A Taste of Normal

We received our first COVID vaccine shot almost three weeks ago, so we are feeling a bit braver than before about venturing out.

This week, we went shopping. And I don’t mean grocery shopping.

My husband decided he needed some new clothes. After all, it’s been only two, maybe three years since he’s ventured into a clothing store. D’you think maybe it’s about time?

Unlike me, he does not believe in buying clothes at the local thrift store. “Who knows who has worn those?” he asks. “That’s why I wash everything before I wear it,” I reply. “Besides, I’m doing something good for the environment by not buying clothes that have been made by some poor overworked, underpaid woman in Bangladesh labouring away in some dingy and dangerous factory that then requires emitting who-knows-how-many tonnes of greenhouse gases into the air to ship said clothes across the Pacific (or through the now-unblocked Suez Canal) to Canada.” (See my earlier post about “upcycling.”)

No, my husband buys his clothes new. Off we went to our local not-Walmart clothing store that specializes in casual and work wear for men and women.

Who knew trying to decide between this brand of pants and that brand of pants could be so much fun? Or this shade of green T-shirt versus that shade of green? Socks with psychedelic patterns or boring old grey socks? Plaid shorts or plain? Hiking boots or just a good quality pair of running shoes?

An hour-an-a-half later, we hauled our – his – stash to the check-out. The clerk smiled as she scanned the tags. “Men go shopping once a year,” she said. Oh, so true. A few hundred dollars later, we left the store.

This taste of something approaching “normal” life was certainly tantalizing. The question is: how long do we have to wait before this “taste” becomes “everyday?”

Alas, COVID variants are running amok here. The B117 (UK) variant is now the dominant strain in Alberta, and the P.1 (Brazil) strain has just raised its ugly head in a “significant outbreak” in three communities. Hospital beds, especially ICU beds, are filling rapidly with younger patients, and doctors and nurses are warning of looming disaster if serious steps are not taken to break the curve. Our Alberta politicians have finally woken up to the fact that encouraging citizens to “do the right thing” is totally inadequate because many stubbornly refuse to “do the right thing.” As of a couple of days ago, they imposed additional restrictions on restaurants, gyms, stores and public gatherings. Only time will tell if those restrictions will have any impact.

We may have to wait a few more months for our little outing to become “everyday,” but at least we’ve had a taste. And how delightful it was!

#PostPandemicShopping #ManShopping #ClothesShopping #COVIDVariants #MargaretGHanna

Snow Squalls, White-outs and Ice

One of the benefits of being retired is you don’t have to go anywhere unless you need to, or want to. We especially enjoy that benefit when the weather snarls at the world.

Such as when March decides to go out like a lion (Growl! Roar!).

The front blew in Sunday night, and I do mean BLEW! Raging winds averaged 70 – 80 km per hour, gusts up to 120 kph. The house shivered and shook all night. Hard, pelletized snow screamed down sideways. The mercury shrank into the bottom of the thermometer and refused to budge. Uh-uh, no way!

We woke up Monday morning, snuggled warmly in our bed, and listened to the traffic report. Roads were in terrible condition. One driver phoned in to report “Snow squalls, white-outs, and ice.” That was par for the course everywhere. Our hearts went out to the poor souls who had to drive.

Now, in these circumstances there seem to be two kinds of drivers. There are those who “drive to the weather” – they slow down, turn on their lights and, if conditions are really bad, activate their warning lights. They usually make it to work unless . . .

But then there are those who think just because they are driving some honkin’- big, four-wheel-drive SUV/pick-up with all the latest bells and whistles, they can still drive a million miles an hour down the highway until they suddenly find themselves doing a 180 or a 360 whoop-de-doo and ending up in the ditch, right-side-up if they’re lucky. Or worse still, they smack into someone who is driving “to the weather.”

And, sure enough, Monday morning there were smack-ups, mostly just your usual two- or three-car fender-bender encounters of a too-close kind. However, a big “smack-up” on the Trans-Canada Highway near Brooks, AB, made even the national news. About 70 vehicles were involved, cars, trucks and semi-trailers.

Now, I am not surprised that such an event occurred near Brooks. My family has known for decades that particular section of the Trans-Canada is jinxed. Whenever we drove to Alberta to visit relatives, if anything were to go wrong, it would go wrong around Brooks. Flat tires. Dead fuel pumps (twice! On the same trip!). Hail storms. Blizzards. You name it. If we made it without incident past Brooks, we were home free!

No, what surprised me was the number of vehicles involved – 70! The Trans-Canada through Alberta is not the 401 in Toronto. Or the I-5 through Salt Lake City. Here, you’d be lucky to get 70 vehicles over the course of an entire day. So where did all those vehicles come from to end up in one great (and thankfully, not deadly) pile-up? Therein lies the mystery, for me.

