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A Fine Canadian Whine

That funny sound across the land

Is not the geese in flying band

That sound across this country mine

Is just a fine Canadian whine


Photo by Hamlin Grange
Photos by Hamlin Grange ©

We whine and whine about our weather

Spring and Summer, Fall and Winter,

We whine at snow, heat, fog and rain

We whine, we carp and we complain


“Winter is hell”, we cried and said

(Forgetting hell is hot and red)

“Come Spring, come soon, or we shall rot”

So Spring herself is what we got


Blog Photo - Arbor and pink clematis

Blog Photo - Pink Clematis

We’d dreamed of Spring’s so-pretty flowers

Forgetting Spring’s cold wind and showers

Spring came with those accompaniments

Arousing such crude sentiments


“Can you believe this awful cold?”

“Come on now Spring, break Winter’s hold!”

“Can you believe this awful wet?”

“Good God, this Spring is the worse yet!”


Blog Photo - Bloodroot

And on and on Canadians go

As if our lives were full of woe

Day in, day out we moan and groan

As if bad weather were ours alone


But grateful gardeners aren’t such grumps

We take the good and take the bumps

We welcome all the days of Spring

And give our thanks for what they bring


Blog Photo -  Blooming rhubarb

And so we wait the Winter out

And though at times we feel some doubt

We know that flowers need the rain

Without it, we would toil in vain


Without it, what would be the point

Without it, we’d be rolling joints

Oh, wait – out by our West-Coast way

Some people do that night and day


Blog Photo - Crocus in Spring

Okay, alright that was a slur

‘Gainst folks whose Springs are oft a blur

Of rain.  Offense, they do deserve it not

(Their “B.C. Bud”  is known as hot)


My West Coast friends, I will refrain

From mention of your weed and rain

I will not write about your pot

At least I will not write a lot


Blog Photo - Blue clematis2

Back to my garden I will go

Back to a subject that I know

And walk between the growing plants

And tend to what the garden wants


At evening, sounds rise o’er the land

(It’s not the geese in flying band)

That pleasant sigh is me and mine

Sipping a fine Canadian wine.


All Photos by Hamlin Grange ©

I’m dedicating this poem to my friends on Canada’s west coast, hoping their sense of humour is working well today.

And  especially to Louise, in Niagara-On-The-Lake, who has a lovely garden, and her husband Neil, who loved his work at a winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Despite the uncertain weather of some growing seasons,  the story of Canadian wineries (in both the east and the west) is remarkable, with many award-winning wines. Way to go, Canadian wines!  

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Every Day, A Gift

A couple hours north of Toronto, the winter has been harsh. For days on end, my friend Deb and her family were snowed in.

Blog Photo - Snowed IN

“This week it was minus 36 degrees celsius,” she wrote, “not counting the wind chill! It was so cold that the trees sounded like they were exploding; like shotguns firing nonstop.”

But something sacred is taking place inside this home.

Deb’s mother Gladys, who lives with her, is declining in health. Week by week, something else fails. Two weeks ago, her feet swelled to the point where her shoes couldn’t go on. Gladys is getting weaker.

“Every day is a gift”, Deb wrote recently.

I know what this means. When time is limited, when every day is a gift, one uses time differently.

Every day, mother and daughter try to create – or simply appreciate – moments that bring joy.

Joy comes in many forms.

It comes from listening to music that Gladys enjoys. “We try to fill the house with her favorite songs from opera to Frank Sinatra.”  She particularly enjoys  Maria Callas and Andrea Bocelli.

Blog Photo - Gladys Painting 2

Doing things together brings a special kind of joy. Gladys, an accomplished artist, still loves to paint.  “Sometimes,” Deb says, ” Mom has enough energy to sketch with me or show me how to paint a picture. Sometimes it means just sitting quietly together in front of the fire and reading.”

Blog Photo - Gladys paints

Joy comes from simple things like deciding what to cook. “I pore over the recipes and ask her opinion. Then I try to tempt her to have a little, though her appetite has waned.

“I still offer her a glass of wine or a hot chocolate spiced with something special.  And Mom still enjoys her peanut brittle, though she has to suck on the pieces rather than bite them (90 year old teeth)!!!!”

Blog Photo - House overlooking Lake

They take joy in nature. Gladys often sits in a comfortable chair beside a large window. On the other side of that window is a bird-feeder and beyond that, acres of woods and a snow-covered lake.

Blog Photo - Bird at Feeder

“We watch for the many different birds that come to the feeder right by her chair,” says Deb. “We watch the snow swirl around the house and whistle through the trees. We are amazed at the snow sculptures — also known as snow drifts!”

