What It’s Like to Live in a Cold Climate

Here in the North East we are used to the cold, which can be as mild as 35 degrees above zero, or 35 degrees below zero.  I was born in ME, but grew up in New Hampshire, and I have lived through more than my share of fair-to-middling cold, pretty darn cold, serious cold and wicked cold.

We learn early on in our lives to layer our clothing, keep our faces, ears, hands and feet warm at all costs, keep jumper cables and an emergency kit in our vehicles and what to do in case of a white-out. Most of us know someone who lost fingers or toes from frostbite, and we take it seriously.

Cabin fever is a real thing. In Northeast lore there are many stories of people who literally went mad cooped up all winter and did irrational things. (Read Jack London; he’s told some good stories about cabin fever.) When my mother compiled our genealogy, there were stories upon stories of what was also called ‘winter madness.’ Don’t think it can’t happen in these modern times, either. Best cures? Get out if you can, even for a few minutes. If your phone works, call someone and yak. If your computer works, well–that’s self-explanatory. Pets and people make good company, or a good hobby.

But most importantly, keep your mind working. Read, learn something new. Put a jigsaw puzzle together. Write something, anything; a letter, a poem, a story, a diary entry, etc.

Just as important, appreciate. As with so many things, attitude is everything. You can look out on a snowy day, with trees bowed down with ice and snow, and the only colors seem to be the dead black of naked branches, cold blue, gray and white, white, white. You can see all that and think, “Yuck! It’s cold, boring and colorless out there! I wish it were summer!”

Or you can look at the sheer stark beauty of those black branches against a breathtaking blue sky, see the constant glimmer and sparkle of the snow, and, if you look hard enough, you can discern subtle pinks and blues in the snow. It can be dazzling or boring; it’s up to your frame of mind.

Just remember, our perceptions can see the world around us as dull and lifeless, or amazing and full of color.

Listen as well. The moan of trees as they push back against the winter winds, the crackle and snap of constantly shifting ice in a pond, the sound that a dry leaf makes when the wind skates it across a frozen field–it’s a symphony like no other.

Enjoy the deep winter while we have it. When we are swearing and sweating in July, we can remember those cold, cold winter days and lower our internal thermometers. Enjoy it while we have it, everyone.

 

**A winter white-out happens when snow blows in all directions and you may not even be able to see your mittened hand in front of your face. If you are caught in one, your best bet is to stay put and hunker down until you can see again. Most of all, don’t panic!

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What It’s Like to Feed Skunks

We have been feeding “our” skunks for years now. A few generations of them have lived under the shed over the stone wall from our backyard, and we have all become used to each other. They adore Purina Cat Chow, and each evening we put a pan of it out underneath our back porch, along with a pan of water.

They know us so well that by now that they usually are waiting by the time I open the cellar door with their dinner. I tell them, “Ok, kids, I’m going to put your food down and you’re not going to spray me, all right?” So far, the system works. By now they don’t even wait for me to go back inside before they waddle out to eat.

The regular diners are Blondie, a large mostly white skunk, Bushy, another good-sized fellow with a tremendous tail, and three Stripeys; Stripey 1, 2, and 3; all with a thin white stripe running straight down their foreheads to their noses. They have their own pecking order at the pan; anyone who commits a breech of etiquette gets a nip or a shove to put him in his place.

Other than that, they behave nicely and rarely leave a scent. I personally find them adorable; they wobble from side to side and have surprisingly delicate cat-like paws. Their manners (once they settle on who eats first) are quite civilized, and they crunch appreciatively but not loudly.

When they finish their food, they usually wander out to our garden in warm weather, and dig out grubs for dessert. (They are welcome to them!) In cold weather, they retreat back to their shed and snuggle up together.  When there is a lot of snow, my husband thoughtfully snow-blows a walkway for them.

Before we all go to bed (my husband and the cats and me, but not with the skunks), I always lean over the porch and tell them goodnight, and that they are welcome anytime.

What It Was Like to Trick-or-Treat Back When…

I grew up in the ’50s when there were no bike helmets, no designer kid clothes, no expensive family vacations, and no computers/iPods/iPhones/tablets/Kindles, etc. The only blackberries we knew about were the ones growing wild that we picked and ate during high summer.

Halloween was as sacred a holiday to us kids as Thanksgiving and Christmas. I didn’t know anyone who wore a “bought” costume; most of us dressed up as hobos, fortune-tellers, witches, ghosts, using borrowed clothes and imagination. The best costume I ever had was my black cat outfit. Mom and Dad made a giant *papier mache cat head, painted it black and pink, with big green eyes and eyelashes. I wore it with black tights, a black sweater, black shoes and pinned on a black tail (one of Mom’s dark stockings stuffed with rags). It was great.

Almost as much fun as actual trick or treating was the costume parade. After a cookies-and-punch party at school (back then, no one knew or cared about peanut allergies, gluten, fats, sugar, or germs), we were allowed to get in costume and parade down Main Street. We all laughed and showed off, and people clapped and cheered.

