Goodbye to the garden, for this year

The front garden early this past summer, looking quite lovely thanks to the groundwork and careful tending in former seasons of the gardening-oriented members of the Manse Committee. Now that the garden’s upkeep is in my hands, I fear it may take a downtown.

I know zilch about gardening, so it was with trepidation that I approached a job that I thought probably had to be done – though of course since I know zilch about gardening I wasn’t at all sure – on our last visit to the Manse: cutting down the tall dead plants in the small perennial garden in front of the porch.

While I do love autumn, it was sad to see the plants that had looked so lovely just a few months before – before the Great Drought of Summer 2012 hit – now all shrivelled up and brown. Of course they will be back next year, but I fear that with the garden’s keeper now being me instead of the much more gardening-savvy members of the  St. Andrew’s United Church Manse Committee, its upkeep this past year will not stand it in such great stead for next season. Pruning? Dividing? I know nothing of these things. I have trouble just ascertaining what’s a weed and what’s not. I have great hopes for our future garden at the Manse, but there is going to be a learning curve – not so much with vegetables, with which I have a fair bit of experience thanks to my childhood at the Manse, when we were all expected to weed the potatoes and the corn and the beans and all the other stuff in our huge vegetable garden. But perennial plants and flowers are a rather terrifying mystery to me.

Anyway, I slashed away at the dry brown stick-like stalks of what had, a few weeks earlier, been healthy tall yellow flowers – black-eyed Susans, maybe? I didn’t know if I was cutting them too low down or too high up, but at least a large section of them is now cut and disposed of and things look reasonably tidy in the garden.

Toward the end of the job, I was rather touched to come upon one last flower still bravely hanging on and doing its best to bloom and look bright amid the fall greyness and raw weather, and this is it. Not the last rose of summer, but you get the idea.

Hope to see you in the spring, garden!

Thank you for your generator advice!

Would this do the trick? A 3,250-watt portable generator, $499 from Rona (

Readers, thank you so much for some very helpful suggestions and information in response to my question yesterday: Do we need a generator for the Manse?

The question was prompted by Superstorm Sandy passing through the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. and Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, leaving millions of people without power. (Though I am pleased to say it’s all been very mild indeed – a bit of wind last night and some typical autumn rainfall today – in Montreal, and I hope the Queensborough area was spared too.)

Anyway, if you check the comments on yesterday’s post you’ll see some words of wisdom. I was interested to hear from Graham that we don’t necessarily need a great big generator, that a smaller portable one may be just fine. And Dave had some good advice on using propane, lower-maintenance and cleaner than gasoline. And my brother John reminded us all to Buy Canadian!

The Sedgwick Bridge linking Maine’s Deer Isle, where Stonington is located, with the mainland. The fact that the bridge bears my family name is just one of the many reasons why I love the area.

In late November Raymond and I will be in the small town of Stonington, a lovely little lobster-fishing town (which I have written about before, saying that it, like Queensborough, is one of the Good Places in the world) on the Maine coast – actually, off the coast, since it’s on an island. (An island connected to the mainland by none other than the Sedgwick Bridge!) Because of the high sea winds that knock out power with great regularity, pretty much every house and business in Stonington has a generator. If you’re out and about on a power-knocked-out night, the air is full of their humming sound. We will ask some questions of people there during our visit. Field research!

Meantime, I am interested in something Graham said, in that it sounds like a no-muss, no-fuss (if rather costly) solution: “Heavy-duty units are typically plugged directly into the household electrical system via a special adapter to your SmartMeter. This would require installation by an electrician. In such situations, there are generators available that will start automatically in the event of a power failure but these units do have a price premium.”

Starting automatically with no effort from us? Sounds great, especially given that we could be four and a half hours away at the time of the outage. But yes, they do seem to be expensive. Here’s one I found from all-Canadian Rona (are you happy, John?) that looks nice and sleek, runs on propane, but costs (gasp) $3,268:

The deluxe solution, also at Rona: “The unit [10,000 watts] has convenient, hands-free operation which means no fuelling, no manual starting and no extension cords. It is powered by natural gas or propane.” But the price, yikes!

What do you think, folks? Worth it?

I love a good storm, but – do we need a generator?

When a storm seen from space – like Sandy, here – completely covers the part of the world where one lives, it turns one’s mind to things like generators.

