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.