Beauty in the details

Once upon a time . . . Photo by Ev Bishop

Once upon a time . . . Photo by Ev Bishop

When I was little, I was enamoured with the Wade collectibles that came inside boxes of Red Rose tea. Some of you may remember the tiny ceramic creatures and people, their enchanting details and soft colours. My favourites were the nursery rhyme characters: The Queen of Hearts, Little Boy Blue, Little Miss Muffet, Jack and Jill (each with their sad faces and spilled bucket of water), Little Red Riding Hood, just to name a few.

My mom collected them for me, and seeing that what I loved most about them was playing make-believe and dreaming up elaborate fairy tales, she didn’t insist I keep them on shelves. She bought me a small plastic table. Its round brown top was patterned to look cushion-topped and its pedestal base was like gingerbread lace. A circle-shaped mirror from an old suitcase became a pond, and in the glow from my bedside lamp, the works became a magical land.

Many things about that memory stand out as important. My family struggled financially when I was small; my parents married young and had three children while putting my dad through school—which demanded moving a lot. I’m sure porcelain doodads were very low on my mom’s personal list of priorities, but she chose to assign value to something I wanted just because they were little and pretty. And she wasn’t the only one in my family to instil this notion that it was okay, was important even, to seek out moments of beauty or to collect trinkets, purely because they were lovely.

My Grandma Nora was the epitome of hard work and thrift. Orphaned young, enduring severe deprivation during the war, immigrating to England from Holland to work as a maid, she cut the paper off wherever she ended a note, so she could save and use however-small-the-remaining piece for another missive. She formed balls of salvaged elastic bands and aluminum foil to re-use. When soap bars grew too small to use, she kept the tiny slivers in a jar, so she could melt them down and make new ones. Yet she adored cut flowers and had small vases in surprising places. She adorned her letters with fanciful stickers. When she opened her own flower shop, she carried whimsical accessories.

When I became a young wife, both my mom and my grandma encouraged me to A) be frugal and try to live within my means, and to B) try to bring beauty to my home in small, inexpensive ways—not because it would make me a good wife or mother, but because it would bring me pleasure. One of the first gifts my mom gave me when I had a home of my own was a white wicker tray and a square of gorgeous floral-print fabric. Its Victorian-look card read simply, “For your tea, love Mom.” I still feel incredibly blessed, rich in every important way, when I set my table prettily. 

But please don’t think my idea of beauty centres on things. My dad routinely encouraged us to “take time and smell the roses”—a cliché, yes, but one he meant literally. He took huge joy in flowers and plants. And when we were outside doing seemingly unending chores, he’d often pause to stretch and breathe deeply, then comment on the quality of the air, the colour of the sky, the beauty of the mountains.

One summer he and I were driving through the Cache Creek area. He loved the scenery, but I, ever appreciative of Terrace’s lush greenery, thought it was ugly. He was shocked, almost horrified, and said, “There’s beauty almost anywhere if you know how to look.”

We should all seek and create small moments of beauty and creature comfort—nice blankets, the mug that fits perfect in our hand, good food, pieces of art or pottery . . . They are tiny boons for our souls, comforting pleasures. And we should encourage those we love to appreciate—and see—the beauty in small things and everyday settings, too. Days always come when the ability to see some bright spark when everything at first seems grey and bleak is very important.

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“Beauty in the details” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, March 30, 2016 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”  Its thoughts form part of a theme I’m exploring this year—“Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know.”  Missed the first two? Find them here:

1) What do you know? (Jan. 2016)

2) Kindness Matters (Feb. 2016)  

What You Need

kelly-rae-takewhatyouneedJanuary and February can be low months for me—low energy, low funds, low light, low . . . And this year, a series of tough situations conspired to bring me lower—the rotten kind of events, where people I care about are being kicked in the face by life in ways I’m powerfulness to help in any practical, lasting way. You relate, perhaps?

