Let your photos(s) tell your story.
Let your photo(s) tell your story.
One potential benefit of the pandemic is that many people are finding their lives are less busy and less stressed. Without the daily commute to work and the rush of getting the kids to their various after-school activities, there is suddenly more time to make supper, relax, or binge-watch your favorite TV shows. For some this new work-life balance might become a permanent way of life, although I’ve heard some complaints that working remotely means even longer hours as there is no longer any distinction between office and home.
If the key to happiness is the perfect work-life balance, then what happens when that balance is way out of whack and how do we realign it? This month’s Literary Salon pick, Lean Out – A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life by Tara Henley, addresses that issue.
Here’s the Publishers Blurb from Goodreads:
“In 2016, journalist Tara Henley was at the top of her game working in Canadian media. She had traveled the world, from Soweto to Bangkok and Borneo to Brooklyn, interviewing authors and community leaders, politicians and Hollywood celebrities. But when she started getting chest pains at her desk in the newsroom, none of that seemed to matter.
The health crisis–not cardiac, it turned out, but anxiety–forced her to step off the media treadmill and examine her life and the stressful twenty-first century world around her. Henley was not alone; North America was facing an epidemic of lifestyle-related health problems. And yet, the culture was continually celebrating the elite few who thrived in the always-on work world, those who perpetually leaned in. Henley realized that if we wanted innovative solutions to the wave of burnout and stress-related illness, it was time to talk to those who had leaned out.
Part memoir, part travelogue, and part investigation, Lean Out tracks Henley’s journey from the heart of the connected city to the fringe communities that surround it. From early retirement enthusiasts in urban British Columbia to moneyless men in rural Ireland, Henley uncovers a parallel track in which everyday citizens are quietly dropping out of the mainstream and reclaiming their lives from overwork. Underlying these disparate movements is a rejection of consumerism, a growing appetite for social contribution, and a quest for meaningful connection in this era of extreme isolation and loneliness.
As she connects the dots between anxiety and overwork, Henley confronts the biggest issues of our time.”
Discussion: (or why I liked it)
When I first started working in the early 1980’s, 9-5 actually meant 9-5, with lunch and coffee breaks too. At my first job the majority of the work was done in the morning and afternoons were devoted to staff meetings etc. We would often have cake at these meetings, (it was always somebody’s birthday) and after a small pre-closing rush, be out the door at 5pm. (Does it say something about me that what I remember most about my first job is the cake? It was chocolate with the most divine icing, from a bakery in town and someone would run down on their lunch hour and pick it up.) Nobody stayed late, although someone was on (paid) call for the rare emergency.
When I ended my career forty years later, long hours and unpaid overtime were the norm and the expectation. We were so chronically understaffed that many nights I would arrive home still in overdrive and not be able to decompress for hours. There were no meal breaks, except a scarfed down sandwich when your blood sugar got too low to function, lots of cold coffee, and few washroom breaks. (The dilemma in health care is if you don’t get the work done, it’s the patient who suffers.)
The sad thing about the workplace, is that my experience has become the new normal, no matter what your job. If you’re caught up in the work/eat/sleep cycle, doing more with less, and with impossible quotas or targets to meet, you may feel you’re lucky enough to have a job, especially in these perilous economic times, and not be in a position to complain.
While I enjoyed my work and was never bored, it was the working conditions which were the problem, and eventually I was just too burnt-out to continue. After a bout of stress-related chest pain, I opted for early retirement. Although retirement was an adjustment, living on less, I’m a happier person now and more relaxed. My former colleagues tell me I look better, younger – I get more sleep.
So I could really relate to Tara Henley’s story – right down to the chest pain. (Tara did eventually go back to work in media as she is the CBC producer who contacted me about the radio interview for my mother’s art exhibit. I discovered this book when I googled her name). Several years ago at the age of 40, she started having chest pains at her desk and decided to take a time-out to seek a better life-work balance, a journey she researched and documented in her book, Lean Out.
She wrote the book partially in response to the book Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. I did not read Lean In when it was published a few years ago as I was no longer working and not interested in any book about how to achieve success in the workplace, but I recall hearing lots of backlash about it – mainly that the author, a white woman of privilege, had a tendency to unfairly blame women for not achieving more success in the workplace. Women were advised to lean in…..as opposed to opt-out of their careers. Easy to say if you can afford child-care and domestic help as you climb the corporate ladder – the majority of working women I know are just plain exhausted.
