Friday, February 28, 2014

International Women's Day in Oxford - March 8

For the first time, Oxford is celebrating International Women's Day with a program at the Capitol Theatre. Women of all ages will be represented through music and dialogue. Prizes and refreshments as well. Donations accepted at the door with proceeds in support of the Sexual Health Centre of Cumberland County's Go Girl: Self Esteem Workshops.
I'll be doing "In Conversation With...Live!" with Alia Mohamad who moved here from Lebanon when she was a young bride.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Conversation With...BONUS: The Ladybug Story

The Ladybug Story is related to this week's "In Conversation With..." printed in the Oxford Journal. 
The story comes courtesy of Cindie Smith, whose daughter, Maggie, is the namesake for Maggie's Place, family resource centres located in Amherst and Truro.

This story explains why there are ladybugs on the centres' logo.

The Ladybug Story
by Cindie Smith

On April 24, 1994, my younger daughter Maggie died. We had known for quite some time that she would die very young; she was almost five years old. But her passing was at home, peaceful and surrounded by those who loved her.

My older daughter, Emily, was at the fragile age of 13 when her precious little sister died. She had waited a long time for a baby sister and it just hurt so much that she was gone. It was almost more than she could bear.

We were at Maggie's funeral and the church was full of loving, caring people. I was touched that they all took the time to come and support us. But my attention couldn't linger on all of those kind hearts. My concern was for Emily. She was sitting quietly between her father and me. The funeral bulletin was in her lap and her head was lowered, still not comfortable with crying in front of strangers.

She was becoming visibly stressed. Her body was stiff and the struggle was evident at a glance. If she had a broken bone, I could take her to the hospital. If she had a fever, I could give her some medicine and a cool bath. But there was nothing I could do about the pain she was enduring now. Nothing but fold her into my arms and hang on tight.

I have a faint memory that the words from the clergy were kind and the music was beautiful. But Emily didn't find comfort in this. I was becoming concerned that the build up of emotion and stress would be more than she could stand. She was sobbing to try and release it but she couldn't get it all out fast enough. She was visibly struggling and I was becoming more worried for her.

I was about to tell her that it would be okay if we went outside for awhile when from under the bulletin in her lap came a ladybug. Em nudged me and pointed to it, sniffling and smiling, and pronounced, "Look, Mom, it's Maggie!" Emily used her hands to guard so that our little ladybug didn't fall off the edge. After she had fully explored the page and relieved some of Em's tension, she lifted her spotted shell and spread her wings. She flew around our faces for just a moment and then flew off.

After the funeral, we drove to the Robie Street Cemetery where Maggie would be buried next to her great-grandfather. Emily was tucked under my right arm. I could feel her body growing more rigid as she tried to pour out all her sorrow. Again, just as I was about to suggest that we took a little walk to calm her, the ladybug appeared from the flowers on top of Maggie's little pink coffin. Em managed a smile and her stress immediately eased. The ladybug flew around our faces for just a moment before disappearing.

We were so moved by the presence of the ladybug and so grateful for all that she brought to us that day, we had one engraved on Maggie's headstone. Just like the ladybug on the bulletin in the church, Maggie had explored all she wished to in this world and when she was finished, she flew away. But while she was here, she reminded us that all children bring their own special gifts and challenges. It is up to us to accept and appreciate them for who they are.

by Cindie Smith
and reprinted with gratitude. sjm

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Clouds, Common Sense & the Old Girls of Winter

