Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January 29, 2014

Even we hardy, snow-loving Canadians are sick of winter already. This has been the coldest and the snowiest winter in recent memory. I would have to go back and look at the official records to tell you exactly when we had it this bad, but I do know it is somewhere in the vicinity of 20 years ago. I keep recalling that winter a few years back when it was in the 50s in January and I saw one brave soul who went grocery shopping, wearing shorts.

I feel particularly bad for all my southern friends who have been hit pretty hard with the cold temperatures—and some of them even having to endure snow! Please don’t blame Canada. Apparently it’s the arctic that is sending all these deep freezing, polar vortex type temps your way.

This coming Sunday is Groundhog Day. I live in hope that the little varmint will not see his shadow and that we will get an early spring. I, myself, am blessed because I have the freedom to pretty much stay indoors. I can turn up the heat, layer on clothes, cover up with a blanket. In other words, the cold is inconvenient, but not devastating.

There was a time when it was exactly that, and I remember all the things we did to help our old drafty house stay warm. We tacked six mil plastic to the inside of nearly every window. We stuffed towels at the bottom of the front and back doors. We kept alert to the possibility of power outages. Since in those days we had a well for water with an electric pump that meant filling the bathtub with water for flushing the toilet and two large pots of water on the stove for other needs. On the occasions when the outages came without warning, we were able to melt snow in pots on our wood stove for the basic necessities.

I can remember filling mason jars with boiling water and then wrapping them in a towel and setting them in the children’s beds an hour before bedtime. I’d replace them before I went to bed, and again first thing in the morning, an hour or so before they got up. We loved rural living, but it was not without its challenges.

These days, although we have had two instances of furnace malfunction in the last couple of months, it was no real hardship. Like I said, extra layers, a couple of electric heaters and the oven on for a few minutes here and there, and we were fine. Too, once you’ve been through really tough times, for extended periods, you discover that nothing can really shake you that badly again. As I always say, sometimes bad things come our way, but they don’t come to stay, they come to pass.

Time moves too quickly as it is, so I know that before long, this winter will pass, and spring and then summer will be here. We joke now that the first person we hear complaining about how hot it is this summer is going to get a smack – but face it, we’re humans—fickle, and imperfect.

The first heat wave that hits us, we’re all going to complain about the heat. I think it’s inevitable.

There isn’t anything we can do, really, about the weather except to try and simply cope with it. We can work on keeping the best attitude possible. For those who have to work out of doors, I salute you and I know what you’re going through. My beloved drives a truck now at the quarry where he’s been employed for more than 35 years. But that is a recent development.

Not that many years ago he would be outside all day, and when the quarry was a family owned operation, and before “safety first” became a way of life, he even used to climb up 100 foot conveyor belts when they would jam with ice and snow—no matter the winds or the blowing snow at the time.

That was in the years when we lived next door to the place, and he would come home each day for a hot lunch—and clean, warmed socks waiting for him by the stove.

It’s amazing looking back at what we endured, together and separately, when we were younger. Older has its own adjustments, but it has its rewards, too.

Stay warm, keep smiling, and we’ll get through this nasty winter.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 22, 2014

We go through life, we humans, as if we really are, to paraphrase the words of William Ernest Henley, the “masters of our fate and captains of our souls”. But every once in a while something happens that completely disabuses us of any such presumption of power.

One such time for me occurred this past week as I was hit unexpectedly with a bout of illness. I developed an infection. The effects of this temporary condition were quite far reaching. There were the usual culprits, of course: fever and chills. In fact I had chills so bad I couldn’t text coherently. Needless to say my daughter was quite concerned and came running thinking her elderly mother had mentally crumbled.

Nope. I was just shivering so bad my teeth were mimicking castanets and my fingers could not hit the right darn keys.

I’ve been sick before, and I’ve been on antibiotics before. But this time has been different. I am kicking at the gate of 60, so I understand that this whole aging thing comes into play in some areas. One of those areas is how your body reacts to illness.

I know how to be sick. I’ve done it occasionally for years. Usually, it means that although I feel like “crap”, I’m able to soldier on, doing what needs to be done in the day-to-day. I might have to rest a lot more often than I’m used to, but stuff gets done. Stuff has to get done. That’s just the way it goes. Where do you think that saying comes from, that “moms don’t get sick”?

Not this time. This was the first time that I found not only did I have no energy to do anything—I had no ability to focus for more than a few minutes at a time on anything. Period.

So for the last almost week, I have been resting. I’ve written no words until I sat down yesterday afternoon to begin to write this essay. When I wasn’t in bed actually sleeping, I was in my recliner, with my legs up, my blanket on, and my eyes closed. Not sleeping, just lying there. Doing nothing.

I regret to inform you that I’m kind of a failure at doing nothing.

In the week leading up to this one of near complete and total incapacitation, when I thought I just had a cold so much like the one that so many people I know had over the last few weeks, I wasn’t faring that well, either. I had to rest a lot through the day and I was getting frustrated with myself because... because I am getting older.

