Gratitude makes the journey better. Kindness, too.

Tag: winter

Children Need To Take It Outside (and Us Too)

(Originally published as a column in the AM News on January 16, 2015) 

The good thing about sleeping in an igloo is that when you get up you’re already dressed for the day. In our case, that helped even more since we slept in and woke up at 8am and school was to start half an hour later. We made it though.

Lunches had been packed the night before, so with simple breakfast and a quick fixing of the igloo morning hair, we were on the go soon after, pondering contently over our sleeping in and under the snow.

My youngest wanted to see that happen two years ago when we built the first igloo in the back yard. Back then, we had hot chocolate one night under the snow magic cupola with candles on and that was good, but not enough. We postponed the sleeping in the igloo until it got too late and the said construction was used for impromptu sledding and one-of-a-kind games. Fun but not enough.

Last year’s winter had too little snow to build an igloo, but that changed radically this year with the arrival of truckloads of snow that fell as we made our way into the new year. The igloo had to happen and it did.

A few days later and still in time before any flurries or, God forbid, rain, we decided to make it happen. So we waddled our way in the way penguins do, on our tummies, wiggling all the way in, and became privy to a night sleep like no other.

Yes, the floor did get a bit icy in the meantime, hence less soft than that of a newly built igloo, but many wool blankets and good sleeping bags helped us through. We had a couple of additional breathing holes – no such thing in the arctic where the outside temperatures are less lenient than here – and with all the snuggling in the world, the four of us drifted off to sleep. Hats on, of course.

Stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is always a journey of discovery. Around the dinner table or during other times too, we often talk about the ways of the past. We read about the way people used to live (some still do) and the contrast with today’s comfortable lifestyle bursting at the seams with needed and less needed, or plain useless amenities is truly shocking.

With the everyday journey through life here and now, we want the boys to be mindful of the world around them not in an entitled way, but in a grateful and awe-inspired one. We want them to see the nature not as a medium they have to conquer, dominate and tame so that they are safe, but as an environment that offers protection and enables life by the sheer design of it, and is worth of respect. Moreover, children should be guided by us adults, in harbouring respect for the past and the people of the old who lived in nature, with nature and with knowing that they cannot ruin it, lest their lives will be ruined as well.

We have nowadays apps telling us how whether we are walking fast enough, whether we are sleeping enough and they guide us through the process of buying and cooking our food. We have books and instructions and workshops for everything, and somehow over the course of many generations, we have learned that being inside the walls and having access to a lot keeps us safe and happy. We have become contained.

Comfortable homes and decent living conditions are a great gift of today’s world- albeit not for everyone on the planet unfortunately. Trouble is, if it is not intertwined with reverence towards the living world that is the ultimate and primordial provider of building blocks that allow us to make it happen, we fall, and our children follow swiftly, into the trap of believing we are the masters of it all.

Connecting with nature in ways that allow for contemplation and awe help us trace our steps back and in turn, we help our children understand which way they should go if they want to make the world last. We have to achieve respect for nature, and no, it is not optional, not if we mean for our children to have a planet to live on. Respect and gratitude for life are big yet easy to ignore concepts.

You do not have to be a dedicated environmentalist to realize that our natural world is out of balance, nor do you have to be a parent to think and worry of what lies ahead for today’s children and for all of us who will still be around for a few good decades.

Simplifying our lifestyle short or long term by taking ourselves out of the comfort cradle we have become so accustomed to, helps us revive concepts and instincts that are not gone but merely asleep. Putting ourselves in situations that deprive us of the usual comfort may just be the catalyst for that. Sleeping in the igloo was not the most comfortable in some ways, but it was a revealing experience in all ways.

With no new year resolutions in place still, and through waking up in the middle of the sleeping outside night with the feel of fresh cold air stuck to my face, I realized that I should just stick to the one resolution I try to make every day and often forget, but get reminded of through something like igloo sleeping: to be grateful for the simple things within reach that I need to survive, and immensely grateful for everything else on top of it.

The Magic Behind Gloomy Skies On A Winter’s Day In Kamloops

(Originally published as a column in The Armchair Mayor News on February 28, 2014)

ShoresThat day last week was the first sunny one in a while. So we picked up the boys after school and walked home along the river. The ice was thick enough to walk on, and smooth enough to skid every which way. Funny makes life better every now and then.

