Sunday, November 26, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #26: The challenges and opportunities of technology

I took my Nikon to the parade and fireworks last night, hoping to capture a few good images of folks enjoying the colourful, brightly lit floats. Unfortunately, I had my camera settings all wrong so finished the night with very few shots worth saving. When all was said and done the only image I really liked was this one. Despite being grainy and out of focus, it captures a little of what I felt as I sat with my nieces watching the parade approach.

I converted the image to black and white, before cropping it, applying a couple of filters, and tweaking various elements to achieve an effect I liked. The whole exercise was a good demonstration of the challenges and opportunities of technology. While I'm grateful the technology let me salvage something from the crap I shot last night, I'd have preferred to be more adept using my camera so that I captured images I wanted in the first place. 

Needless to say, I didn't feel inclined to pick up the Nikon today but I couldn't resist taking this pic of Jackie with my iPhone. She had a wonderful time with the girls but was in dire need of a nap by the time they headed home at noon.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #25: A day of mixed emotions

Today was a gift in so many ways. To start with, the weather was fabulous - mild and sunny with very little wind - which made for a lovely 8k run up river and back this morning.

With temperatures hovering around 13C, we figured we had no choice but to take Jackie to Risser's Beach for a walk. As it turned out, we had the whole beach to ourselves so were able to let her run off leash for much of our time there, which - needless to say - she loved. 

I'd taken my Nikon with me but was too focused on spending quality time with puppy and Husband to break it out. In any case, my iPhone did an okay job in the bright light of midday. 

By the time we made it home, we had just enough time to tackle a few chores and squeeze in a short visit with my folks before picking up these two sweeties for a sleepover. 

Our evening with them was heaps of fun. We started by making homemade chicken tacos for supper, then filled travel mugs with hot chocolate and marshmallows and headed downtown to take in the local Santa Clause parade, followed by some fabulous firework. Once home, we cooked up some popcorn, played Jenga and read two books together before the girls finally tumbled into bed around 10:00 pm.

It would have been an almost perfect day but for one thing. We learned this morning that my mum's last remaining sibling, our dear Aunt Marg, passed away last night. She was 92 years old and had been ill with cancer for some time so the news wasn't a surprise. Against all odds, she'd hung on long enough to celebrate her birthday on Wednesday before lapsing into unconsciousness the next day and slipping away around 2:00 am.

I spent a lot of time thinking about Aunt Marg as we rushed from one activity to another today - remembering our visits with her over the years. She was an extraordinary person in many ways but two things stand out for me. The first was how bright and intellectually engaged she remained to the very end of her life. She never stopped learning about topics of interest to her and loved nothing more than discussing what she learned with others. The second was her determination to care for herself physically and mentally through diet and regular exercise. I'll never forget how impressed I was when she took up biking and cross-country skiing in her sixties when she began having heart issues. What a wonderful role model - proof positive that fitness can be gained at any age.

So, as I head off to sleep tonight, I'm filled with mixed emotions - deep sadness about Aunt Marg's passing mixed with intense gratitude for a day filled with some of the people and places I love best. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #24: Away

There's been no time for much besides work the past few day but, fortunately, there was a terrific sky as I headed to the ferry tonight and, since I was a few minutes ahead of schedule, I had time to grab two or three photos. This is one of them - tweaked only slightly to capture what I saw. 

It's moments like this one that remind me why I'm so grateful to live where I do. Happy weekend, everybody!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #21: Struggling

Halifax Seaport Market just after sunset

I'm having a hard time with this challenge. It seems that most days I can find time for photography or writing, but not both. 

Today, I'd hoped to head out for a photowalk well before sunset but got stuck at work later than planned and missed the best light. As a result, most of the photos I took were grainy and far too dark. I like the composition of this one but not much else.

My objective when I headed to the waterfront was to photograph this recently installed monument celebrating women who volunteered during World War II. I'd hoped to capture it with the colours of the setting sun behind it but had to make do with the illumination provided by floodlights. The monument consists of three sculptures. Much as I like the sentiment behind them, I can't say I like them much.  

Directly behind it is another monument celebrating immigrants who came to Canada via Pier 21. I've always loved the energy of this one and the floodlights do a better job of highlighting the central figure.