I’m getting older! Most of the time I try very hard to ignore that fact, but there are times when “mind over matter” just doesn’t work. Damn it.

I’m not whining, and I’m not complaining—well, not much, anyway. I guess mostly I’m sitting here, scratching my head, trying to figure it all out. There has to be a way over, around or through this thing.

I just haven’t found it yet. But I’m not giving up. I’ll keep looking.

I’m sure, under the circumstances, that y’all won’t mind if I cut things short this week. Some of you may even cheer, and that’s fine. I’m just going to hunker down right here, close my eyes and rest.

And I’m going to hope that you’re all doing fine.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

January 15, 2014

This past weekend the weather finally stumbled out of the deep freeze that most of us have been suffering through for far too many days. On Saturday, here, it was a balmy 46 degrees. But the slight wind kept us from feeling any warmth. Instead of just being cold, this past weekend we were cold and wet.

I think a good half of the snow we had here melted. But it didn’t really melt away. It pooled and became watery ice and then, overnight, it would harden again. The snow in our back yard is now ice-covered, which I don’t mind, necessarily. Tuffy, however, doesn’t care for it.

I should qualify that. He doesn’t like walking over it, but does like that the last few days have been milder. He’s been able to stay outside longer, allowing him to take complete olfactory inventory of every critter who, over the last couple of weeks, dared to enter his yard when he was tucked up safe and warm inside.

He’s a dog (no longer a puppy since he turned 1 on Christmas Day) who enjoys his front porch and his back yard. We did keep him in over the worst of the cold, not letting him out at all—not even for a minute. This meant making sure we had a pad down for him, which he used properly. But he’s little, and that wasn’t too bad an ordeal for either of us (him or me) to endure.

My dear husband returned to work on January 6, after being home for 17 straight days. Or I should say, he tried to return to work. They worked a half day on Monday, and then were sent home upon arrival on Tuesday, because of the bitter cold. Quarry work is outside work and company policy does cite the lowest temperature for working. The temperatures here were below that.

Thank God Wednesday turned out to be a full day on the job for him. Murder was therefore, fortunately, averted.

It’s amazing, in a way, how quickly I was spoiled by two previous winters that only had a couple of minor cold snaps, and snow that kept melting away completely. It’s been a lot of years since we had snow that came in early December and stayed. I think I’ve lost my immunity to the weather that I used to have. Going outside every morning to take David to work, and then again to pick him up in the afternoon had me used to being out in the snow and ice. Now, I only venture out Thursday afternoons to bring him home. Sometimes not even that. When it’s been a couple of weeks since I made that trek to the next county, I’m always shocked at the progression of the season.

The very poor condition of some of our roads these last few days has been another shock. In some areas the plows hadn’t done a very good job; in others, they were too enthusiastic, and left potholes behind to prove it.

One result of that ice storm that we had here in Southern Ontario a few days before Christmas was that within a day of it, there was no safety salt left to be had at any of the stores. In fact, we were unable get any as late as yesterday. The manager of our local grocery store said salt was en route, on Sunday. We’re still waiting. In the interim, I mostly stayed inside the house. I’m at the point in my life where falls are to be avoided at all costs.

Monday, my eleven year old grandson came over with his sister, and he took a shovel and cleared the ice from my walkway. He’s growing up to be a good little man.

Most people are lamenting about how long this winter has seemed already. We have, potentially, two months of the season left to go. In this area of life only, I take a pessimistic view, and I believe that view actually leads to an optimistic outlook.

Most people cling to that outdated tenet that winter “officially” begins on December 20th or 21st, depending. Not me. October first, baby. That is the first day of winter in my book, and it doesn’t stay here in my part of Canada for a paltry three months. No siree, it’s ours for half a year.

And by that reckoning, we are already nearly two-thirds done with the bitch. Ground Hog Day is in just 18 days. It’s just about time to celebrate.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

January 8, 2014

I grew up out in “the sticks”. The stretch of road that was our own had begun its life in the 1800s as a corduroy road, part of a stage coach route stretching north from Hamilton Harbor, toward the city of Guelph. In the 1950s and early 1960s, vehicular traffic on this road remained somewhat sparse, nearly non-existent. Not many people traveled past us, because our old stage coach route had been supplanted by a nice new provincial highway which was a more direct route. No one came down our road unless they were visiting someone who lived on it. Or at least, that’s how it seemed.

We lost my dad when I was about eight and a half. He’d been at home recovering from a heart attack, and succumbed to a sudden stroke. He was only in his mid forties.

After that, life wasn’t much fun for me. He’d been the parent who paid close attention, the one who would play and hand out hugs at every turn. My brother and sister, at 18 and 14, had their own lives, and my mother had her grief, an interloper who took up residence in our home and never left. There weren’t too many “kids” my age in my neck of the woods, except two girls, one of whom I really wasn’t supposed to play with (a mystery to this day).

And then, when I was 10, two very interesting things happened. I got a paper route; and a family moved in two doors down from us, and I met my new best friend.

