Frightfully inappropriate songs from back in the day

Well, my cross-country friend Earl has done it again: come up with a good suggestion for a Friday night musically themed post. And not just any musically themed post either; he’s worked in both Halloween (which of course is happening right now) and the news story that’s been the talk of Canada all week long. (Non-Canadians, if you’re unsure of what I’m referring to, Google “Jian Ghomeshi.”) Here, I’ll let Earl explain:

In Halloweenish honour of the week’s creepiest story, how about a call for catchy songs considered perfectly acceptable in the 1960s and ’70s that would now be considered ghoulmeshically chauvinistic or blatantly misogynistic?

And as an example, Earl send the video that’s atop this post, explaining: This is by THE GREATEST BAND EVER, but the only place you could get away with similar hateful lyrics today would be in the antediluvian antics of adolescent hip hop.

And you know, Earl’s right about the lyrics to Run for Your Life, a song with an incredibly catchy tune but truly horrific lyrics. In case you didn’t catch them on the video, or don’t know them already, here’s a sample:

Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won’t know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end, little girl

Well I know that I’m a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can’t spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line …

Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I’ve said
Baby, I’m determined
And I’d rather see you dead …

I have just one word: Yikes!

So yeah, since tonight’s the night for scary things, let’s see if we can drum up a few more wildly inappropriate (by today’s standards, which I like to think are generally pretty enlightened) songs from the Manse era, i.e. my childhood in this old house. Those years would be 1964 to 1975, and your challenge is to come up with some more nominees for the list. Oh, and let’s expand the criteria a little bit to include songs that – again, by today’s standards – would be considered wildly offensive to any group of people, not just women.

Like, for instance, this one, released by Loretta Lynn in 1969:

Now isn’t that a doozy?

Here’s another one that Earl drew to my attention recently. Once again, it’s pretty catchy, and it was pretty popular in 1968 when it was released. But have a close listen, and see if Gary Puckett‘s Lolita-ish topic doesn’t make your skin crawl:

Okay, for my smashing conclusion, I have one that proves that female singers could do as much damage as their male counterparts when it came to songs undermining the cause of women doing what was best for women, as opposed to whatever the hubby or boyfriend wanted them to do. It’s an all-time classic. Take it away, Tammy:

Now, folks: can you come up with some nominees for frightfully inappropriate songs that once upon a time we all just happily sang along with?

And as you’re doing so, why don’t we all be grateful that, while there’s an awful lot of things to be said for the good old days – like, for instance, that we were all a lot younger – there are some ways in which the world is better in 2014.

Happy Halloween, happy fall – and oh yes, happy time change!

Pretty fall display

This simple but beautiful fall display brightens my day every time I drive through the minuscule hamlet of Hazzard’s Corners. How nice it is that people take the time to make displays like this that make life more pleasant for us all!

Happy Evening Before Halloween from the Manse! I hope that you have got all your bags of goodies done up for the costumed youngsters who’ll be showing up at your door tomorrow night. I’ve just finished that task myself, and have to confess that preparing Halloween bags at the end of a very busy day at work, and in between those two things doing still more of the leaf-raking that the Manse yard demands at this time of year, has left me so tired that I can hardly keep my eyes open to write this. But what the heck: here are some random – though bound by a seasonal theme – thoughts before we all retire this evening.

First, since the weather reports threaten snow this weekend – which makes one realize that it won’t be long before fall slips into winter – I wanted to make note of a nice autumn thing before it’s too late. It’s the display that’s been on view for the past few weeks at a home in “downtown” Hazzard’s Corners, a hamlet even smaller than Queensborough that is just six kilometres west of us. You can see the display in my photo atop this post, though my photo doesn’t do justice to it. I just think that the combination of pumpkins and other gourds at the front door, and the still-bright marigolds in the flowerbeds, are simply perfect, and very pretty. And I’ve heard other people say the same thing. I don’t know the family that lives there, but every morning when I drive by this house on my way to work I silently thank them for a display that brings a bit of beauty to the start of my day.

Raymond on carving duty

Raymond is an excellent jack-o-lantern carver – as you can see!

Second: I am very excited about Halloween! Last year was my first Halloween in the Manse since I was 14 years old – not, as I like to stress, exactly yesterday – and I had a ball handing out bags of treats to the cute-as-a-button pandas and Spidermen and princesses who came around. (Details here.) We are all set for a repeat performance this year; Raymond has (as you can see in the accompanying photo) carved the jack-o-lanterns quite brilliantly yet again here in the Manse kitchen, so we’re all set.

