Learning to Appreciate Snow Again

As I sit down to write this piece, all is calm, all is bright. Miss Ivy, the “guardian cat”, is snoring on the wing chair beside me while I sip my morning coffee. Just outside my window is the first major snowfall of this season.

What a great way to spend a weekend snow day. I am very fortunate indeed for this simple pleasure.

I look out my window and think to myself how pretty the winter wonderland is. Then I stop myself and say “Whoa! What happened to that guy who used to ‘hate’ winter?”

The answer is that things have changed quite a bit.

For so many years, I have equated snowfalls with stress, the fear of the unknown, and having to dig deeply for an extra dose patience.

I don’t know why in Ottawa the show must go on, even in inclement weather, but only in rare and very extreme weather conditions was work ever “cancelled”.

It always brings a smile to my face to see news reports from other cities that shut down when they had one or two inches of snow on the ground. “That would never happen here”, I always think to myself as one to two inches on the ground is just an average winter day in Ottawa. But it didn’t mean it was an easy day.

Back when I was taking the city bus to school or to work, a snowy day meant a longer commute time in an overheated bus, while wearing a winter coat, sweating like a pig, wishing I could take another shower by the time I got to my destination. It also meant the crap shoot of whether the bus will be late or if it will show up at all, meaning that extra layers of clothes were needed to stand outside waiting, to protect from the elements.

It also meant the risk of being late for an important commitment, which is excruciating for someone who prides himself on his punctuality.

But all one can do it make the best of it, get some good music going on the headphones, breathe deeply and just relax.

When I was driving to work (when my office relocated), it meant leaving the house earlier because there would inevitably be an accident (or two, or three…) on the main artery leading to the office. It meant a longer commute time, dealing with the unknown variable of drivers who don’t seemingly drive for the weather conditions.

But all one can do it make the best of it, get some good music going on the car’s music system (before hitting the road), breathe deeply and just relax.

And don’t get me started on freezing rain, which seems to bring out equal parts fearlessness and foolishness on the part of certain drivers.

Then, when I got home from my work day, after a long commute, it usually meant shoveling, until my back decided I was getting too old for that and I had to hire a service to take care of that for me.

Back when we used to travel for business, I always cringed when my manager would suggest I was needed in another city for meetings or to deliver training over the winter months. It was always a source of stress and apprehension as to whether the weather would favour traveling or whether I’d be spending the day in an airport due to cancelled or rescheduled flights, watching the plane’s wings get de-iced multiple times before we took off, worrying about meeting the ambitious schedule of commitments at my destination.

For those reasons, to me, winter was synonymous with struggle, and trying to accept that I had no control over the situation.

Being forced to work from home during Covid-19, took that struggle out of the equation. I didn’t have to leave any earlier to commute to my home office. I didn’t have to shovel a path to my home office. I didn’t have to wear extra layers. I didn’t have to yell from the back of an overcrowded overheated bus, to please turn off the heat.

Now, on a snow day, I can look out the window and finally start to admire the delicate, lacy beauty of the snow gently falling and clinging to the trees of our cute little country property, a little like the closing scene of a Hallmark Christmas movie.

This is not likely to change over the course of this winter, as signs are pointing to a continuing to work from home for a while longer.

With my retirement planned for June, by the time we get to next winter, commuting will be completely off the table. To me, retirement will be about developing my writing projects, catching up on my reading, catching up on the streaming shows I missed over the years and perfecting my recipe for gluten-free pie crust.

I won’t need to travel far for any of that, and when I do need to step out, I can plan it (or reschedule it) around the weather forecast.

This is not to say that if we get another winter like 2008, the year when the snowbanks were taller than me, or a winter that seems to drag on and on well into April or May, my appreciation for winter might come with limits.

But to be able to look out the window and enjoy the beauty, instead of feeling a sense of dread from having to drive in winter road conditions, is definitely an improvement and a joy in itself.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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My Feline Security Detail

It never ceases to amaze me how a cat can pick up a strange habit, seemingly out-of-the-blue, and we end up having to adjust, whether it makes sense or not.

It could be as innocuous as a different inflection in our cat’s meows, or to find her somewhere she doesn’t usually hang out. Sometimes it’s a favourite toy that is suddenly no longer her favourite.

Sometimes it is a little more challenging to deal with it, like a sudden and complete dislike for a food that was a long-time favourite.

