prerogative of the substitute - and have had a blissful day of my sort of fun. I've been doing a few online programs - one the regular Sketchbook Skool klasses I adore, one a 'summit of sketchbook artists' and one an offshoot of that one - a sort of dreamy yoga-ish, new age-ish painting experience. This last one I'm enjoying but I do have my rather cynical glasses on at the same time. She has us closing our eyes and wandering across fields of wildflowers etc...something I've led hundreds of poor people on, but it is nice to be led and not do the leading and I'm happy with what I'm creating.

I had a very busy kindergarten week. Man oh man, those kids wear me out. They are deliciously funny and cute though. I told the fella that a couple of them said I was the best teacher ever. He pointed out that their experience was rather limited. What a party pooper! It is completely splendid to be responsible for getting little ones to read - a thrill. When they get it they are utterly intoxicated with it. How good is that!

Next week I will be back with the grade two's. I do enjoy the variety of being a sub. I simply can't get bored. I adore the grade two class - it is so much fun. We will make slime again - maybe this time with sparkles or even iron filings that I magnetize. That would be fun.

Now ... Ruby's house (where we live) is being sold. I think by this evening there will be an offer the siblings will accept. I sure hope so as I hate having to keep the place up for random visits. Bits of things are starting to go to new homes - china cups, framed stitchery, bedding, all sorts of things as the house starts to be dismantled. We, of course, still have to live here for almost three more months so there's lots here but it is being spoken for. And the fella and I are at least beginning to imagine how we will get our accumulation back to Nova Scotia. We have a station wagon and a pickup truck and may add a trailer to that. Some of the stuff we bought while here (a mattress set) or Ron made ( a beautiful bed) and some we've brought from home over the four years, and some we had shipped here at the beginning. We'll get rid of novels most likely but keep non-fiction and reference books (dharma, writing, drawing, history, memoirs). I have a lot of art and craft supplies - filled sketchbooks, oil paints, water colour paints, acrylic, canvasses, cloth, stuffing, wool and on and on - quilts and supplies. Frightening really. I'm going home with less clothes than I brought so that is good. This moving is such a good way to take stock of what is truly important - which ultimately is NONE OF THE STUFF - but we'll still pack it up and move it.

Now I just want to say that I had this crazy dream the other night and I'm going to phone my partners in writing musicals - Dawn Harwood-Jones and Malcolm Callaway and tell them we have to write it. Here's the title - The Valkyries Witness Protection Plan.  I love dreams. They are so demented and random. I think I can make this one work for me.

“The Dises” by Dorothy Hardy (1909)

Monday 23 April 2018

A few brief months...

I had no idea when I began this blog that our sojourn in Labrador would be nearly five years long. Although I did not keep at this site, I have been working on a memoir of this time called Ruby's House. It has been a wonderful project, especially as the house in question is being sold and we will be wending our way homeward midsummer.

I have struggled with the structure of this memoir - I wrote the first draft as I do all of them - in a glorious hot mess. I have over a hundred thousand words that I wrote between the beginning of November and the end of February. I took a break from it all in March - to let the manuscript cool - and started again with draft two at the start of April.

Yesterday, flailing about, I thought I would read my first entries here (and even before here on my blog called The So-Called Simple Life, where I started writing about this adventure).  I copied many of my entries from that first year and put them in a file. It may be the way I organize the story - a line or two from a journal entry - then what has come of that. Not sure, but it also got me thinking that I would like to write some here about my experiences in the Sheshatshiu Innu School. I have been substituting since February and it has been such a wonderful, varied and somewhat crazy experience.

Just to give some context - I've been going to the school on the reservation since soon after my first year here. I made it part of the job that I got at the treatment centre, which included the role of outreach counselor.  Former folk in that job would see youth at the centre but I didn't find that satisfactory. I wasn't an 'In Wait Counselor' after all!  I worked my role up to including two afternoons a week at the school and met with kids from kindergarten to high school. They got to know me because I would hang about in the front entry with my sketchbook and pen at the ready. After a bit I moved my headquarters to the cafeteria - right off the entry and with glass windows between the rooms so kids could look in and know I was there. I would bring extra sketchbooks and supplies for kids to join me and while their hands were busy they'd talk. It worked out well - it continues to work out well. Sometimes I'd start a book and try to read it all the way through - kind of tough as the lunchtime kid population would fluctuate but it still meant for some interesting times. I read a great deal of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe that way. In the afternoons I'd meet with kids one on one for the most part - though I never minded if they needed a pal to come along. Sometimes it would be the student wanting to see me and sometimes it would be the teacher or administration that thought a visit might be helpful. It was just the sort of thing I liked - very low maintenance - minimal note-taking, no reporting whatsoever. It has been the scene of some of the sweetest times I've spent here in Labrador. I love the children of Sheshatshiu - they are resilient, funny, smart and loving. The best you could imagine and they've had the most trying of times - most of them. The parenting situation has been strained for generations - ever since the government told them to stop being hunter/gatherers and settle in reserves (there are two in Labrador) and that wasn't so long ago. Parents didn't know how to parent under such circumstances, boredom and grief set in - drinking and drama took the place of their former livelihood activities and a miserable existence was compounded by the streams of do-gooders who were part of the same system that frigged them up in the first place. Children have been shipped off to foster parents in communities that don't have any indigenous folk at all, let alone those that are related to the children. Families have been carelessly broken apart and then the same people who pushed for that are aghast when suicide and self-harming has become the norm.

