In Pursuit of Coolness

 

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Nothing profound from me today. It has been, is, and will continue to be hot. Please don’t see this as a complaint. I wouldn’t dare complain for fear it suddenly changes to unending rain! Instead, I’m trying to think of a positive side to hot sunshine.

It does bring on the flowers. I’ll say that for it.

Summer Peony

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Summer Sun

Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.

Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through.

The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy’s inmost nook.

Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes.

 Robert Louis Stevenson
(from – A Child’s Garden of Verses – 1885)

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I remember reading that to my Grade One students a good many years ago. There are lots of good things to say about the sun, but I don’t do well in the heat and right now I need something cooling to distract me.

Water 1

Ahhh… yes, that helps.

Water 2

Oh, this is much better! Now I’m of a mind to go in search of a beach and some ice cubes — the perfect pursuit on a hot summer day. :)

What’s your best way of cooling down when it’s too hot to think, let alone write?

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There will be a shelter
to give shade from the heat by day,
and refuge and protection
from the storm and the rain.

(Isaiah 4:6)

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Do It Anyway!

Wow, did it ever rain yesterday! It pounded down, flooding over the eavestroughs, creating instant puddles, pelting the house with so much force it sounded like hail.

Rainy Day

Even the small, seasonal creek that runs through the trees along one side of our property became an honest-to-goodness stream for a time.

Rainy Creek

It was a good day to hunker down… avoid the nasty weather and wait it out, protected by home and hearth. I didn’t expect anyone to venture out. Certainly not the birds. Wouldn’t the fat and furious raindrops pummel them… give them a headache or something… knock those tiny Hummingbirds off course?

But no, right on schedule they all arrived to fill their tummies and empty the feeders. Nothing was going to deter them from meeting their daily caloric requirements. “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”* No, wait… that’s the U.S. Postal Service’s motto! 

Rainy Birds

As writers, we can find all sorts of excuses to explain why the words aren’t accumulating on our pages. Maybe the heavy mood of a miserable day isn’t conducive to being creative. The Muse isn’t cooperating. There isn’t enough time left after the day job or family commitments. We’re just plain tired.

I’ve heard it said that those who want to write, will. Those who wish they could, won’t. All excuses aside, accumulating enough words to write a book requires a commitment to get the job done. As I plod along in my new story, I’m frequently frustrated that the words aren’t streaming out as they sometimes have in the past. I could let my lack of speed discourage me — mutter my way down to a standstill and go find something else to do — but, like these birds, I have a need to fulfill and that can only happen if I keep at it.

When there’s a job to do, we need to do it, no matter how we feel about it on any given day. “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” Oops… that’s not the analogy I was looking for! I think “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is more appropriate.**

Then again, if you’re hungry like the birds but need some creative nourishment, maybe thinking of elephants isn’t a bad idea. After all, elephants wouldn’t let snow, or rain, or heat, or gloom of night (or a nasty downpour), stay them from the swift completion of their appointed rounds any more than the birds have. They’d keep plodding along, just as I am.

So, what’s keeping you from achieving your goals today?

* Herodotus, 503 B.C.
** Lao-tzu (604 BC – 531 BC)

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Procrastinating on Snow Days

BlogBlankWe had a friend, Nel, who maintained February always had at least nine sunny days.  She wasn’t a meteorologist but relied on her memory to substantiate the claim. When we started paying attention, it seemed as if she was right. February might be too soon to plant or mow, but nice days often had us outside, cleaning winter debris from garden beds and planning spring projects, like power washing decks and cleaning gutters.

Not this year. This February tossed winter fury at us by way of sub-zero temperatures, bitter windchills and — this past weekend — more snow. For easterners this wouldn’t be unusual, but we BC west coasters are offended! Enough is enough!

Snowy Squirrel

It was still snowing when I went to bed last night, but I think… I hope… this week’s rising temperatures will soon be melting our six inches of heavy snow into puddles and mud. It’s not that I like mud, of course, but it’s an inevitable forerunner of springtime, and now that the Olympics are over, I have my sight set on spring.

