Great Joy at Christmas

What greater joy than to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Despite the retail madness swirling around us, small pockets of peace and joy can be found. Walking in the woods, morning coffee beside the Christmas tree, and…..oh, there’s the mailman! (still have home delivery here!)

Each card and letter and photo is precious, tangible links with friends and family across our country and beyond. A larger package arrived yesterday; hmmmm….two copies of LEGION magazine with my story! See p.27, 28, 29, complete with photos! I’m quite pleased, to say the least, thanks to family members for helping provide background, and to my husband for prompting me to send it in. This magazine is now available on newsstands, as well as to Royal Canadian Legion members. A small joy in this season of great JOY.

Oh, yes, and our book Out of the Mist, 22 Atlantic Canadian Ghost Stories, is selling locally and on or Proud to be able to promote Evergreen Writers’ Group, too!

Merry Christmas, and happy reading, too.

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Evergreen Writers Group

Two years later: our group has grown and changed as new members arrive. Some stay and become part of the fabric; others ‘test the waters’ and decide they were looking for something different. The core group numbers 11 or 12, and is on the eve of releasing our first anthology!! Spurred on by Russell Barton, with technical aid and impetus supplied by Cathy MacKenzie and Phil Yeats, Out of the Mist,  a collection of 22 Atlantic Canadian ghost stories, is about to become reality!! Looking over the pdf version, the stories written by our conglomeration of writers, a varied and talented group, appear really quite good. (Correction: remove “really” and “quite” good, words writers are supposed to avoid, along with some, any, almost, very, something, someone…..and I could go on.)  We are learning as we go, offering critiques and comments in the group setting after a reading, taking suggestions, receiving advice graciously (most of the time), and defending what we feel is worthwhile material.
On a personal note, my contribution towards the ‘blurb’ for the back cover was incorporated into the final proof, and ‘Stone Cellar Publications’ was adopted as our publishing company, again from a brainstorming session by yours truly!!
A piece I wrote on a whim about Nova Scotia writers, a topic that was bouncing around in my head a few months ago, was read aloud within the group one Wednesday morning, with good reviews.  Then the editor of the Dartmouth Heritage Museum’s newsletter ‘The Gazette,’ asked if she could print it in their June 2014 issue!  (See p. 4 under “Evergreen Writers’ Group.”)   As soon as they update their online newsletter, I plan to forward it to family and friends. Thank you, inspiration and fortitude! ……and to the museum staff who helped me research the dish pattern at Evergreen House!!


Visit          This group was formed following the 11-week Creative Writing Course at Evergreen House, current home of the Dartmouth Heritage Museum, in the winter/spring of 2012.   We plan to meet once a month for discussion, critiques, activities, excursions and encouragement.  Former instructor Russell Barton was the impetus behind us continuing our liaison.

New members welcome.   Nominal fee for room rental.

Get writing!

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Family milestone

A son is married; another chapter in our lives begins.

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Small Joys

Reaching this point in life is a revelation.  “It takes a long time to grow old friends,” reads a greeting-card verse.  So, too, to reach a place where you realize EVERY DAY how important it is to notice the small joys in life.  Where did those years go when busy schedules kept us running from bed to table to car to work and school and meetings?  We hear those words echoed every day, commonly by retirees.  What about those who were felled early by heart attacks or strokes or cancer?  Did they get a chance to value the blessings life has to offer, not just to experience, but to reflect?  Our society puts the emphasis on getting ahead, better jobs and opportunities, and then witnesses the latest migration to find better-paying jobs, leaving families fragmented on the home turf while the breadwinner exists in a half-life.  This is not a new trend; in my parents’ generation, leaving home to join “the service,” or for jobs in Ontario and New England was a common solution to lack of work in their communities.

