In Montreal, a huge traffic jam; in Queensborough, a silent bittern

This is the page of our trusty National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds (Eastern Region) that told us what that amazing-looking bird we’d seen by the side of the road into Queensborough was. Life is good when you can spot bitterns on your drive!

As I drove to work at the Montreal Gazette this morning, having left our Outremont home in tons of time to get there early yet still finding myself late because of hellish traffic, I found myself thinking of how much more pleasant (and uncrowded) it is to drive along the byways of Hastings County.

So far in all our time spent there since we bought the Manse in Queensborough – including a fair bit in Belleville, by far the largest urban centre in the county – Raymond and I haven’t experienced anything remotely like a traffic jam. We sail along the pretty country roads, and wave to the other drivers we meet, and admire the landscape as it changes with the seasons, and just generally feel considerably more relaxed about driving then we do when we’re in Montreal, where everywhere you turn there’s another street-reconstruction project to tie things up and make you late for wherever you’re going. And grumpy.

A stark and beautiful reminder of the difference came one recent day when we were travelling back to the Manse in Queensborough from “town” (Madoc) in two vehicles, thanks to a repair needed after the infamous flat-tire incident that I’ve recounted elsewhere. Just west of where Hunt Club Road meets Queensborough Road, I saw it: a striking large bird such as I’d never seen before, standing stock still in the tall grass right by the side of the road, neck craned in the air in a graceful and distinctive way.

“Did you see that bird?” was the first thing I asked Raymond as soon as we got out of our respective vehicles back at the Manse. He sure had. And he made a point of making use of our trusty National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds (Eastern Region) to find out what it was. (His second official bird identification! The first one being a Northern “Yellow-shafted” Flicker, which I wrote about here.)

And here is what it was: an American Bittern. Who knew?

The American Bittern, the Audubon Field Guide told us, “is secretive and more likely to be heard than seen. When approached, it prefers to freeze and trust its concealing coloration rather than flush like other herons. When an observer is nearby, it will often stretch its neck up, point its bill skyward, and sway slowly from side to side, as if imitating waving reeds.”

That’s what we saw! (Well, except for the slow swaying motion, but we were driving by fairly quickly.)

And you know, I have to tell you that spotting a large, graceful, secretive bird on one’s drive is just so much more interesting and pleasurable than looking at the orange construction cones that are bound to make you late for work. Wouldn’t you agree?

Local crime, or: the 50-inch-TV caper

Sony 50" TV

No, this post is not about the beauties of Greece. It’s about a stolen 50″ Sony TV, which is what this is. Before it was stolen, that is.

The French have a phrase I’ve always liked: faits divers, literally “random facts.” It refers to the little news items you might find anywhere in your newspaper, often used to fill a small space that needed – well, a filler. They tend to be about crime of some sort; the French website L’actualité des faits-divers, for instance, has the categories (I’m translating here) “Accidents, Attacks, Murders, Disappearances, Rapes, Oddities, Kidnappings.”

The crime reports in the local press in the Queensborough area sometimes remind me of French faits divers. I have to say I was especially taken by this recent one from the Tweed News:

Marmora – On August 27, 2013, Central Hastings O.P.P. [note to readers: that’s Ontario Provincial Police] responded to a residential break and enter on [name of street and hamlet omitted to prevent embarrassment to anyone] in the municipality of Marmora and Lake. Investigation revealed that a 50″ Sony flatscreen television stolen from the home may have been left on [name omitted] Road with a sign attached reading “Free.”

And that’s all it said. But people, I think there’s a story here. Possibly a rather entertaining one.

Making connections.

double rainbow at Goose Rocks Beach

A rare double rainbow over an oceanside tidal marsh (and wildlife preserve) after a gorgeous storm at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine, summer 2013. Photo by me! What does this have to do with making connections in the Queensborough area? Read on.

