Sit. Stay.

As I write this, there is a sleeping puppy in my lap.

I was busy cleaning the kitchen of dirty supper dishes, preparing lunches for tomorrow, and thinking of 39485938457 things that I still needed to do when I happened to look down and saw Spirit sitting on the floor, looking up at me with her I’ll-melt-you eyes.

I put down the dishcloth. I sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor and little Spirit happily bounded into my lap. She flopped down with a satisfied sigh.

And you know what? I sighed, too.

I breathed.

With puppy in my lap, I just sat and let my 39485938457 thoughts swirl down the drain.

I stroked Spirit’s fur. Felt her warm body on my legs. Marvelled at how soft the fur on her ears are. Soaked up the quiet.

Spirit fell asleep. I fell into peace.

Puppies can sure make a household busy. Crazy busy. But at the same time, I realize that they can teach you to stop, breathe, and enjoy the moment.

No matter how busy you are, you can always take the time to stop and love your puppy.

Welcome to early morning walks…and lots of other life changes

This morning I went for a walk at 6 a.m.

Why?

Because of this:


Yes, a puppy! My husband and I took the plunge. The kids are ecstatic. The house feels so much warmer.

She’s nine pounds of border collie and Labrador, and a ton of steal-your-heart. We named her Spirit–an homage to our wonderful old border collie Lab who passed away about a year and a half ago. Plus, she seems to have a beautiful spirit: curious, loving, sensitive, and smart. (My daughter started crying over some perceived injustice and Spirit immediately sat in her lap. Spirit already walks well on a leash, and knows that a hand in my pocket equals treats!)

I’m sitting here in my bookstore/coffee shop with 75% of my brain distracted by the fact that I can’t stay long because Spirit is at home in her crate. Almost like leaving your child with a babysitter for the first time: you relish the temporary freedom but you can’t help worrying…

And my brain is like a foggy windshield, temporarily swiped clear by caffeinated washer fluid. At eight weeks, Spirit’s bladder only lasts 3 hours, tops. Baby-induced late nights have returned!

At 6 a.m., Spirit was full of beans and ready to go. We went for a walk. I forgot just how quiet and full of peace the world outside can be when it is dark and everyone is still asleep. I soaked up the windless mild air and the fact that there was a little black furball bounce-running beside me, everything new and wonderful and amazing. She didn’t care what time it was.

And you know what? I didn’t care what time it was either.

With two kids and a new pup, the days will be longer and leisure time will be scarce. At least for a while. 

Then I feel a little body curl up on my feet, or hear my son and daughter laughing, and I know it is all totally worth it.

Puppies and Homemade Muffins

Yesterday my husband and I visited a litter of 14 puppies! They are six weeks old.


The mom is a Rhodesian Ridgeback and the dad is a Boxer. And the puppies, as you can see, are out-of-this-world CUTE!

Fourteen puppies = adorable chaos. I reached my hand into their pen and there was frantic clamboring to sniff/nip/lick my fingers (and sleeve, and rings…). They were so friendly and excited! I managed to pluck one out and hold him for a while. My heart grew ten sizes. Then I saw the runt, sitting alone off to the side, trying not to get run over by her bumbling siblings. We managed to coax her over and we held her, too. 

Then we heard the wonderful/evil news: “Only two of the puppies are spoken for.”

Uh-oh.

We have been dog-less since our old poochie passed away a year and a half ago. We know we’ll get another dog one day.

We eventually left the puppies, miraculously without making any commitments. (Is there anything more persuasive than the pull of a puppy??)

We talked and talked on the way home: Should we? Shouldn’t we?

This morning I decided to bake some muffins: let my thoughts stir and mix around like the batter in the bowl. 

Puppies are a lot of work.

We have two young human puppies already.

But a puppy would bring so much JOY!

The kids would LOVE one.

But puppies are a lot of work…

The muffins are now done baking, but our decision has not.

Hesitation, funks, and maple syrup

Tonight my finger hesitated over the icon for “new blog post.”

It never used to hesitate like that.

I am sitting in my favourite bookstore/coffee shop and I have 45 minutes to write something before I need to leave for home to tuck the kids into bed. 

Surely 45 minutes is long enough to write something amusing, insightful, and intelligent??

It used to be. But I feel like I don’t have anything amusing, insightful, or intelligent to say. 

I’ve felt that way for a while.

