And when they got there, it was spring.

Green grass, red truck

Green grass, red truck, blue sky. The sun is out and spring has arrived at the Manse!

Day lilies by the garage

The day lilies are showing their usual profusion, down in some nice rich soil behind our little garage.

Raymond and I have just returned to the Manse after spending a long Easter weekend in Montreal. I’ll tell you another time how dazzled I was by the sights and sounds – and tastes! – of the big city after a very long, cold, trying winter here in quiet little Queensborough. But oh, it is good to be back home at the Manse today.

And what was especially nice was that, after our long drive through cloud and drizzle and occasional heavy rain, the sky when we got to Queensborough was bright blue, and the sun was shining.

It was spring at the Manse.

Something poking up

Here is something poking up in the flower garden. Yay!

The grass in our yard has suddenly turned bright green; there are buds on the trees; day lilies are poking up down by the garage, and the garden is showing signs of life.

Spring is a very nice thing to come home to.

Enjoying the social scene

OHara Mill auction

Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith (right) was the guest auctioneer. Unfortunately for us, that ever-so-cute miniature tractor went for rather more than we could afford.

Before this spring rolls any further along, I thought I would tell you briefly about a pleasant evening Raymond and I spent recently in support of a good cause, the O’Hara Mill Homestead and Conservation Area. That’s a place in Madoc Township where there are historic buildings to explore, restored farm machinery and implements in full working order, and lots of gardens and trails to walk through and enjoy. (I wrote about a Christmas event at O’Hara’s here.) It’s been a popular place since I was a little kid growing up at the Manse, when we would go on school excursions to O’Hara’s. Today a hard-working group of volunteers raises the money and does the work to keep the operation running very smoothly indeed, and a couple of weeks ago these volunteers held a fundraising dinner and auction at the Madoc Township Recreational Hall.

Raymond and I joined a good-sized Queensborough contingent at the event and had a thoroughly nice time. A humdinger of a roast-beef dinner was served (they really know how to do roast-beef dinners in these parts; in this case we had the women of the Harts-Riggs Women’s Institute to thank for the bounty and deliciousness), but I have to confess that the real highlight of the evening for us was the auction stuff. As regular readers know well, we love auctions!

This was primarily a silent auction, with the walls of the rec centre lined with all kinds of goods that had been donated for the cause. It was fun doing the rounds, checking out the merchandise on offer and seeing whether your own most recent pencilled-in bid was holding up or had been bested. Needless to say, after a glass of wine (or maybe two), the item that you’d once vaguely thought you might like becomes something you absolutely have to have, and so your bidding gets higher and higher and (as others compete with you for it) – but the money is of course all for a good cause.

Mini New Holland tractor

It would have been perfect for Henry!

There was also a live auction, with our local MPP, Todd Smith, serving as the amateur auctioneer. He’s not likely to give Boyd Sullivan a run for his money any time soon, but he was a good-humoured host and everyone had a fine time. Raymond and I were only a bit sorry to see this adorable little pedal tractor (which we had thought would be just the thing for Raymond’s grandson Henry) go for considerably more money than we were prepared to spend.

But we came away from the silent auction with three (!) original paintings, with which we are very pleased:

Our paintings

This is Raymond with our haul of original paintings. Not bad for a night’s work!

And we met some new local people, and rubbed shoulders with some old friends, had a great meal, and all in all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

I think I could get used to the rural social scene!

In which we find a treasure. Or actually, two.

Main street, Tamworth

The nicely preserved main street of little Tamworth, Ont.

Now that the fine weather seems to be finally here, Raymond and I are excited about resuming our enjoyable pastime of rambling around the back roads and obscure corners of Hastings County and environs. We got a taste of that a week or so ago, when we took a drive to Napanee – in neighbouring Lennox and Addington County – for an auction sale, and from there poked along in a northwesterly direction back home to Queensborough via roads that were mostly new to us.

When we came to the pretty, historic village of Tamworth we just had to stop for a bit. What a nice little place! There are a bunch of gorgeously preserved 19th-century buildings there, and several shops and businesses in operation – just what a village needs (as I’ve often said, like here) to get people to stop and spend a bit of time (and money). We enjoyed lunch at a café on the main street, and were delighted to find a splendid used-book store tucked away down a little pathway:

Tamworth Book Shop

Who knew? An excellent used-book shop down a little path in Tamworth.

