#Puzzlepalooza – (Almost) Wordless Wednesday

January 29th is National Puzzle Day. You sit down intending to just add a few pieces and soon a whole hour has gone by. It’s the kind of mindless activity which is relaxing and meditative in a way.

I used to buy my mother a 1000 piece puzzle every year for Christmas, before she started painting. The puzzle would be spread out all over the end of the dining room table for the whole month of January. I might help out with a piece or two, but never had the time to do more. Now I’m seriously addicted!

Started the puzzle season by re-doing last years Christmas puzzle.
Flower Shop – I buy the 300-500 piece ones for my mother – the more colorful the better.
She remembers going to square dances when she was young.
Lake Cabin – buying from Michael’s was getting pricey so I went to the thrift store. People are always donating old puzzles.
This one took almost a week because all the sunflowers looked the same.
Skating at Twilight – January’s 1000 piece project, while pretty, proved way too challenging – too much of the same color and the pieces were so tiny.
Cats and Books – the perfect combination. I gifted this one to a book lover, but wish I had bought it for myself.

Do you enjoy doing puzzles?

Another COVID Winter – The Corona Diaries – Part Six

Another Covid winter – I can’t believe I’m writing those words.  With the arrival of vaccines last spring who would have thought we would still be in this mess, and getting worse, and now with the Omicron variant spreading faster than a wildfire should we be distancing twelve feet apart instead of six?

(Photo from the animal farm last fall)

Did anyone watch the simulated video where the cloud of Omicron virus emitted from a cough launched itself airborne twelve feet and then hung about in the air like some menacing green Grinch, waiting for an innocent victim to walk by.  They then repeated the simulation with a mask on, and those wily particles still escaped from the sides and top.  I’ve since upgraded to N95’s, if I can find them, although when I had to visit the ER department with a family member on Boxing Day, they made us remove them and don one of their flimsy blue ones.

Yes, I spent Boxing Day and the day after, in the ER dept, for a non-COVID matter, and we consider ourselves lucky to have escaped with only a six hour wait each day. The second day was for an ultrasound to rule out a blood clot (negative) as they were too busy to do it on the holiday, and then a three hour wait for results – twelve hours in total, in a cubicle breathing in potential COVID germs.  It was a scary thought, and I spent the week after counting down the days until we could be considered safe again.  This was just before the Omicron tsunami hit, and the staff were barely coping then.  I hate to think what will happen when things get worse and they can’t get enough staff…not just in health care but in any essential worker category.  

We were lucky enough to get our third COVID shots in early December before Omicron even existed.  They allowed me to get mine early, as my mother’s caregiver, although technically my age category wasn’t eligible until two days later, but then a week after they announced anyone over eighteen could, and the Hunger Games of Online Booking began.  So, they’re telling people to get boosters, but no one can get one, at least in a timely fashion. Rapid tests are equally scarce. Parents are scrambling to get second doses for their kids before school starts again. I know high risk people who are booked a month from now, and feel fortunate to have gotten that.  The health unit ran out of Pfizer and they are substituting Moderna again, which causes a problem when you have to provide proof for travel.  Meanwhile the provincial government, in a priceless pass-the-buck news conference suggested to “just walk into” your local pharmacy.  Without an appointment? The same pharmacies who are struggling to cope with the Christmas medication rush and flu shots and are already short-staffed? (Have I mentioned lately how glad I am to be retired.) Mine has stopped taking waiting lists – with 250 names already, and only receiving a paltry 60 doses a week, it’s rather pointless.

With only about a third of the population here having received their boosters, it’s hard to know where to lay the blame, the federal government, the provincial government or the local health unit? They are just now starting to add in more clinics to get the essential workers done, including health care workers, long term care, teachers, police, fire, ambulance – to me this seems inexcusable.

Needless to say, I’ve had a few sleepless nights, and am now back to just skimming the news again –  you want to be informed, but not deluged with doom and gloom, especially before bed.  For those who are struggling with these difficult times, check out last week’s book review – Wintering – by Katherine May.  

I do feel somewhat hopeful that things will be better by spring, and that we will have achieved herd immunity, similar to what happened with the Spanish flu – two rough years, then two years of sporadic cases until it ran out of people to infect.  Of course, it could mutate again, and we’ll be back at square one – take your pick – depending on if you’re a pessimist or an optimist. Some days I’m both.

