Portraits

I have been enjoying a greyer morning, going through emails, then checking the various news sites I visit daily. My cup of tea lasted long enough for it to go a little beyond the temperature I enjoy, but that is alright as it was all part of the lingering. I am currently reading a book titled Jane Austen Made Me Do It, short stories inspired by the books and life of Jane Austen and I am very much enjoying it. Many of the writers write historical fiction, some romance, some mysteries and thrillers. The different ways of thinking about Jane the individual are imaginative, playful and, sometimes poignant. Some stories explore characters from Austen books, and others, such as Love And Best Wishes, Aunt Jane, imagine Jane in the 21st century. I definitely recommend it to any lovers of Jane Austen, or readers who enjoy short story collections.

My sister sent me some photos she and her family had taken by a friend who is a photographer. They are gorgeous. Her children are, of course, growing up too fast for my liking! They are in a garden, surrounded by lush greenery and starry blue flowers; these are portraits. I am already trying to decide which ones I shall order, which will look best where in my home. I have one spot in one room for photos, so this is a somewhat futile exercise, however, it did expand onto a bookcase recently, so maybe it is not so futile? The expansion is a reflection of not just a growing family but of a family growing older. There are wedding anniversary pictures celebrating 40 years of marriage beside wedding day pictures. New baby pictures have gradually been elbowed out of the way by carefully posed school photos.

As I thought about this, I thought about one of the stories in Jane Austen Made Me Do It. The story is Intolerable Stupidity by Laurie Viera Rigler, and the setting is a courtroom in hell. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the judge, that terrifying snob from Pride and Prejudice so the likelihood of an impartial trial is minute! On trial are many authors who have “written stories inspired by the work of one of the most beloved authors of all time…” however, the issue brought to the court is the effect it has had on the characters of Austen’s books. Mr. Darcy is the first witness, a handsome man who is wearing a white shirt that is constantly wet. This is as a result of the famous film, where he emerges from a lake after a swim. He tells the court, “No matter what I wear, no matter what I do…I end up wet and shivering.” The discussion moves on and reflects on how the lives of the characters in the books are forever altered by each retelling or new version of the original stories. The characters have, they come to realize, become more human with each new addition to their biography, and thus we are more drawn to them and Austen’s original books than ever.

This is true for us too, this is how we go through our lives. We review, adapt and move forward from those first baby pictures to graduations, vacations, weddings, and the next generation of baby pictures. These are our stories, and we do not remain in place on a page or in an album on the drive of a computer, one person, one form. I need more room for the photos of my family, as I am not willing to put all the previous ones away. It is imortant to see the faces and places as lives change and stories continue…

What Makes A Hero?

“A person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his or her brave deeds and noble qualities”.

I like the phrase “brave deeds and noble qualities” as it resonates with me and reminds me of when I was a devotee of Pre-Raephelite artists, back in my undergraduate English student days. Handsome knights and beautiful damsels adorned my wall and pin board and I studied the Arthurian legends-yes I steeped myself in medieval romances. A knight is called on to defend the weak and helpless, to fight for justice whilst carrying his lady’s favour close to his heart. Think of Lancelot, Gawain or Percival, members of King Arthur’s famous Round Table. These heroes performed many deeds that were brave and noble, living, and dying according to the knightly code.

A different, classical definition of the hero can be found in the Greek myths. The hero of the Greek myths was often part deity, and had a tough go of things, trying to manage both divine and mortal aspects, whilst battling monsters, armies and Gods. These heroes were outstanding warriors, courageous in the face of seemingly impossible odds. There often was a lovely maiden involved somewhere, but it wasn’t guaranteed that they would marry at the end. Like the Vikings, Greek heroes were looking for a heroic death in battle, so that their deeds would always be remembered.