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

The Cloud Appreciation Society, based in the UK, opens its manifesto with the following sentence: “We believe that clouds are unjustly maligned and that life would be immeasurably poorer without them.”
Someone felt it was necessary to create a society for the appreciation of clouds? When did clouds become the enemy?
“People think of clouds as things that get in the way,” says society founder Gavin Pretor-Pinney in a recent  TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talk called Cloudy with the Chance of Joy. “They think of clouds as annoying, frustrating obstructions.”
Which is incredibly odd because clouds are way up in the sky. How can clouds be in our way?
Because they are responsible for snow.
And, if you watch TV and follow social media, THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT.
It used to be that weather was whatever you saw out the window or windshield -- and you dealt with it as you went along. It was no big deal.
Now, 24-hour weather networks and round-the-clock newscasts mean that weather is over-hyped and over-exposed so that we can all over-react.
When we start going on about a normal, run-of-the-mill 15 centimetre snowstorm for Nova Scotia a week before it’s due to arrive, we lose perspective. We forget that in Canada, snow is to be expected during winter months.
When a sign on the TransCanada highway in northern Nova Scotia tells drivers in February to “Expect Winter Conditions”, we’ve already lost perspective. And common sense. If you have to be told how to drive in Canada in winter, you need to consider moving to Arizona.
Last Saturday morning, I watched a woman with a rollator (the proper name for a four-wheeled walker) manoeuvre herself along a snow-covered sidewalk in downtown Oxford. We’d had two centimetres of snow the night before, not much, but she was pushing hard to keep her wheels moving forward. My first thought wasn’t outrage that the sidewalks weren’t perfectly cleared like a June afternoon; rather, I thought,  “Rollators should come with snow tires.”
Uptown, another woman with a rollator was tromping her way to Tim Horton’s. I admired both of those older women for their old-school determination to not let a little bit of snow get in the way of their errands. They were too busy power-rolling to shake their fist at the clouds and shout, “Curse you, annoying obstructions!” 
As the saying goes, weather happens. 
Every day. Every minute of every day. And despite the fact that the weather is always changing, it doesn’t really change. 
In Canada, we are blessed with four seasons. It’s cold in January, it’s wet in May, it’s hot in August and it’s cold AND wet in November. Snow falls anytime between December and April. If you don’t like it, you can move to Arizona where it’s hot and sunny all the time. 
Which venomous snakes really appreciate. 
Clouds have become the snakes of the sky: We love to hate them yet we fear them at the same time. 
Most of all, we just take the weather too personally. As if all this snow falls JUST TO MAKE YOUR LIFE MORE DIFFICULT.  Those darn obstructionist clouds.
The weather is the one thing humans can’t control. Look up at those clouds and appreciate their power. The way your day goes depends entirely on them. 
Let’s be more like those two women last Saturday morning, full of determination and spirit and muscle power -- as if they were in training for a new Olympic snow sport: Freestyle Rollator Cross. 

Found these -- the Trionic Walker from the UK -- online. Now THOSE are tires for Canadian winters!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In Conversation With...Ruthie Patriquin

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, February 12, 2014, by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

She’s known as “The Sex Lady” and that makes Ruthie Patriquin of Oxford very, very happy.
It means she’s doing a good job at making people, particularly young people, more comfortable about human sexuality and sexual health.
Ruthie is the executive director of the Sexual Health Centre of Cumberland County (SHCCC). She admits it was not her career aspiration to be The Sex Lady.
“Absolutely not,” she laughs. 
According to Ruthie, she “kind of ended up” at SHCCC. 
“There was a group of people who saw the need for a centre such as this in 1981. It was really focusing on teen pregnancy at the time and they put together a community committee. They decided to train volunteers to do the work because they didn’t have any sense if they’d be able to get any funding to open an office. I went with another woman from Oxford and did the training. When they eventually did get funding, the rest is history… I eventually ended up doing what I’m doing.”
Ruthie says they built the organization into what it is today. It wasn’t even called a Sexual Health Centre back then; since the focus was teen pregnancy, it was known as  Cumberland County Family Planning and it was part of Planned Parenthood Nova Scotia.

