Sunday, August 28, 2016

Back to Work

It is the Sunday before my back to work day. I remember the excitement and anxiety of this day when I was still teaching. That week back before the students came was always made up of the thrill and hard work of getting my classroom ready, the enjoyment of seeing fellow staff members and meeting new ones, the challenge of meetings and overstimulation of new policies , programs and might I say some bullshit. There was the burden of balancing home and school ,the sadness of giving up summer and the optimism of new strategies and new convictions(like I'll make my kids great lunches every day) Those were rewarding times and I always enjoyed them as difficult as they were. I am glad they are behind me but I do know exactly what my daughter in law and friends that are still teaching feel today. But I feel wonderful. I am excited to get back to my office. I can not wait to start writing again. I have the freedom of course to fit my fall chores like pickling and harvesting the garden in to my schedule. I can interrupt my writing with a walk or a swim. I can adjust my hours . I am completely doing what I love and am more than grateful for the opportunity to do it. For the eighth fall I get to do what I waited so many years to do. I am a writer. This morning I received two messages that reminded me of that. I got a lovely message from a reader who is a former student and also a former colleague. She was my student teacher at one time and I used her name in Waiting For Still Water.(Rachel's grade three teacher) She wrote about how much she enjoyed the book and how honored she was to have been mentioned. I also got a photograph from a friend who bought the book from me at the market yesterday, showing the book , a coffee cup and a beautiful scene in the background showing still water. What a nice gift on this day as I putter away at end of summer chores and preparation of Sunday supper with the anticipation of going back to work tomorrow. Amid the worries and heartaches and challenges of life I get the gift of making stories up in the quiet sanctuary of my imagination and my office.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Book Club on the Belleisle

As an author I love nothing more than to talk to readers about my work. I love to read my work. I love to discuss my work. I love seeing my books in the hands of others. And I love hearing others read my work. That is especially meaningful to me when the reader shows genuine emotion while reading it. Last night gave me all that and so much more. I was invited to a book club on the beautiful Belleisle. Even though it got dark soon after I arrived, sitting in the screened in veranda on the shores of the Belleisle was a summer treat. The company was wonderful. Four of the regular book club members were in attendance and because some were unable to attend the hostess buoyed the numbers by inviting her four sisters. I picked up two of the sisters on my way which made the night even more enjoyable. The Howlett sisters are very dear to me. I have often voiced my desire to be one of them. I tend to do that when I meet a large group of sisters. (The Barrys, the Fullertons the Johnstons) This is an only girl thing. I have always dreamt of having sisters but in reality have been blessed with so many good friends and sister in laws that are like sisters to me. That though is a separate topic for another blog. Book Clubs are fun for an author especially one with several teachers as members who take the structure of it quite seriously. They began with talking about the most memorable character. Whoah! That was moving for me as most of them chose Zac. I have made no secret of the fact that I fashioned the character Zac to be the man I imagine my son would be if he were still living. His back story is different but the essence of who he is comes from the essence of who my Zachary was. The qualities he has as a man are the strong qualities my son had as a young boy , a teenager and as a twenty year old before his life was cut short. Not a perfect person by any means but a strong caring, resilient and loving one ready to step up and do his best with whatever came his way. To hear readers embrace that character meant the world to me. Thank you! Then they read their favorite passages. I can not even tell you what that means to an author. Each sentence, page and chapter of a work are crafted after careful thought and scrutiny. Some of course come out as if a tap were turned on and others need wringing out or squeezing out. But once they are on paper they are etched in stone , unchangeable and you hope they work. To hear others read them and get what you intended or what you hoped for from them is a gift beyond description. Last night's book club visit gave that to me. They asked questions , I read, we discussed , we wandered off topic, we circled back. It was wonderful. Then they gave me gifts. Wine, blueberries and money. They understood that the work of an author has value. Thank you book club on the Belleisle for reading Ten Thousand Truths and Waiting For Still Water. Thank you for loving the characters and the words and thank you again for inviting the author.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Where Did You Watch Them?

The morning after. I can only imagine what this morning is like for Gord and the other band members. How do you process what last night was for the band, for the country and for you personally? I kept thinking of Gord Downey's kids and his wife as I watched him give so much of himself last night. This morning and for the days ahead I pray he has enough left to give them. It is not very often we get to see a life lived on stage in front of us. 35 years he said. Opening performances given to 13 , 28 and 6 people. Fan bases changing and growing over the years. Songs becoming part of the country's identity. A signature voice recognized in the first few seconds of a song. Band members living each aspect of those years side by side. A final concert drawing record crowds in venues across the country, around the world and in back yards and living rooms. A final performance bringing the country and our prime minister to tears. Not a career and a legacy to take lightly. But still just a Kingston band that started with a dream in their hometown. No different really than countless other artists and creators everywhere. Words, music and putting oneself out there to bring attention to poetry, to meaning to compassion and pride in who we are. This morning as I process all that with the engrained sound of 'Ahead By a Century' still reverberating in my brain I look at my sunflowers, now almost a wall just about ready to develop their blossoms and think back to the seed. I remember the small sprouts, the double leaves, the developing stalk and let that be symbolic to writing, making music , living our lives. This impressive wall of sunflowers will die. They will tumble over, become uprooted , return to the earth. Their life has a expiry date but even knowing that does not diminish the wonder and glory and beauty of what they are right now and the miracle of their very existence. Where did you watch them and what gift did the watching give you? This morning I pray that Gord is given time with his loved ones and can leave the stage and this earth knowing he gave what he had to give and left us all better for it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

