Thursday, July 31, 2014

Musical Interlude

When I'm finished writing or editing, when my concentration breaks and I can sit back in my chair and refocus my eyes and my mind, this is the first thing that I hear: the chimes hanging in the maple tree below my office window.
It's such a lovely sound that brings me back to the world.
Up here, I also hear the sound of tires on asphalt and the distinctive screeching call of the ospreys in the nest, the babies now demanding food they haven't yet learned to catch themselves. But under and over and around those sounds flows the deep twinkle of the chimes.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

In Conversation With...Jane Purdy

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Jane Purdy brings a white, plastic-wrap-covered bowl from the fridge to the table and hands me a spoon. I dip it into the thick golden jelly in the bowl and taste.
“That’s so good,” I say. “It tastes like honey.”
What I’m tasting is Jane’s dandelion jelly made from the flowers that grow in the yard of the Williamsdale home she’s lived in since 1986. 
“I picked up a Country Woman magazine one day and it had recipes with dandelions,” she says.  “There was a salad using dandelion greens and this dandelion jelly. It didn’t look hard and I thought, ‘There’s all kinds of dandelions this year, I’m going to try this’. So I went out and picked the dandelions and made a batch of jelly. It turned out pretty good.”
She made a second batch to offer as a novelty item at the UCW (United Church Women) sale coming up at the Collingwood firehall. 
“I sold a few bottles because people were curious about it,” says Jane. “It was just an experiment. I have a fascination with recipes. I’ve always collected recipes. I’m the worst one, when it comes time for a sale, for trying something new. I know I’m not the only one but I’ll try something new, see how it turns out. That was one aspect of this, it was a new recipe and I was curious to see what it was like.”
This curiosity led her to search out a recipe for a wine jelly with garlic and rosemary that she used to buy at a farmers’ market but couldn’t get anymore. 
“I’ve made enough jams and jellies, surely I could make it myself,” she says of the wine jelly. “It worked out fine. People I’ve given it to have liked it.”
Jane says she learned the art of preserving by helping  her mother, Audrey Nix, who lives next door. 
“After I was married, I guess it felt like country life to do preserves. We always had a garden so it was a way of keeping those vegetables throughout the year. We would freeze beans and peas. I’d can baby corn for stir fries and pickled beets, mustard pickles and relish. I always made jam. It tastes so much better,” Jane says. “I still can 50 pounds of tomatoes. That snap when the jar is sealing is so satisfying. I think it brings joy to know you’re going to have something that tastes so much nicer in the winter than stuff that you buy in the store.”
Although Jane runs into people who think homemade preserves are too expensive, she thinks preserving is making a comeback.
“It’s probably gone by the wayside to some extent because I think people have gotten away from it,” she says of preserving. “But I think there are more people getting into it. With the price of groceries and products, I think more people are trying it and doing it again.”
Speaking of country life, Jane, whose family settled in Collingwood when she was 13, says the community she’s lived in for almost 30 years has changed. 
“There was so much industry, so many families who ran businesses. A lot of it in the last 30 years has been blueberries,” she recalls. “Now, with changes, people are moving into town where they can get work or moving away where they can get work. Some people that are moving out this way because they want to get out of the towns and cities but a lot of the recreation stuff is out of our community now. We don’t have that recreation stuff here so they have to go to Oxford and Amherst for that. They live here but they aren’t part of the community because they travel so much. They live here but there’s nothing to draw people together.”
They’ve tried, Jane says, hosting card and game nights but people just weren’t interested. 
 “You can only do so much until you feel like you’re beating your head against the wall. I think Internet and TV has taken over so much and there aren’t a lot of small children in our community anymore,” she adds.