The world lost a hero this week, with the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore. He was a soldier who served as a dispatch rider, in the treacherous battleground of Burma. Following World War II, he lived a quiet life, having two daughters and eventually settling into retirement. He accepted a challenge from his family to walk round the garden 100 lengths as he approached his 100th birthday, to raise 1,000 pounds for the UK’s NHS. He had recently received wonderful care in hospital, after a fall, and wanted to support all those who had looked after him.

His challenge was featured on TV, where he said, “One small soul like me won’t make much difference.” How wrong he was! He captured the imagination of the nation, and then the world, as Covid 19 spread and changed everybody’s lives. He became a symbol of hope, courage, and fortitude. By the time he reached his birthday, he had raised 32 million pounds with donations coming from all over the world.

His birthday was quite the occasion. A local elementary school displayed some of his cards, as he received around 160,000; he was honoured with a flypast from both a Spitfire and Hurricane, part of the Battle of Britain Squadron. There were cakes and messages from the Queen and Prime Minister. He recorded a version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with the singer, Michael Ball, and it became a number 1 hit. This made Captain Tom the oldest person to have a number 1 hit in the UK. In July, the Queen knighted Captain Tom, making him Captain Sir Tom Moore.

He remained humble through all the excitement. He chose to raise money for the NHS because, as he said, “They are all so brave because every morning, or every night, they are putting themselves in harms way.” He had received excellent care from the NHS over the years, and to him everyone who worked in it was a hero. To all those who watched and supported him, he was a hero. He was someone, “admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”

The world was so lucky to have Captain Sir Tom Moore step forward when he did.

Hope

I spent a few hours yesterday watching either the BBC or CNN. What on earth was going on? I don’t want to share personal political views, so I will just stick to my experience of general feelings of dismay, distress, and bemusement.

Our neighbour, the USA, has prided itself as being a beacon for democracy, but yesterday it seemed to have more in common with a country torn apart by guerilla violence, revolution and coups. How did things come to this?

In the last week, I have been trying to remain optimistic in the face of renewed Covid 19 infections in the UK , forcing close family back into isolation. It won’t be long until the new strain comes our way. Add to this politicians choosing to travel and take vacations whilst the rest of us stay isolating, missing our loved ones…I was feeling quite low.

Today, I have been watching the news intermittently, looking, I think, for signs of positivity. I hope to see people make decisions to help others, support justice and show compassion.

I decided to look for quotes about hope, and found it helped lift my spirits, so I want to share a few of them here.

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. Nelson Mandela

Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope,too, can be given to one only by toher human beings. Elie Wiesel

Hope is patience with the lamp lit. Tertullian

A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows. St. Francis of Assisi

I am glad to see the sun shining today. Winters can seem long and gloomy, particularly when the world doesn’t seem the best place. I can choose to look at the snow, sigh at the thought of it being here until April, or I can go and take a few minutes to enjoy it glittering in the sunshine, find tiny tracks marking a path for some creature or bird.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany, when in the UK we would mark the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. This means that today the decorations are coming down. Although I am sad to see the end of the step away from normality that is Christmas, it is also refreshing to dust and clean as surfaces clear. Time to take a deep breath and reset for the coming months.

Feeling Christmas

I have been on a hiatus, indulging in Christmas. I have enjoyed all the preparations, baking, decorating, and watching a few too many Hallmark Christmas movies!

Christmas Eve was a pleasure, with family on Zoom, playing games-Name That Hum was much better remotely than I had expected! We watched Christmas Eve Mass from the Vatican, listening to the Pope’s message of helping each other, being generous and supportive in this extraordinary time of need nobody expected. Christmas Day was a new experience, being a Christmas in pyjamas. I have secretly been plotting how to get the family in Christmas-themed jammies for years, knowing I was facing a losing battle…not this year, however! I was able to argue that nobody had to get dressed up, could be as comfy as they wanted and, oh, we could all look cute!

I won, I won! It was great, warm and fuzzy, merry, even!

Sorry, I am not allowed to post pictures-I choose my battles.

