After the decorations come down…

I started this post a few days ago, and then decided my first priority was a post for my church’s website. Its title ended up being the same as the one I’ve used here, although the content is totally different. It’s prompted here by the current mess that surrounds me.

This is just one small area — just the loveseat in our family room. You have to imagine beyond the green storage bin on the coffee table to the other seven bins and assorted cardboard boxes also waiting to be filled.

Decorations aren’t what Christmas is all about, of course, but I still enjoy the cheer and sparkle of the seasonal decorations. Even more than how they look, I like the nostalgia and the memories they evoke.

If you had peeked in my windows on a December evening (but I’m glad you didn’t; that would be creepy), you’d likely have found me in the semi-darkness, sitting by the fireplace and squinting at the tree lights to exaggerate their sparkle. It’s pure magic! It takes me back to the awe and wonder of my childhood Christmasses.

We begin decorating the house at the start of Advent and reluctantly begin un-decorating after Epiphany…the Twelfth Night of Christmas. Unfortunately, since our preference is for natural rather than artificial greenery, the life of our tree is limited. After a month indoors, even with regular watering, the needles begin parting company with branches. It’s time.

So the tree is down (it will be chipped and recycled), the decorations are being packed away and the New Year is under way. What now? First is always the replacing of furniture and a thorough vacuuming. (It doesn’t matter how thorough, we’ll still find fir needles in odd places next summer!)

This is the point when melancholia at the bare decor conflicts with joy at the lack of clutter. Everything looks so clean, but I find myself rearranging furniture, switching artwork, maybe adding a new plant — whatever it takes to compensate for the perceived sterility.

Sometimes … sometimes, that means picking new paint colours. I often wondered why we always seemed to tackle renovations in the winter months. Now that’s beginning to make sense. I’m not sure what this year’s project is going to be, but stay tuned. Now that the decorations are down and packed away, I’m taking a good look around.

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Private Spaces

The phrase, “a room of one’s own” is forever linked to feminist author Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), as the title of her famous 1929 essay, but it has been adopted by many of us who long for a space specifically designed to meet our personal taste and needs.

I thought of that this morning while reading a blog post by Katrina Kenison. She calls it “Making Room“. She has just turned 59 and finds herself wishing for somewhere other than at her kitchen table to write —  “a place in which some new work might begin to take shape, privately and quietly” away from the hustle of her everyday household.

“My sixtieth year has begun with an urgent longing for quiet time and open-ended hours and, too, for a space that is devoted not to many things but to one thing: the work of the imagination, the murmurings of the soul, the possibility of articulating and embodying some just-forming ideas about how to live in the world as an older person.”  [Katrina Kenison]

At the beginning of every fall, a similar yearning overtakes me, but it has nothing to do with my increasing age. At least, I don’t think it does. The odd thing is, I do have a room of my own in which to write, but I don’t often use it, which makes me think it has more to do with attitude than age or location.

I’m always anxious to recapture the sense of mystery and adventure that accompanies the start of a new season or a new writing project. It’s akin to the delight of discovery in the story of A Secret Garden, but then again, I suppose that story did have a lot to do with place. And age. Hmmm. Well, never mind. Should place and age really determine the extent of a person’s creativity? What is it that makes a room of one’s own so appealing?

Katrina says it would mean not having to clear her writing materials off the kitchen table and make room for her family’s next meal.

There’s that, of course, but I suspect it’s also the ability to surround oneself with favourite things — things that inspire us — or to spread out our tools however we might prefer, and not have to answer to anyone else for our choices (or the mess). It’s that sense of privacy and personal space a closed door gives us — the opportunity to retreat into the backcountry of our minds without distraction.

KatherineSome of my friends have created personal writing spaces. In the past year Katherine Wagner repurposed an upstairs bedroom into a library/writing room with a view over her exquisite back garden, and Dawn Dalton’s hubby built her a separate writing hut, a la Roald Dahl’s, in their back yard.

What a treat to be able to indulge ourselves with such special spaces! I should feel guilty that I don’t make better use of mine. That I don’t, suggests my creative efforts don’t depend on an inspiring environment, but that’s not entirely true.

