The Trips They Are a-Changin’

I’ve been busy this month solidifying summer vacation plans, and while there are always some details that need careful attention or adjustments, what strikes me most about this empty nester holiday stuff is how easy it is, how few things need to be nailed down when you’re only organizing for two adults.
 
I remember well—and a huge part of me will always miss—the days when my children were small, despite all the work that went into planning even small excursions then. The labor was well worth it in the fun and memories we created, but it was exhausting at times, physically and emotionally.  
 
Plus our budget was always tight, a common yet frustrating fact: often your finances are at their shakiest at the time in life when you have the highest set expenses, the most mouths to feed, the most bodies to dress, and, simultaneously, the most things you want your kids to experience and see.
 
Recently I returned from a ten-day combined work/pleasure trip, where I carried a backpack and one small book bag—and that’s it. Parents of young kids carry more stuff just to go to church or for an afternoon at the lake. Stroller. Diapers. Wipes. Changes of clothes. Water bottles. Sunscreen. Toys. Food. 
 
Nowadays, I literally live by this travel mantra: Oh well, if I forget something I need, I’ll just pick it up somewhere. That attitude doesn’t really suffice when you have infants or toddlers and have to plan for possible delays, lack of access to restaurants, etc.
 
It’s nice to know where I’ll be staying, but it’s not critical in the way it is when you have children. As my adult son, who, along with his girlfriend, will be meeting up with my husband and me for part of our trip, said when he realized they’ll be arriving at our destination a day or two before our reservations kick in, “Oh well, we can always car camp.” Exactly. That’s totally an option when you’re an adult. Spontaneous car camping doesn’t work with small kids. To swing an overnight in a vehicle, you’d have to be completely non-spontaneous and make sure you had enough of everything mentioned in the list above—plus bedding.
 
I also—gasp!—actually sleep the night before holidays. I know. Crazy stuff, right? I’m not up until three in the morning doing all the things I didn’t have time for when I was running after youngsters—and then kept awake, though beyond tired, by racing thoughts, wildly going over and over all the things we still need to do before leaving the next morning.
 
Do you think I’m protesting too much? That perhaps I’m trying to sing the praises of empty nester trips only because I miss past ones full of kids and mayhem so much? (After all, you’ve read almost eighteen years of my thoughts. You know how much I loved traveling with my kids!) Okay, you got me. You’re partially right. As I said at the beginning: the work and the craziness and the busyness of planning and taking trips with your family is always worth it. For kids, every trip from the treat of a lifetime Disney vacation to the most simple getaway, camping excursion, or road trip is chock-full of new moments and first time experiences. I loved every minute of that and found it precious and joy evoking to get to relive that newness, that freshness, through their eyes.
 
But I also see things anew and differently traveling alone as an adult, unencumbered. Some opportunities open up that aren’t available or practical with children in tow.
 
So yes, I confess I look forward to taking my grans on overnights and/or holidays (hopefully my kids will be the kind of parents who let me, LOL!). I’ll happily shoulder the extra work, carry the gear, and shell out the money. But in the meantime? It’s great fun to travel light and to, instead of revelling in the thrill of others’ first experiences, keep having some myself. Hopefully that part of trip taking never changes.
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“The Trips They Are a-Changin’” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, August 16, 2017 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” 
 

Gargoyle Cottage. Retreat, retreat!

Gargoyle Cottage at Allbion Manor, Victoria, BCThe name of the place grabbed me immediately: Gargoyle Cottage—how simultaneously creepy and delightful, a perfect companion for its bigger sibling, the gorgeous and funky Albion Manor. It seemed the perfect answer to my where-to-stay-in-Victoria search, commenced when I received an invitation to be a guest speaker at Vancouver Island Romance Authors’ June meeting.

And upon seeing Gargoyle Cottage in person? Even more perfect: a fairy tale house, nestled behind a massive weeping willow tree amidst an enchanted jungle of blooms. Thriving purple clematis and bright blue California lilacs guard the back of the tiny domicile, while its crotchety namesake perches above the glass paned door. Managing to look protective, welcoming and snarky all at once, the gargoyle’s sneer says, “Don’t just stand there gaping. Go in or stay out, but make yourself useful either way. Deadhead the petunias or something.”

