The Canada Screamer

Australia has the Brickfielder. France has the Mistral, North Africa and Southern Europe the Sirocco. Santa Ana winds blow across California while parts of Canada and the Great Plains experience the Chinook.  All these winds are weather phenomena. The winds we have here in Wisconsin may not be meteorologically important enough to be named as our snowstorms are, but having come from a place where wind doesn’t blow with the same violence, unless, of course, there is a tornado, I think Wisconsin winds must have a name. I’ve decided to make up my own for the winds this time of year, the Canada Screamer.

For the past few months but especially the past few days winter has held sway here in Wisconsin with weather systems moving across the United States picking up moisture before uniting with the cold north wind sweeping down from Canada and the Arctic, the Canada Screamer. Yesterday winter brought four more inches of snow to our area to add the nearly 60 inches we’ve already accumulated this winter. But today, a deceptively gorgeous sunny day, the wind blew. Gusts measured up to thirty miles per hour here in my town and across northeast Wisconsin and will continue into the night and tomorrow. Those gusts blew the fluffy snow into drifts in our driveway and onto our front sidewalk. The largest drift, about four or five feet tall, is still there. I think I’ll leave it for Bruce to see or take a picture tomorrow before Travis and I shovel it away.

Naturally, Bruce is gone again as he has been lately when it has snowed, which is really testing the agreement we struck before we moved up north. That agreement said if I would move north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I wouldn’t have to shovel snow or use the snow blower, and I could have all the cozy sweaters I wanted. Today, since Bruce wasn’t here, I called the guy who sprays our lawn in the summer and has a winter snowplowing business to come plow me out. Wow! Was that fast! I don’t know why Bruce insists on clearing the snow himself when Seth did the job in a matter of minutes.

I didn’t go outside today until the driveway was cleared. I couldn’t have walked to the mailbox through the three foot drifts and didn’t want to deal with the wind flinging snow in my face. Even in the house I could hear the wind and feel the draft seeping beneath the window sills and around the doors. I’m just glad I live in a nicely constructed house in modern times rather than in a tarpaper covered wooden house on the prairie during pioneer days. There are many stories of women on the Great Plains who went insane. I think losing their minds probably had something to do with the wind or the fact that spring didn’t arrive for so long. There might have been the occasional year spring made an early appearance, but I’m sure some killjoy back then said things like, “Well, this is Wisconsin. It will probably be snowing next week.” to that poor pioneer woman. The good Lord knows I’ve heard that sort of thing before.

This time of year I’m tormented by images of warm weather. I imagine trade winds softly ruffling my hair and cooling the sweat on my brow as I bask in the sun with my SPF 70 on, the salty breezes soothing my cold limbs and lulling me to sleep under my sunglasses. Heck, I don’t even mind watching The Masters golf tournament on television because at least it gives me a glimpse of a world green and bursting with multi-hued azaleas and dogwoods. Somewhere somebody is wearing shorts and getting sunburned. Shortly after that I watch the Kentucky Derby with the riots of multi-colored hats and beautiful people parading about in the spring air drinking juleps. I can’t help but wish I were there smelling the roses at Churchill Downs. The closest I can get are the images I occasionally post on Facebook of places I wish I could escape to.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain much. Spring does last about two weeks here, but it is a glorious two weeks. You can practically see the plants grow and the new spring leaves unfurl on the trees. The scent of lilacs fills the air and here, at least, the Clearwater Harbor Restaurant and Bar (otherwise known as The Harbor) finally opens her doors for the season. That’s a sure sign summer is on its way. Summer, in my humble opinion, is the ONLY reason to live in Wisconsin, weather-wise. The days are long with sunrise at about five and sunset at about ten, give or take. Plants have a lot of growing to do in a short amount of time, so gardens explode with color and plants. You can practically see them reaching for the sun. And we have rivers galore and our Chain O’Lakes, a wonderful oasis of spring-fed blue green waters. Lovely.

I can hear the Canada Screamer barreling against my house as I write this. It actually pulled me from my reverie of summer, but soon my reverie will be reality. Soon I will wake to the chirp of birds and fall asleep to the song of peepers. Soon the gentle breezes of summer will fill my house with the scent of roses and honeysuckle, and I’ll hear the river in my back yard sing me a lullaby. It will be soon now. After all, tomorrow is another day. It’s actually the first day of spring, but winter and that Canada Screamer didn’t get the memo!

A Toast to a Happy Thanksgiving

This time of year I am homesick for family, for foods that have been made by generations of Southern hands, for places that seem like places in dreams it has been so long since I visited. It’s Thanksgiving and I am once again not with my family in Georgia. Even as I write this, I know my sister is preparing the dressing for the turkey, either baking the cornbread or the biscuits or putting them together with the other ingredients to have ready to bake tomorrow. She and my mother will be making ambrosia for dessert, and Jessica, my niece, will be making the sweet potato soufflé. Tim, my brother-in-law, will be frying the turkey in the morning, while Tricia, my brother’s wife will be cleaning the house and getting the dining room ready for tomorrow and probably making chocolate delight. Tomorrow the dining room will be full of my extended family, even my nephew and his wife who recently married. Only we will be absent from the meal.

