Christmas 2020

Everywhere you turn, you hear variations of “This is a year like none other”, and it certainly has been. Not too many people will be sad to see it end. But at this moment we are immersed in Christmas — Christmas alone, granted, but still celebrating the birth and life of Jesus the Christ, the Hope of the world.

Wishing you that hope, along with peace, love and joy this Christmastime and always!

Birds of a Feather…

I visited Pat Bertam’s blog this morning in which she mentioned her surprise at the unassuming and not-quite-accurate name she discovered had been given to a visiting glossy black bird with red and gold epaulettes — the Red-winged Blackbird. She noticed that many birds are named for the colour of their plumage, and, while that’s true for some, through the years I’ve wondered how others came by their names.

The Sharp-shinned Hawk doesn’t really have shins. And I’ve yet to see the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker‘s yellow belly. In fact, it resembles a Red-naped Sapsucker. Then again, a female Red-naped Sapsucker is just as likely to have a white nape as a red one. The very distinctive Wood Duck doesn’t resemble wood at all, but perhaps the fact that it sometimes nests up in a dead tree has something to do with why it’s called that.

Did you know “Sharp-shinned Hawks carry their prey to a stump or low branch to pluck it before eating. Swallowing feathers is not normal for them, as it is for owls.” Ugh! That’s more than I needed to know right before dinnertime!

In my comment on Pat’s blog post I mentioned I have kept track of the different species of birds that visit our rural property (37 different kinds since we moved here in 1996. I have a list in the back of one of my journals.) It used to be such a delight to watch them flutter around the bird feeder…that is, until the bears claimed it as their own source of gourmet granola and I finally had to remove the feeder during summer’s bear season. Bears on my deck are not as welcome as birds.

There’s a saying that ‘birds of a feather flock together’, but I’ve noticed when a flock arrives, there is usually more than one species in it. In winter’s early mornings and late afternoons here, dozens of Dark-eyed Juncoes swoop in accompanied by Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and with them comes a singleton Song Sparrow. Is it a ‘protection in numbers’ thing, or what?

This past weekend was the annual writers’ conference that I usually attend. Of course, with the COVID-19 pandemic putting a damper on anything involving large groups of people, the conference planning committee had to be creative, and they chose to make it a virtual conference, with workshops, keynote speakers and social events all being handled online via podcasts and ‘Zoom’.

I wasn’t going to be able to attend this year anyway, but the idea of spending several hours every day staring at people on my computer screen didn’t appeal. It was an alternative, but not an ideal one, to mingling IRL. It wouldn’t be the usual weekend of writers coming together (shoulder to shoulder in some cases) being totally immersed in the atmosphere of writing. Viewed on a computer screen from my office or family room, it would lack the desirable ‘flocking’ opportunity of actually being together.

I’ve mulled my reaction over a lot, wondering how typical it is. I’ve heard people at our church saying they’re zoom-ed out…like we might say we’re burnt out. Having online meetings beats not being able to meet at all for these past seven months, but for some of us there have been a lot of Zoom meetings!

Then again, as an introvert, being physically immersed in a crowd of several hundred people for the better part of four days is tiring, too. I always return home inspired, exhilarated but exhausted. I think what makes the situation different, however, is that the crowd is comprised of my ‘tribe’, people who share a specific interest and ‘get’ me in a way other friends, family and colleagues can’t.

Hmmm… whether our feathers are red, black, brown, white, yellow or whatever, I guess there really is some truth in that ‘birds of a feather…’ thing.

~ ~ ~

An autumn like no other

There are many descriptions of 2020, most of them reflecting how different it has been, and not in a good way. We’ve taken to referring to our daily reality as ‘the new norm’, resigned to the changes that seven months ago we thought would only be necessary for a few weeks.

But autumn has arrived, the COVID-19 pandemic is anything but over, and we’re moving back into activities anyway, adjusting our approach to accommodate ongoing government health guidelines.

In many ways, maneuvering through the months of self-isolation was an introvert’s dream. At the best of times I’m not a very social person, so staying home is a preferred option. Through the years my favourite activities have been ones that I do on my own — writing, photography, painting, reading, gardening, grooming or training a dog; you get the idea.

