Need a Winter Project?

I’m tickled pink, purple, and every hue of the rainbow to announce that the current Winter issue of Heirloom Gardener includes an article by none other than moi! It’s all about making a personalized garden journal—an excellent day-brightening project for the short, dark winter months. 

Now, you could go out and search for Heirloom Gardener at your local newsstand, but you can also read the article online using this link. You’ll find my article front and center under the “Current Issue” section. If you’re into gardening, whether veggies, flowers, or fruits and nuts, you may want to check it out.

 

Nova Scotia: Land of Kindness and Humor

If you’ve ever watched the TV series Due South, you know the running joke about the uber politeness of  Benton Fraser, the Canadian Mountie assigned to work in Chicago. (If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch.) The nice Canadian is such a tired stereotype that I’m a little embarrassed to acknowledge I found it to be true, at least as far as Nova Scotia is concerned—-New Brunswick, too, which we passed through on our way to and from.

Not just polite, but downright nice. Folks struck up conversations with us from the next table in a restaurant, on hiking trails, at roadside overlooks. It was more than politeness; there was a real genuineness to their overtures. The bonhomie was contagious—everyone seemed friendlier in Nova Scotia. We had long, delightful chats with folks from the Philippines, China, New Zealand, and Scotland. It’s hard to define, but the truth of it was amplified as soon as we returned to the States. After 2 1/2 weeks in Nova Scotia, a Maine “I’m sorry” uttered after an accidental brush sounded mechanical, almost brusque, by comparison.

Sorry to my Canadian friends if you’re sick of hearing this cliché, but there are far worse character traits to be had. After all, niceness is a moral virtue. And I thank you for it. You brought out my best self.

Speaking of niceness, I found it particularly touching that from the first Canadian we met to the last, as soon as someone knew we were from North Carolina, the first words out of their mouths were about Hurricane Florence. Almost to a person. They’d been following the news, they’d mourned the losses, they commiserated with us.  Even though the Gnome and I were virtually unaffected by the hurricane’s wrath, we were comforted by this display of concern and caring.

Kindness in Nova Scotia extends to the environment. A friend of mine once noted about our outdoor clothesline that she didn’t know anyone else who had one. Well, if she lived in Nova Scotia, she would! Every dry day in every part of the province, we saw laundry drying in the breeze. And I was impressed to see that almost every public trash receptacle in Nova Scotia was accompanied by not one but two, and usually three, recycling units, including one for food waste. Note how well-maintained they are.

 

Containers for almost all ready-to-serve beverages, not just soft drinks, are recycled. Got a half-gallon orange juice carton? An individual apple juice carton? Recyclable. They’ve been doing this for more than twenty years! (We didn’t realize until too late that we’d been paying deposits on all our containers and could have gotten refunds. Guess we’ll  file that info away till our next visit.)

Nova Scotians are serious about their recycling. Every Airbnb, every restaurant, every attraction we visited featured recycling bins. Good for them.

And what could be more hospitable than to discover a set of red Adirondack chairs waiting for you at random scenic spots? The red chair program was first put into place by Canada’s national park system. Now, it seems to be a ubiquitous trend. We found them at other public venues as well as in the backyards of several of our Airbnb hosts. We relaxed in them every chance we got. Is there a better way to invite your guests to stay a while?

Even the postal boxes are festive and welcoming.

There’s another side to the people of Nova Scotia: their sense of humor. We encountered it over and over. There was the sign at the entrance to the Telegraph House in Baddeck exhorting guests to avoid trying to close the screen door, stating that “he is lazy and will close in his own time.”

There were more examples. For instance . . .

This public sculpture on the Halifax Boardwalk, titled Got Drunk, Fell Down, features not only the ‘drunk’ lamp post but its friend whose head hangs in embarrassment and (a little further away but unseen in this photo) a less engaged post who’s trying to ignore the whole thing.) Poignant, yes, but also funny.

Granted, this Disney cruise ship isn’t from Nova Scotia, but that’s where we saw it. We couldn’t help smiling at this scene.

