Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas

Photo taken on the morning of December 13 when we had snow.
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and for me, it is the culmination of the four Sundays of Advent.
This year, the themes of my messages were Lamentation (hope), Expectation (peace), Anticipation (joy), and Celebration (love).
You can find condensed versions of those messages posted on my Facebook author page.

Christmas Eve is a funny thing to plan. Half of the congregation, who have attended each Sunday through Advent, won't be there. And most of the people who come to church on Christmas Eve haven't set foot in church in a year, let alone for any Sunday in Advent.
So I plan a stand-alone service, one that doesn't wrap up the four weeks of Advent. I want everyone to get something out of the service, and not feel lost because they don't know what I'm talking about. I don't get too worked up about those who only attend church on Christmas Eve; it's the reality of the modern church.

What I love about planning for the Christmas Eve service is getting to do something special, and this year, we have two special moments, near the end.
A seven-year-old girl will come forward carrying the baby Jesus (doll) and place him (the doll) in the manger inside our stable. Then I get to declare that Christmas has come!
And then I'll read the following poem, which I've been anticipating since I discovered it a few weeks ago. I may only have a chicken coop but this poem hit me hard in the heart.
It's called "Remembering That It Happened Once", and it was written by Wendell Berry, an American poet, essayist, environmental activist and farmer. If you haven't checked out his writing, make that one of your resolutions for 2020.

Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own white frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.

(from the Salt Project e-newsletter, November 26, 2019)

Happy Holidays from the field! May the next few days be filled with peace and joy, and plenty of cookies. xo  

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Dreaming Of A White Christmas

It's not looking like we'll have a white Christmas here in Cumberland County. Can't say it will be the same for the rest of the Nova Scotia, since the coast and Valley received a big snowfall on Wednesday -- but we didn't see a flake. Love our many micro climates!

Looks like the best we can hope for is a skiffle over the ground. We had the same kind of Christmas in 2012 -- then a huge snowstorm on the 26th because Dwayne and I were stuck at the Halifax airport trying to fly out to Atlanta.
Although, now that I think of it, since we have to drive with Dwayne's mother to Amherst on Christmas Day to spend the morning with his parents, I'm rather glad there's no snowstorm in that forecast.
Some things are more important than a white Christmas.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019


Last summer, when I did a really good cleanout of the coop, I took down some chicken wire Dwayne had nailed in "up in the loft" to prevent hens from roosting on this beam.
For years, none of the hens bothered to go up this high; they were content with the double tree-branch roost we built. But in the last few years, a few intrepid girls decided to roost higher up, and the chicken wire had big gobs of dried poop caught up in it so I tore it down.

Not sure if I shouldn't have put up more to discourage them completely.

Every morning, these beauties are roosted up on this beam ... which happens to be right above the door.
So every morning, as I open the door and walk in, I say, "Please don't poop on me."

So far, no one has dropped a wet and stinky bomb on me but I know it's a matter of time. One can't walk underneath five chickens every morning and dodge that poop-bullet forever.

I know the old saying: "If a bird poops on you, it means good luck" but those are regular birds flying through the air. Not sure if the good luck works if it's a chicken sitting above you.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Cookies of Joy

Not bad for a recipe from the 12th century!

We had an evening out with another couple last night and during supper, my friend, who is in her sixties and retired, said she was trying to figure out what to do with the next decade of her life. She realizes that nothing is guaranteed -- not the year, let alone the decade -- but she still wants to make the most of her time now.
For the past year, she's been working with a life coach, online, to change habits -- like eating habits and screen habits, like trying to spend at least 10 minutes a day in quiet, perhaps even meditating -- and she's enjoying the journey, with all its challenges.

So now, having put aside the last lingering bits of employment (some people have to ease themselves into retirement), she wants to know how to spend her precious time, and she's slowly figuring that out. This will be her journey for the coming year.

And I thought, That's joy.

Tomorrow is the third Sunday of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day that most Christian churches mark as the time of anticipation and preparation. This is my fifth Advent season leading worship services at the United Church in Oxford and I have to say -- Advent is my favourite season. I've done different themes over the past five years but I've come back this year to Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, the traditional and familiar themes for each Advent Sunday, usually focused on the Advent wreath candlelighting liturgy that begins each service.

This Sunday we light the pink candle -- for Joy.

I begin each service with a "centering moment". I like to let everyone know what the theme or point of the service is and to end with a breathing meditation that allows me to catch my breath and relax.

Tomorrow I'll share the story of my friend figuring out "the rest of her life" then say,
"I’ve said it before: JOY isn’t always cartwheeling down the centre aisle of the church or jumping up and down on the bed or twirling through sun-sparkled sprinkler spray.
JOY is quiet – perhaps real joy is soft and subtle and that’s why we don’t notice or recognize it.
Joy can be a feeling of peace. Joy can be a feeling of hope.
A “frisson” of courage or confidence.
It doesn’t have to be, and often isn’t, excitement and exuberance and loud exultation.

Sometimes JOY comes on a breath….

So inhale slowly and deeply right now … and exhale slowly.
Remember this breath – this holy breath.
Remember to breathe – to breathe in peace and breathe out worry.

Remember that with every inhale --- and every exhale – you are opening yourself up to JOY..."

When I woke up this morning, I realized I had nothing to do and nowhere to be. Such a rare treat! So I decided I'd finally make the "cookies of joy" I've known about for a few years, to give out as everyone is leaving the church. I made enough for two each, one star and one heart shape. 
The recipe originated with St. Hildegard de Bingen, a 12th century mystic, theologian, gardener, and healer. The recipe has been adapted for the 21st century.
They are spice cookies, actually - St. Hildegard believed the spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove "not only banish melancholia, but also release our innate intelligence, and keep us youthful in body and spirit." (I'm sure my congregation will appreciate the last one!)

