Sunday, April 29, 2018

Happy New Year

beach abstract
A little late to say Happy New Year, but this is how we started 2018.

Beaches, for me, don't mean sunny skies and sunbathing. Beaches are for walking. And peace of mind. My favourite times are with moody skies and crashing waves. Wind in my hair. Song in my heart.
The ocean soothes my soul. When I am near the water,I feel a completeness. The problems of my life drift away, like seaweed that has lost its mooring. Life seems less complicated, and problems don't loom quite as large.The ocean waves have come into land for ages and ages, and will continue long after I am gone. All is calm.
What better way to bring in the new year than a walk on the beach?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Back in the saddle?

As a family, we have settled into a new routine after my husband's stroke 10 months ago. On the whole, things are good and we are very, very lucky. We have our not so good days, but then everybody I know can say the same thing.

However, I seem to be in a slump when it comes to creativity. Months have gone by, and I drift without any real purpose. Other than an afternoon spent trying to capture snowy owls with my camera in mid winter, I have not taken my "real" camera out of its case this year.

Despite not taking photographs, February was a month of photography for me. I held my first ever solo exhibit called "Roots + Wings". I conducted a one hour presentation at the library during this exhibit, something I was terribly nervous about but, judging by the written feedback I received, it was a great success.
I also had five of my images from a series I call "Stroke of Emotions" featured in an exhibit called Picturing Health at the Viewpoint Gallery in Halifax. 

One of my images was chosen by a reporter to include with a write up about the exhibit in our provincial newspaper.
So...things were happening. Just not things with my camera. However, I'm not a camera snob, and have been taking the odd snaps with my point and shoot or my cell phone.

I was feeling a little fed up with facebook, so in January I started up an instagram identity to post some images. I'm not sure what I think about instagram. I continue to post there (@saraharley.photos) now and then as I figure out just what I want to do with my photography.

I'm not sure why I feel the need to define what I want to do with photography, but that's me being me I guess. I seem to have a need to share some photographs and one of my thoughts is to start back blogging again, hence this post.

I did decide to make a book of my favourite photos I create this year and will choose 50 photos to include. I have posted some of them on my instagram account, and my plan is to start posting them here as well with a few thoughts.

So....no promises here, but I may just post a photo now and then and blab on about something that pops in my mind.  How's that for commitment?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Using a hobby as a healing tool

Frozen, an image from the "Roots + Wings" exhibit at the Margaret Hennigar Public Library during February 2018
"Sometimes I cry so hard I think the tears will never stop. Sometimes I feel so tired I want to lay my head down and sleep forever. Sometimes I feel absolutely nothing and wonder if I will ever feel happy again."
I wrote those words several months ago in my workbook when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and vulnerable. But let me back up a bit...
 
My last article under the by-line "In Focus" was many months ago, six months in fact. Sometimes life throws you a hard ball, and knocks you off your feet. Last June, my husband had a major stroke and our lives took a dramatic turn. We are very fortunate that our situation has improved, but it has been quite a journey of trauma and drama interspersed with moments of joy.

We don't all have to deal with having a stroke, but we all face challenges in life. Whether it's a health crisis, the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or any other unpleasant surprise, we all have things we need to cope with that stretch us beyond what we think we can bear. And if you haven't faced a serious problem yet, you will. Because life is like that.

When my husband had his stroke, his health crisis became my health story as well. As his life partner and sole caregiver, I experienced a roller coaster of feelings throughout his months of hospitalization and rehabilitation.

Despite the fact that I write and publish some of my thoughts, I am an introvert at heart. I am not one to talk about my innermost thoughts with other people. But during those terrible weeks immediately after my husband's stroke, I needed an outlet to deal with my emotions. My "go to" hobby is photography, but I had no time or inclination to head out with my camera after a long day at the hospital.

However, my hobby did become a healing tool. I used my library of photographs to create a series of composited images to portray various feelings and emotions. Many people have heard of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. My stages were not quite so well defined. A word would occur to me, and I would then work on figuring out how to create an image to portray that.

Focusing on this project helped me in different ways. First, I acknowledged my own "stages" and I had a way to express them without having to put them into words. Second, concentrating on learning a new skill forced my mind to become occupied with something other than feeling completely helpless and overwhelmed.
 
February is National Heart Month, so it seemed fitting that I try to share our story. Let me be clear. I am not a person who shares my feelings with others. I have spent over five decades keeping my feelings to myself and dealing with things by compartmentalizing and mentally closing the door. Somehow, using images and words to express myself seems a little easier.

Choices, one of five images included in the Picturing Health Exhibit at Viewpoint Gallery in Halifax during the month of February 2018
I created two series with my photographs over the past six months. "Stroke of Emotions" is a series of thirteen composited self portraits. Five of these images were selected for the Picturing Health Exhibit at Viewpoint Gallery in Halifax for the month of February. The exhibit uses photographic imagery to explore the relationship between wellness and creativity. The Picturing Health project is funded by the Robert Pope Foundation. Robert Pope (1956-1992) was a dedicated Nova Scotia artist who died at the age of 36 after a ten year battle with cancer.

"Roots + Wings" is my solo exhibit during the month of February at the Margaret Hennigar Public Library in Bridgewater. In this exhibit, I combine my writing with my images using trees and birds to symbolize different emotions. I believe trees represent growth and strength, with roots to ground us in our traditions. I see birds in flight as symbols of freedom, with the power of dreams and life renewed. I believe that together, Roots + Wings create powerful images of inspiration and tools to heal the soul. Remember your roots, trust your wings.