Maybe it’s the winter blahs. Maybe it’s despair over the outcome of the recent US election. Maybe it’s fatigue from being a parent-employee-wife. Maybe it’s…gasp!…the beginning of a mid-life crisis!

Maybe it’s all of this, and its causing my brain to feel like porridge at even the thought of writing something.

Maybe tomorrow will be different. (I’ve told myself that every day now since…January?) Maybe tomorrow I’ll be struck with inspiration. Oh, to feel inspired again! 
Can I please have some brown sugar in my porridge? Raisins? No, even better: maple syrup!

Maybe tomorrow will be a maple syrup day. Some flavour in the blandness. 

Earth to Dana: today is different. I’m writing. 

Maple syrup. Even if it’s just a drop.


A lovely rejection

Can rejections possibly be positive? Even inspiring? Check out the following rejection I received in my inbox yesterday:

Dear Dana,  

I so appreciate the opportunity to review your book – it’s important work! – but am sorry to say that it’s not quite right for my list at the moment. I encourage you to continue developing your work and reaching out to agents. 

Thanks for being in touch, and best of luck in your search for representation.

A rejection that actually motivates me to write more! What a blessing. Thank you to the anonymous agent. And thank you, universe.

The secret lives of several bumblebees

How cool would it be to follow a bumblebee for a day or two? To see where is flies, to see what it does in the nest…

Turns out scientists are beginning to do just that, thanks to advances in technology!

I stumbled across a paper that reports how a group of scientists attached tiny radar tracking devices to four bumblebees, and then followed them for their whole life! Here is a picture of what the radar tracking device looked like:

radartrackin
Photo courtesy of Phys.org
The device was a small metal pole about 16 mm in length, sticking straight up from where it had been superglued to a plastic disc that had been glued to the bee’s thorax. Apparently these transponders attached to the bees weighed about 15 mg.

Is this heavy for the bee?

To put it into perspective, worker bumblebees weigh between 175-200 mg, so the transponder is only 8-10% of the bee’s mass. As the authors of the study point out, worker bumblebees can carry pollen loads of up to 90% of their body mass. So the transponder is small potatoes to the bee!

The bumblebee nests were beside a large field of mostly thistles. The researchers tracked the four bumblebees until death or until they did not return to the nest for 48 hours, by which time they were presumed dead.

What did they find?

Here is a handy-dandy table that summarizes the “lives” of the four bumblebees:

journal-pone-0160333-t001

Note: Exploitation flights were flights that were a single loop, with a stop where the bee had stopped in the past. Since bumblebees tend to return to flowers from which they gathered nectar and pollen, exploitation flights were assumed to be trips where the bees collected food. All other flights were categorized as exploration.

Four (out of many) Things to Notice from the Table Above:

  1. There is so much variability between the four bumblebees! Bumblebees are not just little clones when it comes to their flight and foraging behaviour. They don’t all do the same thing when they fly out of the nest.
  2. There were occasions when Bees 1, 2, and 3 did not return to the nest in the evening, but returned the next morning. What did they do all night?! They likely found a nice place to hide, as bees can’t fly in the dark.
  3. Bee 1 was a little superstar: She had way more exploitation flights and more flights in general. She also had the least number of exploration flights before exploitation flights. I wonder why the other bumblebees were not as diligent?
  4. Poor Bee 2. She lived for only 6 days.

With such differences across bumblebees, can I dare say bumblebees might have different personalities? After all, there’s some evidence that they might have emotions.

 

References

Woodgate, J. L., Makinson, J. C., Lim, K. S., Reynolds, A. M., & Chittka, L. (2016). Life-long radar tracking of bumblebees. PLoS ONE, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0160333.

The magic of paper crowns

“I’m bored,” I said.

My mom looked at me for a few heartbeats then turned and grabbed the scissors off the counter. Then she rummaged through a pile of stuff in the Art Corner and pulled out some pieces of paper.

Snip, snip, snip…

Then the squeak of a permanent black marker.

Finally, some Scotch tape.

“Voila,” said my mom, “crowns for everyone!”

She tied a blanket around my shoulders for a regal robe. We placed the crowns on each and every one: Ernie, Bert, and Kermit. Now I was suddenly in a magical kingdom.

I ran and sat on my throne. I placed my Royal Subjects around me. Dad, my Royal Photographer, took a picture. 

Now I was ready to rule…

4:09 a.m. observations

I can’t sleep. Just me and the furnace are awake. 

