Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dog Is My Co-Pilot

I'm trying something a little different tonight.
Several months ago, I was asked to speak to an Alzheimer support group on September 29; it's a group I've spoken to twice before so I'm pleased they like me enough to invite me back.This time, however, they asked for something specific: "Could you make it light? We've had a lot of heavy stuff the past couple of meetings."
An idea has been sitting in the back of my mind for over a year, waiting for the opportunity to be tried out -- so tonight I'm doing that. Tonight's presentation is called "Everything I Know About Caregiving, I Learned From My Dog". The unofficial sub-title is "Dog Is My Co-Pilot". I decided this was the opportunity to grasp (familiar venue, supportive audience) to try out this concept and see if it works.
Based on the five years I helped take care of a father with Alzheimer AND raised Stella from a puppy, and inspired by all the mistakes I made, this presentation is meant to present familiar information in a lighter, less formal way: the titles are from dog training and the photos are of Stella.
After a couple of run-throughs, I realize the only snag I could hit while making this presentation is providing too many anecdotes. There are so many stories to illustrate my points and stories are often how we remember information best. So that's the one thing I have to watch out for tonight: following my outline (which includes the most pertinent stories) and not getting too chatty.
If the presentation flops, at least I know it ends well: with Stella's advice to "Just keep smiling!"

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Barn

My kinda horse.
I landed in at Galloway Stables in Linden looking for my friend, Gail, because I had a book for her, Marjorie Simmin's new book, Year of the Horse. I'd already told both Gail and Marjorie that this book had ignited those long-dormant longings to ride that I had a child, longings buried because of the inviolable fact of my mother's allergies to horses.
"This is for you," I said to Gail after I'd slipped into the arena where she was riding her beloved sweetie, Earli-Bird.
"This is for you!" she replied as she dismounted and handed me her riding helmet.
Is that what it's called - a helmet? I have so much to learn!
And learn I will because this is going to happen again, folks. Funny that after my year in 4H, when I thought that maybe, with the riding stables so close, maybe I could take a few lessons, maybe I could learn to be comfortable around and on a horse...that the following year, two very horsey women would come into my life.

What struck me first, and last, actually, is the movement of the horse underneath me. I was sitting on Earli and he started to move -- and suddenly, I'm swaying on top of him because there's a rolling undulation to a horse's walk that puts you off balance if you aren't expecting it. If you've never been on a horse before, you don't know what to expect! It makes me glad I do yoga because all I had to do was engage my core, and "Relax!" as Gail commanded, and suddenly, my body became part of the horse's movement.
Which is an essential experience because as I now know, you control the horse's movements using pressure from your legs, even your buttocks, so if I clench my thighs for balance, the horse will respond to that pressure. Gail smacked my thighs, drawing my attention to them, so as we set forth again on our walk, I consciously relaxed my legs and suddenly, Earli dropped his head.
"There! He just relaxed." Gail crowed. "You released all the movement through his body when you relaxed your thighs so now he knows he can just walk forward." 
When my ride was over, Gail told me how to dismount, which I managed to execute without flailing or falling or swinging upside down underneath the horse, then I promptly thanked Earli and gave him a hug.
"Oh, I'm so glad you did that," Gail said. "You always have to thank your horse."
Marjorie Simmins writes in her book how even the simplest praise from her instructor for doing something right makes her heart sing -- and now I totally understand that feeling. When it comes to horses, these magical, mystical creatures, we want to be worthy of them, we want to be good for them.
It might be that I have an instinct for this. Might; I'm not counting my horses before they're saddled.