We threw rocks towards the other shore. Frozen solid, the ice held our rocks mid-river until many days later when, on a snappy-cold windy day, we ventured again to one of our favorite spots along the shores. The boys’ cheeks were red, but they kept on walking, holding sticks for swords and turning their backs occasionally on a wild wind.

It is a pleasantly puzzling thing, this river shore walk, especially in winter. We come across different things every time. A beaver pond not far from where we live was the subject of many lively discussions and the mystery of how beavers do it so beautifully is still alive with the boys. Just a few steps away . . .

Other times we see birds galore waddling their slippery ways on the ice, or discover rinks that could not be more perfect for the silliest games of ‘human bowling’. Rules are invented on the spot, in case you were ready to ask.

It is our second winter in Kamloops and the delight keeps growing.
There’s no two things you get to repeat the same way and that is magic. Sure the sun is often taking a multi-day leave of absence, I was warned of gloomy winter as soon as I moved here, but the magic stands.

During the first cold spell this winter we ventured to Lac Le Jeune for some cross-country skiing. It was sunny but cold; very. The wind added to the dreaded chill. I had never heard a creakier sounding snow. We skied and our breaths made any loose hair strands white with frost and the boys kept talking about frostbite.

We realized it is no longer dedicated ski hills or trails that hold the highest appeal for us but the frozen lakes and the gentle long slopes around Kamloops where every hundred steps a thicket of birch trees guarding animal tracks makes us stop and realize once again that we’re but humble visitors. Privy to pure beauty.

The places we visit are alive with sounds of life muffled by thick curtains of snow draped around trees by occasional winds. Silence is a reminder of the necessity to honour our own…

SnowySometimes the clouds pile up quick and the air becomes thick with white specks. Tracks erased, we stop and become part of it all for a bit. Trees sway sideways, and far away we see farms with thin smoke slithering through the roof and black cows peppered around hay feeders. It’s peaceful.

It simply never gets old. Winter here I mean. A few weeks ago we drove to Stake Lake to see the ice racing. A first for all of us. It was cold but fun. A Kamloops tradition we had to witness, which happened to include parking on a frozen lake. West coast transplants like us find it fascinating.

CaveAnd why not? Ice and snow transform winter here in Kamloops and surroundings. Lakes and rivers freeze, if you walk along beaches and shores you can find ice caves that have the most beautiful stalagmites and stalactites that sparkle just so when a few sun rays sneak in.

There are countless ice rinks to skate on and clouds wrapped in orange sunset ribbons if you happen to look up at the right time.

There are forests to tiptoe in and spot red-tufted woodpeckers and if you keep on driving on snowy roads you’ll find lakes that have giant upside down old trees trapped in ice and half-covered in white powder, speckled with bunny tracks lining up all the way to a burrow under a pile of frozen branches.

Road to wonderNo excuse is good enough to not try and discover yet another place that’s so different than the others when you have the time. No electronic game satisfying enough to compete with the exhilaration of a first perfect no-tumble downhill run under a ski so blue you almost doubt it’s real.

The skies may be glum many days here but there are rewards that go beyond the city limits and even within, if you’re careful enough to look for clues of magic. Because there are plenty.

Because is more to winter in Kamloops than meets the eye (initially)…

These Are … Whose Games?

It’s snowing white plump butterflies and all I can think of is snow tumbles and plain silly fun. Snowfall with chubby snowflakes is as quiet as can be, but also loud in what it evokes in one’s soul. Winter magic, you know.

To that, one could add the titillating countdown to the Winter Olympics in Sochi and there you have it: winter fun, hard work, celebration of people dedicating so much of themselves for the love of the game. Soul inebriation at its best. If you have severe tunnel vision that is…

Why? I will explain.

I was never a dedicated armchair sports fan but the Olympic Games have a way of tying most of us down and making us rub our hands with excitement and anticipation. Witnessing the magic in intoxicating, isn’t it?

Yet as the time of the Sochi Olympic Games approaches the magic fades, only partially, one could hope, making way for the somber reality to set in.

The games this year are the most taxing so far in the history of Olympic Games, according to many experts. Sochi residents are confronted with the least glamorous side of it. They are poorer than ever before and have given up the hope that their neighborhoods will be upgraded to livable status. There are half-demolished outhouses that you have to wade through muck to get to. The contrast with the sparkling details of the side of the community where the games are taking place is shameful at best. And humiliating, in the midst of all that winter sparkle.

No one could have predicted the present decrepit reality of the ‘invisible’ Sochi seven years ago when the rather worn-out Black Sea resort was awarded the great honour of hosting the Olympic Games.