Here's hoping my efforts bear more interesting fruit tomorrow.   

Monday, November 20, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #20: Making the best of things

The new Shannon Park Lookoff in the rain
I've been struggling with this challenge - partly because I'm so damned busy these days but mostly because it's November, which almost by definition means that it's grey and rainy in this part of the world. There have been a few breaks here and there but mostly the weather's been grim.

Despite a dreary forecast this morning, I threw my camera in my bag as I headed out the door, as I have every day this month, and stopped en route to the ferry long enough to take a few photos, though I knew without looking at them that they weren't worth keeping. Everything looked flat and uninteresting in the drab light seeping through the clouds.

Frustrated, I reminded myself to keep trying to find something to shoot. However bad the light, I wanted to make the best of the limited opportunity I had for photography this morning.

As I approached the ferry terminal, a few rays of watery sunlight broke through the clouds low on the horizon. I tried a couple of shots looking out towards the mouth of the harbour but there was too little light to make an interesting image. However, when I turned to head into the terminal, I noticed the windows reflecting an enhanced version of the view, and quickly grabbed a few photos on my way inside. I didn't get anything I really liked but this is my favourite of the bunch.

On the ferry, the options were equally limited. It was too cold to ride on the upper deck and the windows were spattered with rain and sea water so it was impossible to get a clear shot outside. The views were even less promising inside so I finally decided to try creating something a little more abstract.

From a distance, it seems to me it's easy to make out the subject of the image, but maybe it's less obvious close up. In any case, I liked the result when I tweaked the image on my iMac tonight.

I suppose there are a couple of nice life lessons there - that, even when life is most grim, unexpected slivers of light and opportunity can present themselves, and that sometimes even mundane objects have unexpected beauty when we take time to look at them in new ways. In any case, trying to make the best of things is nearly always a good idea. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #19: Dog people versus cat people

I've always thought of myself as a cat person. Until the Sausage (aka Jackie) arrived, we'd only ever had one dog - years ago when we lived in Papua New Guinea. His name was Canuck and he was an awesome mixed breed boy who smiled constantly. We inherited him from fellow volunteers returning  to Canada, and passed him on to other good-hearted folks when it came time for us to do the same. Honestly, as much as we loved him, I never thought we'd invite another dog to live with us given that, before and after Canuck, we only ever had cats.

If you'd asked me why I was a cat person, I would have said it was because cats are smarter, more interesting, cleaner, and easier to care for. I might also have mentioned that I feel more comfortable around cat people, who I generally think of as more intelligent, sensitive, introverted, creative, independent and - yes - more neurotic than dog people.

Many of my cat-loving friends express the firm view that they'd never have a dog. Take my friend, R., for instance. He's a cat person all the way, as you can tell in this photo.

Wait. What? Isn't that a dog into whose eyes he's gazing  so lovingly? Why, yes. Yes, it is. How strange. Because I assure you R. would never want a dog. He's said so dozens of time so it must be true. He prefers cats because they're independent and "stay out of his face"- a sentiment I've heard other cat people express often.

Now, some might characterize R's attitude as essentially selfish because he makes it sound like he doesn't want to commit the time and energy needed to care for a dog properly. But I know better.  The real reason R. and most of the other cat people I know can't bear the thought of having a dog is that they're so caring and sensitive that they can't imagine coping with the anxiety and guilt that come with having a dog.

Almost without exception, cats are independent and self-reliant enough to get along on their own for lengthy periods of time. Sure, they're happy to see their caregivers when they arrive home, but they don't go out of their way to make them feel guilty because they had to be gone all day working to pay for food and litter. Cats understand that their people have responsibilities, and do what they can to reduce their stress at the end of a long hard day.

Dogs are entirely different. When their caregivers arrive home - whether it's been 15 minutes or 6 hours since they left - they go out of their minds with happiness, whining with relief at their people's long-awaited return, insisting they must never ever leave them again, and so on and so on. Though such intense doggy affection can be endearing, it's positively disabling for cat people, who are simply too kind, sensitive and caring to cope with the emotional responsibility of a dog.

