The Worst Drive Ever

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.

Is there a train on the track?

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.

Hey, get off our turf!

 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?

Embracing Winter

It’s here.  Finally.  Winter.  We’ve been spoiled so far with good weather in my corner of Canada, with only one big snowstorm in early November and just  an inch or two since then.   Like much of North America, we had a green Christmas.   It’s been cold then balmy, flurries then rain, zigzagging back and forth like Mother Nature can’t make up her mind.   But now that winter is upon us, we might as well decide to embrace it.    Here are some ways to enjoy the season or at least feel grateful to be hibernating inside.    

To Ski or Apres Ski

Such a difficult question….

Leave the Christmas decorations up.   While you might want to pack up Santa and his reindeer, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy all the twinkly lights for another month or two.    I usually leave my greenery up until Valentine’s Day.

lighted spruce decoration

Leave the outside decorations up too.   Snow on a plaid ribbon looks especially festive. 

winter pine decor with plaid ribbon

If you love the smell of pine, light a scented candle and indulge in some small luxuries like pine hand soap and hand cream. 

pine scents

Have oatmeal for breakfast, with raisins and brown sugar.

Oatmeal

Then go for a walk in your warm parka.  If the seagulls can brave the cold you can too.

Seagulls in winter

Reward yourself afterwards by trying out a new hot drink.   Steep an Earl Gray teabag in a cup of steamy apple cider for a sweet/tart taste. 

Cider and tea mixture

Wear something in a cheerful plaid, preferably flannel. 

vintage plaid flannel shirt

 If you don’t own anything plaid, enjoy your morning coffee in a plaid mug. 

plaid coffee mug

Look out the window at the snow and be glad you don’t have to drive in it. 

Christmas Wreath

Take advantage of being stuck indoors and spend a productive day cleaning out your closets.   Save a scarf for a snowman.   Once you have room, buy a new winter coat on sale, in any color but black.   Winter needs a shot of color.  

Winter coats

If you must venture out, keep warm and look stylish by learning how to tie scarves like the weather forecasters on TV.   I swear they must take a course.  Winter is also one of the few seasons where you can wear a hat and not get stared at. 

plaid scarf and winter coat

Bake something, anything that smells good – muffins, cookies. apple crisp.  Go outside and come back in just so you can smell the kitchen.  

date nut loaf

Date nut loaf anyone?

While you’re outside, feed the birds. 

birdfeeder

Go bird-watching with binoculars.   Hunt for those elusive cardinals with your camera.  cardinals AMc

If you’re lucky enough to get a snow day and the kids are off school, build a snowman or two. 

Have a competition for the best one in the neighborhood.

Snowman

He does not look happy about that sunshine…

Have tomato soup and grilled cheese for lunch – you’ll need stamina to shovel the end of the driveway where the snowplow has dumped a row of boulders the size of icebergs. 

tomato soup and grilled cheese

Make comfort food for supper.  Turkey stew anyone?

turkey stew

January is sofa season.   Watch a movie or read your favorite magazines.  

chair and pillows Victoria

Read a book or two….or sixteen.    Buy enough books for the whole winter so you don’t have to go to the library at all.     

book outlet

Bookoutlet bargains….

We’ve all been hygged to death but comfy PJ’s, warm socks and flannel sheets on a cold winter’s night help make things warm and cozy.   A velour or chenille robe for chilly mornings is great too.    Not sure if I would have paid $35 for a pair of reading socks, but $12 on sale is good. 

Reading socks

What a marketing scheme…

Have cookies and cocoa before bed.

mug and cookie

And to all a good night!    Happy January!     (600 words and lots of pictures)

 

 

 

 

The Skating Rink

             One of the best things to enjoy about winter is skating.   In fact, years ago you wouldn’t have been considered Canadian if you didn’t like skating, my generation having been raised on hockey and a daily dose of outdoor exercise.   If you were a true Canadian, you never missed watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights.   I admit I haven’t skated in years and thought to take it up again in retirement, but my last Bone Density test was not good, so I fear my skating days are over.   Watching the neighbors kids  through my kitchen window is the closest I have come to the sport lately, and although I might have been moaning about having to do the dishes by hand at least I had a pleasant scene to gaze upon, especially after school when the spotlights were glowing, and the flurries flying.    Still, I was wondering, what if I built my own skating rink?   I have such a big square rectangle of a back yard, that it seems a shame to waste it.    

