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.                                                                                                                                                                   

 

Music and Poetry for a Snowy Day

Karen Cullaton - In The Moon of Winter - Alcohol Ink on Yupo

                   In The Moon of Winter – Alcohol Ink on Yupo                                                                                                                                     

          I love music, but I’m not a big fan of poetry.   While I have no wish to offend anyone, I find a lot of it depressing, although it is entirely possible that I might be basing my opinion on too much Sylvia Path, having had little exposure to more modern poetry.   But then I feel the same way about most abstract art.  If I have to spend too much time figuring out what something is supposed to mean, I lose interest.  Too many high school English classes spent deconstructing metaphors ruined poetry for me for good.   Not that there aren’t perfectly wonderful poems out there.   While searching for a quote on winter in my new Bartlett’s Book of Quotations, I came across the poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost.   Robert Frost (1874-1963) was an American poet famous for his poems about rural New England, winner of four Pulitzer prizes and poet laureate of Vermont.   This poem was published in 1923 when he was living on a farm and horses were still a big part of the countryside and it seems particularly appropriate for this wintry time of year.   His other most famous poem is The Road Not Taken. Both are lovely poems but I will spare you the analysis, because that is the part of poetry I hated.   A good poem should be able to explain itself.   

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening 

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”  Copyright 1923. 
Snowy Woods - AMc - 2018

Snowy Woods – 2018

        It may be old-fashioned but I like the rhyming of the stanzas, that is an art form which you don’t see much anymore.   I remember studying both poems in grade eight as poetry was part of the curriculum.  Our teacher was a sixties hippy-child and being only nineteen herself, she wore mini skirts and maxi coats and let us listen to records in class, I Am A Rock (music link) and Sounds of Silence, the music of that generation being a form of poetry in itself.   Although I am fairly certain Simon and Garfunkel were not part of the English curriculum, no one told.   

I Am A Rock   

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window
To the streets below
On a freshly fallen, silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island

I’ve built walls
A fortress, steep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock
I am an island

Don’t talk of love
Well, I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
And I won’t disturb the slumber
Of feelings that have died
If I never loved, I never would have cried
I am a rock
I am an island

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

Simon and Garfunkel – I Am A Rock – Sounds of Silence copyright 1965

            Our young teacher was correct, for what is a song but poetry set to music?   I sometimes think that is what is lacking in modern music, often the lyrics are stupid, profane, repetitive or just plain bad.  I think that is why I prefer those old classics from Sinatra & Company, the lyrics rhymed.   Taylor Swift is a modern musician who uses rhyming effectively.   While rap music may have rhyming lyrics it is sorely missing in melody, being able to string stanzas together does not a song make if there is no discernible tune.    Check out this 1937 Irving Berlin tune, I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, for a cheerful rhyming melody about winter.    Click here for link to Ella. 

The snow is snowing and the wind is blowing
But I can weather the storm!
What do I care how much it may storm?
For I’ve got my love to keep me warm
I can’t remember a worse December
Just watch those icicles form!
Oh, what do I care if icicles form?
I’ve got my love to keep me warm
Off with my overcoat, off with my glove
I need no overcoat, I’m burning with love!
My heart’s on fire, the flame grows higher
So I will weather the storm!
What do I care how much it may storm?
I’ve got my love to keep me warm.
Here’s a sadder tune with a Toronto locale from Bruce Cockburn, a Canadian singer/songwriter, with simple but vivid lyrics.  (music link)     
The Coldest Night of the Year  (Bruce Cockburn – copyright 1981)
I was up all night, socializing
Trying to keep the latent depression from crystalizing
Now the sun is lurking just behind the Scarborough horizonAnd you’re not even here
On the coldest night of the year.I took in Yonge Street at a glance
Heard the punkers playing
Watched the bikers dance
Everybody wishing they could go to the south of France

And you’re not even here
On the coldest night of the year

Hey look at me now
See the shape I’m in
It’s taken me so long to catch on to what’s going on
Inside this skin
When two lovers really love there’s nothing there
But this suddenly compact universe
Skin and breath and hair

I watched the all night TV show
In the all night bar
I drove all the people home
I was the one with the car

Now I’m sitting here alone and sleepless
And wondering where you are
And wishing you were here
On the coldest night of the year

 

        Gordon Lightfoot, a songwriter/poet from the sixties was another master at rhyming stanzas, his Song For A Winter’s Night is a Canadian classic.
 

Song For A Winter’s Night  (Gordon Lightfoot – copyright 1967)

The lamp is burning low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon the page
The words of love you sent me

If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are lifting
The morning light steals across my window pane
Where webs of snow are drifting

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
And to be once again with with you
To be once again with with you

Song For A Winter’s Night – Gordon Lightfoot – click here for music link 

                There was an article recently in the newspaper about a lecture series and one of the topics was how to write a hit pop song in thirty minutes. A local musician is going to solicit a poem from the audience at random and write a hit tune to that poem on the spot.   Sounds intriguing….so I got out my old rhyming dictionary and set to work. 

