Friday, 27 December 2013


"On the cusp of 2014 - a new year, the opening of a fresh chapter - I ponder my goals for the year. Why bother? I can hear your resounding scoffs. Lose weight, exercise more, learn something new, help others, blah, blah and more blah. Experts state that thirty-five percent of resolution makers will sadly break their goals before the end of January. Wow!  My thirty-six years of real estate business planning, however, are so intrinsically woven into my psyche that I find myself incapable of facing a new year without putting a goal or plan to paper.

For Christmas, one of my gifts from Matthew and Michelle was a Pandora snowflake. Since childhood, I have loved snowflakes. These winter crystal stars that drift gently from the sky are more than the "hexagonal plates" about which scientists clinically speak or the "accumulation" we all so dread. Take a moment and "smell the roses".  Peer through a magnifying glass and you will discover each magical delicate flake has a unique complex form and pattern. No two snowflakes are the same and therein lies their true beauty.

I was raised in a loving family who celebrated glorious traditions, stressed the importance of education and learning, ingrained in me that I could accomplish anything to which I set my mind, and adhered to a strong moral code. I do admit, though, that as I grew older I sensed in my Mother's behavioural messages a "what will the neighbours think" mentality. Perhaps that is the basis of the trait I like least in myself, my need to explain decisions, my need to make those decisions acceptable to others.  I endlessly explain our decision to move to Uxbridge rather than to remain in Thornhill or to move into downtown Toronto.  I feel the need explain my decision to retire from my real estate career rather than to stay in the profession until I was white-haired and bent over walking with a cane.  I find myself explaining my preference of the pool over the gym, Arizona now over Barbados, individual travel over guided tours or large cruise ships, golf over sailing......... I explain! I explain! I explain!

Enough, I now say. Henceforth, when the urge to explain overtakes me, I have decided to feel my snowflake charm, to use it as a talisman against insidious explanations.  I resolve to be like a snowflake. Unique!  Accept that each of us is different and thus, no explanations are required. I am ME!

Monday, 16 December 2013


........ and the sign goes on to read:

In 1951 our wonderful woodlot was certified by the Canadian and Ontario Forestry Association and became the very first "Tree Farm" in Ontario.  Our founder, Reg Drysdale, was recognized and named to the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1967, as the pioneer of the Ontario Christmas tree industry.  Drysdale's Tree Farms have supplied Christmas trees to Canada's Governor Generals eight times and have twice been honoured by being named Champion Christmas Tree Grower in all Canada by the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association.
The Drysdale Family is very proud to dedicate this beautiful Ballantrae area tree farm to perpetual public ownership and have it become part of the York Regional Forest through the Environment Canada Eco Gift Program.  This donation will ensure that the thousands of families who have happy memories of coming here to cut their annual Christmas tree will always be able to walk the beautiful trails, observe the abundant wildlife, and enjoy the woodlands that four generations of Drysdale family members have worked hard to establish, nurture and care for. 
The Drysdale Family, December 31, 2013

Cold winds blew snowy whispers, reminders of Saturday's blizzard, as the enchanted view at Drysdale's Tree Farm lay before us. This is quite simply my favourite of Mother Nature's canvasses. Balsam, spruce and scotch pine wore thick gloves of white insulation on their branches. Like the skirts that surround our Christmas trees at home, fluffy white drifts decorated the base of trees. Steam escaped from the Hot Chocolate Hut, hung in the air then lifted and swirled, caught in a gust of icy winds. Bundled up in multiple layers and wearing heavy gloves, warm snow boots, and big scarves as shields against the frgid winter air, we grabbed tree saws heading for the woods.

Four generations.  Forty-five years of annual visits to Drysdale's Ballantrae Tree Farm.  Memories are made of this. Sadly, today was to be our final visit and the last day "our" tree farm would be open for Christmas trees before it would become part of the public domain and the York Regional Forest. When traditions in life change shape, nostalgia, for me, automatically ensues.  This morning was to be a nostalgic last visit. "A chance to savour" as Matthew announced. And Mother Nature could not have gifted us with a more appropriate or beautiful day.  Did she somehow empathize with how we felt? Savour we did. A hike through fluffy knee deep snow drifts, snow angels made, a tractor ride to the far rear fields, trees cut, hot chocolate consumed, and special photos taken. 

Thank you Drysdale family. Thank you for so many treasured Christmas memories. No matter how far in the future, whenever I watch the twinkling lights of our tree illuminate our family room, I will fondly remember our annual Christmas tree hunts in Ballantrae.

Friday, 13 December 2013


In June, 1966, the summer preceding my first year at university, ( My fragile ego begs you not to do the math; it is quite startling. ), I secured a summer job with the then-called Department of Lands and Forests .......Timber Branch, to be exact.  Amusing name, but true! This rewarding job was to thankfully be mine throughout the summers of my university years. My boss, Doug Drysdale, was and still is an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable man, holding a PHD in forestry economics. Doug's family owned then and still owns Drysdale Tree Farms, the massive main operation in Cookstown, with their secondary site in Ballantrae.

