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

Roosters


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!




Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Christmas Past, Christmas Present


This fine fellow enjoying Christmas dinner is my father-in-law, Donn. I took this photo of him in 2016 when Dwayne cooked Christmas Day dinner as usual, then we packed it all up to eat with his parents in their kitchen. They could no longer get up to our home to have supper with us.
We had been doing Christmas Eve supper with my in-laws -- seafood chowder and Maritime mock cherry pie -- but that fell away once I started doing the Christmas Eve service at church. I hated to let that go; Dwayne did it one last time on his own.

We try so hard to keep everything the same at Christmas time, to maintain every tradition and ritual exactly the way they've always been done -- yet we all know nothing ever stays the same. We know there will be years when someone is absent, there will be years when the table is overflowing. There will be years when there will be hardly anyone at the table. There will be years when there is no table.

For whatever reason. Illness or estrangement. Death or divorce. Someone has moved away for a job. The special dinner was done before Christmas Day. People decide to take a trip and spend Christmas elsewhere.
My mother decided to spend Christmas in Georgia with her grandchildren about the same time Dwayne's parents couldn't come up to our house for dinner so now our Christmas supper is a chacuterie board in front of the Christmas tree in the living room. Our Christmas Day is a lot quieter and a lot calmer, and we kind of like it. It's different, and in a few years, we'll be doing something different yet again.

There are no wrong reasons; there is just life, the way it unfolds, the way it happens. There is just the way families are, the funny mix of personalities and personal choices. There is just that one day -- which we build into the Whole Meaning Of Life, when really, it's the least important day.

The day a parent moves into the nursing -- that's a far more significant day.

That's where we are this year, Christmas 2019. Dwayne's 94-year-old father has moved into a nursing home after five months in hospital waiting to see if anything could be done for his hip then waiting for a nursing home room.
So this year, we won't wake up on Christmas Day anticipating a big home-cooked breakfast with friends; we'll eat simply, by ourselves, and then pick up Dwayne's mother to head to the nursing home to spend the morning together.

This brings up a whole lot of emotion for me. It's been 14 years since I spent my first Christmas in a nursing home with my father, and those memories, and the feelings attached to them, are as strong, as raw, as ever. (When Dwayne came home yesterday after helping his father get settled in the nursing home, and said to me, "The smell. It's the smell," I started to cry. I couldn't hold it in. I know. That's why I couldn't go with him.)
You don't spend Christmas Day in a nursing home and not come away profoundly changed. For me, it was the quiet. My father was in the locked dementia unit, and I was the only non-resident there. No one other than my father had any visitors on that day.
I'll never forget that.

Christmas is just one day out of 365 so I have no problem shifting our Christmas Day "celebration" to the nursing home, to be with Dwayne and his parents in yet another change to their long lives together. It's not the gifts or the food or the tree or even the location that matters -- it's the people who matter, the people who make the memories special. 
Even if those people are strangers in a locked dementia unit.




Thursday, December 05, 2019

Solvitur Ambulando


Can you believe I forgot about walking and thinking? I forgot that to come up with an idea or work through a problem, I need to get out and tromp. I need fresh air and snowflakes and puddles and trees and yes, the field.
Yeesh.
It's been so wet and muddy the past six weeks or so, I haven't done much walking outside. Once it gets too dark to walk in the morning or late in the afternoon, I trade in my outdoor shoes for my indoor shoes and climb onto the treadmill. But to make walking in place in the dingy basement bearable, I watch television; preferably a movie on a channel with no commercials.
Watching a show, however, means my brain is engaged, totally focused on the story. In order to properly solve something, my brain needs to be disengaged and I need to be quiet, focused on other things, like tromping.

Or photographing those funny little snow puffs in the field, which are actually snow-topped Queen Anne's Lace. How I miss these little decorations when I'm stuck in the basement staring at a television screen.


The other day, I looked out the window at a little bit of sunshine and said to the dog, "Let's go for a walk." The road was too muddy (not cold enough to freeze) so we switched into the field and went way up to the top; I don't have to worry about the dog hearing animals in the woods and disappearing to investigate/chase.
Also the other day, I'd posted a long piece on my Facebook author page about wanting to give up on publishing, and writing, because it's just not working out for me anymore. I still wasn't comfortable admitting my failure to sell another book and needed a good tromp to get it out of my system. One person wrote a long comment in response, suggesting I give up only on traditional publishing -- but keep writing and publish digitally. I didn't answer right then; wasn't sure how to since the thought of learning a new technology (social media takes enough time, thank you), and not getting a hard copy of a book in my hands or getting to interact with readers was appalling. Those are the best parts of book publishing.
Then again, that's not happening anyway...

Obviously, that commented planted a seed because as I was walking, my brain was working away on that comment, wondering if there was some possibility in it other than my usual knee-jerk reaction of "Can't!" And turns out, there is. We were on our way home, tromping across the soggy field, when I realized I could TRY. I have a novel I wrote while I was in Vancouver, worked on in 2003, and again in 2009 after I'd moved to Nova Scotia. I could publish that on a digital platform and see what it's like. See if anyone reads it. See if enough people read it to make that my new direction.

It makes publishing a Field Notes 2 -- already proposed and rejected but fully outlined -- a possibility.

Whoa, girl. One step at a time. Ah, yes, one step, one tromp, one walk at a time. More thinking, more figuring out, less giving up, less hiding in the basement.
Because SOLVITUR AMBULANDO: "It is solved by walking."

It is also solved by skating on the pond...



Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Last Day of November


When I realized it was time to head out to the chicken coop to freshen up their water and collect eggs, I looked out the window and saw the above scene.
There's the coop, and the field behind it, in the middle of a snow squall. Just as forecast.

It's been rainy and grey most of the month, then the last few days have been really windy, giving us nasty wind chills. It's been the kind of wind that makes it hard to keep the house warm. Having a snowy day is actually a welcome relief. And makes it the right time to put "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on the CD player in my office for the season!



Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Heart and Home in Nova Scotia

Arriving in Nova Scotia in May 2002. In the photo album, I wrote "Finally!"

