Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: The Year that Kicked Butt

This is my latest article in the current issue (Dec/Jan) issue of Saltscapes magazine.
I almost didn't write this article.
I almost said No.
Even though I'd pitched it, it was assigned during a very busy time last fall with a six week deadline. And I was going to reply that I was too busy to do it until later.
Fortunately, I didn't let FEAR (specifically, feeling overwhelmed) dictate my behaviour, and instead I typed, "Sure, no problem."
Turning down  a writing assignment of this size would be stupid, and this piece ended up being a delight to research and write, and I love how it turned out on the page.

That's what 2018 ended up teaching me: that I am far more capable than I give myself credit for. It was a year which started with me writing a novel AND several articles while providing church services every week -- and it didn't really let up. In May, I travelled by myself to Ontario and met up with someone who knows my father better than any of us; it took me months to process everything I learned. By September, I'd decided to add substitute teaching to my agenda, and at the elementary level, which was a whole new learning experience.
There was never any question of saying No, even when I thought I should. It was never about saying Yes, either. It was simply, Do what needs to be done.
There was never any question of being paralyzed by fear or doubt, either. It was simply,  Get on with it.
2018 was the year that worked my butt off, and I'm a stronger woman for it. 2018 was the year I learned to get it all done, regardless of what confronted me and how scared I was -- whether it calling 9-1-1 because my husband was having a stroke or facing a Grade Two class for the first time ever. While many people believe my husband's stroke was the BIG EVENT of 2018, it didn't change my life as much as it changed his. I just kept moving forward, doing what needed to be done. If anything changed me life this year, it would be proving my theory that I should have been an elementary school teacher.

My friend Cynthia posted a beautiful photo on Instagram earlier today, with the following quote from Deepak Chopra:
"There is only a single instant of time that keeps renewing itself over and over with infinite variety."
I'm mulling this over but I think this is what life is all about -- that single moment you keep getting to relive, if only we can understand what it is the moment is teaching us each time.

Life isn't about Yes, or No. Life is about moving forward every day -- no matter how hard you cried the night before or how much you regret decisions you made twenty year ago.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

East Coast Christmas

Card handmade by J - no name, just her initial on back 
As a pot of seafood chowder simmers on the stove downstairs -- my husband being a stickler for chowder tasting better when it's made the day before -- and I put the finishing touches on my Christmas Eve service, I look out the window at the rain.
Six inches of snow gone and now we're in for a green Christmas on the East Coast.
Regardless of the weather (and at least this rain isn't another snowstorm), the next few days will be a flurry of food and lights, candles and cookies, chowder and pie, holiday coffee and mulled wine...until finally, we put our feet up on Christmas Day for an afternoon of books and movies (and more mulled wine!).
Wishing you a day of peace, a moment of joy, a breath of happiness, and a time of laughter.
Merry Christmas from Nova Scotia.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Peaceful, Easy Feeling

This is a quiet evening I like to offer, and I keep it short and meditative through easy chanting songs and brief reflections. Spiritual rather than religious, it's an opportunity for people to sit in a quiet, candlelit space and boost their inner peace in the few days remaining before Christmas Day.
All are welcome.

Thursday, December 20th, 7 pm, at Trinity United Church  in Oxford, across from the grocery store.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Day After the Play

From the dress rehearsal: "It's too soon for the Magi, it's much too soon!"
I have a director's hangover!
Mostly because the cast said, "Next year, we'll..." and my brain said, "Yes, let's do it again. How about some ukelele laying shepherds?" and I made notes all evening. My husband finally said, as I turned on the beside lamp for the second time, "Turn off your brain and go to sleep!"
Bless my long-suffering but oh so supportive husband.
I'm tired today...but so elated that the play was a success. Only thirty minutes, but one cast member's mother said she laughed so hard, she thought she might pee herself, so it was a solid thirty minutes!
It was fun to see everyone really get into their roles and play to the audience. I couldn't have picked a better cast.
Serving refreshments -- hot apple cider and homemade cookies -- was the perfect time of fellowship afterwards. It allowed friends and neighbours to visit with each other.

Cast photo at the dress rehearsal
But the most amazing thing that happened yesterday was that we filled the church. We played to a FULL HOUSE!  I'm grateful for the support of several church communities with whom I've led worship the past few years, and to so many friends who came. I'm happy I made them laugh -- you know it's a good time when several people say they want a part next year.
Also, despite my misgivings about collecting an offering, the audience was shockingly generous. I made it clear it's for the church's work in the community, not for building expenses, so I look forward to helping others next year.