I have no idea why we happened to pull off the road at this particular spot, but when we did, we came upon this sign. I’m glad we stopped. It gave us a chance to . . .

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do our part to keep the sea serpents at bay.

Pitch perfect sign on the bathroom door of a Yarmouth restaurant

We’d gotten used to seeing Nova Scotia houses painted in happy reds, purples, greens, and yellows. But this is the only one we saw that actually IS a painting. Gotta love the whimsy of it.

And then we saw this ‘news’ notice in the North Shore Community Museum—a new take on fascinators that highlights the amount of snow likely to be found in that part of Cape Breton.

With that chuckle, I say a nostalgic goodbye to our Nova Scotia road trip and will return to my usual fare of Living on the Diagonal miscellany.

 

Traveling with Airbnb

(Part of a series from a recent trip the Gnome and I took to Nova Scotia.  To read from the beginning, start here.)

How do two naturally reticent travelers get to know the people of their host country? It occurred to us that staying in real homes where we’d get to meet honest-to-goodness Nova Scotians on a more than fleeting basis might be a good way to do it, so we decided to take a chance on Airbnb rentals. (Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Airbnb except as a customer.)

Ultimately, we were looking for safe, clean, convenient places to lay our heads, perhaps cook a couple of meals, and occasionally run a load of laundry. And we wanted a reasonable amount of privacy. But we also wanted to get to know our hosts, where possible.

With those goals in mind, we began scouring Airbnb sites at each of the locations we anticipated spending a night. We splurged a time or two because we were so taken with a particular listing, but overall, we booked on the cheap. With service fees, taxes, and in some cases cleaning fees, our nightly rentals ranged from a mere $47 (for a whole house!) to $103 (for a bedroom and private bath, but the location—and our hosts—made it worth the price.)

We stayed in a couple of garage apartments attached to the host families’ homes but as private as we wanted. In one, our laps were kept warm by Mustache, the hosts’ loving cat.

 

 

We stayed in the upstairs loft of a former nautical museum. How’s that for quaint? And our host, Ginger, wowed us with her homemade whole wheat rolls.

 

We stayed in a former B&B honeymoon suite complete with waterfall Jacuzzi, right on the banks of the Annapolis Royal River.

 

The gracious Cheticamp hosts where we rented a bed/bath suite, are former teachers who once lived in Nunavut, Canada’s newest, largest, and most northwestern province. Their home, shared with a cat and seven former sled dogs, is filled with Inuit art. Each morning we were greeted with a full breakfast, not at all the norm with Airbnb. We hugged our goodbyes while the dogs sang for us.

 

Private home so no pics, but here are a couple of views of the river just outside and of one of our hosts’ seven dogs.

A couple of sites we picked from Airbnb listings were more traditional B&Bs, though small ones with just two or three rooms each. Both featured shared baths along the lines of boarding houses of the past. That worked out just fine; we never had to compete for bathroom time. Salty Rose’s and Periwinkle Cafe, run by a pair of sisters, was above a combo bakery and craft shop. We got a complimentary breakfast and left with a few locally made souvenirs. At the Crab Apple Inn, we were treated to a full breakfast (as well as complimentary homemade wine the night before). These places were almost as cozy and familial as single-family Airbnb spots.

 

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A couple of places we stayed were touted as 200-year-old homes. That really appealed to us. And there were two places where the host wasn’t on site and we were completely on our own. In Halifax, we stayed in a modern apartment in a residential neighborhood in easy walking distance of eateries and no more than a five-minute drive from every site on our long list of places to visit. So convenient! A colorful, fully decorated home greeted us in Cape Breton’s Sydney, where we had a good view of the Sydney River from the living room window.

 

 

Each of these places had its own charms. And with each, the Gnome and I took a little informal survey. What did we especially like or dislike? It was a way to hone our preferences for future searches. And let me tell you, sometimes we had to scratch our heads to find a ‘dislike.’ We never had trouble coming up with a wow factor, though.

