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.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Eighteen

It occurred to me while visiting my local Coles Bookstore in the Amherst mall that I should express my gratitude publicly for the staff's ongoing support of Field Notes, the book. Store manager, Cheryl Nickerson (in the centre, pictured with Terry), as well as Myrna and Kelly have been particularly enthusiastic about both the book and this new, local author.
It also helps that they want more books by me to sell so I'm working hard to get something new  published.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Seventeen

He is the last one.
So I am grateful to have one animal to see, speak to, sometimes even pet on my morning walk.
In my Field Notes essay, "Communion With the Animals", I wrote about the cows and horses and ponies that hung out in the fields along my route, how I befriended them, fed them carrots and apples, watched them run across the grass.
It seemed almost as soon as the book was published, the animals began to disappear. Someone died, moved away, was unable to keep up. One day they were there -- the next the field was empty.
I call this fella, who lives by himself, "Jesse", after the horse in the novel I wrote last winter and is currently waiting to be read by a publisher. Jesse doesn't come to the fence much; he's not interested in being patted. But he watches me as the dog and I walk by, and I talk to him.
"Good morning, handsome boy."
There isn't much else to say.
He is the only one.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Sixteen

Two lessons of Alzheimer's disease:
1) Acceptance is key. To deny and resist just causes problems for everyone.
2) It's about the person living with dementia. It's about whatever helps them connect with what they know and who they are in order to keep them calm and content.

When I moved to Nova Scotia from Vancouver in 2002, I learned my father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. That summer, I took up golfing so that my father could continue to golf with someone who could get him to the golf course, and watch out for him there. We had some good times playing nine holes of golf in the afternoon. That is one of the things I got right when I was taking care of him. It was about him and what he needed, about doing whatever he could still do -- whatever made him happy, made him forget about the disease affecting his brain, and his life.

Everyone knows -- even the bureaucrats and administrators -- that person-centered care is the only way to offer dementia care that is compassionate, non-harming and life-sustaining. But we are TOO slow, too concerned with budgets, to adapt our care models and our facilities to this new way (which isn't new, the UK is light years ahead of us when it comes to person-centered dementia care). When people living with dementia are calm and content, they are less likely to be volatile and violent, which leads to fewer drugs and fewer injuries for both the person and staff, which means fewer hospital visits. All of that reduces the costs, which is what matters to bureaucrats and administrators.

So I'm grateful to learn about this program (out of the UK) called "The Butterfly Model" that is making its way into care facilities here in Canada:

Monday, October 15, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Fifteen

My morning walk. As it appears right now on this perfect October day.
In June, this walk happens at 5:45. This morning, we started out at 7:15. While I do prefer the earlier start to my day, I love starting my day with a walk so I'm trying to get out on the road as often as I can before the Morning Walk Season comes to an end.

This is my favourite part of the walk, on my way back home, when I come over the hill by Claude's house and I can see the Cobequid Mountains in the distance. Fields, sky and mountains. And no traffic. I can't help but take a deep breath at this moment, a breath full of gratefulness and contentment.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Fourteen

How could I not be grateful -- eternally grateful -- to be in possession of these two brilliant original works of art?

The chicken toque, which I picked up yesterday, was crocheted by my friend Lisa, who I met through my dog blog back in 2002 when I first arrived (seasonally) in Nova Scotia.

The painting was done by Pugwash artist Archan Knotz (not pictured is my other painting of hers, of three hens).

My friend Bruce made the barn board frames.

So a cornucopia of creative things to be grateful for today.

Or as Dwayne would say, "You're spoiled." No, honey, I'm not spoiled; I'm rotten with gratitude.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Thirteen

Grateful for a great day with my mother in Halifax as we attended a food writing workshop hosted by Simon Thibault, author of "Pantry and Palate: Remembering and Discovering Acadian Food".
Mum and I are working on a cookbook together -- her recipes, my stories -- and along with my three pages of notes, Simon's gentle questions about my writing sample helped me figure out how to rewrite the introduction and how to better define the focus of our cookbook.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Twelve

By the end of a day of substitute teaching, I'm grateful to see my husband's truck parked at the curb. I'm grateful to see his face, his smile, and hear his voice. I'm grateful to sink so soon into my resting place -- which is always alongside him. Even at night, if I'm having trouble sleeping, I just have to reach over and touch him, and I fall back to sleep.

