Skiing Takes my Stress Away

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I would not consider myself an athlete. When asked if I play sports like baseball or hockey, my answer is often, “those who don’t play, watch.” I like to watch sports and love to talk about them, especially with my son. But not always. There is one sport in which I actively participate: downhill skiing.

My parents first put me on a pair of skis when I was four years old. I don’t actually remember what it felt like that first time as I was so young. It was a time before young children learned about “pizza’ and “french fries” on the ski hill. I learned the basics of snow plow and found my way down.

Our family skied at various places in Ontario and Quebec. Well-known Laurentian hills like Mont Tremblant, Mont Saint Saveur and Morin Heights gave me my first early exposure to good quality skiing conditions. I took lessons at a small place in Ontario called Devil’s Elbow, and sometimes we ventured further to places like Blue Mountain, and more recently, to Alpine Ski Club.

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First day selfie on the ski hill this season

Note that I keep using the word “we.” That’s important. Skiing was a sport my whole family did together – my parents, brother and sister too (she was on skis before she was even three!). No matter how busy we were all week, in the winter our family jumped in the car on a Saturday morning (or during a winter vacation) and headed to the ski hill. It was our break from life and a chance to spend quality time together.

Think about all the sports in which you participate or watch. How many of them can a family all do together, as one unit? Or even if a family can, do they? Skiing is one of those. I felt privileged as a child and even more so now as an adult, to be able to ski every winter weekend with my family.

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David tested out snowboarding a few years ago. A rare picture of us on the hill together
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I think we take too many selfies on the hill.
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Cousins testing out the ski hill at night, for some railing fun.

And when I say my family – I mean my parents, my siblings and their families and my husband and children too. It’s a rite of passage in our family. A baby learns to walk, then run, then ski. And the diaper is still on!

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Two-year-old Matthew gets some instruction from his Zaidy during his first season on skis
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Matthew, in blue, on skis for the first time at age 2, with his big cousins.
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Julia, age two, on skis
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We start them young. Matthew took Nessa for a mini ride when she was less than a year old
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We just had to take a selfie last winter during Nessa’s first visit to the ski hill

As any ski family will agree, getting ready to go skiing in the morning, in a house with piles of children (more on our family country home another day) can be a rather unpleasant and sometimes downright horrible experience. At the height of the season we are 16 people in the house – an even 8 adults and 8 children. The children range in age from one to fifteen. And no one cooperates. Someone is always crying or screaming or fighting with a sibling. Socks are lost. The previous day’s long under wear wasn’t washed because a child forgot to put it in the laundry. A glove was left at the ski hill the day before and a tantrum ensues.

We rush to the car, zoom to the hill and deal with the next level of craziness: get the kids out, strap their skis and snowboards to their feet and throw them on the hill. Someone is usually crying, screaming or fighting yet again. Is it all worth it?

Yes.

Once I am at the top of the mountain and look down at the sparkling white snow ahead of me all my stress disappears. I can let go. I am free. All the craziness of the week, my career and my family melt away. I let my skis take me down the hill. Yes, it is all worth it.

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The view I love. That’s Julia, my father and Matthew sliding down the hill together last year.
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There’s always a fun mix of family on the hill, like my mother, nephew and daughter.

It’s about minus 15 outside today, and I am in the city and unable to go skiing. But tomorrow, well that’s another story. It may be cold outside (okay, it is insanely freezing), but I will be out there on the ski hill doing my thing. As will my parents, siblings their kids, my kids and maybe even my husband (okay, not the baby, she will be in the daycare). And I will be skiing every weekend this winter. If you need to find me, look for me on the hill.

Canadians are Dreaming of a White Christmas

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If you live in Canada (and many other parts of the world), whether you celebrate or not, you are surrounded by Christmas. Through the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, this Christian holiday has crossed over and immersed itself in all parts of society. So for me, just living in Canada, means I am part of the Holiday season and all the good (and bad) that goes with it.

As we live in the heart of a big city, my children are exposed to many different kinds of cultures every day of the year. They see Chinese New Year festivals mid-winter. Ramadan, celebrated by Muslims, is a holiday they learned about in the spring this past year. And there is Diwali in the Fall, which is observed by Hindus.

But Christmas is something else. It’s everywhere. From lights on our neighbours’ homes to commercials on TV to utter insanity in every store, this holiday is all around us. During the month of December, I feel there is a special spirit in the air. We may run around like crazy people, schlepping kids to school, struggling in traffic to get to work and fighting for the last parking spot in the mall. But somehow, there is a feeling of good cheer all around, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.

December in most Canadian cities can feel dark and everything around seems dirty. It’s the time of year with the fewest hours of light and the trees are bare. We hope for bright skies and fresh falling snow. Canadians are dreaming of a White Christmas. And I mean all Canadians, even me.

And this year, ta da, many of us got just that. We made our way yesterday afternoon to London, Ontario, to the home of David’s sister. She celebrates Christmas with her family, and for the past number of years we have joined them. My kids love to spend time with many members of their extended family, and Christmas gives us the opportunity to do that.

On Sunday afternoon, we drove through Southwestern Ontario as a winter storm was brewing, and as we approached London, the skies began to darken, fog rolled in and then the snow. By the time we arrived at my sister-in-law’s home the streets were snow covered and the storm was starting to come in full force.

The beautiful, fluffy white snow blanketed the neighbourhood overnight, brightening the sky with its clean reflection. We woke up this morning to what I love best – that light, fluffy and bright snow that every child dreams of on Christmas morning.

We actively participate in the morning rituals of opening gifts and enjoyed a scrumptious brunch of fried eggs, bagels, hot coffee and other goodies. There are treats to nibble on all over the house, and tonight we will enjoy a delicious dinner prepared by David’s sister and her husband – giant kosher turkey and all!