Tuesday morning, after I'd dropped Mother off at the airport in Moncton, I popped in a CD of music and headed right back to Nova Scotia. It was just before eleven o'clock and the sun was high and bright after so many days of grey November skies.
The road spilled out in front of me, a smooth ribbon of asphalt, and I turned on the cruise control and relaxed.

I don't often drive by myself in a vehicle these days; usually I'm with Mother or Dwayne so this was a rare treat. It reminded me I used to do this all the time, drive long distances by myself and have hours (even days) alone with my thoughts. Some people dread that; I'd forgotten how essential this quiet time is. So many ideas percolated, so many problems resolved. You don't get this while travelling with someone.

There's a particular point on the TransCanada Highway before you reach Sackville where, when you look ahead and if there isn't much traffic and you aren't involved in a conversation, you see the highway undulating a long way into the distance through those northern Appalachian hills. When I looked ahead and saw this empty stretch of road, I suddenly had this strong surge of feeling. Like a body-sized tidal bore washing through me.

The feeling of going home.

I've lived in rural Nova Scotia for over 12 years yet when I saw that view on Tuesday morning, I felt the same way I did 17 years ago when I drove to Nova Scotia after more than ten years away. After five years in Vancouver and a yoga instructor saying "Make this the year you go towards what makes you happy." After a two-week drive across the country to get where I wanted to be.

Where I needed to be.

I needed to be with my parents as it turned out, but also the East Coast. It seems I planted the seed of my true heart in Nova Scotia's red soil with our first family visit in 1979 and it simply kept growing, waiting for me to return.

Where I needed to be then and now.

Even though I was born and raised in Ontario, even though my best friends live there and I visit at least once a year, that feeling of "coming home" to Nova Scotia is still as strong in me as it was in 2002, and then again in 2007 when I drove down to start my life with Dwayne. Permanent residency, after all those years of driving away.

Maybe because it's been such a difficult summer and fall, maybe because I'm living with the uncertainty of work, maybe because we are adjusting to the impact of Dwayne's stroke has had on our life together, for all of those reasons, perhaps I needed to remember:
Nova Scotia is home to me. Not an address home but a rooted home, a spiritual home, a place-where-I-belong home.

It goes beyond being married to a Nova Scotia country boy, it goes beyond my mother living with us, it goes beyond the field and the woods and the water. It even goes beyond my worries about what I'll do if something happens to Dwayne (you know - something).
It's a twist on the cliche "Home is where the heart is" because it simply feels like this is where my heart planted itself (knowing itself better than I've ever known it), where it lives and thrives. This is where I find my inspiration, my courage, my joy, my peace, and my hope.

Yes. And just now, a memory: Telling Dwayne at the end of the summer we met and fell in love that if I was to get a tattoo, I'd get two of them on the tops of my feet so I'd see them every time I did yoga. One would say Peace and the other Hope.
"Because that is what I found this summer here in Nova Scotia and with you."

So for everyone feeling adrift and alone, scared and scattered, like you just don't fit in anywhere, home doesn't have to be where you were born or where your family lives. Sure, those places can be home, but home is where your heart feels brave and safe, content and loved and supported. Home is where you can breathe and be free, where you are a bulb planted deep in the soil believing that at the right time, your roots will dive down and your heart will reach up until you burst into the life you are meant to live. No matter what happens in that life, when and why, you will have reached what makes you happy.

Forty years.
Seventeen years.
Twelve years.
15 months.
One hour.
How ever long it takes,
you arrive.
Finally.


Stella and I arriving in March 2007. In that photo album, I wrote, "Home."


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

What A Difference A Year Makes

The field viewed from the top where it meets the woods. 
On this day last year, winter arrived on the East Coast. It snowed, and the snow stayed. Our spring was cold and wet and last all through June. It sucked.
But it was a great year for me. From September 2018 until July 2019, I was content, confident about my future, anticipating that future, no less. This time last year, I was so busy with substitute teaching (French! Music!) and magazine articles and producing the Christmas play, knowing that my novel was on submission and ANY DAY I would receive the wonderful news that it would be published... That carried on through the new year, as I edited the novel, and took part in a play, and landed a fairly regular substitute gig that fit right into my busy life.
In the past, my natural hopefulness carried me through everything. There was always hope. Something would happen!
Then July and August rolled around and suddenly, with the death of the ospreys, I saw the death of my dreams.
That sounds dramatic but when you live as close to nature, and those birds, as we do, it's hard not to interpret events. And for me, when everything I'd worked for and hoped for (published novel, potential literary agent) simply fell away into a vast chasm with no sound and no bottom... I fell into my own void.
All hope gone. Killed, just like this year's osprey family.

I've always had my shit together, or at least, I thought I did, and it appeared, even to me, that I did. And as I've learned about myself, no matter what is going on in my head and my heart, I don't talk about it much. Not because I consciously choose to make people think my life is great! perfect! going exactly as planned! but because I tend not to write about the hard emotional times. For all I write about myself, I don't want to bore people with any kind of "poor me" stuff.
In fact, I've been avoiding people because I didn't want to bring them down. I don't want to be that Eeyore friend.

Let's be honest: There's nothing wrong with my life. What's tormenting me is simply the result of 25 years of not making the right decisions, of letting other people tell me what to do, or at least influence what I decide to do. Twenty five years after not going into teaching. Twenty five years of being a freelance writer. Twenty five years after I first started attending the United Church as an adult. What do I have to show for any of that?
The part of me that is now upset with me for screwing up wants to shout, "Nothing. Absolutely nothing." But the sensible, and mostly in charge part of me knows that's not true.
I have skills. I have a lot of skills -- in writing, in public speaking, in presenting.
So part of me is ready, after 25 years, to give up the church work, the freelance writing and the substitute teaching and find a regular job that uses my skills.

I'm not there yet; I'm committed to my current path until June (unless the dream regular job comes along before then) and I'm committed to seeing the book I'm working on now -- which I am, for the first time, steadfastly refusing to talk about because when it's the make-or-break book, it feels like it should be a secret project so no one knows what I've failed at -- but after it's done, and on submission, with the three other books that are on submission, I'm done.