It reminds me of studying microbiology in second year. Our lectures were in the old Banting and Best building at U of T in a room filled with rows of wooden desks, which I’m sure were there when insulin was discovered. I always liked being in that lecture hall, as I loved history. I once read a biography of Banting and Best and found it fascinating. Type One diabetes was a death sentence back then – one of their first patients was a 13 year old girl – imagine being able to save someone from the brink of death with a substance you had extracted from an animal pancreas. In my early working years, insulin was still sourced from Beef and Pork. It wasn’t until the 80’s that it was genetically manufactured to match the human type. Anyway, microbiology was taught by an old professor with a thick East European accent who used to snort into the microphone, the occurrence of which used to make us laugh hysterically, but in all seriousness, it was an interesting course and we learned about exponential growth, replication, mutations and all the things in the news these days……it’s funny your recollections forty years later. Science has conquered many things over the years, and will eventually conquer COVID too.

(January’s jigsaw puzzle)

Since cases have skyrocketed here, and there seems to be no stopping it, other than taking the usual precautions and staying in, I’ve armed myself with books, (see next weeks Winter Literary Review), jigsaw puzzles, DVD’s, and even signed up for Netflix – although I’m not that impressed with what’s on – most of the movies they suggest based on My List, I’ve already seen.  If anyone has any recommendations please leave a comment.   

(Snowmen – real and otherwise)

The only good thing about the winter so far is that the weather has been fairly decent, unlike other parts of the country which have been deluged with snow and cold.  We’ve had a few inches now and then, barely enough to make a snowman, which melted quickly as many days the temps were in the 30-40’s. A mild December is always a bonus as it shortens up the winter.  Now, in the depths of January, it’s been colder but we’ve hardly had any snow, certainly nothing worth shoveling. I like it when it’s not too blizzardy out, as I tend to feel claustrophobic in snow storms.  I don’t want to go anywhere, but I like to know I could if I needed to.

(Just the right amount of white stuff)

They had been predicting such a bad winter that I decided to get new tires for my old Honda – way overdue but the mechanic kept saying they were okay as long as I did do any long-distance driving??? (really – like where?)  So my big expedition for the month was hanging out in the relatively deserted waiting room of Canadian Tire (a gigantic hardware store with an automotive division), where I felt reasonably safe, but not brave enough to visit the adjacent mall.  

(My big outing for the month, other than the ER dept.)

Of course I had to wait for the tires to come in (supply issue – what else is new), and then had them put on the week before Christmas (the mall was a zoo), and then had to go back for the alignment as they were too busy to do it that day, which was a blessing in a way, as I found a car part in the driveway, (never a good sign), which turned out to be a wheel weight, requiring a wheel re-balance. If the snow hadn’t melted I wouldn’t have noticed it.  I also had them check the battery.   So now I feel safe with my new old car – if only there was someplace to go…

(Even the birds are staying in, except for the partridge in the pear tree)

I haven’t set any new goals or bucket list for this year, as I have in the past, as what would be the point, we have so little control over the circumstances. Masks have been mandatory here for two years, and some degree of lock-down depending on the stats, but there’s little to do even when restrictions are lifted.

(Many people have left their decorations up to shine a little light)

I’m still walking every day, except for a few slippery days, for the fresh air and exercise but mostly for the immune boost – admiring the decorations and lights, and listening to my daily dose of music.  

This catchy tune was on a Lincoln car TV commercial recently. It really has been a most unusual year…..but I have hope for the future.

PS. How are things in your neck of the woods? Do you know anyone who has had COVID? I’m starting to know of a few people who have had it, more friends of friends than people I know specifically.

Wintering

If wintering is a verb then we all need to learn to winter – to rest and recharge, especially in difficult times.  Wintering can be a season to survive, a respite from the busyness of the rest of the year, or a state of mind such as a feeling sad or depressed. 

Winter is often a time for retreat – never more so than this year.  Usually I don’t mind the month of January, and enjoy the excuse to stay home when the weather turns nasty, but this year it just seems like more of the same.  So it was with interest that I saw a review on someone’s blog of a non-fiction book called Wintering, by Katherine May.   As I sometimes enjoy a light philosophical read, I ordered it from the library, but found it so interesting and well written that it might go on my purchase list.  (I usually only buy books I intend to re-read.)