Monday, the front moved on to harass neighbouring provinces and states with snow squalls, white-outs and ice. And power outages. And accidents.

March is such a lovely month!

(P.S. My apologies to the residents of Brooks – it’s not your fault that section of the highway is jinxed.)

#MarchLion #MarchWeather #Blizzard #SnowSqualls #TransCanadaHighway #BrooksAlberta #MargaretGHanna

Springtime (?) on the Prairies

Daffodil, the silly girl, was poking up her head,
And Tulip, not to be outdone, arose up from his bed.
They both agreed, “Spring must be here, the sun is shining strong.
It’s time to show our glorious blooms. It’s time to sing our song.”

Then up spoke grumpy apple tree, wet blanket if ‘twere one,
“You should take care, it’s only March. I wouldn’t jump the gun.
Too many Marches I have seen as warm as mid-July,
But then come April, bitter frost, and May, the snowflakes fly.”

“Go back to bed, you silly fools. Remember spring last year?
You froze your little bloomers off!” But neither one would hear.
They grew up green. They grew up tall. They grew like it was May.
And sure enough, just two weeks on, they lived to rue the day.

#Spring #SpringSnow #Poem #SillyPoem #PrairieSpring #AlbertaSpring #MargaretGHanna

Which Way Challenge: The “Big Hill” (BC Hwy 20)

The British Columbia Department of Highways said, “It’s impossible.” The citizens of Bella Coola and Anaheim Lake said, “Oh ya? Just watch!”

The top of the hill and the bottom of the hill were no problem. It was the bit in between. The cliff. The “straight down.” The “Big Hill.”

For two years, the citizens laboured. They dug by hand, pried out rocks with jackhammers (the rock was so hard it dulled the bits in no time flat), tossed said rocks over the edge (and listened to them ricochet down the cliff), and bulldozed wherever possible (one slipped off the trail but, fortunately, was able to be winched back up). By dint of hard work, determination and a sense of “up yours, government!”, they transformed that former goat trail into a vehicle trail.

In September, 1953, two bulldozers – one from above and one from below – touched blades mid-way down the “Big Hill.” The “highway” was complete. It had cost $1300 per mile (1953 dollars) to build, plus uncounted hours of volunteer labour. The Minister of Highways attended the official opening and paid off the debt of $8700.

The highway is still considered one of North America’s dangerous highways. It’s narrow and winding; some sections are single-lane only; and there are no guard-rails protecting drivers from a “sharp drop off pavement” to the valley below. Thanks (?) to two serious and steep switchbacks (and a few lesser ones) and a 15% grade, the “Big Hill” drops 5000 feet in seven miles. It gets the heart pounding.

Just before the second switchback on the Big Hill, time for a breather. And yes, after we negotiate the switchback, we’ll be on the road you see in the middle of the photograph.
Thanks to “Alive and Trekking” for this challenge.

#WhichWayChallenge #AliveAndTrekking #The BigHill #BCHwy20 #DangerousRoads #MargaretGHanna

Freedom!

My husband and I received our first COVID vaccine shot (Moderna) on Tuesday. I have never been so excited about getting a poke in the arm.

My husband has numerous pre-existing conditions, so this past year we have been exceedingly cautious. Some have called us “prisoners.” We’ve called ourselves “prudent.”

Our only regular outing has been to the grocery store, always at “Old Farts” hours (7:00 am to 8:00 am), and after we’ve put away the groceries, I’ve wiped down every surface we’ve touched (and any we thought we might have touched). When absolutely essential, we’ve visited the doctor and dentist. Even more rarely, we’ve ventured into hardware stores or the post office. We’ve ordered on-line to be delivered and ordered for curb-side pickup. We’ve quarantined mail and parcels for three days once we’ve brought them into the house. We’ve social-distanced, worn masks (long before our fair city decreed it obligatory), used hand sanitizer and wipes, and washed our hands till we thought the skin would fall off (or run out of soap, whichever came first).

But now! Now it feels as if we have left prison and are living in the half-way house. Freer, although not entirely free. We will still wear masks (we’re double-masking now that the “variants of concern” are running amok), we will still social-distance; we will still be careful about where we go and when we go there.

But now! Now, we can visit friends and relatives. Maybe I will work up the courage to venture into my favourite shopping venue – our local thrift store. And maybe get a real haircut and . . . .

We don’t know when we will receive our second Moderna shot. The Canadian government has royally screwed up the vaccine situation, leaving us dependent on the good graces of other countries. But we – my husband and I – are on our way.

Yay, freedom!

