A box of Duz, just for me!

A Manse-warming gift from Gordon: a pristine box of Duz detergent, and three beautiful cream-coloured glass lightshades. How nice is that? (Photo by Gordon Beck)

A Manse-warming gift from Gordon: a pristine box of Duz detergent (“Safe Suds! Whiter Washes!”), and three beautiful vintage cream-coloured glass lightshades. How nice is that? (Photo by Gordon Beck); and read on to find out what that is in the background.)

I have been remiss in not sharing until now an absolute treasure promised to me as a gift by our friend and former Montreal Gazette colleague (and photographer extraordinaire) Gordon Beck. After he retired from The Gazette, Gordon and his wife, Ewa, moved to an 18th-century stone carriage house that they had painstakingly restored in lovely little Merrickville, Ont., and opened a photo gallery (called From Here to Infinity) there. More recently they have restored another great old building, on the main street of equally nice (though larger) Brockville, Ont., and this April they will be opening a combination bookstore and photo gallery there. Trust me, it’ll be wonderful. You can find out lots more about Gordon, and see his stunning photos, here.

Anyway, after my post about the good old days when things like towels and drinking glasses came in boxes of detergent – and I’m pretty sure Duz was the brand – Gordon posted this comment:

“I have a Manse warming gift for you. Three old glass lampshades (Milk opaque) and (drum roll) an unopened box of DUZ from an E[astern] Townships auction in the 60′s.”

There is only one word for this, and it is: awesome.

In his email when he sent the photo of the gift (which you see at the top of this post), Gordon said of the Duz, “I can’t wait to read the results of your using a little at the Manse.” But I don’t think I could bear to open it! How often does one find an untouched box of Duz, for Pete’s sake?

Meanwhile, aren’t those lamp globes beautiful? They will be sure to be put to good vintage-y use at the Manse.

And you might be interested to know what’s in the background of the photo Gordon sent. It has to do with a project at the new Brockville building that involves displaying pieces of the beautiful historic wallpaper that he and Ewa found there: “On the [computer] screen is one of the wallpaper bits I photographed in the context of the setting with a partial joist and plaster and other detritus.  I’ll have about 30 of these when I open the gallery. The show will be called ‘Wallpaper…and the art of vertical digging.”  One must have dreams.’ ”

One must indeed, Gordon. Thank you for your wonderful gift, and Raymond and I look forward to visiting the fulfillment of your and Ewa’s new dream in beautiful Brockville. Readers, you should too!

Where the wood stove should (but sadly won’t) be

This is the wall where the old Findlay stove that kept us all warm was in my childhood days at the Manse – against the wall that's between the door to the bathroom (at left) and the door to the pantry. The front door of the house is just out of the frame on the left. As you can see, that area of our work-in-progress kitchen is now home to the recycling and other sundry stuff.

This is the wall where the old Findlay stove that kept us all warm was in my childhood days at the Manse – against the wall that’s between the door to the bathroom (at left) and the door to the pantry. The front door of the house is just out of the frame on the left. As you can see, that area of our work-in-progress kitchen is now home to the recycling and other sundry stuff.

Every time Raymond and I arrive at the Manse on a cold winter night and are waiting for the oil-fired furnace to heat the place up, I miss our family’s old wood stove. Of course, it takes time to heat things up with a wood stove too; you have to get the firebox loaded up with newspaper and kindling, get the fire started, and tend it a bit to make sure it will really catch. But in the meantime you get a good feeling of being in control of your own heat source as you putz around with fire – and who doesn’t like putzing around with fire? And you’re keeping yourself busy even as you feel that first bit of cheery warmth emanating from your new little flames.

That old Findlay we used to have was truly the heart of our household in the days when I was growing up at the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s. It was just inside the front door, so that you’d be hit by its warmth the instant you came into the house. What a welcoming feeling!