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The kids enjoy a game of cards with their cousin this morning
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Nessa hangs out with her big cousin, Blackjack, the family dog.

The snow continues to fall steadily outside, the wind is blowing, sending the snow upwards sometimes too. It’s freezing cold outside for sure, but it’s warm and cozy where I’m sitting. I am watching the snow fall, and it brings a smile to my face. This is what this time of year is all about in Canada – where dreams of a White Christmas come true.

First Snow of the Season

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I have a rule that I won’t pull out my heavy duty warm winter coat until December 1st. There’s always a few chilly days in November that make me consider regretting that I made this rule. But I just can’t embrace winter until December beckons. So, December is here. The winter coat has come out. It’s mighty cold outside, and the season’s first snow is on the horizon.

There is something magical about snow in December. The image of white flakes gently falling from the sky, blanketing the city, brings a smile to my face. Once a couple of centimeters have come down, the bright and clean snow covers the ugliness of bare trees and dirty sidewalks.

The kids run outside to build the first snowman of the year, throw snowballs at their father and even pull out a shovel to clean the front walkway and driveway. In my neighbourhood, everyone cleans the sidewalks and driveways quickly after the first snow. It’s as though we are all excited to experience the first taste of the fresh winter season.

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Matthew shovelling us out following a 2016 winter storm

Turn on the radio or flick on the TV and the broadcasters are muttering the warnings of a “special weather statement.” An Arctic low is approaching that will combine with a system that formed in the Gulf of Mexico, which will bring plunging temperatures, high wind and snow accumulation. Make sure the winter tires are on. Fill the tank with gas. Take out the winter boots, hats and gloves. Get ready.

The first snow of the season has arrived in Southern Ontario. Some areas north of Toronto already have a significant accumulation of the white stuff, but I think only today we will experience our first real winter wallop. Or at least that’s what the meteorologists say on my Weather Network app. They predict that the city of Toronto will get anywhere from 5 to 15 cm of snow over the next day or so. Whatever that means.

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The view to my backyard after some snow

No matter how much snow we receive, I believe that Torontonians will embrace our first real snowfall of the 2017-2018 season. Since today is December 11th, I have to figure that many people are dreaming of a white Christmas. If the temperatures stay cold and we keep getting more snow, their wish will come true.

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fresh snow on the ground after a storm last year

Note that I say more snow. If you want the city of Toronto to be blanketed in white on December 25th, then I can promise you that it won’t be if we get snow today and no more for the next two weeks. You see, what quickly happens to the beautiful fluffy white snow within hours of it falling on the ground? 

It turns brown. Or grey. Or even black, when it gets really dirty.

Which is why the excitement of the first snow of the season doesn’t last long. Okay, maybe the hearty Canadians that we are, we embrace the first few snowfalls in December. But for many people, come January, the fun is over. The temperature keeps plummeting, the trees are still bare and the city is dirty.

But the first snow also means that winter activities can begin. What’s your fancy? Skiing? Snowboarding? Skating? Sledding? For me, it’s skiing. Stay tuned for what I’m sure will be many posts over the coming months about my skiing adventures.

I am a Third-Generation Weather Watcher

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Sun, rain, snow, sleet, hail, hot, cold – it doesn’t matter to me. I just love to monitor the weather. If a TV remote control could have The Weather Network on speed dial I would program it. I have to settle for it on my favourites list. I start my day with a check of the weather and monitor it closely throughout the day. Of course before I go to bed at night I check one more time.

Modern technology only encourages my obsession, with live updates on various websites and of course my favourite, an endless choice of apps on my smartphone. I am partial to The Weather Network app, though I am sure many others will show me the weather patterns in other great ways. With GPS, not only will my app tell me the exact conditions outside my door, but I can keep up to date on what’s happening in Auckland, Hong Kong, Halifax and Paris too!

I come by this love quite naturally. One could say it’s genetic. I have fond memories as a child first checking the weather in the newspaper with my maternal grandfather, then when cable TV became popular, sitting with him on the couch as we watched the weather channel like it was the new feature movie. Even though the content repeated itself over and over, my grandfather’s attention never wavered. It amazed me how focused he was on the day’s temperature and how much rain to expect.

My grandfather passed this love down to his daughter, my mother. My mother often organizes her daily activities around the weather forecast and will call me, text me or email me news and updates when an exciting system is approaching. For my mother, there is nothing better than a massive thunderstorm that lights the sky in the valley across from our country home.I enjoy the beauty of a big snowfall in January, dense fog that takes over the sky in October, a big thunder and lightning show in July or a bright sunny day in May. What weather system is coming next? What is the temperature outside my window right now?

I often like to photograph changing weather conditions. It could be the blueness of a bright sunny day, snow, rain or fog. The changing colours of the sky at sunset are always a treat, especially when it’s what my husband’s family calls a “fake-o sunset.” That’s when it rains all day then suddenly, as evening approaches, the sky clears and you see a magnificent sunset. The sky tricks you into thinking that it was a beautiful day but really up until minutes ago it was too foggy to see anything.

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Pea-sized hail in my backyard yesterday
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A fabulous downpour with dense fog in New Zealand
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A fabulous summer sunset
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Ice and snow from the sky and on the road
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Mix sunshine and rain and you get a rainbow

So far, I have not seen this dominant gene appear in any of my children, but there is still time. My son does ask me what to wear each morning based on the weather, so maybe he is my best hope. I will start working on him now. In the meantime, I need to check my app to see today’s and tomorrow’s weather.

Are you a weather watcher? Does it run in your family? Do you have any cool photographs of a weather event? Post your comments here, or post a photo or comment to me on Facebook or Tweet me @AliciaRichler.