The occasional downside of living far from the hustle-bustle

Inherited Manse couch

Okay, people, picture this couch…

Hudson couch in teal

… replaced with this one. Don’t you love the midcentury style? More to the point, don’t you think the teal colour would go splendidly with our real-life midcentury curtains? (The same ones that hung in our living room when I was a kid here?)

“The world could end and you wouldn’t know it,” our Queensborough friend Marykay once said, describing what it’s like to live in our pretty little village. I think of that often when I come home to Queensborough, drive over the hill that’s on the edge of town and down into our little valley with a river running through it. When you come over the crest of that hill, and our life-size Christmas village (at least in wintertime) unfolds before you, you really do feel like the world outside could end and you wouldn’t know it. I like that feeling.

But every now and again that splendid away-from-it-all-ness of Queensborough proves problematic. Like today, for instance. When a nifty midcentury-style couch that Raymond and I had made up our minds to splurge on for the Manse proved to be unattainable. Why? Because: “We don’t deliver there.”

If you’re a regular reader you might have seen my post last night, a little celebration of the happy and cozy living room here at the Manse where Raymond, Sieste the cat and I spend our winter evenings. (It was also a celebration of the third anniversary of Raymond and me buying this house that I grew up in. A happy post all round!)

I wonder if, in reading that post and looking at my photos there, you remarked on the sofa (or chesterfield, as we used to call that particular piece of furniture when I was a kid). It came with the Manse when we bought it, and is a kind of puffy white affair made of faux leather. It’s old and greyed and the first time I saw it I thought it would have to be replaced immediately; but it turned out to have the great redeeming quality of being thoroughly comfortable to sit in. And so for these past three years we’ve kind of closed our eyes to the couch’s less thrilling features and just gone ahead and used it. Every now and again, though, I see it as a visitor to the Manse might, and think, “Good lord – that couch has got to be replaced!”

Gramercy couch

My first choice for a new couch for the Manse, since rejected.

I wrote about one possible replacement, which I found at The Bay in downtown Montreal, in a post here from last March. But I’ve since decided against that great-looking lime-green chesterfield; online reviews have suggested it’s not all that sturdy, which may be why it seems to be permanently on sale at The Bay. (Still, it is a great midcentury colour!)

But a backup sofa that I mentioned in that same post, and that I’d also seen at The Bay, has now become my first choice. It is called the Hudson (appropriately enough), it also features great midcentury style, and it too is on sale at The Bay at the moment. You can see one photo of it at the top of this post. Since Raymond and I were in Toronto this morning, two blocks away from the flagship Bay store at Queen and Yonge, we popped in to have a look, and here’s a photo that I took there:

Hudson sofa

The Hudson sofa, as displayed at the downtown Toronto Bay store. For some reason the colour, called pumpkin, is always used when this couch is displayed; it’s not my cup of tea, but I hope you can appreciate the funky midcentury style of this made-in-Canada “chesterfield.”

We saw, we sat, we liked it. We chose the colour: teal, to match our vintage curtains – the same curtains that hung in our living room back in the 1960s and ’70s when I was a kid in this house. Those curtains have totally grown on us – even Raymond can sometimes be heard to say favourable things about them. And now here we were buying a couch to match!

Or wait – not so much. When we made inquiries about how to obtain our new chosen chesterfield, the “we don’t deliver there” situation arose. Good lord, you’d think we lived at the end of the world!

Oh, wait a minute…

I was determined to win this. “There has to be a way,” I told the salesman, a very affable chap who clearly was trying his best to get that couch into our possession. He’d run out of ideas, but I had not run out of determination: “There has to be a way.” The salesman thought some more, and then allowed as how deliveries do go out from the Bay’s central warehouse in Toronto to its various stores – and that therefore our couch could be delivered to a regional store. And there is a store in Kingston, which is a little less than an hour away.

Okay, so – now all we need is a way to get a very large box containing our new teal curtain-matching chesterfield from Kingston to Queensborough. It’s going to be too big for Raymond’s little red truck; suddenly that plan to get a trailer – or a bigger truck – is looking very sensible.

Anyway, if you’re still with me, stay tuned. I think we’ll figure out a way to get that couch to the Manse, and I think it will look splendid. I’ll show you photos if and when it gets here. I am operating on the following principle: When you’re in a place where the world could end and you wouldn’t know it, you need a comfortable and stylish chesterfield to sit on!

