Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Artist's Way

Some might call this a "work in progress", for that is what it is, but I look at this and see the creative process.
Purely semantics, I supposed, but for one thing, it's not work. To a writer or a potter or a painter or a carpenter, doing what you love, doing what you are called to do, what you do instinctively and joyfully -- even when it feels like hard, manual labour -- is not work.
Again with the semantics! But as soon as I saw this half-finished mug sitting on the wheel in Jenn Houghtaling's studio outside of Pugwash, I knew I had to take a photo.
I love moments like this, that brief period where something is what it is but not what it started as and not what it's going to become. But that moment mid-way in creation that says to the person whose hands are on the clay or the pen or the brush or the keyboard, "Now look at what you're doing!"  That moment which produces a ripple of belief in oneself that propels us forward into completion.
It's a moment full of potential, a moment full of hope and peace and joy, full of possibilities and that divine sense of self that makes all the hard, manual labour and the back spasms and the headaches worthwhile.


Jenn is the subject of one of my essays in the Field Notes book so I'd asked her to create some "Field Notes" tumblers and a mug for me (because you can never have too many mugs). One of the tumblers will be included in the Field Notes gift basket I'm planning to create as the door prize at the book launch.
One of a kind and limited edition!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Faithful One

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, by Sara Jewell.

You meet someone like Ida Demings, casually, say at a musical evening in the village of Pugwash, and she’s friendly and chatty and upbeat. You think, ‘What a nice lady,’ and you assume she doesn’t have a care in the world.
Then you sit down over lunch with Ida Demings and you ask her about working at East Cumberland Lodge in Pugwash for 35 years and you realize Ida Demings is like an iceberg: The tip you see in the water belies all the life experience lying deep below the surface.
Life experience that created a person perfectly suited for the Lodge.
“It all started when I volunteered with Gloria Merlin, who ran Recreation then,” Ida told me. “We had a sing-song on Mondays and she needed a volunteer.”
Her kind and attentive manner with the residents quickly earned her a full-time position with the Recreation department and that’s been her work since she was 28 years old.

Ida’s constant presence at ECL for more than three decades (she also goes in on weekends as a volunteer when there is a musical guest) has earned her the moniker, “the faithful one”.  
“When I started here, my mother told me I was going to get attached to these people, and I do,” said Ida. “Doing my best to fulfill their lives, that’s the goal. I do what I can for them while they’re here. Everything I do is for the residents. You have to accept them the way they are and love them the way they are.”

This is where the life of Iceberg Ida goes deep: she gained her deep and abiding empathy from taking care of her parents. An only child (she only learned much later that she had two sisters who didn’t survive infancy), Ida became a caregiver when she was just a teenager. Her father had Alzheimer’s, known as ‘hardening of the arteries’ when she was a girl, and many years later, her mother had a series of stroke.
“I was looking after my father when I was 14,” said Ida, who is 63, “and it wasn’t out of any textbook. I took him as he was.”
Ida obviously had a natural intuitiveness when it came to caregiving.
“I didn’t fight with Dad,” she said. “I couldn’t; he was my dad. If he put his pants on backwards, I just let him. When they’re happy, you leave it alone.”

After her father died when Ida was 17, it was she and her mother at the family home in Pugwash “until she wanted to be [at ECL]. Mom was a resident here for three years. She was happy. She saw me every day. I didn’t have to worry about her being home alone.”
Now Ida lives with a cat named Blackie and a poodle named Nicky. While she calls the staff and residents of ECL her family, she says her pets are her family as well.
“The cat and dog get along fine. When Nicky was sick, Blackie would wake me up every four hours. I have no idea how that cat knew.”
Intuition, of course. It runs in the family.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Miss September

Absolutely delighted to be a month in the 2017 "Friends and Furbabies" calendar in support of Cumberland County's Lillian Allbon Animal Shelter.
Pictured with me is the amazing and above-and-beyond shelter manager, Tara Gould, who told me how grateful she was that we adopted two adult cats last year -- and were we interested in a kitten because this year, she has too many of those!
Let me tell you, she's a hard woman to say no to, just as hard as it is to walk out of the shelter with no new friend.
The calendars, coordinated and created by Terri McCormick and photographer Meagan Cormier of Gallery 8, are fundraisers and sell for $20. The funds support what is a NO KILL shelter so every dollar helps take care of cats and kittens, puppies and dogs looking for a forever home.
And yeah, every day I wish I could adopt one of each!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

