Saturday, December 6, 2014

"You must be talkin' to me, I don't see anybody else here...."

We usually have no neighbours. That’s probably a good thing. 

Just across the door yard at Cleveland Place we have the United Church of Canada, with its postage-stamp parking lot and modest stained glass windows. Since it was sold last summer, it’s not technically even a church anymore, so it stands empty. On our other side is “the old Kierstead house.” It’s long vacated by the original owners, and now owned by Parks Canada to house seasonal employees or researchers conducting their studies for nearby Fundy National Park.
Several years ago, it housed a few scientists studying the habits of the flying squirrel.  We'd often find stray bits of fluffy nesting materials or empty two-litre milk cartons the researchers had constructed for their nests.  On more than one occasion we spied a Parks Canada uniform scurrying across the Cleveland Place gardens wielding a contraption that looked like a 1950s TV antenna.  Apparently, there were a few micro-chipped squirrel escapees that favoured our grand maple trees to the spartan carton” homes their researchers were providing for them. 

We'd become accustomed to the comings and goings of our short-term neighbours, and would often get to know them.  A welcoming basket of muffins or cookies, a ladder provided for one who'd forgotten a house key but left a window open – the neighbourly acts one would expect from time to time. 

One late summer we were surprised by the Parks Canada grounds crew out early in the morning with chain saws and a wood chipper attending to a large evergreen that stood tall between their house and ours. Carefully but with surprising speed, they cut down this natural privacy barrier on the property line, creating a sudden void.  Now the two-storey house was revealed and its white siding blankly stared back at us. From my pantry window, instead of the green branches of a stately pine, I could see right through the window into the house next door.  I felt sad for the loss and the tree's absence.  The crew explained that the overgrown tree threatened both houses should it come down in bad weather, and assured us a replacement tree would be planted in the spring. Still – it had had personality, and it housed pretty little birds. 

Fall passed, winter blew, and spring arrived.  Missing the birds, we erected a tall 4x4 post to hang a variety of feeders and hopefully attract these colourful visitors back to my pantry window viewing area.  And come back they did. So many kinds that I got a birding book ---how handy to have a bookshop attached to our kitchen -- so I could try to identify them.  Black-capped chickadees, yellow finches, loud and domineering blue jays, grackles, starlings, cedar waxwings, and loads of pigeons.   

The pigeons practically took over the feeders, and it became annoying. I found them fat, dull, and bullying, they scared away the other prettier birds and they tromped down the grass.  I started to become a bird racist. I’d get angry. When they gathered in groups I'd rap on the window and shout, "Get off my lawn!" and they'd sullenly take off, but then quickly and defiantly return.   

I changed the feed and seed, hoping they'd take their dining preferences elsewhere.  I wanted to see the pretty colourful feathers and cheerful little birdies at my window, but when the pigeons were around, the others would stay clear.   

I shared my frustrations with Stephen.  He listened patiently as always, but offered no advice or ideas 

Then one early summer morning, I had just started to get the breakfast routine going when I saw Stephen already standing sleepily in the middle of the pantry, with a steaming cup of coffee in hand, wearing just his boxer shorts.  Bleary and bare-chested, he stood waving his free arm with wide sweeping and jabbing gestures, and swinging his coffee cup up and around slightly more carefully, with an expression of seething anger. 

Fascinated and a little concerned, I watched this display for a few moments wondering what was going on. 

Then I laughed as it dawned on me just what he was doing – he was shooing away my unwelcome pigeons.  My quick burst of laughter startled him just the way he’d hoped to startle the pigeons. But the main reason I laughed was that he’d clearly forgotten that this summer we had a new group of neighbours in the Parks Canada house … and the big tree was gone 
No longer hidden behind its wide and thick evergreen boughs, there he was with all his naked hairy-chestedness in full view, grimacing, gesturing angrily, silently shouting at the window for who knows how long. I reminded him about the tree's absence and our new summer neighbours.  We'll never know if they got a show that morning – but we never exchanged goodies that summer, either. Coincidence? 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Do You Believe in Magic?

A Story of A Crisis. 

(with colour photos!)

Here at Cleveland Place over the years, there have been just a few serious crises that have caused concern and heartache.

There was the time Dad went for a shoreline winter hike at low tide many years ago, and didn't return at the appointed time.  Alarms were raised, rescue efforts employed, and Dad was found by spotlight in freezing rain on the side of a cliff.  He had been overcome by hypothermia and positioned himself just above the water at high-tide, but was unable to continue on. 

Then there was the time that a confused elderly guest became disoriented in the middle of the night during her stay at the B&B and fell down the back stairs and had to be taken away by ambulance.  She had fallen and couldn't get up.

