Summer Musings 2021

Until two weeks ago, this summer wasn’t looking much different from last year’s. We continued with all the required pandemic precautions, stayed home, and obeyed our public health authority’s admonition to “be calm, be kind and be safe.” Then, on July 1 the provincial government moved us into ‘stage 3’ of its gradual restart program. Strangely, while restrictions eased for most businesses and gatherings, they were totally removed for churches, leaving us free to return to ‘normal’ worship services.

I have to be honest. While most people are probably rejoicing in the new freedom, I’m finding it somewhat unnerving. One day precautions are deemed necessary; the next day they aren’t. After fifteen months of sheltering in place, sticking my head out of the fox hole feels a little like I’m inviting a sniping virus to take a shot at it. It hasn’t helped that Pfizer is now suggesting that immunity begins waning six months after the initial double-shot vaccination and the company is developing a booster which will target the Delta variant.

My introverted self is content as a homebody. I just might hunker down for a while longer.

In other news…

The tiny cabin we built on three acres alongside what was then my parents’ Cariboo property will be fifty years old this summer. Initially it was a plywood shell, built only because the province required ‘an habitable dwelling’ be added when we first acquired the land. Through the years its 240 sq. ft. have expanded to 480 sq. ft. and used siding now covers the plywood.

In keeping with the exterior, except for a small propane refrigerator, everything inside from flooring to windows, including furniture, stoves, countertops and doors is second-hand, scrounged from various sources. It’s definitely rustic living — little more than “camping with a roof”, without electricity, plumbing or cell service — but it holds five generations of happy family memories.

We’d like to gather there this summer to celebrate its fifty year milestone but right now it’s looking iffy. Last year the pandemic restricted our travel. The year before, a forest fire cut our time short when we suddenly had to evacuate. The year before that, more wildfires closed the area’s roads and woods so there was no access. This year another wildfire has access roads under an evacuation ‘alert’. While the actual fire isn’t a threat to our cabin, if the alert is raised to an ‘order’, travel to and from will be impossible. It’s frustrating!

In light of the recent wildfire that devastated the entire village of Lytton, BC last week, and losses caused by other wildfires around south-central BC, my grumbling is insensitive. But, but….

The heat this summer has been record-breaking. Not only did the aforementioned village of Lytton break the all time Canadian record, not once but three days in a row (49.6 C.), the temperature in our usually balmy corner of the province also broke records. It was 40.7 C. here, the hottest I’ve ever experienced. I hid indoors with the air-conditioner.

People died of heat stroke. In the fields, berries actually baked on their vines, many farmers’ crops were decimated, shrubs shrivelled. The only plant here that seems to have enjoyed the heat wave is our Clematis (Jackmanii). It has climbed its trellis and exploded over nearby shrubs and even the deck. I think I’ve watered it once this year. (We live with a well, so except for the newest plants, usually only the annuals in deck tubs, we don’t waste water.)

It’s barely summer and I’m already wishing for autumn.

How are things where you are?

Then again…

Remember that comment last week about wanting to move a bookcase?

There is no way to move a bookcase without emptying it first. As you can see, I succeeded in both the emptying and moving part. What you can’t see are the multiple piles of books that were on the floor behind me, lining the hallway outside my office door. Of course, emptying and moving a bookcase implies a third step to restock those empty shelves, which can’t be done without sorting, reading inscriptions, reminiscing, and evaluating the keepworthiness (yes, that’s a word; at least, it is in my vocabulary) of each volume.

Two days later those shelves were full again … but it became obvious that now the bookcase in the background needed to be moved. Even six measly inches to the right required a repeat of the entire previous process.

Two more days and the second bookcase has been emptied, shifted, and its restocking is almost complete. I imagine you think that means my floorspace is now clear, but you’d be wrong. If you look carefully at the first photo and the one below, you’ll note that much of the clutter is NOT books. Things that had resided on bottom shelves, stacked in corners, and stuffed under the desk still don’t have a tidy, out-of-sight residence.

