What I want in a kitchen is … lots and lots of colour

Turquoise and white kitchen with Northstar appliances that you see here.

I absolutely adore this photo, though I hope I don’t sound like a grump if I say it could stand to lose the little boy. A bright turquoise-and-white kitchen is exactly what I dream of for the Manse. This photo comes courtesy of a blog by the folks at Elmira Stove Works who make those brilliant (and brilliantly coloured) vintage-style appliances.

This past week, and not for the first time, I have been inspired in my Manse-renovation fantasies by something I found on the blog Retro Renovation. (If you’d like to check out the previous times when I’ve given a shoutout to this fantastic blog, a couple of them are here and here.) The women behind Retro Renovation, founder Pam Keuber and her managing editor Kate Battle, are my heroes. They post almost every day, and their love of all things midcentury is contagious. As you’ll see if you’re a regular reader, they love to shine the spotlight on renovation projects that give, or bring back, a gorgeous retro vibe to a home. (They are particularly fond of pink bathrooms.) They’re terrific locaters of sources of cool stuff; just recently I learned from them (thanks to a post here) about a company in Winnipeg (of all places), unbelievably named Acme Chrome Furniture (I can just hear the Roadrunner meep-meeping) that continues to make the glorious dinette sets we all remember from our childhood. And Pam and Kate do it all – and it’s got to be a ton of work – with a great sense of fun and encouragement to would-be renovators like Raymond and me.

Something they posted last week really got my attention, because it spoke to me – or more precisely, it helped me feel vindicated. You see, I seem to be one of the few people who can look at pictures of so-called dream kitchens, on places like Houzz, or Pinterest, or a million other renovation and design sites, and most of the time go: “Meh.” I’m talking about pictures like this:

Brown dream kitchen

“Dream kitchen” in brown and white, brought to you by Pinterest.

And this:

Beige and black dream kitchen

“Dream kitchen” in beige and black.

And this:

Beige and white dream kitchen

“Dream kitchen” and beige and white.

Why do these beautifully appointed kitchens fail to do anything for me? Me, the person who is so desperately in need of a kitchen renovation?

Because they’re beige. Or at least, that’s how they look to me. If you Google images for “dream kitchens,” you’ll get a screenful of brown and white and grey. Here – I’ll show you what I mean:

"Dream kitchens"

I’m afraid my eyes just glaze over.

It seems Pam and Kate feel the same, because they included this sentence in their entertaining report (which, once again, is here) on taking part in this year’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (an absolutely monster annual event in the renovation industry) in Las Vegas this month:


A super-cute yellow Aga oven (also available in other great colours) that caught Pam and Kate’s eye. Readers might remember that an Aga is my dream appliance for the Manse. Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

“Surrounded by a sea of quartz countertops and grey kitchens — yes, low-chroma greiged out everything still appears to be the ‘aspirational’ mass market norm — any booth that used color magnetized us.”

(I will confess I had to look up what “low-chroma” meant. According to one explanatory site I found, chroma is “the quality of a colour’s purity, intensity or saturation. For example: A grey colour is a neutral – an extreme low chroma. Fire-engine red may be a high-chroma red. Brick red may be a middle-chroma red.” To which I say: Hurray for high-chroma fire-engine red!)

I was delighted that one of the examples from the Retro Renovation gals of booths at the show that featured some blessed colour was none other than Elmira Stove Works of Elmira, Ont. Here’s Pam appreciating it:


Retro Renovation’s Pam Keuber enjoying Elmira Stove Works’ great retro-style Northstar appliances line, in Buttercup Yellow and Robin’s Egg Blue. Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

Red Northstar fridge

The vintage-style red fridge in the window at Bush Furniture in Tweed that stole my heart.

Now, I’ve had my eye on those Elmira Stove Works Northstar appliances for the Manse for quite some time. It was back in September 2013 that I spotted a gorgeous bright-red retro-style fridge in the window of Bush Furniture in the village of Tweed, just down the road from Queensborough. When Raymond and I made inquiries of friendly proprietor Robert Bush, we learned that the Elmira folks also make stoves, dishwashers and microwaves in that great vintage style and in an array of fabulous colours – including the one you can see in the photo with Pam, which is called Robin’s Egg Blue but that I prefer to call – yes, you guessed it: turquoise! The colour that the kitchen walls of the Manse were painted in my childhood in this house (you can watch a video here of my brother John exposing them after many a year of them being hidden behind 1970s “wood” panelling), and the colour that I would like to bring back to our kitchen. Turquoise and bright white, like the photo atop this post; I love it! Perhaps with some red accents thrown in for good measure, something that, again thanks to the Retro Renovation team, I’ve learned might work beautifully.

If you’d like to see lots and lots of photos of real-life kitchen renovations that feature wondrously bright colours, I strongly encourage you to spend some time poking around Retro Renovation. For starters, click on the posts here and here and here and here. All that colour will cheer you up, I promise.

