The Sweet Dregs of Summer

“Wood nymph me” – Photo by Vello Sork © 2014

The last mouthful of a glass of iced tea is sweeter than the rest because the sugar settles to the bottom. Summer is like that too. The first weeks stretch, long and leisurely, full of lingering golden light. At the beginning of the season, eons of time seem to lie ahead.

Then August hits. Then the end of August. The light is still glorious, but it fades earlier and earlier each night. The air is still warm, even hot, in the afternoons, but a crispness beneath the heat whispers rumours of fall. The days are sweeter, more poignant because they’re the last sips of summer.

And just like I tend to slow down midway through a drink, not wanting to finish it before I absolutely have to, I find myself trying to fend off September, spending as much time as I can outside, and allowing myself more breaks to soak things in, knowing—hating—that the bright months will be over soon.

This year I had the treat of houseguests to help me squeeze extra juicy goodness from the month. They stayed a few weeks and while I worked every morning because hey, we gotta eat and pay the bills and all that, I took off big chunks of time, too. We went on more than one daytrip and stopped to look at things that I’ve always meant to, but hadn’t got around to yet. (That’s why you should always invite summer guests. It forces you to stop taking the place you live for granted and to get out and play in your home terrain with new eyes.)

As ever, I marveled at the things to see here. We drove the crazy-bumpy, jungle road down into the Kitimat River where an expanse of round white stones stretches along the brilliant blue-green river as far as the eye can see. I posed by a fallen tree whose roots alone made me look miniscule.

We went to the fish hatchery and saw a mind-boggling amount of chum—so many, so close together, that the aqua river looked black where they huddled and churned, fighting to get up a pipe so they could spawn.

I finally explored an ancient looking set of moss covered stone steps out near Alcan. Apparently they once led to some now-no-more Hudson Bay Company building. I prefer to think they mark the entrance to a long forgotten castle.

We camped at Furlong Bay and if there’s a more beautiful campground anywhere, I don’t know where it is. The light playing through the dense, mossy trees was amber and magical. I saw a massive Great Horned owl. The beach was practically empty. Best of all, however, were the huge, rotted out tree stumps we discovered. They were like doorways into other worlds.

We meandered along the highway to Prince Rupert and got lost in the varying shades of blue, blue, blue—blue water, blue sky, blue mountain vistas. Then we were dizzied by all the greens. We daydreamed about the tiny islands. We oohed and ahhed over fresh halibut and salmon being cleaned on the dock and savoured the fishy-salt scent of the ocean.

And one evening, I came across this quote from Henry David Thoreau: I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least, and it is commonly more than that, sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.

I don’t usually get four hours outdoors per day—I wish—but I so relate to his sentiments. Even as I type, the sun’s dipping lower. And as you read this, the days are growing shorter once more. Quick! Pour one more iced tea and head outside. Drink up every last sweet dreg of our gorgeous summer.

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“The Sweet Dregs of Summer” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, June 25, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Treasure!

Treasure!I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of hidden treasure, be it flecks of gold in a fast-running creek, antiques tucked away in attics or basements, notes sealed in bottles, or—even better—jewels, old coins and the like shoved under loose floorboards, holed up in caves, buried on beaches, or resting in rusting hulks of ancient shipwrecks.

You don’t want to know how many imaginary treasure maps I created as a kid, but a lot. To this day there are few words as exciting to me as “X marks the spot,” and it’s a lifelong regret that I haven’t learned to scuba dive so that I can explore crooks and crannies under the sea myself. (But my years aren’t done yet!)

Just recently, no scuba needed, I chanced upon a real-life, genuine treasure.

I was trekking along a rough, winding path. Wind screamed through the trees, and showered me with broken branches and sharp twigs. Freezing rain beat down, soaking me through and setting my bones to aching. In the gathering evening gloom, it felt as if I’d taken a wrong turn—no, no, wait, sorry, bit of exaggeration there. But I did go to my mailbox recently. And it was probably rainy. I do live near trees. And I did discover treasure.

As I turned the key, opened the metal door, and spotted the parcel’s sender’s address, my stomach flipped. I knew the gem it contained before I even opened it.

A while back, I’d bought my grandma a journal called, “Grandma, Tell Me Your Story,” by Susan Branch. I hoped, of course, she’d enjoy meandering down memory lane and ruminating on the various questions, but I was quick to admit that really the “gift” was for me. My grandma Ruby Forsyth, née Gilgan, has always been one my heroes and inspirations—on motherhood, on coping when life is hard, on delighting in the beauty and wonder of simple, perfect things. I have never met anyone as patient as her. Ever.

