It isn’t a Lily and this isn’t a Valley, but…

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In a shady spot above our creek, not far from the base of a rotting old stump, a fragrant patch of Lily-of-the-Valley is spreading into the moss and ferns.

When we first moved here, I discovered a few struggling plants smothered under the ivy that had been planted as a ground cover. Taking pity on it, I dug up chunks and moved them to the other end of the yard, under the trees in a bare spot where nothing else would grow.

Lily of the Valley

It’s taken several years, but the nodding little white bells have finally formed a  tidy patch that covers the parched clay. I may have unleashed a monster, however, as, now that it’s established, it seems to be spreading a little faster every year.

Since it’s not a Lily, and our property is nothing like a valley, I was curious enough about its name to do some research. I’ve discovered the demure little flower, often considered as a symbol of humility in religious paintings, and sometimes added to wedding bouquets, is not as innocent as one might think.

“All parts of the plant are highly poisonous, including the red berries which may be attractive to children. If ingested—even in small amounts—the plant can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, and a reduced heart rate. Roughly 38 different cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) have been found in the plant.” *

All in all, I’d say it’s totally misnamed!

“The flower is also known as Our Lady’s Tears or Mary’s Tears from Christian legends that say it sprang from the weeping of the Virgin Mary during the crucifixion of Jesus. Other etiologies have its coming into being from Eve’s tears after she was driven with Adam from the Garden of Eden.” *

I’ve never heard of either ‘legend’, but I suppose with a  l o n g  stretch of imagination the tiny white drooping blossoms could resemble tears.

Now that I know more about the plant, it’s tempting to dig it all out again, but I don’t think anything else will grow quite as well in that spot. Fortunately it isn’t a location where either pets or children wander unsupervised, so I’m not too worried about their poisonous aspect, and they are rather attractive in a delicate sort of way.

Naming plants must be a challenging exercise. I wouldn’t like having to dream up so many distinctive names. Coming up with titles for my articles and novels is hard enough for me. Google “choosing titles for stories” and we get over 12,000,000 results. Some articles are helpful — here are two (here and here) that I found interesting — but in the end we still have to do the work to find our own perfect title. At least we don’t have to worry about our choices being poisonous. Then again, some of us write poison pen fiction, don’t we? Oops!

How do you decide what your title(s) will be?

* Wikipedia

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Just another spring morning…

A bit of blue sky, a glimpse of sunshine…yesterday was the perfect day to paint or play, depending on your priorities. For my hubby, it was his morning to begin applying the white paint I had taken several weeks to choose. Our kitchen mini-reno is almost complete. With all the construction done, it’s now paint and fabric time.

He was carefully applying Benjamin Moore’s ‘Vanilla Milkshake’ to the breakfast nook wall when he discovered two adult bears on the lawn below the window. Both were black bears, Ursus americanus, although one was decidedly brown. (Black bears come in various shades of black, cinnamon, brown, even white. If you’re curious, there’s lots more info here.)

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For these guys, it was time to romp through the garden, tromping on shrubs, overturning that pink pot of sedum, and breaking a branch or two. Then they settled in to graze on grass, just as a different visiting bear had done exactly one year ago to the day. (I shared that morning in photos here.)

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We noted the yellow tag in the black bear’s ear, a sign that he had been relocated by conservation officers. It was likely this was the same bear who visited our back deck on a couple of earlier nighttime bird feeder raids. That one wore a yellow ear tag, too.

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On closer inspection of my photos, it looked like there were actually two tags, each with different numbers. Not a good sign for this bear, who apparently is establishing his reputation as a troublemaker.

DSC05032 - Version 2We’ve duly reported the encounter to the conservation office, but living rurally means we expect to see wildlife here occasionally. Last night it was coyotes, a pair behind the house yipping and howling in competition with the chorus of tree frogs.

I’ll take wildlife any day rather than the smog and congestion of city living. Over the four-or-so decades of my hubby’s studies and pastoral service, we’ve lived in both big and small centres — Vancouver (BC), Toronto (ON), Coleville (SK), Creston (BC), Calgary (AB), Port Alberni (BC), Langley (BC), and Maple Ridge (BC) — almost always having our homes on typical residential streets.

In retrospect, we wish we’d discovered country living a lot sooner. It isn’t a lifestyle that suits everyone but the peacefulness and treed setting is a blissful sanctuary for us.

I realize my love of a quiet rural setting has rubbed off on my fictional characters who are all situated somewhere other than in a major city. They all own dogs, too. I guess it’s true that we write a bit of ourselves into our stories, but why not? In our world-building, we’re in control of every aspect of our characters’ lives, so why wouldn’t we let them live or work in places reminiscent of our personal experiences and preference?

