Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Welcome Sign

Back from a week in Ontario, where the lilacs were in full bloom. So it's two springs for this girl since ours are just coming out now. I worried I'd miss my tulips but they are still in bloom.
I must say it's nice to see everything green and growing in Cumberland County now; today's rain is making the grass stretch and the leaves unfurl. However, the black flies seem a little larger than normal this year, and it appears I haven't missed the june bugs at all.
Good to be home.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Special Project

A tree spirit emerges...

A work-in-progress at the Springhill Centennial golf course, photographed on Day One for my work-in-progress for Saltscapes magazine.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Weeping Willow

When Carol and I were walking around her property the other day, looking at Jerry's daffodils, she pointed out this willow tree at the edge of one of their ponds.
"It's an old tree," she said. "Its parts are falling off."
And I thought, Yeah, that's what happens to all of us.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Writer's Window Ledge

Talismans of a writer's life:
A jar of stones, found in a store, polished and stamped with words like "Believe" and "Faith".
A stack of rocks from the northern shore of Lake Superior, mailed to me by my best friend.
A glass sun bought many years ago on a trip to Vermont with my aunties.
An ink pot that belonged to my husband's grandfather.
Pussy willows, the earliest sign of spring, a harbinger of hope and good things to come.
A small red vase that reminds me of a moment in the movie, "Under The Tuscan Sun". 
The view of trees and fields and sky, a view that calms me as it inspires me.
Every single item is the reason I am here, in this place, fueled by belief in my skills and faith in my dream.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Farming Has A Lot To Teach Us

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 by Sara Jewell.

Bumper sticker spotted on a pick-up truck: “Kids who hunt, fish and trap don’t mug little old ladies.”
The point of the bumper sticker is this: Kids who have chores and responsibilities don’t have time to get into trouble. They aren’t hanging around a parking lot coming up with creative, and possibly criminal, ways of relieving their boredom.
So allow me to make a bold statement: We need to return to our farm ways.
It’s not enough for people to live in rural areas and extol the benefits of living in a rural community. We need to be farming again. We need to start raising our own food and helping our neighbours once more. We need to have gardens and compost to spread, a few chickens and warm eggs to collect, maybe even a goat and milk to turn into cheese. We were hunters and gatherers a lot longer than we’ve been programmers and emailers; it’s time to rediscover the wisdom that comes from the sky and the ground, not the screen and the app.
Always drink upstream from the herd.
The good old days were not necessarily better but we’ve lost too many of the good old ways that came from farming. When animals and crops and gardens depend on you showing up and doing the work, when your family depends on you showing up and doing the work, you grow up with a connection to the land, to the product and to the people around you. You learn to be responsible; you learn to appreciate the results of your labour.
When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.
If you are busy cleaning stalls and coops, feeding cattle and kidding goats, fixing machinery and mending fences, there isn’t time to think up ways to get into trouble. After a long day at school or work, you come home to chores that must be done; that doesn’t leave any time or energy for stealing cars or vandalizing gazebos.
Of course, a return to farming will not make our world problem-free but driving your father’s Oldsmobile through a cornfield while drinking beer is a far cry from setting fire to empty buildings. There’s testing limits and learning lessons, and then there’s criminal nuisances with too much time on their hands.
When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you have to do is stop digging.
I’m not saying we trash our cities and towns and all become farmers, even though there is a whole lot of decent land lying fallow; I’m saying the balance is tipped too far on the urban side of the scale; we’re so off-balance, in fact, we’re losing sight of our long-time rural roots and truly, we lose our farming DNA at our own human peril.
Granted, not everyone can be a farmer and there have always been people who lived in town but every kid needs to experience work that involves dirt, water and the one thing we can’t live without – food. At the very least, we need community gardens that support the local food bank and those gardens should be the responsibility of young people. Community gardens will teach them three things: 1) how easy and vital it is to grown food, 2) how to see a project through and learn from what works and what doesn’t, and 3) how to make an effort on behalf of someone other than yourself.
You’re less likely to trash the community garden – or allow it to be trashed – if you’ve had a hand in creating it.
Think I’m crazy? Think farming is old-fashioned and out-of-touch with the new age of apps-for-that and power bars and cars that parallel park on their own?
So tell me: What work is there that teaches us as much as farming does?
Life is simpler when you plough around the stump.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Better Bulb Project

