Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Small Buildings

One of our kids once said "You people collect small buildings." I'm not sure if it was an observation spoken with curiousity, exasperation or confusion.

I suppose we do.

The potential of a small building excites me. It always has. It probably goes way, way back to my childhood when I used to sit under our table with the big heavy legs and pretend that it was my 'house'.

At the farm here, we have my beloved cabin - as much of a joy to me looking AT it as being in it. Brian has what he calls his 'Museum' although it is totally naked and just stores the old vehicles and his growing collection of lawnmowers. It's just a 'Museum' in his head.

On Salt Habour we have our 'Rooms' - a Newfoundland term for the outbuildings of a fisher-family's outport home. There are eight of them. Each is unique in its purpose and function. Although, to be honest the main thing that qualifies for that nowadays is simply that I love Small Buildings.

For many years now I have been in search of a Boler - a tiny house on wheels. It seem to be materializing so I have adjusted my vision to building a Vargo. I am constantly asked 'Why?'  I guess it has to do with my obsession with small buildings. I actually have no plans to drag my Boler or Vargo around - I just want to 'decorate' it. And look at it.

While that resides on my Vision Board, I have a tangible one that I get to play with in my head for the winter. For my birthday this year, Brian bought me a tiny, wee little cabin on an island, close to our home in Newfoundland. It has no hydro or water ... but oh, the potential - for making it cozy and for creating wonderful memories.

I dream small.

Monday, August 26, 2013

And Again

Five years is way too long between camping trips. When I'm there, I'm thinking 'Why don't I do this LOTS??!'  I love it.

By chance, it fell on my Dad's birthday again. That was the very last time I had my tent out - five years to the day. And by the way, I was so happy with myself - I left the instructions in the bag, or
I likely would still be there trying to get it figured out.  The girls - Ashley and Alyssa, determined that a birthday needed People and A Cake, or it didn't count. They brought both and a bottle of Baileys to boot.

They spent the afternoon then came back the next day. I think I was able to settle into my wirting better with that distraction.  It didn't feel as 'foreign' as being 100% alone for the whole time.

I collected more 'stuff' on my list that I need to take next time - a hammer, a little broom, a bigger carpet. And duct tape. My ever-so-comfy double high air mattress is not near as comfy when it is a flat piece of rubber. It sprung a leak and I had to go begging to the neighbours. For the record, duct tape doesn't work on air mattress leaks.

I took my bike camping for the first time and was happy I did. The Pinery is an excellent place for biking. I covered a lot of ground with Adam in the stroller as well, while the girls took the other two to the beach.

And I did write - lots. That was my intention and focus.  I get too easily distracted at home.  I
carried on with the pages of the family story I started over ten years ago. For five solid hours I never lifted my head or my pen. I wrote a dozen entries in my 'I  LOVE ...' journal and four 'Letters to Dead People'. And I also started a fresh 'mind mapping' book and spent a couple hours organizing my head and my life.

People seem to be surprised that one would go camping alone.  Even Brian, who is always supportive of everything I do, said 'Ya weirdo.' I like to think it was said affectionately.

I think it's good for the soul, getting away for a bit, being on your own. It is totally opposite to my character, so the stretch is good for me. I tend to surround myself with people and activity and chaos. I kind of thrive on that.  I have to WORK at being quiet.

Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And yes, there were more Raccoon Lessons:  Hanging the garbage in a tree might seem like a good idea, but the fact is - racoons climb trees. You get the picture.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Camping Two

That solitary camping experience left me with great enthusiasm to do it again. I asked my three girls if they wanted to join me the following week. They have all inherited the Adventure Gene, so of course they said "SURE!"

Ashley,  Alyssa and I headed to the Pinery with the kids; Jae was meeting us after work. This was pre-GPS/smart phone days and finding us turned out to be a bigger challenge than we had anticipated. We actually didn't realize how big the Pinery is. And we didn't realize how much it costs to bring three vehicles on to one campsite. And I didn't realize how much bigger deal it is to bring four adults, three children - people who care more about having lots of stuff to eat than I do. Here I was picturing spontaneous, easy, simple camping - a tent and a chair. Instead we had two tents, three vehicles, all the stuff that goes along with a 6 year old, 4 year old and 10 week old baby and forty three bags of groceries, which needed to purchased in the hour long shopping stop on the way.

Totally different experience. In EVERY way.

My evening was spent mothering someone else's children - a couple young girls who had gone for a walk and lost their way. Did I mention there are a thousand campsites in the Pinery, in three different areas. I never did find any emergency place for them to help locate their site, I just drove them around and around until they recognized something.  

Darkness had closed in and It was bedtime by the time I returned. "Well," I advised my rookie camp buds, "I learned something from my vast experience. Raccoons. You have to lock everything inside a vehicle because they will undoubtedly molest it." "But," I said upon consideration of the vastness of the park, "there are so many places for them go here, I suppose it's a remote possibility that they will just pick ours randomly when there are a thousand others, so I guess we're okay."

