Winter Fun – Part Two

Cross-country skiing is a fine exercise and can be a lot of fun. At one time, we’d get together with friends for an afternoon of the great outdoors on skies. I confess to buying (and wearing because it was expensive) a blazing yellow outfit. Chances are I would never be lost; like a winter dandelion, I stood out.

The outfit isn’t quite bright enough.

Once at the “creek”, we started off with one of the gentlemen in the lead. After a bit of what I considered bossy competition, I decided to venture out on my own. How can you get lost in a small area where the choices of trails are limited? You can’t because you can see into the valley to your destination but there was no route down. Trees, shrubs, and bush blocked my descent. By the time I determined that I was going to have to make my way through this uncharted territory, the other skiers had already gathered by the bonfire.

I pushed off and sank into the snow past my knees. Still it had to be faster to continue on skis. Undergrowth tangled around my feet and interrupted my downward progress. A couple of times I fell but by this time I was committed and climbing back up the steep slope wasn’t an option. I more or less tumbled and stumbled my way back to the others. And I was right about my visibility. Everyone watched my awkward descent and on arrival at the bonfire, I was greeted by unsympathetic laughter.

I paid for my stubbornness but those who followed the leader encountered their own challenges. They skied along the top of the hills before heading into the valley. Then they skimmed along the smooth snow-covered surface of the frozen creek until their route was interrupted by fallen trees. Once they managed to navigate those obstacles, a beaver dam blocked their way. The creek continued 10 feet below the pond created and everyone had to clamour down.

By the time we gathered around the bonfire, the fresh air and exercise had stoked appetites. Anecdotes were exchanged while smokies and wieners cooked over the fire. That simple fare never tasted so good. Winter can be fun.

Winter Fun

It’s been too easy for me to denigrate our winter weather, finding fault, complaining, and dreading it. How fickle memory is. Some of our best times have been outdoors in winter. Not every day is good for sledding or skiing but it’s not every summer day that you want to dive into the lake or lie on the beach taking in the rays.

Not the creek but still the great outdoors.

Every Canadian kid can narrate a tale of misadventure sledding, tobogganing, or sliding headlong on some other device to the bottom of a snow-covered slope. Near-death experiences aren’t uncommon but it isn’t every time that a parent witnesses the close call.

Friends used to invite us out to the “creek” to sled and cross-country ski on the hills. The country is quite rugged and the route the kids were to slide down provided a long, fast ride. My son was 8 years old and his vehicle of choice was the “Sno Nut.” It was similar in shape to the tube from a tire but the material it was made from meant it was a racer.

I was standing on my skis, halfway down the hill on a natural plateau before the final run. C—- left from the top and gaining admirable speed hit a bump as he approached me and was airborne. He flew past at eye level and careened down the hill, at an incredible rate. All I could do (all anyone could do) was watch in horror. I thought I was going to see my son race to a horrible end. Just before he hit the willows at the edge of the creek, C—- bailed. The “Sno Nut” carried on into the bushes and my son wasn’t even bruised.

There was no more riding the “Sno Nut” from the crest of the hill. It was the only sled that went so fast so the other sliders were safer. The adults cross-country skied and at the end of the day of winter fun, there was the bonfire. Flames leaped into the darkness as we consumed the food we’d brought. When is was time to go, everyone pitched in. A great winter day.

A Better Christmas 2020

Hollywood winter which is depicted in movies as gentle snow with no need to wear gloves, toques, and winter boots is over. Even blizzards have bare-headed heroes in film and that’s the kind of weather we’ve had for the last couple of weeks. Today was different. Old Man Winter crept in with fog and painted the landscape with hoar frost. It was chillier and it’s going to get cold. Real winter is on the way.

Hoar frost today.

Alberta has entered a period of new COVID restrictions that coincide with the change in weather. No more indoor visitors; only the people you reside with. No outdoor visitors. Outdoor activities are permitted if you do them with the people of your household. You can skate, toboggan, sled, walk, skate. But you aren’t supposed to meet family or friends to do it. There are rules for retail outlets as well. Christmas gatherings are limited to, you guessed it, your household. this means me, Gary and the dogs. I guess it’ll be a little quieter. Am I happy about not seeing my grandkids and kids? NO. But I understand the reasons. Alberta has high infections levels and unless we isolate, they will continue to rise so Christmas is different.