And that scares the crap out of me because who knows if there is some dream regular job close to home that will use my particular skills? I need something that replace all the freelance work that's been keeping me busy for the past four years. I need something that will keep me busy and engaged at work because I have too much energy to be standing around waiting for customers. When it comes to work, I'm a toddler: Keep me occupied at all times. That's what I love about writing; there's always writing to be done.

Yet after 25 years, I'm prepared to not be a writer anymore. I've had a good run. Time for something completely different. Preferably one that comes with a bi-weekly paycheque.

So I don't talk about what's weighing me down and sapping my creative energy and making me, at times, rather unpleasant to live with. I don't talk about how I can't imagine not writing anymore. It hurts to think I can't, after all this time, be more than a one-book author. It hurts to think all the stories still inside me will wither and die in there, kept from the light and the air.
Irony: one of the books tossed into the Bermuda Triangle of submission is a collection of essays whose through-line is rediscovering who I am after letting other people determine what I am.

Yet I've discovered recently that when you share your struggle, when you admit you've been struggling for a few months and are no longer the happy, hopeful person you've been, people respond. And they don't respond with platitudes; they just let you know they hear you and understand. Some people even help, and you end up receiving the kind of help that makes you start to believe in yourself and your work and the whole damn point of it all again.
Since I did what is called a "thread" (a series of related tweets) on Twitter about how this book I'm working on right now is my make-or-break book, I've felt uplifted by the kindness of other people.
It proves to me what others always say (and I've never had a reason to experience before) that you are not alone -- when you share what you're going through, you will find a community. It may not change the outcome of your struggle but it certainly makes it easier to endure it.

This time last year, winter came early. This week, it's going to be wet and cloudy until Saturday. I have an article to write and a school visit to do (in which I'm going to gush about how much I love being a writer). The book I'm not talking about is coming together really well. I'm excited about the book.
And that's making a difference. All the hope about publishing is still gone... but at least I'm enjoying my last writing project.



Monday, November 11, 2019

Remembrance Day: Peace On Earth

A Remembrance Sunday flower arrangement at Upper Sackville United Church.
For the first time in the six years I've been working as a lay worship leader, I had to create and lead the community worship service for Remembrance Day because it was my church's turn to host.
It was nervewracking because I felt a lot of pressure to offer a meaningful service.
And my nerves are still shaky because I'm not sure it was good enough. Oh, it was fine, but I feel it could have been better. It wasn't until I was home and watching the ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa that I thought, We should have read that, and We could have had a piper.
I love bagpipes. How did I miss the opportunity to have a piper in the church??
Anyway, my theme was peace. The congregation didn't really know the first two hymns (because I chose hymns for the words, not their familiarity) but they belted out "Let There Be Peace On Earth" after my message.

Here is the text of that message, titled "Peace On Earth", delivered this morning in what was likely the shortest Remembrance Day worship service in history -- 35 minutes!

"Tomorrow, November 12th, is the day we start decorating for Christmas – for that season of “Peace on earth, goodwill to all”.

That’s seven weeks of hearing about and singing about “Peace on earth”.
For Christians observing the Season of Advent leading up to Christmas Day, it’s seven weeks of waiting for the “Prince of Peace”.

For Jesus, who, in his ministry, said, “My peace I give you.
Who said, “Love one another.”
Who said, “All who pick up the sword shall die by the sword.”    [Matthew 25: 52-53]

But today, November 11th, is not for decorating or anticipating. Today is for remembering. Remembering why “peace on earth” is still the wish, the dream, the hope of so many, and the reason so many soldiers and civilians died in two world wars, and other wars, and continue to die in conflicts around the world.

For peace on earth.

Today is for counting our blessings – the blessings of freedom, safety, democracy – for which so many gave, and continue to give their lives, their futures, and their freedom.

Today is for blessing the peacemakers.

Even though humanity doesn’t have a history of living in peace with each other, we do know what peace is.

There’s the Biblical peace, from the Hebrew scriptures: “Shalom”Most of us likely know “shalom” as a way of saying hello or good-bye – as in “Peace be with you”. However, the original meaning of “shalom” goes further than a single blessing:

Shalom is ALL the blessings of peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, well-being, and tranquility.

That’s a lot of blessings to pack into one word: Peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, well-being and tranquility for the world, for this community, and for each other – for everyone. 

If we everything we did and said – whether we are standing in the legislature, standing in the middle of a protest, standing at the front of a classroom, or simply standing in our own backyards – if everything we did and said was meant to uphold that whole huge notion of SHALOM for our neighbours…

It invites us to IMAGINE peace on earth.

Which takes us to the John Lennon concept of peace:
“Imagine all the people living life in peace…”
What’s important about Lennon’s peace movement is that wanting peace and protesting war isn’t about diminishing the lives of those who join the military, who fight, who die – FOR PEACE.
It’s about the dream that no one dies in war or because of conflict ever again.
“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one”

And there’s the global concept of peace.
International Alert is a non-profit organization that works for peace in areas of conflict.
I-A believes peace happens when people are able to resolve their conflicts without violence and work together to improve the quality of their lives.

This means everyone has power to participate in decision making, everyone has an equal opportunity to work and make a living, everyone is equal before the law, and everyone lives in safety, without fear or threat of violence.

Sounds like SHALOM, doesn’t it?

“All we’re saying,” John Lennon crooned, “is give peace a chance.”

Imagine if PEACE became our default.

Imagine if the answer to a problem wasn’t to bomb but to build – to build bridges of connection and bridges of understanding.

Blessed are those who give peace a chance.
Blessed are those who imagine everyone living in peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they are the risk takers. They are the brave ones.

Blessed are the peacemakers who do their work – who speak with mercy and act with justice – despite the arguments and conflicts and the outright battles crashing around them.

Blessed are those who put on a uniform and picked up a gun for they hoped to be peacemakers, too.
They fought – were injured – died – for peace on earth, goodwill to all.