And finally, I also want to share yet another way that Pam and Kate have made my life better. You see, the reason they were at the huge Las Vegas kitchen and bath show in the first place was to help the Wilsonart company promote a new line of retro-style countertop laminates that they designed for the company! And they are beautiful!


The countertop laminates produced by Wilsonart in collaboration with the folks at Retro Renovation. How cool is that? Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

Here are a couple of closeups that allow you to see the great colours and the funky boomerang pattern:

First Lady Pink, Retro Renovation

First Lady Pink, which the Retro Renovation folks describe as “a warm pink colour popularized by Mamie Eisenhower in the 1950s.” Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

Retro Renovation Delightful Jade

Delightful Jade, inspired by the jadeite kitchenware we surely all love and some of us collect. Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

You can read all about these funky laminates (and where to get them) in the Retro Renovation post here, but I wanted to share three reasons why I think they will be perfect for our Manse-kitchen renovation.

  • They are not quartz, or marble, or granite. I know that kitchen countertops and islands made of those materials are all the rage at the moment. But I would be terrified of installing them because, to put it bluntly, I am a klutz. There would be endless breakage of crockery and glassware in our kitchen if it contained those supremely hard surfaces. Also: quartz, marble and granite tend to fall into my generalized non-preferred colour category of “beige.”
  • Just look at this photo that Pam and Kate posted featuring the Aqua Ripple option!
Aqua Ripple Retro Renovation Wilsonart laminate, with Blue Heaven plate

Photo from Retro Renovation, retrorenovation.com

People, the pattern on that saucer is none other than Blue Heaven, a popular midcentury style that was produced by the Royal China Company of Sebring, Ohio. Thanks to our love of antique barns and flea markets, Raymond and I have a pretty good collection of Blue Heaven plates, bowls, cups and saucers, and we use those sturdy and funky dishes at almost every meal. I had to smile when Pam and Kate used Blue Heaven in their photo of the Aqua Ripple laminate. Can you say: “Meant to be?”

  • They are all about colour. Colour, colour, colour. Which is what our kitchen needs. And will have – eventually. I can’t wait to show you!

Life lessons from a wobbly little cat

Theodora Roosevelt Brassard

Theodora Roosevelt Brassard (better known as Teddy), June 2015-Jan. 22, 2016: the sweetest kitty ever.

I almost can’t believe that the latest news from the Manse is the loss of another beloved cat. Readers mourned with Raymond and me when we lost our dear Sieste (the first Manse Cat); and even before that, when Bayona the chubby and loving calico died suddenly before ever getting to see this big old house that was just made for cats to chase each other around in.

But this past Friday night, little Teddy (short for Theodora Roosevelt Brassard) succumbed, at the age of only seven months, to the neurological illness that she was born with and that began to manifest itself a couple of months after we adopted her and her sister, Honey Bunny, from a feral-cat rescue organization. That illness affected her balance so that she could not jump or climb, or raise her head really; and she had a bit of a to-do getting herself up and onto her feet – finding her sea legs, as Raymond liked to say – when it was time to get up and walk. And then when she did get upright, she walked with a wobble. But she had determination, and she always got there. “Teddymarch!” we would say. In fact, here she comes now:

Teddy was, quite simply, the sweetest cat ever. She loved her people. She loved new people, visiting with them without shyness and with great affection. She loved to be held, or just to be close. Here she is showing how much she adores her dad:

Teddy loves her dad

As Raymond (still in bathrobe) gets an early start on the day’s National Newspaper Awards work, Teddy shows her appreciation for being allowed into his lap.

And here she is helping him at foot level in the kitchen, something she was very fond of:

Teddy helping Raymond in the kitchen

“Teddy underfoot!” Raymond and I would say to each other when we noticed she’d parked herself beside us in the kitchen. (Our highly unrenovated kitchen, I should add – but that will change soon.) One didn’t want to step on her!

Here’s Teddy with Raymond during what was her first and, very sadly, only Christmas. It was a lovely Christmas at the Manse, and it makes me happy that she shared it with us:

Teddy's Christmas

Teddy’s Christmas, 2015. What does she do while curled up in her dad’s lap? Why, Teddypurr, of course. It will be hard not to have her with us next Christmas.

We’d had a close call with Teddy’s health once before, but to our great joy she pulled through. I wrote about that experience here, giving Teddy the Harry Potter title of The Cat Who Lived. Sadly, it turned out to be only a reprieve. Teddy died this past Friday evening.

I hope you’ll pardon me for revisiting the theme of the loss of a feline pet, but I feel like I have to write about Teddy. Mainly it’s because I am just so sad, and telling you folks about what a sweetie Teddy was will make me feel better. And then there’s this: if I don’t write about Teddy, I won’t get a chance to share with you one of the funniest and cutest cat photos you’ll ever see. And we can’t have that. (It’s toward the bottom of this post.)