Would you label yourself a city-dweller or a country-lover at heart? Where do you situate your characters? (Tell me I’m not the only one who imposes my choices on them! Come to think of it, I’ve even had a character encounter a bear on his property.) 

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An Abundance of Hats

DSC04925Sometimes it’s fun to let your hair down … and put on a hat. The ladies of our church did that last Saturday when they gathered for an annual Women’s Breakfast. Their ‘hat’ theme was evident everywhere.

DSC04914There was nothing terribly significant about the hats — straw, felt, wool, flowered or be-ribboned — they ranged from simple sunhats to Sunday fedoras.

If you arrived without one and felt self-consciously bare-headed, there were extras available.

Every place setting was adorned with a miniature hat to take home, each backed by a magnet for displaying on our fridges as a delightful reminder of our special morning together.

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A devotional time peeked at scripture’s reference to wearing or not wearing hats in church, and the cultural aspect of showing modesty and respect in our use of them.

(Always a difficult-to-interpret, controversial passage: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.”) [1 Corinthians 11:5-7]

DSC04974‘The History of Hats’ was explored, revealing interesting tidbits. I did a little extra research to unearth the following:

  • primitive people pulled skins over their heads as protection from the weather;
  • early Egyptians, Romans and Greeks wore headpieces as a indication of rank;
  • in the late 14th and 15th centuries hats began to be worn as fashion statements;
  • milliners appeared in the 16th and 17th centuries, and
  • by the mid-1800s, millinery was well established on a level similar to haute couture;
  • by 1960 the popularity of hats was declining.

The latter point probably explains why, despite being a pastor’s wife, I don’t own many hats. My daughter-in-law accompanied me to the breakfast, and I told her I still owned two — one is my wedding ‘hat’, a frothy band of white organza with a wispy veil, but I couldn’t remember the other.

Sunday evening, out of curiosity, I went hunting … and discovered I had lied. I own not two but three hats, plus my hubby and I have a collection of western hats I’d completely forgotten. I no longer have the one hat I best remember. It was turquoise with a wide-brim, and exactly matched a favourite maternity dress! Even on my ‘I-feel-so-fat’ days, that outfit always boosted my spirits.

Saturday’s hat theme was totally frivolous but it provided ‘a blast from the past’. Except for the straw sunhat I occasionally wear when gardening, and the hood of my jacket that I sometimes pull up to protect my hair from the rain during a dash to the car, I haven’t worn a hat for probably forty years. Now that I’ve located them, perhaps I shall startle our parishioners one Sunday by wearing one to church.

One thing’s for certain: I’m going to find a reason for my protagonist to wear a hat in my current manuscript. Just because I don’t write historical fiction, doesn’t mean her wardrobe can’t have some significance. (Although at the moment I haven’t a clue what it will be!)

Do you wear hats? Do your characters? Why? (Or why not?)

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A new take on Alice and her Wonderland

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Today is the book birthday for FALLING FOR ALICE, the short story anthology co-authored by DD Shari GreenDenise Jaden, Dawn Dalton, Kitty Keswick, and Cady Vance. All the authors have information on their websites, including Shari. She has links to all the places where FALLING FOR ALICE can be purchased in paperback or as an ebook. You’ll also find details there about her ‘Peace & Music Giveaway‘, available until April 30th.

It’s “a new Alice and a new Wonderland”, all in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 publication, ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Here’s the trailer, too, for a brief but tantalizing taste of what the book is all about:

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Tidbits:

  • Did you know that Lewis Carroll is the pseudonym of English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson?
  • You’ve never read the original ALICE IN WONDERLAND? Really??? Click here for the Gutenberg free online version.

Now go buy a copy of FALLING FOR ALICE and get into celebration mode! I did. :)

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Living the stories (and a winner!)

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“I can’t see the forest for the trees.”  I suppose in this case you’d say you can barely see the lake for all the trees. Until last summer, when the men had to cut down a few of them, the view from our summer cabin was only the portion you see to the right of this photo.

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{Click photo to enlarge)

It’s nice to be able to glimpse a little more of our lake now. We could remove more trees, of course (and the leaning birch may soon remove itself, although it’s been like that for at least a decade), but we aren’t anxious to leave the cabin too exposed.

