Friday, October 30, 2015

The Good Witch

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 31, 2012.

    When I told an acquaintance that we were building onto our house because my mother was moving in with us, her response was, “Ohmygawd! I could never live my mother. She’s such a WITCH.”
            Most women grow up to be a replica of their mother (for better or for worse) but I have to admit, since that woman’s comment popped into my head last week, when I think of witches, I think of my mother. Especially as Halloween approaches.
            Because this is how a writer’s mind works: I have a column to write that will be published on Halloween. I’m not really into this  particular event, haven’t worn as costume since high school, don’t have kids that make it necessary to do Halloween but it doesn’t make sense to write on any other subject when the column appears on October 31. So I think about the way my mother did Halloween for her two daughters in the seventies: our homemade costumes and the Halloween table cloth and how we went trick-or-treating in town then piled into the car to visit relatives in the country, just like many people around here do. We had to visit Grandma and Grandpa, and Grandma and Grandpa George, and Aunt Reta, and then the Stinsons on the way back home. That drive to the country was as much Halloween to us as the witch that hung on the wall of our dining room.
            But I didn’t remember the old crone until I started thinking that maybe I could get away with writing a non-All Hallow’s Eve column and that woman’s comment popped into my head and that’s the magic a little witch’s brew, if you will that happens when a writer has to come up with something to say on a well-worn topic.
            Because that witch hanging on the dining room wall was as fun and silly and good-natured as my mother, as part of the magic my mother created for her two girls on Halloween as the wig of long, matted brown “hair” from the beauty salon next door and Mum’s old fox fur coat.
            Perhaps I can think up a costume for this year: I’ll be a writer. It’s a rather tricky kind of costume, mind, a bit cobbled together like Frankenstein’s Monster. You can bring the bowl of candy up to my office where I’ll be hunched over my computer (Hunchback of Notre Dame), hacking away at my words (Texas Chainsaw Murders), trying to conjure up memorable phrases (Sorcerer’s Apprentice), and hoping that the readers like them (Sally Field winning an Oscar at the 1984 Academy Awards).
            On the other hand, it might be easier to be a witch. Just like my mother.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

An Accidental Death

"I still feel badly about the chicken," my friend Jane said to me the other evening as we drove to an author reading in Amherst.
"Oh, don't," I said. "It was just a chicken. No one is to blame."
I was upstairs in my office working when I heard the chickens squawking. And squawking. When I looked out the window, I saw chickens running away from the coop, and Jane and my husband towards the coop.
Then I saw my dog running away from the pen with a chicken in her mouth, her friend Sam hot on her heels.
The game was on.
And what a game it was. The two dogs ended up at the top of the field with two humans chasing them on foot, and one hell bent for leather in his four-wheeler. I was watching the whole thing with the binoculars so I was the only person who saw the dogs standing over what was likely by then a dead chicken, looking as if they were saying, "Now what do we do?"
It's no one's fault.
Our friends had no way of knowing the chickens were loose in the yard because Jane and I haven't been getting together for walks like we used to (now that's MY fault), and Sam always fusses at the chickens when he's here -- he ran circles around the rabbit hutch, too -- so to find the whole coop wide open and chickens all over the place ... !
Even Abby, grabbing a chicken by the neck, only did so egged on by her friend. She's taller and faster than he is, and couldn't resist the chase or the capture. They were two dogs caught up in a moment. I don't expect they "got a taste for blood".
The dogs knew we were displeased, and we'll keep an eye on Abby as long as the chickens are free-ranging till winter begins. But there's need to feel badly about the chicken. It was a bizarre and unexpected event, a completely accidental death.
I wouldn't have said this a few years ago but it was just a chicken.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Crop Inspector

While the cat nip crop dries on my drafting table,
I'm going to have to keep the cats out of my office.
Although I guess Leonard really isn't hurting anything
by sitting in the middle of the table.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Catnip Harvest

Around here, people grow drugs for themselves.
I grow it for my cats.
My catnip harvest is spread out in my warm, sunny office
where it will dry in order to be stuffed into cat toys.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Afternoon Sun