And finally: isn’t it just splendid that this is the weekend when that hour of sleep that was stolen from us last spring in the switch to Daylight Saving Time (you don’t ever want to get me started on the foolishness of Daylight Saving Time) is finally given back?

Why, it makes the threat of snow seem like a mere piffle.

Anyway, happy Halloween and happy middle-of-autumn-heading-for-winter, folks!

Small-town politics with a friendly smile

Election signs in Queensborough

“Downtown” Queensborough was not immune from the election signs that have blanketed the countryside for the past two or three months. Happily, by the end of the day yesterday – the day after the municipal election – they were pretty much all gone. As it happens, every candidate whose sign is in this picture, which I took a month ago, was elected on Monday night. Congratulations to them!

Well, Ontario’s municipal elections are finally over. Yesterday morning as I was driving to work, I saw a man collecting election signs from the side of the road and loading them into his pickup truck, and I had to restrain myself from getting out of the car and racing up to shake his hand in gratitude. I think I speak for pretty much everybody when I say that after what seemed liked six months of looking at those signs all along the highways and byways of pretty Hastings County, I was thoroughly sick of them.

And then late this afternoon I had another very pleasant post-election experience, this one even more pleasant because it was unexpected. There I was in the fading daylight, raking up the leaves from one section of the Manse’s yard, when an unfamiliar pickup truck (I think I know all the pickup trucks in Queensborough by now) stopped in front of the house and a young man got out and headed toward me. I didn’t recognize him from a distance, but when he said, “Hi, Katherine!” I realized it was newly elected Municipality of Tweed Councillor Jamie DeMarsh. He’d driven up to Queensborough from Tweed, where he owns a small business, to say thank you to the voters!

People, I have to tell you that’s a first for me. Usually politicians, or would-be politicians, are all over you when they’re running for office, what with the telephone calls and the door knocking and whatnot. But to come around to the relatively small number of voters in our little hamlet, right after the election, and say thanks in person? How nice is that?

Jamie DeMarsh

Brand-new Municipality of Tweed Councillor Jamie DeMarsh. I could tell from my conversation with him today that he is excited about his new responsibilities and is raring to get at the job.

Jamie and I had met at the recent all-candidates evening held at the Queensborough Community Centre, which I wrote about here. As I told him this evening, he spoke very well that night, and I am pretty sure picked up a few votes thanks to his obvious interest in the issues that matter to the people of our little hamlet, which is a very small part of what I like to refer to as the Greater Tweed Area. This evening he told me he’d been sick that night with a really bad cold, which to my mind made his performance all the more impressive.

We moved on from that to a fresh discussion about some of the issues that matter to the people of Queensborough. What a treat it was to have the ear of one of our municipal representatives! Right there on my front lawn!

Jamie told me he is determined to be an accessible councillor, and will make visits regularly to our hamlet and the others (Stoco, Marlbank, Thomasburg, Actinolite) in the larger municipal area to see what’s on voters’ minds and stay in touch.

At the end of our 15-minute conversation – when I had to get back to my leaf pile because it was getting dark – I was, let me tell you, feeling pretty darn good about rural politics. About one of my elected councillors knowing me by name, knowing the local issues that matter to me – and taking the trouble to stop by and say thanks. And obviously when he stopped by he didn’t even know whether I had voted for him.

But Jamie, I’ll let you in on a secret: I did. I was impressed by what you had to say at our all-candidates night – and I’m even more impressed now. Here’s to a good four years of municipal governance, with our politicians staying in touch with the people they represent!

A pretty piece of nature that landed on the lawn

Beautiful bird's nest

Nature can be beautiful in its simplicity, can’t it? This bird’s nest and egg were found – separately and many months apart – on the Manse grounds. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

This post is about a very simple thing – just an empty bird’s nest that appeared in the front yard of the Manse one recent morning in the wake of a windy autumn night. Presumably it had tumbled out of one of the huge evergreen trees that stand just to the north of our old house, since it was close to them that I spotted it lying on the ground. There were no signs of any birds, adults or babies, distressed or otherwise, in the general vicinity, so one has to hope that the family for whom it was lovingly and carefully constructed had moved on to other climes or quarters.