My friend Jane in the elephant costume, and my niece Mackenzie as the donkey.
From the start, I said this was the only church Christmas play I'd write, but this was well-received by the audience and it would be a shame not to apply what we learned, so yes, in the week after Christmas, I'll be at my computer typing up a new script, with some returning characters and some new ones. Also, I need to write a bigger part for the rare "nativity elephant" -- we have the elephant costume so we need to use it!

The final carol at the end of the play - the only photo where I'm with the cast!
What a great experience! My first church play since I was Imogene Herdman in 1979. I learned a lot in the last few days, and you know I'm the type of person to want to apply those lessons. And I'm thinking it might be fun to do a little acting, too...

"Turn off your brain!"

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Eaton's Shopping Centre, Toronto, Ontario, 1972.

Compared to the annual photos with Santa that parents do today, I have only two photos of me with Santa - and the second one I did myself. Remember when we had stand-alone photography stores where you dropped off your film then picked up the pictures two weeks later? You could buy film and cameras and all sorts of accessories? There was one of those three doors down from, and on the same block as our funeral home in Cobourg so I walked down one afternoon and had my photo taken with Santa.
Two weeks later, my parents received a call saying my photo was ready!
Santa has always been my guy. Before Daddy, before Ricky Ainsworth in Grade Two, before Alec Maclean who used to get into trouble for reading past reading time in Grade Six (be still my heart!), there was Santa Claus.

You've seen my mantle in a previous post covered in my Santa collection. Well, now I can let my love and admiration for Santa full expression because...

...I get to edit an anthology of stories about Santa.
The idea came up a few weeks ago in conversation with an editor at Nimbus Publishing and I'm lucky they were able to come to a decision so quickly, and while I still have a chance to plant a seed in writers' imagination during this Christmas season. We're publishing it in the Fall of 2020, and I will have a story in it (I'll have to restrain myself as it seems I've written several stories, both fiction and non-fiction, about Santa Claus).

So now Dwayne has just under two years to grow his goatee into a proper beard and be my Santa guy. And now I can totally justify shopping for more Santas. I'm going to need a bigger mantel... and a bigger Santa inflatable!

Friday, December 07, 2018

Driving Alone

Homeward bound: Route Six in Truemanville.

I don't get many opportunities to drive by myself these days. My husband often drives me in his big, comfortable truck and my mother is always up for a shopping trip so time alone in the car, alone with my thoughts, is a rare occurrence.

Yet twice this week, I've driven by myself. It's been such a busy week, I only had time this morning to write about it, and I'm afraid those thoughts from the road on Monday evening as I returned from a quick but necessary trip to the chiropractor are lost.
But what I remember is this: I wanted to write about how therapeutic it was to have time alone. Most of us live with others and lead very busy lives. There aren't a lot of moments, let alone hours, when someone isn't talking to you. I wanted to write about how driving in the dark on a country closes you in, cocoons you, narrows your focus. Brings you back to yourself. Allows you to breathe, and feel your heartbeat.
Until you crank the tunes and lift your spirits with a good ol' Tom Petty tune. We were runnin' down a dream at just the right time.

Be careful what you wish for: I'm not dreaming about living alone. Monday in the car simply reminded me how rarely I get drive by myself, and how much I miss that.

Spending time alone, whether it's walking the dog or driving in the car, is necessary. There are people who claim they hate to be alone, but it's necessary. Even if for thirty minutes. Alone with one's thoughts. Alone with one's breath.
Deep inhale to a count of eight. Long exhale to a count of ten. That's what got me to town in one piece. Breathing exercises and cruise control.
Sometimes, though, at the end of a shitty day, one doesn't need conversation or time alone with thoughts. One needs familiar songs at a loud volume.
The "Eighties Drive Home" took me back down the road. The way you  make me feel, Michael. 

I used to do a lot of driving by myself. Heck, I drove across Canada by myself; I remember my father wanting to fly out to Vancouver in order to drive home to Ontario with me but I really wanted, really needed to do the trip by myself. Alone with my thoughts. Alone with my music.
The tears only last a hour that first morning. The rest of the trip was an amazing experience I shared with my canine companion.
In Ontario, I drove all over visiting friends. I drove myself, and the dogs, to and from Pugwash, Nova Scotia, every summer and fall.
I love a road trip.