In recent months, Miss Ivy has picked up a strange habit as depicted by the picture. When she is doing it, I just turn around and see her backside, with her face looking in the opposite direction.

It’s not like she has done this once or twice. She started doing this a couple of months ago, and seems to be doing this all the time now to the point that it is a little creepy when I change rooms and she does the same thing.

The question is, why?

It doesn’t matter that she has a cat bed, two perches with a full panoramic view of the yard, and an unlimited supply of comfy throws on practically every horizontal surface in the house. She has suddenly taken to parking herself on the hardwood floor, two or three feet behind me, facing in the opposite direction.

In addition, there are two very willing laps she could sit on, which she does at least once or twice per day, but for the rest of the time, why the hardwood floor?

Is she acting like a sentinel? Is she my private feline security detail? Is she trying to be a guard cat?

I’m not sure about any of those options since her usual reaction to other critters of the animal or insect kingdom is to walk backward in slow motion, so I wouldn’t sign an affidavit to the effect that protection is her motivation. But then again, maybe in her mind it is. But more importantly, protect me from what?

Does she sense that I am in sudden and imminent danger, that she feels that positioning herself like that is the ultimate defence? How very selfless of her, if that is indeed the case.

The danger to her is that when I am working, when she creeps up on me like stealth kitty and I don’t know that she is there, it could spell danger for her tail if I suddenly roll back in my office chair.

Fortunately that hasn’t happened yet although we did have a close call once, as I found a lock of her hair on the ground, by one of the wheels of my office chair. But nonetheless, now, when I am working, it has become routine to look before backing up my chair, just in case.

It makes me wonder, where did she see that before? Was it something on TV like “Ooh, those lions parked outside the New York Public Library look pretty cool, maybe I should do that?”

Or did she pick up on the theme from a movie we might have seen, where the main character has a bodyguard.

Who knows what a cat’s motivation is.

Either way, it’s not particularly endearing to turn around and see my cat’s butt every time.

It has occurred to me that for a cat who is motivated by food, who is on a diet, and who knows that begging doesn’t really hold any merit in this household, perhaps that is just strategic positioning to ensure that she doesn’t miss feeding time whenever I happen to get up and head in that general direction.

It’s weird though, because there is no competition in this house for the cat food. If she slept through her scheduled feeding time, her portion controlled meal would still be there when she woke up.

On the other hand, maybe it’s just her way of being close, but not too close, as cats sometimes like to be a little distant, even when they are social kitties like Miss Ivy.

Either way, it’s just another simple pleasure of having a cat, and their funny way of keeping us on our toes, adjusting to their s“purr”-of-the-moment decisions, for which we humans just have to keep up.

Will this be a short term feline foible, or will this be a regular thing? Who knows?

But I tend to think that it is just the universe offering us cats as a reminder of the temporary nature of things in life, and to keep us humans sharp to expect the unexpected.

 

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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The Hand Sanitizer Auditions

Is it just me or will 2020 be remembered as the year of the hand sanitizer auditions?

When the pandemic first hit, we were told by health care experts to wash our hands frequently and when running water wasn’t available, to use hand sanitizer containing at least 70% alcohol.

Up until that point, the only time I really used hand sanitizer was when I traveled. With the expert advice in mind, in preparation for the rare, socially-distanced trips outside of the home for food and emergency supplies, I rummaged through my suitcases, my carry-on and my toiletry bag to see what I had on hand. Fortunately, I had a few tiny bottles of Purell left over.

A few weeks prior, I had developed a little cold from the stress and the whirlwind of activity surrounding the house purchase, so I had acquired two tiny bottles of a pharmacy’s home brand which were also added to my stock.

As I started packing for the move, I stumbled upon a few more expired ones that were hiding in the back of my linen closet.

I thought that I had a respectable stock with which I’d be OK for a while, given the sudden scarcity of hand sanitizer, as reported by the news media that seemed to be in Covid-19 hysteria, cramming in as much bad news as they could squeeze into an hour.

Nonetheless, I would keep my eye out for some more, just in case. Continue reading

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Where is that Draft Coming From?

It didn’t seem that long ago that as an active young man, I could take a stroll on a fall or winter day with an open jacket, but no hat, no gloves, no scarf and not really be any worse off for it. I felt pretty invincible to shifts in cold temperature.