My daughter just finished watching the new Disney animated movie, Soul. It had moments of loveliness, and one that I wanted to share here is when our hero is back from the Zone and has just played with a jazz quartet. He realized his dream and yet feels somehow let down, wondering why he still feels empty. He returns home and plays at his own piano surrounded by pizza crusts, lollipops and other small discarded items. He moves them close and starts to compose, playing from the heart as he relives the moments he experienced with each item.

I found myself thinking how the creative process is so perfectly portrayed in that scene. I know that it is one aspect of the process, but it is an important one. How do we see the world, and how can we share that with others? I loved how the moment of biting into a fresh piece of pizza translated into a melody, or the memory of childhood returned through looking at a candy, to be interwoven into the music. As a writer, I appreciate writing that draws me deep into the text, smelling the rose and being able to touch its petal.

I did try to capture some of what I saw this Christmas, fresh snow and lights outside the house or the gorgeous evening skies. I like the opportunities having a camera phone brings, with added fun playing with the portrait setting. I welcome comments but ultimately just ask you to enjoy.

Advent

I love advent calendars! Growing up, we only had picture ones, chocolate, or sweets were unheard of. My youngest sister (she is 10 years younger) was given a chocolate one each year once she was old enough for her own, and you can imagine how pleased her big sisters were! Now, there is every type of advent calendar you can think of, wine, cheese, jam, just to name a few. They have become yet another part of the great commercializing of our world.

Returning to simpler times, and simpler calendars, I remember how much I loved my advent calendar each year. The arrival of the calendar meant that Christmas was not far away, and school would get a little more relaxed, games and craft projects would creep into the curriculum. The house would be decorated, a tree bought and things would smell, well, Christmassy!

Every day there was the sheer delight in opening each door, a day at a time. What was the picture? What was the part of the Nativity story written for that day?

Growing up in a Roman Catholic home, our Advent calendars always were religious, telling the story of the birth of Jesus from when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary all the way to His birth on Christmas Eve. However, some of the calendars designed for younger children often would have some toys or musical instruments on some of the days and then I think about reading my pop-up book, The Night Before Christmas, something I did with my mother every Christmas Eve. So much of the season is entrenched in traditions, passed down, or created with each new branch of the family.

I will miss being in church to sing the Advent hymns, but that doesn’t mean I can’t listen to them, sing along at home. One of my favourites is Gabriel’s Message, a Basque carol translated by a priest by the name of Sabine Baring-Gould. The melody is haunting and to me the lyrics tell Mary’s story with drama, (wings of flame!), elegance, and portray the dignity of Mary.

The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
"All hail" said he "thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady," Gloria!

"For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady," Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said,
"My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name."
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

Of her, Emanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
and Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
"Most highly favored lady," Gloria!

If you take a moment to search on the magic Interweb you can find the carol, so perhaps make a cup of tea, sit in a comfortable chair and listen, taking a few moments to be still.

Time And Tides

On Halloween we had a Hunter’s Blue Moon, something not seen since 1944. Think about it. In 1944, the world was still in the midst of a World War, the second in thirty years. D-Day had taken place, the Nazi forces were being driven back through the USSR, and slowly, Hitler’s War Machine was beginning to falter. That was in the last century, 76 years ago. The world we live in is very different from the world in 1944, and not because of the global conflict, although it is true to say that now we see a different global conflict…against a virus this time. However that may be, things have progressed around us.

As you can see in the picture I managed to take (I am working on my photography skills), the moon was stunning, hauntingly beautiful. I imagine the Pre-Raphelites would have been very inspired by it! I am fascinated by the changing aspects of the moon over the months, the seasons of each year. I remain conscious of the differences in the moon here in Canada and how it appears in the UK… I know, that sounds strange, if not silly, but bear with me. Even though the city I live in has grown exponentially over the last 25 years, the skies are still clearer here than in many bigger cities and many parts of the UK. More often than not, I would see the moon in a city where the light pollution would dim it and it would never seem as clear or bright. However, if I was lucky enough to be out in the country, I was viewing it against a different canvas from that here in Western Canada; the British Isles is an older landscape compared to the geologically youthful mountains and plains in Alberta.