The crazy quilt behind the book is perfect for winter slumbering

Here’s the Publishers Blurb:  Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break-up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.

A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. Illumination emerges from many sources: solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas.

Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear. A secular mystic, May forms a guiding philosophy for transforming the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.

About the Author:

Katherine May is a freelance writer of both fiction and nonfiction, and previous creative writing teacher.  Her journalism and essays have appeared in a number of publications, including The Times, Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan.  In the book she reveals she has Asperger’s Syndrome.  “I learned to winter young. As one of the many girls of my age whose autism went undiagnosed, I spent a childhood permanently out in the cold.” (page 11)

Discussion: 

As we’ve just passed the winter solstice, this is a book to curl up with and enjoy in the deep dark depths of January.

The book is a series of personal essays, divided into chapters, from September to March, with further sub-titles such as Slumber, Light, Midwinter, Snow, Cold Water, and Thaw.

I especially enjoyed the chapters on hibernation, (who knew dormice and bees could be so interesting), slumber (isn’t it always easier to sleep in the winter), and light (seeking out the northern lights in Norway).  As the author lives by the sea in England, and has not experienced the full force of a brutal snow-filled winter, she journeyed north to seek the cold and snow and to view the Northern Lights.         

Northern Lights over the Farm

She also visited Stonehenge during the Winter Solstice. There’s a chapter on light (the festival of St. Lucia), on cold water (taking the polar bear plunge) and snow (winter walks in nature are much easier on a British beach than trudging through snowdrifts).

Our beach in winter (December) before the snow.

Here’s a Goodreads link to some quotes from the book for a sample of her writing. The prose is so lovely, I would recommend it for that reason alone, even if you weren’t interested in the topic.   No wonder Elizabeth Gilbert praised it as “a truly beautiful book.”

She also mentions a poem by Syliva Path titled “Wintering” which I was not familiar with, but I imagine inspired the title of the book.   

It’s difficult to sum up what this book is actually about, it’s not advice, or self-help, but more meditative reflections on a season we all must go through. 

Winter! Bah Humbug!

#Christmas Candy – Wordless Wednesday

Let your photo(s) tell your story.

Pot of Gold chocolates have been a family tradition for over sixty years.
So I was really annoyed when they changed them this year. Where are all my old favorites – the rum butter caramel, butter creme and mocha caramel? They’ve gone back to those horrible strawberry and orange ones we used to feed to the dog when we were kids. And don’t tell me it’s supply issues……
My mother still enjoys a candy cane as she grew up in the Depression when Christmas morning meant peppermint candy and an orange.
I must have bought twenty of these, but most of them were given away – either to friends or the pharmacy, doctor’s office, snow-shoveler, grasscutter – anyone who helped me over the past year. It’s amazing how happy a box of fudge can make people, and I still have a few left to hoard until Valentine’s day.
These hot chocolate bombs filled with mini-marshmallows were great, and justified as I’m supposed to be increasing my calcium intake, and the dark chocolate is full of antioxidants.
These thin individually wrapped chocolate covered mints are nice served with coffee after a big meal, when you want something sweet but don’t have room for dessert.
Saving these for New Years – note the wrapping is still intact!
Also for New Years – I like the idea of creme brulee, pecan pie and raspberry cheesecake in a mini chocolate dessert cup. Some years just require more treats.
A reward for gingerly walking in snowy weather.
If we can’t have Paris, we can have Christmas in Paris tea! Gimmicky I know, but good, probably because of the chocolate.
Not candy but a New Year’s resolution – an alternative for people like me who can’t swallow big pills.

Do you have a favorite or traditional Christmas candy?

Mr. Dickens and His Carol – The Literary Salon

It’s that time of year again – time for me to blog about one of my favorite books, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Recently, my library book-club chose Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva – a fictionalized account of how this famous book came to be written.

Publishers Blurb: Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in.

Frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace in his great palace of thinking, the city of London itself. On one of his long night walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets the mysterious Eleanor Lovejoy, who might be just the muse he needs. As Dickens’ deadlines close in, Eleanor propels him on a Scrooge-like journey that tests everything he believes about generosity, friendship, ambition, and love. The story he writes will change Christmas forever.