But the nest’s construction was indeed careful and solid, because it was thoroughly intact upon arrival on the ground. A parent bird – or, I hope, two, since these duties should be shared – had done a fine job of bringing in and weaving together twigs and grasses so that the nestlings might hatch and live safely and comfortably.

I picked up the nest and put it on a small white wooden table that sits on the Manse’s front porch. And then I remembered that many months ago I’d found a robin’s egg on the ground, showing no sign of a live baby robin being inside it; it was nowhere near a tree or a nest that I could see, so I guessed that a predator had picked it up, stolen it and inadvertently dropped it. The robin’s egg was inside the house, so I fetched it and put it in the nest. And the little display looked quite pretty, don’t you think?

Pretty enough that, when Raymond posted his photo of it on Facebook with a message to an artist friend of ours, Nikol Haskova, who’s been playing around with the theme of bird’s nests in her work recently, she responded very enthusiastically. She thought it was downright lovely, and particularly liked the blue thread (a stray piece of plastic twine the builder bird had found), I suspect because it went nicely with the blue of the egg. At any rate, it made me feel rather proud of my little natural-art installation.

If you drive by the Manse these days you can still see the product of the bird’s housebuilding efforts. Alas, though, the robin’s egg is gone; I imagine some hungry varmint stole it in the night. (You never know what creatures might be roaming around the Manse grounds under cover of darkness, though if you guessed “raccoons” I think you’d be right 9.9 times out of 10.) Given that the egg was extremely old, I don’t think the varmint got much good eating out of it. Which serves him right. It’s not every day I get to think, if only fleetingly, that I’ve done something artistic!

The way Sundays should be

Sunday Times on Sunday

People, these are the making of a perfect Sunday: that day’s Sunday New York Times, and a Katherine’s Famous Bloody Mary. How I wish it were possible to have those every Sunday! Sadly, at least in the case of the Sunday Times, it may not be – at least until I accomplish my mission of getting the Sunday Times sold locally. Which probably won’t be easy.

Several months ago I did a post (it’s here, in case you’re just dying to read it) bemoaning the unavailability of the Sunday New York Times here in our neck of the woods. Not, you understand, that I expected to find copies of the Sunday New York Times piled up at the convenience stores in Madoc and Tweed so that I could pick one up of a Sunday morning once Raymond and I moved here; I was fully prepared for the unavailability situation. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Because really, is there anything better to do after church on Sunday than to cook up a late breakfast of bacon or sausages and eggs, with some nice toast spread with Stirling butter and some good tomatoes sliced or quartered on the side, and to sit down to that fine breakfast with a copy of the Sunday Times to read? (Okay, well, if you happen to have one of Katherine’s Famous Bloody Marys to sip, you’re that much better off.)

Why, there are so many sections in the Sunday Times that you can divide it up between the two of you (or more, if there happen to be more in your household) and still no one will lack for reading material during that leisurely breakfast, and probably well after it and into the middle of Sunday afternoon. (By which time, if you’re lucky, you will have been served another of Katherine’s Famous Bloody Marys. If anyone would like the recipe, just say the word and this wonderful Sunday tradition can be yours too! Oh, and after that second one, you’ll be wanting a Sunday nap.)

The Times was for years part of the Sunday tradition for Raymond and me when we lived in Montreal. We enjoyed what I now realize was the extreme luxury of having it delivered to our door. And so we’d come home from church and there it would be, a doorstopper of a great big thick newspaper, just waiting for me to divide it into two separate piles (the News, Sports and Sunday Review sections for Raymond; the Sunday Styles, Arts and Leisure and Travel sections for me; and we always found a way to share the Books section and the magazine) while Raymond whipped up Ray’s Famous Scrambled Eggs. (The best scrambled eggs ever, and maybe, if you ask nicely, I can get him to share that recipe.)

The Times is still, in my opinion, the best newspaper in the world. (Though of course the Guardian is excellent too.) And while I spend a lot of of the news-consumption time of my waking life “consuming” (okay, reading) news on my mobile phone, there are circumstances in which I still love an old-fashioned ink-on-paper newspaper. I love, for instance, the local weekly papers that I read cover to cover because they tell me all kinds of interesting things that are happening right around me here in Queensborough. And I love the ink-on-paper Sunday New York Times. Which I have not as yet been successful at bringing into the Manse on Sundays, as I vowed in that earlier post I would try to do; I’ve been a little too busy to spend much time on that mission.

