Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Guest Writer: Laurie Glenn Norris

Rockley’s Screaming Ghost: The Mary Harney Mystery


Is the River Philip River haunted?  Does the ghost of a young girl seek revenge for or peace from a wrong done to her more than a century ago? For years, many inhabitants of Rockley, Cumberland County, thought so. It all started back in 1877 after the disappearance of eighteen-year-old Mary Harney.

Mary lived with her mother and step-father Ann and William Harney, and two younger step-siblings on a farm in Rockley. One rainy evening in September 1877, Mary was sent out to gather up the family’s cows for milking. She never returned home. Weeks went by but the residents of Rockley, Pugwash, Port Howe, and beyond could not find a trace of her no matter how or where they searched. Many people suspected that Mary was the victim of foul play at the hands of her step-father. He, along with Mary’s mother Ann, was arrested eventually for her murder but they were released and Mary’s disappearance remains unsolved to this day.

As the years went by, people started to hear rumours of lights shining on the River Philip River and in the deserted Harney farm house late at night. Some claimed that they heard crying and screaming on the banks of the River and saw the form of a young girl floating over the fields. Was it Mary Harney seeking help as she might have done, in vain, so many years ago?

Today, few people walk late at night along the Rockley Road or by the banks of the River Philp River so the spirit of Mary Harney has no more witnesses to its search for answers and for peace.                

The Mary Harney mystery captivated my imagination back in 1995 when I first read of it in Lore of North Cumberland published by the North Cumberland Historical Society. I started to search for information on the story in the local newspapers of the time and finally came across a mention of it in the Chignecto Post. The little information that the papers provided left me with more questions than answers. I couldn’t get Mary’s story out of my mind and began to create my own version of “what might have happened.” Over twenty years later, my obsession with Mary continues and soon I will share her with others. In 2019, my first novel, Found Drowned, will be published by Vagrant Press in Halifax. In it, I retrace the mystery and attempt to give Mary the voice and the life that she lost so many years ago. 

Laurie Glenn Norris lives and writes in River Hebert, Nova Scotia. She is particularly interested in the lives and stories of nineteenth-century women. Found Drowned will be her third book.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Holy Harvest, Turnip Boy!

As the dog and I walked across the yard the other day, heading to the field for a walk, a cock pheasant flew up out of the main vegetable garden, scaring the crap out of me with its distinctive squawk and thrumping of wings.
As I looked into the garden, my mouth dropped open. Look at the size of those turnips!
As I snapped the photo, I realized that without an object to compare them to, you wouldn't get a sense of the size of these babies, so I called out the man responsible for growing them.
As big as his head!

Despite the lack of rain this year, and because of the extended growing season, my husband had great success with his gardens. His sunflowers lasted until mid-October, we ate our last feed of corn on October 22nd, and he's been giving away big orange pumpkins for weeks. We have plenty of cucumbers and carrots, and after a bad start, even the red potatoes popped up perfectly.

But it looks like turnip is going to be a side dish for many, many meals this November!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Barn Time

This is exactly what I needed today.
It's one of those weeks: loaded with appointments and deadlines that chop up my days, not giving me another day after Monday when I don't have to leave the house, don't have to put on makeup, can just wear the same clothes every day because the only thing that matters is crossing items off the To Do list.
Topping that list are three separate pieces needing to be researched and written: two columns and a sermon (which is basically a 1500 word essay). That's a lot in a week, especially when one column requires me to put on my "holiday" hat and write about Christmas on a 22 degree day with an orange-leaved maple tree glowing right outside the office windows.
I could have cancelled my riding time, could have hunkered down today, but I'm glad I didn't. 
We get caught up in believing we are too busy doing work stuff to take two hours to do fun stuff but yet again, my morning ride proves the fun stuff is how you get the work stuff done.

This is the kind of day that makes me grateful I am my own boss.

This was exactly what I needed today.
With three deadlines, with pieces needing my best writing, with other tasks requiring completion, I was feeling pressured. That's a surefire way to suck the creativity out of your brain so a productive ride on Dakota was the best remedy for feeling anxious about work. Rather than stressing out about losing two hours of work, I came away feeling energized and ready to tackle the assignments.
When I decided to take up horse riding way back in May, I never would have guessed that achieving "loose legs" while in the saddle would be a key to unlocking creativity. I didn't think about work for the entire two hours I was grooming and tacking and riding Dakota. All I was thinking about was keeping my head up, trotting on the correct diagonal, and letting my legs hang loose.
And I did all that. I practiced everything I've been learning, took a tip from Bobbie (who was doing barn chores and supervising my ride) about behaviour management, and pushed myself enough to elevate my heart rate. Not once did I think, "I should be working."

After I'd slid of Dakota at the end of our ride and slipped the reins over his head, I thanked him for a good ride.
"This was exactly what I needed," I told him, kissing his soft nose.
I felt good, I felt happy; it had been a successful practice ride. I reached up to rub his forehead and he shoved his face into my chest. I don't know much about horse behaviour yet but it wasn't an aggressive move. He simply stood there with his face pressed up against me, as if he felt my  satisfaction, and it made him feel good, too.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Taj Macoop

June 2008
From Field Notes, the book: 
I said to this man who happened to live on seventy-two acres, 
"You have lots of room here for chickens."
"I would love to have chickens," he replied.
Actually, that could be the moment I truly fell in love with him. 
You see? Birds of a feather want to have eggs together.
I was destined to marry the man who could make my dream
of a chicken coop in the backyard a reality.