Nostalgia for our old stove led me to find this old sign at the site of Aubrey's Antiques  in Ottawa, which has instantly become one of my favourites places. (Photo from aubreysantiques.com)

Nostalgia for our old stove led me on a search that turned up this old sign – and many more beautiful old commercial signs – at the site of Aubrey’s Antiques in Ottawa, which has instantly become one of my favourites places. (Photo from aubreysantiques.com)

And it always cast warmth – at least, as long as Dad was around. A firm believer in heating your home with fuel that didn’t cost anything – and since he did the woodlot work that produced our firewood, that wood fell into the “free” category in his mind – he tended that stove all day and as needed at night. (I well remember him talking about going downstairs for the “three o’clock feeding” – and it wasn’t any of us as infants he was talking about. He meant feeding the stove.)

Thanks to a very useful set of stovepipes running through much of the house – which of course would never be allowed under the modern Building Code or Fire Code – the Manse was always wood-burningly toasty.

So ingrained in my mind is the position of that old Findlay that it still catches me by surprise sometimes to look over at that part of the kitchen and not see it. And when I’m chilled, it’s still instinct to want to head over to that corner for a dose of warmth. It happened as recently as this past weekend, more than a year after Raymond and I have been back at the wood-stove-free Manse. (The stove and stovepipes were probably removed by the Manse Committee of St. Andrew’s United Church several ministers and some decades ago.)

A modern take on the wood stove: is this what we need at the Manse?

A modern take on the wood stove: is this what we need at the Manse?

While Raymond and I have every intention of getting a wood-burning stove at the Manse – though whether it will be the old-fashioned kind or a modern, sleek, European-style update is still a matter of discussion – it will, sadly, be impossible to put it where, in my mind, the stove belongs. My understanding of this vexing situation is that it is because it is against an interior wall without a proper chimney, and fire regulations would never allow it. Bother.

If anyone has any ideas about how to get around that problem, though, I sure would love to hear from you!

Because, as you’ve probably figured out by now, I like things to be where they belong.

In praise of naps; and, how to know if one is in progress

nap

If you know me at all well, you’ll know that I adore afternoon naps. I firmly believe that a midday siesta is what humans need to be healthy, and maybe even wealthy and wise; forget about that “early to bed and early to rise” foolishness. As far as I’m concerned, the Spaniards have it right: work in the morning, have a great big lunch (with wine) in the early afternoon, and have a nice nap. And then get up, refreshed and energized, to finish your workday in the late afternoon and early evening, after which you take a nice long stroll around town (the legendary Spanish paseo), during which you enjoy tapas at various places; and then you have dinner at, oh, 11 p.m. or midnight. Eat well, drink well, go to bed late and start it all over again. Love it.

Mind you, this preferred Spanish-inspired schedule of mine does not generally fit into the (wrong-headed, in my view) North American take on how a workday should unfold. And for that matter, it doesn’t fit all that well into the preferred schedule of Raymond, a charter member of the early-riser (and not-too-late-to-bed) club.

So Raymond and I compromise, with dinner at 9:30 or 10 p.m. instead of 11 or midnight. And I do haul my sorry bones out of bed at 7:30 most mornings, which I consider a triumph of necessity over good sense. And of course on weekdays (unless we’re on vacation) there are no naps. But on weekends, ahhhhh …

Saturday- and Sunday-afternoon naps are just the best thing ever, and I look forward to them all week. I have in fact begun to find that if I don’t get at least one weekend nap, I am tired for the rest of the week. Raymond tells me it’s all in my head, but I’m not so sure. And in fact I have managed to get him to come over to the pro-weekend-nap side.

Our quiet Manse in quiet little Queensborough is of course the best place ever for a nap. The only problem is that every time we’re there we have a long list of things to do and people to see, and sometimes it can be hard to squeeze it in. But we give it our best shot, believe you me.

The master bedroom in the Manse: a quiet, perfect place for an afternoon nap.

The master bedroom in the Manse: a quiet, perfect place for an afternoon nap.

And thanks to my most recent great find at the stationery store operated by the good folks at the Tweed News weekly newspaper, we now have an excellent way of indicating to any visitors who might come to our door during those precious Saturday- and/or Sunday-afternoon hours that, yes, we are in residence, but no, we can’t even hear you knocking. If you come by and see the “WILL RETURN” sign with the little clock, you’ll know that we are luxuriating in a good little sleep after a long week of work. Of course you are welcome (and invited!) to come back at or after the appointed end-of-nap time; but for the moment we are, as an (admittedly) unsavoury character in the TV adaptation of Charles Dickens‘s Bleak House likes to say: “Closed for business!”