I’m fortunate because I still have her in my life to talk to and visit, but I wanted a written record, notes about her life growing up and as a young wife and mother, pioneering with my grandfather.

She graciously obliged—the proof of which now sat in my mailbox.

As I slit the end of the package and saw the journal’s telltale pink and white edge, I couldn’t have been more thrilled had I found an old wooden chest with a pirate’s sword sticking out of it!

To have pages and pages written in her own hand? Well, “treasure” doesn’t suffice to describe it, actually. When I read her anecdotes, I hear her voice and see the twinkle in her eye. And the fact that much of her story is also the story of me—and of my children—and how we came to be—isn’t lost on me either.

I’d share some of her great tidbits, except they’re mine, all mine! Just kidding—but I am out of space. I’ll have to be content to leave you with one line.

Under “What is your best advice about life?” my grandma writes: Living a kind and considerate life is better than being obsessed with becoming rich.

The advice is all the more meaningful because I saw how she lived and lives. She embodies kindness and consideration. But, sheesh, her words do make me wonder if she knows about my predilection for treasure and meant to warn me. In case anyone’s worried, don’t be. My obsession with treasure has never been a lust for wealth. It’s always adventure I covet. In her journal, I have both.

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“Treasure!” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, June 25, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Storm the Beach!

Photo by Mackenzie Black that reminds me of my childhood.

Photo by Mackenzie Black that reminds me of my childhood.

I was zipping along in my little white car the other day, the sun was shining, the grass along the gravel shoulder was greening, and a warm, springy breeze danced through the open window. All of a sudden I was kissed, clear as anything, with the memory of a feeling that occasionally overwhelmed me when I was a kid playing outside on my grandma’s farm: a fantastic, totally-free, move alive-than-alive, rampaging, powerful, crazy, silly feeling. It was pure happy, the sense of extreme possibility and promise, and the conviction the world was full of good things and future adventure all rolled into one.

More often than not, when the feeling hit, I’d lift whatever stick I was carrying over my head (I was almost always carrying a “staff”) and charge down the nearby hill or into the field’s waist high grass, yelling a mixed roar-cheer: “Arrrrrrrrr!”

When I think back on those bouts of intense delight, a combination of recollections gather, so maybe the feeling was birthed by mingling factors: the smell of sunshine on dirt, the scent of sap from budding trees, the chitter-chat of squirrels, the chirping of birds, the give and take of the ground beneath my bare, calloused feet—and the joy of being enmeshed in whatever epic story I was living out as I trekked around. And something else was a huge contributor, too.

I was always by myself when the feeling hit. I didn’t have any adults, well meaning or otherwise, telling me to “keep it down,” to “be appropriate” or to “not get carried away.” No one asked pointed questions about what I was so happy about anyway, or helpfully outlined the reasons I was wrong or naïve to be feeling wildly joyful and optimistic. There were no kindly suggestions that I manage my expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed. . . .

I’ve definitely, thankfully, experienced lovely pure-happy as an adult too—but as with a lot of adult emotions, it’s usually more convoluted and layered, a bit shorter lived. I tend to diminish it by analyzing it.

And I’m trying not to do that anymore. I don’t want to squash my growing glee or kill it before it fully blooms. I want to revel in. Enjoy it. Laugh out loud and shake my head and shout with it. Spin down a dirt road with my arms out to my sides ‘til I’m dizzy.

I want to live life. Really live it. I don’t want to put off things I really want to do in the wait for some perceived magic age or stage where I think I’ll have more time, more funds, more clarity, more whatever. . . .

Maybe you need to heed my advice too? If you’re unhappy where you’re at, make changes. If there’s something you really want to do, start doing it sooner rather than later. Will it be difficult? Maybe. Maybe not. In hindsight I always realize the time I’ve spent resisting change I know I need or want is more excruciating than the actual leap ever turns out to be . . . but either way, easy and smooth or a tough uphill climb, the effort is worth it.

A bunch of things came together for me last week. I know why I had the ocean epiphany I wrote about last month, why I’m being surprised by random fits of euphoria, and experiencing deep, peaceful, standout-noticeable moments of happiness these days. I’m being more vocal about what I want, what I believe, and what huge questions, fears, doubts, and insecurities I have. I’m sharing the things I’m excited about, even proud of. I’m making changes. In my thinking. In my doing. In my being.

I haven’t charged down a hill recently, shouting at the top of my lungs, brandishing a stick—but I make no promises about the near future.

