A different kind of family Christmas….

Everyone has their Christmas traditions and time they spend with friends and family. Our Christmas tradition is simple; my husband and I spend a quiet Christmas together. But when my mother-in-law took a turn for the worst and my husband left town on the 23rd, my plans for Christmas suddenly and dramatically changed. No quiet Christmas Eve dinner at home. No Christmas Day champagne brunch at the Brown Palace. My Christmas just got thrown a curve ball.

I knew I would be bombarded with invitations if my friends knew I would be alone on Christmas. However, I really didn’t want to be pulled into someone else’s dysfunctional family Christmas. Nor did I want to go to a movie and go out for Chinese food. I figured sitting at home watching old movies sounded like my best choice. Then I remembered that there was a special edition Christmas morning ballet class scheduled this year. When I first heard about it, I was astonished that anyone would consider taking a ballet class on Christmas Day. Suddenly it sounded like a brilliant idea.

I woke up to a freezing cold morning with a few inches of snow on the ground. You just have to be in a good mood on a morning like that. It was glorious! I listened to Christmas music and sang along as I maneuvered the slippery roads to the dance studio. When I got there, Christmas music was playing in the studio. The front desk was transformed into a beautiful and festive buffet table laden with food for after class. Dancers were bubbling with greetings and laughter, as well as a spirit of joy and camaraderie.

Sometimes things don’t always go the way we plan. We can either fight against the change or go with the flow and find another option. I didn’t get to spend my traditional family Christmas with my husband. But, I did get to spend it with my ballet family. Like all families, we certainly have our level of dysfunction. I sure am grateful for them; they made a difficult Christmas a whole lot easier. And that is what family is about.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Does a bear sit in the woods?

    While my husband and I were packing up our SUV to return home from Thanksgiving in the mountains, we were greeted with quite a surprise. Our vehicle was covered with dirt and dust, but there appeared to be a pattern or some sort of order to the dirty smudges. We looked closer and noted that the smudges were actually paw prints. Fairly large paw prints. Incredulous, we looked at  each other….BEAR!

    We walked around the SUV and saw how carefully the little guy had gone around the vehicle and looked in the windows. There were prints on the back bumper where he must have raised himself up to look in the back window. There was another print on the passenger side window where he supported himself to look inside. There were even nose prints on the window where he must have pressed in even closer to get a better look.

    At first I felt a little creeped out that this guy was all over our car as we slept in the cabin just a few feet away. And then I was filled with wonder that this beautiful animal had been so close to us, and I wished I could have seen him. I asked my husband not to wash the car so I could admire the prints for a while. The bear was so careful and meticulous in his exploration, he never left even a small scratch with his claws on the paint.

    It’s funny, just the previous evening we watched a documentary about black bears in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was surprised to learn that the adult females were only 150 pounds, and the males were about 250. The documentary also described their habits, their patterns, their behaviour, and most importantly, what to do if you happen to come across a bear in the woods. I think that bears get a bad rap for being vicious, blood thirsty aggressive creatures.

    I used to be afraid of bears and the possibility that I might come across one while hiking. Now that I understand them a little better, I’m no longer afraid. Instead, I have come to appreciate them, and if I came across one in the woods, I think I would be overwhelmed with the honor of such a rare opportunity and privilege. And then I might wet my pants, but I suppose that’s another fear I have to conquer!

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Elk and the Power of Graciousness

While preparing our Thanksgiving dinner at our favorite mountain hangout, I heard a bit of commotion outside. I stepped outside to see what all the excitement was about. Across the street several cars were slamming on their brakes, tires squealing, and pulling over onto the side of the road. Car doors opened and people started pouring out of the cars with their cameras ready. Wondering what caught their attention, I noticed two huge bull elk standing in the grass, grazing, and minding their own business.

The tourists seemed to be getting dangerously close to the elk trying to get their pictures. The basic rules of wildlife etiquette, so to speak, is to admire them from a distance, and do not invade their personal space. You do not approach them, you do not feed them, and if the animal changes its behavior, you are way too close for comfort. Apparently this group of shutter bugs either never learned the rules or chose to ignore them. One of the elk abruptly stopped grazing, lifted his head and stomped his feet.

The tourists backed off, but when the huge elk lowered his head and started grazing again they pressed in even closer. I guess they figured that the elk was just bluffing. He wasn’t. He abruptly lifted his head, snorted and jumped effortlessly over the fence, scattering tourists everywhere. I found it very amusing and highly entertaining, especially since no one got hurt, particularly the elk.

The huge beast stood in the middle of the road, looking annoyed, when he suddenly saw me watching him. He caught my eye and we looked at each other for a long moment. Finally, he tossed his head in the direction of the departing cars as if to say, “idiots!” I giggled and agreed wholeheartedly. Satisfied that we shared a common bond, he gracefully trotted across street, up the short driveway to just a few feet from where I sat on the porch railing. We sat together in quiet companionship for a few minutes.

He must have felt comfortable with me, because he lowered his head and began grazing again.  He was so close that I could hear him pulling the grass from the earth. I could hear him chewing. As a matter of fact, he was so close that I could smell him. His scent was a little wild and game-y, but not unpleasant. I could see how it would appeal to his own kind. He must have read my mind, because at that precise moment he lifted his head and looked at me, as if to say, “You’re not so bad yourself.” I swear he winked at me as we shared our private joke.

He returned to his breakfast, and I returned to admiring him–his size, strength, grace and flexibility. I was honored that he was comfortable in my presence, when just a few moments earlier, other members of my species behaved in such a rude and barbaric manner. Maybe he figured that these unusual two-legged creatures were more agreeable when they weren’t encased in their hard metal shells that they had to break out of just to enjoy the great outdoors.

Eventually he finished his breakfast and looked off into the woods where a few of his buddies were waiting. He looked at me one last time as if to say, “I have to go….the guys are waiting for me.” I understood. He bowed his magnificent head, and I thanked him for his time, adding that he was not only good company, he was a gentleman as well. As I watched him leave, I remembered a phrase that I had recently heard. “Never underestimate the strength and the power of graciousness.”

There are so many lessons in this little story. But the most important one is obvious to me. Treating someone with dignity and respecting their boundaries is a lot more effective than trying to run them down. They may return the favor and reward you with a gift of friendship. That certainly is something to be grateful for, not only on Thanksgiving, but every day of the year.

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP