Featured

Little library not just for kids…

Photo L Meyer

Art is something that makes you breathe with a different kind of happiness

Anni Albers

Fall often brings the urge to purge and declutter. This year with the dearth of opportunities to volunteer or give back, I have tried to be thoughtful about where I send donations of things that are gently used but still have purpose and life in them. This process uncovered never used art supplies, still in packaging so I wanted to find the right place where I might donate these creativity tools.

Tiny little libraries have been popping up in our neighbourhood for many years but this one was a breath of fresh air. A tiny library just for children. Wondering what would happen if I placed a box of never used pastel crayons on the shelf alongside books placed in this unique tiny library, I decided to give it a try while out on an early morning walk.

Curious to see if it would still be there, I walked by the tiny library later that evening. It was gone. So the next day I walked back to the little library to place a box of sidewalk chalks that had been languishing in plastic tub labelled “outdoors” although I still am not certain when I acquired them or where they came from. (The side effect of this process has been the inadvertent realization that it is far too easy to accumulate stuff that doesn’t get used or necessary for optimal functioning in day to day life.)

Once again I passed by while out for an evening stroll and sure enough the box of chalks had disappeared and I was delighted a short distance away to come upon a proliferation of colourful designs blanketing the cement sidewalk. Perhaps it was wishful thinking that the sidewalk art creations were a result of my “donation” but the handful of art supplies that I had to give away quickly vanished.

There are now very few ways to connect with the children in our neighbourhood during this horrible fourth wave so perhaps the idea of brightening a child’s day is what makes this tiny endeavour appealing. I’m not sure why this resonated so much, but this exercise gave me a flash of positivity that has lasted for awhile. And, I’m sure my overactive imagination was also in play!

Walking by this tiny library this morning, I noticed someone else had placed a small box of watercolour paints on a shelf of the little library. And I hope that by this evening when I walk by again, this gift for creativity will be gone.

Stay healthy and safe!

Featured

Reflections on pandemic birthdays and other celebrations

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time

Jean Paul Richter

A notification popped up on my phone this morning to remind me to send a birthday message to a friend. And it also reminds me that I have missed the opportunity to celebrate so many birthdays for family and friends face to face during these past many months. How do we acknowledge these special moments and stay connected to those we care about as we enter yet again another wave of Covid?

During these times of disruption, it is worth thinking about reaching out and connecting with everyone important in our lives not just on special occasions like birthdays and other milestones but as often as we are able to while we collectively continue to try to manage to live with this virus. How easy it is to drift along and isolate ourselves without realizing that we are actually doing so.

There is so much that we have missed out on that has been beyond our control. It’s also been challenging to avoid the political pandering and the angry vitriol that has been spreading as fast the as the delta variant in our community. But we do have the ability to maintain and keep our important emotional connections active and well.

If there is someone in your life who has a birthday or other milestone event coming up, take the time to find some unique and different way to celebrate.

Now is the time to seek out silver linings for ourselves and those around us. In spite of the fourth wave and all the rest of the chaos.

Wishes for all the birthdays coming your way!

Stay healthy and safe!

Featured

September renewal

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com

A new school year means new beginnings, new adventures

Denise Witmer

I’m never sure why but the beginning of September with children returning back to school always feels like someone has hit the refresh button. In many ways, this is the time of year that I set goals and chart my path for the upcoming months. Certainly this year, things are not exactly the same as before the pandemic but in spite of everything I find that I have a swing in my step and feel invigorated.

Perhaps it’s the weather changes, warm during the day but cooler at night, the subtle changes in the colours of plants in the garden and the odd pop of golden foliage in the trees. The calendar shows that autumn is still weeks away but there is promise in the air. Of what I am not certain but it brings with it a welcome change in energy.