Three years on, the Manse is a cozy, happy place

Cozy corner of the Manse

Our living room, filled with warmth and nice things, where we spend a lot of time. It’s something happy to reflect on as Raymond and I mark the third anniversary of owning this great old house. And yes, the vintage curtains – the ones that hung here in my childhood – are still there!

Well, people, here we are: three years and counting. Three years of Manse ownership, that is; it was on this very day three years ago (Jan. 30, 2012) that Raymond and I became the owners of this great old house in beautiful little Queensborough, the house that happens to be the one that I grew up in. Today is also the third anniversary of Meanwhile at the Manse; our first day of ownership was also the day of my very first post. And you can read that post – which explains how we got here, and kicks off the 940 (yikes!) and counting other posts that were to follow it – right here.

On the first anniversary of our Manse acquisition, I used my post (which is here) to speculate about whether the subsequent 12 months would see the start of our much-discussed but not-yet-started renovations of the house. (They didn’t, by the way.)

On the second anniversary (the post is here), I was busy ruminating on my non-buyer’s remorse for failing to snap up a vintage telephone table at a bargain price. That’s kind of funny, actually, because non-buyer’s remorse is a recurring theme at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and I was going on about it again just the other night, in a post about vintage cheesy but endearing paintings of big-eyed urchins that you can read here. (Also, by the way, I did eventually get a great telephone table, which I told you about here.)

As I thought about what I would write tonight, to mark the end of Year 3 and the start of Year 4, I decided there would be nothing better than to reflect on what a cozy and happy place the Manse has become, unrenovated though it may be.

Staircase carpeting

That 1970s carpeting! It’s got to go. Sometime.

Yes, it’s still a little rustic. Our bathroom is, while very clean, alarming in many other ways; pieces of the flooring are torn up in various places; sections of the walls are missing wallpaper and showing crumbling plaster underneath; there is still horrendous early-1970s wood panelling in one of the guest bedrooms; and that orange-and-yellow broadloom on the front staircase just won’t quit.

And I didn’t even mention the tiny pantry kitchen with the Harvest Gold stove and the washing machine – the washing machine! – conveniently (not) located in its far-too-constricted space. Oh, well, I guess I have mentioned it.

But despite all of these imperfections and jobs waiting to be done, the Manse is a cozy and a happy place. At the end of every day, when I return home from work as a professor of journalism at Loyalist College, and Raymond sets aside his duties as editorial consultant for the National Newspaper Awards, and we’ve cooked a nice dinner in that tiny kitchen, we make ourselves comfortable in our living room. Often we watch a television program (there’s only ever time for one before my early bedtime), but sometimes we read or do more work on our laptops. (For one thing, there’s always a Meanwhile, at the Manse post that needs writing.)

Cozy fireplace

Our electric fireplace might someday be replaced by a real wood fireplace, but its cheerful red colour and warmth make us happy on a cold winter night.

And let me tell you, that room is just the nicest, happiest place you can imagine. Warmth radiates from the cranberry-red electric fireplace in the corner; there are books, including a lot of volumes of local history, in the bookcase and all over the room; there are framed photos of Raymond’s lovely grandson Henry; there is vintage furniture, and a vintage floor lamp, and there are vintage knick-knacks, every one of which has a story behind it; there are kerosene lamps in case the power goes out; there are artworks, one old and one new, featuring the Manse; and there are the very curtains that hung in that same room in the 1960s and ’70s when I was a kid growing up here. Yes, people, the curtains are still there.

Sieste in her bed

Sieste the cat, on her bed (or should I call it her throne?) in the Manse’s living room.

And best of all, there is Sieste the cat, who loves to sit with us and watch whatever’s going on, making the occasional comment – whenever she’s not doing the hard work of catching up on her beauty sleep.

We love our cozy living room. We love our Manse. We love our cat. We love each other. And: we love those curtains.

So happy third anniversary to us!

Great Queensborough mailboxes (#2 in a hoped-for series)

Schoolhouse mailbox closeupNot long ago I wrote a little post (it’s here) about what I considered (and still do) to be the prettiest mailbox in all of pretty little Queensborough. It’s painted in the very Canadian, and very distinctive, colours of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and it makes me happy every time I see it when I drive home over the crest of the little hill on the western edge of the village and into “downtown” Queensborough:

Hudson's Bay mailbox

Prettiest mailbox in Queensborough, in Hudson’s Bay colours.