Discussion: I’ve blogged before (see link) about The Man Who Invented Christmas, by Les Standiford, a non-fiction book which delved into the history of Dickens classic tale, and the inspiration for the plot and characters. Ms. Silva’s book is historical fiction, and common to the genre, she has taken great liberties, first in imagining his muse – a lady he met on the streets of London during his customary night-time wanderings while plotting out his books. Having read several biographies of Dickens life I’m fairly certain no such woman existed, but as he is reputed to have left his wife and ten children for a much younger actress towards the end of his life, perhaps that is where she got the idea? In this book his wife and children depart for Scotland, angry over Dickens decision to pay an impromptu visit to his first love, and he is left alone to ponder his problems. (Serves him right – maybe he was a bit of a player?) Second, we’re a hundred pages in before the woman-of-mystery-muse is introduced, and not one word has yet been written, but as I recall Dickens wrote his novella over the course of six weeks, not two as she says. I guess I like my historical fiction to be somewhat factual. Third, was the inspiration for Scrooge, Dickens himself? The idea is intriguing, and she has a plausible explanation for the age difference, but somehow it just doesn’t translate.

The book jacket describes the author as a writer and screenwriter from Idaho, and she mentions several near misses in selling the script to Hollywood. As this and the Standiford book (a much better book, if a mediocre movie) came out the same year (2017), she decided to adapt it into a novel instead. That must be frustrating for an author – to find out someone else has a similar idea, especially after you’ve poured your heart into it. For a debut novel, it is well-written, in a style somewhat reminiscent of Dickens.

As I’m only half way through, it wouldn’t be fair to critique it too harshly, but it’s light fluffy fare – but then sometimes that’s exactly what you need, especially at Christmas. Save the heavy stuff for the fruitcake. I’m not sure why the book-club chose this, but it’s no fault of the librarians, as they’re limited to the book club kits purchased by someone else. Perhaps it was just a seasonal selection which sounded promising. The chapters are short, the plot thin, and I’m not sure what there would have been to discuss but as the book-club is now virtual, perhaps they just toasted with some hot rum punch and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone!

(Edited to add – I stayed up late last night and finished it, and the last fifty pages and ending were surprisingly good! – so I would give it a 3 out of 5)

Grannychic

Although I’m not a granny, I was happy to read that the latest home decorating trend is Grannychic – also known as Cottagecore, or Grandmillenial style. 

I first read about this new style, a direct reaction to the popular beige minimalist décor, in the October issue of Susan Branch’s blog.  (Here’s a link to her blog.)

Susan Branch she is a cookbook author and watercolor artist, who lives on Martha’s Vineyard.  She published a bestselling hand-written cookbook thirty years ago called Heart of The Home (recently re-issued), and has a long list of other cookbooks to her credit.  I discovered her a few years ago, after reading a review of her self-published journal, Martha’s Vineyard – Isle of Dreams – which piqued my interest enough to order it.  This illustrated journal centers around her adventures buying an old cottage on Martha’s Vineyard while in her 30’s and fixing it up.  She also has two other handwritten journals, The Fairy Tale Girl about growing up in California in the 1960’s-70’s, (worth it for the chapter on meeting the Beatles), and A Fine Romance about her three month trip to the English countryside with her husband, (for those who always wanted to rent an English cottage).  These gorgeous books are all for sale on her website.  You can also sign up for her blog/monthly newsletters, which are always cheery and uplifting. 

To me, Susan Branch is a perfect example of Grannychic.  She lives in a big old (1849) white house on Martha’s Vineyard, which she bought with the proceeds of her first cookbook, (a far cry from the initial shack).  The house itself is my idea of house heaven, complete with a white picket fence and flower gardens.  Her husband Joe (he owned a restaurant, they bonded over cooking) is a sweetie, and even her tuxedo-cat, Jack, is a lovable character.  In fact, her life is so perfect, that sometimes I’m too envious to read her blogs.  She’s not Martha Steward though, she’s more casual and laid back.   

So, what is grannychic – antique furniture, shelves full of books, candles, wallpaper, fabrics (chintz and toile and florals), plaid pillows, and lots of color (especially blues, pinks, greens and white).  Check, check, check – I have all of those.  Although I’ve renovated the outside of my older style home and parts of the inside, I never got around to getting rid of the wallpaper and wainscoting in the dining room and now I don’t have to! 

