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Hindsight is 2020!

There’s a joke going around that at one second after midnight on January 1st, hindsight will actually be 2020. By the time you read this, 2021 will have arrived. Thank goodness for that!

2020 started out as such a nice, round number, didn’t it? A brand new decade! A fresh beginning! What an enormous let down.

Sometimes we like to reminisce about the old year as we are entering the new one, but I really don’t want to do that this year, do you? I mean, it’s nice to find the positive and all that, and there have been lots of positives to be sure. But, I’m sorry. The negative stuff has just been so…well, negative. Too many people have lost far too much this past year. So I’m just writing it off.

2020, over and done. Yep.

I’m one of those boring people who still likes to make New Year’s resolutions. It’s funny, though, for the past few years it’s been the same one. My repetitious resolution has been to have an Attitude of Gratitude. I didn’t invent that phrase, but it rhymes quite nicely and as a songwriter, I like that.

Outside of the fine rhyme, I’ve realized over time that “attitude” is pretty much everything. If you have a bad attitude, you live a miserable life. On the other hand, if you look for even a tiny bit of good in something, that simple act makes your life a little better. It’s not easy to do and requires a lot of commitment, especially these days. And don’t get me wrong. I get the grumps too. But every New Year, I basically try to renew and recommit to a better attitude.

One of my favourite podcasts is Hidden Brain, which you can find on NPR Radio’s website. The podcast describes itself as exploring “the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior and questions that lie at the heart of our complex and changing world.” Human behavior has always fascinated me, and there is so much that I have yet to learn about the brain and all of its mysteries.

A recent podcast titled “Why Nobody Feels Rich” piqued my curiosity. In it, they discuss how we tend to compare ourselves to those who have more rather than to those who have less. I recognize that in my teaching. My students are often frustrated with people who can play guitar better than they can. They rarely focus on those who can’t play as well. Why is that?

In the podcast, they describe how comparing “upward” or towards someone who has more than you, on the one hand, can be painful. But on the other hand, it is a way of perhaps driving ourselves to do better, to find a way to achieve more. So although my students may find it frustrating not being able to play like James Taylor or Eddie Van Halen, having those two icons in front of them might inspire them to work harder at it.

The way I see it, while working harder can be a good thing, the reality is that very few of us will actually achieve that level of excellence. So what I work on with those students is in finding joy in the small accomplishments, and just being happy to play. If you enjoy it at least 51% of the time, it’s worth your effort.

And if I spend a little more time looking for the positive, I will usually find it. Sitting back and recognizing all of the good in my life helps to make me happier. My attitude of gratitude. As difficult as it will be in the next few months for all of us, I hope you, too, will find something to feel happy and grateful for.

Happy 2021, friends.

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The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

When our girls were small, one of our little Christmas traditions was driving past a row of houses on the 1200 block of Tattersall near Blenkinsop called “Candy Cane Lane.” The decorations were clever and fun, and the street sign name was even changed to “Candy Cane Lane” over the holidays every year.

It took months for the residents at that time to set the displays up, and it became very popular. Hundreds and hundreds of people would walk, ride bikes, or drive past that block of houses every year. It finally closed down in 1999 as many residents in the neighbourhood grew older, and some moved away, but a few of the decorations were passed on to other people and are still displayed today.

These days, you can find maps to homes that are decorated for the holidays online through various media websites. We’ve decided that this year we’re going to check some of them out, just for old times’ sake.

Decorations are a big part of Christmas, but for me, it’s all about the lights. Fancy, sparkling, happy lights. The more lights, the merrier I am.

Firelight, sunlight, candlelight and Christmas lights. Light is something we all need enough of to keep going, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too.

We need enough light to see our way. We need sunlight to get our doses of vitamin D. Some of us require light therapy to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SADS. Any natural night we can expose ourselves to helps us to maintain our good health. And humans need energy from the plants we eat, and oxygen from trees, which require light in order to grow and thrive.

Light is a metaphor for things like awareness, ideas and hope. A lightbulb goes off at the top of your head. We begin to see the light, or go from darkness into light. A smile is a light that brightens up a room.

