Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My son is the greatest baby in the world

All that I am
All that I ever was
Is here in your perfect eyes
They’re all I can see
- Snow Patrol

It was 11 weeks ago today that Jonas burst into the world, changing our lives for the better, changing our lives forever. He was 7 lbs., 12 oz and 19 inches long. He was the embodiment of perfect, and still is.

I like being a father, yes, but I absolutely love being Jonas’s father. No other child would have done; he is the perfect match for Christine and I. To have him taken away would destroy us forever. Everything thing he does, every smile, every sound he makes, every time his hand touches our face, makes us realize what it means to have created a life, what the very definition of a miracle is.

The best moments, as far as I am concerned, occur when you least expect them. Like the smile he flashes when I change his diaper by the light of the television at 5:30 am, barely able to keep me eyes open. I am dead tired, yet the connection we make at those instances invigorate me, and makes me want to wake up and face the day.

There are times, like just a few minutes ago, when I will be sitting at the computer with Jonas behind me in his travel crib. He’ll be talking away in his own little language, lots of coos and woo-eees. His tone becomes more serious the longer I go without making eye contact and when I turn around, I am met with a killer smile from his electric blue eyes. It’s as though everything is suddenly right in his world, just like it is in mine.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Guest Blogger: Mary Scott

Mary Scott is a Northern College student in Fort Albany. Here she laments the lack of snow and looks forward to the arrival of winter:

It’s almost December and there's not even snow on the ground. It feels weird without it. Usually there’s lots of snow at this time. If there was snow I would've been cruising around with a ski-doo, but I have to be careful this winter because in Weawagemaw Lake there was a ski-doo accident, a 22 year old passed away. My sister told me about it yesterday, but it happened four days ago. I feel sorry for the family even though I don't know them.

I hope it's gonna snow today or tonight because I like the colour white, because I can see people clearly with their coloured coats and clothes. But one thing I don't like about winter are blizzards. It sucks because you can't go out and you can hardly walk on the road, or drive around in a truck. That’s why I don’t like blizzards. Well, I guess a small one wouldn’t be so bad.

Once about two years ago my cousin and I went for a ride with a ski-doo. We were driving around near the school, but I didn't know she was gonna take a high jump. I almost fell off the ski-doo, but it was fun! But now she's not in town, she’s living in another town with her boyfriend. I hope she'll come home this winter!!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Mary Mackie in the FA

I have posted a few new photos in our photo album (link on the right). Take a look if you choose.

There is a very special guest visiting Fort Albany this weekend: my mom. She arrived from Penetanguishene on Wednesday and is staying until Tuesday. She is here to see her grandson and to make sure we’re not wasting our lives living up here (she’s decided we’re not). On Friday she conducted a breast feeding seminar at the Health Centre. I don’t have breasts, so I did not attend. I understand, though, that she was a big hit.

My recent post concerning my attempt to read Margaret Atwood’s feminist novel "The Handmaid’s Tale" has elicited a strong response from friends and strangers alike. It would seem that reading the novel is a rite of passage for Canadian women. I have read several stories of essays being written about the book, essays comparing Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence (one of my faves), and just general observations about the book, in particular the ending. Well, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve picked it up again. I’ve read the first four chapters, and I am also reading an online study guide to accompany the book. How nerdy is that?

Speaking of nerds, I would like to welcome my friend Tom Wilkinson back to Fort Albany (sorry Tom, I couldn’t resist). Tom is married to Jennifer Knight, the director of patient care at the hospital. He has spent the past few months taking a log home building course down south. He took a leave of absence from his teaching job to do this. Tom starts back at Peetabeck on Monday. Students, consider yourself warned: Old man Wilkinson is back!!!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Guest Blogger: Jacob Ashamock

Jacob Ashamock is a Northern College student in Fort Albany. He and his partner Kerry Bitternose are parents of a young son, Andre. Kerry is expecting again any day now. Here he passes along the wisdom he has acquired as a young parent.

For somone who is about to become a parent for the first time, I would advise them to prepare themselves for major changes. Changes like how time they spend at home, their priorities, and especially their sleeping habits.

People who like to go out will find out quickly that they'll have to stay home often with the mother and baby. The mother will need rest and help caring for the baby after carrying it for 9 months. It may take longer for some people to adjust to this kind of change.