Raymond and I like to call Friday night “the best night of the week.” It’s the end of the work week (though given Raymond’s very recent retirement, not so much for him), and the night when we can, if we choose, stay up late and watch a movie (or two), or old episodes of great vintage TV shows (All in the Family! Petticoat Junction!) on the late-night programming of channels like DejaView. (Okay, the person watching those old shows is me, not Raymond.) And in the morning, we can sleep till we’re done! (Which in Raymond’s case is 7 a.m.; me, a little later.) Long story short: a night to relax.

But this Friday night I’ve been very, very busy. Doing what? Making connections! All thanks to you good folks who have taken the time to comment and share information right here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. For instance: last Saturday night, I did a quick post featuring a vintage (1964) calendar from McCoy’s Grocery in Madoc, Ont. (Madoc being not far from the Manse in Queensborough.)  I asked what people remembered about McCoy’s Grocery – and what a response there was! People who remembered it, people whose relatives had owned it and worked there – and people who were interested in connecting with each other to share those stories. So I spent some time this evening putting those people in touch with each other.

Also this evening, I was able to make a connection between someone who recently commented on a post from summer 2012, about the annual summer service at Hazzard’s Corners Church, and someone from the central Hastings area who may very well be able to help her with her family-history research. And in the course of the telephone call that accomplished that, I spoke with someone with whom I’d attended Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc many years ago, which was just so nice.

Connections everywhere!

When I decided to write about those connections, I was a bit stumped for an image to use for the post. (As any blogger will tell you, you have to have pictures.) But in rummaging through photos I’d taken in the last couple of months, I came across the rare double rainbow that appeared after a ferocious and beautiful storm early last August when Raymond and I were down at the seaside in Maine.

And I thought that double rainbow was just about right. Because it’s rare – like people being able to make connections with long-ago events and friends and workmates. And because it’s lovely.

Like the best night of the week.

Stickwood’s dry-goods store, and the red shoes that got away

Wilmington Dry Good Store

This beautiful old dry-goods store – which was in Wilmington, Del.; the photo is from 1956 – is far bigger and fancier than was Stickwood’s of Madoc in the 1960s. But I chose this photo because at least the store has a bit of a modern (okay, modern as in midcentury modern) sense to it, as Stickwood’s did. Most of the photos I found on Google Images when I went looking for dry-goods stores were sepia-toned ones with people in top hats and whatnot. My dry-goods-store memories don’t go back quite that far! (Photo from the Delaware Historical Society by way of

Do people below a certain age – say, 50 – even know what a dry-goods store is, I wonder? One certainly doesn’t see them any more; we are decades away from the time when every small town in North America had at least one dry-goods store. (When you think of it, “dry goods” is kind of a funny name, isn’t it? What would “wet goods” be?)

Anyway, I got onto this train of thought thanks to a mention today of Stickwood’s. For many years Stickwood’s was the dry-goods store in the village of Madoc, which was “town” (as in “going to town”) for my family when I was growing up at the Manse in tiny Queensborough, Ont., in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The mention came in a comment I was very tickled to receive on a recent post (here) about long-ago McCoy’s Grocery in Madoc. The comment came from from Wendy Wagner Sniderhan and her mother, Marg McCoy Wagner, the daughter and granddaughter respectively of Bob and Prudence McCoy, the proprietors of that store. In her full-of-information comment (you can see it here), Wendy fondly recalls Stickwood’s as well as Ross’s Ladies’ Wear, the Beamish store (a small-town department store that kids loved because of its supply of toys and games and candy), Devolin’s and O’Riordan’s grocery stores, and Wilson’s of Madoc, a gift and decor store that I am happy to say is still going strong.

where Stickwood's was

If I’m not mistaken (and I could be!), this empty lot is where Stickwood’s dry-goods store stood for many years, between Johnston’s drugstore (still there, as the photo shows) and long-gone Pigden’s Stereo and TV. Ah, the good old days!