Rummage sales that have been cancelled for the past 18 months provide opportunity to delve back into an abandoned decluttering project. Sorting and packing up books for the annual Paperback books for Prisoners drive. Looking for a piece of art to donate to a local fundraiser suddenly suggests needed changes to the art hanging on my walls. Searching closets for warmer jackets and footwear, just in case Mother nature changes her mind in a hurry.

Time floats by as cleaning, clearing and editing parts of my home takes hold.

Thinking thoughts of gratitude and excitement for our upcoming writer’s group. Have missed my kindred creative spirit friends being able to meet face to face. Socially distanced but can’t wait. Dusting off the calendar to write down dates for writing and photography courses, so far all offered online but crossing fingers that we won’t have to spend our winter months hunkered down using Zoom again. Yoga class in person? Maybe, maybe not.

Regardless, fall brings a different bounty of vegetables and fruits to the table. Soup making, canning to preserve that wonderful summer taste feel like wondrous activities rather than chores to be endured.

And writing. Writing every morning for the past two weeks. Both on the computer and by hand with the shiny new pen found at the least crowded back to school store I could find. Projects placed on hold over the summer months seem to spring to life bringing along with them a sense of hope. And a welcomed feeling of renewal and optimism that perhaps this back to school season will bring better things.

Who knows? Fingers crossed!

Stay healthy and safe!!

Featured

Dig deep when your creative well runs dry

Untitled Mixed Media Collage – LMeyer

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself.

Twyla Tharp

Not sure if it has been the heat, or trying to adapt to the transition of re-opening, or simply a stubborn creative block but I have spent most of the past three weeks feeling unbearably stuck. I had been asked to finish some edits on a piece of writing to prepare for a submission and have been stymied every time I sat down to finish the work. Really the only pressure I was experiencing was from within my own head, a deadline that I had arbitrarily imposed so I was only accountable to myself to finish this task.

And the harder I tried to tackle it, the worse things got and of course, this then begins to influence and permeate other aspects of ones life.

I have worked for the past couple of years at creating a tool kit to use just when such a thing rears its nasty head. Going for walks almost always helps but its been abnormally hot so that hasn’t actually helped. Gardening, a favourite activity, right now feels like a survival battle with the elements and the normal meditative aspect of playing in the dirt and caring for plants feels worrisome and ominous instead. Photography, another go to in my bag of tools, just doesn’t cut it right now. I can’t seem to focus nor am I especially inspired.

Journalling which normally stabilizes has felt like a chore and the words that might best describe what I am experiencing remain stuck somewhere in my head but definitely are not cascading out onto the page where I most want them to be. My strongest inclination was to simply quit. To just walk away.

So finally at somewhat of a loss, I sat down with some papers and an old magazine and created some collages. And low and behold, the activity of creating “nothing” broke the log jam and I was able to at least begin to finish the piece that I need to send off to someone for feedback.

So after all of this, it seemed important to figure out what really had been going on. Was it fear? or simply too hot to create? or too many other life obligations and pressures that I hadn’t been acknowledging? I decided to go back to the page and write my way through it. Once my collages were in some semblance of completion, there seemed to be a release of some tension that was blocking my ability to move through what I needed to work on.

So I have concluded that it was likely all of the above and probably some other explanations that are elusive at this time. But what my journal pages did reveal was that persistence, especially in a state of agitated frustration, helped me to create something that resembled a mixed media collage. And once I was able to create anything, there was a shift – sort of like a well deep inside that somehow miraculously begins to fill up again.

And although I don’t exactly know how the process works, I am thankful for it and feel an overwhelming need to trust the process!

Stay healthy and safe!

Notes from the Drive Through Vaccination Clinic

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Vaccinations are being rolled out in our community according to criteria such as age, health care professionals, etc., and based on supply. A special opportunity arose in our city, which has had a concerning spike in variants in the past two weeks, for people in my age category to receive the first dose of a Covid – 19 vaccine at a drive through clinic. Not something that I have ever experienced before but I jumped at this as soon as I heard it being announced.

