Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Future File

published in the South Shore Breaker - December 28, 2016
It’s almost the end of the year and you know what that means. It means that many of us spend time coming up with resolutions for the New Year. Some people will resolve to lose weight or maybe stop smoking. Some will make promises to spend less time online and more time with the family. But I won’t be making any resolutions.

We have a different New Years tradition in our family. It has been years since we have gone to a New Years Eve party. We spend the evening at home, usually with a few family members. We have a slow leisurely meal, a fondue or something similar. And we spend some time with our "Future File". 
The Harley family's Future File has turned into a memory file, a tool to record memories for the past year.
Im not sure why we called it a future file when we started the tradition twenty three years ago. But we did, and we actually have a file folder with the words printed on it so the name has stuck. Our file folder only comes out on New Years Eve, and then it gets put away again until the following year. 

In the beginning, we did make a few predictions for the coming year and then we reviewed them the following New Years Eve to see which ones came true. There are always family debates and lively discussions about whether to give someones predictions a point or not. No points are given to "predictions" that were known to be facts. Well be going on a vacation, well be getting a new computer, that type of thing is not eligible for points.

But mostly our Future File has turned into a memory file, a tool for us to record our memories for the past year. Some of us keep it short and sweet, and some of us fill a page. We have a scribe, so each person talks about their memories and we all get to listen and share in the recollections.

We start the process by reviewing what was recorded in years past. We have twenty three years of recorded memories, so we pick a couple of years at random and read out the things that were written that year. We always include where we were and who was there. Sometimes we spent the evening with friends at a restaurant, but usually we were at home with family. Often reading notes from past years brings back memories that would otherwise be completely forgotten over time.

We also talk about and record our biggest surprise for the year. Sometimes its something lovely, like the time the whole family arranged for our son to come for a surprise visit - the first time we had seen him in almost two years. Sometimes its something tragic, like the unexpected death of a friend or family member. Our file shows the ups and downs of life, the sorrow as well as the joy. Important milestones, and inconsequential moments. 

I might remember the big events from past years, although as time goes on that is becoming more doubtful. But without writing things down, I would never remember the small things.

I wouldn
t remember that 1994 was the first year that my son told me that he loved me, without me telling him first. And I wouldnt remember that my son swore in front of me for the first time the very next year.

Likely I would remember renting a cottage in Cape Breton two summers in a row, but would I remember that when we were at home we had an end of day ritual of walking to the bench in the corner of our yard? We used to walk to the back of our 2 acre property and watch our three dogs run and play while we relaxed and talked about our day.

We would certainly remember the miracle of our granddaughter going home after spending three months in the hospital when she was born. Her birth weight was just one and a half pounds and she was finally released from the hospital just before Christmas. But would we remember hearing her first cry over the telephone if we didn
t write it down as one of our best memories of the year?

I would have lots of general memories of gardening, but I likely would have forgotten that our Giant Schnauzer Cinder ate all the squash from the vines in 2002.

Who would forget the year that a transport truck jackknifed and landed on top of their van, resulting in days spent in a trauma unit and months of rehabilitation? That would definitely overshadow family arguments about whether our son should be allowed to wear a wallet chain to school or not.

Taking our granddaughter for fish and chips, or teaching her to swing a bat, or eating pancakes at a sugar bush with our grandson are memories that may fade with time. But writing them down preserves them and re-reading the words jogs our memories enough to bring back the event in our minds.

As for memories from this year, I started writing this column late in April and have learned a lot about writing and about myself along the way. I am thankful for the notes and emails I have received from some readers, who have been most kind to me throughout my learning experience. It makes me happy to have you share your thoughts with me and to know I have touched some lives in a small way.
Each family has their own traditions for New Year's Eve. Staying home with friends and family over a long leisurely meal and spending time reflecting on the past year has become our family tradition.
You will have your own traditions for the New Year, but I hope you take some time to reflect on 2016 and the small joys in your life. In the words of songwriter Kid Rock, "Let's raise a glass, heres to you dear. Happy New Year". And may we all have something good to focus on in 2017.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Boxed Up Memories

published in the South Shore Breaker - Dec 21, 2016
Life is bittersweet, and it can throw us some challenges. Some people have to tackle more than their share, and sometimes we want to throw our fists to the sky and ask "why me?". But often we can overcome and realize that the struggles we face can make us stronger. They make us who we are, and who we are helps determine our personal story.

