Is it still Christmas?

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a unique time on the Christian calendar. As holidays go, it has no particular designation, and for those who don’t have to return to work, is often a jumble of unrelated post-Christmas activities such as assembling packaged gifts (and shopping for those ‘batteries not included’ necessities), eating leftover turkey, mailing out a few more late greeting cards to those who unexpectedly sent one to you, maybe playing family board games, and other such things.

There’s a residual sense of wellbeing; an extension of that “on earth peace, good will toward men” we’ve been exposed to throughout Advent. But then we turn on the television and see Mike Holmes putting sad-faced African children on display while guilting viewers into sending financial aid for them. In fact, if you listen to the news, you can’t help feeling despair over the world’s inequality, wondering if there will ever be real peace in our world, or if humanity can ever be counted on for good will towards each other.

It’s moments like this that I tend to recall the words of a song that appeared many years ago — ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ — which in turn remind me of so many kindnesses that have happened around me, just in this past year when life has sometimes been exceedingly difficult.

We have no control over what happens as a result of others’ actions, but we can help change the world if we will just act on the song’s last line…”and let it begin with me.”

So, what might we do to make a difference in someone else’s life today? And again tomorrow? What small kindness?

~ ~ ~

Autumn Joy

September 22 … the first day of autumn. It’s my favourite season and I’m always happy when it arrives, despite complaining that I’m not quite ready to part with summer. It’s been greeted with both rain showers and sunshine today. Last weekend we had a series of storms — wind, torrential rain and hail. Our summer was long and hot, so the moisture isn’t unwelcome, but it’s really done a number on our flowers. The pots and baskets are burgeoning with greenery but blossoms are almost non-existent.

Fortunately, there is Autumn Joy Stonecrop (Hylotelephium telephium ‘Herbstfreude’). I first encountered this hardy sedum while visiting in the beautiful Minter Country Gardens near Chilliwack, BC. There were huge oak half barrels flanking the entrance gate, planted with impressive mounds of the rusty-pink flowers, all abuzz with honey bees.

I didn’t come home with a plant on that particular trip. Instructions suggested it needed lots of sunshine, and I knew our shady property couldn’t offer the right conditions. But each spring while picking up bedding plants at our local nursery I would hover longingly over the little pots until one year I decided it couldn’t hurt to buy just one and test its ability to cope with the acidic, shaded environment.

And cope it did. In fact, it grew and spread until, after a few years it had outgrown its spot. I took to yanking out new volunteer plants each spring until I decided it was too vigorous for the location and I dug out every evidence of it.

But I really like Autumn Joy, so I risked salvaging one little piece. Initially I put it in a tub so I could move it around into the sun … but visiting bears seemed to think I was serving them a bowl of salad. So I finally planted it in a corner of one back garden bed that they usually bypass when wandering through our property. The plant isn’t as happy there, but that suits me perfectly because it’s slower growing, so I can keep up with it.

Happy Autumn to all!

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Confessions of an isolated writer…

If you read far enough back in this blog you would notice the majority of my posts were writing-related. More recently you’d have to look hard to find any posts on the topic of writing at all. Does that mean I haven’t been writing? Not exactly.

I haven’t been writing anything that I want to talk about.

It goes against the advice of many successful authors — be visible with your writing; develop a following; participate with others in courses and seminars; attend workshops. I’ve done that over the past two decades, but this pandemic has played right into my introverted homebody preferences. I’ve quite liked working quietly at home, with a legitimate excuse not to go anywhere or socialize with anyone. Of course, that also means there’s nobody to answer to when it comes to my writing. My critique group hasn’t met since pre-Christmas 2019.

I know in some ways that’s not a good thing, but when it comes to writing with nobody looking over my shoulder, I believe it’s resulting in better writing … more honest, dug-from-the-depths writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s rewriting old fiction or rambling in my (lovely new) journal. I don’t have to describe the topic, or report on queries submitted, rejections received or pieces published.

So, am I writing? Yes, sort of.

These days my time is also being divided on other commitments. I’m researching live streaming information for my church. I’ve been video recording services since the beginning of the pandemic, but now that we’re returning to in-person services, there is interest in a hybrid ministry — participating in onsite worship while continuing to reach the online community. I thought video recording and editing presented a steep learning curve, but live streaming…? For me the curve is like facing Mount Everest!

Oh, then there’s also the fact that I’m trying to put together suggestions for a new church website. Ours has been slowly dying — symptoms started over a year ago but getting together with anyone to discuss alternatives didn’t happen. As we start to emerge from pandemic lockdown, it’s time to get on with plans.

Writing, researching, learning, planning. There’s no end of challenges to keep this isolated introvert busy.

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 watering 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.

~ ~ ~

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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