(Sometime I must tell you about how I made a new friend, Shirley, in faraway Minnesota of all places, because of that post. It included a photo of a pillar candle in Hudson’s Bay colours that I have, and Shirley had been looking for such a candle for years. I have to tell you, folks, you’d be amazed at all the nice people you meet, and the nifty little adventures you have, when you write a blog about life at the Manse in Queensborough!)

Anyway, today I have a new addition to what perhaps will become a gallery of photos of attractive and interesting mailboxes in the Queensborough area. You can see it in the photo at the top of this post, and can you tell what it is? It’s a miniature schoolhouse! And do you know why this particular residence has a mailbox designed like a miniature schoolhouse? Well, I’ll show you:

Schoolhouse mailbox, Moore's Corners

Because the home itself is a historic former one-room schoolhouse! It’s at what Queensborough oldtimers (such as myself) call Moore’s Corners a little east of the village. The school was S.S. (for School Section) #4, Moore’s School, back in the days when there had to be a school within walking distance – even if it was a long walk – of every child.

The home’s current owners, whom I do not (yet) know, have fixed it up, and kept it up, beautifully, and it and its delightful mailbox were looking particularly great on the recent sparkling winter day when I took these pictures. And I just have to say that I think the way the mailbox was constructed to pay tribute to the style of its house is very clever, and very cute.

Our mailboxThere’s one down side to all these appealing Queensborough mailboxes, however, and it’s this: compared to the pretty Hudson’s Bay one, and the clever schoolhouse one, the plain-Jane mailbox here at the Manse is starting to look pretty darn ordinary.

Raymond and I may have to put our thinking caps on.

My latest story of non-buyer’s remorse has ended happily

Eden skater

Odd, cheesy, but, for me anyway, eye-catching: when I spotted a reproduction of this weird vintage painting, I knew I had to have it. Except then I made the stupid mistake of not buying it!

It was reader (and old friend and colleague) Jim who gave me the wonderful phrase “non-buyer’s remorse,” way back in May 2013 when I wrote about how annoyed I was with myself for not having swooped down in time on a vintage board game from my Manse childhood that I’d seen offered for sale. (That post is here, if you’re inclined to revisit it.) I thank Jim so much, because that concise little phrase so perfectly sums up the feeling you get when in a shop – usually, in my case, a collectibles shop or antiques barn – you see something you are intrigued by, then decide the sensible thing to do is not to buy it, and then regret that stupid decision ever after.

Despite my full knowledge that the way to avoid suffering the pangs of non-buyer’s remorse is to follow another, equally apt, adage – to wit, “If you see something you really like, buy it” (unspoken postscript being “or you’ll be sorry”) – I did it yet again not long ago. What a dope!

Raymond and I were checking out a tiny newly established vintage store on the main street of the nearby village of Tweed. The store is called The Vintage Booth, and you can find it on Facebook here.

As soon as I crossed its threshold, something caught my eye. It was a reproduction of an oil painting, tallish (20″ or so) and narrow (7″ or so). It could only be described as a) tacky and b) an apparently unabashed imitation of the midcentury “Big Eyes” paintings of Margaret Keane. The Big Eyes paintings have been in the news lately thanks to a movie of that name by Tim Burton about the crazy fact that for many years Keane’s husband, Walter Keane, claimed (falsely) that he had painted those odd but popular pictures.

The print at The Vintage Booth was of a little blonde skater wearing a navy-blue costume with white fur trim and a white fur muff. She did indeed have big eyes, but not as big as those hauntingly weird ones in Margaret Keane’s paintings. And I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

It wasn’t the artistic merit (which was extremely dubious in any case) of the picture that caught my attention; it was its familiarity.

I couldn’t imagine that my dad and mum – not exactly arbiters of high art, but far from black-velvet-Elvis-painting-types either – would ever have adorned a wall of the Manse with such a picture in the years when I was growing up here. And yet – I’d seen that picture somewhere before; and had not just seen it, but spent a lot of time with it. I knew that picture. Perhaps it had been hung for a time, early in our Manse years, in the bedroom that my sister, Melanie, and I shared? Maybe we even chose it for the wall, when we were very young girls?

