Stranger things.

My mother always told me never to accept rides from strangers.

This, in general, seems like sound advice.

Until it’s 8am on a Monday and you’ve been standing for an hour and a half out in the snow that forecasters swore up and down was going to melt overnight, waiting with zero success for a bus, ANY bus, that maybe perhaps might have the most remotely conceivable potential of getting you to a Skytrain station so you can make it in to work.

That’s when your priorities start to shift…when your fingers and toes are starting to scream at you in the early stages of frostbite despite several layers of woolens, and you can’t move around to get your circulation going because if you step even one inch out of the lineup at the bus stop, your place will be immediately assimilated like the Blob taking over a small Pennsylvania town…when the lady behind you with the complete lack of regard for your personal space keeps periodically deciding to shift closer and jostle you yet again because she spotted a few spare atoms’ worth of room she thought she could squeeze into…when the heavenly aromas of people passing by with sugary seasonal lattes and greasy McDonald’s breakfast items encourage your stomach to do its most convincing Chewbacca impression for the restless throng…

Suddenly, the idea of being stuffed into an axe murderer’s trunk doesn’t sound half bad. Gotta be warmer than the street corner, right?

So when a random woman pulls over in a large SUV, rolls down the window and calls out, “Anybody need a ride to Cambie?” you say, “Yes please!” and you and the four other strangers who responded in kind swarm into her vehicle like ravenous locusts before she has a chance to reconsider.

And because you have all the luck, she turns out to be a thoughtful saint of a person who drives skillfully and safely, is pleasant and easy to make small talk with, and doesn’t bring out a chainsaw to lop off all your heads at the first red light.

It’s a Festivus miracle!

Seriously though, to my mystery chauffeur – and all the other kind souls before her who stopped and offered lifts to various places to our sorry stranded crowd – my sincerest gratitude. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t a million times over rather be at home in my pajamas sipping hot chocolate than sitting here making awkward eye contact with a big dying poinsettia in our drab little beige office, but okay yeah, showing up to work and getting paid like a responsible adult has its merits too, I guess, and I have nobody but you to thank for making that possible today and reminding me that awesome people do still exist.

I will pay it forward. Promise.

Anyway, enough of this gooey sh…show of emotion. Back to our regularly scheduled sarcasm.

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Walking in a winter wonderland.

Fact: I am still just as excited to wake up and see snow outside my window as I was when I was an itty bitty kidlet.

Only now I have a better camera than when I was an itty bitty kidlet, so it’s possible that these days I’m even more excited.

I left my car at home today. The only thing worse than trying to get up our steep driveway in the snow is trying to get back down it.

Instead I took about fifteen “me” minutes to just walk around in the white stuff and be enveloped by the stillness that came with it as it wafted softly down. I photographed the silent streets and breathed deep breaths of fresh, crisp air until my heart was as light and carefree as a helium balloon.

Then I reluctantly acknowledged the reality that it was Monday and I had places to be.

I joined a line of some two dozen texting and muttering people waiting anxiously for a bus. Approximately three minutes later, we got the word from a kindly couple in a truck that there were five buses stuck down at the bottom of the hill and not to get our hopes up that they’d be heading our way any time soon. At that, about three quarters of the line dispersed. Out of some misguided sense of duty, I decided to wait another ten minutes before giving up.

Exactly ten minutes later, the bus arrived.

Figures.

Two transfers later I was on a community shuttle, seated directly in front of a bunch of college kids who were just not having it.

“Who was it that told me it never snows in Richmond? Who? Was it you, man?”
“Nope, not me dude. I said it was gonna snow Sunday, remember?”
“Some motherfucker told me it doesn’t snow in Richmond. When I remember who it was, I’m gonna punch him in the face.”
“Heh. I kinda hope, like, class is cancelled, but at the same time I kinda hope it isn’t because I came all this way.”
“Seriously man, I know someone told me it never snows in Richmond. When I remember who, I’m gonna kick his ass. Punch him right in the face. This is bullshit.”
“You should, like, drive over to his place and block his car in. Be all, ‘How do you like it?'”
“And then I’ll pack his exhaust with snow. Freeze his carburetor.”
*laughter*

They got off the shuttle at the first stop, still churning out increasingly outlandish threats to the mystery misinformer. I had to stifle a smile as they passed by.

