one is the loneliest number

bend

Today is the first of February, the loneliest month on the calendar. There are no holidays to look forward to as we shiver through another 28 days of winter. Of course Valentine’s Day brings its own particular warmth mid-month, but if you don’t have a Valentine, you are left out in the cold.

And there are a lot of lonely people out there. Sometimes you notice them, people who seem impossibly needy, or so brittle and afraid of being hurt that they’ve grown dragon scales. Other people seem quite ordinary, just like the neighbour across the street who you’ve always thought has got it all together, then in a chance conversation you discover she’s lonely, too. I’ve had a chance to talk with a lot of strangers lately, and in conversation — past complaint or concern — I’ve discovered that what many people really need is a friend.

This is in no way an attempt to belittle people’s legitimate complaints or concerns, worries and anxieties. I just feel compelled to point out how a little warmth and an understanding smile can really make someone’s day. I think February should be a month for friendship, not just romantic love, a time that we share some of our warmth and make this cold month a little less lonely.

Photo taken on February 21, 2009

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a brave new year

sun beams

Change is in the air. A new year has dawned, we have turned our backs on regret and missed opportunity, and now we step forward into the future. At least, that’s our intention.

The future, of course, is always here in front of us, but sometimes it turns out to be just the past again, recycled and wearing new clothes. We think we are open to new possibility, but we don’t notice how our blinders of habit and prejudice show us only what we expect or want to see.

I have been reading Stuart McLean’s The Vinyl Cafe Notebooks, which I received for Christmas, and I was caught by an observation he makes about change. He describes how as a boy, for no particular reason, he stopped eating eggs, and “as is the way with these things, behaviour became belief, and eventually I came to believe I hated eggs.” Then someone he admired mentioned how much they liked fried eggs, and Stuart discovered he liked them too. He started eating eggs again, just like that. He concludes: “We have the desire to change hardwired into our systems. And maybe our capacity is greater than we think. All it takes is a little courage…”

If we think of change as something small, something simple and everyday like that egg, then it doesn’t seem so difficult. Old habits die hard, but they might just melt away when we are inspired to do something new or different. May we all have that little bit of courage we need as we step into the brave new year.

Photo taken on December 7, 2009

happy holiday!

happy holiday

Can you feel it? When you first opened your eyes this morning, did you have that “day before Christmas feeling”? No, not the stressed “I have too much to do” feeling. The other one, the feeling that’s been part of you since childhood, that catches at your heart with the magic of twinkling lights and shortbreads and singing.

I get that feeling when I’m wrapping presents and humming along with carols. I get that feeling when I come downstairs in the dark of the morning and find the living room awash with soft glowing colour from the Christmas lights. I get that feeling when I hang each special memory on the tree: the stack of gifts ornament my mom helped me make when I was young, the felt rabbit that I sewed years ago, the cat with angel wings to remind me of my special Tobey, and all the treasures given by friends and family.

Wishing you much magic amid the madness, however you celebrate the season. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas!

Photo taken on December 23, 2010

on the day before Christmas

Christmas lights

Although Christmas is called a “festive season”, today is when the fun really begins. Everyone I know is now focused on one intense 24-hour period: Christmas Eve to Christmas dinner.

We’re almost ready. We’ve baked cookies (gingerbreads, walnut snowballs and chocolate-dipped florentines), chosen and wrapped gifts for family and friends (everyone will be getting at least one thing that’s homemade), and put up the Christmas lights. Today we’ll be getting the tree and tomorrow will be dedicated to tidying and trimming, accompanied by a feast of Christmas music.

But I will admit that — as much as I enjoy the activities, the parties, the service, the carolling, the family gathering, the food — what I am really looking forward to is the week after Christmas. That’s when I will have time to review everything, replay my memory of the best moments, look at whatever gifts I may have received, and savour a few leftover treats. Our visits with extended family and friends will feel more relaxing because “the big day” will be behind us. And the shining new year, full of the potential to challenge and astound us, is just around the corner.

Photo taken on December 16, 2010

the sound of freshly fallen snow

fresh flakes

When I woke up this morning, I could tell it had snowed overnight even before I opened the curtains. I could hear it. Or, more accurately, it was what I couldn’t hear — the traffic. The strange thing is that I don’t usually hear the traffic at all, or at least I don’t think I hear it. The noise of the street and the quiet hum of the city is so constant that it recedes into the background and I usually just tune it out. A layer of fresh snow muffles the sound of cars and coats everything with a white blanket of soundlessness. While thick flakes were still floating through the air, before the snowplows spread salt and sand and noisiness back onto the roads, I bundled up and went outside. I walked to a nearby field, leaving tracks that were soon swallowed up by the softly falling snow, and listened to the silence.

Photo taken on December 16, 2010

the snow begins to fall

the snow begins to fall

Last night was the Carleton Choristers’ Christmas concert. The day after a concert feels wonderful, particularly if the concert went well — and it did! I was extra nervous because my partner and I were on the program: I played the harp and she sang and played recorder, performing an arrangement we had created from an obscure minor key version of the Sussex Carol combined with a fiddle tune called Casey’s Hornpipe.

[We both love minor keys and early music, and were inspired in part by the exquisite and entertaining performances of The Toronto Consort, which we enjoyed for several years when we lived in Toronto. But that’s another story.]

We joined this choir when we moved to Saint John, partly because my parents can no longer drive at night. This is a community choir, and for us, a family choir as well: my parents have been with the choir since it started about 12 years ago, and at one time, two aunts, an uncle and a cousin were also singing in this choir. Currently there are about 40 members, and when the choir is in full voice, like it was last night, oh what a glorious wave of sound!

So I woke up this morning with music on my mind, listening to one of my favourites from the concert, a hauntingly beautiful song called “When the Snow Begins to Fall”. Here is the chorus, to carry you through the day:

see it floating through the air, gently falling everywhere
all the world’s asleep tonight as the ground turns white
see it drifting from above, ’tis a time of peace and love
as the snow begins to fall.
Andy Beck

Photo taken on November 24, 2010

shelter me from scammers

strong limbs

You never know what might happen. A storm, a stock market crash, a scammer stealing your life savings. Oh sure, it’s sunny now, but watch out — you don’t know what kind of trouble will appear on your horizon.

Yesterday I picked up the phone to hear that my computer had supposedly been sending error reports indicating serious performance issues that needed to be addressed right away. The caller from some outfit called “computer maintenance services” obviously thought I didn’t seem concerned enough and kept repeating himself, trying to impress on me the need for urgency. I asked a few questions, and found out that they were claiming to work for Microsoft. The caller started asking me for information about my computer operating system. I said goodbye and hung up. Then I looked up information about this scam on this internet.

Apparently people from England to Australia have been getting these same phone calls, where the scammers are trying to get people to go to their “support website” and give them permission to fix their computer by remote access. They end up with a hefty service charge as well as the high probability of someone stealing their personal information.

But if I was not so computer literate, if I was older or more trustworthy, would I have let these strangers talk me into giving them access to my computer? Would my father or my elderly aunt have believed them when they claimed to work for Microsoft?

What really riles me is that these criminals can roam the internet and the telephone lines with no fear of being caught. And yes, there is a whole industry built up to protect you, but no firewall or anti-virus program can help if you open that email attachment or give away information or open the door to strangers. The only thing you can do is say no.

Photo taken on November 11, 2010