Teddy’s death was as peaceful as it could have been. For the previous couple of days we had vaguely noticed her showing some small signs of weakening – moving around a little less than was normal for her, and having a slightly harder time getting her legs under her. But it never crossed our minds that she was approaching the end of her short life. Teddy was pretty much herself on Thursday, beginning the day as usual by quietly asking me if she could sit in my lap while I had my morning coffee. Twenty-four hours later, she suddenly could not walk at all, and then lost interest in food and water.

Her final illness really only lasted a day, and we looked after her all of that day. She slept in her soft bed, and she allowed her sister to nuzzle and bathe her:

And then she quietly breathed her last at about 9 o’clock in the evening. She did not suffer. She died in complete peace in a warm, happy and comfortable place, with Honey Bunny, Raymond and me all with her. It was the kind of death we all should wish for when our time comes.

While Teddy’s life was very brief, she had a big impact on our lives – just how big we are in some ways only realizing now that she is gone. I am beginning to understand that the reason for the immense love we felt – and always will feel – for her is the fact that she was a special-needs cat. She needed our help: to steady her sometimes as she tried to get her balance; to clean up after her when she temporarily forgot, during that first health crisis, how to make it to the litter box in time to pee (something she fortunately figured out again eventually); to lift her up and down from places she couldn’t jump; to stop her rambunctious sister from playing too roughly with her; and most importantly, to show her that she was loved as deeply as she loved us. In needing these things from us, she taught us what a gift it is to help someone in need.

I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot over this weekend, in between bouts of weeping for my dear Teddy. And I have concluded that we could all stand to learn some life lessons from the late Theodora Roosevelt Brassard, aged seven months when she left this world for a better place where, I hope, she doesn’t wobble any more. Here they are:

  1. Life is short. Spend all of it being gentle, kind, open and loving.
  2. Be close to the people you love for as much time as you can possibly manage. March after them if you have to.
  3. Don’t complain.
  4. Don’t let physical impairments stop you from getting where you want to go.
  5. Love everyone you meet unreservedly and unfailingly.
  6. When you’re happy and you know it, purr.
  7. It is sometimes all right to be unladylike. Especially when your legs don’t work very well and a big stretch makes them feel better:
Teddy looking unladylike

When Teddy was really, really comfortable in someone’s arms or lap, she would stretch herself out as far as she could. It seemed to ease the physical discomfort she experienced. It wasn’t very ladylike, and it was pretty funny to see, but if it made her happy, then we were happy too.

Our friend Jill said something perfect about Teddy in a kind note of sympathy:

She had the best care from all of you (including her furry mate) while she tiptoed this earth and warmed your hearts.

I love to think about Teddy tiptoeing this earth. That really was what she did: tread lightly and gently for a few short months, spreading goodness wherever she went.

It was peaceful outside as Teddy was buried yesterday afternoon. A gentle snow was falling, and a gentle winter sun was shining. It was just right for saying goodbye to a gentle and loving kitty who in the five short months she lived with us taught us a very great deal about showing kindness and gentleness and love. Her life was … a Teddygift.

The stars look very different today.

David Bowie

Photo from wisegeek.com

Tonight I’m interrupting my more-or-less regular schedule of Monday postings, and taking you back to when Friday nights at Meanwhile, at the Manse often meant it was musical-reminiscence time. On various Fridays through the past four years of this blog, I’ve written about the 20 most ubiquitous pop songs from the years (1964 to 1975) when I was growing up here in this very Manse; about the song that went missing from that list; about the sometimes underappreciated Ringo Starr; about one particular ubiquitous song from that era, Please Come to Boston; about the greatest hits on the cafeteria jukebox at Centre Hastings Secondary School back in the early 1970s; and so on.

I wish there were a happy reason for my resumption of that Friday-night musical tradition this week. Sadly – very sadly indeed – it is prompted by the death this past week of David Bowie, an artist who transcended generations and styles, not to mention time and space. I wouldn’t call myself a monster Bowie fan, but there are tons of his songs that I adore, and I’ve always been impressed by his fearlessness, self-reinvention wizardry, and, yes, his oddity. I’ll say it flat out: the world this week lost one of the greatest and most original musical artists of all time.

Now, Bowie’s death basically took over the internet, and it’s putting it mildly to say there’s no shortage out there of collections of best-of-Bowie songs and performances. But in thinking about his music – as I have been, a lot, these past few days – I decided to put a Manse spin on things by collecting videos of his songs that were hits during my childhood here, Manse Era 1.0. The July 1975 cutoff date (when I was 15 and my family moved away from Queensborough to the town of Campbellford, Ont.) means no Ashes to Ashes, no Let’s Dance, no Fame, no China Girl, no Golden Years, and most disappointingly, no Heroes, perhaps Bowie’s most powerful and most lasting song.

