Talking About Aging

This is the fourth year in a row that my friend Diana Trautwein has taken up October’s 31 Day Writing Challenge. She says, “First was 31 Days in Which I Am Being Saved by Beauty (2012), then there were 31 Days of Giving Permission (2013), and last year, it was 31 Days of Looking for the Little.


This year the theme is 31 Days of Aging Gracefully. I haven’t joined her in the writing, but I delight in reading her words. Diana is a gracious lady, full of wisdom and deep faith. She is also a gifted communicator.

Signature-Headshot-Left-2225x270If you read the Bio on her blog, you’ll discover that for over twenty years she was a stay-at-home mom, then owned a small floral business for seven years. In mid-life she went to seminary, answered a call to pastoral ministry, and finally retired at the end of 2010 after seventeen years in two churches. At present she is a certified spiritual director and writer.

She says she’s trying to be a better writer, “to tell the stories God has written in [her] life.” I don’t know how much better she can get. She already writes with honesty and a clarity that sometimes leaves me breathless. For anyone facing or contemplating increasing age (and isn’t that all of us?), I highly recommend bookmarking Diana’s blog, Just Wondering, and following her October daily entries as she shares her very personal reflections on this sensitive topic.


Diana says, “This is a year of facing into reality for me. I turned 70 in January, I landed in the hospital in February and again, at the end of April. I traveled to Kauai in July with our entire clan to celebrate FIFTY years of marriage, and in August, my husband and I moved, downsizing after 18 years in a much-loved larger home with a huge yard. Yeah, it was time. It IS time.” [To continue reading, please click the October 1st link:

October 1 — The 31-day Write
October 2 — Living In Gratitude
October 3 — Slowing Down

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Weeds and plants in writing



This shot of wild yarrow, taken from the same location as the rainbow in my previous post, captured just one little patch of several around our cabin. Given how many patches there were, I’m surprised none made it into the bouquet of wildflowers picked for me by my granddaughters on my birthday. But you can see there was no lack of other flowers for them to choose from.

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It always amazes me that there are so many different kinds, surviving in some of the harshest locations. Just a couple days ago, my hubby commented that despite it being late September, during his daily walk he counted six different varieties growing in the ditches and gravel shoulders of the road.

I love wildflowers! They’re essentially weeds, but what’s not to love about them? They’re hardy, colourful and prolific.

A few years ago I bought two perennial Yarrow plants from our local nursery. I was sure they would do well in our country-style garden, but I was wrong. They petered out after one season, and I was so disappointed.

During the garden bed rejuvenation project at my daughter’s home earlier this month, one of the few plants doing well was a pink Yarrow, and I assumed she wanted it rescued and transplanted.  Not so. She said it wasn’t a thing of beauty — she considered it to be no better than a weed, flowering sporadically and flopping out over the pathway.


I would happily have salvaged it to bring home to my own garden, but we decided that once it was dug out, it wouldn’t likely stay alive for two more weeks in the summer heat and survive being transported in the back of our truck for 800+ kilometres. ::sigh:: So it ended up on the compost heap. It might have been a case of one person’s trash being another person’s treasure, but it didn’t work out.

Not only is there truth in that proverb, it’s also applicable to our writing. What one person deems a well written story may well be rejected by another. Differing opinions don’t change its quality, but might well determine its destination. When faced by endless roadblocks, sometimes it’s worth considering if it might be time to change direction.

Have you ever taken a new direction with your writing? How did it work out? 

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The not-so-Common Loon

At one time it would prickle the back of my neck — an eerie wail from out of the dark somewhere on the lake. Now it’s the first thing I listen for each time we arrive. The call of our Loons.


Our rustic little cabin is situated on a very small unpopulated lake in BC’s Cariboo country. Loons are territorial, and in the sixty-plus years of my summer and autumn visits, only once have I seen more than the one pair on the lake. That was decades ago, and I wondered at the time if the other pair were adults or juveniles, but they were never close enough for a photo, even with my zoom lens. Every year since then there have been just these two, piercing the lake’s solitude with their haunting calls.

Until this summer. One evening early in August I heard the familiar wails and warbles … a clamouring of assorted calls coming from the creek mouth just below our cabin. Thinking there might be a chance of some closer photos, I crept down the path to the shore just in time to see a whole group of loons moving out onto the lake — six of them!