So the next time you assume that dog people as a group are more caring and loving than cat people, think again. Some dog people are every bit as caring and sensitive as cat people, but it ain't necessarily so. In fact, it's quite possible for a dog person to be a cold-hearted narcissistic jerk who doesn't give a damn about the health and well-being of his canine companions so long as they shower them with love and affection. Sad but true.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #18: Selfie reflections

Selfies are ubiquitous on social media and I have to admit I've shared more than a few over the years.

For me, selfies aren't about showing off - or not usually anyway. Rather, they're a means of expressing my existential angst by communicating who I am and what I'm experiencing at a particular moment in time. It's only looking at the photos later that I realize, more often than not, that the woman peering into the camera isn't anyone I recognize.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #16: Stealing peaceful moments

I had one of those days where I went from one meeting to another, reading emails on the run, my mind going in a dozen  directions at once. Suddenly, it was 1:00, I hadn't had lunch, my next meeting was at 1:30, after which I'd be tied up until suppertime. In flash of sanity, I threw on my coat, grabbed my purse and hurried up the hill to my favourite coffee shop, Le French Fix.

Upon arrival, I was disappointed to discover they'd sold the last of their ham and cheese croissants for the day but, fortunately, there was still plain croissant on offer so I ordered a latte to go with it and stole upstairs to sit by a window and enjoy my snack. I'd deliberately left my smart phone on my desk so, aside from snapping this photo, there was nothing to distract me from savouring a few minutes of peace and quiet in the midst of the busy-ness.

It doesn't often occur to me to slip away as I did today. More often, lunch is a sandwich and fruit eaten at my desk while I read an online newspaper, and I rarely take myself out for coffee or a short walk though I know how helpful it can be. Stealing such peaceful moments lets me to breathe deeply, clear away emotional and psychological clutter, and return to my desk more relaxed and better able to work.

With winter looming, I suppose I should make a point of visiting Le Fix more often. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #15: Past imperfect

I was too tired to write when I got home from work last night. Four day weeks often feel hard because I end up trying to cram five days' worth work into them, and I headed home later than usual because of a late afternoon meeting. Fortunately, I had my camera with me so I was at least able to capture a few image.

I prefer the colours and composition of the image above, but the image below is the more evocative for me. I took it while walking from my meeting to the ferry. Normally, I prefer to walk outside along the waterfront boardwalk, but it was cold and windy enough that I opted to take the pedway that connects Purdy's Wharf to the Marriott Hotel, then make my way through the hotel to Historic Properties instead.

It amazes me how memories come flooding back when I visit places I haven't been in awhile. The Marriott is such a place. Over the years, I've attended numerous conferences and special events there, including a memorable black tie fundraising dinner as the guest of an old friend, but I rarely have reason to go there now. Walking through the foyer last night, I found myself remembering that dinner and how much fun I had. I so enjoyed getting dressed up, chatting with our fellow attendees, and going dancing after. The memory still makes me smile, though that particular friendship hasn't withstood the test of time.

It's interesting to think about which memories get stored and why. There was nothing especially remarkable about that dinner - other than that I attended it with a friend who's no longer a friend. How can I have almost no memories of some people and events and such poignant memories of others? Why it is so challenging to recall the details of a deceased loved one's face, yet so difficult to erase memories I'd as soon forget?

I think I'd like the power to edit my memories - to decide which to preserve and for how long. My perceptions of the past would be no less imperfect, of course, but at least they'd be imperfect in ways of my choosing.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #13: Running woes

It was an odd weekend. Since I had an extra day off (today being a holiday for us government workers), I thought there's be plenty of time to do all the things I wanted to do - cooking, running, yoga, reading, painting, writing, and photography. Instead, most of the weekend got eaten up walking and playing with Jackie, discussing renovation ideas with Husband and tackling various chores. As we prepared to return to the city tonight, I was feeling more than a little frustrated that the time had gone so quickly and I had so little to show for it.

It wasn't a total loss. I managed to do some reading yesterday - finishing Hillbilly Elegy and making my way about halfway through Fifteen Dogs - and this morning I did some baking so we had fresh cheese biscuits for breakfast, then spent most of the afternoon practicing yoga, writing and painting.

