This is dedicated to the one I love

Oban scotch on a cold, rainy day

Cheers to Raymond on his birthday! Here’s a very recent photo of him enjoying a small glass of Oban scotch whisky as a warmup on a cold, rainy day in Kennebunkport, Maine. It seemed appropriate because almost exactly a year ago, we had visited the whisky’s distillery in the beautiful coastal Scottish town of Oban.

Today we interrupt the regular goings-on here at Meanwhile, at the Manse to pay tribute to someone who plays a critical role in everything that goes on at the Manse. As it happens, today (July 30, 2018) is that person’s birthday, and quite a significant birthday at that. (I won’t say what it is, save that it is five years more significant than the last significant birthday.) You’ve probably guessed that the person I’m talking about is none other than my husband, Raymond. He’s feeling a little put out about having reached this landmark birthday. So let’s try to cheer him up a little by reminding ourselves – and him – of what a remarkable and wonderful guy he is.

As Raymond might well be the first to tell you, probably the single biggest proof that he loves me is this quote that crosses his lips fairly frequently: “I came to Queensborough!”

Queensborough, of course, being the location of the Manse, the house that I grew up in during the heady midcentury days of the 1960s and ’70s. As you know through almost countless (oh, okay: 1,334) posts here in this space, Queensborough is a beautiful and interesting place to be. But let’s just say it was not exactly where Raymond had envisioned spending his retirement years. In fact, until Raymond met me, he’d never heard of Queensborough. (I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.) The places he dreamed of retiring to were, you know, a farmhouse in the south of France. Or a rambling cottage on the New England coast. (Raymond is a native of Lowell, Mass., so a born-and-bred New Englander.) Or a nice big flat in Paris. Or his beloved Eastern Townships of Quebec, a beautiful place where, during his long career as managing editor and then executive editor of the Montreal Gazette, he lived part-time for several years. Queensborough was not exactly on his radar.

Raymond in his Gazette office

Raymond in his days as executive editor of the Montreal Gazette – a life far, far removed from the one he now leads in Queensborough.

But you know that saying “Happy wife, happy life”? Raymond appears to be a subscriber to that philosophy. I wish I could capture the look that came over his face the day I told him back in late 2011 that I’d just discovered that the Manse, my beloved childhood home in Queensborough – a fixer-upper located an inconvenient 4½-hour drive from our home and work in Montreal – was for sale at the price I could afford, and that the die was cast; we had to buy it. The look certainly wasn’t one of horror; I’d describe it more as a mix of:

  1. Surprise;
  2. I’m bracing myself;
  3. Gulp; and
  4. Loving support.

And with that, our joint adventure in Queensborough began.

We bought the Manse in January 2012. For the first year and three-quarters, it was our house in the country, the place we’d get to for a weekend once or twice a month after a long work week at the Gazette, and for somewhat longer periods during the summer.

Those were the days of Raymond discovering, and me rediscovering, what life in Queensborough, a tiny village in very rural Eastern Ontario, was like. We learned about the importance of things like:

  • Vacuuming ladybugs and cluster flies and wasps and other seasonal winged visitors out of the windows (and everywhere else) in the Manse:

raymond bugs

  • Appreciating prizewinning giant watermelons at the Madoc Fair:

Raymond and the watermelons

Raymond and the newly painted oil tank

Red Truck Ray

  • Shovelling the driveway after every snowstorm:

Raymond shovelling

clothesline

  • Planting trees – this elm is the first of two (the other was a maple) we successfully planted in the Manse’s front yard:

Raymond elm tree

  • Doing yard work, when you have quite a large yard (and a lot of trees dropping leaves and needles):

Raymond yard work

Raymond helping the turtle

Raymond on carving duty

  • A hairdryer when the pipes under the kitchen sink freeze:

hairdryer on frozen pipes

Raymond tries our crokinole

To name just a few.

