Saturday, July 30, 2016


When I was in Grade Two, at Thomas Gilbard Public School in Cobourg, Ontario, my friends and I used to play horses at recess. It was Catherine and Valerie and me, and I don't remember if there was anyone else. We neighed and trotted and blew out lips out in that sound horses make; we pawed at the dirt, we tossed our heads like we had manes. I remember quarrelling because we all wanted to be horses, no one wanted to be the rider (who merely skipped along behind pretending to be snapping the reigns).
We loved horses but we were "city" girls (living in town) and did not ride, did not have parents who wanted us to ride. Looking back, I wonder if we'd insisted, if playing horses had become serious and immutable, tantrum-able, if one of us really was horsey deep down in her bones and convinced us we were horsey too, would we have found horses to ride, a stable at which to learn, riding teachers?
This is one of those memories and these are those questions that drive me crazy now. I was a kid who didn't push the envelope, who didn't know how interested she truly was in things, who didn't understand -- and didn't until she was in her forties -- that what excited her was what she needed to be doing. I wasn't overtly obsessed by horses, but I was horsey in my heart.

So now I have a new friend and she's horsey. None of these horses pictured are hers; when I took this photo, my friend was warming her Earl up in the ring before a dressage lesson at a horse farm in Linden.
I couldn't resist taking this photo. Just as I couldn't resist touching Earl's flank and his velvety nose and actually putting my face next to his placid body and breathing in the distinctive smell of horse.
Yeah, that seven year old goes around smelling other people's horses now. But only the calm ones; not Marty, hollering and kicking in his stall because he wants to be outside with his harem. The Martys of the horse world terrify me; the horses I can handle are the ones you'd give a seven year old to ride. The Earls of the horse world are my people. They go straight to my heart.
I watched my friend trot around the ring and noticed the smoothness with which she lifted up and settled down with the rhythm of Earl's movement. It's beautiful to watch. I long to ride but I don't know if I ever will. Judith, my friend's friend, was watching as well, dressed in jodhpurs and riding boots, as she waited for her lesson. Judith is 83.

Friday, July 29, 2016

My Red Tractor Man

Serendipity is a beautiful thing. 
From a blind date that turned into nine years of marriage,
to the perfect lawn ornament for he who still spins my wheels!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Inspiration Behind Field Notes

Ten years ago today, I went on a blind date with a Nova Scotia country boy. He was taking me out to dinner and I remember going down to the beach late in the afternoon to do yoga.
"What on earth am I doing?" I asked the dogs, old Lisa and my Stella. "What will a girl from Ontario and a Nova Scotia country boy have to talk about?"
And we know the answer to that question. We haven't stopped talking since he held the passenger door of his blue Ford Ranger open for me and I settle in for the long drive to the Jade Palace restaurant in Springhill.
Although no one ever thinks to take a photo on their first date (perhaps it happens more often now with cell phones) but we are now sorry there isn't a picture of that special evening. This photo was taken on our second canoe trip when I think it was clear to both of us how this story was going to end.

There's a prequel, you know.
That summer ten years ago, I arrived at our family's summer home in the middle of July, merely taking what turned out to be a month-long break from my caregiving duties, a break before my mother began chemo and radiation.
Going on a date was certainly not a plan; in the previous four summers, no one had ever asked me, no one had even suggested I should go on a date. It was clear that I was in Pugwash to help take care of my father. So the one time I land in there by myself...
Shortly after I arrived, I did the first assignment in a book about creative writing: Flip through magazines and find images and words that reflect "where you are today". I sat at the dining room table, overlooking the fields and the harbour, and created this:

A field guide to my future. Where I was on that day in July 2006 was where I was meant to be. I am very, very grateful that I said Yes with this man named Dwayne called me on Monday afternoon and asked me to go to dinner with him.

Monday, July 25, 2016


We have lost a baby.
Sometime between Saturday, July 16 and Saturday, July 23, one of the osprey babies disappeared. We saw nothing, we heard nothing, we noticed nothing until the weekend.
For certain there are only two. We've had the binoculars trained on the nest for two days and know there is no longer three babies in the nest. In this photo taken this morning, the adult is on the left and the other two are her offspring. They are distinguished by their spotty back feathers and the brown on the back of their heads.
Dwayne took the four-wheeler for a drive this morning to see if he could find the "kill & pluck" site but he found nothing, and the deer (moose) flies prevented any on-foot investigation.
As the human neighbours, we've been so vigilant, from early morning until evening, about keeping an eye on this year's babies, and we've watched carefully enough to have been confident that there was always a parent on lookout, either in the nest or on the perch. Was that the whole point of the eagle's disruptive behaviour last Thursday? Had he snatched one of the babies? Did another eagle snatch a baby while we -- humans and ospreys -- were all off driving the eagle away? Did we fall for the lure? There is no way to know. There is no evidence to answer our question. We are left with two babies and the mystery of the lost sibling.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Osprey Update