Only till naptime ends, though. Then we are rested, refreshed, and ready to take on the world.

Or more probably, enjoy a quiet evening in Queensborough.

Four-legged visitors

tracks

Save for the driveway and walkway that have been shovelled out and plowed out by Queensborough friends (and, to some extent, us), the Manse’s lawn is a foot-and-a-half-deep blanket of snow. And that blanket is pristine save for some telltale signs of animals that have come to check the place out. The photo shows what we saw when we looked out the “formal” front door of the Manse (as opposed to the kitchen front door, the one that everybody actually uses) this past Friday when we arrived.

I rather like the idea of being in a place (Queensborough) that’s so quiet and so close to field and forest (and wetland) that creatures come and wander around the general vicinity of the house. (Last summer I posted about my close encounter with a deer right in the centre of the village.)

Now I’d like to know what these particular visitors were. (Is there an Audubon field guide to animal tracks, I wonder?) I know the larger set look a bit like human footprints, but I don’t think they are; possibly it’s my friend Mr. Deer. And the littler ones: a raccoon? A cat? A coyote?

There are also some tracks around the edge of the back yard, which I don’t have photos of because I would have had to have stomped through a yardful of deep snow to take them.

Interesting to know that the wildlife is keeping an eye on the perimeter. And, from time to time, venturing inside it.

Best Valentine’s Day gift ever

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Yes, I know Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but today I received a Valentine’s gift from Raymond that was not only worth waiting for (not that I was waiting for it; it was a total surprise) but is also, in my opinion, the best Valentine’s Day gift ever. (And thus makes Raymond the best Valentine ever.)

It is: a subscription to the Tweed News!

I have mentioned several times in this blog how much I enjoy reading the local press when we are in Queensborough. The free weeklies, the EMC and the Community Press, both do a fine job of covering the news throughout the region, but the Tweed News is special. For one thing, it’s an independent family operation, not part of a big chain like the others. And it’s a paid newspaper, which as Raymond and I well know is a challenging business to be in these days. Despite the challenges, though, publisher/editor Rodger Hanna and his team put out a fine Tweed-focused newspaper every week. Raymond and I especially enjoy the column on local heritage and history by Evan Morton of the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre, and The Rev. Bill Perry’s Under the Bridge and Beyond column, always thought-provokingly pegged to the week’s Bible readings from the Christian lectionary.

And now, thanks to my just-revealed Valentine’s gift, I will receive the Tweed News by mail every week in Montreal! It will be a wonderful link to this special part of the world on the many weeks when I am
not able to be here. Pretty nice gift, eh?

But wait: there was more! Not only does my subscription start with the Feb. 13 issue (the one just before Valentine’s Day), but in that issue, in the Tweed News classifieds, is a valentine – to me! From Raymond! You can see it in the photo.

How lovely is that?

And how lucky am I?

Happy Valentine’s Day, Raymond. Will you be my Valentine?

Oscar is going to have to do without me

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In one post this week I explained the conundrum facing Raymond and me this coming Sunday night: stay a little bit longer at the Manse (which has no TV connection) and miss the Academy Awards (and more to the point, the red carpet pre-show); or go back to Montreal a little earlier than originally planned and take in the whole Oscarfest.

Well, the decision has been made: a quiet Sunday night with Raymond at the Manse is what I need way more than a night of Oscar-viewing. The PVR in Montreal is set, when we get there we can watch all the good acceptance speeches (and gowns) and skip through the rest; and meantime, we get one more night of blessed peace and quiet at our Manse.

Which, I have to say, is tonight – now that we’ve arrived and settled in and had dinner and are reading the local newspapers and enjoying the peace and quiet of Queensborough after a busy week – making me come close to weeping with happiness. I love this place.

So yes, Oscar can wait. Indefinitely.

Court and Spark and the era of brainy music on the AM radio

I’ve been thinking these past few days about Court and Spark, the album that Joni Mitchell released in 1974. As always, you are probably wondering: what on earth does an old Joni Mitchell album have to do with Katherine and Raymond’s Manse in Queensborough, Ont.? Well, as always, I’ll tell you.