For all the blessings of peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, well-being, and tranquility.

And they want us to remember this – not just on Remembrance Day, and not just at Christmas time – but every single day we live and breathe, work and study, gather and celebrate in the freedom they gave us.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be remembered."

- by Sara Jewell


Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Gifts of November

November's first snowfall with the Manitoba maple
Here's an excerpt from the message I'm sharing today at church in Sackville, New Brunswick: 

For many of us, November is the season of lament.
We lament how brown everything turns, how the leaves are gone, and the gardens are tilled and vacant.
We lament the darkness, the wet, the dampness, the cold. The snow! Too soon, we say. 
When November arrives, the season of dying, of dormancy, of shutting down has begun.

November is that “nothing” month between the vibrancy of October and the festivities of December – with only the remembrance of war, of suffering and death in the middle of the month. For many of us, the blood-red poppy is the symbol of November.

For many of us, November is the month of melancholy. It’s the month when there is nothing to celebrate. Every weekend from January to October, we have something to decorate for, to shop for, to anticipate. Even Halloween has become a month-long “celebration”.  
November, however, is the month darkened not only by the time change but also by the shadow of war.

But – thank goodness – even before Halloween, HOLIDAY decor begins springing up in malls and shops, assuring us that once we tire of jack-o-lanterns and horror movies, we can lose ourselves in wintry traditions of Christmas and New Year’s.
We just need to “get through” November – this bridge month between the “fresh start” of September and the bright colours of October, and the parties and bright lights of December.

This reminds me of a poster I once had: it was a photo of a horse standing at a fence in a misty pasture, looking out beyond the fence.
The caption read, “Hope is not a way out but a way through.”
A way through. When things are misty and unclear, when the days are dark and gloomy, when the light disappears and the rain or wind keeps us tucked inside, we seek a way through.



...How on earth can there be a MOMENT OF JOY in times of suffering, loss and death? 

There HAS to be.
Because HOPE is a way through, not a way out.
Because the gifts of JOY and HOPE and LOVE and PEACE – even if the gift lasts only a moment – are the lights that shine in the darkness.

I was thinking about this as I walked along a dirt road near my house. Everything was bare – the leaves were off the trees, the fields were brown, the wind was sharp – it was a typical November afternoon: barren and bleak and bitter – but what did I notice? What shone out of the barrenness like a tiny little beacon of joy?

Rosehips.

Red, round rosehips in surprising abundance on the straggly, prickly stems of the wild rose bushes.
Now, if ever there was a perfect metaphor for November, this is it:  
We don’t want to be stripped bare, pared down, laid open – we don’t want the straggly, prickly days…we prefer the sunshine and warm temperatures, the beautiful roses and lush green leaves.
But there isn’t one of us who hasn’t been stripped bare, pared down and laid open at some point – by loss – by change – by suffering. Whether it’s through death or divorce or disease… it happens to us, it happens to someone we love. 


...We have a tree in our front yard, a Manitoba maple, and when all the other trees on our property have lost their leaves, the southern side of this maple tree still holds onto its leaves – BIG YELLOW LEAVES.

When we look out into the yard, whether it’s sunny or rainy, these leaves glow – they become these lovely golden stars. 
Yesterday, in the cold sunshine, those stars dotted the snow covering the yard.
On a rainy day, when the sun isn’t even shining, they gather the light.

It’s like sunshine cascading down from the sky.

This display doesn’t last long –  but it is a gift. It is a reminder there is always hope, and there is no darkness, no emptiness, no dread that cannot be pierced, filled or vanquished with a word of kindness, a moment of joy, or the smallest ray of light. 


~ By Sara Jewell


Monday, October 28, 2019

Learning To Drive, Country Style

You can't do this in East Toronto: City girl driving the tractor! 
When I first moved here to rural Nova Scotia, Dwayne tried to teach me to drive his big blue Chev truck. It wasn't a new truck; I think it was a 94 or 95, so he considered it delicate, and didn't want it broken. New or old, he still would have freaked out about my handling it.
As in, lurching all over the place and stalling the truck. I think I got two attempts at driving it, before he hauled me out of the driver's seat and said I was going to "break" his truck.

Yeesh.

I've been bugging him about the tractor, wanting to learn to drive it and use the loader. After all, this is how country-raised kids learn to drive: They hop up on tractors when they're seven or eight and listen and watch, then they get to help with some task, and from there it's quick steps to driving the tractor by themselves by the time they're 12 years old.
Driving my friend's brother's TransAm through Pugwash at the age of 15 doesn't really count (see Field Notes for the whole story...) so I'm determined to be able to work the tractor, to haul dirt and gravel and plow snow, as soon as possible. Part of this determination comes from my innate practicality: Dwayne had a stroke. He's recovered but it's a reminder that anything can happen at any moment.

As if any of us needs a reminder.

I've found resistance to change, and reality, creates more problems than it prevents, so I want to be able to do as much of the work around this property as possible JUST IN CASE. Because you never know what could happen on a normal Sunday evening while you're watching a "Big Bang Theory" rerun.

What's hilarious about my learning to drive the tractor is I have my ex-husband to thank for the success of yesterday's lesson.
Many, many years ago, when I had first moved to Vancouver, my car was stolen and his truck was a standard. So early on a Sunday morning, we went out to a huge, empty parking lot at UBC to practice. I'd barely warmed the driver seat and lurched forward when a car came. It was miles away, there was no way I'd come close to it, but my then-husband shouted, "Stop!" anyway. 
I jammed my foot on the brake. The truck stalled.
He got mad and that was the end of my lesson. I never learned to drive his truck, and a few weeks later, the police found my car.

But this is what I learned: CLUTCH, BRAKE. If you want an automatic driver to stop when they are driving a standard, you need to shout "Clutch! Brake!" at them.
Now, I knew this when trying to learn to drive the big blue Chev but you change gears A LOT in a truck and I couldn't coordinate my feet and my hands and my brain. There was simply too much clutching, and when you're learning, you do everything slowly and after thinking it through.
Husband driving teachers have no patience with that.
The tractor, on the other hand, is a different story. I don't need to go very fast so there are no gears to change, expect from Forward, Neutral and Reverse. And it turns out, I don't even need to use the brake very much.

