A Month into Isolation

We went into semi-lockdown one month ago today. Prior to then, people were being urged to practice healthy safeguards but we weren’t confined to our homes. We engaged with people, greeting each other with smiles, elbow bumps or perhaps a slight bow. The ability to socially interact was taken for granted.

IMG_7988Now anything ‘social’ is done remotely, via phone and digital media like Facebook, FaceTime and Zoom. Even if we aren’t sick, we’re pretty much in quarantine, urged to stay home except for essential travel or an emergency, and maintain a six foot separation from people when we venture out for supplies.

Until recently I didn’t consider any of this isolation to be much of a hardship. I’m an introvert; I enjoy staying home. When hospitals also enforced it, closing their doors to everyone except those needing emergent care, it seemed like a good idea. Then, as the COVID-19 death toll rose, we learned those who were dying were leaving this life while alone among strangers. Spouses and other family members were prevented from being present. (See one story HERE.)

That, considered along with the statistics that tell us approximately 50% of all deaths across Canada have happened in nursing homes, and 90% were people over sixty, make the numbers more personal. Too personal.

My heart aches for both the patients and the families. The pain of separation at such moments must be unbearable. I can’t imagine. I don’t want to.

hospital visitingOn March 11th a long-time elderly friend died in a long-term care facility. COVID-19 wasn’t involved. A friend/caregiver spent time with her the previous evening and said she was “unresponsive but content”, and she died peacefully early the next morning. Another friend, ten years younger, is also living in long-term residential care, but she is more active and aware. I’m not allowed to visit her now, and I’m concerned for her. She can’t comprehend the pandemic and its impact on her community, only that her family and friends are no longer visiting.

It seems inhumane to warehouse in isolation those who are the least able to understand what’s going on. But then I have trouble with the whole concept of shunting our seniors off to live out their final years/months among strangers anyway. Then to have them die among strangers, too? I know…I know…sometimes there are no other options; but I don’t have to like it.

Perhaps being a ‘senior senior’ makes me biased.

~

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.

~

 

Not a Resolution

Many people begin a new year with resolutions … fresh goals, usually focused on some kind of self improvement. Unfortunately, statistics say that more than half of resolutions fail by February. Personally, I abandoned even making resolutions many years ago.

It’s not that I don’t have any ambitions, but making a resolution is like making a promise to myself — one I know from experience I’m not likely to keep. If I have goals in mind, I’m more likely to pursue them as ‘intentions’ rather than ‘resolutions’. Intentions suggest a desire more than a promise. A desired goal is less intimidating than a promised one. I’ve talked about this in an earlier post.

While I was working on a New Year’s post for our church website I came across an article on the GoSkills website that offered ideas for ways to make goals more attainable:

  • Prepare for change by taking a personal inventory. Evaluate what you’ve realistically been able to accomplish (or not) in the past. Recognize your limitations.
  • Write each goal on a separate sticky note, then arrange and rearrange the notes on a handy surface in order of priority until one emerges as a manageable goal that will inspire you toward achievement.
  • Break up your goal into specific manageable chunks. For example, instead of losing fifty pounds in 2020, set mini-goals of five or ten pounds per month, and celebrate each milestone.
  • Write down your goals, share them with supportive friends/family, and document your progress. This will help keep you on track.

Do you have goals for 2020? Things you’d like to accomplish or maybe even intend to do? How do resolutions work for you? How do you get the tasks done?

One of my main intentions this year is to make inroads into the boxes of family and historical photos that fill a corner of my office. They’ve accumulated there because I didn’t want to put them back downstairs where they’d be out of sight, out of mind again. I thought if I had to keep looking at those boxes I wouldn’t be able to ignore them. Wrong! Now they’ve become such a permanent fixture that I take their presence for granted. I don’t even see them anymore! I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to tackle the job. I have empty albums; I have scissors, paper cutter, archive quality pens and glue. I just need to s-t-a-r-t.

I guess saying it here constitutes writing it down and telling my family and friends, doesn’t it? Gulp.

Well, I DO intend to make a start and hopefully get the task completed before year end. Note that’s an intention, not a resolution, but I’ll ‘document my progress’ and report in here periodically, and then we’ll just see how it goes. Okay?

(I think this is called ‘Documentation #1’)

~ ~ ~

Speaking, Writing and Freedom of Speech

Have you heard of Don Cherry? His name is well known in Canadian hockey circles, often for all the wrong reasons. While he’s extremely knowledgeable about the game, he’s best known for his televised Coach’s Corner opinionated rants. Mmm, yes, well he’s also known for his outlandish taste in fabric for his suit jackets! He’s controversial. Few people admit to liking his on-screen persona, but he makes money for the television stations and sponsors by getting viewers involved. At least, he did until last weekend. That’s when his comments got him fired.

His choice of words overrode his message. They were deemed racist and they riled the audience. Racism is defined as the superiority of one race over another. The Merriam Webster Dictionary says it’s “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” With that in mind, it’s hard to define Cherry’s comments as racist, although there’s no doubt they were derogatory and divisive. The station and network were quick to take steps to avoid the backlash.