As part of this exhibit, I will be giving an artist's talk at the library on Sunday February 4th at 2pm. The presentation is free, and I would love to see you there. Seating is limited so, if you are interested, please register at the library or call them at 902-543-9222.

published in the South Shore Breaker January 24, 2018

Sunday, December 24, 2017

a little update

Merry Christmas! 

You haven't heard from me for a while, and I thought it was time for a little update.
 
December 25th will be exactly six months since my husband had a major stroke. 

It has been a difficult and challenging time, but we are very lucky. John spent two months in the hospital and rehabilitation centre, and he had two goals. He wanted to walk the beaches again with me and our dogs. And he wanted to be able to walk the dogs on leash by himself. He achieved both those goals!

There will be more challenges to overcome, but things are looking a lot brighter these days.

No matter how you celebrate the season, I hope there are moments of joy and happiness for you. 

Here's to wishes coming true in 2018!
Sara

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

In the blink of an eye

A photograph taken on an outing to Miners Marsh in Kentville shows how one minute youre swimming along enjoying life, and in a split second catastrophe can strike.
There are moments in our lives when everything changes. No matter who we are, or what we do, we all have experiences that change our lives in a heartbeat. One moment everything is normal, and in the blink of an eye our world has been turned upside down.

I was photographing some birds at the Miner's Marsh in Kentville a while back, and had my camera trained on a black bird walking along the water's edge. In a flash that must have been just a split second, the bird reached into the water and grabbed a small fish. It happened so quickly that I missed the action while looking through my camera lens, and only captured the result - the bird with the fish in it's beak. One minute you're swimming along enjoying life, and in a split second catastrophe can strike.

Maybe it's a cancer diagnosis, or a car accident, or a death in the family. There are endless situations that can pack a wallop that drops us to our knees when we least expect it.


A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the swing of our backyard deck and thinking about how lucky I was. I often think about how lucky I am, so that's no big surprise. However, that particular week was not one of my best. I was alone on the swing with only my dogs for company while my husband was in the hospital after surviving a major stroke. At that particular moment, I was feeling lucky and blessed because just a few days before he was completely paralyzed on the left side of his body. But a couple of days can make a huge difference, and after his brain recovered from the shock he became more and more mobile. 

While I was sitting on that swing and trying to process all the changes, I was contemplating life with some new challenges instead of facing a future with a completely dependent person. And that's why I felt fortunate instead of filled with despair.

I am no stranger to strokes and the devastation they can cause. My father had a severe stroke when I was just 21. He was told he would never walk again, but he worked hard and was released from the hospital after one year. He lived a fulfilled life for another 16 years and accomplished many wonderful things.

In a very broad generalization that I am prone to concluding now and then, I have noticed that there tends to be two types of people. We've all heard of the "glass half full" versus "glass half empty" example of how different people can be presented with the same situation and come away with totally a different perception of things. I truly believe that attitude can make a huge difference. 

Don't get me wrong. Since that awful day in late June, I have had times of terrible grief and feelings of complete helplessness. There have been moments when my sadness has been so great that it was a physical thing, squeezing my heart and stealing my breath. I have had periods of self doubt so overwhelming that I didn't think I could cope with the future ahead. I didn't think I would have the patience or ability to do what I needed to do, or be who I needed to be.

But I continue to give thanks for the blessings in my life. I am thankful that we were in the emergency department when the stroke occurred, and my husband received the absolute best and quickest care possible. I am thankful for the doctors and nursing staff, the therapists and team of people working hard every day to ensure whatever possible progress is made. I am thankful for our family and friends who have made my time at home alone more possible to bear. I am thankful for the strength of my husband, who has been determined to prove he can do whatever he is told is not possible.

So in these post-stroke weeks, I have given a lot of thought to the priorities in my life. Some of the dreams that seemed important to me before, now become a lot less significant. Some of my "to do's" have dropped by the wayside. Now, some of the "major accomplishments" I wanted to achieve don't seem to matter anymore. At this moment, somehow it seems more important to be kind, to be generous, and to enjoy friends and family, rather than achieving goals that really dont matter in the grand scheme of things.

I am thankful for this chance to continue to share my life with the most important person in my world. It will be a different life than we had planned, but I have a partner to travel that path with me, and things might have been very, very different.

During our weeks at the hospital, a nurse asked my husband "Is this your wife?", he replied "She's not just my wife. She's my everything." And that is truly something wonderful to focus on during our challenges ahead.

published in the South Shore Breaker - July 19, 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Church Going of a Different Variety

A recent trip to St. Matthew's United Church in Halifax to listen to the Lunch Bunch community choir sent me down the memory lane of visits to various church conversions.
I was in downtown Halifax listening to a lovely choir singing a couple of weeks ago. As I sat there, I gazed around enjoying the sights as well as the sounds. There is something lovely about century old churches, almost as if they absorb the feelings of generations of people and then pass them on to every visitor.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

South Shore Stories

a cozy corner from inside The Port Grocer in Port Medway
Being involved with a hobby, any hobby, can be a fulfilling pastime. Sometimes frustrating, when we're trying to learn a new technique. And very rewarding, when something we are trying to create comes to fruition. Whether you sketch, paint, hook, knit, crochet, garden, sail, show cars,or whatever, it all takes patience to learn a craft and a willingness to try new things in order to succeed.

And there comes a time when it's important to share our skills with other people.