Monday, December 11, 2017

So This is Christmas

Yesterday my friend Kathy and I went to a concert at Elmhurst Outdoors. What a perfect afternoon it was for the event.The snow cover framed the lodge which was decorated beautifully. Inside the place was cozy and welcoming. Mike Biggar , Sandy MacKay, Grant Heckman and Jessica Rhaye entertained for two and a half hours and it was wonderful. The afternoon show had sold out leading them to offer another show at 6:00. I am sure that show was lovely as well. Mike Biggar delivered an energetic and funny performance highlighting his immense talent and musicality. Jessica Rhaye's crystal clear voice is delightful.Mike talked about the spectrum of Christmas music lovers from the haters to the can't get enough-ers. Those who want Christmas music from mid November to well into the new year, to those who tolerate it on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I am somewhere in between. I hate that the music comes to an abrupt halt and those days right after Christmas day it seems everyone has already forgotten about Chritmas.I have my favorites and I do enjoy most of it.Each song they offered yesterday had a quality of its own and I lost myself in the music. Then they introduced the Christmas song I dread hearing depending on where I am and how able I am to process the depth of the song's meaning for me. Sometimes it hits me when I'm not expecting it and it always brings a jolt of pain and nostalgia. I love it and treasure it and dread it at the same time. The first few measures of it bring me right to the heart of what this song is for me. So this is Christmas...Tears fill my eyes as I type those words. I instantly return to the Christmas Eve when Zac changed the lines in John Lennon's song. I will never hear that song without hearing my son singing along. It was Burton's traditional Christmas Eve run. He had been doing that run for many years beginning when Zac was a toddler and his dad took him along. First stop Sussex for Burton to do his last minute shopping. Later as Zac got older Zac would also buy presents for me and for his siblings. A few years later Megan and Chapin tagged along and did their shopping. Then a stop at Connell's ,then at Mike's for his Christmas Eve birthday spread and open house.Later a stop to see the Barrett's was always made. The run was and still is a tradition entrenched and honored. Both Chapin and Caleb look forward to driving their Dad on that day and sometimes count on it for their last minute shopping.But back to the particular day Zac changed the words to the ones that still echo in my head and heart. Caleb was just over one year old. I had decided I was not staying home but was coming along for the 'run'. All four kids, Burton and I piled into the Jimmy.I prepared two bottles for Caleb filling them with milk from our milk cow.Anyone that knows me knows I don't have a keen sense of smell. Had someone else filled those bottles they may have prevented what happened later.Off we went. Right away Caleb devoured his first bottle. Just before Norton he seemed fussy and still hungry. I gave him his second bottle. Seconds after finishing that one Caleb projectile vomited managing to hit each one of his siblings with a shower of sour milk.A quick stop was made at the Norton store where Burton ran in to buy paper towel. I stripped Caleb down to his diaper and threw away his clothes.The kids cleaned themselves as best they could and off and we headed to Sussex to buy Caleb a new outfit. Sometime along the way Zac began singing So this is Christmas and what have we done. We brought our mother with us and its not very fun.For years afterwards that was Zac's Christmas song and I was seldom(or possibly never)invited on the run. So as Mike , Jessica, Sandy and Grant belted out that song and as the crowd sang along to the chorus I held on tightly to that memory.The world just acknowledged the anniversary of John Lennon's death and that song of course is part of the legacy he left. It is also a part of the lasting legacy Zac left in this family.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Some Snow and Christmas Decorating

Let it Snow!I say that knowing I am going nowhere today. I am so happy to be staying home and getting down to the job of decorating for Christmas. I do not mind that job at all . In fact I consider it a gift to find myself at this time of year again. Oh how quickly the years go by. This time three years ago I was flying home from Meg's . Leonard had died in the early morning after about six weeks with us . He had arrived in October choosing to spend his last days back in NB near family and friends. Thirty nine years ago I was still in the hospital with my newborn baby . Over the years the Empty Stocking Fund broadcast was always the day I would pull out all the decorations and get down to the work of decorating. It really does seem like a short time ago I was just putting them all away .I have many treasured decorations. I treasure the Willow tree nativity set Chapin and Brianne