A friend and I were bemoaning via text message the fact that we wouldn’t be seeing anyone this holiday. She said, “This year it will be just me and N___. But we’re going to have Christmas in July. We’ll meet our son and his girlfriend at a campsite and celebrate then.” What a revelation! The family part of Christmas can be postponed and the spiritual part can be observed by reading scriptures, meditating, praying by yourself or attending online services. Christmas get-togethers are postponed until summer. Retailers have been observing Christmas in July for a long time. Now we’ll be doing that, too. Barbecued steak, potato salad, and beverages around the campfire. I can hardly wait.

Sheltering…Forbidden Fruit

“I don’t even normally go out much. But now that I can’t, I really want to.”

That’s a quote from a phone conversation I had with a former colleague a couple of days ago. We had settled the reason for the call and carried on into a general catching up. A lot of the conversation centred on the pandemic and that’s natural.

Her comment got me thinking about what things I would like to do but shouldn’t right now. I’m not talking about family and friends. Missing them goes without saying. Lately I have caught myself in nostalgic reminisces of shopping for groceries at the local Coop.

What!!?? Who am I kidding? I never enjoyed getting the supplies for the next week. It’s a chore and one that Gary had taken over, shopping as I’ve mentioned in the European manner, a little every day. That doesn’t work in these COVID-19 days and so we order once a week and if we don’t have something, we go without. There is no explanation for the pleasure at unpacking the delivery when it arrives.

In my ahem, later years, shopping has lost most of its charm. Wandering around and examining merchandise I don’t need had become far less attractive but suddenly, I would like to “look around.” A definite no-no. Even with the lockdown lifting somewhat, browsing isn’t the way to go.

Some of it is the human contact. Whenever I was “downtown” on some errand, I’d run into a neighbour, friend, acquaintance. Now if I see someone when I”m walking the dogs, even someone I’d avoid in normal times, I’m waving and calling hello.

Times are not normal and I’ll have to adjust. It’s not bad for me. I’m not sick and none of my family or friends is. I’m not working on frontlines and neither are they. I’m inconvenienced and tempted to ‘bend the rules.’ I’m resisting and recognizing that some of my longing is related to being told I “can’t.” So resist, stay home and stay safe.

Sheltering- Covid-style Visit

“Come out for coffee and cinnamon buns.”

Who can resist an invitation like that? It’s been a couple of months of sheltering in and staying home. I admit it seems longer. We are social animals and miss the face-to-face visits.

The “Stay Home Nazi,” me, was consulted and I helped make the rules. Visits are permitted but you have to be careful. In this instance, we agree to take our own lawn chairs and coffee.

“But what if they’re insulted?” Gary is a worry-wart.

“They won’t be. We’re all old, and there is an immuno-compromised person. We’ll just be safe and six feet apart with our own thermoses.”

Not quite. But you get the idea.

The weather was warm and overcast with a pleasant breeze. Even if we weren’t social distancing and avoiding going into the house, we would have chosen the outdoors. The same old coffee from home tasted better and we opted not to have cinnamon buns.

Of course, we didn’t “visit” our host’s bathroom. That would entail disinfecting for the next person, The simple solution was to ‘hold it’ until we got home.

Sounds like a big fuss? Our hosts had sanitizer and disposable plates and forks, even though we decided against using them. It was a surfeit of safety for our first visit. They didn’t seem to mind and after listing all theses “rules”, guess what we took away from our face-to-face?

We laughed a lot. We commiserated about inconveniences of shopping and getting necessary business done. There was reminiscing, and catching up on the news of our grown children. Time passed and we hardly noticed. It wasn’t about coffee or cinnamon buns (even though we didn’t have any). It wasn’t about taking our own chairs and sitting outside six feet apart.

It was the real voices, real faces, and real visit. Old friends. Even with the rules, it was a very bright spot in a different and stressful time.

