The year in which we plunged into a new life at the Manse

Rockies Road, December 2013

Rockies Road, December 2013. I loved discovering the old hay mower, topped with snow, on that beautiful bright winter day. A little piece of Queensborough history.

My final post of the year 2012 was all about how it had been a memorable year because Raymond and I had bought the Manse and begun to discover Hastings County (or in my case rediscover it, since I’d grown up there) on our visits to Queensborough. Ha! Little did I know then that by the time another year had rolled around, Raymond and I would actually be living at the Manse, with Raymond happily retired and me working at a new job.

A lot can happen in a year! (Wait – haven’t I said that before? Ah yes – here.)

While 2013 has had some pretty big challenges, I have to say that it has ended up very well indeed. We live in a beautiful place – as you can see from the photo atop this post, which I took just the other day during a drive along Rockies Road (just northeast of Queensborough). We belong to a small but vibrant congregation at St. Andrew’s United Church. We have wonderful friends and neighbours in Queensborough and area, people who have been incredibly kind and helpful and welcoming and hospitable. Our cat Sieste has adapted beautifully to Manse life.

And thanks to Meanwhile, at the Manse, we have met (in some cases face to face, in others through the wonders of the internet) a community of people who have taken an interest in our Manse adventure, and have offered encouragement and tips and food for thought. Readers, thank you so much!

On this New Year’s Eve 2013, I feel blessed.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014 for all of us – and more adventures at the Manse!

Yes, Dad. I shovelled out the mailbox.

Shovelled-out mailbox

The results of my labours: a mailbox that (until the next snowfall, at least) is beautifully accessible to our mail carrier. My father would be proud of me!

“The mailbox needs to be shovelled out,” my dad would say. It wasn’t an observation; it was a direct order. Oh man, how I hated hearing that!

Because in my growing-up days at the Manse in Queensborough, my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was a stickler for getting the mailbox shovelled out properly. It wasn’t enough to remove the snow that the snowplow had cast its way from immediately in front of it; we kids (the designated shovellers; Dad was busy doing harder labour, such as felling trees for firewood to heat the Manse) were expected to create a nice long spur in the snowbank so that the mailman’s (it was always a man) car could ease in toward our mailbox and ease out again, and he would be left satisfied and even happy with his mail-delivery experience at the Sedgwick mailbox.

And hey, I guess wanting to keep the mailman happy is understandable; I still love getting mail now, but back then in the 1960s and early 1970s, mail was a lifeline to the outer world. Why, even our Globe and Mail came by mail – same-day delivery, if you can believe it.

(Of course, that was in the days when Canada Post was operating on the principle that its job was to deliver the mail. Now it’s in the process of moving on to – well, I’m not sure what it’s moving on to, besides irrelevancy and oblivion.)

Anyway. My dad’s long-ago words were ringing in my ears the other day, especially after some mail (Christmas cards; how lovely!) arrived in our mailbox but the flag to alert us of this was not up. And I realized that it wasn’t up because the snowbank in front of the mailbox had prevented our carrier from being able to reach it to put it up.

So: the mailbox needed to be shovelled out.

I have to tell you that, despite my ramblings this year and last about the possibility of acquiring a snowblower, I am beginning to enjoy shovelling snow. While we are very fortunate that our neighbour John, with his handy-dandy plow, looks after clearing our driveway, I have made it my personal mission to keep the walkway that leads to the mailbox, and the space in front of the garage doors, always clear and passable. I like the fact that it makes me work my muscles, and I like spending time in the fresh air, and I like the conversations that happen with neighbours who pass by while I’m shovelling.

But my mission has involved some hard work of late, because we have had a lot of snow in Queensborough – just like Christina Rosetti‘s beautiful Christmas carol In the Bleak Midwinter says, “snow ha(s) fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.” And then there was the freezing rain from the recent ice storm coating it all, which meant some serious hacking away at the heavy accumulation.

But over the course of this past weekend, I got that mailbox shovelled out to the max. I hacked and tossed and dug and cleared, and I have to tell you, that space in front of the mailbox is a thing of beauty.

The mail carrier will, I am sure, be happy. And my dad would be proud.

600 posts, and not a start to the renovation in sight. Soon!

Manse back yard, Boxing Day 2013

I think one of the reasons for our lack of alacrity in getting the Manse renovations going – aside from the more immediate fires that have needed to be put out in day-to-day life – is how easy it is to get waylaid by something as simple as looking out the back window at a view like this. (It was this past Boxing Day.) People, it just makes you contemplative, and that’s all I can say. Who wants to be hammering nails and steaming off old wallpaper when you can just be enjoying the view?