Two places really stood out for us. One was billed as a ‘former prospector’s cottage.’ We had the whole rustic place to ourselves on a quiet country road in rural eastern Nova Scotia. It reminded us of our long-ago dream of finding and loving an old farmhouse in the country. We really loved this place. We fell in love with our host, Gail, too. Maybe it was because we’re the same age. Maybe it’s because we saw the ‘old hippie’ in each other.

Or maybe it was her keen insight. She sensed how much we loved this maritime province. As we were chatting, she looked deep into our eyes with her witchy ones, an enigmatic smile forming on her face, and out popped these words: “You’re going to move here!” Of course, she didn’t know how bound by love we are to our own home, but neither did she know that we once seriously considered moving to Nova Scotia nor the hold it’s had on us all these years. Gail brought us warm eggs from her henhouse for our breakfast. Yum!

 

Gail calls this a heritage home. We call it perfect.

The other stop that filled our hearts wasn’t in Canada but Vermont, in the charming village of Newbury. When we read the description of this 200-year-old home and its location in an honest-to-goodness New England village, with a village commons, town hall meetings, and all. (Newhart, anyone?), we added a day to our trip so we could make this detour. In theory, we prefer to nix places where we have only a bedroom in a private home; we can’t help feeling that we’re imposing—never mind that the hosts have chosen this path and we’re paying for the space. Irrational, I know, but we feel like we have to tiptoe and whisper.

This time it was different. In essence, we had the whole downstairs to ourselves. But it was more than that, and more than the charm of an old home in a quintessential New England village that dates to the revolutionary period. It was also our host, Linda. You can read more about her and our stay in her home here.

No pics of Linda’s private home, but I snagged this one of the village store from Creative Commons.

In a head-to-head competition between traditional lodgings and this entrepreneurial one, Airbnb wins hands down in my book, at least for this kind of trip. Our experience was so enriched by these homey, sometimes quirky, stays—and ever so much more by the hosts who extended us such hospitality and friendship. Thanks to every one of you!

The Heart of Dixie: A Holiday Story

(Originally published 12/21/2017)

A little preface may be called for here. Way back in the last century—in the mid-70s—our local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) established a number of consciousness-raising groups. Those of us who were interested were randomly assigned to one group or another.

C-R meetings were safe spaces where women could share our deepest secrets, questions, fears, and issues as women. Initially, C-R groups were meant to be a mass-organizing tool for broad political action, but consciousness raising quickly became a form of political action in its own right.

At C-R gatherings, our sense of isolation imploded as we each discovered our individual experiences were anything but unique, anything but small. As we discussed problems and events from our own lives, our stories became a tool for change. We gained strength and courage to take on systemic, structural sexism wherever it existed—sometimes in our own heads. It’s an on-going process, but one where we learned that indeed the personal is political, a truth we still see in today’s various human rights struggles. And though C-R groups were sometimes pooh-poohed as nothing more than group navel gazing, those who benefited from the institution of sexism soon found the results a power to be reckoned with.

*****

We were eight or nine in number, almost all strangers when our Consciousness-Raising group had been formed. In our short time together, we’d tackled all manner of topics, from workplace discrimination to deeply personal and painful issues to women’s health care to daily gender-based slights. It didn’t take long to bond. We were tight.

Dixie volunteered to host our December meeting, more a holiday celebration than a discussion of feminist politics. We had agreed in advance that, in lieu of tangible gifts, we’d each read a favored poem or essay—any subject. I chose Rod McKuen’s “A Cat Named Sloopy.”

It was an appropriate selection on several levels. I’d always been a cat lover and was owned by two of them at the time. And at our very first group meeting, one of the members observed that I reminded her of a cat with my easy movements and my quiet, sensitive manner.

After the rest of us had read our pieces, it was Dixie’s turn. Instead of pulling out a book, she asked to be excused for a minute. When she returned, she was wearing a big grin and carrying a basket full of small, white gift boxes. Cries of “Oh, Dixie” and the like filled the room. The rest of us had followed our mutual agreement—why was she giving out presents?

