Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Being 18 Again

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 11 by Sara Mattinson.

Reading about Abigail Wood’s valedictory speech to Oxford graduates in last week’s paper touched a nerve in me, one that might have remained numb if I wasn’t working at this paper. 
According to the article, Abigail said, “We have the ability to do great things, even when people, ourselves included, tell us we can’t...The future is ours, the upcoming possibilities and opportunities are endless...”
Remember what if feels like to be 18 years old? Your entire life stretches way out, so long in years that you can’t imagine what you’re going to be doing in five years, let alone 10 or 20. You have plans – lots and lots of plans – and you truly believe they will come about. The hope and optimism of an 18-year-old is a wonderful, fleeting state of mind. What Abigail and her fellow 18-year-old graduates don’t know is that sometimes, those plans, all those endless possibilities and opportunities, don’t happen at all. Or, more significantly, they don’t happen until many years later, when you’ve exhausted all the other possibilities and opportunities that you thought were the ones you wanted. 
The nerve the OREC valedictorian unwittingly touched in me is the memory of what happened to me when I was 18 years old. When I accepted to university, I couldn’t wait to get there and work for the campus newspaper. As soon as I was settled, during Frosh Week when I was supposed to be partying with my fellow freshman, I walked into The Queen’s Journal and said I wanted to be a reporter.
But the dream was withered before it could blossom. 
I wrote three stories, none of which appeared in the paper as I had written them. I had no training for newspaper reporting and no idea how to do it. So I stopped. I never went back to the paper, never again tried to write another article. 
Because I was a young 18, because I didn’t know yet about that inner compass that guides us so expertly, I gave up. I didn’t have enough confidence or self-awareness to go to the editor and say, “I really, really want to work here but obviously I need to learn. Where do I start?”
Leap forward 24 years. I’m working at a newspaper and it’s called The Oxford Journal. The dream didn’t die; it just lay dormant until my inner compass guided me (on a very winding road) to the right place at the right time. Even then, it took me a year to make the connection with that pivotal moment in 1988. So for the past week, since reading about Abigail’s speech, this column has been writing itself in my head.
This is what I want to tell the graduating class of 2012: Say yes to everything. Ask for help. Don’t ever, ever walk away from something you’ve been longing to do. Find your inner compass and pay attention to it. Even though the moral of my story is that whatever you’re meant to do will eventually happen, 24 years is a long time to wait. I could have saved myself a lot of money, heartache and mileage if I’d said Yes instead of No when I was 18 years old and full of eagerness, optimism and naiveté.  
As well as a self-defeating fear of failure.
“Let’s not be afraid to take chances and try something new,” Abigail said, “because that often leads to the greatest reward.”
She’s right. How did she get so smart at the age of 18? 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Keeping Cool During The Heat Wave

It's worth the long, hot walk along the rail trail to give the dogs a chance to romp in the River Philip.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In Conversation With...Jennifer Houghtaling

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 4, 2012 by Sara Mattinson.

