Sunday, December 13, 2009

Embrace Winter

How we picture winter snow can be summed up in one word, quiet. The spring rain has ceased its patter, the summer birds are on holiday down south, and those rustling fall leaves are buried – all is reticent. When that blanket of snow covers the ground, the earth is tucked in for a long winters nap.

Most of us live and work in busy cities or suburbs, our schedules rush us from one planned activity to another, and much of our day is spent plugged into some type of electronic or motorized device. Our working world is in a constant state of humming, the computer hums, and the phone rings and the television is on. For real peace of mind, you need to venture out and escape that noise.

Snowfall is noiseless; the trees in their grandeur, heavily laden with snow stand still, regal and muted, even the cold crisp air is hushed. The sun bounces off of the stark white snow ready to lift your spirits. There is nothing controlling or interrupting your thoughts. Allow your mind to whisper to you.

Get the picture? Now get yourself in the picture.

Go for a snow hike, try some cross country skiing, or better yet, take up snowshoeing. This sport is easy to learn, relatively inexpensive and poses little risk of injury. Snowshoes are one of the oldest inventions of mankind and snowshoeing is really making a comeback with winter recreation. Although the original wooden frame snowshoes are still in use in large numbers, the more recent aluminum-frame Western designs are making the fit easier for everyone.

Snowshoeing allows you to venture off the beaten path, head out for the back country and tuck into those hard to reach places. The silence allows you to wonder as you wander, reducing stress as you trek on top of the snow. Your movements must be calm, graceful and light in order to reflect the conditions of the snow, which forces you to be more at one with things during the snow hike. Remember to pause, there is no rush.

Much like the pace of life, snow shoeing requires balance. To a large extent, the terrain locally is even and gentle. When you are faced with an uphill challenge, always remember the safest position is straight up. The tendency is to lean forward, which increases the chance of you falling on your face. The next instinct is to lean back, which can cause your feet to slide out from underneath you. Best advice is to straighten up, look ahead, plan for your optimum route and then go for it.

Take the kids, and be prepared, they will catch on to it before you do.

Some of the more popular areas locally for a day of snowshoeing include The Frink Centre, The Sandbanks, Vanderwater Park, and Presqu'ile Provincial Park. For more information and to find good snowshoeing areas near you, call the local parks and recreation centre, or go online at and be sure to read the section on snowshoe smart tips.

Always play safe, be responsible.
Prepare yourself; enjoy the solitude, peace and quiet this winter.

Publiblished December 2009 Issue County and Quinte Living

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Magic is in the Music

'Claire Notes'
Photo courtesy Claire McNeilly copyright 2009

From the outside in, the stage was set for the annual school Christmas Concert. The auditorium was a stir of proud parents, grandparents and friends dressed for the season, excited as they came in from the first very timely snowfall of the winter. As the snow continued to fall lightly outside, the stage inside was aglow with the classic Christmas setting and the busy swirl of activity that accompanies those last few moments before curtain call.

And then the concert began. The night was a mix of Concert bands, Jazz bands, Dixie bands and multiple choirs celebrating with us their talents

As I sat and watched my daughter standing in the front row of the choir on stage, I was at such peace. With a big, confident smile, I tapped my foot to the beat, I moved my hands with the conductor, and my body swayed naturally as it remembered holding my daughter when she was still a small child. My breathing and my heart rate aligned in unison with the thrum of the music. Every bit of me wanted to dance. Such healing. I looked around and noticed that I was not alone in my desire to move with this music. Heads were bobbing, people were singing, and some were swaying along with me.

At one point in the evening, Silent Night had its turn. For me, thoughts of a Christmas visit to my grandmother’s house came back. During this particular visit, the family was sharing downstairs after supper as I snuck upstairs to play the old organ that lived in the spare bedroom. I sat at that organ until I had Silent Night memorized. I was about nine or ten and I was so proud of myself. I loved revisiting that memory. I loved that this choir brought that memory to me this night.

The effect music has on us is truly magnificent. And further, what a gift these talented children gave to us all. It was so uplifting.

To Mr. David Reed , head of the choir at Centennial Secondary School, to Mr. Blair Yarranton who conducted the bands, and to all of the students involved in making that night a success, my deepest appreciation.