On a winter afternoon
a summer’s day in June
cannot really come too soon
let’s all go to Cancun
(Chorus)
Forget the snow
Let’s pack and go

There you have it – my first song.   Ok, it needs work…..but it’s clear all the good lyrics are already taken.

Postscript:   While the lecture was interesting for a non-musician like me, I was disappointed in the song.   Since no one was brave enough to volunteer their own creation, the musician selected a W.B. Yeats poem (the Lake Isle of Innisfree) from a book of poetry someone had brought and sang what sounded like a Gregorian chant.  Lacking proper rhyming structure poor old Yeats did not translate well to melody, but perhaps it might have been a hit in 1888?  

Postscript:   My apologies if the spacing is off in the lyrics sections of this post. There must be something I am doing wrong with WordPress, as it looks fine in Draft form,  but they seem to have a mind of their own and swear they Ain’t Misbehavin‘.   

 

 

How to Make Your Home Hygge

 

Ski Lodge - AMc - 2016
Ski Lodge – 2016

            Now that I’m no longer working and my daily commute is a walk through the snow drifts to the mail box, I’ve realized that my life is already pretty hygge, at least compared to what it was.   No more watching the weather forecasts for potential snowstorms or laying awake half the night worrying about the roads, (I had one of those jobs where the only option for staying home was if you called in dead), or driving home late at night through whiteouts, where the only good thing was that you were the only fool on the road and hence could drive down the middle of it.    One of the benefits of getting older is that you don’t have to work anymore, and if you are elderly like my mother, no one expects you to go out at all, so you can stay at home and paint.

             A big part of hygge is appreciating the things you have and do that make winter a bit more bearable.  (see previous blog Comfort and Joy: How to survive January, for more on hygge, which is a derived from a Danish word for “well-being”).   So, what are the things that make a home hygge?   The Danes are big on coziness, candles, coffee, blankets, fireplaces, mulled wine, sweets, relaxed decor, soft lighting, comfortable clothing and casual entertaining.   Sounds like a recipe for a snow day. Hygge is even better if you can arrange for a snowstorm, preferably one with howling winds, the kind where the weather forecaster tells everyone to stay inside and off the roads.   Then after it has passed, and the world is a winter wonderland, you can go outside and make a snowman.  

Blue Snowman - AMC - 2017
Blue Snowman –  2017

      And of course no snow day would be complete without grilled cheese and tomato soup, it’s the stuff childhood memories are made of.  

          There’s nothing worse for your house than to feel bare and cheerless after the Christmas decorations have been taken down, (your house has feelings too, see Tidying up blog Jan), so I keep some of them up until the end of January, sometimes mid-February, if it’s a particularly harsh winter.  You can put the Santa and reindeer stuff away for a much-deserved rest, but the greenery, pine cones, berries and fairy lights can help provide a hygge atmosphere.     15781418_10154920876079726_6554042033651567829_n     

      The Danes are the biggest consumers of candles, (mainly unscented), so light some pretty candles.  

     Comfort food is a big part of hygge.  Homemade beef vegetable soup simmering on the stove, leftover turkey pie, mac and cheese,

 

 

or a big pot of chili, with a simple green salad and some warm bread, all make a nice evening supper.   Dempster’s baguettes are so good, you could pass them off as homemade – eight minutes in the oven, and they come in whole grain and rosemary/garlic too.   Baking itself is very hygge, brownies from a box are quick and can bribe snow shovelers, while a date nut loaf takes more work but can give your house a wonderful smell.    If you don’t want to bake, you can spray some cinnamon room spray around and buy some treats.

      The Danes love reading nooks, so a plump lounge chair with some cozy pillows and a throw, is a good place to sip cocoa and read your favorite magazine,  even better if the chair faces a window where you can watch the snow falling outside or the cardinals at the feeder. 

         If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace, then nothing beats reading a book by the fire.  You can start in on that stack you got at the second-hand sale last year.  Popcorn and mulled cider make a nice fireside snack.  Add some mellow music, Ella Fitzgerald is always good.

       If you haven’t got a love to keep you warm, a cat is good company, maybe two, but no more than five.  

        Reading in bed with a cat purring, and tea and cookies, is pure hygge.

 

             There is something about plaid that is so cheerful.  I put a red plaid flannel duvet cover on my bed before Christmas and leave it on all winter.   It looks nice with crisp white sheets and lacy pillows, an idea I saw in a decorating magazine once.    A plaid flannel housecoat with a fleece lining (Vanity Fair at Sears before they closed, but L.L. Bean carries these too), can keep you warm and cozy while you do your final check around the house before bed, and when you look outside, yes it is still snowing.   It’s really piling up out there, you may be snowed in tomorrow too.   As you drift off to sleep, listening to the north winds howl, may you have sweet dreams….of summer!            

Song of The Day:  Our House – Crosby Stills and Nash – music link