“I can guarantee
you’ll have a White Christmas here in Toronto”, Lorne
This was music
to my ears because, being an Australian, I had always battled with
hot temperatures on Christmas Day, and I thought this would probably
be my only opportunity to experience a White Christmas. But when I
shared Lorne’s confidence with a friend of mine, I was told
that Toronto was too far south for such a confident prediction. So
I sent a concerned email to Lorne asking why he could make such a
he wrote, “if it doesn’t look like snow in Toronto, then
you can spend Christmas at my place.”
This cryptic answer
had me a little confused until I finally realized … his surname
As you can imagine,
I wasn’t too pleased. And I was soon thinking that maybe I should
be planning a side trip to Moscow or Iceland for this special day.
So my reply was very specific …
not looking for a Lorne White Christmas, I’m looking forward
to a Snow White Christmas”, and I signed off, “Grumpy”.
But as the date
got closer and I shared this story with just about everyone I talked
to, I realized that I had a great story to share, no matter where
I spent Christmas Day, and whether it snowed or not.
Lorne was ‘”counting
on” my arrival to Toronto on Thursday, December 18, so I would
catch all the pre-Christmas celebrations. And even though my family
and friends were literally on the opposite side of the world, Lorne
(from Port Colborne, on the banks of Lake Erie) and my hosts, John
and MaryBeth Sheffield (from Welland), made me feel reassured that
I was still amongst family … my LETS family. In fact, I can’t
remember going to so many Christmas events, and singing so many Christmas
carols, in all my life!
So I was definitely
going to have a White Christmas. It was just a question of which type
I was going to have. So let me share with you my observations as we
approached one of the most anticipated events on my 400 Day LETS Odyssey.
After staying up for 27 hours yesterday, I finally got 7 hours sleep,
waking up at 8.00am. I immediately looked outside my window, and for
the first time got a daylight view of a snow-covered neighbourhood.
I wish it’ll be like this on Christmas Day, I thought.
have any long-johns”, Lorne asked.
I said. “When should I wear them?”, I asked.
was the quick reply.
And as soon as
I stepped outside I understood why. It was –1 degrees outside,
but the wind chill factor brought that down to –8. I had several
layers of clothes on including a long black coat, a scarf and warm
gloves. And even though my body was warm, I was definitely missing
a warm hat!
My first Christmas
concert took place at St. Charles Village, the retirement home where
John worked as a maintenance manager. The Honour Lite Singers (about
2 dozen of them) sang lots of popular Christmas songs and entertained
their audience with lots of amusing personal recollections from the
50’s, when many of them were in their teens.
As we stepped
outside, Lorne began to show me the canals and share some of the city’s
history with me. But as he spoke he noticed me walking towards a snow-covered
park bench. And as I ran my fingers through the snow covering it,
I turned to Lorne and said, “It’s so light!”
Well, this just
stopped Lorne in his tracks. While it snows in every Canadian city,
it never snows in any Australian city, so my childish observation
emphasized just how fascinated I was with something which he’d
grown up with and taken so much for granted. It was also fascinating
to see long icicles (up to 12 inches or 30 cms) hanging from the mouths
of down pipes.
Our next visit
was to a French speaking school, Ecole Secondaire Confederatione (Confederation
Secondary School). This was the school where Alberto, Lorne’s
son, had attended recently. French is Canada’s second official
language, with all products having both English and French labels
on them. And Lorne’s objective at the school was to try to arrange
a couple of events for me. Firstly, a LETS presentation to the students
so they may want to start a School LETS program. And secondly, a performance
of my play, The Glory Of Athens, for the senior students (ages 16-18).
The principal and teachers approached seemed interested in both events,
but as this was the last day of school before the Christmas break,
we’d have to wait until January 5 before anything definite could
be arranged. In the meantime, they wanted to see a copy of my play
(which was emailed to them soon afterwards).
Our next visit
was to the Oak Centre, a community support group. They were very keen
on hearing my LETS presentation, so 2 events were organized. I would
come and join them for lunch next Tuesday (Dec 23) and then give them
a short 30 minute talk about my Travel Adventures. This would also
be a prelude to my normal LETS presentation which I would give at
4.00pm on the following Tuesday (Dec 30).
That night I enjoyed
a traditional Italian dinner at Lorne’s home with his family.
And when we got outside to drive me back to my host’s home,
I was treated to a freshly snow-covered landscape. Lorne’s snow-covered
van was especially interesting, so I took a photo of it with Lorne
posing happily in the foreground.
I was up by 6.30am, and continued my habit of looking out the window.
The snow was still there. I hoped it would hang around until Christmas
I was intrigued
how the snow seemed to ‘stick’ to everything except for
the roads. Well, it works like this. Street cleaning machines spread
salt on the roads so it lowers the freezing point of snow from 0 degrees
to –10 degrees. Whereas this is very important for safe driving,
it is anathema for cars because it causes them to rust very quickly.