gave me over the years and I always set it up in the den. I love pulling from the large Rubbermaid container each item that has a special value and place.Last year we went to Meg and Cody's Christmas day so I put up a simpler version of a tree. This year we are celebrating Christmas at home with a January visit to Alberta so there will be a big tree and that job is for another day. Toady I will vacuum and dust. I will put away the year round objects and replace them with the treasures of Christmas. I will accept the season as a gift and a privilege not a hardship or nuisance. We live with such bounty and blessing. We have our health and our wellness and love of family and friends. If it snows it will just add to the beauty of the season. Snow will cover the starkness and drabness of November and each twinkling snowflake will greet the season. Just as seasons add up to a year and years become decades each Christmas season adds to the memories and victories of the season past. I am attempting to clean and purge this month. The chaos of a major bathroom renovation has led me to want some order in the mess and I am tackling every room , every closet, drawer and cupboard. The other day I asked Burton to dismantle my Kenmore sewing machine so I could put it out for the garbage truck. I thought long and hard about this. The sewing machine has not worked for a long time. I had it fixed once years ago but it never really worked well again. I can not remember the last time I tried to sew with it. As I was carrying it downstairs Caleb asked me how I could throw it away. "Doesn't it have sentimental value?" Yes it certainly does. My dad bought me that sewing machine when I was in grade seven. My mother thought it was an extravagance and frowned on his purchase. She thought I would never sew. I made her a dress the following year and completely surprised her on Christmas morning. I sewed a lot on that machine. But that sewing machine is not my Father's love . My Father's love was and is so much more and throwing it away does not diminish the love he has for me, the faith he has in me and the bond of our relationship.So I will go through the boxes and once again place all the treasures of Christmas in our home. I will celebrate the season of 2017 with all its blessings, its challenges ,its worries and its hopes. The snow will fall, the lights will twinkle and the days will pass and I will take comfort and joy in it all.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Trip to Fredericton

On Saturday I took a trip to Fredericton. As I drove there I thought about the reasons I always feel good about making that trip. I lived in Fredericton from grade 2 to grade 5. 619 Regent St. is a huge and happy part of my childhood memories. I was not happy to move away. I returned to Fredericton to attend St. Thomas University. This was a huge and happy part of a stage in my life I was very proud of. I had been a big underachiever in high school and despite my desire to be a teacher it hadn't been enough to motivate me to do better. But somehow I pulled it together and found the will to make that dream come true. My years at St Thomas were wonderful. I worked full time and managed to work toward my first degree. Then I took a small break and got married and got pregnant with my first child. With a nine month old Zachary I returned to Fredericton (Burtt's Corner actually) and back to St. Thomas to get my education degree.Two summers in the 90's I traveled to UNB and participated in the Maritime Writers Workshop . Both experiences were very memorable for me and gave me the confidence to keep believing I was a writer.For one of those workshops I stayed with my friend Barb, her husband and two little girls who referred to me as Soup. What a wonderful week that was. Every morning I would walk from their house to the university and I was right back to the little girl I'd been walking and biking those streets with friends.I weaved those memories into the story I wrote of 1960's Fredericton in The Sewing Basket. Years later Fredericton became the place I would go to visit my daughter who also attended St. Thomas.She introduced me to a dish at the Diplomat that always calls me back.So on Saturday's trip I felt all those positive Fredericton feelings. I have gone several times to sign my latest book at the Fredericton Chapters. I have often seen Amy who is a strong connection to Zac and always fills me with joy as I see her little family and her smiling face.I meet readers who I've met before and always enjoy signings there. Saturday was no exception. Amy wasn't able to fit a trip to the store into her day but I met Kim a writer with her own story to tell and her own path to walk toward publication. I met Heather, an excited reader anxious to get the new book who after digging a little bit turned out to be the daughter of the salesman who sold me three of my Toyotas. I met Jennifer who was celebrating her 40th birthday shopping with her sister. She stopped and took the time to connect with me and bought