This Fall, We Want Fowl

Bring on the ducks, the geese and the hippopotamuses! All are welcome at 'Osprey Valley Pond'.
Of course I named it. I'm a writer -- everything has to have a title.
Of all the summers to dig a pond, we picked the driest summer ever, so for us, yesterday's unexpected downpour (the remnants of Hurricane Matthew that ended up drenching the Maritimes on Thanksgiving Monday) provided us with the major boost of water needed to finally fill up was what a rather uninspiring mud hole.
This is one of those country life daydreams Dwayne and I came up with when I moved in years ago, one of our many conversations that started with me, the city girl, saying, "Honey, what about...?"
When Dwayne began talking about stocking trout, I knew the pond would happen one day.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

The Field Notes Book Has Blossomed

Look at those happy faces. Our book is here! I say it's ours because Dwayne kept the house cleaned and the writer fed -- plus he inspired so many of the essays. My wonderful husband is certainly outstanding in his field! 
Field Notes is available at bookstores all over Nova Scotia and in a few in New Brunswick (I know Chapters, Moncton, for sure).  It's also online but above all, try the nearest independent book store if you can.
Thank you, from the bottom of my city girl heart, for buying this book -- you are supporting this writer (and upping her chances of writing Field Notes 2!) but also a Maritime publisher. Mwah!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Preserving History One Stone At A Time

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, October 5, 2016, by Sara Jewell

As I head out the door, I said to my husband, “I’m going to the cemetery to do an interview.”
An irresistible joke but the living, breathing man I met at the River Philip cemetery on Route 321 does not take his work lightly.
That’s an unintended pun since Keith Elliott of Wallace restores headstones.
He’s working on eleven in this cemetery thanks to a grant from the W.B. Wells Heritage Foundation, created in 1985 to preserve burial grounds and cemeteries throughout Cumberland County.
“It’s great there’s a foundation for this restoration because it’s labour-intensive,” Keith explains. “I’ve been out here six or seven times because I can only do so much then I have to leave and come back. I’m taking a little bit off each time, especially with the white ones; I let the sun do some of the work.”
He doesn’t use bleach or acid or wire brushes; he picks off the moss with his fingers and washes the stones with soapy water and a soft brush.

According to Keith, every cemetery in Cumberland County needs hours of work done on many of its headstones.
“It’s nice to preserve the history and hopefully it’s meaningful to people. If people are tracing a family tree, they want to go and touch that stone. People are very tactile,” he says. “You see people walk up to a headstone and the first thing they do is put their hand on it.”
Keith says he doesn’t pay much attention to the names on the headstones surrounding him, although he does notice when someone died young.
“Usually it’s the epitaph that catches my attention but I’m paying more attention to the shapes and the artwork than the names.”

A creator of headstones himself, the traditional shapes of older grave markers are in sharp contrast to the natural slabs with rough edges that Keith uses from the Wallace quarry. As well, the headstones he’s designing are more personalized. While the most common symbol in this cemetery is a hand with a finger pointing to heave, Keith has carved such images as a lobster boat, tractor, eagle, guitar and blueberry vine.
“It’s something symbolic for the person [who has died]. Quite often, there’s a story there and it’s very personal.”
He has even recreated someone’s handwriting from a letter.
The same personal touch is seen in the address stones he designs.

Surprisingly, Keith doesn’t come from a long line of stone masons or stone carvers; he took up this work after returning to Wallace in 2004 with his bride-to-be (the couple have two young sons now). The quarry in Wallace was just starting up again and co-owner Stan Flynn asked Keith work for him.
“I had no experience but I did wood and stone carving for fun, and I had worked for a sign company in Halifax,” says Keith. “Stan showed me the pointers but most of it was self-taught, trial and error. Same with restoration,” he says, patting a half-cleaned white limestone headstone. “Research and understanding stone. They should last a long time but after a while, you can’t do much more. They are a natural product. You can’t fight nature but it’s nice to bring the headstones back.”

For more information, check out Keith's website:

Monday, October 03, 2016

First Anniversary of Gotcha Day

It's been one year since we adopted these two fine fellows from the Lillian Albon Animal Shelter in Amherst and brought the brothers into our home. I remember barricading them into the laundry room with the purpose of giving them time to get used to the house, the dog and three unfamiliar humans -- only to find them climbing over the baby gate shortly after and roaming around confidently.  I don't think they spent a night in the laundry room.
Remy (left) and Abby didn't get off to a very good start - Remy was on the defensive - but they've become friends since then. Leonard, on the other hand, didn't hesitate to tell Abby she was his new BFF.
I'd say the boys have settled in quite nicely.  They are a wonderful addition to our furry family.