One good popcorn-ball recipe and bam! It’s Halloween.

Ghastly Halloween thing

No one can accuse us of not being ready for Halloween here at the Manse. Why, just look at this ghastly thing Raymond picked up on a recent shopping excursion and has hung on the front porch! I absolutely hate it, but I guess if it gives the wee ones a not-too-scary frisson of fear, it’ll have done the trick. Note the ghostly reflection in the window… Boo!

Welcome to a slightly late (due to mild technical difficulties) Monday at the Manse, dear readers! Before another Monday rolls around, Halloween will have come and gone, and so I thought I’d tackle that topic today.

Honey Bunny and Teddy

Honey Bunny on top (as usual) and ever-so-patient and sweet Teddy on the bottom.

Now, until a short while ago I wasn’t going to tackle that topic; I was going to write about the new Manse cats, Teddy and Honey Bunny, and delight you with some decidedly cute photos of them, and maybe even a video or two. But I think that Teddy and Honey Bunny can wait another week or so for their adorable habits (and the proof that they have Raymond and me wrapped around their tiny little fingers) to be revealed to the world.

So yeah, Halloween. I’ve written about Halloween in Queensborough before, notably here, wherein I reminisced about the Halloweens of my childhood growing up in this very Manse. As I wrote back then – on the eve of my first Halloween here since those long-ago childhood days – the best part of the whole affair was the homemade candy that we kids could count on getting at many houses in the village. The fudge – maple and chocolate – was superb; “store-bought” candies like chocolate bars and chips and candy kisses paled in comparison.

But the best, the absolute best, of that homemade Queensborough candy was the popcorn balls that we’d get at Frankie (Frances) Cassidy’s house. I adored those popcorn balls – a wonderful mix of sweet and salty and sticky and soft. And Frankie was a lively grandmotherly lady who made us little kids feel welcome in her comfortable old home as she doled out those wondrous popcorn balls.

(I was reminiscing about that decades-old memory not too long ago with Pat, the current co-owner of Frankie’s house, during a chat in her front foyer. She has done a terrific job of preserving the place, and her gardens on the grounds are wild and stunning.)

Frankie's house

Frankie Cassidy’s house as it is today, with beautiful gardens in front and back thanks to current owners Pat and Randy. 

So anyway, when the folks at New York Times Cooking – a section of that great newspaper and also a stand-alone app – featured a recipe for what look to be absolutely superb popcorn balls in their lineup the other day, I decided that Halloween, and not Honey Bunny and Teddy, would be the topic of today’s post.

NYT popcorn balls

People, you have the wonderful New York Times Cooking folks to thank for the topic of tonight’s post. Well, the New York Times – and the late Frankie Cassidy of Queensborough.

Not only because the Times’s recipe brought back wonderful Halloween-in- Queensborough memories, but because this recipe means that you and I can now make those popcorn balls ourselves!

Here it is, and I don’t think you need worry about whether you can find cane syrup on the shelves of your local grocery store; as recipe-writers Julia Moskin and Kim Severson say, you can use good-quality corn syrup instead:

NYT popcorn balls recipe

I lament the fact that no one gives out homemade candy anymore – that even if I made these wonderful popcorn balls, they would be frowned upon by parents as a dodgy prospect, not being labelled with the ingredients and all.

But hey, I tend to look on the bright side. If I can’t be like Frankie and give those popcorn balls out on Halloween – I can eat them all myself!

Like the sign says: Vote ↑ !

VoteWhen you read this, my friends, it will be Election Day in Canada. And I have one word, and one word only, for you. That word is: Vote!

Just like it says on the sign on the door of the Queensborough Community Centre, our hamlet’s historic former one-room schoolhouse.

That’s where Raymond and I cast our ballots on Day 2 of advance polling, a week ago Saturday. It was a glorious autumn day, and what with our polling place being super-conveniently located just around the corner and up the street from the Manse, it was as easy as pie to head up and do our civic duty. The experience was made more pleasant by the friendly faces and helpfulness of the election crew working there – one of them someone I’ve known practically all my life, from the time when I was a kid growing up in the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s – and the musical soundtrack from the iPod that one member of that crew had brought along. How can you not dance around a little bit when you’re casting your ballot as the sun shines down on you through the windows of Queensborough’s historic schoolhouse, while Linda Ronstadt sings Silver Threads and Golden Needles?

(Which reminds me that very soon I must do a post on how totally great Linda Ronstadt’s songs from my Manse-growing-up years were.)

Anyway, voting in the advance poll – which Raymond and I did because both of us would be busy on Election Day, me working with journalism students at Loyalist College as they report on the outcome; you can follow our coverage on Election Night here – was a thoroughly pleasant experience for us. Judging by the steady stream of people arriving at the schoolhouse, lots of others were taking advantage of the advance-polling option. But I hope that everyone who hasn’t voted ahead of time will take part in the same pleasant experience on Monday, Oct. 19 – whether at the Queensborough Community Centre or wherever your polling place may be.

