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."