Sheltering – Adapting Activities

May the force be with you!

I’ve been retired for more than a few years now but that doesn’t mean that before the pandemic I puttered around cleaning my house or maybe cooking great meals. There were other things to do. I am on the local library board, a member of the local arts council, and our adult learning board.

I am part of a painting group that meets at the Anglican Church in town. Everyone who takes part is of a certain vintage and the sessions were in the afternoons on a Tuesday and Thursday. Obviously, this has suffered the fate of so many pastimes and there have been no meetings since the beginning of April. However, one member set up a group text and we have kept in touch that way. Covid 19 has been tough on creativity for some, and there hasn’t been a flurry of texts with new paintings, but there has been contact to keep up with everyone’s news OR lack of. Why not a Zoom Meeting, Google Hangouts, Houseparty? I did say we were of a certain vintage. Still the texts work and some days my phone pings often.

The one “project” since Covid.

My writing group meets once a month, usually on a Thursday that suits the 5 of us. We’ve missed a meeting and now, in May, we should be getting together. Despite the “loosening” of restrictions, it isn’t going to happen. Instead (with the deadline of May 14), we are going to email one another a new piece of writing- a poem, an essay, a reflection, a short story. With a little motivation, it’s easier to do some of the things you normally would, just in a different way.

So…even retired people of a certain vintage can find ways to continue with their interests. It isn’t the same but it’s better than not doing anything. When the pandemic calms down, we can go back to the meetings and gatherings. We’re not there yet so I will write something for my writing group and email it and I’ll try and produce a painting…stay safe. Find a way to do what you like.

Thanksgiving 2019

It’s not October 14th, yet, but it’s not too early to consider all of the things that I have to be thankful for. The family that gets together for the turkey is small and can at times emulate the Conners, yet in the end, things work out. The food is always delicious and made from scratch down to the pie and dessert. I don’t make it so I’m not bragging; my son does it all.

Apart from the actual day, these are things I’m thankful for all year round. Good friends, supportive friends who had put up with my rants, my fears, and my sometimes strange humour. There’s nothing more therapeutic than a visit with a lunch or coffee and laughs.

I live in small town Alberta and it’s safe with wonderful walking trails. Only yesterday, I saw a downy woodpecker, robins, chickadees and more in the Nature Centre. Gophers took advantage of the warmer day and sunned themselves by their dens. Tamarack turned golden; there are still red-orange leaves clinging to shrubs among the bare poplars.

Driving home from a supper out last night, combines worked to bring in the harvest now that it’s drier. I am hopeful that the weather holds so the grain will be in the bins without further disruption. Farming is risky business.

My house, though old, is warm and familiar. My kids are grown and successful; my grandkids a delight. I can say this with complete objectivity. We live a 2 hour drive apart which makes visits special but not something that happens rarely.

My husband and I are getting old (truthfully we are old) but are lucky to have the health to pursue most activities. He still hunts, fishes, gardens and plays his guitar. I have my fur-children (Scruffy and Taz) who I walk every day. I write and have the support of a local group of like-minded people. I have begun some art with a group meeting twice a week. I help with the local arts festival and am going to teach an introduction to memoir through Adult Learning. We still enjoy camping. AND I quit substitute teaching so I have even more time.

It’s a simple life but a very good one. I try to keep abreast of current events. When I see or read about the Kurds in Turkey, the Syrians, and the Iraquis, it hammers home my good fortune. The upheaval in the United States and the UK doesn’t have an easy fix. I hope we are smart enough to avoid their mistakes. I am lucky, thankful and very grateful to live where I do with the advantages I have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Fiction Friday – What Are Friends For?

This piece is a flash fiction that I first entered into an Edmonton Journal contest (a few years ago; there’s no budget for such things now.) I’d like to say it won but it didn’t. I edited almost half of the words so that it made the word count for the Writers Union flash fiction contest. There it won an honourable mention…and now to the story.

  Isabel arranged the combs and brushes on the terry cloth towel she had laid over the stainless steel tray.  “Well, Iris, what would you like today?  No, don’t say anything.  I know just what you want.”

