Monday, December 11, 2017


I'm doing an "Advent Photo Challenge" on Instagram which requires me to post a photo each day on my account (JewellofaWriter) that reflects the word of the day. Although it doesn't stress me out to skip a word or two, it helps to know what a couple of days' worth of words are in order to be aware when I'm out and about, so I was thinking of today's word, Silence, when the dog and I were walking along the river yesterday.
I chose a different photo for Instagram (a photo of the snow falling on the goose decoys on the pond) because this photo of "silence" comes with a story that's more suited to this space.

This photo is of my six year old Boxer, Abby.
My previous dog, Stella, who came with me when I moved to Nova Scotia in 2007, was very athletic and energetic, as well as headstrong and stubborn. When we lived in urban Ontario, I spent hours walking the streets with her, and every couple of days, we headed out to the trails in the forest or to a friend's farm so she could run off-leash. She loved to run -- for every kilometer I hiked, she ran five -- but this meant she took off from me, often disappeared from sight. I started clipping a bear bell on her so that I could always track her; then it sounded like one of Santa's reindeer was running around.
I seemed to be yelling for her, and at her, all the time, and it exhausted me. It made me angry, irrationally so, but the anger was also full of worry: that she would get hurt and I couldn't find her, that she would attack another dog if she came upon them (I later realized she actually played with the dogs she met; she only attacked them with me out of an overdeveloped protective instinct). 

Then I read an essay by author and writing coach Natalie Goldberg about a walking meditation she did as part of a Buddhist retreat she was attending in a city. She walked through the city silently, without ever speaking. It was liberating, she discovered, to walk in silence, to quiet both one's mouth and one's mind.
It was worth a try so early one Sunday morning (before I'd started attending church again, my worship happened in the reforestation area) when I knew there wouldn't be anyone else around, I set out on the C Trail through the forest. I would hike for 90 minutes without speaking to my dog. I would not call her, I would not speak her name, I would not say anything. I would simply walk in silence.

I'd also read that speaking softly gets a dog's attention far better than shouting, which seems true considering we humans tune out shouters and whiners and cursers. Dogs also get most of their information from our body language -- from what we do rather than what we say.

So I did this silent meditation walk and felt calmer and not exhausted by anger at the end of the hike. Stella still ran around, sometimes out of sight, but I do believe she was intrigued by the novelty of my quietude once she realized there was nothing coming out of my mouth. I think this meant she realized she had to watch me for information rather than tune me out.

This is what I think of when I walk with Abby, when we stand looking out at the river, when she doesn't chase the ducks that fly out of the swampy area, when we pass through these fields or the woods behind the house, and she stays with me. Even when she disappears into the tree plantation, and I eventually call her, I don't get angry like I did with Stella, the "Whatever" dog, the canine equivalent of a teenager. Stella would disappear for so long, I'd be walking home before she appeared again.
It's much nicer to not walk and worry. It's much nicer to have the dog actually walking with me.

I appreciate being able to walk in silence with my dog.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Delivering Hope and Joy

Our seven shoeboxes + a bag of extras were delivered to My Home Apparel in Truro on Tuesday afternoon. Our donations were happily accepted by business owner, Miriah, who donates 5% of all sales to organizations dealing with people at risk of homelessness. I told her how easy it made it to participate in the Shoebox Project because her store was a drop-off for shoeboxes.
Can't wait to do this again next year!

Friday, December 01, 2017

Hope Is A Star

I love my star lights. It takes a whole afternoon to string these lights the length of our front yard but it's so worth it. I cover most of our property with lights, including the chicken coop (my mother says it looks like a casino). I enjoy it for the month of December, for Christmas, but if there's one light I'd keep up all winter, it's this one. The star of hope.
Especially this year. This afternoon, as I was decorating inside the house in preparation for this Sunday afternoon's "Project Shoebox Social", a woman arrived at the door with four bags full of gifts for the shoeboxes.
The response to my call to "be a light in the world" has been remarkable. Amazing grace. I called (read about it here), you're answering. Six women who can't make it to this Sunday's gathering have donated money or dropped off items. That's not something I expected. I certainly didn't expect a woman to recognize me while shopping in Bulk Barn and give me forty dollars.
It makes my heart shine like a star.
It gives me hope because it means that everything I say from a church pulpit -- a spot fraught with issues of relevance and hypocrisy and doubt -- aren't just words that get caught up in the ceiling fans of these sanctuaries and never follow anyone out into the world. It means, too, that we don't need churches to connect with other loving, passionate people, to find people who are willing and able to answer a call to help others, to offer hope and joy and love to strangers. But we need more than Facebook and Instagram; we do need a place to gather and we do need a project around which to rally, and I'm grateful to offer that "heart and home" this weekend.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Last Day of November

