My Beardie is making me eat healthier!

I realized this the other day: because Elizabeth Reptile eats fresh endive, fruits, and berries, in addition to crickets, I’ve been picking up small packets of mixed whole fruit pieces and berries every few days. She doesn’t eat them all, of course — I learned that the hard way, when I thought a tray of raspberries would last for her, and the majority ended up going bad. So we get to enjoy! And it’s much better to keep the fresh stuff on hand than cookies or doughnuts.

I went through an overdose of chocolate right before and the week after Valentine’s Day. Hubby’s been making me big baggies of vegetable sticks (carrots, peppers, celery, cucumbers) to take to work, when he has the time and we’ve been shopping to get them. I should start planning out my box gardens to produce my own, although I won’t be able to do anything for months yet. We might be fortunate enough to see melting in March, but even if the snow goes by April, nothing can go in the ground until May. And even then, there’s risk of frost until well into June.

So goes life in Northeastern Ontario.

It was a lovely day for skiing today, and this is why my thoughts are turning to spring. I may have gotten mild frostbite on my cheeks a few weeks ago, possibly when I was downhill skiing and my face was uncovered. (Skiing plus scarf over face near glasses = Tori can’t see worth a damn going down the hill.) There’s this feeling of dampness, icy and unpleasant, when my face gets cold outside, as if snow is melting there that I can’t wipe away. Or a feeling of mild tingling. I’m fortunate that it’s not worse than an annoyance: I haven’t experienced any peeling or visible irritation, but it’s a reminder to me to be careful and find a better way to protect my skin. I’m going to have to look into vented goggles for next year, too. But the good news is that we’re coming out of February and into March. It’s rather like moving “from the freezer and into the fridge” (Icequake). I’m optimistic that we might have seen the last of the -30 C temperatures for the year. Today it was a balmy -7 C on the hill, just gorgeous. Tomorrow should be more of the same.

I almost didn’t go skiing today, though. Woke up feeling grumpy and wiped out and I wanted to ignore the sunshine and blue sky. But having to pick up the fresh food for Elizabeth, and take Bridget to her ski lesson, got me moving. And at first, I figured I wasn’t up for skiing, myself — I’d just take a book to read, bring my knitting, do some marking. But by the time I got home with the goodies and was loading up the vehicle, I figured I should put my own equipment in the car in case I changed my mind. And by the time we arrived at the hill, after a nice warm drive in the sunlight — after I’d gotten more sun on my face and the fresh air — I was getting my own boots and skis on as soon as Bridget was off on her lesson.

Oh, but funny thing: while I was enjoying my afternoon (that hour of skiing went way too quickly this time, I could have happily stayed out all day), I wanted to take some pictures of the animal tracks I’d noticed in the otherwise unmarked snow next to the T-bar lift trail. So I pulled out my phone and pretty immediately dropped it. No stopping to pick it up — all I could do was watch helplessly, craning my neck behind me, as the T-bar pulled me further up the hill. The young snowboarders behind me saw the the phone (thank heavens I’d dropped it case-up, so its TARDIS design was highly visible) and tried to get it, but they missed. I decided to wait at the top of the lift to see if anyone else would see it and grab it, and fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long. But I decided not to try getting pics again. It’s too bad, because those tracks are really neat. I think I was seeing stories about mice foraging and chipmunks evading capture from foxes. I downloaded an app to help me identify the tracks. Maybe next time, I’ll hold my phone in my bare hand and do video instead — no messing with gloves, no clicking, just keep it smooth.

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A Cold Day, and a Concert

So it turned out that it was indeed too cold for buses to run this morning, and the elementary schools had to postpone or cancel (hopefully the former) their Valentine’s Day classroom parties. My daughter wasn’t terribly upset by this, although I know some little ones were in tears. I spent a largely productive day doing marking and working on various tasks for different projects. I didn’t get anything completed, but I made progress in little bits here and there, so that’s something.

At the end of the day, I was offered two free tickets to go to the Alyssa Reid concert here in town, so on the spur of the moment, I said yes. My first instinct was actually to politely decline in anticipation of my usual Friday night appointment with the couch, but I thought about how the nine-year-old had likely been a couch-potato all day herself, and she needed to get out and exercise. It’s been far too cold these last few days for much outdoor play, but at least at a concert, she could move.

