Saturday, January 23, 2016

JANUARY'S WAR



Lazy, lazy, I’ve become

I come home from work and I am done.

I feel so down when skies are gray

All I want to do is go to bed and lay.

I do the dishes and sweep the floors

But I can’t seem to finish my list of chores.

My workout routine has become mundane

I often leave it and go lay down again.

Once my weekends were full of adventure

Now they’ve become wrought with sleep and leisure.

2000 mg of Vitamin D I take per day

But I am still feeling thorough dismay.

I feel so very toxic and logy

My body aches and my mind is foggy.

I look at the calendar and I see

One more week then we’re in February.

I count six weeks for Daylight Savings Time to begin

And I feel a spark of hope, I almost want to grin.

I tell myself, I CAN DO IT, I’ll be okay

So what if I sleep most of my days away.

Why do I feel so pressured anyway?

To stay up or got out and play.

I’m entitled, I deserve to do nothing.

But wait, that’s why I feel so bad in the first place

From lack of fresh air and moving at a slow pace.

I’m so conflicted, I’m so tired

The primitive man is so wired!

HIBERNATE! my body screams

GET OUTSIDE! my mind decrees!

I can’t take this fight no more

So I’m going to get dressed and force myself out the door.

Oh! This maddening war has only just begun

Seven more weeks until it is done.

But I’ll try not to think of that today

I’ll just think, Boy, it’s a beautiful day

And breathe the cold, fresh air, feel it enter my body

Then contemplate life, Heck, it’s not too shoddy.



Monday, January 18, 2016

CHUCKLES

Once upon a time I had a cat, and his name was Chuckles. I named him so because when he tried to meow, it would come out like a chuckle instead of a regular meow. He was the runt of the litter and he wasn’t a very nice cat to look at. His head was misshapen and his legs were short and stocky. He was black with grey and white patches and he had a short tail.

Since he was the ugliest kitten, he was the last one remaining. When it became apparent that no one wanted him, my mother let me keep him and he became my cat. I had taken care of him since he was just born and I felt it my duty to keep taking care of him. He wasn’t a very bright cat. He didn’t do what other cats did. He didn’t chase after field mice or try and catch birds; he couldn’t even climb a tree. He didn’t know what a litter box was for and kept crying to go outside. He would wake me up in the middle of the night by slapping my face until I woke up to let him out. Then I would have to wait for him to do his business because if I didn’t, he would just make that awful chuckling sound outside my bedroom window until I got up to open the door. Lessons learned.



Chuckles was a lazy cat, I couldn’t teach him any tricks. He did not jump for treats, no matter how hard I tried. He did not catch flies on the window, no matter how many were buzzing against the window. He did not beg for food, no matter how empty his bowl was. But no matter what people said about poor old Chuckles, I could always count on him for warmth at night. He was a loyal cat when it came to bedtime. He would snuggle with me near my chest under the blankets and would not move until I got up the next morning. Yes, Chuckles was a good snuggler.

One day after breakfast I noticed something strange about Chuckles. His chuckle had changed. He did not meow either; it was more of a bark, like that of a small dog. And the thing about that was nobody else seemed to hear it. After a while, I got used to hearing the bark and became to like it. That morning, I noticed that Chuckles began jumping up on the window sill and barking at the birds picking at worms in the front yard, which was weird because he wasn’t interested in birds before. And when I went to the window, I noticed about a dozen dead flies on the floor near the window. I got to thinking that my cat was finally turning into a hunter. He was barking so loudly at the birds now that I had no other choice but to let him out. And you should have seen him! He was in full stealth mode: creeping and crawling up to the chickadees, until BAM! He got one! What happened next startled me a little. He not only snatched one of the birds off its little feet, but in seconds that little birdie was being digested inside Chuckles’ tummy. I was disgusted, but I could not look away; I was thoroughly transfixed on Chuckles. His behavior was mesmerizing.