Stop at that for a bit. Honour.

There is no honour in pushing people into squalor. Socially speaking, the games will unfortunately increase an existing inequality.

It’s a struggle to find the concept of honour reflected in most aspects of this year’s big games, which is a shame and an insult to all athletes and their supporters. Estimated to be the most expensive, at a cost of over $50 billion dollars, the Sochi Games have, for starters, an environmental footprint that will take years, if at all, to erase. Large areas have been deforested, rivers and large patches of land have been soiled, and sponsors like Gazprom have their name up in gold letters as supporters of winter fun.

A petition originated by is fighting to get people to boycott the imprisonment of two Orca whales in a dolphinarium at the Sochi Olympic Games. Bad karma? You could say so. Our actions paint our image after all. We are what we look at, you’d have to agree. Imprisoned animals in this case.

There are stories of corruption and large sums of money being pocketed by the already rich ones just like there are stories of many migrant workers who were not paid their hard earned wages after the work was done. Inequality hurts terribly when you’re on the wrong side of the equation.

There are threats of terrorist attacks from groups that have claimed a couple of suicide bombing attacks last month in the nearby city of Volgograd.

In the light of all of this, the question is: What has become of the glory of the Olympic Games? There are giant concerns, some of which were briefly shared above, and more will come to light. Athletes should not have to concern themselves with possible terrorist attacks, social or political issues that taint the coming together of many nations in celebration of winter sports.

Sochi citizens should benefit from being the hosts of such a major sports event. Instead, they see a parallel world that is being built right in their backyard (for some literally,) a world that is surreal and glamorous, a world that most of them will never get to even visit let alone enjoy once the games are over.

The Olympic Games should be about the joy of competing and displaying the fruit of years of training hard and believing you can surpass your wildest and highest expectations. A celebration of sportsmanship, a learning experience of gigantic proportions and memories to last a lifetime.

I know what you’re thinking. Big games are also about big money. And politics finds its way into the big games as well. True enough. But principles should be there too. As a sign of respect to the nature of the game, as a tribute to humanity and as a way to elevate people’s spirits. The Olympic Games should not just be for the benefit of a handful of athletes, sponsors or organizers. After all, the Olympic flame is still burning after many years, the image of an ideal that is not allowed to die. Why do we allow our common values to take a plunge then?

The question remains: Why take away so much of the magic of the games from the people who work the hardest to get there, from those who offer their space to host it and from all of us who believe in witnessing such monumental events? There’s sweat and dreams rolled up in hope, there’s expectations and joy. They should not, at any time, be soiled by less than acceptable standards, environmentally, socially and politically speaking.


It Happened To Santa Too

Santa's steps?This time it wasn’t my fault. More so, I had no idea that it will happen today. There was no warning.

The day started with laziness in bed, snuggles and a big pile of pancakes. A pot of steaming strawberry sauce… memories of summer mornings drowned in fragrant berry smells and perky leaves holding sun and dew in green curled bellies.

Mouthfuls, butter melting, dripping sauce and sweetness, boys joking about all the inappropriate things again and again. This morning will hang in a corner of my soul, for no particular reason, but for the sweetness, the innocence and the roundness of it all.

The hills around have white dusted tops and countless thin trees, black and sleepy and fog-wrapped. Coffee on the porch, soft whispers to go with small sips. Find a place to take the boys. Where to, where to? A snowy lake? Is it snowy? Let’s try.

We drive the licked-clean road through snowy meadows and patches of trees… Do you hear the lone woodpecker? The sky is draping low and white. We park, boys roll out of the car in snow and make us promise snowball fights.

PathThin ice grows from the shores on the black surface of the lake. The path along the shores is padded with fresh-fallen snow and walking on it sounds like stepping on buried drums… muffled thick noises, branches droopy with snow, voices of boys running ahead and the distinct drum-roll of another lone woodpecker.

We walk around the lake, bumping chests halfway with the lake-dwelling dusk and making our way out of the woods as snow starts falling again.

A snowman perhaps? But the snow is powdery and stubborn, there’s no sticking. Snowman head and tummy crumble, we leave but two snow angels by the side of the road, taking our own with us. You need them when you drive through curtains of snowflakes, when you know you have to say thank you, again, for the simple beauty of new snow.

As snow-covered layers come off, Sasha’s big eyes turn and stare into mine.

Boy. Wonder“Mom, is Santa real?”