So, having settled quite firmly into my shuttered days, I’m finding the new reintegration process a little unsettling. In our province the number of coronavirus cases is accelerating again. I feel vulnerable in a crowd. Attend a meeting? Nope. Not yet. I’ll stick to Zooming. Go shopping? Not unless I absolutely have to, and then there’s certainly no browsing. I’ll hurry in, appropriately masked and keeping my distance, grab what I need and rush back out. Go to church? Only if I can sit by myself in the balcony. (Fortunately, I’m the novice videographer for our services, so I’m allotted the space I need.)

Fall is unquestionably my favourite season, and yet…and yet, this fall is like no other. The crisp air, changing colours, shorter days with evenings by the fireplace are all still here. But this time it’s hard to let go of summer and enjoy them. COVID-19 is partly to blame, but there’s more.

This fall a precious family member is very ill. We hope for a miracle but in its shadow we hang on to every small blessing — an hospital administration that allowed not one but two family members daily visitation over the past nine weeks; a joyous wedding in the hospital chapel we were able to ‘attend’ via Zoom; the goodness and generosity of so many people who have made possible a 2,000 km air ambulance flight home, and on Thanksgiving Day at that.

Autumn is bittersweet this year. But there is still much to love about it. My hubby’s sermon this morning was entitled ‘An Attitude of Gratitude‘, and we are reminded that remembering to thank God for even the smallest blessings can translate into a heart filled with gratitude.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

~ ~ ~

Troubleshooting or Shooting Trouble

A comment on Pat Bertram’s recent post made me giggle. Part of her day’s activities had been trying to troubleshoot a printer connection and repair a wobbly daybed. Then there was gardening begging for attention and a pile of boxes needing to be moved, but an injured knee made both tasks difficult. As she relayed her woes, she finished up by trying to find a theme for her post, “because without a theme, blog entries so often sound like a child’s diary entry.”

“Maybe,” she wrote, “the theme is troubleshooting. My knee, my room, my daybed, my computer, my yard certainly are all causing (or have caused) troubles that needed to be shot.”

Troubles that need to be shot? If I’d been sipping my coffee at that moment, I’m sure I would have spewed the mouthful. Only a small group on my church’s Audio-Visual Team would fully appreciate the implication of the shooting image (a ‘blooper’ was involved, but that’s all I’m going to say).

As last weekend approached, our church website began to… lag, I guess is the best way to describe its reluctance to connect. It took longer and longer, until finally on Saturday a ‘this website cannot be reached’ error message came up. I quipped on Facebook that I hate Murphy and his laws. There couldn’t have been a worse time to suddenly lose our ability to provide the recorded service that has been the alternate means of access to worship for our congregation since the Covid-19 pandemic closed church buildings in mid-March.

There are a lot of computer problems that I can figure out by my systematic trial and error approach, but troubleshooting the kind of problems that bring a website down is beyond me. Fortunately, I know a helpful technician whose knowledge is always a quick email or phone call away, 24/7. In this instance, after a bit of investigating he admitted he was stymied, too, but knew where to turn for more in-depth probing. Further checking produced a partial diagnosis and a partial solution. The website is now up and functioning again, but we all know there’s a last hurrah in its future — its near future. Decisions will have to be made, and soon.

Our church has had a website — actually an evolution of three websites — since 1998, which is longer than I’ve had this blog. As ‘webmaster’, I’ve had to deal with periodic complexities and crashes that frustrated me, but one way or another, someone else always managed to right whatever was wrong. Sometimes it involved finding and removing malware, sometimes upgrading of certain components, and once a brand new website was required.

I know my limitations and am so thankful for those who have the expertise I lack!

I’m fortunate with this blog. Today marks its twelfth ‘bloggaversary’ and I can recall only two occasions when it was offline. In both cases the WordPress gurus did their magic in the background, and in a couple hours, with no effort on my part, ‘Carol’s (formerly Careann’s) Musings’ was up and active in cyberspace again.

This past week has challenged my technical patience. In addition to a faltering church website, there was new church equipment to learn to operate before Friday’s recording deadline — a video recorder and two sets of microphones — a new YouTube account that still stubbornly resists my setup attempts, research that stalled when it hit the weekend, and… and…!  There came a moment when I might have taken a pot shot at every obstacle if only I’d had the opportunity.

But then this morning arrived. The church website behaved itself. The Sunday service video ran without glitches. Sunshine bathed our ‘Wildwood Acres’ and as I sat on the deck soaking up the early summertime warmth, I caught two Rufous Hummingbirds on video, flitting around between greedy gulps of nectar. A peaceful, restful, worshipful Sunday. No troubleshooting required. Ah-h-h.

