Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Singing Valentine

My dear friend Ros is not only pastor of a parish but she is also the executive director of an inner-city mission that caters to the poor of urban Montreal. One evening, we were discussing ideas for fundraising and keeping the mission afloat. She particularly liked the idea of singing Valentines. With just a few weeks to pull fliers together and advertise, they ended up making a little money with not a whole lot of effort or cost. The next year, she started earlier, lathered the town with posters, fired up the volunteers and a successful annual fundraiser was born.
Not having a current sweetie, I'll just mail her a check anyway, but it is a clever and sweet thing to do. It stands out from the overpriced roses, and is calorie-free.

Once again, Mile End Community Mission is fund-raising while giving joy to many people. On Valentine's Day, we will sing, by telephone, a valentine of your choice to someone special in your life. We are willing to call long-distance. Please forward this to all your friends, relatives, and colleagues.

All you need to do is :
1. Choose a song from the attached poster.
2. Send us 1) the name(s) of the person(s) to whom you would like us to sing, 2) their telephone number, and 3) suggested time(s) to call - between 2 and 8pm Saturday, February 14th.
3. Send us a cheque for $20.00 for each singing valentine.

Reservations can be made by phone (514) 274-3401 or by e-mail at
In between times, we also call and sing to people who are alone or who otherwise can use a little reminder that they are loved. If you have no one to send a valentine to, you could sponsor one of these people if you wish.
Thank you for helping support Mile End Mission, and every blessing at Valentine's Day and all through the coming year.
The Mission Team

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Disney-holic-NOT, Not Keen About the Mouse

I dealt with yet another Disney-bound family yesterday, giggly little ones with colds whose parents were researching products to get them through the plane trip for the annual pilgrimage to Orlando. I've been to Orlando once on a business trip, and the highlight was going out for dinner with a group of my peers and my mom, whom I had shangaied for a few days in the sun. I drove past the great American Mecca in the dark, on the way home from visiting a family friend. It held no temptation for me then or now.
I have family and friends who go to the DisneyWorld repeatedly, and who feel it's the best vacation spot ever. I have worked with people whose cubicles are decorated with mouse ears and Tiggers. I wait on forty year olds with cartoon tattoos that I hope I don't have to look at when they are seventy and saggy. I am bombarded with commercials, and have been for years, that this is the last chance to see this and this year is the last chance to experience that. And I never experienced a burning desire to cash in the 401K and run, not walk, to the last bastion of pediatric economic exploitation.
Don't get me wrong- I enjoy many of the Disney products. I like the movies, the musicals, the opportunity the conglomerate has given to many of our most creative minds. I have always detested Winnie the Pooh- its creator was estranged from the son whom he based his stories on, and whose life was made miserable by references to the sappy stories. (Bear in mind, I collect children's books.) I liked the Mickey Mouse cartoons when I was young, and recognize their significance in the development of the art form. I liked that they made stories a LITTLE more PC, with strong feminine characters and less negative ethnic stereotyping. I tend to like amusement parks as a general rule, and we took our kids to StoryLand, Santa's Village, Clark's Trading Post, Six Flags & Water Country over the years as they grew (I refused to take them to travelling carnivals as I think they aren't monitored well enough). I just never felt that it would be the highlight of our lives to load 4 kids into a plane and travel to the other end of the country to pay exorbitant fees to eat breakfast with some actor in a mouse suit. And a number of families we socialized with felt the same way. I recently watched the show about the sextuplets screeching their way through the park, too little to really understand and enjoy the activities, while their mom tried to get her camera to work and record the magic moments as she extolled that her children deserved to experience this fun. I had to agree with the National Lampoon parody WallyWorld, that the journey should be more than the destination (deceased relatives notwithstanding).
I used to pull my kids out of school for a week, and we'd go north to Vermont AFTER the school vacations had ended and the crowds were gone, and everything was cheaper. We'd ski all morning, eat a hearty lunch we prepared ourselves, and ski til the lifts closed, then snack and do homework before dinner. At Magic Mountain, the staff knew us, and the wait staff would chat with the kids every year, remembering what they were up to and how big they were last year. At Stowe, we discovered out favourite Mexican restaurant (which we've gone back to numerous times) and saw Aladdin in the theatre. At Pleasant Mountain, we had a condo and cooked in, and had great visits by Joe and other family members & their friends. It was just us and the mountains, the clean, crisp air and the hot cocoa and chili dinners. I never thought fireworks and pirates and big cartoon characters and parades could rival that. We haven't skied all together in a long time, but we still like to be together, and when we cook, we are all in the kitchen. We also made our yearly pilgrimage to the house that holds us all on the Cape, with Vacation A option of early morning hikes and birdwatching, frantic bike riding, kayaking and card playing & Option B being sleeping late, lots of novels, discussions, & hammocks. (Both options included beach, leisurely communally cooked meals, movies and vicious Trivial Pursuit games replete with the Spotted Sandpiper Mating ritual.)
Maybe the hoopla meets that need for some people and it's their way of being together in a special place. It just makes me a bit suspicious that the Corporation has us profiled to a T- they know what kind of offers to tempt the populace with, what deals we cannot refuse. We are told to consume, to expect to be entertained, so frequently, subliminally and steadily, that we feel it is our right as an American to have the wondrous vacation, and to have it yearly. If your child is ill, or has a poor prognosis, arrangements must be made for this pilgrimage as a sacred rite that must be experienced at least once in every lifetime, no matter how short. Americans as a whole have forgotten how to make do or do without, and have gotten very used to doing as we're told by the media.
The whole theme park and cruise line scenario reminds me of a baby on Christmas, overwhelmed with present after present after present, thing upon thing that the child didn't know he needed or wanted until presented with it. And the child retreats into a quiet corner to play with the box.

