Friday, January 25, 2013


With one more shift left to go before I head "into the field" at work, I had to take part of my morning off to outfit myself.  A tool belt is something I've never worn before....ever.  The closest I've ever come to having anything like this around my waist was the web belt I wore with my combats back when I was in the Reserves.  So I wasn't sure how I'd make out but in the end I didn't do too badly.

10" crescent wrench. Check.  16 oz hammer.  Check.  Tape measure. Check.  Level. Check.

The only challenging part was trying the thing on and making sure I could get all my tools I was buying to fit in properly.   In a crowded store aisle I had to look like I knew what I was doing in front of all that other Fort McMurray testosterone.    So onward I went, rather like a young female adolescent struggling into her first brassiere.  I think I did a good job at hiding my self-consciousness.

In the end, everything worked out.  I plane to take it in to work next week so I get accustomed to wearing it and then I'm sure it will feel like a second skin soon enough.

The best part of all was that, with a waistline most women would kill for, my fully-kitted belt didn't fall down to my ankles, dragging my jeans with it.....and I didn't need to cinch it up to the very last notch either.

Ah!  There's hope for me yet!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cut Off

It's been an interesting past 48 hours here in Wood Buffalo, with nasty weather and deplorable driving conditions.  Things got so bad that Highway 63, along with a few other northern roads, were closed to traffic.  I recall reading that at one point, police had responded to as many as 60 vehicle mishaps.  Considering how many potential hospitalizations that could have potentially been, the decision to close 63 was a smart one and, as McMurray Musings rightly notes, we can't very well bitch about it.

While Highway 881 provides a secondary link, it isn't designed to carry great volumes of traffic.  I'm not even sure it was fully paved when I first drove on it about 10 years ago.  At any rate, 881, was also shut down too following a couple of accidents not too far from where I used to live when I first moved out here.  I even had my own close call on 881 with an 18-wheeler that first winter.

63 has since been re-opened, and while I never really had a feeling of being "cut off", it was still a good reminder of just how much Fort McMurray relies on this highway.  Even north of the city wasn't spared the hazardous weather as I've shoveled an ungodly amount of snow the past couple days, both at work and at home, and on the ride home from site tonight our bus passed a truck in the ditch at the bottom of Super Test Hill.  Apparently, it went into the ditch sometime yesterday but it was still being shoveled out.

Anyhow, while things are slowly returning to normal, I'm sure there were a  few people inconvenienced by not being able to get to Edmonton (my foreman was on his way to sunnier climes himself), the past 48 hours could have been much worse.  Highway 63 can be a  difficult drive in far more optimal situations than what we've experienced here so it comes as a relief to read the local news and not hear of outcomes that could have been much, much worse.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Into The Field

Today just seemed like one of those days.....and it wasn't even Monday.  Snow, wind, cold, more snow, a broken generator, more cold.  There was one bright spot though, not completely unexpected but greatly welcomed nonetheless.  And it actually had nothing to do with the potential big change I alluded to in my New Year's post either.

Beginning very shortly, either the end of the month or early next month, I'll be heading out "into the field".  This is industry talk meaning that I will be down in the plant at Suncor, working with scaffolders rather than in the the "rear with the gear", to borrow a military phrase.  It will mean a nice change of scenery, more opportunity and more hours, even though, yes, I was hoping to cut back a bit this year.

This new move is something I had played with in my mind for some time and indeed it became a bit of a running good-natured joke at work about when I would decide to "get out of Kindergarten and play with the big kids."  Due to trying to figure out what direction I wanted my life to head in, debating what to do with the house and a few personal issues, it was something I had kept putting off.  But I figured, why wait any longer?  I can be indecisive and make a bit more money while I'm at it, at least.  Yes, I can multi-task.  Plus, as I mentioned above it will be a nice change of scenery.

I've always thought of myself more of a cerebral guy than a physical guy so the fact that I can change to this type of work after leading an academic life for so long and the fact that my foreman and general foreman feel I'm competent enough to do the job, has me flattered.