Just as I sat down in my chair to edit a short story, the sun came out from behind the clouds and lit up the yellow leaves outside my office window, behind the dragonfly ornament. It's hard to concentrate when the sun is calling you and the dragonfly is reminding you and your words are on the page in front of you.
The sun wants me to get outside and walk, stimulate my brain for thinking, blow the old thoughts out and make room for the new ideas emerging from the dark depths of my subconscious.
The dragonfly says, "Don't be afraid to try something different. Believe that your wings are stronger than you realize."
The words say, "More, more, more."
So I worked on the story and sent the pages to my dragonfly queen who will edit and holler back in an email with suggestions that will seem outrageous and unknowable and I will take her words and my words, all squirming and wiggling and not wanting to tie their shoelaces or put on toques, for a long walk in the woods and the yellow leaves,
flopping like wings,
will show me how to make those words straighten up and fly right.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Autumn Molt

I had to buy eggs the other day. Brown eggs, almost identical in size and colour, perfectly clean, perfectly egg-shaped.
Not a speck of poop, tag of sawdust or lingering feather to be seen.
Not even one green egg in the carton.
How boring.
Our hens are old-ish, and they are molting. The coop and the outside pen are full of feathers, and now that our gardens are done for the years, the chickens are ranging all over the yard so every time I come across a flurry of feathers, it takes me a moment to move from panic -- Raccoon! -- to the realization that the ladies are simply flinging feathers behind them as they traipse around the yard.
The worst part of this annual drop in egg production, brought on both by the molting and the shorter days, isn't having to buy eggs; it's my husband's threats to replace our old-ish hens with new, younger models who will lay eggs.
"We're not running a retirement home here, you know," he says.
Uh, actually, we are. You just refuse to accept it. 
I'll have to make some calls and see if I can't round up a few young layers to toss into the coop for the winter. Perhaps if there are eggs in the boxes, my husband will forget that most of the hens are enjoying their golden years without the hassles of popping an egg out their butt every other day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Does Poverty Look Like?

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, October 21, 2015, by Sara Jewell.

As a lay worship leader providing short-term pulpit supply for several United Churches in the Oxford area, I have to write a message every week on a particular topic.
            With World Food Sunday on October 18, I decided to learn more about the root of food insecurity – 15% of Nova Scotians do not have unlimited access to nutritious and safe foods – and so I asked two people who are familiar with the issue, What does poverty look like in Cumberland County?
            Colleen Dowe, secretary of the Empowering Beyond Barriers Society, replied, “It looks like no choice. It looks like judgement.”
            She explained that choice means some kids in a classroom get to play hockey while others are lucky to have a healthy snack. It also looks like parents going without food so their children can eat, often running out of money before the end of the month and needing to go to the food bank.
“When you look inside a food bank, everyone’s head is down,” said Dowe who has volunteered at a food bank. “We’re trying to remove the stigma because we need people to use these supports, especially for their kids. So what poverty looks like is people who have no choice. And by judgement, I mean ‘poor bashing’, saying things like ‘I pay taxes so you can lie around’.”
According to the website for the Department of Social Services, a person on social assistance receives $255 each month for groceries, toiletries, transportation, and other non-rent expenses. I can’t imagine $255 goes very far, especially when it comes to buying fresh fruit and vegetables, and meat, let alone non-food essentials like toilet paper and feminine hygiene products.
Not everyone relies on social assistance, however, and Dowe said Cumberland County has a huge number of people who are working poor.
“Often, they’re working three or four jobs because they’re working a few hours here, a few hours there,” Dowe said. “We have a lot of retail and fast food jobs, and the minimum wage has gone up, but if people are not in a full-time jobs, their hours are spread out and they don’t have benefits.”
The greatest victims of poverty, though, are those who truly have no choice: children. When I asked the Executive Director of Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre in Amherst, what poverty looks like, Carolyn D’Entremont said, “Hopelessness.”
And education is the key.
“If they’ve grown up in this, if they haven’t finished their education then it becomes that unrelenting cycle,” she said. “Some folks are so down, they don’t see a way up. That’s where the hopelessness comes from.”
D’Entremont, too, mentioned judgement.
“People are pretty generous in the community but you do hear the judgmental stuff,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what system you set up, there’s always going to be someone who is going to take advantage of it and you just have to go in accepting that. For the handful who are taking advantage of this, I’m helping ninety others. I’m okay with that.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