A few years ago we spent two Christmases in a row without a Christmas tree. The following year, I wrote about it and published it on my blog. Like all writing, people will read between the lines and come up with their own interpretation. Reading it made some people feel quite sad, although my intent was quite the opposite.

I have turned my former blog post into a short story called Boxed Up Memories. I hope you will see the underlying joy, for that is something good to focus on.

It had been two years since she felt there was any reason to celebrate.

First, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was waiting for a second surgery to remove more breast tissue and obtain satisfactory margins. While she was nervously waiting for this to happen, her dog was shot and killed on a beautiful fall day while running in the woods next to their country home. It was hunting season, but she was born and raised in the city and didn
t think anyone would shoot a dog instead of a deer.

So that Christmas two years ago she was too busy coping with loss to deal with putting up a tree. Loss of part of her physical self. Loss of her dog. Too much loss and not enough faith. Too much worry about upcoming radiation treatments. Too much worry about life and what the future would hold. Overwhelmed with emotions, there was no strength left for coping with the most mundane chores.

The following year things were better, but not great. Another surgery, but this time only shoulder surgery which was relatively easy. Physiotherapy was tougher, but she handled it. Her husband had just had emergency knee surgery to replace a knee that had been replaced just a few months before, a bad job that had to be re-done. Not even doctors are perfect. She couldn
t justify complaining about her physio, knowing that her husband was facing a bigger challenge.

Their struggles were minor compared to some people, but it was just too overwhelming to cope with even the basics of a Christmas celebration. Another year went by without acknowledging the season with a tree.

But this year was different. It was time to say enough is enough, time to say she chooses to live. And hope. It was time to celebrate the Christmas season with a tree and bring out the decorations. Collected throughout her life, each one symbolized a memory. One by one, she pulled the ornaments out of the storage box and remembered.

She picked up two ornaments from her early married life, the small brass reindeer and wooden tree with red painted hearts. She received them in the mail in 1984. She was only 23 and it was the first Christmas she and her husband were away from home, living in Alberta far away from family and friends in Ontario. Two of her school friends sent her some Christmas cheer, small tokens to remind her of big friendships. She thought of those friends every time she saw those ornaments. One friendship had disappeared over time, but another still stayed in touch despite living far away in Australia.

When she was only 23, two of her school friends sent her some Christmas cheer in the mail. It was the first Christmas she and her husband were away from home, living in Alberta far away from family and friends in Ontario. She thought of those friends every time she saw those ornaments.
The next one she chose was a reindeer made from a pine cone. It brought her back to the first holiday season she spent on her own after separating from her husband. She didnt have her two year old son with her that Christmas, but she had lugged a four foot tree up three flights of stairs so he would see it when he came to open his presents. There wasnt much money, so she had made reindeer ornaments with pine cones and pipe cleaners and beads. The only other decorations on the tree that year were 12 red balls and the entire collection fit in a shoe box. It was a Christmas spent alone eating chocolates and watching old movies.

The next thing she pulled out was a small box filled with white feathered birds, her mother
s special decorations. She remembered when the two of them went out to buy them. It was the seventies, and her mom wanted a pink tinsel tree with white decorations. She didnt get her pink tree, and settled for the white birds.