Like most of eastern North America, Raymond and I are closely watching the progress of Hurricane Sandy tonight. It was pretty blowy in Montreal as we made our way home from work, but of course nothing like what they’re seeing on the Eastern Seaboard.

(I love that phrase “Eastern Seaboard,” don’t you? It somehow sounds so different from “East Coast.” More urban and populated, maybe – and thus likely to suffer a lot more damage when a hurricane comes to call.)

Anyway, the storm’s trajectory makes it appear that both Montreal and Queensborough – where the Manse is – will get some pretty heavy wind and rain over the next couple of days. As our Queensborough friend Dave deLang put it in an email last night, “Whatever leaves are left have a good chance of having the tree blow out from under them.”

Which leads me to ponder: should we buy a generator for the Manse?

I know that a fair number of people in the area do have generators. A while back I inquired of another Queensborough friend, Ed Couperus, about how often and how long power outages tend to be, and he suggested that generally speaking it isn’t a big problem. But still, on a night like tonight, I can easily imagine power going out at the Manse (my handy Hydro One iPhone app tells me that there are already outages between Bancroft and Madoc) and, if we were there, being cold and uncomfortable (not to mention hungry). It would be awfully nice to flick a switch (or whatever you do with generators) and have a backup source of power.

What do you think, people, especially those of you with experience living in rural areas? Is a generator a good investment? If so, how powerful should it be? (I see from a quick search at and that they can range from 1,000 to 9,000 watts.)

I appreciate your advice, though of course there’s nothing I can do about the situation tonight. (Well, I suppose I could order a new generator online, but I’m not quite ready for that.) I think instead I will sit back and watch CNN’s coverage, listen to the wind blow, and feel very glad that we are indoors and cozy and dry on a night like this.

Because that is absolutely the best part of a storm.

Art from then and now: as “The Dude” Lebowski would say, it ties the room together.

The newest artwork to adorn the walls of the Manse is a picture of: the Manse! It’s a photograph by our friend, neighbour and excellent photographer Dave deLang, using techniques that I do not begin to understand, that make it look as much like a painting as a photograph.

There are a lot of creative people in Hastings County generally and Queensborough particularly, and Dave deLang is one of them. I first met Dave through this blog, when he offered some helpful and knowledgeable suggestions about insulation and renovations and such. And then it turned out that he was a photographer, and a very fine one at that. If you go here you will see the gorgeous photo he shared of what he calls an “Angel Sunset” in the Queensborough area; and if you go here, you will see many other of his stunning photos.

Anyway, one very early morning a while back, unbeknownst to us, Dave came by the Manse and made the above early-morning-at-the-Manse photo. I posted the photo full-frame here, and as you can see, it looks like an amazing cross between a photo and a painting. Here’s how Dave explained what he had done, and it will mean something to some of you but I’m afraid it’s a bit over my head: “Pastel rendered in Photoshop and Corel Painter.”

We loved the picture and asked Dave if we could get a framed print of it, and he very kindly made all the arrangements. And a highlight of our last very busy weekend at the Manse was stopping by Dave’s place to pick up the finished product, which we are delighted with. It now hangs on the wall of the Manse’s living room – a room that, in its totally unrenovated state complete with 50-some-year-old curtains and a mishmash of furniture and boxes of books, is the definition of “work in progress.” But it is made infinitely more attractive thanks to Dave’s work of art.

And, thanks to a little bit of magic from the past, we are able to display it in conjunction with another artwork featuring the Manse, this one done in the mid-1960s by then-Queensborough painter Norah Hiscock as a commission from my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick. That painting has been kicking around in my family ever since, and recently it has been returned to the very spot where it hung through the years Rev. Sedgwick and his family (that would be us) lived there.

The Manse as Art x 2: At left, a painting of the house done in the mid-1960s by Queensborough artist Norah Hiscock; at right, Dave deLang’s photo from 2012. Both hanging in the Manse’s living room, on either side of the curtains that date from the same era as the Norah Hiscock painting: my long-ago childhood.

I love the old and the new pieces of art being together, and I love both the pictures. As Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski of the great and hilarious Coen Brothers movie The Big Lebowski would say: “They really tie the room together.”

The Al Purdy A-frame has been saved!