Skating rink

       Now that the neighbors have moved, I seldom see any children playing outside in the winter or in the summer either.   When I first moved to this subdivision there were always games of street hockey after school, now everyone is inside on their video games.   I grew up skating on the farm.    There was a low spot behind the barn which made for an excellent skating rink when it was flooded.   Here is a picture my mother painted of it, complete with the family dogs.   My brothers and cousins would sometimes go to the pond at the back of the farm to play hockey, but it was a long way to walk, there and back, in the cold.  Hockey on the Pond - AMc

Although skating was one of my favorite winter activities, I was not thrilled about having to wear black skates.   They were hand-me-downs from my brother, but my mother probably figured it didn’t matter as who would see us, way out in the country,skating (me)

But even at age six I knew that black skates were for boys – girls wore white skates, for figure skating.    By the time the arena was built in town and free skating hours were held on Sundays, I had a pair of white skates as I simply refused to go otherwise.    The best thing about skating in the arena was the music blaring from the loudspeakers, but it was the sixties and we had the Beatles and other groovy tunes.    While cleaning out the basement a few years ago I found the diary I got for Christmas the year I was eleven.   We had a skating rink at school that January, courtesy of some long forgotten but dedicated teacher, and practically every day the entry is the same – “went skating at lunch hour”.   Re-reading the diary, I seem to have been obsessed with skating, but maybe I had nothing else to write about – our lives were simpler and more uneventful back then.   By the time the February thaw came I had given up on both the skating and the writing and the rest of the diary is just a series of blank pages.

The winters were colder too and longer, at least it seems so in retrospect.   I remember my cousin and I once skating over the fields when we were teenagers – there was such a hard crust of freezing rain and ice on top of the snow that the whole farm was our skating rink that weekend.      

My dad remembers a few years where the winter was so cold and the ice build up so thick that it was possible to skate on the river.   That would be  dangerous now, and probably was then too.   My mother lost a childhood friend, a teenage boy who fell through the ice.   She was to go with him and another friend that day, but she didn’t have any skates.   My dad saved up $5 in the Depression to buy his first pair of skates.      

Skating must be in my genes, as my maternal grandmother hailed from Holland, where she remembered skating on the canals in the winter.    Dutch Inheritance - AMcWhile every small town in Canada has an indoor skating arena, there are very seldom any outdoor rinks anymore, and by outdoor rinks I mean big community rinks, not just a small square of ice in someone’s backyard.    Occasionally someone’s attempt to build a backyard rink gets shut down because of zoning bylaws or neighbors complaining about the noise, but kudos to the brave dads who attempt it, as they are the ones standing out at midnight in the freezing cold flooding the thing every night.   

Being outside in the fresh air was always part of the fun, layering up with double socks and mittens and thick scarfs around our necks and faces…..and then coming in hours later with red cheeks and frozen fingers to warm up over hot chocolate.    Some winters are just not suitable, it’s too mild or rainy, or just not cold enough – you must have a consistent spell of below freezing weather….the old six weeks of winter thing.   We did not even get our first major snowstorm this year until January 19, so this has not been the best year for making ice, but we are now in for a prolonged spell of below freezing windchill weather, so why don’t we have more outdoor rinks?   I see parcels of empty land here and there around town and think now that would make an ideal skating rink.   It seems to me that it wouldn’t be that expensive to build a temporary ice rink, and think of the fun the kids could have.   We have splashpads now that cost $150,000 instead of swimming pools.   You can skate in an arena where ice time is rare and always scheduled, but there’s nowhere to play a pick-up game of shimmy.    Many larger cities have skating centres, like Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto.   You can skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, but the weather is much colder in our nation’s capital.   If I’m ever in New York in the wintertime I would risk falling and breaking a hip just to be able to skate at the Rockefeller Centre – but first I would make sure I have travel insurance!       

skating rink

Having a backyard rink would be fun for the adults too.    I’ve often thought a skating party would be nice idea for a New Years Eve party, for all ages – the music – the outdoor lights – a bonfire – hot drinks – good food.    Chili and potato soup, or lobster Newburg and champagne if you want something fancier.    I used to talk sports with one of my work colleagues, who was a real hockey fiend.    Every year I would joke, “Bob, do you think this is the year I will have a skating rink?“ and he would reply, “If you build it, we will come.”     

I still have my skates – they are in the basement somewhere.   Am I brave enough to take a spin?  I wish I had a rink outside my back door….  

Song of the Day:   Joni Mitchell – I Wish I Had a River

Beverage of the Day:  Hot Chocolate made with imported Valrhona French cocoa….at $20 a box it’s expensive but worth it and not at all bitter as dark chocolate can sometimes be. 

