Contest winners help cope with COVID

The TEAM column, which can be found every week in The Western Producer’s Farm Living section, ran a contest this fall looking for reader thoughts on how to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The winners are Beverly Biggeman of Redcliff, Alta., and Tom Shoebottom of Englehart, Ont.

Betty Ann Deobald’s column in the Jan. 7 issue will talk about some of the entries that were received, but here are the complete entries of the winners as well as other stories that we wanted to share with you.

Coping with Christmas music – By Beverley Biggeman, Redcliff, Alta.

When others ask, “what do you do to cope with the stress of COVID and its consequences during the holiday season?” I respond with positive comments for the most part. I have had my ups and downs, but every once in a while, I need a little help.

By Nov. 15, I was ready to fire up the Sirius app in my car and save the Holiday Traditions channel in My Favourites. I love this time of year for all the Christmas music, old and new, and I never tire of it. When I drive to the “click and collect” to pick up groceries, or I run across town to pick up a few things in the stores, I sit in the car for a few moments longer just to de-stress by listening to Holiday Traditions.

The day after the second wave press announcement, I was feeling confused about the interpretation of the restrictions, so I got into the car, donned a mask and went to the grocery store to get icing sugar.

The most amazing song came on the radio that I had never heard, Bing Crosby singing I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For: “Eyes to see with, ears to hear with, arms to hug with, lips to kiss with, someone to adore.”

This song embodies everything I have been thinking about for the last few months. If I get thinking about what I can’t do, or the privileges I don’t have because of shutdowns, closures, restrictions or bylaws, I can now remind myself of the lyrics in this song. Bing says his “needs are small, I buy ’em all, at the five and 10 cent store.” Perfect.

Follow that song up with Rosemary Clooney’s Count Your Blessings. It helps me focus on the good things in my life. Even if I am not able to see them in person, my friends and family, we’ll get through all of this together.

“When you’re worried and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep.”

Some songs just make me feel good, even if they are not applicable.

I’ve never roasted chestnuts on an open fire (The Christmas Song), but doesn’t that sound absolutely scrumptious?

I’ve never decked the halls with real boughs of holly or gone “awassailing,” but these songs just make me feel good.

If I were given two turtle doves for Christmas this year, I would be tempted to try to raise them in the back yard.

The city streets may not bustle the same as other years at this time, but everyone’s making an effort. The neighbour across the street is still bringing us fresh bread every Sunday. How can that not make a person feel good?

Some of us may not be Home for Christmas; it may mean those who are vulnerable are safer because of it. Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas will be more poignant this year, and I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas still warms the heart, even if you live where it doesn’t snow at all.

We can still conjure up sleigh bells ringing, albeit the Lions Hay Ride is cancelled. We can drink hot chocolate and eat oatmeal raisin cookies in our driveway or on the deck instead of wandering the streets and going in and out of stores during Midnight Madness. A lot of our Christmas memories reside in our heads and hearts anyway.

As Emmy Lou Harris sings, “Can’t you hear them bells ringing, Christmas time’s a comin’. When I hear this song on the radio, I can’t help singing along.

It is Christmas time all over the world, in places near and far. How can you not love Sammy Davis’ rendition of this song?

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas day. I feel like dancing while I am singing along with Merle Haggard on this tune.

If listening to Christmas music for a month prior to Christmas is a female thing or a result of Big Marketing, so be it. It’s the thing that helps me deal with the feelings that bubble up at this time of year,

and especially those that have surfaced during this pandemic. I listen to it in my office, in the kitchen, and in the car. I can’t get enough of it this year.

So, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Coping with COVID – By Tom Shoebottom, Englehart, Ont.

I am writing to you about our story about living with the virus.

My wife and I have known each other for 40 years, but we have only lived together for the last 10 years. Our relationship has had its ups and downs but in December of 2019 we got married a week before Christmas. We moved and now live in northern Ontario since the spring of 2017, and about 500 miles from our relatives and old friends and neighbours.

In March the COVID hit and we were isolated for 15 weeks. My health wasn’t the best, having been diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer, so only my wife went to the grocery store, drug store and post office. This, I think, kept us safe.