Al Purdy (1918-2000), one of Canada’s greatest poets, at the house he built with his wife, Eurithe: the A-frame on the shores of Roblin Lake, Prince Edward County. (Photo from

There was wonderful news today in the Canadian literary world, and the centre of gravity of this news was not all that far from Queensborough and the Manse.

Al and Eurithe Purdy at the A-frame. (Photo from

The news is this: the legendary A-frame house at Ameliasburgh, Prince Edward County, built by hand by the late Al Purdy, one of Canada’s greatest poets, and his wife, Eurithe, has been guaranteed preservation, and is well on its way to a new life as a Canadian literary centre with a writer-in-residence program – and, of course, as a memorial to Al and his work. You can read all about it in this piece by Mark Abley from my own newspaper, the Montreal Gazette.

Raymond and I are not exactly disinterested bystanders in all of this. I have long been a huge fan of the work of Al Purdy, and my (and many people’s) favourite of his poems is The Country North of Belleville. That is, of course, the very country where Queensborough is located, and where I grew up – and to which I have now, with our purchase of the Manse, returned, even if only part-time. The poem captures that country perfectly:

Bush land scrub land –
Cashel Township and Wollaston
Elzevir McClure and Dungannon
green lands of Weslemkoon Lake
where a man might have some
opinion of what beauty
is and none deny him …

… A country of quiescence and still distance
a lean land …

… lakeland rockland and hill country
a little adjacent to where the world is …

Yes, that is the country in which one finds Queensborough. And the poem even cites Elzevir, the lonely and starkly beautiful township in which Queensborough is located.

Al Purdy at the A-frame’s outhouse, one of his favourite parts of the property. (Photo from

From the very beginning of this blog I had wanted to post that poem. Late last winter I contacted Howard White of Harbour Publishing, Al’s longtime publisher, to ask permission to do so, and Howard very graciously gave that permission. (My March 2012 post, with the full text of the poem and more about Al, including a great photo by John Reeves of Al at work in the A-frame, is here.) Howard also seized the opportunity to tell me that efforts by himself and cultural activist (and friend of the Purdys) Jean Baird, among others, to raise enough money to buy the A-frame so it could be preserved and restored (rather than torn down by some property speculator) had stalled. Well, I’m a news person, and that struck me as a news story, and I passed it on to Montreal writer Mark Abley – who produced a wonderful piece for The Gazette about the A-frame, and Al and Eurithe, and their years in Montreal, and the problems that those trying to save the house were having. And after The Gazette’s story came one in the Toronto Star, and one in the Globe and Mail, and one in the National Post. And interest was generated, and money was raised or pledged, and things began to look a little brighter.

And then recently Eurithe Purdy, with whom I have had the great pleasure of speaking by phone several times and whom we hope to visit in person very soon, made an extremely generous gesture that allowed everything to come together. Basically, she offered a financial arrangement that allowed the purchase of the A-frame by the recently formed non-profit Al Purdy A-frame Association to go through; and the house is now in the hands of the association. And Raymond and I have both volunteered our services to help as needed.

There is a great deal of work ahead: fixing up the A-frame, getting the writer-in-residence program started, basically getting the whole thing off the ground. Lots of money is still needed – and you can (and should!) make a donation here. It’s wonderful to see all the activity going on in many places across the country on the Purdy A-frame project. Jean Baird and Howard White are continuing their tireless efforts from their bases in British Columbia; supporters and helpers in Prince Edward and Hastings counties – including film students at Belleville’s Loyalist College who are planning a documentary project on the A-frame – are hard at work; and volunteers are putting together a major fundraiser in Toronto in February 2013. It’s all very exciting.

“So we built a house, my wife and I,” Al wrote in his poem In Search of Owen Roblin:

… our house at a backwater puddle of a lake
near Ameliasburg, Ont. spending
our last hard-earned buck to buy second-hand lumber
to build a second-hand house
and make the down payment on a lot
so far from anywhere
even homing pigeons lost their way …

What would Al and Eurithe have thought if, back in 1957 while they were building this house with their bare hands, despite having no money and no carpentry skills to speak of, scavenging materials wherever they could, someone had told them that 55 years later people from across Canada would have rallied to save the A-frame and preserve the memory of what they went on to accomplish there?

