Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween from the North!

Well, I suppose the one good thing about being too old to go trick-or-treating is that you no longer have to try to design your Halloween costume to fit over your snowpants. At -25°C with the windchill this Halloween, you would need all the protective snowgear you could get.  Luckily, if you are not trick-or-treating and you are just going to a Halloween party, then you don't have to worry about this. You only have to worry about getting from the door to your car to the door.  That is, of course, the only good thing about being too old to go trick-or-treating, because everything else about it is simply tragic.

Our wine and cheese Halloween costume, which would not have fit over snow pants 

Our Halloween costumes were home-made as usual.  It took many nights of sewing, cutting and taping.  Halloween costumes in Cambridge Bay take a lot of advanced planning. You can't just decide on one at the last minute. There aren't massive Halloween costume warehouses located here, as you might imagine, so you either have to order a costume online to be shipped to you, weeks ahead of time, or you have to start making your costume early, gathering the necessary supplies which are often not very easy to find.  For my cheese and rob's cork hat, we found blankets for sale at the Northern grocery store and tore them apart for fabric.   I had my friend bring back yellow tights for me from Yellowknife.

Building our costume out of cardboard boxes.   

Luckily, our costumes turned out well. We showed them off at a local Halloween house party.

That pirate behind me looks hungry for cheese!

the best costume at the party. He really looked like a baby!

My vote on the scariest costume.

Our resident deejay / court jester, sucking on a shooter syringe while spinning dance tracks

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

setting the clocks

These days, I've been secretly hoping for a blizzard. Okay, maybe not so secretly.  I'll be standing outside in front of my house, in the 80km/h gusting wins, performing a blizzard dance. Willing the skies to bring forth a snow day off work. Engaged in an uneasy stare-down with someone's trashed snowmobile windshield on my lawn, wondering which gust of wind will finally pick it up and hurl it in my face.

Come on, sky.
Give me a blizzard.

But it never happens. We didn't have a snow day for the entire winter last year.  They tell me it's been too cold, and it doesn't actually snow enough. It's too bad. snow days were always fun when we got the day off school, and they're still fun when you get the day off work.

Instead, we get beautiful skies and a lot of strong winds.

"high noon"

There was a power outage the other day. It was a startling reminder at just how unprepared we can be when these things happen, and just how dependent we are on all these artificial things to create a cozy, comfortable, and totally unnatural habitat for ourselves in the middle of the Arctic.  My immediate thoughts were as follows:

Oh well, I can do the dishes by candle light.
Wait, I think we use electricity to pump out the water and keep it heated. 
Maybe we should save the water and not do the dishes.
Maybe I can heat up some dinner.
Wait, I can't heat up dinner.
Wait, we can't keep anything heated at all. Are we going to freeze to death?
I should call someone to ask them what they do to stay warm.
Oh right, the cordless phone needs electricity to work.
I should look this up on the Internet.
Wait, the modem won't work.
I suppose I can just read to pass the time.
It's too dark too read, since the sun is already setting.
I should light some candles.
Where are the candles?

 Luckily, the power wasn't out for too long.   Soon enough, we had electricity again.  The black-out seemed to cause all sorts of chaos with the clocks and electric appliances throughout town though.  Some people complain that their computers, phones, and modems were on the blink. The clocks are all wrong, even after fixing them.  It's all very odd.

Ever since moving up here, even before the power outage, I've noticed the curious phenomenon of the clocks. They're all wrong. They all follow their own time.  Even when you set them again, after a while, all the clocks in the house go back to following their own time, with several minutes' differences. I have no idea what.  My friend theorized that it's because we're so close to the magnetic north pole, and it's got all the clocks bent all whack. I don't understand this theory.

I have another friend who says it's because the entire town runs on dirty diesel power, which is not constant and often goes out in these fits of surges that result on a power supply that is not totally steady.  I don't understand this either, but it seems more likely, perhaps.