As I think about it now, I am pretty sure that, wherever this print hung, there was a companion picture. And since the words “Robin Hood” have unexpectedly popped into my head, I kind of think it might have been this one, conveniently found on the internet:

Eden Robin Hood

Or, actually, maybe it was this one? (Not Robin Hood-ish, but oddly familiar.)

Eden green ballerina

I don’t know – the memory of all of this is so misty and so vague. I am sure I would never have thought of these paintings again in my whole life had I not seen the skater with the muff in Tweed that day.

I don’t remember how much the genial proprietor of The Vintage Booth was asking for the picture – maybe $20? – but I told myself it was too much to spend on a whimsy, and a cheesy whimsy at that. And I left the store without it.

Stupid stupid stupid!

I realized my mistake shortly afterward. I kept thinking about that strange, and tacky, and kind of sweet picture, and how it had been a half-memory for me – and wishing I’d forked over the 20 bucks so I could look at it whenever I wanted, and maybe figure out why I remembered it.

A couple of Saturdays later, when Raymond and I were in Tweed again, I couldn’t get to The Vintage Booth fast enough. I had my money in my pocket and was ready to grab the skater with the white muff.

And of course it was gone. Argh! What’s that I hear you saying? Ah yes: “If you see something you really like, buy it.”

Eden harlequins

Harlequin-costume paintings like these are what Eden (whoever he or she is/was) is best known for.

However, this tale has a happy ending, thanks once again to my friend the internet. That same evening, on a whim, I googled something along the lines of “skater with white muff big eyes painting,” and instantly several images came up. I learned that these paintings – there are lots more besides the skater, including a whole series of big-eyed girls in harlequin outfits – were done by someone named Eden, and that nobody seems to know who that person actually was. I learned that it wasn’t too hard to find such prints for sale, at places like Etsy for instance. And best of all, I learned that a print of the skater with the muff was being offered on eBay, with about 12 minutes left in the bidding! Great timing on my part, even if it was sheer dumb luck.

Long story short: for the reasonable price of $11.50 U.S. (plus shipping), I am now the proud owner of a copy of the skater-with-muff painting. It hasn’t yet arrived at the Manse, but it will.

What I’ll do with it when it does, I am not exactly sure. Let’s just say it will not be displayed in a prominent place where visitors might see it and think I know even less about art than I actually do.

But one thing I am sure of: I showed that particular case of non-buyer’s remorse who was boss!

More inspiration for a beautiful bathroom

Disclaimer from Katherine: the captions below most of the photos you see in this post are by, and frankly not up to my standards of capitalization and punctuation. Unfortunately I can’t change them because of the way Houzz insists they be embedded. So please enjoy the lovely photos – and hold your grammatically discerning nose at the captions!


Here in the dark, cold days of winter, I find it cheering to dream about bathroom renovations. Why bathroom renovations particularly? I’m not sure, actually; lord knows every room here at the Manse is in need of at least some renovation work. But there’s something about visions of a sparkling, well-lit (with as much natural light as possible), beautifully designed bathroom that just makes a person feel better on a dreary late-January day. It could well be that it’s the prospect of sinking into a deep, hot bubble bath in that sparkling, elegant bathroom that really brings a body comfort when the wind howls outside.

Bathroom in the home of Pilar Guzman

The bathroom of my dreams. (Photo from

Anyway, quite some time back I told you about, and showed you a photo of, what I considered – and still do, really – the perfect style of bathroom for the Manse. You can see that photo right here and the original post here; go ahead, admire that bathroom all over again!

But the other day I came across images of another bathroom that has to be a pretty close second. They were at Houzz (, a big home-design site that posts so much stuff so often that there’s no way anyone other than the proverbial lady or gentleman of leisure could find time to keep tabs on it all. I don’t even try.

But a Houzz post one day last week did catch my eye, and chalk that up to the aforementioned wintry conditions and the way they make you long for a luxurious bathroom.

The link to it from Facebook was headlined something along the lines of “Latest looks for the smaller bathroom.” Aha! Right now the Manse has only one bathroom (a situation I wrote about here and here); it is a rather enormous room that is inconveniently, and mystifyingly, located on the ground floor of the house, right inside the front door. Raymond and I are interested in turning it into a smaller secondary bathroom, the kind with just a sink and toilet (you’ll note I’m avoiding using the phrase “powder room,” which I detest), and maybe also a shower. And so, seeing “latest looks” and “smaller bathroom,” I clicked on the link.