BlowdownAtCabinOne year when my parents were still alive, they reported that a small tornado had gone through, uprooting many trees in its path. My mom took this photo from across the creek, showing one leaning on our [then] new cabin. Through the years other trees have fallen on and/or near it, but it has managed to remain unscathed. On each visit, as we climb the hill from our hand-hewn bridge, I hold my breath a bit, wondering what we’ll find — wondering what changes the wilderness has brought to it during our absence, if there will be any damage, or if the cabin is even still standing. Touch wood (and there’s a lot of it we could touch), it has survived the passing seasons.

Our cabin is primitive, but it’s a beloved family getaway. I tell people it’s like camping, but with a roof. The building’s gone through several transitions over the years, but it’s still small and rustic, without any city conveniences, and we still need a 4 x 4 to get there.

So, what’s the appeal? Yes, we think the view is pretty spectacular, but there are lots of wilderness lakes in British Columbia. This particular one, however, is the focal point for four generations of family memories (and a fifth generation is poised to begin making more). There’s something about ‘frontiering’ experiences — hauling water by the bucket from the creek, spending evenings playing card games in the weak glow of kerosene and propane lamps, trekking to the outhouse, and cutting the daily requirement of firewood — that adds a meaningful chapter to our family’s story.

I thought of this yesterday, when DD Shari Green shared her reaction to the death of Johnathan Crombie of Anne of Green Gables fame. In her post, “Gilbert Blythe and the power of stories“, she said,

“Judging by my social media feeds … Gilbert Blythe–and by extension, Jonathan Crombie–is absolutely adored by a great many people. And this has me thinking… How is it that fictional characters can come to be so significant in our lives? Why are their fictional sorrows and joys felt in our own hearts? How do their fictional dramas become entwined with our own real-life ones, causing girls to long for red hair and an expansive vocabulary and a boy just like Gil?”

Stories such as Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908) and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (1935), have caused us to fall in love with characters who have endured through generations of readers. The account of their lives fills us with nostalgia. The power of stories is quite remarkable, but it’s most effective when it draws on emotions and relatable memories.

I’ve never given it much thought, but that rough little cabin is the setting for a portion of our family’s life story. Some of it is on paper, but most is held in our collective memory. Whether written down or not, each passing year and every new generation adds another chapter.

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Do you have places or events that play a significant role in your family’s story?

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As promised in Friday’s post, to help celebrate my 1,000th post, I’m giving away a $20 gift certificate for either Amazon or Starbuck’s. The name drawn at midnight was … ta-da …

**  JENN HUBBARD  **

Congratulations, Jenn, and thanks for helping me celebrate. I’ll be in touch by e-mail to find out which certificate you’d prefer.

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1,000 and still counting!

1000PostsWordPress tells me this is my 1,000th post. There are times when I wonder what you expect to find here when you visit, and whether you leave satisfied or disappointed. The truth is, when I write, I rarely worry about what readers want. Words spill out of my brain and spatter onto the page. If something is produced that appeals, that’s a good thing. If it falls flat, like a stone into a mud puddle, that’s okay, too. At least the words are out of my head and I’m free to move on to explore other ideas. You aren’t obliged to stick around either. But after Monday’s post, I’ve continued to think about my online identity and my purpose here. I never promised to produce brilliant treaties on meaningful topics. My mental meanderings on life and writing really do wander all over the place, and quite honestly, I’m not sure why you’d want to read any of them. Yet, since the summer of 2008 and after nearly eighty-two months in this space, you’re still turning up here, and so am I! It’s a comfortable place for me — a little like my family room, where I can curl up on the couch in front of the fireplace with the afghan and journal on my lap, and share anything that pops into my mind. The trouble is, some days not a lot of popping happens. On those occasions I clip my pen to the edge of the page, reach for my mug of coffee (sometimes it’s chai tea or a Diet Coke), lean back into the cushions and let the flames mesmerize me. IMGP6757_2 There isn’t always a story to be told … at least, not a specific one. Not one of significance or with an analogy and application. Sometimes there is, but not always. Today is one of those days. Today I’m simply celebrating one thousand posts and you. Thank you for being here and sharing this milestone with me.  You make it all worthwhile.

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To mark the occasion and also help express my thanks, I’m giving away a $20 Amazon or Starbucks gift certificate (your choice). I’ll draw a name at random from among those of you who leave a comment here between now and midnight Sunday (11:59 p.m. April 19th). I know not all of you who stop by here like to leave comments, but it’s the only fair way I can think of to choose someone. Check Monday’s post for announcement of the winner.

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“… I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you.” [Romans 1:8]

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Who Am I?

