Seasonal Changes

We’re mid-way through autumn. I only know it because the calendar says so. The reality of our days is that one blurs into the next, week after week, month after month. This is our third fall dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and after all this time, although Public Health Authority restrictions have eased, we’re still taking precautions and it feels like nothing will ever change…that this is our forever.

But things have changed and are changing. People are missing from our lives now — we’ve lost four dear friends, and two family members during the pandemic, all without ever having a chance to say goodbye.

One inevitable reality of passing time is aging and loss, and that’s something for which there’s no immunity.

While the weeks, months and years have been blending into each other, subtle changes have slowly become not-so-subtle. For the last twenty-six years my hubby and I have loved living on our rural acreage, but lately we’ve found its everyday upkeep is requiring increasingly more energy than we can sometimes muster. We’ve always been blessed with relatively good health, but it’s becoming obvious that it’s time to downsize to something more manageable.

Will we miss the privacy and tranquility of our ‘Wildwood Acres’ and its wonderful neighbourhood? Undoubtedly! Are we enjoying the current upheaval in our normally comfortable lifestyle? Definitely not! But change is always an adventure. God has led us through many of them in the past, and we trust Him as we explore this new path into our future…another new season in our lives.

“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 a hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11]

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One of the pages I follow on Facebook is entitled A Room With a View. The postings are usually a random collection of scenes…beautiful, unique, nostalgic, but always lovely. So I did a double-take recently when I saw this rather ordinary black and white photo. On second glance I realized it isn’t the photo that’s meant to be special, but the memories it evokes.

I was blessed to have both sets of my grandparents through my entire childhood, well until into my married years. (My hubby wasn’t as fortunate; he recalls having just one grandmother and only until he was four.)

There were several aunts, uncles and cousins in my family, but we weren’t big on hanging out together all that much…except when it came to the grandparents. Their homes were the gathering places. And what do I remember about them?

The earliest memory is of my paternal grandparents’ home on Charles Street in Vancouver, the Christmas I was four.  In the darkened living room beside the decorated tree and below a large round mirror, the fireplace blazed with the enthusiasm of a typical McGuire fire and I sat on the floor in front of it , mesmerized by the flickering flames and the tree lights. I still have the fuzzy stuffed cat I received that Christmas. (I think it was intended to satisfy my oft-vocalized desire for a real live puppy…which I didn’t get until my tenth birthday.)

“Nanna & Daddad” McGuire

It was at their kitchen table that I learned how to ‘spool knit’, taught by my grandmother, using an empty spool into which my grandfather had obligingly hammered five nails.

That wasn’t their first home in Canada, but it was the first I was familiar with. I don’t know how often they moved, but I do know their first home was a claims cabin in Alberta.

I was nearing my teens when my grandparents moved from Vancouver to what was then a rural area of Surrey. My bricklayer grandfather, helped by my father and uncles, built a cement block house on property that we always referred to as ‘the farm’. It might have been a half-acre at best, but with an ultra-large vegetable garden between the house and the gravel road in front and a small chicken coop in the back, it represented the best of country living as far as I was concerned. The house is still there, albeit on a much smaller lot now surrounded by city homes.

I recall Christmas Eves when all the relatives would gather there. Those were evenings the living room was filled with music. We all sang, but various members also played piano, accordion, violin, melodion, and harmonicas. Some sat on the hearth, and when the chairs were full, others chose the floor.

I had no siblings and was the first, thus oldest, grandchild, but my aunt and eight younger cousins lived in a small bungalow on the same property so when I would occasionally spend a weekend or some holiday time there, I didn’t lack for playmates. The big treat was sharing a bed in the guest room with two of the cousins, and scaring each other as we told ghost stories in the dark.

While I can still visualize the floor plan, the outdoors was more memorable for me. I recall campfires in the middle of the driveway, and burying potatoes in the hot coals to be dug out in the morning and fried up with fresh eggs for breakfast. On summer evenings when we were allowed to stay up late, we sat on the grass close to the front porch listening to my grandfather’s  tales about Ireland and basking in the potent fragrance from my grandmother’s Nicotiana bed.

As I think about it now, it’s surprising to me that I spent much more time in, but have fewer memories of time spent in my maternal grandparents’ home on 14th Avenue in Vancouver. I know we visited there often. Dinner on Sunday was a tradition. Sometimes we gathered at the kitchen table, but other perhaps more special times, around the dining room table.