Either way, it's a little odd, slipping into my office, noting that my desk phone reads 8:55, my laptop reads 9:02, while my watch says 9:03.  I never thought that I would be Googling "what time is it" so often.

the Bay

This weekend we'll be re-setting our clocks to adjust it to Daylight Savings Time.  I'm not sure what the point is here in Nunavut. It's not like there's much daylight to save. In less than a month, the sun won't be rising above the horizon at all.

the ocean, freezing over

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nunavut election results

Yesterday was voting day for the territorial elections here in Nunavut. A lot of people have been busy setting up, campaigning, and making sure voters were registered to vote. You can see the results for all of the constituencies here, but here in Cambridge Bay, Keith Peterson was re-elected as MLA. He has been the MLA here for the past eight years, and rumour has it that in preparation for voting day, he personally visited the homes of every single registered voter. That's a lot of visiting.

In other constituencies, Premier Eva Aariak lost her seat in her Iqaluit riding, (source: CBC) Two of the constituencies have tied results. Former premier Paul Okalik has been re-elected. Only 6 of the 22 MLAs were re-elected.

As I've mentioned before, I wasn't eligible to vote this year, but it was very interesting to watch the electoral process. A lot of folks were enthusiastic about elections. Last week, workers were standing outside in the -20°C weather, holding signs to remind people to register to vote. You could see their breath turning into steam in the cold as they talked to each passerby. That's determination.

Most impressively, Cambridge Bay had a 101.6% voter turnout rate, which is unbelievable. It means that more people showed up to vote than were originally registered on the list. You just don't see those kinds of numbers in other elections. Can you imagine if we saw that kind of voter turnout rate in the federal elections? Or this kind of enthusiasm?

A lot of my friends weren't eligible to vote this election because they didn't meet the 12-month residency requirement or were not Canadian citizens, but they also appreciated being able to witness the process. My friend C. told me that she really enjoyed watching it all unfold. She grew up in Myanmar (Burma) when there weren't any elections. Since moving to North America, she hasn't been able to vote, but she says it's still neat to see how it happens.

Friday, October 25, 2013

clear skies

Well, the sun is up for about 8 hours these days, but in a month it won't be coming up at all. For now, we're getting some really beautiful sunsets and sunrises. I'm really glad that the skies have cleared up after so many weeks of cloudy weather. It makes for some beautiful skylines during the day and northern lights & starry skies in the evening. I just need to remember to keep taking photos!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Jam Jar Words

The literary arts site Jam Jar Words has just published the lyrics to my song "Pyongyang" as part of their Local Lyrics Month series! You can check it out at this link.

Pyongyang is one of my favourite songs that I've written. It's dedicated to my maternal grandmother. There are several versions of it floating around the internet:

with the full band:

the retro video game 8-bit remix:

the most recent performance, a stripped down solo version:

Monday, October 21, 2013

house show!

We had a little concert in our living room over the weekend. It was really fun! I don't get a lot of opportunities to perform live in Cambridge Bay, so I really enjoyed it.


More photos here.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nunavut elections

Territorial elections are happening this year at the end of October, and we have three candidates running to become the next Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), representing Cambridge Bay. This is Nunavut's fourth election.

I've just finished watching the entire West Wing series, and campaigning in Nunavut does not look like American presidential campaigning, pulling up wearing a suit in a limousine and speaking from a microphone to a crowd of a thousand cheering people while a marching band plays.  Nope.  Campaigning in Nunavut means putting on your warm snow parka and wool toque and boots, and marching around on the ice, talking to local folks about whatever is on their mind at the Quick Stop.

 Campaigning in Nunavut also means putting up posters at the bulletin boards of the local Co-op grocery store:

Politics in a small town is interesting, because everyone knows everyone.  Everyone knows everyone's dirt. One of the most fascinating things I find about the political system in Nunavut is that it runs as a consensus government with no political parties. From what I understand, this system is done in Canada in many places where the population is aboriginal

It is really interesting to see how politics works without political parties.  From what I understand, MLAs are elected as independents, which kind of means the 22 MLAs are each their own individual party. Also, the areas are single member districts.  In order to win an election, the candidate must win the simple voter plurality. Because there are no political parties, electoral candidates must raise campaign funds on their own, such as Nunavut businesses or their own money.

The lack of political parties also mean that once the Members of the Legislative Assembly are voted in, they have to choose the next Cabinet positions as well as speaker and premier. I can only imagine that this is an interest process. According to a very reliable political sources called Wikipedia, in consensus-type governments, policies are decided by majority vote, so the government has to present policies that will please a majority of the legislature in order to be approved.