Official trick or treating started right after supper. It was a struggle to sit still and eat the meatloaf and mashed potatoes Mom made when all I wanted to do was collect and eat candy. I went out with my best friend, and we roamed the streets with our bags and flashlights, collecting candy from our neighbors. Back then a lot of people made homemade goodies such as cookies and popcorn balls wrapped in plastic wrap, as well as store-bought candy. Others gave out apples, which we politely accepted but seldom ate. It was a small town, and we only went to houses we knew–it was considered rude to knock on someone’s door you didn’t know and ask for treats. Once you got your treat, you always said thank you.

Mischief happened, of course–windows got soaped, cars got egged, and trees got TP’d. It was understood that, if you did any of this, you showed up in the morning to clean it up. I never took part in it; it was more of a boy thing, and also because  I was told not to. Back then, you listened to your parents, and no meant no.

When it was all over, we’d trudge home, tired and dirty, but happy and full of licorice whips, Milky Way bars, squirrel nut zippers, mint juleps, chocolate drops, Hershey bars, Bonomo taffy, molasses kisses, M &Ms, french nougats, peanut butter cups, coconut marshmallows, pixie stix, Junior Mints, jelly beans and the aforementioned homemade treats. But it wasn’t over just yet.

The finale of the evening happened after we  came home, and Dad drove us up to Mirror Lake where my grandparents lived. My grandmother always made “treat bundles” — cookies and candy wrapped in large holiday napkins and tied with ribbons. She would make a tray of them, with two enormous ones in the middle for my best friend and me. After we were admired for our costumes, she gave us each one of those huge bundles, then pressed the rest on us. It was the real bonanza of the evening.

Post-Halloween in our house meant unloading all the treats into my mom’s biggest wooden salad bowl. After Mom and Dad picked out what they liked, they let me have a few pieces of candy, then the bowl went up on the refrigerator. It would slowly be eaten during the next few weeks. Usually I would sneak in and grab a few pieces to squirrel away under my pillow for later. Why I never thought to hide some of the candy BEFORE I brought it home is beyond me.

Halloween was always the official start to the holiday season. I loved it for the treats, of course, but most of all for the fun and mystery of dressing up as someone else for one night. Scuffling through mounds of fallen leaves in the dark, it was easy to imagine great black bats circling overhead, witches cackling as they rode their broomsticks in the light of the moon, scarecrows come to life for a night, and ghosts sneaking up behind you and wrapping you in their cold, clammy embrace. It was exciting and just a little bit scary. As much as I hated for it all to end, I was always happy to be home in bed, cleaned up, full of candy and memories, drifting off to sleep as witches chased, but never caught me.

*Blow up a big balloon, cover it lightly with Vasoline, then strips of wet newspaper and let it dry. When dry, pop the balloon and pull it out. Paint it, then cut out eye and mouth holes and you’re good to go.

What It’s Like to be a Grandma

(Actually, in my case, this post is about being a “LuLu.” That’s what my amazing granddaughter, Ava, calls me.  Well, she calls me “WuWu.” Close enough!)

I have two wonderful step-daughters, one from each marriage. I am very lucky to have them in my life, and I love them dearly.

When Ava was born (of #2 step-daughter), every picture of her, every little sound she made, every expression–all things were priceless and utterly miraculous. Every single thing she did was amazing. She took her first steps in our living room, and I remember her looking at us as if to say, “What? You knew I was going to do this SOME time!”

Now that she is two years and four months old, she is a constant joy and source of laughter. I have never been been so interested in another human being the way I am with Ava; everything about her is fascinating. She runs, she talks, she laughs, she cries, she plays games, she loves her dogs and her bunnies, and she loves all of us. At her tender age she is both brave and adventurous, cuddly and funny, outgoing and engaging, and has a great big personality.

Although I make my living writing, I am at a loss to explain logically how  feel about her. Just the fact that she is here in this world along with me makes me smile–she has become my North star, my reason for being the best person I can be, and my constant and abiding treasure.

I am the luckiest person I know.

What It’s Like to be in a Play

I used to be in plays in high school, and then I was lucky enough to be chosen as an ingenue for the Barnstormers (Tamworth, NH — a superb summer theatre company).

Being in a play is like falling in love.  Like a new romance, you start with the hand-holding and passionate kissing stage; which, translated into being in a play means learning your lines, getting your blocking down pat from the director so you know where you are supposed to be at all times when you are on stage. You even find yourself memorizing everyone else’s lines, just so you can be sure of your cues, and also how the other characters react to your character.

Then you move on to the ‘am I really in love or just kidding myself’ stage. You get all your lines memorized and work hard to be the best and most believeable character you can be. In doing so, you begin to BE that person. You start looking at the world through their eyes, their experiences, their interactions and relationships with the other characters in the play. You slowly realize that you are only part of the play, even if you are the main character around which the whole thing revolves. The play becomes a second family; you know who you are and who everyone else is, and how you all fit together.

Now comes the real test of love: opening night on stage with everyone in costume, and a full house out front. Your stomach turns as you hear the orchestra tuning up, and you know that it won’t be long until the overture starts.  The final notes are played, the audience applauds and the curtain goes up, and you go on—and the show begins.

In seconds, you know whether or not you are going to completely blow it, or trust in that cellular memory of all those rehearsals and memorizing lines before you slept. You take a breath, clear your head, and take that first step into the light.

Before you know it, the play is over. You are being hugged and are hugging your second family members, knowing that you did a good performance and, better yet–that the play went off without a hitch.

That is the rollercoaster ride that is being in a play.