Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Here, There, and Everywhere

Well, so much has been going on that I hardly know where to start. Since I last posted (a month ago!), I have been here, there, and everywhere.

In May, I flew to Illinois to attend a conference. On the way, I spent a lovely day in Vancouver with one of my best friends, and then my daughter and I went out for a fabulous dinner.

One of the Beautiful Buildings at the University of Illinois
 The conference itself was great, and I enjoyed it. I came away inspired to do more academic work!

Interior Detail in the Lobby of the Building Where I Gave my Presentation
One of the highlights of the last month was a visit from my Mom and brother. We had them for almost a week, and it was so nice to spend time together and visit.

With Mom and my Son
My Mom has health issues, and is on oxygen 24/7. But she was a trooper, and we went shopping and tried out some of the Vancouver Island dining hot spots. The weather was nice while they were here, and the rhododendrons put on a show.

Family Dinner
People came from near and far, and we got together for a big family dinner.

Erica and Tony
My brother checked out several great hikes in this part of the Island while he was here. The photo above shows one of them that Tony, Erica and I did one afternoon on the Enos Lakes trails. My brother is an amazing guy, and I know my Mom really appreciated the chance to travel here with him.

The day after Mom and Tony left, we spent the day mountain biking with friends who were on a holiday on the Island. The weather promised rain that day, but fortunately the rain held off for our ride and picnic.

Photo Op Beside the Englishman River
We spent one weekend doing volunteer work for our service club. On the day of the event, one of the club members and I flipped more than 600 pancakes! Rob reported for duty at 6 am and manned the coffee station (yes, that meant we had to set the alarm clock, ugg).

A couple of days later, we had lunch with some longtime friends from northern BC. They were visiting in the area. We are trying to talk them into moving here.

Getting Together for Lunch
And that is not all! During this same period, my son accepted a job offer in a city elsewhere in BC. He started work the week before Tony and Mom arrived, and made a long drive back on the weekend so he wouldn't miss their visit.

At the Harbour
We all got together before he moved to celebrate the new job. We went for fish & chips and a walk around the harbour. Last week, Rob and I made a two-day road trip to bring him his furniture and boxes of stuff. 

Loading the Truck
Of course, it poured rain as we went through Vancouver. It is a good thing that Rob tied the tarp down so well. Nothing got wet.

And that's still not all! There's the garden! The novel! Numerous hikes and a picnic, and more. But most of that will have to wait for another post.

Picnic by the Ocean. Yes, There was Food Too - Not Just Wine!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Announcing Notch Hill Art

Jude and her paintings at the Spring Showcase
Spring Showcase

At the beginning of this year, I joined the Nanoose Bay Studio Tour. This is a group of artists and artisans on Vancouver Island that hosts three art events a year -- a Spring Showcase, a Thanksgiving Studio Tour, and a Christmas Crawl. In 2017, I participated in the Thanksgiving tour as a guest artist.

The Spring Showcase is a weekend event held in the community centre. All the artists set up their booths in this central location and welcome the public to the event. This year, we also held an opening reception on the Friday evening, with wine, a caterer, and live music. Donna from Retirement Reflections, and lots of other friends attended.

The other two events are studio driving tours. Over each weekend, people take a driving tour to the participating studios. The advantage of the showcase is that everything is available in one place. The advantage of the tours is that people get to see the studios where the artists work, and their private galleries.

I am thrilled to be part of this wonderful group of artists. The group is super friendly and supportive. There is a wide range of beautiful art represented, including glass blowing, stained glass, pottery, jewellery, bonsai, woodwork, metal sculpture, mixed media, and photography, along with painters such as myself. One of the highlights for me on the showcase weekend was getting to know the other artists a little better. It also was fun chatting with all the people who came by to look at my display.

Rob's hoardings that he built for displaying my paintings were easy to set up and they looked great painted black. I forgot to take a picture of them before hanging the paintings! But if you look at the photos carefully, you can see them.

On the last day of the showcase, my daughter Erica and my friend Wendy came over from Vancouver to see the show.

Erica and Wendy at the Spring Showcase
Sunday evening, after taking down the show, we went out for a lovely dinner.