There are plenty of indoor projects that could use my attention, but if I can’t do what I want to do, then I might not choose to do anything. Yes, I’m reading books and organizing a manuscript, and for a writer those are valid, even necessary, occupations. But this ornery weather is putting a pucker in my seasonal intentions. It’s allowing me to procrastinate when I shouldn’t. I think I need to start a list.

I’m being flippant. If I procrastinate, the worst thing that might happen is a few tasks will be put off for another time. Is that a bad thing? Probably not, although it sets a bad precedent. Then again, I’m retired and schedules are a thing of the past, so who’s going to care? I do have a routine of sorts — things I do each morning — but beyond that the day is my own.

Hmm… not entirely true. If I were in charge of my day’s activities, I’d be gardening in the snow today, and that’s not going to happen. Ah, well… patience! The snow will eventually melt. I’ve never met a summer that was chilling under six inches of snow.

Do you procrastinate? Does it matter?

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Oh, Spring… wherefore art thou?

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Sleet pelts the windows, driven sideways by 50 km per hour gusts of wind. The storm was predicted and will be over by morning, although rain showers will continue. I’m not complaining. We had an unusually dry January and we need this moisture. But… well, yes I suppose I am complaining. Just a wee bit.

Snowdrops and Hellebores are blooming, and some years by this point we’ve already had to mow the lawns. Not this year. This year the grass is sodden, and early shoots are struggling up through uncleared winter debris — orangey brown bits of cedar, hemlock needles and mud-spattered moss. I hesitate to mutter too much, given there are places where folks are still under multiple feet of snow, or a deluge of flood waters, but still….

When springtime hovers just out of reach and the weather is miserable day after day, it can be hard to keep depression from settling in.

Tulips

I know of two friends who received red roses for Valentine’s Day. They’re beautiful, of course, but I don’t think anything is as romantic as having someone know me well enough to bring me a bouquet of cheery tulips. I adore tulips, and they were the perfect spirit brighteners for a blustery February 14th. (And yes, he received a kiss for his thoughtfulness!)

During this in-between-the-seasons time, another way to lift spirits is to put some energy into a project. Many years my hubby would choose the early New Year to paint a room or two. (This month he’s bucking up a tree recently felled, slowly building the pile of next winter’s firewood.) I’m more likely to rearrange furniture or start a new writing project.

This month I’ve already moved the furniture. In ten days I’ll begin the writing.

Every March a group of writers and readers band together under the banner of #MarchMadness. We encourage each other to set and fulfill significant goals, and then cheer each other on. We commit to checking in… every. single. day. all. month. long… and reporting our progress. It’s surprising how much we achieve when guilt stares us in the face. Mind you, it helps that there are prizes offered, too.

Author Denise Jaden coordinates us, but we have seven different hosts this year, one for each day of the week. (I’ll be providing Saturday #MarchMadness postings here.) Earlier this month Denise posted a heads up that “there are some great prizes trickling in – like audiobooks, and high-demand books and even at least one agent critique. Start thinking about what writing/reading/blogging goals you will set for this March, and I’ll be back soon with more details.”

Our goals aren’t necessarily lofty ones. They’re meant to be individualized to meet specific needs. Maybe you’d like to join us this time. As Denise said, start thinking about what goals you’d like to set. There will be more information coming, and on March 1st we’ll all leap into action.

Just think… before we’ve completed #MarchMadness SPRING WILL HAVE ARRIVED! Oh, joy!!! I’ll be happy-dancing! :)

As a writer, reader or blogger, might you be tempted to join us for #MarchMadness 2014?

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Winter Cold and Olympic Gold

You know the feeling… that curl-into-yourself-to-try-and-get-warm kind of feeling when you’re shivering and sure your teeth might chip from all their chattering? My rhododendrons are feeling that way in our record low temperatures this week. Now, before someone reminds me that a windchill of -14 celsius isn’t exactly bitter compared to what others have  experienced this winter, I hasten to add I know it’s only considered  c-o-l-d  if you live on the Pacific west coast and aren’t accustomed to this kind of weather. Some years we’re mowing lawns by now, but this year we’re frowning at the forecast for snow this weekend.