A fifteen minute ride and my head is full of information from Gail. Things to think about all winter as I make plans to start riding lessons in the spring.
I'm saying it's all about material for the next Field Notes book (yes, already collecting stories for FN2) but truly, deeply, madly, it's all about fulfilling another long-held secret dream: to be a horsey woman.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

High Five

People laugh when I invite them to a birthday party for my dog or when they hear I'm serving carrot cake with cream cheese icing so the dog can have a piece.
It's an excuse for a dinner party and really, why wouldn't we celebrate our dogs' birthdays like we celebrate our human birthdays? Most dogs are so much more deserving of the party!
So Abby is five years old today. In November, in eight weeks, we mark five years since she joined our family. A lot happens in five years -- a lot happens in one year -- so it's important to celebrate milestones and eat cake. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Honk If You Like Being Busy

My life is like a gaggle of geese. Ever tried to herd geese? Ever tried to walk across a yard full of geese? It's chaos. It's loud and noisy and somewhat scary because the geese sort of look like they're going to charge you then they back off then they honk and holler and squawk.
All of sudden, they figure out you're not there to hurt them and they waddle off to find someone else to harass for forty seconds.
Geese are odd. I love them.
My life has taken an odd turn but I've never been more content.

All summer, I've been waffling about taking an online course at the Atlantic School of Theology, a foundations course, the starting point of -- whatever (but not a career in ministry, I know for sure). At the same time, I felt pressured to take a program that would license me as a lay worship leader but the schedule was inconvenient.
So there was this pressure, like a gaggle of geese coming at me across the yard, to do these courses just as I'm about to embark on fulfilling my life's dream of becoming a published book author.

Curiousity and a love of learning won out, however. I signed up for the AST course then promptly read the first 100 pages of the textbook.
Just last week, when I had accepted that, yes, I can do this course and no, it won't interfere with my writing, an email popped up in my inbox offering an online Licensed Lay Worship Leadership course.
Interesting. I want to be licensed because it's my calling to help rural communities but I resented the "this is the way we always do it" insistence on weekend retreats. So not being one to ignore signs or gift horses, I signed up for that LLWL course as well.
From zero to two online courses in less than a month! Seems extreme, perhaps, but this is my country reality: I haven't done much in the way of further education in part because I'm not keen on the travel involved (the other part was that I couldn't decide what I wanted to do). Can't very well say no to opportunities for self-directed schooling when they present themselves.
Even if they descend into my life like a gaggle of geese spying an intruder across the yard.

Crazy, you say. You ask if I really need these distractions just when I'm about to launch a book and set out on some kind of book tour (whatever that means for a first-time regional author)?
And my answer is...a shrug.
Online is the answer, actually. It's possible to do everything from my house.

And here is what I've remembered already in a week that added a grant application and a presentation to an Alzheimer support group into the usual mix of textbook reading and worship service planning: The greater my creative output, the greater my creative output.
As long as I make time for walking and yoga, I can juggle it all for the next three months.
Ever seen geese juggle? Perhaps I'll still resort to forty seconds of honking and hollering and squawking whenever I feel overwhelmed.A good gaggle never hurt a girl.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Drawing Conclusions About Art (and Self)

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, September 21, 2016, by Sara Jewell.

Discovering a new way of looking at, and creating, landscape.

As summer slides into autumn, I’m bidding a reluctant farewell to 2016’s Summer of Art.
Long-time friends as well as my long-suffering husband are familiar with my love-hate relationship with painting: I want to do it but I’m terrible at it. So when I announced I’d signed up for twelve weeks of classes at the ArtQuarters studio in Pugwash, my husband looked at me like I’d dyed my hair purple. Having witnessed my painting meltdowns in the past, I suspect he thought I was wasting my money.
Those art classes were money well-spent and provided the bonus of supporting retired art teacher Louise Cloutier’s long-time dream of opening an art studio. Seriously, if Louise could teach art to high school students for thirty years, she could teach me for one summer.

What made the classes unique were Louise’s mini lessons in art history. By showing us how art has been created since humans first began drawing in cave walls, and providing examples of the works of masters like Rembrandt, Matisse and Picasso, we gained an appreciation for the evolution of technique.
If you’d known this, you wouldn’t have been surprised when you looked in the windows and spied us dipping lengths of white string into glue and laying them on thin squares of wood boards or ripping painted paper and gluing them to pieces of cardboard.
But I was surprised when I took that particular creation to church on Sunday to share my image of a person praying in a garden, depicted in ripped paper, and a member of the congregation joined our classes the next day. I never thought I’d inspire someone with my artwork.
This is the importance of lifelong learning, of saying “Yes” to new experiences. Not only do you learn a new skill, you also learn about yourself. You may say “I can’t draw” but Louise Cloutier is adamant anyone can create art because art isn’t limited to drawing or painting.