Celebrating after the show
Notch Hill Art

I am thrilled to announce that my new studio and gallery, Notch Hill Art, will be open for business at the beginning of June. I have hung the paintings and set up the gallery space.

Erica has built me a wonderful  artist's website for Notch Hill Art. To look at my collection of paintings, click here.

If you are in the area and would like to come and visit me in my studio, you can contact me through the website to arrange a time. The website includes a blog where I write about my current art projects and shows. Also, my paintings are available for sale via the website. I have provided a link to the Notch Hill Art website in the sidebar of my blog, so you can find it easily.

I will be participating in the Nanoose Bay Studio Tour's Thanksgiving Tour and the Christmas Crawl this year. It is exciting to embark on this new adventure. There are so many gorgeous views in this area and I am looking forward to painting them.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

How I Tricked Myself into Retiring

Dear readers, if you have been following posts on my blog, you will know that I am a recent but happy retiree. The person who is most surprised about this is me.

You see, during my career, I was the classic workaholic. I used to joke about it. "I am so busy. I have so much to do. Work, work, work -- that defines my life. I must be a bit of a workaholic."

I used to come home weeping with exhaustion after 12 and 14 hour days, when I had not had time to step away from the computer or eat a meal. We routinely ate dinner at 8:00 or 9:00 at night, because I seldom came home before 7:00 or 8:00 pm. Our family and friends lived far away, and although I made quick trips to visit as often as I could and kept in touch by phone, it was not enough. I was constantly frustrated that I did not have enough time for exercise or creative endeavours. The stress and the pace began to affect my health.

But, for all of that, I really didn't think that there was all that much wrong with my life. Or maybe it was more that I couldn't imagine that there was any other way to be. The big educational institutions where I had pursued my career had socialized me into excessive work as a lifestyle. I looked around and saw all of my peers working the same crazy long hours that I was. As we ran past each other in the hallways, our typical conversations went something like this:

"How are you?"
"Busy. Just unbelievably busy. How about you?"
"Me too. Busy, busy, busy. I'm dealing with the X crisis and the Y crisis, and I thought we had a solution for the Z crisis, but there's a new wrinkle, and it has to be dealt with today."
"Well. I have to go. I have three back-to-back meetings, and I'm double booked over lunch hour."
"Yeah, I'm racing to a meeting too, and I'll be here all weekend for the W event."
"Good luck."
"Take care."

As much as I tried to seek a better balance between my work life and personal life, the work demands were urgent and unrelenting.

Besides, I loved my career. I had spent decades studying and working in different roles within the university system. I was deeply invested in being a professor, researcher, and administrator. I didn't know who I was apart from my work identity. I was afraid of giving it all up, only to discover that my career self was all that I was.

When I began to realize that it was time to retire, I struggled with the decision. I remember that I started to write a blog post around that time called: "Throwing My Life Away." I never published it because it was so bleak and despairing.

Everybody's different, but for me, one part of the solution involved retiring in stages. The other part involved making a cognitive shift. Essentially, I tricked myself into retiring. To find out about my self-trickery, continue reading here.

I am thrilled to have been invited to guest host on Donna's blog, Retirement Reflections, once again. Please visit me there and read my post.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

World Building

It is less than three weeks until the art show that I will be participating in. The show opens on Friday evening, April 27, with a special event, and it is open to the public all day on Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29. Rob, dear person that he is, has been busy in his workshop building me a modular framework ("hoardings," he calls them) to set up in the 10'x10' booth so that I have somewhere to hang my paintings.

Building the Hoarding
 I have lots to do to get ready. As I mentioned before, over several weeks I have spent hours photographing my works, editing the photos, organizing them, and preparing them for my art website that is under development. I unpacked a couple more moving boxes to find some more of my paintings. (I still haven't found all of them.) But there is soooo much left to do to get ready, and I have not been ticking many items off the to-do list.

So what have I been doing if not getting ready for the art show? Well, skiing. The spring skiing has been fabulous. We have been going skiing a couple of times a week with friends, and last weekend I had a chance to ski with my son and daughter.

Sunny Day at the Ski Hill
 We also did some house stuff. Our new living room furniture finally was delivered. We replaced and upgraded two toilets. We replaced an item damaged in the move. All of this required much moving of furniture, reorganizing, and cleaning. There have been the usual things like car maintenance, doctor's appointment, tax prep, and grocery shopping. As well, I progressed on some academic writing projects, completing two of them recently.