When I started this blog on the day in January 2012 when Raymond and I became the owners of the Manse, my childhood home, we had grand plans for the renovation to come. Which in fact is why I started the blog: knowing how much interest there is these days in home renovations and before-and-after makeovers and whatnot, I figured people would like to follow our progress in turning a well-preserved but very bare-bones rural Victorian brick house into a comfortable, well-equipped, funky residence for two escaped Montrealers, while preserving and (as needed) restoring its essential heritage elements. And Raymond and I had every intention of getting going right quick on that renovation/restoration. We were full of plans and dreams.

Ah, but the best-laid plans, as the poet said, gang aft agley. (Which leads to the obvious question: what the heck does “gang aft agley” mean? Ah, I know you know: go off-course, or some such.)

And now, 600 (as of this one) Meanwhile, at the Manse posts later – well, let’s just say there is not a lot of renovation to show you yet. Which means I really have to thank you, dear readers, for being so incredibly patient as I’ve wandered off in directions other than home renonvation: into stories about daily life in Queensborough, in recounting our explorations of Hastings County, in talking about the history and geography of the area, in regaling you with church news and boring you to death with stories about my growing-up years here at the Manse.

I see now what idealists about the renovation Raymond and I were in those early days. Plus, we hadn’t actually spent any time living at the Manse. I expect that any of you who’ve done renovations on a newly acquired home would agree that there’s a lot to be said for spending time in the place, getting a feel for it, before you start ripping and tearing and adding and subtracting. It has been a bit of a revelation to us how living here, seeing how the house acts and how we feel while in its different parts, has altered our thoughts on what we might do to it: where bathrooms should go, and what to do about the frame section on the back – the old summer kitchen – and whether to screen in the front porch, and how to heat it, and what kind of windows to install, and so on and so on and so on.

Overall I would say our time spent living in the Manse has resulted in a simplifying of the renovation plan (if you could actually call it a plan at this point, which realistically I don’t think you could). When we do actually start the work, I suspect it will be a less-is-more project, and that many things we had initially envisioned changing will, in the end, be left alone.

But who knows? At this point it is all still theoretical. First we must think about selling our former residence in Montreal (to help pay for the work here); and then come up with a floor plan for how we want the house to be; and then address key (expensive) issues like the roof and the insulation and the plaster walls; and then – oh bother. I am getting tired just thinking about it.

Nevertheless, I promise, dear readers, that we will make some progress in the coming year. It is time to saddle up and get started.

But in the meantime, thank you for reading!

When something – anything – to read was a blessing

Ladies Home Journal April 1910, The Stage and its People

This report on “The Stage and its People” from the April 1910 Ladies’ Home Journal is something you or I would find eye-glazingly dull. (Take it from me; I tried to read it.) But if you were a housewife living in a remote place like Queensborough in April 1910, I bet you would have found it a very welcome escape from day-to-day life, and would have read every word.

I did a post the other day about the interesting stuff I’d found in leafing through three very old (1910, 1920 and 1924) magazines that a Queensborough friend and neighbour had found in his attic and kindly shared with me. As those of you who read that post will know, I was kind of making fun of a lot of this vintage material. The ads truly were priceless, focusing as they did on bunion cures, the merits of lead-based paint, and the ease of use of a huge ironing contraption that looked like it might eat a housewife alive.

But even while I was (gently, I hope) poking fun at this vintage printed material, I couldn’t get one more serious thought out of the back of my mind. It was this: how precious those three periodicals would have been to Anna Leveridge.

Who was Anna Leveridge?

To answer that, I’ll direct you to a post I did in June 2012. It was a report on a remarkable book I had just finished reading (having been steered toward it by a Queensborough-area friend and fellow history buff) called Your Loving Anna. The book is a collection of letters home to family in England by Anna Leveridge, who came to the wild and unforgiving Country North of Belleville (to quote the title of Al Purdy’s brilliant poem) as a settler in the early 1880s. The letters recount the hardships – but also, it must be noted, the joys – of her large family’s struggles to make a farm and a living in the northern part of Hastings County.

(Your Loving Anna had long been out of print, and still was when I wrote that post last year. Since then, however, it has been republished, and is available at [among other places, I imagine], the wonderful Old Hastings Mercantile in Ormsby, which is not far from where Anna and her family homesteaded.)