The girls headed to the washrooms with the kids and the only flashlight. Something I also garnered from my vast experience - a flashlight is a handy thing. Two would even be better, I thought, as I sat in the darkness with the baby. They were only a few yards away when the raccoons started coming out of the shadows. How they could get the signal out that quickly was incredible. "GET AWAY" I shouted, loud enough that the baby had a little heart attack. They did not scurry. They looked at me with a mild irritation and a 'You are not a hindrance, we SHALL return' look, and lumbered away.

When the girls returned I informed them that we indeed needed to lock up all forty three bags of food in the vehicle and not put them inside our tents. The vision of the shadow of those massive raccoon hands on my tent zipper was still fresh in my head.

We loaded it all in my little car. The last thing I did was poke my head out and 'beep-beep' to ensure it was locked up tight.

Then I slept. Well this time, perhaps because I had the comforting breathing sounds of two tiny people with me.

Morning arrived and with it a new camping lesson to add to the growing list of 'Things Learned'.

#1 Put all food stuff into your vehicle.
#2 SHUT the door.
#3 Lock the door.

Apparently we had missed #2.

Yes, the back door on the passenger side was wide open. Wide open. I can just see big ol' Henry put out the signal to his wife and all her cousins.  "Martha, you won't believe the buffet that's open. Rookies, gotta love 'em."

What a feast they had. The entire back seat was filled with bags of food. My camping colleagues value eating and having great quantities and choice far more than I do. The coons were impressed. And happy. And fat. And full. So fat and full in fact, that they couldn't hoist their big old raccoon bellies up over the seat to get to the overflow from the 43 bags in the front. It wasn't for the lack of trying by the looks of the muddy paw prints.

I haven't been camping since. Every year I intend to have the adventure again and see what else I can learn. But I never have, for no reason other than the fact that summer goes by too fast and the years fly by.

THIS year, I assured myself .. I WILL. I HAVE to. And then suddenly it's the last week of summer and I have not.

I rectified that today. With the convenience of on-line booking - even to the point of getting to see photos of the site and where it's situated, I did it. I thought I could peruse the area and choose just the right spot, conducive to solitude and writing - nice trees, close to the water. One spot left in the Dunes, one spot in Burley - that's all.  And yet another lesson learned - book earlier.  

Using the lessons I learned on my last trip five years ago, I booked TWO nights. And I'm packing something to read.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Incidental Camper

Five years ago, I had the vision of sitting in the peacefulness of the woods, totally immersed in writing. The little trailer that I envisioned myself in was not materializing so I bought myself a tent.

I had not been camping since the girls were in elementary school and to be honest, would have said that my idea of camping was the Harbour Castle. I wasn't a fan.

Well, things can and do change and I was being called to go to the woods alone and write.

I packed my brand new tent, a chair, a container of chicken and some crackers and some water. Since, being a non-camper, I do not own a sleeping bag, I packed my queen size mattress topper and duvet. I packed paper and pens - not a single thing to read as I did not want to have an excuse to be distracted.  And an electric kettle. Roughing it does not include going coffee-less in my world.

Brian was confused.  "You're going camping? Alone??" he questioned. He knows that I am not a fan of either camping or being alone.  "What does one do when they're camping alone?" he queried. "I don't know," I replied, "I'll let you know when I get back."

I chose somewhere I had never been - Rondeau Provincial Park, a two hour drive.  I picked my site, got the tent out. It's a darn sight better than the old days of trying to find 'rootless' spots to hammer those flimsy little wire stakes into, but it still took me a half hour reading the instructions to figure out how to get it errected.

With the bedding, the inside looked like a low ceiling-ed hotel room. It was so inviting I climbed in and promptly went to sleep for three hours. 

I awoke more disoriented than refreshed. Not being in the mood to write, I took a long drive to scout out the area. Then I went for ice cream and watched the sunset. Still no burning desire to write.

The silliest thing I did was to not bring something to read. I think when we're deprived of something, we become more obsessed with it. I was desperate and the only thing available was the information pamphlet they gave me when I checked in.

"There are racoons." it said. "Secure all your food."  Well, no matter to me - I didn't have any. I had already eaten it all.

I also did not have a flash light or lantern. I am not a camper. I had candles. In a tent. Brilliant.

Also brilliant was the fact that the site I chose was beside a dozen seventeen year old boys playing 'Flip Cup' all night.  So much for the quiet, peaceful solitude I was envisioning. Small matter for that too, since the urge to write was illuding me. 

