Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Dichotomy of Life

cover photo from the portfolio I created for my application to NSCAD University
I am thrilled. I am scared. I am ready.

Recently, I had to write a one page essay and those were the words I ended with. Those words could be applied to any kind of new challenge in our lives, don't you think?  No matter what new activity or project or life experience, I believe that a lot of people would agree to having mixed feelings. 

Excitement about the opportunity. Wow, I can't believe this is happening to me! 

Fear about the unknown. I don't know all the answers or if I can do this!

Ready to try. I might be ready to dive in, or sometimes drag my feet, but I'm willing to give it a go.

Not many things are all good, or all bad. Usually joy and frustration go together
hand in hand, joined on this path of life we all walk along. It's the dichotomy that makes things interesting for us, albeit sometimes it's hard to see why we have to take the bad along with the good.

A baby taking his first steps will be nervous about letting go and standing upright instead of crawling, but he'll feel the excitement of his achievements and glory in the praise of his loved ones. Even one step is a huge success.

A teenager trying to decide on what path she'll take after high school will be nervous about making her choices, but she'll feel excited about all her opportunities.

A young couple will discover they are about to start a family and will be thrilled about becoming parents, but perhaps nervous about all the responsibility.

And life goes on. We face new challenges, some small and some large. We take one step forward and two steps back. We cry and we laugh and we carry on.

The fear factor can be applied to our hobbies as well. I've been taking photographs for many years, and joined a local photo club about eight years ago. Enjoying my own images and sharing them with other people are two completely different things. Entering photographs into club competitions can be intimidating, but it's important to receive unbiased feedback in order to grow our skills. Online "likes" from family and friends on facebook are good ego boosters, but they don't count as constructive suggestions on how to grow and improve. Competitions, instructional courses, and juried exhibitions are all ways that photographers and other hobbyists can increase their skills.

Last year, I stepped out of my comfort zone and started participating in different photography and writing challenges. I submitted an article to a magazine, and I wasn't accepted. But the editor checked out my photographs and I ended up having one of my images published. My images were turned down for a book compilation, but accepted for a gallery exhibit in Dartmouth. I have written a short story and submitted it to the CBC Non Fiction Literary Competition. I won't know the results until later this year, but I consider it a mark in my personal success column because I actually hit the "send" button once it was completed. I sent it off into the world instead of keeping it to myself, and that's a big achievement for me. Sometimes it's difficult to overcome a fear of failure, but the biggest reward is knowing that we have tried.
pictured with my granddaughter on Portfolio Day at NSCAD University
Four years ago, I attended a tour of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University with my son who was considering going to art school. I was so excited about the tour that I went to an art supply store to purchase a sketch book before we headed home. As it so often happens, I got sidetracked by life. A few weeks ago, I took another tour of NSCAD, this time with my granddaughter who is future planning for decisions she'll be making a couple of years from now. I spent the tour envisioning myself as one of the young people planning for a future. I got home and started wondering, why exactly was I lamenting not being young with a future ahead of me? I am not young, but I have a future and I still have dreams. I talked to my husband, put together a portfolio, and sent in my application.

I received a phone call and I've been accepted as an art student at NSCAD. I'm 55 years old and am going back to school. Even retired people need something to focus on. And that brings me back to the opening lines for this article:

I am thrilled. I am scared. I am ready.

Published in the South Shore Breaker -  March 22, 2017. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How does your garden grow?

On a cold winter day, fun can be had by photographing flowers taken from a bouquet of roses. Well, it was actually a bouquet of carnations but my husband thought he bought me roses.
One day in January, my husband arrived home with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. Once I picked myself up from the floor, I asked what the occasion was. He knows I like flowers, he said, so he bought me some. Twenty five years together, and I dont need all the fingers on one hand to count the number of times I received a bouquet of flowers from him. Not on our anniversary. Not on Valentines Day. Never. So, miracles do happen.

He thought he picked roses when he pointed them out at the shop, but it was actually a bouquet of carnations. They were beautiful, and lasted for weeks.
Nova Scotia winters are fickle. Snow one day, and rain the next, sometimes its difficult to know how to dress for an outside jaunt. Until the mid February snow dump, we had a relatively easy winter. A week of constant shoveling and school and store closures quickly put that thought to bed.

At this time of year, even if there are piles of snow on the ground, there may be a far off whiff of spring that we catch on the winter winds now and then. Our minds start yearning for new growth and warmth. You may have noticed the shift to non winter thoughts on social media, where people are sharing photos of their gardens from last year and images from seed catalogues. Maybe, if you
re like me, you have some artistic friends who have been sharing snippets of paintings of lush flower gardens or still life photos of blossoms in vases.

I am no exception, and my thoughts turn to planning for this year
s garden. Even a person without a green thumb can learn to garden. I have killed almost every house plant I have ever owned, but over the years I have learned about gardening through trial and error.
Even someone without a green thumb like me can grow an amaryllis to bring some spring like cheer to the home during a long winter.
My first efforts were at our home in rural Ontario, when we thought we lived in the "country" but actually were just living on a 2 acre lot in a subdivision on the outskirts of a small town. I grew tomatoes. I grew asparagus that we never got to eat because our dogs kept eating all the spears before we could cut them. I grew spaghetti squash before we were squash eaters. What was I thinking? We ended up with dozens of squash that we didnt even eat and gave them away to anyone we could.

Gardening got serious for me when we moved to a twenty acre piece of property in rural Nova Scotia. Our yard was a hay field that came right up to the house. My husband mowed, and I planted. First, I made a tiny five foot flower garden planted with perennials we moved from Ontario in my VW Beetle. Then we planted a flowering crabapple tree in memory of my dad.

My flower garden expanded every year that followed, and vegetable gardens were created, despite my promises to my husband that I would stop increasing my gardening work load. Expansion was inevitable, and my husband jokingly referred to my efforts as "enhancements" since we were not "expanding". Shrubs and flower gardens surrounded three sides of the house. The backyard garden grew from five feet square in the first year to over a quarter of an acre by the time we moved. Oh, and did I mention the 13 foot long fish pond we created?

But now we live in the town of Bridgewater with a yard full of sod that is slowly being taken over by shrubs and flowers. Gardening was my first priority after unpacking essentials when we moved. Boxes and boxes were stacked in the garage, lower on my "to do" list than getting plants into the ground. This summer the "enhancements" will continue.

We planted a few trees last summer. The required flowering crabapple tree that always makes me think of my childhood home. A mountain ash that I have wanted for almost twenty years but never planted before. And a french silk lilac, a reminder of the first home we owned together. We may be at our limit for shrubs, but I
ve learned never to say never when it comes to investing in more bones for the gardens.

Vegetables will be limited in our small space. I planted asparagus last year, so that should be ready in another year from now if the dogs don
t get to it first. Tomatoes are always a staple for me, and Ill continue my battle with whatever critter took a bite from all my tomatoes last year. Maybe Ill grow beans again, but it seems a lot easier on my knees to head to the farmers markets rather than picking my own.

New for me this year will be a cutting garden. I plan to grow a variety of annual flowers that I can cut and bring inside. Fresh flowers indoors are always a good thing to focus on, no matter what time of year it is. And if I have my own cutting garden, my husband won
t need to buy me roses once every twenty five years.