At Jennifer Houghtaling’s booth at the Pugwash Farmers’ Market, richly glazed mugs and bowls mingle with bags of homemade granola, plastic containers of honey and several varieties of bread. To one side hang hand-knitted toques, but there is no sign of her other weaving. When I tell her I’m asking for one of her blankets as a Christmas gift, she says, “Oh, I’ve got to get back to that. I haven’t done any weaving since February.”
My mother, standing next to me, calls her lazy and tells her she should be doing more.
Jenn laughs and holds her hands out on either side. 
“Clay in one hand on the wheel, shoving the shuttle on the loom with the other.”
Then she raises one foot off the ground.
“And I could bake bread with my feet.”
We’re teasing but there must be days when this 32-year-old wife and mother of two young children feels like she is juggling many things with her hands and feet. There is no question she has a formidable work ethic but she also follows her passion, and her heart, a journey that has taken her from a childhood in British Columbia to Fredericton,  Vancouver and Thailand then to Pugwash.
Jenn was born and raised on a 400-acre ranch near Prince George, B.C. Homeschooled until Grade 5, she was driving a tractor by the time she was 8. She went to university to study nursing but only completed one semester. She then went to college but can’t even remember what she took.
“When I was 21, I was working in a convenience store and waitressing,” she says, “and one day, my supervisor told me I was going to be the supervisor soon.”
She remembers this with a grimace and says, “I immediately quit my job and went tree-planting.”
In the middle of that five-year career, which involves intense, non-stop work for three months of the year, Jenn followed her boyfriend, Ben, a fellow tree-planter and a musician, to Fredericton. Before they broke up, Jenn discovered a place that would change her life: the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design
“It blew my mind,” she says. “I didn’t know there was a place where they taught you to be an artist.”
Finally, she had found what she wanted to do yet even as she immersed herself in textiles and pottery, she felt the need for futher self-exploration. Instead of paying the tuition for her final year of school, she hopped on a plane for Thailand (the trip ended after three months only because her money ran out).  
 “I went because I wanted to know if I could go somewhere far away from everybody I knew, all by myself, and be okay,” explains Jenn. “I wanted to be able to trust the world, to put myself out there and not get hurt. Part of the reason I picked Thailand was because there was this mediation centre there where you could go for a 10-day silent meditation,” she says. “As soon as I finished it, I swore I would go back at least once a year but I never have. Because when I got back home, I got pregnant.”
After returning to Vancouver and reuniting with Ben, after another tree-planting season, Jenn discovered she was pregnant. They couldn’t afford a home in Vancouver so they packed everything they owned in a cube van and headed east. They arrived in Nova Scotia in February, when their son was 4 months old, and lived with Ben’s mother in Amherst until the house they bought on Crowley Road was fixed up.
They arrived only with ideas and ambition, love and friendly dispositions. 
“I knew I was going to do pottery because I had dragged the contents of my entire studio here,” Jenn says. “And we’ve always gardened.” 
She also brought with her a lifelong love of cooking. 
“My grandmother taught me to bake,” Jenn says. “She lived a kilometre away from us until I was 14 and we baked almost every day. She taught me to crochet and knit.”
So the Pugwash Farmers’ Market is a natural fit for Jenn, who thrives on connections with other people and believes handmade crafts and food should be available everywhere. At first, she saw the market as a place to sell her pottery and their spring greens then she took over bread-making from two women who were withdrawing from the market. 
“Doing the farmers’ market for me is just as much about having stuff available to the community as it is a business,” she says. “I really like the idea of selling local produce. I want that stuff to be available in the community. I don’t want them to have to drive to get it.”
Their Crowley Road property is a blooming mess of productivity and creativity. With Ben’s various enterprises flourishing, a 50-foot greenhouse in the middle of their raised beds, and the completion of a stand-alone pottery studio, plus two bright, wild-haired children scampering around, it appears Jennifer’s winding road of self-discovery has culminated in a life vaguely reminiscent of the place where she began. 
“I feel rooted now,” she says. “We have a good, solid foundation. We have no intention of moving anywhere.” 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

It Takes A Village

The village of Pugwash has won the latest round in the Kraft Celebration Tour with TSN.  Pugwash will get a $25,000 upgrade to its ball field and a huge donation of peanut butter to the local food bank .
As correspondent Mary Patterson wrote in her community news for this week, "Pugwash was pitted against Port Hawkesbury, which has a population of nearly three times that of our village, so everyone had their work cut out for them.  Just goes to show you what can happen if everyone pulls together, which they did in this case.  Many stayed up all night at Pugwash’s CapSite and took turns voting.  Now that is dedication."

TNS will broadcast live from Pugwash at 7 pm on Monday, August 20.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Music for the Spirit

Christina Martin, who lives around the country corner from us, released her latest CD at the cafe in Pugwash on Saturday night and we were thrilled to be part of the crowd. I was thrilled when she winked at me during a song she knows is difficult for me to hear. These are the opening lines (as accurate as I can get them) of her song, "There Is A Light":

'I asked my love
On the back porch yesterday
What's the name they call this thing
That drives my thoughts away?
It's not my heart
And I hope that she will stay
That it won't take the man I used to be
The love from you to me.
There is a light
When it turns on, there is love...'

Christina, brilliant songwriter, wrote this song as part of her work with dementia patients and their caregivers during her past year as an artist-in-residence at Dalhousie University's Geriatric Medicine Research in Halifax. It puts into song what I believe was my father's experience with the disease.
The first time I heard this song, it was the encore at the Pugwash CD launch for her husband, Dale Murray, and I wasn't expecting it so I bawled my eyes out. Now I can hear it without breaking down.
But it was good of her to find me in the crowd.  
This writer is inspired and encouraged by that writer. 

Listen (over and over) to the whole song, There Is A Light, at Christina's website:

Cover of her latest CD

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rural Nova Scotia & the Old Goat

First published in the June 27, 2012 edition of The Oxford Journal by Sara Mattinson.

