Springtime thoughts overshadowed by COVID-19

My last post was exactly one month ago. At that time the new coronavirus hadn’t yet received a name as the world watched it gain hold in China. On January 30 the World Health Organization declared the outbreak to be a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’. For a time, we were lulled into believing that our excellent Canadian health care system would ensure that, with a few normal precautions, we wouldn’t need to worry too much about it. We were “low risk”, they said. “Just wash your hands and don’t touch your face,” they said.

Then we heard of the cluster of confirmed cases just across the border from us, in Kirkland, Washington. The subsequent deaths. The outbreak in Ontario. Confirmed cases in BC. The first Canadian death in BC.

As Canadians watched this new respiratory infection, now named COVID-19, spread rapidly throughout the world, it became obvious our risk of catching it was no longer low. This morning there were 240,589 cases worldwide, 801 of them in Canada, with 231 of those right here in BC. The numbers change every hour.

Every focus right now is on COVID-19. We are urged to practice social-distancing, sneeze or cough into the elbow, wash hands frequently for 20-seconds, don’t touch eyes, nose or mouth, and self-monitor for signs of illness. All public events are cancelled. Schools are closed. With the exception of essential services, buildings and businesses have shut down. Non-essential cross border travel between Canada and the USA is prohibited. Television carries constant updates, interviews and ‘breaking news’ broadcasts from the Prime Minister, the Premier, the Minister of Health. It’s hard to think of anything else. We are daily reminded to “take good care of yourself, and of each other.” [Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC Provincial Health Officer]

This past Tuesday came and went. For the first time since beginning this blog in 2008, I didn’t think of writing a St. Patrick’s Day post. I didn’t think of St. Patrick’s Day until it was almost over. I didn’t even wear anything green! Woahhh!

And now it’s spring; or it will be this evening. I absolutely refuse to let its arrival go undocumented. It’s a big deal, especially this year. We all need the sense of hope and renewal that accompanies this particular season.

Also, Lent began on March 1st — “a time of self-examination, of contemplation and of returning to God” as we move toward Easter. It shouldn’t be overshadowed by all the negativity that accompanies this virus outbreak…but it could be.

While our congregation has currently suspended Sunday services and all midweek groups, the work of the church continues. Our minister stays in contact with phone calls and emails, providing resources for individuals and families.

One of our Lenten activities has been PRESBYTERIANS READ, the reading of NT Wright’s book, LENT FOR EVERYONE. Some folks are reading it by themselves, others in weekly study groups (at least, they were until the groups had to disband), and still others are interacting in a cyber forum.

N.T. Wright invites readers to explore the truth (that “the God of heaven and earth was coming to earth to establish his sovereign saving rule”) through Matthew’s telling of the gospel story. Through close readings of the lectionary texts for each day during Lent, Wright draws us into the biblical scenes as they unfolded, revealing more and more about what it means that Jesus is King and Lord, not just ‘in heaven’ but on earth as well.

At the beginning of Lent we received bookmarks with these scripture readings, so with or without Wright’s book in hand, we can continue exploring them on our own.

I don’t know about you, but I need this daily reminder that despite the turmoil in our world, God is still in control. From the beginning of time he has had a plan for ME. He loves and cares for each one of us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.
[Jeremiah 29:11]
On this first day of a new season, I’m trying to ignore all the COVID-19 hoopla and instead, rejoice that so far, I and my loved ones are still healthy; that regardless of the worries and inconveniences of this time, God’s love is unending, his mercies are available to me fresh every morning; and together we will prevail.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is his faithfulness.
[Lamentations 3:22-23]
~  ~  ~

 

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’)

~ ~ ~

Ornaments or Decorations or Neither?

A few days ago a writing friend of mine blogged about Christmas Ornaments. She said she had been asked to bring a Christmas ornament to a party and tell the story of the ornament and why it was special to her. It wasn’t really her thing, she said, and she hadn’t planned to take part. Then a box arrived from her sister and inside were “five small prettily wrapped gifts—Christmas ornaments for [her] first tree and [her] first Christmas in [her] first house.” Each ornament was special.

(Click photo twice to enlarge detail)

It was a loving and meaningful gesture by her sister and as she displayed and explained the significance of each ornament, I was reminded of the ones our family has accumulated through the years … only I’m not sure what they should be called.

Ornament: a thing used to make something look more attractive but usually having no practical purpose, especially a small object such as a figurine.

Decoration: the process or art of decorating or adorning something.

Memento: an object kept as a reminder or souvenir of a person or event.

Just below the centre of this photo, nestled among the branches, you can see a small cross. (It looks like it’s comprised of little jingle bells strung together, but they don’t make noise.) My parents passed it along to me the year my first child was born, with the reminder that it had been on every tree since my first Christmas. Not shown is another small circle of well worn nylon bristles with the picture of an angel affixed to the centre.  It has also been on every tree since my birth.

Yes, it makes the tree more attractive but has no practical purpose. Yes, it helps adorn the tree. Yes, it’s a special reminder of my first Christmas. It’s all of the above and yet it’s more.