So I arrived early this morning just as the clinic was set to open and found myself driving towards long lines of cars. Typically this parking area, dull asphalt grey, is used for professional sporting events, exhibitions and a giant agricultural show. Now it has been transformed into a health care staging area! By the time I had parked, and scoped out my surroundings, I quickly realized two things. First, there were so many cars that I couldn’t actually understand how the queue was to work and second, as people parked both beside and behind me, I would not be leaving any time soon. So, with no chance to change my mind, I settled in for the journey.

A kind young woman came to my car and asked to place a card on my windshield so that they could use my arrival time to assess what the actual wait time was to receive a vaccination. Sure, I said, and what exactly is your best guess at the wait time. Five hours she said, then quickly pointed out the portable washroom facilities and wished me a great day! As I looked around me, I saw one of my new neighbours reading a book titled, The Power of Habit” and the woman in front of me opened her trunk revealing a cooler and a lawn chair.

Most people seemed to be using their cell phones and for the first hour, it was relatively quiet in our area of the gigantic parking lot. After about an hour, I was feeling stiff and somewhat uncomfortable so got out of my car to stretch and to determine how the lines would work. There didn’t seem to be any traffic moving towards the buildings that I assumed we would be driving into. I could also see that people were becoming a bit restless and some headed off to use the facilities. It occurred to me at this point that there might be long lines for those as well.

So I decided not to drink very much liquid and to wait as long as possible. I set off for a long walk and marvelled at the number of vehicles that kept coming and watched as new lines continued to form well beyond where I was. Walking back to my car, I began to gather a sense of how the traffic would flow once lines began to move. People were now mostly outside of their cars, the gentlemen beside me having abandoned his reading material and now had begun cleaning his headlights. Several people climbed into their truck beds to video the scene and to survey what was going on.

I spoke with a woman who commented that she was most grateful for this opportunity and I heartily agreed. Hard to be cranky about waiting when you were about to receive something that potentially could be life saving. The weather is fully cooperative, with soul warming sunshine and little wind. I try and read a bit and write some words but am finding myself too distracted by everything going on around me. Finally, the line beside me roars to life with cars starting and I realize we are soon to be next.

The journey continues. Albeit it is slow and meandering and I still can’t visualize where we will end up. Another hour of slow, steady driving towards a certain destination that must be within eyesight but the line of cars snakes around corners. Eventually, the building we will enter is suddenly before us and it is clear where the line finally ends. Once inside, cheerful, proficient professional nurses are administering vaccines and once completed, we are directed outside to a parked area manned by Emergency medical services personnel for the final 15 minute wait.

Five long hours seemed insignificant compared to the challenges of this entire past year. So glad, and so grateful to have had this opportunity. I will celebrate as our community continues to receive the chance to be safer and to stay healthy. Let’s hope that the next several months bring about the changes we have all been waiting for.

Discovering abandoned writing

Art is never finished, only abandoned

Leonardo da Vinci
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Frigid winter temperatures and pandemic isolation have forced me to embark on another phase of clearing out clutter that mysteriously accumulates in my home. Discovery of a box placed high up on a shelf, both out of reach and out of eyesight, recently led to an interesting find.

Blowing off decades of dust, I opened this innocuous cardboard box, both puzzled as to what was inside of it and wondering why it was languishing in that spot unnoticed. Curiosity welled up inside of me. Along with a small buzz of excitement as recognition dawned about what it might contain.

Dozens of cheap notebooks were neatly stacked inside. Hilroy brand with narrow lines, three holes punched in them while sporting traditional colours: yellow, blue, green, and an odd dull shade of red. Reminder of a time when I had once poured my heart and writing soul into the craft of writing.

Flipping through them, I read past attempts at short fiction, poetry that badly needed line breaks, and pages of ideas for essays. Today I guess we would call that genre, creative non-fiction. Some random journal entries, typically melodramatic rather than upbeat but clearly delineating the timeline of the writing. Decades old from my university days and slightly beyond.