I've got this, you guys! I know how to drive the tractor. I can back up! I can go forward!
I still lurch, however, but hopefully that will smooth itself out as I get the feel for the clutch, and grow my left leg about four inches. It would be nice not to slide off the tractor seat every time I let the clutch out.
The trick is to drive the tractor as much as possible so I remember how. So expect to see me puttering up and down the driveway, backing up, lurching forward every day.

Until the first snowfall... then the loader lessons begin...

Tractor selfie! Then Dwayne took my phone away. 


Thursday, October 24, 2019

My Life As An Indoor Cat

Lining the cats up for a photograph - Remi, Millie and Leonard
When the cats leave me alone in the night, when Millie doesn't jump up and mush her solid body against mine, when Remi isn't lying at me feet or Leonard walking over my head, I know they have found a mouse.
The growling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the attached garage this morning as I snapped on the kettle told me my assumption was correct.
Millie had the mouse in her mouth so I assumed it was dead and let the cats chase themselves back into the basement. But as I was coming back into the house after feeding the wild birds, I bumped into a cat and wondered why Leonard and Remi were looking under the hall seat.
I moved some shoes and there was the mouse! Or at least, a mouse. It was dazed but alive. All I had to do was crack open the door and guide it towards freedom, and viola! I saved another mouse today.

I'd make a terrible cat. Who has written a book about a cat that saves mice and birds, instead of stalking and killing them? 

I'm doing the indoor cat thing these days, sitting at my keyboard for hours, basking in the sun from the end of the couch, and watching the squirrels through the windows. Work has me missing out on these gorgeous, absolutely perfect autumn days. I have almost four hours of interviews to transcribe, plus other work to keep up with, so it's butt-in-chair this week as I push hard to get the transcriptions completed.
I can glance out my windows and see the blue sky and sunshine but last week's wind and rain stripped the maple and birch trees of their yellow and orange leaves so the light is bright; being away, I missed the last of the lovely leaf-dappled light that fills my writing space in the fall.

I love this time of year. The smell of wood in the basement. The visiting mice. The sparkling sun on the river. The bare trees and the dried-brush colour of the field. As the natural world is dying off, curling up for the cold, burrowing in as winter looms, I come alive. My creative energy, my optimism, my persistence swirls around like those last leaves skittering across the lawn in a cool breeze off the strait. Hard to catch but I know to follow.



Monday, October 21, 2019

Up Close and Personal With Family History

Mother and I in front of the house her grandfather built.
When I invited my mother to come along on my trip to Ontario to interview a couple of funeral directors who worked for my father (as if I could keep her from coming! ), she announced she wanted to head into Scarborough to visit her cousin John who now lives in an assisted living facility.
I figured if we were going to be in Scarborough, where my mother was born and raised, and where I was born, we also would visit all those places from my childhood I'd been investigating with Google.

I'd get up close and personal with my early childhood.

We returned home last night and as I get my bearings in rural Nova Scotia again, I have to say it was an amazing trip.
First of all, how amazing is it that all the places I know from stories -- the church where my parents were married, the funeral home where my father worked, the fish and chips shop where we ate supper on Friday nights, and the house I lived in for the first three years of my life -- are still there.
I could visit every single place, and see them AS THEY WERE THEN.

Surely this is a sign that I'm on the right track with the focus of this book.

We visited Hope United Church first and as we walked through an archway, Mother said, "These are the doors your father and I came through after we were married," and I recognized them from photos in their wedding album.
How much better to be inside the church where they met, married, and baptized me -- especially since I've always heard the story of how I cried all through my baptism and didn't stop until we stepped outside again.
The pipe organ takes up one end of the sanctuary and the minister, who just happened to be a music major, sat at the organ and played it on FULL for us. It explained why my father loved organ music. Going from his country church to that big city sound would have made a big impression.

The funeral home was renovated four years ago after a fire tore through the upstairs apartments, but Mother says the layout of the funeral home is the same as when we walked in -- up the two steps inside the front door -- to wait for my father to put his coat on in the early 1970's.

Secondly, how amazing is it that Mother and I ate at Len Duckworth's Fish and Chips? I was two and three when we went there so likely I only ate a fry or two. But eating a meal wasn't as significant as the fact is still there; it celebrated 90 years in business at that location this year. The decor has changed but the booths are the same. That's pretty remarkable.

I'm not as little as I was in 1972 and 73!
The best part of this, of course, was doing it with my mother. How much more meaningful to visit each place with her, rather than on my own. To see her stand at those doors of the church... 
I'm profoundly aware of how lucky I am -- to be able to write this book about my father the funeral director, to afford to be able to do that research trip to Ontario, AND to be able to share it with the woman who is responsible for going on a date with my father in 1964 after they met at a choir party!

My mother is 78 years old, and while she's in pretty good shape, I told her she has to exercise more so she can be in pretty good shape in a few years when we head out on another road trip to promote the book. I'm feeling more optimistic about this book's chances now. I may be writing about my father, but I'm doing all of this with my mother. Both are special experiences for which I'm grateful.

It was a good trip, exploring old memories and making new ones. It was a productive trip, with the book gelling in my mind. And it was a successful trip for these two city girls who now live in the country; we spent an afternoon driving and parking around East Toronto -- and survived!




Thursday, October 03, 2019

Family History


Like the journey of Granny's chest, I'm on a journey I never anticipated.

I wrote about the journey of Granny's chest in an essay by the same name in my book, Field Notes. In it, I talked about discovering that the old chest my sister and I had played in as kids actually came all the way from Liverpool, England, with our ancestors. Granny was my mother's great-grandmother -- not to be confused with her Gran, who lived in the house pictured above.