Among Raymond’s many adventures in living at the Manse these past six years have been:

  • Cooking in a kitchen that is ridiculously small, is serviced with ancient (midcentury Harvest Gold) appliances, and has essentially zero counter space. Oh! But it does have the washing machine. (Wait. What?) Here’s Raymond doing his best to produce a great dinner in that tiny space, as he does – very successfully – so many evenings:

Pantry December 2014

  • Cats: As regular readers will know, there are a thousand stories on that front, some happy, some heartbreakingly sad. All our cats (we have five currently) are rescues, and we love them very much. Here is Raymond with Teddy, who was born with a degenerative illness and did not live very long. But while she lived, she was very happy at the Manse, especially when she was in the lap of her beloved dad, “helping” him do his early-morning work:

Teddy loves her dad

  • Considering whether we could justify (or afford) the purchase of a gorgeous small Massey-Ferguson tractor for snowplowing and snowblowing and, you know, whatever else you need a multipurpose tractor for. (We decided we could neither justify nor afford it, but it was fun to dream):

Raymond and the red Massey Ferguson

Raymond at the A-frame

Raymond introducing Paul Wells, Tweed Library

  • Taking on the demanding volunteer job of treasurer of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough; Raymond spends hours every week staying on top of the finances and the books. He also does many other volunteer jobs at St. Andrew’s, the only one of Queensborough’s four original churches that’s still open. Here he is (in checked shirt) doing one of those jobs – pouring coffee and tea at our famous annual Turkey Supper:

Turkey Supper 2016 2

The gang at the QCC booth

The Queensborough Community Centre booth at the Hastings County Plowing Match in 2016. The QCC volunteers are (standing, from left): Raymond Brassard, Dave DeLang, Ludwik Kapusta, Ann Brooks, Barb Ramsay, Joanie Harrison Sims, Elaine Kapusta and Frank Brooks; (seated, from left) Stephanie Sims, Susanna Sims and Tyler Walker.

Raymond and the chipmunk

Those are some excellent adventures!

So today I’d like to invite you all to join me in wishing a very happy significant birthday to Raymond, who is…

  • The keeper of the flag rotation at the Manse, keeping passersby guessing what special day it might be in some country or other based on the flag out front (in this case, the Scottish saltire):

Scottish flag at the Manse

Raymond on Campobello Island

And here he is at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby (a very good wee dog) in Edinburgh:

Raymond and Greyfriars Bobby

  • A willing participant each Christmas season in making the Manse the most Christmassy house of all. Here, for instance, is Raymond gamely installing the Yoda Christmas-light set I had decided I had to have as a decoration for the Manse’s front door:

Raymond putting up the Yoda lights

And here is the fabulous finished product:

Yoda lights at the Manse

Red Sox Ray

  • An avid cribbage player (in the rare junctures, like vacation, that he has time for it); here he is just a few days ago with his sister, Jeannie, and her partner, Bob, considering strategy as he thinks about which card to play next:

Raymond, Jeannie and Bob playing cribbage

  • A newbie chainsaw owner! (Hey, if you live in Queensborough, you kind of have to own a chainsaw.) This is kind of a starter version (and yes, he knows you have to take the blade protector off to actually saw something):

Raymond, chainsaw owner

  • The best cat dad ever. Here is handsome Raymond with handsome Roscoe the kitty:

Raymond and Roscoe

  • Finally, and most importantly, a proud and kind father and grandfather. Here he is with his children (clockwise from top left), Justine, Mathieu and Dominique, and grandson Henry…

Raymond and Roscoe

… and here he is with the newest grandchild, Frédérique (who is very interested in her Pépère’s beard):

Raymond and Fred

Raymond, you are the best. I (along with many, many others) wish you a very happy birthday. And to return to the song referenced in the title of this post, and in keeping with the midcentury vibe that I try keep going at the Manse, I’m dedicating this next number (from 1967 – a very good year) to you: the one I love.

Meet the new bike – same (almost) as the old bike

us six at the Manse

I’ve showed you this photo before; I love it because it’s the only picture I have of my whole family (my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick; my mum, Lorna; and, from left, me, Melanie, John and Ken) from the days when I was growing up at the Manse in Queensborough in the 1960s. However, I’m showing it to you today because it is ALSO the only known photo of my very first bike. It’s the sweet little blue CCM that you can see parked on the Manse’s front porch behind us. Dad always made me park it on the porch to keep it out of the sun that might fade its paint – and I haven’t forgotten the lesson. (Photo probably by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

People, I have got myself a bike! It’s something I’ve been wanting pretty much since Raymond and I bought the Manse four years ago – a way to get around Queensborough (and a little beyond) when I want to go quicker than on foot but without burning fossil fuels.