My service group sponsored an Easter Egg Hunt, which I helped with. I hosted and cooked a family dinner for Easter. As well, I have participated in dog walks, attended a community talk, and spent time with my grandsons.

And there's more! Here is some exciting news. A friend and I are part of a new local writing group that has just formed. I recently attended a "meet and greet" organized by the Federation of BC Writers, and the people present at that event decided to organize ourselves into a writers' group. We have had our first official meeting.

I am so excited about writing again that I have resumed working on my novel. I have finished chapter 26 and am starting on chapter 27. I am getting near the end! Of course, once the first draft is done, the revisions begin, and I cannot say that I am looking forward to revisions. 

The other night, I wrote until late at night, finishing chapter 26. As I drifted off to sleep, my head was swirling with ideas and fragments of paragraphs to write in chapter 27. But then I woke up with a problem. (I guess my brain had been working on the novel while I slept.) I realized that my timelines did not line up properly for the plot to unfold the way that I had planned.

You would think that in a novel that takes place decades into the future, timelines would be pretty flexible. However, throughout the book, I have been building a world. And in the logic of this world, I have created the necessity for certain events to unfold a certain way.

There were two main time sequencing issues. Two characters are having babies, a couple of months apart from each other. Somehow, I had miscounted the due date for the first birth by several weeks. I couldn't just change the date easily, because I had already written about the birth and tied it closely to a certain season of the year. I had also miscounted the due date of the second birth, in this case only by about two weeks, but this also was problematic because I am intending for the mother to be doing something during the plot climax that is very physically grueling, and she would not have planned to do it if she had just given birth. Just as in real life, these fictional babies are being born at inconvenient times!

So the next day, instead of steaming along writing chapter 27, I spent hours recalculating the math for the dates of the births and other events. I corrected my timeline notes. Then, I went back and read through several chapters, and made corrections so the timelines would work out.

With this novel, I have kept a number of files of notes, supplementary to the novel. I have a list of characters with details like their age, appearance, relationship with other characters and so on. I have made a timeline of major social and political events in my imaginary world, both preceding and following the period in which my story takes place. I have written notes about the backstory. I have a list of chapter names along with the page of the manuscript on which each chapter starts.

Supplementary Notes
Some of my notes are very messy and scribbled. For example, I have drawn a rough map of the geographical area where my characters live. About two chapters into the writing, I realized that I needed to keep a timeline of the major events in the story, which takes place over the period of a year. I labelled the day on which the story starts as "Day 1." Quite a bit further along in my writing, I realized that seasons were going to be important in this imaginary world, so I went back and re-labelled Day 1, Day 2, etc., with dates, arbitrarily starting the story on November 16. Although I had a rough plot outline when I started this novel, I mostly have invented the story and the details of my story world as I went along.

For those of you who write fiction, how do you keep track of events and their sequence in a piece of writing as long and complicated as a novel? I would be curious to know about your method. I imagine that dates would be especially tricky to manage in historical fiction, and also when writing a memoir or biography. I look forward to your comments. 

And, yes, I am avoiding doing my art by writing instead. Perverse, I know, but at least the creative juices are flowing.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Counting Eagles

Photo by Vancouver Island Photographer, Rainer Willeke
In the morning when I sit at my dining table having breakfast, I look out over a forest of trees to a distant patch of sunlit ocean, backed by snow-topped ice-cream mountains. Often ravens are having conversations in the tall evergreens, and once in a while an eagle wheels overhead, just beyond my backyard. There is a little lake out of sight behind the trees, and I like to think that the eagle is swooping down to fish there, but more likely it is scanning the road at the back of our place, looking for roadkill. 

One of the things I love about being back at the BC coast again is seeing eagles. Lately we have been making regular trips to our local ski hill to go for an afternoon of skiing. This involves a drive up the coast, and then up into the mountains. It takes a little more than an hour. On the way I count eagles. (Note that I am not driving while I count. Rob drives to the hill, and I drive home.)