And inside that post (which is here) I found another link, to the gorgeous bathroom that you see atop this post. Which I adore. Were it not in New Jersey, I might go knock on the front door and ask to see it in person.

Houzz writer Becky Harris calls it a bathroom with a “vintage apothecary style,” and while obviously I know what an apothecary is, I don’t really know what “apothecary style” means. But I do know that I love the bathroom. Here, to show you the brilliance of the owners of the home it’s in (along with the designer who worked with them), is the thoroughly depressing Before photo:


And here’s another of the After:


And another:


And another:


And one more:


Isn’t it beautiful?

I think one of the main reasons this wonderful, bright bathroom appeals to me is that the tile on the walls, though high-end and gorgeous, is of a colour not unlike the low-end and genuinely vintage tiles that are on our bathroom wall here at the Manse – and that were there way back in the long-ago days when I was a kid growing up in this same house:

Bathroom tiles

Yes, they’re old. (Older than I am! They were here when I was a kid in this house.) Yes, they’re cheap. But I’ve always liked the colour (gentle blue swirls on cream, accented by black trim) of these tiles in the Manse’s bathroom. Wouldn’t it be nice to pay tribute to them with a higher-end version such as those featured in Houzz’s “apothecary-style” bathroom?

Cheap though those tiles may be, I always liked their tranquil pale-blue-and-white colour, set off with black trim. And I would love to pay homage to them with some much nicer and better ones (with black trim) like in the “apothecary-style” bathroom that Houzz was good enough to feature.

So: more dreaming of beautiful bathrooms. All in all, not a bad pastime for a winter’s night in Queensborough, if you ask me.

A roadmap to happy vacations and simpler times

Eastern Motor Court Map Lake Ontario

Ah, the old days – when a map showing attractions like Old Fort Henry and a chance to ride the “American Adonis” in the Thousand Islands could set the heart racing.

Eastern Motor Court Map

The other day Raymond and I were in Campbellford, Ont., a nice little town with links to my past that I wrote a full post about here, and I found a fun thing in an antique store. It’s called the Eastern Motor Court Map, and its purpose was to guide travellers of the era – it was published in 1960, a very good year if I do say so myself, and perhaps you can guess why – to “motor courts” (we would call them motels today) in Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

(There were apparently companion maps for the Northeast [New England] and the Central region – Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, etc. My map says that if I send “10¢, in coin or stamps,” I can get another of the set. Do you think that would still work?)

I love vintage travel stuff, and here at the Manse I have a bit of a collection of old maps, guidebooks, menus (including menus from transatlantic liners and no-longer-extant airlines) and the like – so I couldn’t resist the Eastern Motor Court Map. It is such a throwback to a simpler time, when a “motoring” vacation was a real adventure and “motor courts” were a shiny new thing.

The map pinpoints all the spots where travellers would be able to stay at motor courts in the Eastern region. It has useful travel advice: “The practice of making advance reservations is always helpful. It helps you by preventing disappointment, particularly in resort areas, for holiday periods and over week-ends. It helps the operator to plan so that he can take care of you.” But the best part is the ads, which introduce some bright orange to the black-and-white map and feature charming invitations to visit motor courts like the Hi-Hat in Watertown, N.Y. (“A Good Complete Stop” with “Hot Water Heat”) and the Maple Leaf Motor Hotel of Buffalo, N.Y. (“One of America’s Largest and Finest Courts”), not to mention attractions like Storytown U.S.A. and Ghost Town (“A Million Dollar Attraction for Family Fun and Adventure”) and the Enchanted Forest (“A World of Fantasy for the Young and the Young at Heart”) and Roadside America (“World’s Greatest Indoor Miniature Village”) and Historic Fort William Henry (“SEE Buckskin-clad Rangers firing flintlocks!”). Here’s a little photo gallery to give you a sense of what I mean:

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Doesn’t it just make you want to pack up the woody wagon and hit the open road?

Friends, bloggers, fibreglass – and the perfect kitchen stools

Modernical stool in Jadeite

This, people, is the kitchen stool I must have for the Manse. The only question is: in which colour? (Photo, and stool, from Modernica,

Ah, the internet. Where would we be without it?

I mean, if it weren’t for the internet, you wouldn’t be reading this instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse, would you? And I wouldn’t be writing it.

