That Time of the Year

Around here, spring is a long awaited season for many reasons. We’re not big into winter activities so when the days lengthen and warmer sunshiny days finally arrive, we’re more than ready to head outdoors.

At first it’s pure exhilaration — enjoying the woodsy scent of our ‘Wildwood’ acres and marsh, the sound of returning zippy, dippy hummingbirds, glimpses of new buds and greening shrubs. And then … reality sets in.

 

There is SO much outside work to do in the spring. We’ve lived on this acreage for 23+ years. When we came, there were a few garden beds but none at the back of the house where we tended to spend most of our time. So, year by year we added more. A curved bed here. A rockery there. A few ornamental trees (as if we didn’t have enough trees already!). A strawberry bed to accompany the blueberry bushes.

As the years evolved, so did the property. We pruned leaning-for-the-sunshine shrubs and relocated others, divided and tried to conquer overgrown perennials, replaced things that didn’t like our shady acidic conditions.

And every year, my hubby dutifully power-raked the winter’s accumulation of moss from of the lawns, limed and fertilized them, then power-washed the green grunge off the deck, house and driveway. It was (and is) never-ending, but when one’s home is surrounded on all four sides by tall trees, you keep ahead of these tasks, or they become overwhelming.

The only problem has been that as the plantings matured, so did we. As the yardwork increased, our energy waned. Twenty-three years ago I loved spending a day puttering in the gardens. Age and arthritis have reduced my ambitions to an hour at best, sometimes less. While dear hubby gets a whole lot more done than I do in a session, everything takes him longer, too.

Two years ago our family contributed to a gift certificate for his eightieth birthday for several hours of a landscaping service. He elected to use it for the initial spring cleanup. The business was a local one, run by a very energetic young women who astounded us with her speed and efficiency. My hubby says she gets more done in three hours than he could possibly accomplish in three weeks! As a result, we’ve come to rely on her every spring.

Having a little help means maintaining the property is still possible for us. Otherwise, I think we’d have to consider downsizing, and we’re reluctant to make that decision yet. We appreciate the space here, the peacefulness, the great (but not-elbow-close) neighbours, the wildlife. City living just can’t compete with this semi-rural lifestyle we’ve come to love.

COVID-19’s mandated physical distancing and staying at home  is no hardship to us, although we do miss seeing our friends and family. At the rate this pandemic is progressing, we could be in enforced isolation far longer than we expected. The scoured lawn will turn green and lush. We’ll soon be bringing out the deck furniture, and before long there will be a few baskets of flowers added, but it’s possible we won’t be able to have neighbours over, family gatherings, or the annual church barbeque…nobody will be here but us to enjoy them.

This spring is unique in our experience. We’re learning to distinguish between aloneness and loneliness. I don’t know how I feel about that yet.

~

 

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’.

 

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)

~  ~  ~

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?

~  ~  ~

 

Out with the old, in with the new (not years)

Who still has hanging flower baskets blooming in December here in the Pacific Northwest? Even the local nursery has abandoned attempts to keep theirs presentable so I’m not sure why mine are still growing. Admittedly, the blooms are few and small, but geraniums are geraniums, regardless of size, right?

My hubby had taken all the other tubs of anemic annuals off the deck in mid-October after Thanksgiving, and carried the patio furniture down to the basement where it will wait out the winter months. But the baskets still provided a minimal bit of cheerful colour as they dangled outside our family room windows.

At least, they did until this weekend’s frost. Despite the protection of the overhanging eaves, sometime during Friday night they shivered themselves out of attractive into bedraggled. Without its tiny white blossoms the bacopa maybe didn’t look too bad, but everything else…? Meh!

Yesterday we ventured out to a tree farm and cut our Christmas tree, and as my hubby was setting it into its stand this afternoon, he decided it was finally time to remove the waning greenery.

I kind of hate to see the baskets go. They’ve hung there since early May and survived through blustery late spring winds, summer holiday neglect and torrents of fall rain. I feel like I owe them something in exchange for their persistence.

Then again, it IS Advent now and the outside Christmas lights twinkling above them seem a bit incongruous.

So, “out with the old and in with the new”…greenery, that is. The sickly lantana and geranium leaves have gone to compost heaven and from the other side of the window pane I’m now enjoying the fragrance of fresh fir adorned with cheery baubles, not blossoms.

