Tag Archives: Winter

Why I’m Starting My Light Therapy Sessions Earlier This Year

A hand reaching up to touch a bright lightbulbI am not a doctor, and this post is not intended to be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare provider to see if light therapy lamps are right for you.

Last winter I talked about how much light therapy helps me with my winter blues.

When I stopped using it during our sunniest months here in Ontario, I wondered when I should start up again but decided to defer that decision until autumn.

This spring and summer were filled with the glorious light that lifts my mood every year. Like life for almost everyone else on Earth, they were also filled with the cancellation of many long-anticipated events thanks to Covid-19.

I smiled and made the best of the outdoor, physically-distanced activities that were still safe to do, but with autumn coming up I wondered how my mental health would fare once it was cold and dark here once again.

This isn’t meant to sound like a complaint, by the way. Cancelling all of those festivals, parades, and events was absolutely the right thing to do from a public health perspective. I’m also grateful for my good physical health, safe home, and all of the other advantages I have that so many others do not.

And yet there is also something sad about missing out on almost everything you love about spring and summer only to begin the plunge into another long, dark cold season. This became even more true as I read about the cancellation of Halloween on Church and our mayor discussing the possibility of cancelling trick-or-treating as well. My favourite holiday will either be cancelled altogether or is going to be nothing at all like it was in the past.

At this point, I suspect every upcoming holiday will be celebrated virtually, within the same household (or small social bubble), or not at all until enough people have been vaccinated against this disease to stop it in its tracks.

There’s nothing I can do to change things like these. What I could do was start using my light therapy lamp earlier this month as soon as the first faint whispers of autumn appeared in the form of dark, cloudy days.

A blue lamp that is turned on and releasing light against a plain white wall. I’d forgotten how bright it was. That one little lamp fills the whole room with light and still has some left over to spare.It doesn’t emit heat the way the sun does when you’re outside on a bright summer day, but it otherwise feels something similar to that experience.

(Yes, I purposefully picked photos of dimmer lights for this post. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s eyes).

It’s still a little too early for me to feel the effects of it, but that also means it should start working long before November arrives and we start seeing sunsets before 5 pm.

What creative ways are you planning to celebrate upcoming holidays?  If you also have a light therapy lamp, when did or will you begin using it this year?

A Photo Essay of Toronto in March

Note: I wrote this post in early March before Toronto began shutting down businesses and public places in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were no restrictions on travel, spending time near other people, or park usage at the time of my visit. What April’s post in this series will be like still remains to be seen. I will do my best to visit it again if I’m still healthy and we’re allowed to walk through the park at that point. 

This is the second instalment of a monthly photography series I started back in February. Each month I will share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year.

As I mentioned last month, this is a slushy, muddy, and unpredictable season that has only grown sloppier and more unpredictable as climate change has disrupted our traditional weather patterns.

The  interesting thing about this part of the year is that we never know in advance what to expect. Will there be a blizzard? Will we have sunny, spring-like weather? Everything can change in a day or even over the course of a few hours while winter is slowly giving way to proper spring weather.

It turns out that the temperature on March’s visit was 10 C, exactly the same as it was on the day I visited in February. That wasn’t so much as coincidence as me not wanting to do this photoshoot when it was 0 C and raining outside. Ha!

Photo of a World War I monument at a Toronto park. There are bare tree branches in the background and dry steps leading up to the monument in the foreground.

The monument I blogged about last month had a reprieve from the snow and ice of February.

A dirt running trail at a park. Part of the trail is filled with mud and a little water.

The running trail I shared earlier has changed as well. It was less muddy when I visited it this time, although this is something that will continue to fluctuate quite a bit for at least the next month.

If you look at the background, you’ll see two people using that trail! Other than the reduction of snow piles, the biggest difference between last month and this one is that there were about a dozen other people and a few friendly dogs using this park during my visit.

Bare tree branches against a blue sky.

You’ll notice no changes in the foliage this time. Everything is brown and dead or dormant now. April is the absolute soonest I’d expect to see any greenery in Toronto, and it generally remains somewhat rare for most species until closer to the end of that month. Dead leaves on the ground.

You can still see leaves on the ground from last autumn.

A tree that is still covered in brown, dead leaves.

And some trees still haven’t released their leaves from last autumn. I hope this little one survived the winter.

A bird's nest in a dormant, leafless, tree.

One of the really cool things about March is that you can see last year’s bird nests in the trees. I’ve read that some species here return to the same nest every spring to raise another brood of chicks.

Sights like this aren’t possible once the trees have leaves again. You can hear the chicks peeping sometimes if you walk right underneath their home tree, but it’s hard to spot their nests in May or June. A dirty patch of snow on a sidewalk. There is a blue glove and many leaves stuck in the snow.