That house on Linden Avenue in Scarborough, Ontario, was built by MY great-grandfather (Gran's husband) in 1926. Granny's chest was in the attic of this house -- it was her son, Henry (my maternal great-grandfather), who built the house.
In the essay, I figured it out: John Everest and his wife, Sarah Ringer, immigrated to Toronto, Canada, from England. Their son, Henry, married Mary Latham, known as Gran. Henry and Mary were my mother's grandparents.
Gran lived in this house until she died.
After she died in 1947, my mother and her sister and their father (my mother's mother died in 1945), moved into this house on Linden Avenue in Scarborough. The chest -- which the family started calling Granny's chest -- was in the attic of the house. We have no idea if the chest belonged to John (Banny) and Sarah (Granny) Everest but it's a safe assumption since the chest had Liverpool painted on it, and they came from England.

The whole point in telling you this is: I lived in this house on Linden Avenue, too. I lived here from about four months of age until I was three. My parents sold the house and used their share of the proceeds to buy a funeral home in Cobourg. Until this week, I hadn't paid any more attention to this house on Linden Avenue than what I've seen in photos of the first three years of my life. The house disappeared from our family history, and from my life, in 1973, and I've never thought of it since or even asked to drive by it whenever we were in Scarborough.

But now that I'm working on a book about my dad, I'm returning to Scarborough and my early years -- thanks to Google maps -- and for someone who has moved around a lot in her life, I'm shocked by how much of my childhood landmarks STILL EXIST. The funeral home where my father worked, the fish and chips shop where we ate on Friday nights, the house my parents lived in when they were first married (and where they brought me home to from the hospital), and this: the house my great-grandfather built.

On the outside, nothing has changed. Those front windows represent what my mother remembers as the sunroom and the music room (two separate rooms I bet are now all one room with the living room because that's what I'd do). The living room windows were on the left side where the "front" door was, off the driveway. That room on the second floor overlooking the street? My room.

My room. It's still there. It won't look the same as my photos from the early 1970's. But in a world where so much has changed and is changing, in a city where people tear down the little houses to build lot-filling "monster" homes, the brick house my great-grandfather built 93 years ago still stands, looking exactly like it did when I wandered that street, with our dog alongside me, and stole the bread cooling on the window ledge at our neighbours' house next door.

My mother and I sitting in front of the living room windows.




Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Advice From A Sunflower


It's been a rough year for my husband's sunflowers. Because of the cold, wet spring, he was late planting his seeds. Because of a torrential rainfall on July 1st, he lost half of his seeds; they washed away or were too wet to germinate.

But a whole bunch of sunflowers did manage to grow, and were just beginning to bloom, several weeks behind schedule, when Hurricane Dorian flattened them all on September 7.

And yet.
The remaining sunflowers didn't lie down and die. They didn't give up. They kept growing. They kept blooming. They simply altered how they did it.
I didn't notice what the sunflowers had done until I went to cut a few for the guest bedroom and realized there isn't a straight stalk among them.
The photos show how the sunflowers kept growing upwards, towards the sun, even though the bulk of their stem was lying flat on the ground. The blooms are big and healthy and full of pollinators; even this close to the ground, the bees are finding them. They are as beautiful and bright as if they were standing perfectly straight.

Take this advice from the sunflowers, then: If your roots are strong and supported, no matter what storm flattens you, you will bloom. You can still achieve your purpose even if you are a little bent out of shape. Who needs you will find you. Your beauty will still shine brightly even if you are laying low.

Anyone driving by and feeling sorry for our flattened sunflowers is missing out on the real story of those surviving blooms.





Saturday, September 21, 2019

Smash and Crash


Once again, I smacked up against that old adage, You don't get what you want, you get what you need.
For the last two weeks, I've been busy. That usual mantra of "I'm so busy." I'm not overwhelmed, just working all the time. Lucky for me, even though I work - mostly write - seven days a week, there are plenty of breaks to keep me sane.
But still. I've been wondering if I'm doing too much on the writing side, trying to cover too many projects. Maybe I'm splitting my creative energy over too many areas.

This busyness has been exacerbated by a wonky internet connection. Our antennae was knocked out of alignment by the hurricane so using the internet, which is what I do for work, and for this blog, became extremely challenging. 

People often say to me, "I suppose you're working," or "You're always so busy." And yes, I am. But what these people don't understand is that I'm not at the point in my career where I'm settled and secure in my job and cruising to retirement. I have three part-time jobs: one pays well but I'm not good at it; one I'm good at but there's no future in it; and the third is the one I love doing but can't seem to make it more solid. I'm still chasing that dream of moving out of freelance writing and into book publishing.

I'm tired of it, to be honest.
An author friend recently suggested I take a break from writing, and by break, she meant step away from all writing for awhile. Actually do other work.
And I'm seriously considering that. The book projects can be on submission a long time so why not do on full-time job while I'm waiting?
So much to think about. I'm seeing signs my brain is getting worn out.

Now you're wondering what all this has to do with a photo of a bandaged thumb, and getting what you need.
Apparently, I need to rest. Or several days of rest. Because as I was getting ready for my bath last night, I went to close the sliding door in the bedroom and it was a beautiful night outside so I wasn't paying attention and for some reason, my thumb was over the locking mechanism.
Yep, what you just thought is exactly what I said out loud. For a long time. Smashed her up good.

So I took it easy today. My weekend To Do list included Fence garden out front, Sort bags in garage for recycling, and Clean spare room (Aunt Gail arrives on Monday). The chickens also need cleaning out and it wouldn't hurt to start cleaning the gardens.
There will likely be a few days of taking it easy, then supervising someone to be my hands because I can't do any of that work with a split thumb nail and some kind of hole in the pad of my thumb that I haven't taken a good look at yet.
I did nothing but read today. And type until it started to hurt my thumb.
I'm not getting what I want, but I guess I'm getting what I need.
And right now, I need another Tylenol.