All those items had to be temporarily shunted somewhere so I had space to work on the bookcases. <sigh>

It’s been almost a week now, and I’ve succeeded in clearing my desk (yes, I admit much of it went on the floor against the wall, in the spot previously vacated by the first bookcase; please don’t laugh), and I’m working on the rest.

I’m trying very hard not to take the lids off those four business file boxes, each of which is filled to the brim with family photographs needing sorting and filing!

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Procrastination and Self-preservation

I haven’t exactly been ignoring my blog, but judging by the date of my last post it’s clear that I haven’t been writing…at least, not here. It could be called procrastination but it’s bundled with a dose of self-preservation. I’m focusing on whatever the calendar throws my way on any given day. It’s a one-day-at-a-time thing. I mentioned to someone this morning that time is a strange commodity during this pandemic. Some days and weeks seem to evaporate while others are interminable.

The days that disappear rapidly are the ones I spend working on worship service videos for my church. It’s a labour of love. Yes, that’s a cliche, but there’s no better description for the hours involved in helping to create an alternate worship experience for those affected by our closed church doors.

Our last in-person service was March 15, 2020. At that time most of us expected restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 virus would affect us for weeks, not months. But here we are, more than a year later, still worshiping by ourselves at home. People are doing a lot of things by themselves thanks to this pandemic, but regularly ‘attending church’ at home has been a new experience.

Lent 2021

This is a view of our church sanctuary over the past six weeks of Lent. It wasn’t seen in person by our congregation, but thanks to technology, our videos took it and the accompanying Lenten and Easter services into their homes.

For years, every Sunday I set up my camera as inconspicuously as possible during the church service, and recorded the minister’s message to post on our church’s website. Last March, when an on-site service suddenly wasn’t going to be possible, the minister and I collaborated, and she added prayers, bible readings and a blessing to her messages, and we filmed them in my living room. Soon we had found a way to add music to the videos.

Now, looking back, we can see that along with the process, our skills also evolved. New equipment was purchased. We figured out how to hook the camcorder into the church’s soundboard system, learned how to make better use of editing software, and stretched our creative selves — all with the desire to produce a worship experience that would give glory to God and be meaningful to people watching safely from their homes.

And then … beware, this part is a rant … we hear and see news broadcasts which report on renegade Christian churches that are defying our provincial regulations and are continuing to gather indoors for corporate worship, claiming God commands them to gather and the PHO orders infringe on their religious freedom to do so. It infuriates me that people manipulate scripture to suit their purposes, to mislead and misinform others. It also shocks me that these churches apparently care so little for the welfare of their communities. Okay, I’ll bite my tongue and stop the rant now. That’s not the direction I was planning to go with this post.

I know our church isn’t unique in how it’s meeting this new worship challenge. But for us it has meant different people working in different ways, struggling to learn new skills ‘on the fly’. For me, everything takes longer than it would take someone of a younger generation and/or with more knowledge, but that ‘someone’ doesn’t appear to exist here. So I get the job done, but I plod along, hoping the end result will be good enough, when what I really want is for that end result to be awesome.

Since I’m not a techie, it’s no surprise that I spend more than what some would consider a normal allotment of time either thinking about, staring at or fiddling with the task at hand. All of which means other things I could be doing don’t get done. Maybe they would if I worked more efficiently, but as I said, I’m a plodder. I need to see a large chunk of available time ahead of me before I can convince my brain to tackle a task. Doesn’t matter if that means cleaning a closet, baking cinnamon buns, writing a chapter, or assembling a video.

Thus, procrastination happens. I prefer to think of it as self-preservation — giving myself time to breathe and to plan and percolate. That usually continues until the calendar kicks me into action by plopping another commitment in front of me.

In the meantime, there’s a bookcase in my office I’d like to move … although that means emptying it first, and moving everything that currently sits in the new spot where I’d like to relocate the bookcase. I might have to sit here and think about that for a bit longer.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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