I confess I did obediently deadhead a few flowers before proceeding inside, where I was as charmed by the cottage’s interior, as I had been by its exterior. The antique furniture gracing each room grabbed my imagination. What whispered conversations had that sideboard been privy to over a century? How many dreams had the massive, crazily ornate bed inspired? Who had kept what in that tiny, intricately painted, yellowed with age Chinese lidded vase?

Settling in, I pondered what I wanted to accomplish during my days beneath the gargoyle’s watchful eye. Some professional development, absolutely. A couple of close author friends and one of my editors live in the Victoria area. Some purely fun stuff—of course. Chiefly, however, some deep thinking. Perhaps it seems weird that I need to slot in time to think, but there you have it. Obviously (or hopefully), I do a certain amount of thinking every day, but to actually spend concentrated time at it? Yep, I have to schedule it, or it doesn’t happen.

Life is so busy that it can be difficult to find time to consciously evaluate and plan what I want to do. It’s all too easy to feel wiped out and inundated with work and chores, almost like I don’t have a spare minute, while also feeling like I don’t get anything done or don’t have time for the things that really matter.

This fact—that life is busy—is exactly why taking regular breaks to play, think, dream, imagine and plan is vital. It allows me to prioritize and regroup. It helps me really live my life, not just go through the motions. It shows me areas where changes might be needed and affirms things I’m doing right.

Not all my retreats take place in quirky, quaint little B & B’s, however. (I wish!) It’s much more common for me to set aside a day in my normal life. If a mini retreat sounds intriguing to you, here are a few tips to get you started.

1) Leave your house. Even if you’re not planning an overnight stay, getting out of your home, away from your everyday life, is critical. If you stay home, it will be too easy to see all the things that need doing. You’ll decide to tackle just one task—and bam, all will be lost.

2) Bring a notebook or a laptop. (Avoid all social media sites like the plague!) Ruminate on what you’d like to focus on. Do you have a decision you need to make? Are you trying to narrow down your work focus, seeking to prioritize the bazillion ideas rattling around in your head, or just wanting to contemplate life?

3) Consider arranging a lunch date with a close friend or colleague. (And enjoy every minute of it, but don’t let the social time of your retreat eclipse your alone time.)

4) Go back to your alone space and spend time reading magazines or articles that deeply interest you or are relevant to your life in some way.

5) Head outside and take a long walk (or just sit) in a place you don’t usually frequent. Don’t move briskly though. Meander. Absorb your surroundings. Let your mind wander.

6) Return to your space and mull over your notes. Possibly do some brainstorming, jot a pros and cons list, or draft a schedule if you’re aiming to meet a large, many parted goal. If you realize that what you wanted to think about has changed, explore that instead.

7) Repeat semi-frequently!

If you take time to retreat and think—or you’re planning to now—I’d love to hear about it! Please respond in the comments. 🙂

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“Gargoyle Cottage. Retreat, retreat!” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, June 28, 2017 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” 

Growing Ideas

As I sit down to write today, my fingers and hands look like they’ve seen a war. Small festering prickles are embedded here and there, my nails are blackened and broken, and I have defensive wounds on my forearms. My beautiful thorny rosebush attacked me last night and while I did manage to cut it back, so that I can paint my house, it made some slices of its own. I was wearing heavy-duty work gloves and its spiny thorns still got through.
 
When I told my son to be careful around the rosebush because “it’s very mean,” he shook his head. “It’s not mean, Mom. It’s just misunderstood.”   Cheeky kid. At least I know he listens to me sometimes. A little while later though, after a too self-assured brush against the plant, he decided I was right.
 
The rosebush made me realize something about the famous fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty. It had to be written by a gardener, one familiar with fighting mighty rosebushes, because only one so blessed (cursed?!) could understand just how adequately a rosebush left to its own devices could protect a tower and persuade any would-be heroes to seek easier rescues.
 
Other stories inspired by humans’ passion for (or struggle with!) growing things came to me.
 
