Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It's Time For Canada To Act Its Age

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, June 21, 20017, by Sara Jewell

My wish for Canada 150 is that it marks a true and revolutionary change in the way we live with the Indigenous people of this country. My wish is that each one of us celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday takes a moment to appreciate that this country is actually thousands of years older.
In a recent column in the Globe and Mail newspaper, Elizabeth Renzetti wrote that there will be substantial parts in this country where July 1 will not be considered a day of celebration. “For those parts of the country, what happened 150 years ago was not the birth of something wonderful, but the end of something even more wonderful – the end of a way of life. And the beginning of a new reality that was grim, painful and murderous.”
We’re older and wiser now, and we know better. It’s time to do better.

It’s time for Canada to act its age. We cannot continue to bask in the glory of our niceness and peacemaking while the original citizens of this country are denied their legitimate role in our national identity.
It’s time to let go of the past, to let go of the conquer-and-colonize mindset of the Europeans who arrived here in 1604, to let go of the toxic “us versus them” attitude that infuses our talk about First Nations.
It’s time to end the fear and ignorance that “they” will take our land. It’s time to rewrite the misinformation that “those people” have it better than we do. It’s time to stop denying their nation within a nation. It’s time to demand our federal government enter fully and completely into right relations with our Indigenous people.
We know better. It’s time to do better.

The seeds of this particular column were planted in 2011 when I drove by the newly-erected sign on the highway just east of Amherst, a sign that declares “Land of the Mi’kmaq”.
I looked at that sign and said, “Yes.”
The sign makes me proud of our Indigenous heritage, but also aware that a highway sign has provided me with my only concrete connection with the people who once lived on the land I call home.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I cannot count a single Indigenous person among my acquaintances, not by conscious choice, but simply the result of the invisible blinders I wear, as did my parents and their parents. Then, as now, our First Nations lived on reserves apart from “the rest of us” so they were not part of the world in which I grew up. We assumed they were taken care of; we were wrong.

Now that I am older, wiser and know better, I recognize we have more to gain as a nation and as human beings by living in partnership with a people whose culture informs so much of our language and our customs – whether we want to acknowledge that or not.
Now that I know better, I’m going to do better. I’m attending National Aboriginal Day in Amherst today because it’s time to “Catch the Spirit and Share the Celebration”, it’s time to move beyond a painted sign on the side of a highway and witness my first pow wow. It’s time to stand on the land with those who first settled it.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Off to the Annapolis Valley

As my friend and fellow author, Majorie Simmins, likes to say, "No rest for the wicked."
But when it's a mini-tour through the beautiful Annapolis Valley, including a birthday supper for my Mother, it's a good kind of wicked!
If you're in the neighbourhood on June 22, 23 or 24, come visit.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Summer of the Horse: The Torso, the Whole Torso and Nothing But the Torso

Head up! Head up!

It seems as if the only body parts not involved in riding are the feet and the head. And of course these are the parts that keep making mistakes.
"Use your calves! Don't use your heels! Keep your legs by the girth!"
"Chin up! Head up! Look where you're going!"
Every week, there is a riding lesson but also a personal lesson: For lesson four, it's my lack of concentration. I find riding on the back of a horse very relaxing so my thoughts tend to drift; actually, I stop having thoughts. It's really nice, just to ride along there, thinking about nothing, just rocking with movement of the horse. Hey, there's a pigeon up there, and how nice it's not raining today --
"Don't lean into the turn!"
"We're going into a corner! What reign are you on? What leg are you using?"
"Let's do that again!"
 "Now stop."
"Let's do that again."
"Be firm with him! You sound too nice. You want him to stop so make him stop. Squeeze with your legs! Pull back with your elbows! Don't lean forward!"