A large grey tabby wanders into the kitchen.
“That’s Blueberry,” Jane laughs. “He came from next door.”
Next door is the Purdy family’s blueberry operation. 
“The boys were feeding it in the shed through the blueberry season so they called him Shed. They asked Muriel if she wanted the cat in the house but she didn’t think so until she heard one of the boys was going to take him home. She ended up giving him to  my daughter Tiffany.”
Which is how he ended up with the new name of Blueberry.  
Jane was married to Muriel’s son Gordon who passed away in 2008, and following the example of her mother-in-law who was widowed in the 1980’s, Jane took over her husband’s work when she inherited his land. She’d worked alongside him since her daughter was born but now she became the farmer.
“I don’t do the spraying of the blueberry fields,” she explains, “but I still have a harvester and a mower. I hire somebody to run the harvester. Gordon’s brother lives on the other side of Mom and he has a machine so we pick together. I have six fields to pick and he has one so he picks with me and I pick with him. He works for me as a contractor. But I do my own picking as much as I can.”
Was there any question about whether she could handle it?
“Yes, totally,” says Jane, who turns 53 this fall. “Still, I just go year to year. Not knowing what the market is like, what workforce there is going to be.”
It’s external forces that affect her most, however, not her inability to do the work, as physically demanding as it is. 
“We start picking blueberries the 7th or 8th of August,” she explains. “I leave the house here at 6:30 in the morning and I’m not home until 8 o’clock at night. The machines run from seven to seven. We have our breaks and some down time but that’s farming. You’ve got a certain window to pick those berries and get them off so that they are the best quality. I just go from year to year. Some year I might sell the tractor and let others do the picking. It hasn’t happened yet but it’s coming.”
When Gordon died in January 2008, their daughter was in her first year at the agriculture college. It was a struggle for both women to cope with the unexpected loss but they got through it together.
“Tiffany told me, ‘Mom, I don’t think I would have got through school if it hadn’t been for you.’ I just kept going,” says Jane. “She would come home in July and she’d take the harvester and tear it all apart and put the parts in it. We put the machine together. She’d work on the back for a couple of years then there was one year I couldn’t get a driver so I looked at her and said, ‘Well, maybe you’ll be elected this year’. So she ran the harvester that year.”
Has she surprised herself with what she can do?
“Yes,” Jane says. “Yes. I guess I have surprised myself that I’ve continued to carry on with this. But I didn’t have any brothers or sons so I guess I’m used to getting my hands dirty.”

Jane's grandfather made this preserve cupboard.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

First Flight

One of the adults hangs out in the tree above the back deck.

Parent on left, sibling watching out for the first flyer.

We can set our calendars to certain dates based on the habits of the ospreys nesting by the house: The pair return to the nest on April 12, the first hatchling will fly by July 28 and all the ospreys, young included, will be gone south by the middle of September (their departure date might have something to do with hurricane season, or lack thereof, but I never thought to track this over the past six years).
It's amazing, really, how many hours we can spend simply watching the ospreys, particularly when we are waiting for the first flight to happen.
The first born is always the first to fly and it spends ten days or so jumping up and down on the side of the nest, flapping its wings. From the deck, we holler encouragement: "You can do it! Go ahead, fly! Fly!"
I missed the first leap into the glorious world this year, I usually do. It happens early in the morning when my husband is outside drinking coffee but I'm inside feeding our zoo. We get to witness the attempts at landing -- this year's first flyer is hitting the nest every time but we've seen some interesting bounces off the side of the nest! In past years, they've landed on the flag pole, on the garage roof, in the lane but this year, the first flyer seems to have the hang of it from the start and simply lands on the wood pile out back, a favourite hangout of ospreys in general.
Now we wait and watch for baby number 2 to make the leap.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Happy Happy Happy

Photo by Catherine Bussiere
The Top 7 Things I've Learned Being Married to a Nova Scotia Country Boy for 7 Years.

7) Yes, there is such a thing as camouflage for fishing.
6) You can never have too much lawn to mow.
5) Marry a man with a good winch.
4) You can never be too close to or too far away from your family.
3) There is no such thing as "too much chrome".
2) He really does want the dog sleeping in the bed.
1) A real country boy grows sunflowers.

What haven't I learned in the past seven years?
How to use a chain saw.
How to drive the tractor.
How to shoot the .22 I received for Valentine's Day a few years ago.
Notice a theme? I could hurt myself, I could hurt the machine, I could hurt my husband. Oh, well, at least it gets me out of whipper snipping.

There is one more thing I've learned in the past seven years and it's pasted on the archway in our dining room: "Eat well, Laugh Often, Love Much." A mantra for our marriage. If you know why you are together, the why that goes beyond the chickens and the gardens, the day trips and the inside jokes, even beyond the rib-crushing hugs and the belly laughs at bedtime, nothing can come between you.
Not even a dog.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Gazebo for the Chickens

Best way to make use of all the waste of logs and limbs left behind after the clearcutting next door this past winter. I feel better repurposing them into shelter from the summer sun for our chickens. Only thing is I'm not sure that the chickens know what a "gazebo" is.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

And The Livin' Is Easy

Archie, the explorer cat, realized the new canopy on the back deck makes a great hammock.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Wishful Thinking