Yet last May, when I headed to Ontario by myself, I knew I couldn't be alone with my thoughts. There is so much uncertainty in a freelance writer's life (technically, I'm a freelance worker with no job security) that the anxiety tends to build up, and I knew being alone with my thoughts for two days would reduce me to a quivering ball of doubt and despair by the time I reached my aunt and uncle's house. So I listened to books and made it there and back without a mental breakdown.

Know thyself. Sometimes the worst place to be alone is inside your head.

Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, "Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone."

The pain and the glory.

Yesterday, I drove to Pictou and back for a lunch meeting with an editor; that's ninety minutes each way. On the way down, I chewed away at stuff that was bothering me, and I listened to my go-to CD for angst and frustration and havoc. Being alone in the car meant I could talk to myself, I could listen to my music, I could even talk to people who aren't there -- and say what I want to say without any interruptions!
On the way home, there was no music that suited my mood so I drove in silence, not really thinking about anything, just gazing out the windshield and enjoying the peace of being alone in the car.
Inhale peace.
Exhale calm.
Runnin' down the dream.

Homeward bound: Hwy 104 near Mount Thom.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Here Come A Lot of Santa Clauses

My collection of Santas has grown so big, I decided to try decorating the fireplace we don't use with them.
It's seems a bit cluttery but it certainly puts them all in one spot, and makes the collection look bigger than it seemed in the dining room. I miss the "Christmas woodland" scene I normally put up there but I haven't yet replaced the two wool sheep that Remi tore to pieces a couple of years ago. I do worry that the cats will try and jump up on the mantle -- they've done it in the past, for a wander through the trees and deer -- and pull off the white fluffy stuff, along with all the ornaments. The Santa mug my great-aunt Mary Pickens made back in the 70's was removed just in case.

Speaking of the cats and the woodland scene, the following "Facebook Memory" popped up in my timeline today. This is a conversation between Dwayne and I from three years ago (I don't think our communication skills have improved since then):

(Me) "I'm collecting branches in your garage, in case you come across a pile of them."
"Why do you want to do that?"
"To put on the mantle."
"What happened to the deer and stuff?"
"I think the cats will knock them down so I'm going for something simpler this year."
Dwayne stared at me.
"I just can't figure out why you are collecting wrenches in my garage to put on the mantle."

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

November Memory

2012 - Dwayne, Stella, me and Abby
It's been seven years since we picked up puppy Abby. I love looking at the photos of bringing her home because I get to see Stella. I think of my old girl a lot, and actually miss her, even though our relationship was so fraught. She was who she was, and she remains my soul dog.

Abby and I went for a long walk along the TransCanada Trail (now the Great Trail, which I don't like because it doesn't say exactly what it is) early on Sunday morning, and I have to admit, it's nice to walk a dog -- Abby -- who stays with me and doesn't disappear deep into the woods for ages.

It was a peaceful walk and allowed me to work out a story I've been seeing in my head but didn't have an outline for. So many ideas these days! My mother thinks we should start our own publishing company and you know, I'm tempted... She even has the name picked out.
But remember: I'm an ideas person. Who's going to do all the work?!

Friday, November 23, 2018

When the Moon Comes in November

I'm so excited about this book that I read it twice to the Grade Six classes I subbed with today. That also means my brain is exhausted and I can't think of anything original to write, so this is what I posted on my Facebook author page yesterday as the full moon of November loomed...
I couldn't have said it any better today.

"November’s full moon, which appears this evening (technically 12:39 am Friday, November 23) was referred to as the Beaver Moon by many Indigenous peoples because this was the month to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs.
In honour of tonight's full moon, I wanted to tell you about my current book obsession:
"When the Moon Comes" is written by Paul Harbridge and illustrated by Matt James. It's recommended by Emily, my editor at Nimbus, who told me it reminds her of my Moon Tide story (the one about snowmobiling on the River Philip during a full moon, that appears in the anthology, Winter).
I picked up this beautiful book yesterday and I can't stop reading it. Inspired by the Muskoka area of Ontario, where I spent a winter at my first job in radio, it sounds so much like Nova Scotia. It's a story about rural life in the winter, and it's also a hockey story.
How many of you remember skating on a frozen pond? I know my husband does.
I don't know why this book is shelved in the Ages 3-5 section because it's perfect for older children (and adults), and if you know someone who collect children's books as works of art, this is definitely a perfect gift."

The Full Beaver Moon this morning, hanging low over the field. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Early Morning Snow

Snow day.
School cancelled so no substitute teaching for me. I get up early every morning to do yoga in my living room, and since the cancellation notice goes out at six o'clock, I knew before my chair tea was steeped that there was no reason to rush or watch the clock.
I tell time by the breakfast seekers: the little birds appear at seven o'clock looking for seeds on the ground, and the cats start to gather 'round shortly after, looking asleep but ready to leap off the couch as soon as I roll up the mat.