But a week ago today, Raymond and I began our Sunday in another big city, Toronto, and so we were able to pick up a copy of the Sunday Times before returning home to the Manse. The photo you see at the top of this post shows our same-day copy of the paper along with a Katherine’s Famous; here is one showing Sunday breakfast the way it should be: bacon and eggs (fried instead of Ray’s Famous Scrambled on this particular Sunday), Katherine’s Famous Bloody Marys, and the Times spread all over the dining-room table. All of it just waiting for us to attack it in the course of a long and very pleasant Sunday afternoon. At the conclusion of which we’d be well-fed and would have read all kinds of interesting things written by some of the best journalists in the world:

Breakfast with the New York Times

An ideal Sunday breakfast at the Manse: bacon and eggs (and yes, I like my toast well-done), and the Sunday New York Times spread out all over the table. What bliss!

For two journalists, that really is the way Sundays should be. Which means it’s time for me to get serious about getting the Sunday New York Times within buying range of us here in the Madoc-Tweed-Queensborough area. Because I think that everybody deserves such Sundays!

Your turn, people: name the cheesiest Manse-era pop song!

As regular readers probably know, I sometimes like to mark Fridays – best day of the week! – with a musically themed post. Hey, it’s been a long, hard work week for all of us (save those who are retired), and I figure that on Friday night all we really want to do is kick back and relax. In other words: less of Katherine’s prose, and more musical memories and vintage videos.

On this particular Friday I have been inspired once again to adopt a musical theme by an email I received today from my good friend and former colleague Earl, one of the cleverest and funniest people I have ever had the privilege to know. Earl is brilliant at digging up goofy, hilarious things on the internet, and apparently today he came across just such a thing – and fortunately for us all, he decided to share it through me. And into the bargain, he gave me a great idea for a post.

Earl’s message was brief:

In case you’re thinking about doing cheesiest Manse 1.0-era songs/videos ever, I hearby submit:

Oh, people. If you’ve already clicked on this video, you know how awful it is. If you haven’t, you must. It may in fact be the cheesiest video – and song – of all time.

But here’s the problem: ubiquitously ghastly as the Starland Vocal Band‘s one and only hit, Afternoon Delight, was, it is ineligible for competition in our newly created (thanks to Earl’s inspiration) contest called Name the Cheesiest Pop Song of the Manse Era. Why? Because it was released in 1976! Too late for the Manse Era – that is, Manse Era 1.0, as Earl cleverly puts it. (Manse Era 2.0 having started in 2012, when Raymond and I reclaimed this old house that I grew up in.) The years of my childhood here – Manse Era 1.0 – were 1964 to 1975, and so Afternoon Delight falls just a bit outside of the eligibility criteria.

I think we can all agree that the years 1964 to 1975 were when some of the greatest pop songs of all time were released. Without even stopping to think about it, I’ll list California Dreamin’Son of a Preacher Man, Norwegian Wood, Both Sides Now, Like a Rolling Stone, Love Child, Honky Tonk Women, Ode to Billie Joe, Sloop John B, Angel of the Morning, Take it Easy, I Feel the Earth Move, Down on the Corner, Walk on By and I’m a Believer. And that doesn’t come close to even scratching the surface. Wow.

And then there was the cheesy crap! And lord knows there was lots and lots and lots of it. So I think it’s time to name the greatest hits, so to speak, of the bad music of the era.

No, we can’t include Afternoon Delight. (Sadly.) But we can include my nomination, Kung Fu Fighting – a ridiculous and terrible song from the era when Joey Edwards was the star DJ here on our local AM radio station, CJBQ. That’s the one that you will have seen at the top of this post.

And maybe we could think about another nomination:

But people, really what I (and your fellow Meanwhile, at the Manse readers) want to know about are your nominations. Comb through those musical memories, rack your brains, and share: what were the worst popular songs, the real stinkers, of that otherwise golden era for music? Send ’em in – and we can collectively wallow in the fun of really bad music that we all know by heart. And wish we didn’t.

“Return to sender”? What ever happened to the good old days?

Return to sender“What’s your 911 number?” Raymond and I were asked that more than once after we’d bought the Manse. The first time we were completely puzzled. What on earth was meant by a “911 number”? I mean, 911 is a number – and it’s a general number, for everyone. Why would we have our own?