My dream, much scoffed at by people who are more serious cyclists than I am (which is pretty much the entire world), was an old-fashioned bike with no gears to work, no cables running from handlebars to wheels, and brakes that you’d apply by cycling backwards. Also: a bike with a comfortable seat and that allowed you to sit up straight rather than hunkering down over the handlebars.

A bike, in short, very like my first one. Which was the best gift ever from my parents, The Rev. Wendell and Lorna Sedgwick, when I was perhaps eight years old and growing up right here at the Manse in Queensborough.

I remember that bike well. It was a little CCM, just the right size for a small girl of eight or so, and it was a lovely light blue, with a white seat and handlebars and fenders. I didn’t yet know how to ride a bike when I received it, but I remember my dad patiently holding me steady and upright as I wobbled a few times around the Manse’s front yard – and how then, suddenly, magically (as always happens when people figure out bike-riding), I got the hang of it and took off to ride on my own around the block that is “downtown” Queensborough. And from there, I could go anywhere on my bike! The best was riding up to the top of the hill at the western edge of our village, past the former one-room school and the former St. Henry’s Roman Catholic church, and just whizzing down it at what felt like the speed of sound, whistling down the wind. (When I came back to Queensborough many years later, I was startled at how un-steep that hill, so challenging and fun in my childhood, turned out to be; but I have decided that it must have been levelled down a bit in the interim. Either that or it’s yet one more case of things being so much larger and more impressive when seen through a kid’s eyes.)

Anyway: my dream of having a bike in my Manse adulthood that’s like the bike I had in my Manse childhood has come true! And here it is:

Me with my new bike

Same house, same porch, and a delightfully similar bike! Me smiling about my new wheels as Raymond and our friend Lauraine look on from the porch. (Photo by Paul Woods)

I gasped when I saw this bike in the bike section of the Target store in Biddeford, Maine, during the recent seacoast vacation that Raymond and I took. It was perfect! Retro styling, no gears, brake by pedalling backwards, a comfortable seat – and it was turquoise! (Which is a very resonant colour for me here at the Manse, as longtime readers will know from posts like this and this and this.)

It is a Schwinn Cruiser, and while it looks (in my opinion) like a million bucks, the price was stunningly low. People, this gorgeous bike cost only $139! Now, granted, that’s $139 U.S., which at the current horrible exchange rate is about $3,500 Canadian – no, no, I’m kidding. The exchange rate is horrible, but still, I got this great-looking bike for considerably less than $200 Cdn. You can’t beat that with a stick.

I had to laugh at myself as I wobbled around the Manse’s front yard a few times when I first got on it – just like the first time I got on that little CCM back in about 1968. (And don’t think I wasn’t missing my dad being there to keep me upright.) It had, I realized, been a long time since I’d been on a bike. But I got the hang of it once again, and have zipped around the block a few times since. I need to get a basket so that I can cart stuff – like a dozen farm-fresh eggs from Debbie the Queensborough egg lady, or bulletins to be delivered for the Sunday service at St. Andrew’s United Church – while I’m riding around on my retro turquoise two-wheeled wonder. But aside from that, I’m thrilled about my bike and the possibilities.

Now I just have to work up the nerve to climb up that hill on the western edge of the village – and whip down it once again, after all these years. I hope the wind still whistles.

The Magic Bus comes to Queensborough

Internet installation

Ryan from Elite Electronics of Tweed setting up our internet this afternoon. Yay!

“My love, I can’t believe it,” Raymond exclaimed to me just now. “Xplornet has come to Queensborough!” Raymond has been bustling around the house for the past few minutes, setting up all our communications devices to talk to our Apple AirPort wi-fi box – which in turn is talking to the wondrous, magic little Xplornet box that is bringing real, honest-to-God internet to the Manse!

I thought this day would never come. So, probably, did longtime readers, who have been patient and sympathetic as I groused many, many times about the lack of speedy internet at something approaching a reasonable cost here in our little pocket of Eastern Ontario. (For a post that takes you to links telling the whole long, sad saga, click here.)