In conversation, Ruthie laughs a lot. Not from embarassment but from joy. And not from the joy of sex because she makes it clear that sex and sexuality are two different subjects.
“I think that right from the time children are born, we’re teaching them about sexuality, about relationships, about loving and caring,” she explains. “That’s all part of sexuality. Sexuality education for children is really about helping them feel good about who they are, helping to build self-esteem, answering their questions about ‘Why am I different than her?’ and helping them develop good body image. It’s more than just how babies are made but they need to know that too, before they go to school.”
She is driven to discuss sexuality with anyone because she believes in the empowerment that knowledge brings and the help her office provides.
“The more information people have, the better they feel about themselves and the better the decisions they make,” she says. “Information alone is not enough; we have to feel good about ourselves and we have to have access to services, too.”
It’s a one-woman show, by the way, since the money allotted by the province for sexual health education is shared between seven centres. Given her enthusiasm for the programs offered by the SHCCC, it’s obvious the right woman is running the show.
“I love doing programming. That’s what I love to do. I’d far rather be doing that than being interviewed!” Ruthie laughs. “That’s going into the schools, and it’s doing the puberty program with parents and their children, and doing the Happy To Be Body Smart and Safe with parents and their four to eight year olds. That’s a new program I just started this year. I’m most proud of having initiated the Girl Power program. My favourite to do myself is the Worth Waiting program. I spend six sessions with Grade Six students. I get to spend more time with them and it’s an actual program rather than supplementing. I actually get to spend time with them and get to know them and talk about things. I feel like I’m making more of an impact.”
Making a difference is what keeps Ruthie motivated after more than three decades.
“I feel like I’m making a difference, still, after all these years,” she says. “Because there are so many new things. It’s not yes, we’re getting the teen pregnancy rate down. There’s always something new to tackle. Like sexual violence, sexual assault, that whole issue around consent. We’re seeing more about it in the media now, that’s for sure. You have to bring those things into everything you can. The whole point is so they can build skills they can use to deal with these issues.”
When asked for an example of the impact she and the programs are having on the young people of Cumberland  County, Ruthie relates a conversation she’d had just the day before.
“A boy was in just looking around and he picked up the video we use in the ‘Worth  Waiting’ program. He said ‘I remember this from last year,’ and I asked what he thought of it, thinking it would be interesting to hear a year later what his perspective was. He said, ‘I remember the affection ladder. I hadn’t really thought about where should you stop. And I was thinking that I should stop at hugging because if you’re gonna go beyond hugging in Grade Six, what are you going to be doing when you’re in Grade 8?’ I loved that!” Ruthie says. “He’s still thinking about it a year later.”
Ruthie is effervescent and enthusiastic but in a way that is warm, caring and intelligent. It’s clear why  students respond to her and come to trust her enough to ask their so-called embarrassing questions.
The key to being a good sexual health educator is a willingness to answer those questions.
“Whatever they ask, they get an answer.”  
Ruthie says a recent interaction at her office made her day, likely her whole year. 
“Sometimes when they drop in, they don’t realize they’re going to see the same person they saw in class. When this boy was leaving, he said, ‘You’re the coolest teacher I’ve ever had’. Then he qualified it. ‘You’re the coolest sex education teacher.’ I’ve been wondering if I’m too old for the students to relate to, should I be thinking of retiring earlier than I am thinking of doing it? So he made me feel really good.”
At the end of  the interview, Ruthie has a change of heart
“Thank you for doing this interview,” she says. “[SHCCC] is a big part of my life. I’ve always been someone who wants to make a difference. And I do feel like I make a difference. That’s why I love this job so much.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Weather Perspectives

Big snowstorm today. Ice pellets against the sliding door in the bedroom woke me at 3:30 this morning but right now, at one in the afternoon, it's actually snowing harder than ever. If I were in charge of the forecast, I'd be upgrading to blizzard conditions.
But the perfect day for writing a column about the weather!

Dare I? I do dare. It's time to tackle our lost perspective on weather and no better time than for the issue of the newspaper that comes out mid-February, mid-really bad winter.
Although bad is a relative term.
When I was done my first draft of the column, I wandered out of my writing room and down to my mother's room to flop on her bed. That's what I do in order to talk to her. Flop onto her bed.
"I think my best opinion writing happens when I don't get all in -your-face with the opinion," I told her. "When I kinda take the light-hearted, non-confrontational approach. Nothing preachy, that's for sure."
Also means I don't have to fact check.
With the right tone established, I was able to figure out how to have one particular angle on a broad topic. There's lots to talk about when it comes to the weather. I already know what I can write about next February.