This was my view of our front yard early this morning as I stretched into tree pose.
Cat, Tree, Warrior, Eagle, Crow, Down Dog. The poses of my life's companions, each invoking in me, as I stretch through them, strength and hope, encouragement and calm. Quieting the anxious voice inside my head that wonders if anything will ever work out the way I want it to.
Breathe in peace, breathe out calm.
Ready to face the day: feed the birds, feed the cats and the dog, feed myself. Coffee and oatmeal.
Preparing my mind and body for the work of the day.
A day in the life. A morning caught in the stillness before the work begins.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Tree For Boston

 Since 1971, the province of Nova Scotia has shipped a Christmas tree to the City of Boston as a "thank you" for that city's help in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion on December 6, 1917.

For the first time, the tree comes from Cumberland County -- from a backyard in Oxford, no less. What a great day we had to celebrate what this coniferous gift represents.
Since I moved to Nova Scotia twelve years ago, I've only seen this whole "tree for Boston" rigmarole on the television; experiencing it in person is a completely different experience, especially since I've been reading about the Halifax Explosion for the last couple of years (last December marked the 100th anniversary).

Imagine -- the Halifax Explosion is not a HUGE part of Canada's history. This was a major event for our eastern port city; the stories are of both devastation and death, and courage and heroism. Every child in this country should know this story. Outside of a "heritage minute" commercial on the television, and Hugh McLellan's 1941 novel, Barometer Rising, that I read in Grade Nine (and didn't leave a last impression on me vis-a-vis the explosion, I didn't know anything about this event. Thankfully, now there are many well-written books of fiction and non-fiction that we can sink our teeth into -- both adults and children -- stories that really bring to life the Halifax Explosion, and what happened afterwards (I mean, honestly -- a big snowstorm hit the day after half the city was levelled by an ammunitions ship exploding in the harbour).

Right off the top of my head, I can recommend five books:

Non-fiction: "The Great Halifax Explosion", by John U. Bacon (William Morrow)

Fiction: "The Blue Tattoo", by Steven Laffoley (Pottersfield Press); and "Tides of Honour", by Genevieve Graham (Simon Schuster) *Nova Scotia authors

Children's: "Explosion Newsie", by Jaqueline Halsey, (Formac) and "The Little Tree by the Sea", by John DeMont and Belle DeMont (MacIntyre Purcell). *Nova Scotia authors

For more, simply put "books about the Halifax Explosion" into your search bar and you'll find lots to choose from.

Monday, November 12, 2018

If You Are New to "Field Notes" - Part 3

Introduction - One Hundred Thousand Welcomes (in Gaelic)
While flipping through the book looking for page numbers, I realized most of the sketches that appear for each section come from my collection of photos as well. The sketches of the chickens for Section Two are illustrator Joanna Close's own.

Section One - Blessed Be the Ties That Bind

My editor, Emily, loved this photo so much, she included Joanna's version of it on page 82
Our osprey nest for Section Three - The Country Lives of Animals
Section Four - The Rural Appreciation Society 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembrance Day

The only photo in the parcel of letters is of Merlin Mode, my maternal great-uncle.

When I phoned to wish my friend Colleen a very happy 88th birthday, we got to talking about Remembrance Day, and I remembered that when we lived in Cobourg, Ontario, I used to walk to the cenotaph with my father. I would have been a child and I remember standing next to him -- he wore a navy blue trench coat -- and looking at the green and red of the wreaths against the pale grey stone of the large cenotaph.

This fall, my mother received a large parcel of family letters and cards, and many of them are the letters three of her four maternal uncles -- Merlin, Everett and Donald -- sent back home while they were posted in England, and for a time in Italy, during World War Two. But because none of them died -- as officers, they weren't on the front lines and they weren't bombed while in England (although Everett mentioned losing his address book when all his stuff was bombed) -- I haven't felt the personal connection to the war that many do. In our family, it was those who died back home while the three boys were gone -- their mother, father and only sister -- that was the poignant story from the war.
Reading these letters certainly changes that. Some of them are hard to read because they are written in pencil on onion skin paper, and the uncle who wrote the most, Donald, had small writing.

The earliest letter in this parcel was typed by Uncle Merlin to his father. It's dated Saturday, October 12, 1940, from "Records Section, 2nd Echelon". Here are some excerpts from that letter:

"The bombers come over every night and are making life miserable. Here we are lucky and have little excitement in that respect for as a rule, he leaves us alone. London is still bearing the brunt of the attack and quite a bit of damage has been done there..."