Of course, we spent a lot of time together. We read, watched TV, talked and did things together. The chores of looking after the dogs, chickens, horses and me fell to her, and it kept her busy.

Not once did we fight or have cross words in all that time. I grew to love her so much more each day. It was a great feeling.

This was how we coped with COVID and it was good.

Encouragement for those who are shut in –  By Maureen Pocock, Lacombe, Alta.

Maureen Pocock of Lacombe, Alta., shared that she has always enjoyed writing and that she belongs to a writers group that met outdoors this summer.

When the regular Meals on Wheels program was forced to shut down to protect volunteers and recipients, this meant that for the recipients the short daily visit with a friendly delivery person would end.

The local Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) asked for cards and pictures to be sent out with the now weekly delivered Frozen Meals on Wheels, in hopes of adding a little extra cheer.

Maureen said she “hunted out some old stories and has been writing new ones to pass on to those who need a bright spot in their day. FCSS photocopies my stories and apparently gets positive comments sometimes. And I’m inspired to keep writing.”

This is one of Maureen’s stories:

This summer, Alberta folks are looking at vacationing close to home. COVID-19 has forced us to abandon our plans to travel abroad, and even travelling inter-provincially will be complicated with many of our favourite destinations limiting the numbers of visitors.

A day trip to a local park or an overnight stay at a campground will require a lot of planning. No last minute, hop in the car and stop when you feel like it trips this year.

That’s fine with me! I’m already here in my favourite Alberta place.

Whatever the season, all I need to do is look out my kitchen window or step out my back door, and beauty and wildlife are mine to enjoy.

Whatever the season, all I need to do is look out my kitchen window or step out my back door, and beauty and wildlife are mine to enjoy. | Maureen Pocock phboto

In summer I wake to a chorus of birdsong. Robins and chickadees, finches and nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays perch in the trees surrounding our farm home. They sing and chatter as they wait for their turn at the feeder, just a few feet and a pane of glass from my breakfast table. I slice an orange in half and hang it from the branch of the red elder. Very soon a brilliant oriole and his wife come to investigate. They sip the juice and clear out the pulp, leaving a hollow orange shell before they return to their nest in the high branches of the poplars to sing their liquid melody.

During the summer our yard is a private place, surrounded by mature spruce, aspen and balsam poplar. As the leaves turn golden and begin to fall, it opens up and we see deer, moose, coyotes, and the odd red fox. Geese and ducks feed on the leftovers from harvest, making plans for their long journey south.

One day we wake to bare trees, dry cornstalks and sunflower heads wearing frosty toques. A flock of waxwings moves in and makes quick work of the red berries on the mountain ash. Our year-round friends, the chickadees and blue jays, are joined by pine siskins and redpolls. We fill the feeder with canola seed and they entertain us on even the coldest winter days. A young moose noses around the compost bin and then wanders off to nibble willow branches. The deer become more bold, coming close to feed on the hay bales stacked beside the corrals.

With spring, the feeders are busy again with birds, some just passing through, and some, like the mountain bluebirds, looking shocked as the weather flip-flops back and forth between winter and spring. Finally, as the dandelions start to bloom, the goldfinches appear to set up housekeeping in the spruce trees, and summer is here again.

With spring, the feeders are busy again with birds, some just passing through, and some, like the mountain bluebirds, looking shocked as the weather flip-flops back and forth between winter and spring. | Maureen Pocock photo

Truly, Alberta’s beauty is right here in my own backyard.

I hope you enjoy my stories, and this year I hope you find your own special Alberta place.

Coping with COVID – By Karen Williams, Outlook, Sask.

It was the New Year 2020 and my planner flagged the month of February to complete a seed order for my spring garden. Online the message read, “in order to ensure the food security of the coming season, we are focusing our limited resources on commercial vegetable grower orders already in our system.”

Then our media was posting government updates about the virus. Fear was in every nation. Stay in your bubble, was the message loud and clear.

I was newly retired and my retirement plan did not include a pandemic. Age 65 volunteers were labelled as high risk and therefore my social events where all cancelled. Shopping trips were only for essentials. Food shortages gave way to empty shelves and the Saskatchewan government placed a 30-day drug limit on prescriptions.