I apologize for the shaky video, but I was shaking myself!

One seemed to be a slightly different colour, but the rest were alike, and I wondered once again if some were juveniles. Once away from the creek mouth, they drifted, circled and flapped, their various tremolo and yodelling sounds suggesting concern over an intruder. Then they slowly paired off and dispersed. I didn’t see them together again.


There’s a mystique associated with loons. They are often featured in First Nations myths and art, and associated with legends of the North. I have a modest collection of them in assorted forms that range from a switch plate cover to candle holders, paintings, and sculptures, including a wood carving. They intrigue me!

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I’ve learned a number of facts about them:

  • they are larger and longer-bodied than a Mallard Duck, but smaller and shorter-necked than a Canada Goose;
  • unlike most avians, they have solid bones rather than hollow ones, which assist them in diving and staying as deep as sixty metres underwater for several minutes;
  • because of the placement of their legs far back on their bodies, they are clumsy on land but efficient in water and air;
  • they require a relatively long distance to gain momentum when taking off, and when landing will skim the surface on their bellies to slow down;
  • during migration they may fly for hundreds of kilometres at up to 120 kilometres per hour;
  • they produce a variety of vocalizations, but there are four main types of calls: the tremolo, the yodel, the wail, and the hoot. Each one communicates a distinct message.

I could get carried away with Loon trivia, but I’d better not. If you’d like to know more, Living Bird Magazine has a good article on loons reprinted on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: Spirit of the North, the Common Loon. The Cornell site also has additional information.

What does this have to do with my writing? Not much, except perhaps to point out that when doing research for a story, I need to put boundaries on the time I spend doing it! Interesting tidbits can lead to more and more online exploration, until I’ve spent too many hours and collected far more information than I need.

How about you? Are you a disciplined researcher, or do you sometimes get lost in the collection of data, too?


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(Judging by the grey bill, a juvenile Common Loon … I think!)

I have miles to go…


(Consider clicking on photos for a larger view.)

In round numbers, we drove about 500 miles on a weekend in mid-July, then 600 more on a round trip to our Cariboo cabin in early August, and another 1000 to the Kootenays and back in the past couple weeks. I am always awestruck by the seemingly endless miles of wilderness in our province, and how long it takes to get anywhere.


Although he was speaking of a winter landscape, Robert Frost said it well:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.
It takes time and effort to travel any major distance, whether it’s a journey by car or by pen. Wherever we’re going, we must stay the course or we’ll never reach our destination.
A novel of 90,000 words may take one writer only a few weeks, and another, several years. The speed doesn’t matter as much as the consistency of effort. (There’s a lesson for all of us in the story of the tortoise and the hare.)
As mentioned in my previous post, I abandoned the journey on a short story this month, not so much because I wasn’t enjoying the writing, but more because the effort lacked purpose. Not to say I won’t ever finish the story. One day I might, but I’ll need a better reason than to meet the deadline for a contest of dubious value to me.
I want to feel passion for a story — a yearning to record and share its characters and their message. I want to immerse myself in the creation of words that will transport me into and through their world. A novel-in-progress is beckoning me to put aside less challenging distractions and get back to work.
A journey awaits.
I’m curious. What motivates you to write?
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Is it Discipline or Discouragement?


When used correctly, crates and exercise pens are very handy tools for dog training. Like a child’s playpen, they can be overused, or used for the wrong reasons, but they are invaluable when it comes to having a safe place to contain a puppy and avoid the havoc he could wreak when left untended.


Yes, he’d rather be outside romping with the children, tromping unfettered through the gardens, or chasing birds through the meadow and scampering down the driveway to the road, but for his safety and my sanity he can’t be allowed that kind of freedom.

As wistful as he may look in these photos, he doesn’t spend all of his confinement grumbling about it.


He snoozes, plays, and observes what’s going on — and dances with anticipation when one of us approaches with his leash. That means there’s a training time coming, complete with praise and snacks, and followed by a walk with opportunities for lots of exploration. It’s all part of the discipline associated with a puppy’s education (and in the early stages, of housebreaking).

I was writing a short story the afternoon I stopped to take these inside photos of our new puppy. When I later reviewed one of the shots, his expression seemed like one of reprimand. “How come you won’t take me outside if you’re not really working?”