White feathered birds, her mother's special ornaments, and a string angel given to her by her father, were special reminders of her parents that she treasured year after year.
She was only 21 when her mother died after a three year ordeal with breast cancer. But she wouldnt think about that. She wouldnt think about the cancer gene that seemed to run from generation to generation in her family. Best sometimes not to think too much. Instead she would remember the special memories she had of her siblings and their families gathered back in the family home for Christmas, her mom glowing with happiness to have her children and grandchildren with her. Now the birds were always placed in special spots on her own tree, the only part of her mother that she had spent holidays with for over thirty years.

But there was a whole box full of other memories. Good memories. Dozens of ceramic ornaments in all shapes and sizes, reminders of year after year spent at the kitchen table painting them with her son, his name and year inscribed on the bottom. The changing years reflected by improving signatures. Backwards letters became cursive writing with smiley faces, the passage of time displayed in a name.

Year after year, time was spent with her son at the kitchen table painting ceramic ornaments. Passing years were indicated by the changing signatures.
Funny how each ornament could bring back so many memories. She always enjoyed talking about them if someone was helping her to hang them on the tree. But she was okay doing the task alone as well, lost in her thoughts and reflections of her life.

The lovely clear glass ball with a teddy bear tucked inside was a gift from her new partner in 1994. It was their first Christmas together in their own home. Twenty years later and married now, it still brought a smile to her face. Twenty years of blended families and making memories. Lots of love and laughter, but trauma as well. A terrible car accident caused by a freak snowstorm and jack knifed transport truck. Ambulance rides to two different hospitals, and time spent in a trauma unit. Months and months of recuperation for her husband. But they survived and were determined to live life one day at a time and be thankful. She stroked the teddy bear. She really did have a lot to be thankful for.

A clear glass ball holding a teddy bear was a reminder of the first Christmas she spent with her new partner. Twenty years later and married now, it still brought a smile to her face.
A string angel was given to her by her father. He bought it from his stroke recovery group to help them raise funds. Her mind drifted back to 1982. It was just two weeks after she got married. Her mom had just been hospitalized, losing her battle with cancer, and her dad was admitted to the same hospital with pains in his chest, pains that turned into a major stroke. Her mom died two weeks later. That Christmas was when she finally had to grow up.

The doctors said her father would never walk again, but he proved them wrong. He spent a year in the hospital, and recovered enough to live on his own for seventeen years. He passed his driver
s test and drove again. He attended university classes. He was determined and strong. And she missed him.

It seemed ironic to her that the older she got herself, the more she missed her parents.

But she was the parent now, grandparent even. The next batch of ornaments reflected that. Photo ornaments. Painted flour cut outs. Paper and crayon. Lots of things made with love by three grandchildren, and hung on the tree every year. Time passed, and the children grew quickly. The ornaments got more refined as the years went on. The children often didn
t remember giving them, but she remembered. She treasured each ornament, and each child.

Someone once commented that she had a tragic life, but she didn
t agree. There was heartbreak and pain. Trials and tribulations. But she was determined, just like her father taught her to be. She treasured all her memories, the good and the bad. Because thats what she was made of, and thats who she was.

Now there were no large gatherings at their own home. Their children had their own families and traditions, their own lives in distant cities. Time marches on. She didn
t have a designer tree, but she had her tree of memories. Decorations that told the story of her life. Stories of challenges and determination. Of family and loss. But most of all, stories filled with family and love.
She would never again let a year go by without celebrating. Celebrating Christmas. And celebrating life.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Aprons in the Window

photograph chosen for the Home and Away issue of Understorey Magazine
I took this image a few years ago while we were eating at a very small restaurant that does fabulous home cooked breakfasts and lunches. Nothing fancy or trendy. Just good meals that you have to be patient and wait for. It's a tiny restaurant, with just a few tables but has lots and lots of eye candy that you can enjoy while waiting....old tins and teapots and signs and such. And aprons hanging in the window.

This image was recently published in the "Home and Away" issue of Understorey Magazine.

Understorey launched in November 2013 as a project of the Second Story Women’s Centre in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. In 2016, Understorey formed a new partnership with the Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice (AMI) at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.