My local supper for a warm summer night: Broccoli from Good Thyme Farm in Linden; dill pickles made by Joze Kouwenberg in Wallace Bay; and our eggs.
Shame on me: Too lazy to make my own salad dressing to use as dip.
And that's just it. I have this fantasy of being self-sufficient and crafty, of having a roadside stand to sell our creations, of keeping goats to make our own cheese, perhaps even having animals for our own meat. But fantasy crashes and burns with reality.
One reality is we don't have a barn!
Every spring, we say we're going to make jam and mustard pickles and chow and beets; we say we're going to freeze strawberries and rhubarb, beans and peas. I see a photo of driftwood art and think, 'I could do that' and my husband actually bought some welding equipment when I said I would love to learn how to make my own metal garden ornaments.
Okay, that last one: Way out in fantasyland. Yet I'm entirely sincere. I really want to do that, all those things, in fact.
The reality is that I don't have time. Or I don't make time. Time management is likely the biggest obstacle to my quest for homemade and handmade. I could be creating a giant daisy right now instead of writing this post. Hand me my welding shield, would ya?
Likely the truth is that most of these are things I've not done before so there is some educating, some reading up, some practising that needs to be done before I attempt to, well, maybe not make jam, done that, but use a welding torch. Even a driftwood wreath requires going out searching for the driftwood and figuring out how the whole thing stays together.
Yet the more you do something -- like paint a beach scene or make dill pickles -- the easier it is becomes. The easier it becomes the more readily one does it. It becomes a habit, an urge, an addiction.
Pickling and jamming and welding as addictions? Food for thought.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Land and Sea, Family and History

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

A couple of weeks ago, we had supper with long-time friends. Both the host and his younger brother were born and raised in Pugwash; one brother remained here and took over the farm while the other brother became a minister and has lived all over Canada. 
What I have listened to most of my life, and what I never tire of hearing, are Garth and Eldon’s stories about growing up in Pugwash.
They are stories that reveal that “the good old days” weren’t necessarily better or much different. They also provide hints into the rural way of life and why it matters that it is disappearing. 
Garth and Eldon were educated in a one-room school located in their immediate neighbourhood. They had good teachers and bad ones, they got into trouble and managed to get out of it again. Of course it’s only the “You did what?” stories that get told, the funny stories that leave us wondering how anyone ever learned anything.
Yet Eldon remembers the students who came to school without eating breakfast and recognized that it hurt their learning. Garth said he had to go to Pugwash for Grade 11 but then to Oxford for Grade 12 which reminded me that my mother-in-law, six years older than Garth, had to leave her home in Bayhead to live in Oxford in order to attend Grades 11 and 12. 
I also remember my father saying that he learned more in a one-room schoolhouse because once he was finished his work, he listened to what the older students were being taught.
Bigger isn’t always better and our small communities need small schools. At the same time, parents complain about students spending an hour on a bus at the start and end of each day but at least we don’t have to leave our communities to finish our basic education. 
These stories about the “good old days” are important because thanks to video games and computers, we aren’t telling them as much. There could be an entire generation that doesn’t hear about “the good old days”. 
These stories are important because they are our history. If we don’t learn our history, we can’t learn from it. If we don’t learn from the past, we will keep repeating it.
There are several reasons for the devastating decline in rural population – lessons Nova Scotia simply isn’t learning – but from Garth comes an example of the boat we might be missing.
Garth left. He went to university and became a minister, raised three children, earned several degrees including a doctorate. He has lived in Ontario and Alberta, travelled to places like India and Ireland and Indonesia, spends time in Florida in the winter, is retired now and living in Ottawa. He even ran in a federal election. Through all of those changes and challenges, every summer, Garth has returned to his cottage at the back shore. Every year, he comes home to Pugwash. 
Many of the young people and young families who are leaving this province express regret and a  longing for home. Home is here. Like Garth, they could keep coming back. Not just to visit but also to own land, a home. 
Garth’s two grandchildren spend part of their summers at the family cottage and now his daughter owns a summer home here. She is putting down roots and keeping the connection with rural Nova Scotia. Why? The land and the sea, family and history.
 That is reason enough to preserve Nova Scotia (Canada’s ocean playground, remember?), not exploit it and ruin it and destroy it simply because the policies of two levels of government put the economy and profit of foreign-owned companies ahead of our small farms, companies and entrepreneurs.  
Instead of clearcutting our woods and giving away our lakes and shorelines, instead of ruining our land with fracking and spoiling our waters with pesticides, instead of creating laws and regulations that benefit corporations instead of citizens, we need to preserve this landscape for these young people who are leaving. For their children.
The stories are being told but no one is listening to the lessons of them. Decisions made are about the economy yet people are still leaving. 
What if there is nothing for them to return to? 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Archie will be two years old at the end of August and he's been an inside cat since he came to us as a six-week-old kitten. I don't know if I'm happy or not that I've let another bird-killing cat outside but he's not the same as his older "sister" Fern who spent her first year of life living wild. He's not so bold as she is, preferring to stay close to the decks and gardens around the house although he's quite taken with the garden shed. The bell around his neck is as much to make him easy to locate as to warn birds. He watches birds and squirrels with ferocious intensity through the window when he is inside but so far, he's seems more concerned about figuring out this huge new world than with following his hunting instincts.
Every so often, the bell goes crazy as Archie makes a mad dash to the deck and stretches up against the door. I don't know what he's seen or heard or smelled but apparently, he needs to head inside and regroup for awhile.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Day of Us