Here is what my brain is thinking:

  • Three cars have driven by in the past 5 minutes. Where could they possibly be going?
  • Campfires are awesome.
  • My eyes feel kinda dry.
  • When your phone screen is on, the rest of the room looks extra dark.
  • Red licorice would be good right about now.
  • I like how my daughter’s hair bounces when she runs.
  • I can hear my pulse in my ears.
  • My son snores funny.
  • Are there equal colours of Smarties in each box? I have a feeling there’s not.
  • Maybe there IS a monster in my closet. It’s probably SLEEPING, which is something I’d like to be doing…
  • There goes the furnace again.
  • Why are poodles’ fur so curly?
  • I’ve had my pyjamas for a long time.
  • Snap-crackle-pop is exactly what Rice Krispies do!
  • Paying attention to your thoughts before 5 a.m. is like having a conversation with a drunk person.

No pencils allowed

So I got a sketchbook and a set of artist pens for Christmas. One of the first things that went through my mind was: I need to get some pencils.

Why?

Because with pencils you can go back and erase any mistakes. You can try again. And again. Until you get it right. Then you can trace over the “right” drawing with the pens.

If you make a mistake with a pen, you’re screwed! You can’t erase! You can only scratch it out or mark over what you initially put on the page and it looks messy and horrible.

Or does it?

Maybe another way to see it is that mistakes made in pen reveal your process.

Maybe you have to just accept the “imperfection” and just keep drawing.

These thoughts reminded of a writing process I heard about where you don’t go back and fix anything; you just keep writing. The Delete Key is forbidden. The first order of business is to get that draft onto the page. Editing is for later.

I admit I have never written like this. Instead, I tinker. I play with a sentence over and over, deleting and rewriting until I think I get it right. I admit it makes for slow writing.

I hesitated before I scrambled for a pencil for my sketchbook: I know I would tinker with my drawings, too. I would erase and erase and draw over and draw over until the sketch was “right.” But then how long would it take me to finish one sketch? Days? Suddenly sketching seemed a lot less fun and a lot more work.

So I decided that the pens are all I need. I will draw without an eraser. No pencils allowed. If I make a mistake, that’s okay. It’s a sketchbook, not a commissioned piece of art! And it won’t be on public display, except for the excerpts I may choose to post from time to time.

I think that will be my New Year’s resolution: to fill up my sketchbook using only pens. There’s 240 pages in the sketchbook so that gives me some wiggle room if I am unable to sketch each and every day. But no pencils allowed! Mistakes will happen, and I will let them be.

Here is the first drawing I did in the book. I admit I concentrated really hard NOT to make a mistake. Which is probably cheating…?

Then my daughter wanted me to draw her doll. I try not to twitch when I see how poor of a replication it turned out to be and that I can’t go back and erase things like that smaller eye…

 

But I shall breathe and accept and keep turning the page. Art is a process.

Making friends with a new sketchbook

My brother and sister-in-law gave me a most awesome Christmas present: a sketchbook and artist pens!


It is awesome because I’d like to draw again. I haven’t drawn since high school. And I haven’t owned a sketchbook since then, either.

So tonight when I found myself with a few spare minutes…I stared at it.

The word “SKETCH” looks funny if you stare at it long enough.

Do I really deserve a sketchbook? I can’t draw!

Oh, shut up and open it!


There. It’s open. I even took out one of the pens. It has “F” on it. I don’t even know what that means! “Fine”? As in, the thickness of the tip is “fine”?

I certainly don’t feel “fine.” I feel “frightened.”

And glaring back is an empty page.

With writing, I know that often the biggest struggle is to begin. Sometimes it helps to just dive in and get a few words on the page, regardless of what they say.

Maybe the same goes for sketching?

Okay, so here’s my hand.


I feel like I should have a disclaimer or something written at the beginning of this book. 

I know! An oath. Here goes…


I, Dana Church, do solemnly swear, that I will be gentle with myself and be patient with myself and kind to myself, as I embark on this somewhat intimidating journey that is a SKETCHBOOK. I solemnly swear I will tell my inner critic to SHUT UP and I will sketch with abandon, knowing that anything I put on the page does NOT need to be perfect, that anything I put on the page is worthy and good enough in its own right, and recognize that artists are not artists unless they take a LEAP and MAKE ART. Which can be anything from the heart.

I did it! I started my sketchbook. 

And so the journey begins…