That real, honest-to-God internet is being beamed our way from a tower that Xplornet – the company charged with providing high-speed internet to Eastern Ontario – recently erected a bit northeast of Queensborough. The tower went live not long ago, and throughout our little village people are signing up for service, after years of the frustration and expense of second-rate solutions.

Today it was our turn. Ryan, a very nice young man from Xplornet outlet Elite Electronics in Tweed, arrived as scheduled this afternoon. He attached some sort of receiver thingy to the exterior of the Manse, strung a cable into the house, and set up the magic box that brings us internet. When we attach that magic box to the AirPort, we suddenly have internet all over the house.

The Magic Box

The internet control centre: the magic Xplornet box (small black thingamabob at right) connected to the AirPort (larger white thingamabob at centre), all of which bring us internet all over this old Manse. A vintage footstool found at a Maine antique market seems just right thing for the setup.

And it’s fast internet! And we have lots of it!

We opted for the super-duper Xplornet package that gives us 200 gigabytes a month (download speed of “25 Mbps,” whatever that means) so that we can stream House of Cards on Netflix and Red Sox games to our heart’s content. And our monthly bill will be about the same as the minimum we were paying previously for a wireless internet setup that gave us the barest of bare-bones service. (And sometimes sticker shock.)

It’s all so exciting! No wonder Raymond was exclaiming as he set up the devices. It’s wondrous! It’s magic! It makes we want to sing! And so here’s a song that came into my head when I wrote that bit about the Magic Box. From 1968 – the era when I was a kid growing up in this Manse. Who would have thought way back then that internet magic would not only exist, but be right here in little Queensborough?

A vintage ticket to fly and dream: the Fisher-Price Airport

Fisher-Price Airport

The most recent addition to our collection of vintage Fisher-Price toys: the Play Family Airport. On a wintry day like this, don’t you wish you could be a little Fisher-Price person and jump into that Fisher-Price plane and fly away south?

I don’t know about you folks, but I am really, really tired of this winter. As I write this, it is snowing outside the Manse windows. Again. Meanwhile, I heard yesterday that we are on track for this being the coldest February ever. Yikes! People’s nerves are stretched by all this cold and snow, I tell you. At least, mine are. I bet yours are too – unless you happen to be reading this in some sunny southern getaway.

Ah, but speaking of sunny southern getaways, doesn’t weather like this make you long to get on a plane and go somewhere nice? Somewhere different? Preferably somewhere warm? Well, have I got the thing for that! Yes, it’s the Fisher-Price Play Family Airport!

All right, you can’t actually jet off from the Play Family Airport. But you can be a kid again, and dream.

Fisher-Price School

The schoolmarm waits for her pupils at our Fisher-Price School.

The airport is my latest addition to a small collection of great Fisher-Price toys from back in the 1960s and ’70s – not coincidentally, the years when I was a little kid growing up here at the Manse and playing with such toys with my sister and brothers. Those were the days when, in my opinion, Fisher-Price stuff was more elegantly designed than it is now. It was more compact and less plasticky and princessy.

(Mind you, the Fisher-Price Little People were small enough that they later were deemed a choking hazard for little kids, which I suppose wasn’t the best thing. But hey, I never knew anybody who choked on them. And they were a lot cuter than the plastic not-very-little Fisher Price people you get today.)

I wrote some time ago (that post is here) about my delight in acquiring a Fisher-Price Garage, which as I recall pretty much every household had back in the days of my Queensborough childhood and was truly the best toy ever. You could run your cars up and down the ramps, or move them in the elevator that dinged at every floor, or turn them around on the top-level car turner, or fill them up with gas at the bottom-level gas pump – and it was all just a whale of a time. Good for keeping kids quiet and occupied for hours.

After that, thanks to yard sales and auction sales and antique barns, I was able to add to the collection the Fisher-Price School, the Fisher-Price Two-Tune TV, the Fisher-Price Hickory-Dickory-Dock Radio, the Fisher-Price Jalopy, the Fisher-Price School Bus, and that rocking Fisher-Price toy with the multicoloured plastic rings for baby to stack one on top of another. All in fairly decent shape, though the school and the garage are missing a lot of the Little People they originally came with. (Perhaps they disappeared down various toddlers’ throats…)

Vintage Fisher-Price toys

Our vintage Fisher-Price Two-Tune TV, Jalopy, and whatever that colourful ring thing is called.