Therefore, we went, and move she did! She spun, hopped, skipped, danced, kicked, and had a generally awesome time.

My ears are ringing a little now, and while I surprised myself and disappointed us both a bit by leaving early instead of waiting in the horde of fangirls to get autographs, it was a good move, I think. She has skating first thing in the morning, and it has been a long day for me, mainly of staring at papers behind a desk. It still amazes me how exhausting that can be.

I wish I had the energy to write a poem tonight, do something creative and fun, but I’m wiped.

One thing I’ve been wanting to comment on, though, is the peculiar beauty of the deep-winter streets in our town. We’re in a point of balance right now, where there has been just enough grading and freezing to make most of the road surfaces smooth. When there are thaws, we get chewed up slushy spots and potholes in the snow, making some roads downright treacherous to suspension systems and tires, but there have been so few of those that the streets are fairly packed down and rather aesthetically pleasing. Like frozen rivers between shrunken snowcapped mountains. It means taking extra care with driving, too, because those surfaces are just as slick as a frozen river would be. Even driving slowly doesn’t take away from the need to know defensive driving techniques. But as much as the bitter cold is starting to wear down our patience and energy, I’m still seeing beauty in it, or making the effort to at any rate. Soon enough the temperatures will warm and those damned potholes will emerge, as will scatterings of poopsicles along sidewalks and curbs and yards. Spring will be wonderful for the opportunity to start shedding layers, and frustrating in its dirtiness.

But then again, if spring is when life comes back, that suits the mud and the mess, doesn’t it? Creation is a messy process, after all.

I shouldn’t be getting too ahead of myself. We still have at least four weeks to go before we’ll see any sign of melting, and two of those will continue to be the Deep Freeze.

And for one glorious day, the hamster wheel slows down a little…

Even though I didn’t get my daughter to her skating lesson right on time, 7 minutes late onto the ice is still better than 15. And then the rest of my day was just . . . breathing space. She was difficult to get ready for skiing, but making her put on her ski boots and sticking her boots into the bindings was easier than I had expected. What’s more, I didn’t feel the judgement I was expecting from a few other parents whose children were also having lessons. Instead, I found support.

“Good for you,” one nice lady told me. “I don’t think I’d have been able to make her get going like that.”

It wasn’t easy, I said. And it continued to be tough. She stood there and cried, as she’d cried while I made her switch her snow boots for the ski boots, and pulled her outside, and marched her to the ski rack, and pushed her feet into place on the skis. She cried when the wonderful and patient ski instructor came up behind her (with my permission) and gently skied with her down the slope. She stopped a little when I trundled down the hill and pulled her behind me halfway back to the top.

I pulled a Maria von Trapp: I tried making as much of it a game as I could.

“Aaah! Don’t run me over!” I yelled over my shoulder.

“I’m not, you’re pulling me!”

(Not sure whether she knows I’m kidding. I changed tactics.)

“Mush, Mommy!” I bolster myself, trying to jog upwards against gravity. “Mush!”

Then the grade got the better of me, and she had to side-step. But her instructor and I made it fun, gasping for breath as I held her hands and helped her to balance.

Once we got to the top, her next move was to cry again, pleading to take her skis off. I told her I was too tired just then, she had to wait. Then, I turned her around and had her facing another direction. More tears.

The snot coursing down her face gave me an idea.

“Do you want a kleenex?”

She nodded. I told her I’d be right back, and headed inside the chalet. As soon as the door closed, I went and found Hubby, told him what was up, and asked him to help me out with her. I will admit to a bit of selfishness here: I have paid for a family membership and I want to ski, too. I need the exercise and the peace. And bless his heart, unlike our first visit to the ski hill when he’d been remarkably grumpy, he was willing to come out into the cold to help.

Here’s where I got tricky: I approached with kleenex in hand, but suddenly, “gravity” was pulling me down the hill, away from them! I called up to Bridget and her instructor, “Anthony! Bridget! I have the kleenex but gravity is pulling me down the hill! You’ll have to come to me!”

Anthony gently coasted down toward me, and she took the kleenex. Then I winked at him. “Oh, no! Gravity has you too! Now you’re going down the hill past me!”