Well, I think they would have been surprised. And pleased. (In Al’s case, probably gruffly.)

Today’s announcement is good news for the Purdy legacy; good news for the Canadian literary world, which has taken a bit of a beating recently what with well-regarded publishers disappearing and so on; and good news for the place that Al and Eurithe chose, Prince Edward County.

Which is, I might add, in the country south of Belleville.

(You can – and should – read Al Purdy’s poems. You can order books by and about Al, including The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology and Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, from Harbour Publishing,

Canadian mid-century modern, at a good price

Our latest acquisition for the Manse. Great mid-century style – and it’s comfortable too!

We have a new piece of furniture at the Manse, and I consider it something of a find.

Regular readers will know that I am partial to mid-century (mid-20th-century, that is) culture in all its forms, including furniture. (Witness the dining-room table and chairs that we picked up in Warkworth, Ont., this past summer.) So when I spotted this chair in the antiques-and-collectibles section of the Madoc store called Country Treasures, I leaped at it. The price was right (would you like to guess?) and in short order the chair was packed into the back seat of the Toyota and headed to the Manse.

If I hadn’t already loved the chair, this would have sold me. It’s the label giving its provenance and exact date of manufacture: Dec. 9, 1958.

One of the nice things about it – besides the fact that it’s in great condition and is in a nifty mid-century kind of colour – is that its Canadian origin is well accounted-for. It was manufactured at the H. Krug factory in Kitchener, Ont. According to the Kitchener Public Library‘s records, the “H. Krug Furniture Company was founded in 1887 on the corner of Ahrens and Breithaupt Streets in Berlin [renamed Kitchener in 1919], Ontario, by Hartman Krug. The company initially produced frames, dining room sets and rockers, but by 1908 production included all types of furniture, with a specialty in chair-making.”  The company is still in operation in Kitchener, today specializing in office furniture; its nicely done website is here. Anyway, the best part of all is that, as you can see from the photo, we know the exact date on which our chair was made: Dec. 9, 1958. Not long before the ’50s became the ’60s. It was a remarkable time. And, if I do say so myself, this is a remarkable chair.

The end of Mouse’s tale: Death by Organic Peanut Butter

Last Friday night I reported how we found a little visitor at the Manse when we arrived: a mouse named Mouse who’d left a trail of droppings in the pantry and who was later spotted dashing behind the fridge. We got straight to work on Saturday, with Raymond carefully examining the mousetrap section at the Madoc Home Hardware and deciding on two packages of what is billed as The Better Moustrap. At the totally excellent (and new to us) Food Company store in Tweed we bought some of the health-food-store peanut butter that I adore – ground-up peanuts and nothing else – and it wasn’t just for me and my toast: peanut butter is, Raymond informed me, what’s best to put in the trap.

(That theory has been disputed by commenter Scott of the excellent blog Meats, Roots and Leaves [; check out his post on good places to eat in sundry parts of the world – London, Istanbul, Washington and Perth, Ont., among others; or the one on making your own steak sauce, inspired by Montreal’s Joe Beef restaurant], who says mice can nab the peanut butter without getting trapped. He recommends sunflower seeds, shells still on, glued to the trap. Next time!)

So we – okay, Raymond – set the traps Saturday night with high hopes. One was by the fridge where Mouse had last been seen; one was by the stove in the pantry where Mouse’s poop had been all too in evidence. Next morning we awoke to find that Mouse had (as Scott suggests, actually) managed to get some of the peanut butter and snap the trap, but escaped unscathed. Drat.

But we reset the traps and continued to hope. And by Monday morning, I’m afraid the bell had tolled for Mouse: there he was, upside down and dead as a doornail (what is a doornail, anyway?) in the trap by the fridge.

We are hoping that Mouse was a lone visitor, but everyone in Queensborough tells us that mice in the house are very common in the area as the weather gets colder, and that we’d better brace for more. So the traps have been set again.

But meanwhile – and I blame this more on the lack of delivery of a morning newspaper than anything else; deprived of his usual occupation while enjoying his morning coffee, Raymond was at loose ends – I awoke Saturday morning to discover that my husband had turned poet – or, more precisely, purveyor of doggerel – thanks to Mouse and the ladybugs and the wasps/hornets and the livestock generally that we’ve had to deal with since we bought the Manse. Here is Raymond’s early-morning composition:

There’s a Mouse in the House

There once was a house called the Manse
Where creatures would come just to dance
There were ladybugs and hornets
All wearing fine bonnets
Believing they were there to enhance.