I suppose it depends on what stage in your career you are at, but even if you absolutely love your job, it can become like a blood-sucking vampire, draining the life out of you if you don’t take sufficient time away from it. Time away renews your soul and gives you a fresh perspective. I grew up in the baby-boomer age of dedicated employees with work ethic, but companies today can’t expect loyal employees if they treat them poorly or don’t value them at all. How many young people today have full time jobs with benefits and guaranteed pensions?
Being older also gives you a different perspective on work. No one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they has worked more – in fact, most people say the exact opposite. They wish they had worked less and lived more. Mostly I’m mad at myself for putting up with such bad working conditions.
Lean Out was released in the spring of 2020, just before the pandemic hit, but in a premonition of what was to come, it has much to say about our current situation. In many ways COVID has forced people to reassess their work-life balances. Can we live on less? Cook at home more? Will we ever go back to the old ways – working in office buildings and rushing here and there. Do we want to?
I really wish I had read this book when I was still working, as I could relate to so much of the material, (except for the hip-hop – I’m way too old for that. Tara got her start in journalism by writing music reviews). It’s so profound and full of common-sense wisdom, and so well written. Here’s an excerpt from page 152.
“What gave me joy, it turned out, was pretty simple. Waking up every day without an alarm. Reading all the books on my nightstand. Eating when I was hungry, resting when I was tired, staying at home when I was under the weather. Moving my body every day. Being outside. Cooking for people I cared about.
The key to contentment, I realized, was time. And the more time I had, the less money I needed. I didn’t need treats to boost my spirits during a rough week, because my week was never particularly rough. I didn’t need lavish vacations, as Your Money or Your Life put it, my daily life was not something I needed to vacate. When my true needs were met, I did not need to compensate with stuff.”
There are chapters on unplugging from the internet, seeking solace in nature, loneliness and finding your tribe (40% of young people living in big cities are single dwellers who often don’t have a social support network and can’t afford the rent let alone save for the future), the meaning of home, and living on less – well documented with research, interviews and personal anecdotes.
This book is not a simplistic how to manual, but a beautifully written blueprint for a realistic way to live a happier and saner life. I wish I had “leaned out” sooner.
Although we’re currently experiencing a few weeks of bitterly cold temperatures, it’s been a fairly mild winter with little snow – a few inches here and there, but nothing that requires shoveling and so far no major storms. Now with the Polar Vortex settled in, it’s too cold to snow, (very cold air contains very little moisture) but when I think of all those long brutal winters when I drove through hell, it makes me angry that now that I’m retired, there’s practically nothing. Last week in part one, I blogged about Snowmageddon – the storm of the century, now in part two – let’s talk about the worst drive ever.
Those of you who live in regions which experience the four seasons in all their glory, may appreciate snow when it first appears in December, that nice white fluffy stuff that makes you want to book an inn in Vermont.
These people sensibly took the train…
But by February most people are sick of it, and almost everyone dreads winter driving. Oh, you get used to, but I bet you secretly rejoice when spring arrives and you don’t have to continually check the weather forecast for storms on the horizon. If you’re working from home now, lucky you, you get to escape it altogether this year.
Even if you’re a good driver, and have the ultimate heavy duty vehicle with snow tires and four wheel drive, you still have to worry about other people’s driving. And isn’t it always the worst during the first snowfall of the season, when it seems everyone has forgotten how to drive, and the police, called out to fifty or more cars in the ditch, are reminding everyone to slow down – winter is here.
If you do go slow, then inevitably there is someone on your tail, desperate to pass, usually a big truck. Once some impatient young man finally passed me on a bare stretch, then spun around on the next snowy patch, right into the ditch. I was tempted to wave at him as I drove past, but a farmer had already come out to help him. Why do people always expect farmers to pull them out with their tractors – get a CAA membership.
Snowmageddon made me think about my worst drive ever. There are two in particular which stand out in my memory.
The first was when I was in my twenties and had a little two seater Fiero. (Yes, I know, not exactly practical). I didn’t have much winter driving experience as I had gone to school in Toronto and took the subway. The Fiero’s engine was in the back for stability, but the car sat so low that you sometimes felt like you were plowing the road.