Rural: “of, pertaining to, or characteristic of the country, country life, or country people; rustic.”
Nowhere in that definition are the words “boring”, “redneck”, or “hell hole”. Nor could I find a definition that suggested, “End of civilized life as we know it.” 
Raise your hand if you are tired of the country bashing. As in, “Omygawd, you want me to move to rural Nova Scotia? You can’t be serious. I’ll quit my job before I move to rural Nova Scotia.”
It’ so senseless to move certain jobs out of one community and into another just to make it appear that something is being done to re-populate rural areas. Moving jobs around isn’t going to fix the problem; creating jobs, bringing businesses and industries to these areas, keeping our born-and-bred labourers in the province, now that would fix the problem. 
(Which leads to this question: How can Amherst, which is losing six Justice Department jobs, not be considered rural? It may be a town but it’s surrounded by...ruralness. Many people who choose to live in the country rely on jobs located within the limits of a nearby town or village.) 
And while I’m all for the media shining a light on the truth, a columnist in the province’s major newspaper, which has been on the Save Rural Nova Scotia bandwagon for months, described us as “road-obsessed rural Nova Scotia”. 
What an unfair slag. Our complaints about rough, pot-holed roads, narrow shoulders and bush-filled ditches are legitimate. His negativity reduces us to a one-issue population but his comment bolsters the need for community newspapers. Ever noticed how the major media in this province rarely report west of the toll plaza? Cumberland County is the gateway to this province yet our significance and our opinions don’t rate investigation.
There is nothing wrong with this province that a swift reality check (two decades ago) wouldn’t fix. We can’t rely on industries that are renewable in theory but not in practice; we can’t thrive on seasonal employment; and we can’t repopulate areas by force. Rural areas flourish when people want to live there, when they choose to live there. That’s when they make the most of everything the country has to offer – and that’s more than fishing and forests. 
The problem is we’re trying to close the barn door after the horses (and cows and pigs) are already gone. Farming is a good example of losing an industry that should be stable and enduring. Every single person needs food but both provincial and federal bureaucrats have done everything to undermine farming. Bigger isn’t always better and now that the public is caring about the quality of food and demanding small-scale farming at the local level, it’s too late. We’ve lost both the farms and the next generation of farmers while small, determined producers try to get noticed at farmers’ markets and the side of the road. 
There may be one animal left in the barn, an old goat everyone has ignored for years: tax  cuts. The reality of life in rural Nova Scotia is that it costs more to live here. You want people to live in rural Nova Scotia? You want to create jobs and bring in business? Provide tax relief.
The answer to the problems in rural Nova Scotia isn’t big bailouts of obsolete industries or huge handouts to successful businesses. The answer is to make rural areas as attractive to businesses as they are to tourists.
It’s time the government pandered to us for a change. 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Thoughts Wilder Than The Weather

For some reason, my brain has stopped functioning, which isn't good since I am heading into town not only to walk with Jane and Sam but also to pump a lot of gasoline in my CRV.
(That's the downside to working only ten minutes from home: I forget to check the gas gauge because I don't feel like I'm driving that much.)
So this is what a writer does: She sits down at the computer and writes anyway.
Yard sale was a resounding success. The secret? Decent stuff, prices too low to resist. And we still made more than we wanted to. With the proceeds, we're buying new lawn chairs. Good quality ones, I think, since the elements are hard on that cheap plastic stuff and I get tired of buying lawn chairs every year. Maybe I'll start making twig chairs. Put all those alder trees to good use.
It poured rain at 11 yesterday morning but we had such a rush between 7:30 and 10 am, it didn't make that much of a difference. 
Now I'm happy because that huge chore is over with. We've been storing a lot of boxes and plastic totes because of Mum downsizing and moving in here and it took all day Friday to organize everything onto six tables plus other stuff scattered around. Big sale! Managed to sell down to three tables. I'd hoped the 12 for $1 magazines would take care of all of them but I still have too many left over. I guess this means I really will have to do that Life Map workshop this fall that I've been thinking about hosting for a while now. Other stuff will be donated, some good stuff going to the hospital auxiliary and that makes me feel good.
Most fun this weekend? Sitting on the deck watching the storm blow in last evening. Could use another to blow through right now to unclog my brain but that would kibosh the walk, wouldn't it?


Something wonderful happened on the walk.
On our way back along the old rail bed trail, a speck of red caught my eye.
"The raspberries will be early," Jane said. There wasn't any to eat, just the hint of sweetness to come.
Further along, a true bounty. Like bears, we squatted in a large patch of blueberries and stuffed our faces with warm, ripe, wild blueberries growing along the side of the trail.
Sam ate some off the low bushes. Abby wondered why we were standing still.

Friday, July 06, 2012


A gardener's delight this morning: Woke up to heavy showers but now, before nine, the sun is shining.  So two days of rain and three evenings off from watering.
The robins are busy pulling worms from the ground. It's fascinating to watch even if totally unappetizing. I took a really good photo of my lace Wyandott hen grabbing a worm and eating it but when I showed my mother, she said she wasn't going to eat my eggs anymore.
"Now that I know what goes into them," she said.
We're getting ready for a large yard sale here tomorrow on the rural route and the biggest hassle isn't going to be sorting through everything we've collected since last summer (from the renovation and my mother's move here); the big hassle will be keeping my mother from taking back half the stuff she decided last year didn't need any longer.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

In Conversation With...Darold, Reta and Donna Kaluza

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, June 20 by Sara Mattinson.