I’m sure I could find a writing analogy in this if I tried hard enough, but at the moment I’d rather just sit here squinting at the tree lights and pondering Advent thoughts. Taken totally out of context I am reminded of an applicable scripture verse:

“…the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 🙂  [2 Corinthians 5:17b]

~

Wishing you abundant Hope on this
first Sunday in Advent.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Time Out for Renewal

Many of us love renewing our homes (ahem…yes, guilty). Most love shopping to refresh wardrobes (meh…not so much). Some love travelling to discover new locales (hmmm…it depends on the locale). Too few of us take time out to renew, refresh or discover ourselves.

It could be as simple as snatching ten minutes to sip tea on the porch, a morning to wander or work in the garden, or a day to turn aside from social media and focus on something we’ve been wanting to do just for ourselves. Summertime is when we are most likely to take a break, but there is no ‘right’ season. For writers, it might be whenever the words are piling up against an invisible barricade; for parents, when exasperation is approaching an explosion point; or maybe for workers, when demands of the job have become numbing.

(Consider clicking on photo to enlarge)

None of those scenarios really describes my situation, but I am taking some time out to renew something important to me. August is usually my time to escape from social media. It’s my scheduled ‘time out for renewal’. My camera and I will capture my under-the-radar doings and share them when I re-emerge.

What will you be up to in August? Are you planning anything that will help you renew, refresh or discover?

~

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
[Romans 12:2]

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”
[Jeremiah 31:25]

~  ~  ~

Renovation Celebration!

WhooHoo!!! Our ensuite bathroom reno is complete! Hubby tells me he’s taking me out for a steak dinner tonight to celebrate.

Huge kudos to contractor Ron Cobb (RNC Renovations) and his crew for keeping the process pleasant and creating exactly what we had hoped for.

When we moved into this built-in-1991 home it was only five years old and we were thrilled with all it had to offer. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed it over the past twenty-two years and hope to continue here for several more. But neither of us is as young as we need to be to keep up with its maintenance or the 2-1/4 acres of property. Eventually there will come a day when we have to downsize. It’s when we thought about that, and looked around us with the eyes of a potential buyer that we realized how much updating it really should have.

The budget dictated when and how much we could tackle. In 2015 we did a minor renovation of the kitchen. In 2016 we totally renovated the main bathroom. And this year we finally got to our ensuite bathroom.

We kept the original odd floor plan (a reverse “Z”), because it works fine for us, and we would have had to cut into the bedroom’s walk-in closet to change it anyway.  We chose the same tiles and colour scheme to coordinate with the main bathroom which was renovated in 2016. I never disliked the old bathrooms, but the new decor feels so much brighter.

A few people have said they wanted to see Before (L) and After (R) pics, so here they are.

 

The Jacuzzi tub that only our grandchildren used.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now a freestanding soaker tub with floor mounted faucet and hand-held shower.

 

 

 

 

The old brass trimmed shower with full tiled walls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Replaced with a frameless shower with half glass wall (to allow more light into toilet enclosure), rainhead and hand-held showers.

 

 

 

 

Our 1991 oak vanity with laminate countertop and blinding “landing strip” lightbar.

 

 

 

 

 

Grey vanity with matching mirror, quartz countertop, updated light fixture (plus there are pot lights around the ceiling), and a heated floor.

 

 

It isn’t a large room, and it isn’t as fancy as some people might have chosen when renovating, but it’s a significant upgrade for us and feels serene and luxurious. Now it’s time to go luxuriate in it.

~  ~  ~

 

 

 

June Jottings

June! Another new month well underway. We’re four weeks into our en suite renovation and I’m happily watching the bits and pieces come together. Well, yesterday happily would have been stretching it. Yesterday it was anxiously.

Carrara marble fools us into thinking it is white with grey veining, but when one is trying to match the background ‘white’ with paint for the remaining walls, it’s not white at all. I know that from the renovation of our other bathroom which has the same tiles. Last time, my colour choice wasn’t exactly what I intended, so this time I was determined to find the right shade — a greyish-white with a slightly blueish undertone, the same as the tile. There are thousands of off-whites, but I was pretty sure I had found the right one this time. It wasn’t until the painter had left after finishing the first coat that I looked in and saw…blue walls. Ack!!!

I stewed about it for a bit; actually, for quite a bit. I figured I would once again have to swallow my mistake and live with it — after all, it was a pretty shade of pale icy blue — but I really don’t want blue walls! That’s when having a wonderful contractor paid off. I finally sent a timid text message, — “What can I do if I don’t like the paint colour I chose?” — which initiated a flurry of action and less than twenty-four hours later the painter was back, with buckets of new paint. I apologized since it was my mistake, but was told, “No problem. We want you to be be happy. We want you to love your new bathroom, not just like it.” I tell you, these people* are awesome!

