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We All Need A Little Hygge

My parents were both Danish, so I grew up hearing that language all around me. My first words were in both Danish and English, likely in that order, and it wasn’t until I started school that I realized they were actually different languages.

There are words that seem to be unique to a language, and hard to translate exactly into another. For instance, one of my favourite Danish words has always been “pyt”. It is said in response to something that is stressful or frustrating. And when you say it, pyt is almost like spitting. So it works really well when you’re fed up. “PYT! Let it go…”

You may have come across the word “hygge” in the last few years, and perhaps you even know what it is. But for those of you who haven’t heard of it before, I will explain.

Hygge actually originated in Norway, but first appeared in Danish writing around the 18th century. It is an old, but still very relevant and common practice that has become more popular all over the globe lately. Pronouncing it is your only challenge: the “hy” part sounds sort of like you’re hacking up something that is stuck in your throat. And then add a “ga”. Saying HOO-ga comes close.

The Scandinavian languages are all rather guttural, and Danish is no exception. There are certain letters and pronunciations that are difficult to demonstrate. Danish has often been described as sounding like German, but with a hot potato in your mouth.

But what exactly is hygge? It’s coziness and comfort. A long hot bath. Reading a good book by a crackling fire. Lots of lighted candles. Warmth, soft music, good food and friends, all of those cozy things. Being out in nature is hygge, as is a feeling of gratitude.

In Danish, there is the word “hyggebukser”, or hygge pants. Those are the pants you love to wear, but rarely in front of anyone else. Maybe your pajama bottoms or sweats. In fact, if you’ve been working at home for the last few months, you’re probably wearing them a lot anyway. I mean, if no one can see, who cares? That is hygge.

There’s also the word “hyggesnak” which is what you might think of as cozy conversation. You know, a nice chat with an old friend about comfortable topics. No politics or anything that could be controversial. Politics is definitely NOT hygge.

For me, hygge is sitting out on the back deck on a summer morning with my thermos of coffee and my cat on my lap. I have been known to stay there until noon. As long as my husband doesn’t turn on the radio to blast the news, that is. The news these days can ruin everything, can’t it? All I want to hear is the birds.

Many times over the years I’ve had my friends over for smørrebrød, which is a Danish meal that literally translates as “butter bread”. These are open-faced sandwiches made with dark rye bread topped with all kinds of delicious treats. You might use different cold cuts, shrimp or other fish with fancy garnishes. And lots of butter. I usually make Danish red cabbage along with the sandwiches, and serve up some pickled herring too. We drink Aquavit and Danish beer or “øl” and feel the hygge. (You probably noticed that letter ø. That’s an extra letter in the Danish alphabet, which also sounds somewhat like you’re gagging.)

These days, of course, having friends over is not possible in the same way. So instead, we spend time every week on a Zoom chat with a glass of wine.

Your idea of hygge might be different from mine, and that’s okay. The point is that however you do it, it has to be something that makes you cozy and content. Happy, even. And with fall and winter looming, we’re going to need lots of hygge to get us through.

And we’ll hope for a better 2021. Because, you know, PYT to 2020!

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The Changing Face of Masks

“Oh damn,” I mumbled to myself when I realized the tap feature hadn’t worked on my debit card. I fumbled with it and inserted it into the card reader instead. The keypad was barely visible through the foggy lenses of my glasses perched on top of my mask. I took a half-blind guess at my PIN and got away with it.

“Moothoo sath a foints garp?” asked the masked checkout clerk.

“Pardon me?” I never realized how much I depend on lip reading.

“DO YOU HAVE A POINTS CARD?”

“Oh! Oh! Yes, yes.” I fumbled through my purse for my wallet again and held up the card for her to scan.

“Bleep!”

With my groceries haphazardly tossed into bags (Note to self: don’t pack the lettuce on the bottom next time), it was with great relief that I realized my ordeal was nearly over.

All I had to do now was to safely wind my way through the people milling around the other checkout counters, and then I would be out the door and free. Free, free!