And yes, I do believe joy can be found in a cookie. A moment of joy -- a pause, some stillness, a chance to catch the breath. The soft and subtle taste and texture of real joy. 

Definitely not 12th century packaging!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Christmas Past, Christmas Present

This fine fellow enjoying Christmas dinner is my father-in-law, Donn. I took this photo of him in 2016 when Dwayne cooked Christmas Day dinner as usual, then we packed it all up to eat with his parents in their kitchen. They could no longer get up to our home to have supper with us.
We had been doing Christmas Eve supper with my in-laws -- seafood chowder and Maritime mock cherry pie -- but that fell away once I started doing the Christmas Eve service at church. I hated to let that go; Dwayne did it one last time on his own.

We try so hard to keep everything the same at Christmas time, to maintain every tradition and ritual exactly the way they've always been done -- yet we all know nothing ever stays the same. We know there will be years when someone is absent, there will be years when the table is overflowing. There will be years when there will be hardly anyone at the table. There will be years when there is no table.

For whatever reason. Illness or estrangement. Death or divorce. Someone has moved away for a job. The special dinner was done before Christmas Day. People decide to take a trip and spend Christmas elsewhere.
My mother decided to spend Christmas in Georgia with her grandchildren about the same time Dwayne's parents couldn't come up to our house for dinner so now our Christmas supper is a chacuterie board in front of the Christmas tree in the living room. Our Christmas Day is a lot quieter and a lot calmer, and we kind of like it. It's different, and in a few years, we'll be doing something different yet again.

There are no wrong reasons; there is just life, the way it unfolds, the way it happens. There is just the way families are, the funny mix of personalities and personal choices. There is just that one day -- which we build into the Whole Meaning Of Life, when really, it's the least important day.

The day a parent moves into the nursing -- that's a far more significant day.

That's where we are this year, Christmas 2019. Dwayne's 94-year-old father has moved into a nursing home after five months in hospital waiting to see if anything could be done for his hip then waiting for a nursing home room.
So this year, we won't wake up on Christmas Day anticipating a big home-cooked breakfast with friends; we'll eat simply, by ourselves, and then pick up Dwayne's mother to head to the nursing home to spend the morning together.

This brings up a whole lot of emotion for me. It's been 14 years since I spent my first Christmas in a nursing home with my father, and those memories, and the feelings attached to them, are as strong, as raw, as ever. (When Dwayne came home yesterday after helping his father get settled in the nursing home, and said to me, "The smell. It's the smell," I started to cry. I couldn't hold it in. I know. That's why I couldn't go with him.)
You don't spend Christmas Day in a nursing home and not come away profoundly changed. For me, it was the quiet. My father was in the locked dementia unit, and I was the only non-resident there. No one other than my father had any visitors on that day.
I'll never forget that.

Christmas is just one day out of 365 so I have no problem shifting our Christmas Day "celebration" to the nursing home, to be with Dwayne and his parents in yet another change to their long lives together. It's not the gifts or the food or the tree or even the location that matters -- it's the people who matter, the people who make the memories special. 
Even if those people are strangers in a locked dementia unit.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Solvitur Ambulando

Can you believe I forgot about walking and thinking? I forgot that to come up with an idea or work through a problem, I need to get out and tromp. I need fresh air and snowflakes and puddles and trees and yes, the field.
It's been so wet and muddy the past six weeks or so, I haven't done much walking outside. Once it gets too dark to walk in the morning or late in the afternoon, I trade in my outdoor shoes for my indoor shoes and climb onto the treadmill. But to make walking in place in the dingy basement bearable, I watch television; preferably a movie on a channel with no commercials.
Watching a show, however, means my brain is engaged, totally focused on the story. In order to properly solve something, my brain needs to be disengaged and I need to be quiet, focused on other things, like tromping.

Or photographing those funny little snow puffs in the field, which are actually snow-topped Queen Anne's Lace. How I miss these little decorations when I'm stuck in the basement staring at a television screen.

The other day, I looked out the window at a little bit of sunshine and said to the dog, "Let's go for a walk." The road was too muddy (not cold enough to freeze) so we switched into the field and went way up to the top; I don't have to worry about the dog hearing animals in the woods and disappearing to investigate/chase.
Also the other day, I'd posted a long piece on my Facebook author page about wanting to give up on publishing, and writing, because it's just not working out for me anymore. I still wasn't comfortable admitting my failure to sell another book and needed a good tromp to get it out of my system. One person wrote a long comment in response, suggesting I give up only on traditional publishing -- but keep writing and publish digitally. I didn't answer right then; wasn't sure how to since the thought of learning a new technology (social media takes enough time, thank you), and not getting a hard copy of a book in my hands or getting to interact with readers was appalling. Those are the best parts of book publishing.
Then again, that's not happening anyway...

Obviously, that commented planted a seed because as I was walking, my brain was working away on that comment, wondering if there was some possibility in it other than my usual knee-jerk reaction of "Can't!" And turns out, there is. We were on our way home, tromping across the soggy field, when I realized I could TRY. I have a novel I wrote while I was in Vancouver, worked on in 2003, and again in 2009 after I'd moved to Nova Scotia. I could publish that on a digital platform and see what it's like. See if anyone reads it. See if enough people read it to make that my new direction.

It makes publishing a Field Notes 2 -- already proposed and rejected but fully outlined -- a possibility.

Whoa, girl. One step at a time. Ah, yes, one step, one tromp, one walk at a time. More thinking, more figuring out, less giving up, less hiding in the basement.
Because SOLVITUR AMBULANDO: "It is solved by walking."

It is also solved by skating on the pond...