A quick add to this post: I was reading Meditations on Joy by Sister Wendy Beckett and a page rang true to this post, calling to be published here;

" Nothing can guarantee us joy, or coerce its presence. But for many people, music is an occasion when joy is likely to choose to visit us."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

One Day I Saw Ty Conn

(This is being recalled from a very young mind...)

When my father would begin telling a story from his childhood, he would begin with “When I was a little girl…” which would cause an uproar of high pitched objections from my sisters and myself. He would simply smile and continue on, as he now had our complete attention.

I started this post at the beginning of November of this year when thoughts of my father return annually on the anniversary of his birthday. This story, however, is not about my father…

When I was a little girl, I lived in a small house on Pine Street with my father, mother and three sisters. Ours was a busy, full house. Lisa was the oldest, very beautiful and very bossy. Pam was next, also very beautiful and we envied her fashion sense. I was the third in the line of my sisters, a middle child that cried a lot, made funny faces and was very comfortable at the centre of attention. My little sister, Joanne, enjoyed the status of being the baby in the family. She was adorable and quiet and she was my main playmate. Next door housed our friend Jennifer, her mother, father and her little sister. Joanne, Jennifer and I were like the three musketeers on the block.

One day, a moving van pulled up to the house next to Jennifer’s and we were told that a new family was moving in – moreover, that there was a girl our age to play with. We were so excited for another friend to even out the numbers, to play on the swings in our small backyard, and to join in the sandbox fun. The moving truck came and went but the house remained still and empty for a painfully long day or two.

We waited…

Finally, there was some activity; finally we saw the girl! She was beautiful, she wore pretty clothes, and she had gorgeous, long wavy hair. I came to know her as Loris J Conn. Her new house was much larger than ours, her backyard was very large also, and she had a huge black dog that kept us away from that backyard. I was now very curious about this house, it was all a novelty. I should have envied Loris J for all that she had, but I did not; her house was always quiet, a sad quiet. I never saw her father. On occasion I saw her mother, but only inside of her house (I was rarely inside that house) and only for very brief moments. My memory always has her mother dressed in a fancy, oversized moo moo. I saw Loris J’s brother, her adoptive brother Ty, only once. I remember that day well.

Joanne, Jennifer and I were playing in the front yard. There were toys everywhere, mostly belonging to Jennifer. I was walking up and down the driveway mesmerized by a Fisher Price Corn Popper that I was much too old for, but I did not care. I walked and watched the different coloured balls as they took turns popping. Loris J joined in our play and then announced that Ty was coming for a visit. Play stopped as us girls became interested in the idea of a boy, a brother. We had questions.

Loris J noticed our ignorance concerning a brother, and with the authority she had earned, she explained what it was like to have one. We were fascinated. We learned that brothers were loud, tended to get into more trouble than their sister counterparts, and they were prone to peeing in their pants. I think I made a sour face when she said that last bit because she went into detail to support her claim. This was to be the first time I can recall hearing the word penis. I was both disgusted and curious. She smiled when she realized how little I knew about boys. She even demonstrated how much easier it was for girls to hold their pee. After that discussion, I was so glad to be a girl. It all sounded rather awful.

Ty showed up shortly thereafter, driven to the house by people we did not know. A procession of rather serious faces led Ty into the house without so much as glancing our way. I stood between Joanne and Jennifer, and we watched in awe as this boy, head down, a book between bookends, walked into that house. Loris J cheerfully excused herself and ran after them; we were not permitted to visit. Ty came and went that same day. I would never see him again.

Within a short time of that day, my family moved into a much larger house right around the corner on Bleecker Avenue. Jennifer’s family moved across town. Loris J and I went to different schools. That was that.

Twenty years later, I am perusing the books in the non-fiction section of the library when one title catches my eye, Who Killed Ty Conn. Written by Linden MacIntyre and co-authored by Theresa Burke, this book would explain in detail why this boy walked with his head down. A tragic story of abandonment, abuse and a boy whose wish it was to have a family. A story of poor judgment by the Ontario Child Protection Services, a story of the entitlements that come with position and money in our society and a story that reminds us that human attachment is essential to each and every one of us in our desire, our strong need to be loved.