For me, that was the value of an entire summer creating art: Realizing I don’t have to paint in order to be creative. Even when the class in the dreaded landscape painting arrived and was, as expected, totally frustrating, I didn’t have a meltdown. I knew it was only one class so doing landscapes was not my only art experience.
In fact, it was very next week that actually reclaimed the dreaded landscape for me. Using Group of Seven paintings as inspiration, we created landscape collages using pieces of colourful material like men’s shirts and upholstery.
As I was gluing those scraps of fabric into a likeness of a Tom Thompon painting, I realized these classes were teaching me about more than art; they were teaching me about myself. Through this Summer of Art, I learned I am not a details person, preferring broad strokes to specific ones; and I like creating with my hands using texture and fabric, scissors and glue.
“We need to slow our looking in order to see,” Louise told us early on. Turns out, we also need to slow our looking in order to see ourselves, as well.

The Monday night class with our final projects. Louise Cloutier is on the left.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Book Cover Revealed

The release date is pushed back a bit, more like mid-October than end of September, but at least now you know it's real and it's coming soon to a bookstore near you. Nimbus, in Halifax, is the publisher and I'm so pleased to be one of their authors.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Short Days, Long Shadows

I love a good shadow photo and early morning offers up lovely long ones while I'm out walking the dog. It can be rather distracting, watching the dog's shadow stretching over to the yellow lines instead of watching the dog trotting along the shoulder of the road. We stopped alongside the sunflowers this morning to capture our eight o'clock shadows.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Immersed In Beauty

Even though the table is covered in pollen and Leonard is constantly inspecting then, it's wonderful to have sunflowers inside the house. It really does seem like there is sunshine in the dining room, the focal point of our home, even when the skies are cloudy. When the sun does shine through the windows, the sunflowers glow.
These are ones that keeled over outside in my husband's marvelous patch; seemed a shame to waste them even if they weren't "perfect". What is? There is more beauty and creativity in a flaw than in perfection.
I took several photos of Leonard inspecting the sunflowers and chose this one to post because it's how I feel today: I need to put my head down and get to work. I pissed around yesterday and accomplished very little, which had not been the day's original intention. But my pissiness is a combination of waiting for the Field Notes book to be published -- that distracting and utterly useless antsy anticipation -- and not having a defined, unequivocal deadline looming. I didn't even go into my badly-neglected gardens; I just pissed around. Which of course is what pisses me off at the end of the day.
There is always a new day, however, to start again and do better so this is today's "put your head down and work" image to get me back on track.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Like Clockwork

As always, the ospreys departed on Monday without saying goodbye.
After the massacre of 2015, we are grateful for the chance to see the season out, to know that this year's crop of babies survived and flew south on September 12 -- same day, every year.
Which is amazing considering there is always one baby who hangs around the nest (and now the perch), who seems reluctant to flying around the river with its siblings and parents, and this year, it seemed worse. There was one bird who hardly left the nest or the perch for any length of time and in fact, just last week, another bird brought in a fish for it.
How on earth can a young osprey learn to fend for itself on the long flight south -- to North Carolina or Texas or even South America -- if it's not fishing?
And yet this straggler was gone by evening on September 12 which is the day they always leave. Like clockwork. Like a dog knowing it's five o'clock and time for supper. How do they know? Why that day instead of the next or the day before?
I truly thought this bird might be the one who lingers too long, because it seemed so attached to its living space, yet there it was -- gone -- before sunset on Monday.
Perhaps this is the reality we aren't privy to: this young osprey won't make it, won't survive the migration, because it didn't learn to take care of itself. Maybe this is the way nature works, this is how the weak are weeded out. Only the strong, the confident and the powerful survive. Reminds me that until July 25, there was a third baby in the nest yet we have no idea how it disappeared. It's better, not knowing, not witnessing, not defending, not saving in vain.
I'm kinda glad we never know what happens to the babies born here every year.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Public Transit

Hopped on the bus at 10:10 am so my ticket was good for a 90-minute tour.