But more to the point: if it weren’t for the internet I wouldn’t have met Elinor; and Elinor wouldn’t have found Tanya’s blog (and Tanya in fact wouldn’t even have a blog); and Tanya might well not have found Modernica; and therefore Tanya might not have the awesomely beautiful turquoise Modernica fibreglass stools in her kitchen that she wrote about in her blog. That (are you following my train of thought?) would be the blog that Elinor found on the internet. And shared with me. Whom she also found on the internet.

Life is good with the internet.

I’ve written about Elinor Florence before, in this post. She is the writerly genius behind the blog Wartime Wednesdays, which I very highly recommend, and also the author of the recently published novel Bird’s Eye View, which I also very highly recommend. (It has been such a success that its first printing sold out almost immediately and it’s gone into a second – and how often do you hear that about a first novel by a Canadian author?)

Elinor’s also been kind enough to contribute to Meanwhile, at the Manse, by way of thoughtful comments and general support. You see, she too is interested in old houses and their restoration, and I hope I’m not giving away any secrets if I tell you that those themes will play a part in her second novel.

Well: because Elinor keeps tabs on the doings at the Manse from her home all the way out in Invermere, B.C., she knew that I would be interested in the blog of a woman named Tanya, called Dans Le Lakehouse ( – and if you’re wondering why the blog’s name is different from the wording of its URL, go check it out [you’ll thank me!] and you’ll learn about how Tanya’s townhouse reno turned into a lake-house reno).

Now, as Tanya explains in her “About” section, she and her husband are do-it-yourself renovators (unlike Raymond and me) and she, like me, loves turquoise. And her turquoise showpiece is her DIY-reno-ed kitchen, which Elinor knew I’d love and which is here, in all its turquoise splendour:

DIY Turquoise Kitchen Makeover

The gorgeous turquoise kitchen – inspired by the colour of the vintage Pyrex collection! – of Tanya. Read lots more about it at Tanya’s blog, Dans le Lakehouse, here. (Photo from Dans le Lakehouse,

What I consider the best thing about this lovely kitchen – better even than the vintage turquoise Pyrex collection, which I also adore (though I am more of a Fire-King gal myself, when it comes to midcentury cook-and-serve-ware): those kitchen stools!

As I found in digging deeper into Tanya’s blog – she helpfully provides lots of links – they come from an American company called Modernica, and are made of fibreglass. They come in lots of colours, and there are different bases available. And I think they are precisely what we need when we finally get the Manse kitchen renovated and have our hoped-for kitchen counter, where guests can sit and sip wine and chat with Raymond and me as we prepare dinner and generally putz around our big and beautiful and well-laid-out kitchen.

(It will be kind of the exact opposite of our current tiny and kooky kitchen, which two people can’t begin to work in at once and which features the helpful inclusion of the household’s washing machine, along with our old but trusty Harvest Gold stove. Here, take a look at Raymond working in it – or trying to – the other evening:

Raymond in the kitchen

A spacious kitchen this is not.

Not quite up to Tanya’s kitchen, is it?)

Anyway, back to those Modernica fibreglass stools, which Tanya has a full post about here. I eagerly followed her link to Modernica’s website – have I mentioned that the internet is extremely useful? – and found just the one I want for the renovated Manse kitchen. And here it is!

Modernica stool red

Now, when I say “just the one,” I mean the style; I really like the metal frame. What I haven’t quite decided on yet is the colour. Modernica has lots of great colours on offer, though I can’t seem to find the turquoise shade that Tanya got – which is okay, because I think it’d be a tad bright for the Manse anyway. The one I’ve shown you at the top of this post is a great vintage colour called Jadeite, which I thought was appropriate since the most collectible of the aforementioned vintage Fire-King ware is in that colour. The one immediately above is, of course, red, my true favourite colour. But there are lots of other options, and I welcome your votes! Here are just a few:

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Don’t you just love them? Won’t they make for a happy Manse kitchen? Don’t you want to just come sit in them, and sip wine and chat with Raymond and me while we cook?

Thank you, Tanya. Thank you, Elinor. Thank you, Modernica. And thank you, internet!

No direction home? Where Bob Dylan fits in at the Manse

This morning on my drive to work, I tuned in to CBC Radio 2 and was lucky enough to catch the latter half of what I, and many others, consider to be the greatest rock’n’roll song of all time: Bob Dylan‘s Like a Rolling Stone.