Also, the importance of some priorities may change, but not always. When thinking about your priorities, you are now thinking of what's best for “your family”, not just “yourself”. Your priorities are, also, never eliminated. They've simply been set back, or aside, even though they seem to have been eliminated.

Finally, if getting a good night sleep is a priority, too bad. Sleeping habits are probably one of the major adjustments that will have to be made. When the baby sleeping, you should be sleeping, too. Even during the day.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Faces of Fort Albany

The Community Hall played host to the Fort Albany service providers fair today, giving community members a chance to learn more about the organizations here to help them. It was great to see such community spirit. My students and I were able to attend for a little while. Here are some of the photos I took.

George from Fort Albany Power Corp. shows off the tricks of the trade

Hannah Nakogee (left), FASD co-ordinator, and Jackie Kataquapit, education counselor.

My buddy Brent Edwards, who runs the Outback Youth Centre, entertains the crowd.

A couple of studs - Paramedics Jeremie (left) and Todd.

Northern College student Barb Loone gets her flu shot.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

This Town Needs an Arena

The other day I was talking to our program assistant, Rex Knapaysweet, about hockey in Fort Albany. I asked him who the best players in town were. He told me the two best players were ones who played hockey indoors as kids. Because most of the guys had little formal instruction, Albany usually gets beaten badly when it travels out to tournaments. This goes for the kids teams too.

Getting an arena built in this community has been talked about for years. But it’s all talk. In my opinion, it’s time for this town to join the 21st century and get an arena built. Attawapiskat and Kash have arenas - as do Moose Factory and Moosonee. Yet, the children in this town of 800 learn the game on an outdoor rink that goes up at the beginning of January and down at the end of March. That’s three months of hockey.

If it’s question of money, then I say let’s raise it. An arena may seem like a frivolity to some, but it is the central gathering place of numerous small towns and First Nations Reserves across Canada. Along with an arena, Fort Albany requires a well-organized minor hockey system - a system where kids are taught the basics of the game on a safe ice surface that could be available to them, say, seven months of the year.

I am always impressed when I watch the kids play floor hockey. There is a lot of talent and passion for the game in this community. To not have an arena is ridiculous. Do you think Jonathan Cheechoo would have made the NHL had he not had the luxury of playing in an indoor arena? I am not suggesting that Albany has to start turning out NHL players. That’s not why we need an arena. We need an arena to give these kids something to. They need more structure in their lives. They need something to look forward to on a Saturday morning or a Wednesday night. And it’s not just the young ones who would benefit. An arena would improve the overall health of the community. We could get an adult league going.

Hockey was a huge part of my childhood. Growing up in Kirkland Lake, I would spend all day Saturday playing the sport. I’d wake up and go the old arena for my game, then I recall playing all afternoon on the outdoor rink, in our driveway, or on the road. At night I would watch Hockey Night in Canada or go watch the Legion 87’s - the AAA midget team. It was a good life, I tell ya.

I’m not suggesting an arena would solve all of Albany’s problems, but it would help a generation of children feel better about the community they live in. That’s not a bad start.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Way too Tired to Write; Pictures Instead

Whenever Jonas raises his first like this, he must be thinking "Up with babies, down with parents." Seriously, the lack of sleep is catching up with us.

I took this one as we were getting ready for a walk today.

Christine usually goes for a bath before bed. She leaves me to watch Jonas. If he fusses, I find the easiest thing to do is bring him into the bed with me. I never mean to fall asleep but always do. On this night, Jonas settled too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What am I Doing Here?

Only when you fly from Timmins to Fort Albany, or more specifically from Moosonee to Albany, do you get a sense of how isolated we are. I was thinking about isolation today as I walked home for lunch. You fly over miles and miles of nothing. Other than Kash - about 20 kms up the river - there is nothing for hundreds of kilometres. No civilization.

I’ve been here 16 months now and I have never enjoyed myself more than I am now. It could have something to do with the life-changing experience of becoming a father. I am surviving on adreneline - surely a person shouldn’t feel this excited about life on so little sleep. When this adreneline wears off, who knows what will happen?

One thing I know for sure is that this has been an incredible learning experience. I am challenged everyday to question my own values and beliefs. I have learned that the human soul is full of complexity and that people who have steel exteriors often break like glass on the inside. I have to fight the urge to try and make everything alright for people - I’m talking about my students here. I realized with my last class that it’s easier to get dragged under than it is to rise above. You see, I am dealing with 10 students who are more like me than you can possibly know. What is important to them is important to me: family, friends, security, living in a place they feel comfortable. I’ve come to be really humbled by what I have. How much did I do to deserve all my blessings? It’s hard to say. I was born in a great country, to great parents, who provided me everything I need. I learned to read and write. I was never hungry or cold.