I always see at least one, and I have counted as many as six eagles on the drive. I have learned to look for their favourite perches, high up on dead branches. They like to position themselves where they can overlook both a stream and the highway. Open patches of field also are favoured. Sometimes I see hawks as well as eagles. I am speculating that the number I see on any given day depends on whether the tide is in or out. The Island Highway is just a few kilometers from the ocean in most sections, and when the tide is out, there is lots for the eagles to eat in the tidal pools.

This retirement gig is pretty awesome! I am grateful everyday that I get to be in this place and do the the things that I do. Skiing, for example. I have written before that skiing is part of my identity story. I love to ski. I have had some injuries that sidelined me from skiing for periods of a year or more, and nearly a decade ago, I even had one doctor tell me that I would never ski again. So now I ski much more cautiously, and am thankful for every additional year that I get to be on the ski hill.

A Happy Skier
We have met some new friends here who like to ski, and have had great fun meeting them at the hill. Later we debate the problems of the world in a bar or restaurant.

My Trusty Skiing Partner
Of course, not every day is a perfect day. Sometimes things break -- one of our toilets, to be exact, and we have been waiting for a week to get a plumber. Or technology decides to drive me crazy. For example, my mobile phone has decided that it no longer wants to communicate with my computer. So I can't upload my photos, just when I am trying to organize and edit my painting photos for my art website.

The sun does not shine everyday. This is the west (wet) coast. However, we put on our raincoats and boots, and out we go anyways.

Thursday Dog Walking Group

This morning most of the hardy members of my weekly dog walking group showed up despite the threat of rain. That is my dog, Kate, in the foreground. And yes! The smiling person on the left is Donna of Retirement Reflections.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Time For Art

All of my life, it seems that I have had to fit art in around the edges of my life. Sometimes, there were multi-year gaps when I did no art. I could usually find time for a little art or a little writing, but not both.

So when I retired, I planned to devote a lot more time to those twin passions of writing and art. When looking for a place to retire, the natural beauty of the location was an important consideration, as was choosing a house that would have space that I could use as a painting studio.

Silhouette of Garry Oak
The part of Vancouver Island where we have relocated to is glorious. It is a rural area on the coast that has a little town centre and a strong sense of community. There is a network of trails right outside my door, and I go walking on them several times a week. I take photos on my walks, often thinking that I might use the images later as references for a painting. I have noticed several spots, not too far away, that would great for setting up my easel and doing plein air painting.

For example, the photo below shows of one of my favourite places along the trails. It is a rocky green meadow high above a lake, fringed with evergreens, Garry oaks, and arbutus trees. A little seasonal stream runs through it. I took this photograph on my walk this afternoon.

Meadow above the Lake
Along with spectacular views to paint, there is a strong community of artists in the area. In the Fall, I was invited to participate as a guest artist in a weekend art show. Although I exhibited in many juried shows and other group art shows from 1994-2004, and also had a number of solo shows of my work during that period, in recent years I have little time to exhibit. So I was thrilled to be able to participate. I put together some paintings to display, which happened to be the first 21 paintings that came out of the moving boxes. Many of the rest still have not emerged from the boxes yet.

My Paintings at the Studio Art Tour
It was wonderful getting to know the other artists, as well as members of the community who came to the art show. Recently, I formally became a member of the art group. This group hosts studio tours during the year, when members of the public are invited to visit the artists in their home studios and see their work. I have already set up the working part of my home studio, but still need to hang my paintings in the section that will be the gallery.

With the help of my daughter, who is an artist and web developer, I have been working on building an artist's website. Unfortunately, over the years, I have not done a good job of documenting my work photographically, or keeping track of all the data about each painting. So over the last few weeks, I have spent many hours sorting through the photos of paintings that I do have (retrieving them from my database of more than 17,000 digital photos!), labelling them, and making them website ready. I need to photograph many paintings for which I do not have digital photos, or only poor quality ones. There is a lot of other "behind the scenes" work in setting up a studio/gallery and being part of a formal group.

It all takes a lot of time. But, I am happy to report that I have finally picked up my brushes and started painting again.

