A Covid Disrupted Christmas

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley.”

It’s boxing day. I just finished eating a small bowl of oatmeal porridge—with strawberries, maple syrup and goat’s milk. The sore throat I’ve been nursing for four consecutive days, shows no signs of improvement. Hot beverages, soft food, salt gargles, and rest…so the recipe goes. Honey too. It’s antibacterial. I didn’t know that. But I was tired of honey—honey in peppermint and lavender teas, honey in hot lemon water, blobs of honey licked off a spoon. Maybe, I took the suggestion a little too far. So, this morning I figured that if honey was antibacterial, maple syrup must be too. No scientific reasoning led to that conclusion, just rationalization born from boredom and desire.

I was supposed to spend eighteen days of the Christmas season in Ontario with my children and grandchildren. Covid cut short my stay. When one family member tested positive for the virus, my son-in-law, always prudent and considerate, bought me a ticket on the earliest emergency flight home. Even though I had tested negative, he paid more than the already expensive fare for a premium seat—to keep me, and other passengers, as safe as possible—just in case. Because of his generosity, I may be spoiled. What luxury not to be squeezed between two strangers in a row with armrests wide enough to accommodate only one person. No line-up for the bathroom. Copious legroom for someone much taller than me. The special “treat” I could have done without. But, I stashed the small box of goodies in my carry-on. Mom would have approved. “Waste not, want not,” was her motto.

My covid test at the airport came back negative. Two days later an illness grabbed me by the throat. A tickle turned to fire. Gobs of mucous choked me. Every part of my body hurt. Fatigue kept me pinned to my bed, albeit in a semi-upright position so that I didn’t gag. The next morning, I made my way to a covid testing centre. After waiting three hours in a line-up, the test felt anticlimactic. And also deficient. In other screenings, the oversized Q-tip was inserted farther into my nose, slowly swept the area several times, not two or three, and included both nostrils, not just one.

Positive results are communicated within four hours. I heard nothing. Negative results are posted on-line. Seventy-two hours later, I still have no information. How odd it would be if whatever disease I have is not covid. All five members of my daughter’s family tested positive as well as every neighbour and friend who had visited during my stay.

In spite of my present state of health, or more accurately, non-health, I am truly grateful that I enjoyed ten good days with family before my abrupt departure. Highlights included:

  • sparkly professional manicures for the three girls—me, my daughter and granddaughter
  • buying and decorating an evergreen tree
  • my son, a master at weaving strings of lights trough branches, joining us to illuminate the specimen
  • a rhapsodic tour of Casa Loma—a fairy-tale adventure for everyone
  • a long walk on the marsh boardwalk bathed by a warm December sun
  • many gourmet meals prepared with love by my talented daughter—some of my favourites were “second” breakfasts such as bagels with avocado, eggs, and mustard sprouts or granola with fresh fruits, yogourt and pistachios
  • assisting my two-year-old grandson build intricate, often wheeled, structures with Lego and observing his concentration as he solved some complex engineering problem; reading dozens of illustrated stories to a rapt audience; watching my costumed three-year-old granddaughter perform an original ballet; cuddling my blissful six-month old grandson. And all the time inhaling the enchanting fragrance of these three tiny people.
An illuminated deer in one of the horse stalls at Case Loma

Yesterday was Christmas. In spite of my illness, I donned the bright red sweater I had planned to wear in Ontario then added a shiny gold necklace and earrings. No need for lipstick. An N95 mask covered most of my face. For a few brief minutes Face-Timing with my children, it felt like Christmas.

However, there was no smell of roasting turkey, no crackers with paper hats hidden inside, no carols or laughter or outdoor excursions. Not even snow. Every Christmas Day I usually spend an hour or more photographing nature—the sea, the sky, the trees, the wildlife. When I look back through my Christmas folders, I relive the wonder of those Christmases past. How grateful I am to have many pre-Christmas images taken during my Ontario holiday.

Grandchildren painting

In fact, I am thankful for many things. Some of those blessings include:

  • the return to health of my daughter and her family
  • my husband’s affectionate care for both my little dog and me
  • a bright, warm home in which to convalesce
  • the abiding love of family and friends

Covid may have changed the appearance of your Christmas celebrations. Even so, if you look with your heart, you can still see the wondrous beauty of the season.