Here in the northern hemisphere, we have been experiencing shorter days and less light leading up to winter. Our shortest day of the year, December 21st is coming up. This always happily reminds me that the days are going to start getting longer again. But this year, another special event is happening up in the starry, starry night on December 21st.

There will be a great “conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn, where the two planets will appear as though they are right beside each other. Some are calling it 2020’s Christmas Star. Maybe it’s the universe trying to light the way and give us a little hope. That’s what I’d like to think, anyway.

With vaccines beginning to trickle into the earth’s population starting this week, I do feel more hope. Maybe it’s the end of the beginning, or at least a small human triumph to cling to. Oh, there are still going to be plenty of hurdles, along with many more COVID cases, before we can literally breathe freely at last. And vaccines aren’t necessarily perfect either.

But our human resilience, our determination, and those vaccines, are going to help get us past all of this darkness we’ve been going through. We are now beginning to, just barely, see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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Birdwatching in Parksville

Recently, my husband and I took some time off and drove up to Parksville, just to get out of the house for a couple of days. The “housebound” effect because of COVID-19 had really been getting to us and we hadn’t been away since last February. We did have time off in the summer, but at that time we were a little hesitant to risk going anywhere else. So we stayed home and stared at each other instead. Yeah.

It wasn’t all that easy to find a place to stay in Parksville, which seemed odd, considering that it’s nearly winter. And this IS the “wetcoast”. Not exactly appealing, weather-wise, this time of year. But eventually, we did find something nice with an ocean view.

Just as “wetcoast” implies, it rained heavily on the entire drive up there. At times, the rain was torrential. Huge lakes of water collected in the middle of the highway. Sometimes we were hydroplaning. Big trucks sprayed the windshield so we could barely see to pass them. But even worse, cars coming toward us in the opposite direction would hit one of those highway lakes and completely swamp our car. We were literally on the edge of our seats all the way up there.

Somehow we arrived at our destination safe and sound, and excited to be somewhere different for a change.

I was especially looking forward to seeing the snowbirds. I’ve been hearing stories about how they are migrating west instead of south this year. Birds are so smart, aren’t they? They actually know to stay away from their usual migration spots in places like Florida during all of this COVID-19 stuff. Nature is amazing.

Check in time at the hotel was 5pm instead of the usual 3 or 4pm, and check out time was adjusted to 10am. These days, they try to allow for extra cleaning of the rooms, which is fine by me. The front desk was behind plexiglass and the staff were all wearing masks. At the desk, they had a box of “dirty” pens and then some “clean” pens for you to use to sign in. There is no housekeeping in your room for the duration of your stay, which is also fine by me. I mean, I don’t really need clean towels every day, or someone else making my bed and vacuuming. In fact, it felt nicer to know no one was going to enter our room while we were venturing out.

Guests are also encouraged to wear masks throughout the building, pretty much anywhere beyond your hotel room. There is a limit of two people in the elevator, but most of the time it was just the two of us anyway.

There is a pool, an exercise room and a hot tub as part of the facility, but use of any of those was pretty restricted. You had to book a swim, a workout or a soaking well in advance. The restaurant also had minimal capacity, and reservations were encouraged, but you could order room service at no extra charge. Nice. In fact, we did just that on our first night there.

It rained all night, but it was overcast and only spitting a little bit when we woke up the next morning. And by the time we headed out to take a walk along the boardwalk, the sun was breaking out. It was glorious. The tide was low and there were only a handful of people walking out on the beach itself, so we hopped over a few puddles and did the same.

I noticed lots of Canada Geese and seagulls, but I was really keeping my eye out for the snowbirds. I wasn’t sure what to look for. Are they white? Like Trumpeter Swans? Or maybe they’re more duck like?

After lunch, we decided to head out towards Englishman River Falls for a little hike. There were maybe a half dozen cars in the parking area there, and only a handful of people out walking the trails. Because of the recent rains, the falls were big and loud and spectacular. The moss hung green and dripping from giant trees, their canopies dark and cool. It was right out of an Emily Carr painting. We took our time and soaked it in.