Character sketches. Plot outlines. Prose written with far too many adjectives. Ideas for a novel. As I read, becoming rather engrossed in the words written by my much younger self, I knew that my clutter clearing project was going to be placed on hold. Most of the notebooks had many blank pages. It was almost as if I must have started to use a new notebook whenever I made a renewed commitment to developing a writing practice.

As I read through these notebooks, I felt an emerging sense of creative energy. Looking at one of pieces of short fiction, I wondered if it would better lend itself to a flash fiction piece. Moving quickly to the computer, my now preferred way to craft prose, I began reshaping the words that once were in my mind so many years ago. And realized how thankful I am for this unexpected opportunity to rediscover these abandoned words.

Stay healthy and safe!

Searching to find words this winter

Winter knows to

hush,

still,

listen,

so the soul can

speak

Angie Weiland-Crosby
Photo credit L Meyer

As the winter drags on, a polar vortex descends, blanketing most of the western Canadian prairies in temperatures so cold they are labelled as extreme and dangerous. Suddenly it seems that any motivation I have to write has disappeared. It’s simply vanished.

Winds outside my window howl, gusting relentlessly, siphoning moisture from the air. Skin cracks easily, becoming almost lizard like, now sucking up even the strongest of lotions. Constant reapplications makes it hard to hold a pen, my favoured writing instrument. Outside adventures are placed on hold, walking from room to room in my home now serves as the only form of daily exercise.

Why is it so difficult to create, I find myself wondering, to become inspired, to write when these horrid weather conditions descend upon us? Puzzled by this, I have been searching for answers, seeking motivation from outside of myself. Likely the wrong place to find the solution to this.

Gazing out the window of my office this morning, my treasured writing space, I notice that frost builds incredible patterns on windows that appear to dance during the sunrise. Backlit by the red glow of the sun, I am drawn to the shimmering vision before me.

Tiny intricate designs are there if one looks carefully, hiding beauty, revealing the apparent nature of creativity that surrounds me. A dawning realization emerges in my mind, and suddenly a different kind of energy begins to take shape within.

Finally, words begin to form in my mind’s eye, ideas begin to excite. I move to my desk and although somewhat stilted at first, like an ice jam that suddenly begins to thaw, the winter words seem to release and move onto the page. And just like that, I find that I can write again.

Stay healthy and safe!

Stories that matter…

Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Stories that move our hearts often stay with us for a long period of time. This week one of those kinds of stories emerged from a small community in our province about a young girl who had been shamed for wearing a traditional Indigenous ribbon skirt to a school event prior to the Christmas break. Her auntie had made this beautiful piece of clothing intended to symbolize her strength, womanhood, and her First Nations identity.

This young girl set off for school excited by the beauty of her skirt and pride in being able to wear this sacred piece of clothing. Shamed by a school employee for not wearing the right type of clothing, this child returned home defeated and confused. Her auntie used social media to share what had happened at school and to reach out to women to share the meaning and power of the ribbon skirt.

What transpired was really a movement where many Indigenous women posted and shared photographs of their own ribbon skirts from around the globe. These garments are works of art and the pride with which they are worn was evident in the photos that were shared. What mattered to me the most about this story was that the focus was not on the “shaming incident” at the school but the positive way in which so many women reached out to share their pride in their heritage and in the power of the ribbon skirt.

Listening to an interview with this girl, her enthusiasm and excitement from all of the posts her family received, it was hard not to smile and appreciate the positivity that was created. Pride in her First Nations ribbon skirt and sense of belonging with other girls and women from around the world became the message of the story.

When it was time to return to school this week, her family and members of her First Nation community organized a march back to the school all wearing their ribbon skirts or ribbon shirts. Accompanied by the performance of a drumming group and the attendance of chiefs from surrounding First Nations, this young girl returned to school with a renewed sense of pride in who she is and accompanied by the positive power of her community.