Our local greenhouse opened and some of my online seed order arrived the middle of May. Now I could plant my garden. I spent every day in my small backyard garden. I was so thankful to have a place to go. Come harvest, I was able to can every jar I owned.

Still living in the bubble, I began distressing. “What day is it? What week is it?” Even the TV commercials ran ads using this disconnect in their sales.

Then one Friday night an Outlook resident shared a post on Facebook. Brandon Lorenzo, a Canadian country recording artist from Airdie, Alta., gifted his Facebook fans Friday Night Live performances. I was so happy to hear the ping on my phone to remind me it was show time. Yahoo! What an escape from COVID. Thank you, Brandon Lorenzo, winner of the People’s Choice Award, David Lasebnik, guitar player, and Mark Lasebnik ,sound. Now I at least knew it was Friday.

The summer ended and school was starting. The children had been home for six months.

My days where uneventful in our bubble, but the nights were spectacular. Large fireballs fall to start the New Year. Elon Musk’s 60 satellites launched and could be seen in our dark sky. The moon, Venus, Mars, and the very close comet Neowise. I was the dark sky passenger when my daughter captured Neowise with her camera lens.

You all should check out Vallee Views on Facebook (Nov. 22 post) to see Neowise and the grain bins on Highway 15. The comet was a great distraction.

Central-west COVID cases are on the rise in Saskatchewan this week of Nov. 23, 2020. Still in my bubble. Stay safe.

A COVID poem – By Jo-Ann Kennedy, Yorkton, Sask.

Kennedy also entered this poem in Yorkton’s Story Slam.

Wod, sweat and tears

Down the pandemic path, just months ago,

We were so suddenly forced to travel

And each of us experienced unforeseeable changes

Watching the course of our lives unravel.

Retired and living amongst acres of wilderness,

This natural isolation left me quite blessed.

I didn’t deal with the more common struggles

That left so many others harried and stressed.

I could walk miles of trails with my husband and dog

To fight the boredom of being stuck inside

Yet still I craved a high intensity workout

To deal with demons that wouldn’t subside:

Distress, negativity, anxiety, despair,

Uncertainty in this pandemic ordeal.

Like others I faced these monsters

Always lurking; my Achilles’ heel.

And so when the corona chaos led to shutdown

A home fitness routine became crucial;

And to ward off the mental health angst,

I became a CrossFit online pupil.

The bunkhouse transitioned to a gym space

To perform each WOD, or workout of the day,

And I collected whatever equipment I could:

Mats, weights, rings, a box; all quite a motley array.

My coach assigned three WODs a week,

All different, not one ever to repeat

And while I prefer to embrace the comfort of routine,

Each WOD presented a new challenge to beat.

Push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges and lifts

The combinations and rep numbers quite daunting.

Could my body actually get through these?

Soon, in my dreams, WODs started haunting.

I’d lie if I claimed to be fearless

Before I began each WOD

But when the timer began I’d dig in

Sometimes with a plea for help from God.

Upon completion I’d often collapse

In a sorry human heap on the floor

Dripping with sweat, gasping for breath,

Could my body have endured anymore?

But along with this state of exertion

Came the thrill of completing a goal

And a post WOD euphoria would overtake

A power thrumming through body and soul.

Those demons, the naysayers with voices strong,

Striving to creep into my thoughts day and night

Disappeared with my joy, my achievement

After a workout they were easier to fight.

In April, doing box jumps, I suffered a fall

Through a deep gash, my shin bone gaped white.

One legged, on crutches, with stitches in place

My normal routines changed outright.

No more fresh air walks, no more bunkhouse visits

The days found me mostly confined to a chair,

Watching the COVID crisis on TV,

All this brought on a mood of despair.

Oh those first days I felt I was losing

The struggle to fight arising depression,

Until the pain and swelling subsided somewhat

And I began to attempt some WOD sessions.

Up to the loft I’d crutch and I’d crawl

To pump weights and work up a sweat

These adapted WODs proved as tough as any

And I regained a bolstered mindset.