Where I most often sit with my laptop is in my family room. My recliner is adjacent to a wall of windows that overlook the ‘backyard’ — a rural haven surrounded by trees with a somewhat overgrown arbour leading to the unseen marsh beyond. It’s private and quiet. That’s pretty much all I need when I’m writing.

The environment we crave is as individual as the words each of us produces. The main thing is to identify what we require to produce those words and then get writing.

“When I am up here I see only the paper I am writing on, and my mind is far away with Willy Wonka or James or Mr Fox or Danny or whatever else I am trying to cook up. The room itself is of no consequence. It is out of focus, a place for dreaming and floating and whistling in the wind, as soft and silent and murky as a womb…”  [Roald Dahl, ‘Roald Dahl: From the Inside Out – the Author Speaks’]

~

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” [Virginia Woolf]

~

Now it’s your turn. Tell me, what’s your ideal writing environment or location? Is your creativity dependent on being in that space?

~ ~ ~

Fire!!!

Nothing speeds up the heart rate like hearing someone shout, “Fire”! It instantly generates visions of an out-of-control blaze, and right now there are several of them burning in our province.

Forest fires aren’t anything new here. Every summer lightning and human carelessness cause many hectares of land, trees and property to be destroyed. There are currently 167 wildfires burning in British Columbia. Since April 1, 2017, there have been a total of 616 wildfires in the province that have burned a total of 114,929 hectares.* It’s tragic, but it happens. It never seems personal until suddenly it is.

As of this morning, there are 39 evacuation orders and 24 evacuation alerts in place due to wildfires. Approximately 16,250 people are affected by the evacuation orders, the majority of them in BC’s Cariboo and Chilcotin areas. Nine sections of provincial highways are either fully or partially closed.*

Our off-the-beaten-path little Cariboo cabin is on the fringe of an evacuation alert which itself is behind the boundaries of an evacuation order and road closure. There’s no way to get to it now, and there’s nothing we can do to protect it, even if we could. We can only hope the winds won’t drive flames in its direction.

It’s not much of a cabin — more rustic on the inside than its exterior might suggest. It was built by my father and husband from wood cut on the land, slowly finished and furnished by family members over several decades, with used and free materials. It’s not insured because it’s worth nothing, and yet in sentiment and memories it’s worth everything to us.

Adjacent to the cabin and just across the creek is the home my parents built over fifty years ago — the only full time residence on the entire lake. They’ve been gone and their property sold and re-sold multiple times, but our cabin still makes it feel like “our” lake. It’s where we’ve been coming together as generations of a family since I was four years old.

Trees surround both properties, and indeed the whole lake, right down to the water’s edge. If the forest fires reach here, I can’t envision anything stopping them. I can’t envision what this secluded sanctuary would look like. I don’t want to envision it at all.

There are already people who have lost their homes and their livelihood. Several towns were given just ten minutes to evacuate. Businesses had to be abandoned. There are friends in the area whose total homestead and ranch are at risk. Our little cabin is insignificant in the overall picture of this disaster, but still … I can’t help selfishly hoping and praying it won’t be among the casualties.

In the meantime, I wait and write.

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*Information from BC Wildfire Service

 

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.”

~  ~  ~

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.

~

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.

~  ~  ~

“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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Winter Solstice 2016

Today is officially the first day of Winter — the Winter Solstice — although the snow and below-freezing temperatures arrived two weeks ago. The first snowfall was powdery and dusted everything in the picturesque way that my imagination always likes to remember.

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First 2016 snowfall — the back deck at Wildwood

Unfortunately this is the mild west coast of Canada and before long the reality of our winter always hits. This week temperatures have been climbing, and thick wet flakes quickly doubled the amount shown here before changing to rain showers. Now we have ten inches of snow packing down under an icy crust and it will probably all wash away before Christmas.

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Icy snow crystals melting on the windshield

Still, on this first day of Winter, it’s beautiful to look at from indoors. This is what I’ll try and remember when it all turns to slush and mud.

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We’re preparing hearts and home
for the coming celebration.

May rich blessings be yours this Christmastime!

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