Friday, January 17, 2020

Walk And Talk

Silence is essential. We need silence, 
just as much as we need air, just as much
as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with
words and thoughts, there is no place for us. 
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Every so often I'll call my best friend in Ontario and say, "Wanna go for a long walk and talk? I could use about six hours!"
And she laughs and says she'll meet me at the corner.
Then we sigh and wish it were so.

This is what I miss about living so far away from my very best friends: doing the Walk-and-Talk. I'd started this with my then-new friend Shelagh just before I moved to Nova Scotia, and now a morning Walk-and-Talk is one of the reasons I like to stay at her house when I visit Ontario.

Walking alone over the field and up the road and through the woods doesn't stop me from having a Walk-and-Talk, however; I simply talk to myself. That is just as effective, albeit without the good advice. But hearing myself speak the problems that are dogging me, and hearing the one-sided conversations I'm having with other people helps me realize what I want to do, and what I shouldn't be doing -- and also how brilliant and eloquent I am when I am walking alone in the woods.

Also: this helps me sleep.

I came up with this theory this past week when, after the day of ice pellets on Sunday, there was a great base for walking. During the dark days of winter, I hit the treadmill almost every day because, without sidewalks and streetlights and our wonky weather, it's simply not as easy just to head outside for a walk. Honestly, I get tired of walking in mud.
So it's been a treat this past week to walk every day, twice a day, taking full advantage of the concrete-like walking base under a light covering of snow to go for long walks into the woods.

Since Monday, I've been sleeping through the night. I haven't been waking up at two o'clock in the morning to worry about giving up writing and getting a job, to think back over all the bad decisions I made in my 20s, to berate myself for not planning better, being braver, going back to school sooner.

That's because I'm doing all that while I walk. Because I've provided time during the day to do that kind of thinking.
When I'm on the treadmill, I'm watching TV, and wearing headphones so other people's voices are close and loud. I can't think.  But when I walk outside by myself, I'm walking in silence. I'm able to think because there are no voices in my head. And that thinking is kinder and more productive than the middle-of-the-night thinking; I'm not as hard on myself, and can pull out of the negative spiral with plans and reminders -- finish this project THEN worry -- you have six months THEN you can deal with that -- The gut-clenching worries dissipate in the daylight, thank goodness. The work seems possible, the goals seem achievable.

The best part is by the time I turn around to head home, I'm done thinking. I'm doing yacking. The Walk-and-Talk becomes just a walk, and it's quiet inside my head as well as all around me.

Funny, so often we don't want to walk in silence, we don't want to fill that space with our thoughts but now I know how essential it is -- we need to face our worries, we need to talk ourselves down from the DEFCON 1 of fretting about the future. We need the cold fresh air and the distraction of snowflakes and the beauty of bare tree limbs against a slate grey sky.
Sleeping through the night makes facing the work (and the worries, let's be honest, they're always there) much easier. Tossing and turning solves nothing; doing the work gets me closer to my goals.

I am grateful to have experienced this -- to have been reminded of something I didn't realize I was missing. Grateful to have had several good night's sleep. Grateful to have completed another draft of the manuscript about my father's life and sent it off to the printer to be ready for another go-around next week.
Grateful to have had a week of breathing in the silence and breathing out the thoughts. Grateful for lungs full of snowflakes and a mind empty of useless information.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Throwback Thursday

Stella and I in January 2010

Ah, Stella. My girl. And the world's most annoying dog. I wonder if I'll ever get the chance to write a book about her? At least she got a couple of essays in Field Notes. Remembering her stealing donuts off the counter at my in-laws?
She died in 2015.

Stella loved having her picture taken. And her fawn colouring worked well; it stood out against any colour.
Abby, on the other hand, hates having her picture taken, always looks like it's painful or a punishment. Between her facial expression and her colouring, she takes a terrible photo! She's a darker brindle, and the camera compensates by lightening the rest of the shot, so taking a photo of Abby in snow means she turns into a black blob (unless of course she's wearing her coat). My best photos of Abby are in the spring and fall when everything is either green or brown.

Miss you, la bella Stella xo

Abby and I in January 2020

Saturday, January 04, 2020

New Year, New Decade

Now that the new year has begun, it seems as if the doldrums of the last six months have slipped off me like a loose, ragged sweater. Yesterday, walking up the old road and into the woods with the dog, I realized I was feeling like myself again.
What does that feel like? Optimistic. Energized. Ready to create. Ready to be brilliant! 
In an email exchange with a friend who wanted some editing advice, she said she was feeling good about this new year, that she'd received some boosts creatively and business-wise that excited her.
"But for what felt like an eternity, I had to drudge through a hazy-fog before the clarity came," she wrote. I totally got that. I feel like my hazy-fog has lifted, and even if I still don't know what my writing future looks like after the end of June, I am revitalized and looking forward to getting into winter writing mode next week.