The First Snowfall

I was awakened in the middle of the night by the cats and dog shifting their positions, under the covers and on top of my pillow, and I heard frozen bits hitting the window. I was pretty sure there was snow on the ground -- the lightness was a giveaway -- but I put my glasses on just to be sure.
We received a couple of inches. It needed to be brushed off the cars and swept off the front deck. And at 11 am, as I write this, it's not melted away. Yet it's only the middle of October, the middle of autumn, so we have leaves falling on snow under a clear blue sky.
This is the first snowfall; I don't always have to mention it but I don't think I've seen this before -- the leaves blanketing the blanket of snow.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Buster Conquers the Beach

My friend Christina is, like me, an artist -- struggling, striving, successful, wishful, worried, wondering -- and we finally got together for our catch-up date. Normally, we meet for coffee -- but doesn't everyone? So I had the brilliant idea of going for a walk at a beach. Anyone who lives inside their heads like we do -- as writers, she of songs and melodies, me of essays and sermons -- that I knew fresh air and the shore and the motion of our limbs were what we needed.
And I was right so now we both wish we'd done this sooner. Our hearts know what our heads ignore.
Because Christina is dog-sitting for friends, I left my dog at home. I wanted to actually enjoy my walk and be able to talk to Christina which would be impossible with Abby rick-rolling Buster in the wet sand.
Also, I wanted Buster to still be alive and Christina to still be my friend at the end of the walk.
I think I'll go back tomorrow, just Abby and me. The beach we chose is not very big but there is no one there -- the cottages have that blank look they get once they are closed up for the season -- so I can be alone with my struggles and striving, my worries and wonderings, knowing they are shared, knowing they are real and normal and part of the process, as Abby chases the seagulls and wishes she had a friend named Buster to play with.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Right Where They Belong

Leonard and Remy sleeping off their Thanksgiving turkey.
Shortly after the winter wood was stacked in the basement, my husband, he of the firm 'We don't need anymore animals in the house' rule, said to me,
"When you want to get another cat, honey, just go ahead and do it. You don't need to check with me."
He said he wanted a cat to get rid of any mice that came in with the wood.
So I got two.
Actually, I wanted two. I wanted a bonded pair of boys so they would be each other's company and playmates. Knowing it is more difficult to find homes for adult cats, let alone two adults who must stay together, I also was committed to adopting bonded adult males.
And I got them. WE got them. They aren't "my" cats; they are part of our entire family.
(Abby, on the other hand, is moping around the house complaining that the cats are touching her stuff.)
Today marks two weeks since they arrived at our home. Within 24 hours, they were roaming around, getting familiar with every room, every book shelf upstairs, every piece of furniture on the main floor, and every log pile in the basement. Within a couple of days, they were flopping down on the floor, just lying there as we walked around them; if that's not a posture of trust and belonging, I don't know what it. Looking at them curled up in the chair, sound asleep, my husband quipped, "I think we'd better return them to the shelter because they aren't settling in here at all."
The boys were named Bert and Ernie by the shelter but we changed their names to Remy, on the right, and  Merlin who has since revealed himself to be a Leonard. And now Mother is calling Remy "Remigio" after one of the Tenors.
The boys don't seem to know, or care, what their names are.They are in a house with lots of room to run and play, they get fed breakfast and supper out of nice bowls plus snacks whenever they are near the shelf looking cute, and they have three people talking to them and letting them curl up on their laps (or pillows *sigh*) whenever they want. They even like my hugs and kisses.
No wonder they're sleeping so soundly; they know they are safe at home.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

How Do You Like Them Apples?

It was great to see a small bin of local apples at the Co-op in Pugwash this morning. Gravensteins from an apple farm in Malagash.
It was even better to see how ripe and lumpy these apples were. They are real apples! With uneven shapes. With no waxy coating. With stumpy little stems. And a wonderful deep red colour.
An absolutely delightful thing of beauty. It's almost a shame to peel them and cut them up for a carrot-apple cake.

