Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Call for Community Support

A prayer request
for a man named Fred Gamble
who lives in Amherst Head, Nova Scotia,
and is a member of the Northumberland Pastoral Charge.
An invitation has been issued for
Wednesday, September 30, at 7:30 pm, Atlantic time 
(6:30 pm Eastern time),
to harness the power of community prayer
for Fred, who is very ill but as yet undiagnosed.
Fred has been receiving blood transfusions since June,
and is no longer allowed to drive or work,
and yet no one knows what is wrong with him.
So, if you are willing, 
please take a moment on Wednesday evening
to think about Fred
and send healing energy,
encouraging thoughts,
and love
to him. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

She Says Tomatoes

When my neighbour Rose phones and says, "Come get 'em," I go. She's very persuasive -- and perhaps she thinks I need some encouragement in the fine old arts of preserving what we can grow ourselves.
Because Rose grows.
And there is nothing that can be grown that Rose can't preserve. She freezes. She bottles. She makes the best mustard pickles ever; made with zucchini because she ran out of cucumbers, I ate it right out of the bottle, right out of the fridge, with a spoon. Like candy.
So Rose called this morning and said she had tomatoes -- more tomatoes -- for me.
"The romas you gave me two weeks ago are ripe now," I told her.
"You haven't done anything with them yet?"
Poor Rose. I'm not much of a student.
When I arrived at Rose's house, she handed me her recipe for salsa and a bag of just-picked roma tomatoes, 11 pounds worth, then hauled two grocery bags of frozen romas out of her freezer.
She simply has so much produce, she can give it away to me. Unless you think I'm a total mooch, however, Rose no longer has chickens so I am able to repay her generosity by giving her eggs.
"I did you a favour," she added and peeled the lid off a 15 kg margarine bucket to reveal beefsteak tomatoes -- what I'd come to get -- already skinned and cored.
"I had time so I did them," Rose said. It had been two hours since she called me. She had nothing else to do so she did my tomatoes. I am in awe.
Tonight I stewed tomatoes. I would rather have canned but I don't have a big enough canner and for the same reason I haven't used the now-ripe romas, I don't have time.
Preserving is an essential art, it's the way to do food for the winter, but it takes organization and commitment in September. Baby steps this year: first, strawberry jam, now tomatoes.
And salsa on Saturday. I have 20 pounds of roma tomatoes to deal with.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Classroooms Shouldn't Be Battlefields

As published in The Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, September 23, 2015, by Sara Jewell

When I lost my part-time job last spring, I decided to return to substitute teaching and had to update my file, dormant for more than three years. After glancing through all the forms I had to complete, I finished reading the accompanying cover letter.
            The last paragraph read, “All CCRSB employees who work with students are required to have watched the Severely Disruptive Behaviour videos prepared and provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Education.”
            I actually pushed my chair away from my desk when I read that, instinctively put space between me and the words “severely disruptive behaviour”. Those words made my entire body clench with anxiety.
            When I earned a Bachelor of Education degree in my early twenties, I didn’t feel ready to be in a classroom. I was qualified to teach high school English but didn’t yet feel mature or experienced enough so I went on to other work in radio and journalism.
            Moving to Nova Scotia in my late thirties, I felt ready to try substitute teaching. While I never felt unappreciated by the teachers or vice-principals (who hire subs), I was never sure of how to discipline the students. There were no instructions from administration; some VPs were fine with the troublemakers being sent to the office; others seem to expect me to deal with them.
            Some students once said to me, “What’s the point? You’re just going to send me to the office anyway,” while in another situation, others pointed out, “Miss, why don’t you just send them to the office?”
            Classroom management was challenging for me. My natural inclination is to not remove students from the learning environment but I never figured out how to control the disruptive kids.
Now I would have to deal with severely disruptive behaviour? No thank you.
            My best friend worked an Education Assistant in Ontario and spent a year assigned to an 11-year-old male student with severely disruptive behaviour.
            “I never, ever knew what I was coming in to,” she told me. “Every day was like going to war.”
            She called the classroom a disaster, saying the teacher couldn’t teach with that student in the room.
            “Here’s the other issue,” she added. “He was just one kid in that class of 21. There were seven other kids who had problems at home, learning issues, emotional distress who didn’t get any resources.”
            I doubt it’s any different here in Nova Scotia.
Asking any teacher to deal with severely disruptive behaviour is wrong. Allowing that particular student in a classroom is putting the rights of one individual above the rights of the group.
            A classroom is a work environment for teachers, students and educational assistants; all of them are entitled to be safe in that environment, to be able to work without distraction or anxiety. Severely disruptive behaviour goes beyond what teachers should be expected to deal with, and students cannot learn in the midst of that chaos.
            School is a place of learning for everyone but one student and his or her parents/legal guardians shouldn’t be allowed to turn a classroom into a battlefield. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Glamourous Life of a Country Girl