We stayed out for a little while. Chuckles began barking again. This time he had caught sight of something in the grass, a field mouse no doubt. Chuckles went into stealth mode again and crept and crawled through the tall grass. I sat on the swing and watched, amazed at how Chuckles had changed. His fur had grown thick and luscious with a mane around the neck and his jawline was strong and well-defined. His legs were muscular and his paws were wide with long, sharp claws. The next thing I see is Chuckles jumping at least six feet into the air and then doing a nose dive into the grass like some crazed wild fox diving into the snow for a rabbit. A minute later, Chuckles lays a dead mouse at my feet. I bend over and pat him on the head. “Good Chuckles,” I say. Then he rips the guts open and feasts on its innards. I am not at all offended by this. I figure, eat or be eaten. I am hypnotized by his large fangs and the sound of crunching bones. Chuckles is a late bloomer and now he seems to be making up for lost time.



For the next few weeks, every day after breakfast, I go outside with him and he practices his hunting skills. He is a master now. He can climb to the top of the highest tree then jump to the next, he can jump almost ten feet into the air, he can stay still like a statue for more than ten minutes, and he is able to juggle two mice in his front paws, while standing on his hind legs. This cat is awesome.

I begin to feel like this cat is going to become famous, but it seems that no one else is interested in his skills but me. I keep telling everyone how amazing he is and all the things he can do, but nobody seems to care, and oddly, enough, Chuckles is only a master around me. No matter, he’s my cat, so that’s understandable.

Then one morning while I was eating my breakfast Chuckles jumped on the table. My mother would have had a hissy-fit if she had seen that, so I stood up and grabbed him and put him on the floor. I started to eat my cereal again when I hear this strange noise. I looked all around, but no one was there. It seemed to be some kind of mystic language, like something I heard on The Twilight Zone three nights before. I keep hearing it and the more I listen the clearer it becomes. I look down at Chuckles and he says to me, “Give me some of that cereal, will ya?” I’m sick of eating birds and mice.”  

At that very moment, my mother bursts into the kitchen, grabs the cereal I was eating and throws it into the sink, and then takes the cereal box and dumps it into the garbage. I am dumbfounded; I really liked that new cereal. Chuckles keeps quiet.


For the next two weeks I become ill. I am feverish, I have chills, and I have a severe case of the shakes. I am afraid of something, but I do not know what, and I cannot get out of bed. My mother said I was sick because the cereal had some bad grains in it. And where is Chuckles when all this is going on? He’s right at my side, with his misshapen head, his uneven fur color, and his stocky legs, telling me, “It’s going to be okay. Just go with the flow, man.”

Friday, January 8, 2016

A WINTER'S TALE

The other day, while passing by the Chinguacousy ski hill, I noticed a child on a vintage wooden sled and it immediately took me back to my childhood.



One Christmas, our mother got us all sleds, which she ordered from the Sears catalogue. They were constructed of birch wood and red steel runners and man could those things fly. On really good days when ski-doo trails did not snow over, we’d just start out on one trail and keep going flying down one hill after another, going through the woods, and following the ski-doo trails until darkness would lead us back home. It was like a race. We’d see how many hills we could slide down before we had to go back home. Those sleds were amazing. The steering was so simple and the speed! It was exhilarating, it was fun, and it was freedom.

I remember one Saturday morning in particular. I got up early, got dressed, and went out on my own. It had been too cold to snow during the night, which meant that the snow on the ski-doo trail would still be packed making it the perfect condition for sledding. The snow crunched under my feet as I headed for the trail and my nostrils stuck together whenever I sniffed. When I got to the trail I noticed that even the trees seemed to be frozen solid. Everything was crisp and sparkling as the morning sun came up over the horizon.

I walked for about ten minutes, following the trail through the snow-covered trees, then came to the first steep hill. I had been pulling my sled behind me and now I pointed it directly in the middle of the trail. It wasn’t a very long hill, but if you could just go fast enough to get over the bump at the bottom you could keep going, but that only happened if you took a running leap at the top of the hill. My brothers could do it, I could not.  I lay down on the sled with my legs straight behind me and gave just a little push with my feet and I was flying, steering around the turn and over the summertime bog at the bottom. At the bump, I stopped. I got up and pulled the sled over the­­ bump and walked through the small grove of trees until I came to the fork in the road. The main road started from the front field near our house and the other road came from the back field, that trail joined the main one. I stood at the fork and wondered if I should hike that big hill and start at the top or just hop on my sled and slide on down to the river. I figured I had all day, so I just hiked up the other trail. When I finally climbed to the top—that’s the worst thing about sledding—I got on my sled and cruised. I slowed down when I got to the bottom but had enough momentum to keep it going. It was all downhill from there. On I went with the snow flicking up, and the wind burning my face, but I didn’t care because I was on my racer and I was free and I was faster than the wind.