I spend so much time in my head and then in my office writing and thinking and creating that every so often, it's essential to recharge by reconnecting to the world. It's even more important for my husband and me to spend a day doing the things we love to do together. 
10 am - Pugwash Farmers' Market where Dwayne ate a sausage at the Roses' booth and I bought broccoli from Good Thyme Farm and "yogi" jam from Joze Kouwenberg. She means yogi as in yogurt but I prefer it as in the perfect topping for yogurt after doing yoga! We also walked away with a great bench for one of our gardens.

11:30 am - Arrived at the 15th annual (and final) Antique Farm Show hosted by the Verstraten family of Lorneville on Route 366 in Cumberland County. So sorry I missed this great community gathering all these years. Turns out, a tractor show is so much more than a bunch of "old timers" standing around looking at tractors from the fifities and sixties -- although those are pretty cool, actually. Buying hamburger and sausages supported the local 4-H club while having a piece of pie for dessert supported the local church. Dwayne had cherry and I had lemon meringue. I also had the chance to hear the Pic 'N Grin band -- lead by Larry Ogden, a recent "In Conversation With..." subject.

1:30 pm - Dropped by the rug hooking show at the United Church so see what the Northport Loopers have been up to. Amazing works of art, that's what. Makes me more determined to take up rug hooking as soon as possible.
4:30 pm - Relaxing on the deck when Art Brown, a.k.a. Santa Claus, pulled into the yard. We'd spoken to him at the farm show where he'd was demonstrating one of his navy crafts (making canvas deck bags) and it was a treat to have a proper visit with him.
7:30 pm - We treated ourselves to a show at the Chatterbox Cafe in Pugwash with one of our favourite local groups, Fresia. Always a fun night when friends are on stage. Now we have the annual "Beckwith Bash" hosted by the Fresia clan to look forward to on Saturday, August 16.
As we drove home, I said to my husband, "What a great day. It's so nice to be us again. Thank you!"
And he replied, "Thanks, us!"

Friday, July 18, 2014

The World Is Hurting

Too much awfulness in the world right now. And by world, I mean out there in other countries but also here at home.
A plane full of innocent people shot down over Ukraine.
An RCMP officer who was first on the scene of a horrific beheading on a bus committed suicide.
Just two examples but the news, the newspapers, social media are full of others.
The only response I have is to appreciate what is before me: green lushness of trees and gardens after four days of rain, lilies bursting into colour, nasturtiums in pots with their orange and red faces, blue skies, the sound of wind chimes carrying up to my office, the cats and dogs, and a day of writing.
And you know, typing that list makes me want to cry. I am so fortunate through a total accident of birth.
I am free, I am safe, I am loved.
Take nothing for granted.
It seems wrong to celebrate this when the world is full of fear and horror but it seems wrong to not give thanks for the peace and joy of my life.So "Amen" is appropriate.
So be it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Conversation With...Larry Ogden