Yes, we still have snow here and there. If anyone is missing a blue glove, I know where you lost it!

Toronto can get snow in April, too, although it generally melts fairly quickly.

A photo of a park in March. The trees are bare and the ground is brown. But there is no snow on it.

We definitely have less snow than my previous visit, though. Look how clear the ground is. In month or two, I’ll be able to walk on it without getting mud all over my shoes. For now, I’m sticking to the mostly-dry sidewalk.

A dead tree. The top half has been shorn off and is lying on the ground. Was it damaged in a storm?

My final photo is a sad one.

One of the trees in this park didn’t survive our winter storms. I saw a couple of other trees that had sustained minor damage, but this one is unfortunately gone for good. The last time this happened, the city cleared away the stump and debris before planting a new sapling in its place several months later.

I hope to share photos of that new sapling whenever it arrives. If this happens after the conclusion of this series, I’ll write an addendum to it.

Stay Home and Read

Woman holding a book and smilingA few days ago, Toronto learned that someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 had taken several trips on the TTC, our  public transportation system, after they began coughing and showing other symptoms of that disease.

Our local media has been publishing many stories on the Coronavirus outbreak these winter alongside their regular winter features on cold and flu season. While I have some mixed feelings about how they’ve reported on this new outbreak in particular, it’s difficult to ignore all of the new information pouring in about COVID-19 and how regularly new cases have been diagnosed in Ontario lately.

Like the rest of the world, Toronto is nervous about this topic. There have been so many folks stocking up on toilet paper and other supplies that some stores here have actually put limits on how much of those items you can buy at a time.

I happen to be part of an age bracket that is at very low risk of developing complications from Coronavirus, much less dying from it. I also don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions that would make it harder for my body to fight this illness. If I were to develop it, chances are excellent that it would be no worse than a bad cold or the flu for me if I even developed symptoms at all.

Three piled books on a white wooden table. Still, I’ve found myself staying home more often these days. I’d hate to accidentally spread this illness around to people at high risk of complications if I’m one of those young, healthy people who have it while showing few to no symptoms of it.

When I do go out, I’m noticing that our libraries, stores, and malls feel a bit quieter than usual. My guess is that other folks are cutting back on spending time in large crowds when possible as well.

Since most of my favourite places to visit are outdoors and I’m trying to reduce my time spent in crowds, reading seems like the perfect solution.

March is a chilly, sloppy time of year in Ontario anyways. Might as well read until the weather improves and the spread of this disease is hopefully slowed down while scientists work on a vaccine for it.

This means that you may be seeing more book reviews on my site over the coming weeks. I love writing them, but they take up so much time and energy that I generally can only get through a certain number of them in the average month.

There are only so many TV shows I can watch and hours of Minecraft I can play before needing to do something else with my free time, though, so reading it is.

I already have my first review of this semi-quarantine season ready to go for next week! Thank goodness I still have a big pile of library e-books to plow through as well.

How have your daily routines changed this cold, flu, and coronavirus season? How are your countries and communities reacting to COVID-19? Are you all staying home and getting more reading time in than usual these days, too?

A Photo Essay of Toronto in February

The idea for this new series came from two places.

Terry Tyler’s year-long photo series on what her local park looks like in each month of the year.

And Marianne Arkins’ comment on a post I wrote last month in which she asked me to share more of my photography.

Once a month, I will share snapshots of one of the parks in Toronto so my readers can get a feel for what the climate is like then and what the foliage is (or isn’t) doing. I may share bonus photos of other parts of the city, too, once the weather warms up and I’m spending more time outdoors.

February used to be a colder and snowier month in Toronto than it is in this century. I didn’t grow up here, but the weather in my childhood home state of Ohio is similar enough for me to make the comparison between them.

Climate change has shifted those historical weather patterns. February now acts like March in this part of the world. By that I mean that it’s unpredictable and often stormy. One day you could have a blizzard and overnight lows of -20 C (-4 F) or colder. A day or two after that it could warm up to 10 C (50 F) and sunny.

Landscape photo of a park. Image on left is of a World War I statue. There are numerous trees in the background and a road in the foreground.

My visit happened on a warm day when it was about 7 C (44 F) outside. The sun was shining, but there was still some snow on the ground.

The orange fence you see is the background is part of a city project to revitalize this park. It’s a heavily used area and the ground had been pretty trampled before city workers started to cordon off areas to let them rest.  Close-up photo of snow sitting on the steps of a World War I monument.

A park monument covered in snow and ice.

Photo of trees in a park. There is a bench and walkway in the foreground and a large patch of snow covering the grass in the background.