It doesn’t matter whom you vote for; what matters is that you vote. We are so fortunate to live in a country where we can exercise our franchise so readily. Anyone who fails to take advantage of this opportunity is letting us all down, and missing out on one of the most important rights and freedoms that we as Canadians enjoy.

So here, let me get you in the mood. Silver threads and golden needles will not mend this heart of mine – but you marking an X in the circle of the candidate of your choice, whoever it may be, will do the trick. Take it away, Ms. Ronstadt!

Bonnie Hart, that is one heck of a 1960s music scrapbook!

John, Paul and George

I believe you know who these gentlemen are. It’s the yellowed, scotch-taped pages on which I found these photos that I want to tell you about. Remember scrapbooks?

“What should I write about for my Thanksgiving-weekend instalment of Mondays at the Manse?” was the question on my mind last Friday afternoon as I drove home to Queensborough after a long week at work. I was admiring the beautiful fall foliage as the northward-on-Highway-62 miles sped by when the answer came to me out of my radio, courtesy of an old Beatles song – I think it was Please Please Me. Freddy Vette, the hugely popular host of the afternoon/early evening show of 1950s and ’60s hits on good old CJBQ radio, was devoting the whole program to the music of John Lennon. Why? Because Friday would have been John Lennon’s 75th birthday. Wow.

(If you’re in the mood for a lot of John Lennon music, Freddy has posted the whole show on his blog. Click here for a listen.)

Anyway, those great old songs – many of which, I should add, date from the years when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse – got me thinking about something I’ve been wanting to share with Meanwhile, at the Manse readers. It is a treasure that came in the form of a gift from Raymond on my birthday this past July, and it was one of the best gifts ever. And appropriately enough, it came from a little antiques and collectibles shop in the hamlet of Ivanhoe, through which I zoomed on Friday on my way home as Freddy played Stand By Me and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Norwegian Wood and so on.

It was a scrapbook, people! Remember scrapbooks? Yes, I know that “scrapbooking” is kind of a thing once again, but I confess that as a grammar nerd I am put off by the fake verb alone. So whatever people (and I believe it is grownups, not teenage girls) are putting in scrapbooks in 2015 – well, you’re on your own, folks. Not my thing.

Bonnie Hart's scrapbook

But this was a real scrapbook, a 29¢ product from the venerable Canadian company Hilroy, one in which a teenage girl of the 1960s – perhaps growing up somewhere in the Ivanhoe area, i.e. right here in Hastings County – had taped and pasted and otherwise preserved photos and news clippings and bubble-gum cards featuring primarily the Beatles but also a treasure trove of other 1960s bands and performers, including some rather weird and obscure Canadian ones. To flip through this scrapbook’s fragile, yellowed pages is to enter a lost world; it is an utterly delightful exercise in nostalgia.

Bonnie Hart

But before I show you some of those pages, a question: does anyone know who Bonnie Hart might be? I ask because Bonnie Hart was the maker and keeper of this scrapbook. I know this thanks to her signature on the front cover – along with the handwritten notation (though that might have been added later, perhaps by an antiques dealer) “67 Beatle Cards.” I imagine it’s eminently possible that teenage Bonnie Hart now has, these several decades later, a different last name because of marriage, but I would be tickled to death if any reader might be able to steer me to her. I’d like to say thanks for putting together such a fantastic scrapbook, and to assure her that it has found its way to a good home here at the Manse.

Anyway, I’m sure you’d like to see some of the pictures that Bonnie collected, and enjoy your own little trip through some musical nostalgia. So let’s go, starting with black-and-white Beatles bubble-gum cards:

Black-and-white Beatles cards

Wacky Beatle card

The Beatles as you’ve rarely seen them!

Paul and Ringo

Now we move into colour bubble-gum Beatles cards. Groovy!

Beatles cards in colour

And now we start to move on from the Beatles to some other classic bands. I’m feeling Glad All Over!

The Beatles and the Dave Clark Five

Ah yes, the competition – the Stones. And one of my own personal favourites, The Monkees!

The Rolling Stones and the Monkees

Peter Tork of The Monkees

I think Peter was Bonnie’s favourite Monkee. Me, I’m a Micky girl.

All right. Shall we move into the heady days of life in the canyons of Los Angeles with the Mamas and the Papas and friends?

John and Michelle Phillips

It looks like Bonnie was keen on The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s Zal Yanofsky, very probably because he was Canadian:

Zal Yanofsky

And now we start to get photos of bands that are (to put it mildly) not quite as much household names as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Monkees, the Mamas and the Papas and the Lovin’ Spoonful. The Fiends, anyone?

The Fiends

How about the Wee Beasties? Evidently a Toronto band; don’t you just love that the chaps’ outfits are by another venerable Canadian company, Tip Top Tailors?

The Wee Beasties

Okay, here’s The Trackers, apparently out of Rochester, N.Y.:

The Trackers

The Trackers

And The Westbury Union. Anybody know anything about them? Great outfits, guys!