I stared back, I pondered, I listened to the voice that said “Be true” and pondered again. Will that take the magic away?

“What does your heart tell you?” This is how shy truth-teller me goes about it. I’m barely an inch tall.

“My heart says it’s not true.”

Truth-teller bows to child’s wisdom, eyelids drop in approval and then the promise snuggles in between our hearts “We can keep Santa with us though, magic and all…”

JoyYes we can. If new snow can sing to us every time, so will Santa and its wicked trail of make-believe. Truth and magic can live together if they’re done right.

So that’s how it all happened. Truth-teller honor.


All The Birds Of A River

It’s Saturday. Cloudy and very cold. After two months of winter here I can distinguish between the soft glow of a not so cold morning, and the drab quietness of a chilly, cloudy one.

Not that I am worried or anything. It’s weather. You cannot change it, you can only accept it. In this case by dressing warmly and heading out. I told the boys I have a surprise for them that involves visiting the river banks. We eat apple pancakes and chat.

“What’s the surprise?” they ask. Spilling a few of the beans makes it more appealing, especially with the drab look of this cold morning. There’s birds there, lots of them. They’ve seen ducks and geese before, but the day before I saw swans. You have to see them, I tell the boys. Their feet are big and black and their bodies are huge and white. Who knew swans are so big?

We have to be there by 11am I announce. They tilt their heads. Why 11 and not later? Well, the answer hides the last part of my surprise. So let’s not miss it.

We arrive and see a potpourri of birds brushing over the half-frozen river towards a certain spot on the shore. That’s our destination, the very spot.

But what is it, they ask. You’ll see. If you hurry a bit that is, so you won’t miss it. We step off the path and down towards the water, and get engulfed by a sea of ducks, geese and swans. Some eat like their plane is going down, other flap their wings, geese honk that familiar honk that sounds so off-key but it’s also so familiarly lovable, swans circle an elderly man crouched over a bag of grains. That’s a feeding frenzy for you. The elderly man comes every day with a couple of bags of oats to feed them. I met him the day before during a walk and thought the boys might like to see the feeding festival.

“They have very little to eat when it’s this cold,” he tells us. They know him by now – he’s been doing this for a couple of years – and are not spooked at all when he puts his hand out to feed them. He’s brought some old bread too, so the boys get handfuls of it and feed the birds. A couple of grey swan youngsters dare to snatch straight from the boys’ hands. There’s giggling and big eyes caused by that slight scare that an approaching bird can cause in a boy whose eyes are at the same level with the bird’s eyes. You try it.

The elderly man and I chat about kindness, how it’s the one often-forgotten thing that could make the world better. Ideally. We thank the man and walk further down the river on frozen snow. There is thick ice at the shore and a hundred meters down the whole river is frozen solid and the ice is so thick that you could cross to the other side.

The boys ask about the man. They were impressed with his kindness. That’s a good thing he does, right, mom? Yes, it is. Are you going to write about him in the paper? No, he will most likely not make it into my column I tell them. Because that could get him in trouble since some people do not agree with his daily visits (he hinted towards that) and might stop the feeding of the birds.

But kindness means… I know, the irony. Kindness as a way of living. It should work like a charm. It doesn’t and I’d hate to be the initiator of an action that might affect the man. Kindness should never be reprimanded but you never know. I’ve heard stories of well-intended people doing something that turns ugly. So I’ll hold onto our little adventure and that’s that. I’d say kindness as a generalized state of being in a society is an ideal, but not quite the reality. Perhaps I’m wrong so feel free to explain your side.

We stop by ice plaques, test their thickness and then step on them. They are extremely slippery, and under them the water clicks and whooshes, slower near the shore than in the middle of the river. A reminder that daring explorers and rivers are not always a good combo. So we retreat. We’re cold but the boys want to explore some more of the shores before heading home.

We find feathers, orange pebbles and talk about the experience of feeding the birds. I knew it’ll make an impression. They want to come back soon. We will. In the distance the geese honk their off-key but familiarly lovable honk and I cannot understand how they can walk on those icy shore bare feet and all. That’s probably because I’m getting chilled just seeing all that icy slush the river carries… But it’s winter, and that’s what rivers do in winter, no?


Because It’s White and Cold And Beautiful

It’s snowing again but now we’re inside and it’s warm. I am making some cowboy coffee and mending my frozen toes and fingers. They are almost warm and not hurting anymore. Almost.