I had to fly to Ottawa on Saturday to attend the memorial service for a dear family friend. When I arrived at the Ottawa airport, I decided to save myself 35 dollars in cab fare and instead take the bus downtown. I haven't been on public transit for almost 15 years, since I lived in Vancouver. I'm a supporter of public transit so I also felt it was the right choice since I had time.
I didn't occur to me to take a photo of my view from the No. 97 bus -- a distinctive shot  for the whole "country girl in the city" theme -- because I was worried I'd miss my stop. As it was, once they announced "Laurier", I got right up to stand by the door so the driver wouldn't miss my intention, and was far too early.
On the plus side of that, maintaining my balance while holding on was an excellent abdominal workout.
The bus dropped me off right downtown where I needed to be -- but not exactly where I needed to be in order to find the church. Being in cities doesn't bother me but my sense of direction does. It's rather a lack of sense of direction. I'll think I'm going in the right direction but all too often, I'm going the wrong way. Usually the opposite direction.
Street signs aren't always the easiest to locate, if they exist at all.
This time, I lucked out. I headed in the direction I thought I should be going, figured out I was two blocks south/east/north/west (er, still not sure) of the street I should have been on, got to see the Parliament buildings and walk over the Rideau Canal, jiggy-jogged through a park and just before I headed towards a church I could see , I noticed both the city hall and older people dressed in funeral clothes. I remembered directions in the obituary stating "Parking at city hall" so I simply turned to follow the folks, and saw the correct church -- not the one I saw in the opposite direction -- a block away.
Now that I live in the country where everyone drives their vehicle everywhere, even if where they're going is only a few minutes away, walking and riding the bus are two distinctive hallmarks of being in a city. It's so much easier than trying to drive and park! I miss the freedom of having the option of going car-free although I know that if I had to take the No. 97 every day, I'm sure I'd long for the stop-and-go quiet of my own car.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Love, Leather and Life's Lessons

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, by Sara Jewell.
John "Chico" Powell outlines a pattern on a hide laying on his living room floor.

As I approach John Powell’s booth at the Pugwash Farmers’ Market, he hands me a wide band of leather. It’s stamped with a daisy and two hearts, just as I requested.
“This is for you, it’s a gift, because you spent so much time with me the other day,” he says before walking away to have a smoke.
I open my mouth to object – I’d ordered this, after all – but instead said, “Thank you.” I knew he wanted only my gracious acceptance.
I’d spent three hours at John’s home in South Oxford, listening to stories doled out in ever-deepening layers of detail and honesty, from his days as a 13-year-old runaway from Springhill through his first marriage, four children and 35 years in Toronto, to the death of his beloved wife Cheryl, the fourth anniversary of which is next week.

Some of you may not know who John Powell is; you may know him only as Chico, the name he gained, along with his skill with leather, during a stint in prison.
“At the time – and I’m going back a few years, dear,” he says to me while sitting back from the pattern he’s tracing onto a hide laying on his living room floor, “there used to be a show on TV called ‘Chico and the Man’. I had the same moustache and that’s what [they] started calling me.”
He returns to the hide as he continues talking.
“I have no complaints about that part; I never will. I brought it, I’ll take it, and I’ll carry it. I was a smartass when I was younger,” he adds. “Most people who know me now knew me when I was younger. After I moved back home, they wouldn’t talk to me. It took a lot of years before people would even acknowledge me but then they realized I don’t drink anymore, I settled down, I got married.”
John says his 15-year marriage to Cheryl Rushton of Westchester was the best thing to ever happen to him.
“That changed my whole life. She done more for me than you could ever imagine.”
He taught Cheryl about leather and her specialty became baby moccasins. Together, they made the rounds of shows, festivals, Christmas sales, and the mall in Amherst.
John finishes tracing his patterns. “When I’m done, I’ll have two small purses,” he says.