According to their website:
Understorey Magazine publishes literary writing and visual art by and about Canadian women.

Our vision is to sustain a relevant, accessible, diverse and aesthetically beautiful venue that supports and empowers women through self-expression. To achieve this vision we:

  • Publish compelling, original stories and art by Canadian writers and artists who self-identify as women.
  • Inspire, encourage and mentor new and emerging writers and artists.
  • Support and promote established writers and artists.
  • Seek out underrepresented stories and voices.
  • Maintain a broadly feminist perspective that is welcoming, inclusive and empowering

I feel quite honoured to have one of my photographs chosen to appear in this publication.

Monday, December 12, 2016

What your happy place can do for you

published in the Chronicle Herald - Dec 12, 2016 and the South Shore Breaker Dec 14/16
I have a confession to make. I am well past mid life, but I have never had a mid life crisis. I havent had an affair, or bought a new sports car. I didnt quit my job and go globe trotting. I never felt the need to change anything (well, if my husband is reading this he might disagree since every five years or so I start looking at real estate).

Until this year.

I still haven
t had an affair or bought a shiny new sports car. Even though Im well past what might be defined as "mid life", I started wondering about things. Hopefully I have many years ahead of me, but that didnt stop me from thinking about needing a purpose. I think a lot of us go through the same questions at some point in our lives, often when our children are grown and no longer depend on us.

Is this all there is? Why am I here? Who am I? What do I really want?

It didn
t seem enough to just "be", I needed a project or a purpose. I have been reading some articles and have been assured that all those thoughts are okay and many people face the same questions. It doesnt mean we arent happy. It just means that we have reached a point in our lives when we give some thoughtful consideration to what we want to do with the time we have left.

But all that thinking almost got me on the wrong path. I spent the summer struggling with a decision that I really shouldn
t have spent any time on. I researched and planned. I prepared for a possible new career that would have changed life for both me and my husband. My personal struggle with "why am I here" almost ended with disastrous consequences.

But then came a day where I had a massive headache, brought on by the constant battle my mind was having with all the back and forth thoughts in making a decision that would impact our lives.
My happy place is the beach, a place where I go to unwind and de-stress. (photo by John Harley)
When in doubt, we go to the beach. Theres nothing like a long beach walk to put life into perspective. I came to the realization that there was a reason I was having such a difficult time making my decision. A long discussion with my husband in a place I find the most peace helped clear my mind. It became so evident that I was headed in the wrong direction that I wondered how I could have been so silly and my headache disappeared almost immediately. Ill probably get off track again at some point, but life has a way of sorting things out if youre patient enough.

I don
t love to be in the water (thats what swimming pools are made for), but I feel at peace when Im near it. Walking along the shore, listening to the gulls cry. Sun or wind on my face, heart pounding, spirits soaring. Or sitting on the shore hearing the waves break on the rocks. There are no words to explain it, I just feel at peace.
Some people feel at peace walking along the shore. Listening to gulls cry, or watching sandpipers run along the water line can calm a soul.
The ocean soothes my soul. When I am near the water, I feel a completeness. The problems of my life drift away, like seaweed that has lost its mooring. Life is simple, and problems dont loom quite as large. The ocean waves have come into land for ages and ages, and will continue long after I am gone. All is calm.
Just before a storm, when the wind is howling and the waves are pounding, can make a person feel alive. Life is at its most basic and primal.
Or just before a storm, when the wind is howling and the waves are pounding, I feel an exhilaration that this is life. Life at its most basic and primal. I lift my arms in celebration and raise my voice to the skies. Hear me roar. I am alive!

The ocean is what called me to Nova Scotia from Ontario. I know that not everyone feels the same way. But everyone does have a place of their own that makes them feel alive. Maybe it
s walking in the forest. Or driving in a sports car on a winding road with the top down and the wind blowing in their hair. Perhaps its being at home with their children or grandchildren or their pets. There is a place for everyone, a place that makes their heart happy and their soul smile.