Refreshed and at peace with the world, we headed back towards Parksville, to a local pub to sit for awhile. The pub had outdoor seating, but we chose to stay indoors where the tables were spread far apart. Staff wore masks and gloves and cleaned each table thoroughly when guests left. It all felt quite safe. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped off at a grocery store and picked up a few things to munch on for dinner.

It had been a great day. We took one last little walk outside along the beach before heading to our room. Still no snowbirds. There were the usual array of geese and seagulls and even some shorebirds. I listened carefully. Do snowbirds have a special bird call? Like with an eastern Canada accent? You know, like “oot and aboot”?

Nothing sounded out of the ordinary to me.

We were up early enough the next morning to sit in our room and enjoy the view one last time. A huge bald eagle landed on the beach and stayed there for awhile. My favourite bird. When he’d had enough and flew off, I finished my coffee, and we packed up and checked out. Heading back to Victoria on the highway, I spotted Mount Arrowsmith, and that’s when it hit me.

Snowbirds, Irene, SNOWbirds. They wouldn’t be down on the beach, they’d be up in the mountains, enjoying the snow, for pete’s sake.

Sometimes I’m so STUPID.

(Note: Now that we are being told to avoid all non-essential travel, it could be quite awhile before our next adventure. Back to sitting at home and staring at each other again…sigh.)

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Dear Diary – Is It Over Yet?

DAY 1 – I’ve been waiting so LONG for this day! I’m excited but cautious because, well, you know what happened last time. Four years ago my phone started pinging with news alerts at 2 a.m. the day after the U.S. election, declaring that The Orange One was now President of the United States. It’s been a nightmare ever since.

Today I feel a lot more hopeful. Giggly, even. They’ve been talking for months about this Blue Wave and I know it’s coming! I’ve got my glass of wine and I’m watching in anticipation as the polls begin to close! Woo hoo!

LATER: Okay, so the blue wave hasn’t happened yet. And the Orange One (let’s just refer to him as O.O. from now on) is actually winning in some states. How can that be? Who, in their right mind…? And why does every media outlet have different numbers? I don’t understand! I don’t understand!

Okay, Irene, calm down. There are all of those mail in ballots yet to count. This could take awhile. A long while. I’m going to bed.

DAY 2 – I’m proud of myself because I actually slept through the night. I turned all my electronics off and refused to let myself think about anything except what it would be like to win the lottery.

But somebody else was not getting much sleep last night, it seems. O.O. was apparently up in the wee hours declaring victory. There you go. Just declare it and it’s true, right?!

I’m going to stay away from the news and from social media until at least lunchtime today. Hear no evil, see no evil.

LATER: Okay, I couldn’t help myself and I checked into Twitter. I don’t get it! Where is this Blue Wave they’ve been talking about? It seems more like a trickle to me. A dribble, even. And now people are yelling “Stop the count! Stop the count!” Are you kidding me? That’s like not counting COVID-19 cases and declaring the pandemic over! Who would even think of doing that?

And the blue and red electoral numbers on TV seem to be getting stuck. What is this Electoral College anyway? Is it a place? Can you get an Electoral Degree from it? Where’s my wine?

DAY 3 – or is it DAY 4? All I know is that it has been days. It feels like weeks. And the dribble of numbers continues even though the big blue and red ones are still stuck.

Dribble.

Dribble.

The news outlets are getting braver about suggesting that Biden could win, but no one is declaring anything yet. Except O.O. that is. The mail-in ballots are “fraudulent”, tens of thousands of ballots were “illegally received”, thousands of votes were “illegally not allowed to be observed”,  “LEGAL TRANSPARENCY was viciously & crudely not allowed.”

Oh oh.

They are saying that Day 5 could be the Day Of The Decision. I’m exhausted. My nails are down to nubs. I have several bald spots from ripping my hair out. I’ve gone through all of the wine. I’m stumbling off to bed.

DAY 5 – I’m up at 6 a.m. even though it’s a Saturday. I’ve turned the TV on. OMG, still no decision. The counters are still counting. The observers are still observing. The news people are still yabbering and poking at those giant video screens, over and over again. And the blue and red numbers are still frozen. Will it ever be over? I already have a headache.

O.O. tweets “I WON THIS ELECTION BY A LOT!”