I can't believe how tired my body is after this morning's lesson. It feels like my legs and feet and arms are vibrating which means it's both a tiredness and an energizing -- I could lie down for a nap then go for another ride. An hour of concentrating for both body and mind is exhausting but a good thing; it means I worked hard and learned something.
Dawn Helm, who owns and instructs at Galloway Stables in Linden where I'm learning to ride, was away today so Ashley stepped in to do my lesson. It's good to have different instructors because each one has a different style. Ashley pushed me hard and filled me with information. She made me do my stops until they were done properly; she made me do the corners until I was doing them properly.
And she kept asking me what was written on the back of Dakota's head that was so interesting! For some reason, I can't remember to keep my head up and look between his ears yet it makes such a difference to my control of the horse when I am looking where we're walking, instead of down at what is walking me there.
"Shoulders, belly button and hips, that's all you're using," Ashley told me. "Use your torso. That's what's controlling the horse."
I think I understand. I could feel the subtle change in movement in Dakota when I curved my shoulders into our turn, and I could feel how effective my stop became when I tightened my hips. I could feel how my seat changed, for the better, when I kept my legs forward at the girth (which runs under the horse's belly to hold the saddle on) instead of hooking them back towards his hind legs (and my weak ankles didn't hurt this week).
Torso, torso, torso. All my control comes from that part of the body. My legs are instruments of stop and go. My torso determines where we go and how we get there.

With Ashley as my instructor today, the learning curve was steeper, the do-overs more intense, and my landing after dismount more painful after a hearty hour on the back of Dakota but even though I feel overwhelmed by what I know, and what I don't know, this reinforces the fact that if you want to learn anything -- to ride a horse, to paint, to play an instrument, to write, to cook -- all it takes is practice. Do it again and again and again, and eventually you will become proficient at it. As with all activities, and dreams, the more you work at it, the more you get out of it.

I said out loud to one of the other riders tacking up their horse that "I wish I'd done this twenty years ago" but as the words came out of my mouth, I knew they were wrong. I'm learning to ride a horse -- and learning to be confident and in charge, to be firm and in control of both my body and the horse's -- at the right time of my life. Twenty years ago, I was an insecure young woman utterly lacking in self-awareness; now I am wiser and humbler, and I don't mind someone yelling at me.

Look at me on my borrowed horse in my borrowed riding helmet and holey Bog boots! Who gives a shit what you're wearing or whether you are doing it correctly right from the start? All that matters is that you get up on that horse, you draw on that page, you get in that canoe, you step onto that stage.

You are never too old to pursue that one thing you've always wanted to do. Trust me, nothing makes you feel younger, like a kid again, than learning something new.

Practicing Whoa. Look at that torso!

Friday, June 09, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Easy Squeezy

All tacked up and ready to ride.

"So, how do you feel about it?" my husband asked me shortly after I'd returned home from my third riding lesson today.

"It's hard to describe," I replied. "The whole lesson was riding. It's very exciting but you likely think I'm not very excited. I'm so thrilled, I'm calm. It's so amazing to me and it feels so good, I'm beyond being excited."

Or it could just be a result of my instructor telling me to relax for an hour.

"It's a big day," Dawn Helm, of Galloway Stables in Linden, announced as I was brushing Dakota prior to our lesson this morning.
I knew that meant I was getting up on him. And it didn't take long for her to make good on that promise.
While I watched, Dawn tacked him up -- saddle blanket, some kind of foamy thing to compensate for an angled back (I totally relate to that, buddy), saddle and girth.
"We put the girth on from the right," she said.
"Why?" (I'm like a four year old: Why? Why? Why?)
"Because we do," she shrugged. "Because you carry your sword on your left, I guess."
So we decided that was the answer to every horse-related question: Because you carry your sword on your left.

Dawn uses a mounting block, which might seem "wimpy" but actually is better for the horse and the saddle. If you're going to spend all that time putting the blanket, saddle and girth on, only to haul it sideways with your body weight, what's the point? And that's a lot of drag on one side of the horse, too. It's not like we ever mount from the right to compensate because...we carry our sword on the left.
For dismounting, however, it's a full-body vault off the horse. Having done it once last summer when my friend Gail let me ride her horse, Earli, for a bit, I didn't embarrass myself by tumbling instead of vaulting. Even remembered to bend at the knees when I hit the dirt!

In between,
On a horse. Not for ten minutes, not for one slow walk around the arena, but for 45 minutes.
No fear. No nervousness. Totally focused on keeping my legs loose and my feet turned out.
(Biggest learning moment today? That I have weak ankles. Skating should have been my first clue, but who wants to admit to having weak ankles? But I do. How does one discover this during horseback riding? When you hold your feet wrong.)

