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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

Amongst MaryBeth's many Christmas decorations in her lounge room.

CANADA - Niagara (Wk.2 of 5 weeks)
Week 30 of World Tour

White Christmas

“I can guarantee you’ll have a White Christmas here in Toronto”, Lorne wrote.

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 guarantee.

“Well,” 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 was White!

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 …

“I’m 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.

Friday, Dec 19
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.

“Do you have any long-johns”, Lorne asked.

“Yes”, I said. “When should I wear them?”, I asked.

“Always”, 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.

Saturday, Dec 20
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 Day.

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”.

Sunday, Dec 21
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.

Monday, Dec 22
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.

I’d gone 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!

Tuesday, Dec 23
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 MaryBeth was.

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.

LETSniagara uses 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 Niagara Dollars.

Wednesday, Dec 24
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!

“It’s 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.

“They must 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.

“We’ve made a couple of snow angels,” they said.

“What’s 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 at 4.00am.

I was treated like part of the Sheffield family on Christams Day.

Thursday, 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 at last.

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.

“Is this a conservation message?” I asked.

“No. That’s 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.

So I’ve 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?

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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