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Aside from the pure magic of discovering a hidden garden to play in, the children who seek refuge there find healing and rejuvenation. So much so that it almost escapes the reader’s attention:  that place of new growth and life was also the starting place of all young Colin’s woes, the place that killed his mother and brought death, pain and estrangement into the family.  
 
Beatrix Potter’s hilarious tales of bratty Peter Rabbit, his kin, and neighbouring animal folk. I can’t help but wonder if she had to protect her cabbages from some bunny—too cute to resist being charmed by, too annoying to quite quell the desire to stick him in a pie via Mr. McGregor.
 
Ideas for my columns (nature-based or not) often sprout while I’m working outside, and last spring, after cleaning out a flowerbed, I penned (okay, I typed, but honestly, doesn’t penned sound more romantic?) my own tale inspired by digging in the dirt, “Wishful,” in which a woman is enjoying a lovely day and wishes things would never change. I guess I wanted to explore the truth in the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”  In any event, I won’t ever look at the little faces in pansies quite the same way ever again.

Noelle, the main character in my novel SPOONS, shares my passion for dirt and flowers, and it’s laboring in a garden that gives her a renewed knowledge of herself and her strengths, plus the hope and vigor she needs to work on her marriage.  

 
I don’t know what it is about yard work that cultivates ideas, but that kind of labour definitely fertilizes the mind—and not just the writer’s muse either.  
 
Toiling in my yard, contemplating the growth and flowers (or lack thereof) of various plants, I make plans for summer, go over things I need to accomplish in the week, and ponder my relationships with my kids, husband, family, and friends.
 
Some of my best brainstorming sessions—for work, for writing, for house and home projects—occur with clippers or a rake, not a pen, in my hand. Problems too, imagined or not, get worked out alongside my muscles
 
Stress, angst, worry . . . all those negative energy zappers disappear as I help my plants move out of their winter garb, shed spring excitement that’s burst forth in go-no-where energy stealers—the plants’ own suckers and shoots—and get ready for summer growth and maturity.
 
I know that comparing garden growth to personal growth is an oft-used metaphor, but as with many things that get overused, it’s used a lot because people feel its truth. Seeing how things change season through season, watching how the tiniest seed grows into the most profuse plant, marvelling at how the “deadest” branch comes to life when the time and conditions are right is inspiring.
 
I was the one being cheeky earlier when I said my rosebush was mean—I was feeling guilty for pruning the beautiful thing back so vehemently. I deserve my scars. Really, I’m in awe of its warrior-self that in a few more weeks will be topped with the showiest, soft-as-velvet blooms you can imagine, and I’m already anticipating its heavy, delicious scent carrying in the warm evening air. My mind finds peace and inspiration in the same slivers and blisters that make my fingers and hands seem like they’ve done battle.
 
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This column is another blast from the past. Written with my wounded hands in May 2009, I reread it recently and wanted to reshare because rose bushes are heavy on my mind again for several reasons, some being: It’s finally warm enough to be out in the garden again, and I have three new bushes I want to plant reserved for me at The Spotted Horse. I lost a beloved bush in our brutal winter this year. I have no idea where my good gloves are and I need them. . . .
 

Get outside, now!

Not “my” tree, but an awesome one nonetheless! Photo by Mike Prince.

When I was little, I was outside as much as humanly possible in the spring, summer and fall. Though it might not always have been my idea (I recall my slightly exasperated mother commanding my hyperactive brother and me to “take it outside” on a frequent basis), I’m so grateful for the experience.

A tree on Railway Ave. in Smithers, BC was my first introduction to the extreme joy of playing outdoors. Close investigation revealed it was a series of trunks that grew up close together in a tight circle. A barely discernable gap let me slip into the cozy, hollowed out centre.

From inside my tree, I could see everything going on around me, and no one knew I was even there! A perfect climbing tree with nicely spaced, sturdy branches, it was playhouse, fort, jail, ranch, and office.

On office days, I climbed to a special spot where I had fashioned loose wire loops around a branch. I could work for hours, sitting on the lower “bench” branch and sliding the loops back and forth on the “typewriter” branch. The wire made a great sound too, kind of jingly and clackety all at once. It broke my heart (no, seriously) when we moved to Vancouver and deserted my tree.