The injury drove home a valuable lesson

How quickly negative nasties appear

And the most effective way for me to battle their stealth

Is to perspire in my workout gear.

My leg healed and all summer I continued the WODs

Increasing my power, strength and speed.

I trained with the goal to run my fastest 5K

Though incredibly tough, I felt thrilled to succeed.

Eight burpees, five dead lifts, 10 kettle bell swings

No stopping, repeat again, again and again.

Continue until the buzz of the 10 minute timer

Somehow in this chaos … I find my zen.

The COVID pandemic is far from over

As a second wave and winter both approach;

But I feel prepared as I wield my deadly WOD weapon

Sent to me online by my CrossFit coach.

How COVID affected my life in 2020 – By Naden Hewko, Macklin, Sask.

I was so looking forward to 2020. There were special family events coming up that I planned to attend.

Two of our granddaughters were graduating from grade 12, one in Neilburg, Sask., and the other in Peace River, Alta. Then to top it off, I was invited to the wedding of our grandson in Ontario. This was to be our annual family reunion, so flight bookings were made well in advance of the August date.

But the appearance of COVID-19 put an abrupt end to all these plans. Everything was cancelled.

Ann’s class at Neilburg did have a unique graduation ceremony. All the students drove a vehicle separately around the towns of Neilburg and Marsden where students came from. The parade was led by the fire trucks and ended by the police cars. Family and friends sat in their vehicles or stood along the streets as the students drove by. Then we were directed to a spot near Manitou Lake where a huge screen was set up. We watched a virtual ceremony, beginning with the guest speakers on screen. This was followed by photos of each student and a few words from them on screen. The program concluded with our driving to a nearby location to watch fabulous fireworks.

I was not able to fly to Peace River as planned so am not sure how that school celebrated their graduation.

The grand wedding-family get together was cancelled, but the young couple did not want to cancel their wedding or postpone it, so arrangements were made for their marriage to take place on July 1 in the bride’s family church. Just the parents of both of them and their siblings were able to attend the ceremony, a total of 12 persons. Fortunately, they put the event on Zoom so the extended family and friends of the couple could see it. And that certainly was better than nothing. I received an album of photos later.

Having a yard and garden was a great coping mechanism. I would go out and work in my little garden, so not having a great social life was forgotten for a while.

I am a bit worried about winter as I cannot walk in the cold and snow. Last March when everything stopped I just ordered groceries from our local Co-op and they delivered. Now I do go pick up my own groceries but watch the rules. I can still drive, so hope for a nice winter so I can make it to the store.

What was extremely difficult was that our church services were closed until recently, and our senior events, like potluck suppers, were cancelled. I learned how to access church services online on my computer and iPad. I discovered there are many spiritual speakers available in that manner.

For a social connection to my friends, I phone or email, which helped a lot. At home I tried new recipes as I had more time in the kitchen.

Being an avid reader, I really had no spare time but so missed seeing my friends as I am a people person.

I think it is more difficult for some than for others. Two of my sons who live in nearby towns do drop by to check how I am doing, while farther away family members phone often.

I have a small bubble of friends that occasionally visit one another, but we do not have large gatherings.

My journey of coping with COVID-19 – By Donna Okkema, Vermilion, Alta.

As I think back on this past year, it occurs to me that most of the folks that read this paper are rural people.

For a large number of us, the spring and COVID came straight on the heels of a very difficult and disappointing fall of 2019. We received fall rain and early snow, and though a superhuman effort was made, we only harvested 40 acres and burned off many combine belts and bent up the header on the combine in the attempt. It was just too wet. We had to give up and wait.

This scenario had never ever happened to us before and was a very defeating feeling. Thousands of dollars sitting out under snow banks. What could possibly be worse than that? Many input dollars spent and no grain to sell. I remember a quote I believe came from Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut — something along the lines of, “there is never ever anything so bad that it couldn’t be made worse.” Enter COVID-19.