August 2017
 Unfortunately, my pretty little yellow chicken coop was clad in chipboard which began to rot around the edges sinking into the ground and the large flower boxes in front. So my Nova Scotia country boy decided it was time for a face lift.
I was reluctant to lose my yellow chicken coop so he suggested coloured steel. The closest colour to sunny yellow was bile gold and since we see this building from every window on that side of the house, and whenever we come and go from the house, there was no way I was spending the rest of my life looking at that hideous colour (it made chartreuse look good).
"Leave it with me," the country boy said, and while that's not always a good thing -- my sense of aesthetics being further advanced than his -- I trusted him.

October 2017
It may not be yellow but it's board & batten and what's more country, more VINTAGE country than that? Our chicken coop is now a future old farmhouse. It's still pretty, it's just different, and that's okay. If there's one thing I've learned about life, and about life in rural Nova Scotia, change is constant and resistance is a fruitless occupation. Just consider our flock of chickens: It's not the same group of chickens now that we started with nine years ago, yet they are as delightful as the original flock.
The only glitch is that it doesn't look like a coop anymore; I think it's morphed into the chicken cabin. 
My country boy designed the stone step himself with rock from the quarry in Wallace and surprised me by painting the door and windows to match our house. And he made sure to restring the Christmas lights. Collective "Aaaaahhhh...!"

And although I can't reveal details yet, this has inspired his next, most ambitious building project -- but that's top secret classified until next summer...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lessons From the Stove: Less Is More

When Apple announced the forthcoming iPhone X, with a price tag of over thirteen hundred dollars (US), I thought of my mother-in-law’s stove. Bought in 1972, the olive-green propane stove has cooked almost 50,000 meals (I did the math) and it’s still in use today.
The stove is 45 years old and still in use.
That certainly deserves recognition, doesn’t it? A certificate or parade or even a speech in the legislature because how many of us can claim to be using an appliance or vehicle that is ten years old, let alone more than forty?
According to my father-in-law, the only problem in the last four decades was a faulty burner so there was never any reason to replace a perfectly good stove with something newer, shinier and likely less durable. My husband and I have been married ten years and we’re already on our second washing machine.
Once a stove reaches this level of survival, it simply can’t be replaced. It is, in all of its olive green glory, truly vintage.

Lori Byrne would love to get her hands on that stove. 
An interior decorator who lives with her husband and two young daughters in Meadowville, Nova Scotia, Lori’s passion for all things vintage finds expression through her ‘Farm Fresh Style’ venture, in which she combines her decorating knowledge with her crafting skills.
“It’s about repurposing and upcycling and creating with what I acquire and what is kicking around,” she told me over the phone.
For Lori, that pile of junk we clean out of our parents’ basement or grandparents’ attic isn’t trash for the landfill; it’s a treasure trove of decorating ideas. She said it’s both challenging and satisfying to take a crappy old headboard and turn it into a “super-cool” sign.
“I like seeing what I can create with an unlikely object.”
Lori was raised on a farm so the value of repurposing rather than throwing out is deeply ingrained in her. Author Jon Katz wrote the following on his blog in 2015 after he’d lived in rural New York State for a number of years: “Real farms are beautiful places, orchestrations of chaos, where junk is utilitarian, nothing is new, nothing is ever thrown away, everything is used. Farmers are obsessive tinkerers, always patching, stitching, welding and praying.”

It’s not just about repurposing old things, however; for Lori, it’s also about valuing what we have. The inspiration behind her annual Homegrown Vintage Market is her appreciation for items whose usefulness stands the test of time.
“Items can have so much nostalgia for people,” she explained. “They’ll pick something up and say, ‘My grandmother had one of these’. Someone else says, ‘All the stuff in my kitchen is vintage! This is what I use every day still.’ Vintage items are still here, they’re still functional. These old items have longevity and they will be around long after we’re gone. There’s some permanence to that, and I love that, as well.”

Permanence. Not a word often used in our fast-paced, globally-connected, constantly-upgrading world yet that olive green stove, with its permanent spot in my in-laws’ kitchen, tells a far better story about life than any iPhone ever will. 

Check out Lori's Farm Fresh Style website here.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Autumn Autonomy

Here's the smile of a new rider finally getting to practice what she's been working on all summer.
You see, it's one thing to have a weekly lesson but those of us who bailed out of piano lessons because we had to practice every day grew up to realize it's all about the practice. If you don't work on those exercises in between the lessons, you don't improve, you don't figure things out on your own, you don't get better, you don't learn to enjoy yourself.
So I was pretty excited when my instructor, Dawn, said those magic words at the end of September: "You can ride on your own as long as there is someone at the barn to supervise."
As Emily, the editor of Field Notes, would say, "Eeps!"
I'm still riding Dakota the lesson horse so I pay twenty bucks to the person who is doing chores at the barn to keep an eye on me but hey, I'm quite willing to buy one less book a week in order to fund my riding practice.