But there were consolations. Taxi summer, for example. One year my dad towed the chassis of some old car into our backyard. The fact that it had no body was irrelevant. It had a steering column and steering wheel—the critical parts! I conjured images of a bright yellow taxi for my friends and siblings, and we took turns being the taxi driver stopping for a customer.

We all enjoyed being the cabbie (screeching around corners, slamming on brakes, honking)—but we adored making up people who were waiting for the taxi. Pregnant woman (played most hilariously by my brother). Snobby person. Dangerous criminal. Mean teacher. Person who thinks he’s really a dog. You name it. We were imaginative.

I also visited my grandparents’ massive farm in Hazelton often. If there was anyone who enjoyed playing outside as much as I did, it was my aunt/best friend.

She and I would filch paper lunch bags from the pantry and fill one with smoked Oolichans (Mmmm, so smoky and salty and chewy!), and one with crunchy pink and yellow crab apples.

Barefooted, we’d disappear for hours. Life was complex as Elven princesses. There were ongoing epic battles to be fought, evil rulers to flee, magic to be mastered. My little leather pouch of elf stones proved helpful, and we carried jackknives, of course, for when we needed to make spears or arrows or walking sticks.

When our stomachs sounded a dinner alarm, we headed for the castle or tavern to feast with assorted trolls and miscreants—then moved out again as soon as we could.

When the sky turned purple (and in the North, that’s delightfully late!), we knew it was time to retreat to the inn, filthy-footed and exhausted.

To this day, I don’t know if there’s anything better than having your bedtime snack when you can hardly keep your eyes open, then crawling into bed smelling like tree sap and fresh air and dirt, your limbs so tired they almost ache—and the soft, all is right in the world feeling of clean sheets and blankets wrapping you in a sleepy cloud. . . .

A lot of people hit adulthood and yard time suddenly becomes chore time. As I explained to one of my young nieces, however, though it’s kind of weird, some stuff you call work as a kid becomes fun, almost like playing, once you’re an adult (except for dishes. Dishes are always horrible).

So yes, you’ll find me weeding and watering. But you’ll also find me meandering about, staring into the sky daydreaming, and playing in the lake. My feet still need to be scrubbed before bed in the summer.

I hope you have your own fond memories of playing outside—and that you keep making them. Let me send you off with words from my mother that I could never hear enough: “Get outside and play. Now!”

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This column originally appeared as my April 2012 column, but since some things never change—like my love of playing hooky outdoors and my immense delight and relief when spring finally arrives after a long winter—I wanted to share it again. I hope you’re yelling, hear, hear!

Don’t miss out this Thursday, April 20!

It’s definitely starting to feel FUN to be out and about during the evening now, not like a chore. Yay, spring! Yay, light! And on that note . . . I hope you’ll sneak away from your busy life and join me at the Terrace Public Library this Thursday night. Sarah, Norma, and Carol are not to be missed. It’s going to be a great night. See you there! 🙂

Muddling Through

“Fork tree sky” by David DeHetre

Whew, this March was a hard month. It did indeed come in like a lion; I am still waiting for it to go out like a lamb. As I write, I’m sitting on my couch, notebook in hand, coffee at my side—and the view from every window is the same: dark heavy branches weighed down with snow.

 

In town, spring seems possible, maybe even imminent. At my house, everything is a grim, ugly muddy-gray white. It could easily still be January.

 

I know in a couple weeks, the sun will have touched even my ends-of-the-earth yard enough to reveal sodden yellow ground, but it can’t happen soon enough. I have to-do lists and lots of plans that I carefully and enthusiastically made in January—yet no energy to carry them out. I wake up tired, creep through my day feeling wiped out, and fall into bed exhausted.
 
I also know I’m not the only northerner who struggles with blues and/or low energy this time of year. The fact doesn’t make it any easier, however. What does? Well, thankfully a few things . . .
 