It was late November and I had gone to London with my parents to Toys R Us to buy Christmas presents for the grandkids-who-had-everything. It was a mild sunny day otherwise we wouldn’t have gone, as London is in the snowbelt area, but shortly after we got back to the farm, a storm came out of nowhere and I decided to drive home before it got worse. It was dark by then, and the snow was that heavy wet stuff and by the time I came up to the train tracks just outside of town the windows were coated with it. The red warning lights were on so I stopped, but they had been having problems with those lights for quite awhile and they would sometimes flash even if there wasn’t a train in sight. By then I was having a hard time seeing any distance at all. I opened both windows to check if a train was coming and the windshield fogged up, but I accidentally hit the trunk instead of the defogger button so the trunk lid flew up obscuring my rear view. I sat there for a few minutes, not sure what to do, until there was a long lineup of angry cars behind me, and finally some guy with a truck (it’s always a truck) blasted his horn. Maybe he could see better than I could? So I went over the tracks, too quickly and promptly spun out on the other side in front of an oncoming car but I managed to get back into my lane just in time. I arrived home quite shook up – not one of my better drives.
The other episode involved a particularly bad stretch of country road and a dark and stormy night. I was working the late shift and it had been snowing heavily for hours, and was really getting bad out there as every second person who came in insisted on telling me,as if I wasn’t already worried enough about the drive home. I should have stayed at the B&B in town, a newly restored Victorian with a skylight and claw-foot bathtub in the bathroom, but it was pricey and I wanted to be home in my own bed as I was off for the weekend. Both ends of this county road would usually be plowed out, but the middle section was always a no-man’s land. With no houses or buildings to block the wind, just wide open fields, it was the perfect storm for winter white outs. Luckily this section wasn’t well traveled as on many a snowy night I would often be the only fool on the road.
On this night it was so bad I couldn’t even tell where the road was. There was zero visibility. Was I too close to the ditch? Where was the ditch? If you’ve ever driven a county road in the dark, there are no streetlights, only the light from your headlights. I crawled along, plowing through the drifts, chewing gum (as opposed to clenching jaw) and listening to Pachelbel’s Cannon on repeat – my routine for those white-knuckle drives. I’m sure there was an angel on my shoulder that night. When I finally drove out of it, the road was still heavy with drifted-on snow but I could see the light from some of the farmhouses on either side – a navigation point , signs of civilization.
A friend of mine ran into a pack of wild dogs/coyotes one night in that same section. They must have become disoriented in the snow to have come so far out of the bush and refused to move off the road. She finally drove through them and they parted – what a strange sight that must have been, a bunch of eerie eyes glaring at her, as if she had invaded their territory.
I’ve had other bad drives too (hey it’s Canada), and some thankfully, where I wasn’t driving. Men always think they can drive through everything, and maybe you can if you have a big SUV/truck. At least then I could close my eyes and pretend to sleep or read a book to take my mind off the fact that we might be following a long line of red taillights right into a ditch. I’d much rather drive in heavy rain than snow, more traction, but recall one horrible night drive in a fog so thick I could barely see the lines on the road. Where was Rudolph when you needed him?
Now that I’m retired, I’m grateful to be able to stay home when the weather outside is frightful, and looking back, I often wonder how I did it for thirty years? I’m not such a brave driver now that I’m older – I’ve become a weather wimp. If there’s a blizzard outside, I stay home and bake cookies, and say a prayer for those poor souls who must brave the elements to go to work.
What’s the worst drive you’ve ever experienced?
The nor’easter which hit the US and Maritimes recently reminded me that it’s the ten year anniversary of “Snowmageddon” – the storm of the century in my part of Canada. A raging blizzard so bad that a massive dump of snow closed the major highway for two whole days. Police patrolling the area on snowmobiles counted 200 tractor trailers and more than 100 cars trapped in the drifts, but the unofficial count put the number much higher, with estimates of 1500 passengers stranded and 700 rescued, with many vehicles simply abandoned on the country roads.
The storm started brewing on Sunday. Snow squalls coming off the lake usually move, but this one stayed stationary dumping over 40 cm of snow on the roads with 70 km/hr north winds making for blustery driving conditions. A state of emergency was declared on Monday and the national guard was called in, complete with rescue helicopters to airlift passengers who had been stranded in their vehicles overnight or longer.
A snowplow towing a school bus was dispatched to collect people along the route and bring them to warming stations in the nearby villages. By Tuesday night close to 300 motorists had been rescued from the worst hit section, but it took several more days for the plows and tow trucks to clear the 30 km stretch of highway and start in on the side roads. At the rescue centres, residents of the small towns and villages were generous with food donations, blankets and cots and some even opened up their homes to grateful strangers.
