A Good Home, Author Interviews, Author's Homes, Gardening, Hilary Custance Green, Sculptor

At Home with Hilary Custance Green

Hilary Custance Green has many roles. She’s a daughter, wife, mother, author, sculptor, blogger and gardener.

It’s the gardener role that first caught my eye.

More specifically, it was her Japanese maple seedlings that caught my interest.

Blog Photo - Hilary Maple Seedlings in Pots

Hilary had written a blog post about growing Japanese maples from seed. Being a gardener ( and having failed to grow Japanese maples from seed),  I was impressed.

Hilary Custance Green

Hilary loves gardening, of course.  She brings both art and science to the task. (Did I mention she also has a doctorate in brain science?) 

She even had a knot garden, which I know from experience is not an easy thing to create. 

Blog Photo - Hilary Knot Garden 2

“I love all the phases of project work, creation, engineering, labour, completion and peer review. I am never happier than working to exhaustion on a big 3D piece of work, or weeding for hours in the garden.”

“As a teenager I dreamt of becoming Rodin or Michelangelo. It was not to be, but I spent twenty (mostly happy) years making large semi abstract sculptures and also, to earn a penny or two, portrait heads.”

Blog Photo - Hilary Sculpture 2

“In both sculpture and writing, it is the crossfire of unrelated elements that makes the story.

Blog Photo - Hilary Sculpture 1

“So this sculpture developed out of The Song of Hiawatha (Longfellow) and the sad time in my twenties when my boyfriend was drowned.”

Blog Photo - Hilary Sculpture 3 boat

One of the recurring themes in all Hilary’s books is this question: What gives individuals strength in adversity?

By the time I met her through her blog, Hilary had already written three novels — Border Line, A Small Rain, Unseen Unsung — and was working on a special non-fiction book.

Each novel explores the question above, with themes of “love, grief, adventure, disability and both good and bad luck.”

Unseen Unsung by [Custance Green, Hilary]

“I hope to give readers something positive to take away as well as a hefty dash of the music and poetry I love so much.”

Blog Photo - Hilary workroom 2 and piano

Family and home are important parts of Hilary’s life.

“Home is where I have the wondrous fortune to be loved and feel safe,” she says.

“My husband Edwin and I both had parents with jobs that moved around. To give us a good education they sent us to boarding schools far from our homes.

“When we found this house, and had our two girls, we never wanted to move again and our children walked to school in the village.

Blog Photo - HCG Children

“When we outgrew the space, we built an extension (or two or three!).”

Blog Photo - Hilary Home

Hilary’s parents, Barry and Phyllis, went through great adversity during the second world war, and in  2016, she published a book about their experience. 

Surviving the Death Railway: A POW’s Memoirs and Letters from Home  is that book. Both acclaimed and very successful, it may well be her signature work so far.

Blog Photo - Hilary Book Cover Death Railway

“It includes the 68 men captured with Barry and their families back home in Britain, who kept in touch with Phyllis throughout the war. The real story is the amazing support these ordinary men and women gave each other in horrific and testing times.”

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Today, Hilary and Edwin’s daughters — Eleanor and Amy — are grown up with partners and lives of their own in other cities.  

Blog Photo - Hilary two daughters

Hilary too has been busy.

She has done many author presentations for her latest book, and is working on yet another. The work-in-progress is about “a brilliant, crazy woman, her concert pianist mother, their young, troubled and disabled biographer and a prickly young jazz pianist.”

Blog Photo - Hilary Workroom 1 with window

She and Edwin are also redesigning the garden.

Blog Photo - Hilary Garden in progress1

Blog Photo - Hilary Garden in progress2

Like everything else Hilary creates, one senses the finished products — book and garden — will be intriguing, powerful and beautiful.

Brava, Hilary!

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A Good Home, Oma and Opa, Young readers

Oma Paula and ‘The Best Critics’

I never know how much to tell you about the journey that Myrtle is on! (Are you bored yet?)
 
But many of you have hung in with me through the rough times, so I figure you are more than overdue for good news. And right now, some of my ‘goodest’ news is about Myrtle.
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Blog Photo - Myrtle Readers Paula and the grandies
 When Paula de Ronde wrote about Myrtle on Facebook recently, I was delighted.
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“Yesterday I read Myrtle the Purple Turtle with three of my ‘honorary’ grandchildren. Myrtle got three thumbs up, some giggles and big smiles.
“Cynthia Reyes has written a book for parents and friends who love to read and love to read to children.
“We had quite a talk about it and it is a hit.   Zoe, who is only 2, sat through the whole thing and wanted me to go back to certain of the very colourful pages. She was the illustrations critic and by her response they certainly did what they are supposed to do –  engage through colour.