BUT that freedom has come at great cost. Over 22,250 people have died in Canada and millions around the world. “Long-haulers” continue to suffer COVID symptoms with no relief in sight. Front line workers suffer from exhaustion and burn-out, or PTSD, or worse still have died of COVID. Millions have lost jobs or businesses because of COVID. Millions are hungry or homeless because of COVID. Uncounted numbers have committed suicide because of COVID.

The moral of the pandemic is this: none of us will be free until everyone is free. So, don’t dilly-dally. Get that vaccine as soon as you can. Help us all be free.

#COVID #Pandemic #COVIDVaccine #Freedom #ModernaVaccine #NotesFromIsolationWard #MargaretGHanna

Which Way Challenge: Moki Dugway

Just a little northwest of Bluff, Utah; just on the north side of the Valley of the Gods, we found one of our favourite roads.

The Moki Dugway is not for the faint of heart, those afraid of heights, or those for whom “sharp drop off pavement” causes coniptions of anxiety. It is only three miles long, but in those three miles it descends 1100 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below. Don’t even think about taking your RV or dually on this road.

It was built in 1958 to haul ore from the Happy Jack Mine on Cedar Mesa to the mill in Halchita, near Mexican Hat, in the valley below. At least one ore truck didn’t make it.

If you love tight switchbacks, corners you can’t see around, steep descents, and a road that seems to disappear either into the upcoming rock face or over the upcoming edge, it is your cup of tea. It certainly is ours.

Thanks to “Alive and Trekking” for this challenge.

#WhichWayChallenge #MokiDugway #DrivingAdventure #BluffUtah #ValleyOfTheGods #TravelAdventure #MargaretGHanna

Dr. B’s Camera Challenge #9: Kitchen “Stuff”

Oh, my goodness. Pick something from our kitchen? Our kitchen is full of stuff: pots and pans, labour-saving devices (both electric and manual), thing-a-ma-bobs, gadgets, do-dads, whachamacallits, things we use all the time, things we rarely use, things we never use but keep because, well, just because. Do I make it a “Guess what, folks?” or simply a “Show and Tell.”

I decided to do both. First, the “Show and Tell”

Something I use all the time — my beloved bec d’oiseau paring knife, beautiful sharp-as-a-razor carbon steel blade. Won’t trade it for anything!
Something we never use, but it’s so cute!

And now for the “Guess what, folks?”

Very few people recognize what this “thing” is used for. Here are some hints:

  • It is made of cast aluminum
  • It is about 70 years old (it was an “accessory” included with a set of WearEver cast aluminum pots and pans my mother had)
  • Of all the tools intended to do what this “thing” does — this is the best design ever (in my opinion).

#CameraChallenge9 #KitchenMystery #WhatIsIt #FavouriteKitchenTool #MargaretGHanna

P.S. An addendum to Dr. B’s Camera Challenge #7: Bridges — I finally found my photograph of the concrete bridge over Pinto Creek that flowed (when there was water in it) on the south side of my home town, Meyronne. The bridge was built in 1929 just before the Depression and the Dirty Thirties blew in. Eventually, farm machinery grew too huge to cross the bridge so it was torn down and replaced by a boring steel bridge over not-so-mighty Pinto Creek.

I have the dubious distinction of having walked on the concrete arch when I was about ten. Apparently, the boys were daring each other to do so and, while they were dithering about, I said, “Oh for heaven’s sakes” (or words to that effect) and walked it. The boys were impressed. My father was not.

Dr. B’s Camera Challenge #8: Sports

Sports? I don’t do sports! I don’t attend sporting events so how can I photograph them? Oh wait, I guess I do. Sometimes.

Sky-diving:

My husband used to throw himself out of planes. He called it fun. I called it suicidal. I asked, “Why do you throw yourself out of perfectly good airplanes?” He said, “Because they’re not perfectly good airplanes.”

Every summer (COVID years excepted), we join our Montana friends for their annual skydive weekend. After hanging out with them (pun intended) for several years and hearing them rave about the thrills of sky-diving, I decided I had to try it.

Yep! I harnessed myself to a tandem master and threw myself out (actually, he threw US out) of a not-so-perfectly-good Twin Otter at 13,000 feet. Fifty-five seconds of free fall, plummeting earthward at 200 miles per hour. Five minutes under canopy, floating feather-like before touching terra firma. My conclusion: Been there, done that, don’t need to do it again. But it certainly got the adrenaline pumping.

Winter Olympics 2010, Vancouver BC:

We hadn’t planned on going to the Olympics. We were perfectly content to stay home and watch everything on TV. After watching the first night, we said, “That looks like fun! Let’s go!” We called a friend, “Dust off the hide-a-bed.” The next day we drove to Vancouver. Absolutely no regrets. Everyone was there to have fun. Except for the athletes, they were there to win.