We did eventually figure out that “911 number” is how folks in rural Ontario refer to the street numbers that all addresses have been given over the past few years. When I was a kid growing up here, no rural homes had numbers; you explained where you lived by saying it was “the brick house on the west side down the hill from the church,” or some such. And your mailing address was simply your rural route number. (And more of that anon.)

But yes, some urbanization of the Ontario countryside took place during the decades I was away from it, and roads that never had any name before – save perhaps for “Concession 5” or “Seventh Line” – suddenly do. Here at the Manse, for instance, we are at 847 Bosley Rd. But Bosley Road is a new moniker since the days of my childhood at this address. I assume the name comes from the Bosley family that used to live just down the way from the Manse, and that’s absolutely fine with me; but it still feels a little artificial – put-on, you might say – to my ears. As for street numbers – well, I do find them useful when I’m driving to a certain home or business for the first time, but they still seem rather odd. However, I suppose in the overall cause of emergency workers being able to locate you when your house is on fire, street names and numbers are a good idea. And I think I’m safe in assuming that efficiency in emergencies was a primary reason behind coming up with these names and numbers in the first place.

But while I’ve more or less got used to street numbers for rural addresses, I was not prepared for the old ways to have disappeared entirely. And I’m not sure I’m terribly happy about it. Here’s my story:

The other day I wrote a thank-you note to an old friend who had done something special for Raymond and me. I had her telephone number and email address, but I wanted to send her my thanks the traditional way, in my own handwriting. What I didn’t have was her street number, and her listing in the telephone book failed to cough it up; all it said was “RR2 Madoc.” Well, since that is the way all rural mail was addressed through all the years I was growing up in Queensborough, and since that mail always reached its destination, I assumed I was safe in going with that. After all, don’t the rural mail carriers know everyone on their routes? They always used to, that’s for sure.

So you can imagine how surprised I was when my thank-you note showed up back in our own mailbox only 24 hours after I’d dropped it off at the post office in Madoc. As you can see from the photo atop this post, it bore a large “Return to Sender” stamp on it, which further informed me that the address I had used was “incomplete.”

Well I never! What is the world coming to?

Longtime readers might recall a post I did quite a while ago (it’s here if you’d like to refresh your memory) reminiscing about the introduction of those new-fangled things called postal codes back in the early 1970s, and how infuriated many people were about them. Back then I heard more than one person of a certain ago – like, say, probably around the age I am now – vow never ever to use postal codes, since the mail had always been delivered perfectly well without them. As a young teenager I found their old-fashioned anti-progress attitude (which is how I saw it) quit hilarious.

Now, however, with my annoyance at my thank-you note having been peremptorily returned to me, I see that things have changed.

I have officially become a postal fuddy-duddy. And you know what? I am proud of it.

A sad day for Canada, but an exciting one for new journalists

Newsroom headlines

The developing top story on QNet News (the student-produced news website at Loyalist College) on display on the overhead monitors, on a very busy day in our newsroom today.

A brilliant former Montreal Gazette colleague of mine who is now, as of the start of this academic year, a professor of journalism at a university, posted something rather poignant on Facebook at midday today: “It is so weird not to be in a buzzing newsroom right now.”

She was referring, of course, to the shocking (and as of the time of her posting, still very much unfolding) events in Ottawa, when shots were fired in the halls of Parliament and a young reserve soldier with his whole life in front of him was shot and killed at the National War Memorial. As I write this, several hours later, I think the whole country is still trying to wrap its collective head around the very un-Canadian events of the day. And mourning the death of that soldier, whose smile is so dazzling in all the photos.

My former colleague’s post referred to the fact that she is in academe now, as opposed to a professional newsroom. Both she and I have been in newsrooms on so many days like today, when shocking events catch everyone by surprise and it is necessary to dispatch a vast team of reporters to cover them, to co-ordinate and manage the coverage, and to ensure that the news as it develops is posted as quickly and as accurately as possible online and, eventually, in our newspaper. While the events of such days are, unfortunately, almost always tragic, the adrenaline rush you get from working through them and helping bring the news to the world is like nothing I can describe.

So I could certainly relate when I saw my former colleague’s post, right after I had emerged from the cocoon of teaching a class of first-year journalism students at Loyalist College about writing leads for news stories. And I came this close to adding a comment to her post, along the lines of “Me too.”