This morning was the kind of November morning that I love: cold, crisp and clear. Long shadows from the rising sun as the dog and I walked across the field to the pond where the goose decoys wait patiently to be taken in for the winter. A thin layer of ice, barely discernible, pushed to one side of the pond by overnight wind.
But no wind this morning. A perfect November day.
And then it is done.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Treasure Hunting With the Queen of Frenchys

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 by Sara Jewell

A couple of months ago, when I overheard Donna Hutchinson talking about stopping at Guy’s Frenchys in Amherst on her way home from visiting her mother in Moncton, I pounced.
“Teach me to do Frenchys,” I told her.
It sounds weird to ask someone to show you how to shop, I know, but although I’ve popped into Frenchys twice, and both times scored an item of clothing I love, they came off the racks against the walls. The bins totally intimidated me; they looked like giant messes. 

To help me understand what I was getting into, I asked Donna about her 30-year history with Frenchys as we drove to Amherst for our shopping trip earlier this month.
“I discovered Frenchys when I taught school in Dartmouth,” the retired Gulf Shore resident said. “I would buy a really decent outfit for work then I’d get ink all over it. All of a sudden, I found this shop in Lower Sackville where they were selling second-hand clothes.”
Now as then, Donna considers it “treasure hunting”, saying she doesn’t know what she wants or needs until she sees it.

“Get a basket,” she commanded as we arrived. “One with a handle.”
We went to the very first bin inside the door, filled with scarves and hats, Donna got right in, pushing and pulling scarves out of the tangled pile. I had no idea where to start; I kept grabbing the same scarf but it was wrapped up around other scarves so I couldn’t ever get it loose.
It was the same at the bin of Ladies Long-Sleeved Shirts. To me, it was a mass of shirts tossed in a heap but Donna seemed to know how to move her hands through the pile and pull out interesting pieces. She was efficient, methodical and quick. I kept picking up the three same shirts.
Are any rules to pawing through the bins?
“Be the first on a new dump,” Donna told me. “Don’t grab something out of someone’s hand, and don’t think, ‘I really want that’ if someone is looking at it, or at least, don’t let them know you want it.”
A woman overheard us. “Is this your first time?” she asked me.
Linda, from Sackville, NB, told us the first time she was in Frenchys, she was elbowed but she doesn’t want me to write that down because that really doesn’t happen at Frenchys.
“You get to meet some very nice people here,” Linda said. “I’ll tell you the bad thing about Frenchys: I buy for everyone I know. My husband says I’m not saving any money.”
Donna chimed in, “I dress skinny girls and babies,” and Linda nodded.

In the end, I managed to get the hang of the bins, and without ever reaching men’s or children’s clothing, my basket overflowed. As I piled my stuff on the counter at the cash, Donna laughed.
“You’re the only person who folded her clothes. Sure sign of a newbie.”
I had a great time, I’ll do it again, but it won’t matter how many bins I paw through at Frenchys looking for treasures, I’ll always be the one folding her clothes before she puts them in her basket.

I didn't make it to Men's Clothing but found this great hat for my husband!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

November Is Limb-itless

I realized the other day that I don't take many landscape photos in November. After the fullness of summer and the grandiose colours of fall, November is very stark.
Yet that's what makes November lovely: its simplicity, its briskness, its clear-eyed acceptance of the grey skies and frozen puddles, of its own barrenness.

What a wonderful season is November. For it is its own season, don't you think? I tried to think if any other month is its own season but no, not even March. Only November. It isn't autumn and it isn't winter. It is the season of November.