Five of the six winners and three of the six judges.

We were in Halifax today for the awards presentation of the Atlantic Writing Competition, at the absolutely gorgeous, light-filled, book-filled new Halifax Public Library (how many years until we stop calling it "new"?!).
We checked out the Word On The Street vendors then cruised around Spring Garden Road, ate at a Turkish restaurant for lunch then shopped for shoes and sweaters and dresses.
The Nova Scotia Country Boy was very amiable about it all, mostly because he had a nice steak and fries for lunch, and he knew he was stopping at the Masstown Market for a big scoop of chocolate ice cream.
When we arrived home, finally, at five o'clock, I changed out of my skirt and blouse, put on shorts and a T-shirt, my Bog boots and gloves, and headed outside to clean the hen pen.
The glamourous life of a country writer!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Overwhelmed With Words

See my name in the column on the right.
This is one of the reasons my photo-a-day (ish) has fallen off the rails recently. Writing! 'Cause it's what I do best.
Each evening I think, "I will write on the blog first thing, before any other work gets done," because that's when the day and my brain are fresh, when my ideas are plump and my words ripe.
But between the sun coming up later, delaying my morning walk, and the large pot of coffee waiting for me when I get back, I don't seem to get upstairs to my office as early as I expect. Best intentions: 9 a.m. Reality: 10:15 a.m.
Sometimes I am even distracted by chores. Which reminds me, I have to bring in a load of laundry from the clotheline! Now that the sunshine has returned, so too has the process of creating clean clothes.
But what comes first is the writing. I write church messages then I write my bi-weekly Field Notes column. I'm editing essays for a book collection and I wrote a children's book that won a contest.
This is my version of farming: I've planted seeds and I've weeded and watered and now I'm poking around the fields to see what is ready to harvest. Hard work and hope - what farmers and writers have in common.

*I posted a small excerpt from the opening of my winning manuscript on my Facebook page along with a couple of photos that illustrate a couple of things mention on the section. Check it out via this link:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chase the Ace

A guy from town brought his pet crow down to his trailer by the river so now we are enjoying the very vocal company of Ace the Crow. We hope he's a frequent visitor to our abode.
It's kind of neat, actually, to get so close to a crow. Every noticed how many are around yet we never get very close? They are a smart, wily bird -- a corvid, I've learned -- that represents creation and magic.
These two fellows are soon to be best friends. If it didn't seem so awful to steal babies from a nest, I'd suggest we kidnap -- er, adopt -- a baby crow next spring.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Story of A Man Who Made Violins

The current issue of Saltscapes magazine includes an article I wrote about a local man who taught math, ran cadets and made award-winning violins. 
“I think the fiddle maker puts his whole self into that violin and if you know the person, it’s even nicer because you know how that person is going to express himself through a violin," Ivan Hicks told me during an interview. Hicks, a master fiddler from New Brunswick, enjoys playing a couple of MacCleave fiddles.


Wednesday, September 09, 2015

There Is Something We Can Do

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, September 9, 2015, by Sara Jewell.