Painting in Progress in my Studio
I hope to announce my new website soon. Stay tuned for details about our upcoming Spring Showcase.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Restrictive Diets

I love food. I come from a family that loves food. I also enjoy cooking. Some of my happiest memories are of family dinners, or dinners with a group of friends -- everyone gathered around the table eating a feast that is the culmination of a day in the kitchen, laughing, talking, and drinking wine.

Holiday Feast

I am one of those nerdy people that takes photos of my food at a nice restaurant.

Airport Fare

Even if it is just Rob, my son, and me for dinner, I like to plan something that has a creative twist almost every time I cook. For example, last night my theme was Eastern European. We had pan-fried, crumb coated pork loin chops with mushrooms, potato latkes with sour cream and apple sauce, beets, and french bread. The latkes were the creative twist. Instead of using grated potato only when I made them, I also grated in some parsnip and a bit of fresh ginger (a James Barber recipe). They were yummy. Unfortunately, I didn't take a photo of the meal.

I remember my paternal grandmother, who passed away when I was six, as being a fabulous cook. All of her daughters (my aunts) carried on the tradition. My Mom also is a very good cook, and she taught my siblings and me to cook and bake, and let us experiment in the kitchen. My siblings are all great cooks and so are my adult children.

Although I grew up in a northern, fairly remote small town, my parents encouraged adventures in eating. From a young age, we ate local fish and game (moose, grouse, venison, smoked salmon), whatever ethnic foods were available (pickled pigs feet, pickled herring, kippers), and foods that most of my peers did not (stuffed beef heart, oysters, blue cheese, hot pickles). My parents had a large garden and grew their own vegetables, fruits, and berries, which my Mom preserved for the winter. We also gathered wild huckleberries, mushrooms, and so on. My Mom baked almost every day -- squares, cookies, cakes, pies, and specialties like cream puffs and jellyroll.

Pumpkin Pie and Banana Cream Pie

Having once been a child, then a parent, and now a grandparent, I know that small children sometimes are reluctant to try new foods. My Mom had a sensible approach. She never forced us to eat, but she did have two rules. 1. If we served ourselves something, we had to eat it. (She encouraged us to take a small helping, and if we wished, to have seconds.) 2. We had to at least taste every item in the meal -- a mouthful or teaspoon-sized amount. She also, very shrewdly, limited our access to snacks during the day, so that when we sat to the table, we were hungry. Hunger is a wonderful appetite enhancer!

Baking Cookies With Grandma

My parents also took us out to restaurants from a young age. We were expected to sit up nicely and behave ourselves. If someone made a fuss, my Mom took the misbehaving child out to the car and stayed there with them until they were ready to rejoin the rest of the family in the restaurant. We also learned that when we went out to dinner to someone's home, we should use our best manners, eat whatever we were served without complaint, thank the hostess, and offer to help with the dishes.

We often had extra people around our dinner table. Dad would arrive home from work with someone travelling through town who needed a good meal. Or one of us kids would invite a friend to stay for dinner. One of my brother's friends came home from college with him for a visit and stayed for a year. When my best friend's family moved to a town two hours down the road, she started coming to stay for the weekend every second weekend. Friday night was usually steak night, so our friends especially liked being there for dinner on Fridays.

In adulthood, I have continued the tradition of cooking for people and hosting dinners. In one place that we lived, Rob and I were part of a dinner club that was a lot of fun. Each month a different couple in the group hosted a dinner for everyone.

Through the dinner club experience, I learned that a lot has changed with respect to group eating behaviour since I was child. It seemed that most of the people in the club were on some type of restrictive diet. The group included a vegetarian, a person who couldn't eat dairy, a person with a sensitivity to eggs, a person with a sensitivity to sweet peppers (me), and a person who didn't eat any fruits or vegetables on the "dirty dozen" list (unless organically grown). It made it tricky to plan a dinner that would please everyone. I was just about ready to quit when one of the members developed a health issue and was supposed to avoid all fats and all green vegetables!

As a cook, I find that restrictive diets limit my creative options. I like to develop menus that will please the eye as well as the palate, that use local ingredients, and that are healthy. Rob and my son are appreciative diners, and fun to cook for. As a diner myself, I am easy to feed. (If I am served something with peppers in it, I just pick them out and put them on the side of my plate.)