So, I’ll take a deep breath as I send off this post — WordPress tells me it’s number 1,174 — and be thankful for all the blessings as I move into my thirteenth year in this space.

~  ~  ~

A Font Fixation

Did you know different fonts can have different effects on readers?

As a writer, I’m well aware that most agents and editors prefer manuscripts be submitted in 12 pt. Times New Roman (a few years ago it was 12 pt. Courier), presumably because that’s easiest on the eyes when reading for hours at a time.

My kindle’s text is set to display in Bookerly for no other reason than it sounded like a good bookish choice. The other options don’t inspire my confidence. Like Baskerville, for instance. That might be ideal for reading the horror genre, but for me it conjures up the wrong images for memoir or sweet romance. Then again, I shouldn’t mock it as I’ve recently learned the font was named for its creator, John Baskerville, who designed it in 1794. “Baskerville is categorized as a transitional typeface in-between classical typefaces and the high contrast modern faces.” Hmmm … okay. I guess it doesn’t have anything to do with hounds.

Elsewhere, I read, “For anyone who uses a word processor … a favourite font can be an identity marker as salient as an outfit or a hairstyle. It can communicate formality or a more laid-back mood. Beyond that, it can illustrate the nuances of the user’s personality.”

I wish I didn’t know that! Now I will be examining every communication I send out, wondering what the recipient might learn about me, not from the contents of my document, but from the font I used. Eep!

Working on the church’s website, or on worship videos, font choices take on a different kind of importance, needing to convey words of comfort, quickly readable music lyrics or invitations that appeal to various age groups. Fortunately, I can breathe easy while blogging, knowing that my font choices here are predetermined by WordPress. That’s pretty much true across all the social media platforms.

One thing I’ve learned through experience is the usefulness of using a different font when proofreading draft manuscripts. I can read through a chapter repeatedly, only to keep discovering new errors. If I ‘select all’ and assign a different font to that chapter before reading it again, my overworked brain gains a fresh vantage point and is more alert to typos and uninspiring text. I don’t think my brain cares which new font I choose for the task as long as it doesn’t resemble the original. Now that I know my choice says something about me, I may be more picky about which one I use — though not many people are likely to have access to one of my unproofed drafts. And, of course, before sending it out on submission, I will be sure to double-check that I’ve returned all the text to that stodgy preferred Times New Roman.

~

There! Consider yourself enlightened on all my font-ish thoughts. Do you have a preferred font to use in your writing? Does it change, depending on what kind of writing you’re doing?

A Month into Isolation

We went into semi-lockdown one month ago today. Prior to then, people were being urged to practice healthy safeguards but we weren’t confined to our homes. We engaged with people, greeting each other with smiles, elbow bumps or perhaps a slight bow. The ability to socially interact was taken for granted.

IMG_7988Now anything ‘social’ is done remotely, via phone and digital media like Facebook, FaceTime and Zoom. Even if we aren’t sick, we’re pretty much in quarantine, urged to stay home except for essential travel or an emergency, and maintain a six foot separation from people when we venture out for supplies.

Until recently I didn’t consider any of this isolation to be much of a hardship. I’m an introvert; I enjoy staying home. When hospitals also enforced it, closing their doors to everyone except those needing emergent care, it seemed like a good idea. Then, as the COVID-19 death toll rose, we learned those who were dying were leaving this life while alone among strangers. Spouses and other family members were prevented from being present. (See one story HERE.)

That, considered along with the statistics that tell us approximately 50% of all deaths across Canada have happened in nursing homes, and 90% were people over sixty, make the numbers more personal. Too personal.

My heart aches for both the patients and the families. The pain of separation at such moments must be unbearable. I can’t imagine. I don’t want to.

hospital visitingOn March 11th a long-time elderly friend died in a long-term care facility. COVID-19 wasn’t involved. A friend/caregiver spent time with her the previous evening and said she was “unresponsive but content”, and she died peacefully early the next morning. Another friend, ten years younger, is also living in long-term residential care, but she is more active and aware. I’m not allowed to visit her now, and I’m concerned for her. She can’t comprehend the pandemic and its impact on her community, only that her family and friends are no longer visiting.

It seems inhumane to warehouse in isolation those who are the least able to understand what’s going on. But then I have trouble with the whole concept of shunting our seniors off to live out their final years/months among strangers anyway. Then to have them die among strangers, too? I know…I know…sometimes there are no other options; but I don’t have to like it.

Perhaps being a ‘senior senior’ makes me biased.