Anyway, I was pretty happy with this fun little collection, which needs only Raymond’s grandson Henry to come visit for some serious fun to be had. And the best part of it was that none of these Fisher-Price treasures had cost more than a few dollars; one or two of them I picked up at yard sales for less than a buck. Yay!

But then last summer, when Raymond and I were vacationing down in Maine and taking part in one of our favourite vacationing-in-Maine activities, which is to visit antiques and collectibles warehouses, I came upon a Fisher-Price Play Family Airport for sale. Now this was a find – mainly because it was a piece of the Fisher-Price universe with which I was utterly unfamiliar. While everyone had the Fisher-Price Garage back in the day, and there were lots of Fisher-Price schoolhouses and barns and buses around, nobody that I knew had a Fisher-Price Airport. I’d never even heard of it, let alone seen it.

So even though it was over my usual Fisher-Price price limit, I decided it would have to come to the Manse. Because, you know, the only thing better than a vintage Fisher-Price toy is a relatively rare vintage Fisher-Price toy.

According to the website This Old Toy, the Fisher-Price Play Family Airport was made for only four years, from 1972 to 1976. (Ah, 1972 to 1976. Those were good years, weren’t they?)

I love our little Fisher-Price airport! Not that I spend much in the way of time with it; when I pulled it out the other evening to take the pictures that you can see here, it was the first time I’d really examined everything about it in detail – but it makes me smile when I see it tucked away in its spot in the Manse’s children’s corner.

Those Fisher-Price designers were brilliant, if you ask me. Just look at all the good detail on my airport! You can see most of it in the photo at the top of this post: the baggage truck and carts, the helicopter, the baggage carousel. But here’s a closeup of the control tower with the air-traffic controller hard at work:

Fisher-Price Airport control tower

And here’s the Arrivals level, which is unfortunately a bit dark:

Fisher-Price Airport arrivals level

And best of all, here’s that big ol’ plane with the happy pilot at the controls and the happy flight attendant – actually, I am pretty sure she would have been called a stewardess back when this toy was made – just waiting to welcome you aboard:

Fisher-Price Airport plane is boarding

This, people, is one happy kids’ toy. And I am very happy to have it here at the Manse. Now if only I could climb those steps, get on that plane, ask the stewardess to bring me a refreshing beverage, and let the pilot fly me somewhere far, far from winter…

In praise of linen tea-towel calendars

Tea-towel calendar

Who knew that they still made linen tea-towel calendars? But sure enough, we have one for 2015. And it hangs right exactly where it should here at the Manse.

Okay, who remembers linen tea-towel calendars? I sure do. When I was a kid growing up here at the Manse one seemed to come my family’s way every year. I expect it was an easy and relatively inexpensive gift for an aunt or cousin or some such to give my mother at Christmas.

And so each Jan. 1 the new tea-towel calendar with its new picture – usually a rural scene of some sort – would be hung up, always in the same place: the door at the rear of the kitchen that leads to the back porch. (You know – the room that will someday be our conservatory.) And the previous year’s tea-towel calendar would come down and would start being used as – what else? – a tea towel. And would be used, and washed, over and over and over again, hundreds and probably thousands of times. Those calendars made for good and durable tea towels.

Back when Raymond and I bought the Manse almost three years ago, I reminisced to him about the annually changed tea-towel calendar that always adorned the back door of the kitchen. I believe I even located the little hole in that wooden door where the nail had been driven in to hold it. I thought that tea-towel calendars were a thing of the past – a homely (as in the British sense: “simple but cosy and comfortable”) and pleasant memory.

So you can imagine how tickled I was last summer when I discovered some 2015 linen tea-towel calendars for sale! They were off in a corner of the Saco branch of the rather funky Maine department store Reny’s, which itself is kind of a homely (simple but cosy and comfortable, remember) place. One of those calendars was in my shopping basket in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

And now that it is 2015, the tea-towel calendar is in its rightful place at the Manse. You saw that one coming, didn’t you?

I’ll be home for Christmas

2014 Christmas tree at the Manse

Our 2014 Christmas tree, a lovely tall balsam. I hope longtime readers will also appreciate the curtains in our living room – the very same ones that adorned those old windows back in the 1960s when I was growing up here!