Nanna Aconit, Mother and Me

I spent a lot of non-eating time in that dining room because it housed their piano. There were doors on both sides of the room to close it off from the kitchen and living room and supposedly contain the sound of my inept tinkering on the ivories. I couldn’t read music, but would attempt to play from my aunt’s collection of familiar pop songs, following the notes up and down, adjusting with sharps or flats as needed. In rotrospect, everyone must have indulged me with great patience since I doubt the doors truly stopped much of the racket!

The other room that I remember well is their livingroom which housed the radio where I loved to curl up in the well-stuffed maroon armchair to listen all Sunday afternoon. Are you too old to recall the Jack Benny Show, Superman (remember the “faster than a speeding bullet” intro?), Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos and Andy, Burns and Allen, Ozzie and Harriet, Our Miss Brooks – oh, and the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers?

The opposite corner of the livingroom housed a short, glass-fronted bookcase tucked in between the fireplace and outer wall. The couch took up much of that wall, so it turned the floor space in front of the bookcase into a little hideaway where I sat and read. I still have two large children’s tomes from that bookcase. I recall other books I probably wasn’t meant to read but did.

Back in the 40s and 50s the northward trek from the south coast along the winding Fraser and Thompson Rivers was an agonizingly slow one. Occasionally when my parents made one of their trips by Jeep into the Cariboo I was left in my grandparents’ care. Sometimes I got to sleep in my aunt’s bedroom, but if she was home to occupy it, my space was ‘upstairs’. Behind the kitchen was a flight of stairs, accessed by an almost unnoticeable door. It turned and led up to a long narrow room under the eaves. Its walls and ceiling were wrapped in dark stained wood (shiplap?) with only one small window at the front, street end, offering any natural light. Did I mind being up there all by myself? Not at all.  An introvert even then, I liked having my own private domain where I got to read well after my normal ‘lights out’ bedtime because my grandmother didn’t like climbing those stairs so would call up from the kitchen, “Are you in bed?” and I could truthfully answer that I was. She rarely thought to ask if my light was out. (I must have been a devious child!)

One other memory I have of that house is the coal storage room in the basement. Delivery of coal for the furnace was made via a shute aimed through a window directly onto the cement floor. Thanks to the coal dust, the room was filthy, but until the supply of coal receded we didn’t have to go in very far since the bucket and shovel sat inside the door.

Apparently the more I think, the more memories I can conjure up. But enough’s enough. I think I’ve more than adequately answered A Room With a View’s question, don’t you?

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Musing about ‘worth’…

It was pointed out to me recently that my fourteenth anniversary of blogging is coming up in June. The person who brought it to my attention also asked, “Has it all been worth it–the blogging and the writing?” I provided a flippant, “Oh, yes; I may not be successful by some standards, but I enjoy it, and for me that’s what counts.”

That led to the inevitable question about what I’ve recently published, and I had to admit there’s been nothing new because I haven’t submitted anything for publication in ages. His expression told me that in his view I was a failure as a writer.

Then today I encountered author Laura Best’s blog post where she deals with the same question — From the world’s perspective, Laura’s success is significantly greater than mine, and yet her response was essentially the same. Except she said it more eloquently!

…if I were to define “worth it”, it would mean something different for all of us, for we are all as individual as the very things we think about and value the most. Is writing worth it to me–absolutely.

As I move into my fifteenth year (of blogging; I’ve been writing other things for decades longer), it’s tempting to think I need to evaluate, recalculate and perhaps redirect my efforts. However, being both mid-pandemic and post-surgery, the time doesn’t seem quite right. I think I’ll just move ahead on whatever project appeals to me. ‘Worth’ doesn’t need to be a criteria, at least not today.

The Real World

There is so much beauty in our world. And so much ugliness. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to focus. Thanks to technology and social media, distant corners of the world have drawn closer, so what is happening today in Ukraine feels like it’s happening in my backyard. The pain and anguish of a war waged upon innocent people by an evil man isn’t my war, but the horror of it still weighs heavily.

Most of the world is telling Vladimir Putin that this aggression is unacceptable. I doubt he’s listening. While international sanctions will surely cause him some inconvenience, he was prepared for it. This is no spur-of-the-moment invasion. I have every confidence that Putin anticipated the world’s reaction and built self-protection and retaliation into his plans long before he began executing them. So, as I view this war at a distance, a tiny voice from my backyard can be heard warning that its effects will inevitably be felt here. This is the reality of the world in which we live today.

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 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:6-7]

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?

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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.