Inspiration: Jerry Draheim has been planting bulbs for years and they are spread all over his property.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Bulb Project

The bulb project has come to fruition. There are four areas where I planted bulbs; this is the best blooming so far and I counted twelve sprouts here. I may have picked the worst year to plant a plethora of bulbs along the ditch -- heavy snow then a very late spring -- because I thought I'd planted more but perhaps it only felt like it as I dug into our tough lawn and clay soil.
The sun is warm but the wind is cool so maybe these daffodils will last longer and be blooming when the tulips finally make their appearance.
These were the results I wanted so the project will expand this fall. You can never have too many daffodils in May.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


This is why I am doing a year in 4H: I'm a little nervous around farm animals.
When I showed up at a hobby farm this afternoon to do an interview, the woman I was supposed to talk to wasn't home. I figured I'd wait around in case she wasn't gone long.
I was quite tickled when I pulled in and saw two black lambs trotting around the yard, plus two large, wooly ewes. The lambs were friendly, the black ewe was more concerned with finding shade than making friends with me but this gal -- I couldn't tell by the way she was looking at me if she was friendly or not.
She seemed a little hot and bothered in that thick, wool coat. 
So I just stayed away from her. Do sheep kick? Do they bite? Since I know nothing about sheep, particularly ones who are roaming free with lambs, I kept my distance.
Only this one decided to follow me. She trotted rather quickly after me. What does it mean when a sheep runs at you? Was she catching up or was she attacking me?
Thanks to my lone journalist instinct, I took this picture -- just for you -- before putting the vehicle between she and I. Just to be on the safe side. After all, there was no one home to administer first aid if the ewe bit my finger off.
Turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

 While I was sitting on the edge of the driveway watching the lambs graze, Caramel -- as I ended up calling her -- walked over to me and told me where she likes to be scratched.
So what did I learn? Don't judge a sheep by her wooly coat. But also, the more you hang around farm animals, the more confident you become. Especially when it comes to teeth and legs.
You can more from being with animals than by avoiding them (fear breeds ignorance, after all) so I really need to convince my husband that we need to have a few sheep around to mow the yard.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Clowder Farm

If I had a barn, I'd have barn cats. You could drop your unwanted cottage kitty at my place and he or she would welcomed gladly into the clowder (my friend Jane told me that's what a group of cats is called).
And my clowder of cats would eat chowder and rats,
While the birds and the mice play cribbage and dice.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Barn Cats

I was at a farm last night for the Cumberland County 4H dairy judging which involves members of every dairy project judging four yearling Holsteins then presenting their placements and reasons why to the farmer. As the last few members presented, I wandered out of the heifer barn into the adjoining space to check out a few calves (bull calves, I'd learn later, the youngest born on Friday, its black, shrivelled umbilical cord still hanging from its belly).
I happened to glance up in the corner and spied this crowd gazing down at me. Many of them are wild, Kara the farmer told me, but most of them have names and four of them are special to her. Behind them is a hole leading into the hayloft; the ramp was installed after one of the special cats lost her leg in a piece of  machinery and needed help reaching her kittens in the hayloft.
"If we hadn't installed the ramp, I don't think they ever would have come down here," Kara said. 
Having a dozen cats around, and two dozen eyes watching, doesn't bother her. "We don't have any birds or mice in the barn."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Overworking A Metaphor

"Guess what? I buried my bone again."
I get these brainwaves for a column -- usually when I'm on my yoag mat or out in the field. My thoughts are rockin', the column is coming together, my point is brilliant but when I sit down at my computer and start to type,
it all turns to thick, sloppy mud. 
My brain goes swampy and I can't seem to dredge up the brilliance that occurred before I started staring at a blank white page.
Some columns flow out of me like the clear, rushing water of a woodland brook; others flow about as fast as trickle of sludge through a narrow culvert.
The column I'm working on for next week's newspaper is one of the sludgy ones; the ideas are stuck behind a blockage of wet leaves and twigs. At some point, rather soon, I'm going to take a big stick and poke away at the blockage. Once that crap is out of the way, the sludge will flow a little faster, more water will rush in and my muddy words will flow clean and clear. 
If not, I'll follow the dog out into the yard and dump all my words into a hole with her bone and bury them.
And that, my friends, is the classic mixed metaphor.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Rabbit Habit

