Home is Where?

You’ve heard the cliches: “Home is where your heart is” and “Home is where you hang your hat.” How many homes have you had? Were any of them memorable? This morning the authors of the Jungle Red Writers blog were reminiscing about their first apartments and that got me to thinking back to ours.

We were married in the Fall of 1959 (yes, I know, that makes us ancient). Our first home was a basement suite in Vancouver that was so damp my nylon stockings hung on a towel rack overnight wouldn’t dry. After the first couple months we moved into a third floor apartment of an old converted house. It wasn’t fancy, but at least it was dry. Its most memorable aspect was that one of the tenants was rebuilding a huge pipe organ in the basement.

Once my hubby had finished his last year at UBC, we moved to Toronto so he could pursue his theological studies at Knox College. Arrangements had been made for us to live in one of two apartments on the top level of the College’s western tower.

(Look up; waaaay up! Our apartment is at the top.)

Knox College has existed since the mid-1800s but the current building was dedicated in 1915. “Its perpendicular Gothic style modelled on the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, England is considered one of the finest examples of this architecture in Canada.” Living there was definitely memorable.

(The inner courtyard)

(Corridor through courtyard)

For starters, seventy-six stairs led to our apartment. At the end of our three years there my hubby was fit enough to run up them. I never could. I was pregnant when we moved in and pregnant again when we moved out. I lumbered up, counting off every one as I climbed. There was one additional flight of thirteen stairs that accessed the flat roof where our rudimentary clothesline was hidden from public view by the turrets. We were given permission to use the staff washing machines in the basement but seldom did because it meant hauling the laundry basket the extra distance.

Instead, we hand washed our clothes in our bathtub. I wish I had a photo of that tub. At one time the apartment had formed part of an infirmary and this bathtub-on-wheels would be filled from the wall-mounted spout, rolled out to the patient’s bedside, then returned to the bathroom to be emptied via a valve drain into the floor. I washed a lot of diapers in that tub!

During those three years, we spent one summer in a student mission charge in Coleville, SK. Our accommodation there was a three-room apartment in the back of the little rural church. We had an outhouse in the backyard and hauled our water from the town’s well. After a windstorm there was silty dust in every nook and cranny until I learned to put folded towels along all the windowsills to block the draft.

After graduation, we went to our first pastoral charge in Creston, BC. When we arrived, the congregation was in the midst of tearing apart the manse, so we had to live temporarily in a small rented house. It had an ornery sawdust-burning stove and a leaky roof. Whenever it rained, water would drip from inside door frames and assorted ceiling locations. We placed buckets and bowls in about a dozen strategic places and hoped the shower would soon be over. We were relieved to move into the rebuilt manse a few months later!

We’ve moved several more times through the years, and have always been blessed with homes that have been more than adequate and very comfortable. None of them can compete with the earliest ones for unique and memorable experiences, but each in its time was special because it was ‘home’.

 

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Some Things are Beyond My Control

The above title is a cliche. I know it and I’m sorry, but the statement is true. Too often the phrase is used as an excuse to explain why we’re unable to fulfil a commitment. In my case, this week it came to mind because of an advertisement that insists on popping up in this space, not once but in several spots, and it reappears in multiples almost every day. I finally complained to WordPress when one visitor told me it “grossed her out;” it looked like worms protruding from an ear or a rectum! Yuck!

The WP gurus explained the ads are generated automatically and said, “We do block a lot of ad types in categories like violence, sex, and drugs, among others, but some do slip through the cracks and sometimes it’s quite beyond our control.” This particular ad doesn’t fit into any of those categories, so I doubt they’ll do anything about it. Therefore, its appearance here is beyond my control as well.

Then again, that’s only partly true, because I have the option of switching to a paid version of WP without ads instead of using this free one. If and when the day comes that my writing becomes a commercial endeavour, I will do that. Then a professional website will be desirable. But for now my blogging is only a writing-related hobby so I’m resigned to the ads. If only they weren’t so tasteless!

Thinking about control reminds me that there are many things in our lives that we can’t control. For instance, there isn’t much we can do about certain kinds of violence or accidents caused by other people, even when we may be severely affected by them. We do our part — use common sense, avoid potentially dangerous situations, drive defensively — but despite that, sometimes “bad things happen to good people.” (Another cliche.)