A few hours later, as my mother -- in her kind and loving way -- cooked sausages and blueberry pancakes for our snowed-in Sunday lunch, I flipped through the March issue of Chatelaine magazine. The mag has a feature called "Real Life: Behind the Headlines" and this month's features a 30-year-old volunteer from British Columbia who was in the Philippines when Typhoon Haiyan hit.
Oh, yeah, right, that happened, didn't it? Back in November. And devastated the country. Thousands dead. Infrastructure gone. Villages wiped out.
Elaine Springgay tells about how she survived and about the weeks after the typhoon before she returned to Canada. In time for our winter.
I quote the article: "I'm now safely back in Canada, where we recently endured a deep freeze, and many parts of the country suffered power outages. But the use of the word catastrophic by the media and government officials to describe the situation here frustrates me."

Since I wrote -- light-heartedly -- in my column about how we've lost perspective on the weather, I wondered how I could fit this in.
Then I flipped over a few pages to the "Real Life: Bee's Buzz" column by Samantha Bee. She's lamenting about the mid-February blahs and how she thinks it might be better to just go live in a cave until April: "I never remember that the winter blahs are coming until they're inside me, until my mood is as volatile as my skin is sallow."
She took the funny, irreverent route for her column on winter weather. Just as personal as Elaine Springgay but totally different.

I can't rewrite what I've written for my Field Notes column this week but Elaine Springgay's perspective is one I'd like to share with all of those who take the weather personally. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU, I'd really like to write in my column. I wish I could harangue -- "How can the weather be about you? You think clouds are plotting to ruin your life with a snowstorm?" -- but it's simply not my style.
So I share Elaine's words here: Canadian winters, in all their manifestations, whether mild or cold, whether snowy or green, are not, ever, catastrophic. To spend Christmas without power: Not catastrophic. You didn't count 56 people lying dead along the side of the road the next day as you tried to find a cell phone signal in order to let your family in Canada know you'd survived.
I know you didn't -- because you were all over Twitter and Facebook complaining about the food melting in your freezers.

(Chatelaine does not post stories from its current issue online so unfortunately no link to share).

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

TLC For Those In LTC

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, February 5, 2014  by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

At 13 years old and a lifelong resident of East Cumberland Lodge, Smokey is very clear about what he likes -- and he likes that chair in Janette Farnell’s room. 
“I think there’s nothing like him,” Janette says, gazing fondly at the solid grey cat with the white cheeks. “He wakes me up for breakfast. He has his own blanket. He has his own chair and if he’s not there, I sit in the chair and he lies on the bed.”

Smokey has lived his entire life at East Cumberland Lodge in Pugwash, NS.
Smokey is one in a long, well-loved line of cats who have called ECL home.
“We’ve had cats for many, many years,” explains Janice Varner, ECL’s Director of Recreation. “Way before people had pets in facilities. People were like ‘You have a cat?’ What about allergies? What about people who don’t like cats?’ You always had that from other homes. It’s never been a problem for us.”
That cats have been co-habiting with residents at ECL for thirty years is a testament to the importance of their position on the care team. 
“I can’t even describe the interaction,” Varner says. “When you think these residents don’t get out to see animals; a lot of them, they’re just here. Many residents have treats because they want one of the cats to come to them. It’s very nurturing.”