hot chocolate

Gourmet Hot Chocolate

Snow Day

          There’s nothing nicer than a snowstorm in January, especially when the early morning news is telling everyone to stay home and take a snow day, and the local radio station is listing the bus cancellations, and school and business closings.   There’s no second guessing, should I go out or not, when they start telling everyone to stay off the roads.   When I was working, I dreaded winter as I had a long commute – it might be bright and sunny when I left home but by the time I got to work in the snowbelt region 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/or a 24 hour shift.   When I worked in a small rural hospital if it was an exceptionally bad storm, the staff who lived in town would be collected by snowmobile – no need to stay home, we will come and get you!    Many a snowy night I drove home in whiteouts over unplowed country roads where I was the only fool on the road.   A friend of mine once ran into a pack of wild dogs/coyotes on her drive home – they must have been disoriented in the blizzard to have come so far out of the bush and refused to get off the road.  After I changed jobs, it was even worse, as there was no backup staff or plan.   I only remember my workplace being closed once due to snow and only then because my boss had wisely but reluctantly made the decision…..but that was the year we had a snowmageddon and the national guard was called in to deal with all the stranded cars on the highway, many of whom had been there for over 24 hours.   I did not even get a snow day as I was called in to cover a shift near where I lived for someone who couldn’t get in.   It always amazed me how busy we would be on those days, and how many people would be out and about during snowstorms, even when they were telling people to stay home.   Of course, there would be the expected increase in emergencies – car accidents, heart attacks, pneumonia and such, but then there would be the others.    I reached the conclusion that there are people who just do not like being stuck at home during a snowstorm, they must be out and about…to the grocery store for milk, the library to return books….any excuse will do.    Personally, now that I am retired, I am grateful for the opportunity to stay home when the weather out there is frightful. 

snow

Who doesn’t recall the excitement of an unexpected day off school when you were a child.   I think we remember them because they were so few and far between.    Last year there were about ten days when the buses didn’t run here and another five or so when the school was closed altogether.   Snow, fog, freezing rain, some of which never even materialized but the school board must make the decision at 5:30 in the morning and there are liability issues.   I remember one year our rural bus was cancelled for several days.  We made snow angels, built snow forts and snowmen, played fox and the goose in the pristine whiteness and had hot chocolate (the real stuff with cocoa and milk) when we came in from playing, and usually grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch.       

My dad would plow out the lane-way with the front-end loader on the tractor but basically we were snowed in until the county roads were cleared, which was never a priority for the township.   My ancestors went to church in this old cutter when the roads were impassable.   

sleigh ride 3 (2) I guess you could say the one horse open sleigh was their backup plan!   (This picture is from the 1940’s when my dad still had the big Clydesdale horses).     

Wreath with snow

The month of January can be quite pleasant, once all the stress and merry-making of Christmas is over.   The days are quiet – it’s a good time for personal reflection, journal writing, and soup on the stove.    You don’t have to socialize if you don’t feel like it, you can read and watch movies and putter around the house with no agenda in mind.    You can bake and eat with no thought of exercising off those calories.   It’s much too cold and icy to go out, although you might be brave enough to shovel the driveway if no one volunteers to do it for you.  It’s a time of year to be savored.    All is white without, all is warm within.   You can go to bed at night and listen to the wind howl and be grateful for hearth and home. 

gingerbread house

While a snow storm can be a blessing in disguise, a forced stop to our constant whirlwind of activity, if the storm goes on too long cabin fever can set in.    I tend to feel a bit claustrophobic if the driveway and street aren’t plowed out after 24 hours.   I want to stay home but I like the idea that I can get out if I need to.    Of course, if the hydro or heat goes out or the pipes freeze that is a whole other story…..not fun at all.   And if the winter drags on too long into March that can be depressing indeed.  

So, what are the ingredients for a perfect snow day – comfortable clothes, but you don’t have to get dressed at all if you don’t want to, stay in your PJ’s.   A nice pair of thick socks is a requirement and you must have a stack of books or magazines.   I always have some books on reserve for just such days.

Snow pictures - AMc

A cozy chair in front of the fireplace or in front of a window where you can watch the snow softly falling is ideal.   Add some soft pillows and a comfy throw, plaid is perfect. 

A cup of spiced tea is lovely to sip while you read…and if you get sleepy while reading, simply move over to the couch for a long winter’s nap.   But first throw something in the crock-pot so you can awaken to the delightful aroma of homemade stew.    If you feel like baking, chocolate chip cookies or brownies are always a good choice and much appreciated by the neighborhood snow shovelers.    I always enjoy watching the kids on the neighbor’s skating rink from my kitchen window while I do the dishes, twirling around in their colorful Nordic coats and scarfs like a real-life Gap ad.    Somehow the weather is seldom too bad for a game of ice hockey.  Sometimes there is even night skating under the spotlights, the flurries falling, the slam of the puck against the boards, he shoots, he scores.  After supper, it’s movie time – and popcorn and hot chocolate.  Later you can watch the storm highlights on the evening news and be glad you are not out in it – and so, to bed.   Tomorrow all will be sunny and bright like a winter wonderland…..and regular life will resume, refreshed by this quiet moment of winterlude.  

Quote of the Day:                           

Brew me a cup for a winter’s night.
For the wind howls loud and the furies fight;
Spice it with love and stir it with care,
And I’ll toast our bright eyes,
my sweetheart fair.     (Minna Antrim)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Song of the Day:  Snow – from White Christmas – Bing Crosby & Co.