I took it easy for my first autonomous ride. I'd hurt my back the week before so this was a chance to find out if riding was responsible for weakening my iliac crest (thankfully, no) but I also wanted to work on some basics: keeping my head up, steering, and my legs.
Yeah, I know, my legs again. The good news is, we hitched the stirrups up a notch and it's made a world of difference. Amazing what a difference one single hole on a leather strap can make.
It brought about a much needed breakthrough by the end of my last lesson: "My legs are loose! I get how that feels!" I shouted to Dawn across the outdoor ring.
Getting to take practice rides on my own will let me work on the little things that matter, including the intangibles like confidence and non-verbal communication, so I'm grateful for Dawn's trust. The barn and rings aren't busy during the week, and I cherish the peace and quiet of working on my skills without distractions, without instructions.
Once November comes, the writing schedule shifts into high gear so I'm looking forward to these few hours a week when I can step away from the chair and step onto the saddle. Horse riding will be the perfect antidote to story writing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Writing Workshop for Girls Aged 12-15

A word on the location: This workshop is open to girls from all over Cumberland County (and beyond). Oxford is a central location for Pugwash, Springhill and Amherst, and where I can find the appropriate venue (not having to pay for a day's rental keeps the cost of the workshop low).
Registration closes October 23.

Monday, October 09, 2017

That Takes The Cake

Thanks to everyone who showed up on Saturday at the house. I know it was a busy weekend so it was great to have so many people coming and going on that beautiful autumn afternoon. Dwayne talked me out of letting the chickens roam free because he figured they'd hang out in his cucumber patch. 

I'm not sure how many other authors would have an open house -- at their own house -- to celebrate one year since the publication of their first book, but my book is filled with stories that are so personal, it seemed completely appropriate to have a birthday party.
My book is local so I decided the cake needed to be as well. Megan Bishop, of Bishop Family Farm and BFF's Sweet Spot in Wentworth, created this custom Field Notes cake after a 45 minute consultation. She did a great job of understanding what I wanted, right down to using the same script for the cake that appears on the cover of the book.
Honestly, as the day of the party approached, I started to get nervous because I'd been talking up the special cake for my book's birthday but I need not have worried; the dark chocolate cake and buttercream icing was perfect.
If you want cakes or pies, you can check out Bishop Family Farm on Facebook. I'm thinking I need to do a column about Megan because I suspect she has a "heart and home in rural Nova Scotia" story.

Wow, a whole year since Field Notes was published. I feel just as happy today as I did when I opened that box of books a year ago.
Thanks for being part of this dream come true! 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Giving Thanks, Living Thanks

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, October 4, 2017, by Sara Jewell.

On Monday of this week, I got out of bed at seven o’clock, fed the cats and the dog, let the chickens out of their coop, then stood in the yard as the sun burst through the clouds hanging over the river and breathed in deeply the fresh October air. Then I went inside and poured myself a mug of coffee.
Thankfully, this is not going to be my last good memory. I’m not going to look back on those twenty minutes of Monday morning and recognize those as the last moments of my happiness before my world was changed irrevocably.
Others are not so lucky.

I took my mug of coffee into the living room and turned on the television to check out the news. The headline on CNN screaming at me across the bottom of the screen read, “50+ Dead, 200+ Injured In Concert Shooting in Las Vegas”. After watching for a few minutes, I turned off the TV.
I turned on my phone and opened up Facebook. The first post on my screen announced that a friend’s mother, in the late stage of cancer and the early stage of dementia, had died.
I got up and cooked oatmeal, which I covered in pumpkin seeds, blueberries and milk. I sat down at my dining room table, overlooking a front yard filled with dappled sunlight, and ate my breakfast with tears dripping off my chin. I was doing what I always do, what I enjoy doing, and living my good little life, while yet again, the lives of so many are changed irrevocably.
Sometimes, without having survived anything, I feel survivor’s guilt, so on Monday, when the personal and the universal were twisted up together in a braid of grief and pain, I sat at the table and pushed back the guilt with gratitude.

Thank you for oatmeal and coffee. I am grateful for the nourishment and comfort they provide.
Thank you for sunshine and clouds and wind. I am grateful to live so close to nature.
Thank you for this house. I am grateful to be sheltered and protected.
Thank you for the cats and the dog. I am grateful for their companionship.
My gratitude does nothing to stop the suffering of those in Las Vegas (or Edmonton, or France, or Mayanmar) but expressing gratefulness has to be, somehow, better than feeling guilty.

In A.J. Jacobs’ 2007 book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, he wrote on Day 263 about his growing obsession with being thankful for everything: “It’s an odd way to live. But also kind of great and powerful. I’ve never before been so aware of the thousands of little good things, the thousands of things that go right every day.”
As we approach the long weekend, we will say “Happy Thanksgiving” a dozen times between now and Monday. Instead of giving, however, what about living thanks? Perhaps this weekend is a chance to kickstart a year of being obsessively grateful every single day for all the little good things.
Thank you for reading this. I’m grateful for the connection these words create.