ECL's newest furry addition is Ember, sharing treats with resident Louise.
Willow Lodge in Tatamagouche takes pet companionship one step further. The lodge’s sixty-plus residents enjoy the company not only of a dog and several cats but also two goats and a pony. 
If you’ve been a farmer all your life then cleaning up after Willow Lodge’s few barn animals would make you feel right at home.
“Our animals provide loving companionship for our Elders,” says Betty Matheson, the Director of Care, “as well as provide a chance for our Elders to  feel helpful in providing love, care and treats, too.”
Seniors with pets tend to have fewer health problems. Studies have shown that patting an animal can lower blood pressure and pulse rate, while the presence of a pet helps reduce the likelihood of depression and eases loneliness and even grief.
ECL recently welcomed a new cat, two-year-old Ember, to the family after Smokey’s sister Cinder passed away.
According to Varner, it takes a certain temperament to make a suitable pet for a long-term care facility. 
“You want one that is fairly friendly, that doesn’t mind being around people and that doesn’t mind other cats,” Varner says. “You definitely look for a gentle cat.”
When it comes to pets and seniors, gentleness trumps size. When the new “director of treats” at White Birches Retirement Residence in Amherst stops growing in a year or so, he will weigh as much as 150 pounds (70 kg) with his shoulders at a height of 30 inches (75 cm).
That will make Archie easy to pet. 
Archie, the pup of Doug and Sandy Gallagher, is a Newfoundland, a breed known for its sweet and gentle nature.

Archie enjoys his visits to White Birches Retirement Home in Amherst, NS.
Manager Danielle  Allen says she’s seen a huge difference since the three-month old pup has started hanging out at the residence next door to the Gallagher’s house.
“A lot of residents had animals at home and they miss them,” she says. “So it’s exciting for them to have Archie visit. It’s something to look forward to. Everybody likes to watch him play around.”
If nothing else, Archie will keep the 29 residents of White Birches on their toes. Minutes after he posed for photographs, he trotted through the TV room with a styrofoam cup filched from a garbage can in his mouth. 
Studies show laughter, too, is good for one’s health.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

In Conversation With...Charles Ryan & Jessy Wysmyk

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, January 29, 2014, by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Six years ago, Charles Ryan and Jessy Wysmyk  quit their jobs in the city, bought a piece of land on Chapman Settlement Road near Tidnish and became market gardeners. 
With absolutely no prior experience.
“Both of us had been in Halifax for awhile and we didn’t have the kind of jobs we wanted,” Charles says. “We both enjoy being outdoors. Whenever we came up this way to visit my family, who do live close by, we’d see property for sale so we started dreaming about how we might live out here. We knew we had to make some kind of living to live out here so from there, the farming idea came.”
Along came a sweet potato.
“I have a friend who works on a market garden farm in the Brooklyn area and he grew a quarter acres of sweet potatoes,” says Charles. “He said, ‘I made $8,000 off that quarter acre of sweet potatoes’ and I thought that was amazing. If I quadrupled that and grew an acre, that would be good for a year. It’s not quite that simple,” he says with a laugh. “But there was someone doing it and there was potential to make money at it. I thought I could be a sweet potato baron but little did I know… And you can’t sell just sweet potatoes or carrots or any one thing. You have to have a really diversified amount of crops in order to make it.”
The property he and Jessy bought was 28 acres. Charles says they didn’t know what was good land or bad land.
“We only knew what we could afford,” he says. “Which turned out not to be the best land.”
The couple left Halifax in November but couldn’t move onto their property right away. The house that was on the property was a one-room bachelor house with a hip roof. According to Jessy, the house wasn’t livable. 
“The floor was rotten so you couldn’t walk on it. We lived in Amherst and worked at a restaurant.”
They worked on the house in the evenings and were able to move into it in April and began working towards their first summer as market gardeners. 
“We got onto this Self Employment Benefit Program,” explains Charles, “which is a program that, if you’re unemployed, they will support you while you develop a business plan. It’s good. It gives you some breathing room to get going.”
They quit the restaurant, which Jessy calls a big leap, and created a half-acre garden. 
“It was good that we didn’t have to sell a lot of stuff out of it because being our first gardening attempt, it was pretty dismal,” Charles laughs.
What worked?  Potatoes and tomatoes, greens, cauliflower and broccoli, they say. 
While starting their own garden, they also worked part-time at at Nature’s Route Farm part-time, in Point de Bute, a CSA [community supported agriculture] garden. 
“That is a pretty operational vegetable farm,” says Charles. “The couple who run it showed us a lot.  We worked there for two summers while building our farm on the side.”
When Jessy says, “Yeah, that was a pretty lucky thing,” both she and Charles laugh. “If we hadn’t had that opportunity, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are now.”
There is a lot of laughter when they talk about their first couple of years working their land.
Their business, called Wymsykal Farm, is heading into its sixth year. It’s both certified organic and a CSA garden.
“It has its ups and its downs,” Charles says of community-supported agriculture. “It’s a really good program for people who cook a lot at home and who can use all the seasonal ingredients that get produced throughout the season. But people’s schedules change or their habits change. We know this from ourselves. Sometimes we’re into cooking, sometimes we’re less into it. So, it’s not for everybody but we find that for those that do cook a lot at home, as long as the produce they’re getting is good quality, they’re happy. We’ve had good luck in that we have a lot of return customers from our program. This will be our fourth year doing it.”
They have 110 regular customers, which Jessy feels is the number they can manage on their own, without having to hire people to help on picking days. 
Their biggest challenges are the same ones faced by all farmers: the weather and pests. 
“This year we had a decent crop of sweet potatoes,” Charles says, “but a lot of them, the biggest ones, got chewed by field mice. Apparently, they love sweet potatoes.”
But he isn’t giving up on sweet potatoes. 
“That same friend who told me about the sweet potatoes six years ago is now selling rooted cuttings for sweet potatoes so this year we’re going to buy ones that already have roots. That might gain us three weeks.”
Neither of them had to take an off-farm job this winter. 
“We did well enough that we could take a couple of months in the winter and not work,” Charles says. “Which is great because Jessy can’t and it helps that I’m here.”