She cried again, but went down the hill the second time.

I used this opportunity, while Hubby was watching her and calling out encouragement, to dash back into the chalet and put on my own ski boots and helmet. Came out just as he was helping her back up the hill. She didn’t want me to leave, but as I said to her, now it was my turn while she finished her lesson. And now that her Dad was in charge, the games were definitely changing.

Sometimes, you need that good-cop, bad-cop routine when you’re parenting. All he had to tell her was that if she took her skis off, he was going to take everything out of her room for a week.

She did not like that. Nor did she like me leaving her to suffer. But again, I tried to have some fun with it. I coasted slowly away, yelling, “No, don’t chase me! I won’t let you catch me!” Heh heh, that old reverse psychology thing. You never know when it’s going to actually work. Well, she didn’t come after me herself, but her instructor grabbed her up again (slowly, gently, making eye contact with me to make sure it was okay), and the two of them “chased” me in a gradual zig zag down the hill. And would you believe it — she smiled!

At least until I said I was off to the bigger hill, and then she was crying again.

I looked back a couple of times on my way, and saw her dad taking her in hand. Literally, he was helping her to get back up the hill. And then the next time I looked back, she was going down with the instructor again.

The third time I looked, as I waited to get on the T-bar, she was going down independently, with the instructor skiing backwards in front of her.

Best. Feeling. Ever.

This general perception I’ve had lately of being trapped on a perpetual hamster wheel, pumping my legs in the same routine and getting nowhere fast, stuck in the rut of day-in, day-out, it vanished as I was propelled up the lift with my music playing, the wind in my face, and the beautiful fluffy snow falling softly from tree branches. I tried two new runs, wiping out magnificently on the second one where the snow hadn’t been graded in a while and was so deep, I couldn’t see the ski that had fallen off at first. But that deep, deep snow on which my momentum was hung up, hurling my body forward and down, was also pillowy-soft for the landing, I didn’t lose my glasses, and I actually found myself laughing as I spit out the mouthful of snow. And I laughed at myself when I fell again a few minutes later, and I couldn’t get back up on my feet.

It was only an hour and a half at the ski hill — and of that, I think I did about an hour of skiing, or maybe less — but damn, it felt good. Got home and there were no immediate concerns to be faced. The TV stayed off for a while. I had a hot shower (still ended up with a refreshed cold and an abundance of sneezing), held our bearded dragon for the first time because she showed more comfort with us, and did some long-overdue reading and editing, sipping wine, then tea, and making turnovers for the first time in forever, with my records playing.

The hamster wheel is waiting for me, just a day away. I can feel it. But my daughter, who started her ski lessons crying and ended them laughing and bragging about the fun she’d had; my son, who repeatedly thanked me for bringing us out skiing every weekend now; my husband, who’s having a whole weekend off with us and gave me the space I needed, plus taking over on being the heavy with our younger child — all of these have taken the squeak out of the wheel, or even moved it aside. We got through the rough edges of the day, found our balance as a family, and although our house is still messy, we’re going to bed feeling good.

And now, a poem . . . about MOSQUITOES!

I thought of this while I was driving to school today. My son, riding shotgun, refused to let me go further than the first two or three lines. The darned thing has been lurking in the back of my head all day, though. So here it is, just for you.

Where Do All of the Mosquitoes Go?

Where do all of the mosquitoes go

When the earth is frozen under mounds of snow?

Their high-pitched song and piercing whine

Silenced by the cold of winter time.

Do they sleep beneath blankets of white?

Or are tiny corpses all that remains of their fight?

While their eggs, suspended, wait for spring

Near the pools of standing water that melt will bring?

It’s only the females that bite and suck blood

Driven to nourish their coming brood.

Mother’s instinct winning over manners kind

(If insects had rules of etiquette to mind . . .)

Where do all of the mosquitoes go

When the frost descends and north winds blow?

Minuscule ethereal tormentors of the skin

At end of summer meet their reckoning

Flying slowly, lazily, to peaceful destruction

Seems unfair, having survived elimination

Should we envy the lives of these summer creatures

Spared having to endure winter’s features?

Fairy-like structures able to cause such pain

Thriving in humidity, heat, and rain

Irritating with attacks by proboscis

Still, mosquitoes have their uses.