This photo was taken a week ago and the babies -- now on the cusp of fledgling-dom -- are bigger.
Despite our stated intention of standing guard early in the mornings when both parents head out to fish for their hungry brood of three, so far, one parent is staying on the nest or on the nearby perch.
Apparently, they haven't forgotten what happened last year, a heartbreaking lesson being reinforced by the eagle's presence.
Oh, yes, he was a bastard yesterday, hanging out in the trees on the edge of our property. In both the morning and the afternoon, the eagle hunkered down on a branch, not camouflaged from sight but protected from the ospreys' swooping attempts to drive it away. I felt badly for the osprey, expending so much energy on protecting the babies instead of fishing.
It wasn't until Dwayne and I drove up on the four-wheeler that the eagle flew from its perch and soared away, pursued by the ospreys, and holy mother of pearl, this is one huge eagle. This is the one our neighbour calls Big Daddy. It's hard not to be impressed but I'm no fan of eagles anymore. What makes them magnificent to other observers makes them fearsome predators to me.
The eldest fledgling has started the dance of the about-to-fly, hopping up and down on the edge of the nest and flapping its wings. Our ninth wedding anniversary is less than a week away so what a lovely gift it would be to witness first flight this summer.
We're hopeful that between the parents, and us ever-vigilant humans, this year's babies will survive.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The True North Strong & Handgun Free

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, by Sara Jewell.
Dancing to Arabic music

If there is something I am most grateful for, it’s being born and raised and able to live in Canada where “eat, drink and be merry” is a way of life, not a hope for the future.
I don’t say this with smug patriotism; I say it with relief. I say it with thankfulness because I can’t imagine living day in and day out, every hour of each day, with the fear that fizzes through me momentarily when I hear about another shooting in the United States.
Awful things happen in Canada but it’s not our daily reality. For us, car bombs and mass shootings are horrific news stories but when something awful happens here, our response is compassion and unity, not political posturing. 

I’m also grateful to live in a province and a community where the majority of us welcome those families who have been bombed out and shot at, who have endured the crowding of refugee camps, who have lived with daily fear and uncertainty, and who are thankful to be able to live in Canada where on most days, the biggest hassle is a long line at the Tim Horton’s drive thru.
We have our issues as a country, among them the failure to eliminate child poverty and find our true path with our First Nations. What we are doing right, however, is gun control.
Last October, shortly after open carry laws were passed in several American states, my sister took four of her children for an evening walk through their quiet neighbourhood in Atlanta, Georgia. A man hanging up Hallowe’en decorations had a handgun holstered on his belt.
Her eight-year-old son recently asked during lunch at a restaurant, “What happens if a man bursts in here with a gun?”
Canadian children have their needs – a nutritious breakfast, proper winter clothes, a home that is safe and hospitable – but, generally speaking, they don’t need to worry about getting gunned down during school.
I’m grateful that we are a country of peace, and of peace keepers.

On Sunday afternoon just past, I attended a picnic hosted by a local Lebanese couple for the Syrian families who now live in Cumberland County and those who supporting them as they integrate into our communities.
Although we didn’t always understand what everyone was saying, we all understood the universal language of food and friendship. 
After the meal, which was a mix of traditional Lebanese and typical Canadian dishes, I looked around at the gathering and realized the picnic embodied the idea that “When you have more than you need, build a bigger table, not a higher fence.”
It also seemed the secret to world peace: serve so much delicious food (and no alcohol) that everyone is too full, too content to get mad and pick a fight.
Instead, we danced. We held hands and picked up the beat from the Arabic music blasting out of the van pulled alongside the picnic and as we whirled around the driveway, we worried about nothing more than not really knowing the steps of the dance.