It’s been a busy, busy day, my friends, and I am weary; and so I am going to write a very brief post – featuring little more than a photo of the 2014 Manse Christmas tree, erected today. It’s a beautiful fresh balsam that makes the house smell good and Sieste the cat mildly curious. And as of just a few minutes ago, when Raymond and I finished the job, it is decorated with all the ornaments we have collected over years of travelling and seeking out decorations that will remind us of the places we’ve been. There’s a miniature lobster trap from Maine, a little toboggan from Montreal, a string of ceramic garlic found on Beacon Hill in Boston, a bright red cardinal from Port Hope, Ont., a miniature ceramic tuxedo cat (like Sieste) from Burlington, Vt., and even a lone star from Galveston, Tex. Every ornament tells a story!

But the best part is that the place where they’re telling their stories is right here at the Manse, our cozy home in perfect-Christmas-village Queensborough, which as of this evening – what with all the decorating and ornaments pulled out of storage and whatnot – is just one Christmassy house, let me tell you. And appropriately, the Christmas tree is, as always, right in the same corner where it (almost) always used to be when I was a kid growing up in this very same Manse.

As Raymond and I were finishing the tree-trimming, good old Bing Crosby was crooning away on a CD in the background: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

And we are!

For Raymond, a little less time for pacing the acreage

Keep Calm and Let Raymond Handle It

This is my dear husband, Raymond, while we were on a family vacation at the seaside in Maine this past summer – trying on a new hoodie bearing a motto that I think is perfect for his brand-new National Newspaper Awards gig. I am very proud!

A good friend of Raymond’s and mine likes to describe what one does when one lives in the country as “pacing the acreage.” In other words, putting on your sandals, or rubber boots, or galoshes, as the season dictates, and surveying what’s doing – what’s growing, what trees need to be thinned out, what fences need mending – out there on your property in the wilds. I know that Raymond likes that idea.

But because the Manse is not situated on a very large parcel of land, there’s really not all that much acreage to pace. You can pretty much cover our yard here at the Manse in less than five minutes, unless the condition of the lilac bush or the day lilies requires some particularly close examination.

One of the consequences of that lack of acreage is that, whenever we drive around rural Hastings County, Raymond eyes with interest any large parcel of woodland that has a For Sale sign on it. “What would you do with 100 (or 200, or 500) acres of woodland?” I ask him. To which he generally responds with something along the lines of, “Well, there would be the acreage to pace!”

And someday, I am sure, he will acquire a nice little (or not-so-little) local acreage to pace to his heart’s content. Hey, maybe he could purchase a sugar bush and start making maple syrup!

But for now, that country-gentleman routine will totally have to wait. Because Raymond has just taken on a position that puts him right smack back into the middle of the Canadian news-media milieu, the one he left behind not very long ago when he retired after a long and universally respected career as executive editor (and before that, managing editor, and before that, city editor, and so on) of the Montreal Gazette.

Here is the text of the announcement made today on the website of Canada’s National Newspaper Awards:

New Editorial Consultant for National Newspaper Awards

Raymond Brassard has joined the NNA administrative team as Editorial Consultant. He replaces Paul Woods, who has joined the Toronto Star.

Brassard worked as an editor at the Montreal Gazette for 30 years, including stints as news editor, life editor and city editor. He was appointed managing editor in 1995 and executive editor in 2010, before retiring in 2013.

He will be responsible for the recruitment and assignment of judges to the 22 categories, rule compliance for entries, external communications and the creation of materials for the annual awards gala.

So there you go! Something to keep Raymond from pining for that large acreage he does not yet have to pace, as he renews ties with all the good and interesting people from the Canadian media world with whom he’s worked and rubbed shoulders for so many years. I know I am wildly biased, but: there is no better person for this job, which is all about recognizing excellence in journalism. That is something to which Raymond has dedicated a large part of his life.

Now, this new role is obviously going to take away from his time for checking out auctions and making dump runs and, yes, pacing the acreage. But personally, I think Raymond is going to thrive on the mix of fast-paced, big-city-based journalism stuff and his country-gentleman existence (pining for the acreage to pace) in Queensborough.

So – would you like to join me in congratulating my husband on his cool new gig? Oh yes, and also – if you happen to know of an interesting woodlot for sale…