I do not have a lot of patience for restrictive diets. I understand that sometimes the restrictive diets are prescribed because of health issues. I do my best to accommodate people's dietary preferences because I like spending time with friends and family members, and cooking for them is a way of showing them that I care about them.

However, I have never chosen to put myself on a restrictive dietary regimen. For example, I have never been on a weight loss diet. That doesn't mean that I am a glutton, or that I chow down on excessive amounts of red meat. I am very interested in the relationship between nutrition and health, and I care about eating in an environmentally sustainable way. I also try to notice if I am developing unhealthy eating habits, and to change those habits. That said, moderation is my guide, and I am willing to try most foods.

Eating Up the Contents of the Freezer Before our Move: Mussels and Steamed Dumplings

During my recent years of excessive overwork, I developed some health symptoms that were worrisome, among them sharp abdominal pains. I went through a bunch of medical tests which ruled out some of the scarier possibilities, but did not provide any answers. The last specialist that I saw suggested that I try out a low FODMAP diet. Apparently, there are a number of components in food that some people have difficulty digesting.

My symptoms are not consistent and do not exactly match any of the common diagnoses. But a person does not have pain attacks for no reason. So now, for the first time in my life, I am on a restrictive diet. My plan is to try to adhere closely to the low FODMAP diet for about six weeks, and then when the abdominal symptoms disappear, I will gradually begin to add various foods back in one at a time so see if there is a particular food or foods that my gut is reacting to.

Harrumph! We will see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Fighting the Creative Muse

Rainy Day at the Beach
Since retiring in June, I have been having a fun, engaged life, and I love it. Although I have been careful to not agree to many regularly scheduled obligations this first year so as to avoid replicating my previous over-scheduled work life, I have been pretty active.

For example, in the last couple of weeks, I have done the following: completed second language lessons in German or French daily, attended yoga twice a week, gone skiing twice, made a weekend trip to Vancouver to attend the Canadian national figure skating competition and visit friends, volunteered for a local service group, made arrangements to join a group of local artists, made plans to join a local social club, gone for hikes and walks, babysat my grandsons, gone out for a dinner and a coffee date, and completed two small academic writing projects.

As well, Rob and I went for a beach walk on a rainy day, and I tried some new photography techniques.
Patterns in the Sand

This is still a very relaxed pace compared to what I am used to. Most nights, I get nine hours of sleep. Most mornings, I sit around drinking coffee, doing my language lessons, and reading for a couple of hours before I even get out of my pajamas.

But what I have not been doing is progressing on my creative writing and art projects. The last few days, I have felt restless. I have woken up grumpy, having had upsetting dreams about frustration and loss.

"Uh-oh!" I am thinking. "Maybe the honeymoon period of retirement is coming to an end. Maybe I am now going into the part of the retirement transition when I will feel at a crossroads, not knowing what my purpose is."

Karen Hume has written about the retirement transition as being a difficult time: "Your transition to retirement is supposed to hurt. If you are doing it right, there will be a lengthy period of chaos and loss occurring sometime in the first few years of retirement."

So I was thrilled to read Kathy Gottberg's most recent post, "Why wait Until Retirement to Live A Rewarding, Meaningful, and Purposeful Life?" As I have written before, I have had trouble defining my purpose. In her post, Kathy writes about the concept of dharma, and specifically Stephen Cope's perspective of it as explained in his book, The Great Work of Your LifeA Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling.

Dharma, as described by Kathy, immediately fired my imagination. It seems to be a more roomy, holistic notion than "purpose." One's dharma is what you are called to in life -- acting from your sacred duty or your true self.

I used Kathy's list of questions to guide me as I journalled about my dharma. From this process, although I still cannot put into words a single calling, I realized that I have a cluster of themes or foci in my life, or a kind of interwoven tapestry of pursuits, that all point to my dharma. Since my earliest childhood and throughout my life, creative art and writing have been persistent elements in my thematic tapestry.

I had a whole day with nothing scheduled. I didn't even have to cook. I decided that it would be my day for going into my studio and painting.  

After journalling about my dharma, there was still most of the day left. So I did a deep clean of the ensuite bathroom. I even scrubbed every centimeter of the shower tiles down on my knees with a scrub brush.

That went so well that I decided to assemble the shoe rack that I purchased two weeks ago. I set it up and filled it with shoes that had been stuffed in bags since the move.