And when the temperature gets lower than that, or there’s a
heavier snowfall, then they bring in the snow ploughs which push the
snow into massive piles at the side of the road. These piles are so
large that they tend to survive for many days after the rest of the
snow has melted from everywhere else.
That night John
brought the Christmas Tree inside. This wasn’t the usual plastic
and metal variety which is so common in Australia. This was the real
McCoy. And it was so large that it had to be squeezed through the
front door, and almost touched the ceiling once it was placed in its
spot, in the far corner of the lounge room.
John said, “I
used to think that I was being a conservationist by not using live
trees for Christmas. But then I realized that these trees were being
farmed throughout the year so we could use them at Christmas time,
and if nobody bought them, then they wouldn’t be grown. And
we wouldn’t get the benefit of all that oxygen over the years.
So now I know I’m being kinder to the environment by using live
trees for Christmas”.
While my family in the southern hemisphere was experiencing the longest
day of the year, I was going through the shortest day in the northern
hemisphere. (please check the P.S.)
This was the last
Sunday before Christmas, so Lorne was going to pick me up at 8.30am.
He hadn’t arrived by 8.35am, so I put my shoes on, got dressed
and waited outside so I wouldn’t keep him waiting after he arrived.
Walking down the driveway was quite a challenge because I kept slipping
on the icy snow. And even the water puddles had frozen up. Gee, it
was cold. But the squirrels didn’t seem to mind as they scurried
around collecting nuts (no kidding, they really do!).
Lorne is Presbytarian,
but his wife, Toni, is Catholic, so they attend different churches.
But they always go together as a family and they always participate
in each other’s celebrations. Afterwards, as we had coffee and
cakes. I was introduced to the minister and his wife, who showed a
special interest in my travels.
The first church
service was at St. John Bosco Catholic Church and I noticed that the
congregation were very orderly, taking communion one row at a time.
Then we went to the First Presbytarian Church where Lorne sang in
the church choir. And later that night I was treated to a real Christmas
spectacle … a Christmas Cantata. All of Lorne’s family
participated. Lorne and Toni sang in the choir. Alberto played the
part of a shepherd in the play, and Victoria, Lorne’s daughter,
read some of the scriptures in between Christmas carols. Again we
shared a coffee and snacks afterwards. It was a great way to meet
the locals. And Lorne was the ideal host, always making me feel welcomed
by introducing me to everyone we met.
On the way back,
Welland was aglow with Christmas-lit houses. Each year there’s
a competition to see which house has the best Christmas decorations,
and about half the houses get into the Christmas spirit with elaborate
Christmas decorations. White, yellow and red lights adorn the exteriors
while reindeer, snowmen and Santas are also featured, quite often
quite as elaborately adorned with fairy-lights.
Oh dear! I was up at 7.30am and all the snow had melted! And the news
report was predicting warmer weather for Christmas Day. Spending Christmas
with Lorne was looking like a very likely outcome.
I was interviewed
by Joop, from the Tribune Newspaper that afternoon, and later that
night I was interviewed for the Niagara Falls Review. But that was
a little different.
to St. Catherines to attend a Cookie Exchange event put on by NCIL
LETS (a PigLETS of LETSniagara). This is a small LETS group for adults
with disabilities. And although Irene Ploszczansky-Kis is confined
to a wheel-chair and has great difficulty speaking, she is an author
and respected writer for the Niagara Falls Review. All my questions
were written on a sheet of paper, and I was asked to write my responses
down after verbalizing them to her first. She’s a very inspiring
person, seeing her persist through unimaginable difficulties.
One of Canada’s
special Christmas treats is egg nog. They sell it in 1 litre cartons
and drink it straight or mixed with coffee And they can’t get
enough of it during the festive season. But MaryBeth caught my attention
when she poured half a glass of egg nog into her coke! Needless to
say, I tried it out later on. The taste? Somewhat resembling a cuppachino!
I was up at 6.00am and still no snow! But the forecast was a little
more encouraging. Snow was now being predicted for tomorrow night
and continuing through to Christmas Day. Yey!
My Travel Adventure
talk was well received by my audience at the Oak Centre. It was different
to my normal LETS presentation, but when I was preparing for my speech,
I was surprised that I’d built up such a large amount of experiences
to draw upon. I’m sure I’ll appreciate the extent of my
experiences more and more in my future years.
My hosts in
Welland, the Sheffield family.