The landscapes we view the skies against differ all over the planet, be it seeing the Northern Lights, or the Southern Cross in the Southern Hemisphere. To have the freedom to travel is a privilege, not a right, something we have been reminded of this year. Today, November 11th we remember the fallen. Instituted by George V in 1919 as Armistice Day. In 1931, Canada changed the name of the day to Remembrance Day and after the Second World War, the UK and Commonwealth countries chose to follow suit and call the day Remembrance Day. In the US it was renamed Veterans Day. We owe our freedoms to all the men and women (not to mention the animals) who stepped up and fought oppression, violent regimes, and genocide. Outside a school in our neighbourhood this week, the Community Board had this message.

Think 2020 is bad? What about 1914-1918 or 1939-1945

We must never take our lives for granted, never forget to be grateful for being able to live our lives in safety and peace.

I was thinking about changes, how we have adapted ourselves to this new way of living life. My husband and I went out for dinner and as I did my makeup, I realised that I hadn’t worn lipstick for months. My mother would often remind me to put on my lipstick as I was heading to the door. It finishes off the picture, is the final dab of colour needed. I think of glamour, pretty purses with lipstick and compact waiting to be taken out in the powder room. My lipsticks haven’t left my purse for sometime.

I have been looking for, and buying, pretty and interesting masks. They cheer me up, and I rather enjoy trying to match the colours on the masks with the clothes I am wearing. I want to find a way to be brighter, make the best of this situation. I see many plain masks, either black or medical blue ones, and that is ok, we wear what makes us feel comfortable-perhaps wearing a plainer mask feels more serious and, for some people, more appropriate given the circumstances.

Back in 1918, there was an influenza epidemic. It spread and killed more people than the First World War that had just ended. To the people affected, it must have felt as though the misery would never end. It did, eventually. People had to learn to take better care of their health, to wear masks and wash hands, to avoid large gatherings.

Things did get better and that is something we need to remember. Our lives will change, we will continue to adapt. We have been learning to use lots of hand sanitizer, to wash our hands frequently. We have reduced our social lives, accustomed ourselves to the idea of cohorts.

What is a cohort? The word means a group of individuals, or a band of supporters. It also was a division in a Roman legion. I like the idea that it is a group of supporters, people who are not afraid to face hard times together, stand together.

October Reflections

Two years ago, on October 17th, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I went to the doctor’s office to find out how a cyst was, after it had been aspirated. Instead, I learned that I had invasive ductal carcinoma and that it was grade 3, the highest grade. This meant that the cells in the tumor were replicating quickly and the tumor was more likely to spread.

From there, I was referred to a wonderful resource, the Comprehensive Breast Care Program, run here in Edmonton. I was assigned a nurse navigator, who guided me through the process of referral to a surgeon and all the necessary tests and assessments to prepare for surgery. I cannot say enough about this program. It is so reassuring to know that there is someone to ask for help with understanding all the information that, as a patient, you are bombarded with. Your nurse navigator also ensures that all the relevant information is gathered so that everything is ready for the next stage of treatment, a bit like a contractor overseeing a building project, bringing all the trades together.

After my surgery I was referred on to the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, for an appointment with oncology. Walking in to the building for the first time was terrifying. I had driven past many times and often thought how lucky I was not to have to go there. Well, there I was, and I needed to be. I met with an oncologist who explained some of the pathology of my tumor, and what the recommended course of treatment was. My tumor was Level II, as it was over 2cm. Fortunately, there was no spread to any lymph nodes, very good news. However, the type of cancer I had was triple negative, meaning that there were no hormones involved in the growth of the cancer, and no HER2 proteins either. This meant the only treatment available to me was chemotherapy.