three books. Her age and December birthday was a connection to Zac I felt so strongly and she was so kind.Natalie , a neighbor and her two daughters were shopping in Fredericton and stopped by to see me. She had come to my house earlier that morning to buy a copy of Maple Sugar pie for her daughter but took the time to come and support me. We talked and laughed and I so enjoyed the minutes they took from their shopping time.Then a woman came in looking vaguely familiar and I knew right away there was a connection of some kind. The connection turned out to be a previous meeting in which she had bought a book which led her to read all the books and be anxious to buy Maple Sugar Pie. She reads my blog regularly and she was so generous and kind in her praise and love for my work. That was definitely the icing on a already delicious cake. The cookies however were not the hit they were in Moncton. Only three were taken. One after a little girl picked it up to smell it (she was gluten free) and then I suggested she give it to her mother. Barb came for the last twenty minutes but wasn't able to pull hoards of Frederictonians to the table. But that was just fine. I had already surpassed my best expectations having had Kim, Jennifer, Heather, Joyce, Natalie Lindsay and Nicole make my day. Supper followed at the Diplomat with Barb and our friend Mary. An evening of knitting and chatter, a good nights sleep and a breakfast with Patrick( a Susan White fan )and his wife Catherine at The Cabin rounded off the trip. Then I had a safe and reflective drive home from a city I love and have such great feelings about.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Day at Hampton High

I am just recovering from my day at Hampton High.No I did not catch a flu bug or the sniffles but to say the day was draining and recovery was needed is an understatement.One probably can't understand why these days are so exhausting for me unless they sat in on one of my sessions. Now I know I do that to myself. I know I could present a very generic hour talking about writing , editing, publishing etc.and I do talk about all those things. But I bring more to each presentation than that. I remember when I did thirteen presentations during my TD Children's Book Week tour in Ontario. Driving to the last presentation of the week I tried to tell myself not to give so much, not to open up so personally to the kids I was seeing in the Scarborough library that morning. I went over in my head all the things I could say about loving libraries and loving to read when I was a kid and almost had myself convinced I wouldn't dig down deep and give the same heartfelt presentations I had delivered and felt proud of giving all week. I had had some amazing interactions in those previous sessions. I'd had standing ovations,tearful kids and warm embraces. I thought if I just kept it light I could get through it and not feel the deep exhaustion I normally feel. Seconds before I parked in the library parking lot it occurred to me that the kids that were filing into that room to see Susan White deserved to see Susan White. There were things I could say to them that belonged to only me. The second I saw the bright and receptive faces in the front row I knew I had no choice but to show up. I have to tell myself that before every school visit but Hampton High holds special value to me and special challenges. It is the school in which I feel the most responsibility to honor my son. I also admire and respect what goes on in that building. So many staff members nurtured Chapin and Caleb and supported Meg and Ashlie. I have a few resentments and heartaches concerning Zac's experience there but those shortcomings exist in every school . I do not dwell on them. I do however feel the need to always honor Zachary White in that building. I drive up and take a quick glimpse at the tree planted in his memory. I walk in the front door and take the opportunity to do so as a privilege. I show up and I don't hold back emotion and feeling. On page 84 in The Year Mrs. Montague Cried Taylor quotes Mrs. M as saying "Don't we look a fright? If someone came in right now, they would wonder what in the world I was doing to you.Tears are shed in my presentations, eyes well up , lumps come to throats, there is laughter and deep sighs. Real feelings emerge and I make no apology for that.I tell of sorrow,of joy, of pain, of comfort, of dreams and failures, of family ,of loss and love. I tell of accomplishments and discipline ,of vulnerability and triumph. I talk non stop and go rapidly from story to story and no two sessions are the same. Kids ask profound questions and always give me their rapt attention.I walk away exhausted but so thankful!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Taking Our Turn