But the good news is that those years do include some absolutely great, great songs, and I thought you might appreciate my hour or so of searching out YouTube for videos of Bowie performing them. So herewith, the greatest hits of the early years of the former David Jones of Brixton.

Of course we begin with Space Oddity, the 1969 single that was the first connection that many of us had to this offbeat androgynous Brit singer:

Then there’s Ziggy Stardust from 1971, which I’ve just learned, to my surprise, was never released as a single. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s got the greatest guitar-riff opening of any pop song in history (sorry, Keef):

And speaking of Ziggy, there’s also the wonderful Starman, here performed on Top of the Pops:

Then, from 1972, Changes, featuring the immortal imperative “Turn and face the strange”:

Rebel Rebel, 1974:

Diamond Dogs, also 1974:

And finally, Young Americans from 1975. I love that song, and I love this live performance – from, if you can believe it, the Dick Cavett Show. Wow. Just – wow.

So yeah, David, or Ziggy, or Commander Tom, or whoever you are, and wherever you are this Friday night: Thanks. Thanks so, so much.

A newfound treasure of local sports and culinary history

Cooper Comets Cook Book

A copy of the Cooper Comets Cook Book from sometime in the mid-1970s – do you happen to know when? There is no date on it – has made its way to the Manse. I couldn’t be more thrilled!

A treasure, people! And I don’t use that word lightly.

Oh all right – maybe when it comes to finds from the era of my 1960s and ’70s childhood here at the Manse, I do use the word lightly. What I mean is: all such finds are treasures to me, be assured. But sometimes I suspect readers must roll their eyes at my breathless reporting on my vintage finds, whether they be pieces of Blue Mountain Pottery, or multiple copies of Donna Parker in Hollywood, or old roadmaps, or a record by the Singing Post Family. “Why is she accumulating all this junk?” is probably the question in at least a few minds. Because, as we’re constantly told these days, our mission is to declutter, to simplify our homes and thus our lives by keeping only the things we constantly need and use. Well, I ask you: where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, a desire on someone’s part to get rid of – well, if not exactly “junk,” at least something that this person considered old and no longer useful, is what was behind my latest thrilling vintage acquisition, the topic for today’s post.

I have my Queensborough friend Jen to thank for my newly acquired copy of the Cooper Comets Cook Book. Jen happened to be in one of the local hardware stores recently when someone there – I’m not sure whether it was a customer or an employee – brought forth this delightful little volume and announced that he or she was getting rid of it. Jen, who well knows my love of local history and artifacts, immediately offered up that she knew someone who would be thrilled to have it. And before you know it, the Cooper Comets Cook Book was in my hands. Which means I get to share it with you good people!

Now, there’s absolutely nothing that’s not great about this slim little volume, but let me tell you some of the things I love about it:

Queensboro Cook Book

My most treasured cookbook from the days of my childhood here at the Manse.

One: It’s a classic example of those locally produced midcentury cookbooks that I’ve written about before – the ones in which members of a church group like the United Church Women, or of the local branch of the Women’s Institute, or of a sports organization, or of a school group, get together and contribute their own recipes and those they can beg, borrow and steal from their friends, mothers and mothers-in-law, so that a cookbook can be produced and sold as a fundraiser for the group in question. My most treasured example of these cookbooks is the Queensboro Cook Book, produced in 1966 by the U.C.W. of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough; thanks to two wonderful women and Queensborough natives, Barbara Martin and the late Isabella Shaw, I have two precious copies of that foodstained cookbook. But the Cooper Comets Cook Book is now a close second to it in my heart.

Two: It’s a great reminder of simpler days when every little community in rural Ontario – hamlets like Queensborough, and Eldorado, and, yes, Cooper – had sports teams, primarily hockey and baseball. And, as the Cooper Comets show us, they weren’t just men’s and boys’ teams; women played too. (I’ve written before – that post is here – about the hard-to-beat teams that were fielded in those midcentury days by “The Tannery,” a community that wasn’t really even a hamlet, more a collection of homes and farms in the Tannery and Riggs Roads area north of Madoc.) I remember that Cooper in particular had a reputation for teams that were skilled and tough. The Comets were no exception; as is explained in the introduction to the book, they were league champions from 1971 to 1973. Here’s that introduction, complete with the listing of the team members:

Cooper Comets Cook Book, introduction

The introductory page of the cookbook, including a listing of the team members at the time of publication. So many familiar names!

Three: The ads. All cookbooks like this one were funded partially by ads paid for by local businesses, and leafing through them, you are frequently reminded of businesses that you patronized long ago that are no longer with us. And sometimes, happily, you spot ads for businesses that are still here, like Johnston’s Pharmacy and the Toronto-Dominion Bank in Madoc:

Cooper Cook Book including ads

A typical page of the cookbook: half recipes, half ads. What a delight to see that one of those ads is for Johnston’s Pharmacy, still in business (though now in a new location) all these years later!