Well - I guess you could say that I hold a view!

Being a substitute teacher has been quite a different but equally wonderful experience. And I have loved learning about teaching. I do love the challenge of being thrown into the deep end at the age of 66! Last week I had the grade twos all week. What fun I had! I made slime with them. Yay! And I found out about STEM bins (no way - you'll have to look it up!) and the third teacher and how silly it is to watch a video about Earth Day that suggests we all go plant a tree when we still have six feet of snow. I've been the phys. ed teacher a bunch of times, the art teacher and music teacher. I've taught grade five and grade eight and had a week of kindergarten too.

I tell the kids how old I am in the hopes of inspiring them. They do not understand white hair and are convinced I dye it as the Innu don't get it, if at all, until they are very old. They touch it and exclaim how beautiful it is. They love my crepey skin and like to discuss my wrinkles at length. It is heaven, truly! They call me Jannie Bananie or sometimes Granny.

We had a lock-down drill last week - I only had four kids that day because we'd had a late start due to a snow storm - but they were so good as we huddled in the corner. One boy was beside himself with wanting to wiggle and yak. I considered what a very strange world it was indeed. I feel like the vicious stranger has already entered their community - without guns but with plenty of ways to hurt them. Ah well. Another day.

So, hopefully I'll be back to tell you more - BUT I promise nothing...

Tuesday 29 August 2017

I've not visited in so long...

A Poem to summarize what I've been up to since last posting

A blur of pain as my hip fossilized and the crocodile munched away
Then in April a trip to St. Anthony to get one made of ceramic, titanium and steel
I saw caribou while I was there and my friend Marion came to help me through
Home to recover, making dolls (19 so far) and sketching my way to recovered.
Now I'm back to work (four and a half months off) full of energy and ideas.
This is our last year here.
What to make of that.
The sun rose red and shiny at 6:03...

Thursday 14 July 2016

It isn't even June, it's July

Though that isn't necessarily evident here in Labrador. It is rainy and cool - let me check the temperature - yep it's about 18 here - which is about 65 or so for you Amuricans. Not bad. I didn't have to wear my sweater but it is close. I'm at work, on my break and wanted to update this blog.
I'll say it right out - I'm having a tough time doing anything that isn't work or the dishes. I am plumb outa poop as they say (where? where do they say that? In my head, that's where.) I'm deeply sadly homesick and I can't seem to recover from it. I look at the beauty here and all I can see most days is prison bars. I've been immobilized with chronic pain in my hip and although I'm fighting it with lots of good food and exercise, I feel it is a losing battle. Work is good - by which I mean it is meaningful and plentiful - but difficult. Like most of the world, it seems like a struggle to find the basic goodness here right now. Oh, I know it is here, otherwise I couldn't be - but every step forward seems fraught.

I read the other day that Aboriginal communities were tired of believing that their youth were suiciding because of mental illness - they were suicidal because of the disease of colonization. I agree. And I'd like to add to the list of symptoms of that disease - sexual abuse, physical violence, murder, addiction, depression, anxiety, and a general malaise I'd call No Hope. We miss the point when we blame the weak and dis-empowered  for their own problems. It has been a long battle in my heart - this taking on the guilt of the oppressor but I cannot hide from it anymore. It doesn't matter that I tell myself (and others) that my ancestors were more oppressed than oppressors - Scottish people hauled from their land so the English could graze their sheep - I know that the mantle of oppression shifts from shoulders to shoulders but the whites have worn it since they arrived in the new world. Period. We don't want to know about it - who wants to know that their privilege comes at the expense of others - but it is true. The most miserably downtrodden white street person has more power than the most lauded and moneyed Aboriginal.

I will have learned much on this sojourn to another part of Canada and I will forget much of it. But I won't forget the kids here. Ever.

