Monday, February 27, 2017

Kids, Kids, Glorious Kids

Three day old Clover, a Pygmy, is content and quiet.

It was the best voicemail ever: "Hi, it's Theresa. We have baby goats if you want to come meet them."
Do I? I couldn't get there soon enough.

As I drove away from the Wood's home on Mount Pleasant Road, Mark laughed at me.
"So you had an afternoon of zen goat meditation?"
Definitely. I was frozen from sitting inside a drafty barn for two hours but who could ever get enough of holding little baby goats who are warm and snuggly and quite content to lay in your arms or on your lap?
And fifteen minutes after I'd left the barn and was on my way home, Autumn, the Saanen I'd spent much of the afternoon petting because she seemed to want it, gave birth to twins. So there will be more zen goat meditation in my near future.
Like, this afternoon.  You can never get enough baby goat love.

I'm holding Violet's lovely daughter, Ahsoka. One day soon, I'll get to milk Violet.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The New Kitten

Ready for a nap on the chair in my room.
Discovering the birds on Nana's balcony.

I love an orange kitty.
I love my black-and-white boys, I truly do, but there's something about the marmalade strips that makes my heart happy. Blame on my dad: He had an orange cat so a home doesn't feel complete without one.
When Santa didn't have an orange kitten to leave me on Christmas Eve (and I checked my stocking thoroughly), I thought maybe my husband would come through for Valentine's Day, but the look on his face suggested he was not on board about getting a third cat. An "adoption day" a couple of Saturdays ago offered no kittens and a woman told me that orange cats were usually male. I needed a female so it seemed as if I would be out of luck. I decided to wait until the spring crop landed into the local rescue organizations and see who turned up.
Then on Valentine's Day, the LA Animal Shelter in Amherst posted photos of a bunch of new kittens on their Facebook page, and there she was: my little orange kitten. Millie.
We call her "Emily" -- but we call her a lot of other names like Mimi and Pinky and Pumpkin. She doesn't actually respond to any name, not even her shelter name.
Typical cat. 
After a couple of days of hissing and staring and chasing, Millie is part of the family and the boys are playing with her, and I suspect she's already running the household. She's as much fun as a kitten is supposed to be, but if I have to say to the dog one more time, "It's just a kitten," I'm going to scream.
Let's all just be chill like Mill. 

Keeping an eye on the downstairs from big brothers' perch.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How To Love Where You Live

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, February 15, 2017, by Sara Jewell.

The Oxford Walking Club meets every Monday night at 6 pm at the gazebo.
Waiting in line at the bank one summer afternoon, I overheard an older man ahead of me complain about the flower baskets hanging all around the Town of Oxford.
“What do we need those for, anyway?” he growled. “A waste of money.”
It would have been a waste of time to point out to him that they make the town look good; welcoming and friendly as well as pretty. Who wants to live in, or visit, an ugly, rundown town? Would anyone be proud of that?
This man’s griping came back to me as I read Melody Warnick’s new book, This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. I picked it up after Cumberland Public Libraries posted the book cover on its Instagram account, figuring I could skim read it for a column. 

Turns out, I can’t put the book down. This Is Where You Belong is fascinating and although its focus is the United States, it absolutely applies to Oxford and Pugwash and Amherst and Halifax. In fact, I’m saying this book should be read by every mayor, councillor, and community leader in every municipality. If each person who reads this book puts one idea into action, we’d notice a huge difference in our towns, and in their residents.
The book focuses on what Warnick calls place attachment and its role in whether we like where we live: “It’s the way we imbue places with meaning and memory,” she writes. “When people help create their place, they see themselves reflected in it.”
Warnick provides personal stories, statistics, and actual Love Where You Live experiments to demonstrate ten basic place attachment behaviours: Walk more; Buy local; Get to know your neighbours; Do fun stuff; Explore nature; Volunteer; Eat local; Become more political; Create something new; Stay loyal through hard times.
She stresses that being involved creates connection with a place; people are less likely to complain there’s nothing to do if they are participating in community events.
According to Warnick, the most challenging question is: “What would I show off to tourists?” She says this is where small towns can flounder.