I went out for a walk last evening after supper then did a stroll around the property, just to see if anything was growing in the strawberry patch.
Spring is a month behind here in Nova Scotia and yet as I passed the round bales of hale squatting by the patch, I spied the first sprouts of dandelion leaves.
I thought, "Rosie!"
Because that's been the habit for seven years: Grab the early shoots of grass and clover and dandelions and take them to Rosie for her first taste of spring.
But now there is no Rosie. There is no quiet bunny eager to eat these sprouts, no furry nose to twitch over the scent of new greens, no friend to hear me say, "In another month, you'll be able to move to the cottage."
These small habits I took for granted.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Country Living Is Golden

What I saw when I opened my eyes this morning. Glorious!
In the past six weeks, I've put out notices for two workshops -- a writing workshop and a compassion & creativity workshop co-hosted with Mary Purdy -- and only two people signed up for either of them. Those workshops were meant to be sources of income for me and for Mary as we strive to do what we love to do, in rural Nova Scotia.
It's definitely not easy to live a creative life in rural Nova Scotia. Or rather, it's the perfect place to do so. It all depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
I'm luckier than Mary: The work I really love to do -- writing -- can be done anywhere. I have found enough ideas and interesting stories here in Cumberland County to keep me publishing in newspapers and magazines on a fairly regular basis (although not enough to support myself, which speaks more to me than it does to the availability of stories; I am a slow worker). If you rely on other people to actually support what you do -- people to attend workshops or concerts or visit your store or buy your art -- it can be a lot more challenging.
We don't have a large population in this sprawling county and those who live here tend to be older; while they might say to themselves, "I would love to have Mom and Dad's stories written down," it might not occur to them they could do it themselves and that my workshop would help them get started. (FYI: Starting is the hardest part of any project.)
We can't keep tapping the same people all the time; no matter how we mix it up, no matter that new ideas are spawned by each workshop, once they've taken a couple of my/our workshops, they've had enough. How do we reach other people in other markets? To put in the time making contacts in Halifax, a two-hour drive, or in Moncton, a 90-minute drive, takes money and time, takes us away from writing or creating or figuring out how on earth to stand out in the social media world where we are inundated with information.
Whenever I get twitchy about living in rural Nova Scotia, whenever I wonder if this will hold me back from reaching my goals, an ever-more pressing concern as my 45th birthday looms, I go for a walk. I open my eyes. I stop and hold my arms out and breathe.
I want to write and publish books and this is the perfect place to do it. For me, living in rural Nova Scotia has been a boon to my writing, not a hindrance. I wake up each morning and look out that window and feel grateful to have all this space in which to write. The other stuff -- the worry and the workshops -- are simply distractions. I know I am lucky; I can do what I love to do in rural Nova Scotia.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

High Quality Food for Low-Income Families

As published in the Wednesday, May 6, 2015 issue of the Citizen-Record.

Nick Smith & Becca Jones in late April.