I am just two months' shy of the residency requirement to vote in this election, but I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to observe the process.  This week, there was an open forum which gave the public a chance to ask the three electoral candidates questions in order to help them decide who they want to vote for.

Some people complained about the timing of the candidates' forum, which was at the same time as bingo.  Bingo is very popular here. Despite this, there was a big turnout for the event.  People were clearly interested in talking about political issues.

filming the event
 I was impressed by the fact that they had an interpreter set up for simultaneous translation for the  elders that only understand Inuinnaqtun.  There have been visible efforts to make sure that the Inuinnaqtun-speaking elders are included in the political process. A mobile poll has been set up for family members who cannot get out of the house, in order to allow them to be able to vote, with the availability of assistance from the Inuinnaqtun interpreter. 

listening to simultaneous translation

The forum touched on a number of topics that were very important to Cambridge Bay residents, including housing, mental health, addictions, tourism, education, mining, and infrastructure development.  It seems that the big political issues tend to be local even though it's a territorial election.  People wanted to know what the candidates would do for Cambridge Bay, and what kind of support they would get from the government for Cambridge Bay.

The candidates were asked questions such as what did they think were the biggest challenges in the community, and how did they propose to deal with it? The candidates talked about substance abuse, housing, and education, and proposed different approaches.  The candidates were asked about what they would do to maximize the community benefits of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station that was being installed in the community, or preparing the community for mining development.  There was also discussion of the preservation of traditional Inuit culture, especially the language, and how to increase services for the elders in the community. The public asked the candidates for their thoughts on the community's problems of youth vandalism.  The topic of suicide was also raised, which was a sensitive subject, as one could imagine. The very mention of suicide quickly caused a number of people in the audience to be filled with tears.

The moderator

Candidate Clara Evalik

Candidate Keith Peterson, who has has been Cambridge Bay's MLA for the past two terms

Candidate Fred Pederson

I was glad that I attended the forum, even if I don't get to vote. It not only allowed me to see what the electoral process in Nunavut is like, without political parties, but it also highlighted for me what is on the community's mind.  The impression that I got was that people do care about what happens to the community.  I was impressed to see that most people stayed at the forum until the very end, even though it ended later in the night (and even though bingo was happening with a $6000 jackpot!). They wanted to see what was going to happen.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Where to Shop Online if You Live in Nunavut

There aren't many (any?) shopping malls in Nunavut. In most communities, our shopping is done at the local Northern or the Co-op, which are predominantly grocery stores that also feature an aisle of other random items like basic clothes, video games and guns.  These stores carry more supplies than I'd originally expected, but sometimes there are things we do need or want that they don't have, so we tend to spend a lot of time shopping online.  And after a while, you start to get a feel for online stores that 1. actually deliver to Nunavut and 2. offer cheap or free shipping to do so.  Finding stores that meet these criteria at all is harder than you think.  Some stores advertise "We ship for free anywhere in Canada!" but add in small print "but not to Nunavut, ha ha you suckers." I'm looking at you, and Forever21.  Why you gotta be like that? Nunavut is so a part of Canada. Nunavut is a large part of Canada. Thanks for being that company, the one that offers free services everywhere but to the country's poorest region that needs it the most.

The reason why shipping costs are a big deal is because all supplies must be brought by airplane (there are no truck deliveries in Nunavut), and the airlines generally charge according to weight and volume. The costs add up pretty quickly because there are only a few flights that come in every day, so there is precious little real estate.

An additional obstacle are companies that insist you use "real" physical addresses rather than P.O. boxes.  Everyone uses P.O. boxes here. Nobody gets their stuff delivered to their house.  Even if I gave you my physical address, the courier companies would never find it because 1. my house has no house numbers 2. my street has no street sign.  It all goes to the post office.  So generally you have to try to get away with writing your address as something like "123 Fake Street, Apartment XXX", xxx being your post office box number.  The post office folks understand the code.  They're good people.  Companies need to understand how rural mail works.

Anyway, with that aside, here is a list that I've compiled of online shops that deliver to Nunavut, often for cheap or free.

