First snow

The first snow

So there we were yesterday.  So excited to finally see snow on the ground when we were out for our morning walk!  Gus kept putting his nose in it and sniffing – as if remembering a long lost friend from last winter.  True, there wasn’t much.  But given how late it is in the season, we were happy just the same to finally see the white stuff on the grass.  We thought it was a really big deal.

Then. . . we woke up this morning, and WOW!!

Now that's really snow!

Gus couldn’t have been happier.  As soon as I opened the door, he took off like a shot into the park.  He was bounding and racing around like crazy; stopping every so often to take a huge mouthful of snow into his mouth.  It’s as though he couldn’t decide if it was for playing in, or eating!  We stayed outside for quite a while, playing frisbee and sloshing around in it.  When it was time to go in, Gus actually jumped up and put his paws on my shoulders, as if pleading with me “Mom! – can’t we stay outside a bit longer!”

There’s something about the first real snowfall of the season that brings out the same excitement in me.  That feeling of winter finally being here; of welcoming back an old friend.  I’m sure you also have wonderful childhood memories of bundling up and running out in the newly fallen snow. Everything looks so beautiful and magical, transformed by a white cloak.  The possibilities seem endless.

As adults, we tend to look at the snow in terms of negatives.  Traffic snarls, driveways to shovel, and boots to locate can dominate our thoughts as we gaze upon the first white blanket of the season.  For just a minute, put all those grown up thoughts aside and remember the childlike (or dog-like) excitement that really should accompany this magical moment.  Now, go outside and play!

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It’s beginning to look a lot like. . .

Pretty cool huh!

Well, the weather is mild, and the grass is green, and there are still some hardy flowers peeking about in the gardens.  But never mind, it is November 23 and everywhere we look it is starting to look like . . . Christmas!!

As one who has never had the chance to celebrate Christmas, I have always loved all the festivities that go along with this time of year.  I particularly enjoy all the ways that people decorate their houses for the holiday season.   With that in mind, I thought I’d share a few shots I took of Gus today as we walked around the neighbourhood.  There are some very creative people out there.  Gus thought so too!

(although he wasn’t too sure about this guy in the red suit!)

Sorry, but we didn’t see any elves.

Up the down staircase

The other day as I was on my way upstairs, I came upon Gus as he was on his way downstairs.  He looked at me, and then he stopped in his tracks.  He paused for a bit, as if to consider his options.  Then he watched me go past him.  After an awkward minute or so, half-sitting on the stairs, he maneuvered himself somehow, turned around, and then proceeded to follow me where I was going.

I captured this shot of him in that moment where he frozen halfway; neither up nor down.  I think you can see the awkward look on his face, as if he isn’t quite sure which way he should be going.

In a funny coincidence, I happened to be speaking to my Mom later that afternoon.  When I asked her how her day was going she said, “to be honest, I feel like I’m going up the down staircase.”  I laughed and told her of my experience with Gus.  I said that she wasn’t alone;  and that he was having the same kind of day.

They happen to all of us.  Those days where we just can’t seem to get it all together.  I’m sure you can relate, and can think of a day, perhaps even recently, when nothing seemed to go according to plan.  On those kind of days you often feel as though you’re spinning your wheels, or, like Gus, sitting halfway up the middle of the stairs trying to figure out if you should be going up or down.  They are often days that leave me feeling as though I haven’t accomplished much of anything, even if I’ve seemed to be busy all day.

The good news is that these days usually pass quite innocently. If we don’t get too stressed about them, we can usually get back into our regular mode pretty quickly.  I’ve learned to accept that sometimes there will just be days like these, for whatever reason.  Maybe we have too much on our minds, or maybe we’re just plain tired out.  Whatever the cause, the best thing to do is to just give in and cut yourself a little slack.

When I find myself feeling this way, I usually try to keep a low profile, and I try not to take on anything too demanding.  These are often great days to just treat yourself to a little indulgence – even if it’s only a cup of tea and a half  hour with a really good book.  With a little TLC, everything ends up going in the right direction!

Just move

We always joke that Gus only came with two speed settings:  flat out and flaked out.

Flat out

It’s hard to say which one he actually spends more time in over the course of the day.  If you were to ask him which speed he prefers, I’d put my money on flat out.  Gus is truly happiest when he is in motion.  To see him running full tilt across the field, with his ears flapping wildly, is to witness pure joy.

I think the reason that Gus is so calm when he’s in the house has something to do with the fact that he gets so much exercise outside every day.  We figure that, on an average day, he spends over 2 hours outside; walking, running and playing ball or frisbee.  The interesting thing is that, if he’s outside, so are we!