         When Becca Jones steps out of her small cabin onto a hay wagon turned into a deck (which works fine once you get used to the slight wobble), she takes in the early spring view: A mid-sized greenhouse where leafy greens are planted, the almost-an-acre of muddy soil waiting to be tilled for this year’s seedlings, and a wide expanse of field and sky for which this stretch of Route 6 in Shinimicas is known.
And you know when a young woman like Becca says, “We’re into food in a big way,” you’re talking to that new breed of small-scale farming entrepreneurs that believe in growing their own good food and making sure others enjoy it as well.
Becca, and her partner Nick Smith who grew up on his parents’ beef farm in Shinimicas, know what it’s like to spend hours every day with their hands buried in soil; they met while tree planting out west.
As they worked their way back to Nova Scotia, the couple, who now are in their late twenties, spent a season volunteering on small, organic farms that gave them the knowledge and confidence to start their own market garden once they returned to Cumberland County.
As Good Thyme Farm heads into its third season, Nick admits market gardening comes with a huge learning curve.
“The first year we lucked out; everything ran smoothly,” he says. “The second year was a lot more challenging. We had a wet spring and a dry summer. We learned a lot quickly.”
They sell their vegetables at the Pugwash Farmers’ Market and at a roadside stand at their farm, and part of that learning curve involves planning what vegetables to grow. Two summers ago, they grew tomatillos (small, green tomatoes) and sold them with a recipe for salsa verde. I loved it and had looked forward to buying tomatillos the following year but Becca says they didn’t sell very well so they didn’t grow them again.
“The thing about market gardening is that you want a good variety so that your table looks nice but you also want to grow what’s profitable.”
She says kale was their best crop last year.
For the second year, Good Thyme Farm is participating in the Local Food Box Program, an offshoot of the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) movement. CSA brings farmers and lovers of fresh veggies together by allowing consumers to purchase a season’s worth of vegetables at the start of the season. According to Becca, this is a way of supporting a local farmer because people pay  up front to get whatever farmers can grow for four or five months.
While Becca and Nick aren’t part of CSA, they do support the Local Food Box Program which uses the same model as CSA to pair low-income families with boxes of fresh veggies.
“The point is to make healthy, local food available to those who might not normally have access to it,” Becca explains. “Instead of paying up front, these families pay weekly and only half the cost of a regular box.”
The other half is covered through fundraising. Local Food Box Program is a partnership of the Ecology Action Centre, the Cumberland Food Action Network and five Cumberland County Farms: GoodLake Farm, Side By Each Farm, Wysmykal Farm, Glennie’s Farmgate and Good Thyme Farm.
“I really like this because it challenges the traditional charitable food model,” says Becca. “It empowers low-income families to put a value on food because it’s not just a handout. It helps them realize how great fresh food is and gives them access to it. We live in this amazing farming community and all people should be able to experience it. It shouldn’t just be people with better paying jobs who get to be part of CSA.”
Good Thyme Farm can support five Pugwash-area families in the Local Food Box program so for more information, call 902-297-1687.


Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Gardening For The Unemployed

It's been seven weeks since I lost my job and everything was fine until the end of April. That's when it became obvious that my part-time paycheque did indeed make a difference in our household. So now I'm waking up at three in the morning, worrying about money and hoping the savings account lasts through the summer.
Everything was fine because I am editing a manuscript under the guidance of an experienced mentor and anticipating writing the first draft of a book about Stella, my dog who died three weeks ago. After 25 years, I finally have developed SINGLE-MINDED FOCUS about writing books and that's all I want to do. I want to pour everything I have, everything I am into getting those precious letters after my name: author of.
So I'm waking up at three in the morning, wondering what job I could get when the savings run out and knowing that the reality of writing in Canada means you have to have an "off-writing" job to support your writing.
There is only one solution for this anxiety, for this exhaustion: get thee to the garden.
Three hours of cleaning and snipping and weeding and tidying and greeting the green shoots popping up through the soil is the antidote to worrying about the future. Gardening has a way of reassuring you that the future will take care of itself. The perennials will come up again. The weeds will return. There will be two months of lugging water jugs around the yard every evening.
These gardens demand single-minded focus. Kneeling in the garden, the wet earth seeping through the knees of my jeans, I think of nothing but the task at hand: Will the bee balm come up this year? What am I going to do with more lilies? and Where did that hole in my garden come from? There is planning to be done: this bed needs more daisies, this walkway needs to be wider, that's the perfect spot to grow more phlox. Call the chiropractor tomorrow morning.
Just like a day spent writing, the end of a day in the garden comes with proof of the work done. There is a sense of accomplishment in ten fresh pages, in gardens that are free of dried leaves and twigs. Right now, it's easier to anticipate the blooming of the garden -- in a month -- than it is the publishing of the book -- in a few years.
Of course, my friends, there is the ultimate relief for anxiety and fear: digging up that damn ornamental grass and hacking away at the roots that have spread their tentacles into the irises and echinacea. Nothing demands single-minded focus like ornamental grass -- and writing books.

Monday, May 04, 2015

A Day Well Begun

There may be a snowdrift draped over the side yard 
and it may have been minus four
when one of us (ahem) got up to walk the dog,
but at 8 a.m., when it's plus four and sunny,
and an osprey is chirping from the top of the tree next to the house,
the season of drinking coffee on the front deck has officially opened.
Pity the poor man whose wife insists on taking a photograph
before he's finished his first mugful.
The sun mellows him and he forgives the intrusion
into the long-awaited morning meditation.

Saturday, May 02, 2015


Someone is very happy to have the sunshine show up during his nap. 
Then he ruins the moment by saying, 
"Now, Mama, you get outside and clean up the gardens."
You're not the boss of me, little orange dude.
Go back to sleep.

Friday, May 01, 2015