My frustration mostly stemmed from the fact that I didn't run all weekend. I headed out first thing Saturday morning intending to run 5k but only got about a hundred metres from the house before the cold, windy conditions prompted me to turn back. Since I hadn't remembered to bring warm gear with me, I thought I'd try again Sunday or today when I hoped the weather would be better. As it turned out, the weather was better but still not warm enough to run without the headband and gloves I'd left in the city.  

After skipping my run today, I have to say I felt pretty discouraged and disappointed with myself - until it occurred to me that maybe it's time to stop beating myself up just because my running's not going as well as I'd like it to. The reality is I've trained consistently most of this year, despite health and other issues - so not running for a week or two isn't really such a bit deal. In fact, it might even be a good thing if I use the break to rest and make plans for the winter season.

The trouble is I don't feel like a "real" runner if I'm not running 3-4 times a week, including a long weekend run - which is ridiculous when I stop to think about it. After all, I've run regularly for more than 15 years now and completed dozens of races - including 8 full marathons and a 50k ultra. Not a real runner? Clearly, I need a more sensible definition.

Given my age and how little time and energy I have for training these days, it's no surprise running feels harder than it used to but that doesn't mean my running days are over. It just means I may need to change things up a bit, set more realistic goals and be patient as I work towards getting back into shape this winter - hopefully, with Jackie along for company on at least some of my runs. We've only tackled short distances together so far but she really seems to enjoy it so I'm hopeful she'll be inspiring me to get out the door a lot more often when she's older. Until then, I'll try being a little more gentle and patient with myself and trust that my inner runner will feel more like hitting the road after a few weeks of rest.

Here's a video of Jackie on the beach last weekend. As you can tell, she loves to run. I hope I can teach her to run slowly enough to let me keep up!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #12: Men who cook

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that Husband is an awesome cook and baker - always has been, though he’s gotten even better at it since he retired a few years ago. 

Yesterday’s dinner was a perfect example. We had friends over so the meal started with two appetizers (made by moi - cranberries and brie baked in phyllo, and roasted prosciutto-wrapped figs with blue cheese). Husband took over from there, dishing up an incredibly tender lamb roast, lemony roast potatoes, fresh mint chutney, and a green salad, followed by a lemon and white chocolate tart with a shortbread pastry. I know, sounds awesome, eh? And, in fact, it was! The lamb came from our friend Ruth’s farm and was wonderfully tender and flavourful, as well as perfectly prepared - a memorable meal for sure. 

Even before I met Husband, I knew I liked men who cook. My first serious boyfriend introduced me to crepes in lieu of pancakes when I was just 19. A man I dated in grad school impressed the pants off me (literally and figuratively) by cooking us marvellously simple suppers of grilled sausage, salads and fresh bread. For our first date, Husband made succulent chicken in an aromatic cream sauce - making a direct beeline to my heart through my stomach. 

I’ve never understood people who don’t care about food. I care - deeply. Not just about how it tastes but where it comes from, how it’s cooked and by whom. For me, the perfect meal is made with locally-sourced ingredients (from my own garden, where possible), thoughtfully and skillfully prepared. 

Speaking of which, it’s time to sign off. Dinner is served. And, in case you’re wondering, on the menu tonight is a favourite pasta dish - grilled Italian sausage and roasted red peppers dressed in marinara and cream sauce with sautéed mushrooms and peas. I know. Awful. ;-) 

P.S. if you’ve been following my Creative November Challenge, you may have noticed I missed posting anything yesterday. What can I say? I guess I’m more to tired than I realized. I simply didn’t have it in me to write. I did, however, manage to take a few photos while walking puppy last evening. Enjoy!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #10: Saying goodbye to Han Solo

When the first Star Wars movie came out, I was 15 and, like many girls my age, I was all about the "bad boys". Which is why, when some of my friends were swooning over Luke Skywalker, I was daydreaming about Han Solo.

Of course, that role was only one of a series of bad boys Harrison Ford played over the years, and I was a fan of all of them - until recently, that is.