MaryBeth had a
meeting to attend with a tenants group. She’s a legal adviser
for the city council and is extremely good at her job. But it was
even more than that. She really cares about the welfare of underprivileged
people. This is the moment I truly understood what a special lady
On my return,
I got into the Christmas spirit and started helping out with the Christmas
preparations. First of all I helped decorate the Christmas tree, and
being a neutral person in the house, I was asked to wrap Christmas
presents for John’s daughters, Breanne (18), Amber (16) and
Kelly (13), so they wouldn’t know what each one was getting.
a community currency called Niagara Dollars, and Lorne would always
say, “It’s like Canadian Tire money”. And it wasn’t
until that night that I understood what he really meant. Canadian
Tire has been in business for decades and has developed into a number
of huge department stores where you can buy almost anything, and not
just tires. But one of their secrets to their success has been their
Canadian Tire Money (CTM). Each purchase gives the customer a percentage
in CTM which they can spend on a future visit. And some people collect
these notes for many years. I was surprised to see a check-out girl
counting stacks of CTM for a customer. This seemed to be a serious
business! MaryBeth saw my surprise and made my day by giving me a
sample of several notes valued at 5c, 10c, 25c, 50c and $1. This is
the sense of excitement LETS Niagara is trying to build with it’s
I spoiled myself today by placing my play, The Glory Of Athens, on
my web site www.JamesTaris.com.
After dinner at
Lorne’s we went to the First Presbytarian Church for their Christmas
Eve service. And God must’ve heard my prayers because as I opened
the door to leave afterwards, it began to snow!
wet snow”, someone said, and I noticed the snow melting as soon
as it touched the road.
Back at Lorne’s,
Alberto finally found a pair of boots for me. Luckily he’s got
big feet like me, so I won’t have to worry about damaging my
shoes if I ever get a chance to walk in the thick wet snow.
We then visited
Lorne’s aunt. And while we were there, I noticed a rare phenomenon.
As I looked out the lounge room window, the snowflakes began to look
bigger and bigger. And when I went right up to the window, I saw that
it was now beginning to cover the grass and the cars with a lasting
layer of snow.
Wow! Those are
massive snowflakes. They must be clusters of snowflakes,” I
said, sharing my amazement with everyone in the room.
be about 2 inches (4 cms) wide,” I said. “They’re
about the size of potato crisps”, I added.
And the snow continued
like that on our way to the All Peoples Uniting Church, where I would
meet the Sheffields for midnight mass. The pastor was very happy to
see me there and made sure I signed the guest book. She even made
a special announcement after the service to let people know I’d
come all the way from Australia to be with them.
It had stopped
snowing by the time the church service ended. But the snow cover was
thick on everything, and it would certainly stay that way. Kelly and
Chonie came running inside.
made a couple of snow angels,” they said.
that?” I asked.
So they showed
me. They’d gone out onto the snow-covered grass in front of
the church, layed down in it with their legs together and their arms
stretched out like a cross. Then by swinging their arms up and down
along the snow they left a wing-like impression in the snow, while
they moved their legs from side-to-side leaving another impression
in the snow which looked like an angel's gown. And their backs weren’t
wet! So the snow was ‘dry’ at last. It was the first hour
of Christmas Day and it couldn’t be much whiter than that. I
smiled. Another dream fulfilled.
Once we got back
to the Sheffields home there were more presents to wrap! In fact,
once we’d finished, there were so many Christmas presents that
they couldn’t fit under the Christmas Tree, but sort of got
stacked around it like a fortress wall! Eventually I got to sleep
I was treated
like part of the Sheffield family on Christams Day.
Dec 25 (CHRISTMAS DAY)
I didn’t wake up until 9.15am. And when I glanced out the window
I was pleased to see a snowy white view everywhere. I couldn’t
resist taking a photo, and felt an instant sense of relief. The White
Christmas event had now been realized and recorded. I could relax
The radio kept
belting out its Christmas songs. This station had started playing
Christmas songs, and nothing but Christmas songs, since December 1.
And it was great!
Just before Christmas
lunch, the kids started opening their presents. And I was surprised
to get a couple of presents too. One of them was a black T-shirt with
a bold yellow, white and red motif saying, I’VE GOT A CANADIAN
ATTITUDE, on the front. And I got a scarf as well. It was blue and
white and had TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS written all over it.
a conservation message?” I asked.
the best hockey team on the planet,” John said. “We’ve
had 15 wins in a row and we’re playing again tomorrow night”.
So, seeing I’ve
got the scarf, I guess now I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs supporter
too. Gotta make sure I don’t miss the game!
P.S. Do you remember doing those science experiments in High School
where the teacher would tell you that because of the magnetic poles,
when water goes down the sink in the southern hemisphere it’s
actually opposite to the direction in the northern atmosphere. But
I could never remember which was which. And it’s hard to confirm
the difference when you’re on the either side of the world.
just been to the bathroom (in Canada, the northern hemisphere) and
the water went down the sink in a CLOCKWISE direction. If you’re
in the southern hemisphere, can you please conduct the same experiment
and get back to me? I’m hoping that your results will confirm
what my science teacher assured me was true. Is it COUNTER-CLOCKWISE?
article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey
Taris web sites