Thirty nine years ago I was preparing to give birth to my first child. We had only been married a year and a half and we were living in a rented house and didn't even have a car of our own. I was beside myself with excitement, anticipation and fear.We were taking our turn with this stage of life. I observe young people at this same stage and feel such joy for them. It fills me with such a mixture of emotion. So much emotion and I keep a tight lid on it. What completely overwhelms me is just how quickly we've jumped from stage to stage. We are now the sixty some year olds, the grandparents, the old people. It occurred to me the other day it was a case of taking our turn . Each stage , each decade , each role we take on have been taken on for generations before us and will be taken on by generations after us. I know that is not a new or overly profound thought but it is for me. Seeing it that way helps me to embrace the turn we are now a part of. I think of kids on the playground waiting for a turn on the swings. This was always a major thing with four or five swings and a hundred kids wanting a turn. Who gets a turn , how long will the turn be, how do you give up your turn when you are really enjoying it and may not get another turn that recess.All very huge concerns when we focus on the turn itself and not the enjoyment of our turn no matter how brief.Turns end and others step up and take their turn. Turns come to abrupt ends and sometimes we can't imagine letting our turn go. But other turns appear, turns we didn't even realize would bring such joy. I look at my elderly parents and some elderly friends and realize their turn is almost completely over. Does stepping away from the swing when recess is over mean our turn wasn't amazing, we didn't give our time swinging high in the sky the attention it deserved? Of course not but it would help if we had no regrets getting off. If we spent our whole time on the swing worrying about the turn ending , worrying who was waiting to take the next turn, how we could have made our turn better then we've wasted the joy of the turn. I am possibly rambling now but this whole turn analogy is helping me to see the entire picture clearer. I know the sorrow of turns being over too soon;of twenty years olds and five year olds, of newborns and the unborn not getting long enough turns or no turns at all. But in all that we should constantly remind ourselves to step up and take each turn and give it all we can so that when our turns are over we know the joy and the gift those turns really were.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thank you Tori

I am bursting to write this entry . In fact I was awake before sun up writing it in my head. I am so grateful for the gift of Sunday morning to process and write about the gift I received yesterday. I am probably not the only author who's not overly fond of signings.I compare it to being at a yard sale or flea market with the table filled with items nobody wants or takes the time to look at. Now seriously it isn't that bad. Most people at least make eye contact.At my last signing in Moncton I had cookies and that was a big hit. I remember a few years ago when signing copies of Ten Thousand Truths my table was set up beside a rack of Fifty Shades of Grey. People rushed toward me with excited looks on their faces . One little boy burst through the door with his dad and exclaimed." Mom has that book". For a split second I thought he meant his mother was reading Ten Thousand Truths. NO. So signings can be grueling. They can be as lonely as the life of the May Tag repairman.But usually I have one or two interactions that make it all worth while. Yesterday was such a day. Before I was even given a chair to sit down at the table that was set up for me at Indigo I saw a couple of women hovering near the table.They appeared interested which is always nice." We are waiting for you to sign some books " one of them said as she was joined by her daughter. I immediately recognized a student I had met at Bayside Middle School. She was carrying three of my books.She was also carrying the book report she had written after reading Waiting For Still Water. What a thrill for me to see the enthusiasm on her face and the pride on the faces of her mom and grandmother. Reading had not come easy for Tori. I spent years teaching and mothering kids with learning disabilities that make what seems so effortless to some kids seem like such an impossible hurtle to overcome for them. Tori's mother beamed with pride and joy as she told me her daughter's love for my books and her determination to read them. What more could any mother, teacher and author ask for? I can not even begin to express what interactions like that mean to me. I write for many reasons; because I have to, because I want to, because I have stories to tell, because it brings me such joy. I write for myself first trying to tell a story in the best way I know how. I write to express my feelings and my emotions and am thankful for the opportunity to do so. I am also beyond thankful to be published. I am so grateful to sit at a table and offer six books to any reader willing to open the pages . And I am so blessed every time I hear that one reader was impacted by the words I wrote and the story I