I am very curious to see how Disney takes the Harry Potter world under its wing and interprets my current favourite series. Will I be a traitor to my own opinions if I decide to someday visit it? I don't know. But for now, Orlando, enjoy the weather and the hoopla while I go to shovel my roof again before the next snow starts. Then I am off to play with a box.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Beautiful but Deadly

It seems that every time we have a whopping major storm, I am working. That means I get to drive in pretty horrible conditions, driving often behind the sanders and plows. But it also means I get to see some very impressive nature.
Last week I drove home in the quiet night under a full moon in a clear sky ringed with stars. I swear the January moon is the most beautiful. Its light lit the icicles hanging from every tree branch, and made the fields of snow glow blue. I stood on the roof (trusty ice chipper in hand as usual) and breathed the frigid night air as the moon rose higher above my head. The blue light that I associate with January lit the snow on the rooftops around me. Not the safest position in the world but I wouldn't have traded it for anything.
I drove to work in the storm yesterday, a good 3-4 inches already on the ground, and precious little plowing done. The snow came down thick and fast and the whole world was white. It was so fluffy and light when I shovelled out my car, just enough to get it out of the driveway.Hardly anyone on the road, but how gorgeous everything looked blanketed with white, pristine fields and high banks as yet unsullied by plows, footprints or anything else moving. Then I had my first little skid on the black ice beneath the unsanded snowy road, and realized how precarious my position on the road actually was. I saw a few cars that had skidded and one pretty bad accident on the other side of the road. Last night I drove home after the first snowstorm, and the trees were white and heavy in my headlights. There was more traffic than I am used to until I got to the windy country road I favour over the highway. Then it was quiet, dark, and cloudy. The lights of Wachusett gently lit the distance beyond my favourite field. I came home & shovelled a good nine inches, gave up on the driveway and just did the front & back walks, then the roof (again). It began snowing gently, soft flakes falling in the light of the streetlight, hushed, crisp and clean. This morning, after the second snow had ended, I again bailed out another 6 inches and headed off to work. A holiday, so they didn't bother to rush in getting the roads passable. As I came round one curve in Groton, off to my left, the foothills before Mt Monadnock were etched sharply in a way I had never seen before. Each tree, mostly fir, had its cap and crown of white snow on dark green, and each stood out in sharp relief in detail I could not have imagined at such a distance. But there it was. I had to tear my eyes away to negotiate the curve, knowing that the next time I passed this way, it would long since have melted and turned back into shades and striations of green. The long country road that serves me as a shortcut is deadly in bad weather, but it's my favourite time to drive it. The kettle pond, frozen over and white, the horse farm whose equine residents stand blanketed, blowing steam from their nostrils and nudging one another- all sights I hate to miss. Usually a lone redtail hawk wheels down in hopeful search of some small prey moving, or a murder of crows bursts from the oaks beside the road. And my eye photographs these moments to keep forever even as my mind focuses on steering into the skid, staying in the track, white-knuckling the wheel. Now that I have an ipod, I let the shuffle treat me to a random ear candy flow of music I like with no commercial interruptions as the soundtrack to each momentous commute (and I haven't even begun the Irish playlist Ceol Mor yet!). And then I pass another accident...a car well off the road into the woods, and the tow truck man wearily shovelling a path to get it out.