So there I was, up on a horse, for real, riding around the arena, with Dawn controlling Dakota through the lunge line. I was no longer asking Dawn, Why? but instead, What do you mean? We took a moment for a lesson in lingo: Riding the rail means riding right next to the wall. Going into the corner doesn't mean ride him right into the corner! It means don't let him cut the corner. Ride the quarter line corresponds with dividing the arena into quarters, which I understood, but she totally lost me when she started talking about the arena being 120 metres so a 20 metre circle, or was it 40? And that's when I said, "If I can't visualize it, I can't figure it out."

In her book, Year of the Horse, Marjorie Simmins writes about preventing the horse from drifting away from where you're heading. It echoes what Dawn told me about looking between the horse's ears to where you want to go:
"Your job is to focus straight ahead, on a point on the far wall or fence that you can aim for, and to keep your eyes on this point. The focus acts as a magnet."
Marjorie goes on to explain how to use the legs to control drift. Now this page makes a lot more sense to me! 
Right now, I tend to watch Dakota's head and the ground in front of us instead of looking ahead. I'm sure that will change as I become more confident of my control from the saddle. Right now, I feel like I'm thinking of every body part -- feet, legs, torso, hands, elbows, even head -- and what it's supposed to be doing, or not doing. Nothing is second nature yet.

In many ways, I just want to ride but there's a lot more to riding a horse than climbing on and heading out into a field. I'm a perfectionist so I want to do it right, and I also don't want to break my head or any other bones while doing it. I have weak ankles, remember.

The end result of riding around the arena for almost an hour? I have to learn to hold the reins tighter but at least I hold them properly and earned a point for adjusting my hands without letting go of the reins. I'm pretty good with using the rein and opposite leg to guide Dakota where I want him to go BUT I have a bad habit of squeezing my legs and leaning forward when I'm pulling back on the reins to make him stop. Squeezing the legs and/or leaning forward are Go actions, contrary to what the reins are telling him. The cartoons have it right: You need to lean back, pull back on the reins and say, "Whooaaa!"
"Well, don't lean so far back next time," Dawn said as she watched me figure this out.

And because I was trying to remember to stop him by engaging my core and pelvic muscles, I kept yelling, "Kegel!" instead of "Whoa!"

And yet, despite all that, I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be: In the saddle.

As I drove away from the stables afterwards, I thought to myself, "I wish I had a horse so that I could ride again tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that."

They warned me about this, those horse ladies I met last summer. They warned me. But now they have me right where they wanted me.
In the saddle.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Are You Seed or Are You Jelly?

I made two batches of dandelion jelly this week, which will be available for sale at the Pugwash Farmers Market on Saturday July 1st. I almost missed out on the harvest; I was busy last week then we had those four days of cool, cloudy, rainy days. When I looked out the window on Monday night, it seemed like all the dandelions had gone to seed. But the sunshine and warmth brought many back into bloom yesterday and today.

It's not difficult to make dandelion jelly; the most effort comes in collecting two cups of dandelion blossoms. Not the whole head -- just those long, thin, delicate blossoms. It's take a whole lot of time and a whole lot of blossoms to fill that Pyrex measuring cup.
As I was sitting in the grass, plucking and de-blossoming, I began to wonder about the fate of these dandelions. I wondered if they knew they were no longer destined to turn into seeds -- in this way, so much like the caterpillar and butterfly, don't you think? -- and float into the world to create more flowers.
Instead, I explained to them, "You are going to be immortal in another way. You are going to transformed into jelly that will make many people happy. You are about to become a gastronomical delight."

This got me thinking about our destinies: Those of us who become seeds and those of us who become jelly. Not in the way that one is lesser than the other; in fact, one could argue it is more important to become seeds in order to keep producing more dandelion. I was thinking about how we are transformed by the choices we make for our lives, choices that determine whether we become seeds -- floating off into the world -- or are transformed into jelly -- nourishing souls. Both involve transformations, becoming something different than what we were born as; in the case of jelly, becoming something entirely different than our circumstances dictated for our lives.
(One could perhaps argue that the decision to become jelly is not one that the dandelion made but the end result, the unique and small-batch jelly, is the point.)