Now, it’s nothing new for this highway to be closed periodically in the winter, usually just for a short period of time as streamers coming off the lake make the area notorious for sudden white-out conditions. I should know, as I drove to work in this region for over thirty years. As an essential worker, I was used to driving in anything, but even I did not go to work that day because all the roads in the area were closed. People who had detoured off the main highway soon found themselves on roads less traveled but just as deep with drifts. Friends of mine took in a couple who were stranded in front of their farm – for two days they fed them home-cooked meals, and played cards and told stories and so people from the city got to experience a dose of rural hospitality until their vehicle could be pulled out of the ditch.
When I was working, I dreaded winter. It might be bright and sunny when I left home, but by the time I reached the snowbelt area it would be a raging blizzard. If you didn’t go in you were home safe but sorry, as you would inevitably feel guilty about leaving your colleagues with a skeleton staff and a 12 hour shift and you’d make up for your day off with an increased workload the following day. But I was a dedicated employee who seldom even took a sick day, so I’d go in and the drive would be predictably awful and my nerves would be shot by the time I got home.
When I worked at a rural hospital, I was lucky as I drove in daylight. If it was bad out, I might leave a bit early to get away before dark, and if it was an exceptionally wicked storm I was allowed to stay home, at my discretion. This would happen maybe once a year. As so many of the employees lived out in the country, the hospital had a contingency plan where the current staff stayed over, and someone’s husband with a snowmobile could always be counted on to go out and collect the staff who lived in the town. There wouldn’t be a lot of admissions on those days, surgeries would often be cancelled if the surgeons couldn’t get out, (once one of the doctors had to do a C-Section by phone when even the ambulance couldn’t get there), but the ER would be busy with the usual disasters that such weather always brings on – heart attacks for the snow-shovelers (best stock up on clot busters) car accidents, (hopefully minor, but not always, hence my anxiety about winter driving), and once someone frozen under the ice in a creek overnight (miraculously he survived intact).
After I changed jobs and started working evenings, there was no backup plan. I drove through everything as the only excuse for not showing up at work was if you were dead. Snowmageddon was the only time I ever remember my workplace being closed, and that was only for one day. Even my boss didn’t go in that day, having turned down the offer of a snowmobile ride. It was one of the few occasions where there was nothing open and nobody out and about. The hospital was open of course, so it’s not like people were without medical options. In fact, ER was doubly busy with all the stranded people who did not have their insulin/inhalers/critical meds with them. And just for the record, this storm had been predicted – there had been plenty of warnings and advance notice starting on Sunday, so it’s not like it came out of nowhere, but some people don’t pay attention to the weather forecast. I always had the weather network and the winter road report on speed-dial, and my emergency car kit would go in the trunk in the fall and stay there until May 1st. Once November skies darkened and the flurries began to fly, my snow anxiety level remained on high alert.
Although I was some distance from the worst hit region, I didn’t have a snow day. I offered to pick up a shift for someone who lived along the lake and had no hope of getting here – she actually started crying on the phone, so great was her relief. I only had a short drive and once I made it out of my subdivision it was okay. It always amazed me how busy we would be on snow days, but I’ve reached the conclusion that some people just cannot deal with the claustrophobia of a snowstorm. They must be out and about in the worst of weather conditions – to the grocery store to buy eggs, the library to return books – any excuse will do.
The next day, when the county road was still closed, I called my boss and told him I was not coming in. This was met with a stony silence (and probably some degree of shock) and then a small voice….well couldn’t you come in later, if the road reopens? It did finally at 4 pm, but no, I did not, as I would have had a miserable drive home in the dark, and there would have been no hope of booking in at the only B&B with all those stranded passengers. I didn’t even feel guilty as there was no thanks for helping him out the day before, and it’s not like he was by himself as someone who lived in town had come in to help him out. The next day the sun shone and my courage returned, but there was hell to pay, as we were still backed up, but personally I’d rather be safe than dead in a ditch.
We’ve had very little snow this winter, a few inches here and there, but no major snowstorms so far, although there has been in other parts of the province. When I think of all those years I drove through hell and now that I’m retired, practically nothing, it makes me mad. It also makes me wonder about climate change. Maybe blizzards will soon be a thing of the past? Maybe I’ll be like one of those old people telling tales about walking ten miles to school in two feet of snow….and reminiscing about the big blizzard of 2010. (Next week – Part Two – The Worst Drive Ever)
PS: Does your workplace have a snowstorm contingency plan? It seems to me that some places are open when they needn’t be. Like the library for instance – is that an essential service? I wish administrations would think about their staff when they make decisions, especially if they are driving home at night. Even closing early would help.