I'm going to look forward very much to strapping on that new tool belt.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Oh Christoph, I Feel For You

I've discovered some new music tonight and decided to soak it up.  Now,  I had come across the name Christoph Graupner through my music studies but for the most part, it was just a name.  Its rather unfortunate that his music isn't as well-known as Bach, Telemann or Vivaldi (he was a contemporary) but due to the circumstances of history, that's just the way it goes.

I've just finished listening to a short choral piece that Graupner wrote as an audition piece.  He wrote it in hopes of securing a position as cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig when the post became vacant  about 1723.  His superiors were impressed enough that he was offered the position, although in the end, the post ended up going to JS Bach.  And it was here that Bach wrote many of his works that are so well-known today, including the bulk of the surviving 200+ cantatas, his B Minor Mass, his St. Matthew Passion, his St. John Passion....and I could go on.

As for poor Christoph?  He died in 1760 and pretty much faded into obscurity.  So why do I bring this up?  Yes, I feel ignored.  I actually hate writing about this sort of thing since I grew up the child of small business owners and can appreciate them having to deal with obnoxious, bitchy customers.  But I'll stew here and poke a little fun at the level of customer service I've experienced in town here the past several days.  SO I had waited over a week to get a quote on some new flooring for my bathroom.  After emailing the store (twice), I got an email back this afternoon telling me they couldn't complete the quote as no flooring had been selected.  Now, I'm really annoyed they pointed that out because, having grown up with parents in the flooring business, its not like I didn't realize this.  Only, the thing is, I certainly DID pick out some flooring, a decent white lino with a bit of grey to it, and showed it to the salesman as he took down my information.   I took off my old toilet and bought a new one which I can't put in until the new flooring is in so the things has been languishing in my hallway for a week now.  Plus I was told I would have to sink some screws into the floor to get out the squeaks as they don't (or won't) do that.   Yikes, if I knew it was going to be this much of a hassle I would have just bought a piece of flooring last week and put it in myself.

Now, prior to getting the above-mentioned email, I did go to a second flooring place.  Perhaps I should be more a of a jerk because getting assistance was a bit of a challenge as the office help was pre-occupied with ordering soup for lunch and listening to a rather horrid rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

At this point, I'm not quite sure what to do.  I'll have to wait until my next days off regardless.  I did find a third option in town here, a place called End of the Roll.  Which is appropriate because I feel like I'm at the end of my rope here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Art of the Possible Part 2

Fortunately for us, the weather cleared and we were able to make it to Iqaluit.  Unfortunately, we arrived after the tournament started.  The high school, the venue where the tournament was being held, was a zoo of people, and I was trying to figure out what classroom we had been assigned as our change room/sleeping quarters.  Oh yes, to make things even more interesting, I was told we had a game in 20 minutes.  Just what anyone wants to hear after a 3 hour flight.

In any event the team managed to get dressed and ready.  They had a pretty good showing, considering how many hoops they had had to jump through to even get there, scoring a last minute goal to eck out a tie against a pretty strong little team from Clyde River.  (If memory serves correct, we played a second game later that evening and lost by a goal to the team we would eventually face in the finals.  I suppose at this point I'm giving away the story a bit.)

At any rate, after a respectable round robin and a semi-final romp (a 5-1 victory I believe it was), we ended up in the final against the team we knew would be the team to beat.  This was actually a great game.  Both sides were evenly matched and I wish I could have just been a spectator rather than the coach so I could have relaxed a bit more.  Speaking of spectators, the crowd really grew.  We were used to the fans being made up mostly of the opposition in the past and while I'm sure there were a few people who were drawn to watch this little team who I'm sure no one thought would be playing a game like this, we actually had a pretty decent-sized cheering section rooting for us.  How many people can say that your local MLA showed up to watch you play an indoor soccer game?

The boys worked hard....and made their opponents work hard too.   After full time the game was tied and after an overtime period, the teams were still deadlocked.  I remember the tournament organizers brought in their most senior ref to make sure things were done by the book.  The gym was packed full of people watching.  I know I was shaking.  I just wanted this win soo bad for the boys.