That is the place you need to find if you don
t know it yet. And that place will help you find your own answers about why you are here and what makes you happy. And thats something good to focus on.
I spent the year collecting images of seaweed letters with my camera during our walks on the beach – nature's temporary gift that would be washed away with the next tide.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Murmuration Mosaic

Murmuration Mosaic - starlings in flight
I have always loved mosaics, and compiled a few mosaics of family photos in years past the old fashioned way...with printed photos.

This is the first time I have put together a mosaic digitally. I did put it together manually...not using any programs available on the internet. The poster is compiled of 144 different photos, although many of them look quite similar.

Or...I guess I should confess and reveal that the poster is actually made up of 143 photos, one of which has been used twice. I discovered this as I was putting the last photo into place...horror of horrors, I had one photo remaining. I've searched and searched, but can't find the photo that has been duplicated.

Can you?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Adventures in Port Williams

published in the South Shore Breaker December 7, 2016 and "Navigate Nova Scotia" - Chronicle Herald February 11, 2017
Finding places for day tripping is easy peasy when you live in Nova Scotia. Beaches, forests, hiking trails, you name it. It's within easy driving distance no matter where you live. But if you include the challenge of "off season" in the mix, it becomes more difficult to add eating and shopping to your list of activities.

And I'm not referring to fast food restaurants or mall shopping in the city.
Two of my day tripping buddies live 100 kilometers apart, so we try to come up with places where we can "meet in the middle". Our most recent excursion had us heading to Port Williams.  

With the slogan "The biggest little port in the world", the village is set in an agricultural community surrounded by the beauty of Minas Basin tides and dyke lands. We had a full afternoon planned, and started with a meal at The Noodle Guy. It's always important to feed your stomach before heading out for an afternoon of walking and shopping.
Located in an old building, The Noodle Guy Restaurant in Port Williams has lots of character and charm.
I had heard about The Noodle Guy from several people, and we were not disappointed. Located in an old building, the restaurant has lots of character and charm. Fresh pasta made right on site, the menu was varied and the food was delicious. Also available for purchase was whole bean coffee from T.A.N. Coffee, olive oils and balsamic vinegar, fresh pasta packaged for home cooking, jams, jellies, maple syrup, and custom local sausage. My mouth is watering just thinking about it now. My only regret is that I don't live a bit closer, but maybe my waistline is thankful.
Fresh pasta is made right on site at The Noodle Guy, with a varied and delicious menu. Many locally made products are available for purchase.
After such a good meal, it was time for a walk and we headed to the parking lot just across the bridge so we could venture out on the trail along the dyke. I am not an historian by any means, but according to information on the internet the area around Port Williams and Wolfville was largely marsh before the arrival of the Acadians and the New England Planters. Much of the water was drained away with the construction of the dykes that date back hundreds of years. Overall, more than two thousand acres of prime farmland were created with the construction of the dykes.
There is a walking path along the Bishop-Beckwith dyke that extends from Port Williams to the edge of the Wolfville Harbour, and makes great walking for people and dogs alike. Pictured here is Sooki.
There is a walking path along the Bishop-Beckwith dyke that extends from Port Williams to the edge of the Wolfville Harbour, and makes great walking for people and dogs alike. We headed out shortly after high tide and there was a remarkable change in the water level by the time we returned forty five minutes later. We could have walked for much longer, but started to head back earlier than we wanted so we would have time to do more exploring before heading back home.

A short drive from Port Williams, the Fox Hill Cheese House has a huge variety of cheese made on site using milk from their own cows, as well as delicious gelato and other products.
A quick drive down a couple of roads, and we found the Fox Hill Cheese House. While we were there, the most frequent thought that kept running through my mind was that I am glad I live an hour or so away, otherwise I would be gaining weight a lot faster than I am now. I treated myself to a waffle cone with maple gelato. Mmmm, bliss. We learned that gelato is made with milk, not cream so no need to feel guilty about any calories. Not at all. While munching on my cone, I selected several types of cheese made right at the farm as well as some exotic chocolate made in Eastern Passage. Shopping local is getting easier, and quite tasty.