The Westbury Union

I think we are now seriously into Canadian, and more specifically Toronto, bands. Ah, the Yorkville scene

The Last Words

Little Caesar and the Consuls

The Quiet Jungle

And here, people, is the absolute best. Have you ever heard of Marshmallow Soup Group? Well, neither had I. But after this photo from Bonnie’s scrapbook. you’re unlikely to forget them. After all, their slogan seems to have been “M.S.G. until eternity” …

Marshmallow Soup Group

Really, you could not make this stuff up. And I don’t just mean the weirdness of Marshamallow Soup Group. I mean the great days preserved in Bonnie Hart’s scrapbook: when Yorkville was a musical scene; when the Mamas and the Papas were living the Summer of Love in California in 1967; when the Monkees were starring in a goofy TV show and producing great pop songs; when the Dave Clark Five were hitting it out of the park with catchy, memorable stuff.

And when John Lennon was a young Beatle. Happy birthday, John, wherever you are.

And to Bonnie Hart (and Raymond): thank you so much for the memories!

Peace and dignity, and local care, in the autumn of life

Heart of HastingsThere are so many things that I appreciate about living in this beautiful part of the world. One is – well, speaking of “beautiful,” its beauty. Especially at this time of year, as the leaves turn from green to red and gold and orange and put on a breathtaking display as one drives along the highways and back roads of Hastings County.

Another is the impressive number of community services and resources we enjoy, even though we live in a thinly populated rural area – some of us “north of 7.” No, we don’t have malls and Wal-Marts (thank God) and all those fast-food franchises (save for our beloved Tim Horton’s and the Madoc McDonald’s, which has been a welcome addition to the local scene) that larger centres have. But in Madoc alone – Madoc being “town” for most of us in Queensborough – we have an excellent grocery store that’s open 24 hours (fantastic when you run out of scallops at 9:30 at night), a really great library that offers all kinds of services even aside from lending books, and a medical centre that I cannot sing the praises of too highly. Raymond and I came here from the heart of Montreal, where we were treated, when we had health issues, at top-notch university-connected teaching hospitals by doctors who are national leaders in their field; but I have never felt better-cared-for, health-wise, since becoming a patient of the Central Hastings Family Health Team at the Tri-Area Medical Centre in Madoc. Why, you can usually get same-day appointments with your medical practitioner! It’s pretty rare to be able to do that in a big city.

But in today’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse, I want to tell you about another local facility that is doing a wonderful job: the Heart of Hastings Hospice.

I am inspired to write about the hospice – a fairly recent addition to Madoc – by a letter that came to me here at the Manse the other day. I’ve made in-memoriam donations to Heart of Hastings two or three times over the last couple of years; I think it’s wonderful when families request such donations to an important local facility when loved ones die. As a result, I’m on the mailing list, and this is fundraising season for Heart of Hastings. The letter was written by Dr. Cliff Derry, a much-loved and much-respected GP who practised in Madoc for many decades; everyone knew Dr. Derry when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse.

Hospice letter

His letter is beautifully written. I am going to share parts of it with you:

“Thanksgiving approaches again as the leaves blaze all around us and begin to fall, reminding us of the passage of time and the cycle of life. As we make plans for homecomings and family dinners, it’s inevitable that thoughts arise of those we have loved and lost. They have made us who we are and we cannot help but feel grateful for that.

“Each year I give to the Heart of Hastings Hospice as an act of celebration and gratitude for those people who meant so much to me. I give so that community members who are currently facing the autumn of their lives are able to do so with peace and dignity, free from suffering. I give with an eye to the future, a hope for meaningful support when my time comes. I give so that, even as individual leaves fall from the tree, I know the tree itself will remain strong.”

Dr. Derry goes on (addressing those who have supported Heart of Hastings in the past): “Your continued support will allow Hospice to continue to help local patients and their families transform this challenging period of their lives into a time of compassion and connection.”

Lovely! I suppose I need hardly say that my financial support will continue.

But, inspired by the letter, I decided to go and have a look at the hospice facility. I’d been reading about it in the local newspapers ever since Raymond and I bought the Manse back in January 2012; there are often fundraising events for Heart of Hastings that make the news. But I’d never actually seen the place, and until recently didn’t even know where it was. Then a while back I spotted some signs pointing to it, and yesterday I followed them up past Centre Hastings Secondary School to have a look.

Madoc hospice

What a nice, peaceful place. It’s a modern house on a very quiet little street, with trees and a well-kept lawn and just a great feeling about it. I would feel so blessed if I were able to spend my final days (hopefully a long way off) in that place, tended to by people who understand and practise (to use Dr. Derry’s words) compassion, connection, peace and dignity, and freedom from suffering.

We are so blessed to have the Heart of Hastings Hospice in our little rural community. I hope that you too might consider responding to Dr. Derry’s call for support. Click here to do so!