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.”

“Book” Your Getaway!

Last weekend as I drove to town to do errands, every tree and stretch of land beside the road was green, green, green. The air pouring through my car’s open window was sweet and warm, and the sun smiled down, kissing everything and everyone with heat and happiness. I’m not exaggerating! I know the other drivers felt spring’s invigorating cheeriness, too. Even folks at the four-way stop in Thornhill managed to take their turns properly and with minimal road rage.

What caught my attention most, however? The profusion of camper-laden trucks pulling boats, ambling RVs, and cars jampacked with tents, sleeping bags, coolers, and other miscellaneous gear.

After our long winter, it seemed like everyone and their dog (Seriously, there were a ton of pets grinning joyfully from passenger windows) was out and about, ready to explore.

All the smiles—and bags of fast food—I spotted through windshields brought back memories of the many, many road trips I enjoyed with my family as a kid. One of my favorite parts of those long and varied holidays was waking up in the gently swaying camper, already long in motion, miles from where we’d stopped for the night. (Remember when you could legally travel like that? I am old!)

I’d clear a peephole in one of the condensation-misted windows and stare out at the blur of highway and—to me, at least—“exotic” scenery. No matter how familiar our destination was, my grandparents’ farms, or down to Vancouver to shop and visit extended family, or off to a favorite remote lake or campsite, each trip was ripe with possibility and promise.

When I tired of gawking, I’d burrow back into my sleeping bag (I favored a chocolate brown one that was incredibly soft and had an orange, beige, and brown interior, sporting a wild forest scene, replete with huge moose) and commence my other favorite part of the trip—one that will come as no surprise to anyone: putting my nose in a book.

My mom bought me an old, slightly battered train case at a church rummage sale when I was six,  and I treasured that thing until late into my teen years. It was perfect for book hauling!  Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy, Laura Ingalls, Mary Lennox, Anne Shirley, Bugs Potter . . . I’ve lost track of how many childhood friends I dragged with me in my early travels—a tradition I continued when I grew up, then passed on to my own kids and husband during road trips (especially via audio books).

In the same way that certain scents have a way of sending you back through time to places—and people—from your distant past, at specific scenic spots all along Hwy 16, I hear various characters and recall dramatic happenings. (Miss Marple haunts Terrace to Prince Rupert very spectacularly!)

I’ve always wondered if this duo love of mine for stories and road trips partially explains the inspiration behind my River’s Sigh B & B series. After all, each standalone novel is somebody’s road trip, his or her own personal story.

These days, thank you eReader, my luggage is a lot lighter when I travel, but whether it’s the beach, a campsite, the city, or the open road, you’ll still never find me without a book nearby.

And whether I’m literally traveling or not, I go on little escapades all the time. It’s the most wonderful part of being a reader: how there are no limits to the places you can visit, the time periods you can explore, the people you can meet, the adventures—sweet or terrifying!—you can find yourself in, the ways you can grow. . . .

I hope you and yours get to explore new-to-you terrain this spring or summer, by boat, plane or car—but even if you don’t (actually, especially if you don’t!), make sure you “book” other getaways and adventures.

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“’Book’ Your Getaway!” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, June 21, 2018 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

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And hey . . . in case, you’re looking for your next audio gallivant, I’d be honoured if you’d give WEDDING BANDS a try. 😊 Listen to a sample here and/or buy it today: 

 Audible.com  ~ Audible.ca Amazon Nook 

Wedding Bands is also available on iTunes and from a huge variety of other vendors, so if you have a favorite spot to buy from that’s not listed here, please look it up. 


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.” 

Thanks. No, seriously. Thank you. 

Photo by Kitsilano Neighbourhood House

Photo by Kitsilano Neighbourhood House

My parents used to encourage me to say thank you. A lot. When I was given a gift or present, after someone helped me in a store or checkout line (regardless of whether the “help” was particularly helpful or cheerful), in the classroom to my teachers, and when someone did anything for me, cooked dinner, helped with my chores, etc. Sometimes the results of this enforced gratitude were more robotic than sincere—but nonetheless, being polite, saying thank you, became a habit.


And my parents often took their say-thank-you lecture one step further. “It’s not enough to just say thank you,” they’d insist. “You have to feel thankful.” It sort of annoyed me. How the heck could I feel something I was being forced to say? But as my childhood and teen years progressed, I started to realize that speaking the words did focus me on what I was truly receiving and make me feel genuinely appreciative.

It wasn’t until I was an adult, however, that I learned of the notion of thankfulness or gratitude being a practice. Merriam Webster dictionary defines practice simply: “to do something again and again in order to become better at it: to do (something) regularly or constantly as an ordinary part of your life.”

Thinking of thankfulness as a practice made absolute sense to me. I absolutelywas more grateful when I took time to voice my appreciation to people or in prayer. And the more I acknowledged the beauty in the world and the abundance of ways I was helped and provided for, the better I got at seeing even more things to be thankful for.

I’m still growing my practice of thankfulness, of course (I suspect we never fully arrive!), and I’ve noticed other benefits of gratitude. Being thankful, and forcing myself to note and articulate things I’m grateful for, goes a long way to banish feelings of entitlement and self-pity. It’s easy to see all the things we perceive we lack, but when we flip our thinking and intentionally list the things we have and that people give us, materially or spiritually or whatever, it becomes almost impossible to not have a change in attitude. Being grateful doesn’t automatically remove hard times or change sad or terrible experiences, but it does help you cope because you see the good and the positive that coexists with the difficult. The Yang in the Yin, if you will.

So in that vein, here are just some of the things I’m incredibly grateful for: family, friends, food, health, home, books, nature. . . .

My list may seem obvious, perhaps—but sometimes it’s those “obvious” things that we forget to think on particularly and to say thank you for specifically. They can be the easiest to take for granted, and I don’t want to take anything for granted.

I regularly challenge myself to make lists of things I’m grateful for. The contents always change. Sometimes I make large sweeping generalities, like I did above. Other times I focus on the tiny details that sometimes get overlooked, so not family as a whole, but each individual person, then the unique particulars of their personalities that I so appreciate. Not nature as a massive entity, but the way frost forms crystal designs on golden leaves early the fall. Not food in one big gulp—but the first sip of coffee, perfectly creamed, when it hits your waiting tongue.

So I learned my parents were right, and I’m thankful for it. Saying thank you is important, but feeling thankful is even more so. May you always have eyes to see the good around you, and the willingness to do so, no matter how difficult it sometimes seems. And have fun! Taking the time to notice, really notice, all the things you have to appreciate is a joy-creating exercise.

p.s. To all my American friends, happy Thanksgiving in two days (and every day, of course)!
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“Thanks. No, seriously. Thank you,” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, October 2016 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” It’s part of a theme I’m exploring this year–“Things I want my children (and future grandchildren) to know.” Any you’ve missed can be found here: 

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

2) Kindness Matters (Feb. 2016)

3) Beauty in the details (Mar. 2016)

4) Seasons Change (Apr. 2016)

5) Every Day Is Mother’s Day (May 2016)

6) Have Heroes (June 2016)

7) Love Can Last (August 2016)