It there’s ever been a time for comfort food, it’s now, in the winter of our discontent. Eating well is one of the few things we have to look forward to, locked in our homes day after day and our favorite dishes can return us to a time when the world seemed a more secure and safe place.
Comfort food is defined as “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any dish with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.” (Oxford Dictionary) We may feel nostalgic for a favorite dish our mother used to make. Wikipedia even lists a breakdown of favorite comfort dishes according to nationality. (link) I’m glad to see butter tarts made the Canadian list, but my childhood butterscotch pudding did not. While nursery type foods such as puddings and oatmeal are often considered comfort foods, so are more hearty dishes like soups and stews and macaroni and cheese. Calorie dense, high carb, high fat foods may trigger the reward system in the brain, leading to a temporary elevation of mood and relaxation. Whatever the mechanism, we take comfort in refueling our bodies.
Today’s recipe is for Easy Microwave Rice Pudding. I’m not a big fan of rice pudding, but my mother loves it and those individual packaged portions are a staple on her grocery list. Last week when I was confronted by a whole container of leftover white rice from the Chinese restaurant (they insist on adding it to the takeout order even if you don’t want it), I decided to look for a recipe online, something simple, nothing to do with steaming in a double boiler etc. I’m all about easy these days, when we’ve been spending way too much time in the kitchen, and also against waste, when so many people are suffering from food insecurity.
1/2-3/4 cup sugar (I used brown sugar)
2 tablespoons cornstarch (30ml)
3 cups of milk
2-3 cups cooked rice (I used 2 1/2 cups as that’s what was in the Chinese food container)
1 teaspoon vanilla
The recipe also called for 1/4 teaspoon salt, one egg and 2 tablespoons of butter (the butter is optional) – all of which I omitted. I’m guessing the egg would add a creamy texture, or maybe the microwave would just hard-boil it, but eggs were in low supply so I left it out. I also added the vanilla at the beginning instead of the end, so it acquired a nice vanilla flavor as it cooked.
Whisk the ingredients in a large microwave bowl. Add raisins if you want, (I added them at the end as some people don’t like raisins and I didn’t want to overcook them). Put in microwave and cook 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. Remove and whisk. Put back in microwave for another 1 – 1 1/2 minutes. Remove and whisk again. Continue above steps until desired thickness – but don’t let it get too thick. You want it a little less than desired as it will continue to thicken as it sits. I repeated this four times but mine was a bit too thick, but then I only used 2 cups of milk initially.
Add anything else you want, cinnamon or nutmeg. Serve warm, or you can reheat with a splash of milk if it gets too thick. Makes six servings.
I forgot to take a pretty photo of it but here it is packed up in a container to be taken to someone who appreciates it more than I do.
Hot chocolate is a comfort food I associate with childhood snow days, but now use as a reward after my daily exercise. Walking in such frigid temperatures (it’s January-cold now), definitely requires a treat.
I put a teaspoon or two of a good quality cocoa in a mug, add milk and sugar to taste and microwave the whole thing for a few minutes, stirring frequently to dissolve. So much better than those powdered pods, mixes or heated chocolate milk with it’s six teaspoons of sugar!
Chicken pot pie is one of my favorite comfort dishes this winter. I’m spoiled by the deli’s takeout version, (it’s rich as they use cream) but if you have leftover chicken and frozen veggies you can whip up an easy meal. I tried this one with a biscuit topping, but think I prefer puff or regular pastry.
Any kind of soup qualifies as comfort food. My mother still likes to make a big pot of chicken soup occasionally, but Campbell’s chicken noodle is always my go-to on sick days, and scrambled eggs and toast when I’m feeling better but not quite recovered.
When I was growing up, my mother made wonderful macaroni and cheese from scratch, something I’ve never bothered with as my cheese sauce never turns out as good as hers. Stouffers frozen mac and cheese is a close second, and if you spread bread crumbs on the top the last twenty minutes in the oven and bake until they are toasty brown, it can mimic homemade. Served with a green salad it makes a comforting and filling meal. A hearty homemade chili or beef stew is also a nice wintry dish, especially served with some nice fresh pumpernickel bread.
Today’s menu was meatloaf, just because it’s January and below zero.
But the ultimate winter comfort food award goes to that old favorite – grilled cheese and tomato soup. Best served after shoveling out the driveway.
Oatmeal with brown sugar is a particularly filling start to the day, but I sometimes like it before bed, especially if I’m in the mood for something sweet.