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

There is one thing that can stop Larry Ogden in his tracks and silence this born storyteller. 
“I was standing by the window on a cold and sunny day,” he starts to sing as he sits at his desk in a corner of the sitting room in his Tidnish home.
That song, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, is the one song of the hundreds he has sung in the last 15 years that brings such a swell of emotion that he has to rely on bandmate John to finish off the verses. 
It touches him deeply because Larry is compelled both by his Christian faith and by his lifelong commitment (bordering on pigheaded determination) to making a difference in the lives of others.  
“Volunteering comes naturally to me because I can’t stand and wait for someone to try and help somebody,” he says. “You’ll be waiting a long time.”
Hockey, 4-H, church, community centre and music are all the areas where the 66-year-old contractor has directed his energy, persistence and a certain “Really? You think we can’t do that?” attitude.
Larry’s passion for volunteering was sparked at the Amherst hockey rink, as a player and as a parent. The father of a son and daughter, he coached several boys’ teams then established women’s hockey. After being named Coach of the Year several times, he moved into what he calls a different kind of coaching, becoming a woodworking mentor with 4-H for almost a decade. 
In April, he was honoured as a Volunteer of the Year for the province of Nova Scotia. 
Larry says his motivation is simple: He likes what he does and he wants to help people.
“No matter what organization there is, there’s never enough money or people to help everybody. You have to take it on yourself as a volunteer to help people. Otherwise, it’s not going to get done. People say, ‘Oh, the government’ but the government can’t do everything.”
And yet, his most important volunteer experience almost didn’t happen. 
Once he’d stopped coaching, Larry had more time for playing guitar so when a buddy suggested they should get together to play, Larry went ahead and rented the community hall in Tidnish. 
“The first night, I was by myself,” he says. “Second night, I was by myself. Sang a few songs, played the guitar.”
Larry went home, undaunted. He made a few phone calls and learned that Wednesday night wasn’t a good night for the others.
“The following Tuesday night, I want you know, the four of us – Whoa!” Larry exclaims. “For the first time to get together, we played liked we’d played forever. The music that was coming out of that hall the first year was fantastic, just sitting in chairs in a circle, playing and carrying on,” he says of the gospel, country and bluegrass they played. “A lady came to me and asked if she minded if she and her friends came to listen. The first night, there were four ladies. The next night, eight. The next night, about 20. I said, ‘Guys, what about we put a show on every Tuesday night?’ I knew a guy we could borrow a sound system from. We went from five guys to 12 people on stage. We were packing the hall every Tuesday night,” he says, “so I thought, What a chance to charge a donation at the door and give it to a charity. We started pretty near the end of the first year.”
Jane Ogden, Larry’s wife of 50 years, estimates the weekly night of music has raised around $100,000 in 12 years, all of it going to local charities.
Both the event and the group became  known as the Pic ‘N Grin. Two years ago, the Pic ‘N Grin changed venues and now plays every Monday night at the winery in Baie Verte. Donations continue to be collected for a different charity each week.
There are eight regular members in the Pic ‘N Grin family with an extended family consisting of three young girls from Aulac who play fiddles as well as musicians from Moncton and Shediac who show up and play when they can. The musicians play guitar, bass, banjo, keyboard, fiddle, mandolin, accordion and harmonica.
“Since we started, there are two of the originals left,” explains Larry. “There are four of us who have been there for 12 years.”
The Pic ‘N Grin also performs gospel concerts at churches and travels around to long-term-care facilities where the young girls are very popular. 
“I’ll tell ya, what we do costs us money for gas, license and insurance on the trailer, and a sound system but when you see how many smiles and how many thank you’s you get, man, how can you say no? You can’t. Impossible,” he says. “These little girls come all the way from Aulac to go to Pugwash and now I don’t even dare to go to any of these places without those girls fiddling.”
The feeling is mutual; the girls have made it clear they’ll go even if they have school the next day. 
One gig had an unexpected outcome for the Pic ‘N Grin.   
“We went to the hospital to the palliative care unit and played our guitars and sang,” explains Larry. “We were in seven rooms before we left. I didn’t even know we were allowed to go in there and play. Oh, man, they loved it. This lady sent me a picture of her mother, who we played for in the hospital. She passed away.”
He pauses. “Oh, this is tough.”
There is a longer pause until he is able to speak.
“She was an excellent lady, right? I named our cancer concert after her, the Betty McLean Memorial Concert. We’ve been doing it every year since.”
The concert, held on Monday, August 25 at the winery in  Baie Verte, raises money for the Cancer Patient Navigation at Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre.
Of the weekly commitment to the Pic ‘N Grin plus all the extra concerts and performances, Larry says, “It takes an incredible amount of time but I can honestly say there isn’t one person in my group that when I call says No. We go to play and have fun.”

Larry stands next to his provincial volunteer award.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rain, Rain, Glorious Rain

The farmers and the gardeners are so glad of today's rain. An all-day rain but no torrential, problematic downpours. Perfect.
I, for one, am very grateful for a night -- or two -- when I don't have to spend two hours lugging buckets and cans of water all over the yard.

