Gardening and Writing au naturel

Our instinct is to push back. Unfortunately, our energy level can’t keep pace with either the instinct or the desire, so year-by-year the wildness surrounding our rural home has encroached on the lawn and gardens.

It’s a tapestry of textures, weeds and wildflowers amid original plantings. At one time I’d be stressed about not being able to keep ahead of them, but … it is what it is. This is rural living and at this point in our lives it’s never going to look like a well manicured city property unless we hire a professional gardener, and THAT isn’t going to happen.

So, buttercups mingle with cranesbill, salal creeps beneath the canopy of maple branches, ferns pop up in the midst of hostas and iris, and we embrace the au naturel look.

The whole gardening endeavour here is a little like my writing. I admire the works of many published authors — words neatly gathered on the page and polished to present the perfect story — and wish mine could be similar, but I’m not them; I’m me.

My method of writing is a lot like my method of dressing, of entertaining and of dealing with daily routines — a little haphazard and a lot informal — so it’s not surprising that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’ and face queries and submissions so casually that they often don’t happen. It’s not surprising that my garden is a little on the wild side, too.

Some days I look at the results (of both) with a degree of discouragement, wishing I could produce something better, but other days I acknowledge this is the way it is. I remind myself there are good things to be said about the au naturel lifestyle.

And as the poster in my office says,

“Be yourself.
An original is always worth more than a copy.”

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Tuesday’s This and That: Birds, Writing and a Conference

I’m sure birds must have brains — isn’t that where the term ‘birdbrain’ comes from? — but I have no idea whether or not they ‘think’. I’m having a battle of wits agains a pair of Juncoes who are as determined to build a nest in my hanging geranium basket as I am determined not to let them. By sheer perseverance they’re slowly outsmarting me, and that irks!

For some reason I am reminded of a quotation by George Carlin: “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”  

My hubby has inserted a criss-cross of kindling pieces into the one basket that’s been getting the most attention, but it appears the birds see that as more of a sturdy building foundation than a deterrent.

The Juncoes are persistent, but so am I! We’ve lived here twenty years and this behaviour only began a couple summers ago. (I see I posted a similar complaint at this same time last June.)

It’s not like there isn’t a multitude of other potential nesting spots around our two-and-a-quarter wooded acres, so I’m not sure why the hanging baskets outside our family room window are so appealing to them. Certainly their poop on the window as they swoop in for their landings isn’t appealing to me!

We’ve temporarily relocated our two hanging baskets onto the deck outside the patio door so I can more easily shoo them away. At the moment I’m not confident about winning this battle with the birds, but the survival of my geraniums depends on it.

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A member of my writing critique group has invited fellow writers to join her for ‘Writing in the Garden’ one morning a month between May and September. She has a beautiful garden — it was featured during a Maple Ridge Country Garden Tour a couple years ago — and would be an inspiring venue for writing … if the weather would cooperate.  A covered lanai protects from rain, but it’s been too chilly to sit outside, so for May and June we were invited inside to write in her lovely home.

I’m not one of those writers who chooses to gather up writing tools and head out to a local coffee bar to write. Normally, I need solitude to transfer the words in my head onto a page, so it surprised me to produce several hundred words during each session. I guess a little peer pressure must have helped.

~

Registrations opened last week for the 25th anniversary Surrey International Writers’ Conference, and, despite a budget that barely accommodates attending every second year, I’ve registered again, for the third year in a row! I’ve been attending frequently since 2004 and it’s always an incredible conference. As much as I might wish my encounters there with industry professionals would result in acquiring an agent or a publishing contract, I’m enthused about just being there — being immersed in all things writerly for a four day weekend of workshops and inspiring camaraderie.

SiWC is one of the most popular writers’ conferences in North America and draws attendees from many different countries. The day after registrations opened, it was more than 50% sold out. One of the more popular Master Classes on Thursday was sold out in a record-breaking five minutes! It’s a very large conference and yes, for an introvert like me that could be intimidating. But the atmosphere is always welcoming and inclusive, regardless of one’s level of writing expertise or achievement. And by booking a room in the host hotel, I’m free to slip away and decompress whenever necessary.

This year the conference dates are October 19 – 22. This is only mid-June but I’m already hyperventilating a bit. 🙂

Best not to think too far ahead. Better I wave a tea towel at these pesky Juncoes and get back to my writing.

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“Snowmaggedon” 2017

I’m sure many of us have admired Currier and Ives Christmas card scenes — picturesque drifts of snow, frosty wreaths on doors and gates glistening under a dusting of fresh powder, shoppers bustling along sidewalks, smiling and greeting each other. Maybe the spire of a country church is outlined against a brilliant winter sky. Or a farmhouse nestles into a stand of snow-laden trees, windows outlined with twinkling coloured lights.