So we are all dandelions -- bright yellow, lion-hearted, sturdy and hardy (also much-maligned by humans but needed and appreciated by bees) -- and what we become, seeds or jelly, is entirely up to us.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Thank You for Thinking of Me

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, by Sara Jewell

When the birthday card arrived in the mail, I could tell that it was the kind that comes with fundraising requests. There is nothing wrong with those cards, and this one had a lovely painting of a hummingbird and a purple iris on it. What surprised me was that my long-time friend would send one of those cards to me because they are rather generic.
Inside, however, Jennifer had written: “I think we can agree that this is an uninspiring birthday card but it occurred to me that if I used a card on hand rather than trying to find the perfect one in a store then I might actually get the card written and in the mail on time!”
She was absolutely correct: It meant more to have my birthday remembered and to see her familiar handwriting on that generic birthday card than to have received an email or a message via Facebook because she didn’t manage to get the perfect card.

Jennifer’s decision to use the card she had on hand reminds me of my mother-in-law and the drawers full of cards in her dining room buffet. I’ve always admired Mary’s commitment to acknowledging every occasion, whether it’s a birthday or anniversary, surgery or bereavement, and she told me she wants people to know she cares.
“My philosophy in life is ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” she said. “I send cards to people to let them know I’m thinking about them hoping they will soon be feeling better or that I am happy for them or that I feel badly for them because they have lost a loved one.”
Given the price of some of the cards, and the cost of stamps, it’s understandable that most of us choose to email, text or message someone, but we lose a tangible connection when we don’t have an envelope to open and a card to hold in our hands.

Jodi Delong, a writer, photographer, editor and gardener who lives in Wolfville, also refuses to give up the experience of sending cards, and uses her commitment and stockpile to support local artists.
“I keep a stash of handmade cards on hand for popping in the mail in times of illness or loss,” Jodi explained, “because a handmade card may not cure the sorrow, but it’s apt to bring a little bit more comfort than a seven-dollar, mass-produced card from the local department store.”

Commenting on an Instagram photo of pretty notepaper, Amanda Cashin, a photographer who lives in East Lawrencetown, expressed the wish that card and letter writing wasn’t considered old-fashioned.
“We need more of these mindful, reflective practices in the world right now,” she wrote. “I love to sit and choose the right card for the right person, and I really enjoy the process of practicing gratitude.”
Amanda said she even sends a thank you card to her hairdresser after a good hair cut. My mother-in-law will be so delighted with that, she’ll likely send Amanda a card telling her how much she enjoyed reading about her in this column.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Breakfast on the Deck

It doesn't matter how many squirrels get killed on the road, we always seem to have three show up for breakfast.
So this is my pre-yoga ritual on mornings when I'm not walking the road: Get up, turn on kettle and make chai tea. Put out hummingbird feeder (we take it in every night to keep the raccoons from sauntering up to the bar and draining it) and top up the finch feeder. Put out four or five piles of peanuts.
If I don't put out separate piles, these little buggers will fight in the feeder. Chattering and squawking, they are literally rolling around, their bodies and tails flinging all over the place, which sprays peanuts all over the deck, thus defeating my purpose of putting peanuts in the feeder in the first place.
It's noisy and it's exhausting.
It's not peaceful or invigorating.
There's a reason there is no "squirrel pose" in yoga.
Once everyone is quiet and happily munching away, I can finally step onto my yoga mat.
And then the blue jays arrive to steal the peanuts... 

Friday, June 02, 2017

Rhubarb As A Work of Art

Made (by my mother) from rhubarb growing in my own garden.
There really isn't more to say.
stop drooling.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Getting To Know You

A hundred times this. 
Dakota and I don't know each other very well but we're learning each other. Humans aren't new to him but he's not been a lesson horse before and his owners live in Halifax; horses are new to me and I've not had lessons before but I'm not afraid of them.
To walk alongside Dakota, to feel his head bob up and down by my shoulder with the rhythm of his gait, to hear him breath in my ear, is the companionship I've read about, the familiarity I'm seeking. This is just the beginning of creating a camaraderie with a horse, however.   