"At this time of year at home, the coal dealers all over the country will have their yards well stocked with fuel. Here in all my travels I have yet to see even a coal yard. The miners are only working part time and instead of getting a good supply ahead, they will not get the coal out until it is actually needed, with the result that there is always a shortage of fuel. Last year people were rationed to 1 bag (112 lbs.) a week and when I told the landlord that we used about 2 tons of coal a month at home, he thought I was lying. How the folks here can keep warm on a bag a week is a mystery to me."

"The war situation is changing again and the scene of war seems to be shifting Eastward. We of course have no idea of what will happen but if serious war does start in the East, I would not be at all surprised if some of us are sent there. In a way, I rather hope not, for I have no desire to see that part of the world as a soldier. It would be grand to see it as a visitor but not so good under military discipline. I prefer England any time."

Merlin's letters date as late as 1944, and in one he talks about being homesick. It appears he was posted in England the entire time, as a sergeant (once complaining how he wasn't getting the promotion to sergeant major he should be getting) and in the records department.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

If You Are New to "Field Notes" - Part 2

Maggie,  in 2002, shortly after we'd arrived on Pugwash Point from Vancouver.
When we did the book launch for "Field Notes", the book, in November 2016 in Pugwash, I had a large computer monitor set up on a table showing a slideshow of photos for each essay. The one above, of Maggie with my British Columbia-licensed car, represents the essay, "Starry Starry Night".
It wasn't possible to include a section of photos in my book but I've tried as often as I can to share the photos, to share the memories and the people who have inspired me, since I first visited Nova Scotia  in the 1970's and since I moved here in 2007.
Thank you for buying Field Notes and for letting me know that the stories resonate with you.

Sue Mundle (page 206) with Horton Hanover in 1986 (page 188)
Fern (page 155 & 226)
Jane, the goat fondler! (page 177
The "back shore" in 1979 (opening essay)...

...and in 2006 (closing essay).  

From the opening essay, "One Hundred Thousand Welcomes":

There IS a lineage here [in Nova Scotia] for my family. We may not be able to claim multiple generations on the same land or a homestead dating back to the 1700s, but we did put down roots. They run close to the surface but they are there, eagerly grasping for a hold in this red soil...

Friday, November 09, 2018

If You Are New To "Field Notes" - Part 1

Dwayne with Jack the Bear (page 42)
I've been conversing via email with a woman who lives in England and currently is reading my book (how cool is that?!). At one point, she asked if I could put captions on my photos of my animals and I realized she, and others reading Field Notes in the last year or so, might enjoy seeing the pictures that go with the essays.
As someone who loves to look at photos of the people I'm reading about in a non-fiction book, I totally get that people would love to see the characters from Field Notes.
So today and tomorrow, I'm going to post a few of the photos for everyone who is new to Field Notes. Thanks for reading both the book and this blog. 

Diana and I with Clancy in 2006 (page  16) 
Nanny and Grampy get an iPad! (page 51)

Stella and the new puppy, Abby, in 2011 (page 128)

The friends I meet, and treat, on my morning walk (page 142)

A funeral for a mouse included bubbles (page 163)

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Ready Or Not, Naughty Or Nice

I just emailed off my last writing assignment of the fall. It's been a very busy two months but all worth it in the end. Now everything is about this play!

I wrote it, a comedy in three acts, a couple of Christmases ago. Back in 2015, when I did my first Advent and Christmas season as a lay worship leader, the idea popped into my head I think it started with the idea of a donkey who keeps biting Mary (she wasn't riding him) so she ends up on a bicycle. That's where everything starts -- just one idea! But in that new year, I started working on the Field Notes book so writing the play was put off. When I tried to sit down with the idea in the spring, no way! Sometimes you really do have to be in the zone in order to writing something as particular as a Christmas play.
So the following year, in the week between Christmas and New Year's, I put the soundtrack of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on repeat in my office and wrote the entire play while I was still in the seasonal frame of mind. Finally, this season, we are able to present it.

Hmm, "able to present it." When you have a very small congregation made up of older people who are already exhausted from doing everything they've been doing for years, and you're in a small community where everyone has their big Christmas events planned, it's rather challenging to find people to fill parts. I have two left to fill -- Joseph, and the donkey (which I'd rather do "live" - as a person dressed up - rather than made out of paper and paint). I'll keep you posted...

