Tuesday, 24 November 2015

First Snow

There was a rime of snow on the ground this morning. Brio went charging out into it and scampered and ran in circles. Maple tiptoed out looking miffed and hurried back in, taking the steps in a great leap. The garden is only half covered in mulch---somehow I didn't have enough maple leaves this year, don't know why, unless the wind took them to other yards---but the snow covers the bare spots now. The ground is not yet iron, and I toy with planting just a little more garlic while I can. Before winter takes away the option. Before darkness is so thick at the end of the work day that I can't find my way out to the gate.

Snow always brings with it the thought of fireplaces and woolly Nordic sweaters and hot chocolate. When I was a teenager I babysat for a ski instructor's family and I'd stay in the lodge and play with the baby while everyone else went skiing. They paid me in ski lift passes, which I never once used. I grew up in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains and I've never been skiing. But from the room's window I enjoyed watching the tiny figures on the slopes tumble and slide down the white mountain, and one evening I got to go downstairs with the family to hear Peter Yarrow sing. He was a family friend, and when they introduced me to him he called me a little muffin. I didn't realize who he was until later, when I went home and looked him up. I met Mary too (also from Peter, Paul, and Mary) and got to sit in on a guitar jam session with her---and again I didn't realize who she was until much later. She just seemed like a nice, cheerful blonde lady. And Peter reminded me just a little of Groucho Marx.

There used to be a great sledding hill where Timpview High School stands now. I remember clinging to my dad's back as he sped along on the wooden sled with its metal runners (try to find one of those sleds now). I was never fond of going downhill fast, but he and my older brother and sister would always go back for another run. I would flail along in deep snow, with my socks bunching up in the toe of my boots and the rim of the boot rubbing my bare skin raw, little balls of snow sticking to my knitted mittens. But at the end of the endurance test there was Mom's hot chocolate to go home to, creamy swirls curling away from my spoon.

Snow hasn't been as kind as I've gotten older. The memories tend away from play. Slush in the street as I trudge to the bus. A white shield crusty with ice I break through with my boots while my dog pads along without leaving a paw print. Something to scrape off my car. Once it was so cold that when I went to scrape the car window, the glass exploded into miniscule fragments at the first touch. I've seen the streets so filled with compacted snow that people cross-country skied in downtown Toronto. Once I saw a man ice-skating to work down the middle of the road, carrying his briefcase. When conditions are that bad, you really should be home in front of the fire.

It isn't deep winter yet, by any means, but my bones can feel it coming.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Seasonal Affective Disorder Renamed

I once took part in a study at Sunnybrook Hospital of Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is a condition where the darkening of winter sends you spiraling to the point where you want to pull the covers over your head and howl, or to dive into a tub of Pralines & Cream never to emerge until spring. I lose interest in my hobbies, get grouchy, make irrational and impulsive decisions, and, along about February, I get semi-suicidal. We're not sure what causes this, but it helps to take Vitamin D, sit under grow lights, get involved in new activities, and---in my case---come home every day and hug a smiley baby.

I think there's something to be said for renaming the condition, though, to Seasonal Infective Disorder. This is the phenomenon whereby people's attitudes and perceptions of weather are affected by the people around them. Talk on the subway revolves around the cold, the wet, navigating the impossible ice. Everyone starts wearing black and hiding deep inside their hoods and not making eye contact. It's a defensive thing and quite natural when you live in Canada, where the temperature can plummet to -35 and stay there for weeks on end. My sons used to live in northern Manitoba, where it once got down to -69. I think it's easy to pick up the negativity and gloominess of the people around you and get sucked into talking about nothing but the weather. (Even in the warmth of summer, if someone complains about the rain or heat, we reply, "At least you don't have to shovel it!" thus spreading the gloom of winter even into our brighter days.)

However, I've also seen the up side of this contagious trend. I have a coworker, for example, who wears an electric orange winter coat that really stands out against everyone else's black. I can't help but smile when I see her glowing toward me down the street. It lightens my mood and reminds me there are more colours on earth than gray, and one day they will return. I have another coworker who is from Finland, and she loves snow and skiing. When everyone else groans, "It's snowing again!", she presses her face to the office window and chortles with glee, "It's snowing again!" Her optimism is catching, and I try to look at winter the way she does: a playground waiting for your footprints. Maybe I don't have to hole up for the winter like a hibernating raccoon. Maybe I can enjoy it. Novel concept.

I am going to try hard this winter to stay positive and not complain about the weather. This too shall pass. And I'll be glad I have a smiley baby in my life to hug and comfort me at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Getting back on track...sorta

Was good until 3 p.m., when a colleague at work was selling chocolate-covered almonds for her daughter's fundraiser. And I had to be supportive of the cause, right? I mean, it's her daughter...

So I took one for the team.