There’s also joy in laughter. The two women watch funny movies together.  Like “The Heat”, with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. They laughed so hard, they cried.

When friends drop in, they enjoy tea, cookies  – and laughter.

Blog Photo - Tea time

And then there’s the kindness of others. “The nurses that come every second day have been so kind and are gentle in spirit.”

Gladys faces each day with a mixture of hope and acceptance. She points out that the doctors are experimenting with a new injection that seems to be helping to give her some strength back. And she also says: “My bags are packed and I am still waiting for a clearance on the runway of life…… That is what snow blindness can do to you.  Illusions??? Think positively! Spring is coming!”

Indeed, there are signs of rebirth in the air. Just days ago, a new baby was born – Gladys’ third great-grandchild.  It’s a joyful occasion, and Gladys looks forward to meeting the newborn soon.

There’s much sweetness in this time. And sadness. And wonder.

Deb notices that, whatever they’re doing, Bailey, the family’s pet retriever, “spends a lot of time at Mom’s feet as if he knows something.”

Blog Photo - Bailey in Snow

As her mother nears the end of her life, Deb finds herself reflecting. “I take Bailey out for a walk every day to breathe….to catch my breath, and pray. To find solace in nature….. to marvel at the snow. I spy two moose in the forest, a mink sliding across the driveway. I tell myself that all I can do is my best. The rest is up to God…the when – and the how –  of how this will come to an end.”

Blog Photo - Moose in Snow

She says Gladys is “calm and brave”, her sense of humour and memory still sharp.  She surprised Deb recently by reciting a quote from a book she received on her tenth birthday, 80 years ago:

“Deem it not an idle thing

A pleasant word to speak

The words you use, the thoughts you bring

A heart can heal or break”.

It’s moments like this that bring tears to Deb’s eyes.  Some days, all it takes is “a word, a song, a story Mom tells.”

But there’s a lovely sense of grace in this home, perhaps reinforced by the words from a prayer by St. Francis which Deb frequently recites: “Make me a channel of Your peace”.

Dedicated to Gladys and Deb, and to all those who’ve had a similar experience.

Storms, Surviving a Blackout

At Home During the Storm

The thunderstorms rolled in.

The lights went out.

The rain fell loudly on the roof.

Lightning flashed.

It was only about 5 p.m., but it looked like 9 o’clock.

“Where are the flashlights?” we asked each other.

“And where are the lamps?”

There it was: that moment, at the start of a blackout, when you feel just a hint of panic, but decide to steady yourself. After all, we know where the flashlights and lamps are. We just have to find them. We hope the gas-fuelled lighter is where we last saw it. And that the batteries in the flashlights are still good.

“What did people ever do before electricity?” my husband mused aloud as he hurried into one room and I another, searching for the stuff we’d put away for such emergencies.

I found two oil lamps. The first lit without a problem. The second didn’t. The wick was too short.

I hadn’t lit this lamp in years. I finally tried sticking my fingers down into the lamp to pull the wick out – them realized that the whole thing can be taken apart and the wick pushed up. So I did, and lit the wick. A tall flame shot up, sending a plume of smoke into the ceiling. The wick was now up too high.

No problem, I thought. I’d been raised in the countryside, in a time and place where the lights often went out at night. I swiftly opened a kitchen drawer, grabbed a tablespoon and used it to try to push the wick down.

It didn’t work. The spoon only got hot, my hand nearly singed.   Yikes!

And then I remembered: Blow it out! I huffed and puffed and blew the flame out, reviving a memory of my mother or older sisters doing this many times when the lights had come back on in my childhood home and it was time to put out the lamps and candles.

Meanwhile, my husband was rummaging through cupboard doors, looking for the ‘big lamp’ he’d saved for just this purpose.

“I know I put it in this cupboard!” he declared, and, in the lamplight, I could almost see the bemused expression on his face.

Whenever he does this, I usually help him to search, because sometimes a thing is staring you in the face but it takes someone else to see it. But it wasn’t there. We rummaged loudly through some more cupboards, found two flashlights in their usual places, but no Big Lamp.

By now I’m sitting in the living room, two lamps lit. He comes through the doorway, carrying a strange-looking object. The size of a small TV set, this portable multi-media machine was a marvel ten years ago when he bought it on a trip to California.Image

It’s got everything from a TV, radio, CD player, to a siren, flashing lights and even an electronic mosquito repellent. It’s part of the survival kit our family put together when a blackout hit the Eastern seaboard area just a few years after an ice storm did some damage in our part of the countryside near Toronto.