“Never get so busy making a living you forget to make a life” is another saying that appears on rustic wooden hearts, meant to reprimand and inspire.   We need to live, we say, so we have to work and earn and get up and drive to work and pay our bills and paint the house….the list is endless.   Now that we’re retired, painting the house is still on the job-list, but it can wait until tomorrow while we go for a walk after supper, or look up potential country B & Bs for the trip we’re taking to England in the fall.  Priorities fall into place without frantic last-minute decisions.  Our children have successfully navigated post-secondary education, career choices, and home ownership.  A wedding will take place very soon.  We have a “grand-dog”….and three grand-kitties, too.  We share in our nieces and nephews’ weddings, babies, birthday parties, baby showers, Christmas photo cards and room-decorating schemes.  We are not bound by vacation time yet not every day is a vacation.

Books are stacked on the nightstand and coffee table and lie on the end of the sofa ready to pick up; they’re lined up on shelves in the study and family room.  We’ve always been readers, but the reading list grows in diversity every day.  Travel guides, fiction, biographies, and children’s books even.  Why have I not encountered “Swallows and Amazons” before (author Arthur Ransome)?  Our childhood was firmly ensconced in books:  the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Donna Parker, Hardy Boys mysteries, the classics like “Little Women,” ” Tom Sawyer” and “Treasure Island,” as well as British schoolgirl books received from my grandmother and aunt.  Two plastic bins of childhood books sit on basement shelves, too precious to throw away, but slightly yellowed and musty, and many more than our bookshelves can hold.  A university course in Children’s Literature revealed the wealth and value of stories which have withstood time’s passing.  I still have my special edition of  “Alice In Wonderland,” a huge flat book with a white cover and illustrations which used to re-appear in my nightmares.  At one point, at a much younger age,  I scribbled inside the back cover with a ballpoint pen, and desperately tried to erase my errant defacing with typewriter corrective fluid (do they even make that anymore?).

But, I digress.  This being a blog, and me the author, I believe that is my prerogative (a dictionary is close at hand, never fear).  In speech as well as in writing, wandering off-topic can and will occur!

The small joys of life:  discovering the fascination each time you open the first pages of a new (or used) book.  Browsing secondhand bookshelves has become a pastime in recent years, and finding a book you’ve been looking for, and at a really good price (Salvation Army prices are better than Value Village, although their shelves are not as well-organized) is good food for the soul.   Borrowing from the library is another option, which I’ve taken advantage of more now than before, although the time pressure of that due date reduces my enjoyment of that particular book.  Three weeks is definitely better than a rapid-read!

Someone has posted on Face Book the “100 Books to Read Before You Die,” or a similar heading, titles such as “Anna Karenina,” “War and Peace,” “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,”  “1984,”  “Pride and Prejudice,” all the books declared to be the most popular  of the English-speaking world.  How many have I read?   I think I read “War and Peace” a long time ago, in high school maybe, but can’t remember.  There are books which require re-reading, and better to do so when you have a few years of maturity and world knowledge under your belt!!  I just finished “Love in the Time of Cholera.”    Two years ago,  we prepared ourselves for a Baltic Cruise by reading “Winter Palace,” and “Catherine the Great,” plus  lesser-known titles depicting life and the history of Russia.  “Russka” by Edward Rutherford took forever to get through, but gave me some appreciation of the complexities of Russian history.  Likewise  “The Madonnas of Leningrad” (St. Petersburg has gone by a revolving series of names over the years).  Our two days in St. Petersburg flew by as we visited the highlights of Tsarist Russia:  the Hermitage, Peterhof, Catherine Palace, Shuvalovka, Church on the Spilled Blood.  We are definitely better educated in, although still baffled by, the long and intricate history of the Russian people.

Small joys:  completing a quilt top begun 20 years ago — an accomplishment! The actual quilting of said quilt will be done in due time, whatever that means.   Belonging to the Evergreen Writers’ Group has given me confidence and satisfaction that I am writing; an added bonus is the soon-to-be-released collection of ghost stories by members of the group.   The process of writing short stories has given me a sense of freedom, that I don’t have to wait for that “someday” when I’ll write a book.  Begin!  Now!  Life is too short to spend thinking about what might happen.