Sitting around the campfire all by yourself is lonely business. Especially for one not accustomed to being alone. Being in a tent with candles isn't the answer either. Perhaps not that smart to have them, but I am smart enough to know to not fall asleep with them on, so I laid in darkness.I had nothing to read anyway.

I really don't know if the image in my head comes from a dream or reality. It certainly felt real when it happened ... the shadow of BIG, MASSIVE, HUGE hands trying to get the zipper of my tent open. Raccoon hands.  I can still see them. I screamed ... getting even with the boys next door as I'm sure it made them jump ten feet ..."GET AWAY!!!!"  

Even at that moment, I wondered if I was hallucinating and just had Racoon Thoughts in my head from the intense reading material I had poured over. At any rate, I had startled myself enough that sleep wasn't going to come back the rest of the night.

At the crack of dawn I crawled out of my flimsy fabric home. My little white kettle had been brutally assaulted. Muddy raccoon hands had tried to dismantle the thing, looking for non-existent food.  Ahhh ...  confirmation perhaps that the hands trying to get the zipper open were not a nightmare.

A little mud was not going to stand between me and my morning coffee. I took my kettle for a walk, looking for an empty site that had power that I could borrow. I truly thought that there would be regular outlets, not big honkin' 220 plug ins.  I started searching out someone to befriend and beg electricity, but it was so early there were few friendly faces to be seen.  Then I thought of the washroom and hairdryers, and sure enough - there was an outlet. A lady watched as I boiled my kettle and made a nice hot cup of delicious instant coffee. "Brilliant!" she said. I nodded, pleased that I finally was. "Yes. And NECESSARY." I smiled.

Life was good. I had a coffee. The yahoos next door were finally sleeping - passed out is likely more accurate. I sat in my chair, that tiny trepidation of spending the night alone in a tent was gone and I felt like writing! 

Sure enough, the words started pouring through my pen and didn't lift it or my head. And then suddenly, what seemed like minutes later, it was time check out time.  Just when I had settled into it. Just when I had come to terms with my alone-ness, it was time go. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013


And the story goes ...

There is no great feeling of peace, joy and hope than being surrounded by loving family and friends and being tangibly shown that love and care.

People were so good to me.

There was no time to feel down about my aging issues, about `that`word.

They all surrounded me, enveloped me so that it was impossible to think of nothing but the precious care I had received.

Every one of the things that happened was a complete and utter surprise. 110%.

In Newfoundland, the Monday before, many of my friends were gathered for an ``Ugly Stick`` making workshop that I had organized.  At the end, they hijacked it and turned it into a birthday party, compete with cake, balloons and gifts. I was taken completely off guard. I am not comfortable with being the centre of attention, but it was fun and it was sweet of them.

When I arrived home the night before my birthday, I was shocked, speechless - moved to tears with the unbelievable thing that my dear and close friends had done for me.

They `While You Were Out`- ed me and totally transformed my sad, pathetic gardens ... or lack of ... into gorgeous landscaping. Oh my - it should have been a TV show - it was so dramatic.

They mixed load after load of beautiful, rich soil. The gracefully edged lines would have been enough to send me oveer the moon. On top of that, they brough in beautiful plants - hydrangea, lavendar, begonias, hostas ... and rocks! AndI DO LOVE rocks!  They even have a lovely, elegant statue of a woman reading.

Three of the five of them were present to witness my utter shock and joy.

I am still not over it. I still walk around my home every day and can`t believe it is MY home. I cannot believe that anyone would do that for someone else - the time, the expense, the energy. Yes, it is the energy that I can feel - the care and joy, the happiness, the love that they put into the entire circumference of our home.  I am surrounded by it. I can feel it and see it. It totally moves and overwhelms me.

I was up with the sun, sitting in shock and awe, when my sweet sister arrived - shortly after 6 am, with a Tim's ... what has become a birthday tradition between us. 

Minutes after she left, some of the girls came back with breakfast - and it was still not even 8:30 am. They also brought another big, beautiful hydrangea which they proceeded to plant.

And then, as if that were not enough to make my entrance into this new decade memorable, my dear sweet family pulled off yet another surprise. Another 110% total shock.

The plan was that my three girls were taking me to the theatre on the evening of my birthday. Totally believable and enjoyable.

Instead, when Ashley and I pulled up to Jaime and Nick`s house, there was a major party going on. It took a minute to get it into my head that it was for ME.  I would have preferred to go off and weep somewhere, for the sheer emotion of the fact that they would do that for me. Again, all the work, the effort, the energy, the expense, the thought - the love.

It was as impressive as a wedding - a fancy tent, lovely decor, a live band, a fully stocked bar with cocktails, beautifully displayed, delicous food, vygnettes, plants, lights, a dance area - the details!  I have done three weddings at home and know full well that it is no small task.

I must admit, my inner reaction when I looked around at all the finely executed details was one of pride and comfort, with the thought `They will be FINE when I`m not around.