We all took Stickwood’s for granted back when I was a kid, but what a strange place it would seem to a young shopper in 2013! It was quite an expansive store. In the front of the downstairs part was men’s wear, both work clothes and dressier stuff: shirts and ties and sweaters and I guess even sports jackets. Suits? Probably. Much of the clothing was displayed folded on tables or shelves, as opposed to the way we’re used to seeing it now, hanging on racks.

In the back of the main floor was the shoe department, with shoes for all ages. One of the biggest regrets of my entire life is that I was utterly unable to persuade my mother to buy me a pair of bright-red patent-leather dress shoes, probably in about a kids’ size 12, that were offered for sale there in about 1968. Oh, man, I wanted those beautiful shiny red shoes; but they were fancy, and thus a little expensive, and we were poor as church mice – living as we did on my dad‘s rural minister’s salary – and I’m sure my mother sensibly recognized that I would outgrow them in less than six months. But I still think about them, to this day. (Obviously.)

1970s Simplicity sewing pattern

Remember sewing patterns in packages like this? All my 1970s home-economics-class memories are suddenly flooding back! (Photo from Karen’s Variety,

Then upstairs was the fabric and “notions” department, for people who did home sewing. Which my mother decidedly did not do; her own mother was an avid and a good seamstress, but something about it had completely put my mum off. She hated being in a fabric shop, or looking at dress patterns. (People – female people: Do you remember those huge pattern books? Vogue and Butterick’s and Simplicity? I know some of you do…) So she avoided it at all costs. But I found myself upstairs at Stickwood’s more than once due to the need to purchase fabric and patterns and “notions” (buttons and trim, like good old rick-rack) for sewing projects for home-ec class at school, or 4-H projects.

Sadly, Stickwood’s is long gone, and even the spot where it stood on one of the main streets of Madoc is empty; I don’t know what happened to it, but I expect there was a fire. But if I close my eyes for a bit, I can still imagine myself inside that store, can still smell the pleasant clean fabric-y smell of all those nice new “dry goods,” and can hear the voice of Mr. Stickwood helping people find what they’re looking for.

And you won’t be at all surprised to hear that I can also still conjure up those shiny red shoes.

Come see what the local artists are up to

wooden bear carved by chainsaw

Queensborough wood carver Ed Couperus – who makes exquisite burled bowls – has just recently taken up chainsaw carving as well, and some of his early works adorn the yard of the house where Ed and his wife, Jen, also a wood carver, live. I don’t know whether Ed will have this bear on show at the Tweed and Area Studio Tour, but since the bear makes me smile I thought it’d be a good way to wade into this post about local artists.

Queensborough Community Centre

The Queensborough Community Centre, our historic former one-room school, will play host to four local artists – woodcarvers Jen Couperus, Ed Couperus and Catherine Wilson, and Dale Tucker, who paints in oils and acrylics – on the Tweed and Area Studio Tour this weekend. You are invited to stop in and check it out, and have a bowl of chili!

There’s a big event in the TweedQueensborough area this coming weekend, and if you don’t know about it, you should. It’s the Tweed and Area Studio Tour, where you get to poke around the scenic byways of our area and stop in at artists’ studios to admire, learn about – and perhaps buy – their wares. This year there’s a new stop on the tour: the Queensborough Community Centre, where four artists will be showing their work, there’ll be delicious chili and homemade desserts for sale, and you can pick up a hot-off-the-presses copy of the new Queensborough walking-tour brochure.

Two of the four artists at the community centre are our friends Jen and Ed Couperus, who do absolutely beautiful things with wood (and whose work I’ve written about before, here; and their own website is here). Jen does (among other things) amazing animal and bird carvings, exquisitely detailed – you really have to see them to believe them. Here’s a detail of one, which Raymond and I have been lucky enough to see in person:

beaver carving by Jen Couperus

This is a detail of a carving of a beaver by Jen Couperus, which she made into a lamp. That lamp would look so great in a lakeside cottage… (Photo from Artistry in Union,

And Ed makes gorgeous burled bowls like this:

burled bowl by Ed Couperus

As nice to touch as it is to look at! (Photo from Artistry in Union,

Ed has also recently taken up a new craft, chainsaw carvings. The bear at the top of this post is one of his, parked outside the door of Jen and Ed’s Queensborough home, and it makes me smile every time I see it. (And especially the time I came upon it holding that axe.)