But, for reasons of her own, Dixie needed to bring an offering. And it was obvious from the pleased exclamations and laughter as we opened our little boxes and pulled out identical items that what she chose was perfect.

Dixie gave us each an egg. More accurately stated, she gave us each an eggshell, an egg whose contents had been carefully blown out. With red ink, Dixie had drawn facial features on each egg and encircled each one with a fat piece of red yarn tied into a bow at its narrowed top. An ornament hook was stuck into the bow’s knot. My name was written on the back of my egg.

It had to have been a tedious, time-consuming process, likely with more than a few failed attempts. It was a gift of thoughtfulness and love. Dixie found a clever, personal expression of our shared womanhood—the very essence of our relationship.

That was almost forty-five years ago. I still have my egg. The ink has faded, yet it’s an unrivaled possession, safely stored with other treasured holiday ornaments and always ready to play a starring role when it’s brought out for special occasions. In the intervening years, I’ve given a few of my own.

dixie egg

My prized vintage egg from Dixie

My egg reminds me of more than that heady time and those extraordinary women. It reminds me of change, of the unexpected. My egg has traveled with me across two states; through a wild adventure of leaving behind almost everything I knew to hand-build a home with my soulmate; it’s been with me through child-rearing, a career, and now my life’s vintage chapter.

My fragile, yet enduring, egg is a symbol of the strength of perseverance, courage, and tenacity. It symbolizes the power of knowledge and community of spirit. It symbolizes friendship and freedom of thought. It symbolizes time and all the experience that accompanies it. And it epitomizes the exquisite purity of giving from the heart.

Wherever you are today, dear Dixie, thank you for breaking the rules, thank you for your generous heart, and thank you for opening mine a little wider.

Canadian Road Signs

I’m sure Nova Scotia’s pictogram road signs are universally standard, but The Gnome and I had never seen the likes of some of them before. Maybe we live sheltered lives. Or maybe we’d just been alone together too long. Whatever the reason, the road signs we saw along our Canadian travels finally started to crack us up. We did struggle with some, and then we started making up our own messages. Here are some examples.

It was the exclamation point that first got our attention. What could this say, we wondered: Hey, Mom, watch this? Don’t dive from a pyramid? “Running down a vertical slope is exclamation-point-worthy?” The chain link fence separating us from a sheer cliff-drop into the ocean might have given us a clue. Good advice in any case.

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Don’t know why, but we found this odd–a private railroad crossing.

dump truck

Doesn’t this look like a warning that a dump truck is about to crash into a wall? Look again–it actually means construction equipment may be entering the highway somewhere nearby.

Wow, those Canadians and their speed limits! Oh, wait, that’s kilometers, not miles per hour. Quick, calculate!

This one? Maybe mountains ahead? Nope. It means the road’s about to get bumpy

After trying to interpret some of the more obtuse road signs, we decided this one meant “No tossing a tin can from your car window when the lid’s still attached.”

I loved the extensiveness of informational signage and was impressed by the wifi notice, but do you know what some of the other images mean?

DSCF3914You may have seen this on a previous post, but it fits here, too. It took us a while to figure it out. It looks like cuts of meat or something on top of two capital H’s. Soon enough we learned it means the pavement is about to end in favor of gravel–or worse.

The next one’s not a road sign, but we did find it in Canada.

Okay, I know it’s done differently in different places, but I’d simply never seen anything like this sign before. Sitting in my stall, I laughed out loud–mostly because I could never manage the first position!

It’s good to laugh. We did plenty on our trip.

Joggins and Home

(This post continues a series on a recent road trip the Gnome and I took to Nova Scotia. To ‘travel’ with us from the beginning, click here.)