A few weeks ago, Husband and I sat down to watch the original Blade Runner, in preparation for going to see Blade Runner 2049. It had been 20 years or more since I'd watched it and I found the film disturbing for many reasons - not least because I'd forgotten Deckard raped the female replicant, Rachael. I wondered how on earth I'd forgotten such a significant element of the plot.

I suppose I forgot it because I didn't think of it as rape the first time I saw the movie. Deckard likely seemed like just another "bad boy" overcoming a woman's false rejection of him - you know, like Han overcoming Princess Leia's rejection. Or Indian Jones overcoming the rejections of every female lead character in the Raiders of the Lost Ark series. Or Quinn overcoming Robin's rejection in Six Days Seven Nights.

Looked at that way, the pattern is disturbing.

Which is why the necklace in the photo above - made by a local jewelry designer from an old DVD cover - is on its way out the door soon. I bought with a happy sense of nostalgia at a local gallery about a year ago but looking at it now makes me slightly ill. Why was I ever attracted to such a violent and sexist character? How did I not see the pattern until now? What else have I been missing?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #9: Still life

As we get older, we define happiness less in terms of excitement and more in terms of peacefulness.
- Sheryl Sandberg, Plan B

I bought this small succulent a few days ago and set it on the table in my office to create a tiny oasis of stillness in the midst of work chaos. I enjoy pausing from to time to breathe deeply and admire it. The practice helps keep me calm and grounded, whatever's going on around me.

I think Sheryl Sandberg’s right when she says that, with age, peacefulness becomes more important than excitement. I still enjoy life's whirlwinds from time to time, but what I yearn for most these days is peace and quiet. I never seem able to get enough of them.

Which may be why I enjoy participating in running events much less than I used to. I register for a few races a year to motivate myself to train regularly but the truth is - except that it would mean missing out on the bling - I'd usually prefer to skip the events themselves. It's the training I enjoy most.

Given that, I've been wondering lately if it's time I gave up racing altogether and instead focused on treating running as a form of meditation - an opportunity to quiet my thoughts, listen to my body, notice the world around me, and find more of that peace and quiet I yearn for.  It's something to think about for sure.  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #8: Ikea date night

The new Ikea Restaurant
Recently, some friends told us that they go on "mall dates" every week or two - that is, that they head to their local mall and hang out together for a few hours, visiting favourite stores, observing fellow shoppers, and grabbing a meal in the food court. I have to admit the idea of a mall date doesn't hold much appeal for me - not least because I generally hate shopping.

Husband and I also schedule a night out every week or two but our "date nights" usually involve a meal at a local restaurant - sometimes followed by a visit to our favourite gallery. Tonight, we  opted to follow our friends' lead and head to the new Ikea store that's recently opened not far from our city house.

In the early years of our marriage, we visited Ikea often to pick up inexpensive housewares and furnishings but our visits have become much less frequent now that we have pretty much everything we need. Our visit tonight was inspired by two things - curiosity and an upcoming bathroom renovation.

The store near us is the first Ikea store in Atlantic Canada in several decades and there's been considerable excitement about its arrival so we were curious to see it, and I have to admit we were mostly impressed. The store struck us as bright, spacious and well-organized - though it's possible it only seemed that way because there were so few customers tonight.

The bathroom renovation we have in mind is a straightforward one. The plan is to repaint the walls, and replace an existing storage unit with something larger and more practical. We think we found a piece that will fill the bill nicely but want to do a few final measurements before taking the plunge.

As much as I hate shopping, I have to say I enjoyed our outing. Wandering through Ikea exchanging ideas reminded me of our early years together, when renovating was a major source of entertainment for both of us, and I enjoyed spending a few hours thinking about how we might better use our current space. I'll look forward to our next visit.

Creative November Challenge Day #7: Bedside reading

Yesterday got away from me and there was little time for writing and photography so this image - taken with my iPhone, then jazzed up a bit in Instagram - is all I have to share. I like the mood of it, and the stack of books on and under the table. I only wish I had more time for reading and quiet reflection. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #6: Under construction

Now that the time has changed, it's dark by the time I leave the office and, to make matters worse, there's construction everywhere so it's almost impossible to get a photo downtown without a crane or scaffolding in it.