After a few minutes, I came to the last part of the hill. I steered over the trickle of water that came from a small stream from another dimension—no one ever seemed to know where it came from—and rounded the bend. When I looked up all I saw were clampers of ice from the river. The snow seemed to fall away as the snow turned to ice and I couldn’t stop. I slid head first into a clamper of ice.

When I woke up, I couldn’t see clearly, bandages covered my eyes. I smelled wood burning and apple pie. I tried to get up but the pain was unbearable and I passed out. The next time I woke up, I smelled wood burning, apple pie, and cocoa. When I tried to get up again, pain shot across the left side of my head, and then I heard the spring hinges of a door and lay perfectly still. I heard someone humming, a woman’s voice. The footsteps came from the door and stood close to me. I heard sticks of wood falling to the floor and stoking of the fire. I was frozen with fear. I couldn’t see clearly, I had no idea where the heck I was, and the smell of that pie was driving me crazy. Then the woman came over to me and started touching my head. She spoke softly, like a little old granny would. It comforted me. As she spoke, she held up my head to take off the bandages. When she laid my head back on the pillow, I slowly opened my eyes. The only light in the room came from the flames of the fire. I tried to get up, but she held me down.

“Easy, my child, easy, that’s a nasty bump you have on your head.”

She helped me sit up. The only light came from the fireplace and as I looked around I could see that I was in a small cabin. I looked up at her, but couldn’t quite make out her features. Her hair was tied back in a bun, she wore a long skirt, and a knitted shawl over her blouse.

“Where am I?” I asked her.

“Don’t worry, my child, you are warm and you are safe. I will bring you some water, but don’t try to get up just yet or you may faint again. You’ve been out all morning.”

She seemed nice enough. I was not worried. As a matter of fact, I pulled the blanket up over me and quite enjoyed the comfort of a warm fire and woolen blankets. I had never been in such a warm and welcoming home. I was so comfortable that I dozed off again.

I woke up later with rumblings in my stomach. I sat up and remembered what the old lady had said. I took it slow and stood up. My head still ached, but I was no longer dizzy. I went to the fire and stoked it. I added another log and looked around. There were no windows and the only things in the room were an arm chair and sofa and a couple of side tables. An oil lantern on the kitchen table was the only light. I headed for the smell of that pie and just as I was walking toward the kitchen, the old lady came in.

“Well, well, you are looking better my dear, how do you feel?”

I had great respect for older people, so I answered her. “My head hurts a little, but I feel okay. I’m kind of hungry.”

The old lady smiled. “Well, then, my child, why don’t you have a seat there at the table and I will ladle up some stew.”

I did as I was told. I watched as she got some bowls from the shelf and ladled the stew. Hot buns lay in the warmer above the old-fashioned stove, and butter and jam was already on the table. As she laid the bowls and bread on the table she filled a kettle from a bucket of water. I noticed my snowsuit and boots were hung behind the warmer, drying.

I was starving. I ate like a wild animal. It was the best stew I had ever tasted, the carrots and turnip were the sweetest I had ever had and the moose meat was fresh and tender. The bread melted in my mouth and the butter tasted like it was whipped with love.

She smiled at me the whole time. Her eyes were dark, but warm, and her hair was silver, but I still could not see her face clearly, there were just too many shadows in the dimly lit cabin. She ate heartily as well and when we were done of stew and bread, she made some cocoa, and took the apple pie out of the warmer. She led me into the living room, back to the sofa and the warm crackling fire. She sat in the worn, ragged armchair with doilies hanging from the back and placed her cocoa and pie on the side table.

I placed my cup and plate on the other side table and made myself comfortable on the sofa, pulling the blankets up to my chest. I had never felt so content in all my life. The apple pie was to die for, and the hot cocoa was heavenly: not sweet, not bitter, and lots of milk. As I was eating and drinking I had the funny feeling that I was in dream. It was perfect.

“How did I get here?” I asked her when I had finished my pie.

“I was checking my rabbit snares when I saw you sliding down the hill into that ice clamper. I thought you were dead. I dragged you here on your sled, which is outside, undressed you, and washed and bandaged your head. You were passed out the whole time.”