All his leather work, from belts and dog collars to cell phone holders and purses, are handmade. He uses scissors and a mallet to cut and punch and stamp. He dyes and laces by hand. His prices are ridiculously low but he explains, “I live in a province with high unemployment and low income families. If I put my prices up, I’m out of their reach. Although most people know if they buy something from me, it’s going to last forever.”
As he cuts a long strip of hide to show me how a belt, his signature item, begins, he says,
“Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned through trial and error.”
Perhaps he’s just talking about his 50 years working with leather but I suspect he means life as well.
John’s 71st birthday is tomorrow (September 8) and he’ll spend it at his regular Thursday dialysis appointment. Just another detail in a life story becoming as smooth and pliable with age as a well-worn leather belt.

John's workshop inside his mobile home is a six-by-six foot room.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Release The Pheasants

The Nova Scotia country boy released his pheasants into the wild on Saturday morning. Eight hens and one cock.
There were two cock pheasants but sadly, the larger one killed the smaller one on Friday afternoon. We'd both seen the big one chasing the smaller one but didn't think it would come to death so soon. And it's my fault that the little fella died, one day before the release; I'd asked Dwayne to hold off on releasing them a week because we were having friends for supper who I thought would be interested in seeing them.
Ironically, the friends never saw the pheasants; it was too cool and windy to sit on the back deck so they came right inside without ever seeing any of our birds.

They took their time leaving the pen then all of a sudden, a few hens took off, landing in the corn patch and on the back lawn (with an impressive, albeit unintentional, 8.0 somersault landing) then the cock and another hen flew over the house and suddenly, the pheasants -- a constant presence for the summer of 2016 -- were gone.
Over the past two days, however, the eight hens have regrouped and are wandering all over the lane like a girls' weekend.
The young cock has disappeared, and so far, no sign of the existing wild cock who inspired my husband to raise and release pheasants in the first place. Apparently, pheasants don't flock together like chickens do, although I hate to think the hens are on their own without the protection of a 'rooster'.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Mark These Words

My husband came in the other day from his time meditating amongst the potatoes to tell me that we won't get much snow this winter.
"And how do you know this?" I asked. "A potato bug tell you?"
"I saw a woolly caterpillar and it was all brown. When they have black on them, it means snow. When they are all brown, it means bare ground."
As the sun sets earlier and the mornings are cooler, as the asters bloom and the bees collect pollen from the sunflowers, we know the season is changing. Remember those hot days of summer when the air barely moved and heat shimmered off bare skin?
Gone. In a week, the last of this year's ospreys, the baby of the family that always hangs around the nest until the last possible moment, that one will finally leave which for us signals the end of summer.
Instead of looking up, we'll watch where we step. The woollies are out -- and their wool is predicting another winter without much snow. The only mystery, then, is whether this means a mild winter or one that is bitterly cold. Perhaps I'll keep an eye out for a woolly wearing a scarf.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Dazed and Amazed

One of the essays in my book concludes with a recipe for dandelion jelly. The woman who sparked my interest in the jelly, and is the subject of that essay, used a recipe she found in an American magazine but it made more sense to me to use a recipe created by a Nova Scotian. So I searched and asked around and found the website/blog for Dakeyne Farm in the Annapolis Valley (the farm is between Windsor and Grand Pre).

When I asked Jen Wilson for permission to use her recipe, I promised I'd come down in August to check out Nova Scotia's only sunflower maze. Although we missed the annual butterfly release by one week, my mother and I finally made it yesterday and had a lovely time wandering the dragonfly-shaped maze while listening to the crickets chirp and chatting at the maze shed with Jen and her two daughters (who are ferocious sales girls, let me tell you). Jen and her family have been designing and planting the sunflower maze for five years. She also makes honey and beeswax candles (I bought one thick taper, wish I'd bought more) as well as dandelion jelly, of course.

Nice to do a little cross-promotion and help out another farming entrepreneur. Hopefully getting mentioned in my book will boost her a-mazing work and help her achieve her goal of opening a proper store.