There is no question that we are more active as a family since Gus came into our lives.  One of the commitments we made when we decided to get a big dog was to ensure that he was properly exercised.  It has certainly paid off, both in terms of his health and ours.

There are volumes of research on the benefits of physical activity at any age.  Just today, I heard a radio announcer discussing a new study in which the evidence seemed to indicate that older people with stronger muscles are at reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  That’s great news, and it can be added to the enormous list of benefits already attributed to being active.  They include: improving your mood; reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis; helping with weight management; boosting your energy level; improving your sleep; and even improving your sex life!  Wow, if someone said they had a pill that could do all that, people would be lining up for it.

A lot of people complain that they don’t have the time to exercise, or that they can’t afford to join a fancy gym.  That’s crazy.  In the end, you don’t need a swanky place or elaborate equipment to get active.  As far as I’m concerned, anything at all that gets you moving is better than sitting on the sofa!  Just put on your shoes and walk around the block – it’s beautiful out there!  As a bonus, you might just see something inspiring while you’re at it.

This point was brought to life beautifully for me this morning.  It was a cool and clear day, and the sun was sparkling as we strode through the neighbourhood.  At one house we passed, a grey-haired couple were out in front on the driveway. The man was wearing roller blades and a helmet, and he was helping his wife pump up the tires of her bicycle.  We passed them, and then I stopped and doubled back to say hello.  I wanted to take their picture, because it was such an inspirational scene, but they were a little camera shy.  Instead, we chatted for a bit, and I told them that I planned to write about seeing them today.  The woman piped up, “make sure to tell them that we’re seniors – 68 and 69!”  So now you know.  A few minutes later, once we were well down the street, they whizzed passed us with a smile and a hearty wave; she pedaling rapidly on the bike and he striding gracefully behind on his rollerblades.  It was a beautiful sight!

Smells like home

Sarah and Gus smells like home

I’ve mentioned before how all the members of our family use Gus like a sort of living stuffed animal.  He is so sweet and gentle, and he loves to be cuddled.  He’s so big that he’s like a full-body pillow.  He’s the perfect size to snuggle up to and wrap your arms around, if you’re feeling sad or happy, or simply just in need of a hug.  Of course, we all love to bury our faces deep in his fur while we do this.

The other day, Sarah was snuggling up to Gus, when she suddenly looked up at me and exclaimed, “He smells like home!”    She’s right.

We started talking, trying to find a way to express what we knew to be true, but were struggling with putting into words.  What we agreed on was the feeling that we get when we bury our faces in Gus’s fur.  It is a comforting, settled, familiar feeling that just seems to say “home.”  You might think I’m crazy, but I spent a while trying to analyze it, and the truth is that he really doesn’t smell much at all. (Apparently we are doing something right!).  However, I took a deep sniff and tried to concentrate really hard.   When I did, I was able to detect the fresh scent of the outside air, a hint of the garden, the grass and fall leaves lingering on his fur.  I guess that’s what evokes those calm and settled feelings for us.

What scent says “home” to you?    Is it a pot of aromatic soup simmering on a crisp fall day?  Is it the familiar fragrance of a loved one’s cologne or perfume?  Is it fresh cut flowers?  Perhaps, it is the unforgettable soft sweet smell of a tiny new baby.    I’ve written before about the power of scent to evoke strong memories.  I also believe that we form powerful associations with certain smells, and that these tell a lot about who we are, and what has meaning for us.

Don’t be afraid to harness the power of scent to perk yourself up or to calm yourself down when you need it.  This is what the field of aromatherapy is all about.  We always said that we wanted Gus to be trained as a therapy dog.  I guess we didn’t realize that he already is!

It’s great to reconnect with old friends

Gus & the animals

This morning, Gus and I stayed local for our walk.  As we made our way across the familiar fields behind the high school, I heard the distinct hum of machinery in the distance.  Sure enough, it was the giant lawn machine from the Town, doing maintenance work on the soccer fields.   As we came into view, I noticed that the driver actually turned his rig in our direction and began to move closer.  He then lifted his hand in a hearty wave.

I realized then that the driver was a man that we had met when Gus was much younger; probably two years ago.  At that time, we used to see him frequently on our jaunts through the fields.  He would often stop and chat with us, and he really loved Gus.  I’m not sure why our paths haven’t crossed much since then, but here he was again, after so much time.

He pulled up and climbed down from his seat.  He was really happy to see us, and he told me that he had thought that we might have moved, since he hadn’t seen us for quite some time.  Gus greeted him like a long lost friend, and went into full puppy mode; jumping and running around madly in circles.  He finally settled down and dropped his ball at the man’s feet.  Our friend picked it up and played fetch with Gus for a while, as I chatted with him.  After ten minutes or so, we said a warm goodbye, and we each went on our separate ways, with a promise to look out for each other in the months ahead.