The silence closed back in around us when they had gone.

We drove onward.

I arrived at work an hour and twenty minutes late. The snow is still falling softly outside the window.

I am happy.

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Ghosts of Christmases past.

And so December 1st is upon us.

The craft and decor stores have been stocked with red, green and glitter since before Hallowe’en. Santa began making an unprecedentedly early commute to the local malls midway through November. The speakers in the main lobby have been encouraging me to have a Holly Jolly Christmas for over a week and a half.

Now that it’s December, I am no longer obligated to hate them.

Now that it’s December, “humbug” can go back to being a delicious candy instead of a dismissive statement. I can quit frowning at the giant red bows and garlands in shop windows. And Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say.

Now that it’s December, when Nostalgia comes knocking at my door, there will be a wreath on it.

And Nostalgia and I will sit in front of the crackling fireplace channel on TV with our cups of hot cocoa, and remember.


Remember the first Christmas we had our dalmatian Penny, who my mother immortalized in a spectacular oeuvre of digital art as you may recall, and who ran outside into that first winter’s cold with zero understanding of what ice was or how it would cause her to reenact Bambi in our backyard.

Complete with facial expressions.


Remember the year I woke up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and saw a glowing red light in the neighbor’s garden, which I would later insist to my mother was Rudolph’s nose.

String of red lights?   OMG RUDOLPH CLONES


Remember the first winter after my best friend Katie moved in just across the street and I finally had someone other than my parents or the dogs to play with in the snow.

That was the year our city, which doesn’t really “do” winter – at least, not in comparison to the rest of Canada – got a record five feet of snow over four days.

I was in heaven.

Especially since Katie’s backyard had two things I envied above all others: a hot tub, and a trampoline. Needless to say, we spent that winter doing completely sensible things like jumping out of the hot tub, rolling our bikini-clad selves around in the snow and then jumping back into the hot water, giggling uncontrollably, our skin as red and glowing as a couple of hyperactive lobsters. Or suiting up in our snow pants and puffy jackets, brushing the thin crust of ice off the trampoline, and double-bouncing each other off it into snowdrifts.

We drank endless mugs of hot chocolate, always adding in a handful of snow to cool each mug before we began sipping. It was only frozen water, but we swore it made the chocolate taste richer. It was a magic of our own making. We never questioned it.

That was also the year that the Nintendo 64 came out, and Katie got it for Christmas. When we weren’t out taunting the hypothermia gods or committing snowflake murder with our hot chocolate, we were glued to the TV, our slender fingers wrapped around those ridiculously designed controllers, pitting Mario against obese penguins or crashing spectacularly in Wave Race.

Dear Nintendo, I’m not sure you understand how hands work.

I can’t remember a happier winter. Young and free enough to spend all day in pursuit of fun, old enough to understand what a gift that was. That was the last year I can remember before depression began to take hold in my life. The last Christmas I didn’t have to try.


I live in an apartment now, with a husband and no dogs. There’s no hot tub and certainly no trampoline, no plush staircase to run down on Christmas morning, and I play my carols on an electronic keyboard instead of my parents’ shiny black baby grand. We have three Christmases instead of one, the gifts are almost never a surprise, and I can’t overindulge like I used to without severe penance at the gym in the following days.

I know I have a lot to be grateful for. Winter, with its stark beauty, remains my favorite season. But with each passing year, the holidays feel more like a chore. Which day do we spend with whom? What do we bring? How much should we spend? How many days can I afford to take off work?

As a child, Christmas is a picture postcard of a snowy street filled with scarves and sleds and glowing faces. As an adult, it’s a legal document with some holly stapled to the corner that scratches you every time you turn the page. The Noël Terms of Service.

I do my best to cope. I seek out those all-important little things to keep myself from cracking. But that girl I remember, that home, that naive joy, they’re lost, and I know it.

They are lost, but I am thankful for their memory.

And that I keep my game consoles in good working order.