But then I stopped and looked out the door of my office, toward the centrepiece of the journalism program at the college: our own newsroom. And it was a scene of non-stop activity, full of students monitoring social media and websites and TV screens, taking notes, making phone calls, preparing to head out to nearby Canadian Forces Base Trenton to report on what impact the day’s events might be having there, prepping radio newscasts, and producing a constantly-updated running report for QNet News, the website made up entirely of our students’ journalistic work. And I thought: “Wait a minute! I am in a ‘buzzing newsroom’!”

Newsroom in action

All hands were on deck in our newsroom today as everyone worked on local angles to the huge story of the shootings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

As I hastened into that newsroom to offer to help (providing a brief break for a colleague, Robert Washburn, who had been in the hot seat directing operations through the morning), I thought: “I’m right at home here. This is what I do.” And in the midst of all the activity, I offered up a brief thanks that my own transition from professional journalist to journalism teacher had landed me in a place where the focus is on practical learning – on teaching students to become multiplatform journalists by working with them as they actually produce multiplatform journalism. Or (to quote a slogan I knew well in my Queensborough youth – the slogan of 4-H clubs, of which I, as a young rural person, was a member more than once): as they “learn to do by doing.”

The other thing I took away from today is how exciting it is to see young journalists experience and work on a huge breaking story for the first time. Our team worked so hard, and did such a good job. The adrenaline in the room was palpable, and it fired up the reporters and editors. At the end of the day they were excited and proud of the work they’d done, and justifiably so.

My heart broke late this afternoon when we got word that the soldier who had been killed had been identified as 24-year-old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Not just because it was just such a damn stupid waste; it was really because of the reaction of one of my students, who was preparing to do the 5 p.m. radio newscast. “He was 24,” he said softly, shock and sadness in his voice. “Twenty-four. That’s just a year older than I am.” Suddenly it was very, very real. For him. And for me.

This evening, my heart was again touched, by another one of my students. It was warmed to the core by his post in our program’s Facebook group: “Wanted to say it was great working with everyone involved with the Ottawa Situation. Was a nice taste of the real job.”

For a veteran journalist like me, there’s probably not a thing in the world better than to see these brand-new journalists find out about the thrill, the scariness, the realness, the rawness, the demands, the stress, the fun and – perhaps most of all – the teamwork of covering news.

These young people will go far. I am very, very proud of them.

Stirling butter, found in all the best places

Stirling Butter

So there Raymond and I were, in a hipper-than-hip butcher shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market called Sanagan’s Meat Locker, and what do I find but a splendid display of Stirling butter, made right here in central Hastings County!

When I was growing up here in Queensborough, my mum always bought Stirling butter because, well, it was the local butter. So did pretty much everybody else. And we never thought too much about it.

Vintage Stirling whey butter wrapper

Here’s something funky the internet just coughed up: a vintage wrapper from when the Stirling Creamery produced whey butter under the name Hastings (rather than Stirling). This takes me back to my childhood days!

When I returned to this area a little less than three years ago, I was delighted to learn that the Stirling Creamery was very much still in business in the pretty little central Hastings County village of Stirling and that it was still – sorry; I can’t help myself – churning it out.

One of the first issues that Raymond and I picked up of the excellent Country Roads magazine featured an article (by a local writer and blogger who was subsequently to become a good friend, Lindi Pierce) on the storied past and successful present of the Stirling Creamery. (Unfortunately that article doesn’t seem to be available online, so I can’t share it with you.) Raymond and I have been faithfully buying Stirling butter ever since our arrival at the Manse, and we have often remarked upon how good it is.

And we aren’t the only ones! In the past couple of weeks, I’ve spotted Stirling butter for sale in the trendiest of trendy Toronto food shops, at the St. Lawrence Market and in Kensington Market. Not, mind you, as one of several kinds of high-end butters for sale: as the only butter for sale to the foodie connoisseurs. That is pretty impressive.

Need more convincing of how great our local butter is? Check out this article from the Toronto Star that notes (among other things) that a while back Saveur magazine named Stirling one of the world’s top 30 butters.

Oh, and I would also like to point out that the gorgeous new packaging that Stirling butter came out with just a few years ago (which you can admire in my photo at the top of this post, and even more here) was designed by our friend Mimi Maxwell, a Toronto designer with a strong connection to the Queensborough area. Isn’t that cool?