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Days Draw In

The countdown is on for my final morning walks of 2015.
That sounds so dramatic! Yet it is true. As the sun comes up later and goes down earlier, as we head towards the shortest day of the year just a couple of months from now, my morning walks are later in the morning. I no longer get to wave at Debbie the Bus Driver at the start of her shift, and not returning home until 8:30 really pushes back the hour at which my work day finally begins.
So the walks on these crisp fall mornings, in the pale early morning sun that does nothing to warm my hands or nose, are bittersweet. Every footstep is one step closer to darkness, to winter, to mornings on the yoga mat instead of on the pavement.
That's the one drawback to living in the country: no sidewalks, no street lights. My walks follow the sun's cycle and soon that cycle is going to change, and for a couple of weeks, the morning will be lighter again, allowing me to squeeze in a few more walks, with the cold wind at my back or in my face, until I simply have to accept that it's time to shift the schedule to incorporate the late afternoon walk.
Just in time to wave at Debbie the Bus Driver at the end of her shift.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

To vote or not to vote? There Is No Question

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, October 7, 2015, by Sara Jewell.

This time two weeks from now, it will be all over but for the recounts. The longest federal election campaign in recent history will be finished but for the recaps and recriminations.
            This time two weeks from now, whether you are pleased with the outcome or appalled by it, will you have had your say?
            Because it matters that you vote.
            Because it matters that you can vote. Without fear for your safety, without knowing the election is rigged and the outcome already decided, without walking 20 kilometres and standing in line for five hours.
            It’s so easy to vote, what excuse could you have not to?
            Too busy or too confused? Too disgusted? Too lazy? Or perhaps you are one of those protest voters who spoils the ballot. What a waste of an opportunity. There is no reason and no excuse not to vote. At the very least, vote because someone in your family died overseas in order to ensure our freedom to hold fair and open elections.
            Yet voting in our election can see like a daunting task, when we are overwhelmed by sniping and sound bites, platforms and platitudes. But like any big job, it’s best to start with one small action.
            My friend Alison invited me to attend a gathering with the local candidate of her choice and during our drive to the event, she said something that I want to share with those readers who claim they don’t know how to vote or feel that their vote doesn’t count.
            “My advice to someone who doesn’t know who they should vote for is to decide what matters to them,” Alison said. “Figure out what issue or issues are most important and then go to each party’s platform and see what they have to say about it.”
            So far, the topics that have dominated the national election campaign are the economy, security, and, just recently, the niqab.
            If those topics mean nothing to you or your family, for Canada’s sake, don’t use them as a reason not to vote.
            It means your vote counts more than ever.
            In June, an Abacus Data poll revealed that 58% of Canadians indicated health care was one of their top three priorities yet federal transfer payments to the provinces continue to shrink. We live in a province with a population that is both ageing and declining. Perhaps you could consider health care funding an important issue.
            If you have a family member with dementia, you may want to see if any party is offering a national dementia strategy since Canada is currently the only G7 member without one. Perhaps that could be an important issue to you.
            Child care. Hydraulic fracturing. Military spending. Employment insurance. Pensions.
            Perhaps any one of these could be an important issue to you.
            You only need one to give you a reason to vote. It’s nobody’s business who you vote or why; it only matters that you do.
            Because you can.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

A Chair At The Side Of The Road

A chair at the side of the road.
Part of the journey from
there to here,
wherever there was,
wherever here will be.
Perhaps a school bus will pass by,
or horse & rider,
or a wandering goat
free of its pen,
free of the rules about not jumping on cars,
not eating laundry on the clothesline,
not climbing into the backseats of cars.
Mourning doves
peck in the dirt at the side of the road.
perch on the wires strung above the road.
Earth and sky
surround the chair by the side of the road.
In the ditch,
goldenrod has gone to seed
while asters keep their fuzzy purple faces
towards the autumn sun.
When it rains,
the chair sits empty,
the road splashes,
the mourning doves
return to their nests in the trees.
Flying low, 
a crow looks down
and wonders why there is 
a chair at the side of road,
thinks the raindrops on the seat
look like shiny pearls.