Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lessons From the Stove: Less Is More

When Apple announced the forthcoming iPhone X, with a price tag of over thirteen hundred dollars (US), I thought of my mother-in-law’s stove. Bought in 1972, the olive-green propane stove has cooked almost 50,000 meals (I did the math) and it’s still in use today.
The stove is 45 years old and still in use.
That certainly deserves recognition, doesn’t it? A certificate or parade or even a speech in the legislature because how many of us can claim to be using an appliance or vehicle that is ten years old, let alone more than forty?
According to my father-in-law, the only problem in the last four decades was a faulty burner so there was never any reason to replace a perfectly good stove with something newer, shinier and likely less durable. My husband and I have been married ten years and we’re already on our second washing machine.
Once a stove reaches this level of survival, it simply can’t be replaced. It is, in all of its olive green glory, truly vintage.

Lori Byrne would love to get her hands on that stove. 
An interior decorator who lives with her husband and two young daughters in Meadowville, Nova Scotia, Lori’s passion for all things vintage finds expression through her ‘Farm Fresh Style’ venture, in which she combines her decorating knowledge with her crafting skills.
“It’s about repurposing and upcycling and creating with what I acquire and what is kicking around,” she told me over the phone.
For Lori, that pile of junk we clean out of our parents’ basement or grandparents’ attic isn’t trash for the landfill; it’s a treasure trove of decorating ideas. She said it’s both challenging and satisfying to take a crappy old headboard and turn it into a “super-cool” sign.
“I like seeing what I can create with an unlikely object.”
Lori was raised on a farm so the value of repurposing rather than throwing out is deeply ingrained in her. Author Jon Katz wrote the following on his blog in 2015 after he’d lived in rural New York State for a number of years: “Real farms are beautiful places, orchestrations of chaos, where junk is utilitarian, nothing is new, nothing is ever thrown away, everything is used. Farmers are obsessive tinkerers, always patching, stitching, welding and praying.”

It’s not just about repurposing old things, however; for Lori, it’s also about valuing what we have. The inspiration behind her annual Homegrown Vintage Market is her appreciation for items whose usefulness stands the test of time.
“Items can have so much nostalgia for people,” she explained. “They’ll pick something up and say, ‘My grandmother had one of these’. Someone else says, ‘All the stuff in my kitchen is vintage! This is what I use every day still.’ Vintage items are still here, they’re still functional. These old items have longevity and they will be around long after we’re gone. There’s some permanence to that, and I love that, as well.”

Permanence. Not a word often used in our fast-paced, globally-connected, constantly-upgrading world yet that olive green stove, with its permanent spot in my in-laws’ kitchen, tells a far better story about life than any iPhone ever will. 

Check out Lori's Farm Fresh Style website here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Autumn Autonomy

Here's the smile of a new rider finally getting to practice what she's been working on all summer.
You see, it's one thing to have a weekly lesson but those of us who bailed out of piano lessons because we had to practice every day grew up to realize it's all about the practice. If you don't work on those exercises in between the lessons, you don't improve, you don't figure things out on your own, you don't get better, you don't learn to enjoy yourself.
So I was pretty excited when my instructor, Dawn, said those magic words at the end of September: "You can ride on your own as long as there is someone at the barn to supervise."
As Emily, the editor of Field Notes, would say, "Eeps!"
I'm still riding Dakota the lesson horse so I pay twenty bucks to the person who is doing chores at the barn to keep an eye on me but hey, I'm quite willing to buy one less book a week in order to fund my riding practice.

I took it easy for my first autonomous ride. I'd hurt my back the week before so this was a chance to find out if riding was responsible for weakening my iliac crest (thankfully, no) but I also wanted to work on some basics: keeping my head up, steering, and my legs.
Yeah, I know, my legs again. The good news is, we hitched the stirrups up a notch and it's made a world of difference. Amazing what a difference one single hole on a leather strap can make.
It brought about a much needed breakthrough by the end of my last lesson: "My legs are loose! I get how that feels!" I shouted to Dawn across the outdoor ring.
Getting to take practice rides on my own will let me work on the little things that matter, including the intangibles like confidence and non-verbal communication, so I'm grateful for Dawn's trust. The barn and rings aren't busy during the week, and I cherish the peace and quiet of working on my skills without distractions, without instructions.
Once November comes, the writing schedule shifts into high gear so I'm looking forward to these few hours a week when I can step away from the chair and step onto the saddle. Horse riding will be the perfect antidote to story writing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Writing Workshop for Girls Aged 12-15

A word on the location: This workshop is open to girls from all over Cumberland County (and beyond). Oxford is a central location for Pugwash, Springhill and Amherst, and where I can find the appropriate venue (not having to pay for a day's rental keeps the cost of the workshop low).
Registration closes October 23.