Monday, July 14, 2014

End of Day

My husband suffers from debilitating pain as a result of a rather complicated botching of his care under Workers Comp. Sometimes the evening chores fall to me. Tonight, I watered the pots and the annuals, the rhubarb and bleeding hearts (planted this year). I lugged five buckets of water over to the linden trees (planted on the last new moon) and a bucket for the spruce tree I raised from a seedling and transplanted this spring. I fed the rabbit some kale and some lettuce from our garden then changed the chickens' water and collected the eggs. The last thing I did as the sun went down was pick strawberries for breakfast.
My husband slept through all of this and I am quite content with a feeling of accomplishment. There is competence in the care I give on my own to everything we enjoy together.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Two Babies: Feeding Time

 As far as we can tell, the ospreys hatched out two babies this year (it's been three since 2010). The young ospreys are getting bigger and the parents are bringing fish in steadily.  When the fish is on the way, the parent in the nest starts to call it in, a high-pitched "chee chee chee" sound we know so well. If we're in the yard, we stop what we're going to search the sky to see from which direction the delivery is coming.


The parents might be the same ospreys returning every year; they seem unfazed by the person with the camera walking close to the nest. But every year, the young ones keep a close eye on the intruder.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Country Roads

Guinea hens on the Millvale Road

There is nothing more country than having to stop for livestock on the road. Yet it doesn't happen very often anymore, does it? And nowadays, we are all in such a hurry, we would bitch and complain, perhaps even get threatening, if we had to wait for 20 minutes while livestock crossed the road.
Just imagine the irrate texts and tweets!
My husband grew up on a cattle farm -- dairy and beef -- and I love his stories about his childhood. My favourite one involves his cow, Herman, how friendly she was, how she would come when he called her. Every fall, the herd was brought from its pasture in Carrington back to the barn for winter. All Dwayne or his father had to do was shake the bucket of feed and call to Herman and she'd lead the herd out of the pasture and up the road to the farm. (I can imagine in spring how quickly the cattle did the walk back down the road, knowing where they were headed after a winter in the barn.)
It's the same route I walk the dog in the morning so it's about four kilometres from Carrington to the farm.
"I suppose we'd have to get a permit to close the road down now in order to do that," Dwayne said the last time he told me that story.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oxford's First Annual Strawberry Festival

Not just the blueberry capital of Canada any longer! We love strawberries too much to not celebrate.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Rhubarb

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 2, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.
(A note from me: I realize we're into strawberry season now and I'd planned to write about rhubarb earlier but needing to respond to the RCMP shooting in Moncton bumped that column back a couple of weeks.)

When I first moved to my husband’s rural property in Cumberland County, there was rhubarb growing alongside the garage. I ignored it until he installed a clothesline off the end of the garage. 
The rhubarb, growing wild and huge, was in the way so I had him dig it up. 
Stupid, stupid city girl.
(Not even using a clothesline can redeem that.)
Now, seven years later, I am planting rhubarb again, and not in a spot nearly as good as alongside the garage, because I am wishing we had a rhubarb patch, something growing huge but not so wild, the way every respectable country home does. 
(Clothesline good, rhubarb patch better.)
I suppose those of you who are out there hacking away at a giant rhubarb root, wondering if you’ll ever be rid of this tough vegetable-that-we-treat-like-a-fruit, are now cursing me for saying your rural landscaping must have it.
When you look up rhubarb in a book or online, you may be surprised at the detailed care instructions. You’d think rhubarb was the orchid of the vegetable-as-fruit world, all tender and fragile, but perhaps country rhubarb grows as hardy and resilient as the country folk who anticipate those first tart bites of rhubarb crisp every spring.
It’s like I’m channelling fellow columnist Marilyn Williams when I say, Boy, did I ever crave rhubarb this spring! I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Which is a good thing since I learned that five pounds of rhubarb stalks yield 20 cups of chopped rhubarb.
I wasn’t always a fan of rhubarb; given a choice, rhubarb-whatever was never my first pick at the dessert table.
Stupid, stupid city girl.
Thankfully, stupidity can be overcome with age and wisdom. And a good memory.
When I was a kid, the women of my mother’s family gathered for a week every summer for the annual Hen Party at (great) Uncle Everett’s cottage in Coboconk, Ontario. These parties all blur together in a mix of hot, dry days, laughter and food, swimming in the lake and going into town for an ice cream cone but I do remember  clearly my great-aunt’s stewed rhubarb. 
Since she was diabetic, she made it without sugar. 
There was a contest among the young cousins: Who could eat the most bowls of Aunt Mill’s diabetic rhubarb that was so tart, your face puckered? 
For some reason, perhaps because I like a challenge, I won. 
And even though I didn’t throw up afterwards, it was many, many years before I ate rhubarb again. Yet in that memory, rhubarb and Aunt Mill are connected in the nicest possible way. 
(The plant is tough and tart and underappreciated; my great-aunt was sweet and lovely, gone too soon and dearly missed.)
There isn’t any explanation for why this long-dormant obsession with stewed rhubarb erupted this year. All I know is I’ve become obsessed with redeeming myself for destroying a well-established although neglected patch that would have  been the envy of any rhubarb aficionado, particularly those who prize what is considered “heritage” rhubarb: the good, old-fashioned kind that hasn’t been messed with in a laboratory.
I will do what any self-respecting city girl does in this situation: I will covet that patch my country neighbour (a.k.a. my husband’s sister-in-law Joan) has, a flourishing patch of heritage rhubarb that dates back to the days of our husbands’ grandparents, then creep into the patch after dark and steal a few crowns for my own. 
Oh, right. It’s rhubarb. You don’t have to steal it. People will give it to you. 