Thursday 28 January 2016


So cold.
So very very cold.
But my mind is ticking away - ideas heating it up

The fella and I have started university.
We are attending The College of Long Nights. We are the only two students and we are also the only two instructors. I'm taking one course now (just until I get going). It is Moby Dick. The course consists of me reading the book and then discussing it with the fella who has read it several times.  The fella is taking Dante's Inferno which he will then discuss with me. He's going to start Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (a self-directed course using the book of the same name), and I'm soon to start Important Elements in Understanding WWII offered by the fella. It's all terribly exciting. I don't think there will be any papers or exams but we will have to respond to that old exam question: Discuss.

I'm enjoying Moby Dick. It is a lot more humorous than I thought it would be. I'm not sure why I thought it would be rather dry and boring - it certainly isn't. I read Captain Ahab's Wife (Or The Star Gazer) by Sena Jeter Naslund last year so it is fun seeing how closely the author followed her inspiration. Not sure how the fella is doing with Dante's Inferno. I might just ask him to read certain Cantos aloud to me. I love his reading voice. When he is taking the drawing course (which I've already done) I can draw along with him so that'll be fun. As to the WWII class - he has to instruct me on what to read. I don't need to have his grasp of the subject - just a better one than I have.

Other antidotes to the desire to simply go to bed at 7:30 are becoming involved with a group looking into representational voting in Canada - a wonderfully confusing topic that will eat up hours with debate; reading Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling and positively losing it with laughter; trying to teach the dog to beg - which lasted about 45 seconds. Not everything works. We're rather tired of Netflix for instance. I can't bear all the mean cold thrillers out there. I'm full up with Scottish, Danish, Norwegian and British detectives who are submerged in mental states to dire to contemplate. Please refrain from suggesting ones I'm sure to like - I won't. I only want to watch Rake over and over again. So there.

And of course - cooking nice food, cuddling, talking to friends back home, and maybe going back to teaching myself the piano.

Winter is long.

Monday 14 December 2015

Heading Home for the Holidays

Home? What is that you say? Well, we are homeward bound in two days. We call it home as it is where the bulk of our kids, grandkids and bestest pals reside. We know we'll be welcomed and everyone will want to hear about our further adventures in the land of snow and ice. We'll stay in Prospect Bay, visit in Halifax, Fox Point and Chester. We'll eat too much and stay up too late. We probably will get hopelessly behind in Longmire episodes, but we won't give a care. We'll miss our bed and our view of the beach, but we won't miss Bella, cuz we're bringing her with. Yay says step-dot Sarah! We'll miss Robin and our special brand of family dinners, but heck - she left us lonely the last two Christmases, so now tis her turn.

Recent news of interest to Sojourner visitors - we were plagued by a wolf for the past two weeks. It meant I came to work an hour early so I could catch a ride, and it meant no idly walking on the beach for this scaredy-cat. Now rumours abound. Was it killed? Someone shot one wolf from a snowmobile but wasn't sure it was fatal. Another person says there are two - a black one and a reddy-brown one. The black one killed a dear little beagle in the its yard, just down a few houses. I wish they didn't have to be killed but I sure understand the need to do so. That is one of the weird twists of living here. Yes, there are wolves, bears, and foxes - but there are also hunters, trappers and plenty of guns.
here is a bear whose photo I took
and a wolf that I found on the net:

I'm finished work today - go tomorrow for graduation and then not again until the fourth of the new year. In between, I'll draw, I'll write, I'll loll and visit.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Where Winter is Greeted with Delight

One of my favorite things about Labrador is that I no longer dread winter. In Nova Scotia, and before that in Ottawa, my spirits would sink into my mukluks as the dread season approached. By February and March I'd be beside myself with hatred of snow and ice and black ice and more snow and most of all, of lousy driving conditions.

Here in Labrador, winter is anticipated with delight. The former mayor was just over to our house and he was exclaiming how happy he was that the colder temperatures had FINALLY arrived. It is minus fifteen today and sunny as can be. Why does he and most of the others here want that low temperature? Why, so the bay will freeze of course, and the snow-goes can be brought out. So folks can get to their cabins, and ice fishing can commence.

We have no cabin - feeling no longing to escape the hurly-burly of downtown North West River (population 523 on a fat day). We do have Uncle Dick's snowmobile. I don't love it - racketing along with the bumps and dips of the land or bayscape. But I do love walking along the shore instead of slogging through the woods and that is easy-peasy once the bay has frozen tight. And I love the infinite variation of snow and ice forms along the shore - the ballycatter, the crazy candle-ice of spring, all of it. The ice makes a poetic long-line showing where the determined tide still manages to effect its design.

Here are some photos of my walks to work this week. I will also include a photo of the lighting of the kudlik - a soapstone lamp used for centuries by the Inuit. Miriam Lyall, an Inuk from the coast, came to our centre to show our families how it is done.

 the road I live on...
  A view of Upalong from the bridge.

Miriam lights the kudlik

 the hills behind Little Lake with their dusting of snow

 the hill from the bridge where I work.