Then I moved on to the last remaining moving box tucked away in a corner of the bedroom. I unpacked it, found homes for everything, and neatly smoothed out and rolled up the packing paper for reuse.

By now it was mid afternoon. I had not even entered my studio. I was hungry, so I made myself some lunch. While eating lunch, I re-read the chapter of Brene Brown's book Braving the Wilderness, in which she talks about writing yourself a permission slip.

Why was I avoiding painting? I love painting, and feel happy and fulfilled when I do it. I have set up a nice painting studio right in my house. Why couldn't I make myself paint?

I couldn't use my old excuse of not having enough time.

And, by the way, why have I been avoiding working on my novel? I had to put it aside in December for a bit because everything related to Christmas made things really busy. But now January's almost over. Why am I not working on it again?

This is always my battle with creative pursuits. Once I start, I am fine. But I fight the muse and find all kinds of reasons and distractions to not get started in the first place. I have often used external structures to trick myself into starting -- things like NaNoWriMo, signing up for weekly classes, or promising to submit something on a certain date thus creating a deadline.

Composition and Colour
Brown says there are two steps: 1. give yourself permission, and 2. get on the bus (do it). I wrote the two steps on a post-it.

In the late afternoon, I went downstairs, not to my studio but to my office. I put the post-it beside the computer. Then I turned it on and began to work on my novel.

Hello old friend! I am so happy to be writing again.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

No Sense of Humour

“She has no sense of humour.” Have you ever heard someone say that? Or, if you are a woman, you might have had a remark like that directed at you: “Where’s your sense of humour?”
If anyone has ever said that to you, I will bet that a vivid memory of the type of situation that elicited it has sprung into your mind, along with some unpleasant emotions.
It turns out that I have no sense of humour. Here is a story of an experience that reminded me of that fact.
Recently, I was at a meeting of a community organization. I am thrilled to be getting to know my new community, and have been reaching out and meeting people through a number of different venues. Although I am new to these different groups because we have just moved to the area, I have found people to be pleasant and welcoming. It has been interesting and fun making new acquaintances and participating in local activities that in the past I simply did not have time for.
The group of people at this particular meeting included people from diverse work backgrounds. Usually the participation is about one third female and two thirds male, with about half being retired people and the rest still working. However, on this occasion, it happened that I was the only woman present.
As everyone bustled about getting ready to start the meeting, I noticed 'Frank' approaching others in the room and showing them a piece of paper. I wondered whether it might be a recent bit of correspondence, or maybe a community announcement of some sort. Soon enough, Frank came around to my side of the room and showed the piece of paper to the person beside me. Curious, I glanced sideways to see what the notice was about. Frank adjusted the angle of the paper so it was easy for both of us to see.
It was a crude joke about women’s boobs. Frank was grinning, looking for a reaction.
I was stunned. In this time of heightened awareness of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and with all the recent media coverage of entertainment and film industry “big names” being called out for sexual assault, how could anyone think that it was okay to pass around dirty jokes about women’s bodies?
This is not a new situation for me, of course. Being a woman who came of age in the 1960’s and 70’s, I remember that this kind of male behaviour in groups was more the norm than the exception in the past. As I often found myself in mostly male groups (because I was a skier and an active outdoors person, and because I climbed the education and career ladders to a level where women were rare), I learned to grin and bear it much of the time. I didn’t want to be tagged as a troublemaker, a prude, or someone with no sense of humour. I wanted to fit in.
I am also a lifelong feminist. Over time, I developed more confidence and began to speak out about sexist and male bullying behaviour. In one of my career positions, I initiated a sexual violence awareness campaign and led the development of a sexual violence policy in our workplace.
So how did I respond to Frank’s ‘joke’?
I would like to report that I spoke out and said, “Frank, jokes like this make me feel uncomfortable. They are not appropriate at our meetings.” I would like to say that the others in the room (all men) spoke up and supported me. But that is not what happened.
I looked at the piece of paper and said nothing.
Old habits kicked in. There was a tone of suppressed hilarity in the room that evening, and to me the dynamics felt very uncomfortable. I felt voiceless, and like the butt of the joke.
I was really angry, just boiling. I was angry at myself for not speaking out. I was angry about all of the men in the room who said nothing and let Frank get away with this behaviour. And I was angry with all the Franks of the world who feel they have the right to use sexism to put down, humiliate, and exclude others.
I tried to understand why I and the others present had behaved the way we did.
In rationalizing my own behaviour, I can say that I was a new person in this group, the only woman, and possibly the youngest, and therefore in a position of low social influence. I have been socialized throughout my life to know ‘a woman’s place,’ even though I also have fought against sexism throughout my life. As far as sexist jokes go, this particular one was quite mild, even kind of cute. I didn’t want to be seen as making a big deal about something that is trivial compared to the horror of sexual assault that so many women experience. In an uncomfortable social situation, it is easier to remain silent. I didn’t want to embarrass Frank (!!).
As far as the behaviour of the rest of the people in the room went, I wondered why none of the men had the courage to say something. Several of them are professionals for whom this sort of thing certainly would not be tolerated in their workplaces, so they must have known that it was was not appropriate. The chair of the meeting has the designated authority to manage the conduct of people at the meeting, but he said nothing. I speculated that perhaps this kind of sexist joke sharing has been the norm in this group, and if that is the case, perhaps also racist jokes. If so, why would I want to be part of such a group? 
Frank is elderly and is the most long-standing member of the group. Perhaps the other men were afraid to challenge Frank because of his senior status. And then I felt mad at myself all over again for expecting the male members to speak up when I didn't have the courage to do so.
And what about Frank? Is he really so out of touch that he innocently thought the joke was funny and just wanted to share it with us? Perhaps, steeped in a lifetime of white male privilege, he actually believes that women have no place attending such meetings, and that women in their role as wives should simply serve as adjuncts and supports to male-run groups. Perhaps this was his passive-aggressive way of putting me (and all women) in our place.
Days later, I still feel angry about it. I am still trying to decide what to do about it, because being silenced is not an acceptable option. 

