A Good Home, Author Cynthia Reyes, Gardening Books

Doing What Scares You

Sandra Whiting has a way about her. When she asks for a favour, it’s hard to refuse.

Blog Photo - Sandra Whiting

Between her personality and track record for getting things done, she’s admired by many.

Add her contributions as an arts-supporter and artist (Sandra is a storyteller with a great sense of humour)  to her voluntary work for Canada’s Black and Caribbean communities, and you get the picture. 

But that didn’t make me immediately accept her invitation to give the keynote speech at the premier annual event of  PACE, the charitable organization she leads.

Blog Photo - PACE Children

I love PACE.  It’s helped tens of thousands of children in Jamaica and Canada. But I hadn’t given a keynote speech since the car accident of over a decade ago and the very thought was frightening.

My husband intervened.  He reminded me that at each stage of my recovery, I have done something that terrified me, and that, even when the results were miserable, I usually felt better for trying. 

Further, the topic was something I knew well: What we can teach children and ourselves from gardening and nature.

Blog Photo - PACE Strawberry Social

“What if I stutter?” I asked, panicked. “And what if they hate me?” “What if….” 

“You won’t stutter and they won’t hate you,” he reassured.

So, with a lot of help and encouragement, I said “Yes”.

 ~~

Having said “Yes”, I was even more scared. What to do? 

For inspiration, I went searching for stories I’d written about gardening in earlier years. And here’s where I got a big surprise: I came across a whole manuscript I’d written about gardening, growth and healing — years earlier.

Surprised, for two reasons. First, it was almost completely written. I’d thought it was only partly done. Even more surprising? It had been professionally edited. How could I have forgotten that? 

The answer came quickly. I had forgotten because my beloved husband had become ill and nearly died of a pulmonary embolism. I had put everything aside in the frantic weeks and months that followed. 

My husband is a courageous man. I watched him fight to recover, despite frequent frustration over his illness.  His bravery and sheer grit were so obvious, they inspired me to return to a tough subject I’d been avoiding: what it’s like to keep pushing ahead, to try to squeeze every moment of joy from a life painfully changed. 

Book cover - An-Honest-House

So, instead of the gardening book, “An Honest House”, based on my personal journals, was published in 2016.  It won The Diamond Award for book of the year.

~~

My husband recovered and returned to being a highly-regarded consultant and public speaker. This man knows how to create a strong speech.

We chose three excerpts from the unpublished gardening book, and built a speech around them.  I realized I could simply read whole parts of the speech, as I’d done at author-readings.

Blog Photo - PACE Guests at the Enchanted Gardens Sale

We arrived at the event. Inside, people were already admiring the flowers at the Enchanted Gardens sale. There was a joyful feeling everywhere.

Blog Photo - PACE Guests at Strawberry Social

Several people approached me. They had bought their tickets because I was the speaker, they said.

The pressure intensified.

~~

My husband helped me up the steps to the podium. At our table, my daughter and son-in-law sat, supportive, encouraging.

As I looked out at the large audience, I recognized several people I knew. They were smiling, beaming love and support.

Even strangers beamed encouragement, I think. Though they might have still been smiling over the introduction. Maxine, the woman who introduced me, told everyone what I’d written in my bio but also forgotten: that I’m a terrible cook, knitter and floral arranger.

~~

I started to speak, then read, growing more confident as I went along. There were times when people seemed glued to what I was saying. They even laughed at the right times. That was a relief, because I’m a terrible joke-teller too.

~~

It still feels like a miracle that I got through it, and that it was well-received. But I did and it was. 

Blog Photo - PACE - Cynthia and Diana Burke

And now, in a touch of grace, I will have two books published this year. 

First, of course, is the new children’s book in the Myrtle the Purple Turtle series, co-written with Lauren Reyes-Grange and illustrated by Jo Robinson. 

The gardening book will also debut. Years after it was put aside, this book will see the light of day — because I said “Yes”, and decided to do what scared me.

~~

Dedicated to Sandra Whiting and the children supported by PACE.

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Home, Book lovers, Books, Daughters, elderly Parents, Family, Family Matriarch, Family Stories, Gardening Books, Gardens, Great books, Home

Vivian Shapiro, a Woman Who Loves Books

The little girls in this photo are Vivian, on the right, and her sister Roslyn.

Their childhood home had a vast library and Vivian loved reading books.

Classics for Junior Readers, the eleven volumes of The Foundation Library for Young People and the family’s encyclopedia were among her childhood favorites.

“My father was a very accomplished man (lawyer, Member of Parliament for Ontario, the founder and first President of the Mt. Sinai Hospital, first violinist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra)  and he always encouraged my reading and learning as a child.

“So reading was something I always did.”

Vivian was so bright that she skipped grades in school.

She graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of household science degree and worked as a dietitian till shortly after her marriage.  She and her husband Bud had three daughters.

Blog Photo - Vivian's Portrait

Daughter Arna, a retired English teacher and now  a writer and proofreader, read A Good Home and gave a copy to her mother.

“When I asked my Mom how she liked the book, she said it was one of the best she had ever read! And considering she had been reading for a good 90 years, that would be a lot of books!”

I gulped with delight and asked: “Why?

Vivian replied: “I can picture all of her houses – her descriptions are so vivid. I can still see the house up on a hill. It brought back memories of travelling in the Caribbean and different stages of my life.”

Vivian and Bud
Vivian and Bud on their 70th anniversary

“Two of the best things about books are that we can travel to different times and places through them, and we can learn something new with each one.”  

Vivian, Arna and granddaughter at 96th birthday party
Vivian at 96th birthday party with daughter Arna and granddaughter Heather

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is still one of Vivian’s all-time favorites.

Bud died a few years ago. At 96, and no longer able to walk, Vivian spends much of her time in her room.  Reading, she says, is “a wonderful diversion at this stage of life when outings and new experiences are limited.” 

While Arna was proofreading the manuscript for my second book (Beloved Gardens) she asked my permission to read the book to her mother. Of course, I agreed.

Arna reported:

“It gives me great pleasure to look at my Mom sitting in her wheelchair with a big smile on her face. Or sometimes she nods her agreement to whatever Cynthia wrote. 

“Sometimes she closes her eyes (still smiling) and I know that she is visualizing the scene. When I told her that the finished book would include lovely photos, she said that it didn’t really need pictures as she could see everything clearly just from the words. The book takes her on a journey in her mind.”  

Blog Photo - Vivian at 96

“These are the kind of books you can read over and over again,” says Vivian. “They make you smile and they make you cry. Because the book is so picturesque, I can think back and the memories are lovely.”

And you are the kind of reader authors love, Vivian!  Thank you most kindly for loving books, including mine.