To Everything a Season

We have finally had some rain. The air feels fresh today and a heavy dew still lingers. After the nice steady rain of Sunday a cooler slightly overcast day yesterday with an occasional shower allowed the rain to soak in to the very dry ground and waterways. I can feel the slight hint of fall. My garden time is now mainly spent harvesting as planting and tending is behind me. I will attempt to pick my pea rows clean this afternoon so we can enjoy our summer bounty in the middle of winter. I am waiting to see the first blossoms form on the now head tall sunflowers. Just under two weeks before I return to my office and teachers (they do not like to be reminded of this) head back to their classrooms. I have much to look forward to. I have a book club visit later this month, Riel Nason's launch of All the Things We Leave Behind, a friend's daughter's wedding, and September itself which is one of my favorite months. I remember being on mat leave when Chapin was born(he will be 31 on Sept 4th) and loving being at home. I repeated that when Caleb was born(26 on Nov 6th) loving being home coordinating all the fall tasks and busy lives of my kids. The fall months still bring such beauty and splendor. I hope to see Chapin and Bri move into their new home and watch Caleb and Ashlie become increasingly settled in their new place. Harvest and blessing and Thanksgiving. I will not rush the seasons as I hope to have many more swims and enjoy the joys of summer. But like it or not seasons come to an end and the wonder of the next is always waiting.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Double Digits of August

August 10th is a day that sticks out in my memory. Six years ago today I got a phone call from WFNS saying that my manuscript The Year Mrs. Montague Cried had won first place in the Y/A category of the Atlantic Writing Competition. Four years before I was getting ready to take a trip across the country to visit my daughter. I was driving across with two close friends. Another friend was at home turning my youngest son's bedroom into my office. I was about to begin a deferred leave,taking the coming school year off to write the book that had been forming in my mind since the awful date of April 18th,1999. I painstakingly wrote that book in 10 months and then spent the next four years trying to find a publisher. That phone call on that August day opened the door to the publishing contract I had a few weeks later with Acorn Press. Today 25 more copies of the book I probably still sell the most of, arrived on my doorstop. As I opened the box and placed the Atlantic Book Awards Winner sticker on each cover I couldn't help but think back to that phone call. I was thrilled but as I the received the news my inner voice told me what I had known all along , 'if I took the excruciating journey to write it it would someday take shape as a book I could hold in my hands'. This book will always hold a part of my beloved son and I accept each copy and where it has taken me as a gift beyond measure. Love you Zac!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mornings on the Farm

I was up bright and early this morning. With coffee in hand I set out to survey the farm. I love my morning walk observing the gardens and property in the morning sunshine. Another gorgeous day, a bit cooler but beautiful. I had cautiously stepped into the squash patch as there are no clear paths anymore now that the plants have set out their vines. The attack came when I was least expecting it and I had no clear route of escape. I felt the first jabs on the back of my bare legs and turned to see the rooster in full attack mode. I threw my coffee on him but he just shook his feathers and resumed his attack. The rest I am sure would make a hilarious video but there was nothing funny about it to me. I somehow got out of the patch and backed away, by this time hitting the beast with my shoe. I backed up a ways where I could grab two buckets and use them as shields. They were a more effective defense than my shoe and coffee cup. With one bucket I stunned the nasty creature and made my escape. Nothing like an early morning rooster attack to get the blood flowing. Burton came out of the house oblivious to the ordeal his wife had just been through. He walked over to check on the rooster's condition and unfortunately he was just fine. I will not make my morning walk about after this without carrying a big stick. By the way the sunflowers are now up to my chin.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Sweet Summer