“Dylan Damien (8) and Charlie (6)… talked about ‘friends’  and that ‘it’s OK to be different.’

“I have told many friends about how much I like this book. However, these are the best critics as the story is for them.  I bet this becomes a go-to, cuddle-up book on those long Winter nights.”

~~

Stefan Steen took the photo above of his wife Stephanie, their 3 children and Paula.

Paula and Stefan go way back to his childhood, when he and her son Damien were close friends.  Sadly, Damien died young, but Stefan remained close to Paula and her husband Bert.

Stefan and Stephanie named their first child for Damien.  Damien was known for giving the greatest hugs, and Paula says she is delighted that the kids have learned to give her “Damien hugs” too. 

They are the grandchildren of her heart, she says.

Today, Paula and Bert are close to all three children, who call them “Oma”, and “Opa” (Dutch for “grandma” and “grandpa”).

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A retired librarian and cultural connoisseur,  Paula has an eye for great stories.  She was the first person outside our family to read the draft of Myrtle, and therefore was its first reviewer.

Blog Photo - Paula and Bert
Photo Credit: Heather Bubb-Clarke
She said this about Myrtle:
“It is a long time since I have been so effusive about a children’s book.  Now we have something other than The Ugly Duckling, et al,  for this age group with a nice dollop of  ‘how to’ for adults facing this dilemma too.
 

“Children will love, relate and respond favourably to the  humour and that light, underlying silliness that is their everyday language.  I was smiling as I read some of the lines, descriptions and Myrtle’s thoughts.

“There are many teaching moments and issues in this book and you present them in such a warm and lovable way.  It is simple but not simplistic, ethical, tackling issues that we so need to tackle today but without being pedantic.”

I respect Paula a lot, so you can imagine how much her critique encouraged not just me, but our whole family.  And now, we’re glad to know that she has read it to her ‘grandchildren’ too.

~~

Thank you, Paula, Stefan and Stephanie — and special thanks to our young critics!

 

A Good Home, Autumn, Autumn Colours, Blessings

Autumn Blessings

Photos by Hamlin Grange

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“In the midst of it all, however, we keep giving thanks. I keep reminding myself that there is no perfect moment in life when all our problems are solved forever. So, let us seek out our blessings wherever they are, whenever they come, and be grateful for them.” (Cynthia, in a note to a friend.)

Autumn is bittersweet.

Blog Photo - Autumn road ahead

It’s the most gorgeous season of my year — its colours so brilliant, they glow. 

Blog Photo - Autumn Tree and Fence

But Autumn also brings a warning.  Of the freezing cold of December, January, February and March. 

My meditation coach would remind me to live “in the moment”.  St. Paul’s writings declare that worry solves nothing; the key is to find contentment in your present situation. 

Blog Photo - Autumn Jacko

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Will I ever get used to Autumn, in all its fleeting beauty? Or is its brevity key to its glory?

Decades of witnessing Autumn and I am still in awe of it. Every year.  

Blog Photo - Autumn Leaves CU

It is, I know, a gradual arrival; colours brighten and deepen on apples, wild berries, shrubs, trees and vines.

Blog - Ripening apples in tree

And yet, there is always a day in October when it catches me by surprise. Every year.  

Blog Photo - autumn - trees on N Road

Suddenly it’s Autumn, arrived fully dressed. 

I catch myself holding my breath…. because there are still sights like this, moments like this, that take one’s breath away.

How can it possibly be this beautiful? I wonder.  That same question, every year.

I wish it could last a bit longer. The resplendence of it, the blazing glory of it, the time before strong winds and heavy rains strip the leaves from trees and leave them naked.

Blog Photo - Autumn Trees 1

I wonder: without the leaves that clothe them, do trees shiver in the cold? Do they regret the passing of their most beautiful season? Or do they give thanks for the respite of winter? For the leaves that, having fallen, will now plenish the soil around their roots? 

Blog Photo - Autumn trees 3

But there I go again. 

So I return to the now. The wonder and splendour of now.