So many times, our response to a crisis in our community – to a house burning down, to a diagnosis of cancer, to life-changing injuries – is immediate and sure: a fundraiser is planned, donations are collected, people are galvanized to help and support.
We respond by saying, “What can I do?”
            We don’t turn our backs on members of our own community and yet, we turn our backs on members of the human community.
            So many times, our response to a crisis in communities in other parts of the world – to a devastating earthquake or tsunami, to a bombing in a busy market, to a famine – is immediate but not quite as sure: we express our dismay and horror, we pray, we may even donate money but we don’t do much more than respond by saying, “What can I do?”
            And I get that because I, too, don’t know what to do with all the crises and problems, with the chaos and catastrophes in the world, especially the ones that are human-created.
            What can I do from rural Nova Scotia? What more can I do than donate fifty bucks via a website?
            Whenever I wonder what one person can do, whenever I try to write a column about some issue or problem we’re facing (usually the decline of rural Nova Scotia), I always hear the wise words of a boss I worked for at a radio station in Vancouver. He told me, “Don’t come to me with your problem. Come to me with your solution.”
            So I am pleased to be able to provide a solution to the problem that the Globe and Mail newspaper so shockingly and profoundly addressed last Thursday when it published the photo of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying on a beach in Turkey.
            The death of that Syrian boy, and his five-year-old brother and his mother, during his family’s attempt to flee the devastating war in Syria, and the religious atrocities spawned by it, suddenly shone a spotlight on a problem that until Thursday seemed distant and unconnected to us.
            But that photo reminds us that we are not unconnected on this planet. We are all human beings and we need to turn our tearful response to that photo into action.
            What can we do?
            First of all, stop the knee-jerk reaction that refugees and immigrant families who come to Canada will end up on welfare. Just don’t assume that. Rather, let’s assume they want a better life here in Canada, where they can live and work in peace and safety, where they can walk their kids to school without worrying they will be blown to pieces by a car bomb.
            Secondly, to sponsor a family to Canada, the sponsoring person or group is expected to support that family for a year, helping them with all the things you do to get settled in a new area. The person or group also needs to have money and apparently it costs about $30,000 to sponsor and support a family of four for a year.
            It’s hard not to react to that number with, “Are you kidding me? I can’t do that,” but think about it for a bit and realize it’s just $30,000. How many of us spend that much on a car?
If 3,000 people in Cumberland County donate $100, we could sponsor a Syrian family of four to Canada, to our county.
            Just $100. There are kids walking to school right now who are wearing shoes that cost that much.
            I’m an ideas person and putting those ideas into action isn’t my strength but I know how to back up my words. If someone in Cumberland County will take this idea and make it happen – there are churches and community groups who know what to do – you can count on my help, my friendship to the family we sponsor, and my $100.  

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Finding More Roots In Nova Scotia

The gold paint on top of what we've always called "Granny's chest" revealed a long-ago connection to Nova Scotia I never knew about.
"Why did you let us play with this chest, Mother?" I asked, appalled that this historical artifact was treated so casually. Because on the lid of the chest you can read the words "Liverpool, England" and "Halifax, Nova Scotia."
So somehow or other, I have a connection to Nova Scotia that is older than 1979, the year my family first arrived here on vacation.
This required a research trip to Pier 21 in Halifax. It didn't take long in the Family History Room to learn that my mother's ancestors, her great-grandparents, arrived in Canada prior to 1865, when this country began keeping immigration records, but the chest proves someone came through Halifax, likely the long-lost Pier 2 through which 2.7 million immigrants passed, and for which there are no records.
I didn't know that Pier 21 opened in 1928 and welcomed a million immigrants until 1971; it wasn't a wasted trip, however. We explored the immigrant experience in a vast and fascinating display room and that was worthwhile since I am, undoubtedly, descended from immigrants to this country.
And there was that chest sitting in the attic of the house my mother grew up in (her Gran's house which is how the chest got its name), and there was my sister and me playing in and around that chest for years, and now it sits in my mother's room here in Nova Scotia, 120 kilometres from where it landed sometime in the 1800's.
Even though I didn't notice the gold paint until a few months ago (how did we ever miss it??), I can't help but see it as yet another sign, a truly subliminal one, that pointed me east.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Real Farms Are Beautiful Places

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, September 2, 2015 by Sara Jewell.