We don’t have much control when it comes to some aspects of our writing, either. We control what we put onto the page, but we have no say in how those words will be received by those who read them. If we send off manuscripts to agents or publisher, we have no power to elicit positive responses from them (or to elicit any response at all).

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” said Charles R. Swindoll.*

And that’s the answer. Attitude is everything…and the only thing we can control. In any difficult situation we do what we can, then get on with living, whether it be with resignation or hopefulness. If you are a person of faith as I am, you add prayer to the mix. In any case, we have to move on.

When it comes to disgusting ads, I will continue to report them, hoping to make a difference. In accident, illness or limitations, I would hope to continue with activities within my level of ability. In the submission process, I’ll continue to write new words as I wait. After all, no matter what it brings, stepping into tomorrow is a wondrous adventure.

It’s all about attitude.

~  ~  ~

 

*Christian pastor, author, educator, and founder of Insight for Living

May Pole, May, May Not…

I’m old enough to recall dancing around a maypole on May Day. Dressed in our best, with an art-class-created crown of flowers and ribbons, my Grade Two classmates and I did our best to skip in and out, around each other, guiding the long streamers from the top of the pole. Rehearsals must have given our teachers grey hair. Time after time we giggled our way through the pattern, only to have at least one of us mis-step and end up with the streamers tangled instead of neatly braided.

There’s a special post-Easter  joie de vie that wends its way into May. The dreary, colourless winter is subtly overtaken by springtime blooms, and I become impatient for my pre-Mother’s Day treat which entails a trip to the local nursery for bedding plants to begin filling deck tubs and hanging baskets.

This year the impatience hit me on April 2nd while in Costco. Multiple shoppers passed me with beautiful baskets of bright flowers in their carts. When I discovered their source (and the ridiculously low price) in the garden section, I squelched the little voice that told me it was wa-a-a-y too early in the season, and I picked up two hanging baskets. My usual choice of colours would be pastel, but these screamed with bright red, deep pink and sunny yellow. My inner self apparently craved colour!

Of course, once home, I had to pamper and protect them against the still-frosty nights. They spent three weeks nestled under the eaves, against the patio doors where I could slip out every night and wrap plastic bags around them. But now it’s May. They’ve been hung where I can admire them from our family room windows, which is where I sit when I’m writing.

The trouble is, now that I have something lovely to stare at, I’m doing more staring than writing, and that’s not terribly productive. I sent a manuscript off in early February, then occupied myself developing another work I had in progress. Writing went relatively smoothly through March and part way into April. Then I turned my attention to Easter projects I had committed to doing for my church.

And after Easter? Mmm … my hanging planters are so pretty.

To be honest, I have to admit as I stare at those flowers, the same little voice that cautioned me about buying them has been whispering other discouraging ideas, ideas that make me question if I’m waiting to hear about the submitted manuscript before finishing another novel; and if I am, why.

I will always write, because I love creating stories. But — I resist saying this — I may not always write with the goal of publication. I’ve received considerable encouragement from agents and editors, but without the validation of the next step, the little voice suggests that continuing in the current direction is futile. I want to ignore this unsettling whisper — after all, it was wrong about the flowers — and I’ve never been a quitter.

It’s a time for thinking, for contemplating my options, and, while I’m at it, I can also draw up the list of bedding plants I plan to buy on Mother’s Day weekend.

~

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

~  ~  ~

I am reminded of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne…

This afternoon I discovered the garden’s chilly white blanket has been receding just enough to reveal spring flowers I thought might not have survived the frigid month just passed. There they were: a bedraggled patch or two of sweet nodding snowdrops and two golden crocuses. They’ve fired a hope that there are more just waiting to be uncovered.

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

This is one of those days.

~

My reading project for the month of March is the collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ books. I fear I’m never going to finish all of them because I’m dawdling through their delights.

Anne Shirley’s ecstatic but sometimes relentless descriptions evoke memories of Marilla’s impatience, but at the same time they provide a vision of the wonders we grown ups too often miss. Montgomery gives us a second chance, writing a view of life through Anne’s eyes. It reminds me that my goal as a writer is to do the same — to transport readers into the world of my unique characters. If only I could do that as well as Lucy Maud!