Housed in a multi storey barn built circa 1860, Country Barn Antiques is filled with every type of antique and collectible you can imagine.
Our next stop had us looping back to Port Williams for Country Barn Antiques, situated right in town. Four, or was it five, storeys of a barn built circa 1860 filled with every type of antique and collectible you can imagine. Eye candy for a photographer, and a good source for any person interested in reducing our footprint by repurposing all kinds of items. One of my friends was on the hunt for glass insulators to make a unique hanging light fixture. Another friend bought a very large bottle to build a terrarium. I wasn't in search of anything, but unexpectedly stumbled across a perfect Christmas gift just before we left.

I honestly could have spent hours browsing through all the items and talking with the owner, such a gentleman filled with all sorts of information and entertaining stories. And I would just love to head back there with my tripod and camera to take interesting still life photos.

Even though it's a small village, there are other things to see and do in Port Williams. Maybe I'll convince my husband to visit the Wayfarers' Ale Society or the Port Pub and Bistro. And a stop at Daisy Roots Vintage clothing store is probably in order. But that's a focus for another day.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Strength of a Tree

I started writing inspirational sayings six years ago after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I needed something positive to focus on to help get me through some anxious times between surgery and the months of waiting for treatments. One of my favourites was "The Strength of a Tree". 

At the time, I had an online shop which sold many of my photo/writing combinations but "The Strength of a Tree" was only ordered once. However, it remains one of my favourites to this day.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I was contacted by the Soroptimist International of Bellflower, a non-profit volunteer organization located in California.

My "Strength of a Tree" inspirational photo was printed on a gift card that they are attaching to a "Tree of Life" necklace for a group of women attending an event today.  Nancy wrote to me "In reading the words on the photograph, they seemed to pop out, as if to explain that these women, like a tree, have weathered many storms and high winds; and to have gone through so much in their lives, I know that your words of encouragement will give them the strength to carry on and survive whatever they may encounter in their life's journey."

I am quite thrilled that my image and writing will be used to inspire others.
Strength of a Tree

I updated the image and used a photograph from a series I took of two very large apple trees through several seasons. These trees stand in a farmer's field and have been standing for approximately one hundred years. It is a winter scene and to me it symbolizes the difficult times that we go through in our lives.
gift card created by the Soroptimist International of Bellflower using my image & verse
Two of the organizations supported by the Soroptimist International of Bellflower are:
Su Casa ~ Ending Domestic Violence” is a nonprofit, community-based organization dedicated to the philosophy that every individual has the right to live free from violence or the threat of violence.   Their mission is to empower individuals and families to live free from domestic abuse and build partnerships with communities to end domestic violence.  Su Casa provides their clients with both an emergency shelter and transitional shelter, as well as counsel and legal advisors; helping their clients to live free from Domestic Violence or the threat of violence.  Soroptimist International of Bellflower has been supporting Su Casa since 1979, and currently has several club members who serve on the Board of Directors of Su Casa.

Little House Recovery Home exists to support women through the work of recovery by providing a residential treatment program with a safe, supportive environment.  Little House, a residential recovery center for women fighting addiction from drugs or alcohol, is rich in history and tradition. Six women who were dedicated to providing treatment for sick, alcoholic women founded Little House in 1952.  They offer 28 residents the opportunity to remain in the program for 6 months or longer depending on their needs.  Bellflower Soroptimist has provided financial support to Little House almost since its inception; as well as providing a Christmas Holiday Lunch.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hello December

AB Sea photo collection by Sara Harley

Hello December

'Tis the season to be jolly but baby, it's cold outside so let's deck the halls and bring JOY to the world.

As you can see, I'm having more fun creating things with the seaweed letters I captured during our beach walks this year.