On the flip side, however, waging war with the gloom, I’ve also experienced some intensely lovely moments this month—things that reminded me of all the good in life—in people—that coexists with the . . . not so good.

The one with the most impact came totally out of the blue, and occurred, of all places, in the post office.

After receiving hard news the other day, I treated myself to a London Fog and wrote a note to my sister as a pick me up. Afterwards, I went to the post office to mail it, then checked out the lobby’s bulletin board. A poster with tear-away tabs grabbed my eye.

It was photocopied in black and white, but no less beautiful for the lack of colour. Funky block letters on a collaged-background made a strange but lovely request: “Take what you need.”

Beneath the words and the artwork were scissor-cut tabs, but they didn’t hold contact numbers. They carried things the creator thought you might need:

Hope. Courage. Forgiveness. Love. Laughter. Peace of mind. Faith. Tenderness. Beauty

Strength. Rest. Passion.

Half the tabs were already missing. (In fact, I only know what each one said because minuscule font on the poster’s edge gave copyright to Kelly Rae Robert and I googled her along with “Take what you need” until I found a copy of the same poster, intact.) I don’t know what I found more encouraging: that someone randomly posted it for no other obvious reason than to put some kindness and inspiration into the world—or that people were moved, like I was, to take something away with them.

I chose “Faith” because it’s something I could use more of in multiple areas of my life right now. Which would you have taken? What do you particularly need?

I left the post office feeling a little lighter and a little stronger, more capable.

And as so often happens, one positive moment opened my eyes to an abundance of other encouraging, buoying things.

I had wonderful coffee visits with friends who simultaneously challenged me and affirmed some of the ideas percolating in my head.

An old acquaintance from the past reconnected via e-mail—triggering good memories and excitement about new inspirations.

A complete stranger offered, uninitiated by me, to advertise the launch of the first novel in a series I’m going to publish and to help with any questions I had along the way.

Someone gave us a beautiful new chicken—her “nicest, kindest” one—because she’d heard our solitary hen was lonely. Funny, but it really moved me.

In a coffee shop, a young woman out for coffee by herself, slipped out to the washroom, leaving her bag and laptop on the counter where she’d been sitting. Some people might say it was stupid or asking for trouble, but I thought it was a good lesson. Sometimes we have to stop thinking of—almost expecting—worst case scenarios. We need to remember that a lot of people are decent. Are trustworthy. Are kind.

If you’re a little—or a lot—low these days, or if you’re experiencing hard things that you have no idea how to resolve, or worried that you or someone you love might not make it through something, I pray you experience some high notes this week—that you, like me, get what you need and find encouragement in some small, unexpected way.

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“What You Need” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, January 29, 2014, as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” I’m resharing it here because I was feeling a little blah today, happened to come across it in my files–and found it encouraging. I hope you did too.🙂

What do you know?

Beauty in the shadows

“Beauty in the shadows” – Photo by Ev Bishop

I’m trying something new with my [Terrace Standard] column this year, a theme if you will. At this point, it’s set to continue for a full twelve months. I wonder if I’ll stick with it—oh, the mystery, oh, the intrigue! And what is this theme of which I speak? Well, though I’m being kind of silly in this introduction, it’s sort of serious. And it intimidates the heck out of me.  

Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know.
See why it’s terrifying? It’s bad enough when you say things aloud when there are witnesses, especially if it becomes dreadfully apparent that you were totally out to lunch. But with verbalized opinions, at least you can always say you were misquoted or taken out of context (and if it’s my kids or husband quoting me, 99 percent of the time I am being purposely misrepresented!). With written ponderings? They’re always there to haunt you.
And I already know that some of the things I think I’ve learned will change. In fact, I look forward to it and even jotted a note in my journal, “Revisit this when I’m 63!” It can’t be helped, nor would I want it to be. Sometimes we fail to speak about deep subjects because we’re so aware of all we still don’t know, all the ways we fail to live as we believe we should, and all the things we have yet to figure out. But that’s a mistake. Hopefully we’re always learning and growing; I’d better know more in twenty years than I do today!  
So what brought on this lofty goal of sharing any so-called wisdom I may have gleaned to date? A number of things, but I’ll just share the biggest one.   
Many years ago, when I was a very young teenager, I went out to the shop in our yard to get my dad for dinner and I found him talking into a tape recorder and crying. Even now it’s a really hard memory for me. He was horribly embarrassed. I was horribly embarrassed.
He apologized and tried to explain. He was just very lonely, and didn’t have anyone to really talk to about certain things. And so he talked into a recorder while he worked. It helped him sort through and make sense of some stuff.
While the explanation made the whole thing even harder for me, or I should say, sadder, it was also a very good lesson—on being a grown-up (something that at that point I still equated as being a magical state of everything-wonderful) and on being human.
People are meant to ease the loneliness of existence by communicating and sharing the load of all the questions, worries, fears and doubts that come hand-in-hand with living—and the flipside is true too: we’re meant to share the joy and delight and the good, too. But so often, for so many reasons, we don’t, or can’t, or feel we shouldn’t.
Sometimes the reasons we hold back are valid. Over-sharing adult problems with children isn’t healthy for them. And some details are private or, at the very least, not ours to tell. Other times, however, it’s the result of flawed thinking—feeling we have to appear strong or infallible before sharing an opinion. Or it’s because we’re deeply insecure. The list could go on and on. . . .
Yet there are things you learn as you travel through life, insight gleaned through hard knocks—and good times—that you want to pass on. Sometimes we just have to be brave enough to risk looking dumb and rest easy, knowing that whether our thoughts are received in the spirit we mean them or not, at least we tried to convey them.
I won’t be breaking any taboos over the next year, but I will tackle some of the things I care about and have come to believe are important—maybe even critical—to a happy life.
I hope you’ll explore with me.
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“What do you know?” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, January 27, 2016 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
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P.S. 4 more sleeps ’til SPOONS!


Wishing you . . . chutzpah!

Happy New YearWhew, another year is almost behind us. Crazy. It feels like a week at most since I last sat down with my Year-At-A-Glance calendar and laid out what I wanted to accomplish in 2015, complete with a symbol key—but it’s time to do it again. And time to nag you to follow my lead, regarding whatever it is you want to do this year. Lucky you!
I was talking to someone recently about my writing life. She commented on my “dedication” and “organization”—and added, “You are so disciplined.” Even reflecting on her words makes me want to duck my head and deflect the compliment. Dedicated and organized? Who me? Nah. Disciplined—ahahahahahahaha—good one.
Except that it’s time—maybe past time, actually—that I face up to and accept this part of myself. I am dedicated to things I want to achieve and I love to work. I derive huge amounts of joy and satisfaction from what I do (whenever I’m not simultaneously overwhelmed by neuroses and insecurity, that is!), and I believe that whenever possible we should pursue those things in life that make us uniquely us and make us happy.
I used to worry this was selfish of me—but now I don’t believe it is. I’ve spent a lot of time around deeply unhappy people and . . . it’s sad and awful and takes years to recover from. Hopefully, I’m modeling something worthwhile to my children and miscellaneous other people. You don’t have to live between the lines drawn by other people; you can create your own.
And you don’t have to fly off the rails, quit your job and move to Mexico either. It really only takes small changes to start working on the secret dreams and passions that burn in your belly.
The person also asked if I had any tips or “secrets” about accomplishing what I set out to. I do, in fact. Three of them—and they’re all you’ll ever need. (Well, plus a magic feather, but those are more difficult to come by.)
1) Permission. If you need a formal okay, look no further: I give you permission. In fact, I insist. Take that class, do that practice, write those words, join that club, plan that new business venture, do that thing, whatever it is. And don’t worry about what your spouse, parents, kids, or friends think. Even if they’re resistant or resentful at first, they need you to be your most authentic self, too. They just don’t realize it yet. **Note: This permission bit is a trick. You really only need permission from yourself. Stop being so mean. Give it to yourself now.**
2) A 15-minute commitment at least three times a week. You can find fifteen minutes per day, no matter how busy you are. Yes, you can. (And if you won’t, you have to ask yourself if it’s really something you want to do or if it’s an old dream that you need to replace. It’s fine if it’s the latter. Don’t beat yourself up over changed goals. Embrace something new!)  