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Many years ago there used to be a television game show of that name — “Who Am I?” — where contestants had to guess which guest was telling the truth about their profession. Two guests lied; one was required to be truthful. There is a different series, “Who Do You Think You Are?“, currently airing, where celebrities journey to trace their family roots.

I was reminded of these programs last week when I came across two articles posted on social media that involved personal identity. In order to get to my point I need to share a few excerpts.

In one article, Michelle de Rusha wrote about the hard work of growing authentic relationships online.

“I think one of the hardest parts about being a writer, and specifically a memoirist, is that it’s often challenging to know where to draw the line, how much to tell, how much of myself and my private life to reveal…Sometimes I avoid writing about [certain] topics because they are controversial, and I like controversy about as much as I like flossing my teeth, which is to say, not at all.

“On the other hand, sometimes I don’t write about [other] topics because I’m afraid you won’t like me, or will be disappointed in me, or will see me differently or less-than. I’m a people-pleaser at heart; I don’t like to ruffle feathers or disappoint.

“And sometimes I don’t write about certain topics because I’m afraid they don’t fit who I think you think I am. Does that make sense? Take time to read that sentence again, because it’s a bit convoluted.

“Part of this disconnect is simply a natural by-product of writing publicly. The truth is, you can’t know every facet of who I am just by reading what I write here … this blog and my memoir, even though they are about me, aren’t me entirely. They don’t fully represent me; they don’t reflect every facet of my personality, who I am inside and out. Part of that is because I have presented myself in a certain way, not to be deceptive, but simply because that’s what happens, even in in-person communication. And part of that is because you have interpreted me and defined me in certain ways according to who you are and what you believe.”

In the other article entitled ‘Goodbye, Facebook’, LL Barkat compares her sustained online presence to being at a constant party.

“What would it look like to attend a party for years? The music never off. Always the same snacks. No room of one’s own. Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter. And always the ready smile, because that’s what we do at parties… The day I lost my will to speak, I realized I was tired. I have been at a party for years. You could say the cause of this fatigue was all of digital life. But you would be wrong. If you said, “Facebook?” I would say I have been doing an experiment.

“Here is the thing. Facebook is “push” technology. Things keep popping up without you asking, and the algorithms pretend to take your wants into account, but you really have virtually no control. What’s more, you are connected (semantically) to “friends,” not interests, and friends put all kinds of things out there at all hours of the day regardless of your mood and intentions at any given moment, and because they are linguistically labeled as “friends” and not “people I follow,” there is a subtle emotional obligation that comes when these posts pop up, saying whatever these posts might say.

“All the while, you are swinging from extreme to extreme. Laugh! Cry! (Someone died. Someone just said the damnedest thing. Oh, that’s cute. OMG, carnage. Or, here comes a carnal clip of something you hadn’t wanted to see) … and it’s confusing, but you keep … on … eating, because these are friends and you are at a party, after all.

Respond. Respond. Respond. And? Express. The party has trained us (or have I trained myself?) to lay out the details of our experiences and our thoughts, in an unnatural constancy, until we have given over much of our inner life to the flat sameness of a digital wall.”

She suddenly stopped talking; her voice became mute. She’s said goodbye to Facebook, perhaps permanently, perhaps not. She may come back once a month “for a day of party-going”, but first she needs to overcome her social media exhaustion. 

Both authors are dabbling in the quagmire of what determines an authentic online identity and I can relate to their struggle. None of us can be positive that what we know of our cyber-acquaintances, or what they know of us, reflects the reality. The dilemma is, does it matter?

I think it does because in our effort to utilize social media to expand and maintain communication, the loss of a unique personal identity is becoming a byproduct. Online, we become who we want people to think we are. Consciously or unconsciously, we display snippets of positive reality for public consumption while we abstain from revealing anything that might adversely reflect on our persona.

Keeping up pretenses is exhausting. Combined with the addictiveness of the Internet, it’s no wonder digital communication is affecting us.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Internet is a fabulous tool for communication and professional promotion. But, more and more, I’m coming to believe it’s also leading us into an identity crisis. We can’t seem to function in the everyday — or don’t feel complete — unless we’re logged into our digital world. That can’t be a good thing!

We’re enriched by our cyber relationships, but our continuous connection is depleting the inventory of who we are.

When my late Aunt Norma was establishing her blog, she went through an exercise to provide a blurb for her ‘About Me‘ page, setting out a list of what she felt defined her identity. We might all do well to create such a list, and then keep it handy for reference.

Do you know who you are?

If you’re inclined to take inventory, I’d love it if you’d share your list.

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