Blue Frog by Pauline Weber

You don’t exactly see a blue frog every day – but Pauline Weber did, and she captured it in this photograph. (Photo by Pauline Weber, Black River Photography)

Also on the tour again this year will be the home studio of photographer Pauline Weber, on Black River Road not far from Queensborough. Raymond and I stopped there on last year’s tour and were delighted with Pauline’s work, picking up two large photographs and several greeting cards featuring her work. Her images of the Hastings County area are lovely, and she has a keen eye for the beauties – and sometimes eccentricities, as in this blue-coloured frog – of nature.

But there is much more to see on the tour – 14 stops in all, some featuring multiple artists – and I promise you’ll thoroughly enjoy it. There’s jewelry and painting and fibre art and glass art and pottery, and lots more. A printable map showing the stops is here. The tour is Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 28 and 29), 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

Go ahead, make a day of it. Art is fun; witness Ed’s axe-holding bear. And it’s terrific to see what your local artists are up to!

“In the morning mist at Moira Lake”

In the morning mist on Moira Lake

Photo by Grant Ketcheson

“In the morning mist at Moira Lake” is the name of this stunning photo, which was taken by our friend Grant Ketcheson at about 7:45 a.m. this very morning. Grant and his wife, Gayle (my Grade 1 teacher at Madoc Township Public School), were enjoying coffee at their place on the lake just south of Madoc when Gayle spotted the elks.

The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture says more eloquently than I ever could why Raymond and I love central Hastings County. Because of unexpected, wild beauty. And friends.

Elmira Stove Works and the kitchen of my dreams

turquoise kitchen with Northstar appliances

Perhaps you’ll remember a post I did early this month, featuring a snapshot I’d taken of a gorgeous bright-red retro-style refrigerator that was on display in the window of Bush Furniture, on the main street of Tweed. Well, I am happy to report that I now know a lot more about that refrigerator. Last weekend Raymond and I stopped in to Bush Furniture and had a very pleasant chat with longtime proprietor Robert Bush, whose father started the business in 1945; Robert told me that he joined the family business in 1962, and now his son runs the store in Tweed and a newer one in nearby Madoc.

Northstar appliance colours

Just look at the fab colours that Northstar appliances come in!

“What can you tell me about that beautiful red fridge in the window?” I asked Mr. Bush. From his answer, I could tell that I was far from the first person whose eye had been caught by it. So here’s the deal: it’s made in Ontario under the name Northstar, by the Elmira Stove Works people (who also make old-fashioned wood-burning stoves); it comes in a whole bunch of beautiful retro colours; and there are also a stove, range hood, microwave and front cover panel for the dishwasher to match!

And best of all: one of the available colours is: turquoise! (Or at least it sure looks like turquoise to me, though it’s called Robin’s Egg Blue on the Northstar colour palette.)

Mr. Bush assured us he could get any and all of the offerings for us, in the colour we wanted, and get then out to us at the Manse in Queensborough, no problem.

I can’t tell you how delighted I was by our Bush Furniture visit, and how excited about my renovated-kitchen-to-be at the Manse.

Today I had a little internet fun on the Elmira Stove Works site, in the section called Let’s Create Your Dream Kitchen! And I did create it – not once but twice. At the top of this post you’ll see the dream kitchen in turquoise, which as I’ve often recounted is the midcentury-appropriate colour for the Manse’s kitchen; and here’s Plan B, in my ultimate favourite colour, Candy Red. Which would you choose?

red kitchen with Northstar appliances