Then there are the beautiful nature scenes. So very pretty!

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It’s all very magical and nostalgic. The trouble is, this isn’t the entire picture. While admiring such scenes, there’s a reality we tend to forget.

Impassable roads, burdened branches and breaking trees…

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Damaged power lines…

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Constant clearing of snow and ice to facilitate going anywhere on sidewalks, driveways and roads…

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(Yes, everyone helps!)

Trying to salvage expensive garden shrubs, often to no avail…

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Are you getting the picture? I love the beauty of a fresh snowfall as much as anyone does, but if you’d been within earshot this past week you’d likely have heard my hubby and me muttering about the dratted white stuff. After all, enough is enough!

All these photos were taken on our property and street. The heaviest snowfall we’ve had in twenty years blanketed the neighbourhood over several days last weekend, taking down trees and power lines, and plunging us into four days without electricity — no lights, cookstoves or water. Fortunately, we do have a wood-burning fireplace in the family room, plus three kerosene lamps, and an emergency supply of bottled water. We spent most of our days huddled in the one warm room which usually stayed around 15-17 degrees celsius as long as we got up a few times during the nights to keep stoking the fire. The bedrooms, however, were a chilly five degrees. Thank goodness for cozy down duvets!

Of course we survived. I suppose it was an adventure of sorts, but we’ve seen enough snow for now. I’m thankful to have all our electrical conveniences back. I’d be happy to get our television cable restored, too (it’s been off for a week), but that’s a minor inconvenience.

I’m ready for spring. Crocuses and snowdrops are buried somewhere under all this white stuff and we’re hoping the predicted warming trend  will soon return us to more typical balmy west coast February weather. I think our local critters would appreciate that, too. These guys are camping out on our back deck, begging for extra birdseed.

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(Douglas Squirrel)

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(Varied Thrush)

No, there’s no real point to this post. I’m just complaining a bit. Once in a while a body just has to let loose and rant. 🙂

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Enduring Winter’s Blahs

dsc01298Bit by bit we’re emerging. Snow is receding and the grass is becoming visible. At the same time, I’m emerging from my germ-infested fog. I’ve had this winter’s common complaint — a cold/flu/whatever-it-is bug that has kept me inactive since before New Year’s.

I’m tired of it — the bug and the snow — but it’s hanging on, so I apologize in advance if I sound cranky. Our balmy west coast usually has a week of cold weather and perhaps once in a decade or so will get a prolonged spell of it. Back in 2008 and 2009 we didn’t see green grass here for three solid months, but that’s most unusual.

It’s equally unusual for me to get sick — at least nothing beyond the occasional mild cold. I’ve dutifully gone for my flu shots every fall for many years, and I’m sure that helped me avoid the annual misery. However, I had my flu shot this year, too, only to hear recently that it might not be as effective as it was in previous years, depending on the strain(s) of flu virus prevalent in this area. ::sigh:: Apparently I was doomed to get this.

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I know I just have to wait it out. There’s no other way to get past this winter’s “blahs”. An active not passive kind of waiting is probably the most beneficial. I’m trying to engage in activities that don’t require too much energy but that actually accomplish something worthwhile. Writing annual reports, history scrapbooking, reading my way through the TBR pile of books stacked on shelves in my office.

Often as not though, I just end up dozing off to sleep again. I’ve managed to pass at least the cold part of this bug to my hubby, so we’re a less-than-energetic twosome these days. At this rate it’s going to be a while before we’ll be ready to tackle clearing downed trees and tying up damaged shrubs and broken branches (of which there are several). It doesn’t sound like we’ll get to it before next weekend’s predicted snow flurries. Drat!

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Seasonal reality versus perception

Reality versus perception. That’s what this is about. I know one day on the calendar is little different than the day before it or the day after. The sun rose a minute later today, and will set two minutes earlier, but otherwise not much has changed. But today is the autumnal equinox and suddenly it feels like fall.

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I’ve been noticing hints of its approach — those dratted spiders hanging out everywhere in their webs (why, oh, why do they have to dangle right at face level?), leaves fluttering down among recent raindrops, subtle colour changes in the garden that I’m sure weren’t there last weekend.

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There’s a new freshness to the warmth of today’s sunshine … crisp undertones that bespeak of a hastening away from summer’s heat. It isn’t quite time to pull out the garden annuals, but the spiky Iris and Daylily leaves are droopy, hinting that it’s time to cut them back. I’m sure they don’t look any worse than they did yesterday, but today they’ve edged into my awareness, along with the blousy, browning Hydrangea blooms.

