Thankful Thursday XXXIV – Rainy Days (And Mondays?)

Well, it’s a dreary looking day outside here today. Overnight thunderstorms scudded off, dragging along a blanket of low-lying clouds, cooler air and rain showers behind them. This Thankful Thursday, or Friday actually, I’m thankful for Rainy Days. They don’t always get me down!

Now, living in Texas, my mind has changed a little here. Back in Canada, fall often meant rainy day after rainy day, rainy weeks dripping into each other until they turned to snow. As if the days weren’t short enough already there in October, the light was often blocked by thick layers of stratus clouds. I think I came home from work enough times having to peel off my socks because the water had soaked right through my shoes on the way home. It wasn’t uplifting. Here however, sunny days are more the norm. And don’t get me wrong, I love bright, clear days. They energize me. But, there’s something to be said for their grayer counterparts.

Here, the ground gets parched and plants wither all too readily in the warm weather – which is to say about nine months of the year – times. The rain is welcomed. Nature watering the flowers and veggies for once, filling up the bird baths by itself. It gets the grass growing, but the rainy days themselves are a great excuse to put off cutting the lawn without feeling guilty about it.

Rainy days are great in fact, for reminding ourselves to slow down once in awhile. Lie on the sofa and watch a movie. Read those last two chapters of the novel you started two months ago. Pull out the dusty board games and sit around the table with the family. The yard work, the shopping errands… they can wait for tomorrow. Not to mention that cooking homemade soup or chili seems a bit absurd when it’s 95 degrees and there’s a UV rating of about 1000 out. But it seems the right, the comforting, thing to do when the clouds are leaky!

Basically, the rain is a reminder of the “laws” we need to keep in mind. Into each life a little rain must fall, they say. Indeed. We need a little rain, we need a little dark just to remind us to appreciate the sun and the heat. Yin and yang. Chicken soup for the soul. And hey… it might be a chicken soup dinner day! Bright spots abound on the dullest day, if we look for them.

Thankful Thursday XVIII – Bob Ross

If “zen” was a movie, he’d probably be on the poster for it. Perhaps then, between insurrections, contested elections, deadly pandemics and weekly mass shootings, there’s good reason he’s more popular than ever. Indeed, last year at the height of the pandemic, reruns of his show were the top-rated shows on the BBC in Britain. This Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for Bob Ross.

Ross might just be the most famous American painter. And the most critically panned one as well. But the dude with the big afro is a lot more than that. He’s a source of quiet relaxation for many and inspiration for millions more.

Ross, for the few uninitiated, was a painter from Florida who rose to fame in the 1980s with a half-hour TV show on PBS. In the 11-year run of The Joy of Painting (sometimes renamed things like “Bob Ross Painting” in re-runs) he became something of a cult figure, a stature only heightened since his unfortunate death from cancer in 1995. These days one can find Bob Ross bobbleheads, Bob Ross coffee mugs, Bob Ross calendars, Bob Ross coloring books, books of Bob Ross sayings…there’s even a Bob Ross chia pet for those who want their very own ugly clay Ross-head with a green afro!

The magic of Bob was two-fold. One was that he did a surprisingly good painting, generally landscapes, from start to finish in each half-hour show. Two, and perhaps more importantly, he did it while chatting away in a friendly and low-key way that defined “laid back”. Compared to Ross, the crowd at a Jimmy Buffett show would seem wound-up and out of control. Ross loved wildlife and from time to time would interrupt his show to bring in a little squirrel he’d rescued from a busted tree or film of some animal he’d seen outside. He painted serene settings, more often than not containing some mountains, a little lake and some trees… needed a place for the happy little squirrels to live, after all. Viewers began to love – and perhaps make drinking games out of – his regular little quotes like “happy little trees” and “we don’t make mistakes, just have happy little accidents.”

Surprisingly for such an incredibly laid-back guy, Bob was largely shaped by the Air Force. He signed up young and rose to the ranks of seargent. For several years he was assigned to a base in Alaska. He loved the scenery there and decided to try and capture that and share it for others. But he hated the job, per se. He had to be “the guy who makes you scrub the latrines, the guy who screams at you for being late.” He decided once done with the military he wasn’t going to be “that” guy again.

Ross had a real flair for painting, and a well-trained artist’s eye for lighting. He also had a gift for teaching simple techniques to the masses…and for irritating critics. He took some art courses and found instructors were big into minimalism and abstract – not his brand of folksy realism. “If I paint something, I don’t want to have to explain what it is,” he said. Over the years, he painted an estimated 30 000 canvases. What they lacked in diversity (there were an awful lot of paintings of mountain lakes, forest trails, cabins in the woods and the like) he made up for in charm, and broad appeal.