Even the shoot out solved nothing.  I think we traded a goal each but that was it.  The referee later told me he had never seen anything like this happen in his experience.  At this point there wasn't anything to  do but sit on the bench and wait, keep the kids focused and give my shooters some advice on where to aim their shots.  Shot, save, shot, save, shot, save.  It went on for an interminably long time.  Finally my top sniper scored on a bullet of a shot.  This was it!  One more save and they'd done it.  Now, remember that young kid I told you about earlier in goal?  I couldn't help but think what a treat this would be for him. I'd seen him bullied and picked on by a few kids in the community and I had seen him rise above it and help take his team a heck of a long way.  This was his moment just as much as everyone else's on the team.  And a heck of a crowd was watching.

In an instant it was over.  A hard short for sure but right into the numbers.  He caught the ball and hung on firmly for the win.  His win.  Their win.

Now, the next several minutes remain a bit of a blur with all that jumping, back slapping and celebrating.  I do remember a funny moment where me and one of my players attempted a high-5 and missing in our excitement, bopping each other on the nose.

You can read my original blogpost here if you like.  People always ask me what I like most about my time spent in Nunavut.  Yes, the scenery is magnificent and I'm not sure how many photos I have of certain mountain backdrops or snowy vistas.  But it is this one human element that I think I will always remember and cherish the most.

Now, whenever I hear someone say something is impossible or a waste of time, I catch myself know, there was this one group of kids I worked with one year when I was in Nunavut.....and they accomplished great things.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Art of the Possible Part 1

I happened across a photo off of Facebook recently that caught my attention in many ways.  It's from a small community on Baffin Island in Nunavut where I worked before moving to Alberta.  On the surface, it may not appear that interesting to the average members playing some traditional Inuit games to pass the time during the dark season.

What caught my attention was actually up in the rafters.  See that sports banner hanging up there on the right-hand side?  It has a story to tell.  And what a great story it is.  If you've ever thought something was impossible, if you ever thought you weren't good enough, if you ever thought that, despite your best effort, you just weren't up to the challenge, than this simple banner has quite a story behind it.  Its a story that bears repeating and I suspect I will one day sit my grandchildren down and recount it fondly to them as well.

Back in 2006 I was into my second year of teaching in the remote community of Arctic Bay (remote being a relative term for I never really felt that remote).  I had started coaching indoor soccer the year before as a way of honing my leadership skills and interacting with the kids outside of the classroom.  Unfortunately for us, the realities being as they are, the gym facility we had was far from adequate....freezing cold on some winter days and less than half the size of the gym we played in for our tournaments in Iqaluit.  Ultimately, all that didn't matter.  We built a great team.

More roadblocks lay ahead.  As one of the smaller teams participating in the Baffin Regionals, I'm sure we were often viewed by some as "that little team from the middle of nowhere that we have to climb over to get to the next round of play."  Indeed, during our first tournament in 2005, we had a few close games but also saw our share of lop-sided scores in favour of the competition.  The kids put in a lot of work and it was deflating to travel such a long distance, sleep 3 nights on a classroom floor and lose games by 6,7 or 8 goals.  Iqaluit, where we had to fly to for these tournaments, is about 1230km south of Arctic Bay as the crow flies.    That would be like flying from Toronto to the Tennessee/Alabama/Mississippi border....just to play one single tournament......within your own school district.

I returned from that 2005 with a lofty goal: 2006 would be different.  We wouldn't go there just to participate.  We would take the game to competition.  We would bring home gold.   We were fortunate in that we had among us a solid core upon which I felt a pretty competitive team could be built.  I upped practice times from once a week to 2-3 times a week.  In a small community with a gym that it used for several different community functions, this wasn't always.  I took any and every extra time I could find in the rec. schedule.  I looked up drills online, read articles and networked the best I could given our extreme northern location.  Finally, to show the kids I was serious and determined, I stayed that entire summer in the community without flying south for summer vacation.  I'm sure a few people thought I was crazy for doing this and indeed I found over the course of that year that the biggest negative I faced was the attitudes of some other adults.  Why the heck are you doing this, Darcy? they would ask.  It's not worth it.  It's just a waste of time.