“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more… though I know that IS the noblest ambition… but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me… to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

You have, Anne; you have.

~

(Anne’s ‘gift of gab’ also prompts me to wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.)

Mindless Deliberations

I lost February. I lost it right after the first snowfall on February 3rd when the temperature dropped below freezing, and stayed there.

Meteorologists proclaimed this February our coldest on record, but in all fairness to Real Winter enthusiasts, we have to remember we’re talking about the BC southwest coast. This is not Ontario. Where I live, the temperature never quite made it down to -10°C and the most snow we had on the ground at any one time was 20 cm. (For those of you who prefer the other version, that’s 14°F  and 8 inches.) But my hubby has been able to mow the lawns during some Februarys, so this one was definitely a shock to our systems.

Of course, in mid-February our Canadian federal politics leapt into the spotlight and after repeated ‘explosive’ events* (the media’s chosen buzz word for them, not mine), my brain began withdrawing, so it’s no wonder I became oblivious to the passing days.

It was today, when I belatedly turned the calendar page and discovered March, that I realized February had gone missing. Somewhere, hiding in its wings, were three family birthdays and the arrival of a great-grandlittle. In fact, there was much busy-ness on many fronts, but apparently nothing that I consciously attributed to February.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not unhappy to see March. I’ve had it with winter, and am more than ready for Spring! It just troubles me that I wasn’t aware my brain had gone on hiatus. Psychology Today says that, like driving on a familiar route may result in getting home with little-to-no memory of the trip, “being on autopilot is likely to happen during any activity that you can perform automatically. By definition, automatic activities are those that require little in the way of conscious guidance.”** There were several things I probably did on autopilot during February, but recognizing that isn’t going to bring the month back. Only two months into 2019 and it’s already shorter than it’s meant to be.

I don’t lose things very often. I’m pretty good about remembering appointments, too. But time? Time slips away at an ever-increasing speed and I have no idea where it goes. If I’m functioning on autopilot next time you see me, give me a knock on the noggin and make me pay attention. I can’t afford to lose March. February’s loss was bad enough.

~

 

* Referring to the resignation and pushback from Jody Wilson-Raybould over SNC-Lavalin; the resignation of her friend and fellow MP Jane Philpott; and the earlier decision of MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes not to run in the next election — all three, as the National Post says, “remarkable, accomplished women, one black, one Indigenous, one a white doctor from Markham, Ontario, who were part of our self-appointed feminist prime minister’s obsession with gender balance. They were among the new people invited in, but expected to play by all the old rules. For a while, they appeared to thrive in the super-heated, high-pressure world of federal politics, until they didn’t.

** https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/mental-mishaps/201404/the-dangers-going-autopilot

~  ~  ~

To Declutter or Not to Declutter

If you haven’t heard about Marie Kondo you can’t possibly have been paying attention. The Japanese guru of organization is turning up everywhere. Her motto of ‘Tidy your space; transform your life’ by following six basic rules of tidying, is pushing even the most skeptical of us into evaluating our clutter.

(Ideally the fan and television should disappear, but there’s a closet nearby that’s in much greater need of attention.)

We’re told to sort through our belongings (in a specific order, I must add), scrutinize each item, decide if it brings us joy and, if it doesn’t, thank it for its service before tossing it.

Does that make you nod your head in enlightened agreement, hurl ridicule, or laugh uneasily?

The loudest response I’ve heard is from the reading and writing community. Latching onto Kondo’s suggestion that she keeps her collection of books pared down to thirty, sparked disbelief and rebellion at the idea of parting with any of our precious volumes.

“You can never have too many books” says a mime that circulates on social media. And Melissa Breyer, in an article for Treehugger entitled In case of rapturous decluttering, don’t throw away your books, says, “Should you get bitten by the Kondo bug, go gently with your book collection.”

“…a book collection in its entirety, nurtured over a lifetime of reading, can in itself be considered a thing of joy … and once it’s gone, it can not be replaced. Go ahead and alphabetize by author, dust the covers, and straighten the spines – but if you keep just one thing in your decluttering frenzy, consider keeping the books.”