It's just a little thing, but if I and the other members of this group lack the courage to deal with the little things, how are we ever going to make progress on the big things like sexual assault, rape culture, the glass ceiling, and the fact that women in Canada today who are working full time only earn 74.2% of what full-time working men earn? I am filled with admiration for women and men who have spoken out as part of the #MeToo movement.
But, too bad that I have no sense of humour.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Grandma Day

On Sunday, I got to be Grandma all day long. My two little grandsons came over to our house for the day while their parents went skiing.

Although I have babysat them a number of times at their house since moving here, and although they have been to our house many times with their parents, this is the first time that I have had them here all day. Their mom said that they were excited and eager to come stay at Grandma's house. 

We're Here!
Look at This, Grandma!

We started the morning right. Grandpa made his signature pancakes (yup, Aunt Jemima). Both little boys ate many, many pancakes.

Mmm, Pancakes
It was a windy, stormy day, so we stayed indoors rather than venturing out. The weather was a bonus on the ski hill -- lots of fresh powder for my daughter and son in law!

We coloured and drew pictures (art for my fridge), read stories, played with LEGO and Grandma's toy stash, and played with stickers. The younger grandson was very pleased that he had his own little bed to sleep in when nap time came (a fold-out cot that I set up in the spare bedroom).

Colouring and Drawing
Another big hit of the day was baking cookies. Actually, licking the beater and spoon at the end of the cookie-making was the part that the boys enjoyed the most. They also really liked eating the chocolate chip cookies, after they cooled off. A tin of cookies went home with them at the end of the day to share with Mommy and Daddy.

Licking the Bowl
 Their uncle spent lots of time in the afternoon playing with them. They adore their uncle!

Having Fun With Their Uncle
Everyone had a terrific day -- Mommy and Daddy at the ski hill, the two boys at Grandma's house, and Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle. Even our dog, Kate, was totally delighted to spend the day with my grandsons.

The previous weekend, I went with my grandsons and their parents to the Tube Park at the ski hill. It was fun, and the boys loved it.

Ready to Go
On the Magic Carpet

Yesterday, Rob, my son and I had our own ski day. We couldn't have timed it better. We had sunshine and fresh snow.
Happy Skiers
Retirement is awesome! I can't even remember why I was so worried about it.