Grocery shopping is certainly not the casual, relatively mindless task it used to be. In the past, I automatically knew where everything was and would whip around the aisles with Super Woman confidence. Now, I stress out at every turn. Am I going the right way down the aisle? How am I going to backtrack to get that thing I forgot? Is that lady actually touching ALL of the watermelons? And when I leave the store, you can bet I’ve missed something. Every time.

Safely back in the car, when I can finally remove the mask, it’s such a relief.

Let’s face it, none of us really like the mask. And for me, not only do I have the eyeglass frames around the back of my ears, but I also have hearing aids. There’s a lot of competition for space back there. So when I stretch the elastic of my mask behind my ears, they flop forward like Dumbo. Only not as cute.

In spite of all of that, I made the decision a couple of months ago that I was just going to have to get used to it. I started wearing the mask any time I was indoors somewhere other than my home, because I figured that some day soon it was going to be mandatory in a lot of places anyway. I have one mask that I keep in my car, and one I keep in my purse, so I’m always prepared.

Only a few short months ago, I thought it was odd to see someone in a store with a mask on. “Paranoid!” I’d say to myself with a chuckle. Now I’m more concerned about those who DON’T wear masks. “Cov-idiots!” I grumble, hopefully not too loud.

Masks used to be something you wore at Halloween. Now I’m more spooked if I forget mine. And since masks became mandatory on public transit, I have appointed myself as a member of the Mask Police Force. I will glare at any passenger sitting on a bus without a mask. Anyone who can actually see me through the window, I mean.

In fact, today as I was out on my walk, a transit bus slowly passed by me and I had the opportunity to stare inside of it. There were only two passengers that I could see. The first one was definitely wearing a mask. The second one I had more trouble seeing, so I squinted and peered as much as I could, and then SMACK! I walked into a street sign.

I didn’t make that up.

I had to take a minute and calm myself down. There’s nothing worse than a self-righteous, foggy-lensed, Dumbo-eared mask cop.

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Swingin’ In The Rain

It was raining a couple of Fridays ago when my friends and I met at Cordova Bay Golf Course.

“Should we do it?” one friend asked.

“Maybe not.”

“I think we should.”

“Okay.”

“But I don’t know.”

It went on like that for about 20 minutes before we finally came to our conclusion.

“Let’s do it!”

A little rain isn’t bad. It’s when the clouds open up and dump everything they have on you that it gets miserable. Some golfers come prepared with those massive umbrellas that attach to their carts and cover pretty much everything.

Not me.

The best I can do is a rain jacket with a hood. It works well enough. My shoes aren’t water proof though. So that usually means a soaker. But I can live with a little of that. In fact, I can put up with a lot when it comes to playing golf. I just love being out there. And that’s especially true this year.

Lately for me, golf has been as close to normal as life can be. When you’re out on the fairway, it’s just you and your friends (at a healthy distance, of course) and that long stretch of green stuff in front of you. Occasionally, there’ll be a deer and its fawn or a couple of eagles (the kind with feathers…little golf joke there) and a rabbit or two. Cordova Bay Golf, where we play, is a certified Audubon Sanctuary, along with a number of other golf courses in our province.

Oh, and then there’s the part about trying to get that little white ball into a hole far, far away. We’ll get back to that.

In the last few years, a lot of local golf courses have been shutting down as interest in golf has been dwindling.

And then the virus showed up. Many businesses have been adversely affected, of course. Gyms and dance studios and indoor sports businesses are struggling, or shutting for good in some cases. What caught my eye while we were playing a few weeks back, though, was a group of kids on the 2nd hole. Two of them were probably teenagers, the other two were younger. They were loud and goofy, and they probably didn’t know much golf etiquette, but I was delighted to see them. Because for any sport or activity to continue, it needs young blood.