All right, I took several.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Comfort Foods

The last few months I've been watching what I eat, and I'm down twenty-five pounds. However, this past week has been fraught with emotion over several things, and the diet has slipped. Yesterday I drank an entire carton of eggnog and ate an Aero mint chocolate bar. Today it was cold tuna salad and coconut cookies. Must knock it off and get back on my good behavior. But it is interesting how we turn to certain comfort foods when stress overwhelms us.

Is it because food is so good at evoking memories, and we want to remember cosier, kinder times? I always associate sloppy joes with my grandma's house (my favourite place on the planet), and there's nothing like my mom's hot chocolate to make a person feel loved and snug. The scent of mint takes me right back to my grandpa's farm. Shwarma zips me back to Florence, where we ate a lovely plate of it. They say that smells trigger memories more than sights or sounds. I associate certain foods with certain events, certain people, certain feelings from the past.

When my daughter-in-law wants comfort she goes for her mom's macaroni and cheese. My sons turn toward caramel popcorn. This week my husband has been hunting down the sour cherry candies his dad used to eat.  If I'm down, I always crave creamy things like banana cream pie and rice pudding. (And eggnog. Ahem.) I don't know anyone who, when they are depressed or upset, says, "Man, I wish I had a big bowl of lettuce right now!"

The cravings will pass, the emotions will lighten in time, and I will be back on track. But for today there will be no self-recrimination. No sense of failure. Today I will just be gentle with myself. It's been a hard week.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembrance Day thoughts

This Remembrance Day is especially poignant for our family. On Sunday our good friend Tracey Firth passed away unexpectedly, and we are still a bit shaken by the suddenness of it. Years ago I played with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the first female piper in the history of the regiment. It was an unhappy experience and I left after only a year, but just as I was leaving, Tracey was going in, as the second female piper. And while I didn't know her at the time, I remember thinking "Poor girl!" and hoping she had a better experience than I did.

Some years later, she and my husband were both in the Halton Police Services Pipes and Drums together, and I got to know her better. When my husband became Pipe Major of St. Andrews Pipes and Drums, Tracey followed and became his Pipe Sergeant, and that's when I really got to know her. She was often in our home, sitting at the dining table with her practice chanter or playing with the dogs. On my birthday she took me to the Elora Gorge and to a tea house, we went antiquing, and she spent the whole day doing things to make me happy. No friend has ever done that for me before.

Tracey was an intense person who gave of herself fully and threw herself wholeheartedly into everything she did. She was deeply committed to her work. She and I both started learning to knit at the same time, but while I'm still turning out square dishrags, she took off with it and could do socks and sweaters. She made beautiful quilts. She could pipe circles around me, and she especially enjoyed challenging herself to keep up with the fleet-fingered youth in the band. She didn't let herself slack off, but she was wonderfully good at making other people feel relaxed. I enjoyed sitting by the woodstove in her home and just crocheting and yacking or reading and just being comfy.

I have a small keychain she gave me that says "Sisters" on it, which I use as a Christmas tree ornament. That word sums up how I feel about her, and I count myself lucky for having gotten to have her in my life, even if it wasn't for long enough. I like to think her beloved Ghillie was first in line to greet her. Forget harps -- heaven will be filled with bagpipes.

Today the band plays to commemorate Remembrance Day for the Legion, and Tracey's file will be left empty. But our hearts will be full because of her.

Sunday, 8 November 2015


When we first got married, I would stand in the grocery store agonizing forever about what brand of toilet paper to buy. The cheap stuff gives you paper cuts. But it's just being flushed so I don't want to splurge on the expensive stuff. Dilemmas dilemmas! It was the same with a lot of decisions, whether big or small -- I felt like there was a right or wrong, and I was dreadfully afraid of choosing wrong. I've always had a perfectionistic streak, but I didn't realize how strong it was until I got married, left my parents' house, and suddenly had to stand on my own without a safety net.

I think I've gotten better over the years about the small choices. I've learned that sometimes there is no right or wrong to a decision, only preference. I don't die if I make a mistake, and usually one can undo a decision and choose again. Some things just don't matter.

However, some of the big decisions still defeat me. I find myself dithering and putting off taking any action for fear of messing up. But really, lack of action is itself an action and has consequences of its own. Part of the issue is that my decisions affect so many other people. I'm not free to just act for myself; I have all these other family members to take into consideration. My preferences and what would work for everyone don't always coincide.

The church teaches that we should make a decision and then pray about it to know if it is right. I admit sometimes I avoid asking the question, though, because I already know what the answer will be and I don't like it. If I get an answer I have to abide by it, and I may not be ready to do that. Am I the only one who does this? A wise person once told me that sometimes you know something is right and you submit to doing it, but it doesn't mean you are happy about it. I mean, Abraham may have known it was right to be obedient to the command to sacrifice Isaac, but that doesn't mean he was tranquil about it. I found that bit of wisdom comforting. A feeling of turmoil doesn't mean you are on the wrong track, necessarily. It might actually mean you are very close to making the right decision, and it's a matter of aligning your head with your heart. At least we haven't been left alone to try to muddle along by ourselves without guidance.

So this week's verse is 2 Nephi 32:5 --  For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.