I hope I have made you hungry! What are your favorite comfort dishes?
Postscript: Don’t forget to give the birds a treat…..and all creatures great and small. (Is anyone else finding that mini-series just a tad disappointing? Usually Masterpiece is spot on in their casting, but the actors seem either too old or too young for the part. The best acting so far goes to the cows and last week, the racehorse. The scenery is beautiful though, you can’t go wrong with sheep in green fields with stone walls.)
Many of us have extra time on our hands these days, especially if you’re currently in lock-down and no longer have that daily commute to work – extra time to read, start a hobby, or attack that long list of things you always wanted to do. For some people staying home more has been a difficult adjustment, for others it’s a prelude to what retirement might be like someday and an opportunity to think about how you might like to spend your golden years.
This month’s Literary Salon pick, is Extra Time – Ten Lessons for An Aging World, a non-fiction book by Camilla Cavendish.
Publishers Blurb: (from Goodreads)
“From award-winning British journalist, Camilla Cavendish, comes a profound analysis of one of the biggest challenges facing the human population today.
The world is undergoing a dramatic demographic shift. By 2020, for the first time in history, the number of people aged 65 and over will outnumber children aged five and under. But our systems are lagging woefully behind this new reality. In Extra Time, Camilla Cavendish embarks on a journey to understand how different countries are responding to these unprecedented challenges.
Travelling across the world in a carefully researched and deeply human investigation, Cavendish contests many of the taboos around ageing. Interviewing leading scientists about breakthroughs that could soon transform the quality and extent of life, she sparks a debate about how governments, businesses, doctors, the media and each one of us should handle the second half of life. She argues that if we take a more positive approach, we should be able to reap the benefits of a prolonged life. But that will mean changing our attitudes and using technology, community, even anti-ageing pills, to bring about a revolution.”
With average life expectancy reaching into the mid-80’s now and people retiring early, we may have another 20 or 30 years of extra time. This thought-provoking book takes a look at the culture surrounding ageing in our society, and changes to the way we view ageing now. While not everyone agrees that 60 is the new 40, it’s true that many more of the “young-old” are enjoying active healthy lifestyles much longer than before. I remember thinking my parents were middle-aged at 40, and now people that age are going back to school, having babies, taking up sky-diving.
It’s no secret I like a good non-fiction book, especially one with a well-researched basis. This book delves into how different countries are handling the ageing epidemic without producing a strain on their economies or health-care systems, by exploring different ways of caring for the elderly or “very old.” Certainly the number of COVID deaths in nursing and retirement homes is telling us our current system is not working, and calls for government reform are ineffective if standards are never enforced. Many homes are understaffed and underfunded, as we have found out during the pandemic. Here in Canada they had to call in the military reserves to help feed and care for patients in particularly hard hit homes in Quebec and Ontario, a national disgrace, especially as many of them were privately-owned-for-profit places. I wonder how much cognitive decline ensues when residents are locked in their rooms every day without the stimulation of activities or even company at mealtimes.
There is a chapter on research into anti-aging strategies and one on implementing programs to give seniors a purpose in life and a meaningful way to give back. Think of how many healthy seniors there are whose talents are wasted as they are considered too old to work or contribute. Certainly it helps to have a purpose in life or a passionate pursuit of some kind, like my mother with her art – taking up painting at the age of 87 when she stopped driving. Of course my mother is fortunate to have her health and with all her relatives living well into their 90’s, a good dose of genetic luck. In a recent interview about her late-in-life art career, the radio host remarked, in her introductory comments, “Many people have second acts in their lives, but few well into their 90’s…..”
What would you like your second act to be? For those who dread old age, I found this book to be a positive, hopeful and uplifting read.
PS. Of course, the most tragic disease of old-age is Alzheimer’s. Just as I was posting this, I received an email about a new book by neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta. As I find his COVID advice to be both realistic and scientific, I’ll add this one to my future-to-read list. Keep Sharp – Build a Better Brain at any Age – by Sanjay Gupta.
By this time of year many of us are experiencing Cabin Fever – loosely defined as “irritability, listlessness, and boredom from long confinement or isolation indoors.” That feeling of being trapped is generally caused by snowstorms when you can’t go out even if you wanted to – those severe blizzards where they’re telling people to stay home, off the roads and wait for the snowplows to do their thing – but it’s been made even worse this year by the pandemic lockdowns.