Lots of other things to do at the Olympics, like see the exhibits of ancient sports equipment (try using these!):

Clockwise from bottom right: Ancient curling rock, ca. 16th century (Scotland, surprised?); speed skate blades, ca. 1780 (Holland); speed skate blades, an 1852 copy of 1452 original; bone skate blades, reputed to be 2000 years old (found in London, England); iron skate blades, 1780 (Holland)

#CameraChallenge #Sports #Skydiving #Curling #IceDance #WinterOlympics #AntiqueSportsEquipment #MargaretGHanna

Dragon Boat Racing — Was I crazy?

Dragon boat races in the middle of the prairies? Not the first sport that springs to mind when you think of the prairies. However, each year, COVID years excepted, the City of Regina hosts its annual Dragon Boat Festival.

Dragon Our Cookies, 2006. Yours truly, second row, 3rd from left.

I was a member of a team for seven years, three years with a mixed team (Algae Envy) and four with a women’s team (Dragon Our Cookies, most of whom were Girl Guides who those delicious GG cookies – get it?). We were definitely in the non-competitive category, which suited us just fine. We were there to do our best but mostly we were there to have fun.

Paddling a Dragon Boat is entirely different from paddling a canoe. The paddle is different – the handle is shorter and the blade is longer and squared off. With one hand, you grab the paddle just above the blade and with the other you grab the top of the knob at the end of the handle. The stroke is different – the paddle must stay vertical which means you have to lean over the side of the boat; furthermore, you use your entire upper body, not just your arms and shoulders, to pull the paddle. You reach forward as far as possible, drive the paddle into the water, and pull back with all your might. Repeat. Reach, pull. Reach, pull.

Halfway through the first practice, I’d ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” I was older by decades than most of my team mates. My body was screaming. Muscles were cramping. I wasn’t even a Girl Guide! Good thing I had pre-booked massage sessions immediately following the first few practices. Call me a sucker for punishment — I kept coming back for more.

The night before Race Day, the Shinto priests arrive from Vancouver to perform the ceremony known as Awakening the Dragon. Although we look on the race as sport, for the Shinto, the Dragon Race has historical, cultural and spiritual significance. They awaken the dragon from its long slumber by dotting paint on its eyes. They pray for the safety of all the participants. One team is chosen to take the oath to harmony, friendship and peace.

Race day, and Wascana Park is packed with people, performers, martial arts demonstrators, face painters, and vendors. While everyone else parties, the teams assemble at the marshaling ground and the races are on. Four teams at a time, we line up at the starting line, jockeying our boat into position, trying to hold position, and waiting for the klaxon horn to start us off down the 500 meters to the other end of the lake.

A dragon boat with a team of 20+ people weighs about 2500 – 3000 pounds. We have about five seconds to get that 2500 pounds moving from “dead in the water” to cruising speed.

The first 10 or so strokes are long, slow and hard. We feel the boat shudder, groan, slowly lift up and begin to move forward. The next 10 or so strokes are fast, hard, deep, to build up speed. Then we settle into “race speed.” At that point, we have only one thing in mind – to keep in sync with the paddle in front of us and with our partner’s paddle. When we are in unison, the boat surges forward with each stroke. If not, we “caterpillar” and lose speed. We hear our drummer keeping the beat. We watch the paddle in front of us. Reach, pull. Reach, pull. Reach, pull.

“Power up!” We’re mid-way through the course, time to increase speed. We reach farther, pull harder for 20 strokes, then fall back to “Race Speed.”

By now, our muscles are screaming, “We’re tired! Give it up!” so we start to yell, primal screams and cries from deep inside us that dredge up energy from reserves we didn’t know we had. Reach, pull. Reach, pull. Reach, pull.

“FIN-I-I-I-SH!” And now we really paddle, reaching farther, pulling harder than we thought possible. We know the finish line is near, we don’t know how near, but that’s not the point. The point is to give it all and then some. REACH, PULL! REACH, PULL! REACH, PULL!

“Paddles DOWN!” We’re there! We’ve done it! We’ve survived! We collapse over our paddles. We’re gasping. We’re hoarse from yelling. Our hearts are pounding a million miles a minutes. There’s more adrenaline than blood coursing through our bodies.

Then we hear the crowd cheering. We revive, raise our paddles in acknowledgment of the crowd, and begin a much more leisurely paddle back to the dock. We hear our unofficial time announced over the loudspeaker. Not bad, we think.

Two hours later, we do it all over again. If our combined times are good enough, we get to do it once more, in the finals.

In 2006, the last year I participated, Dragon Our Cookies made it to the finals and came in third. It was a good way to go out.

If I were 40 years younger, I’d still be doing it.

DragonBoatRaces #WascanaPark #WascanaLake #CityOfRegina #MargaretGHanna