Yesterday was summer, but at some point when I wasn’t paying attention it went into decline; today is autumn.

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“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools.”

[Henry Beston]

“Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that gives rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserves unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.”

[Jeremiah 5:24]

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”

[Jim Bishop]

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Dealing With Change

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One thing I love about living on the BC south coast is having four distinct seasons. I can’t envision living where it’s green and warm all year ’round. Granted, I don’t enjoy being too hot in summer, or too cold in winter (or constantly wet in spring and fall), but I love the variety each year. Just when the status quo begins to get tiresome, everything changes.

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Last week, on one of our showery days, I discovered leaves were beginning to fall. Smatterings of gold and brown scattered over slick grass and shiny pavement.

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My first reaction was surprise, followed by regret. How can the season of sunshine be ending so soon? I’m not ready to say goodbye to shorts and sandals weather, or the lazy, unscheduled days of summer. But what I want doesn’t much matter to Mother Nature. If change is due, change will come, and like it or not, it’s that time of the year.

I’ll adjust. Oh, I’ll probably grumble a little, but before long you’ll notice I’m raving about autumn’s changing colours and the fresh, crisp edge to its shortening days. Thanksgiving will come, and the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, which is always a highlight of my year. I love autumn!

Life is full of changes but there is also continuity. I like the saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” If we’re fixated on the closed door, however, we won’t notice the window opening.

In our church, an August day brought the devastating news that our pastor’s wife had suddenly died. Amid the shock and sadness, our Vacation Bible School needed to carry on. Now that September’s here, groups that were dormant through the summer must refocus and begin again. Where needed, other people are stepping in to take up tasks to which they will bring their own unique abilities. Ministry will continue, albeit in different ways within a hurting community. We will be more prayerful this fall, and hopefully more aware, more loving.

Changes happen. After the hurt begins to ease, a season of healing will come. God is always faithful. A new season always comes.

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~

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God,
the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love
with those who love him and keep his commandments,
to a thousand generations.”

[Deuteronomy 7:9]

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Written and Photographic Snapshots

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During my blogging absence over the past month I’ve taken an uncountable number of snapshots — hundreds of them — with my camera and iPhone.

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It makes me smile to remember a trip our family took in 1980 when, despite feeling significant guilt, I clicked through nineteen rolls of 35 mm film over the nine weeks’ journey. It was extravagant, but it was unlikely I would ever make that same trip again and I wanted to record every memory regardless of the cost.

Our first digital camera was a gift when my hubby retired in 2003. At first I was inhibited by the limitless opportunity of  amazing photographic freedom. It took a while to accept that I could depress my finger as often as I wanted and there would be no cost attached to any of my ‘mistakes’. One click recorded something; a different click deleted it; a third click printed it, but only if I desired an ‘hard copy’… and because I purchased photo paper in quantity, even that cost was negligible.

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I’ve been told the difference between an average photographer and a good one is in the number of discarded photos. Savvy photographers don’t display their mediocre shots. My laptop’s photo folder says it currently holds 6,874 pictures. On my desktop computer in the office there are 18,246 more, and that doesn’t account for the files saved on disks and memory cards. I don’t suppose a dozen of them are what I would call really good shots, but I keep all their files, just because I can. The only person besides me who likes to browse through them is my eight-year-old granddaughter and she doesn’t seem to care about quality. She likes revisiting the scenes, as do I.

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One advantage of keeping all of them is having a ready source of something to use in a blog post or add to the collages I like to create for inspiration while writing my novels.

Writers have various means of encouraging their creativity. Some have rituals they follow before settling into a writing session — maybe preparing a cup of tea, lighting a scented candle, turning on favourite music, or setting out a particular talisman.

One of my favourite go-to blogs is Writer Unboxed, and recently it ran a post about using a collage to create a snapshot of your novel. It turns out, I’m not the only one whose creativity gets a boost from visual stimulation. For each of my novels I’ve put together storyboards with photos, graphics and other items that reflect aspects of the plot. Some of the references might seem nebulous to someone unfamiliar with the developing story, but there is value to me in the artistic endeavour of assembling the collage. On the few occasions when I begin to bog down part way through the story, I stop writing and return to the collage, searching out new bits and building them into the existing collection until my enthusiasm for writing returns.

It’s almost as effective as taking a walk in the woods or beside the lake or seashore with my camera in hand. 🙂

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If you’re a storyteller, what techniques do you have for maintaining your writing momentum? 

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“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

[Ecclesiastes 3:11a]

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