In my younger days, back when I used to commute by bus, it aggravated me to no end when I’d get on the bus on a humid summer day and open a window to let in some fresh air only to have someone board the bus after me, start looking in all directions, displaying the international signs of “where is that draft coming from?”, only to zero in on my open window and ask me to close it.

Ever the pacifist, I would usually respect their wishes and accommodate them, despite the sweat dripping through my Risk Astley-style coif and down my forehead and temples. But on really muggy days, I’d have to propose a compromise and say “It’s really hot in here, I’d prefer it open. How about if I leave it half way?”

Fast forward a few decades, and I wonder where that kid went. Now it is my turn to be that guy who persistently chases drafts.

I come by it honestly as it seems to run in the family. I recall days when we would have family dinners at the restaurant, my grandparents would get there first to check out the table that was reserved for us, and choose their seats, based on the restaurant’s air currents. It was easier to do it that way, rather than for them to show up last, and have to reseat the table of 12 (or potentially, displace other restaurant patrons) to get draft-free seating.

Who can blame them? They didn’t like the unpleasantness of having a blast of cold air hitting them on the back of the neck or in the ears while trying to enjoy a nice meal. And I guess as we get older, some of us seem to get more sensitive to that factor, including me.

But I know that we are not alone. It doesn’t take an expert in body language to recognize the signs of someone offended by a draft. Continue reading

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My Long-Standing Fascination with the Mail

When I was a child, I loved getting mail. It didn’t happen often, but when an envelope showed up with my name on it, I knew I could tear into it (before I knew what a letter opener was) and enjoy whatever was inside.

My first pieces of mail were birthday and Christmas cards, which always brought me supreme joy. Not too long after that, I had a few pen pals with whom I loved exchanging news from our respective parts of the world.

It didn’t really matter what it was. If it landed in our mailbox and had my name on it, it always had a bit of a surprise factor to it. It always warmed my heart and made me smile to think that someone was thinking of me and took the time to send me a note.

I wonder if that sentiment is what inspired me to reciprocate and to get into the routine of sending birthday and Christmas cards as I got older. Perhaps the mail service was also an opportunity for the emerging writer in me to break from the university or corporate writing routine, and to write letters for the pure fun of it… I know some people will disagree with me on that, but yes, I think it’s fun.

When I think back, I don’t fully understand why I was so fascinated with mail when I was a kid. I don’t know if it’s because it made me feel part of some sort of exclusive club to which I had been accepted as the mail was something I saw as typically reserved for grown-ups.

If I remember correctly, I think I twisted my Mom’s arm into getting me a subscription to “Vidéo Presse”, a popular French magazine for kids back in the day, not just for the content, but also for an additional piece of mail in my name. Continue reading

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The Wild Life of Living in the Country

But with farm land surrounding us, I didn’t expect to feel quite so unenlightened and “green” when it came to the animal kingdom. It’s like I turn into a kid again when I see or hear things for the first time.

Shortly after we arrived I experienced flying ants for the first time. It was a very weird sensation, as I had no idea an ant could fly, but out here they do. They are quite the annoyance if you are trying to get something accomplished and they persistently fly back no matter how many times you try to shoo them away. Fortunately, the wave of flying ants was over after about two weeks.

When taking a stroll or working outside, it’s not uncommon to hear cows in the distance, a sound that I haven’t heard in ages. It’s a sound that brings me great joy, as a reminder of our more peaceful surroundings. I never thought that a cow mooing would have such a relaxing effect, but it does.

Just down the street, one of our neighbours has a couple of horses. I don’t recall been near a horse since a pony ride maybe 50 years ago. One day I was driving by, only to see one of the horses relieving itself (#1) which totally blew my mind as I finally witnessed and understood the saying “peeing like a racehorse”.

I was surprised that we didn’t have more squirrels and chipmunks, but the ones we have are more than enough as they seem to be in a bit of a “West Side Story” turf war. My partner and I have both seen the chipmunk get very aggressive with the squirrel and even take a swipe at him. That chipmunk is quite a scrapper! Continue reading

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Where Did the Running Season Go?

When I look at the calendar, it blows my mind that we are already at the end of what I refer to as “my running season” (typically, the period from March to November) and yet I still haven’t gone running yet this year.

How did that happen? How did a whole running season escape on me?

Thankfully, it’s not like I was sidelined due to injury or anything like that (been there, done that!), but I think we can all agree that 2020 was far from normal for anyone.