As I read this book, examples of how the Town of Oxford has created opportunities for place attachment kept popping into my head. Walk more with the Oxford Walking Club; Get to know your neighbours (past and present) through Eleanor Crowley’s historic walking tours of Oxford; Explore nature using the TransCanada Trail; and Do fun stuff at the Strawberry Festival.
Not to mention this: The gazebo in the middle of town that outraged many people as a waste of money, a target for vandals, and an insult to the old building  that used to be there? It’s one of those little things that make people feel satisfied with their town. 
Warnick calls this fact a bombshell: “The three qualities with the strong correlation to place attachment were social offerings, aesthetics and openness.” Basically, when residents think their town offers stuff to do, looks nice, and is welcoming, they feel most attached to it. So, kudos, Oxford, for hanging flower baskets, creating a town square and organizing festivals; those are exactly the kinds of things that make (most) people love where they live.

Hopefully as you read this column, you realized how much your own community -- wherever you live -- does to try and provide a sense of identity and connection to where you live. The examples I provided are limited only to Oxford because of my word count for the newspaper, and it's not even a complete list. 

I can't stress enough that community leaders everywhere should read this book. Ten chapters and every one of them is full of ideas and inspiration and encouragement. I'm not done the book but I was up at 3 a.m. for a mug of warm milk and read the chapter on volunteering. Our county is full of wonderful, committed volunteers who do so much to keep events and organizations running: food banks, Communities In Bloom, the animal shelter and other animal rescue groups, festivals (like the winter festival this weekend in Amherst - yay, winter!), the Cumberland County Exhibition, and breakfasts/suppers. Our communities, large and small, couldn't survive let alone thrive without volunteers.
I'm going to keep reading and being inspired (so glad I created the authors' event this weekend in Oxford - doing my part to create place attachment), and I hope you'll get on this bandwagon as well.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Impending Storm

Sure, the sky was bright blue today
and clear,
not a cloud in the sky,
not a sign of impending doom.
The field spread out under
sunshine and sparkling snow.
A perfect winter's day
made better by the anticipation
of the storm,
knowing it's out there,
it's coming,
knowing what's coming,
the Red Bar of Doom on the online forecast
announces the blizzard event.
Inside, the smell of bread and beans,
preparations for shut in,
perhaps even powerless.
So there was another walk, 
at the edge of the storm,
at the edge of the day,
through the woods,
with the weight of the unseen storm
on my shoulders,
the drift of cloud through the trees
as it creeps closer
while the rabbits and porcupines and deer
leave nothing behind
but their prints in the snow. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

We had a wee problem with our chimney flue last night, as we listened to the wind pick up and waited for the snow to start flying around.
"I smell smoke," my husband said just as I was about to start sneezing. Usually a wood furnace only makes me sneezy when the air outside is heavy and damp.
Fortunately, our problem was dealt with quickly and efficiently by half a dozen members of the Oxford Fire Department. We didn't even have to evacuate.
It was a strange experience to be sitting at my desk in a room on the second floor at the end of the house, transcribing an interview onto my computer, while men with flashlights went up and down a ladder outside the window.
But even when the smokes gets in her eyes, a writer writes.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Rest In Peace, Mimi

Not every hen gets a eulogy but every so often, a special one dies and deserves to have her life mentioned.
Our oldest hen, Mimi, a Lace Wyandotte, was dead when Dwayne went out to the coop this morning. Her death was expected, and actually, it was expected a day or two earlier. Given the shape she was in early Sunday morning  -- face first in one of the lower nest boxes (where the hens lay their eggs) and breathing heavily -- I figured she'd be dead when I returned home from church.
But I was eating my lunch when I looked out the front window and there she was! Walking across the front lawn, one wing hanging low and her head tilted to one side. She ate all the pieces of homemade whole wheat bread I threw on the ground in front of her then meandered her way around the end of the house and across the back yard to this little spot in the sunshine along the south side of the coop.
She was still alive when I picked her up to place her in the coop at bedtime but she died during the cold night.
Two things made Mimi special: First of all, she was a pretty and docile bird who reminded me of Queen Victoria - the unsmiling look on her face (she had a baleful eye) and all the lacy feathers, like the black and white photos of the old queen. Secondly, five or six years ago, she and Brewster, our late rooster, were models for an art class!
I'm grateful Mimi had one last tour around the property she's lived on for seven years and that the sun came out to warm her during her final hours on earth. And I'm grateful that she lived out her entire life and died peacefully at home.
God save the queen.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

For the Love of Winter!