** We have a Joseph, and we found the handmade donkey used in an Easter production years ago! So we're good to go. I am SO looking forward to doing this. **

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Cleaning House and Finding Clarity

Leonard and Remi. Their posture kind of represents some days of marriage, doesn't it?! 

I'm fortunate to have a husband who helps around the house. He does dishes and cooks meals, he does his own laundry, and vacuums the rugs.
It wasn't always like this; in the early years of our marriage, when Dwayne was still working long hours for the Department of Transportation, I did all that work because I was home.
Once he was off work due to his shoulder injury, however, he started to do more around the house. When I wrote Field Notes in the winter of 2016, and last winter when I wrote a novel, he gladly took care of everything to allow me to focus on my work.

At some point, though, I said to him, "I shouldn't feel like I have to thank you every time you clean the house or do the dishes. I mean, you live here too; it shouldn't be something special that you clean up. You don't have to thank me, I don't have to thank you. We're just doing what needs to be done."
To me, it was like making a big deal of a father "babysitting" -- when it's your kids, it's not babysitting, it's parenting!

Despite saying that, I've continued to thank him because it's feels like I'm wrestling to hold the words in. It feels weird not to say thanks. It feels weird not to acknowledge what he did, or to have what I've done be acknowledged.

This morning, when he headed out early to help his father get his day started (because his mother is in the hospital), I looked around and realized the floors desperately needed cleaning, and even though I had work to do, I postponed it to sweep and vacuum. It didn't seem fair to leave the chores for Dwayne to do even if I was working.
When Dwayne arrived home later and I wandered downstairs to see how his morning went, he said, "Thanks for doing the floors."
I shrugged. Why would you thank me when I live here too? Yet I appreciated his noticing.

This niggled at me -- why does it feels wrong not to express thanks for such mundane daily activities? -- so I let my brain work away at the question while I worked until the answer formed itself into a proper sentence: Thanking each other is who we are.
It has nothing to do with traditional gender roles or "babysitting" or equality. It's about the two of us.
It's the foundation of our marriage: Being thankful and expressing that thankfulness. It's how we CHERISH each other, and the marriage we have, and the time we get together. For me, it's about who we are and how we are together, and that's why it feels wrong to not thank him for doing the dishes or vacuuming the floors.
I'm not thanking him because he's a man and he's doing something out of the ordinary; I'm thanking him because he's my partner and this is how we live together.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A Field Notes Halloween

From the Field Notes essay entitled, "Hobgoblins":

"Dwayne and Jane's memories stir up my own, long tucked away once I stopped dressing up. They had me thinking about how my mother did Halloween: homemade costumes, themed tablecloth, and a few decorations (specifically the happy old crone: five feet tall with stripped stockings, a huge, warty nose, and a cauldron full of mice. She hung on our dining room wall one day a year.)

Just as Dwayne raided his grandmother's clothes chest, I headed to my mother's closet for inspiration. The gown for my princess costume was the red caftan my father had given her for Christmas one year...Nothing could top my mother's old fox-fur coat -- we tried to incorporate it into our costumes every year -- or the tangled, long-haired brown wig the beauty salon next door had 'gifted' us for dress-up. I wore the wig to my sixth birthday party before it became part of my witch's costume six months later."

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Thirty

Day Thirty!
And I can't really say anything better than this graphic.
I don't mean it in a lecturey way, either. Every day, I remind myself how fortunate I am. Life can change in a moment -- because of a car accident or a stroke or a pink slip -- and I want to be grateful every day, all 365 x infinity, for being safe and secure, healthy and happy, for working and planning, for being loved and for loving. Life is good. I am grateful. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty-Nine

When I first moved to Nova Scotia eleven years ago, I worked at a substitute teacher at the high school level. After four years, I started working at The Oxford Journal community newspaper then began working as a lay worship leader for the United Church. But after a seven year hiatus from subbing, I'm back, this time at the elementary level.
What an eye-opener.

High schoolers are so autonomous that as a sub, you don't really get to know how any particular student is doing. But at the elementary level, where teachers and students feel more integrated, more familial, where there are Educational Assistants in every room to work only with a particular student with a special need, it's so much more obvious how each student is doing.
A lot can change in seven years as well, and I can't say our education system is working any better than it was seven or eleven years ago. Too much government interference, too much trying to reinvent the wheel AND rediscover fire.
But being in elementary schools... honestly, I don't know how teachers do it. You can tell they WANT to be teachers, that they are CALLED to be teachers, that they will persist regardless of the stupidity of bureaucrats who think, by sitting at a desk in an office, they know more about educating children, particularly CHILDREN AT RISK and CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, than the teachers who are actually IN THE CLASSROOM.