1) Spending time with my kids and little grandson. No matter how blah I’m feeling, seeing them (and him) makes me smile and energizes me almost immediately.
 
2) Spending time with friends, at my house, up town, at their houses . . .
 
(Yes, there is a theme here: getting out to see people, even when I don’t feel like it initially, or maybe especially if I don’t feel like it, is helpful and good.)
 
3) Forcing myself to go outside. Apparently even dull overcast days provide enough UV rays to elevate one’s mood. (I’m taking the experts’ word on this—and feeling a bit snarky and skeptical about it, I must confess.)
 
4) Doing things I find fun (sadly, there’s still an element of having to force myself—but once I do I don’t regret it)—and there’s an extra boost if those “fun” things are active. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the days I went bowling or played darts with my family, tramped around the snowy beaches and trails at Lakelse Lake, or climbed down the rocks to watch the birds feasting on oolichans towards Prince Rupert were higher energy, “better mood” days for me.
 
5) Not berating myself for being “lazy.” I can be really hard on myself (like most of us, I suspect), but battering myself with mean self-talk doesn’t help me or “shake me out of it.” It just makes me feel worse. Instead, I’ve sort of come to embrace my inner sloth and try to find humor in it. For example, the season some people call winter, I’ve relabeled Netflix—and I don’t apologize for reveling in TV for a couple months a year. I won’t watch very much in the spring and summer. Unless I do. So there.
 
I’ve found it helpful to try to treat myself the way I would treat a friend (so supportive, kind and encouraging, not belittling).
 
6) Journaling. I’ve talked about the benefits of this before. Sometimes it’s nice to figure out what’s going on in your head—or, on days when that seems like an awful idea, I don’t even bother to attempt it. Instead, I record the day’s events, make up a story, or jot down random thoughts. 
 
(If journaling sounds good to you, but you don’t know where to start, search “Journaling prompts” online. You’ll find a wealth of good sites. Print a list of prompts, cut them into separate ideas, and put them in a jar. Then once a week, every couple of days, or even, if you’re a super keener, daily, pick out a prompt and write. I find setting a time or page limit helpful; I resist the process less if I know when it will be over, hahahaahahahahaha.)
 
7) Reminding myself that this too shall pass. I’ve survived other long, bleak Netflixes before. Spring always comes eventually. In fact, I suspect by the time my next column rolls around, you and I will have forgotten we were ever feeling muddled by March—or let’s live in that hope anyway!
 
p.s. I’ve been sort of jokey about my S.A.D. tendencies, but “blues” are the furthest thing from funny when they hit hard. If life keeps seeming darker even when the days are naturally brighter and/or you can’t “force” yourself to do the things I’ve suggested above, please reach out to your doctor or someone else you trust.
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“Muddling Through” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, March 29, 2016 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” 

Fun and exciting news afoot – please help me with it!

I received very exiting news earlier this month. HOOK, LINE & SINKER (River’s Sigh B & B, Book 4) was nominated for AllAuthor’s cover of the month contest! I need your help though . . . PLEASE VOTE!

(You will have to create an account, but it doesn’t take long at all–and will help me a ton. There’s a first cut happening in two days and I want to make it! 🙂 ) Thank you so much!

Cover of the Month

Hook, Line & Sinker (River’s Sigh B & B Book 4)

My book has been nominated for Book Cover of the Month on AllAuthor.com. It would be greatly appreciated if you could take a moment to vote.

Vote Now »

Thank you for your support,
Ev Bishop

 

And more fun news! As a thanks to you kind souls who have already reviewed my books–and hopefully as a little nudge/reminder to review if you haven’t yet, I’ve designed a super simple contest with some lovely prizes.

All you need to do is post a review of any one of my novels online at Amazon, Kobo, iBOOKS, or Barnes & Noble. When your review is published, paste the link in the appropriate Rafflecopter box. That’s it! Have fun! (And if you’ve already reviewed–hooray! You are still eligible. Track down your reviews and paste their links beneath whichever book you reviewed. And please, definitely review all six books so you’re entered six times!

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE CONTEST. GOOD LUCK! 

And that’s it for me! Hope you’re having great week.

🙂 Ev