Bittersweet is the best that can be said for what was to be our last day in Nova Scotia. To ensure as much time as possible in Cape Breton, we had planned this to be a long travel day. It would take us practically to the border with New Brunswick, in the tiny rural community of Joggins. So tiny that AAA couldn’t find it to map out this portion of our trip. So tiny a number of Nova Scotians didn’t recognize the name. Yet, Joggins is home to yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. The Joggins Fossil Cliffs contain the most complete fossil record of life during the Coal Age, 300 million years ago. That’s a full hundred million years before the dinosaurs, so these fossils, preserved in the very place they lived, are the dinosaurs’ ancestors. Some of the fossils found here are giant insects. According to the Joggins Fossil Cliffs website, this is the only place on earth where you can view these rare plant and animal fossils in situ. Well, I was impressed! 

The tide is out at Joggins Fossil Cliffs. It will rise by an astounding 43 feet at high tide, cutting off access to the beach area.

See the tiny person in the middle foreground. You must walk down many, many steps from the top of the cliffs to reach the beach, something like 75, as I recall. That’s about six or seven stories! But we did it.

Giant insect?

We stayed the night at a true bed and breakfast inn, though we’d found it through Airbnb. We were joined by a young couple driving from Halifax to be with family for Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend. The four of us enjoyed a visit in the living room where we shared our respective’ backgrounds and learned a bit about cultural similarities and differences while enjoying some of our host’s homemade wine. Not only does Bridget own and run the B&B and make wine, but she’s also begun a business manufacturing buckwheat pillows—and she’s a former international professional singer, besides. (And her breakfast was fabulous!)

Crab Apple Inn, Joggins, Nova Scotia

The next day saw us driving across New Brunswick and into Maine. Though the leaves had only just begun changing color in Nova Scotia, they were really showing off in New Brunswick.

 

Not be the sharpest photos ever taken, but hey . . .

we were going 110! (km, of course)

Crossing the border back into the States was harrowing—at least the waiting was. We’d read that we needed to itemize all our purchases and have them and all receipts readily available for inspection, so we’d spent a long couple of evenings getting our documentation and souvenirs organized. Though we’d practically sailed into Canada (no lines and only a single benign question by the border agent), we waited here for close to forty-five minutes. Plenty of time for us to begin feeling guilty for merely imagined offenses. Cameras were watching from every angle. We tried to look innocent and nonchalant. Did that make us look like crooks instead? Our unease only increased when the border patrol unlocked and entered the RV in line in front of us.

Finally, it was our turn. We were asked the nature of our visit, if we’d enjoyed our stay, and whether we’d purchased anything other than souvenirs, personal gifts, and incidentals. That was it. A lot of worry for nothing.

In Maine, we made a little detour to stay in Seal Harbor, right at an entrance to Acadia National Park, a place I’ve always yearned to visit. Was it exhaustion as we were nearing the end of our travels? Was it being surrounded by so many leaf-peekers and their vehicles after so much Nova Scotia tranquility? Whatever the reason, we were underwhelmed. It was the only disappointment of our twenty-five-day journey, but it was about to be made up for in a big way!

We made one last detour before the big push to get home. When we’d come across an Airbnb listing in the small village of Newbury, Vermont, we added a day to our itinerary just so we could take it in. Everything about our host, her home, her village seemed so iconically New England.

And so it turned out to be. The home we stayed in is almost two hundred years old on a street of similarly aged residences, mostly modest clapboard homes with gabled fronts. Most of the village’s structures were built either between 1790 and 1860 or in the ten years following a devastating fire in 1913.

Not every residential neighborhood is on a town’s Main Street, which, in this case, is also Vermont Highway 5. Never was there a quieter thoroughfare. Between the residences is the core of the village, the Village Common, a large green space for public use. The village hall, village school, and Methodist Church sit on one edge of the Common. The entire village, flanked by the Connecticut River, is a historic district.

Simply idyllic. Just our style.

Linda, our host, is a professional photographer. She works in black and white, uses old cameras with actual film, and has her own darkroom. Like the Gnome, she collects cameras. (I told her she should count them before we left–wink, wink.)