"Your relaxation starts now," he said as he put the truck into gear.

It was lovely to drive home with the vibrant fall colours not yet stripped off the trees by wind, and feel cocooned inside the truck as we headed home for post-subbing sustenance of tea and toast. Dwayne went off to nap and after a second cup of green tea, I slipped upstairs to my office, where it is quiet and cozy on this (lovely) grey and rainy day.

"You're supposed to be relaxing," he scolded from my doorway at four thirty.
"This is relaxing," I said as I nodded towards the cookbook proposal I was tweaking. Oh, yes, after a day of noise and crowd control, hugs and action songs (filling in for the music teacher again), sitting in stillness, hearing nothing but the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, THAT is my relaxation.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Eleven

Twenty-five years ago, I took guitar lessons during the two years I lived in Oakville, Ontario, after graduating from teachers' college and not ready yet to teach high school.
Now, that's part of the lengthy story about why I have returned to substitute teaching at the elementary level after seven years, and it's a story I'll share at another time BUT for now, let me just say


Just as I'm grateful I was actually good at French even though I didn't pursue it as a "teachable" (that, too, is another story -- September was a season of epiphanies, let me tell you). The teacher I've done my first days of subbing for teaches both French and music, and because of my latent French and guitar skills (I also read music because I played piano for ten years), I've been able to hold my own.

With a little help from my unicorn friend. Trust me, when it came time to get the attention of 20 students practicing their chords on ukuleles, I was glad to have that squeaky toy with me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Ten

Grateful today, so very grateful, for the trees still standing, still reaching upwards, still whispering their ancient stories, after another round of logging this spring and summer.
Yesterday, the dog and I took our first walk this autumn season back the old road through the woods.
Only there is less woods than before. More acres clear cut, more trees gone, more habitat destroyed.

Imagine a world without trees.
How will we hear the wind if there are no trees?
How will we hear the birds if there are no trees?
How will we hear our own breath if there are no trees?

I stood and listened.
Will there come a day when I can no longer say I'm going for a walk in the woods?

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Nine

I know how lucky I am to be able to start my mornings like this: yoga when the house is dark and quiet; several cups of coffee in a favourite mug; and a couple of chapters in a book because there is time.
Easing into the day is a luxury not everyone gets so I'm very grateful for this morning ritual. It also includes time with my mother and my husband, and even though we live together and no one  but me works regularly outside the home so we spend a lot of time together, I don't take our morning coffee gathering for granted. Life is always changing, even if it's just our moods and our books, and sometimes those changes can happen swiftly and without warning. On mornings when I get to be calm, balanced, and filled with gratitude, I enjoy them.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Eight

It's the season of the free range chickens!
Even though they have a roomy coop and a large outdoor pen, it's just not the same as having no walls or fences around them. I'm grateful that for a couple of months in spring and fall, our chickens get to stretch their legs, eat grass and bugs, and actually run as fast as they want for as far as they want.
Need a laugh? Come watch a chicken run.

I love the first day of letting the hens and rooster out of their pen to roam around our one acre yard. They are so excited and happy to be free, they hardly know where to go. There's a lot of running around and flapping of wings and squawking as they try to hit all the hot spots: corn patch, cucumber patch, the front deck (alas, no tray feeder on the deck railing this year), and the ditch.

For some reason, our chickens love the ditch that divides our yard from the field. Oh, and they love the field, too. (Who doesn't love the field?!)

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Seven

These two. Thankful for these two. Through thick and thin. Hot and cold. Up and down. In sickness and in health.
Till death do us part.
It was my pleasure to prepare a meal of thanksgiving -- gratitude grub -- for my husband and my mother.