I had 4 treatments of chemo and they were not easy. I lost my hair, had to get used to wearing a wig, hat or headscarf. I experienced body aches, stomach upset, and swelling of my ankles and feet, lymphodema. I am so grateful to the care team who helped me cope with it all.

The Cross Cancer Cancer Institute is amazing. The people there are compassionate, caring, encouraging, and so supportive. From the staff in the Lab taking blood, volunteers running the cafe, to my nurse practitioner, everyone was so wonderful. When patients are getting their treatments, volunteers bring a cart round every couple of hours. On that cart are cookies, tea, coffee and juice. I loved the cookies! They brought a smile to my face every time they appeared. Being at the Cross Cancer Institute is so frightening, because of what it means. However, being there also means that you are in the best hands, receiving the best care available.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and, for me, it is doubly so. My life has changed, I have changed, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I am now focusing on getting fitter and healthier so that I can look into reconstructive surgery. I do urge all of you to check your breasts-and this goes for guys too! Be aware of your health and take care of yourselves.

Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

Thanksgiving

The leaves fell off this week. It happens very suddenly and seems to be in one go-yesterday they were still beautiful colours on branches, today they are crackling beneath my feet.

Meanwhile, the geese are packed and readying flight plans. Out with the dog, or in the garden I hear the calls of the flocks as they gather. I looked up some facts about geese. They fly at a height of 1 kilometres or 3,000 feet, but some have been documented as reaching heights of up to 29,000 feet, which I think is amazing. Whilst nesting, adult geese lose their flight feathers, and the feathers return at the same time that their goslings learn to fly. I do like the idea of families learning to fly together, adults teaching the fledglings all about the annual trip south-map reading, constellations and wind patterns. Perhaps they have classes in the nursery?

This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving and on Facebook there are lots of posts about what people are thankful for. Family and friends are near the top of most lists. I am thankful for my family, my friends, all who have been so supportive over the last few years. In a week, it will be 2 years ago that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am glad that Thanksgiving is the week before, as it allows me a different perspective on what could be a very tough anniversary. Instead of thinking about the very frightening time it was, I can instead be so very grateful that I am here, healthy and in remission, able to celebrate, say thank you.

Dog vs. Bath…

Trying to bathe a Daniff, (which, if you do not know, is a Mastiff/Great Dane cross) who does not want a bath is tricky. I have learnt this over the three years I have lived with Penny. Penny is 110 pounds-that is just under 50 kilograms for those who think in metric. Many dog groomers do not take dogs Penny’s weight, and I can’t blame them.

We have had to come up with our own strategies for Penny since going to the spa is not really an option.

Our first successful bath was when my son managed to get her into the shower. She wised up to the threat of the shower much faster than we had hoped. Summer helped when it came to bathing Penny. The combination of paddling pool and hose made for a good, clean dog. Unfortunately, too quickly, she became suspicious about the mere whisper of the wading pool.

After a particularly muddy walk, an unplanned bath was necessary. This time, it took five of us to get her into the bathroom, lift her into the bath and then wet, soap and rinse her off. Those of us who could legally drink had a glass of wine after that. The others ate chocolate.

This morning, I decided it was a bath day for Penny. It was just me, on my own. I was up for a challenge, I thought. I assembled my tools-shampoo, a leash and her harness, multiple towels. Penny was, at first, thrilled to see her harness. Yay! A Walk…wait a minute. I got her to the top of the stairs, at which point, she performed a contortion the likes of which I had never seen before, and doubt I shall again. She somehow managed to get out of her harness. Cue the chase around the house until I managed to get her into it again, at which point I tightened it enough to challenge David Copperfield. Somehow I pushed/pulled her into the bathroom whereupon the very slippery linoleum became my friend. Paws spread flat, she slid up to the shower. Finally, she was in, the water was running and she resigned herself to her fate.

Once again, she is clean, soft, settled near me with her blanket, and seems to have forgiven me, just as she does each time she has to endure the bath.