Learning Something New

You know that saying, “You learn something new everyday” that people throw around when they learn something new? Well, I’m not sure if I do actively learn something new everyday, but today I did.

This morning I was having breakfast with my paternal grandma and two aunts, and my mom, who are all over the age of fifty (sorry ladies, it’s pertinent to the story!). We were talking about my having to work instead of going to the craft sale that they were going to. I said something about how there wouldn’t be many people out on a cold Sunday afternoon. My one aunt responded with, “Is it cold here? It was warm at home.” They drove an hour and a half from PA (and area) to Saskatoon. She explained that she had looked at the thermometer at my grandma’s place and it had said it was “10 degrees.” I looked at her slightly confused and said, “1o degrees ABOVE zero?’ She said that it was, indeed, what she meant. I contemplated it for a few seconds and said, “Well, it’s at least -15 here.”

This spurred on a conversation about weather and the Celcius vs. Fahrenheit “debate” after my grandma talked about Trudeau changing everything from Fahrenheit to Celsius. I tried to debate with her about how “it makes more sense that the freezing point be zero than 32 degrees.” All of these women argued that it made sense to them that freezing was 32 degrees.

Somehow we got to talking about how when grandma says it’s 10 above or 10 below that she is referring to 32 degrees. This blew my mind because in my mind of minds, I thought she was referring to 10 degrees below ZERO! Apparently, all of this time that I had been saying, “It’s forty below,” or something like that, anyone over a certain age thought that I was referring to Fahrenheit when in my mind I was referring to Celsius! Conversely, when someone said that same thing, they were probably referring to Farenheit.

The thing that I learned today was that you don’t say “10 below” when you are referring to “-10 degrees Celsius” because it actually means Fahrenheit. Apparently these two things just are not the same. So when my grandma says that it’s “10 below,” I really have no idea what that means. I think I liked it better when I thought she meant -10 degrees Celsius.

Each Day

This post is actually about winter biking, so bare with me as I get to that.

Eight years ago tomorrow was a day that changed my life. It was a day when I thought that I was going to die. I don’t think I’ve thought that I was going to die as much as I did that day. The events of that day are etched in my mind and I curse that it falls on the same day that my brother was born. It creates conflict within myself as I am happy that my brother was born and upset about the whole “I almost died” thing.

Since then I have been thankful for every day that I’ve lived. I’m not thankful EVERY day because I don’t think about it everyday, but most days I think about how grateful I am to be alive for one more day (yeah, I have issues with death… I know, I know). I have had almost 3000 extra days so far and I expect to have many more extra days. In the extra days thus far, I am grateful as much as possible for the many amazing friends I have that remind me all the time that I am loved, for my family, and for all of the simple things that I take for granted: a roof over my head, food on my table, clothes to keep me warm, and clean water to drink.

On Thursdays I coach a winter cycling class (it is 16 weeks until spring). Last week it became “winter” here in Saskatoon, even though it officially doesn’t become winter for another month. We have a lot of snow and the temperature has dropped to -30 a few times already. It has been a quick transition for us from fall to winter, but that’s not unusual in these parts.

Over the past few days I have slowly been getting my winter gear out of its hiding places from their various locations in my house:

I found my neck warmer that has a place for my nose and a mesh part where I breathe out of my mouth. My several pairs of long underwear are out of my “Winter clothes” box and in my drawers. I wear at least one pair everyday (they are key to winter survival in Saskatchewan). When I bike, I like to have an extra layer on my thighs so when I’m biking (and if I’m not going anywhere for a long period of time), I wear my tri shorts or bike shorts. The shammy is nice for my butt and the extra layer is nice for my thighs.

I have brought out my winter biking mitts that I absolutely love. They keep my hands toasty warm. For my jacket, I usually wear a t-shirt and a sweater or bunnyhug* under my cycling jacket that I use all year long.

I have yet to figure out a way to keep my toes from getting cold, but I blame that partially on the winter that I delivered newspapers at 5am and froze my feet many many times – it was truly brutal. Hot shots have been recommended to me, but I haven’t tried them yet. Big bulky boots are another option, but I don’t like that one as much because it is not handy for traveling to places. Usually I bike to commute so I prefer to find methods that are convenient for this. I have also heard about a trick where you wear a plastic bag on your feet and use an elastic band around the ankle. Maybe I’ll try that one.

Anyway, I was biking to the coaching session tonight and the snow was coming down around me and I was just reveling in the beauty of life. Winter and falling snow often does that to me – it brings my thoughts to ones of life. The cold reminds me that I am not invincible and that Mother Nature affects us all, whether we like it or not.

The ice that forms on my eye lashes makes me aware of blinking and each breath is punctuated by the cold air. I become aware of each part of my body as it warms up or becomes cold, of which both happens. If my ears are sticking out of my toque even a little bit, they become very cold. I don’t make that mistake much anymore. Even though it is -25 outside, I sweat inside my jacket and even my hands become sweaty inside my super thick mitts (gloves suck, mitts are the way to go). As my toes become colder and colder, I scrunch up and relax my toes over and over again to try to keep the blood flowing to prevent them from freezing.

