Getting ready

Now that we have put our clocks back by an hour, it is time to figure out how we are going to survive the long, dark and cold winter ahead.

I haven’t spent a full winter in Canada for several years now and am daunted by the prospect of doing so, especially with the ongoing restrictions imposed by the pandemic. My mood is not unlike that displayed on my grandson’s face; a sort of resigned hopelessness.

Breaking up the routine

With no regular work travel and no two-month trip to the sun of San Miguel to look forward to, I have been thinking about what else I can do to keep myself from feeling overly housebound. It’s not likely we will want to fly anywhere, even within Canada, in the foreseeable future, which rules out possible get-away destinations like the sunshine coast of British Columbia. Self-isolation requirements make driveable spots like Nova Scotia unappealing.

A friend who lives in Toronto suggested a house swap. Her daughter is at Queen’s, my partner and I have family and friends in Toronto. A change of scene sounds appealing, and we will try for an outdoor visit with one another either when we arrive or depart.

We’ve rented a cottage in Prince Edward County for later this month. I will pack up my work and, instead of glancing out my home office window onto a streetscape, look for inspiration from a view of Lake Ontario. My partner, will replace his walks around the neighbourhood with wanders along the shore. If that goes well, we may plan other such short and close-by get-aways.

Lots to learn

Because the pandemic has brought my work-related travel to a complete halt, for the first time in decades I can sign up for regular activities in Kington, knowing I will be here to participate.

Two weeks ago, I joined the Seniors’ Centre and signed up for two weekly programs beginning in late November. If all goes well, by early February I will have learned the basics of yoga and may have produced a painting that looks at least a little like what I was aiming for. More importantly, I will have spent time every week away from my desk, learning something new rather than staring into my computer monitor.

The summer theatre in nearby Gananoque is offering a series of in-person evening workshops in November and December. The registration fee includes instruction, working space and materials, and a cash bar (always helpful for those, like me, who lack creative confidence) is available. I’ve signed up for two.

Perhaps this is the year I will find my inner artist.

Coping with stress

These are not easy times, even for those of us with a lot of privilege. I am doing everything I can to reduce my stress and manage what I can’t get rid of. I have – finally—learned how to download music to my phone, and now start most mornings with my earbuds in while I gear up for my workday. My current favourite artist is Carsie Blanton, and I guarantee that you will find this song uplifting.

Because my work is, by definition, stressful, I have filled my office with relief: a stress ball, fidget toys, chocolate – of course – and an essential oil diffuser.

As they say – stay calm and carry on.

There’s always food and drink

Last spring, I made spiced rum for a cocktail I created, and I have a new batch on the go now. Visions of hot rum toddies and other such delights dance in my head for the months ahead.

People don’t have ambivalent feelings about fruitcake. Like coriander, it is something they either love or hate.  We love it and, earlier this week, I stirred up almonds and dried fruits for their week’s soak in rum. Once the fruit is well hydrated, the cakes will be made, baked and then wrapped in rum-soaked cheesecloth for several weeks before we cut into them.

I have just made my first batch of chai for the season; an adaptation of a recipe I found years ago. To make approximately eight cups, which I keep in the fridge and heat by the mug in the microwave, dry roast 12 – 14 slices fresh ginger until slightly dried out. Chop, then grind, along with 6 whole peppercorns, 6 whole cardamom seeds (lightly crushed), 4 cloves and 2 – 3 sticks cinnamon, broken up.

Place 4 cups water and 4 cups milk in a heavy saucepan (you can change the proportions to suit your taste), add the ground spice mixture and 4 Tbsp. black tea. If you like, also add 4 – 8 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa. Stir well, then bring to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the mixture comes to the boil, turn off the heat and let steep for 5 – 10 minutes. Stir in sugar to taste (I usually use 4 – 6 Tbsp.), then strain through a jelly bag and place in bottles for storage.

A good book with a mug of chai, perhaps enhanced with a shot of spiced rum, in the warmth of our wood stove sounds pretty good to me. After all, April will be here before we know it, won’t it?

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