~

It’s not just tile setters, electricians, plumbers, drywallers and painters that have been working around here. Hummingbirds have also arrived. I’ve blogged frequently in the past about our busy little visitors but they continue to entertain, flitting and fighting as they do.

While there are also Anna’s Hummingbirds along BC’s west coast, only the Rufous ones come to our feeder. They’re the feisty ones. They’re also the ones with the longest migratory flight of any other bird, relative to their body size — 3,900 miles from Alaska to Mexico. They “make a clockwise circuit of western North America each year…up the Pacific Coast in late winter and spring, reaching Washington and British Columbia by May. As early as July they may start south again, traveling down the chain of the Rocky Mountains.”**

The females are mostly green, with rusty shading. The males are bright rusty-orange. Feisty as they are, occasionally they buzz me when I’m out on the deck, but other times they’ll sit beside the feeder and watch us with caution and curiosity, as this one did. I think she knows where her ‘bread and butter’ comes from!

Female Rufous Hummingbird

 

Male Rufous Hummingbird

~

Writing has too often taken a back seat to being a ‘sidewalk superintendent’ and birdwatcher lately, but I am moving slowly ahead with a new story.

Tomorrow is registration day for this fall’s Surrey International Writers’ Conference (yay!!!), which provides  lots of motivation. I’ve managed to get there more often than I ever thought possible and always experience a wonderful weekend of inspiration and professional development shared with my daughter, the award winning writer Shari Green! (How I love being able to say that.)

Lots happening. Lots to look forward to. Oh, and summer’s coming. 🙂

~  ~  ~

 

* RNC Renovations
** All About Birds – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Writing Despite Distractions

Sounds of a table saw and power nailer add to the smell of freshly baked bread and contribute to my Saturday morning distractions. My hubby is outside, glad for the sunshine as he power washes the final side of the house, and I’m sorely tempted to abandon my inside chores and escape out to the garden. But I mustn’t. Not yet.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let this week slide by without finishing a chapter in my new manuscript and writing a blog post, so I’m chained to my laptop until that’s accomplished.

It can be difficult to ignore distractions, especially appealing ones, but I try hard to stick to my priorities which, right now, are to rough draft a second book in a series, then return to an older story and rewrite it to become the third. I don’t have a definite timeline, but am squinting hopefully at year end.

Aspiring writers are often heard to say they’re going to write a book sometime … perhaps when the baby finally sleeps through the night so they aren’t always exhausted, or when the children are in school, or when retirement from the day job arrives … sometime, when they have time. The problem is, time rarely makes itself available. Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion” and Isaac Asimov’s corollary to that says, “In ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day.

It’s a safe bet there will never be any leftover time, so whether or not a book gets written will depend entirely on the writer’s commitment to the task and the desire to make time. I think all of us have dreamt of endless hours sequestered in a hideaway writing our life’s work uninterrupted from beginning to end. I think we also all know it’ll never happen.

Even full-time career authors and retired writers with no children at home acknowledge the reality of everyday life and the limitations it puts on time. I’ve always had trouble settling in to write when I know I have only a half hour, or some similar time restriction due to an impending appointment or meeting. But I’ve learned to recognize that restless ‘I-don’t-have-enough-time’ voice as the negative influence it is, and to ignore it. Even short sessions can be productive.

In proper manuscript format, one page consists of about 250 words. Depending on the genre, a first novel is usually no more than 90,000 words, so if a person could steal enough time to draft one page per day, that would produce a finished novel in one year. Just one page! Some days I can write an entire chapter; other days I struggle to find those 250 words, but it averages out.

For the next month or so the main distractions around here are going to be the coming and going of workers doing the renovation in our en suite bathroom. They have their supplies and equipment in one bay of our garage, so they come in through the adjoining door to our laundry, and trek down the hall through the middle of the house. They are very considerate, but inevitably there is noise and dust and frequent questions. (And in the middle of it all is our wild-child Labrador, unhappily kept away from the hallway by a cardboard barricade and advising me regularly that there are strangers in the house.)

Still, I will write. I have this story nagging at me, revealing its scenes in small bursts. When I know I won’t likely get all the needed words on a page at one time, I make notes as a blueprint for my next session. I want to get it done, and doing it is the only way.

How about you? What’s your dream? What distractions keep you from pursuing/achieving it?

~  ~  ~