Where do all the mosquitoes go?

Do the crows and ravens miss their flow?

Crunchy snacks for wily fowl and fish

Beware, mosquito, if you’re not quick!

Evening walks are far more pleasant

When you’re not racing their annoying chant

And why do they aim for ears and nose?

If it’s blood you want, don’t head for those!

What’s the point of targeting orifices

When it’s flesh that has the tastiest pieces?

I don’t miss your high-pitched hum

When icicles hang and I freeze my bum

I’d rather pile on layers of sweaters and socks

Tingling fingertips and toes numb as rocks

Than endure itchy bumps and calamine lotion

Bleeding and scabbing from mosquito devotion!

Where do all the mosquitoes go?

Wish they didn’t come back at all, you know.

But a world without them would suffer more

Hard to remember, must not ignore.

I’ll enjoy the mosquito-less months while they last

And kill them on sight when winter has passed

For they’re neither endangered nor hard to locate

— impossible to escape when they think I taste great —

And they flock out en masse when the sun starts to set

Settling on my skin as though I were their pet!

They bite me through jeans! Wiggle into my hair!

In unending numbers they seek me everywhere!

Miniature vampires, blood-sucking pests

Beloved by baby birds being fed in their nests

But not by me, and my obsession should stop

Since it’s winter, and “skeeters” there are not

But I have to wonder, and ponder, this January day,

When in four months or so the bugs come back to play,

As much as I hate those damnable insects,

Where did they come from? I have to respect

For even though I loathe and despise their very being

At least their presence indicates the cold’s ending.

–Tori L. Ridgewood, 1/13/15

Urban (Suburban?) Winter Olympic Sports that I’d Like To See…

Grocery Cart Steeplechase
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The Playing Field: a large flat parking lot covered in alternating patches of hard-packed and slushy snow, 5 cm deep.

Objective: Complete a circuit of parked cars with a heaping grocery cart without letting a bag fall off or hitting the side of a vehicle.

Points are scored for keeping on straight tracks, smoothness of cornering, and fastest arrival at the target vehicle.

Penguin Parkour
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The Playing Field: a stretch of sidewalk downtown after the ploughs have gone by and left massive heaps of chunky snow piled over curbs, around fire hydrants, and covering benches.

Objective: Make it to a bank, a pharmacy, a gift shop, and pick up take-out without falling on the slippery sidewalk or street, using obstacles to propel yourself over the dangerous snowbanks.

Points are scored for creative use of fire hydrants, uncovered benches (even the edge), lamp posts, parked vehicles, baby strollers, and shopping bags in manoeuvring the body up, over, and around the snowbanks. Bonus points are awarded if no damaged is caused to these objects.

Freestyle Tandem Shovelling
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The Playing Field: A double driveway with connecting walking path during a heavy snowfall.

Objective: Midway through the snowfall, partners take turns clearing the freshly fallen drifts before the snow plough comes by and re-buries half of the lower driveway.
Points are scored for grace, rhythm, synchronization, speed, and thoroughness. Double-points for scraping ice down to the original paved, dirt, stone, or gravel drive. Highest scores go to those who put their snow in the plough-away direction, so the majority is carted further down the street by the vehicle.

That’s it, that’s all I have for now. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments! Cheers!

Hot Writing in Canadian Winters

The holly jolly Christmas songs and festive hubbub have died away. If that was the heart of the season, we’re now in the belly of the beast being slowly digested in its freezing juices.

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Winter isn’t that cold across our whole country, though we certainly give that impression. British Columbia has beautifully balmy weather on its coastal plane and in its rainforest, and southern Ontario generally has mild winters with a few harsh storms. But where I live, in Northeastern Ontario, we generally have at least two weeks of frigid cold in which temperatures dip to -40 (or lower, with the wind chill) and pipes can freeze while ice fog forms over the streets in the night. The snow falls and falls throughout the winter months, up to three feet deep or sometimes more, so many people have to put tiny roofs over their furnace exhaust pipes to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. That nearly happened to us, once, during a blizzard that was so heavy the fire truck responding to our call for help couldn’t get up the unploughed street. The snow piles were higher than our car, that year, (our first living in this region), and we learned the wisdom of
a) shovelling well away from the vehicle so the piles do not gradually close in on the drivable space, and
b) hiring a snow plough or investing in a snow blower, neither of which we’ve done until this year.