She was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of her charming village the next morning. We passed the Village Common, the school, the church, the post office, the village hall, the public library. We stopped for chats with other morning strollers. We talked about the village’s history and Vermont’s fabled town meetings. We took in the village store (the oldest country store in Vermont) for a steaming cup of coffee and yummy homemade cinnamon rolls, then sat on the steps to chow down. We dropped in at the bank to study old black and white pictures of the fire.

The bank is closed on Saturdays, but our host has a key. (It seems that the few villagers who lock their doors share their keys with the neighbors.) Linda loves her hometown and its history, and it shows.

Unfortunately, sometime between our return home and getting to this point in my travel diary, the last two hundred or so photos mysteriously disappeared from our camera. I had to resort to Google to find a couple of photos to share. 

Newbury Village Store. Photo credit: redjar [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tenney Public Library, Newbury Village, VT. Photo credit: Magicpiano [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Newbury Village UCC Church. Photo credit: wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/56/NewburyVT_UCCChurch.jpg

Just because our travels are over, don’t think I’m through writing about Nova Scotia, There are still a couple of reflective posts (and, of course, photos), so I hope you’ll come back to see what they are.

Cabot Trail, Part II

(The Gnome and I recently took a long (and long-awaited) road trip throughout Nova Scotia. To read about—and see—it from the beginning, click here.)

It was almost mid-afternoon on our trek around the Cabot Trail when we stepped into a small museum near Dingwall (on the northern edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park) for a much-needed bathroom break. A couple of (very) young women from New Zealand had the same idea. (Amazing how you meet people from all over the world on the trail!) They were cycling the trail from the opposite direction. While we were going downhill, they’d been climbing all day, since dawn, in the chilly rain. How I felt for them!

I had to chuckle at the sign on the inside of the bathroom door. It said something to the effect of, “We get it. You really need to go,” and welcomed folks to use the amenities (they are few and far between on the trail), but it also asked for a donation if you planned to skip the museum itself. Fair enough! We decided to take it in, though. It was surprisingly professional and enlightening, especially for such a tiny place. There’s even an area for genealogical research.

We saw lots of informational exhibits like this one at the North Highlands Community Museum which explains why all the island’s small communities are so tightknit. Note how doctors made house calls well into the mid-20th century!

 

Oh, my! I sat at a desk like these in my rural elementary school.

The pleasant woman staffing the museum told us she thought the part of the trail still ahead of us was its prettiest section. That was hard to believe, given the vistas of our previous two days. Turned out she was right, though the day was so stormy it wasn’t such a good picture-taking day. We decided to come back for more the next day, which was less rainy, but extraordinarily windy and often almost as hazy. Still, we took lots of photos. (You knew we would!) 

 

We took a few damp hikes, including the bog walk at which, if we’d been there a few hours earlier, we’d have surely seen moose—we sure saw lots of tracks. We also hiked the short trail to this Scottish Highland shieling, a hut to shelter crofters (farmers) and their livestock from the brutal weather on the moutaintops. And we hiked enough of the Skyline Trail to see . . .

this! After 49 years’ worth of trips searching in vain, we were able to prove to ourselves once and for all that moose are not the mythical creatures we’d begun to believe them to be.

From the road far below, you can see folks that made it to the end of the Skyline Trail, at least with binoculars—or a telephoto lens.

Photos of the curvy, coast-hugging Cabot Trail, where the mountains kiss the sea.

Our destination was Chéticamp. Little did we know that on one of our look-off stops, our camera had captured an image of the home where we’d be spending the next couple of nights.DSCF5596 Our charmed, and charming, hosts had found themselves one of the most perfect places on earth to live. Not only is their home on the edge of the Chéticamp River (which they often kayak, lucky ducks!), but on the opposite side of the river is the majestic park itself. From their huge living room windows, they can also see where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Where else could you get that kind of view? It was a good way to end our trip around the park.

The view from the living room window includes this mountainous cliff, part of Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

This spit of land is all that separates the river from the ocean, also seen from our hosts’ living room window. How cool is that?!

Come back for the last days of our travel adventure and some more reflections, won’t you?