Without my usual hope and expectation this time. For the first time in my life, I am working on a writing project without any attachment to an outcome (as in, getting it published). I am writing it for the sake of writing it; I'm writing it simply for my father. If it never gets published, so be it. In this case, at this point, it really is the journey that is more important than the destination. I've learned so much about my father, that makes it all worthwhile. But I've had the hope and expectation of publication pummeled out of me.

My mother, an avid reader, says most of the recently published books she reads mention climate change somehow, so how my novel about a girl who can communicate with animals and who hears the thoughts of the people around her, or a memoir about a father who was a funeral director can fit into the current publishing market is beyond me.
I no longer care. That's what it means to let go of expectations, not have no attachment to an outcome. That's a weird place for me to be in, yet at the same time, it's incredibly liberating. I have accepted that in six months, I may give up writing and find different work. And I'm fine with that; in fact, part of me thinks it would be very relaxing to have a regular job with a regular pay cheque. Acceptance is a powerful thing, my friends. It frees you to do what you want in the way you want to. My future is a void, a complete uncertainty, so I can't worry about it. I had to slog through a thick, hazy fog -- of hopelessness, of uncertainty, of depression -- to get to this place of letting go and not worrying about the future but that's how it happens.
Rock bottom has a basement, right?

But in the spirit of NEVER GIVING UP, in the spirit of putting it all on the table for the next six months, Dwayne and I rang in the new year with dinner, dancing and a champagne toast at midnight. It's like that quote I found shortly after I left Vancouver in 2002 -- if you want to stop a downward spiral, you only have to change one thing.
So we changed up how we acknowledged the new year. Instead of ignoring it, going to bed at 10 pm, treating it like any other day, we intentionally kissed the old (and rather shitty) year goodbye and welcomed the new year, and the new decade, with open arms.
Open to all the creativity and courage and possibility a new year and a new decade offers. We are ready for the good stuff, whatever that may be, and we wanted the universe to know we are ready.

I had this first part of this Wendell Berry quote handwritten and stuck to the wall next to my desk so it was lovely to find a longer version in this lovely graphic. This could be it -- my real work, the work of telling my father's story.
When none of the books I pitched in 2019 were picked up, my mother said, "Maybe a path is being cleared." For this writing project. There's no way to know if she's right, and if Mr. Berry is right, unless I see this final book project through to the end.

A new year is a chance to believe again in all the possibilities. Because you never know. Epiphanies happen in the weirdest places -- like the card, book and magazine aisle of the grocery store, and clarity can come when you least expect it. And maybe it helps to wear a funny hat.
May it be so for you as well.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas

Photo taken on the morning of December 13 when we had snow.
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and for me, it is the culmination of the four Sundays of Advent.
This year, the themes of my messages were Lamentation (hope), Expectation (peace), Anticipation (joy), and Celebration (love).
You can find condensed versions of those messages posted on my Facebook author page.

Christmas Eve is a funny thing to plan. Half of the congregation, who have attended each Sunday through Advent, won't be there. And most of the people who come to church on Christmas Eve haven't set foot in church in a year, let alone for any Sunday in Advent.
So I plan a stand-alone service, one that doesn't wrap up the four weeks of Advent. I want everyone to get something out of the service, and not feel lost because they don't know what I'm talking about. I don't get too worked up about those who only attend church on Christmas Eve; it's the reality of the modern church.

What I love about planning for the Christmas Eve service is getting to do something special, and this year, we have two special moments, near the end.
A seven-year-old girl will come forward carrying the baby Jesus (doll) and place him (the doll) in the manger inside our stable. Then I get to declare that Christmas has come!
And then I'll read the following poem, which I've been anticipating since I discovered it a few weeks ago. I may only have a chicken coop but this poem hit me hard in the heart.
It's called "Remembering That It Happened Once", and it was written by Wendell Berry, an American poet, essayist, environmental activist and farmer. If you haven't checked out his writing, make that one of your resolutions for 2020.

Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own white frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.