We responded to these two scary acts of nature by assembling our own Armageddon box. We stocked The Box with everything from water supplies to candles and crackers and canned meat and various sizes of band-aid and surgical supplies. And, of course, batteries — of various sizes.

But it’s been years since we had one of those scary Mother-Nature-having-a-bad-day experience, and we’ve gotten soft. The batteries in this multi-media contraption have also gone soft. It takes nine C-size batteries and we can only find eight. My husband inserts the eight new batteries and reinserts one of the old ones.

We huddle around the coffee table in the living room, trying to coax the thing to life.

The TV screen does not light up. The radio sputters to life, sort of, giving off a strange crackle and spit. The CD player doesn’t play. Even the flashing lights don’t work. Only the siren does. But we are definitely not at that stage yet.

“Maybe the mosquito repellent works,” I tell my husband. “How would we know though?”

“Well, you don’t see any mosquitoes in here do you?” he teases. “So it must be working!”

We sit there and gaze into the darkness. The rain and thunder are still at work, just outside our windows. I walk over to a window to look outside, but the lightning flashes again and I draw back, wondering if anyone has ever been struck by lightning through a window pane.

“What did people ever do before electricity and all these gadgets?” my husband wonders again out loud as I return to my seat on the sofa.

“They used lamps and candles for light,” I answer. “They talked to each other. And they went to bed early.”

“Probably why they had so many kids,” he replies. “If this blackout goes on into the night, there’ll be a spike in the conception rate. It never fails!”

We laugh in the semi-darkness. Without the hum of appliances and other electrically powered machines around us, our laughter sounds louder, somehow, but also more intimate.

“When radio became widely available, people stayed up listening to it,” I said. “Maybe that’s when people started having fewer babies.”

We suddenly remember a tiny, wood-clad transistor radio that my husband’s hosts had presented him after he gave a keynote speech in the Netherlands, and he runs upstairs to get it. In no time, we are listening to one of several available radio stations. It’s loud and clear.Image

“We remain under a serious thunderstorm warning this evening,” says the weather reporter on one station.

“Incredible, Claire. Thank you,” replies Robert, the radio announcer.

We learn about a commuter train full of passengers “heading home in the rush hour”. Water, the reporter says, has flooded the train “up to the seats”. We worry about the passengers, when we hear that “one passenger jumped out of the train and swam away”.

Elsewhere, the radio tells us, people are stuck in elevators.  Gary, an expert, says “For anyone who knows someone who is stuck in an elevator, please keep in touch with them and reassure them.”

One assumes that this reassurance should be given by cell phone.

Claire comes back on the radio to warn that there are “three more storms coming our way, bringing a lot more rain.” We worry about the people trapped in the train, on the flooded roads, in the elevators.

I pick up the hand-held phone but it, too, relies on electricity and there’s no dial tone. I head to the kitchen in the darkness and pick up the receiver of what is now becoming an ‘old-time’ instrument, and call my daughter for the second time this evening. She lives in an apartment in mid-town.

“Are you okay?” I ask anxiously. “How are you coping?”

“Our lights never went out”, she says. “The TV is on and I’m watching the news. But one street over, all the lights are out.”

“Glad you’re safe,” I say, relieved. “But keep a flashlight and candles handy. And stay away from the elevator, just in case.” I can’t resist that motherly piece of advice before I hang up the phone.

Another expert on the radio says people shouldn’t use cell phones unnecessarily in this emergency.

“Push comes to shove, we can always charge our cell phones in the car, you know,” my husband reassures me.

Outside, there’s a lull in the rain. My husband picks up the useless multi-media contraption and leaves the room. Minutes later, he’s back, hauling it with him. “It works,” he says triumphantly. “It runs off the cigarette lighter in the car.”

But I’m glued to the little wooden radio from the Netherlands.  There are more interviews with people trapped by the flood, and experts telling us all to stay calm and “be patient”.

Another hour passes. Near the radio is a mystery novel I’d been reading. I flip it open, wondering if I can read in this light.

“No wonder so many people had to get glasses,” I say, as I put the book aside. “If you wanted to read at the end of the day, or knit a scarf or something, this was all the light you had.”

We call the rest of our relatives to make sure they’re okay. Some have electricity and some don’t. But all are coping.

So are we. After all, we’re indoors. We’re not on the road, or in a train, or stuck in an elevator.  And, despite this brief reminder of times past, we’re here in the 21st century.

After about three hours, we blow out the lamps, turn off the little radio and go to bed.