Yesterday was a 'simply enjoy summer' kind of day. I always say that living where I do is like having a cottage built right in to my year round home. I know sometimes I don't get the full cottage effect because I keep too busy. Relaxing comes in small doses and I took some of those doses yesterday. I visited with a friend chatting on my back veranda. I had just been for a delightful swim and was still dripping wet. Later I stretched out on the veranda and read. I ate my lunch on the back veranda. Burton and I sat out for a long while watching the sunset and letting the coolness creep in to the evening. In between all that I mowed a bit of the lawn. I cleaned the weeds out of a long row of carrots. I picked raspberries and made a delicious raspberry dessert. Picking those raspberries brought back so many memories. We used to have a big raspberry patch until a few years ago when a blight of some kind forced us to cut them down. The spot is now cow pasture but on the edge of the pasture bushes have grown and we now have lots of raspberries for our own use. I used to pick and sell most of the month of August. Busy July days of weeding were replaced with busy August days of picking raspberries and taking them to customers. My sister in law Louisa took flats into work and sold them. In the summer of 2006 I made enough off my raspberries to pay for campsites all along the trip I took with my friends Paul and Alice. We traveled across the states and then up into Alberta. When I got back from that trip I settled down to write The Year Mrs. Montague Cried, having taken a deferred leave giving me that school year off. I knew my raspberry patch like the back of my hand. I knew exactly where the fruit hung the thickest. I very methodically picked each row. I could usually predict how many boxes I would get from each row and would watch the season ebb and flow. I would crank up the radio which was of course tuned to CBC and devote much of the day to picking those bushes clean. Sometimes the drone of voices coming from the radio would be replaced by the music of The Grateful Dead and I would know that Caleb was coming to help his mother pick (on his father's orders)I loved those hours in the raspberry patch. I had time with my youngest son , maybe a friend or family member that stopped by to pick or just time alone to think and in the end a bit of spending money for my efforts. The years come and go. So much changes but some things stay the same. August feels very different than it did when I held on to each day knowing that school would soon start and my summer would be over. I now look ahead to writing and will return to my desk when the teachers return to their classrooms. But these are still the sweet days of summer and just as the picking of raspberries turned into a delicious dessert I served after the salmon and fresh vegetables of last night's Sunday supper the memories of this one when mixed with the memories of all the summers before will taste just as sweet.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

I am avoiding the kayak this morning. My three days of paddling have caught up with me and I am sore. Yesterday's outing was challenging. I thought I had paddled to Chapin's shore the day before but realized on yesterday's outing that I had not. I had not gone near far enough and the shore I had pulled up to was a long stretch away from his actual location. Once I realized that I also realized how far and how much energy it was going to take to get there. Once I got there his shore presented more of a challenge to get the kayak tethered and to climb up the bank. There was no chair to sit on and I took off my life jacket to use as a cushion. I thought of trying to walk up the steep rise leading up to their house imagining coming out of the woods and surprising Chapin who I could hear hammering in the distance. Upon beginning the trek I realized how treacherous and how ill suited I was for that venture and thought better of it. No one even knew where I was and if I took a tumble and sprained an ankle I would be in big trouble. I sat down again and let my thoughts settle. It seemed that paddling back was going to be a daunting task. Even getting back down to the water was going to present a challenge. I relaxed and gave my situation some thought. It occurred to me that we are faced with similar challenges all through our lives. We find ourselves overwhelmed by what lies ahead. We panic and shut down with the fear that we can not face what we know we have to do. For me it was getting myself back to the shore I had started from. As I said no one even knew where I was so they would not come and get me. Finding ourselves in challenging situations first requires acceptance , coming to terms with the challenge and then beginning to make a plan. I looked the steep bank over carefully trying to see the best way down. I am extremely unsure footed. I don't seem able to put my foot down unless I am completely sure of the stability of the ground beneath me . I looked for firmly rooted small trees or shrubs to hang on to if I should misjudge my footing. I picked a path and cautiously proceeded. I got to the rocky shore. I freed my kayak and got myself situated on the seat. Something didn't feel right. I had noticed that the end of the kayak with the plug had been submersed in the water and thought the imbalance I felt might be because it had taken in too much water . I did not want to paddle out and have it tip me into this unfamiliar shoreline. I stood myself back up and proceeded to maneuver the kayak so that I could after taking out the plug, stand it upright and drain the water out. This was somewhat challenging on the cramped and rocky shore. I waited to see the last faint trickle before plugging the hole and getting back in the kayak. I began paddling . The trip back was so much easier. Once rounding the bend I focused on the prize which was in sight. I pulled up onto the shore and started dragging my kayak back along the road. I was startled by the loud sound of the garbage truck and thought briefly how terrible it would be to have made it back only to be hit by a huge truck. My outing yesterday probably didn't really hold the drama I just afforded it but the lessons it showed me are powerfully real. So this morning I will take a short jaunt and just paddle from the shore to the place I swim. I will give myself a smaller more manageable challenge and get back up on the horse so to speak.

Monday, August 1, 2016

August Arrives

Today on this first day of August I take a few minutes to catch my breath to reflect and look ahead. I took my kayak out this morning , paddling around the bend and pulling up on the rocky shore at the bottom of the steep incline leading up to Chapin and Brianne's new house. I disembarked, tethered my kayak and climbed the bank to sit on their shore. Amazing and just exactly what I needed to process the last few weeks and see a clear path for the month ahead. I stared at the water lilies and grasses,their reflections as vibrant as the actual plant above the surface and thought how that mirrors the concrete and the spiritual aspects of our lives. That balance is the key to our wellness and I am thankful for the moments I am given when I immerse myself in the beauty of the earth and listen to my heart. " I don't know anything better than what Amelia knew to teach us."(quote from Zac on pg. 233 in Waiting For Still Water)I am going to cut this entry short and get on with my day. Lots to do as I regroup from a busy July and accept the gifts August has to provide while I anticipate the big gift of getting back to work in September.