I planted a garden and tended it every second I wasn’t busy doing something else. When I was in my garden, “COVID DID NOT EXIST!” – Donna Okkema, Vermilion, Alta. | Donna Okkema photo

As farmers, living out in the country, we already understand isolation and working long, variable hours without days off. We understand making do, doing without and making the best of a situation. We understand sacrifice, responsibility and sticking with a task, no matter what and finishing what we started.

We knew we were in for a difficult spring with so much to accomplish. Calving would start and we would have to be combining, baling, hauling bales and clearing fields while getting the seeding equipment ready and getting the seeding done.

Then the engine blew up in the grain truck and we had to remove it, take one out of a donor truck we had, and put that one back in.

The fields were wet when we started combining and we got stuck repeatedly with the combine. It just seemed to be an insurmountable mountain to climb.

Early mornings, late nights. Long days. An impossibly cold April with way more snow than was normal and -20 weather. Checking for baby calves night and day. Feeding. Chores. Exhaustion. My husband never laid his head on his pillow for days on end. We generally calve April-May to avoid this type of weather. What else could possibly go wrong?

Try getting supplies and doing business when things are closed or on reduced hours due to COVID. Can’t pop into a neighbours or even Tim Horton’s for a coffee. Or even just pop to town once in a while for a break and change of scenery with a meal out. It was all closed. Strange, strange, frustrating times. How did we survive, cope and stay sane? Well, just put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Change your thoughts, and you change your world.”

– Norman Vincent Peale

We knew we had to do it all, had to buckle down, and just do what had to be done. We were not starving, we still had a job, and as long as we kept at it, it would get done, and things would get better. Be positive, take each little victory to heart and decide what was next on the list. And just do it!

There is no magic to it. Humans are resilient and have survived this long because we can adapt. We now have ways to stay in touch that were unheard of when I was a girl. Facebook, texting, email, Skype. Everybody, everywhere available all the time. We never need to feel alone or lonely. Just reach out to somebody.

I have an 82-year-old email friend from Regina who I met through serendipity, and we write back and forth to each other, pouring out our feelings and activities for the day. One can never, ever underestimate how much it means to just “get something off our back.”

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about,”

– Charles Kingsley

On top of all this, I took on a project — “something to be enthusiastic about!”

I love plants, nature and gardening, so I started a new garden. I turned a spot that had been full of a row of seven dead mayday trees (death by black knot), and turned it into a lovely little garden spot with a large, raised planter. I planted salad greens in it at the end of April and covered it with a tent of plastic and had green onions, radish, lettuce and baby carrots very early. I planted a garden and tended it every second I wasn’t busy doing something else. When I was in my garden, “COVID DID NOT EXIST!”

I turned a spot that had been full of a row of seven dead mayday trees (death by black knot), and turned it into a lovely little garden spot with a large, raised planter. | Donna Okkema photo

“The miracle is this: the more we share, the more we have.”

– Leonard Niamey

I shared lettuce and later on beans, zucchini, squash, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. Bouquets of sweet peas and flowers.

I understand that many people took on gardening this spring. Seeds were hard to find and greenhouses emptied quickly as people took to their backyards to get out of the house.

I totally understand it. It is relaxing and rewarding and soothes the soul. On a daily basis there is growth, change and always something to look forward to. The day you go out and those first big plump strawberries are ready is a good one. Or the taste of the first picking of veggies or new potatoes. That first beautiful morning glory flower greeting you.

There is always something better than feeling sorry for ourselves and the situation. Look for small ways to have a positive experience. A meal of fresh produce you produce yourself is a feeling of accomplishment that anybody can have, no matter how small the garden. Even a tumbler tomato plant on the deck can produce a huge bounty.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

– Albert Einstein

I have always cut out and saved quotes, and anybody who has been to my house and seen them clipped on the fridge, literally covering the whole surface, can attest to that. Sometimes we just need a little reminder of wisdom that can make us think and improve our outlook.

I hope that sharing them and giving my perspective will give somebody else the enthusiasm to try something new and just avoid thinking about COVID and how it has changed our lives.

We have to hang in there. It will be in the past some day, and things will get better and it will be a dim memory. The time is going to go by anyway, so we might as well stay sane in the meantime. This too shall pass!


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