(Note: most of the shipping rates I quote are for standard shipping. Express shipping probably costs more and is pointless because usually it doesn't actually come any faster. Also, shipping rates may change at any time so make sure you check for yourself).

Sometimes I wonder if it's only a matter of time before these companies go, "What? Who is this rungloriarun that is increasing our sales in Nunavut and forcing us to lose profits in shipping costs? Time to shut this baby down. FREE SHIPPING TO ANYWHERE IN CANADA (except Nunavut, ha ha you suckers)."

  • Amazon: Amazon is my favourite site for shopping, because they offer free shipping anywhere full stop for orders over $25. And you can get pretty much anything from Amazon, from books to cookie cutters to body suits. I order most of my music on vinyl from Amazon. My friends give me heck for not ordering directly from the record label, but honestly, it's hard to argue with FREE SHIPPING.

  • Costco: Costco used to offer free unlimited shipping to Nunavut, but too many people were ordering entire bedroom sets and treadmills to be shipped up, so no more unlimited free shipping. But they still do ship a lot of stuff for free to Nunavut, so it's worth looking at.

  • Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC): Offers free shipping to Nunavut on orders over $50.  It is easy to spend over $50 at MEC, and in fact, what exactly can you get under $50 at MEC? This is great, because MEC carries a lot of things that you'll find you'll need in Nunavut, especially out on the land.

  • David's Tea: Free shipping to Nunavut on orders over $50. That's a lot of tea, you might think, but you just order your year's supply at once and you have something tasty to keep you warm through the cold Arctic winters. Also, free samples of loose leaf tea with every order!

  • Sephora: Free shipping to Nunavut on orders over $75. For all your makeup needs.

  • asos: Fashion clothing company based in the UK but ships for free to a bunch of countries including Canada. I don't see a "but not Nunavut" exception in the shipping policy, probably because most places outside of Canada haven't heard of Nunavut (which is a good thing in this case!)

  • lululemon: Free shipping to Nunavut...also, they explicitly mentions that they do ship to P.O. boxes and rural addresses in Canada. Win!

  • Running Room: Free shipping to Nunavut on orders over $150.. And, when I last ordered from them, my order came with a nice little handwritten note, which is pretty sweet.

  • Best Buy: Same day free shipping on orders over $20 (which, you know, is like everything)

  • Future Shop: Pretty much the same deal as Best Buy.

  • Dell: Free ground shipping on everything with no minimum purchase. I don't see a Nunavut exception so I assume it includes Nunavut, even if you can't get there by ground.

  • The Shopping Channel: at the time of this writing, this company offers "Free Shipping On Almost Everything When You Spend over $100" limited to all items with a shipping weight of 25lbs or less. However, the site notes that courier shipping requires a physical street number and address (no P.O. boxes), and does contain the line "Should your address fall outside normal delivery areas, you will be contacted and informed of any additional shipping charges", so keep your eyes open.

  • Old Navy, The Gap & Banana Republic: Free shipping to Nunavut on all orders over $50.


  • Smart Set: $7.50 flat rate shipping. Also, free returns.

  •  Meeplemart: For all your boardgaming needs! My board gaming friends all swear by Meeplemart as the cheapest place in Canada to order board games. It's a company based in Toronto, and they ship reasonably quickly and cheaply. Our last order cost us only about $10 in shipping, which is pretty good.

  • Bluenotes:  They have a wide variety of clothes to choose from, and their shipping costs are a steal - often between $5-8, even if you are ordering a whole new wardrobe change because you realize that summer dresses are no good in the Arctic. 

  • La Senza: from my research, I have found that between La Senza, La Vie En Rose, and Victoria's Secret, it's La Senza that offers the cheapest shipping prices for their clothes - a flat $9 rate, even to Nunavut.

  • Ricki's: As in the clothing store. Offers shipping to Nunavut for $9.95.

  • Mark's Work Warehouse: Flat shipping rate of $6.50. These guys carry felt-lined jeans, which are so key for Nunavut winters!

