New Year Plans, er . . .

I was on a mission at Walmart the other day, with my aunt who is only two years older than me. Our search for whatever-it-was (I can’t remember the item now) was hijacked, however—though I didn’t realize it until my aunt burst out laughing.

“You really can’t help yourself, can you?” she exclaimed.

“What?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“You are totally ogling those spiral bound notebooks. You’re obsessed.”

Oops! Caught. What could I say? She was right. Even now, at the ripe young age of 46, I can’t help myself. Every fall, I am lured by the seductive cry of the wild—if “wild” can be used to describe the seasonal overflow of pre-sharpened pencils, whimsical erasers, bags of pens, fluorescent sticky notes, sketchpads, notebooks (yep, with spiral bindings being especially alluring), and other crucial necessities.

We shared a chuckle at my expense and like the mature adult I am, I refrained from putting even one super fun notebook in my cart, and got back on task. (Just what that task was still alludes me because I spent the rest of the time in the store wondering if the notebook I had my eye on would still be there by the time I could get back to it.*)

Anyway, I’m not actually writing to reveal my weirdly intense penchant for spiral bound notebooks. Instead I want to explain why I so earnestly seek them out. I blame it on the school system. No, seriously. All those formative years spent shopping for school supplies, reviewing class schedules, and marking up day planners, created monster-Ev—a completely non-mythical beast, who craves nothing more than purple ink and a year-at-a-glance calendar once the leaves start to change.

September always seems like the “official” start of a new year for me, and while I spend time in January reflecting back and looking ahead, fall is where my obsessive self really goes to town. (Only figuratively, of course. Literally, I’m on the couch, coffee close by, shiny new notebook in hand.)

And this year, taking stock of where I am and what I’m doing—and carving out time to do some planning and mapping—seems especially important. I have goals and re-envisioned dreams on every front, it seems: Home. Family. Friends. Health. Work. Community. I kind of feel the way I did when I moved from elementary school to junior high—like I’m on the cusp of a big change or a new stage of development. Dang it, that definitely calls for neon highlighters!

I’m being light-hearted and silly about it, but part of me feels anything but (kind of like how in the week or two before starting a new job or taking a class, you’re simultaneously fidgety with giddy excitement and gut-sickening dread).

Some seasons call for pulling back, to rest, restore, rejuvenate. Other seasons we need to push, to grow, to go, go, go! (I suspect I’ve given away which one I’m experiencing.)

Most of all, I regularly plan and prioritize, evaluate and possibly restructure, consider and recommit to—or dump—things because I’m keenly conscious of quickly time passes—and in the words of Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I hope I have decades ahead of me, but if I only have years, or months, or even weeks . . . I want to make sure I’m doing what I want or need to be doing—and life isn’t static. Different phases and stages call for different focuses.

Happy New Year—I mean, autumn. I hope your plans and schedules have you filled with excitement, optimism, and renewed energy—and if they don’t? Well, maybe you need a rest or a change . . . Either way, you definitely need to splurge on a new notebook and get to work.

*P.S. You can rest easy tonight, with no need to lie awake in tortured suspense. My dream spiral bound notebook was not gone! I returned to the store later that week, and—phew!—got the one my heart desired. It was a close call, though. There had been tons of the style I wanted, and I got the last one!

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“New Year Plans, er . . . ” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, October 4, 2018 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

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.” 
 

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!

Out of the Dark

Photo copyright Ev Bishop

Photo by Ev Bishop

When the long kind days of summer leave and fall and winter set in, my house is extremely dark at night. Set on four acres in a rural area, away from streetlights and shrouded from neighbors by forests, unless you turn something on, the hallway, staircase, and basement are pitch black. And it doesn’t matter how familiar I am with my home, every so often this deep darkness catches me by surprise.

The other evening, I started downstairs, not realizing someone had killed all basement lights. I was fine at first, but on the landing just before the final flight of stairs, the thought hit: Wow, it’s really dark. And just like that I lost my place and froze.

Eventually, since there was no other viable option, I moved forward again, prodding for solid ground, one foot at a time. Every so often, feeling empty air, my heart would race. Was this the spot I’d fall? And then I was safely on smooth floor once more, familiar with my surroundings again, relief flooding through me.

The small lesson felt like a gift.

I’ve had a difficult five or six months. There have been lovely times and moments, but there have also been terrible, wrenching events. The deep contrasts between life’s good and bad have been . . . harder than usual. I’ve been struggling to cope with the things other people suffer, and angry at the unfairness and randomness of so much of life. Plus I’ve been uncomfortably aware of the pettiness of some of my problems compared to bigger issues (personally and within the larger world) and frustrated with my inability to do much of anything to help.