Since I can’t be in Georgia, I try to keep my Southern traditions here in Wisconsin as much as possible. I make cornbread stuffing rather than the dressing I grew up with and not so secretly yearn for, but I can’t get the proper stone ground cornmeal here in the north that I could at home, so I improvise. I put sausage, Jimmy Dean sage flavored, and pecans (rhymes with “we can” when pronounced properly). I now incorporate dried cherries with a nod to our Wisconsin ties. I also make my Mema’s recipe for sweet potato soufflé and have the Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, the kind where you can see the rings from the can, because that is what we always had when I was growing up. I make pumpkin pie for my husband and boys, but I also make an apple pie, something my husband never had at Thanksgiving until he knew me, but I remember my Mema always had an apple pie too.

This time of year I miss so much about my Southern hometown, which is never more apparent than right now at the holidays. I miss the weather, of course, and the familiar streets of Sandersville, my hometown. But mostly I miss feeling like I belong somewhere, not the feeling you get from friends and in laws but the bone deep feeling that you are amongst your people, those who look like you do, whose gestures trace back generations, who get your sense of humor because they share it, who remember the embarrassing things that happened to you but don’t care. In fact, that is what endears you to each other. Your family know all there is to know about you and still love you, no matter what.

Perhaps I miss my home so much now because,  before I moved away from the South, I only knew holidays with my large extended family. We converged on each of our grandmothers’ houses on both sides of the family to celebrate together at least once each year at the holidays. I married into a small family. My husband’s mother was an only child, and his father only had one sister. Now my husband’s brother and sisters live far away from us and are traveling to see their in laws this holiday, but for us Georgia is too far for us to travel with so little time to make the trip and get Travis back to college when he needs to go. Therefore, here we are.

Though our celebration will be small in number, it will be large in sentiment. This year especially, I am thankful for many things. Now more than ever I appreciate the way I was raised with cousins as far as the eye could see and aunts and uncles in abundance who took the time to come together to be with family. I am thankful to have grown up with so many great cooks in the family and for my sister Andrea learning the recipes I haven’t been around to learn. She is teaching those recipes to my niece Jessica so they will never die. I am thankful for my brother hosting my Georgia family so they can be together at the holidays. Even if I can’t be with them, I know they are carrying on the traditions our family established so long ago. That is a comfort. I am also thankful my husband has a job again so we can provide for our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this year as well as the other necessities of life.

I could go on and on with what I am grateful and thankful for this year, but I will leave you with one thought for this holiday. Be thankful for the family gathered at your table this Thanksgiving, whether they have traveled far to be with you or just came from across the street. Remember how much you love them. Look past the whining children, the overindulgent uncle, the aunt who changed the recipe of the favorite pumpkin pie because she wanted to make it special even though everyone preferred it the way it had always been. Look past the details and forget about the perfect Thanksgiving meal. There is no such thing. As you look around the room at your family, be thankful you are together and remember those who aren’t with you, even though they want to be. Drink a toast to them and to each other, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

The Change I’m Choosing

How many of us would choose some of the changes we have undergone in our lives? I know if I could choose my path I would not be unemployed right now, and neither would my husband. The past four years have been a long, sometimes hard four years, not knowing how we would survive or pay for our kids’ college tuition. We’ve spent many sleepless nights and many prayer-filled mornings asking for the courage to keep going and for something to happen to turn our fortunes.

My husband is a talented man, a great leader, and wonderful provider. He was a Marine helicopter pilot for nearly twelve years when he and I decided we wanted our boys to have a more stable life than the military gave us. He left that profession to wade into the uncharted waters of pharmaceutical sales. We left our friends in the Marines and moved to a small town in Wisconsin to raise our sons. Being out of the military took some getting used to for both of us, but Bruce got the hang of his new job and worked for  Warner Lambert before it became Pfizer. Then he worked for Pfizer after they bought out Warner Lambert. About four years ago, Bruce—along with about half the Pfizer sales force—lost his job. The following year I lost my teaching job due to declining enrollment. Neither of us has been able to find a permanent position since then, so we must change.  Neither of us is sure what we will do, but we must do something different.

Change is hard, however, even painful. It’s full of unknowns, full of challenges, some we can see and will handle well, but others we will only be able to work through as they happen. But the pain of a life in transition often leads to joys that we can’t see while we’re in the midst of the change. Change can lead to growth in our talents and in our perspective if we allow it. If we follow our passions and our interests, perhaps the change will be something we never expected, but which will change us and those around us for the better. That is what I hope for at this stage of my life.  I plan to focus on the positives wherever I find them, what I have rather than what I don’t have.

Back in April I went to a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, called the Writers Institute. I met a number of talented writers, both published and unpublished like me. At one of the sessions one writer, Laurie Buchanan, who is also a Ph.D., a motivational speaker, and a Life Coach, said something that resonated with me. It must resonate for a lot of people. She said, “What you are not changing, you are choosing.” That was, as Oprah puts it, an “ah hah” moment for me.

So here is my change. I am going to be a writer, a goal I’ve had for years. From now on when people ask me what I do for a living, I will answer, “I’m a writer.” I may be unpublished as yet, but I am a writer.  I believe we are what we do every day. I write every day, so I’m a writer. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I am establishing the habit of writing. One day I will be excellent at it, but in the meantime, I am going to work my butt off to make my dreams a reality. My students have known my secret dream, and so have a few of my friends, but for a long time I haven’t believed I could be a writer despite what I have said. I believe it now because I am choosing it. I am a writer. What change will you choose? Do you have the courage to live your dream?