 I haven't ordered from some of these shop because the shipping prices are a little daunting, but my friends swear by these places, and at least they deliver to Nunavut.
  • Like Costco, used to ship for free anywhere in Canada, but they've now jumped on the "but not Nunavut, ha ha you suckers" trend. Which is too bad, because you can pretty much order anything from this site: gardening supplies, groceries, socks. But their shipping rates are based on the price of your order: $20 shipping for orders under $99.99, $40 shipping for orders between $100 and $199.99, $100 shipping for orders between $200 and $499.99, etc.  And I'm not going to drop $100 for shipping on a $200 order. Oh well.
  • Bed Bath and Beyond: Actually, these guys offer a pretty reasonable shipping rate that is based on a sliding scale according to the cost of your order ($9.50 shipping for order under $25, $10.90 shipping for orders under $50, $12.95 for orders under $75, and $14.95 for orders under $100, etc.). However, I have not ordered from here yet because I refuse to let myself get to the point where I admit that I am excited by sheets and things.

  • Asian Food Grocer: This site is awesome, especially since Asian cuisine ingredients are the things that I find I miss the most while I'm up here. You can order pocky. You can order wasabi. You can order pretty much anything you'd find at a T&T. Unfortunately, they ship from the States, so an order of $200 would cost us an extra $100 in shipping. Eep. For now, I just have my parents send us care packages full of kochukaru and thai curry powder, because they are awesome.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Canadian Thanksgiving in Nunavut

I read somewhere that the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving was all about the explorer Frobisher celebrating the fact that the land that is now known as Nunavut did not kill him. We too are grateful that Nunavut did not kill us and are happy to have spent our first Thanksgiving here in Nunavut with a bunch of friends who, as it turns out, are all great cooks.

I have strong feelings about turkey dinner and try to make sure I celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, no matter where I am. I have celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving while I was living in Europe. I have celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving while I was living in Africa. Thanksgiving in Nunavut was wonderful; we had less of a challenge finding turkey and cranberry sauce and we had fantastic company.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 11, 2013

new song!

Filmed in our laundry closet.

On an unrelated note, have a great Thanksgiving weekend!

Monday, October 7, 2013

how I caught the plague

"Good morning, Coda!" I called out to my neighbour's dog.  He didn't reply.  Something was wrong with him. He just lay there on the front porch, not moving.  I took a closer look.  The poor thing had gotten his leash completely tangled around the wooden planks of the porch and had been stuck in the same spot all night, helplessly watching the snow fall down on him with his dog house only a few feet away.

"Oh, you silly dog," I scolded him, tugging at his leash and freeing him.  Coda wagged his tail and celebrated his newfound freedom by jumping up on me. "Get off me, you goof!" I said, patting his back.

That was how I was convinced that I got the fleas.

It was that, or maybe from my friend's cats that I've been checking in on every few days while she's gone. Really, I don't know how I would have gotten fleas because Coda was out in subzero temperatures all night, and those cats never go outside.  But you know, it's just my luck that if there are bugs to be found, it's going to be me finding them, because one day I found myself scratching.

And scratching. And scratching.  Eventually I looked down and realized that it wasn't just a situation of dry skin. I had little red dots all over my skin.  All over my body.


All of a sudden I was a googling machine, searching for online answers in an information-gathering frenzy.

do i have fleas or allergies
what do flea bites look like
what do flea bites look like ON HUMANS
how do i get rid of fleas
bubonic plague
will fleas die in freezing temperatures
are there fleas in the arctic

(Terrifyingly, this is the first hit that comes up for that question. I'm sure it's a hoax, but it's still a frightening thing to see.)

I compared the photos on the internet to my skin.   These bumps looked an awful lot like flea bites.

"Maybe you are just turning into a zombie," one Internet friend suggested helpefully.

I had the same first instinct that grown adult does when they face a situation they don't know how to solve.  I wanted to call my mom and whine. I am making this your problem now, Mom, deal with it!

Unfortunately, the phone lines were down.  Our landline hasn't been working all week, actually, ever since the phone company sent a technician to "fix it".  But now my cell phone had no reception either, which means I didn't have the option of calling my mom and forcing her to solve all my problems from 3000 kilometres away. It also meant I couldn't call my husband either, who was out with his boss for the night.

So I dealt with the situation by cracking open a can of beer.

That didn't actually solve the problem. I have a mild allergy to alcohol that causes my skin to get hotter, and,

lo and behold, itchier.