3) Resiliency, or as my parents used to call it, bullheadedness. Someone, or a lot of people, will say you’re wasting your time or kidding yourself. Worse, your own fears, insecurities, and guilt complexes are going to try to shut you down. Don’t give in. Practice, run, write, draw, sing, play through it. Resistance is the strongest and the negative voices are the loudest before you start for the day. Once you settle into your task, they’ll shut up and slink off until next time.
That’s it. No magic—but honestly, you don’t need magic. You just need desire, stubbornness, and the knowledge, hard as it is, that no one else cares if you do the thing you really want to do. Only you do. It’s not because they’re awful or because they don’t love or understand you. . . . It’s because some things are purely personal; no one else can truly know what you need to do. It’s up to you. Do it. 

Wishing you a wonderful New Year full of daydreams that shape reality, steps that become a path, and enough chutzpah that folks around say, Wow, what’s got into you?
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“Wishing you . . . chutzpah!” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, December 30, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”
goals for 2016

Lake Days

cropped-wood_nymph_ev_aug_20141.jpgI haven’t gone to the lake much this summer and my impatience for heat and cloudless skies is consuming me. Lakelse Lake Picnic Site has always been a big part of my summer. It’s true that it’s beautiful and worthy of visiting in any season, any weather, but I long for the heat that makes going to the lake seem the only sensible thing to do.
I moved to Terrace in 1979. Driving into town that first time, I was horrified. Had we moved back to Kamloops? The lawns had the same parched, burnt to beige color. Every strip of dirt was hard baked clay. My legs stuck to the ivory vinyl seats of the station wagon and my hair was wet on my neck and glued by sweat to my forehead. It was HOT.
My brother and I unpacked our rooms and tried to explore, but it was too warm. For days we lived in our sprinkler and wading pool. Then water restrictions ruled; no sprinkler all day. We could fill the pool once daily, but a whole day of three kids playing in one small pool quickly creates a grass and dead bug infested mess. It lost its appeal. One day, our mother, driven to desperation by the heat and our constant whining, announced we were going to the lake.
A lake? Finally something that sounded interesting. We packed up chips, green grapes, and sand toys and off we went. Our legs still stuck to the vinyl seats but now it didn’t seem as complaint worthy. Plus, though they stung if you lifted them too quickly, they made farting noises if you lifted them slowly. Endlessly amusing.
“We’ll never get there,” we moaned eventually. Then suddenly we were at the top of a hill, and what could we see shimmering blue between the trees and mountains in the distance? Could it be?
“Look guys, there’s the lake,” my mom confirmed.
“HOORAY,” we yelled. (It would become our tradition to repeat those exact words, with feverish glee, every time we spotted the lake in the future.)
Walking the paved path to the graveled picnic area and coming upon the incredible, huge fairy story trees and the glimmering expanse of water that looked golden in the afternoon sun made me, for the first time, think that maybe, just maybe, this living in Terrace idea could be okay.
We visited the lake almost every day for the rest of the summer. We’d work all morning (my mom could bribe us to do almost anything with promise of a lake trip), and by afternoon it would be so hot that even she wouldn’t feel like working. Thus started a habit I’ve kept for over thirty years: hit the lake as soon and as often as possible.
Now when I sit on the rough bark of a natural tree bench that I’ve visited for years, squishing sand through my toes, my mind and my body remember my childhood.
In the water I am forever eight. My feet delight in the soft-as-silk rippled sand under the water. I still alligator walk and do dolphin dives and continuous back rolls; I can’t help myself. I still know the disgusting but hilarious feeling of a handful of lake bottom on my back or head. A weed grabbing my ankle still makes me shriek, and the underwater whine of boat engines still creeps me out. I daydream about mermaids.
Staring up at the sky, I realize that visiting this spot is the most consistent thing in my life. The water has seen every bathing suit I’ve owned. Every person I’ve tried to be or thought I was has walked the beach. I was a child here and a dream-filled teen. This site has known my friends, boyfriends, and husband. I’ve been pregnant on its sands and nursed my newborns in its huge trees’ shade. My children played here—and now I come to its shores and splash in the waves with my adult son and my daughter and her husband.
The drive is shorter to me now that I’m an adult, my car has cloth seats that I don’t stick to, and often I’m alone. But when I get to that certain place on the hill, I still announce, “There’s the lake!” and my whole body feels it: HOORAY. Yeah, this living in Terrace idea is a pretty good one after all.
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“Lake Days” originally ran in the Terrace Standard in July 2001, but in light of the beautiful weather we’ve enjoyed this year I thought it was a lovely one to share once more, edited slightly to adjust for the passage of even more years–and my editors agreed. Thus it was reprinted in the Standard August 25th, 2015. I hope it triggers fond memories of your own childhood. Enjoy these last long days of summer, everyone—and get thee to the lake! ~ Ev