Which just goes to show, if you wait long enough everything comes back in style.

It’s also a way of living – flower gardens, feeding the birds, listening to old music, baking and cups of tea.

It’s cluttered versus bare surfaces, lace doilies, pretty tablecloths, and china. I’m envisioning those who de-cluttered now frequenting thrift shops trying to buy their stuff back.

It’s even Laura Ashley (must check closet).  I’m hoping that it invades the fashion world too, so we can all dress up again.  I’ve been watching old re-runs of Murder She Wrote lately with my mother, and wow, the clothes, everything so colorful and coordinated.  It seems like a different world.

Grannychic is the kind of comfy, classic look which never goes out of style.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate the aesthetic of those beige minimalist rooms, it’s just that I don’t think I could relax in them.  We’re now into the time of year when the winter winds are howling, so it’s time to draw the curtains (I don’t have to replace those either!) light the candles and get cozy. 

Now, if only it extends to Christmas decorating, as I have way too many decorations….

A Food Memoir and Some Music

My regular readers may have noticed my lack of baking blogs lately. That’s because I had my cholesterol tested last June and it was borderline. Borderline is worse than bad, as borderline means you should watch it, whereas bad means you absolutely must, but either way you feel guilty when you don’t.

But there’s nothing to say that you can’t read about food. I absolutely devoured this month’s Literary Salon selection – Stanley Tucci’s bestseller, Taste: My Life Through Food. (goodreads link) This is a book for both foodies and non-foodies alike.

I must admit, I didn’t even know who Stanley Tucci was, other than that guy who ate his way through Italy last spring on those CNN TV specials – Searching For Italy, where he would visit a different city each week and explore their food culture, of which I only caught the episodes on Florence and Milan. (It’s been renewed for season two next year) He was sort of a replacement for the late Anthony Bourdain, but they must have known he had the book coming out. (His wife is a literary agent in London.) So when I saw the reviews were unanimously positive, I put it on reserve. As well as being an author, he has starred in 70 movies, although the only ones I can recall are Julie and Julia (where he played Paul Child) and The Devil Wears Prada, and also The Hunger Games. He’s the kind of nondescript actor you can easily overlook, but his book is one of those interesting reads you can’t put down.

Growing up Italian, food was always important to him, especially pasta. There are a few recipes scattered throughout the chapters, but maybe you have to be a pasta-lover to fully appreciate them. It may be blasphemous, but to me all pasta tastes the same. Yes, I know, the different textures help pick up the various sauces and fillings, but to me it’s all just pasta. But I do have a mild allergy to garlic, so I might not be the best judge.

I had many Italian friends growing up as I attended a Catholic high school. Their food was different than the meat-potato-veg fare we ate at home. Their desserts were different too – I remember in particular a cake so liquor-soaked you could get drunk on it. While Stanley Tucci came from Italian roots, he grew up in the suburbs of New York. I had to laugh when he wrote about his class-mates wanting to trade their peanut butter or baloney sandwiches for whatever tasty leftovers his mother had put in his lunchbox, scoring some extra Twinkies in the process. (My favorite was always those chocolate Hostess cupcakes with the cream filling in the centre, which we did not get very often.)

As Stanley Tucci has just turned sixty, the first few chapters are about growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. When he was thirteen his father took the family to Florence for a sabbatical year, (in the TV episode he took his parents, now in their eighties back to revisit the city), so the first time he ever ate in a restaurant was in Rome. They did not eat out very often in Florence, as a high school art teacher’s salary did not extend to dining in restaurants, but his mother cooked wonderful meals at home.

It’s hard to imagine not eating out in restaurants, but if you grew up in that era, most people didn’t, other than MacDonalds or a diner or burger joint. I was 19 before I ate Chinese food, let alone experience any other culture. My mother’s nod to pasta was spaghetti with Campbell’s tomato soup as the sauce. Ragu was a big improvement. By high school my Italian had stretched to pizza.