One of the things I was most struck by in Anna’s letters was the frequency of her pleas to her family to send reading material. She so desperately longed for news of the outside world and really, just anything printed that would relieve the tedium of the long, cold, hard days and nights. It is difficult for us, supplied as we are with televisions and radios and phones and computers that can provide us endless hours of connection with the outside world, to imagine what it would be like to be in a cabin in the isolated north woods with no nearby towns or even neighbours, no easy means to get to any towns – and little or no reading material.

Ladies' Home Journal April 1910, The Newest Crocheted Doilies

I don’t suppose too many of my readers would find this report on “the newest crocheted doilies” of much interest – but I bet readers in rural areas in 1910 sure would have.

So even while I looked through small-print articles like the one atop this post – “The Stage and its People,” from the April 1910 edition of the Ladies’ Home Journal; a less interesting report on current happenings and trends in the entertainment business you are unlikely ever to find – I was thinking about how Anna and women like her would have read, and re-read, every word of that small-print article. And every other article in the magazine. Of what a precious gift the three periodicals that my neighbour shared with me would have been to her, and what brightness they would have brought to her days and nights.

Here I am, in a tiny hamlet in a somewhat remote and very rural area of Ontario, and I am connected to all of you and the entire world right now thanks to the miracle of this laptop I’m typing on and the internet. And I have a telephone and DVDs and hundreds of books right here in my house. I would never have an excuse to be bored, or to feel cut off from the world. We take all of this for granted, don’t we? Just think what Anna would say if she could see what our rural life is like compared to what hers was – not very many miles up the road from Queensborough, but in many ways light years away.

It is a reminder, I think, to be thankful for all that we have. Most especially for easy connection to the farthest reaches of the world around us.

This Christmas was for the birds. The blue jays, that is.

blue jays at the Manse

Look there, between the Christmas candy canes: can you see them? Three blue jays, busily snarfing up the bread crusts (leftovers from the turkey dressing) that Raymond had thoughtfully put out for them. I couldn’t get closer to take the photo, unfortunately, because opening the door invariably made them fly off.

The best gift I received this Christmas was a bit of an inadvertent one. And it had to do with blue jays, which since childhood I have considered very beautiful birds.

My grandfather on my mum’s side, J.A.S. Keay, was a kind and gentle man who was interested in birds. He always had bird feeders and bird baths in the back yard of his home, and binoculars at the ready to watch the activity at them – and lots of bird books in case identification or other information was needed. As a kid I absorbed a little bit of that interest by osmosis. And I decided early on that cardinals and blue jays – respectively bright red (my favourite colour) and beautiful blue – were my favourites, though I do know that some people (and lots of other birds) have issues with blue jays.

But when you live in the city, as I had for so many years before moving to Queensborough this past fall, you really get away from thinking much about birds. So it has been with a great deal of delight that I – and, I think I can safely add, Raymond –have been watching the avian activity in and around Queensborough. We’ve heard woodpeckers pecking and seen sweet little chickadees and, a couple of times (we hope more in the future), hummingbirds. We’ve seen crows and a bittern, and Raymond once identified a Northern “yellow-shafted” flicker. And one memorable night, as we were driving into Queensborough after a long trip from Montreal, an owl swooped gracefully into and out of our sights.

In the past couple of months, though, it’s been all about blue jays. I’ve see so many of them flitting about as I drive along the quiet country roads. And I never cease to delight in how pretty they are.

But back to Christmas Day. Raymond was making the dressing (or stuffing, as our U.S. family and friends call it) for the turkey, and decided that he would put the crusts he’d cut off the bread out in the snowy yard for the birds. (He’d recently been listening to the morning call-in show on CJBQ 800, Belleville‘s venerable AM radio station, and had heard people talking about how the birds have been having a hard time getting food because of all the recent freezing rain we’ve had – the berries and whatnot are covered in ice and inaccessible to them.)

So he scattered the crusts around in a couple of different places, and within minutes the word had gone out in the Queensborough blue-jay community. (If you stood outside you could hear them yakking about it.) And they descended on the lawn in droves, several at a time, grabbing a crust and flying with it back to the nest, and each time one would take off another would take its place. And they hung about in the branches of all our trees, including our relatively small recently planted front-yard maple, and flew hither and thither, and made lots of blue-jay noises, and just generally were having a heck of a time.