Stirling Creamery

Here’s a nice photo of the Stirling Creamery, right in the heart of the pretty village of Stirling. The photo comes from a brilliant blog I’ve just discovered called Seasonal Ontario Food (, which is filled with recipes to help you eat locally and well.

Now, lest you dare to say (as I probably would have in my childhood here, when my mum was first buying Stirling butter) “But it’s only butter!” – let me tell you about my days living in France. The French are positively reverent about their butter, I learned; often they will visit a high-end cheese shop to purchase freshly made salted or unsalted butter, rather than buy it in a supermarket. Half of a good baguette sliced horizontally and slathered with top-notch butter is considered a treat. And with good reason! I learned while living there how good butter can be – and have had a taste for the good stuff ever since.

A taste that, I am delighted to say, is fulfilled in world-class style by our friendly local creamery. Aren’t we lucky?

I have moved to the land of high-priced dry cleaning. Who knew?

dry-cleaning bill

$34.75 for three items of dry cleaning? What the heck is that all about?

When Raymond and I moved to the Manse a year ago, I was prepared for some variations in the cost of things between here in rural Ontario and very urban Montreal, where we came from. I knew that hydro, for instance, is a fair bit more expensive in Ontario than in Quebec – Quebec consumers being well-served by the huge water-powered operations of Hydro-Québec, which take full advantage of the province’s natural resources in that regard. I knew that car-insurance rates would be different, and braced for them to be higher. (Which they were.) I knew that wine prices at the LCBO are generally a few dollars cheaper than at the Société des alcools du Québec, which is a very good thing. I liked the fact that the sales tax is lower here in Ontario.

One thing I did not expect – that never would have entered my mind to expect – was the sky-high cost of dry cleaning here. What, people, is that all about? Is it really so much more expensive to operate dry-cleaning machines in Belleville than in Montreal?

I say Belleville because as far as I know there are no dry cleaners in our immediate area – that is, Madoc or Tweed. There are businesses in those two central Hastings County places where you can drop off and pick up your dry cleaning, but it is sent to Belleville for the actual work to be done, and my understanding is that the cleaning prices are set by those Belleville companies.

The first couple of times I took items to the cleaners in Belleville – taking advantage of the fact that I work in that small nearby city – I was surprised at the prices. Ten dollars to get a simple knee-length unpleated skirt cleaned seemed like an awful lot. In response, since Raymond in those early months was back in Montreal for one thing and another fairly often, I tended to send dry cleaning with him, so it could be done at the place that’s up the street from the house we still own (because it hasn’t yet sold; would you like to buy a nice Outremont condo?) in Montreal.

But now that we’re here in Queensborough almost all the time, and because the dry cleaning was starting to pile up a bit, I figured I’d better get some done locally. So last week I dropped off three items – a plain (i.e. unpleated, unfrilly) dress, a pair of men’s trousers, and a plain skirt. They were done and ready for pickup two days later, which was great. But my eyes bugged out of my head when I saw the price tag: $34.75!

People of Hastings County, perhaps you are used to paying these exorbitant dry-cleaning prices, and so perhaps they don’t seem exorbitant to you. But based on my experience living elsewhere – they are.

For comparison’s sake I tried to find a price list for my local dry cleaner in Montreal, but its prices, sadly, were not available online. I did, however, find a price list for another Montreal chain; it’s here, and it’s very comparable to what I’m used to paying. So using those prices, I calculate that the bill in Montreal for my same dry cleaning order would be $4.50 for the trousers + $8.75 for the dress + $4.50 for the skirt, which adds up to $17.75; when you add the taxes (a hefty 9.975% in Quebec sales tax, so $1.77, plus the 5% GST, 89¢) the final figure is $20.41. Which is about what I had expected to pay for my three items of dry cleaning the other day, and why I was so horrified when the price was almost $15 – 70%! – higher than that.

You know what this makes me feel like? Well, if you said it makes me feel like opening a dry-cleaning business, charging lower prices than the competition and probably making a bundle thanks to my satisfied customers, you’d be close. But I don’t think I have the time for that entrepreneurial enterprise, so sadly, that’s a non-starter. (Though if anyone else would like to try it, you will have your first customer in me.)

No, what the experience really makes me feel like is this: like I’ve been taken to the cleaners.