All of the plants are dormant or dead at this time of the year. You can see a few straggling leaves from last autumn still holding on, but the trees’ branches are bare other than that.

Notice that you haven’t seen any people here yet. While I do my best to avoid taking photos of strangers, this isn’t a popular time of year for going to the park in general. I didn’t see anyone in the distance while I was there.

Close up shot of a pile of snow beside a sidewalk and the trunk of a tree.

There is generally some snow on the ground in February. It melts on warm days, but we’ll probably continue to get more snowfall and to see patches of old snow hanging on in shady spots until April. A running trail covered in slushy snow and half-melted ice.

The photo above is of a muddy running trail that is flooded with half-melted ice and snow. Normally, it would have a flat, solid dirt surface.

One of the reasons why people don’t visit our parks as often, or at all,  in February has to do with what the land is like now. The cycles of freezing and thawing creates less-than-ideal conditions in the park for many common activities like having a picnic, exercising, or otherwise straying from the sidewalk.

We get so much precipitation in Toronto that it’s hard for the ground to absorb all of it when it’s cold outside. This sort of flooding is normal and generally keeps happening until April when everything thaws out and the soil can absorb more water.

The park actually looked pretty good when I visited it. It can be much more flooded than this at the end of the winter. There have been times when the entire sidewalk was covered in ice if we’d recently had a big snowstorm that melted and then refroze overnight.

I will pick this series up again next month when we’ll see what March is like here.

On Mindfulness, Light Therapy Lamps, and Being a Human Houseplant

A desk lamp shining down on a houseplantMy name is Lydia, and I’m a human houseplant.

Or at least that’s what it feels like at this time of the year. You see, I get the winter blues. While other people are outside revelling in the snow, ice, and cold weather, I’m inside quietly counting down the days until spring.

If winter in Ontario included as many bright, sunny days as spring and summer did, this post might be quite different.

But our winters include months of long, dark nights that make me half-forget what it’s like to feel warm sunlight on my face.

And having access to enough bright light is important for my mental health. It boggles my mind that some people on this planet live in places that don’t see the sun for months on end. I wouldn’t be able to cope with that well at all unless someone invents a way for humans to go dormant for the winter like real plants do.

Luckily, there are light therapy lamps for wilted houseplants like myself. I’ve been basking in the glow of that artificial sunshine this winter.

Sometimes I sat there and surfed the Internet on my cell phone. It was an especially good way to pass the time when I first accepted the fact that I needed to use one of these lamps but was skeptical about if it would do any good.

If actual plants had opposable thumbs, they might look at cute animal pictures while soaking up light, too, so they didn’t have to count down how many weeks left until spring or how many weeks after that it will take the weather systems in Ontario to shift from cold, wet, and slushy to anything that bears the faintest resemblance to true spring weather.

Then it started to work.The sadness began to lessen. I could concentrate better, I felt less sluggish, my energy levels slowly began rising, and my quality of sleep improved.

Am I back to my old self yet? No, but I’m doing better. That’s something to celebrate, especially as we inch into the time of the year that is the most challenging for me to get through.

For now I sit next to my lamp and chuckle at the fact that I react so much to the lack or the presence of sufficiently strong light. I am entirely human-shaped, and yet somehow I still need to bask in light like a plant to function properly.

When that thought passes, others don’t take its place. In this moment, I am surrounded by light. I breathe in and out as it shines onto me, the desk, the chair, and the floor.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

It’s that simple.

An Exclusive Interview with Winter

Last year I interviewed spring and autumn. Today I’m back with an exclusive interview with winter! I’ll conclude this series with an interview with summer later on this year…that is, assuming winter eventually decides to concede their post. Winter: Hey, I heard that! Lydia: My apologies. I didn’t think you’d join us quite so soon. Winter:  Well,… Read More

3 Reasons Why You Should Try Mall Walking

Mall walking is a form of exercise involving people walking briskly through the long corridors of shopping malls before the stores open for the day when there are very few other folks about. This is the time of year when I begin to yearn for spring. It’s one thing to experience snowstorms in November and… Read More

3 Things I Love About Walking in a Winter Wonderland

This post is the final instalment of a four-part series I’ve been slowly working on about walking during each season of the year. Click on the links in this sentence to read about the things I love about spring hikes, summer strolls, and autumn hikes. Winter is my least favourite season. The  cold temperatures, short… Read More

How Winter Has Changed Over My Lifetime

Lately, I’ve been thinking about climate change and how the expectations of what winter, or any other season, will be like in the average year are changing. The official graphs and charts that show how rapidly the average temperatures are climbing from one decade to the next are obviously quite important, but I think there’s something… Read More