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“Storm the Beach!” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, April 30, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Have Passport, Will Travel

Sights to see, creatures to meet! Photo copyright Ev Bishop.

So many sights to see and creatures to meet! Photo copyright Ev Bishop.

I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate the past twelve months. Until October 2013, I’d only ever been out of Canada twice in my life (both times, pre-passport days). This year I’ve been to London, just returned from southern California, and have plans for a Hawaii or Mexico trip.

And I do love to holiday just for the sake of a holiday—a break, a specifically set apart time to rest, relax, and play. It’s not just the pure sloth I enjoy, however. I think seeing new landscapes and terrains, experiencing different climates and cultures, and meeting people who come from different places than you is valuable.

Having lived in a small town my whole life, the exposure to huge groups of people in one place is thought provoking, and I think it was beneficial for our young nieces who were with us, too. There are so many different types of jobs and opportunities in larger centres. It opens your eyes to possibilities for work, for art, for exploring. It’s a big world!

I’m an adventurous eater but even so, various regions have their types of food—stuff habitually eaten because it’s grown or produced there, or readily available because of the mixed backgrounds of people living in an area. Terrace offers high quality, quite diverse foods, but funnily enough, though California is West Coast too, it’s far enough South that some of the food was different than I’d ever had before. Yay!

And I could go on and on about the beauty, inspiration and wonder to be found in exploring a different geographical place. I was awed by the crazy abundance of flowering plants that grow as perennials—well, not even perennials. They don’t die down; they grow perpetually, like our trees do. People have cactus beds in California, the same way we plant flower ones . . . yet daffodils and “spring blooms” flourish there, too.

And the ocean, the ocean, the ocean! I adored the sun, sand and surf. Did you know that the Pacific can be warm and welcoming to swim in during March? It was wild fun, literally, to be playing in the waves and suddenly see dolphins not fifty feet away—or have a line of eight or so pelicans swoop along just beyond our heads.

Visiting other places also helps adjust any preconceived notions you might have. Stereotypes about “Americans” have long driven me crazy because the U.S. is so huge, with so many people, that it’s ridiculous to me that anyone would colour the whole, extremely diverse, country with one brush—but I won’t rail away long. Let me just say, with one exception, where we think my big, brawny husband might’ve scared the pants off a guy fishing off Newport Pier when he approached him after dusk, and asked jovially, “What are you fishing for?” everyone was incredibly nice, extremely polite, genuinely-it-seemed interested in chatting and getting to know us a bit—before and after they knew we were tourists.

People are people wherever you go, and we all have more in common than we usually think. And that’s a wonderful lesson to have reinforced from time to time.

I’m not pretending that my holidays thus far—or those hopefully in the future—were taken with any loftier goal than to have some fun, but for me, the best fun occurs when I feel I learned something too. And even if the take-aways are simple things like I really enjoy authentic Mexican food, it’s weird that plane seats are smaller and less safe feeling than the seats on Disneyland rides, the population of the state of California is greater than the population of the whole country of Canada, or that Grey whales go down to Mexico to have their babies, and then make their way up the coast (yup, they pass us too) to Alaska . . . well, those are great observations to experience first hand.

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“Have Passport, Will Travel” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, March 26, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Fluff and Jumble

Photo by betterpharm on Flickr

Photo by betterpharm on Flickr

Early winter was remarkably calm and mild this year, but February? It’s been anything but mellow—bouts of bitter cold, severe wind, surprise flurries and big snowfalls simultaneously awed and daunted me. (The snow is spectacularly pretty, but sometimes I just want my days to be easy, no jacket or boots required!). And my brain this month is similarly filled with heaps of stuff to wade through, shovel, and scrape. Some of it is work intensive and slightly tiresome, but other bits are beautiful.

I’m on the cusp of another big life change. (Wow, new phases just keep coming, don’t they? I’m starting to think that from our toddler years on, life is nothing but a constant flux of developmental stages!) And the trigger of this one? My daughter is getting married.

If you remember some of my earliest columns, like the one about a road trip to Vancouver with her and baby brother, or the one about her obsession with salsa cones (Yes, ice-cream cones filled with salsa. Yum, hey?), you know she was very, very young when I published my first column and now she is getting married. Bizarre!

Her fiancé, my son-in-law to be (How weird is that?) is wonderful and I already love him, but I’m still shocked and kind of terrified. Is she, is he, ready for marriage? But the worry—the question itself—makes me roll my eyes. Are any of us ever ready for it? No matter how fortunate you are in who you commit to for life, or how much you love him or her, marriage is constant adjustment, isn’t it?