I know the work that they did in the planning and preparation, and it will forever fill my heart with overwhelming emotion. My precious family. I can still cry about it.

And friends that came. Dozens of them. When I revisit the evening, I am still surprised and delighted to see their faces.

Yes indeed.

I was filled to the brim and overflowing. I felt the treasured embrace of my friends and my family.

I am forever left with the confirmation that life is quite simply, all about the joy and love that we can share with each other.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Yep. I'm sixty. SIXTY. Oh Lord ... sicksty. For heaven's sakes, how did that happen?

On January 15th this year, I determined that I had 200 days until 'S' Day. The plan was to accomplish, with great focus and determination, all the things that I needed, wanted, intended to do over the past three decades and have not achieved.

I`m not sure what I thought was going to happen when I turned Sixty. It was as if subconsiously I expected that I`d lose my drive, my passion and I would instantly be Old. I certainly know better than that. I intend to live full throttle until I die, which I have determined not to be for another three and a half decades. I prescribe to the philosophy that age is `just a number`; you`re only as old as you feel or act ... all those cliches.

I suppose it was just having the incentive of a milestone to motivate me ... like doing a deep clean of the house when you`re expecting company even though you know full well that they won`t be poking in your drawers. Or at least you HOPE they won`t.

There was, if I were to admit to myself, a certain trepidation about the 60 word.  It just sounds old. Fifty sounded like my Mother. Sixty sounds like my Grandmother. But hey ... I AM a Grandmother - that is the reality. It`s just that in my head I am still in my 30`s ... a YOUNG grandmother.

In my focus and countdown, I totally missed 59. I wasted all those days, even subconciously, thinking `I`m going to be 60. I`m going to be SIXTY!` On the eve of my birthday I thought, Ì`m 59 ... that suddenly sounds young.`

So ... did I accomplish all those things I intended to ... like put 37 years of photos in order, finish books and stories I`ve started, write our entire family history?  Nope.  Not one single speck. I just cluttered my mind and wasted my time with the intitial intention and then did absolutely nothing about it. Nothing.

And so, in that, I have deducted ... `Count Downs`do not work for me. It was not the pressure, incentive that I needed to be productive.

And so, I wake up on my birthday feeling SO renewed, refreshed, rejuvenated ... SO excited! It was like a dawning - like a re-birth. It was not at all like I expected.

And that, is another story.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Challenges of a Winter Photoshoot

A day like today makes living through a Canadian winter totally worthwhile. Branches and grasses decorated with hoar frost, evergreen boughs laden with soft snow; the ground sparkling with a fresh, clean, bright blanket. No wind. Lovely temperature. 

First thing this morning, the rising sun cast a soft pink glow and combined with the frost and low light, made the world look baby blue. 

Gentle. Quiet. Breathtaking.

I grabbed my camera, boots and a coat and ran out to capture it. 
One shot and my battery was dead. I should know better. 

By the time I gave it a quick twenty minute charge, the magic hour was over. 

But the day still held photographic promise and out I headed once again.

It didn't translate quite as well as I had hoped, it was much prettier in Real Time. But it was still an excuse to get out there in the midst of it,
 instead of watching from inside out.

I have never used snowshoes - never had a desire to nor a need. But as I got to following the deer tracks, they were on my mind. I think the deer have a nesting spot beside our house so I wound my way through the thickets. With fresh snow it was easy to follow their paths through the woods, but when they came to the open field I sometimes sunk to my knees.  But I trudged on, enjoying the fresh air and beauty, snapping to my heart's content.

Without warning, one leg suddenly went through the snow - right up to my hip. I laughed at my precarious position, not at all concerned that it would be difficult to free myself. 
The important thing was to not get my camera wet.

Well, that turned out to be the least of my problems. What I thought was an easy task, was not. My foot was stuck under a branch or something. It wasn't quite as funny then. I was calm, but grew more concerned as my efforts were not successful. I started thinking that I might have to sit there until Brian came home at some point in the morning, and then hope that he could hear me. The thoughts of him laughing at me, or even worse - needing to get a winch to pull me out, made me try all the harder.

The not-so-bright thing, was that in my rush to get outside, I had not pulled on a warmer pair of pants. I was still in the light pajama ones. Not so insulating. As it grew colder and wetter, I decided it was wiser to save myself and tossed my camera aside. Well, I actually didn't 'toss it' with wild abandon - I reached some twigs and made it a little table. Equipment first. 
Then my efforts increased in earnest and eventually I was successful. 
And relieved.

I still snapped photos all the way back. I was thinking though, it's probably a good idea to let someone know when you're out and about, even if it does look like the most perfectly beautiful day. I paid for it later, my whole body being stiff and sore from the awkardness and effort of it all.

And I suppose, another wise thing would be to take a minute and get dressed.