And I’ve felt guilty for such negative feelings because even in the toughest times I’m poignantly aware of all I have to be grateful for—and I am grateful. Truly. But sometimes my blessings make the questions I have harder to stand up under, not easier. Why am I spared? Or blessed? Why is anyone?

During this dark time, my faith and core beliefs have taken a hit and I’ve been very, very sad—to the point that I’ve worried what if my resilience gets so battered I can no longer bounce back? What if one day I just can’t muster energy, or keep putting myself and my heart out there?

And then I had the stairs-in-the-dark incident, followed closely by a chance stumble into this Kurt Vonnegut quote:

Be soft.
Do not let the world make you hard.
Do not let pain make you hate.
Do not let bitterness steal your sweetness.
Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.

I found the simply worded admonishment comforting. And challenging.

Pain can make us hate. I have to fight that in myself. Other people’s behavior can tempt us to harden ourselves. I need to resist that inclination. I have to let go of bitterness. It poisons and sours the sweetness that co-exists with the awful.

The world is a beautiful place—or can be—and that’s why the hard things are excruciating. We know how good things can be, should be, so we chafe against the bad. That can be beneficial if it gives us courage to change the things we can. It’s destroying when it keeps us focused on what we can’t change or prevents us from recognizing and taking joy from the things we have that are good.

I don’t think we’re ever prepared for the familiar to suddenly become alien or to find ourselves in times of utter darkness, but perhaps it’s unavoidable. Yet if we can somehow keep feeling our way through those times, eventually we’ll make it back to, or will create, a safe place. And meanwhile, maybe we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for feeling bruised and aching occasionally. That’s what happens when you’re soft. And softness is good.

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“Out of the Dark” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, October 28, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Merry belated Christmas!

The following was originally published in the Terrace Standard, December 24, 2014 as my monthly column “Just a Thought,” and though Christmas day has passed, I hope you still find my words appropriate. After all, the good parts of the holiday season–and maybe some of the hard aspects too–remain, as a brand new year looms bright and close, shiny with potential!
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Christmas CatI’m supposed to be writing a Christmas column, and I have the room’s mood and atmosphere just right. The tree is aglow. Tea light candles light every dark corner and make the shadows cozy. A tiny Victorian village rests on a mantle beside me, while a lovely, ancient-looking nativity scene takes the place of honor on our buffet. I even have a festive beverage.

But words and ideas are slow to come. I just want to daydream or putter about my house—a sure sign I have a deadline looming! Practically the only time I want to do housework is when I’m supposed to be writing something.

It’s not that I’m not feeling merry; it’s just that my thoughts are a jumble this month. I’m feeling that weird Christmas mixture of mingled joy, gratitude and excitement and sorrow and longing that seems to be part and parcel of the season.

My dad’s passing feels official now, and in a lot of ways I miss him more now than when my grief was fresh. It’s like it has finally sunk in after two years. He’s really gone, not just on an extended holiday or work trip, gypsy-ing around like he loved to do.

The anniversary of his death and my mom’s and my mother-in-law’s hit bang, bang, bang this time of year. It’s a cliché that you miss people more during the holidays—a cliché, I guess, because it’s true. And in another cliché, I find myself wishing desperately that I could talk to him, to them, even one more time. I have so much I want to say, so much I want to ask. . . .

On the other hand, I’m struck by the wonderful juxtaposition and celebration of life—and all its loveliest elements—anew this time of year.

My youngest niece turned one. So fun! A nephew has learned to read fluently and loves it (so, of course, I’m over the moon, as reading well is one of the greatest joys, most valuable teachers, sweetest of comforts, and strongest creators of connection to other people, ideas, and cultures that we can possess). One of my siblings has a baby on the way!

Other young relatives are growing from childhood into young adulthood and while it’s challenging for them and their parents sometimes, I love catching glimpses of the grown-ups they’ll be.

My daughter and her husband are full of Christmas plans and festive surprises for each other. So cute to watch. I often laugh as I take in their interactions and silly banter and feel a sense of wonder. Were C and I ever so young? And, of course, we were. I mean, we are. Heh heh.

My son, always good for holiday cheer, had almost every game we own out on the table the other night. No truer sign exists that the holidays are upon us than that!