There’s something about connecting with an old friend you haven’t seen for a while that just makes you feel good.  One of the positive things that I was able to draw from the tragedy of my father’s death was the chance to reconnect with many special people from my past, as they called or came to visit me.  Marriage, careers, life events, and even simple geography often cause us to drift away from people who were significant in our lives during earlier times.  It’s not that we stop wanting to be friends.  It just happens that our paths start to head in different directions, and before we know it, months and then years have passed since we’ve been in touch.

This might seem silly, but to me, an old friend is like a favourite sweater.  Slipping back into those friendships has made me feel wrapped in a familiar feeling of cozy warmth and comfort.  I’ve had the chance to laugh and remember times from high school and university and beyond, and I’ve got caught up on the recent events in the lives of my friends and their families.  Most importantly, many of my friends and I have made promises to each other that we will make the effort to stay in touch.  We have all agreed that it is well worth it.

I’m reminded of a rhyme that the mother of one of my earliest chilhood friends wrote in my autograph book when I was six or seven years old.  It read:   “Make new friends but keep the old.  The new are silver, but the old are gold”    Good advice!

Going on a vacation is easier than you think

Oakbank pond in the morning sun

Wow!

This morning, like every Sunday morning, I drove my kids to work.  It’s a short drive; only about 15 minutes from our house.  I always bring Gus along for the ride, and then we usually come back home and head out for our walk.  Today as we drove along the street, I was looking at the familiar scenery.  It suddenly occurred to me that Gus and I didn’t have to come home first; we could go walking in this other neighbourhood for a change.  I definitely wasn’t prepared for the experience that we ended up having.

Morning shot of the pond with ducks

As you can see, I was snapping pictures the whole time we were out, because I was awestruck by the beautiful scenery.  I have driven by this pond and the surrounding neighbourhood for years, and yet rarely ventured out of my car to walk around.  How foolish of me.  I can’t believe what I’ve been missing.  I only had my Blackberry for a camera, but I hope you can get a taste of some of the spectacular scenes we encountered during our 90 minute walk.

Berries growing by the pond

Berries growing by the pond

Ducks on the pond

Ducks on the pond

These are some of the images we came across this morning.

Gus was quite mesmerized by the whole experience as well.  At first, he was wary of the new environment, because there were so many different sights, sounds and smells.  Then he relaxed and began to explore along with me.  He was particularly intrigued with all the ducks that swam over to check him out.

Gus checking out the ducks

Gus checking out the ducks

After a while we left the pond and began to explore the rest of the neighbourhood.  It amazed me that I have driven through these streets so many times, and yet I’ve never really taken the time to get out and go walking around.  It is really beautiful.  There is a historic area, and a beautiful path that leads through the woods to a restored house from an early settler.

The path leading to the historic house

The path leading to the historic house

We peeked in the windows of the old house, and then we continued through the woods until we came to a clearing.

The clearing

The clearing

Gus had a great run through the open space, and then we found ourselves in a residential area.  We had a lovely walk through the streets, and said “good morning” to so many new people and dogs we encountered out walking.  After a while, we turned back to the area near where we had started.  There is an old church there, and people were starting to arrive for morning mass.  Just at that point, the church bells started to ring.  I remember hearing that they have a professional bellringer there, and that the music on a Sunday morning is quite remarkable.  I have to agree.  As we walked by, the bells began to play “Danny Boy” – it made me feel like we were in a movie, or in some foreign country.  It was truly magical.

The old church

The old church

We continued on our way, past the area where they always re-enact battles during the Thornhill Village Festival.  We paused by the wall to admire the view.

By the old stone wall

By the old stone wall

Then we turned back towards where we had left the car.  I remembered that there was a big park in the other direction, and it was such a beautiful morning that I was in no hurry to head home.  So off we went.  I’ve been in that park before, but it somehow looked different in the morning sun.  Gus had a great time tearing through the trees, and he found the best stick ever!

Gus running with huge stickRows of tall trees behind Thornhill Pool

Gus with his big stick in the sun

Eventually I decided that it was time to head for home.  We made our way back to the car and, only 15 minutes later, we were back in our own driveway.  I couldn’t believe it.  I really felt as though we had been away on a holiday, in some place far from home.

Is it possible that, right under your nose, there are incredible places that you pass by all the time without noticing?  We always yearn for a break or a vacation away from home, and yet that isn’t always an easy thing to arrange.  After my experience this morning, I have promised myself to really open up my eyes to everything that’s right in my own backyard, and to go exploring like this at least once every week.  I’m pretty sure that Gus will be happy to come along with me for the adventure!