Sunday 24 December 2017


“Access to joy is a skill.”
- Chade-Meng Tan
Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within
(HarperCollins, 2016)

My husband, Bill Stearman, is an amazing man. One of the many things that I love about him is his ability to find joy in every part of his being and in every moment of his day.

Chade-Meng Tan’s book Joy on Demand is about joy, and it’s also about Bill. And me.

Tan, an engineer by training, is an iconoclast, philanthropist, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee. He also stares at life with the logical mind of a systems analyst and concludes that we risk losing ourselves in despair if we only focus on negativity. He encourages us to practise joy, familiarize our minds with joy, notice life’s “thin slices of joy,” and generally become aware of moment-to-moment joy in our lives.

Which is what Bill does. Those of you who know him will recognize his wondrous response to the question, “How are you?”: “I’m absolutely grand!” Whatever the circumstances he finds himself in – and he has experienced his share of challenges – he wills himself to find the joy in whatever is happening and to build from there. As he says, “We don’t have control over what happens to us, but we do have control over how we respond.”

Yup, he’s pretty much a two-legged joy machine.

I struggle with integrating this philosophy into my own life. My decades-old negativity bias trips me up if I’m not careful. It’s not that I’m a negative person – I am not – but I recognize that my first response to difficult people or circumstances can be pissy and mean-spirited if I don’t keep my mouth shut long enough to let my more generous, life-affirming instincts click in. “Count to 10, Larry,” has been a useful mantra. And, of course, living with Bill has the same effect. Thank goodness.

Photography reinforces this joy bias.  It helps me watch with wonder and respond in awe. The resulting photographs bring me joy. What a powerful combination of influences: my camera and my Bill. Praise be.

I’m posting these thoughts on Christmas Eve day. In our home, the tree is sparkling and the stockings await Santa’s arrival. Tomorrow, the family joins us for a feast. A time to reflect, give thanks, and remember those who are struggling. And to find joy.

A parting quotation that I just heard in the latest Kritsa Tippett On Being podcast. (link) The words belong to Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who writes about joy and gratitude:

“Joy is the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”

I hope you enjoy these photos, each in its own way a measure of joy in my life. Their joy may not be readily apparent. They were recorded last week in Belleville and Prince Edward County.

With every best wish for the joy you are celebrating at this time of the year.

Victoria Avenue, Belleville

Outlet Bay, Sandbanks Provincial Park

Interior, Abandoned Cabin, Prince Edward County

Lakeshore Lodge, Sandbanks Provincial Park

Sandbanks Provincial Park

Outlet Bay, Sandbanks Provincial Park

Outlet Bay, Sandbanks Provincial Park

Near Lakeshore Lodge, Sandbanks Provincial Park

Canadian Tire Store, Belleville

Reynolds' Brothers Farm, Old Belleville Road/County Road 4, Prince Edward County

Sunday 17 December 2017

Playing Alone

“It was when I played alone that I found it possible to be myself,
but a different myself, a myself who was Davy Crockett’s close
and valued friend...a stronger and more certain myself, wittier,
more clearly defined, a myself of accomplishment and renown,
someone Davy Crockett could rely on in a tight spot.”
-Philip Pullman, Imaginary Friends, pp 18-19 (Oxford, 2017)

Earlier this fall, I wrote glowingly about children’s author Philip Pullman in this blog. His new book, La Belle Sauvage (part one of The Book of Dust trilogy), was a joy to read. One of the reasons I like his writing is that he takes the inner lives of young people very, very seriously. He assumes that his readers are capable of negotiating ambiguity and appreciating complexity. His respect for the reader is rooted in his own childhood when he preferred playing by himself, thus developing his imagination and sense of agency. (See last week’s blog post that featured a similar approach by the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim.)

Pullman’s approach to the importance of a child playing alone resonates strongly with my own experience – and not just because we both fantasized about Davy Crockett.

When I was seven-years old, I was diagnosed with rheumatic fever or, as it was described to me, “heart fever”. For an entire year, I recuperated both at Kingston General Hospital and our farm near Wellington.  My memories of that year remain clear, and not just because I didn’t have to go to school: I was surrounded by gifts, attention, and extravagant love. Ten years ago, a family friend said to me, “Oh, Larry, that must have been a dreadful year for you.” To which I replied, “Um – no. I loved it! No school, lots of television, and endless time to play by myself. Bring it on!” It was during that year that I learned to enjoy my own company, play alone endlessly, and develop a wildly complex fantasy life. All three of these elements still thrive in my soul. It’s not that I dislike other people, but when given the choice, I usually opt for solitude. There are exceptions, of course: I dearly love hanging out with Bill and grandchildren pretty much any time, and a circle of close friends nurtures me, but I recognize that if I don’t get a daily dose of solitude, I get decidedly cranky.

Which is one of the many reasons why photography is a godsend for me. How wonderful it is to wander off on my own with a camera in search of images while simultaneously recharging my batteries. Absolute heaven!

The photos that follow all come from solitary walks this month in Belleville, Wellington, Foxboro, and Corbyville. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them.

Moira Street, Belleville 

Harriett Street, Belleville

Harriett Street, Belleville

Victoria Avenue, Belleville

Main Street East, Wellington

Village Green garden, Foxboro


On the Grand Junction Railway hiking trail, Corbyville

Canadian Pacific Railway telegraph pole, Belleville

Dewe's Independent Grocery Store, Belleville

St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Belleville

Village Green, Foxboro