The magic of Bob Ross though, was that he showed us it was OK to do something we enjoy, even if we aren’t very good at it. It’s OK to have pictures on the wall that you like and tell a story no matter what art critics might think of them. You could be a surgeon or air traffic controller, but when you got home, you could “chillax” and do something where your screw up was soon rectified and turned into a “happy little accident.” I can guess that thousands upon thousands of people have taken up painting, or other arts because of his influence and his reassurance that you don’t have to be great at something to make it worthwhile. And certainly thousands upon thousands more get reprieves from the daily stresses of the world by laying back, watching his little trees and cabins take shape and wondering if this will be one of the extra-lucky weeks where he has a baby squirrel on his shoulder.

So if you’re bored, or stressed out this weekend, why not think of Bob? Pick up a canvas and a brush. Or maybe a sketchbook and some pencils. Or even just head out to the garage with an old guitar. Have some fun, be a little creative and be content in the moment.

Thankful Thursday XVI – Vacations

Yesterday was a busy day for me, so I took a break from Thankful Thursdays. Not quite a holiday but a wee break from one thing that’s part of my routine, even though it’s one I quite enjoy. It got me to thinking that this “thankful Thursday – redux” I’m thankful for vacations. Both little ones and grand ones, ones I’ve enjoyed, ones others have taken and just the concept itself… one that resonates, I’m sure coming onto the unofficial first long weekend of the summer.

My dad loved to travel; my mother not quite as much but she still enjoyed getting away from it all – not to mention staying in a hotel and having the cooking done for her – from time to time. My family wasn’t poor but neither were we rich, so our holidays when I was a kid were somewhat modest. When I was young, we had a camper trailer – a modest one mind you, nothing like the behemoths we see being towed along our highways today with their own satellite dish and front and back doors – so we’d often get away for a week or so and go camping. Exploring the eastern half of our Canada, and adjacent areas of the States; cooking some dinners over a camp fire, going to town for the local restaurant other days, sleeping in a trailer with screen windows, hearing the hooting owls and cacophony of bugs in the woods around us. By day we’d explore the forest trails, take some pictures, or maybe visit the nearby towns and explore the local shops and attractions.

A few years later, when I got to be of double-digit age, we found a fondness for Florida. For several years we took a summer holiday in southern Florida. That seemed crazy to some, but we liked it just fine. The prices were cheaper, the beaches less crowded and we had all the time in the world. Well, a few weeks anyway, given that it was school break and my mom was by then working as a teacher. Sometimes we’d head down there by bus and my Dad would drive down a week or two later when his holiday kicked in, all driving back home together. We made friends there, found that the 90 degree days there in July were quite tolerable with the sea breezes absent in the 90 degree days back home and enjoyed dips in the Gulf water.

They were good times, generally relaxing times. It was driving back from Florida I got to marvel at the vibrancy of American cities like Atlanta and the beauty of the Appalachians. I don’t remember a lot from when I was about four years old, but I remember standing under “The Big Nickel”, as the name suggests a statue of a very big five cent coin – in Sudbury on one of our camping trips. I recall vividly the excitement I had a few years later when I, as a young baseball fan, looked out the window and saw the magnificent home of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Ken Griffey and all those great Big Red Machine teams – Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium – go by as we crossed the Ohio River. I remember stepping into a patch of long coarse grass one time in Florida near our hotel and hearing a loud, distinctive buzzing set in right away , and quietly backing away, not in fear but rather awe knowing that I must have awoken a sleeping rattlesnake. Still wish I’d been able to see the critter, from a safe distance.

When I grew up and became an adult, budgets usually didn’t allow for a lot of exotic holidays, but I have equally fond memories of camping in some of the provincial parks along Lake Erie during the bird migration; of the sights of New York when I went for a long drive, and experiencing that vibrant Atlanta as an adult. My dad meanwhile, with his equally fond-of-travel new wife, took many trips back to his homeland in Switzerland and hers in Britain before they sadly became too old and unsure of their health to do so any more. They’d regale me with the stories of their trips, photos of the landscapes and tales of the best food they got in the foreign restaurants. That was mostly my dad’s thing.

The travel industry took a beating in the last year with Covid. There are pros and cons to that; obviously it’s bad because it effects so many people’s livelihood but the reduced air pollution from the fewer jets and cars on the road has done a wee bit of good to the environment and enabled people to find interesting things to do at home that might have eluded them previously. Still, it would seem that the more people get to travel, the more we might hope to understand each other. It’s easier to have empathy for others when we’ve actually met them and seen their lives a little rather than just the Hollywood sterotype depictions of them.

So, vacations. They can be big or small, far or near, but here’s to them. Hope you can treat yourself to one, no matter how humble, sometime soon.