~

That Time of the Year

Around here, spring is a long awaited season for many reasons. We’re not big into winter activities so when the days lengthen and warmer sunshiny days finally arrive, we’re more than ready to head outdoors.

At first it’s pure exhilaration — enjoying the woodsy scent of our ‘Wildwood’ acres and marsh, the sound of returning zippy, dippy hummingbirds, glimpses of new buds and greening shrubs. And then … reality sets in.

 

There is SO much outside work to do in the spring. We’ve lived on this acreage for 23+ years. When we came, there were a few garden beds but none at the back of the house where we tended to spend most of our time. So, year by year we added more. A curved bed here. A rockery there. A few ornamental trees (as if we didn’t have enough trees already!). A strawberry bed to accompany the blueberry bushes.

As the years evolved, so did the property. We pruned leaning-for-the-sunshine shrubs and relocated others, divided and tried to conquer overgrown perennials, replaced things that didn’t like our shady acidic conditions.

And every year, my hubby dutifully power-raked the winter’s accumulation of moss from of the lawns, limed and fertilized them, then power-washed the green grunge off the deck, house and driveway. It was (and is) never-ending, but when one’s home is surrounded on all four sides by tall trees, you keep ahead of these tasks, or they become overwhelming.

The only problem has been that as the plantings matured, so did we. As the yardwork increased, our energy waned. Twenty-three years ago I loved spending a day puttering in the gardens. Age and arthritis have reduced my ambitions to an hour at best, sometimes less. While dear hubby gets a whole lot more done than I do in a session, everything takes him longer, too.

Two years ago our family contributed to a gift certificate for his eightieth birthday for several hours of a landscaping service. He elected to use it for the initial spring cleanup. The business was a local one, run by a very energetic young women who astounded us with her speed and efficiency. My hubby says she gets more done in three hours than he could possibly accomplish in three weeks! As a result, we’ve come to rely on her every spring.

Having a little help means maintaining the property is still possible for us. Otherwise, I think we’d have to consider downsizing, and we’re reluctant to make that decision yet. We appreciate the space here, the peacefulness, the great (but not-elbow-close) neighbours, the wildlife. City living just can’t compete with this semi-rural lifestyle we’ve come to love.

COVID-19’s mandated physical distancing and staying at home  is no hardship to us, although we do miss seeing our friends and family. At the rate this pandemic is progressing, we could be in enforced isolation far longer than we expected. The scoured lawn will turn green and lush. We’ll soon be bringing out the deck furniture, and before long there will be a few baskets of flowers added, but it’s possible we won’t be able to have neighbours over, family gatherings, or the annual church barbeque…nobody will be here but us to enjoy them.

This spring is unique in our experience. We’re learning to distinguish between aloneness and loneliness. I don’t know how I feel about that yet.

~

 

Springtime thoughts overshadowed by COVID-19

My last post was exactly one month ago. At that time the new coronavirus hadn’t yet received a name as the world watched it gain hold in China. On January 30 the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’. For a time, we were lulled into believing that our excellent Canadian health care system would ensure that, with a few normal precautions, we wouldn’t need to worry too much about it. We were “low risk”, they said. “Just wash your hands and don’t touch your face,” they said.

Then we heard of the cluster of confirmed cases just across the border from us, in Kirkland, Washington. The subsequent deaths. The outbreak in Ontario. Confirmed cases in BC. The first Canadian death in BC.

As Canadians watched this new respiratory infection, now named COVID-19, spread rapidly throughout the world, it became obvious our risk of catching it was no longer low. This morning there were 240,589 cases worldwide, 801 of them in Canada, with 231 of those right here in BC. The numbers change every hour.

Every focus right now is on COVID-19. We are urged to practice social-distancing, sneeze or cough into the elbow, wash hands frequently for 20-seconds, don’t touch eyes, nose or mouth, and self-monitor for signs of illness. All public events are cancelled. Schools are closed. With the exception of essential services, buildings and businesses have shut down. Non-essential cross border travel between Canada and the USA is prohibited. Television carries constant updates, interviews and ‘breaking news’ broadcasts from the Prime Minister, the Premier, the Minister of Health. It’s hard to think of anything else. We are daily reminded to “take good care of yourself, and of each other.” [Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC Provincial Health Officer]

This past Tuesday came and went. For the first time since beginning this blog in 2008, I didn’t think of writing a St. Patrick’s Day post. I didn’t think of St. Patrick’s Day until it was almost over. I didn’t even wear anything green! Woahhh!