May peace be within you; may your heart be strong.”

Love

Prairie

,

Smiling–A Panacea for a Pandemic

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Lauren and I


I disliked the book from its first line:

“This doesn’t feel right, patron.” Isabelle Lacoste’s voice in his earpiece was anxious, verging on urgent.

In spite of my initial response, I read ninety-nine pages. But, no more! I love the author, Louise Penny. I mostly enjoyed the first sixteen novels in the Inspector Gamache series. However, this one, I will not finish. As the saying goes, “Life is too short to drink cheap wine.” Likewise, life is too short to read bleak novels.

Pandemics can bruise our spirit, darken our outlook, wear us down. During this difficult time, it is important to take care of our psychological well-being. Read books that inspire, listen to music that soothes, walk in nature, associate with optimistic people and take time every day to smile and express gratitude. A positive attitude protects us, uplifts us, allows us to be our best possible selves.

My friend’s husband, Shawn exemplified positivity. While still a teenager, Shawn was diagnosed with dystonia. The Mayo Clinic website describes the disease as an incurable movement disorder in which muscles contract involuntarily causing repetitive or twisting movements.

I met Lauren, Shawn’s wife, at a local arts centre. We were both in our forties and Shawn six years older. Lauren and I are soulmates, kindred spirits, or whatever other term describes the heart-to-heart connection between two people. When Lauren introduced me to her husband of almost thirty years, his eyes mesmerized me. Large, bright, blue. His smile crinkled his entire face. When I asked Shawn, how he was doing, he replied, “Tickety-boo”. The thick padded neck brace disappeared. I saw only the joyful man in the easy chair. The intense pain, the debilitation, the surgeries, the injections, none of these were evident in Shawn’s shining eyes, lilting voice, and radiant visage.

I visited Shawn in the hospital a few days before his death. His body contorted, his face twisted, the morphine no longer sufficient to ease the pain, he smiled up at me and assured me he was “Tickety-boo.”

At Shawn’s celebration of life, Lauren gave to each attendee, a small, white, concrete bird. For eight years that symbol of Shawn’s luminous spirit has rested in my garden. It never fails to make me smile and remember that remarkable man.

Smiling makes us healthier. Frequent, unabashed smiling has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve the immune system, and may even reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Melissa Norton, founder of Four Wellness Co.

My niece

My niece also exemplifies a keen enjoyment of living despite an incurable disease. Alison has a rare type of blood cancer that causes severe pain in all of her nerve endings. On “bad” days, she lies immobile on the living room couch. The smallest movement sends shock waves through her body. On “better” days, she accomplishes small tasks such as cleaning the bathroom sink, or the toilet, or the tub. On “good” days she cooks, shops or even attends a gentle yoga class. Chemotherapy lessens, but does not eliminate, the discomfort. Before her illness, Alison and her husband led active lives. Among other pastimes, they biked, kayaked, and hiked. Even though Alison can no longer do those things, she makes certain to rest during the week so that on designated weekends, she can travel with her husband to one of their favourite trails or rivers. Alex heads off alone on an adventure; Alison drives and meets him at his destination. Those are her “best” days.

When I asked Alison how she keeps such a positive outlook, she said, “With humour and with God.”

I thought about Lauren’s tribute to Shawn, where she wrote that the best part of their relationship was the laughter. I recalled Ruth, a wise yoga teacher, explaining the benefits of smiling. How the muscles activated send a message to the brain to release feel-happy hormones. Ruth said that if you simply could not smile, put a pencil between your teeth. The same muscles respond, the brain is tricked, stress is reduced and positive feelings ensue. I shared that advice with Alison. Perhaps she can use it on the bad days.

Ruth, the wise yoga teacher

Living through a pandemic is not the same as living with an incurable disease. The pandemic will probably become endemic; most of us will resume our previous lives. But, what Shawn and Alison taught me was that if they were able to stay positive and experience joy in their lives, in spite of intense suffering, than I, who am blessed with good health, can certainly do the same.

So, smile for yourself, share your smile with others and make today’s world a healthier, happier place.