As it turns out, golf and tennis have both had a resurgence in the last few months because they are outdoor activities that don’t really require any physical contact. Not only that, but courses have put a few protocols in place so you don’t have to touch anything that anyone else has touched. Like the flags in the holes or the rakes in the sand traps. For those of you who don’t know anything about golf, sand traps, also called bunkers, are those pools of sand, usually strategically placed at or near the green where the hole is. Balls have a way of landing in bunkers often. And they’re not easy to hit out of.

These days, you don’t have to rake up after yourself if your ball ends up in a bunker and you make a mess in the sand. Which is great. You see, normally, I have to rake often.

It’s much more difficult to book a tee time lately, and we often have to book two weeks in advance to get the time slot we want. I’ve also noticed the tennis courts a few blocks away from where I live are always busy. Every day of the week.

Our great fortune is that these two activities can be enjoyed year round because of our mild weather here on the west coast. Well, if it weren’t for that darned rain.

And so we slopped up to the first hole and took turns teeing off. The rain started coming down just a little harder, so I pulled up my hood as I walked over to the tee.

I set the ball up. Drip, drip, drip. All was silent except for the sound of the rain spattering on my jacket. I took a deep breath, swung the club back, and gave the ball a good whack. It disappeared behind a mound in the trees somewhere. Oh well.

As we walked up the fairway, the water started seeping into my shoes and sprinkling on my eyeglasses.

I smiled. Isn’t life great?

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A Very (COVID) Birthday

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my mother threw me a surprise birthday party. Well, the “surprise” part didn’t happen. My neighbourhood friend Kenny sort of gave it away early on. We were playing at his house a few days before and he couldn’t help saying “I’m so excited! I can hardly wait! Oops!” covering his mouth and giggling. I knew something was up.

On the day of the party, my mother sent me across the street to play in the park, while she secretly decorated the back yard. When she called me home, she put a blindfold on me and took my hand to lead me outside to the yard. It was very still and quiet, until I heard a giggle. Yep, it was Kenny. He just couldn’t keep quiet.

My blindfold came off to reveal all of my neighbourhood friends gathered to celebrate my birthday. It was a wonderful day.

Birthdays are a far more complicated event for parents these days. Theme parties, dress up parties, movie parties, adventure parties…you name it, there’s a way to make a kid’s party out of it. It’s exhausting to think about.

But this year…

Yes, this year, it’s a whole different story. Suddenly you can’t just book a party room at the movie theater, or arrange for a pool party at the rec centre for your kids. Even something as simple as my little surprise party in the back yard is better left for another time.

There have been some pretty inventive alternatives, though. Decorating the front yard in birthday balloons and paraphernalia, for instance, so that people can honk and wave happy birthday. Or sending your child an “animal gram” in the form of a video created for them with their favourite animal.

A birthday parade is a big hit this year, with friends and family decorating their cars and driving around in a fancy show. There are even virtual scavenger hunts and, in some special cases, the local fire department will drive one of their big trucks by the house and turn on the siren as a birthday wish.

My oldest adult daughter’s birthday was not ordinary this year, but not because of COVID. It took place back in mid-February, before there was any thought about Armageddon. We were in Hawaii, where she had never been, to celebrate a special year of accomplishments for her. We even went to a Luau the night of her birthday to celebrate. All was well in the world, and it turned out that she had the most normal birthday out of all of us.

Because by the next birthday in our household, my husband’s in early May, we were full fledged into the pandemic. I wasn’t ready to go into the mall to buy a card yet, even though the mall had opened by then. I ended up creating a book of photos from a big trip we took a couple of years ago, and making the card myself, the one pictured here, after researching some ideas online. We ordered in some food, had a little cake with candles, and did our best to make it normal.

This past week, my other daughter and I had our birthdays a few days apart. We’re in a different kind of birthday routine now, adjusting to a new way of doing things. In fact, it’s my birthday as I’m writing this. I’ve spent most of the day doing what I love to do, writing and painting, so it doesn’t take much to find my happy place. But right now there’s some whispering in the kitchen, and a match is being lit.

Something’s going on.