Our first winter in Northeastern Ontario, 2002

Our first winter in Northeastern Ontario, 2002

I keep contemplating buying USB warming / heated fingerless gloves, for typing, but I keep putting it off because I’m not 100% convinced they’d be worth the money. And a good cup of tea will warm my fingers when it’s chilly in here, or I can put them under the laptop where the heat is fine.

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Writing in the winter is cathartic, escapism, and makes hiding from the harsh weather easier. Wrapped in my blanket on my couch, I can disappear into an imaginary world (when my children let me), pausing now and again to wipe my cold, wet nose and get a fresh cup of hot brew or a glass of wine, lately (decadence!). I light a candle or two, maybe some scented melting wax thingies, and try to lose myself in the story.

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The trouble with winter writing in this climate and latitude is in the dark time, between Samhain (Hallowe’en) and Imbolc (Groundhog’s Day), I find my days and nights getting more and more mixed up. The hours of darkness are so much longer than those of light, especially on dim cloudy days, that it’s easier to work after the sun has gone down and I lose track of the hours I ought to be keeping. After all, the sun doesn’t fully come up until 8 am on the Solstice, and it won’t be until February that we’ll see dawn by 7:30.

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So much darkness . . . perfect for heated romance, sizzling scenes, and spicy dialogue. Seriously, this is a good season for writing about love. Think log cabins, crackling fires, quilts big enough to cover two bodies, and romantic walks under sparkling velvety black skies or through swirling flecks of lacy snow. Cabin fever gets released by skiing, sledding, snowshoeing — or other less chilly activities indoors. Oh, heck, I’ve read some pretty steamy love scenes that take place in the snowy forest involving opened jackets, though I haven’t yet written any myself. Winter is a season for writing about love, that glorious hot mess that keeps us going when the wind is howling to freeze our bones and shred our skin with its icy nails. The furnace working to pump heated air in my home is the breath of life in a world that is crystallized and unmoving.

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Canadians make good lovers, I think, because we know the best ways to keep warm in the long, cold winter. In a nation of extremes, we have to know how to survive, after all. Summers are as brutal as the winters, but at least in winter warming up is easier than cooling down in a heat wave. Until your pipes freeze or your furnace breaks, that is . . . as has been happening in spades in the houses around me.

Edits are nearly done on Blood and Fire: Book Two of the Talbot Trilogy, and the cover is nearly ready to reveal. Will tonight be another long session of creating with words? As long as my hands are warm enough, I think it will . . . but tea only as, I am out of wine.

October Dark

There is a certain difference to the blackness of night in October. In September, the night is still optimistic — there is a residual, lingering hopefulness and life. In November, everything is sleeping or dead, only awaiting the shroud of snow to bed it down.

But October…

October is the time for the dying to complete itself.

The sun goes down, and even with moonrise, the dusk is pensive. The stillness is not natural. The land feels like it is waiting for the cross-over, a steady but almost imperceptible slide into death and silence. You can sense the energies wafting invisibly past — the spirits whose time is pressing closer, until the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest and they may make their best efforts to contact living beings. The October dark is the calm before some kind of storm…the tension before essential news is delivered…the closed curtain on a quiet stage before the drama is unleashed.

I think I had a visitor last night.

I remember distinctly waking up, but not opening my eyes. It was the same feeling I have when my daughter comes padding in because she can’t sleep, that eerie sensation of being watched. But normally, when she comes in, if I pretend to be asleep she will whisper my name to wake me up.

Last night, I felt watched, but heard nothing.

I kept expecting to hear my daughter say “Mommy” to wake me up so I could take her to the bathroom, but there was nothing. To say that it was creepy is a bit of an understatement. I was scared to open my eyes. I wanted to look, but at the same time, not knowing what I would see, I just couldn’t do it. I felt silly. There was probably nothing there. If I had been brave enough to look, I know there was probably nothing there.

But that certainty still lingers in me.

I felt it again earlier, when I let the dog out in the back yard and felt that oppressive, October dark. It was not evil, or good, in any Hollywood sense of the term. Simply…something.