Don’t Look!

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.19.41 AMAlternate title: A Tetris Battle lesson

If you read my column “Lessons From Bubble Pop,” I know what you’re thinking: What, she’s writing about another computer game? She has a problem.

While it’s kind of cruel of you to be so judgmental, I can’t argue with you. I really am a game addict and Tetris has topped the list of my weaknesses since approximately 1988.

At various times in my life I’ve been on the wagon, the longest break being the years I no longer frequented Gus’s Arcade. Online Tetris versions were lame compared to the arcade game—or were until I joined Facebook and discovered—Oh, the joy, oh, the agony, oh, the huge time suckage but wonderful stress reliever—Tetris Battle.

(You said there was a lesson in this blather, I hear you mutter—and right you are. Patience, patience. All the little blocks will fall into place soon and you’ll soon see what I’m putting down. Heh heh. A Tetris joke. Get it?)

ANYWAY, I’ve been playing like a mad woman again because after a six-month hiatus, I logged in and discovered I’d lost my rank and had to restart from scratch. (I know. It’s an outrage.)

It’s been a rough month. February weather is hard on my spirits in general (although the respite provided by the crazy, glorious snowstorm was lovely!), plus some things in my personal life have been tough—and professionally I’ve been fraught with indecision and insecurity about the path I’ve chosen and the direction I’m going. . . . Sounds familiar, right? Yes, I think it’s called life, sometimes. . . .

But I’ve been kicking butt in Tetris at least.

The lesson I want to share comes—as so many lessons do—from a mistake I made. For an instant, while battling a User-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I broke with my proven strategy and looked to see how my opponent was doing.

Gah! I recognized my error immediately. He was doing great. Had even dropped more lines than I had. (The horror, the horror!) Flustered, I made a rookie error, landed a Z shape at an awkward angle, leaving a gap exposed—then compounded the problem by dropping a square too close, so I couldn’t snug another piece under the jutting edge.

Even worse, I darted a sideways glance again to see how badly my screw-up had hurt my game. Bleeeep—KO’D. Even as the buzzer sounded, my brain screamed, “What were you doing? Don’t look. Don’t look!”

Wham! Crossover wisdom hit me and fleshed itself out. Don’t look at your neighbor or friend or peer. Keep focused on your plan, your goal, what works for you.