Early in the Pandemic Beauty Parlours Closed but Hair Continued to Grow

I think that the most important thing a woman can have- next to talent, of course- is her hairdresser.” – Joan Crawford

Me in late July with my newly- cut very short hair

I wear my hair short. Really short. I book haircuts six months in advance—one every five weeks. Melanie, my stylist, seldom has a cancellation. That was, until March 2020 when a pandemic shut down her place of business.

Human heads sport about 100,000 hairs. Fifty to two hundred of those are shed every day. Thankfully, for most of our lives, the lost ones get replaced. A few years ago, some of my replacement hairs began behaving in unexpected and irksome ways. For example, when my head is left unshorn, white tufts encircle my ears. I resemble a hoary clown, blonde hair now white but still fuzzy. I soak the frizz with water or gel. Paste it to my cheeks. That works—for a while. Then a single strand springs up and out and bends forward or backward. Then another and another. After I rediscovered some silver barrettes in a old cosmetic case, I smoothed back the disobedient hair then clipped it to my scalp. In time it escaped even those metal prisons.

There is a more than an image problem with my longer hair. I’m allergic to it. When my bangs lengthen and cover my brow, they irritate my eyes. Dry, red, itchy lids result. So, I wet and gel and clip them back as well.

Outdoors is easier. Walking or gardening, I wear a hat. I tuck most of the overgrown frizz under a large wool toque or a lavender brimmed sunbonnet. I wondered if I couldn’t wear a head-covering indoors—a turban, a towel, a nightcap? A ridiculous notion. In a pandemic, no one can drop in anyway!

As I focused on my longer-hair problem, I thought, “How silly I am! What a trivial concern mine is in such a time!” But, is it trivial?

Long ago I dreamt that, against my will, someone cut my hair. In past dreams, I always had long hair. The dream-me cried angry tears. I remembered that when Delilah had a servant cut Samson’s long locks, she deprived him of his strength. I wondered, “What inner energy is robbing me of my vitality?” I must have figured it out as I haven’t had such a dream in decades. How do people unfamiliar with the Bible interpret certain dreams? Perhaps our unconscious sends each of us symbols it knows we will understand even if we are not immediately aware of their meaning.

In late June, I got a hair appointment. I asked Melanie just to trim my four-months “long” hair. I thought I would like it. The next time I saw her, I said, “Cut it off!” Melanie smiled. She said that I was a little person and I needed “little” hair. But, like me, Melanie soars to a height of just over five feet. And, her hair grazes her shoulders. However, its obsidian shagginess, her flowing dark robes, her unique metal necklaces, and funky footwear are the antithesis of my fluffy white locks, bluejeans, unadorned neck, and Birkenstocks—worn with socks. I guess that some people, no matter their stature, can carry off the long-hair look.

Research informed me that historically, hair has always been important to women. A bad hair day can adversely affect a woman’s self-worth. I wasn’t unique in my concern regarding the fuzzy clown-look.

In September 2014, Lucinda Ellery, a hair specialist, wrote:

Hair and beauty is a multi-billion-dollar industry…the average woman spends approximately $50,000 on her hair over her lifetime and almost two hours a week washing and styling her hair. This is not just because many of us believe that appearances are important, but also because our hair represents our personality, thoughts and beliefs. For centuries, women have been able to play different roles by changing different hairstyles, and from their stories, we can see that hair contributes greatly to women’s self-esteem, actions and motive.

The pandemic rages on. However, hand sanitation and masks make regular haircuts possible once again. My morale is boosted each time I visit Melanie in her salon. A not-so-small thing in a difficult time.

Blessings and Blisters in the Time of Covid

Sometimes only heartbreak allows us to see the truth of a relationship

The Lane that Leads to the Shore

Parallel to the south shore of the island, a rural highway meanders for miles and miles. Fifty or so years ago, in those places on the water side, where the land broadens into the sea, small cottage subdivisions sprang to life. Seven years ago, my husband and I bought a house opposite one of those tiny communities.

The man whose house we bought said that, despite the word “private” on the sign beside the lane that led through the subdivision to the shore, we were welcome to walk there. Just to be certain, on my first amble down that dusty road, I met a resident and inquired if I were trespassing. She laughed and said, “Of course not! That sign is meant for strangers—not for neighbours.” The affable woman introduced herself and invited me to enjoy the “most glorious sunsets” from one of the two Adirondack chairs that she and her husband had placed in their yard—just for that purpose. “Don’t come to the cottage and ask. Just use them,” she added.