Not a great picture because I was rushing -- "the food is getting cold". Yeesh.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Six

On this day, two years ago, I saw my first book for the first time. No better moment than this!
While I remain grateful for this moment when I officially became an author, I am even more grateful that two years later, I still receive emails from women telling me how much they enjoyed my book.
Yesterday, an email arrived from a woman who lives in Ottawa but longs to be back in Nova Scotia. My book seems to stir up a lot of yearnings for the East Coast.

Thank you for buying Field Notes, thank you for liking it, thank you for telling me! Being a writer can be a lonely life full of self-doubt and uncertainty, so authors really do appreciate hearing from people who've read their book.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day 5

It wasn't until the three sisters in this book reached Vancouver that I realized - remembered - that I've driven across Canada by myself. That's how I got away from the West Coast and back to the East Coast.
Vancouver to Pugwash.
Me and Maggie, my faithful, wonderful friend. Returning home.
I don't think of that trip much anymore but really, it's pretty something. I'm grateful to have had that experience. All that way, on my own -- Mags and I dubbed it the "Warrior Princess Road Trip". Despite what I was driving away from (an unhappy marriage), and driving towards (uncertainty -- although I wished I'd considered 'freedom'), and not knowing what I was driving towards (my father's dementia diagnosis), I really enjoyed that trip. I enjoyed it with that dog, the best dog I've ever had.

I remember stopping at some pit stop kind of place in Alberta and Maggie's big pumpkin head was hanging out the window as I walked away from the car. A guy who'd come out of a transport truck said to me, "No one's going to bother you with that face in your car."
She was such a good dog. I miss her. Grateful for the memory of that trip with her.

**Written by a Nova Scotia author, the book is a great read, a YA that resonated with this adult, with captivating characters dealing with real problems in believable ways.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day 4

I mailed out a book proposal for a collection of essays this week. The book's audience is women, aged 35 to 55. I don't have an "in" with the publisher to whom it's been sent, so I have to hope my writing is engaging enough to interest the Submissions Coordinator.
That's the terrible unknown of a writer's life.
As long as the book is home with me, and I'm working on it, there is an abundance of hope. As soon as it's gone, out of my hands, its future in someone else's hands, there is an abundance of anxiety. Hope and anxiety in their usual awkward, jerky dance -- one leading for awhile, the other taking over, depending on the mood of the music on any given day.

Okay, I stretched that metaphor far enough.

This is the life of a writer. Persistence. Hope. Anxiety. Dread. Anticipation.
Sometimes I wish I'd never started down this rocky, windy path, but most days, I'm truly grateful to have this talent and to be using it every day.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day 3

My mother had a week-long visit with her sister, Gail. They didn't do many road trips; they were content to hang out in Mother's room, talking and reading and napping.
Aunt Gail quickly learned that at our exclusive B&B, you make your own breakfast. So really, we're more of a B&C -- bed and coffee.
I'm grateful these two are lifelong friends, and at 77 and 80, are healthy, vibrant and full of laughter. And not overly annoying.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day Two

How could one not be absolutely filled with wonder and awe and gratitude when this happens??
And it happens over and over. For some reason, we have two nuthatches who are willing to take peanuts from our hands. One even pecks at the window if no one is outside during "feeding time".
The blue jays gobble up all the peanuts but are skittish.
The chickadees flit around but won't yet land.
The nuthatches, however, are quite happy to spend a moment on your fingers, tickling your skin with their tiny, delicate toes.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Thirty Days of Gratitude: Day One

A few years ago, I asked my husband what "my thing" was and he "It's love. Your thing is love." Which kind of surprised me that he'd noticed something like that.
But after everything that's happened in the last couple of years, I'd say "my thing" is also GRATITUDE.
So, when I saw a post on Facebook this morning about a Thirty Days of Gratitude, I decided to forgo the challenge part -- where you have to post about something specific -- and just share something every for which I'm grateful. I won't have any trouble coming up with ideas!
Since our thankful month in Canada is October, I thought I would simply start with this simple but very true statement from our beloved Anne of Green Gables.