There’s a chapter about the food and catering on movie sets (I haven’t quite forgiven him for eating puffin in Iceland, even if there are 8 million of them), and a chapter on cooking during the pandemic while at home with his wife and children – he has two young kids and four over 18. He lost his first wife to breast cancer in 2009. He met his second wife at her sister’s (Emily Blunt) wedding (they bonded over their shared love of food) at “a venue that could be George Clooney’s villa” – there’s some name dropping, but in a fun jesting way. “A man who resembles Colin Firth” was very helpful in taking him to ER when he was nauseated after his chemo treatments. And Ryan Reynolds, what a kind soul to lend him his New York apartment while he was undergoing radiation treatment.

On the tv episodes I often wondered how he stayed so slim? He says he has always had a fast metabolism, but the last chapter of the book deals with his 2017 bout with tongue cancer. For a person so devoted to food, to have such a diagnosis must have been devastating, especially having been through cancer with his first wife, and now having a young family with a two year old and a baby on the way. After surgery, chemo and radiation, he endured 6 months of tube feeding, and then two years of not being able to taste food, and a heightened sensitivity to hot and cold. But he came through it, being all the more appreciative of surviving, and being able to taste once more.

This is an entertaining read, as well as a revealing personal memoir. The descriptions are witty and funny and it’s just lovely writing. One small complaint, which spoiled it for me a bit, was the number of swear words. It seems to be a fad these days, but to me it’s just not literary, and if that is the only adjective you can come up with to describe a dish or restaurant, then you must be channeling Anthony Bourdain. So for that I subtract one star….and maybe another half-star for the lack of any reference to gelato.

And now for the music part – I saw Billy Joel sing this in concert when I was a poor student in the 70’s – back when Italian food was a plate of homemade lasagna and a bottle of Mateus.

“A bottle of white, a bottle of red
Perhaps a bottle of rose instead
We’ll get a table near the street
In our old familiar place
You and I -face to face

A bottle of red, a bottle of white
It all depends upon your appetite
I’ll meet you any time you want
In our Italian Restaurant”

Fifty Years Ago Today

“It was fifty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play….” 

No – if my memory serves correct, the lyrics are, it was twenty years ago today.

You know you’re getting older when the Beatles are considered senior’s music and many younger people don’t even know who they are.  One youngster upon hearing an early Paul McCartney track remarked that he thought the singer would go far. If you haven’t seen the cute British movie, Yesterday, it’s based on the same premise – a world where no one knows the Beatles music.  (Aside – British actors must get annoyed when every lead role goes to the lovely Lily James.)  

I recently turned old enough that the government is now sending me money – along with an information package that I’m now eligible for free drugs and pneumococcal and shingles vaccines and reminders to get routine tests done so I don’t become a drain on the heath care system someday.  I’m right smack in the middle of the baby boomers, and the problem with my generation is that there are so many of us.

I came across this list in a magazine geared to boomers the other day, and yes, we are still a marketing demographic.

How many do you remember?

Suddenly I’m fifteen again in the kitchen of our old farmhouse waiting for the bus, with the radio tuned to the local FM station. It’s 7:30 and I’m wearing a mini-skirt and trying to grab a few bites of breakfast with the smell of perked coffee in the air. I’m sure my mother sat down and enjoyed a cup when we were all out the door and peace and quiet reigned once more. Maybe she changed the station to some easy-listening music.

The bus stopped frequently as practically every farm had kids and my brother playing lookout at the window could see the flashing lights down the road, thus giving me a few extra minutes to gather my books and fringed suede purse, (all the rage then.) The bus picked up students for six different high schools in town so it was crowded. (Did I mention there were so many of us?) As we were the last ones on we often had to sit three to a seat, and someone from another school would reluctantly move over to make room, but the advantage to being scrunched in like sardines near the front, was close proximity to the bus-driver’s radio and more top ten hits. I got in at least an hour of music a day that way.   (A few years later when I was in my senior year, the peak had thinned out and there were empty seats. Now there are only three high schools left.)   

Even though we lived in the country, we weren’t country music fans, unless you counted cross over artists like Anne Murray, Kenny Rogers and Crystal Gayle, so the only one I recognize from the country list is Charley Pride – Kiss an Angel Good Morning, but I know every one of the top ten billboard hits. 