told. Tori's mom said that her daughter was reading The Year Mrs. Montague Cried out loud to her which was something she never believed would happen. This morning as I sit in my office and reflect on the upcoming birthday of my firstborn son, the nineteenth birthday we've had to have without him, I take such comfort in knowing his story is being read. My little boy struggled so with reading. I felt so helpless as his mother and as a teacher not being able to take away his feelings of frustration and failure.In the few short minutes that I had with Tori, her mom and grandmother I felt the depth and magnitude of their journey. I felt the deep love of a mother for her child and the huge challenge life sometimes presents. I also felt the joy of simple accomplishments and the reward of fighting the good fight and not letting adversity rule.So now as I attempt to pull myself together and finish this entry on a lighter note I will say this. I would not trade those moments like I had yesterday for all the money made by the author of Fifty Shades of whatever, although it would certainly help to pay for this bathroom renovation. Speaking of which my middle son just arrived to begin crack filling. I have so very much to be thankful for this morning!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Day at Sir James Dunn Academy

Yesterday I traveled to St. Andrews to spend the day with students at Sir James Dunn Academy.Funny story! I wanted to give myself two hours to get there so that I would have time to eat a leisurely breakfast at Tim Hortons in St. Andrews then find the school and get settled before my 8:35 presentation. So I went to bed early the night before setting my alarm clock for 5:30. I got right up, got dressed and ready to go. I went out in the cold and started my vehicle and sat for a few minutes waiting for my delightful seat warmer to kick in. I glanced at the dash and was surprised to see it said 4:55. I checked my watch and realized I was one hour too early. Somehow the time on my bedside table clock had been wrong and my 5:30 wake up had really been 4:30. Back to bed I went but of course I did not fall asleep. I got up at 5:30 and did round two, departing at 5:55. Good travels got me to Tim Horton's with lots of time. And so my day began. My first presentation was to was a great group of grade sevens.I kicked into gear and did my thing and the kids responded generously. A couple of their questions were. " Have you started your next book?" Are your earrings books?" Next I welcomed a group of grade 6 and grade 8 students. They were a bit more animated having woken up and I revved up and delivered a similar presentation. It always does surprise me how each one does take on a flavor of its own. Good thing because Mr. Carey sat in on almost every one of them.Some questions from that crowd were:"What was the favorite part of the first book you wrote?"Do you remember everything you wrote?" I then had a nice long break. A nap would have been nice but I wrote in my 'WRITE'journal and had tea and birthday cake visiting with several friendly staff members Then Mrs. Norman and I enjoyed a meal prepared by the culinary arts students. In the afternoon I presented to a grade nine class first. They were delightful. I made a point of learning all their names first thing and was able to interact with them for a lively and rewarding hour.The kids made random reading requests and I read at least one passage from each of my six books. Jacob asked me to read the Taylor Anne Reading Challenge and I had the kids stand if they had read the book or had it read to them as I went down the list . I was pleased to see that some of my favorites are still being read. Hats off to whoever read 'There's a Girl in the Boy's Bathroom ' to those St. Andrew's kids.After the grade nines took their collective energy out of the room the Grade tens came in. Again I quickly learned their names and gave my all to the hour we had together. Marshall ( can't remember if he was Gr. 9 or 10,sorry Marshall ) was writing pretty much the whole time I talked. I was so pleased he was actually processing my words. I got a kick out of the fact that he wrote that as I talked I branched out in all directions but usually came back to where I started. I do certainly do that and I sometimes wonder if it exhausts the kids as much as it exhausts me. But the kids are always kind and respectful. I looked out at this amazing bunch of kids as they sat taking in every word and responding to my story. Oh I love those magic moments and that is why I take myself away from my warm comfortable home and away from my desk on a writing day to share the gift that writing is for me. Thank you so much Mrs. Norman for inviting me and thank you each and every student and staff member that made me feel so welcome at Sir James Dunn Academy on a sunny November day in beautiful St. Andrews. The widow of Sir James Dunn gifted the town this impressive building and the generations that have filled its halls have and continue to bring that gift to life.