I have to admit it wasn't easy.  Getting up for an early practice in the middle of winter  in -30C and        -40C temperatures to go to a cold gym (heat could be hit and miss at times) I did face self-doubt. I'm sure there were times when they tired of my seemingly endless drills. (But WHY are we doing THIS?  Didn't we do this last practice??)  I know I drove them crazy with stopping play to point things out or to work on different offensive and defensive strategies.  Up to this point the kids had just played.  I did my best to help them think about what they were doing and why and to anticipate opposing moves.  It was a new way of doing things for them and I could feel their frustration with me at times.  There were times when I grew frustrated too.  But regardless of weather, fatigue, frustration, nay-sayers or what have you, the kids kept I did too.

I did have to ask myself at times too if this was just something I wanted.  Was I just doing this for myself.  But no.  Over the course of the year, I began to notice a fundamental shift in the players' thinking.  I could tell from their demeanour, enthusiasm and hard work that this was something they wanted.  I like to think I can give some pretty good pep talks but that will only take you so far.  Heading into the new school year I knew they believed our goal was possible too.

That summer I ordered in brand new uniforms and worked with the rec. department to get new soccer nets....ones that were a lot closer in size to the ones they'd be dealing with in Iqaluit.

When's the next practice?  When's the tournament?  When are we going to Iqaluit?  I lost track of how many times these questions were asked.  In the end the kids didn't care what others said.  They didn't care the gym was cold (most days anyway).  They didn't care about how small our gym was.  They were too focused taking their game to the competition.  

While all the team players were great I do have to give credit to one young man in particular.....our team goalie.  Starting out, we actually didn't have a regular net minder and this was a real sticking point for some time.  One young lad, who I believe was 12 at the time, started showing up for practices before I drew up my final roster and quickly began to make an impression.  He had really put on a growth spurt over the past year but he was quiet kid and just needed more confidence in himself I felt.  He turned out to be pretty agile and initially he made a hell of a foreward, with great ball control, and he could make kids much older than him have to work pretty hard to keep on him to strip the ball away.  Eventually, he started playing defence.  And hi blocking skills blew me away.  Those kids can kick that ball pretty hard I can tell you and I know I wouldn't want to be the one blocking some of those shots.  This kid took it everywhere, stomach, shoulders and I don't know how many times he took a hard one in the face and kept soldiering on.  Eventually I took him aside and tried to convince him to play goal.  He liked the idea of scoring goals, as every kid does at that age, so he was lukewarm at first.  But gradually, as he got more comfortable in net and the other players began to see him as our goalie, I knew we had our man.

November rolled around, meaning tournament time was just around the corner.  Another challenge was that in such a small community, the kids all know each other and, having played team sports in school, they tend to know, and get used to, each other's playing style.  I wanted to get as much competition for them as I could so I even had practices where I played with them (don't laugh, I think I didn't do too badly) and I invited a few high school kids as well.  The last couple practices I put together a team of high school students, plus a couple girls that wanted to join in plus myself. They had fun but they also worked very hard.

Finally departure day came.  I was thinking a lot about this tournament but I was also starting to become distracted by the weather.  In a community like Arctic Bay, their is no radar at the airport, and the airport at the time was situated several feet above sea level in mountainous terrain. Low cloud basically meant no flight.  It was a cloudy morning so I knew it could be touch and go.  Sadly, the forces of nature don't care about things like soccer tournaments and we were told that there was no way a plane could safely land and take off.

I conferred with our rec. director who told me that if the weather cleared the next day we could still make it down on time.  I tried to think positively but I knew the kids were deflated to know they weren't going that morning.  Usually when inclement weather hits it sticks around for more than one day.  That was my experience at least.  Things didn't look good.

You had to be kidding me, I thought.  After all their hard work and all those hours, we get this?  We had to get there.  They had just put in too much hard work.  I knew there was always the following day.....but would we actually be able to get out?


Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Black Hole of Ick

Today was supposed to be a quiet day  I had done all my running around yesterday.  Other than having an installer in this morning for a quote on a bathroom floor, I had no other plans.  (The installer was quick to tell me it would be up to me to get the toilet off and fix the squeaks in the floor before the new linoleum went in.)  It's been pretty quiet around the house lately with one tenant away and another working midnights.  I bumped into one of them this morning who offered to take me downtown to pick up a new toilet for the bathroom I've been slowly puttering away at.  At first I hedged but then I figured I might as well take him up on the offer and just get it taken care of.