Of the movie list, I only remember seeing Billy Jack (with my cousin) and Fiddler on the Roof (my mother’s choice), both rather forgettable, other than perhaps one memorable song each.  We didn’t have the money or the wheels to go to the show very often.  I think Love Story was out that year too, a more popular film for teens, but not all movies were good, then and now.

We might have had better music but would I want to be that age again – no!  Too much homework, and not enough money.

Many of my fellow boomers are retiring.   My dentist recently retired and when his millennial-aged children took over the practice, the first thing to go was the oldies-but-goodies radio station. During my last checkup I heard Spirit in the Sky for the first time in decades, (possibly not the best soundtrack for a root canal.) Now it’s some variation of that horrible rap music.  I turned the radio on the other day and heard this snippet of a lyric, “I held your hair back when you were throwing up.”  Now, there’s a romantic visual.  Contrast that to “Well, she was just seventeen, and you know what I mean…”    Not that all those hits on the list were great though – Knock Three Times on the Ceiling was pure cheese – the same thing could be easily handled today by a text message.  

My financial adviser recently retired – I’ve been with him since I was 32 and took an “Investing in the 80’s” evening course he taught at the local community college.  We had a meet and greet to introduce me to his much younger replacement, and I swear we both had tears in our eyes reminiscing about old times and 12% interest rates and that $150 dot.com stock I once sold for $10.  I only saw him once a year at RRSP time, but he was someone you could count on for wise advice, well except for that one stock whose name escapes me, although it caused much angst at the time. Now I have to start all over again with someone else. The same with my doctor, my accountant, my hairdresser.  I’m already on Lawyer Number Three. The previous two died young, and as the replacement is the same age, I’m worried. You see all that expertise and work ethic walk out the door, and it can be unnerving having to adjust to someone new, whatever their age.   

That’s the other thing about being in your sixties.  People YOUR OWN AGE start to die on you – cousins, work colleagues, the spouses of friends. You start to read the obituaries online.  I lost a work colleague last week, a kind soul who always used to call me SISTER, and I felt incredibly sad that I hadn’t gone to visit her, hadn’t even known she was that sick. 

I remember the head nurse of chronic care once saying that the key to a successful old age, was being able to adjust to change and loss.  No wonder they say, “old age isn’t for sissies” but really what is the alternative? Another approach is accepting the limitations that come with age, not necessarily giving up but pursuing more realistic and meaningful goals. I won’t be backpacking in Europe anytime soon, but I might still become a rich and famous novelist and rent a villa in Tuscany and invite all of my blogging friends…..

It also helps to have a passion in life, a sound mind and good health. It’s hard to enjoy yourself at any age if you are in constant pain or suffering from any of the many indignities of growing older – bad knees, hips, cataracts, etc….many of them fixable, but reminders all the same.

Now that I’m officially “young-old” my mother must be “old-old” although she has never really seemed her age. She has certainly been an inspiration when it comes to aging (she built a new house at 72, took up painting at 87 and has had several solo exhibits) but somehow I doubt if I’ll see her age. I have more of my dad’s genes, hence the need to start taking better care of myself. (You might have noticed there have been no baking blogs lately…..maybe next week)

If there’s one thing that scared me when reading Keep Sharp – Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s new book about building a better brain, it’s that our habits in middle age (good or bad) help determine how we will live our old age. Number one was exercise. Some people were motivated to make positive changes during the pandemic, others waited it out like hibernating-couch-potato-sloths addicted to multiple streaming services. I recently signed up for Netflix – the last Canadian holdout – as I figure it’s going to be another long winter ahead.

If anything I think the pandemic has aged us all to some extent. We stay home more, get more sleep, take afternoon naps, watch more TV, have tea and toast or Meals on Wheels/Door Dash delivered when we’re sick of cooking and fill our days with errands and appointments to minimize exposure……plus scan the flyers for bargains as food costs soar! I’m sure I’ll be taking up bird-watching any day now – seriously, I have three sets of binoculars and this is on my Bucket list for next year. If old age is for the birds, I want to see them!

Apparently albums are back in style again for music connoisseurs, so I’m thinking I might pull some of those old records out of the basement and crank up the stereo (Pioneer with vintage 70’s turntable – make me an offer) and listen to some Carly Simon if “it’s not too late.” Let the Music Play!  