My thoughts have returned to this story many times since I heard it. Messages of positivity, forgiveness, and reconciliation were delivered with pride and a power that resonates.

Stories matter.

From Sourdough bread to six feet apart

I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.

Jane Stanfield
Photo by Monserrat Soldu00fa on Pexels.com

The end of a year is typically a time for some reflection on what is behind us and planning for celebrations as we usher in the new one. Since we can’t engage in typical New Year celebrations, many of us are spending more time than usual in reflection.

2020 seems to have been a year full of contradictions. A global pandemic that initially brought us together and then seemed to polarize and pull us apart. Countries demanding restrictions to keep everyone safe and then struggling as conflicts emerged when resistance and resentment set in. Neighbours rallying to cheer on health care workers at the end of shifts to large gatherings where protestors demonstrated against masks and science.

From sharing the best sourdough bread recipes to open defiance of public health guidelines. Where friends and family in isolation found comfort and connection in Zoom meeting rooms to phone hotlines set up so you could report anyone who violated the rules. While staying six feet apart, we learned to respect others around us in order to keep them safe to annoyance at anyone who seemed to think and behave differently than we did.

As vaccines are rolled out around the world, and lack of patience and exhaustion with our isolated world threatens to take hold, my wish for the new year is for more kindness. Kindness to everyone regardless of their point of view. Kindness to those in our lives who have managed their personal risk differently than we might have. Kindness which will be healing and help us transition into the world when this pandemic ends.

Farewell to the year 2020 – may the new year bring safety, good health, and above all, more kindness in each of our hearts.

Celebrations and lessons learned upon reaching a goal

Photo by Anna-Louise on Pexels.com

You can’t hit a home run unless you step up to the plate. You can’t catch a fish unless you put your line in the water. You can’t reach your goals if you don’t try.

Kathy Seligman

Have you ever attempted to do something that you were certain you would not succeed at, and you did, in spite of yourself? This was where I found myself six weeks ago, musing about the fact that I had entered my name to participate in the flash fiction event, Flash Nano 2020. Even more amazing was the fact that I actually completed it. 30 prompts = 30 flash fiction stories. Whoa!!

I realize that for many writers, November is the month of National Novel writing contests and events but the flash fiction genre has captured my heart and mind for the past year so when I learned about Flash Nano, it made sense to at least try it. I must admit self-doubt almost prevented me from even signing up so upon reflection that is likely the first lesson that I need to pay the most attention to. It is all too easy to talk yourself out of things rather than into them.

Once that negative self talk is corralled, then we need to battle with procrastination and inertia. There are likely many great reasons why we don’t accomplish certain things but there are equally as many that speak to us about why we should. Pushing through procrastination is really about pushing past our fears. For this event, I had no one but myself to account to. I did mention I was doing this writing practice to my writer’s group but they would have all understood and likely been supportive if I had come up with some credible excuse as to why I decided not to follow through.

But the lesson of moving forward despite that fear, has value that carries over to other areas of our lives as well. This was an activity that I chose partially in an effort to try to incorporate discipline into my writing life, to learn to push barriers aside, and to learn the craft of the genre that I am writing in. Writer’s are solitary creatures but when we gather there is often a shared sense of connection. That’s why we gather, right.

Satisfaction. Personal accomplishment. Goal achievement. All these outcomes from this particular activity also served as teachings, lessons learned, and opportunity to develop confidence to push forward. An opportunity to create, to write, to reflect, to engage with other writers. It was truly win win. When we decide to set out to achieve something, there is tremendous value in seeing a project through to the end. And if you can do it once, then I am convinced that the next time will be just a little bit easier.

Now I just need to figure out what is going to be next…Take a moment to celebrate all of the goals you meet regardless of how big or small. We all deserve that quiet moment to reflect on our accomplishments and to experience the joy of completion.

Stay healthy and safe!