One day little droppings were spotted
On the stovetop where pots had been potted:
Scooting straight ‘cross the floor
To the fridge, round the door,
Was a fat little thing that was cornered.

(By the way, if you have ever heard Raymond’s Boston-area accent you’ll realize that “potted” and “cornered” can rhyme better than you might think.)

Don’t think that we don’t like mice
Domesticated, they’re usually quite nice.
But when it comes to the food
And Raymond’s in a mood
No mouse in the house gets the rice!


And indeed, SNAP! is doubtless the last thing Mouse heard. Poor Mouse.

I hope he got at least a little taste of that good peanut butter.

The “makeunder”: inspiration, or bad idea?

If you look very closely, you can see at top left some cracks in the otherwise nicely preserved plaster walls and ceiling of the Manse’s master bedroom. Should we just leave them be?

A couple of weeks ago the Sunday New York Times T Magazine had a photo feature on a “nonrenovation renovation” of an 1850s building in Manhattan‘s East Village by its owner, the designer John Derian. “The Makeunder,” read the headline: “When it comes to renovation, John Derian believes that less is more.” The article – whose text and, more importantly, great photos you can see in a slideshow here – goes on to explain that this style maven has preserved as much as he can of the “patina” of the place, which had a bohemian past. While he spruced up the scary bathroom and kitchen quite a bit, he turned the original sub-floor into the real floor and refused to expunge the colour left on the walls by the smoking habits of former residents. “Think of it as an exquisite, exceedingly subtle face-lift,” writer Lynn Yaeger says, “only instead of jowls and droopy lids, Derian intends to preserve a plank floor that creaks with the wisdom of the ages and patch a tin ceiling contemporaneous with the Tin Woodsman.” Have a look at the photos and see what you think: I find some of it a little off-putting, but much of it quite beautiful.

Could this be a recipe for the Manse? (I already know Raymond’s answer: NO!)

A closer look at those cracks in the plaster in the bedroom. Should we fill them in or leave them there? Do they add to the charm of the room?

But I wonder if a “makeunder light” might be just the ticket. For instance: while my brother John was waxing on during a recent visit about how it would be “fun” to fill in some cracks in the plaster in the Manse’s main bedroom, I was thinking to myself, “That is not my definition of fun.” Now, inspired by John Derian’s place, I’m thinking maybe we want to just leave those cracks be. The plaster in general in that room is in great shape; one could say that the cracks just add a bit of character.

As longtime readers will know, I am very fond of the vintage linoleum mats that adorn the bedroom floors. Yes, they’re a little worn and rough, but perhaps that’s part of the charm. This is a detail of the one on the Manse’s master bedroom. I love the subtle colours and the pattern.

Likewise, while the wooden floors throughout the upstairs would probably look beautiful and shiny and newish with refinishing, is there something to be said for retaining the various paint jobs that have been done on them through the years? Not to mention the linoleum mats dating from the early middle of the 20th century; those mats were what was on those floors in my childhood at the Manse, and they were still there when we peeled off the bad 1970s carpeting several months ago. I have to say I have grown quite attached to that linoleum and would be very sorry to see it go.

The mid-1970s exercise of nailing wooden slats into the plaster ceiling of the kitchen, so that acoustic tiles could in turn be attached to them, caused probably-irreparable damage to the plaster. This is a small section where we pulled off the acoustic tiles.

Unfortunately, though, there are lots of places where the damage caused by the installation of “newer” (we’re talking the mid-1970s here, mind you, so not all that new) finishes, like wood panelling and acoustic-tile ceiling, is severe enough that the original “patina” is going to need some major repairs, if not outright replacement. For instance, we pulled off a few of those ceiling tiles in the kitchen, and it looks like the process of nailing in the wooden slats to which the tiles could be attached has absolutely trashed the original plaster ceiling.

You can see where the chair rail was pulled off the wainscotting (a tragedy) and how the wainscotting is now full of nail holes. “Patina” to be left alone? Or a necessary repair or replacement? (You can also see what rough shape the plaster wall is in.)