After work, I headed for the sea bridge, which was built this summer to connect the two ends of the waterfront while Queen's Marque is under construction. I'd hoped to shoot the construction site from the water side but discovered the bridge was closed so only managed to grab a few shots before catching the ferry home.

Technically, the images are poor, but I hope they capture a little of the mood at least.

Our elected politicians and developers assure us we should be thrilled by all the construction but I can't help feeling the price is too high - that too much of our built heritage is being lost. Halifax is one of North America's oldest cities but, walking through downtown, you wouldn't know it. Many of the graceful old buildings that once lined the main streets have been replaced with glass skyscrapers of dubious architectural value. Here's hoping the people buying the hundreds of new condos actually live in them.

Of course, it may be I'm just grumpy because I liked the old version of Halifax - a city to which I could imagine returning one day, if the charms of country living ever begin to wane. The  brighter and shinier version doesn't hold the same appeal. It's far too cold and antiseptic - not to mention expensive.

Ah's hoping the soul of our shabby little city somehow survives all this.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #5: Happy mistakes

I took this photo from our bedroom window yesterday morning. I was tidying up after my run when I noticed the sun illuminating the last of the red and gold leaves clinging to the branches of a large maple tree on the northwest edge of our property. I grabbed my camera hoping to capture their warm glow through the wavy old window glass, but - for the life of me - couldn't get the camera to focus in either manual or automatic mode.

It was only later that I figured out why the autofocus wouldn't work. I was using a long zoom lens, which isn't able to focus on objects that are too close. The leaves I wanted to capture were thirty to forty feet away, but the lens was mere inches from the window, so the close proximity of the glass prevented the lens from operating as I wanted it to. I still haven't figured out why I couldn't focus manually.

In any case, when I downloaded my photos last night, I was surprised to find that I actually liked the image I'd captured by mistake - especially, when I tweaked it to add more contrast.

Another happy outtake from my frustrated efforts was this photo, which I took while trying to figure out if the lens was working properly.

I love how the blue sea glass pops against the warm colours in the yard outside. 

There's a lovely life lesson in there - something about how mistakes can turn out to be happy things. When we're lucky, they enable us to see situations from new perspectives, challenge us to be creative, and offer opportunities we wouldn't have had otherwise. They also help us recognize our real friends - the ones who stand by us no matter how badly we've messed up.

But, of course, that can be hard to remember in the moment, when our first instinct is to be angry and defensive, and try to undo the error - which is why it's a good idea to notice happy mistakes when they occur - so that, however badly we screw up in future, we can remind ourselves that the very worst things sometimes lead to the very best. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #4: Puppy love

You didn't really expect me to go more than a few days without mentioning Jackie Blue, did you? This wee bundle of puppy love occupies considerable real estate in my heart and mind - not least because she's so darn cute. But, truthfully, it's more than that. I also love her for her energy, curiosity, and sense of fun.

Not to mention the fact that there are few things nicer than puppy snuggles in the morning.

My affection for Jackie (aka Sausage) and our other four-legged companion, Nemmie the cat (aka Her Highness), has me thinking about relationships between humans and their critters.

In my view, we owe our pets a lot and should value their companionship more than we sometimes do. It's no exaggeration to say our elder cat, Ranee, saved my life more than once, and Jackie's arrival earlier this year helped ease the heaviness in Husband's heart brought on by the loss of his Mum, Dad and big sister a few years ago.

My favourite thing about our critter companions is that they encourage us to spend time hanging out with them - not accomplishing much, just communing. They also seem to understand basic truths that many of us have forgotten - that we can only ever live in the present and that it is our relationships with one another that make life worth living - and are able to forgive better than most. Best of all, they inspire us to be the people they think we are - loyal, caring and brave.

So here's to puppy love. And here's hoping Her Highness and Sausage are with us for many years to come.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #3: Beauty in unexpected places

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that's certainly true of photographers. Many are inspired to capture images of objects we wouldn't normally consider beautiful - like the old painted pipes above.

And we're delighted when we stumble on natural beauty persevering in harsh circumstances - like the impatience I found blooming near a massive construction site on an early November day.

Or the bush tenaciously growing from the third story window frame of a derelict building.

Beauty of a different kind often appears in our darkest hours - when human connection and compassion glows most brightly.