Isabel moved one of the combs and set it nearer the edge of the table.  “What did I do with the scissors?  Don’t tell me, I’ll find them.”  She rummaged through her satchel and after a couple of minutes produced them with a triumphant flourish.

“I knew I brought them,” she said.

Isabel looked at Iris’s long, graying hair.  She took a brush and pulled it through the thick straight mane.  It wasn’t easy to get the knots out.  “I’m going to wash this, Iris.  It’ll make it easier to cut.”

Isabel had Iris’s hair washed in record time.  As she toweled it dry, she said, “I think it would look better short.  Short hair makes a person look younger.”

Isabel hummed as she cut great swaths from Iris’s thick hair.  The overhead light flashed silver from the sharp blades of the styling scissors.

Soon most of Iris’s heavy hair lay in a pile on the floor.  Isabel stepped around it and picked up the hair dryer.  “Do you like it, Iris?  No… don’t say anything. I’m not done yet.  Wait until I blow it dry and it has more body.”

The dryer whined as Isabel styled Iris’s new bob.  She drew the brush through the hair and curved it gently at the ends.  When it was dry, Isabel stepped back.  She took a hand mirror from the tray and held it so the back of Iris’s head was in view.

“I told you, you’d look younger.  I never did understand why you were so vain about that long hair.  I’ve wanted to do this for ages.”  Isobel flicked an errant lock into place and picking up the scissors trimmed some uneven hairs from Iris’s bangs.

“There, that’s your hair done.  Let me see your nails.”  Isobel took her hands and inspected her nails.  She shook her head and clucked at the bright polish.

“I can fix these, too,” she said.  “They’ll be easier to keep when they’re short.  You won’t need polish, either.  I’ll just buff them.”  Isobel hummed in a tuneless monotone as she took the nail scissors from the tray.  Snip, and then snip.  As each scarlet nail was severed, tiny silver sparks leapt from the scissors.  Snip, snip.  Iris’s nails joined her hair on the floor.  When Isobel was satisfied that they were short enough, she buffed them carefully.

She sighed with satisfaction.  “Just look at you, Iris.  You look great, so much younger and more stylish.  You should have let me do this, years ago.”

Again she held the mirror so her old rival could see what she had accomplished.  She added, “I know you want to look your best tomorrow.  You’ll never have another funeral.”

 

 

Canadian Thanksgiving

Indigenous People always observed the coming of fall with feasts to celebrate the harvest. Sir Martin Frobisher with his crew marked their safe arrival in Newfoundland with a Thanksgiving in 1587. On the menu? Salt Beef, biscuits, and mushy peas. That’s a long way from the traditional turkey.

In 1606, Samuel de Champlain initiated a series of rotating feasts in an attempt to stave off scurvy. The first such feast was November 14 in Port Royal and is a Thanksgiving as well. This is 17 years prior to the American version with the Pilgrims. Canada led the way.

1957 was the year that Canadian Thanksgiving was made an annual observance on the second Monday of each October.

With Thanksgiving coming up in a week, I reflected on all I have to be grateful for. It would take way more than a little blog post like this but first and always on my list is family, and friends. This year my son is making the celebratory meal for the family. He is divorced but stresses family to his kids; the meal will be great and I’m going to bring dessert. That isn’t really what it’s about. It’s to get together and have a family event. We’ll play a password game that was my husband’s mother’s favourite. We’ll play some card games and we’ll visit. There will be three dogs as well as the humans and they’ll get their share of the special day.

Before that I’m stopping to think about friends as  well. There is nothing like the shared laughter, the shoulder to cry on, the sympathetic response to a rant. A common interest leads to friends. I met very good friends through a local writing group and now we are much more than that interest in writing. Friends enjoy your quirky humour and put up with your flaws. Thank you, friends.

On a much wider scale, I am so grateful to live in Canada. With all its faults, I enjoy freedoms, self-expression, religious choice, and opportunities afforded by no other country. I live, by Canadian standards, a modest life. By world standards, I am rich beyond compare. My son and daughter have university educations. My grandchildren will have that chance, too, if that is what they want.

I have so much to be thankful for and I am.