You get to know a horse first of all by grooming him. Your hands are on him, you're talking to him ("This is one of my favourite songs," I told Dakota this morning while he stood in the cross-ties and the radio played in the background), and you're seeing every ripple of muscles, every hair, every nick from another horse's teeth. You're on your hunkers cleaning off his belly, you're combing out his mane, you're sneezing from the dust coming off his coat.
I could brush a horse forever, not only because they are deeply dirty but because it is a form of meditation. It's like cleaning a house or washing dishes: It's methodical and repetitive, it requires no thinking, just doing. You can see the results of your work. There is a sense of achievement.
"I'll just come over and brush all your horses," I said to Dawn Helm, the owner of Galloway Stables in Linden and my instructor.

Grooming is also how you gain confidence with a horse. When he dances forward in the cross-ties, you step in front and make him back up to where you want him. When he pushes over and you realize you're going to be squashed against the stall door, you poke him and say, "Over." You make him do it. You show him who is the boss. You are consistent and insistent.
None of this is second nature to me so it's more like multi-tasking and a challenge to remember everything, especially when I'm lost in the rhythm of grooming. But I corrected Dakota today, and once, I backed him up and moved him over at the same time, earning my instructor's praise.
"I did that by accident," I admitted to her.

After this second lesson, I can pick his hooves clean and brush him down by myself.  This means I now arrive at the barn in Linden twenty minutes early in order to bring him in, put him in the cross-ties, and groom him. Then I get my hour-long lesson. After this week, I feel confident I can do that. I can't wait to do that.

I'll get half an hour in the saddle next week but it's so clear that learning to ride isn't as simple as getting up on a saddle and walking around an arena; with the wisdom of four decades behind me, I'm not impatient to get in the saddle (eager, yes). Body language is key to communicating with and controlling a horse. After my first lesson last week, I didn't grasp how to control Dakota, his trotting and his turning, through my torso but I knew it mattered so we worked on that this week, and I'm beginning to use it properly. My hands matter, too, and I keep getting them mixed up or tangled up in the lead line.

As Marjorie Simmins wrote in her book, Year of the Horse, which inspired me to learn to ride, "Mostly [horses] will be watching you as discreetly as you are watching them openly, looking for clues to your ways and wiles, and deciding, like you, if there's trouble or peace ahead."

I'm gaining the small steps of improvement, of understanding. My turnings need work but I can stop him easily now and he follows me without the lead line. I know to wait for him to drop his head and I know that licking his lips means he's submitting to me.

What I'm most pleased about is my lack of nervousness around Dakota. I talk about being afraid of horses' hooves and teeth and tails but in truth, I'm not. Even so, I think the first thing I'll get Dawn to teach me next week, when I'm on Dakota, is the panic stop.
You know, just in case. For someone whose default reaction is panic, I think it's the one skill I need to know second nature.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Rhubarb! Rhubarb! Rhubarb!

My one regret related to my move to rural Nova Scotia ten years ago is that I didn't plant rhubarb immediately. I don't know why I didn't but it seems I was caught up in turning sod on flower gardens around the house. A decade later, I'm still kicking myself that we didn't plant rhubarb, sour cherry trees (because we had one on Pugwash Point and they are soooo hard to find) and highbush blueberry bushes.
Oh, and strawberries. A manageable patch for my breakfast, not the seemed-like-a-good-idea huge patch my husband planted several years ago and then stopped weeding and ploughed under. What happened? I have no idea but it was too big a patch for two of us to keep ahead of the weeds. It broke my heart when the plants disappeared.

So these rhubarb plants, stuck away in a corner last year, are ripe and ready for harvest. The plot of ground around was tilled up then left alone (what is the matter with us?!?) so I'm determined to take charge of this plot and make it fruitful. Two more rhubarb plants and -- ta! da! -- strawberries. Just enough for my breakfast. The local farmers can provide my jamming berries.
I know it's another garden and my right wrist and lower back are protesting already but darn it, the flower gardens are fine and I put two bags of chopped rhubarb in the freezer today for Glorious Winter Crisp right when we need to be reminded that winter doesn't last forever. It's definitely time for my other country garden dreams to come to fruition.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Serendipity