Helping myself to the Mattinson Heritage Rhubarb!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A Good Day For Hanging Out

It wasn't until I moved to rural Nova Scotia that I learned this phrase: "It's a good drying day."

Monday, July 07, 2014

Best Friends

My niece Mimi who is almost ten.
This is one happy dog. Four big kids, two babies. So much love to give and so many willing to receive it.
As long as it comes from playing and not licking.
My sister and her family had to be out of their rental cottage near Pugwash on Saturday but instead of leaving for home in the middle of what was then supposed to be a hurricane, the whole crew of eight blew into our house for three more days (the house is now in worse shape than the yard!).
When I was brushing my teeth this morning before heading to work, I looked out the window and saw a dog in heaven: ball in mouth and two kids chasing her around the yard. Every so often, she'd let them catch her and take the ball from her.
It will be a different story tomorrow morning when the big white van pulls out of the yard, heading back home to Georgia. There will be a very sad dog lying in the yard with her chin resting on a tennis ball.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Welcome, Neighbours


All of a sudden, for the first time since I've lived here, mud swallows have decided to move in. It took only a few days, and endless mouthfuls of mud mixed with saliva, for three pairs to establish their "condos": Two under the roof of the chicken coop and one over the light on the garage.
At first, I assumed they were barn swallows simply because we live in the country and barns are disappearing.
Barn Swallow
But a barn swallow's nest is twigs and grass mixed with mud and a traditional open nest like we're used to seeing with other birds.
It is the CLIFF swallow (which is what a mud swallow actually is called) that builds the rounder mud nests with the small hole opening.
Cliff Swallow
The colouring matches the birds I see, that white forehead being very distinctive even in the first photo with the blurred bird in motion.
So this is lovely. We've been housing tree swallows for years in bird houses but it's nice to welcome a new species. I'm sorry we don't have a barn; it would be nice to complete the swallow trifecta.

Tree Swallow

Friday, July 04, 2014

Wildflower Infusion

From this.... this! A breakfast worth working for.

(The book is Kate Hilton's "The Hole In The Middle". It's awesome! And by a Canadian author. Perfect for summertime reading - not done it yet but I think I can safely recommend it without knowing the ending.)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Way We Do It In The Country

You don't need a baseball diamond -- or a video console -- to set up an impromptu game when the "cousins" from Georgia and the "cousins" from Nova Scotia get together.
First base is out of the shot but it's a bush (good thing my husband hasn't chopped it down as per my repeated requests), second base is the steps of the chicken coop while third base, where Natan is standing, the base of the flag pole (no pole as it's awaiting new rope after previous one was ruined by winter).
Home run pretty much guaranteed if the ball goes inside the coop or inside the outside pen.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