Friday, September 13, 2019

Post-Hurricane Dorian Post 1

Leonard, supervising storm games. 
Finally getting a chance to post some photos of the category two hurricane that blew through Nova Scotia last weekend. Our power went out around 3 pm on Saturday and it was three days before it was restored. Our internet connection just came back yesterday afternoon. 
Fortunately, we have a generator so we were able to keep our freezer frozen, and the water pump pumping. I'm not one who wants the house to operate on a generator as if it's "business as usual". For me, the generator is part of the emergency system so I still used the water we had in pots and jugs, I didn't flush every time, and we played Scrabble by candlelight. With a little help from a friend. 
It was nice to be able to watch the news, though, and know what was going on in Halifax. 

Before Hurricane Dorian arrived - Saturday, Sept. 7

After Hurricane Dorian left - Sunday, Sept. 8
What was damaged simply added to our emotionally draining summer.
It wasn't bad enough Dwayne's sunflower crop was half of what it normally is because of a cold, wet spring -- and one final deluge at the end of June. Nope, we had to have a category 2 hurricane hit Nova Scotia just as the sunflowers that did come up were beginning to bloom.

The hurricane also cost us the two blue spruce trees that towered over the back of our house. They didn't snap at the truck; they simply pulled up out of the ground. My husband planted those 37 years ago; not a single bit of rot inside them. They were strong and healthy. I'm sorry to see them go, and I know the squirrels and birds will miss them too.
Dwayne was able to save about five feet of one trunk so that will get a bird feeder in winter and perhaps a bird house for summer.
The good news? The second one narrowly missed smashing onto the gazebo. Can you imagine if wed lost that a mere two months after building it?!


Hurricane winds are hard on the nerves, but this is yet another humbling reminder of what we can't control in our world. The weather will always remind us what really is in charge of our lives.
We also are humbled by the fact we lost sunflowers and trees but not our income -- like the farmers in the valley whose fruit and corn crops were blown to the ground -- or our lives -- like so many people in the Bahamas. 



Friday, September 06, 2019

The Secret of the Bones


Last evening, after shutting up the chicken coop for the night, I wandered over to my father's garden to check out the sunflowers I'd planted there. They finally are beginning to bloom. I pulled some weeds, read Dad's engraved stone, then started to looked up.
It's a poignant time around here because this is the time of year when the entire osprey family, parents and fledglings, leave the nest for good as they begin their migration south.
This is the time of normal leave-taking, as nature intended. This is the second year in a row we've been denied this ritual.

A little voice said to me, "Go walk in the field underneath the osprey nest."
I think I wanted to find a feather but instead I found an answer.

Only several steps in, a well-picked carcass lay abandoned in the grass. I believe it is what's left of the oldest, largest osprey baby, the one we last saw on July 29.



This discovery creates a slightly different narrative than the one we had in August.

I've assumed all three babies perished in the nest after, we believe, their father was killed by someone in the neighbourhood who has a trout pond. The mother -- perhaps injured in some way -- wasn't around much. This meant the three babies weren't getting enough food but it also meant they weren't being protected from the eagles.

I remember, on a few days after July 29, seeing the surviving osprey parent land on the edge of nest.  I can't recall if she had brought a fish with her. She seemed to be looking down in the nest, and at the time, this seemed both sad and gruesome -- she'd be gazing at the bodies of her three babies.
Now I wonder if she was looking for the offspring who'd been alive a few days earlier.

This carcass suggests that baby was picked off by the eagle. Unfortunately, as we learned in the summer of 2015, with an eagle nest right across the river (the result of 2014's Hurricane Arthur knocking down the longtime nest further upriver), our ospreys must be vigilant at keeping eagles away from their nest. One of the hallmarks of this new breeding pair was their attentiveness to the nest; there was always a parent in the nest. They were diligent about driving away the eagles when they flew nearby. But with one parent gone, our baby ospreys were alone for too long and the eagles took advantage.

It's one thing for ospreys to be deliberately and senselessly killed by humans, but another to be taken as part of the cycle of nature. As much as I don't want the osprey babies preyed on by the eagles, at least that makes sense. Nature is beautiful and brutal, and as much as it breaks my heart, at least it's based on primal survival instincts.

I collected everything I found in the area around the carcass and brought it all home (I'd hoped to find the skull but it's been taken away by the eagles or another animal). I wanted to photograph it and share this story. I wanted to show you the skin and claws still attached to one foot and leg. The one to the right I found in another spot.


This carcass has been out in the field underneath the osprey nest for over a month but I couldn't go over there until now. My grief and my anger made it impossible for me to even think of being near that space, let alone discover something like this. For weeks, I've been glancing at the nest -- involuntarily, I can't help myself, the habit it so ingrained -- and thinking of the bodies in there. Wondered if the "death nest" meant no other ospreys would ever want to take it over. And maybe that's better, if no one nests there again. If no one is tempted to fish trout of out the killer's pond.
Yet last night, that small voice told me to go into that space. I didn't find the assurance I need, but I did find a plausible answer to what happened.

What would not have happened if a human hadn't interfered with the normal cycle of nature.
Claws crossed, my friends, for a different outcome in the summer of 2020.



Saturday, August 31, 2019

Taking My Art Back

My field of flowers is on the left. Louise Cloutier's is on the right. Obviously.
I've had a breakthrough.
I remember how to paint. How to paint my way, the way I'm comfortable and confident painting. It's more random than precise, definitely not detailed. It's not the way of the paintbrush, but the way of the hands and the weird tools, with the runny paint and the splatters.
How I love to splatter!

I've been taking Louise Cloutier's art classes at ArtQuarters in Pugwash again this summer, a regular Monday night class and then periodic "One Hit Wonder" classes, which is how the field of wildflowers came to be. Of course I wanted to paint a field of wildflowers!
And after a summer of frustrating art projects which are a reflection of my negative head space and not Louise's teaching, that painting reminded me of how I used to paint when I first moved to rural Nova Scotia. I found it relaxing. But I got away from it; got busy, got discouraged, got distracted. Poured all my creative energy into writing.
But all write and no paint makes Sara an unhappy girl.
Because that's not the only remembering I've done this summer.
There are voices in my head that have nothing to do with writing. 