Most of the ads – featuring stores like Stickwood’s Dry Goods, and Ross’s Ladies’ Wear, and Rupert’s Drugstore, Brett’s Garage, and the Madoc Cash & Carry, and Kincaid Bros. IGA – are an exercise in happy nostalgia for me, and I bet they will be for you too, so here you go:

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Oh, and here’s a very special one, featuring three Queensborough businesses:

Cooper Comets Cook Book Queensborough ads

Wow! Sager’s and McMurray’s general stores (about which I have written fondly many times, including here), and Allan Ramsay’s trucking company (Allan being the man who finally got general-store proprietor Bobbie Sager to say yes to matrimony) were all advertisers in the cookbook. A good showing from Queensborough! (Though the cookbook company should have had a proofreader to catch the misspelling of Doug Chapman’s name.)

Vintage cookbooks

Some of the many vintage cookbooks filling a bookshelf dedicated to them at the Manse.

And finally, of course, there are the recipes. As I’ve written before, I love vintage cookbooks in general, and have a fairly good collection of them. I am intrigued by what these culinary guides tell us about the lives of people in those eras – what they ate, how they prepared it, and what their attitudes to food were as compared to how we approach food and cooking now. (Hint: they were a lot more Jell-O friendly in those days.) Now, many of my vintage cookbooks are by “the experts” – people such as James Beard, and Julia Child, and Elizabeth David, and Irma Rombauer (of The Joy of Cooking), not to mention giant food companies like Betty Crocker and homemaking publications like Chatelaine and Better Homes and Gardens. But many others are collections from groups like the St. Andrew’s U.C.W. and the Cooper Comets. These recipe-writers are not famous TV chefs like Julia Child, or newspaper food columnists like James Beard, or literary types like M.F.K. Fisher. They are ordinary women who had busy lives and families to feed when they weren’t doing chores on the farm or working at a part-time or full-time job in town. They did not have a lot of time for fancy-schmancy stuff in the kitchen. Many of the recipe titles feature the words “quick” or “easy;” many of the recipes are along the lines of casseroles whose ingredients are hamburger (“hamburg,” as we used to call it back them), a can of soup and some bread crumbs on top, perhaps with some ketchup or mustard and salt and pepper added in for “seasoning.” And you know what? There is nothing wrong with that.

One other interesting thing about the recipes, though, is the emphasis on desserts and sweets. As the pie selection at the St. Andrew’s United Church Ham and Turkey Suppers always shows…

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

… desserts are kind of a specialty around here. As I’ve often said, you never leave a community meal in Queensborough (or environs) hungry, and you especially don’t leave feeling the need for more dessert. Here’s a typical double-page spread in the Cooper Comets Cook Book, just one of several featuring squares and “bars” (another name for squares):

Cooper Comets Cook Book, squares and bars

I have to say that, while I might not be trying too many of the casserole or pickle recipes in the book anytime soon (I think it’ll be a frosty Friday before I ever try to make pickles), some of the dessert recipes look pretty darn tempting. And easy! Like this one:

Cooper Comets Cook Book, Chocolate Ribbon Cake

I mean, yum!

So yeah: this cookbook is my new favourite thing, and I thank the person in the hardware store who parted with it, and Jen for her quick thinking in nabbing it for me – and most especially the women (some of whom are no longer with us) of the Cooper Comets – who in my eyes were, and are, superstars of sports, cooking and the home front. Ladies: play ball!

A charming local symbol of peace and hope for this new year

The lion and the lambHappy new year, dear readers! I hope that 2016 will be a year of good health and happiness for you all. And I hope that your Christmas season – remember, it’s not over until the Twelfth Day of Christmas has come and gone and we mark Epiphany on Jan. 6! – has been a peaceful and pleasant one.

Kitties and Raymond in the kitchen

Our kitties keeping an eye on Raymond (okay, Raymond’s feet) in the Manse’s tiny unrenovated pantry/kitchen. That’s Honey Bunny at top, and Teddy (Theodora) at bottom. They are good Manse kitties!

Certainly it has been for Raymond and me at the Manse; we enjoyed what was, for me at least, one of the best Christmases ever. It was just the two of us and our little kitty-cats, and we celebrated quietly with minimal gifts and maximum time spent making a lovely turkey dinner complete with flaming plum pudding, admiring our Christmas tree and the cards that so many friends had sent, and hanging out with the aforementioned kitty-cats, who really are the best ever. (If you would like to read the story of how one of them returned to us from a near-death experience, click here.)

Christmas dinner by candlelight at the Manse – just Raymond and me, and was it ever nice!

Christmas dinner by candlelight at the Manse – just Raymond and me, and was it ever nice!