Group photo
The immigrant experience was well-represented at the picnic -- Scottish and Irish and British (maybe even French), Lebanese, Syrian and even Mexican. More significantly, our gathering also included an Aboriginal person -- a member of the first nation who "welcomed" newcomers to the country they'd call Canada. 
Everyone is from somewhere. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Summer of Art

It's a bit like art camp for adults, only we don't have to sleep on bunk beds or get up early for a polar bear dip, and it's just two hours a week. But spending every Monday night all summer doing art is making this the best summer ever.
When Louise Cloutier, a newly retired art teacher, quickly realized her long-time dream of a public art studio in Pugwash, I signed up for 12 weeks of classes. An entire summer of art, every Monday evening. The weeks are divided in two: an art lesson one week and a studio class the following week. I'm learning a lot and it's been awesome, getting gluey with string art and ripping paper like Henri Matisse, and I hummed along having a great time.
Until last night.

I knew it was coming, the night of the dreaded landscape painting.
Here is what landscape painting and music have in common with me: I can't grasp the most important concept in either. For music, it's rhythm; I have no innate, instinctive feel for the beat that allows me to count out without actually counting out loud. For landscapes, it's depth; my landscape paintings always looked like the sky is stacked on the field which is stacked on the grass. In fact, last night I experienced the same terrible feeling I've had the past 14 years of doing this kind of painting: I'm a five year old with a paint brush.
Only I now have a grownup's demand for perfection.

Can you see? I even tried for a "Field Notes" look; that's our field and the tree that sticks up on the horizon. My husband even recognized it. But somehow, the long grass and the background trees didn't work out.
Story of my painting life.
My birch tree, even though it's ripped paper (for which I seem to have a knack worth exploring) looks much better in the photo than in real life. The funny thing is I love painting birch trees. Who doesn't? They're so easy. But there was a lot to do in our two-hour lesson class last night -- we had to paint the landscape and then create the birch tree with paper, pencil and paint -- and if I'd been working at home, I would have taken a break between the landscape and the tree.
Who am I kidding? I'd be working on my fourth attempt at creating a realistic landscape. And I'd be madder than hell right now.

Oh, that's it! Screw realism and forget the paint. I'll stick with the glue and string.

But here's the real value in this summer of art: It's not one day. Doing landscapes was not my only experience. The previous experiences were more successful -- even the awful portrait! -- and there are more classes to come, including the final class which is how to mix your colours using only only the three primary colours. And that's where this summer of art works for me. I'm not left with one failed experience to dwell on for months or even years. Next week, I'll be back and Louise, who is a wonderful teacher, will have a new project for us to try and I'll be humming along again.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Be Brave, Take the Leap

It's been a busy week.
Art class and a community report on CTV Morning Live, coffee with an author friend and another friend's book launch, and the prep for a colonoscopy.
Keeping an eye on the osprey fledglings as they grow larger and more tempting to the eagle.
And the usual weekly planning of a church service and rewriting a sermon and writing my next Field Notes column.
The baby mud swallows are starting to fly.
And it's windy.

Doing all of this during "Joy-ly" has been very difficult. My first three weeks providing pulpit supply at Sackville United Church have been overshadowed by the shootings in Orlando and Dallas, in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge, and now the carnage in Nice and the murders of a five year old Calgary girl and her mother.
I'm feeling out of my depth now, unsure of what to say, how to say it, if anything I say will make a difference.
How can I talk about hope and peace and love -- let alone joy -- when there is so much pain and grief and rage swirling around us like air currents?
We chant "Love wins" as people are gunned down and mowed over.
We sing "Peace on Earth" as drone strikes kill civilians and bombs go off in airports and markets.
We are either incredibly stupid or incredibly naive.
How do I stand at the front of the church this week and talk about small seeds that grow into big moments? How do I make anyone believe that a small seed can have a big impact on this world?

I sit on my back deck with the wind keeping me cool on this hot July day. A moment of joy.
The birds are singing, the bear wanders through the field, the pheasant chicks are safe. Moments of joy.
The wild daisies and rudbeckia are blooming, the red carnations have blossomed, the sunflowers are growing. Moments of joy.
The massacres and the violence, the hatred and vitriol seem so far away from this deck, this yard, this field and woodlot. It's hard not to feel guilty for being safe and protected and nourished, clothed and educated and fearless.
This is a safe haven. Even when awful things happen, our country remains a safe haven. It would be so easy to be smug, to settle back in the zero-gravity chair and pretend like none of it involves me because I am safe.
But not untouchable.
I still live in this world and feel I have a responsibility to push back against the darkness blooming on the edges. What do I say in church when thirty-five people look to me to provide the right words?
If only we were birds who only know to follow their true instincts.