At this point, their other labour of love, born on January 8, wakes up and asks for lunch.
“You’d think it was planned,” Charles laughs about the good timing of Oliver’s birth in the off-season. He admits they’re not sure how their new baby is going to change things. 
“It’s definitely going to be a change. We’re not sure how it’s going to work out this summer. He’ll be six months old so he’ll be standing up and looking around. Still can’t walk. He’ll be pretty management-intensive. We have a lot of neighbours who have offered to help and we have family close by who can help maybe on market day.”
They are still settling into the new routine that revolves around an infant and his needs but which is harder, farming or baby?
Charles gazes at his son nestled against Jessy and he chuckles. 
“I don’t know. Yeah, they need a lot of attention. But they’re cute and so worth it.”

Charles and Jessy are Wysmykyal Farm in Northport, Nova Scotia.
Their website is: 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Go, Fishhawks!

So I'm a little late to the game because I didn't realize I had a very good reason to support a professional sports team.
Whether it's hockey or baseball or football, it's either arbitrary or obvious why someone supports the team they do. People who lived in Louisiana for a few years watch every Patriots game. While many of us follow a team because we live in that city -- I was a Canucks fan for the five years I lived in Vancouver -- it doesn't necessarily means people in Ontario back the Leafs; there are an awful lot of Habs fans in that province. When it comes to playoffs, a lot of us in Nova Scotia will root for whatever hockey team a local boy like Sid Crosby or Brad Marchant is playing for.
I've never, ever understood rabid sports fans -- despite growing up with an aunt who follows hockey, baseball, football and basketball, and reads the sports section before the obituaries. And I certainly don't get the crazy passion Americans have about football. I really don't get that, actually.
But I might just have found a reason to pick a team.

Today's editorial cartoon in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald is entitled the "Seahawks vs. Broncos Post-game Summary" and it shows scavengers at a horse carcass.
When I looked closely, I realized the cartoonist, Michael deAdder, had drawn osprey.
Of course! The Seattle Seahawks are osprey.

Now I'm interested. I have to be. Osprey are so much a part of our family, my husband has one tattooed on his forearm.  Here is a photo of "our" osprey who have nested next our home since 2008:

Photo by Shaun Whalen
So I wondered what the Seahawks team logo looks like.

Oh, well, then! That's a touchdown in my books. Send me the foam finger, guys (um, do they use foam fingers at football games or is that just basketball...?)
Despite being so late to the game I missed it all and even though I am SO not a sports fan of any kind, I do declare I am now a Seattle Seahawks fan.
Only because, really, I have to be. It's a family thing now.

Photo by Shaun Whalen