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what might make an appropriate topic for a start-of-the-year missive, and I finally settled on the delightful image that you see at the top of this post. It is a wall hanging that is in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Church in Tweed, which (for those of you from “away”) is a village not far from us here in Queensborough. Raymond and I attend services at St. John’s every now and again because it is one of two churches that, together with our own St. Andrew’s United in Queensborough, have formed a productive three-church arrangement to share the services and talents of our excellent minister, The Rev. Caroline Giesbrecht. While most Sundays each of these churches has its own service, we join forces every now and again and all worship together at one of the three. And on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s, we did so at St. John’s.

Every time I visit that historic and welcoming church, my eye is drawn to the colourful hanging on the right-hand wall at the front of the sanctuary. At first (probably because of the dove carrying an olive leaf) it makes you think of Noah’s Ark, with all those critters gathered together: the zebra and the elephant, the giraffe and the koala, the panda and the tiger, the puffin and the – hey, what is that animal on the right, anyway? I’m thinking maybe a wolf. But then you realize that the two creatures front and centre are a lion and a lamb, and that the gentle little lamb is happily nestled in the mighty paws of the ferocious lion. And then you get the larger message, which is that it is a vision of a world that has become truly peaceful.

The story behind the wall hanging

The story behind the beautiful handmade wall hanging at St. John’s United Church in Tweed. “Peaceful Kingdom” – how lovely!

Now, I learned a couple of things from researching this post. (What? You think I just make all this stuff up? Okay, maybe it sounds like it sometimes. But I am a journalist, and therefore I do try to get my fact straight. And by the way, I appreciate it when readers point out where I’ve gone wrong.) One of those things is that the phrase “And the lion shall lie down with the lamb” is a misrepresentation of the actual verse from Isaiah in the Christian and Jewish scriptures. As you can see from the text that accompanies and explains the wall hanging at St. John’s, there is not a mention of a lion lying down with a lamb. And yet that’s the line we all know, and the image that Ken Fisher worked with when he made that beautiful piece of art for St. John’s United. And you know what? There is absolutely nothing (in my view, at least) wrong with that.

Another thing that I learned (though I kind of knew it already) is that the passage from Isaiah 11 on which the image in the wall hanging is based is regularly read in Christian churches during the Christmas season. In Year A of the three-year cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary (we are currently in Year C, by the way), it’s read on the second Sunday of Advent. So it ties in very nicely with this time of year.

“The lion shall lie down with the lamb” is a saying that over the centuries has become part of our everyday language because it is surely what we all wish for: That enemies can learn to become friends. That war will end. That we will finally figure out that we are all God’s creatures sharing God’s good Earth, and that we should – we must – work together to preserve that Earth and the species who live in it.

Or, as I like to say (not very originally): Can’t we all just learn to get along?

Which leads me to my thought and hope for myself and all of you for this new year of 2016: Let us all try to learn to just get along – recognizing our differences, and accepting them, and maybe even (one hopes) celebrating them.

If we all make that our mission for 2016, I think it will be an awfully good year. One for the ages!

Merry Christmas 2015 from Queensborough and the Manse

Wreath on the Kincaid House

Merry Christmas from historic Queensborough!

Happy Winter Solstice, dear readers! (I hope you have checked out today’s delightful Google Doodle that marks the occasion.) The shortest day of the year is a day that always makes me happy. Why? Because it only gets better from here on in. On each succeeding day between now and the Summer Solstice on June 20, we will have a little more daylight to enjoy.

People, the dead of winter is already behind us. And it hasn’t even snowed yet! At least, not in Queensborough. Not really.

Anyway, the night of the Winter Solstice seems like the perfect time to wish you all a very happy Christmas. And what better way to do that than with a kind of digital Christmas card, featuring Christmas scenes from Queensborough? (Which is, as I have noted before, kind of a perfect little Christmas village.)

Many homeowners around here do an absolutely spectacular job of lighting up and otherwise decorating their properties for Christmas. Obviously it’s most impressive at night, but since I have not yet mastered the art of taking good nighttime pictures, I can’t (this year, anyway) do those scenes justice. But here are a few images that I hope give you a sense of Christmas in Queensborough:

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In addition to decorations on private homes, Queensborough has been made Christmassy thanks to the elves at the Queensborough Beautification Committee. They have added some lovely seasonal touches to public spaces in the village. Thanks, elves! Here’s a sampling:

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I think we can all agree that Queensborough is about as nice a place to spend a quiet Christmas as there can possibly be, and Raymond and I are looking forward to doing just that. And hey – if you’d like to get a taste of a country Christmas in our beautiful North-of-7 part of the world, you can! Here’s a hint:

Hazzards Church wreath

Regular readers and people who know this area will instantly recognize this historic building. It’s Hazzards Corners Church, where every Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. a lovely candlelight Christmas service of lessons and carols is held. It is a highlight of the Christmas season. Every year people from near and far fill the old pews to sing O Come All Ye Faithful and Silent Night and Joy to the World, and to listen to the story, timeless in its beauty and simplicity, of the birth of Jesus.