The regular soundtrack to life at the Manse back when I was a kid and young teenager growing up there was the transistor radio in the pantry tuned to CJBQ (Belleville and TRENton!!!!, as their jingle went), at 800 on your AM dial, then as now. And in those aforementioned early-teenage years of mine, the striking and intelligent songs of Joni Mitchell were as apt to waft over CJBQ’s airwaves as were less memorable (except they’re stuck in my memory forever) songs like King Fu Fighting and I Got You Babe and (oh, preserve us) the execrable Having My Baby.

My Court and Spark thoughts were triggered in part by hearing a couple of guitar chords when a song came on the radio (CBC 2) the other morning when Raymond and I were driving to work. Instantly I knew what it was. You know how the songs that were popular in your teenage years stick with you forever? A few bars later, when Joni started singing “Help me, I think I’m falling…” – well, I just sang along with her. And remembered singing along with that song back in the Manse kitchen way back in the middle of the 1970s, when Help Me was a hit single from Court and Spark. And it was a happy memory.

So that was one Court and Spark trigger. The other was watching an instalment of PBS’s American Masters series a week or so ago; the subject was record producer/movie mogul/utterly ballsy self-made man David Geffen. It was a fascinating program, and especially fun to watch because many of my musical heroes (who’d recorded on Geffen’s labels) were there to weigh in: Neil Young, Jackson Browne, the Eagles – and of course Joni.

And of course it was Joni who wrote a very famous song about David Geffen, called Free Man in Paris. That was another one that was on Court and Spark, and on the CJBQ playlist back in the old Manse days; I found it then, and still find it now, an incredibly catchy song – especially given the very complex lyrics. Call Me Maybe this is not, let’s put it that way.

Really, there’s something to be said for an era (the 1970s) when such intelligent songs were not only to be found on the AM radio, but were providing turns of phrase that became part of the popular vernacular. Like “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” from Joni’s huge hit Big Yellow Taxi (from the 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon, which is smashing). And that amazing chorus from Free Man in Paris, as she brilliantly and musically quotes (or paraphrases) David Geffen:

I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive,
Nobody was calling me up for favors
No one’s future to decide.
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
But for the work I’ve taken on
Stoking the star maker machinery
Behind the popular song.

They just don’t make songs like that anymore. Here’s Joni singing it live; and here’s to the soundtrack of the Manse kitchen. Then as now.

On a snowy day, I am thinking about mulching lawn mowers

Last spring (our first at the Manse together) Raymond and I raked up a huge rented-van-load of lawn clippings and detritus. To think that a mulching mower could turn a lot of this stuff into instant compost that would be good for that lawn: well, that is food for thought on a cold winter's night.

Last spring (our first at the Manse together) Raymond and I raked up a huge rented-van-load of lawn clippings and detritus. To think that a mulching mower could turn a lot of this stuff into instant compost that would be good for the lawn: well, that is food for thought on a cold winter’s night.

This evening we are having yet another snowstorm in Montreal, which naturally makes me think of lawn maintenance in Queensborough. Oh – you’re not connecting the dots? Well clearly you’re not me. Here’s how it works: snow makes one think of shovelling, which makes one think of the need for a snowblower (which I wrote about here), which makes one think of the need for other noisy lawn/yard maintenance equipment, which leads one to: mulching lawn mowers!

Yes, I know. I had never heard of them either, until this very day. But you know the old saying: you learn something new every day. And I think it may be true.

This morning as I was reading my Montreal Gazette with a cup of coffee, I was most interested to find a letter to the editor on the subject of composting. Reacting to the fact that this city is taking forever to get a citywide composting program set up, the writer was pointing out useful things that individuals can do on their own. The part of the letter (you can read the whole thing here) that particularly caught my eye was this:

… materials that can be successfully “lawn composted” (are) grass clippings and deciduous fall leaves. The right tool for this is the now ubiquitous mulching mower. Research funded by the golf-course industry has shown that both grass clippings and a surprisingly large amount of fall leaves can simply be shredded into turf with no harm to turf quality, but instead, improvement of the soil. This costs less labour than collecting; fall leaves can be shredded into turf in a third the time it would take to rake and bag them, with no demand on the public fisc for hauling and composting and re-hauling the compost to your neighbourhood. In many ways, our old habits are dying hard for no good reason, since this is a method that requires not more work, but less.

