Saturday, April 30, 2016

Set No Limits

Back in the fall of 2001 I left a teaching position in the Northwest Territories to begin teaching grade 6 in a small fly-in community in northern Manitoba.  Northern Canada was still very much an alien place to me back then and I'm sure I appeared very much to be an alien to the young charges for whom I found myself responsible.  

To say it was a difficult year would be an understatement.  I developed a rather serious skin rash due in part to the community being under a "boil water advisory" for the entire school year.  A close relative of one of my students was murdered.  A young pre-school girl was tragically run over by her school bus and killed.   I recall one day after sitting at my desk in empty class in tears as I questioned my roll and purpose after a day where it appeared blatantly obvious that despite my best intentions, I was failing to get through to my students.  Suffice it to say, it was a year of many challenges.

If there was one bright spot that year, it was that I was privileged to have a young girl in my class named Nicole.    While she was the smallest girl in the class, she had the biggest personality, always smiling, a great communicator and very determined to succeed, easily one of those students you feel fortunate, indeed honoured, to have had the opportunity to work with.   I knew back then that this girl had "university-bound" written all over her.   

It is often said that in education you're dealing with long-term investments in people and so you don't see the result until much later.  I left the community not knowing what the future would hold for her but trusting that her determination and hard work would pay off in the end, even if the result would never be known to me. was.

With the growth of social media, I was able to get back in touch with Nicole a few years later and was quite thrilled to learn that she had been accepted in to an undergraduate program at the University of Brandon.  Her strong work ethic was paying dividends.  I'm sure transitioning from a remote community to a university town was no easy task.  Certainly I can relate to that as leaving my small Ontario town for a major city to attend school posed challenges for me as well.  

Challenges, but also opportunities.  As it was clear that Nicole had every intention on making good on the opportunities she had.  As it turned out, her undergraduate degree was just a warm up for the Bachelor of Education program she later enrolled in.  Nicole was setting her sights on becoming a teacher herself and to say I was really damned proud of her would be a colossal understatement.

Fast forward to Spring 2016 and she is no longer the young girl with the long brown hair I remember her as, though I'm sure the big smile I remember remains.  As I write this, Nicole stands on the cusp of graduating with a Bachelor of Education degree.  

Words fail me at times, and this is one of them. so, using the excuse of a being a gushing former teacher of hers, I will proudly defer to her own words as I feel she expresses herself very well...

Graduation will be May 27, 2016.  It took quite awhile to get to where I am today.  Believing in yourself and determination and get you through anything!  I am glad I got to do my last placement in my hometown and possible employment with Frontier School Division as a teacher in the near have the potential to become whatever you want - set no limits and just do it!

Nicole, I wish you all the very best :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Conspiracy Afoot

If I wasn't such a logical thinker (or at least I like to fancy myself as one) I might be forgiven for thinking there was a conspiracy afoot.  The washer, my bookshelf (or lack thereof, to be more accurate) and even the provincial government seemed to be in cahoots regarding my overtime.  (Honestly, I'm NOT a government conspiracy nut... a self-professed political geek, yes but a surly anti-government Albertan, no).

Ah overtime,  it's rather like hen's teeth these days given the current economic volatility.  But it does exist, even if it doesn't make its presence known as much as it once did.  I haven't worked overtime in so long I can actually still remember the last time I did.  Almost to the exact day, back in late October of 2014.  Ouch.

But given the sum of everything, I really have no right to complain.  I know I'm not hurting as much as a lot of other people here and for that I am very grateful.  But overtime appeared (knock on wood) on the ephemeral overtime horizon this coming weekend and I put in for as many days as my employer sees fit to give me.  Five days would be amazing.  Two days is likely realistic.....and two is at least better than zero.

It was the perfect weekend for it too.  Despite today's rain, the forecast for the upcoming weekend was looking downright ambrosial and I wouldn't have to make any big payments out of my next cheque which was downright sublime.  Of course, that's how it all appeared to me yesterday when I put in my overtime request.

Tonight I got home to learn that my washing machine had finally died on me.  Guess what I'll be spending my overtime pay on now?  It's all good though.  The contraption had lasted me for as long as I've owned the house, which was a great deal longer than it's dryer companion did.   And it gives me a good excuse to buy a nice front-end loader.  (When I was 20, owning a concert grand piano and a custom stereo system were, in my mind, symptomatic of having "arrived".  At 40+ that has now evidently changed to owning a front-end loading washing machine.  But they DO have lots of fancy lights and buttons and that can be cool, right?)