Because, as Linus says: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

A midcentury Madoc Christmas tale, with a dram or two of whisky

First bottle of Top Secret off line 1 smaller

The first bottle of Jack Baker’s Top Secret rye whisky – a legendary product with a strong connection to the Manse’s geographical area – comes off the production line. On hand with the gals who helped produce it are Jack Baker himself (he’s the gentleman with the silver hair) as well as the president of the company (and Jack’s son-in-law), Frank Baillie. It’s courtesy of Frank and his wife, Elizabeth (Lib), that I am able to share all this great local lore with you today. (Photo courtesy of Frank Baillie)

Welcome to December, my friends, and welcome to my somewhat delayed weekly post here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. Perhaps another time I will regale you with the story behind the partial reason for the delay; for now I’ll just say that it was yet another new adventure in rural living for Raymond and me, having to do with a full-to-the-brim septic tank and the kindness and help of both a neighbour and a local septic-tanking-pumping company. You might even be able to fill in the blanks without me telling you the whole story.

But today’s instalment is about two other things: Christmas – which seems appropriate, it being early December and all – and Canadian whisky. Actually, make that three things: it’s also about making connections with interesting people who have great stories to tell.

Now, I hope you’ll bear with me as I backtrack a little here. Back in March 2014, I did a post (which you can read here) featuring a vintage (1964) newspaper ad for Seagram’s V.O. Canadian whisky that, slightly inexplicably, shone a spotlight on the good taste in Canadian whisky of the people of Madoc, Ont. (Which is “town” for most of us who live in Queensborough.) I say “slightly inexplicably” because a reader of Meanwhile, at the Manse had already filled in the blank for me, sharing the information that a top gun at Seagram’s back in those heady 1960s days was a chap with a huge Madoc connection named Jack Baker – and also that Jack Baker had later gone on to produce a whisky with his own name on it.

Jack Baker's Secret 1976 Bar magazine

Jack Baker and his legendary products at the time they were launched (1976), featured on the cover of Bar magazine. (Photo courtesy of Frank Baillie)

That post garnered all kinds of comments (click here to read them) from folks who knew or had worked with Jack Baker (or at least, whose fathers had), and also comments from Canadian-whisky connoisseurs who remembered Jack Baker’s namesake product very fondly.

Eight months later, in November 2014, I followed up on that post with one (which is here) sharing some of the interesting information that readers had come up with, and a bit more that I had gleaned myself about Jack Baker. The main element of that post was the legendary whiskies made by Jack Baker. Jack Baker’s Secret and Jack Baker’s Top Secret whisky are long-gone mid-20th-century libations, but they are remembered fondly by many drinkers of Canadian whisky, as I reported then.

And that, I thought, was that.

But a short while ago – a year after that second post, in fact – something marvellous arrived: a comment from the person who, as he very accurately put it, “can best give you info about Jack Baker Distillery.” Who would that be? Well, I’ll tell you. It would be Frank Baillie, who not only was president of the company that produced Jack Baker’s Secret and Jack Baker’s Top Secret – Jack himself being chairman of the board (and, as Frank says, the real boss) – but also the man who has been married to Jack’s daughter, Elizabeth (Lib), for the past 54 years. Now isn’t that something?

Thanks to the enlightening and entertaining comments that Frank and Lib posted (you can see them here) and their subsequent email exchanges with me, I have learned all kinds of interesting things about not only the whisky, but the man behind it – and behind a whole lot of stories about Madoc back in the day.

And among those stories is a Christmas one that I am going to share with you.

But first, a bit more from the treasure trove of material and memories that Lib and Frank were kind enough to send along.

Probably the best place to start is with a bit of background on Jack Baker. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War and, looking for some peace and quiet after that, chose tiny Madoc to settle his family in. A man of enterprise and ambition, Jack set up a construction business and a service station. And then – have I mentioned that he was an enterprising sort? – it struck him that Madoc could really use a liquor store. Or, as it says in an ad for his whiskies that Frank sent me, Jack “noticed that the local townsfolk in and around Madoc spent a good deal of their time driving back and forth to the area’s only liquor outlet in Belleville. Not being a man to ever look the other way when opportunity was staring him in the face, Jack leased a store which he owned in Madoc to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, who made him the manager.” (Interestingly, another ad for Jack Baker’s Secret and Top Secret says that Jack built – rather than leased out – the building that was to house the Madoc liquor store. As with all legends, the details sometimes get a little cloudy.)

1950s LCBO store

The interior of a midcentury (1950s) LCBO store, not long after the time that Jack Baker built and became manager of the Madoc outlet. This was long before the days of self-serve liquor stores; customers had to consult the product listings posted around the store (which you can see in the photo) and fill out a paper chit for the bottle of their choice. Then one of the men (always men) who worked there would go into the back room and get the requested libation. Heaven forfend that bottles of wine and liquor should actually be on display! (Photo from lcbo.com)

Anyway, Jack became the manager of the Madoc liquor store, which Lib tells me was close to the intersection of St. Lawrence Street West and Russell (or is that Russel?) Street in downtown Madoc. As you already know, he later went on to work with Seagram’s and to produce a whisky of his own (and a little more on that below), but it is evident that his time as a businessman in an interesting line of work in a small town in central Hastings County is what stuck most with him in later life. Why is it evident, you ask? Because those Madoc days are all referenced big-time in publicity that was produced for his whiskies.