The baby swallow is clinging to a small branch on the side of the spruce tree. He is within sight of the nest he tumbled out of earlier. A parent swoops around him; they chirp at each other.
He knows where he wants to be. He knows how to get there.
He needs to be brave.
He wants to be brave.
All he has to do is leap. Let go of the branch and flap his wings and aim for the nest. Or the roof of the garage. Sometimes closer is good enough, until the next leap.
His instincts will kick in. He will make it. It's not far. He just has to leap and flap. A leap of faith, really.
Hope is the thing with feathers...

My words might not be perfect, their flight might be awkward, but my intention is true and the destination is all that matters.
"Love can make us brave. Brave enough to resolve not to be afraid, not to hate. To choose to push back against hate and violence with love. We give thanks for that."

We are thankful for safe havens, and safe landings. 

Friday, July 08, 2016

The Rain Arrived

It was so nice to step outside early this morning when the dog needed to pee and see this lovely, lovely puddle in the driveway and the lovely, lovely drops on the leaves.

At the end of April, my country boy announced, "It's going to be a dry summer because we didn't get any April rains."
And the boy was right, as he so often is with his old-fashioned pearls of weather wisdom.
When the rain began, not as a shower but as a bona fide, visible drops, Steady Eddy rain, a shout went through the house.
"It's raining!"
"Woo hoo!"
Because we need it. If you want to eat, then food must grow. For food to grow, it needs moisture.
And I'm feeling particularly humbled by this much-needed, long-awaited rainfall because  a severe drought across the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Djibouti) has left nearly twelve and a half million people in urgent need of food and water.

As I watered my flower gardens this week, and saw plants dying for lack of water, I made sure I felt grateful that even in a drought -- even in California, where it's been dry for five years -- NONE OF US STARVE TO DEATH because of the lack of rain. Our children don't suffer malnutrition. We still eat food that nourishes us. We still drink plenty of water. We still water our flowers and our clothes in clean, fresh water that gushes from taps as soon as we spin them on. 
This is the first drought I've experienced (can I even call it a drought? really, it's just a lack of rain for three months) since moving to the East Coast nine years ago. Usually we're lamenting too much rain and how it's ruining the seeds we just planted. 
So let's not have anyone -- particularly city folk who live with a metre square of lawn in front of their urban home and spend their weekends at the cottage on the shore -- complain about the rain this weekend. 
I know there are festivals on tomorrow -- Oxford's Strawberry Festival and Read By The Sea in River John, just to name two -- but if a little bit of rain we desperately need spoils the day, we need an attitude check. We can't collect our clouds and precipitation and ship them to the Horn of Africa -- oh, wouldn't that be a wonderful thing, to send buckets of water to villages to pour on their gardens? -- so the one thing we can do is shut up and be grateful.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Say "Cherry Cheese"!

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, July 6, 2016, by Sara Jewell. 

For my father-in-law’s 90th birthday party, I asked my friend Jane to make the sandwiches and squares.  She in turn asked me what kind of sandwiches I wanted. Not having been raised by a church lady who could make three loaves of sandwiches in a morning, I had no idea.
“Well, how does egg, tuna, chicken, and cherry cheese sound?” she said.
“Cherry cheese? Who on earth eats that?”
Jane looked shocked. “Everyone loves those.”
“They sound disgusting. Just do the regular ones.”
The expression Jane’s face told me I’d crossed a line. Apparently, tea sandwiches – those tiny, crustless bites of bread and filling cut into squares, rectangles or pinwheels which are the staple of every gathering from christenings to funerals, bridal showers to anniversaries – are sacred relics no one dares blaspheme. They are the one constant in our ever-changing, super-sized, smart-phone-controlled world.
And the more bizarre the filling, the better.
Ham pickle. Tuna olive. Pimiento cheese. Cherry and pineapple cheese.

The tradition of these tiny sandwiches began with the British aristocracy in the 19th century who generally ate only two meals a day: breakfast and dinner around 8 p.m. When the Duchess of Bedford found herself peckish in the late afternoon, she started having tea with a light snack of finger sandwiches and cakes. Once she invited friends to join her, afternoon tea began trending.
When Jane invited me to her daughter’s recent baby shower, she told me there would be cherry cheese sandwiches. I took this as a warning but she softened the threat by saying my favourite, her crab dip, would be on the table, too.
“You’d better take a picture now,” Jane advised me as guests were invited to help themselves to the lunch. “These sandwiches will go fast.”
The recipe belongs to the unborn baby’s paternal great-grandmother. The gaudy pink tinge of the cream cheese comes from the maraschino cherry juice. The big globs of red cherries look like...
“Here, try this,” Jane says, holding the silver plate piled with square sandwiches towards me.
My single taste test did not convert me. Cream cheese and cherries should taste like cheesecake, right? Now that’s a sandwich I could sink my teeth into.  