Over the years, on rambles with my little dog, I became acquainted with most of the residents. A smile, a wave, a bit of news. Gardening tips, construction advice, or, the maritime favourite, weather observations—“The farmers could sure use some rain; they say the snow’s gonna be pretty bad this year”—were freely exchanged. A stronger familiarity grew up with some of the owners. We drove each other to workshops and meetings, and enjoyed lunches and walks together. One babysat my dog for several days and that same warm-hearted woman comforted me when my mother took ill and then died. Decorating ideas, artistic preferences and family stories flowed among us. More recently, a few months after a pandemic had washed over the world, two of the women and I enjoyed a movie together—physically distanced of course—while sipping half-glasses of chilled white wine.

She said I couldn’t walk there.

She said I was trespassing.

She broke my heart.

On a large lot abutting the western perimeter of the genial subdivision, is the home of a widow. The widow and I became friends and, after a time, engaged in some evenings of chit-chat and word games.

Last week, in the midst of a Scrabble-like game, the widow announced that I was not permitted to walk in the subdivision. I was trespassing. I was not a resident. I had no right to be there.

A few short, sharp sentences revoked an invitation of seven years standing. A carpet of cordial relationships was ripped from under me. I walked home that night believing myself a criminal. Never had I felt lonelier. Every one of my relatives and many dear friends lived thousands of miles away. Covid precluded non-essential travel. Covid canceled book clubs, yoga classes, restaurant lunches, museums and excursions. And now, the friendly people across the road were off-limits too.

The delivery of the indictment—harsh and unexpected—pained me as much as the accusation. I was blindsided. For three days, I grieved. For three nights, I cried myself to sleep. I considered phoning one of the residents and apologizing. I wrote a letter of apology. Never sent it. Thank goodness. On the evening of the fourth day, as I was watering the flowers at the front of our house, an acquaintance from the subdivision strolled up our driveway. Before she said a word, I burst into tears. Shocked, she told me that the express reason for her visit was to assure me that the new, much larger, private sign that had just been erected at the end of the lane did not apply to us or to our neighbours. We were welcome there, as always. I cried even more. Then, she did a miraculous thing. “What the heck, I don’t have Covid” she said, and wrapped her arms around me. She held me while I cried. Tears of perfect relief and unimaginable joy.

The good-will ambassador informed me that the widow, who owned no property in the private community, had no authority to speak on the behalf of the homeowners. I was baffled.

I phoned the widow. Told her what had transpired. Asked what had prompted her prohibition. She said, “It’s been that way for years.” No. It had not. I asked why she had never mentioned it before. She said, “I have.” No. She had not. Surely I would have remembered such a brutal injunction. I told her that for three nights I had cried myself to sleep. She replied, “Don’t be silly. Come over and have a game.” A game with her was the last thing I wanted. I wanted time—time to process all that had passed. I said it would be a while before I saw her again. I told her I would forgive her because I knew she had a good heart, but, I needed time for the hurt to heal.

Days passed. I thought perhaps there would be an apology. “Oh, Prairie, I’m sorry I hurt you. I never meant to.” None came.

Sometimes, only heart-break allows us to see the truth of a relationship. As I looked back over the years, I realized that the widow and I had little in common. Our diets, pastimes, intellectual pursuits, exercise preferences, health care choices, and spiritual beliefs differed vastly. The thread that united us was the Scrabble-like game.

I further recognized that our time together was peppered with the widows’ dismissals of my emotions and my accomplishments, and those of my family. These I had let pass. Because they were only “little hurts”, I could handle them. The last, the “big hurt”, the “Don’t be silly” hurt, allowed me to let the widow go.

I’ve been told that some “people of her generation”, the one preceding mine, armour themselves against pain and suffering. That “Don’t be silly” is a frequent admonition. Be that as it may, I prefer to forgive and be kind to those people—from a distance. To seek companionship elsewhere. With empathetic people. People who can climb out of their skin and into mine and feel my joys and my sorrows, share the pride of my achievements and the misery of my failures, without reference to themselves or their particular situation—past or present. I have a number of friends like that. I phoned a couple of them. They understood. They didn’t counsel me. They just listened. With their hearts. How blessed I am.

The women in the photos are some of my longest-standing “empath” friends.