Yes, I'm yelling.
I've subbed six days this month and already, there are two students in one grade -- just ONE grade -- with whom I'm obsessed. I'd like to go into the school, scoop the two of them up and tell the principal, "Give them to me, and I'll have them up to speed for reading and writing and math. Please."
Because they are at the age when they fall behind quickly, but worse, the age when they KNOW they are falling behind.
The problem is, no one on the front lines of teaching (principals, vice-principals and teachers) can make that kind of hiring decision. They can't say, "That would be great."
Instead, the government will say, "You can having a learning centre," and then twenty at-risk students end up there, the same size as the average class, and the teacher who wants to make a difference in their learning ends up losing all of them because there is still no way to work one-on-one.
Reading, writing and math -- those are the most important skills we need. At the least, every student should graduate from high school possessing those skills. They should know how to read, how to write (and by write I mean spell and use grammar so their texts and emails MAKE SENSE) and how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

How did we end up with an education system that can't even provide those basics to every, and I mean EVERY, student? You want to cut down on behavioural issues in the classroom? Make class sizes smaller and make sure every kid is keeping up.
Teachers have enough to do with the average class of twenty students. So give me those two students. Give them to me. Just give them to me...

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty-Eight

Remember the nine little chicks we hatched out last June? Six were roosters and three were hens. Well, the first of the three little hens laid her first egg yesterday.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty-Seven

The bulbs are planted! For the first time in several years, I'm not rushing around at the last moment - as the first flakes start to fall and I have to dynamite the frozen soil to make holes - trying to get my bulbs in the ground.

This is a wonderful ritual, this planting of the bulbs; as we clean up leaves and cut down dying plants, as the sky clouds over and we look up and say, "Looks like snow," and "It's getting colder," it's such a symbol of hope and possibilities and plans (ha, ha, plans!) by planting those small bulbs.
Into the the cold soil they go then we wait six months to see them poking through the snow and the dirt and the grass to say "Hello again!"

Transformation and redemption are my favourite kinds of stories. Caterpillars into butterflies. Eggs into chicks. Bulbs into daffodils. All the possibilities, all the hope, all worth the wait.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty-six

Last spring, a teacher friend suggested I apply to be a presenter at the October conference of the Association for Teachers of English in Nova Scotia, and I'm glad I said yes. This was the first workshop (and I presented it twice this afternoon) that I've done as a published author but also for a large audience; thirty people were in the first session, and 23 attended the second one.

It certainly was lovely to see this familiar face sit down in the classroom for session two. Angela Roach, whose mother was my dearest friend Diana and inspired the Field Notes essay, "That's What Friends Are For." I kind of feel like she is carrying on that tradition -- when she saw my name on the list, she chose my workshop, and was kind enough to say it went well.

I'm very grateful I don't get nervous about public speaking. In fact, yapper that I am, I love giving speeches and presentations. I rarely turn down an opportunity to get out among people!
Even though this presentation was longer than I wanted it to be -- it ran the full 75 minutes -- I think it came across as well-prepared and full of information; thankfully, my PowerPoint worked fine, and I made sure I included "Activities For Your Students" so that the teachers had some takeaways.

When it's the first "professional" workshop you've ever given, you have nothing to compare it to, but I made notes along the way, and if I'm ever invited to do something this big again, I know exactly how the revised and refreshed version will look.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty-Five

This is the last bar of the Field Notes soap that Nathalie Deveaux of Roots and Wings Studio created specially for me. It's a rather poignant moment, holding this last bar in my hand, because creating a soap for a book is not something I'll likely do again.
I offered up these soaps at various non-bookstore sales and they also made unique thank you gifts along the way. So many people -- friends and booksellers -- were gracious and helpful to me during my first two years as a debut author, it was nice to be able to offer up a token of my gratitude that reflected the book they were helping me promote.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty-Four