Although we may be stuck inside, we have all the comforts of home – a warm dwelling, good food and plenty of entertainment available. It’s even possible to ignore things altogether if you don’t look outside, especially if you have a cozy fire to sit beside, a hot beverage and a good book or movie. Winter can be very hygge.
While I would normally appreciate these quiet January days after the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, lots of time to read and write and putter about pretending to reorganize, this year when we’ve been cooped up inside so much already, it seems downright claustrophobic. So let’s call it pandemic fever instead. In fact the term cabin fever had an early association with typhoid fever and quarantine.
As the term originated with the pioneers who spent long winters by themselves, when severe weather and long distances from neighbors were truly isolating, let’s take a look at how people coped with cabin fever way back when there were cabins.
I often wondered how my ancestors survived their first winter here. They came from Ireland in 1846 during the potato famine, three brothers and their families, and after jumping ship in the St. Lawrence to evade the cholera epidemic, arrived in Toronto, starving and penniless. They had to borrow one pound from the Immigrant Land Agent (National Archives Document Oct 16 1846) to pay for water transport to the area where they would settle. The land was all wilderness then, and arriving so late in the year, they would never have survived the first winter were it not for the help of the Indians and a neighbor who helped them build a hut dwelling and showed them how to hunt for game. (Most likely they ate a lot of venison stew). They were unprepared for the cold and the snow as the posters advertising Upper Canada boasted about its abundant game (true) and tropical climate (well maybe in the summer). Did they even have any warm clothing? My great-grandfather, who had stayed behind to go to school, arrived later wearing a straw hat. They would gladly have returned to the misery of Ireland in those early years.
Their first homestead was on swampland and the water was bad, so eventually they moved to a different site a few miles down the road, where they build a log cabin, similar to this one I blogged about in my Pioneer Village post.
This cabin dates from 1870, and is fairly large, with room for a farmhouse table and a sleeping loft above.
Another cabin on the site of the local Heritage Museum is much smaller, and housed just two people, a widow and her young son.
It was constructed in 1857 of lumber rather than logs, as there was a sawmill nearby – the interior is pine. With only two rooms, this typical first home was built quickly, as more effort went to clearing the land and planting crops.
While small in size, it was snug and warm with the long stove pipe circulating the heat across the house. There was an additional sleeping space in the attic over the kitchen.
The rope bed was covered with a straw or feather mattress.
While the quilt is nice, it does make me grateful for my comfy bed, with its deep mattress, soft sheets and down comforter, and there’s certainly not much counter space in that kitchen!
Now the local heritage museum is fund-raising to restore another log cabin.
This one has an interesting and well-traveled history. Originally built in 1840 in the Goderich area, it was disassembled in the 1930’s and floated down Lake Huron to a lakefront property where it was used as a summer cottage. In the 1970’s it was donated and moved to it’s current site in a local park where it was used for community events such as Christmas in the Park, until it fell into such a state of disrepair that it was deemed unsafe and they decided to tear it down and build a replica. A great hue and cry ensued from the public and the local historical society, so they relented and at a cost of $50,000 are paying to have it relocated to the museum site for future restoration. I know, it seems a lot of money to spend on a derelict old building but they waste money on other things, and how many 180 year old log cabins are left? This will be it’s third move, but just look at that solid construction.
I’ve been feeling bad about my house lately. My renos remain undone, dust bunnies abound and I don’t seem to have the energy to give it a good cleaning. My cleanliness standards have slipped considerably since no one is seeing it but me. Hopefully in March I’ll be motivated to give it a good spring cleaning.
But after a look at these humble abodes, I’m appreciating my own home and hearth more, and feeling better about cabin fever. We have so many more creature comforts today and all the modern conveniences. Maybe it really is all about perspective.
With no internet or Netflix to occupy themselves with what did they do for entertainment back then? Being Irish, I’m sure there was music – the fiddle – and story telling often took the place of books, and I hope there was comfort food too – warm bread and apple pies and taffy treats.
So perhaps some things haven’t changed – after today’s dose of wintry weather it’s time for some beef stew.
PS. While researching this, I came across two books, The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie by Cecily Ross, a fictionalized historical novel based on the life of Susanna Moodie, a genteel English writer who immigrated to Canada in 1832. Moodie wrote about her experiences in the Canadian wilderness and subsequently published her memoirs as Roughing It In The Bush and Life in the Backwoods. I enjoyed the fictionalized book more, as it was rich in historical detail, although the first half in England was not as interesting. Both books depict a harsh life with many hardships and little in the way of fun or luxuries, a sobering look at the reality of pioneer life for many women.