I was a bit tired and water-logged from work so I didn't have much energy to fret over it for any length of time.  But at least now that I need a new washer figured I might as well get a new dryer, a new microwave to replace the one over the stove that gave up the ghost a couple months ago and, hey why not?, a decent set of bookshelves for all the books I've accumulated over the past 6 years.

It's been awhile since I've bought any big ticket items for the chateau so I figure it's better to get it done all in one shot if I can do so rather than die a death from a thousand cuts.  (The province also releases their budget tomorrow which I will be following closely, even if I don't blog about it, so apparently they were also in on this one with the appliances.  I suspect I won't be happy with tomorrow's budget which is why I'll just mention it now as an aside and we'll just leave it at that.)

But as my parents would tell me, sometimes you have to spend money to make money and given that I've also read that the rental vacancy rates here are something along the lines of 32%(!)  I'll gladly take a few lumps to keep my tenants happy (and in clean clothes).

Friday, April 8, 2016


We weren't biologically related.  But that never mattered.  In the end, I was always treated like a grandson.  He wore many hats during his life and was known by many names, as a father, a grandfather, Sgt. Beamish among others.  To me, though, he was quite simply, Cliff.

A sad day it was to learn he had died in his sleep a few days ago but a great life lived and I never tired of hearing all his great stories, whether they be about his time in uniform or his service in Germany. (No doubt he would be proud to know that my nephew, the only great grandson he met, will be graduating basic training for the air force in the coming days.)  One tale he was always fond of relating was leaving Whitehorse, YK for a posting overseas and having to drive all the way to Halifax, NS with family in tow in a mere 5 days.  Its one of those epic tales of family lore that grew with each recounting.

He taught me how to play cribbage and it was an activity I enjoyed with him well in to his autumn years.  I seldom won and we always joked that he must somehow be cheating.  This always elicited a deep baritone laugh that I will always miss.  I recall only beating him once....and I really had to work for it.

While he slowed down considerably toward the end of his life and was hit with dementia and survived open heart surgery in his 80's, he was always a man full of life.  In many ways he seemed bigger than life.  I recall once seeing an old photo of him taken shortly after the war I believe of Cliff in his uniform along with Grandma Ferne happy and full of life.  They were married for well over 60 years, something that is becoming a rarity in this day and age.

Thanks for all those epic cribbage matches, Cliff.

Thanks your humour, your stories and your laughter.

Thanks for being YOU.

Thanks for accepting a 10-year-old kid as your own grandson.  You will be greatly missed.

Rest easy, good soldier.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Elephant in the Room

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year and change, its hard to ignore the fact that the price of oil tanked (no pun intended) and things are very different from the way the used to be.  Paradoxically, I've found work very busy the past few weeks due to plant outages and maintenance but I'm wary of the fact the despite the steady work it isn't all sunshine and roses.  November through most of January was actually very slow and I found myself getting anxious at times about the proverbial hammer falling.  Indeed I've seen a number of people who have decided to move on or who have been laid off by my own employer so far this year.  Two of my three tenants actually work for the same company I do and I count myself extremely fortunate that I haven't lost any tenants through all of this.  I'm not sure too many landlords here can say that.

Truth be told all the economic turmoil was one of the reasons prompting me to go on the little concert hiatus over the past several weeks.  Seeing gloom and doom all over the press and seeing how things slowed down locally, I felt it was a good time to recharge the batteries by rekindling old passions for    music.

In a moment of bravado, I joked at work that my job was lay-off proof because the lay-down yard I normally work occupies a strategic location such that it would be downright foolish for Suncor to do away with it.  Of course, the yard needs to be there, the guy in it not so much.  So it was a bit of a shock to find myself relocated to a different part of the plant a couple weeks ago as "my yard" wasn't going to be as busy for the shut-downs (maintenance work) going on at the moment.  In all likelihood, I'll find myself back in my old stomping grounds eventually, but that won't happen until sometime later this summer.  It just goes to shoe you that nowadays ANYTHING can happen and nothing is predictable, if it ever was to begin with.

At the moment, I just try to make the best of things.  There's no sense in fretting over something I have no control of.   I don't make make the money I used to a couple years ago but money has never been that important to me other than it relieves the stress of not being self-sufficient and it allows me to see the odd little concert.  I'm grateful that my stable rental situation has allowed me to offset less hours at work.  I certainly don't mind fewer hours as I find it much easier on both mind and body.