And the year my folks recounted their shock when they returned to Cleveland Place from a winter getaway to a kitchen filled with standing water from burst pipes that ruined ceiling plaster, artwork, major appliances, and wallpaper.

But none of those compare to the most recent crisis at Cleveland Place.

A spoon has gone missing.

Not just any spoon.  This spoon: 

The Magic Spoon.  

It was purchased at least 15 years ago at a garage sale.  Found in a shoebox full of stray pieces of cutlery, dull knives, novelty key chains, and bottle openers it was gleaming and I asked its price.  It was originally from a cocktail set, long since separated from its companions, no longer retrieving tiny white onions from a tall jar for a gin martini or vodka Gibson.

I paid ten cents for it.  The best dime I ever spent.

It took pride of place always within reach right here at the helm of the Cleveland Place kitchen.
You see, my day actually begins with the use of the Magic Spoon.  Starting with my first cup of hot coffee with one sugar cube and a splash of cream, its cheerful reflection of the morning light awakening me for the tasks and chores that lay ahead of me.

Quite often, that special spoon was a key player in many ways for my daily routine.  Time and time again, I'd find myself reaching for it even when I wasn't cooking or in the kitchen.  Its uses innumerable, its capabilities magical.

Often alone when I had an especially out-of-reach itch on my back, the Magic Spoon would come to the rescue reaching down the length of my turtleneck with just enough extension needed to hit that sweet spot of relief that a door frame couldn't satisfy.

Around the house, as neglected housekeeping revealed necessary attention, the Magic Spoon would help out in corners that were just a bit too high, but not worth hauling a stepladder to de-cobweb.
or to retrieve the treasures and trash that rolled under the fridge where it's too slim for a hand's reach.
I think back to the many years in our family of six with four loud, rambunctious children who had to be called to a meal, at attention, or summoned for a family con-fab, clanging the Magic Spoon against an empty pot would loudly peal for an upcoming announcement.
But it was more than that.  It was a helper, an extension of my own hand, a friend in need, magically rendering a small task into a feeling of accomplishment time after time.  Its small thin bowl, serving as an actual screwdriver, no longer a part of the screwdriver mixing cocktail team but now serving a higher purpose in the realm of chrome plated utensils.

Its strong, long, handle, reaching for my needs whenever I can't quite make it

sometimes de-tangling my connections-- no one likes a kinked phone cord, no one.

Or to stir sleeping coals in the hearth when a chill has settled in and bright warming fire can easily be re-kindled and sparked.

and the Magic Spoon even has my back, when I get that creepy feeling of being watched -- you know the feeling.  There will be a one-eyed Peeping Tom in town, thanks to its spiraling rod of defense.

Even coming to the rescue when other dedicated tools have gone missing.

Oh, sure, there are other spoons at Cleveland Place, sterling silver spoons, serving spoons, sugar spoons, ice tea spoons, every day flatware spoons, soup spoons, even caviar spoons made of horn or mother-of-pearl, but they will never be the Magic Spoon.  

Just look at them.  They wish they were Magic Spoons, 

but they'll never measure up. 

After all, Spoons, I served with the Magic Spoon. I knew the Magic Spoon. The Magic Spoon was a friend of mine. Spoon, you're no Magic Spoon!

But it HAS to be here somewhere, right?  I know that spoons have been known to run away with a dish, but not here, not now.  So I searched -- it must simply have been mislaid.  Though the Cleveland Place kitchen is orderly, and there's a place for everything and everything's in its place, maybe, just maybe it could have been misplaced.....opening drawers reveals continued disappointment.

Alas, it's not in the third drawer which keeps things of three

 and it hasn't been whisked away

I'll call a meeting, an investigation, an inquiry -- who last used it, washed it, poked with it, scraped, tightened, stirred, tasted a sip from it, or even threatened the mischievous dog with its imposing chrome?

I demanded to know, "Was it YOU?"  Who emptied the dishwasher last? Two days went by!  Is it in a tool belt?  The pen tray?  Did someone use it as a dip-stick to check the oil level in the car?  It could be ANYWHERE by this point.  I was desperate.  At a loss.  I had a three-course luncheon to prepare for 17 people upcoming -- I raised my arms with the despair of loss


and then his hand reached out.  

Let's call him Steve, since that's what his name is.  Steve reached out and plucked my beloved spoon off the magnet strip just under the cabinet next to the stove.  It had been here all along.  Waiting, ready, quiet, slightly out of sight.

Sometimes when we think what we need most is completely out of reach, it's really right where we need it all along; it's just like magic when it appears.