Sign on the wall of Galloway Stables in Linden, NS.
Three things happened to me last year that resulted in me being in this barn this morning with a curry brush in my hand.
One, I wrote a book and one of the essays in that book is called "Communion With the Livestock" in which I described getting to know the cows and horses on my rural walking route.
Two, I took a writing workshop with Nova Scotia author Marjorie Simmins who had just published a memoir called Year of the Horse (Pottersfield Press). When it came time for blurbs to be done for my book, Field Notes, Marjorie agreed to read it and blurb it. She also corrected my mistakes in that particular essay regarding "mini ponies (there are ponies and there mini horses; there is no such thing as a mini pony).
And three, I met Gail Simmons at the Pugwash Farmers Market, who recognized me from a reading I'd done a week or two earlier at Art Quarters. I ended up interviewing her for a column, and we hit it off immediately. Shortly before she was heading back to her other home in Ontario, I stopped by the stable to give her a copy of Marjorie's book, and Gail let me ride her horse for a bit.

As I explain in the Field Notes essay about goats, I grew up knowing that horseback riding was out of the question because of my mother's severe allergies. Not being an "F*** you" kind of girl -- meaning that attitude of not letting anything or anyone stand in your way -- I never insisted, never defied, never resented. I merely longed all my life.

Until now. I'm in my forties, damn it, and that's the middle of my life. I live in rural Nova Scotia and while I'm happy keeping chickens, I'm ready for the next adventure. I haven't lost my love of horses or my envy of those who live and work with them. So, Mother's allergies be damned, I decided these horsewomen with the same last name came into my life for a reason: to help me fulfill a lifelong yearning to be confident and competent -- fearless -- around horses, and to be their companion.
As the 19th century writer George Eliot (a woman who had to publish under a man's name) said, "It's never too late to be what you might have been."

Guiding me on this journey is Dawn Helm, who owns Galloway Stables in Linden, Nova Scotia, and has had horse companions since she was five years old. This morning was my introductory session. Dawn knows I want to learn to ride but she also knows I want to know everything. Riding a horse isn't merely about climbing onto a saddle and kicking your heels so the horse moves forward then hollering "Whoa" when you want him to stop. All that other stuff -- all the communication and the care, the body language and the brushing -- I want to know it, every bit of it.
Even the challenging "lead with your bellybutton" command.

With her teaching horse, Dakoka, in the cross ties, Dawn showed me how to use three different brushes on him and as I brushed his thick, muscular body, sloughing off the dust and bringing out the shine in his coat, Dawn talked about being the boss around a horse.
When you're working with an 1800-pound animal, she said, you can't let yourself be pushed around.
"I think of young girls, when they're 12 and 13, who are timid and quiet, who don't have much self-confidence, how they end up in relationships where they are controlled, even abused," she said. "They don't know how to stick up for themselves, to speak up or defend themselves. This sport is the best thing for them. It's 100 per cent life-transforming."

This is so much more than merely learning to ride a horse. My education in horses, and in a unique breed of strong women, has begun.

Dawn posted the above sign inside the barn because of random visitors in the summer who just show up and walk around wearing flip flops. Who walks into a barn without boots on their feet? Sheesh, those city people! 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Let's Not Be Crabby About the Weather

I love this quote by Alberta photographer Sara Jewell, who I follow on Instagram:
"Living with four seasons means you never get bored and your world seems to morph into each new season with anticipation and excitement."

Ah, a tribute to different seasons, a celebration of the rich variety of weather in our seasons. Not just sunny and warm every day but wind and rain, snow and ice, sunshine and white clouds edged in silver. Who wants the same old-same old every day?

Perhaps those who have lost someone to cancer, to a car accident, to a suicide bombing. Their new normal will never be the same.

It drives me crazy, it drives me to shout at my television when news anchors lament about the weather. "Oh, no, not another rainy day," or "When will this rain end?'
Since when do news anchors have license to whine?
We had three days of sunshine but all anyone wants to talk about is the cold wind. 

Welcome to the land mass sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean.