Lord, how good it felt to be reminded, through Bob’s admittedly rather impenetrable lyrics and Al Kooper’s amazing organ riff, of the thundering, snarly magnificence of that song. I remember how, when I was in my modestly bohemian late teens and wondering what to do with my life and where I would end up, it felt like Bob was speaking directly to me when he would howl out his question for the ages: “How does it FEEL?”

Dylan Like a Rolling Stone

Dylan in his super-cool Like a Rolling Stone days.

I spent a lot of time this evening trying to find a video of His Bobness actually performing Like a Rolling Stone to show you, to no real avail. (Though if you click here you can watch the astounding interactive version that Bob commissioned a couple of years ago, in which you can change “channels” on the virtual TV and watch many different kinds of characters “singing” the song. It’s quite something.) Anyway, thank goodness someone had the good sense to simply upload the audio of the song – and because someone did, you can and should click on the video link atop this post and hear for yourself all over again how great the song is, in all its original vinyl splendour.

Hearing it by chance on the car radio this morning also got me thinking about Bob Dylan’s place in my Manse history. I have to confess that, even though by my middle teens I’d turned into a huge Dylan fan, he didn’t have a particularly big impact in the earlier days when my family lived in this house and I was growing up here in Queensborough. I mean, I read the newspapers and had heard of him and all, but no Dylan record ever appeared at the Manse. And he didn’t get played on CJBQ-AM radio; too radical for that, I guess.

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan in the early days.

Really the way I learned about Bob Dylan was through Joan Baez, who, as you are no doubt aware, was briefly his lover and always his champion way back at the beginning of the ’60s when he was just starting out and she was already a huge folksinging star. My father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was a fan of Joan Baez, partly because of her beautiful voice, I am sure, but especially because he believed in the causes she espoused in her life and work: an end to the war in Vietnam, and non-violent protest against injustice of all sorts.

So while we had no Bob Dylan records at the Manse, we had plenty of Joan Baez’s records, and rare was the Joan Baez record without a Dylan song or two on it. (Sometimes there were other connections. The liner notes on Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2, for example, were written by him; scroll down a bit here and you can read them, in full poetic weirdness.) And that’s how I got to know Dylan’s songs: Mama, You Been on My Mind; It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue; Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word; It Ain’t Me, Babe; I Pity the Poor Immigrant; With God on Our Side; A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall; I Shall Be Released; Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right; even Simple Twist of Fate.

But probably the most important of them all, to my dad and hence to me in those days, was Dylan’s antiwar anthem Blowin’ In the Wind, which of course Joan Baez sang too. Here is a lovely, very old video of a young Joanie singing that song, which I just wish my late father could hear now:

Edie Sedgwick

Edie Sedgwick, hipster extraordinaire (though dead), inspiration for Like a Rolling Stone – and no relation.

But you know, even though I’ll always love Blowin’ in the Wind – as who doesn’t? – I think that Like a Rolling Stone is the Dylan song that has meant the most to me in my own life and times. And no, it’s not at all because the subject and target of the song, the woman at whom Dylan is hurling all that snarliness, disdain and anger, is widely believed to have been Edie Sedgwick, the model/actor/socialite/muse to Andy Warhol (click here to check out a jaw-dropping appearance by the two of them on the Merv Griffin Show in 1965) – who of course shares a name with me.

(I once, in my misspent youth, wasted a perfectly good afternoon in Paris at a tiny art-house cinema watching one of Warhol’s Factory movies, a snoozer – literally – called Poor Little Rich Girl in which Sedgwick does little more than sleep and wake up. But, you know, it was art. If you’re a bear for punishment, you can watch some of it here.)

Anyway, back to Like a Rolling Stone, a powerful song that had a huge impact on me at an impressionable and important time in my life, my late teens. (That would be the time when you just know you’re going to live forever and conquer the world.)

There’s this: “With no direction home” is one of the most famous lines in that very famous song, and in fact ended up being the title of the wonderful Martin Scorsese documentary about Dylan a few years back. As I drove south this morning, listening to the song and thinking about making it the topic of my post here tonight, I was struck by the thought that I’ve managed to circumvent Bob’s pronouncement/prediction/curse.

Hey, I’ve returned to the Manse, the house I grew up in. If anyone in the whole world has found a direction home – I think it would be me.

But I still love that song.

How cold is it, really?