Now, you have to understand that as someone who only escaped the tiresome task of raking up a large lawnful of fallen leaves and evergreen needles last fall because our neighbour John Barry (my hero for this) just up and did it for me, I am very intrigued at the idea of just mowing the leaves and turning them into mulch that – bonus! – is good for the soil and thus good for the lawn. And of course it’s the same for grass clippings through the spring and fall. There’s a good piece here, at the site organicgardening.com, about mulching leaves; and you can read here about doing the same with grass clippings.

Already I’ve started looking up mulching mowers at places like Canadian Tire and Home Hardware and Honda. Electric or gas, I wonder? But the thing is, until Raymond and I are able to spend considerably more time at the Manse than we do now, we will continue to rely on John and his riding mower to do our lawn. This mulching thing is for the future.

But I am already excited about it, thinking about a) saving myself some hard labour and b) doing the lawn some good. And c) maybe winning another Queensborough Lawn Maintenance Award!

Of ghost towns, and Elzevir (or Johnson’s Corners), and Queensborough

Ron Brown has written quite a few excellent books about the ghost towns of Ontario, and I believe this one is the most recent. Listed in the table of contents are Hastings County places like Eldorado, Corbyville and Millbridge – but not Queensborough (he's got that right) and not Elzevir – or, as it seems it used to be called, Johnson's Corners.

Ron Brown has written quite a few fascinating books about the ghost towns of Ontario (his publisher is the excellent Boston Mills Press), and I believe this one is the most recent. Listed in the table of contents are Hastings County places like Eldorado, Corbyville and Millbridge – but not Queensborough (he’s got that right) and not Elzevir – or, as it seems it used to be called, Johnson’s Corners.

Thanks to Jim Kammer of Belleville, who came upon my blog post wondering whether the Manse-area hamlet called Elzevir really exists, I now know a whole lot more about that place. Jim pointed me in the direction of a chapter of my treasured copy of the history book Times to Remember in Elzevir Township (the township where Queensborough is located) that is about the community of Johnson’s Corners, described in the book’s entry as being on the eastern side of the township (and just west of the village of Flinton in neighbouring Lennox and Addington County. I wrote about Flinton here). The entry has quite a bit of information about the community’s early settlement in the mid-19th century (when it may have been known as Breault’s Corners), about the stores and taverns that once existed there, about farms that were still prospering (and winning awards for cattle at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair) when Times to Remember was published in 1984, and about such things as long-ago community events and the cheese factories to which the Johnson’s Corners dairy farmers used to supply milk.

While I had seen that chapter in the book before, I had not put two and two together as far as realizing that it was the community that now shows up as “Elzevir” on maps. But Jim did, and for very good reason: his forebears were among the earliest settlers of that little community (his great-great grandmother, born in Australia, ran a general store there), and Jim has done a lot of research into family history. If you read his very helpful comments on my Elzevir post, you’ll see he explains that when his own father (who grew up on a farm there) referred to the place, he always called it Elzevir. And he was doubtless not the only native to do so. So you see? Everything’s falling into place, and I think The Great Elzevir Map Mystery is close to being solved. Now all that remains is for Raymond and me to visit next spring or summer and see what kind of community is still there. You can be sure I’ll take pictures!

But meantime, the whole exercise has got me thinking about ghost towns, particularly since my Queensborough friend Graham, in trying to get to the bottom of the Elzevir mystery, found and posted (in a comment here) some links to sites that are about Ontario ghost towns. He was rather horrified – as am I – that Queensborough was listed in them. Let me quote Graham: “HELLO! We’re still here! News of our demise has been greatly exaggerated.”

Food, fun and a crowd at a  community pig roast in Queensborough last September. Does this look like a ghost town, people?

Food, fun and a crowd at a community pig roast in Queensborough last September. Does this look like a ghost town, people? (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

And that is, I suspect, what residents of some of the other Hastings County communities that tend to get named in “ghost town” lists would say. I’m thinking of Eldorado, and Corbyville, and Millbridge, and Marlbank – all of which are nice little places that I know and like, and where people still live.

Ghost town schmost town, I say. You calling us a ghost town? We’ll be the judge of that. Boo!