PS. A neighbor of mine lived to be a vibrant 105, but she was always young at heart…

#The Colors of Fall – Wordless Wednesday

Let your photos(s) tell a story.

Not all fall colors are found on the trees.
Some drift down on the soft autumn breeze
While Anne delighted in the beauty of the season
Jane’s flare for satire was fun for a reason
Some folks like apples – red, juicy and round
While others admire the gourds on the ground
And some just prefer to paddle around
Admiring the foliage with all of it’s hues
While others prefer the more mellower views
Some are just happy it’s red plaid weather
While others plan to escape altogether.
Enjoy the last days of autumn in all of it’s cheer
For that cold nasty white stuff will quickly be here!

Ducks Unlimited

It’s certainly been lovely weather for ducks lately.  I’ve never seen a year with so much rain, but ducks seem to be in short supply.  I’ve been searching for ducks for my mother to paint, but they’re also such fun creatures to watch, with their waddles and dives, and their graceful swimming.  

On a warm September day, we visited a waterfront park, where we found this lone duck swimming in the blue water of the bay…

While his brethren were all down at the end of the parking lot enjoying the pop-up pool from the last torrential rainstorm. 

Maybe the eats were better?

There were warning signs not to feed the ducks, especially bread which is the equivalent to duck junk food, but we met an old man who came to the park every day to do just that. I suppose if you’re 95 you’re allowed to break the rules. He buys five dollars worth of french fries, and potatoes are vegetables so they might qualify as vegetarian fare, but my research shows they’re not recommended either. 

After a short swim, they congregated on the grass to dry off and take a nap.

I like the mallards with the green heads the best, but I wonder if that one with the blue stripe isn’t a bit of a rebel, like you see with people who have a single stripe of purple in their hair.

The black and gray ones are striking too.

While we were chatting with the old man, the ducks suddenly all rose up together, as if on some secret signal, and flew over the bay.  Too bad I didn’t have my camera ready as I was standing in the middle of a flurry of duck wings and it would have been a great shot. I wondered who, what, and why they had made for the water.  

As a tribute to the popularity of ducks there are more duck idioms than you can count….as easy as duck soup, a lame duck, like water off a ducks back, to take to something like a duck to water, to be a sitting duck, to be a lucky duck, to have all your ducks in a row ….another thing I have not been lucky enough to photograph.  

And who can forget that scene in the Chinese restaurant from The Christmas Story, where the waiter chops the head off the duck because it was smiling.  Duck a la orange may be popular and people may rave about it’s crispness, but no, just no.  I’ve had it once, at a dinner party, only to be polite, but also because there was nothing else to eat, and found it very greasy.  Besides, how can you eat Donald Duck?

Ducks Unlimited is an organization committed to the preservation of wetlands.  It’s been around forever and there’s a Canadian chapter, and I always thought it was a noble cause, but after reading on their website that the majority of members are hunters, I may have to rethink that.  It does seem somewhat hypocritical, maybe just as bad as eating duck at a dinner party?

I did however enter mom in their art contest a couple of times.  It’s not that the prize was great or anything, the winning entry was put on a postage stamp or something, but I though it would be good exposure.  They weren’t interested in folk-art paintings however, as the winners were always so technically perfect they could have been photographs. 

When we visited the small pond at the children’s animal farm, a few years ago, it was overrun with ducks and geese, hence this painting…

Duck’s Unlimited

but all of a sudden most of them disappeared – relocated somewhere else for population control.

Last year the pond water was so thick with green algae scum that it looked like grass, and I could only find these two.

This year when we visited, on a late October day, they were irrigating the water.

These may be the same pair, but at least they have cleaner water.   

With the reflection, it looks a bit like a Monet painting.

I’m not sure how they decide which ones are penned up?

Last stop, was a small inland lake, but as you can see no ducks in sight…..

…..although there were plenty of Canadian geese. There’s never any shortage of them.

This lake was the inspiration for an older oil painting of my mother’s, one of my fall favorites.    

And lastly……

Can you believe these duck sweatshirts were all the rage here in the eighties? There was an entire store devoted to them, in a whole range of colors, for men, women and children. I had an aqua green one which I think I wore once. Not sure if that is a duck or a loon on the logo, but it’s close enough, although loons are a whole other post – the call of the loon being a much more haunting sound than quack quack!