Why was I so easily distracted? Was it lack of discipline or something else? I have to admit it was more a matter of discouragement. I have three pieces to write this summer, each with a deadline. The one with the closest deadline is for a contest I enter every year, and it’s giving me the most trouble.

I’ve had a breakthrough, though. I recalled the definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein — that it’s doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. While my early entries in this particular contest were shortlisted a few times, they never won, and more recently they haven’t caught anyone’s attention. The same two people have been judging the fiction category every year for more than a decade, and I’ve realized that if they haven’t rewarded my writing before, it’s probably ‘insane’ to think they ever will. The contest is sponsored by a very reputable group and there’s great prize money, but no feedback is provided, no critique. You either win, or you don’t. I don’t, and I’ve finally concluded I’m wasting my time, energy and entry fees!

The revelation is freeing. I finished a different article and submitted it today, well ahead of when I’d planned. The remaining one is drafted and I have a month to work on its edits. I have time to go romp with the dog! Woo hoo! So much for my self-discipline. :)


How do you view writing contests? Do you enter many? Have you ever won?

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Labouring on Labour Day

The internet reminds us that traditionally, “Labour Day was an occasion to campaign for and celebrate workers’ rights during parades and picnics organized by trade unions.”

At my daughter’s home, however, there’s been a whole week of labouring. A new wood stove was installed, a fence is under construction, there was painting to do, and firewood to cut.


Labour Day itself became a time to labour in her garden.


The existing much-too-narrow fifteen inch strip of flower bed that edged a stepping-stone-and-ornamental-gravel path beside the garage was an annoyance. Most plants didn’t do well in the limited space against the foundation, and those that survived spilled over into the walkway.

We put our imaginations to work and decided that the cement stepping stones would be better sunk into the adjacent grass. Then one set of the wide wooden beams could be removed, leaving space for a generous garden bed.


Initially it sounded like a relatively simple task, but my hubby is quick to point out that every job I think up for him ends up requiring more time, energy and money than we expect. This one became a major endeavour. Since there were no existing evergreen shrubs, all the plants were removed in favour of a more seasonally balanced design, and the ornamental rock was raked out and collected for use in a different location.

The various aspects of the job took the combined effort of four of us! My hubby relocated the pavers; our son-in-law used his chain saw on the discarded wooden ties to cut them down into end pieces for the new bed; and both men worked for hours to lever huge rocks out, one of which was retained for decorative use in the final landscape.


Then it was time to haul in a truck-‘n-trailer load of topsoil and shovel it into the new bed, and make another side trip with quad and garden trailer to add a load of compost — both to be mixed together with a rototiller and raked smooth. And finally it was time for daughter and I to make a trip to the nursery to select suitable plants for this Hardiness Zone 3 location, followed by an afternoon of planting. There is still a top dressing of bark mulch to be added.


I suppose I should have expected the job to be more than a quick dig-and-plant event, but as a minimally knowledgeable gardener, I think I approached it in much the same way as a novice writer tackles a first novel. On the surface it sounds easy — just find an idea, do a bit of planning and plunk the words on a page until the job is done.

Some people may be ‘natural’ gardeners or storytellers, but I now have much more respect for the professionals who work full time to make a successful career with what they do.

My Labour Day job isn’t done yet. Excuse me while I go water the new plants. Then I’ll be heading for the bottle of Tylenol. :)


Do you enjoy planning and planting a landscape, or are you more of a plunk and putter kind of gardener?

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Time to tend the daisies

Always have something beautiful in sight,
even if it’s just a daisy in a jelly glass.

[H. Jackson Brown, Jr.]



No daisies in jelly glasses adorn my desk, but there are several clumps in the garden, braving a renewed blast of summery heat.

On this last day of July I’m balanced on tiptoe, peering into August and realizing that summer is slipping away and there’s still so much I want to fit into my days before fall schedules resume. There’s writing to do and reading to catch up on, a puppy to play with (I’ve renamed him ‘Wild Child’!), and family gatherings to enjoy.

I’m devoting all of August to such things, so you won’t see me here on the blog or on Facebook very often. I’ll be picking lots of daisies and smelling the roses. :)

However you’re spending your summer, I hope it’s doing the things you like best — and don’t forget to always keep something beautiful in sight!


Daisies are like sunshine to the ground.”

[Drew Barrymore]

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