My parents weren’t religious. I’m sure they believed there was a god, but he played no role in their lives. We didn’t attend church or say grace before meals. Christmas wasn’t thought of as a holy holiday but was traditionally a celebration of friends and family…of visiting, eating, singing and gift giving. So I’m not sure what prompted them to choose a cross and an angel to commemorate the first Christmas of their only child.

I’m glad they did, because it’s meaningful to me, but I wish I’d asked them about their motivation when I had the opportunity. At this point in my life it waits out the months between Decembers well padded in a box labelled as ‘Heritage Ornaments’, along with others given to me from my grandmother’s tree–a fragile red teapot, two glass birds and a tiny brass bell. I treasure them for the memories they evoke of the people we celebrated with…my parents and grandparents.

The cross wasn’t a thing of beauty. At some point many years ago the wire holding the ‘bells’ together broke and the silvering began peeling off. My hubby thoughtfully restrung them and bought a can of silver paint so we could refurbish it. I sprinkled silver glitter on the wet paint, and, while it was an amateur job, to this day it continues to shimmer in the lights on my eightieth Christmas tree.

This same tree marks our sixtieth year together. That makes it pretty special, too, although earlier this year while on a cruise to Alaska I bought a little ornament to specifically mark that occasion. Looking at it, I’m inclined to say that these are neither ornaments nor decorations, but are mementos. What do you say?

Do you have holiday decorations / ornaments / mementos that are especially meaningful to you? I’d love to hear about them.

~  ~  ~

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)

~  ~  ~

I am reminded of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne…

This afternoon I discovered the garden’s chilly white blanket has been receding just enough to reveal spring flowers I thought might not have survived the frigid month just passed. There they were: a bedraggled patch or two of sweet nodding snowdrops and two golden crocuses. They’ve fired a hope that there are more just waiting to be uncovered.

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

This is one of those days.

~

My reading project for the month of March is the collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ books. I fear I’m never going to finish all of them because I’m dawdling through their delights.

Anne Shirley’s ecstatic but sometimes relentless descriptions evoke memories of Marilla’s impatience, but at the same time they provide a vision of the wonders we grown ups too often miss. Montgomery gives us a second chance, writing a view of life through Anne’s eyes. It reminds me that my goal as a writer is to do the same — to transport readers into the world of my unique characters. If only I could do that as well as Lucy Maud!

“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more… though I know that IS the noblest ambition… but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me… to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

You have, Anne; you have.

~

(Anne’s ‘gift of gab’ also prompts me to wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.)

Mindless Deliberations

I lost February. I lost it right after the first snowfall on February 3rd when the temperature dropped below freezing, and stayed there.

Meteorologists proclaimed this February our coldest on record, but in all fairness to Real Winter enthusiasts, we have to remember we’re talking about the BC southwest coast. This is not Ontario. Where I live, the temperature never quite made it down to -10°C and the most snow we had on the ground at any one time was 20 cm. (For those of you who prefer the other version, that’s 14°F  and 8 inches.) But my hubby has been able to mow the lawns during some Februarys, so this one was definitely a shock to our systems.

Of course, in mid-February our Canadian federal politics leapt into the spotlight and after repeated ‘explosive’ events* (the media’s chosen buzz word for them, not mine), my brain began withdrawing, so it’s no wonder I became oblivious to the passing days.

It was today, when I belatedly turned the calendar page and discovered March, that I realized February had gone missing. Somewhere, hiding in its wings, were three family birthdays and the arrival of a great-grandlittle. In fact, there was much busy-ness on many fronts, but apparently nothing that I consciously attributed to February.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not unhappy to see March. I’ve had it with winter, and am more than ready for Spring! It just troubles me that I wasn’t aware my brain had gone on hiatus. Psychology Today says that, like driving on a familiar route may result in getting home with little-to-no memory of the trip, “being on autopilot is likely to happen during any activity that you can perform automatically. By definition, automatic activities are those that require little in the way of conscious guidance.”** There were several things I probably did on autopilot during February, but recognizing that isn’t going to bring the month back. Only two months into 2019 and it’s already shorter than it’s meant to be.

I don’t lose things very often. I’m pretty good about remembering appointments, too. But time? Time slips away at an ever-increasing speed and I have no idea where it goes. If I’m functioning on autopilot next time you see me, give me a knock on the noggin and make me pay attention. I can’t afford to lose March. February’s loss was bad enough.

~

 

* Referring to the resignation and pushback from Jody Wilson-Raybould over SNC-Lavalin; the resignation of her friend and fellow MP Jane Philpott; and the earlier decision of MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes not to run in the next election — all three, as the National Post says, “remarkable, accomplished women, one black, one Indigenous, one a white doctor from Markham, Ontario, who were part of our self-appointed feminist prime minister’s obsession with gender balance. They were among the new people invited in, but expected to play by all the old rules. For a while, they appeared to thrive in the super-heated, high-pressure world of federal politics, until they didn’t.

** https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/mental-mishaps/201404/the-dangers-going-autopilot

~  ~  ~

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)

~  ~  ~

 

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.

 

~ ~ ~