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The birds congregate around our bird feeders and gossip about the groundhog who dared to predict six more weeks of this misery. They huddle mournfully against the frigid wind and do battle with the squirrels who challenge them for first dibs at the sunflower seeds and peanuts.

Meanwhile, I’ve dug through the closet and brought out my special toasty red mittens and will wait out the weather by watching parts of the XXII Olympic Winter Games — not the opening ceremony but some of my favourite sports, hoping Canada will do at least as well this year as they did at our Vancouver 2010 Games (26 medals including a record 14 gold).

olympic-mitts

In between my sessions of watching, I’ll be writing… or perhaps I’ll be doing both at the same time. It’s not a bad way to spend a few wintry days.

What are your plans for this weekend?

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What colours your writing and takes it from mundane to memorable?

You know what it can be like, driving through a winter landscape. There’s not a lot to see, but you’ve decided to make the trip, so you keep plowing ahead and eventually get to the destination.

“Mmm,” you might say, stretching road-weary muscles as you climb out of the vehicle. “What a long drive!”

“How was the trip?” a friend or family member will ask.

“Good, thanks… uneventful. It snowed a bit over the pass, but the roads were fine.”

Someone is bound to ask if you saw any game along the way, or stopped to take in any interesting sights. Unless something significant sticks out in your mind, you’ll probably not remember many details… just a lot of sameness. You’re happy to have made the trip — it wasn’t unpleasant — but you’re glad to reach the end of it.

Snowed

Such was the case on the day I snapped the following photograph. A fine snow blew sideways all morning, sending whirlpools of white sliding across the pavement. Distant scenes were pretty much obliterated and everything was dusted into a grey and white monotony. I didn’t take note of much, but I distinctly recall the stark contrast of the occasional orange-branched deciduous tree planted in various homesteads. I’m not sure what species it was, but the sight was memorable.

(Consider clicking on photo to enlarge.)

(Consider clicking on photo to enlarge.)

Reading a novel is very much like taking a trip. What  you remember about the experience — monotony or flashes of brilliant colour — depends upon the author’s skill.

In its writing, a story inevitably includes a certain amount of mundane action. It may be a transitional scene, or a means of showing necessary details of setting or characterization. But if nothing ever stands out as exceptional, a novel will be remembered (if it is remembered at all) as merely an “okay” read.

Nobody deliberately sets out to write a mediocre story, but it can happen all too easily as it progresses from one scene to another, from beginning, to middle, to end. Well planted plot twists, meaningful conflict, unique character(s), and distinctive settings help give a story colour and pull it out of the ordinary. So can well crafted writing.

If you haven’t read Donald Maass’s books on writing, I recommend them to you, especially WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. In it, Don shows “how to take your prose to the next level and write a breakout novel—one that rises out of obscurity and hits the best-seller lists.” I don’t guarantee that best-seller bit, but following his suggestions can definitely put you on the road to being a better writer!

What makes a story memorable to you?

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Finding new gems among the old

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Just dead leaves, right? The fall leftovers of a clematis vine that I haven’t managed to trim away yet. Nothing special to look at. But look closer…
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Frosted Leaf.

Maybe look even closer…

(Consider clicking on photos for a more detailed look)

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Frosted Wood

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It’s nothing more than frost. But among the old, brown and curling leaves there are glimpses of something new and beautiful. You won’t see it if you aren’t looking carefully.

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In writing, I discard a lot of words — words I’ve struggled to create in sentences sometimes days in the writing. My method of discarding is to copy and paste them into a new blank document before deleting the originals. I may never use them, or perhaps I will, but in a different part of the story, or in an altogether different manuscript when I suddenly see them in a fresh way. Sometimes they might end up being the perfect gem in a new setting.

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In Advent, the old crumbles away as we look toward the newness of a hope reborn and of a peace that is ours because of God’s promise. There is to be a precious remaking of life itself, revealed in the stripping away of the past. If we look closely, we will see a new creation!

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So if anyone is in Christ,
there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)
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Blame everything on the weather!

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Streaks of clouds in pre-sunset peach and charcoal-purple cut through a cerulean sky. The weather is changing. There’s been intermittent light rain interspersed with brief sunny breaks through much of the past few days, but flurries are in today’s forecast.