To win in Tetris, you can’t let yourself get distracted by someone else’s progress, concentrate too heavily on the way they play, or compare their results to your own. Doing so will immobilize you, fill you with doubt, and crush your game.

The same is true for other parts of life. I’m usually content with my home, relationships, accomplishments, work——until I fall into the comparison trap. I sometimes need to remind myself: Don’t look! Zeroing in on how someone else is doing doesn’t change my situation, skills, talents, or assets—but it does take my focus off what it should be on: what I do have, what I can do, what I should do.

Flipping that (because there’s always flipping in Tetris), all of life is not like the game. Sometimes contemplating what other people are doing encourages, challenges and spurs you on. . . .

The trick, I guess, is to know which to do and when. Thankfully, the answer’s fairly clear. If looking at others makes you dissatisfied or diminishes your ability to maneuver the pieces of your life with joy and ease, stop looking. If studying someone else fills you with a sense of possibility or lends you a strategy you hadn’t yet considered, gawk away.

And now I’m off to level up.🙂

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“Don’t Look! A Tetris Battle lesson” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, February 25, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Happy New Year!

Photo credit: Todd Petrie.

Photo credit: Todd Petrie.

I’m staring at a wall in my office, trying to figure out what I want to write today, but my creative mind is far away, frolicking in the fictional world of River’s Sigh B & B—a romance series I’m working on (Book 1, Wedding Bands).

It’s not that I don’t have things to say; I just can’t access them. I’m preoccupied with Jo and Callum and what will become of them. They live in a made up northern BC town called Greenridge that’s loosely based on Terrace, and right now their time of year mimics ours. But unlike me, they don’t just want to crawl back to bed and—well, maybe they do. Heh. I told you. I’m preoccupied.

The smell of fresh ground, just brewed coffee is doing its trick though. I mean I have a word document open and everything. The house is warm and cozy, still holding heat, I think, from recent sun but I can’t fool myself. Summer is officially done.

Outside the rain is falling so hard that it looks (and sounds!) like it’s not raining at all—more like some prankster’s throwing buckets of water at my window (but my husband’s at work).

It’s not just the pull of a new novel that’s distracting me, though. It used to be that school, for myself, then for my children, lent focus and structure to the burst of energy and angst that seems to accompany fall weather. September always felt like the true start of a new year. December 31st and January 1st were just great excuses to eat rich foods and have a lot of fun. Autumn was the time for making decisions and plans, starting new habits, revisiting goals.

Yet here I am, as I already fessed up, staring at my wall . . . in September. In my defense, at least it’s an interesting wall, with more than one inspirational quote in big bright-colored circles, posters, and a speech bubble. My business licence perches there, along with several sticky notes that say encouraging things like “Take every opportunity!” as well as cryptic things like “Next #MSWL day is September 24.” There’s a postcard from my sister (“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith” ~ Margaret Shepherd), a piece of a calendar that I pulled off and taped up (“Be not afraid of moving slowly. Be afraid of standing still.”), a year-at-a-glance calendar, a list of “official” writing and work goals for 2014 (some of which I’m actually achieving, ha ha), and a bunch of other random bits of this and that.

And I’m wondering about the relevance of my wall to my disjointed thoughts and uneasiness regarding a September that’s not full of plans and changes—and suddenly I know what it is. My wall says it all; I crave written out schedules, designated times for assigned tasks, and the fresh start and renewed perspective you get looking ahead from one month, considering the next ten.

My association with September as being the start of the year hasn’t been broken, despite how long it’s been since I was a student or teacher, and regardless of the fact that my children have graduated. And now I know the remedy for the meh and indecision that ails me. New school supplies. Yes, seriously. How can a year commence or continue without fresh pencils and a new Mead 5-Star? Answer: it cannot. And modifications to my year-at-a-glance calendar. I need to revisit my goals and plans for the next ten months now; I can’t wait until January. Happy New Year!

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“Happy New Year!” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, September 24, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”