Tonight, I am remembering my gentle father-in-law, in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease, sitting by my mother-in-law's bedside, clasping her hand as she lay dying of cancer. Though severely incapacitated by his disease and barely able to speak, the beauty of his love and caring was transcendent.

That humans are capable of appreciating and creating such beauty in unexpected places is perhaps some reason for optimism.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #2: The magic of light

Light is magical. It can make even the most commonplace beautiful and interesting.  It's why photographers get up early, when the light is at its most warm and generous - though the time just before sunset is good too.

Our room at the Moor of Rannoch Hotel

Figuratively speaking, shining a light on people and situations can have a similar effect - though too often it exposes things we'd rather not see - greed, selfishness, cruelty. It's why we have auditors-general, and freedom of information acts, and sunshine lists - because subjecting decisions and decision-makers to the harsh light of day lets us see them for what and who they truly are.

I have to admit there are times when I prefer to stay in that quiet, comforting space between darkness and daylight, where the light is most magical and forgiving.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Creative November Challenge Day #1: The Goal

When I first started jotting down ideas for Creative November posts and photographs, I realized I wasn't entirely sure what I meant by "creative".

According to one definition I found, "creative writing" is writing that displays imagination or invention, in contrast to academic or journalistic writing. However, it strikes me the distinction between them isn't so easily drawn in the real world. Good academic and journalistic writing also displays imagination and invention - in the choices writers make to establish the style, focus and tone of the piece, if nothing else. The best of it ignites imaginations and touches hearts in the same way good fiction does.

It seems to me writing creatively has a lot to do with a writer's intention. Is she trying to do something more than recite facts or explain technical details? Does she aspire to write beautiful prose, connect with her senses, or paint pictures in the reader's mind? Does she hope her work will have an emotional, spiritual or psychological impact?

Writing creatively also involves making space for reflection - for figuring out the how and why, as well as the what, of a piece.  Like many people, I create stuff because it helps me connect more deeply with other people, the world around me, and my sense of who I am at some fundamental level.

The distinction between creative and journalistic photography may be much the same, but it strikes me as more difficult to draw at times.

With today's technology, good images are easier than ever to produce. Pretty pictures can be made with basic gear and the bare minimum of imagination and invention - particularly, if the photographer is content to rely on technology and make virtually the same images over and over again.

By contrast, a photographer who approaches her work with intention, taking time to consider the story she's telling, the impact she aspires to make, the experience she and others have in the course of making an image - in addition to the aesthetic qualities of the final work photograph - is engaged in a process that seems more genuinely creative.

Over the next month, I hope to exercise creative muscles in both mediums, though I expect the results will very often tend towards the journalistic - this post being a case in point. Whatever the outcome, my goal is to take the time to be thoughtful about the words I write and the images I make, to reconnect with my senses, to learn new things, and to produce stuff that matters to me, if no one else.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Celebrating All Hallow's Eve

Like many people, I'll be rushing home early from work tonight to prepare for the trick-or-treaters who will be ringing our bell from 5:00 on.

Though I haven't any children of my own, I always enjoy Hallowe'en. When my sisters and I were small, the day was magical. Even now, if I close my eyes and think back, I can hear the sound of children screeching with fear and delight as they run from house to house, smell the scent of dry leaves crunching underfoot, and taste the rich hot chocolate offered by an elderly neighbour. The night always felt so safe and so dangerous at the same time. Safe because we were well-loved children living in a close-knit caring community. Dangerous because oft-repeated stories of razor blades in apples and knife-wielding boogie men filled us with fear.

Much as I enjoy Hallowe'en, I've often wished it was more like Mexico's Day of the Dead, when families take time from their normal routines to remember and celebrate loved ones who've passed away. It strikes me the celebration must make death and dying feel more normal and less final somehow - one more transition in the cycle of life with bonds of love remaining to keep the departed close in spirit.

After we've said goodnight to the last of the trick-or-treaters this evening, I plan to pour a glass of wine, light a candle then spend some quiet time remembering family and friends who've gone before me, wishing them well on their journeys and praying we meet again one day - in my dreams, if no place else.

Happy All Hallow's Eve!