Monday, October 09, 2017

That Takes The Cake

Thanks to everyone who showed up on Saturday at the house. I know it was a busy weekend so it was great to have so many people coming and going on that beautiful autumn afternoon. Dwayne talked me out of letting the chickens roam free because he figured they'd hang out in his cucumber patch. 

I'm not sure how many other authors would have an open house -- at their own house -- to celebrate one year since the publication of their first book, but my book is filled with stories that are so personal, it seemed completely appropriate to have a birthday party.
My book is local so I decided the cake needed to be as well. Megan Bishop, of Bishop Family Farm and BFF's Sweet Spot in Wentworth, created this custom Field Notes cake after a 45 minute consultation. She did a great job of understanding what I wanted, right down to using the same script for the cake that appears on the cover of the book.
Honestly, as the day of the party approached, I started to get nervous because I'd been talking up the special cake for my book's birthday but I need not have worried; the dark chocolate cake and buttercream icing was perfect.
If you want cakes or pies, you can check out Bishop Family Farm on Facebook. I'm thinking I need to do a column about Megan because I suspect she has a "heart and home in rural Nova Scotia" story.

Wow, a whole year since Field Notes was published. I feel just as happy today as I did when I opened that box of books a year ago.
Thanks for being part of this dream come true! 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Giving Thanks, Living Thanks

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, October 4, 2017, by Sara Jewell.

On Monday of this week, I got out of bed at seven o’clock, fed the cats and the dog, let the chickens out of their coop, then stood in the yard as the sun burst through the clouds hanging over the river and breathed in deeply the fresh October air. Then I went inside and poured myself a mug of coffee.
Thankfully, this is not going to be my last good memory. I’m not going to look back on those twenty minutes of Monday morning and recognize those as the last moments of my happiness before my world was changed irrevocably.
Others are not so lucky.

I took my mug of coffee into the living room and turned on the television to check out the news. The headline on CNN screaming at me across the bottom of the screen read, “50+ Dead, 200+ Injured In Concert Shooting in Las Vegas”. After watching for a few minutes, I turned off the TV.
I turned on my phone and opened up Facebook. The first post on my screen announced that a friend’s mother, in the late stage of cancer and the early stage of dementia, had died.
I got up and cooked oatmeal, which I covered in pumpkin seeds, blueberries and milk. I sat down at my dining room table, overlooking a front yard filled with dappled sunlight, and ate my breakfast with tears dripping off my chin. I was doing what I always do, what I enjoy doing, and living my good little life, while yet again, the lives of so many are changed irrevocably.
Sometimes, without having survived anything, I feel survivor’s guilt, so on Monday, when the personal and the universal were twisted up together in a braid of grief and pain, I sat at the table and pushed back the guilt with gratitude.

Thank you for oatmeal and coffee. I am grateful for the nourishment and comfort they provide.
Thank you for sunshine and clouds and wind. I am grateful to live so close to nature.
Thank you for this house. I am grateful to be sheltered and protected.
Thank you for the cats and the dog. I am grateful for their companionship.
My gratitude does nothing to stop the suffering of those in Las Vegas (or Edmonton, or France, or Mayanmar) but expressing gratefulness has to be, somehow, better than feeling guilty.

In A.J. Jacobs’ 2007 book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, he wrote on Day 263 about his growing obsession with being thankful for everything: “It’s an odd way to live. But also kind of great and powerful. I’ve never before been so aware of the thousands of little good things, the thousands of things that go right every day.”
As we approach the long weekend, we will say “Happy Thanksgiving” a dozen times between now and Monday. Instead of giving, however, what about living thanks? Perhaps this weekend is a chance to kickstart a year of being obsessively grateful every single day for all the little good things.
Thank you for reading this. I’m grateful for the connection these words create.