“It was all ice and I couldn’t stop.” I told her.

“Don’t worry, you have quite a bump, but just a little cut. It will heal fine.” She finished her pie and reached into a basket. She took out knitting needles and wool and began to knit. “Would you put another log on the fire, child, I don’t want us to get a chill now.”

I did as I was told and was glad to do it; I loved to watch the flames do their fiery dance.

“My name is Liisa,” I told her as I put another log on the fire.

“I am Maggie,” she replied.

I made my way back to the sofa and under the warm blankets. I must have dozed off again because when I woke up it was almost dark. The fire was dying down. I called out to the old lady and heard a murmur coming from a little room just off the kitchen. I got up and went to see.

The old lady was lying in bed with thick blankets pulled up to her chin. The room was warm and cozy with an oil lantern lit on the bedside table.

“It’s time for me to sleep now, child. Perhaps you should be getting along home now, before your mother starts to worry.”

“Yah, I just noticed that it was almost dark. My sled is outside?”

“Yes, on the porch. And your snowsuit and boots are hanging by the warmer.”

“Okay,” I said and left the room.

I got my snowsuit on and was about to put on my boots when I realized that I did not know where I was. I went back into the room and asked her for directions.

“When you walk out, you will hear the rushing of the river, just follow the path to the river and then turn left; the path will lead you back to the bottom of the hill. And child, would you please put some wood on the fire for me before you leave?”

“Yes, Ma’am, and thank you for taking care of me, can I come to visit you again?” I asked.

“Anytime, my child, now hurry before it gets dark.”

I hurried to the fire and piled on some logs. I went back to the kitchen and put on my boots, scarf, and mittens. I closed the door tight behind me making sure that it was secure and grabbed my sled. I thought that I would not make it home before dark, but I hurried anyway. I went to the sound of the river and turned left, not bothering to look back. There was no evidence of ski-doo on this trail, there was a single foot path leading into the woods along the river. I quickly found my way back to the ice clampers and had to detour around the ice. The temperature had dropped and I was chilled. My sled became too much to bear and my head began to throb, so I decided to hide it in the bush and retrieve it the next day. It seemed like a long walk up hill and shadows started to appear in the woods on each side of the path. I came to the fork in the road and was glad that I was at least half way there; it seemed I would make it before shadows in the darkness moved in. My heart pounded in my chest.

When I finally came out of the woods, I saw my step-father and uncle working on the ski-doo. My step-father spotted me as I got closer and yelled out to me, “You better haul your ass in there, your mother’s got supper on the table, and I wouldn’t say too much if I were you, she’s in a foul mood.”

I thought, “What else is new? She’s always in a foul mood.” I went in. She gave me a stern look, but did not say anything, just continued to dish out food. I got undressed, and fluffed my hair in a way so that no one would notice the cut. My mother had cooked stew and buns, and it was nothing compared to what I had earlier that day. I kept my mouth shut and my eyes down.

I dreamed about the old lady that night and was so excited to go see her again that I woke up early and went to find her. It was still frosty out, but it seemed to be a bit warmer as the snow didn’t crunch under my feet. I trotted to the river, found my sled just where I’d left it, and took the detour around the ice. The river was roaring and the ice clampers seemed to multiply overnight. I found my way to an opening in the woods, but could not find my footprints. I walked on through what appeared to be a trail, but the snow became deeper and was hard to get through. I stopped, sat on my sled, and thought, “This isn’t right, it can’t be the way I came.” I got up again and left my sled where it was and walked through and around the area for hours, trying to find my footprints from the night before, but all I found was my sled and my current footprints. I was dumbfounded.

After a while, I grew weary, but I didn’t give up. I walked directly along the river, along the clampers of ice down to what was called Cabin Pool. I fell over the ice clampers and beat myself up trying to get through the icy mess and then I sat and listened to the sound of the river, hoping that I could hear the same tone as I did the night before. But I felt lost, even though I knew exactly where I was. I searched up and down that stretch of the river most of the day and did not find a thing, no cabin, no trail, no footprints, no old lady. By the time I got back to my sled, I was tired, I was hungry, and I was cold. I sat down and listened to the still of the winter and cried. I dried my eyes when I heard my younger brothers coming.

I hung out with them and our cousins for a while and then I went home, puzzled and sad.