Hutton of HastingsAnd there we found another treasure! A book by Hastings County’s most famous and respected historian (and a friend of this blog), Mr. Gerry Boyce! Gerry is known primarily for his seminal book Historic Hastings (a new edition of which has recently been published, which you can read about here), but unbeknownst to us until our Tamworth visit was the fact that Gerry is also the author of a 1972 book called Hutton of Hastings. It’s a biography and collection of the letters of William Hutton (1801-1861), an Irish immigrant to these parts who became the county’s first warden and first school superintendent. “His letters give a delightful insight into the life and times of a farmer, educator, and politician of local importance, who also played a significant role in the Canadian civil service with respect to agriculture, immigration and colonization roads,” the book’s jacket reads, in part. Raymond and I are both history buffs, and this book is a wonderful addition to our local-history collection.

And get this: it’s signed by the author!

Hutton of Hastings, signed by Gerry Boyce

So that’s why I say that on our little drive we found not one but two treasures. A good morning and early afternoon’s work!

I don’t care what you say. The Monkees were great.

MonkeesDon’t blame me. It’s regular reader Ruthanne (a Queensborough girl like myself) who got me thinking about The Monkees. In a recent comment here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, Ruthanne shared the absolutely wacky information that Monkee Mike Nesmith‘s mum was the creator of White-Out. Now if that doesn’t beat all! But anyway, it did get me thinking about The Monkees,  a made-up 1960s TV band whose show was wildly popular when I was growing up here at the Manse – and who, to their great credit, turned themselves into a real band. Baby-boomer purists like Raymond tend to turn up their noses at The Monkees, but let me tell you, all one has to do is dig up two or three of their hits on YouTube and even those musical snobs will be tapping their feet and humming along.

So tonight, since it’s Friday and I think Friday nights are a good time to have some musical entertainment, I believe I will share with you Katherine Sedgwick’s picks for the Top 5 Monkees Songs Ever. Because, you know, why not?

But I also have a challenge for you at the end: Which song do you think should be added to the list to make it the Top Half-Dozen Monkees Songs Ever?

Okay, here are my picks. Tap your toes, hum along and enjoy:

#5:

#4:

#3:

#2 (Did you know this one was about the Vietnam War? Who says the Monkees weren’t topical?):

And I think #1 just has to be:

Okay, time to vote for the sixth song to round out this Top Half-Dozen. (Copy and paste the link from each for more video fun with The Monkees):

Why travel is just the best.

Le Prieuré

Le Prieuré, the amazing hotel/restaurant Raymond and I happened onto unexpectedly in the early part of our honeymoon. A meal for the ages ensued.

Okay, I totally promise not to bother you ever again with details of the honeymoon in France that Raymond and I enjoyed six years ago. But tonight – hey, it’s the start of a long weekend! – I just could not resist. I’ve already mentioned how every year when our wedding anniversary comes around, we read from the diary we kept of that trip. Well, this evening Raymond read aloud about the day we travelled by TGV (that’s France’s fast train system) from Paris to Avignon, ended up staying in a very small town outside the largeish city of Avignon, and on a walk through that town on a dreary, rainy, grey afternoon stumbled onto one of the best places ever.

Little did I know when I booked us into a modest hotel in the village of Villeneuve-lès- Avignon that the village was also home to a stunning hotel and restaurant (part of the Relais et Châteaux system) installed in an ancient monastery, called Le Prieuré. But on that rainy, grey afternoon, we spotted a couple of staff members putting out the evening’s menu in front of this interesting-looking old building, took a look at said menu, and immediately booked a table for dinner.

And ended up having one of the best meals of our entire lives, with extraordinary service, in utterly stunning surroundings. And this evening as Raymond read aloud the details of that once-in-a-lifetime meal, it all came back: the wonders of the food, the beauty of the surroundings, how happy we were.

It was an odd feeling to listen to it, sitting here in my rocking-chair corner of the Manse, six years to the day after that wonderful evening took place. As I wrote the other day, when I was growing up in this house in tiny Queensborough, I used to dream and dream about travelling the world and having adventures. And in my book, the best kind of travel adventure is to stumble onto a stunning place in a small town in France on a grey, dreary April afternoon and have one of the best meals of one’s life.

So I guess it all worked out.