In Conversation With...Jozé Kouwenberg

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, June 25, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Jozé Kouwenberg was 24 years old, married one year, when she and her husband Marius arrived in Nova Scotia in 1979 from the Netherlands. 
“We landed in the valley, in Middleton,” she says, “and it was quite a culture shock. We landed on North Mountain and it was quite different from home. First of all, there were no streetlights. Coming here in high heels, I ditched them right away. And my skirts.”
A year later, they headed out to Wallace Bay to check out a pig farm that was for sale. It is an experience that made a lasting impression on Jozé.
“We asked how big the farm was and the owner said, ‘250 acres more or less’. We said, ‘What do you mean, more or less?’ Coming from the Netherlands, every metre is counted. There is so little land, every inch is being used.”
They bought the farm in 1980 and a year later, pregnant and homesick, Jozé went back to the Netherlands for a visit with her large family. 
“The funny part was once I saw them all, I wanted to come back. I never looked back after that. Now home is here. It helps that our kids are born here.”
She and Marius have two sons and a daughter, and one grandson. Their eldest son, Vincent, is working on the farm, which is now a dairy farm, and will take over some day.
The decision to get out of pig farming wasn’t one they made happily; the unregulated pork market forced them to find steadier income. They sold their pigs, got a loan and bought a milk quota. That’s when Jozé began selling preserves and vegetables at the Pugwash Farmers Market.

“It started after this whole pig collapse,” she says. “I needed some money. All the money was tied up in the farm and I needed some. With the pigs, I was quite busy. I always looked after the sows and the little ones and my whole day was really busy. When the pigs were gone, I helped out with the cattle and with the milking but it wasn’t as much that I was needed. The tractor work was being done by the kids. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve driven the tractor.”
Now that she is 60 years old and celebrating 35 years in Canada this October, what is the best part of her life?
“That I’m just my own boss and I can work in my garden. I have a big vegetable garden. And I’m a homebody. I like being at home. I raised my kids at home. I never had to bring them to the babysitter. I was always there when the kids came home from school and had to tell a story. When they come home, they want to tell you and they’d come running up to the barn.” 
For a young woman who came to Canada with skirts and heels, being a farmer came easily to her because of the way she was raised. Jozé and her siblings learned to take care of themselves at a early age because their father died young.
“I am a great admirer of my mother,” says Jozé. “She brought us all up, eleven kids, by herself. My dad died when the oldest was 16 and the youngest six months. We grew up fairly independent. With eight sisters, we were really a girls family. I was in the middle. The two brothers were the youngest.”
Jozé says their mother brought them up to do things for themselvs, an upbringing that served her well when it came to emigrating to Nova Scotia to become a farmer.
“We repaired our own bikes, we didn’t wait for the boys to fix our tires. I think that was a great life lesson. You learn to fend for yourself and make a life for yourself.”
When it came to her own children, their involvement in 4-H helped Jozé learn a new language.
“It was good for me, coming from the Netherlands,” Jozé says. “We didn’t speak very much English. It helped to get involved with the kids doing school projects and 4-H to learn to speak. I still have a very strong accent and I don’t think I’m ever going to lose that!”
With her children grown and her son helping Marius with the farm, Jozé has been able to pursue  a new pasttime: hiking. She says she got the bug when her daughter graduated from university in Ontario in 2005 and she joined her and friends on a hike through the Grand Canyon.
“That was such an experience. It was such a special trip. That was when I started talking to Nellie [Vanderweil] and she had done some hiking so she gave me some tips and her backpack. From there, I got hooked. I loved it.”
She hikes with a dedicated group of local women. 
“We clicked together. Every year, we try to do two big hikes, in the spring and in the fall. You can hike anytime, anywhere. You don’t need much equipment; that’s overhyped. If you have a good pair of shoes, you’ll be fine.”
So when the request came last fall for the women to join Pugwash Ground Search and Rescue, Jozé didn’t hesitate. Her first call out? To the search at Spider Lake near Halifax for a missing cyclist. She participated in the search on the first and final days and says the terrain was challenging.
“We had our basic training and we had our First Aid but you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into,” Jozé admits of the trial-by-fire experience. “I got really beaten up and I wondered if I was in way over my head. But then you collect yourself and look at it again, know to be a bit more prepared. The second day I went, we were flown in by helicopter. I’d never been in a helicopter. We were told we would be out there the whole day and we were. We were flown in and flown out again.”
She also participated in another search a week later. Even though searching is very different from hiking, Jozé knows it’s an essential service.
“I want to keep on doing this. If you imagine that it’s your son is lost, it was hard to see the family. You want to do everything you can to help them out. Yes, it is tough and that first day, I wondered what I was doing there and was I doing a good enough search? But you learn by doing.”
She chuckles as she’s hit by a realization. 
“That’s the 4-H training coming out. Learn to do by doing.”