It’s hard to be the daughter who lives far away, to return home for a visit and notice your mother doesn’t have a vegetable garden, your father isn’t fishing. The changes seem so obvious yet to your parents, nothing has really changed. Body parts may not work as well, the cane may be in constant use now, fewer chores are getting done but these adjustments have happened gradually and your parents live with them, keep the same routines. What matters to them is that they are right where they want to be. 
In their own home. 
Donna Kaluza is a retired RCMP officer who lives in British Columbia and comes home every summer to visit her family, including her parents, Darold and Reta Kaluza.
“I was concerned about the circumstances,” Donna says about this particular visit. “I’m not used to Dad not being swift. I was concerned about his mobility. This all started when we talked about getting orthotics for him. Instead of playing a lot, we’ve done more medical exploration.” 
Darold has had a series of health challenges over the years but the truly life-changing event came in 1998.  He developed transverse myelitis,  a neurological disorder caused by inflammation around the spinal chord and Darold ended up with his left leg virtually paralyzed and in constant pain. 
While he is able to get around his bungalow and drive his truck, he had to hang up his tiller. 
“I’m going downhill,” says the 86-year-old. “Everything is getting worse.”
No wonder Donna is concerned. 
“Mum does so much and they really work as a team so I wanted to know if there was something else that could be done,” she says. “The receptionist at the doctor’s office gave me this pamphlet for the Senior’s Health Centre. It was just a call. Anyone can do it. You don’t need a doctor and there’s no charge. I was amazed. Within a couple of days, a registered nurse was here.”
Here being Darold and Reta’s house. Because that’s the point of the program that operates out of the hospital in Springhill: keeping seniors in their own homes.  
“The nurse came to do an assessment of both Mum and Dad in their home with the goal to make things easier and safer for them,” Donna explains. “What I found so great about it is that they come here where Mum and Dad are comfortable and safe. She spent two hours and she could have spent more time. There was no rushing. She had a look at the environment, she talked to them, saw them move. It was all about facilitating them to do better at home.”
Doing better at home means remaining in their own home. To that end, an occupational therapist also checks out the house.
“They’re going to look at the bathroom and other places where we might need bars to save us from falling,” Reta explains. 
Neither Darold nor Reta consider any of this an invasion of privacy or an admission of weakness. Perhaps this is because five years ago they had a taste of how they would cope if something happened. Something like Reta falling off a ladder and breaking her leg. 
“I did the washing, I did the cooking, I did the cleaning, and looked after Mum,” Darold says of the six months Reta was laid up. “And I looked after the yard and the gardens.”
 But as his leg and spine pain him more and more, he is less able to take over if something should happen again to Reta, still doing yoga at the age of 80 but not promising to stay off ladders. 
“Even if my parents don’t need a lot of help, at least in my mother’s case, she is linked in and has the knowledge about where to go and who to call,” says Donna. “It didn’t exist when Mom was hurt but it would have been a great place to call to find out what’s available.”
Her relief at leaving her parents in good hands, and in their own home, when she returns to BC is clear. 
“It’s tough when I phone and Dad says he’s in pain and not feeling well,” she admits. “I’m a long ways away and when I’m here, I get a bit aggressive, I guess, because I have a finite amount of time. I pushed them really hard this time, likely pushed my luck, too, but I want to try and help when I’m home.”
Darold and Reta have been married for 58 years and have lived in this house for 30 of them. 
“What did you do for a living?” I ask Darold, and he tells me he was a mechanic. That explains the many references to the garage next door. And now the conversation slips away from ageing and aches, doctors and directives, and into memories. 
As Reta tells the story about working under the heist, helping Darold while wearing a pink dress, then heading outside to pump gas with a grease streak down the front of the dress, she proves the point of a program like the Springhill Senior’s Health Centre.
Family stories belong at home, and so do the people who tell them. 
For more information, contact the Senior’s Health Centre at 597-2027 or

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

When Your Neighbours Are Fish Hawks

Thanks to the distinctive cries of the ospreys, we know when breakfast, lunch and dinner are arriving:

There are only two babies in the pictures but Dwayne is firm in his sighting of three. Soon they'll be jumping around the nest, from side to side, practicing their wing flaps. The first flight -- it's an amazing moment to witness (three times) and this is the fourth summer we've been lucky enough to see it.