Blog Photo - Autumn Vines Wall Wide-shot

I give thanks for the gifts of this particular autumn. The passing parade of colours outside,  the constant love of my family inside.

The steadying hand of my husband; the care and kindness of my daughters, sons-in-law, and siblings during challenging times. These are love’s own true colours.

Blog Photo - Autumn and sign on door

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This Autumn, there’s also Myrtle the Purple Turtle, published 28 years after it was written as a bedtime story. Our family feels doubly blessed that Myrtle is touching other lives. 

Life goes through its seasons, yes. Some days are a trial, yes.  But:

Let us seek out our blessings wherever they are, whenever they come, and be grateful for them.

Blog Photo - Autumn Trees 2

~~

Dedicated to my family.

 

 

 

 

A Good Home, Achieving A Dream, Inspiration, Kamala-Jean Gopie, Schooling

Kamala-Jean’s Amazing Story

Imagine you’re visiting an open-air market in Cape Town, South Africa, talking to a bright, impoverished young vendor, not knowing your life is about to change.

The young man has the improbable name of ‘Happy’. 

Your actions will also change his life and that of his whole community, but as you return to your comfortable home in Toronto, Canada, no-one has any idea of what’s about to unfold.

~~

Meet my dear friend Kamala-Jean Gopie.

We first met when she was a teacher and community leader.  As a television journalist with Canada’s public broadcaster, CBC, I interviewed her. Later, we worked together as community volunteers and became friends.

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean CU

I know this woman’s heart. She gives without expecting recognition.  And that’s partly why I’m recognizing her here.

I’ve known Kamala-Jean’s kindness firsthand. In one of my worst summers since the car accident, this elegant, dignified woman drove a long distance to my home, repeatedly, to visit, comfort me — and weed my garden. 

Blog Photo - Garden Tall flowers in front

But her works go far beyond one person.  She’s not rich, yet she has provided scholarships to needy students, contributed to Canadian arts, educational and community organizations — big and small — and helped many.

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean Gopie with award

But nothing she’s done has surprised me – and perhaps even her – as much as this one.

~~

Kamala-Jean lingered to chat with the young vendor. She’d won her auction bid for a trip to South Africa and was now visiting Cape Town.

She asked him questions. He described his role as family breadwinner, and his dream of becoming a teacher. But he hadn’t completed high school. He was here selling goods to support his family back home in Malawi – a four-day bus ride away.

“When he said he had 6 siblings at home and his father was dead, and if he only had his Grade 12, he could help his family out of poverty, it just moved me.”

Kamala-Jean gave him her email address and asked him to contact her.

She asked her cousin, director-general for the Centre for Disease Control in South Africa, to find out more. He confirmed Happy’s story about the school. Kamala-Jean decided to fund Happy’s return to Malawi and his schooling.

Then, last June, she visited Happy and his family at their rural home in Malosa, bringing books and other supplies and singing with the children.

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean and Happy and Family

“The family lives in three small houses with no real furniture, electricity or plumbing.  There is no kitchen or bathroom.  They sleep on straw mats on the ground.”

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean and Kids first trip

She learned there was no school for young children nearby.

~~

Back home in Toronto, she spoke with Diana Burke, head of Canadian charity People Bridge. Diana encouraged her.

“I wrote to Happy and asked: ‘What would it cost to build a school?’ Happy said, ‘I’ll talk to the chief.’

“The chief was very supportive. Then Happy told me: ‘My family will donate one hectare of land.’ “

Happy’s family was giving what it could. 

~~

Things moved quickly in both Canada and Malawi. People Bridge started a fund for the school, with Kamala-Jean and friends donating. Within days, trees were felled and building started.

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean school being built walls going up

Blog Photo - Kamala-Jean schoolhouse almost ready2

“It took 5 weeks. The school was completed by the first week of September and I travelled there and opened the school on September 18th.”

“What on earth made you do this wonderful, crazy thing?” I asked her.

“I didn’t know it was going to be wonderful and crazy. I had no notion. I just spoke to this young man who seemed honest and wholesome. His honesty was palpable. 

“When I was leaving the market, I gave him $10. He put his hands together in prayer and said ‘Oh, Ma’am. God bless you.’ I had to turn away. I was so moved. But I never knew things would end up where they did.”

COMING SOON: Pt 2. A WHOLE COMMUNITY IS CHANGED