If Don Cherry had apologized, that might have been the end of it, but he says even if he wishes he’d chosen his words more carefully, he stands by the truth of them. Thus his conviction (or maybe his stubbornness) brought his forty year career to an abrupt end.

Public reactions are mixed. Nobody likes what he said. Some are celebrating that this diatribe was the last straw and he’s finally been removed from the airwaves, while others are questioning if his right to freedom of speech has been quashed.

This steps into the realm of censorship and It’s a dilemma that many authors have also faced: do you speak or write from the heart and risk offending, or do you carefully filter your words to be safe?

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says “The right to express yourself and form your own opinions is an essential feature of a democracy.  Freedom of expression is a core part of the right to dissent and a basic feature of personal development … In Canada, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects ‘freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication’.” There are lines drawn, however — lines between derogatory statements and hate speech, between criticism and defamation, lines that restrict verbal bullying and obscenity.

The National Post said recently that “book banning has become passé in Canada, and when works do get challenged, it’s often for opposite reasons than those seen in the past.” The Freedom to Read website publishes a list of some of the books, magazines and public papers that have been challenged and/or banned in Canada. It’s a selective list, yet it carries more than one hundred titles.

Parents frequently desire to protect their children from literature or art that they find offensive — words or pictures they believe are disgusting, that depict anything that opposes their personal standards of decency, that glorify evil, etc.

The Canadian Library Association resists these attempts when it comes to banning books, although individual schools districts and communities occasionally succeed within their local boundaries. The CLA states, “Libraries have a core responsibility to safeguard and facilitate access to constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas, and opinion, including those which some individuals and groups consider unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. To this end, in accordance with their mandates and professional values and standards, libraries provide, defend and promote equitable access to the widest possible variety of expressive content and resist calls for censorship and the adoption of systems that deny or restrict access to resources.”

So, where do YOU stand in all this?

  • Is there a difference between punishing Don Cherry for his comments, refusing public speakers with offensive agendas, and banning written words in our country?
  • What guides you in your choice of words when reading and/or writing?
  • Do you keep a particular audience in mind as you write?

 

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Compartmentalizing the Process of Aging

This Facebook meme made me giggle:

It seemed particularly appropriate because I marked a milestone birthday this month. Years ago upon reaching 65 I declared myself ‘officially old’ because it was society’s perceived age of retirement and  I finally qualified for Canada’s OAP. Now, having reached ‘Lvl 80’, I’m not sure what I am. Maybe ‘officially ancient’? 

There are lots of clichés about aging… about only being as old as you feel, or about age being an issue of mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. An elderly woman in our church was once asked how she was feeling and cheerfully replied, “Oh, I’m feeling just fine, thanks, but my body is wearing out.” Another elderly woman of a similar age, while receiving some physical assistance, complained bitterly about her limitations and said, “I wish you could just shoot me.” Granted, their home situations differed, but their attitudes affected both how they viewed their conditions and how their friends related to them.

A writing friend recently reviewed a story about a woman with total amnesia who looked in the mirror and was distraught when she didn’t recognize the woman she saw. She considered herself much younger than the wrinkled, grey-haired reflection. When I look in the mirror, I’m not upset, but sometimes I’m surprised by who is looking back at me. Surely that’s my grandmother! But no, she died back in 1967 when she was 70. Yikes! I’m already ten years older than she was. Definitely ancient!

Aging is a fascinating process. Looking back, I view my life as a series of videos, each covering a block of approximately twenty years…

  • Block  I — Childhood, School
  • Block 2 — Marriage, Family
  • Block 3 — Empty Nest, Second Career
  • Block 4 — Retirement

In retrospect, each block was a fulfilling, growing experience as it built on the previous one. I have no idea what this fifth block is going to look like; it’s a video still in the recording process. I know I’m more accepting/forgiving of my shortcomings now, and I have different goals from those of twenty, forty or sixty years ago. But I do still have goals, and I look at them now with a greater sense of urgency since the years ahead don’t stretch out with the same sense of indefiniteness that they once did.

When I think of the two women mentioned above (who were in their late-90s at the time), I hope my attitudes will more often resemble those of the first one when it comes to accepting the challenges my latter years may bring. Then with a continuation of some of the blessings God has granted me in the past plus a bit of good ol’ Irish luck as the future unfolds, perhaps at the end I’ll be able to entitle the final video Block 5 — Goals Reached.

Whatever the case, I’m content to be celebrating the achievement of ‘Lvl 80‘ in this game of Life!

~  ~  ~

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’.

 

Some Things are Beyond My Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about attitude.

~  ~  ~

 

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

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?

~  ~  ~

 

Happy New Year: 2019

This morning’s snowfall didn’t last all that long, but it seemed appropriate for the start of a new year. There’s something fresh and hopeful about a landscape blanketed in pristine softness. It’s akin to beginning a brand new journal, opening a calendar to the first of twelve untouched months, or stepping onto a beach where the outgoing tide has left the sand shiny and smooth, waiting for fresh footprints.

a beginning
filled with
unspoken promises
of new opportunities

Wishing you the exhilaration of a fresh start.

~

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.”

[Jeremiah 29:11]


“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind

and straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal…”
[Philippians 3:13–14)

~  ~  ~