Much like every year, when the ice build-up on the wintry sidewalks was melting, making them less of a hazard for slipping and breaking an ankle or a hip (a legit concern for us folks on the cusp of “elderly”), I had every intention of getting out, building up my walking routine and slowly graduating to running.

At the dawn of the Covid-19 lockdown, I was working from home and during most lunch breaks, I was outside walking two kilometres to get some fresh air, sunshine and exercise. In reality, that wasn’t too far off from my routine had I been working from the office. Over time, my pace increased with no noticeable complaints from the legs, knees, hips, IT bands or shins. I felt like I was making good progress.

Over the span of a few weeks, I had just graduated to the walk-run combo for my two kilometre circuit, so I was almost there and planning to increase my distance. Continue reading

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The Worst Possible Time for a Car Repair

You can imagine my excitement when I got the call from the auto body shop to tell me that my car was ready.

When I went to pick it up, I let out a huge sigh of relief to see my vehicle restored to its original beauty. The body shop did a magnificent job. The car dent I had been living with for six months was finally erased.

What irks me to this day is that I was nowhere near the car when the dent happened, and the person who was responsible never stepped forward to identify themselves by leaving a note (*head shake in disbelief*).

Regular readers know that I am not a “car person” to begin with, and it’s not like I own a luxury car by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a cute, practical, compact car, which I have grown to love, but it’s my car.

It is sad to think that people do not have more regard for other people’s property or are too afraid of the repercussions to own up to their mistakes (or a combination of both) (*head shake in annoyance*). Continue reading

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Taking the Cat for a Walk

At Ivy the Wonder Cat’s veterinary check-up two years ago, the vet said that she was within an acceptable range for an adult indoor cat, but to ensure that she didn’t take on more weight. At that time, we put in place a few strategies to keep her on track.

Before our move to the country, when things were calm, normal and on a regular routine, her calorie count was pretty consistent without me needing to monitor her intake.  

However, there has been so much commotion over the last year between renovations, staging, selling, packing, boarding, relocating, living among boxes, unpacking and more renovations, it was challenging to keep to the structure and certainty that this cat needed to thrive.

Given that she was on the streets for nine months before she was brought to a shelter, it should come as no surprise if this cat eats for survival in times of disruption. So she gained a little.

When the stress of the move had passed and Ivy was feeling more like her usual self, our new vet recommended that we start looking at measures to bring her weight down.

The vet recommended that we moderate and measure her food intake in an effort to reduce her calories, and to switch her to a prescribed food that should make her feel more satiated. Sold!

The part that was a little tricky was the recommendation to play with her more, to give her more exercise. Engaging a six-year-old indoor cat in longer play sessions is easier said than done. I can’t tell you how many times we started playing a game together, only to find myself playing alone when I realized that she had already walked away after approximately 42 seconds.

Over the span of a few weeks, I pulled out every favourite toy that I knew she enjoyed, only to find that she was over it pretty quickly. So much for the exercise part of the program. Continue reading

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Because I Said So!

When I was a kid, when dealing with grown-ups, there was nothing that exasperated me more than to be told “because I said so!”

As an inquisitive child, trying to understand the world, I think I had a pretty good sense of cause and effect. When I asked “Why?” it wasn’t to challenge authority, it was simply to connect the dots to understand the motivation behind the grown-up’s answer to the preceding question.

I also think it was a disservice to shut down conversations in this way and deprive me of the opportunity to develop valuable negotiation skills and propose counteroffers such as “I’ll go rake the leaves just as soon as (insert TV show name) is over.”

On a personal level, when a conversation ended with “because I said so!” I sometimes felt hurt. I worked hard for the acceptance of grown-ups, and to not provide any elaboration seemed to discredit those efforts even though I am certain that there were times that “because I said so!” had nothing to do with me, but rather, other related circumstances. But that wasn’t always conveyed.

I vividly remember vowing that when I grew up, I would never shut down conversations with “because I said so!” To this day, I am pretty sure that I kept to my vow, but I know that there have been times I went too far the other way.

As I grew up, I developed a reflex for not only explaining an answer, but over-explaining. I partly blame the math teachers who always insisted on “showing your work”… Careful what you wish for!

I admit that as my reasoning and communication skills developed, my reasons may not have been air-tight, but hey, it was a process like everything in life. Continue reading

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