I cannot not worry, of course, because I’m her mom and because I’m me, a worrier extraordinaire, but I’m also really excited about all the happy potential for her, for them, to experience so much joy, laughter, comfort, and companionship.

Another thing on my mind these days is the move of an old, close friend back to town. After graduation we were supposed to head for the city together, but I ended up falling in love and staying here instead. She adventured off alone. And now, after twenty-three years, she’s back. It’s as surreal as my daughter getting married, albeit it in an opposite way. The impending nuptials make me feel like two decades have zipped by, while my friend’s return makes me feel no years have passed at all. In my head we’re still eighteen, with all our lives before us. In reality we’ve said hello to forty-one, but something great’s still true: the rest of our lives lay before us!

I’m also very busy right now, as I’m sure you can relate. There’s a lot going on at work. I have some exciting, but also scary, writing plans that require strenuous effort and time. I’m trying to make healthy lifestyle changes. I also want to spend more time with some specific friends and family members.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed, the following quote shared on Facebook was a huge encouragement: You are going to want to give up. Don’t. I don’t know if the line resonates with you, but it was encouragement I really needed. I’m going to scribble the words somewhere to keep as a reminder for myself, or to share if anyone else needs them.

I realize this wasn’t my most organized “Just a Thought,” but sometimes that’s how thoughts are, cluttered and jumbled, or, like the February snow—plentiful, piling up, just waiting to be trekked through.
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“Fluff and Jumble” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, February 26, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Today is my day … I’m off and away!

It feels a bit weird to post this copy of my October 2013 column because I’ve been on my marvelous trip and am back already, but as this blog is the best way for me to archive my Terrace Standard column, and because some of you may be curious about what I got up to in London, sharing this still seems the thing to do. Enjoy!

I suspect my November column may share reflections on my trip. Oh, wait, no! Now I’ve gone and spoiled the surprise. I guess I should’ve said: Spoiler alert: in November’s column I’ll share reflections on my trip. ;)

And now, without further ado, I present “Today is my day … I’m off and away!” by me, Ev Bishop, originally published in the Terrace Standard, October 30, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

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Photo by Erik Daniel Drost, Flickr

Photo by Erik Daniel Drost, Flickr

I’ve long-loved Dr Seuss’s book Oh, the places you’ll go! For being silly and hilarious, it’s oddly inspiring, and whenever I read it, I’d want to travel and wonder when, when, when?

I love almost everything about Terrace, but I’ve always been fascinated by other places and hoped to travel physically, not just through the words of a story or pictures in books (though I wouldn’t trade those journeys and adventures!).

And I’ve gone on some very fun gallivants—lots of road trips and camping excursions, annual conferences, and beach seeking. But I’ve always, always, always—since I was barely able to read—wanted to go to England, particularly London.

And guess what? The day has arrived. Literally. I leave tomorrow (or, rather, since you’re reading this in the paper—I left last week!).

London is definitely romanticized in my mind, and I don’t know if my trip can possibly live up to my expectations (except even as I write that a little voice is yelling, “Of course it will. It totally will. You are going to love, love, LOVE it!).

I can hardly read over my itinerary without squealing—oh, who am I kidding? I don’t even try not to squeal. I’m staying with one of my best friends and a favourite fellow writer, so it’s really a holiday dream trip.

Here’s our rough plan (please forgive the copious exclamation marks. I can’t help myself):

Day 1 – I arrive, YAY! Most likely very jet-lagged—or so everybody warns. I suspect I’ll be too freakishly excited to be tired! A drive about tour, then dinner in London. Then, supposedly, wine and chatting at my friend’s flat, but I suspect the first sip will put me to sleep.

Day 2 – Weather permitting we will tour Highgate Cemetery, and visit Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, China Town, and the Covent Garden area. My friend also wants us to “pop into” the Natural Portrait Gallery just to see Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (Her words, “Just for a minute because it’s free and near the door, so it won’t take long.”—mind boggling!)

Day 3 – Church of some kind, somewhere. Visiting and walkabout. Harrods for tea!

Day 4 – The Natural History Museum and Westminster Abbey. Also Big Ben, dinner in Soho (at my friend’s favourite fish restaurant, Randall and Aubin), then sightseeing and exploring the area.

Day 5 – Off to Lancashire on the train to visit family I’ve never yet met, and seeing cool rural things full of my roots (am hoping for a cemetery, along with the old family halls and farms).

Day 6 – Day in Lancashire, evening train back to London. I’m so freakishly excited about the train! I’m first class on the way down, and last class (ha ha) on the way back. If only I had Harry Potter-esque robes for the journey.