My sister reminded me that I used to sing to her when she was very young and I was a teenager.  That’s a small joy, one that I’d forgotten.  She’s 8 years younger than I am, so her memory is better!  Precious family memories lie all around me, emerging in the light this past winter during the process of weeding out, filing away, recycling.  Last summer, I spent 2 or 3 days sitting in the shade on our deck, a box on one side and a bin for recycling on the other, being ruthless in removing the unnecessary jetsam of 37 plus years of accumulation, yet trying to be clairvoyant in what might be useful as “research.”  Diaries?  Definitely.  High school notes?  Maybe.  University course notes and essays?  Did I write those?   Old wedding invitations and printed napkins from the receptions?  NO! Into the bin!  Baby card scrapbooks will be preserved for the respective children.  A box of school projects is set aside, to be carefully read before discarding, a task for another warm summer day—after the wedding trip!  Small joys:  an empty box and more room in my study!




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To Dad, on Father’s Day June 1991

Recently found this poem in a box of saved greeting cards, homemade booklets and old letters, brought back from Mom’s house, and stored under a bed.  I have resisted the urge to edit, so this is the original!  It was illustrated with pictures cut from magazines, old calendar pages, and photographs.  Even though the faded construction-paper pages have frayed at the edges,  the message has endured beyond Dad’s life.  Seeing his photo posted by my brother on Father’s Day made me think of him and his influence on our lives.  I “just happened” to be looking for a cardboard box to use for packing, dumped out the contents of this particular box, and started to sort and re-cycle.   Putting this on my blog is a form of recycling, I believe.   Reading through old cards and letters is something to be done in small doses; I find you get lost in the past, and have to shake yourself back into real time.   Preserving the memories is important; finding practical ways to do so can be time-consuming, but oh, so worthwhile.  

———–For Dad————

“The 16th of June on our calendar reads

That’s Father’s Day this year;

Your family wants to show they care

For a dad (and Grampie) so dear.


You’ve often commented in the past

How you love these homemade cards

With paper and glue and pictures and stuff

Along with some meaningful words.


Knowing you as well as I do,

I think I know the reason

You love these envelopes to arrive

From season unto season.


No matter what the occasion,

Our memories serve us well,

With stories and jokes and places you’ve been

You always love to tell.


The trip you took to the British Isles

Was the highlight of many years;

To Jamaica, Hawaii, Las Vegas, too,

Of planes you had no fears.


When I think of way back when

I was a little girl at play,

I’d always tag along with you, Dad,

At your side I’d want to stay.


Sunday drives were our big treat,

Cape Island we’d explore;

When it was time to head for home,

We five would yell for more.


Moths and leaks and kerosene lamps,

Iron bedsteads, a stove that was black;

It’s funny what stays in our minds from those times,

Visiting squirrels and a little house out back.


We packed the car late Saturday nights,

We bumped and bounced on a road unpaved.

We built rock wharves and rowed on the lake,

We dressed up warm for the Indian Raid.


That old camp at Beaver Dam Lake

Wasn’t much in its physical form,

But people came and memories were made

Especially during a lightning storm.


Fathers know it, and mothers, too,

That children grow up, and change their ways.

As brothers and sisters we argued and fought,

But now the bond between us stays.


What we do, what we say, how we act, now we’re older

Is based on a foundation firm and true.

The values you gave us, the dreams we dreamt,

Were forged by your faith, your heritage, and you.


When I think of the hours you spent at the wheel,

To Lockeport, and Digby, and Wolfville you drove,

I think you were glad when George and I married,

At Camp Jordan again you stood in a grove.


Little did you know the trips would not end

Further and further we moved (as you know);

To Woodstock and Corner Brook and Bathurst, N.B.,

On your odometer the numbers don’t show.


Our children just love to go to your place,

They love the house and the yard and the dog.

Trips to the Dairy Treat are special with you,

Even when they go in the fog.


It’s a must every summer, in the spring, or the fall,

To Barrington Passage we go;

Part of our luggage is clubs in a bag,

Golf is better played with no snow.


On this special day set apart just for fathers,

You are honored, although from afar,

If it was practical, we would if we could,

Lock the house and jump in the car.