Thermometer at the back of the Manse

The other morning, our trusty – or not-so-trusty? – thermometer told us it was about -20 outside. Our second thermometer, in a different location, had a much different story to tell. Was either of them right?

You faithful readers know very well how attached I am to the way things used to be at the Manse. It is such an amazing experience to be able to return to, and live in once again, the house that you grew up in!

Anyway, because you are well aware of my attachment to the olden days in this house – my childhood in the 1960s and early 1970s, when, as I said in my very first post, all the world was young – you won’t be surprised to know that when Raymond and I bought a thermometer for the place, I instructed him – or perhaps I should say “strongly urged,” though he would tell you that “instructed” is more accurate – to install it in exactly the same place as the thermometer used to be in my childhood: outside the rear window of the kitchen.

And so he did, and that’s what you see in the photo at the top of this post.

But not too many winter days after that installation, we began to get a little suspicious of the readings from that thermometer. They seemed awfully low. And that probably wasn’t surprising, since that particular location, on the west side of the house, is in shade in the early morning – which is when one tends to look at the thermometer.

So a while later, Raymond (being clever) went out and bought another thermometer, and installed it outside the front window of the kitchen – where it is sunny in the morning, because it faces east. And that thermometer tells quite a different story! Here is a photo of that front-of-the-house thermometer that I took precisely 10 seconds after the photo above, the one that showed the temperature as being -20:

Thermometer at the front of the Manse

Two thermometers, two very different stories: right after I took the photo at the top of this post, I crossed the kitchen and took this photo of our second thermometer. Apparently in those 10 seconds the temperature had climbed more than 20 degrees!

Okay, that’s crazy! Even allowing for more morning sun on the east-facing thermometer than on the west-facing one, can there really be more than 20 degrees’ difference?

I am beginning to think we need a third thermometer.

A memento of long-ago school days

Old school deskJust look at this sweet little vintage school desk that now lives at the Manse!

It came here today, Raymond having been the successful bidder for it in a fundraising silent auction at the thrift shop called Hidden Treasures in Tweed. (I wrote a tribute here to Hidden Treasures and other local thrift shops where a person can find great stuff – treasures! – for very little cash.) The money raised from the silent auction, like all money raised through sales at Hidden Treasures, goes to support the extremely worthwhile work of Community Care for Central Hastings. So Raymond’s $35 winning bid on the cute little desk was, in our view, money well spent.

And I just love this little desk! Which partners awfully well – don’t you think? – with the little school-desk chair that we picked up somewhere or other a while back. They almost look like they were made for each other! Though the desk, having been refinished, is in rather better shape than the chair, which is urgently in need of having old paint stains scraped off it.

The two of them together take me way, way back to the days when I was starting Grade 1 at Madoc Township Public School. This desk is not identical to the ones we had then; they were in one piece (i.e. chair attached to desk), if I recall rightly. But the colours – the wooden top and the green metal underside – are very close.

Our little desk also reminds me of how, when one was a six-year-old Grade 1 student at Madoc Township Public School, a visit to the classrooms of the big-kid grades would seem so intimidating because their desks, while in exactly the same style as ours, were so much bigger.

I like the fact that this new desk of ours is a wee one – as you can see in this photo with Raymond and Sieste the cat, taken to give you a sense of scale:

Raymond and Sieste with the school desk

I also am taken on a trip down memory lane by the opening in the front of the desk, under the wooden top:

School-desk drawer

Lepage's MucilageThat’s where you’d store your schoolbooks (for which you had of course made covers) and pencils and erasers, and your dreaded sticky bottle of Lepage’s Mucilage, and your equally dreaded pair of rounded scissors. (The latter two items dreaded by me, anyway, because a call by the teacher to haul them out could mean only one thing: arts and crafts time. And there was nothing in elementary school worse than arts and crafts. Actually, come to think of it, there’s nothing in my current adult life worse than arts and crafts either. That is, when I’m the one expected to carry them out. And by “arts and crafts” I do not mean crocheted toilet-paper-roll covers. People, I am talking about gift-wrapping. You can see that my antipathy to arts and crafts and anything you have to do with a paper and scissors and – yikes! – glue runs very deep. But that’s another story.)

Anyway, I am blocking out Lepage’s Mucilage and thinking only happy thoughts about our new/old school desk. What a fine addition to the children’s corner at the Manse!