All of a sudden, there is news from Pennsylvania. Their 20 Electoral College votes have gone to Joe Biden. He becomes the president elect. And Kamala Harris the first female, and the first person of colour, becomes Vice President. I am beyond elated. Now there are people in masks, hollering and dancing and drinking on Pennsylvania Avenue. Right across from the White House. I love it. It’s only 9 a.m. but I think I might join in the toast.

I can relax now. I can breathe. My hair will grow back and my fingernails too. This is the calmest I’ve felt in 4 years. Oh, I know there will be trouble still. Maybe a lot of trouble. O.O. won’t go without a fight.

But dear O.O. – remember what you said not that long ago about another topic? “It is what it is.” Yep.

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“Dinner’s Going To Be Late!” And Other Turkey Tales

The first time that I was invited for Christmas dinner at my boyfriend’s parent’s house many years ago, they had just bought this new fangled thing called a microwave oven. They were very excited about it. A microwave was supposed to cook things a lot faster than a conventional oven, so they figured why not cook the turkey in it? Brilliant!

Well, to begin with, the turkey was far too big to fit in the microwave. They ended up having to chop it up and cook it in pieces, one or two at a time. And oddly enough, the turkey didn’t turn brown as it cooked, but instead came out a hot, sickly white colour. In the end they had to stick all the parts in the oven to brown them anyway. Needless to say, as the evening progressed, the voices drifting from the kitchen rose in pitch as the discussion became more heated.

The rest of us just sat in the living room and kept our mouths shut. We knew better than to say anything, even though a giggle would occasionally escape our lips.

We didn’t eat until 9 or 10pm and, from what I remember, the table conversation was rather subdued. I don’t think anybody was even hungry by then, but we obediently ate what we could.

I was so very proud of the first turkey I baked just a few years later. It was a dark, dark brown, just like all the pictures. But when I stuck the knife into it, it more or less exploded like the Griswold turkey in the movie “Christmas Vacation”. My Dad was too polite to say anything, but nearly choked to death on his first bite. In my defense, the cookbook I was using never mentioned that you should cover the turkey for most of its cooking time. The bird was dry as a bone.

A few years back, I was just putting our Thanksgiving meal on the table when the lights went out. A power outage. We pulled out a few extra candles, lit them, and enjoyed a cozy turkey dinner by candlelight. It was actually quite wonderful. By the time we were ready to do the dishes, the lights came back on again. Great timing.

We were the lucky ones, however. We found out later that a lot of people hadn’t finished cooking their turkey meal by the time the power went out, which threw their dinner into chaos. Half cooked turkeys, raw vegetables, cold pies. And no gravy, I’ll bet.

Maybe a few of them found creative ways to use their barbeques and fire pits to finish cooking their meals. “Dinner’s going to be late everyone!”

A couple of years back we bought a used mini freezer and a mini fridge to have just in case we needed back ups for our regular fridge. We kept the two units in the basement, unplugged most of the time to save power.

When it came around to Thanksgiving last year, I bought the usual turkey and trimmings for our dinner. Our regular fridge was pretty full, so I thought I’d be really clever and I threw the turkey, which was frozen, the vegetables, dinner rolls and everything into the mini fridge.

Except there was one small problem. You’re thinking that I forgot to plug it in, aren’t you? Nope, I plugged it in alright.

No, the problem was that I had actually put the all of the food in the mini freezer, not the fridge. By the time I pulled everything out, the vegetables, potatoes, everything except the turkey was ruined. Rock solid frozen. And we were having guests too.

I panicked at first, but in the end, I went out and bought all new groceries again. The dinner went without a hitch. Phew.

I’m sure many of us have turkey tales, whether from Thanksgiving or Christmas. Maybe something went horribly wrong, or amazingly well. A surprise guest might have shown up, or a new family member joined you for the first time. Trying something new turned out to be a huge hit. Or a catastrophic failure.

Thanksgiving 2020 will force many of us to find new ways to be together while trying to stay far enough apart. There will be very different Turkey Tales this year.

In my little family, we have a Thanksgiving ritual. Before we eat our meal, we go around the table and take turns telling each other what we’re thankful for. This year, I think we will be most thankful just to be able to be together.