And now it’s spring; or it will be this evening. I absolutely refuse to let its arrival go undocumented. It’s a big deal, especially this year. We all need the sense of hope and renewal that accompanies this particular season.

Also, Lent began on March 1st — “a time of self-examination, of contemplation and of returning to God” as we move toward Easter. It shouldn’t be overshadowed by all the negativity that accompanies this virus outbreak…but it could be.

While our congregation has currently suspended Sunday services and all midweek groups, the work of the church continues. Our minister stays in contact with phone calls and emails, providing resources for individuals and families.

One of our Lenten activities has been PRESBYTERIANS READ, the reading of NT Wright’s book, LENT FOR EVERYONE. Some folks are reading it by themselves, others in weekly study groups (at least, they were until the groups had to disband), and still others are interacting in a cyber forum.

N.T. Wright invites readers to explore the truth (that “the God of heaven and earth was coming to earth to establish his sovereign saving rule”) through Matthew’s telling of the gospel story. Through close readings of the lectionary texts for each day during Lent, Wright draws us into the biblical scenes as they unfolded, revealing more and more about what it means that Jesus is King and Lord, not just ‘in heaven’ but on earth as well.

At the beginning of Lent we received bookmarks with these scripture readings, so with or without Wright’s book in hand, we can continue exploring them on our own.

I don’t know about you, but I need this daily reminder that despite the turmoil in our world, God is still in control. From the beginning of time he has had a plan for ME. He loves and cares for each one of us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.
[Jeremiah 29:11]
On this first day of a new season, I’m trying to ignore all the COVID-19 hoopla and instead, rejoice that so far, I and my loved ones are still healthy; that regardless of the worries and inconveniences of this time, God’s love is unending, his mercies are available to me fresh every morning; and together we will prevail.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is his faithfulness.
[Lamentations 3:22-23]
~  ~  ~

 

A Writer’s Vulnerability and Discouragement

How often do you unmask? Bare your soul in public? (This is me as an introverted writer asking.)

If you happen to follow the writings of Steven Pressfield you will know that he and his community are currently responding to a writer from Finland. “Katie”, at 4 a.m. after staring at the ceiling for some time, wrote him a raw message expressing her discouragement and saying that writing is a bad idea. “Failing is really hard, particularly when you are too tired to get up anymore.” She concluded with, “I hope I am the only loser. I really do. I want everybody to succeed. Maybe I am just a sad exception.”

No, Katie, you are not an exception! At least not as a discouraged writer. Perhaps an exception in your honesty.

Writers spew out words onto the page all the time, but they are most often words belonging to their fictional characters. We rarely “bleed onto the page” from within our own hearts. Admitting our uncertainties is too painful.

But at 4 a.m. Katie had hit rock bottom. In facing the reality that she could not make a living from her writing and at 60 she was too old to find another job, she concluded she was a failure. When Steven asked permission to reprint her letter he had no idea the number of people who would respond. In his next post he admitted, “Sometimes when I’m writing these posts, I wonder if I’m crazy to keep doing them. Some posts will get three Comments, or four, or six. I find myself asking, Is anybody out there? Is any of this doing any good?” Nearly one hundred fifty responses provided his answer.

So, what am I taking away from the discussion?

The writing community is awesome.
Discouragement is universal.
We’re more resilient than we realize.
We haven’t failed unless we’ve quit.
We can always start again tomorrow.
Success means different things to different people.
Age is a relative thing and I’m not the only “old” woman
still writing.

We’ve often heard that writing is a solitary activity. It is indeed. Some writers get together occasionally for a shared time of putting words on the page, but the majority of our creative time is spent squirrelled away in our office or some quiet corner in a library or coffee shop, oblivious to the presence of others. We focus on writing our stories. We don’t compare notes about our feelings of success or failure.

Katie from Finland did us all a favour in sharing her pain-filled yet very brave message. In doing so, she also reminded us it’s okay to reach out to others for encouragement. Knowing how many successful authors admit to the same need is in itself empowering.

We don’t have to make a living with our words. We just have to find joy and satisfaction in getting them out. Publication of them isn’t always something within our control. If it’s something we hope for, doing so should be seen as a bonus. Not doing so shouldn’t be seen as failure, but as motivation to find alternative ways of making our writing feel purposeful.

~

Where do you look for encouragement when writing begins to seem pointless?

~ ~ ~