Winter reminds me that I’m alive. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for each day.

* Bunnyhug: This is a Saskatchewan-specific term for what people in other places call “hoodies.” I love this about us Saskatchewanites.

A Book Project

Usually when Treehugger sends me its daily earth-friendly titles, I skim them. Usually they kind of annoy me because they talk about things like “sustainable cars,” earth-friendly businesses, etc. These are oxymorons. In reality, there is no such thing as a sustainable car and I believe that capitalism, in general, is not earth-friendly. However, today there was a pretty interesting topic called “9 Must Read Books on Eating Well.” It was mostly just interesting to me because I was curious to know what books Treehugger would select as important for reading (it’s true that I don’t hold Treehugger in the highest regard, but it lends for good blog rants). I was pleasantly surprised to see many really good books on the list. Books like The 100-mile Diet by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon, The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel, who was just here in Saskatoon yesterday, and Where Our Food Comes From by Gary Nabhan.

As I was reading the list, I kept thinking about how I had HEARD so many great things about all of these books, but I have not actually READ them! I have been told by a lot of my friends to read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” especially, but have resisted partially because I’m vegan (although I know he’s not necessarily anti-vegan) and because I have just been procrastinating from reading it. However, I have decided that it would be a great project to work through this list of books.

Lately, I have been on a self-help book kick around relationships and communication. In general, I like to mix my books between fiction and non-fiction. I plan to keep that going, but I think that my next phase of non-fiction will be this list of books. I wonder how long it will take me… and how it will affect what I eat. The only realm of food books that this list is missing, in my opinion, is one on eating raw food.

In Memory

Today I was feeling sad about my friend when I remembered that I had a tree that I was intending to start soon. I planted it in the biodegradable pot that it came in, in memory of my friend Nic who passed away only a few days ago.

The tree is a Heartnut Tree, the tree of love (also known as juglans ailanthifolia var, cordiformis for all of my scientific friends). It is named that because the nut that the tree produces is in the shape of a heart. I will plant it on the day that I bought this house, the house that Nic helped me to acquire. He was a real estate agent like none other. He offered his truck to move, his lawn mower to deal with the weeds in the back, and his insight about the house. I would trust no one else with such a big decision.

His memory will live on forever in the hearts of every person he touched and in the tree of love.

Another Lost Life

The sudden loss of a someone in my life has become a fairly familiar event. However, it haunts my heart every time anyway. There is no worse feeling than the sinking of the heart as the news of a friend/family member/loved one being no longer in his/her physical body. This seems to be even worse when the death was intentional. There leaves so many questions, thoughts, and wonderment.

“What would have caused them to do this?” Is usually the first question. This is the bargaining part of the grieving process. We look for a reason, an explanation, anything to make sense of the act to have made this occur. To hear of someone going to their favorite place on this earth and end their physical presence on this earth is just so terribly confusing. We remember things that they used to say like, “If I was any better, I’d kill myself.” We think about how a phrase like that is thrown around so carelessly and how it has so much more meaning now. We think about our last encounter with that person and whether he/she seemed “normal” (whatever that means). We cry and cry and cry because we will never have another bear hug from this person again or get another heavily accented phone message that only he can leave. We mourn the loss of a great spirit.

Unfortunately, I have mourned this type of loss on more than one occasion. As someone who suffers from mental illness, I can understand, in a way, what the person was thinking. Generally, it is that there is no other option or solution for whatever problem they are struggling with. There is also a sense that the world is better off without the extra suffering of this human being. Essentially, people with mental illness have a different truth than healthy people. Their truth insists that these statements are true and they feel very true at the time.

This loss has reinforced in me to cherish each and every person that has touched my life, whether it be positive or negative, brief or extended. We all die one day and it’s only the lives that we touch that remain after we are gone (I think I heard that somewhere). Life is so short and precious… we must hold it in our arms, rock it gently, and love it like a mother does her newborn child. We must love each and every single moment of every day. This is where my experiences with death has led me. I thank you, Nic, for reminding me. I will remember you forever. May you rest in piece, comrade.

Never Say Never. Don’t you forget anything?

Today I hung out with a friend who I had not seen since my “never”days. He reminded me of a time in my life when I said “I will never own a car!” I was so adamant about it and believed it to my core. However, here I am almost two years later with a car on my street and I am the sole owner of that hunk of metal.

I felt I had to justify it, both to him and myself. “Well, I have to for work because I need to drive all over the province!” Etc. Etc. We both knew what it was: I was trying to purge my sins… or whatever people who believe in sins do to relieve them of guilt. You’d think I was a recovering Catholic. Nope, I’m just a recovering Activist!

As I was driving home today from work, I was thinking about other things I would “never” do as a granolier-than-thou activist:
I will never own a cell phone.
I will never text!
I will never use a plastic bag.
I will never buy individually packaged foods, even if they ARE vegan!
I will never… umm… I think I’ve run out for now. I’m sure there are more and I will have to re-visit this post and update it. Keep watching!

And yes, I have done all of those things in the past 8 hours. Let this be a lesson to all of you… NEVER EVER say never!