For the next few months I spent my weekends searching for the cabin and the old lady, but never found anything. Not one sign. It was like it never existed. Winter gave way to spring and spring into summer, summer into fall, and by the time another winter came, I had forgotten all about it.


The only thing that remains of that day is the scar that I still have on my head. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

HAPPY NEW YEAR - IT'S TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE!

Happy New Year to all my readers, family and friends on the internet; I hope that the year we left behind will stay behind us and that we bring new challenges, changes, and ideas to ourselves and each other in this new year.

Every year around this time, I—like many others—take on the new year with gusto, vowing to make changes—whether good or bad—lose weight, and exercise more. This year is no different. I’ve thrown out the leftover chocolates, cookies, and cakes from Christmas feasting and filled my fridge with wholesome, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meats. When it comes to eating properly, it’s not really that hard for me; since I developed gastritis a few years ago, I have been eating to lessen stomach upset. And I have to say, I don’t lament about stomach ailments like I used to.

Now, it’s fairly easy for a lot of people to eat properly. It’s all we hear about. But, exercise, well, that’s a little trickier. I mean, who wants to go for a walk when it’s 10 below outside? And exercise, like anything else is hard to get back into once you skip a few sessions/days. But, nowadays, there is a wide array of 15-20 minute exercise sessions on the YouTube, and if you have an iPhone/iPad there are countless apps to get you on the right track, from beginner to advanced levels. Personally, I have been a Kathy Smith student for 30 years. Her workout videos are fun and they actually work. She has been in the fitness field for 50 years. Needless to say, she knows her stuff.

So, from what I hear and see, most people know that eating right and exercising not only helps you look and feel good inside and out, it also improves brain health and prevents disease.

However, there is one thing that I do not hear much about. And I don’t think a lot of people talk about it unless they have been diagnosed or know someone who has been diagnosed. Yes, I am talking about cancer. Now, I know anyone can get any tidbit of information from the internet, but sometimes, we tend not to look until it is staring us right in the face. Let’s face it; unless you, or someone you know, has been through a cancer scare, you are unlikely to Google it.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, one of the best ways to prevent cancer is to reduce the risk. This includes eating right, exercising, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and reducing exposure to the sun. These are the things that most people try to make happen in their lives.

But, you know, there is another aspect to cancer prevention that I don’t hear too often. And that has to do with chemicals; chemicals in the products we use at home, from the moisturizer that we put on our bodies to the cleanser we use to clean the bathtub.

The following is a list of chemicals that I have learned about and will try to eliminate from my home this year. If you’d like to add to the list, please do so, and I hope that perhaps by reading this you, yourself, will have become just a little more aware.




1. BHA and BHT
 Used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer (BHA).

2. Coal tar dyes
 P-phenylenediamine and colours listed as “CI” followed by a five digit number. In addition to coal tar dyes, natural and inorganic pigments used in cosmetics are also assigned Colour Index numbers (in the 75000 and 77000 series, respectively).

 Look for p-phenylenediamine in hair dyes and in other products’ colours listed as “CI” followed by five digits. Potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.

3. DEA-related ingredients
 Used in creamy and foaming products, such as moisturizers and shampoos. Can react to form nitrosamines, which may cause cancer. Harmful to fish and other wildlife. Look also for related chemicals MEA and TEA.

4. Dibutyl phthalate
 Used as a plasticizer in some nail care products. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
 Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15. Used in a variety of cosmetics. Slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, which causes cancer.

6. Parabens
 Used in a variety of cosmetics as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disrupters and may interfere with male reproductive functions.

7. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)
 Any mixture of fragrance ingredients used in a variety of cosmetics – even in some products marketed as “unscented.” Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some harmful to fish and other wildlife.

8. PEG compounds
 Used in many cosmetic cream bases. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Also for related chemical propylene glycol and other ingredients with the letters “eth” (e.g., polyethylene glycol).

9. Petrolatum
 Used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lipsticks and moisturizers. A petroleum product that can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.

10. Siloxanes
 Look for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone.” Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

11. Sodium laureth sulfate
 Used in foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Look also for related chemical sodium lauryl sulfate and other ingredients with the letters “eth” (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).

12. Triclosan
 Used in antibacterial cosmetics, such as toothpastes, cleansers and antiperspirants. Suspected endocrine disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.