The chair rail of the wainscotting in the kitchen was yanked off so wood panelling could be installed, and we would most certainly want to replace that. And the wainscotting itself – not to mention the plaster walls above it – is full of nail holes thanks to that ghastly panelling. (Which, I must add, was installed at the behest of my family; in the early 1970s we were quite thrilled to get wood panelling, which was considered just the thing in those days.)

Anyway, it’s interesting to think about what parts of the Manse could be left alone in the renovation to come, even though they might not look like they belong in Canadian House and Home. Because, let’s face it: tastes change, and sooner or later everything old is new (and stylish) again. Just ask John Derian.

Or, for that matter, Leonard Cohen, who wrote the ultimate tribute to imperfections – and cracks:

“There is a crack, a crack in everything –
That’s how the light gets in.”

Let’s give Leonard a listen, shall we?

Good neighbours in Queensborough

The leaves in the back yard, before …

So I had thought – and I had written – that I expected to spend this past weekend at the Manse raking leaves and evergreen needles, because there were a lot of them. And because most of the people I surveyed said that leaving them on the lawn for the winter (even chopped up by a lawnmower) was not a good idea. The fact that the weather forecast was for rain all weekend made the prospect of The Big Rake even more dreary. And damp.

… and after, having been magically (or not so much, as it turned out) made to disappear.

As Raymond and I arrived at the Manse in the wind and the rain late last Friday night, I thought glumly of what I was in for. No socializing, no relaxing, just a lot of raking and stashing damp leaves into lawn bags. Yuck.

Then, Saturday morning, came a surprise. I pulled up the blinds in the master bedroom (which faces onto the back yard) and thought, “Well, that’s odd. There seem to be a lot fewer fallen leaves on that lawn than when we were last here. I wonder … ”

Fallen evergreen needles before (a thick carpet that only got thicker after I took this photo) …

When I got downstairs, Raymond confirmed it, and showed me the corner where a very thick blanket of evergreen needles had covered the lawn on our previous visit. Gone. All gone.

Magic? Nope, a great neighbour and friend, John Barry. John is the person who keeps our grass cut and has done other yard-maintenance work, but we’d never discussed the very arduous chore of raking all those leaves and needles.

… and after. “It must have been a huge job cleaning them up, ” I said to John Barry. “Don’t even talk about it,” he told me.

Before we’d even had a chance to go and thank John, another neighbour, Chuck Steele, told us that John had raked everything up by hand (I had wondered if he had a leaf blower attached to his lawnmower, but no) and had taken away three truckloads of leaves and needles. So not only did he rake them all up, he got rid of them for us, which is huge.

And what did he charge me for this work? Let’s just say that to call the price reasonable would be putting it mildly.

But our good feelings about our neighbours didn’t end with John. We also managed to find out who was the mysterious person who had left a lovely bunch of deep-orange mums on our front porch (now happily planted in the front garden). That would be Jen and Ed Couperus, Ed being the neighbour who keeps an eye on the Manse generally for us and goes in and checks things as needed.

Jen and Ed; John and his wife, Anne; Chuck and his wife, Ruth; and there are so many more. We have great neighbours in Queensborough!

Hot-rod blast from the past



Raymond and I were at the Foodland supermarket in Madoc at the end of the afternoon today, the last stop on a busy day of errands (with some Queensborough historical research at the Tweed Heritage Centre on the side). I was stopped short in the parking lot when I saw this vintage Camaro, and I had to take a picture. Back when I was in my early teens at the Manse in Queensborough, several local “young lads” (the universally used term in our small universe) had Camaros or Trans Ams and used to spend endless hours charging up and down the roads – the road running in front of the Manse seemed to be a favourite – at top speed. Large amounts of fossil fuels were wasted, and careless small animals and young children were constantly in peril, but it was just part of the passing scene in Queensborough. It was fun to be reminded of that by this vintage model.

And then – get this! – as we were driving home to the Manse along Queensborough Road, the vintage Camaro showed up in the rear-view mirror. It was coming to Queensborough, where maybe it lives!

Is it making light of karma if I suggest that this was karma? (That is, “For every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first,” and so on). Well, anyway, for me today, that vintage blue Camaro in Queensborough was kind of a karmic moment.