"Station Eleven" is a science fiction novel published by Emily St. John Mandel in 2014. The novel imagines the world -- but takes place around the Great Lakes region of Canada -- after a flu pandemic has killed most of the population.
It's an awesome and frightening book, and I'm thinking about it a lot lately, with the news of a possible/probably climate catastrophe in as little as a decade. That makes me think about living in a rural area versus an urban area, and how rural dwellers might have a better chance at surviving such a catastrophe because we have more resources and access to natural resources.
In the novel, there is no gas because there is no one to extract the oil, truck it, process it, etc. But what has stayed with me, even though it was the smallest of scenes near the end of the book, was the revelation -- it hadn't occurred to me throughout the book -- that there also would be no medicine.
The book reveals how civilization is reduced to its most primitive state by the destruction of most of the population and utilizes the relics of the past to survive in the new world order.
No medicine.
So today, as I try to keep a cold sore from busting out inside my nose (the place where my cold sores flare up) three days before I speak at a teachers' conference, I am grateful for medicine. For the medicine that helps with an ailment as minor as a cold sore but even more grateful for the medicine that is helping my husband prevent a future stroke.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty-Three

Give us this day our daily egg...and let us be truly grateful for this weirdly produced bounty that issues from the butt of a chicken.
From the first moment I held a freshly laid, still warm egg in my hand over ten years ago, I have enjoyed collecting eggs from my chickens every day. Every single day. There isn't a day that goes by that there isn't an egg, or two or six or sometimes, in the summer, even twelve to collect.
It's a simple chore, but a satisfying one.
I'm not getting goats or a horse or a donkey or a pig, but as long as I have my flock of chickens, I know I am getting an experience that is unique to my life in Nova Scotia.
(A life for which I am truly grateful every day, as well.)

Monday, October 22, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty Two

I remember how delighted I was when I visited the new pond after Dwayne had spent an afternoon there with his tractor and saw what he had done: arranged the large rocks along the shore -- which is, depending on rainfall, sometimes a beach, and sometimes just the shallow end. I call them the sitting stones because that's what I did as soon as I saw them: I sat down. I put my feet in the water. I watched the bugs on the water and the dragonflies in the air. I admired the bullrushes and the sparkling ripples.

Imagine -- there is now a pond in the middle of the field! We haven't done any landscaping -- there's enough work around the yard that takes priority -- but every time I'm there, I can't help but make plans for a teeny tiny writing retreat. A table, a chair, a hammock. It's such a quiet and inviting spot, our pond, would I get any writing done? It's a place for thinking, breathing, letting go. I get my best ideas on the yoga mat and in the bathtub when I'm focused on other things but the pond is a place where even my busy brain rests with a sigh of relief.

The pond is a lovely spot in the afternoon but sitting on those sitting stones, the sun is shining right into my eyes. Now that it's too dark to walk early in the morning, and now that the bugs are gone, it's time to check out the pond, and the sitting stones, in the morning. I'll bring a notebook, just in case those stones turn out to be inspiration rocks.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty-One

Out for a Sunday drive and came across these two. It was so hard to remain in the truck but the ditch was full of water and the bank was steep -- just crying out for me to go ass over apple cart -- but I could have sat there all day at the side of the gravel road and watched them. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twenty

Today, I am grateful for the answer to a longtime family mystery.
In April 1945, when her two daughters were seven and almost four, Muriel Everest died. She was my maternal grandmother, my mother's mother.
I grew up knowing that she died young, at the age of 33, and that my mother and her older sister did not know what caused her death.

To this day, I can't believe that. Her father, Fred, never spoke of his wife, never told his two daughters about their mother, and none of the aunts or uncles shared their memories about her until after Fred died.
When I ask my mother why she never asked her aunts what happened to her mother, she says, "You didn't talk about that kind of thing. We just carried on."
But no one thought to tell those girls about their mother and why she died, either.
The older I get, the older my mother gets, the longer we live together, the more this bothers me.

A couple of weeks ago, my aunt was here for a visit and she brought with her a large baggie full of old letters. Most of them were written by three of Muriel's four brothers who were posted in England during World War Two (when the three boys finally returned home, all unharmed, they found out both their parents and their sister were dead).  Among those letters, however, was one from Muriel's best friend and it answered, albeit with no details, the 73 year old mystery: Muriel had miscarried and was to have an operation as a result.
The only fact my mother had known was that her mother had been pregnant when she died. So even that information was incorrect. And perhaps, to cut the grandfather I never knew some slack, that's the reason he never spoke of his wife. The reason for her death was too personal, his loss too much to bear.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Nineteen

Captured what is likely the last moment of sitting together on the back deck in 2018 with a family selfie! Grateful for a beautiful autumn afternoon, even if the wind is cold enough to make us think seriously about winter.
I have a jump on that; seems like I'm already eating for winter hiberation.
Today was the first day of our annual work of getting the outdoor life put away, cut down, and raked up. Also my annual "Oh no, my bulbs need to be planted" panic.