And thanks to Frank and Lib Baillie, I can show you those ads from the 1970s. Click on each one to enlarge it – in some, the reproduction is a tiny bit fuzzy, but I think you can read them all when you zoom in. Herewith, stories about a wrist-wrestling contest, and a rollerskating rink on the roof of the LCBO, and Big Bill Baker, and all manner of interesting local lore. Do any readers remember?

Jack Baker: wristwrestler

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: roller rink

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: Mud Cook

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: empties

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: Big Bill

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

Jack Baker: my friends

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

I’m going to let Lib Baillie tell the last part of the story of her dad and the whisky that bore his name:

“Secret and Top Secret were produced in Waterloo [Ont.] at the House of Seagram. Father was very close to Charles Bronfman and when the patriarch Sam gave Charles a distillery for his 21st birthday (Thomas Adams Distillers), Father ran it for Ontario, Quebec and The Maritimes. Charles made space available in Waterloo as a thank-you.

“Jack Baker’s Distillery died shortly after he did. He really WAS the company – I’ve never met anyone with his level of salesmanship, tenacity and guts.”

In reading the stories that Jack recounted in those 1970s ads, you certainly do get a sense of his “salesmanship, tenacity and guts,” as Lib so aptly puts it. But I think you also get a sense of how his experiences in Madoc helped shape him: helped him learn about human nature and human foibles, and thus perhaps how to be a better salesman and businessman. And even more to the point, gave him a wealth of great stories to tell!

And here’s the Christmas story I want to share with you this Christmas season. It says a lot about small-town life in central Hastings County back in the middle of the last century. Though I would like to think that if the same Christmastime catastrophe happened in little Madoc today, the response would be exactly as it was back then.

Herewith, with huge thanks to Frank and Lib Baillie (and the late Jack Baker), The Day a Town Gave Itself for Christmas:

Jack Baker: Christmas

Courtesy of Frank Baillie

The Day a Town Gave Itself for Christmas

“It was a bitterly cold Sunday night that December 23rd, 1945. Even today I can see the flames from my service station lighting up most of Madoc, Ontario.” Jack Baker chuckles. “I wasn’t laughing then, I can tell you. I had just spent every thin dime I had to buy that station. Every spare penny I could scrape up was invested in the 5000 gallons of gas in those tanks. Whether my family and I had a Christmas at all, was a matter of whether or not I sold that gas. When I ran up and saw those flames shooting through the roof, I saw my whole life going up in smoke. Including every stick of furniture I owned, which was stored above the station. I was wiped out.

“Everyone tried their best, but it was a burned out shell by morning. As I stood there, alone in the frozen ice coated remains, I saw a 300 pound air compressor that I had thrown outside at the height of the fire. I tried to lift it and I couldn’t.

“Then a strange thing happened. As I stood there in the wreckage of my station people started arriving. Before long most of the town was there. Even farmers from miles away. They didn’t waste time talking about it, or offering sympathy, they just pitched in and started chopping and shovelling away all the ice and snow. They worked like beavers. Pretty soon the lot was cleared. The town electrician rigged power for my pumps, which had escaped damage.

“As if that wasn’t enough, those people did the darnedest thing. They got into their cars and lined up at the pumps. They filled their tanks to overflowing. I still think some went home, filled the tractor from their car and came back for more. Anyway, by dark I had sold more gas than I ever had in my life. They cleaned me out. And I had money for Christmas.

“Every year since, just before Christmas, I can’t help remembering the charred remains of that other Christmas. But most of all, I remember those wonderful people in Madoc. Without asking, or hesitation, they banded together and unselfishly gave me a priceless Christmas present I’ll never forget. That taught me one thing. Besides having your health, there’s nothing more important in life than having good friends. Fortunately for me, I’ve kept both. Which has enabled me to realize my life’s ambition, to create two of the finest, smooth-tasting Canadian whiskies available today, Secret and Top Secret. When you taste them, I know you’ll be pleased. All you have to remember is to mention my name: Jack Baker.”

Wow! Jack Baker was a great salesman (as you can tell from the story’s end – but it is an ad, after all), and a great storyteller. And thanks to Frank and Lib Baillie coming across Meanwhile, at the Manse and sharing their wealth of Jack Baker and Madoc knowledge, I can share a wonderful Christmas story with you all, featuring kindness and neighbourliness and true Christmas spirit in our own Madoc.

I think we can all raise a toast to that.