“How high is the water, mama?”

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“How high is the water, mama?” – do you remember that old song by Johnny Cash? Johnny was singing about the mighty, muddy Mississippi, but around central and lower Hastings County these days we’re asking that same question about the Moira River and some other watersheds – including, in recent days, the Black River that runs through Queensborough.

Thanks to the CBC and so on taking an interest, a lot of you have probably heard about the flooding problems in the Foxboro area, just north of Belleville. But in the last couple of days we up north in Queensborough have started to wonder if roads, fields and properties here are entirely safe from a river swelled by spring runoff and lots and lots of rain. The river is as high as it has probably been in most people’s lifetime.

When I did my twice-daily check of it late this afternoon, I am pretty sure that the water was a little lower than it was yesterday. For sure it wasn’t any higher. So with any luck the river won’t make its way any farther outside its banks than it already has. But let me tell you, this time yesterday it was quite something to see, as perhaps you can tell from the gallery atop this post. Man, I couldn’t believe how close the water level was to the bottom of the Queensborough bridge. Here’s a little video I shot:

Anyway, I think it is very likely that we will all survive this high water. But meanwhile, I found a real treasure of a video when I looked up that Johnny Cash song. Here’s Johnny being asked about it on black-and-white TV by none other than the recently departed (and much-lamented) Pete Seeger. Johnny appears to be wired, and was very probably in his wild substance-abusing years. June Carter (possibly not yet June Carter Cash) looks on, silent and tight-lipped, as Johnny tells the story – and eventually gets to what I think we can all agree is a great song. Sing it for us all tonight, Johnny:

In Queensborough, dreaming of the great big world

Vaison-la-Romaine

Queensborough is a very pretty place, but I am glad that my travels have taken me to places that are beautiful in a different way. This is the town of Vaison-la-Romaine, France, where Raymond and I spent part of our honeymoon in April 2008. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

It seems funny to report, given this whole blog devoted to Raymond and me having returned to my childhood home in Queensborough, that a great deal of that same childhood was spent dreaming of travelling far, far away. From a very early age I knew that I wanted to visit as many parts of the world as I possibly could. I would read the Travel section in the Saturday Globe and Mail from cover to cover (ads included), imagining myself exploring the narrow old streets of London, or the green seacoast of Ireland, or the relics of ancient Rome and Greece. I thought Russia (then the U.S.S.R.) would be fascinating, and Australia unbelievably exotic. I was always particularly interested in France, because, well, who isn’t? But I wanted to go everywhere. Much as I loved growing up Queensborough, in this very house, I knew that there was a whole lot more world out there.

I was reflecting on that youthful wanderlust recently as I transferred from one file to another some photos that Raymond and I took on our honeymoon in France six years ago – the Best Honeymoon Ever, as we like to refer to it. We kept a diary of that trip, and every year on the anniversary of the day we landed in Paris, we start a daily ritual of reading to each other from the diary. It is always a delight to revisit the stories and memories; inevitably we come across details that we’ve forgotten in the intervening year – a wonderful meal, a street scene observed, a “find” in a shop or a museum. “Oh yes!” we’ll exclaim. “Remember that?” And all the images, the sights and sounds and smells and tastes, come rushing back.

Breakfast at the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles

This is me having breakfast in the courtyard of our Paris hotel, the Hôtel des Grandes Ecoles. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

While that visit to Paris and the south of France was super-extra-special, we’ve both been fortunate enough to do a fair bit of other travelling – to lots and lots of places in New England and the rest of the U.S., to many parts of Canada, and to quite a few places in Europe. Why, I’ve even been to the far corners of the South Pacific, thanks to a trip my dad and I took back in the late ’80s to visit my Aunt Marion, Dad’s sister, who was teaching nursing on a missionary posting in a remote part of Papua New Guinea. (I wrote about that trip, and how Dad found me the Southern Cross on it, here.) And we both hope and expect to have many more travels in the future.

It gives me pleasure to think how happy my much younger self would have been had she known that she would eventually get to many of the places she spent so many hours dreaming of. I wonder if the Manse, whose walls contained those youthful dreams, is also happy to see them fulfilled.

Anyway, dear readers, I shall sign off for this evening because … it is time for Raymond and me to start reading our travel diary! But so you’ll have a little taste of what we’re reading about, here are a few photos:

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