Even Tsundoku – the practice of buying more books than we can read, thus creating our infamous TBR piles – has a positive spinoff in Breyer’s article. “That a book is unread should not be an indication of its uselessness, rather, a promise of its potential. It’s like having a gift to open or a vacation to look forward to.” Believe me, I have a lot of gifts waiting to be opened!

(This is just one of our bookcases — the one reserved for my writing craft books and my TBR ones.)

The phenomenon of de-cluttering isn’t new. I don’t think anyone admits to liking clutter. Certainly, I don’t. Author Sherri Shackelford said in a Facebook post yesterday, “I understand organizing isn’t for everyone. Some people work better in chaos.” I don’t. I get stalled amid clutter because it spills over into my mind and my creativity grinds to a halt.

For me, the challenge was to identify what constituted clutter and then figure out how to deal with it. Marie Kondo says it’s necessary to first visualize your ideal lifestyle. That’s always been a problem, too. What’s ideal and what’s realistic and how can the two be made compatible, especially in a household with four children, several dogs, and no budget for decorating?

To start with, I didn’t know one style from another. I knew I wanted our home to be a sanctuary, a place of serenity in which to retreat when the pressures of trying to survive as an introvert in an extrovert’s world got to be a bit much. Minimalism was the only thing I thought could achieve that goal, and the starkness of its décor didn’t appeal to me. I like my creature comforts.

It took me almost fifty years of marriage before I began to understand that regardless of style, what made our homes comfortable for me was being surrounded by things I love, just not too many of them at any one time – essentially what Marie Kondo advocates.

Next to being surrounded by my family and dogs, the things I love involve clear countertops, serene colours of the beach and woodland, specific pieces of art and pottery…and books. Lots of books. I’ve rationalized that doesn’t conflict with Marie’s idea, because all those books bring me joy. So, beyond a bit of reorganizing and dusting, I won’t be tidying my bookshelves. I’ll take my decluttering in other areas.

In fact, our bedroom closet is next in line for some attention. I can think of several items in it that don’t bring me joy at all. It’s hard to love pieces that need repair or no longer fit.

After that? Hmmm, not sure yet…just don’t ask about our basement!

~  ~  ~

 

Preparing to Write

I’m with Aristotle, at least when it comes to creative achievement: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” I don’t do New Year’s resolutions because I’ve learned from years of experience that making them sets me up for failure and discouragement.

So it is with my writing; I’m not likely ever going to change my natural creative rhythms. I’ve learned that working with them is more productive than fighting to overcome them.  Identifying my optimum writing time was an important discovery. I’m definitely not a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me: my brain takes a long time to wake up. So I’ve accepted that mornings are better used for devotions, journalling, and/or social media.

My best time to write is in the evening … the late evening. When the day’s routines are over and the house is quiet, nothing needs me except my manuscript. There are no time constraints so if the words don’t flow quickly, it doesn’t matter. Nobody is around to pressure me. In the blackness beyond the windows, the world sleeps. At least, most of it does.

There are the occasional late night visitors, but, while admittedly they’re a distraction, they don’t create much of a disturbance.

I don’t write as long into the night as I once did — the older I get the more sleep I seem to need — but I can still produce more words in an hour after midnight than I can during a daytime hour.

Location is important, too. I need a quiet place so I can hear the voices in my head. (Did I just admit to hearing voices???) I have a well-equipped office where I can close the door if need be, but the recliner in our family room usually draws me at night. Part of the problem in my office is the clutter. I can’t seem to be creative if my space (or my mind) is full of unrelated messiness, and my office usually is.

Decluttering is probably my single most effective aid to writing. I’d do it more often except one thing leads to another when it comes to my office, and I could spend the entire day in there, trying to organize the piles of paper, books and photos. Setting a time limit on tidying or any other preliminary activity would help, but when I’m in the mood to write it’s far easier to choose a location that doesn’t require preparation. Hence, the family room wins at night.

LL Barkat has a recent post that inspired me to think more about mental decluttering. (Simple tricks to make space for your writing) I think I’ll head back over there and reread it. I could use some extra inspiration today. How about you?

~  ~  ~