The Grade Nine Art teacher who told me not to bother taking any more art classes.
The teaching supervisor who told me, in my final practicum, not to bother becoming a teacher.
Twenty-five, thirty-five years later, those statements mean something: they mean a lifetime wasted. They mean not only a path not taken but a path denied. They mean countless of opportunities missed, potential not realized, decisions made based on wrong information.

I am an artist. I am a teacher.
I'm not skilled at either because I was denied the chance to learn by doing. My personality is the type that internalizes, boxes in, keeps quiet. I never told anyone. I wasn't the type to tell my parents and get outraged, to say, How dare he? and I'll show him.
I wasn't the type to say, "F**k you, I'm going to take more art classes, I'm going to become a teacher." But now that I'm 49 years old and living with the ramifications of not being an artist, not being a teacher, now that I'm saying, "I'm too old for this shit", I'm developing that necessary "F**k you" attitude.
The one that says I am and I will be, and I don't care what you say or what you think because
YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. That's the new voice inside my head. Sure, it swears but sometimes, you need something strong and powerful and shocking. To wake you up. To make you take yourself seriously.
To make others back away and think twice about telling you what to do.

It's unlikely I'll become a teacher, I just don't have the experience or professional development to start now, but I'm going to be an artist. Wait - I am an artist. I'm just going to become a better one.
I'm going to draw and paint again. But with a plan and a discipline.
Thirty minutes a day on drawing. Drawing the same thing every day for a week. I'm going to start with drawing the chicken coop.
I've cleared off my drafting table so I can paint again. I'm going to paint the wildflowers again and again until I've learned something, until I'm satisfied, until it doesn't want to be painted anymore. I'm going to do torn paper collages because they are fun. I'm going to recreate a painting I did the first summer I was back in Nova Scotia, when I first came back, from the west coast, in 2002. Back when I first remembered what my Grade Nine art teacher said to me.

Well, F**k you, Mr. Livingston. The first book I write AND illustrate, I'm dedicating to you.




Friday, August 23, 2019

August Sunshine


This sunflower is growing at the edge of our rock garden. Not the inside edge but on the driveway side. It was "planted" by the birds eating sunflower seeds in the winter. Thank you, blue jays!
There are six other sunflowers scattered around our house that I dug up as seedlings out of our lawn. Two of them are on my mother's balcony.
You can never have enough sunflowers -- just look at its big yellow glory!

It's a good reminder that good things happen when you least expect it, and big, beautiful things grow from small seeds you may not even know were planted.

The expression, There aren't enough hours in the day, takes on a whole new meaning this August. I'm trying to cram an entire summer of creativity into two weeks!
The days start later so instead of waking up with the dawn at 5:30, I'm not getting out for my walk until twenty after six. That means my morning routine of feeding the animals, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, and doing a little reading gets bumped back an hour.

That's an hour I need now!
I've finally shaken my despair over the unnecessary death of the three baby ospreys and over the utter silence from the publishing world about my submissions. I've finally hit my stride with two new book projects, both related to growing up with a funeral director for a father and living above a funeral home for the first twenty years of my life.
I hit my stride just as my summer break from church writing and substitute teaching is coming to an end but the energy of a new and exciting project provides energy for everything. I know how to juggle all three jobs now and part of that is taking it one day at a time. And writing a To Do List every night before I go to bed.

And I don't want to rush the last week of August. It's Dwayne's birthday on Monday so we're going on a little trip to celebrate, and I have TWO art classes next week, plus some novels I can't wait to get into. So I might just take it easy next week, and make the most of the very last week of summer. There's a gazebo with the perfect reading chair right in my back yard...

I shall be like this sunflower next week: big and happy and glowing.
And when September arrives and work gets really busy, I will look at my new book projects and remember how this sunflower came to be: a seed planted "by accident" that grew into a big, beautiful thing.



Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Morning Glory


The rain around midnight woke me, which meant my brain said, "I was just thinking..." and for a couple of hours, I tossed and turned as I worried about my writing career, and its current downward slide into --
well --
into nothingness.
In all the years I've been doing this, this nothingness is worse than rejection. Hearing back from no one, not even people who know me, is worse than being told, "Thanks but no thanks." It also makes it difficult to know when I can send the projects to other publishers.
I'm really worried about not getting another book published. The new book project isn't helping because it's going to be a mess for a long time as I get all the stories sorted out. 
It's not been a good summer for my hopes and plans. I'm starting to think ahead, about what I can do other than the books and the magazine articles, but that only increases my anxiety.

It was unusually dark when I woke up again at six a.m. The dog sat up but I said, "Let me check." I went outside and looked to the east, the direction of our walk, and the sky was clearing. The sun was coming up behind the clouds.
But when I turned around -- the sky was almost black to the south and I saw that the clouds were moving towards the east, and I went back inside and turned on the kettle. "Yoga this morning," I whispered to the dog.

As I stood on the yoga mat, warming up with stretches, the sky in the east was ablaze in orange. I went outside, into the rain, and looked to the east, but the colour was so deep and bright, the camera on my phone wouldn't register it properly.  And when I turned around -- this rainbow arched out of the field.
Like the first snowfall of the year, or a lovely sunset, we always take a photo of a rainbow even though everyone does. Because it's special. Even as familiar as it is, it doesn't happen every day, and a rainbow is always special. Always a welcome sight. Always a moment when our breath catches and we say, "Oh!"
One photo and I dashed back inside out of the rain.

As I stood on the yoga mat, the rain fell harder, then the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed. The dog curled up on the couch and I wrapped her in a blanket as she shivered and quivered.
I breathed in hope and breathed out peace.
This is the only time I feel in control of my dreams, when I feel hopeful: on the yoga mat. This is the only time I feel strong and grounded.
I didn't do Sun Salutations this morning; I did Rainbow Salutations! There is no such thing but I incorporated all my favourite poses into the traditional lineup. Long and strong, spacious and gracious, as one of my yoga instructors used to say. When in doubt, do all your favourites.
When in doubt, breath in hope. Enough to carry me through until the next middle-of-the-night conversation with my anxious self.