Coming in two weeks! Mark your calendars for this unique event on Saturday, February 18 in Oxford, Nova Scotia. 45 minutes from Truro, 90 minutes from New Glasgow, 75 minutes from Moncton AND
free admission, free parking, snowflake snacks, and six fabulous authors -- you won't find an event like this in the big city!

Friday, February 03, 2017

Creative Is As Creative Does

It worked. Shutting out the world, shutting out the bullshit and the shouting, the suffering and the protesting, the crazyness and the crazy talk, worked. Even when I had to log onto social media, to post my column and promote an upcoming event, I simply ignored what would stress me out.
I also slept through each night this week since there was no "screen time" after seven p.m. What, no three o'clock wake up to worry? All because I turned a phone off?
There is something to be said for self-care and "sunny ways". It's not that I don't want to be informed and engaged, it's not that I think we can live our lives without every experiencing anxiety or conflict or even violence; it's that there is nothing selfish or naive about taking a break to focus on your own work.
By setting the world aside -- and it did keep spinning crookedly on its axis, didn't it, without totally spinning off it (yet) -- I accomplished the work I needed to get done. Three essays for the book proposal for the new collection!
Even better, by not filling my brain with stuff that really has nothing to do with my life or my work, I kept my channels of creativity clean and open. The ideas are thrilled to be bouncing around my brain, out of hiding, safe and free from the nasty shrapnel that had been flying around in there last week.
I look at it this way: The world is going to need my feel-good essays in the near future, when the shit show takes its act on the road, and the only way to escape it is to lose ourselves in books.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

A Nova Scotia Bucket List

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, February 1, 2017, by Sara Jewell.

"I'm skating in Nova Scotia!"
As I laced up my skates at the edge of the ice, I realized I have a kind of “bucket list” for my life in rural Nova Scotia. I wasn’t really aware that I was checking things off as I completed them but standing on a frozen pond in the field behind my house, it occurred to me that the longer I live here, and the older I get, the more conscious I am of a list.
I did check off a big item on the list within a year of moving here: getting chickens. I also started making strawberry jam and salsa. This year, we’re moving into pickles.
But if fresh eggs and preserves don’t seem like very exciting “bucket list” items, the list also includes learning to shoot a gun and learning to drive the tractor. Those haven’t happened yet because they require instruction from my husband and he’s afraid I’m going to shoot him, and break the tractor.
I have even bigger dreams that scare him: Have a pet pig. Get a donkey. Keep goats for milk (and fun!). Become a beekeeper. Luckily, my adventures in country living have recently brought me into contact with horse people so this summer I will make my seven-year-old self happy and finally learn to ride.

The upcoming tenth anniversary of my move to Cumberland County makes me more determined to complete my country bucket list. Skating may seem an odd item to include but it’s not merely that I’m skating – it’s where I’m skating.         
Back in 2008, I wrote a magazine article about the River Philip in winter and shared my father-in-law’s story about the local kids, including himself, skating from Port Howe to Oxford, and building a bonfire to skate around in front of his house. Ever since, I’ve wanted the experience of skating on the river but due to logistical reasons, that’s not going to happen.
Yet there I was two Sundays ago, standing on the edge of a pond, hoping I wasn’t about to break an arm. I am not a good a skater but I enjoy it immensely; as my Grade One teacher wrote in one of my report cards, I engage in activities with more enthusiasm than skill.
But what I lack in skill, I make up for in persistence, and after years of pointing out the perfect spot to dig a hole in the middle of our field, one morning I woke up to find it there! I waited for it to fill with water then I waited for it to freeze. Finally, fed up with our wonky winter weather this year, I decided that a foot of ice was thick enough and twenty years of waiting was long enough so I pulled on my old skates and stepped out onto that frozen pond.
With more enthusiasm than skill, and pure persistence to engage in an activity I love, I flailed and wobbled and eventually skated across the humpy, lumpy surface of my very own ice pad in rural Nova Scotia. 
And you know what? It felt like home.