           For years, I have read the non-fiction books of an American author named Jon Katz. I discovered him first through his writings about his dogs and followed his adventures – some easy, some not – as he moved from a suburb in New Jersey to a working farm in Vermont.
Through Katz’s honest and insightful storytelling style, I learned a lot about rural living long before I became a rural dweller myself. Now in his sixties, Katz now writes almost exclusively on his blog, and when I read the following lines from one of his posts, I had to copy them out and save them:
 “Real farms are beautiful places,” Katz wrote, “orchestrations of chaos, where junk is utilitarian, nothing is new, nothing is ever thrown away, everything is used. Farmers use up every spare inch of their barns, their stuff and machines spilling out into driveways, pastures and yards. Farmers are obsessive tinkerers, they are always patching, stitching, welding and praying. Real farms have always been beautiful to me, manifestations of family, values, individuality and the hardest imaginable work.”
This quote resonated deeply with me, who was not raised on a farm, not raised in the country, because it reminds me of my nearly 90-year-old father-in-law. From his stories about growing up on a farm and becoming a farmer himself, raising three children as he worked on the farm, in the woods and on the roads as a truck driver, I hear unspoken details that allow me to imagine the “patching, stitching, welding and praying” he must have done as he worked from dawn until dark.
            It was work he loved and wanted to do, “the hardest imaginable work” he was proud to claim as his own. Now his barns sit empty and his fields are mowed by a younger man and his family trying to hold on to their “real” farm.
            So now that the Cumberland County Exhibition is underway in Oxford, take a moment and look around. If you need to, take a drive and look around. Stop and watch a herd of cattle. Breathe in the smell of grass and manure. Then head over to the Exhibition and look at what a small, dedicated group of farmers and their families are persisting in doing. Find a farmer and shake his or her hand. Get your shoes dirty during the Agriculture Awareness Tours offered every afternoon for the rest of this week.
            Remind yourself where you came from. Or where you wish you’d come from.   
            There is no way to put the brakes on rural decline but inevitability doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean our society won’t suffer. The real disaster of losing our rural communities is that our country was built on the hard work and tinkering, the values and skills of farmers. Please don’t miss the irony that towns and cities are built literally on the land to which farmers dedicated themselves for generations. There is always that minor detail of where our food should come from.
Those aren’t giant marshmallows in that field, people. That’s your 2% milk and your ground beef.
            It’s happened so slowly, we don’t really notice but when we’ve replaced real farms with grocery stores, goats and sheep with whipper snippers and tree mulchers, and exhibitions with amusement parks, all those little losses add up to one great big void.
            When we lose our farms, and the rural communities that grew up around them, we lose other skills than what we can patch, stitch and weld. We forget how to talk with our neighbours, we forget what it’s like to take care of and support real people living around us, we forget that the land and the sea and the sky existed long before the office towers and big box stores and articulated buses did. We lose our truly beautiful places.
            And we won’t understand a poster listing all the ways a person can tell if he or she is a farmer, especially the final item on the list: “You can fix almost anything with baler twine.”

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

4H Photo Frenzy

I snapped more than 500 photos on Monday and Tuesday. Granted, about a third of them went to the trash because they are blurry or a duplicate but that's a whole lot of images to collect during 4H days at the Cumberland County Exhibition.
Not complaining! Taking photos is a great way to talk to people and pat some animals. Also, I don't have many skills to offer 4H so this is one way I can be involved.
Out of all those photographs, here are three of my favourites that, to me, capture the spirit of 4H.

Waiting to be called for sheep conformation in the arena.

Maddox Porter with his BFF: "My big fat friend."

The Tug-of-War team

Tuesday, September 01, 2015