I figured I'd haul off the old throne so I could finish painting the wall in behind.  That was when things got interesting.  To cut a long story short, we spent the better part of an hour getting it off.  Who knew something with just two bolts could be so challenging.  It was a tight squeeze to get down into the corner just to disconnect the water feed.  The bolts were also fun.  I'm sure the toilet, a big old clunker, has been sitting there since it was first installed when the house was built around 1981 or so.  The nuts were so rusted they pretty much disintegrated after a single tug with the vice-grips.  Scenes from that old Tom Hanks movie "The Money Pit" danced through my head.  Getting the bolts out was fun, let's just say and in the end up. after a few bad words I used my tenants saws-all to fix that little problem.  We hauled off the old throne to reveal the "black hole of Ick".

Yes, it was pretty malodorous to say the least.  I was able to finish up some painting behind the toilet.  The old flooring had perhaps a 2 inch lip to it up the sides of a couple walls so I was able to cut some flooring away and get rid of the unpainted gap along the bottom.

The new toilet is much smaller and efficient and I'll get that put in right after the new floor goes down.  In the mean time, what to do with the old toilet?  So distracted were we with getting the darned bolts off that we failed to notice there was still quite a bit of water left in it.  Very carefully, we managed to get it out of the bathroom, down the stairs and out the front door....

....where it makes a very interesting lawn ornament at the moment.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Goals and Anticipations

I'm not really one to make New Years resolutions.  I guess I'm too much of a student of history to view things in small yearly durations, opting instead to look at broader sweeps of time.   But I do have a few broad goals in mind that I've been working on lately so I thought I'd share them here.

First off, I'm hoping to be able to work a little less this year (or at least until summer hits) and make more time for myself).  The nature of work being what it is here, its pretty easy to burn yourself out if you're not careful.  I'm not sure how many 18-day shifts I worked since last Spring but it was quite a few.  Add in several 12 hour days and it can be draining.  Long days I'm well-used to from my days in the reserves and army and sea cadets and even university and cold days of course I'm quite accustomed to after having spent 10+ years living in two territories and the northern portions of 3 provinces.  Still, while I like to think I have more gas in the tank than guys 20 years younger than me, a knowing when to tone things down and get your down time in is always a smart move.   Since I will only be working one out of the first 6 days of the calendar year I'd like to think I'm off to a good start on this front already.

The one big thing I am looking forward to this Spring (which ties into my first goal too), is some much anticipated time off in April.  I'm planning to head back to Ontario, which will be my first time leaving Alberta in almost 4 years, to see my son.  He'll be turning two in March and I haven't seen him for over a year.  Truthfully I think I spent too much time this past year beating myself up over the idea of being incapable of being a parent.  Lately I've come to realize sometimes the circumstances of life can put you in certain situations and while they may not be pleasant you push ahead and do what you can because ultimately it is my love for my son that guides me in many decisions that I make.

On another note, I've already started my birding list for 2013 and I hope to get to at least 40 species this year.  I'm thinking my planned trip to Ontario will help as I can get an early jump on some Spring birds.    The another goal is to make a little more head way on a long-planned for book.  I have journals going back to late 2000 and of course I've been blogging since 2006.  I do have some material written out that I try to add to when I can.  I actually started writing it all down right after graduating teachers college.  I wasn't even in the North and I was already writing about it.  But in my defense, I was 25 at the time and still had a young man's ego.  I've kept in a very safe place, it's just a matter of finding the time and discipline to get going on it.

Finally, without trying to give too much away or sounding too enigmatic, the coming year could see a  major change of direction for me.  A big opportunity that would be the fulfillment of a goal I've been pursuing for perhaps five years now could potentially come to fruition.  And if it doesn't it will be a great learning experience toward building up for when it does happen.  It all depends on how things pan out in the next 5-6 months and perhaps a wee bit of luck.