And I guess those details hint at how I’m feeling as Christmas 2014 approaches, fortunate and blessed that even while my thoughts are filled with people I miss, I am simultaneously surrounded by family and friends I love so much. We don’t know how long we get to keep and enjoy our loved ones, so amid the fun, games, food and noise—and inevitable moody times or stress, mine and theirs—I aim to appreciate and treasure every minute with them.

Whether this year finds you happy or sad, stressed out or excited, lonely or pressured, mourning or joyful, may good memories warm you, and may you feel God’s presence and peace in 2015.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

This post was originally published in the Terrace Standard, November 27, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” At the time of writing, I’d been home from my London trip a mere two weeks . . . now it’s been close to a month. The sentiments remain true, however. Enjoy!
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Me in London town, the Shard, and the Thames!

Me in London town, the Shard, and the Thames!

I can’t believe it’s only been sixteen days since I returned from London. Already my memories feel more like dreams. Crazy! I didn’t think I was going to regale you with tales from across the pond, but enough kind people asked me to write a follow up, that what can I do but spill some of the fun, fading-too-quickly, details?
 
The first surprise came before I left Canadian airspace. I used to think I didn’t like flying. It turns out I only dislike flying in small, cramped, bumpy, cold, loud planes. I adore lounging in huge, lush planes, with movies and blankets and flight attendants who bring wine. I’ve since been informed that it’s not usual, at all, to get three seats to yourself on an overseas flight, and I admit close seatmates wouldn’t have been cool, but hey, I didn’t have seatmates, so there!
 
Heathrow is a huge airport—and I was a little shocked by how serious the customs guy took my entry into the country. Maybe I was a little too wide-eyed and smiley, thus suspicious.
 
In no particular order, some of my first impressions: the train station, all those platforms, like something directly out of Harry Potter, and the tube! And people! So many, many, many people. Everywhere! The incredible age of buildings and homes. All the beautiful brick (house after house after house is brick): so lovely. A touch of disappointment at the accents—softer, less pronounced than I expected. (Later, when I travelled to Lancashire, I got my fix—some wonderful voices and words there! And speaking of accents, I apparently have a strong one and was frequently asked to repeat myself. Ha, who knew?) 
 
My friend and I (so much thanks to her for all the fun we had) visited every place on my itinerary, except for Stratford-upon-Avon, due to car issues (who knew cars in the UK can be just as temperamental as their Canadian cousins?), and I can’t pick favourites.
 
I was incredibly moved by Westminster Abbey (People have been worshipping and seeking God there for nearly 1000 years!), and equally as much by St Paul’s Cathedral.
 
The Tower of London was every bit as fascinating as I thought it would be, though much, much bigger, with many more towers and crooks and crannies than I was expecting. The graffiti etched into the stone, some of it dating back to the 1500s was, is . . . mind-blowing. Very sad some of it, and thought-provoking—and amazing that all those images and messages, pleas and testaments of beliefs and conviction, carved by hand, still survive today.
 
The dominant emotion of my trip? A sort of surreal joy, akin to surprise. I was constantly awed by the generations of stories attached to places, by the age and the ornate detail of the historic buildings, and by the juxtaposition of the ancient with the ultra modern. It’s one thing to know intellectually that something exists—and quite another to visit it yourself . . . to walk over the vaults of interred kings and queens and other folk . . . to see segments of roman walls . . . to view actual, original paintings by Monet . . . Mind blowing. 
 
As much fun as I had in London, it felt like a place to visit. I had no daydreams about living there—which was why a touch of wistfulness when I visited Oxford after touring Stonehenge (Stonehenge! Such a crazy, mysterious place!) startled me. I love the life my husband and kids and I have built and wouldn’t change it, but we all have those roads not taken in our past that sometimes, when thinking back, give us pause and make us wonder what if . . . I would have loved to read English at Oxford.
 
Another slightly strange moment of familiarity or kinship hit when I arrived in Adlington in Lancashire to meet extended family. I swear my grandpa chose to settle in Smithers, on Kidd Rd, because the landscape was so like that of his childhood’s—though with Cottonwood trees, not Beech. I had a bizarre sense of coming home. The Chorley/Rivington/Adlington area fit my imagination’s vision of “English countryside” perfectly—lovely, green and rolling, and covered with sheep!
 
It may sound cheesy, but it was a dream trip—though when I left, I was definitely ready to be home with my honey in our wildly beautiful, sparsely populated corner of the woods.
 
And do I already have future gallivants planned? Yes, I just might . . .