My Mother and Father would be first to begin the tradition when in 1966, instead of purchasing from a lot, they journeyed to Drysdale's to cut down our family Christmas tree.  After marrying in 1969, Jim and I adopted the tradition, cutting our annual tree down at the Ballantrae farm,  first as a married couple, then with our children and now with our grandchildren. Forty-four delightful years of breathing in the heady pine fragrance of the farm, slogging through snow drifts singing and joking, shaking snow from trees to evaluate shape and size, laughing with great hilarity as Jim and now also Matt with saws in hand must crawl under the chosen tree, yelling "timber!!!", dragging our treasured prizes back to the baler, savouring hot chocolate around the giant bonfire, and best of all, receiving warm greetings and hugs for all three generations from a now retired, Doug.

Brunch at the Locketts traditionally follows. What began as Jim and I, Chris and Matt with good friends, Richard and Meredith and their boys, has blossomed into a fully fledged extended family day with aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws and dear friends. I freely admit that I enjoy this day with its rosy cheeks, percolating anticipation and relaxed atmosphere as much as I enjoy Christmas.

Sadly, this will be the final winter season for Drysdale's Ballantrae Christmas Tree Farm. Doug and his family have generously donated the 136-acre property to York Region Forest to use for a trail system. They will concentrate efforts on their giant Cookstown operation. Will we continue to cut down a tree? Absolutely! We will find another local Christmas Tree Farm, but no matter how lovely, it won't be Drysdale's Ballantrae with all of the surroundings we have so grown to love. 

And so why do I beseech Mother Nature?  Go figure! She is scheduled to sweep through on Saturday and early Sunday leaving in her wake, our first major snow storm and a massive dump of the white stuff. Dear Mother Nature, please don't get carried away. Please no repeat of what you just did to poor old Calgary. Please just leave us with enough snow that we can still trudge through our tree farm, enough snow that brunch guests can safely make it to our home. Dear Mother Nature, please allow us number forty-five and our final trip to Drysdale's. I beseech you!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


Radio blaring with Christmas music accompanied by my squeaky voice singing along at the top of my lungs, this sunny early morning ( December 3 ) found me driving down Brock Road to Highway 407.  Today was my appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon about my troublesome knee.  My destination - just around the corner from Markham Souffville Hospital. Estimated travelling time - thirty minutes. Never one to be late, I gave myself an hour......thankfully!

At the best of times I dislike driving Brock Road with its plethora of gravel trucks travelling at excessive speeds, like menacing giant bullies, tailgating all the way! ( I won't go there now; that's a blog on its own.) I usually head out of Uxbridge along Highway 8 to the Aurora Sideroad. After years in York Region, I know those roads and concessions well; they were my real estate stomping ground. Today, however, that route made no sense.

Within five kilometres of the 407, traffic ground to a dead stop. Red taillights were visible for as far as the eye could see. Damn! A few cars began to turn around and head back north. The construction truck in front of me turned.  As he passed me now moving in the opposite direction, I waved. He stopped. With both of our windows rolled down, I asked, "Accident?" "Big", was his response. 

 I may as well have been on Mars so unfamiliar am I with these roads. If I turned, my ornery GPS would just attempt to redirect me south on Brock again. "Now where?" I thought. Perhaps it was the look on my face, for he asked where I was headed. To keep it simple, I responded with, "Markham Stoufville Hospital." 

"I'm headed in that general direction. I'll get you started. Follow me."

Turning left off Brock Road almost immediately, we headed down an unpaved rural road, deeply rutted with frozen mud mounds. Thank god for a good suspension!  Zigzagging along a myriad of no-name concessions, past old farmhouses, my GPS reproachfully squawked with a series of "recalculating" announcements. It did cross my mind that I was following a total stranger down lonely roads. However, in my rear view mirror, I could see  a virtual conga line of traffic following.  And so, I continued to follow my Pied Piper.

Flashing lights on his truck indicated that I should pull over. Like the good little lost soul I was, I obeyed. As I lowered my window, he indicated, "Turn left up here at the 9th Line. Follow it to the 17th. Take the 17th until you reconnect with the 9th. Then left on the 9th to the Hospital."  Honestly, at the mention of the 9th Line, I smiled.  I was back in known territory. Nolonger lost!

"I cannot thank you enough", I managed to say before he smiled graciously,  waved with his gloved hand, hopped into his truck and drove off. 

"Well, he just made my day," I thought. Not because I would arrive at my appointment on time, but because I had just experienced a genuine act human kindness, a good deed.  Thank you, kind sir. Now, of course, it is my turn to find the opportunity to play it forward.