I swear, I can hear Kenny giggling…

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Call Me, Maybe – How Phones Have Changed

Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s I worked at the Vancouver Public Library as a Library Assistant. Once, for a couple of months, I was asked to fill in for someone at the library’s main switchboard. Although smaller, the switchboard looked very much like the one my Aunt, Edith Jackson, worked on. That’s her, pictured here when she was a phone operator for the Vancouver Phone Company in the 1940s.

Most people called the library to ask questions. My job was to answer the phone, and then plug the caller into the line of whatever department could answer them.

Most of the time, the caller’s questions were pretty straight forward. When was Diefenbaker the Prime Minister of Canada? I put them through to the History Department. Who painted the Mona Lisa? Arts And Literature Department. Well I knew the answer to that one, but it wasn’t my job to say it. And every now and then, you’d get a question that you really had to think about. How do you waterproof a zipper? Yes, that was an actual question from a caller I got one day.

I took a wild guess and put them through to the Science and Technology Department. Whether or not they figured it out, I have no idea.

And then there was an elderly woman, a regular who would call and yell loudly “What time is it, dear?” I would just look at my watch and tell her.

Any questions you had about anything, you could count on getting an answer at the public library.

A few years later, around 1991, I was working at a Victoria radio station in the Promotions Department, when one day my boss handed me a contraption the size of a one litre carton of milk and told me to take it with me to the promotions van.

“What the heck is this?”

“It’s a mobile phone. I might need to call you.”

“What’s a mobile phone?”

Much to my delight, I found out that I could ACTUALLY CALL PEOPLE while sitting in the van! On a phone! A mobile phone!

The order given to me was to use it for business purposes only. Predictably, the first call I made was to my husband.

“I’m sitting in the promotions van! On a phone! A mobile phone!” It was so totally cool.

When cellphones started to become more widely available, I was the first one in my household to get one. It was still pretty clunky and had an antenna so it didn’t fit easily in my purse. But, of course, the first thing I did was drive to the local mall, sit down in the food court, and call my husband again.

“I’m in the food court! On my new cellphone!”

Fast forward to today, and we rarely use our cells as phones anymore. That is, unless a scammer is calling. We don’t even think of it as a phone, really. It’s a camera and a calendar, it’s a step counter, and it’s a computer linking us to the rest of the world. It’s also something that we absolutely can’t leave the house without.

Because, you know, we might miss something. Something important. Like a Facebook message or text, or a news alert. Beep! Blip! Boing! Ding! The thing goes off at all hours and we’ve got to look. Even if it’s utterly useless stuff, we’ve got to check. Just in case.

I do remember one time being in the grocery store before I realized I didn’t have my cell with me, and I almost panicked. What if someone is trying to reach me? How will I know how many steps I took and calories were burned? What if the world ended and I didn’t know about it?

Yeah, pretty ridiculous. But I really did feel panic.

Up until this pandemic hit us, most of us were probably texting or messaging or scrolling Twitter more than we were calling each other. But when you’re in isolation or cut off from your usual group of friends and family, a voice or video call is a lot more comforting. If you have a parent in a care facility, it has literally been a life line speaking with them on the phone. Come to think of it, I’ve seen a lot more people talking on their phones in the last few months.

When those in my generation were kids, if your family even had a home phone, you had to share the line with others in the neighbourhood. It was called a “party line”. You’d pick up the phone and listen first, just to make sure they weren’t using it, and then you dialed. Rotary dialed. I’ll admit, I listened in on a few neighbour’s private conversations longer than I should have back then. Hey, I was a little brat. But to be honest, the conversations I secretly listened to weren’t that interesting.

Today, every kid has their own phone. I mean, I do understand why parents would want their children to have one. You’d feel better knowing that you could reach them if you needed to. But for the kids, it’s different. They just want to have something to shoot their latest YouTube video or play their games.

Me, I like having so much information right at my fingertips. My phone is like a little pocket library, and the switchboard operator is now Google.

And I’ve turned into the old lady yelling “Hey Google! What time is it, dear?” Google doesn’t answer me unless I drop the “dear”. Little snot.