If I have been successful in life it’s because I seized the opportunities I was given. The people in Fort Albany do the same. They do the best they have with what they’re given. Maybe I’ve developed a case of white guilt, but I feel anything but superior to the community members of Fort Albany. In many ways I feel inferior because I haven’t taken better advantage of my opportunities. I often wonder whether I could still become anything I want to. Maybe I could go back and upgrade my high school marks - maybe throw myself into calculus, chemistry, biology, physics. Maybe I have it within myself to become a doctor, or an engineer, or someone who actually has a body of knowledge. Yes, I guess I have a body of knowledge. Yet I feel like I know a bit about everything when I would rather know everything about one thing.

Well, I have started to ramble on here. Not sure where I’m going with this, so I will go and see what Jonas thinks about this.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tomorrow Starts Today

Dear Northern College students/friends,

Monday marks the start of Semester 2 of the Northern College academic upgrading program in Fort Albany. I think the first semester was a success, but I think everyone can give a little more - myself included.

Our class began on July 25. It was delayed a week because I had to be down south with Christine when she was in Mount Sinai unexpectedly. I came back home alone to start the course, determined to be a better instructor than I was during the last course, which was my first stab at teaching. Let’s just say there was a lot I wanted to do differently. For the most part I am happy with the changes I implemented. There has been more energy in the classroom. And you the students have been more accountable for attendance.

I remember that first day of class. It was a beautiful Monday - bright and sunny. I had such a euphoric feeling. I sensed the students I had were dedicated and willing to work. You haven’t let me down. I am really happy with your attitudes.

For this semester, I would like to see us strive to meet certain goals academically. It simply won’t be enough to complete the course. The students who complete program will be prepared to enter the ACE program, or the credit recovery program at Peetabeck Academy. The potential for this group is enormous. I feel I owe it to you to push yourselves to your potential.

Another goal for this semester is more community involvement. There are countless fundraising opportunities available to us, starting with the Christmas bazaar next month. There’s also the chance to volunteer our time at the school - whether it be with dinner to go on Wednesdays or the reading club on Thursdays.

I am really excited about the second semester. It is a chance for a fresh start. As they say in Fubar "Let’s give er."


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is there a Giller Prize in My Future?

I spend a lot of my day walking. It’s a 15-minute stroll from home to work. And since I come home for lunch to help Christine out with Jonas, I spend 60 minutes a day just walking to and from school. On average I spend an additional 45 minutes a day walking the dog. All this walking gives me time to think. And lately I’ve been thinking about the book I am going to write. Yes, I might write a book.

A few people are pushing me to write a book about my experiences in Fort Albany. They expect it to be a memoir, I think. I haven’t seriously thought about doing it, truth be told. At this point it is just a fantasy I have. The book, I should tell you, will not be a memoir. I don’t think it would be interesting enough. The book I write will be a piece of non-fiction based on the lives of some of the community members. I guess I would take some creative licence - like that guy who got in trouble for making up stories in the memoir "A Million Little Pieces." Only I would be up front about it.

In getting to know my students and others up here, I have come to the realization that they lead extraordinary lives - lives that are full of tragedy, laughter, hope, failure and redemption. I would talk to as many people as possible and let them tell me their life story. I would allow them to tell me about all the critical moments, the sadness, tradgedy, and the good times. In the hands of a great writer, these stories could be woven into a remarkable piece of writing. I don’t pretend to be a great writer, but I think it would make an interesting read because the stories would be unbelieveably captivating. The people here have great depth, I have discovered. It’s just that they do not have the literacy tools to express themselves the way they want to.

I guess I have this on my mind today because this year’s Giller Prize was awarded last night to an ER doctor who had never written a book before. Apparently, he met Margaret Atwood on a cruise ship and told her about his idea for the book. In fact, I think he showed Atwood a draft. She loved the idea - and his writing. I wonder what Margaret would think of my idea? It’s not like the lives of natives haven’t been chronicled before, so I realize I would have to bring something different.

The Giller Prize is $40,000. Here’s an interesting question: would you rather win $40,000 for writing a book, and get all the noteriety that comes with it? Or would you rather win $1,000,000 in the lottery. Is this a stupid question?