And it was absolutely delightful to watch. All these beautiful blue birds against the backdrop of white snow, on the ground and in the branches. We had more fun than anything.

It was a nice Christmas gift on Raymond’s part to the blue jays. And they returned the favour with their splendid show. Merry Christmas, blue jays!

Christmas Dinner: the aftermath

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Just before starting the big cleanup tonight after a successful family Christmas dinner here at the Manse, I stopped and took a look at the wreckage on the dinner table. And smiled. And snapped this photo, because I figured it was something that a lot of people could relate to at about this point on Christmas Day (or, as it now is, midnight having passed, Boxing Day). It’s all there: empty or half-empty coffee mugs and wine glasses and ginger-ale glasses; emptied Christmas stockings; the silly toys and jokes and paper crowns that are inside the Christmas crackers; the uneaten portion of the plum pudding; and so on and so on.

Another Christmas, come and gone. Ours at the Manse was busy and merry and bright. I hope yours was too, and that your dinner-table wreckage reflected it!

The light shines in the darkness

candles at Hazzard's Corners Church

Last night Raymond and I – and many other people from near and far – attended the annual Christmas candlelight service at historic Hazzard’s Corners Church. That beautiful 19th-century building, just a few miles west of Queensborough, was one of the churches on the Queensborough Pastoral Charge when my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, came here as a new United Church of Canada ordinand in 1964. Sadly, it was closed in 1967, a time when many rural churches across the country were ordered shut by the United Church powers that be because of concern over dwindling numbers (and, of course, finances). But people in the Hazzard’s community have worked very hard to keep the church building in good nick, and excellent services are held there every August and every Dec. 23.

It was a simple service, as always: the traditional lessons and carols, read and sung by oil-lamp light and candelight. But so beautiful! Especially the part when all the lights were dimmed, and everyone held a candle, and we sang Silent Night. To think about all the times that lovely old carol had been sung in that sanctuary, through all the years – and there we were, doing it again, and in the process not only celebrating Christmas 2013 but honouring all those who’d stood there before us to celebrate Christmases past.

Anyway, I’ve written about the Hazzard’s services before (here and here, for example), so tonight – Christmas Eve – what I want to talk about is Christmas Eve services. Because something I saw and took a photo of last night at Hazzard’s Church reminded me so deeply of the Christmas Eve services that Dad used to organize at St. Andrew’s United Church, just up the street from the Manse.

The object in question (the photo atop this post) is a piece of birch log, a bit over a foot long, with three candle-sized holes hollowed into it to allow for three candles to be placed there. It sat on top of the old organ at Hazzard’s, where its candles burned throughout last night’s service. Such rudimentary but pretty candle-holders, made out of birch logs, are exactly what Dad crafted for Christmas Eve services at St. Andrew’s back in the middle 1960s. There was one in each of the church windows, and several in the choir loft to light the music being sung.

(And you know what? We never once burned the place down.)

I recently learned, from our friend The Rev. John Young, a professor of theology at Queen’s University and an extremely knowledgeable church historian, that the Christmas Eve services that we nowadays pretty much take as a commonplace in Protestant churches like the United Church are actually a relatively recent phenomenon. John told me that it was only after Vatican II in the early ’60s that Protestant churches warmed to the idea of a Christmas Eve service. Until then, Christmas in those churches was marked on Christmas Sunday, the Sunday before Christmas, and that was it – point final, as they say in French. But I guess with the Roman Catholics getting a little more modernized thanks to Pope John XXIII, the Protestants decided it might be time to adopt/adapt some of the great things about Roman Catholicism – like an earlier-evening variant on the traditional midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

I’d had no idea about all this until my conversation with John, and I found it most interesting. For one thing, it means it’s very possible that the Christmas Eve candlelight services of lessons (read by children) and carols that my dad organized at St. Andrew’s in the middle 1960s were the very first Christmas Eve services ever held in that old church. Do any readers know anything about that?

But mainly I am just happy on this Christmas Eve (at the Manse) to be enjoying the memory of those services in my childhood: the church packed with people, the well-rehearsed (Dad was good about that) young readers doing a splendid job, the special music that the choir (which included my sister, Melanie, and me) provided, and the magical feeling of being inside a candlelit country church as the snow fell in the darkness outside.

“The light shines in the darkness,” says a passage from John’s gospel that is often read at Christmas, “and the darkness has not overcome it.”

That is really the message of Christmas, isn’t it? Light in the darkness. Past, present and future.

A very happy Christmas to you all. From the Manse!