Even though she didn’t make tea sandwiches, I figured my mother had eaten lots of them so I asked her if she had a favourite filling.         
“Tuna Jello.”
Just when I thought there was nothing more gag-inducing than the combination of plain cream cheese and maraschino cherries between crustless squares of gummy whole wheat bread, my mother showed me a recipe that combines lime jelly, tuna, onion and Miracle Whip. She first tasted it in the mid-1980’s in Trenton, Ontario, when a woman whose husband was in the military brought Tuna Jello sandwiches to a church tea.
“It’s cool,” she told me. “In both ways. It’s cool – lime jelly! – but it’s also cool in your mouth.”
It didn’t surprise me in the least when I discovered through an internet search that this sandwich filling has a Maritime connection. It was church ladies and military wives in St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick, who first created the unique combination.
Now that’s cool.

Follow up! Who knew I'd need to update this column but apparently, people are passionate about tea sandwiches.
The Linden community hall held its summer luncheon today, July 12, and the first plate of triangle sandwiches on the table had green filling.
"That's tuna-jello," my mother said.
In fact, THREE other people sidled up to me in the mere minutes I stood there and said, "I thought of you when I saw those."
In the spirit of investigative journalism, I placed one triangle with its electric green filling on my plate with the promise to actually eat it.  I think I felt people staring at me as I sat down at our table.
After I posted this column on my Facebook page last week, a woman commented that tuna green Jello sandwiches "are to die for". I'm not sure I'd go that far BUT I liked it. I liked it enough that the next time I see that sandwich on offer, I'll take one. I liked it enough to ask ahead of time, "Will you be serving tuna-green jelly sandwiches?"
So that's me crossing off another item on the "Becoming a Nova Scotia Country Girl" list.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

An Unnecessary Rescue

The robins were making a gawd-awful racket last evening so I stopped my watering to see what on earth was going on. Along with the calling out, there were two or three robins flitting around the trees. I couldn't tell if they were chasing each other or not. But it was obvious all was not right in Robin World.
"Hold the dog," my husband said to me and started across the lawn towards the potting shed. He disappeared then came back with his hands cupped together.
Inside them was a baby robin. Not infant-baby but feathered and spotted baby.
"I don't think he can fly," Dwayne said. "I saw him fall out of the tree and he was hopping toward the ditch."
Now the robins were shouting and flying, almost dive-bombing us, now that we had the baby in hand.
"I'll bet one of the grackles dumped it out of the nest," Dwayne said so we began searching the maple trees for it.
"Show us your nest," I implored the robins.
As they flitted through the leafy limbs, I spotted a nest -- the nest? -- in the crook of some branches.
"Hold this," Dwayne said and palmed the baby into my hands. Amazing how strong a young robin is. I didn't want to squash it but it struggled mightily to escape. Whenever it chirped, two robins raced overhead.
I kept holding it up. "He's safe. I have it. We're putting in the nest."
Dwayne put the ladder against the tree, stuffed the baby bird inside his shirt -- "Ouch. His toenails are sharp." -- and climbed the ladder to put him back in.
The baby bird promptly flew out.
He went the opposite direction this time, towards the other ditch, and as I rushed over, the dog -- I had forgotten about the dog -- beat me to it and scooped it up in her mouth.
"NO." I can't describe the sound of my voice, the drop-it-or-die voice. She dropped it and ran away.
The baby bird lay on the grass, its stunted wings spread, gasping out its small, yellow beak.
"Next time we want to rescue a bird," I said, "tell me to put the dog in the house, not just hold on to her."
The baby began to hop across the lawn and two robins were now flitting through the trees around it.
"We're done here," I said and we backed away.

Thinking about this as I returned to my watering, I came to two conclusions:
1) We've never witnessed this before because until this summer, we've had outdoor cats. Perhaps young robins who miscalculated their readiness for flight were immediately snatched up by the cats.
2) Like fawns discovered hidden under trees, perhaps the robins knew how to handle this all on their own. Human intervention isn't always needed; sometimes, human intervention, with an assist from the dog, can make things worse.
As I wrapped up my watering, Dwayne came out of the house.
"The baby robin came out of the ditch and flew a bit towards the house. He landed on that bottom step. I think he was telling me he's okay. I told you, we are bird people."
I think we should remain bird watchers.