Always the most beautiful moments in nature are the deadliest. And, might I add, the most attractive in many ways. I have always been especially partial to storms. One of my earliest memories is a hurricane. In the eye of the storm, my dad bundled us into our yellow slicker raincoats and walked us down the beach, down to Kelly's Landing and back. Sailboats and dories lay battered and strewn on the beach, torn from their moorings by the force of the gale. I was so little and so overwhelmed by the destruction and damage I saw, but I never applied the thought that the forces of destruction could apply to me, because I was with my Daddy. It started to rain again as we raced the storm back home. It was exhilarating, and I never forgot it. Years later, we repeated the scene, my sister, her husband, my best friend and I, and raced the storm home again, soaked to the skin and scolded roundly by my mom. Having watched multiple videos of stormwatchers being swept away, I know now how stupid it is to put oneself at risk to witness the power, the majesty and the terrific horror of nature. And still, standing on the roof in a foot of powder, knocking icicles off the eaves and surveying the world from on high, I also totally understand it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Shovelling the Ice Jam Off the Roof

The kitchen roof, as I like to put it, is not steeply pitched enough for snow to slide off, but quite steeply pitched enough for me to slide off. Therein lies a delicate balance.

Icicles are beautiful, but dangerous, and they are indicators that ceiling damage is about to ensue. My first year in the house, the brand new ceiling in the sunporch leaked and buckled. I researched the problem and discovered why ice jams form and how to handle them. I have kept any more damage from occurring simply by shovelling the last foot or so on the roof after each storm so that melting water can roll off and not get stuck pooling behind the edge and seeping down and in. I have to climb out the window of the kids' bedroom, so I keep an ice chopper and a 40 lb bucket of calcium chloride next to the bed. Doesn't everyone?

Bear in mind we had a huge ice storm followed by a 9 inch snow. It was just too slick to go out after the ice storm. Having the 9 inch snow directly after made it possible, but I had to keep in mind that 3 inches of ice were under that snow at each step.
Over the back door, there was enough melt to clear a whole section of roof, to the left. The furthest end to the right was the slickest and thickest ice, so I salted it well yesterday, just before being called to work an emergency half-shift. Today I was able to chop only about 4-6 inches on that end. I just can't get close enough to the edge to put power into the chop. I salted well, though-it's all I can do.
See how thick that ice is under the snow? I can't afford a skid- the nine foot high snowpile beneath is SOLID!
Cujo likes to supervise from the bed.
Sorcha likes to come right out with me and inspect my work. She sometimes perches on the peak while I work.
But today she just curled up in the sun on the dark asphalt shingles.
When I was done, I wiped out all the icicles from below and shovelled out the steps and salted some more. Just in time for another storm tomorrow. Right now I am finishing my cuppa tea and dreaming about the changes I'd like to make to the house. I'd like to add a room above the kitchen, so the roof is pitched steeply enough that I no longer need to shovel. Replace the bathrooms and open up the kitchen so the space is more usable. Add better storage. Maybe a deck. Pave the driveway. Insulate & replace the windows. A dream for another day.
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