Don't forget to check back here tomorrow for the first installment of my Creative November Challenge.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Catching up and planning for my Creative November Challenge

It's hard to believe it's been so long since I last posted. Or maybe not. September and October were busy with work, travel, family time and extra chores on account of husband being laid up with a hernia. And the truth is writing feels hard these days so I avoid it when I can.

First, the catch-up. I managed to finish two races this fall - the Maritime Race Weekend Tidal Trail 15k at the end of September and 9runrun Half Marathon the middle of October. I wasn't happy with my time at either event but I collected some nice bling at least and I'd highly recommend both.

The weather for the Tidal Trail 15k was far hotter and more humid than I expected, and I ran out of water a few kms before the end, so it was a long hard slog to the finish. On the upside, the views along the route were gorgeous and I arrived early enough to snag a good parking spot and chat with folks at the start line, which was great fun.

9runrun in Stittsville, Ontario, was an entirely different sort of race - really well organized with tonnes of community support. Though it's a relatively small event, it still raised something like $160,000 for youth mental health services, and the firefighters, paramedics and police officers volunteering on the course made for some very nice scenery. ;-)  The icing on the cake was the high resolution photos provided free of charge.  Here are two of my favourites:

In the photos, it looks as if I'm enjoying myself but the truth is I went out too fast (a rookie mistake), hit the wall at 16k and finished in a disappointing 2:20. On the upside the medal's pretty. And did a mention the handsome men in uniform?

The other very nice thing about doing 9runrun was that I was able to meet up with my former running buddy, Marathon Jane. She also completed the half (in a much faster time) but it was a mere warm-up for another marathon next month and Big Sur Marathon next spring. Way to go, Jane! It was wonderful seeing her - especially since it gave us a chance to chat about another former running buddy, Brent, who was participating in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, the same weekend. I am such an underachiever compared with those two!

In other news, Husband, Jackie and I spent Thanksgiving with long-time friends in Cape Breton. It's become something of a tradition and we had heaps of fun. Activities included hanging out on the beach, hiking, mellowing in a hot tub, playing board games, visiting a local craft brewery to take in a Celtic Colours concert, savouring gorgeous fall foliage, watching the puppies play, and - of course - eating and drinking lots.

Sunday morning, while everyone else was recovering from the effects of too much fun the night before, I headed out for a 10k run. It wasn't one of my better efforts but the scenery made it feel worthwhile.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I headed to Ottawa for three days. My best friend's mum had just passed away so spending some quality time with her was my top priority, but I also managed visits with my brother-in-law and two dear friends (who Husband and I first met in Papua New Guinea nearly 30 years ago!), and of course ran 9runrun. As I traveled around the city, I was reminded of all the places Husband and I have lived,  worked and studied over the years, the people we'd known and the adventures we'd had. I look forward to a longer visit one day soon soon!

Squeezed in amongst and around all the traveling and racing were Jackie's Blue's spay, Husband's hernia surgery, my baby sister's 40th birthday celebration, time with our nieces, a visit with friends at our country place, and various beach walks with Jackie - so, all in all, a very busy couple of months. Jackie was incredibly patient with having to wear a cone for 10 days, and managed to look adorable in it.

Now that she's fully healed, Husband's on the mend, and my fall races are behind me, I'm making plans to carve out more time for creative activities. Things are too hectic to contemplate registering for NaNoWriMo so I've set a less ambitious challenge for myself - that is, to take a photo and blog every day in November. I may not have much to show for it by month's end but I'm hoping it will help get some creative juices flowing again.

Given how busy I am, even taking on that much of a challenge feels like a lot, so I've decided to give up Facebook for the month too - which won't be much of a hardship, to be honest. For the last while, I've been quite overwhelmed by all the negativity in my newsfeed so it will be good to get away from it for awhile. I will, however, continue posting occasional photos on my Instagram account.

And what about you, dear reader? Did you run any races this fall? How did they go? Are you tackling a November challenge as well? If so, I'd love to hear about it! And I hope you'll check back on Wednesday for the first installment of my Creative November Challenge. (To receive new posts by email, enter your address in the box under "Follow by email" on the right-hand side of this page.) 

Until then, happy running and writing!