Perhaps I should seek some medical advice on dealing with this.  Unfortunately, I was living in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and the health station was closed for the weekend.  We have no hospitals, walk-in clinics, or Telehealth Ontario. There was a nurse that was on call for emergencies...but you'd have to have a working phone to call the nurse on call.   Also, I wasn't sure flea bites constituted an emergency, as miserable as the itching was making me. The pharmacy was also closed for the entire weekend as well, so I wasn't going to be able to buy any sort of ointment to relieve the itching. Oh, Nunavut.

So I went back to the Internet to figure out how to deal with the fleas. The Internet told me:

Take a shower.
Do the laundry.
Vacuum the house.

(The Internet sounds a lot like my mom, actually, or me, when I'm bossing my husband around.)

I took the shower. It was a cold shower, because hot water made me itchier.  The bumps had spread all over my body.  I was afraid to put on pants, because the fabric rubbing my skin would only irritate things further.  I often don't want to wear pants, but rarely am I afraid to put on pants.

Then it was time to do the laundry, in order to make sure no nasty fleas were living and laying eggs in my clothes.  I have caught bedbugs numerous times before while traveling, so I am familiar with the routine of washing every article of clothes I've brought with me. However, when you are not in a backpackers' hostel but rather your own home where you have a lot of clothes, laundry becomes a daunting task. Not so much because it's a lot of work, but because, well, that's a lot of water to use up when you don't have a huge water supply.  The general rule is to do only one load of laundry a day, because otherwise you might run out of water.  I definitely had more than one load of laundry to do.  I did not want to run out of water.

I took the chance and did two loads.  Luckily, the water held out. For now.

I vacuumed every single damn inch of the house. I vacuumed the couch cushions. I vacuumed the vacuum. I took out the vacuum bag and threw it in the trash and then took the trash out.

I read somewhere that fleas like humid environments.  I turned off Herbie the Humidifier.  Luckily, the Arctic air is generally pretty dry.

I opened the windows because the cool air felt good on my tortured skin.  I was still not wearing pants; hopefully nobody was watching through the windows.

I had heard that fleas and flea eggs would die in freezing temperatures.  Thank God I lived in the Arctic.  It was early October and  -0.3°C outside, with a light dusting of snow on the ground.  The whole outdoors was a freezer, ready to be used.

I dragged out every single pillow we owned and dumped it on our front porch. I pulled out the couch cushions,  I tossed out my shoes, coat, and purse.

It was in the middle of this crazed scene that my husband walked in, winding his way around the garbage bag that I had thrown on the front porch. (I hadn't taken it out all the way to the garbage bins because I wasn't wearing pants, and even when completely covered in insightly bumps, a lady must have dignity.)

"What is going on?" he demanded.
"I have fleas!" I whined, dramatically extending my arm for him to see.
"You don't have fleas. That's a rash."
"It's fleas!" I insisted.
"If you have fleas, I would have fleas.  I don't have fleas."
"You don't?" I asked.
"I don't. You have a rash. Will you please bring the pillows back in the house?"

I paused.

"Well, at least I did the laundry," I said, trying the salvage the moment.
"Did you use fabric softener?" he asked, as he opened the dryer.
"Oops. I forgot."
"How do you forget that? It's an important part of the laundry process."
"Well, it's not like I forgot the laundry soap."
He held the sheet up to his nose and sniffed. "I think you forgot the laundry soap."

This is what happens when you leave me all alone on a Friday night.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Wanted to share some great news with you all. I recently won a prize for a writing competition held by NorthWords, for my short story "The Mercy of the Loon". What a surprise! It's going to be published in the Northern magazine above and beyond. I'll post the link to the article once it's up, but for those of you asking what my story was about, I'll tell you that involves kayaking. And a loon.

If you're interested in hearing me talk about it, I'm going to be on the CBC North radio show Trail's End today, interviewed by show host Allison Devereaux, at 5:40PM Mountain (that's 7:40PM EST).

A big thanks to my friends Erin Collins and Jared Davidson of Jam Jar Words for their editing assistance, and also to my ever-encouraging husband Rob. A special thanks to Bram and the Ikaluktutiak Paddling Association for inspiring me.

I miss kayaking