I don’t fuss over the weather. There’s a saying here on the west coast, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Some folks also say, “If you can’t see the mountains, it’s raining. If you can, it’s going to rain.” The more optimistic of us point to how green everything is, thanks to the rain.

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My mood isn’t affected, whatever the colour of the sky. There are people whose mood is, and some who even experience S.A.D. — Seasonal Affective Disorder — during low light seasons. I tend to forget that it’s a very real, clinical disorder, and I can sometimes be insensitive to those who complain about the weather, or display negativity, discouragement and depression because of it.

During November’s NaNoWriMo my project was to rewrite the ending of a recently completed manuscript. As I rushed headlong through the words, instead of resolving my protagonist’s dilemmas, I ended up heaping more upon her. Nothing seems to go right for her, and I’ve realized a lot of the time it’s because of her negative perspective. The story happens between November and February. I’m beginning to wonder if she has S.A.D. That would explain a lot, but it complicates the plot.

The story is taking off in a direction I didn’t intend, and I’m not sure I like this feeling of losing control.

If you’re a writer, are you always in control of your story and its characters? What happens when your control slips away?

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A sunny Monday morning reminiscence…

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Apparently thirty-one consecutive days of sunshine isn’t even record-setting here, but this is July and that still makes it pretty remarkable in my books. For most of the years when our children were young we took the month of July as our vacation time… and it usually rained at least half of it!

Now that our family is grown, and hubby and I are on our own, it doesn’t really matter what the weather does during holidays. If it rains, a stack of good books and a deck of cards will keep us occupied and content. My hubby thinks I’m daft, but I even like walking in the rain.

Admittedly, it’s hard to keep the camera dry in the rain, and I really don’t like to go anywhere without it. So I’ve been appreciating this recent sunny streak.

Shadows 1

I don’t appreciate the heat, though. When the sun is at its brightest and hottest, you’ll find me in the shade. There’s always shade somewhere in our yard. In the early morning it’s out in the back; afternoons, it’s in the front. Mid-day our forest path is the place to be.

Shadows 2

Whenever I think of shadows, the words of a couple old hymns, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “Through All the Changing Scenes of Life“, come to mind:

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my father,
There is no shadow of turning with thee’
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not
As thou has been thou forever wilt be.

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Through all the changing scenes of life,
In trouble and in joy,
The praises of my God shall still
My heart and tongue employ.

No writing application comes to mind from all this mental meandering, but something else very much worth remembering — in both the sunshine and shadowy times of our lives, God is always with us, and that thought brings me joy.

Maybe that’s all I was meant to write about today. I hope so, because that’s all I have.

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“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Psalm 91:1

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“The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.”

Psalm 121:5

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Seasonal Ups and Downs in Life and Writing

The first full day of summer 2013 won’t soon be forgotten in western Canada. I travelled on the last day of spring in dreary pouring rain, but today… today cheery sunshine announced summertime here on Vancouver Island. It was easy to forget yesterday’s rain… until I saw today’s news.

Summer Rose

I’ve lived in Calgary, Alberta — have family and friends there — but it’s become a foreign landscape with once familiar areas now totally under water. The devastation is mind-boggling… not because I’ve never seen a flood, but because one has never come so close.

There is flooding in my current province, too. A rapidly melting snowpack and too much rain have many rivers roaring beyond their usual confines. Homes and roads are being washed away in southern B.C. Just three weeks ago one family was elated to move into their brand new home. Today they’ve been evacuated and don’t know what, if anything, will be there when they return.

Sunshine glints on sudden flood waters. Life’s highs sinking into lows.

The writer’s life is full of highs and lows, too, although of course I wouldn’t begin to compare them with today’s force of destruction. Still, it is relative. There is the thrill of exploring new stories, the deep satisfaction that comes with completing them, of acquiring agents and publishing contracts. And there is writer’s block, multiple rejections, broken contracts, and discouragement bordering on despair.

But as they have always done, the waters will recede; spirits will rebound; the muddy earth will dry and produce again.

Summer is underway.

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My prayers are with those who are affected by the flood waters.

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“Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Isaiah 43:19a, ESV

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