I discovered that we had been born 8 days apart! And, she shared her birthday with a half-brother and sister, twins who had been her birthday present from her mother and step-father when she was 6.

This family was different from any other I’d ever encountered: a single mother, with five children! In my insulated world, I’d never heard of a family that didn’t have a dad, where the dad hadn’t died (as in my case). In time I learned that my friend’s mother was now separated from her step-dad, and had been divorced from her real dad. I couldn’t imagine what that might be like, because, of course, my family still bled from the too-early loss of ours.

We became good friends, she and I, and I spent a lot of time at her house. Her siblings became like my own, in many ways. I can close my eyes and see the times I slept over there, the times we all spent together. We played Canasta and Shanghai, and a board game called Shoe-buck.

She told me not that long ago that her mother, while doing the best she could, had never taken her anywhere. The only time she’d ever gone anywhere as a kid, had been with me and my mom.

A few years after my marriage and hers, for a long time, we lost touch. Life changes you and you respond to it sometimes by closing others out. We did that, my beloved and I, when the raising of the kids got really hard, when our middle child, so troubled and troubling, took all of our energy and drained most of our hope.

We re-connected again, my friend and I, about five years ago. But in the interval, I did visit her mother from time to time. Her youngest sister, who had shared her birthday, had built a house on her mother’s land, and so was close by and able to see to her needs. A visit to the older woman, often entailed a visit with the younger.

Life continued to throw challenges, as life will. My friend had already lost her first husband during that time we were apart. We lost our son. Her mother passed, sadly, when we were out of the country and I didn’t learn of it until much later. And then, just about sixteen months ago, my friend lost her second husband, a man she calls her true soul mate.

Not many months after that, I learned her little sister had cancer. This was a woman who shone, inside and out. She loved, and was loved. She’d met her own soul mate—the man who had purchased our house, that one just a few doors down from hers.

This past weekend, my friend’s baby sister was called home. It always seems wrong, somehow, to lose those who are younger than us—and yes, to a certain extent, to lose those we sometimes feel are better than us.

Loss is never easy, and oftentimes the echoes of that loss become embedded in the rhythm of our lives. I try to remember the love and the joy and the laughter that I shared with those I lose. We all of us live, and we touch the lives and the hearts of other people. Those touches become a part of that person, a tiny atom of the person they grow into being.

Those moments are eternal, and it is those moments we seek to hold close when trying to find comfort for ourselves and others in our bereavement.

My friend wished her little sister to fly with the angels; I have no doubt, whatsoever, that she is doing exactly that.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

I find, that no matter what kind of a year I’ve had, I am hopeful on January 1st. I believe that I suffer from terminal optimism. Seriously, the glass to me is always half full.

And I don’t tolerate well those who seek to cure me of this attitude.

For the most part, my life is good. Now, by that do I mean that we have lots of money and stuff? No. We’re doing ok financially, but only after a life time of struggling in that area. I have a dream to buy a new house, something on one level, with a yard flat enough I can walk, and thus work on flower beds. But that is a dream—well, a goal, actually—and until it is achieved you can be certain that what I am living in now is no palace.

But it is ours, and it is paid for and it is home. It is my home, and I love it. Life is good.

I have two surviving children, six surviving grandchildren—having lost one of each—and this past year I became a great-grandmother. I see some of them often and others not as often as I would like. But there are no major upheavals, no major animosities, none of the grandchildren are in trouble with the law, though a couple of them could stand a good swift kick in the ambition. But all in all, they’re good people (the oldest three are over 18 so they’re not children), with loving hearts. Life is good.

I and my brother are the sole survivors of my birth family. He was the eldest of the three of us, and I the youngest. Our parents died young, 46 for my dad, and 57 for my mom. We—my brother and I both—had it in our heads for a lot of years that we wouldn’t live long. Our father’s father passed when he was only 36 and our mother’s mother was but in her 40s. In our entire gene pool, only the family of my father’s mother had longevity as a component. Now here we are, I will be 60 and he 70 this coming July. Added to this, we get along fairly well and see each other on a fairly regular basis. Life is good.

I have been married for 41 and a half years to the same man. He’s not perfect, but then, neither am I. He does some things that really get me hot, and no, not in a good way. I, of course, return the favor. But here we are, still together, friends, mates, not always in agreement one with the other, but always there for each other. Life is good.

At a time in life when most people settle for hobbies and minor interests to keep them occupied after having survived major health challenges, I have a thriving, wonderful career. This coming February will see the publication of my 37th book. Not bad, considering my first came out in 2007.

This career has given me friends, and colleagues, every one of whom has enriched my life. I have written books, and my readers have written notes to let me know that my words, and my “town” have touched them and made their lives just a little bit better. They have given me many times over the joy they claim to receive from me. Every day is a good day, because I am never alone, never lonely, and always eager to see what might come next.

Life is indeed very good, and I am blessed, and highly favored!

I wish everyone a heart full of optimism, and a New Year that is ripe and rippling with new beginnings and wonderful opportunities.