(from the Salt Project e-newsletter, November 26, 2019)

Happy Holidays from the field! May the next few days be filled with peace and joy, and plenty of cookies. xo  

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Dreaming Of A White Christmas

It's not looking like we'll have a white Christmas here in Cumberland County. Can't say it will be the same for the rest of the Nova Scotia, since the coast and Valley received a big snowfall on Wednesday -- but we didn't see a flake. Love our many micro climates!

Looks like the best we can hope for is a skiffle over the ground. We had the same kind of Christmas in 2012 -- then a huge snowstorm on the 26th because Dwayne and I were stuck at the Halifax airport trying to fly out to Atlanta.
Although, now that I think of it, since we have to drive with Dwayne's mother to Amherst on Christmas Day to spend the morning with his parents, I'm rather glad there's no snowstorm in that forecast.
Some things are more important than a white Christmas.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019


Last summer, when I did a really good cleanout of the coop, I took down some chicken wire Dwayne had nailed in "up in the loft" to prevent hens from roosting on this beam.
For years, none of the hens bothered to go up this high; they were content with the double tree-branch roost we built. But in the last few years, a few intrepid girls decided to roost higher up, and the chicken wire had big gobs of dried poop caught up in it so I tore it down.

Not sure if I shouldn't have put up more to discourage them completely.

Every morning, these beauties are roosted up on this beam ... which happens to be right above the door.
So every morning, as I open the door and walk in, I say, "Please don't poop on me."

So far, no one has dropped a wet and stinky bomb on me but I know it's a matter of time. One can't walk underneath five chickens every morning and dodge that poop-bullet forever.

I know the old saying: "If a bird poops on you, it means good luck" but those are regular birds flying through the air. Not sure if the good luck works if it's a chicken sitting above you.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Cookies of Joy

Not bad for a recipe from the 12th century!

We had an evening out with another couple last night and during supper, my friend, who is in her sixties and retired, said she was trying to figure out what to do with the next decade of her life. She realizes that nothing is guaranteed -- not the year, let alone the decade -- but she still wants to make the most of her time now.
For the past year, she's been working with a life coach, online, to change habits -- like eating habits and screen habits, like trying to spend at least 10 minutes a day in quiet, perhaps even meditating -- and she's enjoying the journey, with all its challenges.

So now, having put aside the last lingering bits of employment (some people have to ease themselves into retirement), she wants to know how to spend her precious time, and she's slowly figuring that out. This will be her journey for the coming year.

And I thought, That's joy.

Tomorrow is the third Sunday of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day that most Christian churches mark as the time of anticipation and preparation. This is my fifth Advent season leading worship services at the United Church in Oxford and I have to say -- Advent is my favourite season. I've done different themes over the past five years but I've come back this year to Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, the traditional and familiar themes for each Advent Sunday, usually focused on the Advent wreath candlelighting liturgy that begins each service.

This Sunday we light the pink candle -- for Joy.

I begin each service with a "centering moment". I like to let everyone know what the theme or point of the service is and to end with a breathing meditation that allows me to catch my breath and relax.

Tomorrow I'll share the story of my friend figuring out "the rest of her life" then say,
"I’ve said it before: JOY isn’t always cartwheeling down the centre aisle of the church or jumping up and down on the bed or twirling through sun-sparkled sprinkler spray.
JOY is quiet – perhaps real joy is soft and subtle and that’s why we don’t notice or recognize it.
Joy can be a feeling of peace. Joy can be a feeling of hope.
A “frisson” of courage or confidence.
It doesn’t have to be, and often isn’t, excitement and exuberance and loud exultation.

Sometimes JOY comes on a breath….

So inhale slowly and deeply right now … and exhale slowly.
Remember this breath – this holy breath.
Remember to breathe – to breathe in peace and breathe out worry.

Remember that with every inhale --- and every exhale – you are opening yourself up to JOY..."

When I woke up this morning, I realized I had nothing to do and nowhere to be. Such a rare treat! So I decided I'd finally make the "cookies of joy" I've known about for a few years, to give out as everyone is leaving the church. I made enough for two each, one star and one heart shape. 
The recipe originated with St. Hildegard de Bingen, a 12th century mystic, theologian, gardener, and healer. The recipe has been adapted for the 21st century.
They are spice cookies, actually - St. Hildegard believed the spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove "not only banish melancholia, but also release our innate intelligence, and keep us youthful in body and spirit." (I'm sure my congregation will appreciate the last one!)

And yes, I do believe joy can be found in a cookie. A moment of joy -- a pause, some stillness, a chance to catch the breath. The soft and subtle taste and texture of real joy. 

Definitely not 12th century packaging!