My mother overheard a woman complaining at the grocery store this morning about how depressed she was because of the weather. "We can't even go to the beach."
1) How often do Maritimers get to frolic at the beach in May, hm? Honestly?
2) An eight year old girl is among the dead in yesterday's suicide bombing in Manchester and you're complaining that a rainy day makes you depressed? You're lucky. There are 22 people dead in the UK who will never go to the beach again.

I'm grateful today that I can feel raindrops on my face.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Discussion About A Concussion

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, May 17 2017, by Sara Jewell

Paige Black relaxes in the gently-lit living room of her parents' home during a recent visit.

Every time Sidney Crosby, the Nova Scotia born-and-bred captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, gets a blow to the head, hockey fans hold their collective breath, waiting to hear if he’s suffered another, possibly career-ending concussion.
If a concussion can bring down an athlete of his calibre, what about the average person, say a 21-year-old woman playing recreational soccer in Halifax?

Just as she was heading into her third year at Dalhousie University, Paige Black of Oxford sustained two concussions in two weeks as the goalie for her recreational soccer team.
Three years after the injuries, Paige explained that concussions are an “invisible injury” that are not readily seen like a broken arm. 
“Give yourself 24 hours because it’s not always noticeable right away,” she said. “It tends to take a little more time to see if your head hurts.”
Her main symptom was wanting to sleep all the time. “I’d get up and three hours later, be so exhausted. I couldn’t stay awake.”
The concussion also left her with a sensitivity to light and sound. Wearing sunglasses in a classroom because of the fluorescent lighting or leaving a party because of the noise makes her seem anti-social but it’s the result of her symptoms.
“After the second concussion, I was in my apartment for three months with the blinds closed,” she said.
Now 24 and living with these symptoms, Paige described her head as feeling like she has elastic bands wrapped around it. “It always feels like my skull is shrinking inward. It’s hard to stay positive,” she added. “Not to mention you’re more irritable with a brain injury.”

Active, outgoing and hardworking, this brain injury has forced Paige to slow down. After taking a year off school to learn how to live and work within the limits imposed by her symptoms, Paige anticipates graduating this coming December with an arts degree in international development.
“It’s required me to be mindful of what I’m able to do and not take on too much,” she said. “I started this past semester with ‘Health first, study second’. And the semester started out really well; I got the best marks I’ve gotten in university so far, and I really enjoyed what I was doing.”
The university provides accommodations for any student, whether for a broken arm, a hearing impairment, or a brain injury. Unable to both move her eyes up and down to take notes during class as well as pay attention, Paige receives a classmate’s notes. 

Fortuitously, she was already working part-time for the university’s Accessibility Department when she was injured. When she realized she was helping other students find accommodations for their concussion symptoms, she sought help herself.
“It’s been neat to discover that my personal experience is very helpful. When someone  tells me they have a concussion, I know what to do,” she said. “It makes my job more rewarding because I appreciate being able to use those services so I really want to make sure other students get what they need.”
All too often, a disability can be a barrier to employment but in Paige’s case, it’s made her a more valuable employee. Her future’s so bright, she’s gotta wear shades.  


Paige Black began her studies in international development before she'd even reached university.  After graduating from Oxford Regional Education Centre, she travelled to Kenya, then three years later, to Rwanda. 
She described the trips as "getting her feet wet" for her future studies and work. 
"We went to learn from the community so in thanks, we ask what we could do back. We built gardens and donated chickens,” she said of the initial trip to Kenya. “I was really lucky that we got to do that in a respectful way. I was 18, I didn’t know any better, but starting my degree, I discovered a lot of people did ‘volun-tourism’ which wasn’t very good for the communities they went to.”
Once she graduates at the end of the fall semester, Paige said her next step towards getting a job in her field is an internship which likely will happen overseas. There is a lot of flexibility with the work she'll do, and a lot of work in the community. 
"In my work, I can focus on things like poverty, the environment, politics of international trade with affects developing nations,” she explained.  
Her dream job is to work with the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative, which is based at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“They’re overseas training people and working with the UN. The instances of people using child soldiers is going down, and the rate of recruiting them is down. They do amazing work,” she said.
As will Paige, I'm sure. The personal traits that got her through her injury and allowed her to help others -- determination, mindfulness, and empathy -- are well-suited to the work she hopes to do with international development.