It’s that time of year again – time to review last years resolutions (Bucket List 2020) and see what I’ve achieved over the past 365 days, and the answer is….not very much. It’s not entirely my fault though – blame it on that little COVID creature we didn’t even know existed last January, or if we did, it was a mere rumor on the distant horizon. While I was able to achieve some of my goals, most of them will be put back on this year’s list.
Exercise – I was more successful at walking this year, except for the month I hurt my back lifting the Pandemic Picnic table and the two months in the summer when it was too hot, but I’ve been diligent ever since, even in sleet and rain and snow…well we’ve hardly had any snow – two small storms which melted faster than Frosty. It’s been a very mild winter so far with daytime temps above freezing – I haven’t even worn my down parka yet. Perfect weather for walking, which gives me a daily dose of fresh air and music, and helps with the Cabin Fever. (next weeks blog).
Renos: The house projects never got done. I was deep into quotes for new window dressings (shutters versus pull down blinds) when the March lockdown happened. Same with the bathroom floor. You would think with the pandemic things would be cheaper, but business was booming as everyone seemed to be doing home renos, but the main reason I didn’t proceed was I didn’t want anyone in my house measuring and installing and spreading germs. It was bad enough when I had to get the furnace fixed in September, a job which involved two subcontractors (gas leak and new chimney liner) and three service techs. They were mostly good at wearing masks, except for the guy who who kept disappearing on smoke breaks.
Purging Possessions: The closets got cleaned out, but as the garage sale didn’t happen, most of the stuff eventually found its way back to its place of origin, including a whole bunch of Christmas decorations. I’ve decided not to do a major cleaning-out this January as I normally would, better to buy a house with a big attic or loft. This shift away from simplifying was provoked by a simple comment someone made, “Why are you giving away all this perfectly good stuff?” (see blue lights at the end, so pretty but so ancient it came with a cord). If I do anything this winter, it might be my clothes closets. Someday I hope to be able to dress up again, and wear lipstick.
As for the rest – the low-fat cookbooks never even got opened (we needed comfort food), the new camera never got bought (required a trip to the camera store), the short story never got written (so not inspired), and I remain the last Netflix holdout in the country – lots of books got read though, more this year than ever. (Thank God for library curbside pickup). As for the shorter blogs, things started out well under 1000 words, but lately they have ballooned up to the two to three thousand mark again – with not much else to do, I wrote.
One bright spot this past year, was that my mother’s art exhibit went ahead despite the pandemic. It’s up until next April, and even if not many people have visited, they put it online virtually – although they did such a great job with the display it’s simply stunning in person, all that color against dark gray walls. Just after we did some local press in December, the province-wide lockdown started again – bad timing, but I did my first LIVE radio interview with a national news show – a nerve-racking experience, especially at that hour. I’m not a morning person but I set my alarm for 6 so I would be fully awake and somewhat coherent by 7 am. My mother refused, as she said she would be too nervous, but I wasn’t about to turn down a producer from Toronto. So add that to my agent resume!
2021 Goals and Resolutions:
My first goal is to try and not get COVID before my turn in the vaccination lineup. Our stats here were so low for so long that it was easy to go about doing essential things without too much excessive worry, but now I think I’ll revert to my hermit ways and my big three-week grocery marathons. I don’t see general public vaccination on any large scale happening here until May at the earliest, so it will be a long cold winter spent hibernating. I have plenty of things to occupy my time though, reading, writing, blogging, and I may sign up for an online art appreciation course. Maybe a bit of TV watching – if you are a fan of Masterpiece, the mini-series All Creatures Great and Small based on the James Herriot books, is debuting this Sunday Jan 10 on PBS.
January is often a time for quiet reflection and my goals this year are tending towards the more philosophical.
Time for Reflection: One of the striking things about this year is how much less rushed life has been. Sometimes it’s good to slow down and be still, contemplate life in general and sift through what needs to be done and what is just busyness. Think about what’s truly important. Give thanks for each day, especially the small things we take for granted, like smelling coffee and breathing.
Talk Less and Listen More: I used to be a quieter person, but my job for many years entailed extroverted qualities. Leading such a quiet life this past year has brought me back to my quiet centre. I’ve ordered Julia Cameron’s (of Artist’s Way fame) latest book, The Listening Path – The Creative Art of Attention. Creativity is a quiet pursuit, thriving on time and solitude, both of which we have in abundance this winter. May this year be a creative one for all my fellow bloggers!
Let your photos and music tell your story.