As I was walking, I wondered if this is why we rush to decorate for Christmas: November unnerves us. Those bare branches, those crunchy brown grasses, the thin layer of ice on the puddles in the morning. Such a thin layer, it crackles apart as soon as the dog walks on it.
We have the green lushness of summer and the yellows and oranges of fall, the red and greens and blues of Christmas but what does November offer?
Bitter winds.
Cold rains.
Flat, grey clouds hinting at snow.
Rotting pumpkins.
Blackened sunflower heads, emptied of their seeds.
Pale sun low in the sky, setting at five o'clock.
Chickens settling onto their roosts before we've eaten supper.

So we hurry November; we rush it; we transform it into a pre-December period. We anticipate our anticipation. We crowd out November after the brief pause on Remembrance Day with its blood-red poppies. We don't want to deal with the death of nature, with the decaying leaves, with the still waters. We don't want to live in the darkness so we fling lights onto those empty branches, stick Santa and his reindeer on the brown lawn, glitterize our houses.
Yet that is precisely why we need November. This is our dark and dormant space before the frenzy of the holidays, before the whirling storms of next year. This is our breathing space. This is our stargazing space. We need this pause between the lazy energy of summer and the busyness of harvest, and the sparkly wildness of Christmas and New Year's Eve.
We need the wilderness of November, that time in between when everything pauses in its cyclical ambitions -- after the leaves fall and before the snow covers.

I type that -- and pause myself. What is it like to live in a place where there is no snow? Perhaps this is a uniquely Maritime post. Perhaps only those of us who experience four seasons also experience the fifth, orphaned, unappreciated season of November.   

Monday, November 20, 2017

Following the Path to Heart and Home

For those of you not on Facebook, or who don't follow my author page on Facebook (JewellofaWriter), I wanted to share what I posted yesterday [Sunday, November 19]:

Something amazing happened at church this morning, something that wasn't part of the plan. The plan was: pass out candles right after the sermon about being the light of the world (don't burn out, don't give up, the darker the space, the brighter a small light shines). By the time I returned to the pulpit after getting the candle lighting started, we were already into the last verse of the hymn. When I looked out at the congregation, all I saw were twenty little flames burning all over. It was the perfect illustration of what I'd been speaking about.
My intention was to provide a symbol for the congregation but I ended up seeing exactly what I needed to see.

Because I stand in that pulpit week after week and I talk about compassion and justice and acceptance, I talk about taking care of others, I talk about how the world needs more Jesus (the peacemaker, the table tosser, the game changer) but I don't feel like I walk my talk. It's been bugging me for awhile, and thankfully, while washing the dishes yesterday, the solution to my problem came to me.
The subtitle of my book has the phrase "heart and home" in it and this is my inspiration. There are two stages to my idea.

Here's stage one:
I shared a post last Sunday [on Facebook] about the Shoebox Project -- a Canadian initiative to provide gifts to women in our province who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. These shoeboxes don't go overseas, there is no religious strings attached to them; they help women in crisis here at home.
This is an opportunity to bring a little light into someone else's darkness: Anyone who is willing and able is invited to my home on Sunday, December 3 at 2 pm for tea, coffee and goodies (including my famous heart-shaped oat cakes) and together we'll pack some shoeboxes.
Bring with you a couple of good quality items any women needs and wants: shampoo, lip gloss, earrings or a bracelet, body lotion, socks, etc., I'm hoping a group of us can put together several shoeboxes. I'll add whatever we're missing, and deliver the shoeboxes by the December 6 deadline.
Please consider this: It's not a chance to get rid of all those small hotel shampoo bottles you've collected. These are women who don't have the means or opportunity to use "nice things" so please bring items that you would buy for yourself or your daughter or your best friend. Buy them on sale, but buy the good stuff. Go big or go home, as they say.
Sunday, December 3 at 2 pm. You bring your heart, I'll provide the hospitality.

[For more information on what we'll be doing: ]

Stage two will be announced in early January. It's an idea that's been tugging at my heart for a long time and it will take place in Oxford. I hope you'll be as inspired as I am to share "heart and home" with others.

As Anne Berube said yesterday [at her book event in Amherst], "What would happen if you let your light shine as brightly as possible?" Let's find out.

That's Anne on the left, unofficially endorsing my book!