Through telephone lines and roads we connect,

The strings on our hearts are much longer,

Whenever we think of you (we do every day),

Our feelings and love just grow stronger.


With love from all of us,”

(Written while Mom and Dad were still living in the house at Paradise Corner, and while we lived in northeastern New Brunswick, land of cold and snow!)

Dad professed to love these homemade cards, no matter how tacky and cheesy.  In amongst the papers saved by my mother, I found a few homemade birthday cards from his mother, our Grammie, illustrated with cut-out flowers, and, guess what? —–verses she wrote herself!   So perhaps he enjoyed this link to his own childhood.     Fond memories.

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Evergreen Writers Group

Visit          This group was formed following the 11-week Creative Writing Course at Evergreen House, current home of the Dartmouth Heritage Museum, in the winter/spring of 2012.   We plan to meet once a month for discussion, critiques, activities, excursions and encouragement.  Former instructor Russell Barton was the impetus behind us continuing our liaison.

New members welcome.   Nominal fee for room rental.

Get writing!

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Child’s Play

We got our ideas from books, and bits remembered from whispered conversations, from movies on television,  making up stories about imaginary families , because family life was what we knew.

Smaller rocks were chairs and tables; a cavity in the old stone wall  the oven, pine cones, fir cones, leaves,  small rocks and twigs were food on our bent, scratched tin pie pans, and our chipped china plates.  Walls were thin spindly trees, thick, scratchy bushes and large boulders with moss on top; the window: a low stone wall, the edge of the lawn and yard.  Larger sticks and branches laid end to end defined rooms.  A path through the bushes and low spruce led to a huge rock, The Big Rock, where adventure lay waiting, plots built and played out, enemies denied access to the top of the rock,  timid souls triumphed to climb up but stranded when the old log gave way and climbing down became just plain scary.   Sighs of wind through the firs and spruce and pine, a spattering of rain drops abruptly cancelling the story line, sending reluctant slow-footers back down the path to the yard and inside  the back porch.    Lined up black boots, hooks to hang red jackets, return to warmth, real walls and doors, set-the-table, wash-your-hands, call-the-brothers, say the grace.

Looking down on the backs of houses from the top of the hill was disorienting.  Small windows, back porches, wooden steps, clotheslines, garbage cans, a barn, a garden, empty plant pots.   Grassy paths to the back door, to the barn or shed, a pile of rough poles for the summer garden, to hold up the beans.  Old rubber boots toed off next to the door, dog curled up with one eye open, waits to be let inside.  Darkness gathering quickly, warm yellow light framed in windows.  Blackness is darker under the trees, a thin edge of light rims the western horizon, just enough light to see our way home.

Winter afternoons, on the hill, sliding down, hardened globs of snow crusting our mittens, dirt and dry grass poking through where the snow has drifted away.   Walking home from the rink, toes with no feeling, cold nose, boots light after skates.

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Love to read.

Trying to escape household chores by holing up in my bedroom with a book, or finding a hidden spot in the yard with a blanket and a book:  reading has always been a favourite thing of mine.  The plethora of titles out now AND an amazing number of them Canadian authors (!!) makes me think I’ll never have time to read all the books I want to read.  Already my “To Read” pile of secondhand books has grown alarmingly tall, half a bookcase or so.  Library is great, but I like the freedom of piling three or four books on the sofa or bed, leafing through them and THEN deciding which one is next, without thinking about deadlines.  No, I’m not ready for electronic books……yet.

Last favourite book read:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, borrowed from a friend, and recommended to another friend before I’d quite finished it.  Well worth a read; moved to tears and laughter.

Reading right now:  One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, a British author.

Pet peeves:  Glut of popular bestsellers on the market ending up everywhere:  2ndhand stores, yard sales, book trade stores.  Good to find at reduced price but why so many????

Do Not Like:  Danielle Steele.  Read only one of hers I thought was any good.  She made everything feel so RUSHED!!

If you can’t remember the story when you see the title again, did it really make an impression on you?

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