Any thoughts?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Work begins on the weekend

I have posted a few new pictures of Jonas in our photo album, so check em out if you like. I have no idea how the dog got into the one picture with Jonas.

This hasn’t been as stressful a weekend for as the last one. I decided to set modest goals for myself. That way I don’t feel too overwhelmed when I’m folding laundry at 11:30 pm on a Sunday night. Still, the work week seems like a breeze compared to the weekends when you have an infant to look after. I like to relieve Christine during the overnights. I give Jonas a bottle when I can and do the diaper changes every couple of hours. This was Christine’s idea, something I went along with because I enjoy living indoors and would rather not sleep on the porch.

One of the tough decisions on weekend mornings is when to get out of bed. Perhaps other parents and those over 30 face this difficult choice too. Simply put, if I stay in bed too long I will wake up feeling worse than I would have had I arisen earlier. You young wipper-snappers out there wouldn’t understand. Only us folks who went to high school before the proliferation of the internet seem to be afflicyed with this sad dilemma. It’s pathetic, really. Our bodies are conditioned to function best on about seven hours of sleep.

The advantage to this is that I can get more accomplished during the day and still some leisure time. The highlight of my week is Saturday and Sunday mornings, taking Ollie for walk and coming home for a relaxing breakfast, followed by a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee (the kind from the tin) as I read the latest issue of The Hockey News. On Sunday mornings I turn on the TV and watch "The Reporters" on TSN and think to myself how much sense Dave Hodge makes. He’s got such a great wit, and unlike a lot of his younger counterparts, he’s all about substance over style. I would like to see him on TV more. Come to think of it, someone once suggested that Dave take over for the late Tom Cheek on Blue Jays radio broadcasts. I think that would be a fantastic idea. I might actually start listening to games on the radio again. Someone get on that please!

The most enjoyable part of the weekend was Saturday night when I was flying solo with Jonas. Christine went over to Jen’s to watch a movie. She was apprehensive about being so far from Jonas for such a long time (three doors down for two hours). Alas, he was in good hands. We watched the Leafs crush the Sabres 4-1, and then watched a bit of the Canucks-Avs game before his mommy came home. He had a few crying fits, which neither his rocker nor his swing could stop. I did, however, manage to convince him to down an entire bottle of breast milk. When Christine came home I had him in bed, in his sleeper, diaper changed, and his belly full. Just call me Mr. Mom.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Jeff’s October Playlist

Well, a look at the calendar and the snow on the ground tells me it’s November. Here are the new singles I was listening to in October, ranked in order.

1. Slow Motion, David Gray
This is a fantasitic song, one that was elevated in my mind when I saw it used during Abby’s birth scene on E.R. - which is still a pretty good show. I like David Gray a lot, and this just might be my favourite song of his.

2. Hometown, The Supers
Don’t know too much about this band, just that they are an alt-country band from Montreal who sound a bit like The Cash Brothers. Like this song because it makes me think of Kirkland Lake, a little bit anyway.

3. A Night Like This, Tomi Swick
A wistful song that is pretty good. I don’t like his other single "Everything is Alright."

4. Helicopters, The Stills
I’ve heard this song on XM, so it goes on the playlist. Any song that has the chorus "Helicopters are chasing animals through the fields" has to be good.

5. In The Backseat, The Arcade Fire
Another XM song. I really like The Arcade Fire. Very strong band.

6. A Message, Coldplay
I have soured on Coldplay a bit this year. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe too much exposure. This song is just OK.

7. Stand Up and Be Strong, Soul Asylum
Kind of sounds like something from "Grave Dancers Union." Glad to see they haven’t gotten out of their comfort zone.

8. Help Me Suzanne, Rhett Miller
I am a Rhett Miller fan. The opening line "tell me why the whites of my eyes are red" does it for me.

9. Welcome To The Black Parade, My Chemical Romance
I caught them on SNL and realized the lead singer isn’t much of one. But I’m the guy who worships Neil Young.

10. Land of Confusion, Disturbed
Usually I don’t like cover songs, but this one is really good. This is a timeless song, considering it is 20 years old and still relevant today.

11. Doctor Blind, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
I heard Emily Haines say Neil Young is one of her influences. I can hear it on this track.

12. In View, The Tragically Hip
This song barely made my list. Truth be told, the Hip stopped mattering to me around 1998.