We went out to the lake today. Kamloops lake that is.  We haven’t been there since a sunny October afternoon and that day was bright and warm and the shores were decorated with gentle lapping sounds. Today the road here was but a thick smooth ribbon of whiteness, thick and dense like a heavy wool blanket laid on the ground. The shore was white and spreading far, a most perfect postcard…

We make our way to the very edge of lake stepping over logs tucked under blankets of snow. The cold bites the tip of my nose and the boys would agree. Their noses get new hues as we walk: first pink, then nose and cheeks turn red.

The gentle laps that were dancing in the fall are now frozen. Two feet from where we’re standing the ice becomes thin and unfriendly. The boys don’t need many warnings, they’ve met frozen waters before. Four steps further out there’s a fast moving stream, courtesy of Thompson river, that carries an all-size assortment of ice slabs into the lake. The whooshing sound of the floating ice is an eerie one. It’s cold and we need to get moving.

I put my boots on, clamp the skis on and as I slide around on the slightly hardened snow, I create my own frozen sound. It almost sounds like the whirring of a snow robot finding its way around. The boys shoot the bow and the arrows fly like long thin birds into the sky and then land most elegantly, burying their pointed metal heads in the snow. As it sometimes happens, the boys fight their way into learning how to take turns. Egos are sharper then the arrows’ heads and it shows. As it sometimes happens, the boys find a way to stop arguing.

In the distance – shooting arrow distance – a man walks his two majestic Husky dogs and I envy their furry coats that are perfectly impenetrable to the cold that’s nipping at toes and fingers, wool coats on both notwithstanding. It’s freezing cold and I vow to never take my mitts off or change my snow boots for ski boots ever in the middle of a snowy field.

We spend the rest of the time exploring, shooting the arrows, searching for arrows when they get lost in the snow and skiing further down the shores.The boys search for signs of prehistoric life (Sasha) and they plunge on a frozen giant puddle that shines a strange turquoise hue at us (Tony). “Mom, can you pull me around on the ice?” Like a human puck, he means, but I decline. Cross-country skis on ice spell disaster. The cold nips at every square centimeter of exposed skin and it does so to my fingers every times I take my mittens off to take a photo.

“Mom, look, this drift log is stuck in the ice!” Indeed it is, in the middle of the frozen turquoise pond. Sasha caresses it like it’s a frozen animal and it almost looks the part with the ruffled shredded bark all over its half-naked trunk. Sasha gathers some “nest material” and then we head to see an icy crevasse that opens like an icy mouth into one of the frozen rivulets tributary to the big lake.

Round lacy perfection with the gurgle of unstill water underneath: I take photos knowing for a fact that perfection of that kind never shows up in a photo. It’s the angle of the light at that particular moment, the sounds of the snow my boys are stepping on, Tony’s excitement as he kneels and looks into the ice cavern, the distant wailing of a train that plunges head-first into the snow all over just like the boys’ arrows a while ago… How do I catch all that in a photo, you tell me.

We try to walk across the frozen stream, just a couple of steps over a thick bridge of ice, but the light cracking sounds make Sasha back up. His big winter hat is slightly pushed sideways and his big eyes are glowing from above red cheeks. There’s no making him and I like that. He’s cautious. We walk further down where the we can cross in one step and he’s holding onto my pole the whole time. That keeps my heart warm, no matter how freezing cold the outside is: the mama bear soul coat. Backpack on my back, quiver with arrows on the side, a big piece of perfectly-shaped white driftwood in my arms, and Sasha on a stick. There’s no better way of bidding goodbye to the lake shores today.

It started snowing as we were making our way back to the car. We take a path through bushes that are subdued by cold and snow: tangles of rigid branches shaped like countless octopi sown all over the field. I make my way through snow, followed by the same mechanical whirring I started out with. I take a couple of more photos and with that my hands give in to freezing. It’s almost sudden and it feels revengeful. The mitts hurt as I put them back on, a useless act now because my fingers are stiff and hurting.

We unfroze slowly on the drive home. I can’t deny the beauty of snow just because it’s so cold but I wished for the hurting fingers to stop hurting. The fields on each side of the road were endlessly white, some studded with distant minuscule-looking cows and some with random patches of trees and bushes.

It’s been a good white afternoon. Cold too. As I type this, my fingers have returned to being warm and mine. Coffee is done with and tonight we’ll watch Shackleton. Antarctica expeditions have been the talk of the day for a week or so…



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