Day 7 – The Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Day 8 – Hyde Park and explore Notting Hill area.

Day 9 – Our chauffeur (a.k.a. my friend’s hubby) will deliver us to Stonehenge, and then we’ll head to Oxford for exploring and dinner/drinks in the Eagle and Child—the pub, established in 1644, that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and the Inklings had their weekly writers’ meetings!

Day 10 – Stratford Upon Avon!!!!! I will see Shakespeare’s grave!!!! Eeieieieieieieieeieieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

Day 11 – Up in the air . . . again, literally. I don’t fly out until afternoon, so I may sneak in a little something else.

I have a brand new sketchbook journal in honour of my trip, along with a package of gorgeous drawing pens as I have delusions of doodling things I see and trying to jot down interesting bits I spy and hear and experience. I suspect, however, the journal will be neglected as I ogle my surroundings eyes wide, mouth agape. I can’t wait!

And on that note . . . I should pack. Hold the fort until I’m back.

Lessons From Bubble Pop

I have an embarrassing confession. I have an addiction. To Facebook games—specifically Tetris Battle and silly, bright-coloured, manically cheerful Bubble Pop Battle. I live in two states: on the wagon and off the wagon.
 
When I’m on the wagon, I accomplish things, meet deadlines, get work done in the yard, and even, occasionally, clean my house. When I’m off the wagon (have broken its wheels and driven it over a cliff!), I stay up way too late to play just one more round, lament how I never have time to write, explain to my family that we might move permanently to fend-for-yourself meals for dinner—and that will probably only work if Dad goes grocery shopping.
 
When I’m in this hand-cramped, escalating-theme-music-wormed state (the later, in case you don’t know, is when a song lodges in your head and won’t go away), I justify my lack of self-control with soothing rationalizations: “It’s good stress release,” or “These types of games help improve spatial skills,” or . . . “I don’t have a lot of other vices.”
 
Then something amazing happened. I actually learned a legitimately important lesson, or rather, had something I know but sometimes forget, reinforced in a silly, bright-coloured, manically cheerful way!
 
Like so many lessons, the Bubble Pop epiphany was triggered by crisis.
 
I logged into Facebook to play, I promise, just five rounds of Bubble Pop (and at a minute a round, that’s not too, too bad an indulgence, right?). Before I could hit “play,” however, a little box popped up announcing that after September 30, Bubble Pop was done. Would no longer be available. THE TRAUMA!!!!!!
 
The creators then, remembering their commitment to manic cheeriness and good will, added, “As a token of our appreciation, we have credited your account with tons of coins.”
 
Whoaaaa . . . Sounds like a dream, right? I certainly thought so. The coins are actually limitless, which means every bubble-bursting weapon (and life protection aid) was at my disposal. I could play forever. I could never die. Muauahahahhahahahahahahaha! A monster was almost born, except—
 
Except it turns out that in Bubble Pop, as in life, things that come too easily, without work or effort or some sort of cost (time, resources, etc.), lose their value and interest for me. Become boring. Unsatisfying. Blah.
 
I do, on occasion, like most of us I suppose, think things like:
 
If only I’d win the lottery, so I wouldn’t have to work anymore—life would be perfect!
 
If only all my relationships were completely effortless, nothing but an unending stream of Hallmark movie worthy moments forever—
 
If only I didn’t have to do chores, and the house and yard and laundry and dishes took care of themselves . . . I’d have limitless free time to explore things I really care about.
 
If only I didn’t have to struggle to learn new techniques, programs, or material . . . my work and creative life would be ideal.

 
No. Wrong. False. Thoughts like that are based on the erroneous notion that ease brings contentment. I find the reverse is true. Periods of rest, relaxation and “having a good time” are lovely (and necessary), but too much holidaying makes me restless. Irritable.  
 
Pushing myself. Digging deeper. Not knowing if I have the resources or ability to tackle a new task or pull off a new endeavour . . . exhilarating! Challenge keeps life interesting, makes work meaningful, and helps relationships continue to grow and deepen and be satisfying.
 
Bubble Pop can’t truly get full credit for reminding me of all this, but (sadly, embarrassingly!) it did trigger thought . . . and for now, until some other captivating Internet game snags me, I’m back on the wagon, working on things much more interesting and time-worthy than popping yellow, purple, red and blue bubbles with my oh-so-cute cannon . . . trying to ignore the part of me that misses the pop-pop-pop.

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“Lessons From Bubble Pop” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, September 25, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”